Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Prague May 8-12

I really have to write a paper on the Poetic Edda so I'm catching up on blog writing instead. :D The life of a perpetual procrastinator.

Basically Prague was wonderful. It's easily the most beautiful city I have ever been in. I constantly found myself looking around in wonder at everything. The architecture is lovely with random carvings everywhere. There's few boring looking buildings. Certainly no hideous glass skyscrapers that adorn most large cities these days. Just generally very old-world Europe and I loved it. Helped that the weather was lovely while there being mid to high-20s. I, unfortunately, didn't really pack for that but it was ok; I was just drenched in sweat for a portion of each day.
This was my first couchsurfing experience and while I was little apprehensive about staying with a random couple for free it turned out really really well. They were fantastically welcoming and I also met an American girl who was also couchsurfing with them because she lost her passport in Austria and missed her flight home. She had stayed with them earlier in her trip and when she was stranded they let her stay another night which I thought was very nice. The first night we all ate dinner and drank wine together (as well as a couple shots of Slivovice) and chatted about our travels and random stuff. Everyone was a bit tired so it was actually a pretty early night.
On Wednesday I wandered around a little bit before conference registration started at 12:30. The conference venue was only about 15 minute walk from my couchsurfing host so I left a couple hours early and explored the city in the best way I know how- I got lost. Seriously, I love getting to a new place and having only an idea of where to head and just walking in the direction that feels right. Of course, this is only during the day and when I don't have any pressing needs to attend to or crap to carry. So I wandered around the streets and came across St Charles Bridge which is probably the best known tourist attractions in Prague and it was crawling with other tourists.
It's got lots of religious sculptures along it that look pretty cool and you could tell that many were very important to people as they lined up to touch certain pieces or take pictures with them. This one embossing of a dog was hard to get a picture of between people touching it.
I'm guessing it's Saint Guinefort since that's the only dog-saint I know of.
I stopped at the tourist centre inside the tower on the bridge and finally got a map, but I tried to avoid looking at it. I wandered back to the side of the river I need to be on and walked along it a far as I could which was quite beautiful. I came to a big wall and was really curious as to was it was part of so when I came upon a small door into it I checked it out. It was the Czech Senate buildings and they're, unfortunately, not named on any of the tourist maps I've seen which is really a shame because they're buildings and gardens are quite beautiful.
There's a walkway with sculptures of the Greek gods and goddesses.

Behind that is a entranceway covered in stunning paintings.

The aviary and an example of the awesome artificial drip wall thingy. There were all sorts of carved creatures and scenes hidden within the textured wall. It was really quite cool. 
And an aviary with a bunch of owls:  hoo hoo. They were all sleeping though because of the heat and the sun. I honestly looked at this cage for a good ten minutes before I even realized what I was supposed to be looking for.

And there's a pool with a George and the dragon type sculpture in the middle. They really seemed to like St George.

After leaving the senate grounds I continued wandering and found my conference venue. The building- Michna Palace, was really nice. The outside wasn't anything particularly fancy but inside was beautiful. I feel like an idiot for not getting any pictures of inside the room we had the conference in because the walls and part of the ceiling was just covered in sculpture. You can kinda see a bit of it in this picture of the Music, Metal, and Politics sign.
The conference group (most of them):
The conference itself was fantastic and it was really really great to finally meet a group of people who take metal as serious academic material and to whom I don't have to justify my studies or explain what metal is. It was also really great because it truly was interdisciplinary and had people representing anthropology, musicology, women's studies, etc as well as me the medievalist. This should be a given considering the whole thing is headed by inter-disciplinary.net who runs conferences and other academic meetings as well as publications in multiple fields of interest. But at the conference we were all metal-llectuals. If you're at all interested in the conference proceedings itself the programme can be found here: http://www.inter-disciplinary.net/critical-issues/ethos/music-metal-politics/conference-programme-abstracts-and-papers/ and eventually the site will publish an e-book of papers presented at the conference. And excitingly, I will be part of the steering committee for next years' conference (of whenever because there might be a break) and I help with selection of abstracts and whatever else. There was/is a possibility of helping to edit the aforementioned e-book but I'm nervous of the responsibilities. Given that I'm unsure of what my plans for the summer are and I don't know how reliable of an internet connection I'll have I didn't want to commit to something I wasn't sure I could do. Would look great on my CV though.
Most nights were spent in a great little metal pub called Hell's Bells which was a small underground little thing. One night they were showing a hockey game and part of our group made themselves very unpopular by sitting on the stage partially blocking the screen. I told them not to but the bartender kept insisting (we had been there the previous night and they knew we ordered a lot). Myself and two others sat elsewhere until the end of the game cleared some tables for us all to sit together. Didn't stay out too late either night since we had an early start in the mornings and I didn't want to wake up my host. And I had to figure out the night tram system. Oh, I was the only one in my group to use the public transport system which kind of shocked me. I probably saw more of Prague than the rest because of it and the fact that I stayed elsewhere than the ridiculously expensive hotels  within minutes of the venue.
At night:

Speaking of hotels, my couchsurfing hosts could only host me until Friday (though on Thursday night I was offered the continued use of the couch even though they were going out of town- like seriously that's how nice and trusting they were) but I had already booked a hostel bed online I figured I'd go with that. Now I booked a bed in a 18bed mixed dorm for $9 so I was expecting some sketchy accommodations. Well, I was surprised as fuck when I got to St. Christopher's at the Mosaic House. They had upgraded me to a 6 bed room and it was wonderful. Seriously better than most hotels I've been to and certainly better than some of the conditions I heard another attendee paid $100+ per night for (thankfully she'll be reimbursed by her university). I took a glorious 20 minute long shower once I got to the room which was fantastic since though my couchsurfing hosts were great their shower was horrid.  After showering I hung around the room for a bit until the one other occupant came in. She was an American who started traveling around Ireland with her mom and then stayed to travel around Europe alone for another 2 1/2 months. She also had been upgraded and had had the room to herself for the past couple nights.
On Friday night the handful of remaining conference attendees (I was surprised how many people had flights almost immediately after the end of the conference) went to dinner together. There was some talk of trying to find a place to sit outside and have a couple beers because of the gorgeous night weather but it seems like pretty much everything closes up on that side of the river after around 11 and the others didn't want to walk around much more to find something open so we parted ways and said we'd hopefully see everyone at the metal conference at Bowling Green next year.
I got back to the hostel around midnight and while I easily could have gone down to the bar in the hostel building I decided I just didn't feel like being social so I climbed into bed and watched Big Bang Theory and Grey's Anatomy. I went to bed pretty early for a night in a party town but it was the better decision since I wanted to wake up early the next day. Oh, two guys joined the dorm room, I knew that other people had put their bags in the room but I didn't know anything about them until I opened my eyes in the morning to see a guy in tighty whiteys climbing down from the top bunk to use the washroom.
My one tourist day was the one day it was cool and rainy but I was glad for it because of all the walking I did. My feet were SO sore by the end of the day. While they look cool I'm not a fan of cobblestones.
Random pictures around Prague:

 From the tower of the astronomical clock which can be seen in the picture above.

 Example of one of the weird sculptures that were everywhere. I really love this one.
 Prague Castle is the biggest in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
 From the top of the basilica's tower.
 Had to climb 287 steps up a spiral staircase to get that view.

 Back on the ground.
Another St. George.

After getting my fill of the sites I headed back to the hostel to pick up my bag and head to the airport once again using Prague's super easy transit system.

I had quite a shock when I got to the airport and my flight wasn't on the board. I asked a Czech airlines person standing around and he said it was on the winter schedule and that flight no longer runs. So I had to go to a special desk to see what was wrong and had to wait for what seemed like forever for a couple in front of me to sort out their cancelled flight to Rome. Apparently they had rebooked my flight for around 2pm without informing me so after a long wait she was able to reschedule me on the flight through Copenhagen instead of Amsterdam and it all turned out better in the end because there was less of a layover and I got home an hour earlier than expected. I have to admit part of me wanted it to be an inconvenience to justify sending a letter into Czech airlines. It may just be a difference in European customer service standards but I wouldn't have hired the girl behind that counter for a CS position. She didn't greet me, there was not a single 'sorry for your inconvenience', or even a parting 'have a nice flight'. When I looked at her after double checking the ticket she gave me a smile but it was of the 'ugh, please go away now variety'. After working in Customer Service for 7+ years I've come to expect more. But oh well, everything worked out better in the end and I arrived safe and sound in Oslo and bought a bunch of chocolate, a couple bottles of wine, and some awesome 50% Finnish peppermint liquor in the Duty Free before collecting my bag. I've been wanting to drink the wine every night since but it'll have to wait til I return to Norway again.
Wednesday morning at 6:40 I'm flying back to Canada for 3 weeks. Hopefully I can get this gorram paper done before then.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Stopover in Amsterdam

I'm hanging out in the Amsterdam airport for a couple hours (unfortunately not long enough to consider leaving the airport) with a large glass of cheap Heineken. I actually had to double check that the cashier was charging me for both my beer and hotdog because the price she said simply seemed way too low but that's a side effect of living in Norway. Everywhere else is considered cheap because you've gotten accustomed to paying astronomical prices.
So because I'm bored and am avoiding doing the much needed editing on my conference paper so here's some randomly observations.
1. The pilot called the 1 1/2 hour flight a 'relatively long flight'. I found that hilarious, like, really? I'm not sure where a 1 1/2 hour flight from Toronto could even get you. Maybe to Quebec or New York but not much further.
2. Dutch people sound funny.
3. Getting off your flight and checking the gate for your transfer flight and seeing it boarding is a terrifying experience despite the little voice telling you your flight isn't for another 2-3 hours, I even stood in the lineup for a while before reasoning to myself that it was an entirely different airline.
4. Having a contact lense that is somewhat blurry is one of the most frustrating things ever.
5. The biggest downside of traveling alone is the fact that you have to carry your shit everywhere with you. I have a good seat near the bar staked out and I don't want to leave even though I want to fix the aforementioned contact lense. I also need to buy headphones because mine stopped working in one ear and I know I'm going to need them. Thankfully this airport doesn't have those ridiculously frequent announcements of not leaving your luggage unattended.
6. While there's no announcement regarding unattended luggage there is a moving sidewalk nearby that is frequently reminding people to 'mind your step'. As least people tripping would provide entertainment.
7. Internet here is very limited. I paid using Skype for a time and now I've finally been able to connect to the free wireless.
8. They have a chocolate/ dessert booth here where you can buy giant chunks of solid chocolate. People will look at you strangely when you nom into these.
9. Some flight hostess uniforms are truly hideous. The KLM are weird tacky blue colour and I thought those were bad but they don't compare to the garish shamrock green atrocities I just saw walk by.
10. The fact that you can get a beer to go is so awesome. 

All for now. I might add more.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

There are books so alive that you're always afraid that while you weren't reading, the book has gone and changed, has shifted like a river; while you went on living, it went on living too, and like a river moved on and moved away. No one has stepped twice into the same river. But did anyone ever step twice into the same book?
~Marina Tsvetaeva

I have been a horrible blogger the past couple months and I would blame it on school but honestly I haven't been a particularly good student either. It's not for lack of material to blog about since there was the Inferno festival here in Oslo, another trip to Copenhagen, and a handful of books to write about but I just haven't done any of it.  And I can't do it right now either. I have a presentation to finish for a conference I'm attending next week in Prague about Metal, Music, and Politics where I'm discussing the use of history in metal music to create a new national and personal identity. After Prague I then have a 10 page paper due for my Poetic Edda class that I will have a week and a half to research and write because on the 23rd I'm going back to Canada for a couple weeks. I'll be participating in a conference in Waterloo being hosted by the awesome Wilfrid Laurier University and University of Waterloo(boo!). While at home I will see a bunch of friends and family I've missed in the past year and enjoy some awesome (mostly BBQed) food. I have a couple adventures planned for the summer but nothing is finalized yet so I'm not going to talk about it, but I'm very excited for the possibilities.
OK I should get back to work. The hardest part about writing this paper is that I'm dealing with one of my major issues of my thesis and I haven't fully developed my arguments for them yet and I have a significant amount of work to do before I can say anything really conclusively. So it'll be a work in progress paper.