Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Clara's Travel Tales: The Köln Edition

As you may know from my constant blathering, I have been learning German since January and I was scheduled to take the early September TestDaF exam. Well I realised that I wasn't perhaps as prepared as I could be, so I decided to go visit T's parents for 4days so that I could really practise my German intensively. It was obviously good for my language skills (T's mum was a teacher), but not only that, also my physical and mental well-being. I was spoilt by the MIL, and really got to relax and do nothing but hangout, watch silly TV, laugh, sleep, eat and (window)shop. It was exactly what I needed after the hectic lifestyle I had leading up to the visit, and it also signalled the beginning of my week long travels/holiday in Budapest and Belgrade. This post is just a quick update, and I will be writing about my adventures in Eastern Europe, over the next few days and weeks. Have a lovely week!

Had to pack 2 different luggages 
for my 2 very different trips

Lots of girly dates with the MIL

Broke my no-shopping rule to 
buy this lovely pair of rain-boots

 Spoilt rotten! I got a lovely welcome, late birthday surprise presents 
and of course a mini-haul of goodies to take home with me

Yet another lunchdate with the MIL, 
the theme seemed to be Italian this visit

Monday, 31 August 2015

The Good Old Days...

Hi everyone! Wie geht's? So, a brief sortie from my German bunker to talk about today's topic.

I have a rare day off on this wonderfully sunny Monday, so I decided (as you do), to waste some time on Facebook. And luckily too, because I saw that I had been tagged in a conversation about our old secondary school days. And my God, was it a (bad)trip down memory lane! 

Ok, for those who may not know, I went to a Unity school in Nigeria. They are the equivalent of the British Grammar school, or the French's Grandes écoles, but at secondary level. You usually have to take an entrance and score above certain cut-off marks in order to make the list. You were then "randomly" allocated a place in one of the Unity schools anywhere in the country. These schools were heavily subsidised, with respect to the quality of education they provided, because the idea was to train a selection of "gifted" children, while at the same time strengthening each child's Nigerian identity (they were established after the horrible civil war of the 60's). All the ethnic groups were mixed, and as you could be sent anywhere in the country, many of the students were boarders, as many lived far away (mine was about 6hours away for instance). We had three terms, with holidays and mid-term breaks, as well as monthly visiting days, but you effectively spent a huge chunk of your life at school (from about 11-17). So with that quick explanation out of the way, today's Facebook conversation was about SOME of the scary things that happened to us. I'm just going to put up a few snapshots of the comments, keep in mind that they were actually a lot of replies and almost everyone experienced something strange. Anyways, here goes...

"Great" memories of exciting times indeed. Can you imagine this stuff happening anywhere else? A rampaging (or several) paedophile(s), snakes, owls, Bush babies (Galapos), not to mention the evil senior/older students and teachers in a school of about 2000young girls (no parents!!!). I still wonder how we survived, and who chose the idiots that were our caretakers?! Still I guess that's why we are all so independent, adventurous and fearless today. I mean when you experience all these things as a kid, it becomes hard for anything else on earth to faze you. So guys, especially the Nigerians in the house, any "strange" or usual boarding house/school experiences you care to share with us? Please go ahead!

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Clara's Travel Tales: Why I am always Poor! :(

We got paid about a week ago, and doing my budget/finances today made me realise I'm already quite broke even though it's barely the end of the first week. Yet I am not a big spender, as is obvious from my bank statements, where the biggest expenditure by far is from travelling.

I mean I'm off to Prague again in one week, and then two weeks after that, off to Köln for a few days, so that I can polish my German skills right before my exam. And of course I haven't seen a few dear friends (Engefreunde as the MIL told me yesterday), in a long time and I miss them all very much. I would like to see everyone, but realistically know it's impossible because my middle name is Ajala, and sadly not Bill Gates.

So, I decided to do a list based on how long it's been since I saw each loved one, and even with all that careful prioritisation, I still ended up with this urgent "to-travel" list! It's beginning to look like Budapest(Hungary) and Belgrade(Serbia) in September, as I want to go before it gets colder so that I can enjoy myself and possibly go to the beach (haven't caught even a glimpse of the sea this year). I'm also hoping it'll motivate me to work hard over the next few weeks as I prepare for my German exams. What this means is that I'll be travelling on the day after I get back from Germany, right after the exam, in fact I think I'm going to have to go to the exam-centre with my luggage!

Paris and Sweden also need to be planned at some point, and naturally Prague remains the regular "home away from home" for now. England will be for Christmas, and Nigeria hopefully early next year, and then of course the US ati be be lo, after that...let's just hope I don't bankrupt myself soon :( 

So, are you about the ajala life? If not, what is your particular brand of "money-waster" or "hobby"? Please share and help make a girl feel better about her vices!

P.S. I'm supposed to be doing a practice essay for my exam, but then procrastination (abi na inspiration sef) struck, and I decided to do a quick blogpost instead. Shakes head in German...

P.P.S. Since I haven't done much travelling this month (apart from Prague), and being really busy at the moment with revision (only 19days left!!!), I have decided to make this my 15-for-15 entry for August. Stay tuned for September's exciting posts...will be visiting Köln/Louvain-la-Neuve/Budapest/Belgrade, all in 12days!

Friday, 31 July 2015

Clara's Travel Tales: The Prague Edition (Part 2)

Off to explore the city!

The beautiful municipal hall

I hadn't even heard of this until today, yet was amazed when I saw it and heard the history behind it. Apparently the clockmaker Hanuš was blinded (with his tongue cut off to boot!), on the order of the Prague Councillors who were worried about him repeating his work in another city, and therefore causing Prague to lose it's glory and trade. He in turn took his revenge by throwing himself into the gears of the clock, and so damaged it, that no one was able to repair it for the next 100years!

The upper time plate has an astronomical dial that indicates the position of the planetary bodies, in addition to the "normal" time, while the calendar plate below indicates the days and months of the year as well as the zodiac signs. Best of all is the fact that when the clock strikes on the hour, there's a little animation that happens with it, truly a masterpiece of technology. Wikipedia explains it well.

"The four figures flanking the clock are set in motion at the hour, these represent four things that were despised at the time of the clock's making. From left to right in the photographs, the first is Vanity, represented by a figure admiring himself in a mirror. Next, the miser holding a bag of gold represents greed or usury. Across the clock stands Death, a skeleton that strikes the time upon the hour. Finally, the Turk tells pleasure and entertainment. On the hour, the skeleton rings the bell and immediately all other figures shake their heads, side to side, signifying their unreadiness "to go.""

Closer look, can you see your zodiac sign?

Random selfie, just because ;) 

Snake charmer?! Yes, those are real pythons. Got close enough to take a picture then fled! Can't come and go and be saying ngbati ngbati later, abeg telling "stories that touch" is not my portion jare.

Ran into this group, playing beautiful traditional Czech music in their traditional outfit. I posted a clip on my Instagram page, it was so lovely, I wish I took their name!


And I saved the best for the last, two incidents that made me go hmmm?!

First one happened today, when a family of Chinese tourists came up to me and asked for a picture. I was like yes of course I can take a picture of you guys, but what she actually wanted was ME in the picture #dontjealousme. I kukuma said yes, and gave her my phone to take one for me too...maybe I'm destined to be famous in China, or at least among that family's entourage lol!)

Second one happened yesterday while T and I were out. As you do when trying to find something, he wandered off, while I walked slowly behind him, all the while keeping him in my sights. Suddenly, an older "gentleman" appeared by my side and decided to "help" me find T. The following conversation occurred.

Older "gentleman": Look, he's over there, but why is he walking so fast away from you? 
Me: (looked at him strangely, then) Do you know where we can find X?
Older "gentleman": Let me show you Prague, I know all the nice areas
Me: (confused and bewildered gan, about the possible correlation) No, thank you. He (referring to T) has already shown me the city
Older "gentleman": I can show you the beautiful little villages around Prague, let me give you my number!
Me: (more insistent) No, thank you!

At this point, T notices and walks back, and the guy suddenly loses his balls and starts spewing some crap about me being lost and him kindly trying to help me #awonfakeknightsinshiningamour. I have kind of wondered if both incidents happened because I am an incredibly attractive young thing ;) but I fear the truth is likely to be more unsavoury. They probably occurred because I'm black, and the weird thing is, I'm not quite sure how to feel about that.

Clara's Travel Tales: The Prague Edition (Part 1)

It's that time of the month again, and as expected, this edition of Clara's Travel Tales takes place in Prague, my new favourite city. T moved here just over 6weeks ago, and this is already my second visit, because of course we like being together, but it's also because I really really love the city. When he lived in Brussels, although I sometimes felt it wasn't a beautiful city (poor little Brussels is no competition for Paris or London!), I felt right at home there. When he moved on to Vienna, everyone told me how wonderful the city was, but I was disappointed when I visited, because in spite of the amazing beauty of the city, I was never able to truly enjoy my stays. It just felt so...cold and unwelcoming, like something was missing, at least that was the vibe I got.

On to Prague. I love love love the city! It is beautiful, international and feels pretty calm, basically a perfect amalgam of my three favourite cities (Paris, London and Brussels). I could even see myself living here, were it not for the language which seems daunting and certainly out of my league (you try pronouncing some of the words on the signs below!).

Tourist information signs

Anyway enough chitchat, as I have only a few hours left, I'm just going to do a picture heavy post of the yesterday and today's wander round the city so you can see for yourselves. Even though I did a guided tour, I didn't take many pictures of the tourist attractions, instead I was fascinated with the architecture, the beauty and the elaborate work on ordinary residential buildings. Oh and before I forget, I as usual had some funny incidents happen (I seem to be a magnet for such things!), but I'll talk about them things in part 2. Enjoy the pictures, and please click to enlarge.

Pictures taken all over the city

Pictures taken around the Old Town Square

Statue of Jan Hus, the Christian (protestant) reformer

July Happenings :)

Hello from the beautiful city of Prague!

As some of you may have noticed, thank you Duru aburo mi atata, I have been MIA again from the blog and blogosphere in general. Life has been super busy these last few weeks, and it has been showing me pepper recently. Why you wonder? It's because I apparently have a knack for over-stretching myself.

A few weeks ago, I realised that I was reaching a plateau in my German learning, and worried about it going the way of my Italian, I decided to challenge myself by registering for the TestDaF. It is a German language exam that tests from level B2 to C1, assigning the numerical values 3-5 to the three different levels. The exam was painfully expensive, so I am determined to get a 4 (equivalent to a B2.2), as this would in theory exclude me from all future German language tests. I'm far from a B2 at the moment, and with only 6weeks to go, I am having to put in a lot of work.

 Weekly German Plan

Then three weeks ago, I went back home to England because my uncle was getting married. I got to experience the Yoruba traditional wedding up close (we were the groom's representatives), and I loved it! The vocabulary, stunning outfits, customs and traditions and the theatricality of the whole ceremony meant I was completely blown away! I had previously participated in such a ceremony only once, 2years ago at my friend's wedding in Nigeria, but the stress then was so much that I decided it was not for me. However, although I could see how stressful it was for my uncle, this time I was carried away by the magic of it all, and I honestly CAN'T wait till it's my turn.

Of course in I have also been travelling a lot, as usual, because it's the summer holidays and my middle name is Ajala. This is my second time in Prague this month, for instance,  even though I have no right to annual leave in my first year of employment (the Belgians apparently like to test their employees' endurance and work-like-a-dog-ability). What this means is that I have been doing lots of extra shifts and replacements, working long periods without breaks, and then trying to group all my days off together (the last one was a 12day working streak that almost killed me!).

As you can see, busy busy busy indeed! Obviously I haven't had much time to blog, however I have been making an effort to visit people's blogs every couple of days, even if it means that I don't get the chance to leave a comment. I'm sorry about that, but it's only until I write my exams in the second week of September. Really hoping the result is worth all the effort and sacrifice...fingers crossed it is!

Monday, 29 June 2015

June Happenings

June was an exciting month for me, and even though I didn't do much travelling, I felt rushed off my feet and busy busy busy. Still, it was a great month, made even better by the fact that I am either achieving the goals I set at the beginning of the year, or on track to realising them before the end of the year. Anyway without further ado, here are the highlights of this month.

  • T finished his contract in Vienna and came to Brussels for a week, a WHOLE week! It was so lovely to be together for more than a weekend, and to just hang out, doing nothing most of the time. He managed to meet a few of my work colleagues and friends, and I guess it helps to put a face to the names I mention every so often. 
  • Still on T news, we found out he was moving to Prague in the Czech republic also in June, and he had to organise living arrangements etc. in just under 2 weeks. Of course both of us are a bit sad that it means we won't be in the same city for a little while longer, but I'm excited because it means I get to continue my ajala ways and discover Prague which I've always wanted to visit. In fact I booked my ticket as soon as he confirmed that he had accommodation, even before he himself arrived there! 
  •  Went out with my colleagues for our summer/end of year celebrations (we run September to June cycles), and got to see many of them in a new light. I had so much fun, made quite a few new friends and ended up with a VERY embarrassing French nickname.
  • Decided that I'll probably stay a bit longer here in Brussels, as it give us more time to decide (and find out) where we're going to settle down eventually. I have asked for an appointment with my manager tomorrow to discuss a contract renewal/extension. Fingers crossed that things go according to plan. 
Needed, and luckily highly discounted bikini, from TK Maxx
  • Following on from my biannual review, I decided not to make any more clothing purchases until the end of the year, starting from July. For some weird reason, the knowledge of this decision drove me to wandering stores, frantically wanting to buy something, anything before the new regime began. The fact that it's the sales period in Brussels certainly did not help that feeling, because I kept justifying things to myself by saying I would potentially be saving money, yes really. However, God be thanked, I was unable to find anything cheap enough or worth the price, and so I have managed to avoid all unnecessary purchases so far, apart from the bikini above which I really needed.
  • I went to London to see my Singaporean friend, had a lovely time with her and managed to catch up with a few other close friends with whom I'd almost lost contact.

Battle of Waterloo reenactments.
  • I worked this last weekend, and as we only had 3 boys at the hospital, the testosterone levels was just too high, and it quickly became really difficult to manage them. Luckily the sun was shining and the boys were up for a long drive, so off we went to the the battlefields of Waterloo to enjoy the  reenactments with our ice-cream picnic. 
  • Went to see a Nollywood movie with Hanna. It wasn't the best I've ever seen, but I supported my friend who was involved in the project, had a lovely evening at the cinema, and introduced Hanna to Nollywood.
  • And best of all, I received a letter from the Student Loans Company, with my annual statement, and what a pleasant surprise it was. I am pleased to announce that the gbese is going definitely going down, and fast too. I'm so so encouraged, and it is such a motivation to continue working at paying it off!

Friday, 26 June 2015

Clara's Travel Tales: The London Edition (Part 2)

The Euroshuttle, a "train" for vehicles. It carries cars/buses/motorcycles 
the same way normal trains carry people!

After a great weekend with my friends, I was dreading the long journey back to Brussels, but was as usual kind of looking forward to being either on the ferry or going through the Eurotunnel. I actually prefer the ferry as it means you get to stretch your legs and enjoy a "boat" ride, but I also don't mind the shuttle because I'm always amazed at how such a structure/engineering feat came to be. Anyway I was happy to be going back home and was looking forward to a long but uneventful journey. Alas this was not to be so.

First of all, my ticket told me that my journey was supposed to start at 8.30, so imagine my surprise when I arrived (thankfully) 35minutes early and was told I had just a few minutes to spare before my bus left! Apparently they'd made a mistake and the bus was actually scheduled to leave at 8, so I had to hurry up and get registered/passport-checked, thanks to the UK not being a Schengen country. I made it by the skin of my teeth, and got on the bus, only for the driver to tell me off for being a latecomer. I was so pissed, I tell you! By this time, all the "good" seats had of course been taken, and I had to sit next to a girl in full Burka. Naturally, I had nothing against her, but I really didn't want to sit next to her because I knew I'd have to eat later, and it being Ramadan, I wanted to avoid being evil by eating next to a fasting person. In the end though I had no choice, and it was fine because she turned out to be lovely. 
Anyway almost as soon as we boarded the bus, we realised that we had a CRAZY co-passenger! As in the guy was completely LOCO. He started by singing loudly, and when one unfortunate girl decided to ask him to please keep it down, he went on a rant about being a British citizen and having as many rights as the next person. He said he'd been born in England, and that therefore no one could shut him up, in spite of his being black. He then claimed he had 1kg of cocaine, heroine and other raw materials for making new substances on him. From there, he moved on to talking about how everyone was against him just because he's a black guy who is expected to use/sell drugs and rape women. T happened to call me during one of his rants and heard some stuff, as well as the other passengers laughing nervously and I think he was a bit worried, the poor thing. 

We were N, originally scheduled to leave at 11.20 :(

Well after 2 hours on the road, we arrived at the boarding point for the shuttle only to be told that they were serious delays, and that no one had any idea when normal service would resume! In the meantime, we went through passport control, and of course our crazy friend continued his tirade the whole time. At one point, they called the police who spoke to him but sadly let him loose. We then waited for 2 another hours, during which we were thankfully free to wander round the small shopping centre and weren't stuck on the bus with the crazy guy, and during which I made friends, and ended up chatting with a lovely old lady and her husband who are horse-breeders. Sha, after all that time, they managed to sort out the problem and we were free to leave. Imagine our disgust when we get back on the bus to find our guy just as obnoxious as ever. He basically took up where he left, but added childish jokes, terrible rap, farting and burping to the mix! He even got to the point of saying he had some Semtex and was planning to blowup England as a revenge against Holland for Nelson Mandela (no, it makes no sense to me either). Anyway he got told off for the umpteenth time by the driver who warned him that he could kick him off the bus. That worked for a while, but he soon went back to his objectionable ways and continued for about 6hours, all the way to Brussels (because of course we ran into huge traffic jams). The whole time, I just kept wishing he'd told the bomb story while the immigration staff we on the bus, but I guess even obnoxious idiots have a sense of self-preservation. 

I was so happy to arrive in Brussels, but felt really sorry the the other passengers who were stuck with him for another couple of hours all the way to Amsterdam!

Clara's Travel Tales: The London Edition (Part 1)

It's that time of the month again, and as usual, your friendly (interweb) neighbourhood ajala is here to recount her travel tales. I have done a lot of short trips this year, and even though I have sometimes felt tired and frankly often a bit poor, I realise that I do really love travelling, and I enjoy the interesting things that happen to me on my travels. I mean at the moment, I am both child and husband free, and even my job and relationship permit me to travel, however deep down in my mind I know it's going to change at some point and I'm going to have to reduce my ajalaing one day. So yeah, I tell myself I need to make sure that I enjoy my current situation for as long as possible. Anyways, on to this month's story :)

Denise, one of my best friends, was coming from Singapore on holiday to London for two weeks, so I decided to meet up with her there, as it would obviously be much cheaper than going to her home to visit her. She kind of made up her mind a bit last minute and by that time the train tickets were exorbitantly expensive, so of course as a cheapskate with limited resources, I had to find other alternatives and decided to take the coach. As usual, I had a weird experience, but I'll talk about that in the second half of the post...

I had a really lovely time with Denise and got to see 4 other really close friends, and as London is kind of my hometown, didn't do any tourist things, instead the trip was based mostly around boy talk, general catching up, eating, laughing and re-visiting some of our old favourite haunts. It's going to be a picture-heavy post, but please enjoy!

At one of the many restaurants we visited, 
the theme of the (long) weekend

 Friday afternoon lunch at a correct 
Nigerian restaurant #thingsimissaboutlondon :(

 Refuelling with a delicious risotto and chicken/chips 
while wandering through Spitalfields


 Hanging out in bookshops, so much laughter 
(and hours wasted ahem!) on some of the content

 Tea, desserts and Denise's crazy impromptu sketch 
of a Chinese/Nigerian man. 
Click to enlarge.

Quick anecdote, as we walked into one of the art shops around Camden, Annabel suddenly cried out "but you're half Chinese and half Nigerian!" Some poor lady next to us took a look at me and became really confused. I guess the poor thing could see that I was with 2 Chinese girls, and that we seemed really close, but my face clearly contradicted all the information she was receiving! In my mind I was like gbeborun, mind ya own business lol.

Wandering round Brixton market with Vicky, 
and eating delish Thai food, 
for which the lady gave me crazy super hot chillies. 
Love love love this part of London because it's vibrant, 
cheapish and the food is always on point!

Riding the tube which I hadn't done in aeons, 
and going to my uni/old neighbourhood

 At the Southbank with the girls, 
seeing my old neighbourhood/hangout spots.

Southwark Bridge from the Southbank at night.