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After Matilda, I pulled an all-nighter to try and get my sleeping patterns in line with Australian time. Also, I was in an 8-person dormitory and didn't want to wake everyone up at 4:30am with my phone's alarm. Besides, the common room was surprisingly comfortable and I had access to plenty of power points. Only once did someone try to make unwanted conversation with me. It helped that I only got back from the theatre around 23:00, so by the time I was packed and showered, it was quite close to midnight so I only had a few more hours to go. My parents helped by keeping me on Skype for most of it. Also Mr Ravenclaw sent me a couple of cute texts.

Instead of a cab to the airport, the YHA booked me a hired car which was only 32 pounds as opposed to 60-70 for a minicab. I fell asleep for most of the journey to Heathrow, where we arrived before 5:30. So I basically didn't have to queue for anything. I sped through the VAT refunds, the check-in, and the security counters. Terminal 4, where Etihad takes off from, isn't the biggest terminal, so it didn't have that many opportunities for me to further work my debit card. I did get some things from Harrods though, because you can't get them in Australia, they're good quality (given that the bag I bought for my mum in 2005 is still going strong despite her using it at least weekly), and they were sightly cheaper than usual due to being duty-free.

I was also hungry so I had some porridge from "apostrophe cafe". Porridge always makes me feel so English. I still had time to kill so I wandered over to a newsagent and ended up buying a 2-pound copy of Cosmo UK. (What?!? I like the fashion sections!)

As soon as I settled into my seat on the first flight to Abu Dhabi, I fell asleep. I literally only woke up when my food came (earlier than everyone else's because I order veg meals...it's easier than specifying no red meat and no processed meats). And there was a ridiculous amount of food - for some reason, Etihad consider sandwiches to be snacks. Seriously? I thought a snack was a teaspoon-sized packet of peanuts. I did wake up properly for the landing though, which was annoying because some baby screamed continuously for about 20 minutes while we descended and the air pressure changed. And you know how crying is contagious with babies? Something about how the hive response will save them from danger if I recall correctly? Yeah, it wasn't pretty. 

I've never flown through Abu Dhabi before so I didn't know what to expect. I was faced with a 10-minute trek through the airport to the "Transfers" area, where all our hand luggage had to be re-scanned. I was actually afraid that I'd be slow to my transfer, but they were surprisingly efficient (they didn't make us unpack our bags and take our laptops/liquids out for inspection, and very few people had to walk back through the metal detector a second time).

The second flight was the long one. But it was a really good 14 hours! I had the window seat and one guy had the aisle seat and there was nobody between us! Furthermore, the two kids in front of us (a baby boy and a preschool-age girl) were beautifully behaved. They dropped a few things (pillows, socks, etc) behind them which I picked up, but their father thanked me, and the baby boy gave me the cutest smile every time! (I'm not much of a baby person compared to my friends, but this icy heart will occasionally melt...) 

Again, there was way too much food, but somehow I managed to get through it all (despite handing most of my trays to my brother when we flew to England in December). I guess three days of not eating lunch to save money helped give me an appetite. Plus, my parents don't order me vegetarian meals when we fly as a family, so if we're sitting at the back of the plane, I often have no choice and get served something I don't eat. Anyway, Etihad had this really amazing eggplant stew thing that is making me crave eggplant as I write this. 

I don't know much about planes, but I was impressed by how soft the landings were on Etihad. I barely noticed them (or perhaps I was more sleep-deprived than I would like to admit). Anyway, I had to wait a really long time for my baggage to appear but everything was intact, so yay! Then I went out to wait for my mother and brother in the pickup area, and nobody complained about how heavy my suitcase was! 

The first thing I did when I got home was shower! Oh, glorious, uncomplicated mixer tap with a strong, non-pulsatile stream! And only then did I start unpacking 2 months of memories. 

Thanks for reading!
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The day after I got signed off, I still woke up at 7am. This was a good thing though, as I had made an arrangement with my flatmate to leave my bags in his room so that I could enjoy one last day in Oxford despite being technically evicted at 11am, and he had to be at hospital by 8am. Although I tried to go back to sleep afterwards, I wasn’t successful, so after a breakfast of good old migoreng and handing in my keys, I decided to walk into town (my bus pass had just expired). Besides, it was such a nice, sunny day, and the squirrels were out – a most auspicious sign in my books!

But alas, just as I started walking through the park to get to college where I had to pay my dinner invoice, the heavens opened up and I was blasted with wind and rain – enough to break my umbrella and waterproof boots. So after sorting out things at college, I headed to the common room where I sat next to a heater for an hour planning my next move. I decided to stroll down to town and pick my spirits up with a bit of retail therapy. Claire’s was having a sale of 10 accessories for 10 pounds (including brush sets, light-up mirrors, socks, and Hello Kitty paraphernalia), and I wanted a Lush moisturizer (Lush is slightly cheaper in the UK than in Australia once you convert things). After this, I decided to just hang out in a coffee shop until my Sydney friend, AZ, finished his 11am tour.

AZ and his friend R had come up from London to have a look at Oxford, and since I had a whole day free, I could think of no better way to spend it than getting people into colleges free on my Bod card and such. And HS, one of the other elective students also leaving at the end of January, was keen to also catch up on tourist attractions. We started with lunch at Turl St Kitchen, which supposedly played host to such famous faces as Oscar Wilde! R was game enough to try the buffalo steaks, while I just stuck with a frittata.

And then we began college-hopping!

Since we were on Turl St, we worked our way downwards. Exeter – famous for the bust of Tolkien lurking in the chapel, Jesus, and Lincoln. Then we tried to get into the library, but it was closed to all those except members. So we headed down to Christ Church, after which point HS had to leave us to move out of her accommodation. The three of us remaining walked to the Christ Church meadow, where we spotted some deer! We then walked past Corpus Christi and down the street to Magdalen, which is my secret favourite. There I put my most charming face on as you’re technically only allowed to bring one guest in per Bod card and took many photos in the rapidly fading light. Finally, we stopped en route to the train station at the Grand Café (the oldest coffee house in England) to have “Cream Tea” which is scones/jam/clotted cream with a pot of tea. It was delicious! I then walked those guys to the station before getting a bus back to my flat to pick up my luggage and catch the bus to London. I was originally planning on attending the college salsa night for a bit, but figured leaving Oxford to arrive in London earlier (and avoiding being groped by seedy guys) was a better option.

I arrived in London at the Marble Arch at about 9pm, hopped in a cab and checked into my hostel, the YHA on Bolsover St. I found the staff really helpful, the rooms clean, and everything fairly secure. I would definitely recommend this hostel if you were looking for somewhere cheap to spend the night (though possibly next time I will be spending extra to get a private room, as living with 7 other people has difficult moments…like when you want to pack at 11pm or when you need to leave at 4:30am, but don’t want to wake everyone else up).

After a quiet Thursday night, I was definitely ready to get going on Friday morning. I got up a bit too early, so after grabbing some stuff from Pret I went for a wander around the west end while waiting for the box office of Her Majesty’s Theatre to open (to get Phantom tickets for 21 quid!). I stopped by the post office to get rid of two kilos of stuff, and then at 10:30 I got 21-pound seats for me and AK (a friend from Potter fandom)!

After this I headed straight up to the zoo to wink at a boa constrictor. It was a little anticlimactic because the snake in the movie wasn’t technically a boa constrictor, but it was a really great zoo nevertheless. Not as sprawling as Taronga, but definitely a lot of interesting animals (oh my god, the reindeer!) I came back at about 15:00 to just chill in my dorm and get changed for the night, before deciding to window-shop some more. I met up with AK at 17:00 and we went to Forbidden Planet, which is an awesome sci-fi/comic book store in Chinatown! I may have splurged on a little something…but it’s not for me, so it’s okay, right?

AK was kind enough to treat me to dinner in a surprisingly authentic Chinatown restaurant (and she gave me chocolate too! Holy crap I have a new best friend!) before watching Phantom. Glorious Phantom. Which I’ve loved since I was a kid and discovered my dad’s “Best of Andrew Lloyd Webber” CD. Phantom and Christine were excellent, but for me the standout was actually Raoul who had a surprising depth to his voice. The set was stunning – I was surprised that even though the stage was about half the size of the Capitol in Sydney, it was really compact and they made really good use of the space they had. Loved the multi-levels!

On my way back to the hostel I stopped at a Tesco’s to replenish my calcium supplies (69p milkshake FTW!) and vitamin water for my travels. I slept soundly until 8am the next morning, after which I started packing before I realized it was 9am, meaning I had only an hour to be dressed, breakfasted, and at the Cambridge Theatre to attempt to score Matilda rush tickets. But once I got to Kiko’s café, an Italian place across the road from the YHA, and had a giant veggie English breakfast placed in front of me, I decided that if I couldn’t get Matilda tickets, I was quite confident I could get Wicked ones anyway. So I didn’t wolf down my breakfast, but enjoyed it with my excellent Italian-style coffee, went back to the hostel to clean my teeth, and only then did I make my way down to Leicester Square. It was past 10:00 by this point, so I was expecting a queue, but I actually just walked straight up to the box office and asked if they had any student tickets left. There was just one…just for me! (Apparently a bunch of couples had rocked up just before me, but there had only been a single ticket left…)

The next thing on my itinerary for the day was a Harry Potter bus tour. It only started at 13:00 so I caught the tube to Embankment and just wandered around the shore. I had yet another Starbucks hot drink to kill time and use the bathroom, before making my way to the assigned meeting place at Temple station. There was a lovely Brazilian girl in a Slytherin scarf who I had a very animated fan conversation with as I put on my Ravenclaw robes and scarf. Nobody else was dressed up though, sadly. But the tour was fantastic! From the comfort of our heated bus, we were driven around to a number of filming locations. It finished at King’s Cross where I got a proper picture with my school uniform and the trolley at Platform 9 ¾.

It was kind of late by this point, so I was more than happy to just head back to the hostel for a bit. Then I had a big falafel salad for dinner before the show started at 19:30. I almost treated myself to a candy cupcake, but given that my breakfast had come with chips, I thought it wasn’t a particularly good idea.

Matilda was amazing. I had heard good things about it from a few of my Sydney friends who had dropped into London last year, and I was a fan of the book, and I’m a sort of fan of Tim Minchin, but it actually exceeded my expectations. It’s a high-energy show with a lot of catchy tunes, and I felt the characters were very true to Roald Dahl’s. The set was also surprisingly good! I would tell you more but shhhhhhhh spoilers!

And now I’ve plonked myself in the common room. I have to start making my way to the airport at 04:45, so I figured instead of waking everyone in my dorm up, I would just hang out in the common room and pull an all-nighter. The fringe benefit is that when I get onto the plane, and I get to sleep, I will be totally in sync with Sydney time!
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Just like the snow which melted this week, and the rain which came and went today, everything has its time. Today it was time for me to leave the place I have called home for the last month and head to London for one last weekend of freedom from the parental units, before flying home. I actually started to feel bizarrely emotional yesterday when I said goodbye to my team. I nearly cried when I had to bid the cath lab people goodbye, because they were the ones who made me feel so welcome in my first week when I was just floating around without a supervisor, and put up with my really dumb questions. Oh, and when saying goodbye to the other elective students? Particularly the other Aussie? Definitely a heart-wrenching moment (it was at Christ Church too, i.e. Hogwarts). And OMG the Quidditch team! I had to write them a little note with a loaf of bread asking them to please feed the ducks in my absence. 
In some ways though, the thought of leaving makes my heart soar. For example, things I miss about Sydney:
  • The weather (Me: I wish I could send you some sunshine {from Australia} Dr D: That sounds like the beginning of a song. Me: Oh okay, maybe I'll write one!)
  • Mr Ravenclaw
  • Yum Cha, cheap Thai food, my kitchen (especially my nonstick wok and endless pile of tea towels), Mr Ravenclaw's cooking, mum's cooking
  • Having a towel rail, a shelf full of my toiletries, a bin, mats, and a dual flush toilet in my bathroom (and a shower not covered in hair). Also mixer taps! You have no idea how annoying it is when there is a hot tap, and a cold tap...so you either freeze or scald yourself. Also, can I just say that European showers are the most confusing things ever?  
  • Having a mirror in my room. 
  • Not having to wear shoes everywhere around my house. 
  • My giant bed and nice pillows and plushie collection
  • The beach
  • My PLC girlfriends, uni friends, the whole gang...
  • Flip-flops and open-toed shoes and shorts and short skirts
  • My clothesline (and the ability to do free laundry)
  • Mr Ravenclaw
  • Photoshop 
  • A medical records system which I can access, printers that work consistently, and stable wifi (though the unlimited 3G is AWESOME)
  • My car
  • Mr Ravenclaw
But jokes aside, Oxford has been extremely good to me. I've had all the ward time, theatre time, clinic time that I wanted. I've been to the gen med ward. I've watched a pall care discussion. I've seen emergencies. I've been to an audit (yuck). I've gotten a lot of free food from journal club meetings and JMO teaching. I've even helped out at the final year exams! I am so grateful for the opportunities I've been given. I think it says a lot about my team that I didn't constantly feel the urge to skip class like many other people on elective...on the contrary, I genuinely wanted to go into hospital to learn and spend time with my team. 

And yeah, I'll just never be an Oxford student again. This is why I actually avoided going into London every weekend...I feel like I can be a traveller in London and go to shows/museums/touristy things whenever, but college-hopping/bopping/etc can't be done when you don't have a Bod card. 

And speaking of London, I'm there now! And I should get an early night as I plan to go to the zoo tomorrow, among other things!

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I got to ward rounds about one minute late, but nobody seemed to notice me anyway. Until Dr R was like, "how are you?" and I turned around thinking he was addressing someone behind me, and there was nobody there :P

Instead of tailing the resident around though, I followed one of the consultants up to the gen med ward. Oxford is different to Sydney in that many people with simple heart conditions are managed entirely by the general medicine team, don't have much contact with actual cardiologists, and never get moved to the cardiology ward. So I saw 4 patients with heart failure with Dr D, who quizzed me throughout the morning. Luckily I was able to answer his questions about Barret's, Multiple Myeloma and Thyroid diseases because they show up in 5th year case protocols!

I then made a mug of instant ramen. Shortly after coming out of the staffroom though, the emergency alarm went off. It turned out one of the patients (a 50-year-old lady with dilated cardiomyopathy who'd just had an ICD inserted) on the cardiology ward collapsed, having gone into VT. A minute later I heard her talking though, so I assumed she recovered. But then she went into VT for a second time, and lost consciousness.

In years 4 and 5, whenever there was an emergency, all the students would be told to get the hell out of the way. I was about to do the same here, before one of the junior doctors asked if I knew how to give CPR. When I replied in the affirmative, he told me to get a pair of gloves on and get into the room ready to take over from someone doing chest compressions. I did a couple of times, though I fear I wasn't terribly useful because I'm a bit of a weakling and I tire quickly. Actually, once more fit young male doctors came along, my job was to hold the arms of the patient because in her semi-conscious state she kept flinging them around, dislodging her cannulas. The patient's pulse came and went, she flipped between sinus/VT/VF, they had to put a magnet over her ICD because it kept randomly going off, many shocks were given, PE/rupture/etc were all ruled out eg by echo, a heck of a lot of adrenaline got infused, they had to suction the intubation tube because it filled up with sinister red fluid, and the team even tried some amiodarone. The resuscitation efforts continued for about one and a half hours but unfortunately, with the patient becoming less responsive and the pH dropping severely and the lactate rising, and since the patient had requested to not end up in the ICU, they decided to stop. 

My paternal grandfather passed away when I was 11, my great-grandfather when I was 12, my maternal grandfather when I was 16, and my great-grandmother when I was 21, so this wasn't the first time I'd seen someone who'd recently passed away. But I don't think any of that fully prepared me for how sad and scary it is when someone slips away rapidly before your eyes. Like as I saw the patient's extremities turning blue, watched as successive blood gas readings came back more and more acidotic, felt her grip weaken in response to "squeeze my hands if you can hear me", and then got asked to help clean up some of the blood before the patient's husband came in, I still didn't quite believe what was happening. I just kept imagining she was going to get her pulse back properly, and then slowly but surely wake up. And also, when we were leaving the room, I couldn't help but think how horrible her final moments must have been...she was evidently aware that she had a tube down her throat and a needle in her neck and two more in her arms, plus we were squashing her sternum, and taking arterial blood samples from the femoral artery (that's basically in the groin, folks). One of her cannulas failed so a new one had to be put in, and she tried to fend off the needle. And even when we weren't checking her response, I noticed she sometimes just held my hand anyway. 

But yeah. Just nothing completely prepares you. I sort of sleep-walked out of the ward and to the registrars' room to message someone online, because I remember just desperately wanting a hug but being too scared to ask any of the doctors. So I got a virtual hug from Mr Ravenclaw. Then I decided to call it a day and calm my nerves with some piano and fudge. It was kind of good timing, as I realised I could properly bid farewell to the Steinway that has served me so well during my term at Oxford. Whenever I've felt like a wreck, I've usually gone to the piano and just played all the bad feelings away. I did a post office run to send off some goodies to Northern Ireland (only 2.70 pounds including packaging for a small parcel going across a body of water!? And the lady felt apologetic that I couldn't quite fit it into a "large letter" and had to pay more. I'm pretty sure I've paid more than $5 to send a hat from one Sydney suburb to another). 

The weather was dismal. Seriously, not only was it bucketing down, the wind was howling away so that even if you had both an umbrella and a raincoat, you still got wet. And since nobody was keen on joining me for an Atomic Burger (apparently there's a burger place that's decorated to look like a cartoon), so I just went back to my flat, did a quick ab workout, showered, and then ate up the last of my udon. I just need to figure out what on earth I'm going to do with my rice, because I have a large packet and nothing to cook it with. I think I may just end up eating it plain one morning. 

I was going to write an entry the other day about how the snow had all melted, and just like the winter wonderland, and my English adventures (along with all my petty woes), nothing can last forever. But I can't think of a clearer example than today of how fragile life is. And it is so humbling when you think that even though it was my first time, for everyone else in that room it was just part of their daily job. They have the courage to deal with such trials as these many times a month. I have been reminded once again that even though I'm near the end of my med school journey, I'm barely at the beginning of becoming a doctor. 
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I woke up to discover that someone had indeed picked up and kept safely my Ravenclaw scarf (the one I accidentally left on the Quidditch pitch in my rush to get to afternoon tea on time). So I packed up my gear for the day, and headed out to Worcester College to collect it. I am relieved to write that I did not cry, however I babbled a bit about sending the Quidditch team some Tim Tams to show my appreciation for them (they not only let me train with them, they also invited me to their socials! And then they rescued my scarf!). 
I used the trek up to Worcester to wander around the area near the train station. I walked around the Oxford Castle (which I have to admit, after seeing Windsor and stuff, was a bit of a letdown), across a few bridges, along the river, and down the streets that would lead me to Rewley Abbey, which is another part of Green Templeton. 
Rewley was the venue for the college Sunday brunch. Where "bring a plate" actually means "bring an empty plate" (unless you feel like being a chef for the day). We feasted on pasta, noodles, curry, cheesecake, crepes, Indian sweets, bagels, and more...I really regret not going to these earlier (although I've generally been doing other things with my Sundays, like waking up in Scotland) because it was actually a lot more laid-back than I was expecting. Heaps of people were meeting each other for the first time, so it didn't matter that I only knew one or two people there. Plus, I got a free meal that kept me going literally all day! 
Since the weather was good, I went college-hopping again, working my way south down Parks Rd. I've now seen Keble, Mansfield, Wadham, Balliol, Trinity (which I'd only seen at night before) and Oriel. Because the weather was generally quite good, I also took my robes out for a spin and took pictures with them at New and Christ Church. At New, I encountered a tour group that wanted to take photos of me! One of the dudes even said I looked just like Katie Leung...anyhow, I thought I'd make their day and ask if anyone wanted to borrow my robes for a picture, and about five of them said a resounding YES! In return they helped take photos of me :D

En route, I also squeezed in quick visits to the Natural History and Pitt Rivers Museums. This was partly to escape the rain, which sort of came and went all afternoon. 
At 4:30pm everything closed, so I went window-shopping for a bit and picked up some pieces of jewellery from a cute shop called "Aspire". There were some nice dresses but they were all too big (for some reason the smallest they stock is a size 8 D:). On my way to catch my bus home, I spotted a sign advertising Evensong at Queen's College.
I've been wanting to visit Queen's, but you can only visit it if you're brought in by an accredited tour guide (well, I had a conversation with a former Christ Church student, and I understand that opening a college to tourists is actually like opening Pandora's Box, so I can understand why some colleges aren't easily accessible). I've also wanted to go to an Evensong, after hearing SXY tell me about her choral adventures, except I've always felt a bit too intimidated (and plus, I'm not remotely Christian, and the last time I was in a chapel apart from my friends' weddings was back in high school). Thirdly, I got stood up for dinner plans (was planning to go to Atomic Burger, which apparently looks like a comic book, with the other elective students but they were too tired) so my alternative plans were to go home and eat a frozen pizza while waiting for Mr Ravenclaw to wake up and get on Skype. 
I had another hour to kill though, so I went to Starbucks and had a big Vanilla Spice Latte, caught up on tweets/instagram and read up about the Queens College Choir. They *are* the really famous group that I've heard of that make CDs and stuff! So naturally I had very high expectations...
...all of which were exceeded!
I showed up at Queen's at 6pm, about 15 minutes before the service was meant to start. This meant we heard the tail end of the choir rehearsal, which already sounded amazing. I also had some time to take some (terrible quality) photos of the college and chapel, skim-read the hymns to be sung (one of which I kinda recognised from school!) and watch the candles be lit by a very tall/dashing Englishman. 
The acoustics of the chapel were stunning. The harmonies were magical. The choir was the best I'd ever heard. The organ was amazing. The minister was hip enough to discuss Big Bang Theory and spill the beans on a tutor of the college who had a "Bullshit" roll-on stamp for his students' essays. And the theme of "Love" was just such a nice, universal topic and something that had been on my mind lately, so it provided a bit of time for introspection. 

I left Queens just as another one of my buses pulled up, which meant I was back at my flat in no time. Dinner was my frozen pizza (yay for 700 calories!), but instead of dessert, I had something (or should I say someone?) even sweeter. (I'm a little late, but Happy 5 months if you're reading this!) 

And now for some ginger tea and a nice early night. Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh it's gonna break my heart to have to leave this place!
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What did I do with my Thursday...well, I went into hospital as usual, but I didn't do my usual things. Because...it was the day of the final year med students' final exams, and I had volunteered to help out from 8am-5:30pm. There were a few reasons why I'd signed up:
  1. The promise of a free lunch and free snacks.
  2. To meet other med students (and it turned out also, junior doctors who were currently doing research).
  3. To support the 6th years, because our job was to provide them with a stress-free run through their stations.
  4. To earn brownie points with consultants from my department, who were being examiners.
  5. To see the students (and examiners!) dressed up in "sub-fusc". This usually consists of black pants/white shirt/white bowtie for boys and black stockings/black skirt/white blouse/black ribbon for girls, all worn under academic robes. However due to the infection risk, during the practical exams, robes aren't worn and the white shirt sleeves are all rolled up to the forearms. Still, it was quite a novelty! I wonder what would happen if we turned up to our exams in sub-fusc for lulz. I mean, I had a conversation with a 4th year med student who explained she quite appreciated the exam uniform, since it helped her get her head into the zone.

I was also hoping to get to observe some of the actual exam stations, and see what kinds of questions were asked in Oxford finals, but since I was assigned to be a chaperone, I only managed to see/hear some of the questions and marking schemes. Nevertheless, I could tell that the standard of the candidature was extremely high and once again I felt slightly underqualified to be in Oxford!

There was an amazing walnut cake for afternoon tea, but I missed out on the apparently even more amazing "lemon drizzle" cake. Coincidentally though, I found a recipe for it in one of the free newspapers we were given to read during the breaks, so I will  be attempting it when I get back to my kitchen and my utensils and my ingredient supply. I had been planning to go out on Thursday night to a bop, but I was too tired to go (and besides, I wasn't terribly keen to get hit on) and ended up curling up with a bowl of noodles and a new book recommended by the boyfriend.

Friday was one of my insane days! I followed my favourite resident and registrar all day until Journal Club, where we were shouted lunch by the people marketing "Edarbi" (azilsartan medoxomil). I then went back to the ward for a bit, although it was quite sad as we had to tell the husband of a lady with carcinoid that she was reaching the final stages of her illness. I stalked one of the consultants back to his office and gave him my elective forms, so that he would have a few days to fill them out. It's actually been quite difficult as I have been floating around the three cardiology teams: electrophysiology, intervention, and imaging/structural/failure for the last month without a lot of emphasis on a particular one (well, except maybe EP, I don't understand it well enough...) So hopefully Dr D has seen me enough to say that I've been present and involved in my elective. I guess if I haven't, then perhaps I could stay another 4 weeks here...but I'm not sure if my visa, wallet or family would like that.

So I came home at about 3pm and attempted to do a load of laundry. Unfortunately, the machine swallowed a few of my coins and appeared jammed, so I trekked up to the accommodation office to ask what could be done. Apparently I may get refunded my 1 pound 20 pence...if the machine gets serviced in between now and Thursday. The chances are slim, but hey, I tried. And I put a sign on the machine with Don't use this machine! It will eat your coins! so hopefully nobody else will suffer the same fate. I got my laundry done eventually in another machine (though it looks like I'll have to do yet another round of washing tomorrow...aargh!)

I then had a shower and got ready for the two parties I had to attend this night. Firstly, there was a black tie dinner to celebrate Robert Burns' birthday. Burns is a Scottish poet, the author of Auld Lang Syne and a couple of other famous bits and pieces, so Scotland like to celebrate him with "Burns Night". It admittedly felt a bit weird to be celebrating a Scottish poet on Australia Day (well, it was the 26th in Australia by 1pm 25th Jan GMT) but it was SO much fun. We began with drinks upstairs, before we were serenaded with a guitar/violin duo as we descended the stairs to the dining room in our tower. And then the bagpipes suddenly began! We filed into the hall as Scotland the Brave played. None of the other elective students managed to snag tickets, so I ended up surrounded by strangers, but everyone was amazingly nice and put me at ease immediately. The first course was soup, after which the bagpipes came out again, as the Haggis was brought in (="Piping-In of the Haggis"). As I'd specified "no red meat" I was classified with the vegetarians, so my haggis/neeps/tatties was once again a safe, spicy veggo version. In between our mains and dessert we were once again serenaded by our guitarist, who sang a few of Burns' songs. One of the fellows of the college also stood on a stool (not a table, or a chair, because that was not OHS-friendly) to recite the tale of Tam O'Shanter (yeah, same name as the ridiculous hats my school made us wear in winter). Even though it was in Scottish, he acted it out so well that I understood most of it (plus he gave us a synopsis, so that helped!). After this awesome entertainment, we had Cranachan. Holy crap it was strong!

After this there was coffee/chocolate and Scottish dancing. Unfortunately I couldn't hang around for long as I had to be at a "sexy sub-fusc bop"! I love doing the sexy schoolgirl thing so this was really fun! Plus, 2-pound vodka/cranberries? Who wouldn't be enthralled?! I came home at around 2am though, aiming to be fresh and bright for Quidditch the next day.

This didn't quite work though, because I left my Skype running on my phone and got woken up a few times during the night. I also found out that my body clock does not like me sleeping in. Hurrah for my regular 7am wakeup, even on a freaking Saturday! I went back to bed, of course, but barely slept and ended up wide awake before 9am. So I stumbled out of bed, made some ramen, decided to give Justin a call, tried to eat gracefully in front of him, and perved on his amazing house.

I made it to Quidditch, got my weekly dose of crazy cardio, and got horrendously muddy (to the point that I am considering not bringing my boots back, because no matter how much I rinsed and scrubbed, the mud would not budge), then excused myself a bit early so I could tidy up before BD's afternoon tea (she's a med student coming to do her elective in Sydney!) Unfortunately I left my scarf behind, so I may need to put all my knitting projects on hold while I make myself a new piece of Ravenclaw paraphenalia. Furthermore, the public toilets had no sink, only an "auto soap/wash/dry" machine. So I was basically sticking my head into the machine, wiping my face with the inside of my hoodie, and...yeah, it wasn't a pretty sight and no matter what I did, I couldn't get most of the gunk out of my hair.

BD's place, which is a little bit north of Oxford, is a beautiful old house with multiple cuckoo clocks and numerous photos of family all over the walls. We were treated to some amazing food, including a very authentic pavlova, and some malteaser concoction that looked like brownies but was actually solid chocolate. BD's mum was so sweet and thanked me already for helping out BD with her Sydney visit. Her sisters were also really great, helping to cook and clean up! And BD's friends were awesome. Even though I do funny things like call "yohg-urt" "yoe-gurt", they still put up with me :)

Eventually it was time to go, and I decided to head straight back to my flat. I was fairly glad, as shortly after I arrived back, it started pissing down...

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The first two days of this week were actually kind of tough. I can't use my regular "I was hormonal" excuse, so perhaps I'll put it down to homesickness instead. Anyway, I crawled out of bed, still exhausted despite 6 hours of sleep on Monday morning (after my Scottish weekend adventure), and because I figured...people won't care if I miss a day of ward rounds...I turned off my alarm and went back to sleep. I woke up properly for a lovely skype session with the boyfriend, before hauling my ass into hospital around 10. I went to the cath lab, where everyone is too busy doing stuff to really notice me standing in a corner frantically looking technical stuff up on my ipad.

I left the cath lab in the afternoon (when the other "observer" decided to bail...I am a real sucker for peer pressure when I need an excuse), got access to printing services (with the intention of printing out coupons), but found that the free printer didn't work. After that downer, I decided to call it a day and headed back to my flat to do laundry, try to finish knitting some socks, read the third book of Game of Thrones, and have a nap.

Since we had new elective students, we decided to go out for dinner at the Turf Tavern, an establishment claiming to be "probably the oldest pub in Oxford" and the haunt of famous figures such as Oscar Wilde, Bob Hawke, Bill Clinton (where he supposedly tried marijuana but "did not inhale"), Margaret Thatcher, and so on. I also recognised it from Inspector Morse, the show which J's dad recommended I see before visiting Oxford. It's quite a cool place with decent food (I had hand-breaded haloumi with chips and salad...followed by sticky date pudding that was really sticky). The atmosphere is further enhanced by chalkboards with little historical snippets.

We are now quite a big group - 2 Sri Lankan guys, 3 German girls, 1 Egyptian guy, 1 Irish girl, and 2 Aussie girls - and I really love how med brings us all together. We all have similar issues like what to specialise in when we grow up, meeting irritating patients, dealing with hospital admin, and how annoying orthopods are. But we're all passionate about med (or surg) and it just feels like such a common language. Even though I've only known these guys for a few weeks (or days...a couple arrived last week!) they feel like family already. I do wonder whether this is part of growing up, where you grow closer to your workmates and further away from your school/uni friends...

...anyway, my parents forgot about our 11pm skype meeting on Monday night. I was actually kind of glad, because I was ready to sleep by 23:30!

On Tuesday I showed my face at ward rounds, then ran off to meet DS and JS. Unfortunately their bus was late and they got off at the wrong stop, and I made the mistake of thinking there'd be an 11am free walking tour (it didn't run because there weren't enough people) which we could join 1/4 of the way in (like I did when JL came over). So I took them to a couple of other random places, before we got on a bus to the only vegetarian restaurant I could find in Oxford (Magic Cafe!) where we found vegan garlic bread (and amazing risotto, mac and cheese, etc). We then went back to the city centre to meet up with one of the other elective students, climb St Michael's tower (the oldest building in Oxford!) and then go for the 2pm tour.

I had this grand plan of leaving the guys on the tour, going to hospital to show my face at the cath lab because the nice junior doctor was like, "cya later at the cath lab!", and then rejoining the tour halfway (everything is free on my bus pass now, so...) This would have worked, had the A/DS/JS had at least one working phone between them (unfortunately DS/JS's phones wouldn't fit their UK sims, and then A's phone ran out of battery). The second part to my grand plan was that I would coordinate dinner with DS/JS and another friend from Sydney who is currently studying here in Oxford. This would probably have worked had her phone not run out of battery, had I not spent an hour close to tears in the foyer of the Ashmolean thinking I'd lost A/DS/JS, had I not run out of phone credit trying to call A's phone which had run out of battery, and had I factored in DS/JS needing to head back to London before it got too dark. But I ended up having a lovely Japanese dinner (with 40% off at Yo Sushi!) with DS/JS, where we laughed about really random and geeky things and stuffed our faces with noodles/tempura/sushi.

Today I got up at 8, determined to make today significantly less of a fail! And it was! Ward rounds were boring as usual, but I made a beeline for outpatients where I hung out with Dr F, who has become one of my life role models up there with JKR and Bill Gates. Seriously, the inside of his head is like Wikipedia. Except when it comes to IT...then I'm apparently his guru (today I got brownie points by fixing Internet Explorer so it could play angiogram videos). Today's patients included the usual coronary artery disease cases, but I also got the opportunity to listen to a patient with rheumatic heart disease (with AR, MR, and AS...as Dr F put it....Christmas is here!)

I then ran off to teaching, which one of the nice junior doctors told me about. I was really glad, not just because there were free sandwiches (and my lunch would otherwise have consisted of a cup of 60p instant noodles), but also because it was a genuinely interesting case discussion: a previously healthy 43 y/o man comes in with increasing dyspnoea, but no other symptoms. It turned out to be myasthenia gravis, which I suspected from about halfway through once cardiac/infectious causes had been ruled out and it was looking neurological, but alas, I was too intimidated by the room full of real doctors to shout it out.

After lunch I went down to the cath labs again, to watch a coarctation of the aorta get stented! It was quite fiddly and there were so many people that I had to watch from the cockpit, but it was really, really cool! Then, after sampling British energy drinks ("Boost" - 89p for a can, significantly cheaper than Red Bull) I went up to the ward to hang out with one of the nice junior doctors. He and his reg were seeing some interesting patients with "no medical students allowed" signs on their doors so I was happy to tag along! By this time it was almost 4pm so I felt ready to leave. I finished my evening with some shopping, iPad-aided exercise, and dinner (followed by some salted caramel fudge and half a punnet of blueberries!)

So yeah, I guess it's true what JKR says. When you hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up from there :)


Jan. 22nd, 2013 03:39 pm
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The train journey from Oxford to Edinburgh should only take about 6 hours. When I jumped on the train at 6:38, I expected to end up in Edinburgh at 12:22. In reality I was there at 15:50. Why? Snow causing our train to break down, meaning we had to go to Edinburgh via Glasgow instead. Not a disaster (and it meant I got two Scottish cities for the price of one), but quite annoying given that I had very little time in Edinburgh as it was anyway. 

While waiting for me to show up, my cousin and her partner had managed to procure two dozen Krispy Kreme donuts (being given away for free as a promotion for a new store). I was very, very glad for the sugar hit after nothing but a peanut butter sandwich, a pack of grain wave equivalents, and a packet of apple juice. We strolled around the Old Town and finished up with a coffee at the Elephant House Cafe, one of the birthplaces of Harry Potter!

And then I embarked on a Harry Potter tour of the city led by a lovely Glaswegian called Gemma. We went to an old graveyard which featured a McGonagall and a Thomas Riddle

I was joined on the tour by my friend CC from uni, who's on elective in Edinburgh. We had a great time catching up, comparing elective experiences, talking about what we would do with intern year around the corner, and so on. We also went out for dinner at Maggie Dickson's where I had a salad twice the size of my head that came with potatoes. Not bad value, really! 

By then it was kind of late, and I was starting to get cold/tired/snow-beaten so I met up with my cousin again at the bus stop to her place, which was outside a frozen yogurt store! I couldn't believe people in the middle of a Scottish winter would be interested in froyo, and yet I saw over a dozen people go in and out in the space of 15 minutes! What the?! Having said that, I also saw girls wandering around in short skirts and thin rights, so perhaps some people are just immune to the cold. 

My cousin lives in a lovely new apartment with double-glazed windows with water views! I would seriously have been happy with a couch and a blanket after my 8-hour ordeal but she had an awesome spare room which she'd tidied just for me. With a double bed that made me think of home. We also stayed up late just gossiping and talking about our family members which was really fun! I ended up sleeping at 11pm. 

When I got up at 8am nobody was awake anyway. After reorganising my suitcase and such, I had some time to kill, so I skyped the boy. Since it was just on my iPhone, I couldn't send videos but he was nice enough to give me a view of his kitchen where he was cooking up a storm (the most complicated thing I make is fried rice, whereas he has the patience to make pasta sauce from scratch and elaborate stew things). 

My cousin took me to brunch at this place where we had mocktails called the "Bloody Shame" and real Scottish breakfasts served on skillets. I got to try the vegetarian haggis with a potato cake-like thing. Not quite game enough to try black pudding yet, but I assume it'll be offered at Burns Night this Friday. 

And then we went into the city, via Holyrood Palace and Arthur's Seat (which unfortunately was quite icy and a bit too dangerous to climb). We did, however, get a decent way up the hill and got some views of both the sea and what looked like a dam. And then we strolled back through the student areas of the city to reach the train station, making a stop at the Balmoral Hotel where the final Harry Potter book was finished, and a Cafe Nero to warm ourselves up. 

My train was delayed by about 10 minutes, but given the debacle yesterday, I was just glad it hadn't been cancelled! I spent the journey getting through the third book of Game of Thrones, practising my Catan strategies, and knitting yet another sock. I used the 20-minute gap waiting for my final train at Paddington to refuel with a sandwich and smoothie (originally I'd planned to just have some midnight migoreng back at my flat, but I was just too hungry to think by this point). The trip back was surprisingly speedy, and I arrived in Oxford only one hour behind schedule. Luckily, I was still in time to make the last bus back to the hospital, thus avoiding cab fare and making more use of my Oxford Key! I'm pretty sure I've made more than 15 return trips so I've now earned the cost of it back :)
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Here's a rather disorganised entry about my third week in Oxford, written on a train to Edinburgh :)

This week I had the privilege of observing a TAVI! And no, I did not attempt to type "N'Avi" from Avatar. In cardiology, TAVI stands for "Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation". Basically, everyone has valves in their heart to prevent blood from flowing the wrong way. Sometimes, these valves get gunky and don't work properly. One method to fix this is to open someone's chest, put them on a bypass machine, open the heart and put in a new valve. This is a huge, fiddly and risky operation. So for some people, there's an alternative method where they stick a tube up the artery of the leg/neck, or through the chest, and deploy a valve in the heart through it. That's what a TAVI is! Compared to open heart surgery, which I've seen in Sydney, this is much faster (takes about an hour all up). 

I've also watched a pacemaker operation become complicated by abnormal anatomy. And an ASD repair which went hairy when the device embolised to the aorta, causing a dissection and requiring a "fishing trip". I guess it's important to watch and learn what to do when things don't go exactly as planned. I.e. stay calm, ask another person's opinion, etc. Because all those events could have had an adverse outcome, but because they were well-handled, everyone was ok. 

On Tuesday and Wednesday I somehow ended up in audit meetings which was so painful that even with the English accents, my ears still came close to bleeding. Monday and Thursday I also spent lots of time in outpatients, which I really liked and will probably do more of next week. Especially the one on Monday with Dr F, who loves his history and taught me about William Witherings, Nikolai Korotkoff and Monckeberg. I still haven't really impressed anyone apart from Dr A, who runs a cardiomyopathy clinic (because I'd decided to read about it the night before) but hopefully I haven't disappointed them too much. I've not spent that much time on the wards because this is what I always do back home...though I've felt some impressive reactive arthritis, heard a pericardial friction rub, and seen a guy in ARF who probably won't recover :(

My extracurriculars have included visiting some more colleges: Magdalen, All Souls, Christ Church, and of course Green Templeton, which I've been made an "honorary member" of in order that I can attend their dinners and whatnot. I just have to climb St Mary's, but I'm going to wait til DS and JS get here to do that with them. 

But yeah, GTC! The highlight of being a member is that I have access to the Radcliffe Observatory which is a tower with several levels. On the bottom is the dining hall, on the next level is a lounge where movie nights, drinks and post-dinner coffee/chocolates are held, and I haven't been up the top yet. It really feels like I'm hanging out in Ravenclaw tower! Well, except when I look at GTC's logo which is a green snake. Hmmmmm. Oh well...also, their "formal" Thursday and Wednesday dinners are kind of intense. They ring a gong to get you into the hall, they say grace in Latin, people wear their academic robes, and the food is pretty good. There was this chocmint cheesecake that I wanted to last forever. On Friday night I also went to a "bob" themed "mathletes and athletes" which I wished I'd brought my cheerleader uniform to. Well, having said that, given that a random guy came up to me, tapped me on the shoulder and said, "excuse me, but I have to kiss someone before I leave," (seriously? Is that even a pickup line?) even when I was wearing a tshirt and trackpants, maybe it's a good idea I didn't go as a Cheerio. But yeah, I've never run so fast in my life as I did from that dude, or pushed anyone away with such force. And even though it wasn't midnight yet, I decided to leave. Plus I think I'd managed to put about 5 standard drinks into myself thanks to the themed cocktails so that was probably a good thing. 

We've also had buckets of snow. On Friday I disappeared from hospital before 1pm to play in the snow. I started by checking out Christ Church meadow, built a snowman and saw a deer! I then met up with AB (from Quidditch) and his friend in Uni Parks to feed the ducks. I found they were quite aggressive creatures...AB reckons it's because the seagulls are teaching them things. So we threw snowballs at the seagulls, then at each other. Also, AB nearly threw me in the frozen lake which I was not amused at. But he did offer to share his bread with me earlier so I suppose he was allowed one prank. Before we left, we turned an icy, dangerous bridge into an awesome slippery dip. By this time, it was 4pm and getting dark, so I decided to head back to my flat to have a quick nap, and record a video for the Hogwarts Choir. I'm not totally happy because the lighting in my room is terrible so I will be trying again later next week...

Next week is going to be amazing! The 6th years finally finish their finals, which means PARTY! Also I'm going to a Burns Night black tie dinner at college (for which I have bought a long dress...) And of course, my friends from Sydney are coming to visit! I'm sooooo glad because I really miss everyone, and to get some news from home would be really lovely (yeah, I know I'm constantly on Facebook, but it's just not the same).
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Time for an update, I think. The last few days of my second week in hospital got kind of hectic, because the guy who was meant to be my supervisor finally showed up. So I had to be on my best behaviour and stay in hospital til at least after 4pm. But I learnt lots of stuff! I have played with an ICE catheter! I have heard a lot of ESMs and felt "slow rising" pulses! I have gotten horribly confused by the different units used to report blood test results! I have met lots of patients/doctors/students who think I'm American! I have spent a lot of time in the med student clubhouse known as Osler House (WHICH HAS A PIANO OH MY GOD MY WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS ARE CURED)! My team have made a LOT of orthopod jokes! Also for some reason I’ve had to chaperone 2xPRs. And this is the cardio ward! I shudder to think what gastro/neuro wards are like here!

Also I saw a blood glucose monitor that claimed it was "fast, compact and stylish". Excuse me, "stylish"? How on earth can a piece of medical equipment be "stylish"?

The other elective students (C, H, J and R) have all started now, which has made my life a bit more interesting (though K has gone home, sadface)! Although nobody is staying at the hospital with me (maybe I should've paid the extra $$ to stay in college...but then I'd have to catch the bus into hospital every morning, and I hate mornings), we've had dinner together (<3 Wagamama!) and gone to a party (or rather, a "bob") together, and I'm hoping we can do a pubcrawl together too (C's idea).

Ah yes, the "bob". Where the action only starts after 10:30pm, 6-shot cocktails cost a mere 4 pounds (my readers will probably be dismayed to learn that I asked for a half-sized "Willy-O", the Osler House specialty), candy brains/eggs/teeth etc are served, people proudly wear cardboard boxes/paper plates/newspaper/garbage bags/next to nothing, "Gangnam Style" is the only song that brings everybody together, and the vodka lemon/lime consists mostly of a really disgusting green cordial. It was held in the main room of Osler House, with the canteen being converted to a bar and the couches being cleared away to create a dancefloor. However, I noticed people spilling into other rooms, especially the pool room (but alas, the piano room was locked for the night). And despite the bitter cold, a number of people were loitering outside...smoking >_<

I've also been adopted by the Quidditch Society and the Harry Potter Society (which overlap a bit). Thanks to them, I've gotten some serious exercise, I've had someone to see Pitch Perfect and Les Miserables with, I've gained the courage to just stroll casually into colleges (thanks soooo much B and M for taking me to Trinity and Oriel!), and I've consumed a significant amount of chocolate biscuits while knitting my next sock. They are also teaching me to speak Oxford English (yeah, apparently it's not all about the Oxford Comma). It's not a library card, it's a "bod card", for example. And we have to be quiet because of "collections".

Actually, their knitting club, a subset of the HP Society, deserves a whole paragraph. Not only is everyone making Hogwarts scarves and eating chocolate biscuits, they are the coolest (read: geekiest) Oxford students I've met yet. And for this I love them all. Today, they sang excerpts from Les Miserables, spent >15 minutes discussing the number of minutes in a year, and discussed past and upcoming D&D campaigns (admittedly, I don't play RPGs because I lack the time, but for all my dating I have {happily} been a D&D widow, which I prefer to being a football widow or something because at least D&D/Shadowrun/Pathfinder/Dark Heresy are compelling intellectual pursuits).
But generally, I love Oxford students in general (except the smokers, they’re just gross)! Even though they say things like, “awwww, who thinks it’s cute that the Aussies are cold!” I’ve still had really fun conversations with them. Especially about our wildlife. And our beaches. I’m so excited that some Oxford med students are coming over in the next few months! I hope I’ll be able to drive them up to the northern beaches and stuff.

This week I also managed to fit in lots of touristy things! I did the free Footprints walking tour on Saturday morning when J, my med school colleague/neighbour/revue friend came to visit. The guide was genuinely funny, eager to tell us all the tales of Oxford (e.g. the Mallard Duck story, the college “where fun goes to die”, and the antics of several Rhodes scholars including Bob Hawke and Bill Clinton). We also wandered down many cobblestone roads, got inspired by the same sights/sounds that CS Lewis (omg the Narnian lamp post!) and Lewis Carroll did, discovered what a “kissing gate” is, and took a jumping photo near the Bridge of Sighs. Today I visited the Bodleian Library, the Radcliffe Camera, the Divinity School, Harris Manchester College, New College, and the Museum of Science (so I’ve now done most of the Harry Potter sites, apart from Christ Church, which is a work in progress as I’m trying to get myself invited to dinner there).

And don’t get me started about my retail therapy…remember that red dress I mentioned a few entries ago? Well, it got marked down from 18 to 10 pounds, so I caved in and bought it. Since I’m going to start going to parties more, investing in a decent dress is not a bad idea. I guess the problem is that I also caved in and bought a 20 pound wool trench coat and a 5 pound pair of cute pink shorts (I’m planning to wear them to skype the bf). Oh, and today I did my varsity shopping…bought a Green Templeton hoodie (whose logo DS will approve of), an Oxford t-shirt to match it, and some track pants. WHAT?!? I got a student discount! Oh, and I bought some tea towels for my mum and grandma and another female relative that I have forgotten to buy presents for. Oh well, I plan to chuck all my toiletries before I leave home, so that’ll free up significant weight/space in my bag…

And now speaking of toiletries and things, I can’t help making a few comments on my accommodation. Read more... )

In summary, it’s been a really hectic week, but I love this place and it’s going to be so hard to leave after one month (except when I think of the warm weather back in Australia, then I can’t wait to go home and defrost)!
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What?! I've been at Oxford for a whole week now?! Well, I've stopped getting lost and I think I've figured out a series of shortcuts that gets me from my room to the registrars' room in the length of two SNSD songs (about 7 minutes) in the mornings. 

These past two days I've been going on ward rounds in critical care, then heading into the cath lab. I've been able to see pacemaker stuff, TOE, PFO closure, and ablation for atrial flutter, but not a LACA for AF because supposedly it is like "watching paint dry". It's all pretty amazing that they do all this stuff by sticking a wire into someone. Especially the PFO...where this little umbrella thing comes out and...voooooomp! No more PFO! I've also started to pluck up the courage to go and see patients on the wards on my own...they all get excited when I tell them I'm from Australia and want me to sit down and tell them about the climate. Which is funny because apparently Sydney was treated to a 42C day yesterday (which I'm pleased to have avoided!) Now, if only I could hear an S3 without having to be told by the consultant that it was there...also, I have been looking every second drug mentioned on ward rounds up on Wikipedia. I swear I have never heard of Dalteparin being used in Australia (okay I'm not that dumb, I knew it was a form of heparin, I just didn't know if it was unfractioned or not). Also, "Co-codamol"...seriously? 

Anyway, I'm conscious that most of you reading this aren't med students, so the last paragraph was kind of boring. Never fear, the next paragraph will be about my Sunday adventures in London!

K and I caught the "Oxford tube" into the city, which is really a bus. We started out at the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, which attempted to imitate continental European winter festivals. I wanted to skate on the ice rink, but it was ridiculously expensive (think 14 pounds for an hour), so we just walked around, laughed at some of the rides (what was a pirate ship doing there?), and took photos with the swans (K couldn't believe that Australian swans are black!). We then went to the Victoria and Albert museum, which was really good despite us missing out on the Ballgowns and Hollywood Costumes special exhibition because we hadn't booked tickets earlier. We also explored Harrods (but obviously didn't buy anything) and a few other nearby shops. K wanted to go to Mayfair, but it was a bit underwhelming as it just looked like a regular suburb. So we hit up Oxford St to do some shopping. But I couldn't find anything I liked in my size or price range, alas. I do really want a new coat but they all seem so big! I especially liked this hooded wool coat from Zara, but I already have a red coat so it seemed too indulgent to get another, especially if it makes me look kind of short. I also still need a dress for my formal college dinners but I think I'll wait and see what other people wear to them to get some ideas. And I was thinking of dropping by Victoria's Secret, but I like to do my underwear shopping alone, and I've heard that it's quite overpriced in the UK anyway. Also...Primark, can I just say, "yuck"? Also it was so overcrowded in there! 

Okay now I recognise I've alienated all my male readers with that last paragraph. Okay, the next one isn't mostly about clothes...

Okay, I'll write about food! Food is generally cheap here! I can get a nice big sandwich for lunch for less than two pounds! And it's not ham and cheese, it has French Brie, cranberry and salad! I'm also heading out to Wagamama tonight with the other elective students who've just arrived (I have an ulterior motive because I'm really craving some Jap noodles, which I can't find in the supermarket and therefore cannot cook for myself...and K has never heard of ramen) and the yasai yaki soba, which is $17 in Australia, is £7. I am pretty bad at maths, but I'm pretty sure this is a saving! Unless of course the serving turns out to be half the size. Oh, and there's all-you-can-eat sushi for £19 at this Japanese restaurant I walked by the other day...which actually doesn't sound anywhere near as good as Scoopon back home, but...yeah. 

I think that's made all of my readers happy, so I'll end this here! Hope you and all your pets have survived the heatwave! 
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Oxford, Days 2-4
I'm now settling in, learning the nuances of my flat. For example, one of our showers doesn't get hot enough to have a comfortable shower, the lights in the bathroom take 5 seconds to turn on, I can get moderately dodgy wifi from one corner of my room, and the washing machine on the far right gets stuck mid-cycle.

I'm also slowly getting acquanted with Oxford itself. You can't seem to walk anywhere without bumping into a beautiful old church or something, and I love that. I even intentionally got lost a few times. Sometimes I was following squirrels. Yeah, feel free to judge me. 

Today I went to the Asmodean Museum...wait, Ashmolean (dammit, DS, for putting Wheel of Time into my head, but it's your birthday so I'll forgive you) which turned out to be quite amazing - I spent about 2 hours wandering around there without even paying to get into the "special exhibitions"! I especially liked the collection of Egyptian mummies, the musical instruments (omg, I saw the Messiah!), everything Roman (I managed to read a few of the Latin sentences without having to look up the translations!), the Greek pottery, the Chinese porcelain, and the Japanese paintings. Actually, I was really proud of myself today because apart from buying some tofu (hurrah! I can stop being malnourished!) I didn't spend any money today (Ashmolean museum is free, and I have a frequent-rider bus ticket).

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for my other days in Oxford. Okay, granted, I had to do several rounds of groceries because I prefer to cook most nights, even if all I cook is pasta, noodles and fried rice. I also ran out of hotel soap...but fortunately Boots chemist was having a 50% off sale, so I got this fantastic vanilla/raspberry body wash for a little more than one pound. This stuff usually retails at Coles for over $4 a bottle. And oh my gosh, I love it! It smells like those strawberry-and-cream hard candies that I haven't seen since the 1990s. And even though I have been using it for less than a week, I already feel all nice and moisturised. When I get home, and it comes on special at Coles, I will buy a shelf full of it.

But yeah, I still need to get a dress for my formal college dinners. I saw a nice red-and-black dress today, but it was a little bit big and not quite formal enough, so I put it back. I kind of want an excuse to get something from this quirky place, which I see every time I ride the bus, but it's probably so expensive I may as well be shopping in Australia. And as hard as I try, I will probably gain weight in between now and my gradball in November. 

Anyway, you're all going to think I've been all play and no work. I actually disagree...I think I've been fairly well-balanced so far! I've been getting to hospital at 8am for ward rounds, then going to the ward, or the cath lab, or outpatients. I've also spent some time in echo. The bosses and registrars have been really nice so far, even when I've asked horribly dumb questions like, "What's a firm? Is it just like a team?" Some of them even seem to like Australia (one registrar thought that Australians have cool place names, eg Wagga Wagga).

I feel like I need to work on my mannerisms because the way I phrase things sometimes sounds odd to English people. In my next entry I'll make sure I describe in detail a situation where someone looked at me a bit funny. I mean, usually they can smell my accent a mile away so they roll their eyes and think, "stupid Aussie" but like...oh, I dunno. Actually, to be honest, it works both ways, because sometimes I take awhile to process what people with heavy northern accents are saying :( some of the doctors must just think I'm really dumb.

I've also had the pleasure of meeting one of the other elective students. K is from Poland, and apart from being ridiculously smart, beautiful and gracious, is a really fun and adventurous person! I actually feel quite bland next to her (in fact, with everyone telling me Oxford is extremely competitive, how the hell did I get in?!?)  I imagine all the other elective and native med students are similarly super-hyper-overachievers...eeeeeek!

But yeah, there you go! Not only have I survived week one, I'm having a ball! And the other Oxford students haven't even officially started term yet...next week, the parties start!!
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Happy New Year, everyone! To those of you who are following this from Livejournal, you can find my annual year-in-review post here. My NYE was fairly uneventful, as my whole family were worn out from touring and everyone except me was showing signs of the common cold. So we just enjoyed the London fireworks from the comfort and warmth of our hotel room. And I got to share it with the bf too, thanks to the awesomeness that is Skype! The only non-awesome thing was that although our hotel room came with two double mattresses and one single mattress, the single bed had no linen/quilt. So I was sleeping on this bare mattress huddled under my Hogwarts robes for warmth. Not terribly fun, but at least it was only for about 6 hours...

On the first day of 2013, we woke up early, breakfasted before 8, and were heading out for the station by 9. We took the underground to Paddington and the train to Oxford, which was all surprisingly painless. It helped significantly that my brother was there to carry my suitcase. I'm thinking I won't be able to buy a lot of stuff, or else I'm going to have to start chucking things, or I'm going to break my arms on the return journey. Anyway, before we knew it, we were staring at the glorious architecture that decorates the town of Oxford.
Read more... )
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The only things that weren't awesome about Paris were:
1. Pickpockets and Pedlars
Though we fortunately escaped unscathed, we were constantly hassled by pedlars trying to peddle everything from flowers to souvenirs. While this doesn't strike me as terribly different from Florence or Rome, the ones here were really in your face and not afraid to block your path. And the signs everywhere warning you to check your pockets, even in places where you had to pay roughly 10€ for admission, were really quite disturbing. I mean, seriously, pickpockets buy a ticket up the Eiffel Tower because they are so sure they will earn back the cost of their ticket?

2. No free wifi
This was the fault of the Marriott assuming that all people who stayed there could afford to pay 20 euros a day for Internet. Fortunately though, the Louvre had an Apple store (near their Lauderee!)

3. Gridlock
I live in Sydney. I'm used to traffic jams. I've seen how the Princes Highway can be an enormous parking lot and how backed up the Harbour Tunnel can be. But nothing prepared me for Paris (or Rome for that matter). Because not only do you have congestion, you have chaos. For example, the only rule about roundabouts is that you accelerate to get in and pray other people slow down to avoid you, because the roundabouts are giant monstrosities with things in the middle that prevent you from seeing the other side. Also, apparently three or four lanes of traffic can turn left despite there being no traffic lights or signs. But I guess it's just a sign that the city's ancient streets were never designed to deal with the glut of cars.

Now we've gotten all the yucky stuff out of the way, let me start gushing about Paris the way everyone usually does!

The drive to Paris was our longest yet - we left at about 7:45 in the morning and crossed the Swiss-French border just before 9am. We only reached Paris itself after 4pm (due to aforementioned atherosclerotic streets). By then, we were all too tired to go out shopping, and went our rooms instead to nap before dinner.

Dinner was served at a nearby 400-year-old restaurant. We started with a classic - French Onion Soup. I especially liked the melted cheese on top, even after my mother pointed out how gruyere has the highest fat content of hard cheese. The main course was fish with spinach, which was tasty but hard to eat because it had millions of tiny bones, the thickness of a strand of hair. Dessert though, was this coconut and raspberry parfait that was very welcome indeed in the swelteringly overheated room. I wish I'd gotten the Creme brûlée though, because it was the size of my face.

After dinner we had a bus tour around Paris followed by a cruise! This took us on a loop around the Seine, past all the big historic buildings. It was septilingual, being in French, English, Spanish, Italian, German, Korean and something else I couldn't figure! The Eiffel tower literally sparkled in front of us, we had the best view of all the bridges, and we even saw a few rodents racing along the river bank (which made me think of Ratatouille!)

I was so tired though, that I fell asleep on the bus ride back to the hotel even though our tour guide was still narrating.

Our only full day in Paris began with a short drive around the city. It was just after 8am, so we caught the sunrise, which was magnificent and soon gave way to blue, unclouded skies for our trip up the Eiffel tower. We were the first group up, and we had purchased tickets ahead of time, so we queued for less than five minutes! Our French guide even suggested that if we wanted to start a fight, we ought to wave our tickets at the people in the regular queue. Our tickets only took us up to the second level, but this was easily enough to give us a stunning view of the city. We took our cliched windswept photos, queued for the bathroom (or if you were a male, walked straight in and out) and shunned the 18-euro souvenir mugs. At the bottom, just before getting onto our bus again, our French guide suddenly ran his hands over my shoulders/arms and went, "what a fantastic colour! Very chic!" with reference to my bright pink coat. But my mother had to spoil the moment by going, "her boyfriend hates it!"

Next stop, the Louvre! We had a few minutes of free time to get some macarons, some McDonald's, and some wifi, before entering the museum. Unfortunately we didn't have much time for more than a brief look at a very few of the paintings. We didn't even get terribly close to the Mona Lisa because there were 10 rows of people in front of it. And we missed the Egyptian section, which I would've been really interested in. But we got to see lots of statues (which our guide made funny comments about bits falling off) including the hermaphrodite. And omg, the ceilings of the Louvre! Especially the ones with the corners decorated with the initials of important French monarchs.

My mother in particular found the crowds really unpleasant, but I was just glad it wasn't the high season (spring/summer). Also, I guess the big crowds give everyone a bit of anonymity. It probably explains the ridiculous amount of PDAs I caught sight of (even in the underground fortress of the Louvre where the most used to be ...can anyone think of a less romantic spot?)

After the Louvre we went for a tour of the French Quarter and Notre Dame. I would've loved to sing Disney songs there, but there was a sign asking for "silencio" and "安静". But it was a magnificent cathedral even without the colourful characters running around singing crazy songs like "Bells of Notre Dame" and "Hellfire".

We would've liked to go shopping afterwards, but shops tend to be closed on Sunday's. So we got a few souvenirs and headed back to the hotel to have a rest before our Moulin Rouge outing. This needs a cut tag. )

I hit the bed almost immediately after getting back to the hotel, which was at almost midnight. We then had to be up at 6 and out by 7:30 for our trek back to bonny England.
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On the 27th, I had an extremely cranky and more-blind-than-usual morning because I woke up with mild conjunctivitis in my right eye, which made it impossible to wear contacts. So I had to settle for looking like a bespectacled blob (because of all the layers, including the money pouch, underneath my jumper). But I'm on holiday, which means I refuse to feel self-conscious. Except when I'm on Skype...

We had to rush breakfast a little because we had to be on the bus by 7:40 for the long drive to Lucerne. 

Swiss scenery has to be seen to be believed. It really looks like a postcard, with snow-capped mountains and roofs, sprawling lakes, frosty trees, waterfalls, rocky rivers, and so on. And one of the most interesting things about the drive is that you have to go through tunnels that go on for kilometres (the longest was 16km), and on the other side, the weather is often completely different. Before we went into the 16km tunnel, it was snowing, and after we came out, it was clear. And then after the next tunnel it was raining. 

Switzerland uses Francs, which are supposedly about the value of an Australian or US dollar. We went out for lunch and a medium salad plate cost 9.50 CHF. Okay...considering I pay about that at Stockmarket at uni, that's not a disaster. But then at night we went to our hotel bar. Cocktails...17 CHF. Well, looks like Switzerland will be my alcohol-free days. And apparently caffeine-free days, since my parents have instituted a coffee ban on me. Alcohol ban on my brother and coffee ban on me. 

Dinner was in a restaurant about 10 minutes walk from our hotel which included a salad buffet. And an apple strudel for dessert! After dinner we browsed Casa Grande, which sold Swiss army knives, as my brother was keen on them. I actually picked one up too - a tiny blue one called the "manager" with a bottle opener, nail file, scissors, screwdriver, tweezers and a few other things I will probably not use. But it's so cute! 

Anyway, on our second day in Lucerne, we were supposed to go to Mount Pilates. I mean...Pilatus. But at 9am it was closed due to unsafe conditions, so after seeing the very sad "Lion of Lucerne" we were told to go into the city centre and amuse ourselves for an hour and a half to see if conditions would improve. We wandered around to the concert hall (which was unfortunately closed) where a Pirates of the Caribbean symphony performance was happening...tomorrow night >_<

Oh, and there were a LOT of swans. Giant swans! With highly flexible necks that defied the laws of vertebral fusion! 

Mum and I quickly found a clothing store with big sales where we found 29CHF blazes and 15CHF jeans. We also picked up our Swiss army knives, which we'd had engraved (mine says "Ravenclaw" because it is blue, and it is kind of like a claw). When we got back to the bus, we were told that Mount Pilates was closed, but that Mount Titlis was open. It is significantly higher than Mt P though, at 3000m, so some of us were admittedly sort of puzzled. Still, we got on the bus and headed out to Ingleburg where the mountain was situated. 

Gradually, the carpet of snow became thicker. We ended up walking through slush (and elbowing through skiers, some of whom were half my height) to get to our cable car ride. We got the most mindblowing views from our cable car: houses looking as if they had been dusted with icing-sugar, skiers looking like ants, and the alps extending as far as we could see. We had to change from a 6-person to a 30-person car about halfway up, and then to a "rotating cable car" for the last portion of the journey. It was -12C and quite windy at the top! 

We had about an hour of free time at the top of the mountain. Firstly, we headed to the glacier cave, which had walls of ice and few ice sculptures. Then my brother (and his newfound friend) and I headed outside to roll in the snow. It was knee-deep and of powdery consistency which made a snowball fight somewhat difficult. Still, we made some snow angels, attempted a snowman, and went sliding down the hill on our butts. It wasn't easy to do as my glasses kept fogging up, and the snow got into the gap between my jacket and gloves. But it was so worth it!

We came inside the complex again and headed for the restaurant to have a quick hot chocolate before we had to catch the three cable cars down to the ground again. Man, Swiss hot chocolate. **sigh**

We then were treated to a carriage ride through the village of Engelburg, where Mt Titlis is located. Our horse had bells attached, which made it even more Christmassy. We also had blankets in our carriage to keep us warm. People on the street were waving to us, and one of the ladies in our tour group suggested we give them a "royal wave". I'm not usually a fan of horses, but this was a really good way to see the village - the cobblestone streets, quaint shops, easy snow slopes, and chalets quickly. 

After the ride, we disembarked at a dairy farm where we had cheese, cheese pie, gingerbread and schnapps served to us by a farmer and her very cute kids. We got to meet and feed her cows too! 

Then it was back to the bus, and back to our hotel, where my family unanimously decided to have a quiet night. Tomorrow we're off to Paris, the last stop of our tour, and I can't wait, especially for the Moulin Rouge! 
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Ciao Firenze!
Despite looking up the weather the night before, I neglected to dress appropriately for it...fortunately, the morning was spent on a bus. We only reached Florence after lunchtime (though after a series of dinners/lunches with many servings of pasta and pizza, I was happy to go with my parents' recommendation that I skip lunch and just have some crackers). After this we went for a walk to the Academia, where for the second time I got to see Michelangelo's David (this time with a tour guide who kept harping on how good-looking he was, how "tender" his face was and how we ought to admire his behind). I also saw a Stradivarius violin! But it was a little anticlimactic because I expected it to look significantly different from a regular violin :P and apart from just looking like a really old violin...yeah...I'm sure it sounds a million times better than my old violin though! Oh, and I saw a gigantic "tenor viola" which made me giggle.

It was a very rushed trip though, because we had to see all the highlights of Florence before it got dark (and it's winter now, so...) Our guide really just took us around the major churches of the city before dropping us off outside peruszi leather warehouse. There we spent an hour browsing through all kinds of luxury goods. My mum got a few jackets and other leather goods. I'm not a gigantic fan of leather in general so I wandered over to the sunglasses section. Especially the "50% sale" rack! I found a gorgeous pair of Armani sunnies for €190. I then caved in and bought a lovely little "regenerated leather" (I assume it's recycled, so that's all right with me) wallet for €10. So...that balances it out, right? 

Then it was down to our hotel for a 1-hour break before our trek to dinner in the Tuscan Hills. We did a 100-point turn on our way uphill...

...which was totally worth it! I was stuffed full of pasta once the mains came around! And the chef gave me a tour of his kitchen (I suspect it's because I was smiling all night, thanks to a delightful Skype session with J just after checking into the hotel). And there was SO MUCH FOOD. Holy crap. I say this after every Italian meal, but in all seriousness, I cannot believe this. Montebuoni was our best meal yet.

We drove home past a Tuscan monastery which was up on a hill and amazingly beautiful in the moonlight. And at this point I realized I was drunk enough to write J an email without punctuation, so he suggested I head off to bed, which I did. And had to get up at 6am the next morning to trek over to Switzerland. 
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Upon our arrival in Rome, we got on a coach and went straight to the Vatican. Because...it was Christmas Eve, and the Vatican is closed for Christmas Day and Boxing Day, so we only had this one opportunity to see it! I was especially keen to see the Sistine Chapel, having missed out on it in April 2005 when we landed in Rome...on the day of the Pope's funeral. When it was closed for the papal elections. Christmas, unfortunately, is another not-great time to visit the Sistine Chapel as there are hundreds of people squished in queues trying to see it before it shuts. We had to rush through a bit (but that was ok, as I've seen all the tapestries, sculptures and maps before, and I didn't have my dSLR to take good photos). We went straight from the Sistine Chapel to the St Peter's Basilica (where the Chorale did an impromptu performance of "Ave Verum"), then explored the square. There I had my first gelato of the trip (it was a balmy 12C in Rome!) and tried to avoid being accosted by gypsies. 

Our next stop was the Colosseum. Just like with my school tour, our group had a photo in front of the Constantine Arch before going in. It seemed like this time, there was a lot more security - a sign on the entrance said that we weren't even allowed to bring in handbags! But then, they didn't exactly check us...so...

It brought back good memories, and I half-wished I'd brought my old tour jersey along to recreate my photos. But, apparently my face hasn't changed much, so it wouldn't be that funny. Maybe I have to wait til I get some grey hair...

Oh, and I feel like watching Gladiator now!

The night was still not particularly cold, to my delight! This meant time to bust out the skirts and patterned tights. Dinner was enormous - antipasto followed by two types of pasta, then salad/fish/potatoes and gelato. We had two kinds of wine, coffee, limoncello and soft drink to wash it all down. And this was just our Christmas Eve dinner! I shudder to think of what happens on Christmas Day! We then did a quick drive around town, admiring the beautifully lit city. Seriously, all the streets were decked in christmas decorations! It was glorious...there was even a Christmas tree next to the colosseum that had lights that gave the effect of falling (omg I want some!!)

On Christmas day I woke up, put on my black jeans, and found they were uncomfortably tight. This was more than enough motivation to take them off and do some exercise before breakfast. Also, my dad had woken me up at 7:15am and I'd slept fitfully afterwards (my brother's snoring didn't help). So I went down for breakfast at 8:30am. 

We had a walking tour from 10am, where we got to visit all the places I went to on my first day in Rome in 2005: the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and various squares. Lunch was supposed to be "light" but consisted of entree, pizza, pasta, dessert...and they were still asking us if we wanted salad!! 

And then after an afternoon nap, there was our Christmas Dinner...wow. I'll put up pictures later :)
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I've dreamed of returning to Venice since I visited in 2005 with my school's music tour. For some reason, I found it really magical - a combination of the history, architecture, food, and music. I have fond memories of running around the rainbow houses of Burano, making friends with Italian high school girls (some of whom are still on my Facebook), trying to communicate with Italian guys in tight shirts on Murano, lying about my age to get a child's ticket into the Doge's palace, being attacked by pigeons in St Mark's square, gorging on gelato, performing in St Mark's, taking photos of all the glassware we couldn't afford, and singing in the back of boats. (I also understand slightly more Italian than I do German (thank you, 5 years of Latin) so reading menus, street signs and such are less stressful. )

Of course, everything is different now. I'm no longer a teenager with a teenage metabolism, I'm in a relationship so I can't go around creepily taking photos of cute Italians for my scrapbook,  and most of all, it's winter. This means sub-zero temperatures, short days, early closing times, and FOG. Fog is terrible for photos because all the colors are ruined. Also I found I couldn't use my flash without getting weird speckles from all the water vapour. But as my brother says, it makes you feel like you're in Pirates of the Caribbean, like big pirate ships are just waiting to come out. And when we were doing our gondola ride, it felt extra spooky. 

Yes! After missing out on gondola rides in 2005 when it just rained continuously, I can finally say I have done it!! And we really did it in style this time - with a bottle of Spumante and a guy serenading us accompanied by a piano accordion. We were ferried through the mist at dusk, while "Moon River" played. How much more could anyone ask for?

Once we came back from the gondola ride, we hopped into another boat to get a look at St Mark's square at night. It really started to get cold...but thanks to my 5 woolly layers, I felt comfortable enough to sit on the outside to get a really good view of the grand canal. Again, the mist added to the atmosphere! We then sat down for a hot chocolate at one of the cafes (which we later learnt would've cost us 10 euros if we'd gone without the group).

We arrived back at the hotel at about 7:30 and had another three-course meal that finished with...TIRAMISU!! Which was the most amazing tiramisu I've ever had in my life...it was creamy, chocolatey, full of caffeine and alcohol. My dad rushed off to a concert and left halfway through dinner but I went up to my hotel room to do laundry. Yes, my life is so exciting! 

On the second day in Venice we had a lovely "sleep-in"...an 8:45 start! Which I used to catch up on photo uploads and Skype. Breakfast was a simple affair compared to the Germanic feasts of the past week - cereal, toast, eggs, cheese and fruit (and bacon/pepperoni/ham for the carnivores). Our first stop of the day was a glass showroom where we got to watch a glass blowing demonstration and then get pestered by a salesperson to buy €500 glassware sets. If only I had more money...the tumblers in particular caught my eye because they had the ability to always land upright when dropped  ("because of gondola!")

Afterwards, we were taken to St Mark's again for a walking tour of the back streets of Venice by a lady who liked to say, "yoohoo!" and told us where to get cheap pizza. This we did...regrettably...because we then went out for a multi-course lunch on the island of Burano at about 3pm. It started with bread and fish purée, then there was lasagna, risotto, fish, salad, calamari, prawns, and to finish it off, biscuits, coffee and amaretto! And lots of red and white wine, which was beautifully light and easy to drink...

That night was fairly uneventful - just a lot of packing, Facebook messaging, catching up on Once Upon a Time, snacking lightly on popcorn, and knitting. Because the next morning, we had a 7:19am train to catch. My brother set his alarm for 4:30am which quite annoyed me (I had set mine for 5) but he didn't get out of bed for almost 30 minutes anyway, so I got dibs on the bathroom :D

We went down to the lobby to use the last of the free wifi, breakfasted when the hotel restaurant opened at 6:30, and left the hotel at 7:00. Luckily our train station was just opposite us, so it was very easy to be on the train by 7:15. We had to change once before getting on the special "high speed" train to Rome. I used the train time to nap, study cardio, knit, and listen to copious amounts of Josh Groban. 

So yeah, for the second time I have escaped Venice without being bitten by vampires in white dresses :D
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On this day, we woke before 4am, did our final packing, had a quick "breakfast to go" and headed for the coach that would take us to Dover to catch the ferry to Calais. I hate boats because I get mild motion sickness on them if I can't look out the window and see the horizon. But this boat had free wifi everywhere, so I suppose it wasn't that awful. It also only took about 90 minutes, and we had a fantastic view of the white Cliffs of Dover! Plus, I somehow got a free coffee due to finding an extra token in the machine.

Bruges was our first stop, where we admired the church, the fast food, the waffles, and our first Belgian hot chocolate (that we unfortunately had to down in about 5 minutes due to needing to get back on the bus within 1.5 hours. We then moved onto Brussels, which I was excited to visit due to the Bronte sisters having studied there back in the day. And the Christmas markets! Our dinner consisted of fish, followed by a Belgian chocolate mousse cake or sorbet with cherry beer.

The hotel wasn't supposed to have free wifi, but my brother and I figured how to log onto the conference centre's, and therefore I managed to upload my Doctor Who photos. But before I could put the remainder of my England photos online, I have to admit that I collapsed into bed and was asleep in seconds...

Germany Day 1 (Heidelberg)
We were on the bus before dawn again, driving to Heidelberg. En route, we stopped at a number of other German towns...especially...Cologne! We also got on another boat, a cruise from Boppard. Which I also spent most of curled up by the window trying to avoid seasickness. But that night, we went to Heidelberg, explored more Christmas markets, had mulled wine, and stared longingly at the Bavarian costumes in the shop windows (apparently people really wear them on weekends!!) Dinner was a three-course affair in the hotel. The wifi, unfortunately, was a two-digit sum of euros a day.

Germany Day 2 (Munich)
We left Heidelberg early in the morning for Munich, stopping at Rothenburg en route. We spent ridiculous sums of money in the Christmas shops, grumbled about the non-free public toilets, and if you were a 19-year-old boy, bought weapons. See, Rothenburg is an authentic medieval town, complete with shops selling medieval costumes and accessories. I was tempted to get a corset belt but they were all too big. I therefore had to be satisfied with photos of castle-like buildings. Apparently the last 2 HP movies were shot here? I see some resemblance to the Godric's Hollow scenes...

We walked into the main square of Munich, in front of the church, hoping to see the glockenspiel, but missed it. Instead, we wrapped up the night with a visit to an authentic beer hall called the "Hofbrahaus" which my father got excited about when he mistakenly heard it as "Opera House". My brother and I managed to down a litre of beer each (although mine was mixed with lemonade). Which, anyway, made for an interesting night...I think at this point, I properly caught up on all the sleep I skipped out on in London :P

We pulled into Salzburg in the afternoon, after being treated to some breathtaking alpine scenery. Sadly, the bus was moving too fast for me to get really good photos of it. But the snow! OMG!

Firstly, we were taken on a tour of the Sound of Music locations. In particular, the houses used for the back and front of the Von Trapp's house, the lake they fell into (which had frozen over, though not enough to walk on it), the trees they climbed, and the gazebo where "Sixteen on Seventeen" was sung. We also got to see more Christmas markets!

But still, the highlight of the day was that we got to play in snow, most of us for the first time! The locals probably looked at us and thought we were crazy...I myself was jumping in it and throwing it at trees/walls/people...but luckily I have the excuse that I'm just a dumb Aussie. I suppose it was because I was properly dressed for the occasion in my boots, jacket and gloves, but I wasn't cold at all. Well, until my gloves started to get wet.

That night we spent in Salzburg, we went to yet more Christmas markets. We visited the church, the graveyard, and the Mozart Square. Dinner was fish and rice...I also wanted to try eggnog but we couldn't find any. Instead, my rather went on a Mozart shopping spree, buying chocolates and CDs from a shop just below Mozart's birthplace. When I got back to the hotel I tried to make the most of the horribly slow wifi (that is why none of you have many pictures yet), repacked my suitcase for Italy, and was asleep before midnight.
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