Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

Coming home!!

Posted: 01/11/2008 in Europe

I’m coming home, I’m coming home, weeeee, whoooo yeah!!!!! Do I sound excited. Don’t get me wrong, I have had the most amzing and unbelievable time here and I would do it again in a heartbeat but I am a homebody and am ready to come back. Besides I miss Gypsy, oh and my family, yes and my friends. Oh and work of course, I really miss work!

My flight wasn’t until 10pm so I pottered around London in the afternoon then made my way out to the airport only to find that there was going to be a delay due to engine problems. “How inconvienent” was my first thought, then I realised that it would be better for them to fix it now rather than wing it and have the engine blow up half way home, thousands of feet in the air. So we had to wait for parts, then a mechanic. They bought us out some food at midnight and by food I mean kit kats and shortbread (what an odd combination) which I don’t have a problem with but kind of sucks for the diabetics! You should have seen how people flew in like seagulls!!! 4 1/2 hours later we were off, hopefully with engine working. The delay meant I missed my connecting flight but we were all assured that we would have a seat on the next available flight. Next available…what if that wasn’t for days or weeks. I could be stuck in Singapore airport forever. I’d have to set up camp like Tom hanks did in that movie. I don’t want to live in an airport, I want to go home!!!

Thankfully the next available was as soon as I landed, so there I was in Singapore airport in my London, winter clothes running from one end of the airport to the other in the humidity while trying to put deodorant on, eyedrops in, gulp down water that I wouldn’t be allowed to take on the plane and not look like I’d been awake for 36 hours! Very unglamorous. I made it and settled back for the next 9 hours. Truely, it is a disgusting flight the Melbourne-UK one and I don’t want to have to do it again for a long time, however I do want to keep travelling so what a quandry.

I arrived in Melbourne and as I was walking into the baggage claim area saw a sign explaining that they are filming boarder security that day. Great, here I am all lovely looking after a 20 hour flight, no sleep, grandma puffy ankles and stinky clothes (probably) and a TV crew are here. They’d be likely to push me straight through and not even check my bags because of how scary I look. Luckily I said I had pretty much had everything on the decleration list in my bag (except for guns and bombs and other such paraphenalia) and had been around farms, just to be safe,  so the likelyhood of me being filmed nervous and angry was pretty slim. As it was, they film in the area where people don’t make any claims. If they had a show about how crappy people look after longs flights I would have been their star!

Mum and Dad pick me up (no Gypsy in the car!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), I get home and all I want to do is sleep but being the anal person I am, I have to unpack, wash everything, air the house out etc… At least when I crashed at 8pm that night, after being awake 48 hours, I felt clean and my scary backpack was out in the garage in case of any hitch-hiking nasties. It’s so good to be home, back in beautiful Australia.

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Last days in London!

Posted: 29/10/2008 in Europe

I can’t believe the trip is coming to an end, are 2 months really up? I have to say I am actually looking forward to getting home to my own house, bed, wardrobe etc… Unfortunately the friend I caught up with in London heard that a lot in the 3 days we spent together! I know him from way back in primary school which I like to think of as being only 9 years ago and that really I am on my gap year travelling the world rather than long service leave. It does make you feel old when you met gap year students in the hostels and they are all “…so like totally, I have a year before I go to uni. Solid!!!” What the hell does solid even mean (now I sound old)? Then they ask you, “so how did you manage to get time off work” and your mumbled reply is “long service leave”, yeh that separates the chickens from the hens! Anyway I digress, again.

Marcus and I did all the touristy things, tower of London, London museum, which is very interesting for the history of London. Did you know London was founded by the Romans, raided by Saxon pirates and then following the collapse of the roman empire and desertion of London, was settled by the Anglo-Saxons. During the 9th century London was persistently attacked by vikings and by the 10th century came under the rule of Kings. Then there’s medieval London, Tudor London, the black plague, the great fire etc… etc… etc… I could go on. No wonder the poms whinge, they haven’t had it easy! We also saw tower bridge, which I actually thought was London bridge – you know the one in the song that fell down and was built back up with all sorts of things. For example, pins and needles. Now why would you build a bridge out of pins and needles, for a start that’s really bad infection control not to mention bad for your tires and a tad painful to walk across.  Then there’s sticks and bones. That’s just gross, what is it with the Europeans and building things out of bones? Never mind the actual length of the song (do you really think you’ll get a 5 year old to pay attention long enough to learn the 20 verses). Well we got to London bridge and found it to be a boring, plain looking bridge. I have since learnt that the real London bridge was sold to Lake Havasu City, Arizona and is the largest antique ever sold (well Duh it’s a bridge!).

An interesting site was the old operating theatre and herb museum which contained treatments, old recipes for ailments and surgical instruments. Can I say how glad I am that I was not a patient in the 18th century. Some of the gynae (women’s bits for those who don’t know) instruments were like tools of torture! Apparently anesthetic was yet to be discovered so surgeries….hmmm, ouch doesn’t quite cut it does it? Of course I had to go to the Florence Nightingale museum to learn about the woman who ruined my life, sorry, I mean gave me an invaluable and rewarding career. She was actually quite an amazing person, highly skilled and intelligent and turned nursing around from having a reputation of drunken, promiscuous women to….hang on, whats changed?

We checked out some gardens, practised night photography and went to Harrods just so I could say I’d been. Picture a really dolled up Myer, even the loo’s are posh! Of course we had to do the English pub thing and it’s not like your short of choice when it comes to pubs but they all shut down early (about 11pm) what the??? Finding a restaurant is hard though, it seemed bookings were essential. On the Sunday we went to Hillsong London, a large church in Australia that has churches around the world, one being London. It was in the Dominion theatre seating 2000+ and was pretty full. The music was, as usual, brilliant.

The funniest thing about my time in London was actually doing the touristy thing with another person. I have been travelling on my own for 2 months, making my own decisions, deciding where to eat, reading the maps myself, deciding whether to walk or catch public transport and suddenly here I am with another person. It was indeed interesting and a challenge to my independence. Having said that I’m sure Marcus felt the same way too and he did let me drag him everywhere!

As much as I love the atmosphere I couldn’t live in London, it’s too cold and rains all the time. Those that know me know I’m a hibernator in winter coz it makes me miserable. Luckily I’m coming home to summer, whooo!

What is Paris really like?

Posted: 26/10/2008 in Europe

My final stop via busabout was Paris and the bus was virutally empty as it’s coming to the end of the season. It was a long and boring ride into Paris, we didn’t arrive until 9pm. After a useless sleep due to the inconsiderate people in my room it was off for a day of exploring in the rain. My first stop, the Louvre…it was closed (should really pay more attention to the opening/closing times). So I wandered along the river to the Notre Dame. While walking I had a lady pick up a ring off the ground and ask me if it was mine. I was tempted to say either “I know all about you ring people andI’m not falling for it” or “Oh yes, I can’t believe you found it” and walk off with it, however I just ignored her and kept walking. Their trick is to pick up the ring, ask if it’s yours and when you say no encourage you to take it as a gift because what on earth will she do with it. When you say yes and take it she appears to walk away but then comes back and begin to tell you how much you could get by selling it and that really, she should be compensated for giving it to you. After forceful conversation and arguments people often give in and give some euro. I had been warned before I went but I saw a guy get suckered in by the same lady who approached me and yep, he handed over some cash.

The outside of the Notre Dame is an interesting Gothic piece of architecture with these unusual beams that come out of the side of the church. The inside is yet another catholic church (do I sound like I’ve seen too many?) with a separate museum for relics and papal stuff.

Having had enough of the rain, I caught a train to the catacombs, or at least where I read on the map that they were supposed to be. I walked and wandering and grumbled and frowned andwalked some more for a while, looking at the map in every possible way. I couldn’t find them. By chance I wandered through a roundabout type road back to the train station and came across a tiny little pub looking building that were the entrance to the catacombs. This is not where the sign was pointing!!!!!! Anyway they are these creepy tunnels filled with the bones of long dead Parisians, put there when the tombs were overflowing. The walls are literally made up of bones and skulls. Apparently there are famous people in there but they can’t say where, I mean there are only tens of thousands of bones that all look alike, it can’t be that hard. I have restrained myself to not take photos when signs say not to or keep my flash off when told, so seeing no sign I flashed (my camera!!) away only to be told off. I felt terrible at first then peeved that there was no sign. Maybe there was one, just down the road or hidden. Maybe the sign outside the train station pointing to the catacombs was actually a sign pointing to a sign that said “no photos at the catacombs which are that way”. I seem to be having sign problems here.

And finally to end the day….another church, why not. This one is called sacre coeur and I have to say it’s actually been one of my favourite churches in Europe. The outside is very eye pleasing and the alter inside is surrounded by beautiful arches. Above the alter is a rather dominating painting of the Christ and of course it’s full of stained glass windows. It’s on top of a hill in Montmartre and offers stunning views of Paris. A storm passed over while I was there and it was amazing to see the clouds and rain fall over the city. A storm was brewing at the bottom of the hill too where these guys with bits of string ask you to hold onto it so they can make you a bracelet. When they’ve finished they harass you to give them money for it. Again I ignored them as I’d been warned and kept walking, besides lets think about it, ummm, bits of coloured sting tied into a plait like thing or gold bracelets, ummmm, hmmmm, hard decision. They’ll ask all sorts of questions just to get you to stop so they can engage in conversation and hopefully get this string onto your finger. Grrrrrrrrr, just let me do my sightseeing and leave me alone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I spent some time out at Versailles the next day and of course had to see the gardens. They are huge and stretch forever with many different garden rooms. There is always a focal point at the end of each room andby far the biggest is the main viewing area. It overlooks a pond, walking area lined with statues, a larger pond with enormous bronze statue of men and horses, a massive square lake and of course it’s all tree lined. That’smy kind of garden! Being autumn has it’s advantages in the colours you get to see on deciduous trees but you miss out on colourful garden beds and shrubs full of flowers. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to see inside the palace as I had to get home for dinner then a night bike ride.

The ride was so much fun flying through Paris in the lit up streets, hair blowing in the wind, despite the cold having so much fun but realising that your not feeling the cold because you are numb! I love not having to wear helmets although would not, not wear one if I had a choice. Our guide obviously had our safety and best interests in mind when he said his aim was to get as many honks as he could and that we were taking up the whole road not going single file. Once we were out though most of it is on dedicated bus/bike lanes (because buses and bikes are so fairly matched aren’t they?) and the honking was when we were infrequently crossing roads and stopping all traffic. We saw all the main sites and ended at the beautifully lit up Eiffel tower. It’s blue at the moment and looks fantastic when they make it sparkle every hour. Unfortunately during my stay in Paris I didn’t get a chance to go to the 2nd level (top was closed) so it’ll have to be on another trip.

It’s funny, I had always thought of Paris as a bland and boring city as far as appearance goes but I realise that because the buildings are all multi levelled you can’t see the gorgeous tree lined streets. I loved Paris, don’t believe what anyone tells you about Parisians being rude and expecting you to speak French. They were the friendliest people and it didn’t matter if you didn’t speak English. I had a number of people come and offer me help if I looked lost with my map, it’s just a little harder coz most of them don’t speak English, but why should they have to in their own country? I love the city to, it’s got a nice feel to it. The buildings are nicely designed, the streets lined with trees, the shops and cafes all beautifully decorated and it’s clean. The only thing I hated was the metro, but I found most of the big cities to be crazy in regards to metro. During the day it was always busy but in the mornings and evenings it was mental. People were crammed into trains like sardines to the point that faces were almost pressed against windows and yet more people try to get on the trains. At one point there were guards stopping people from coming out onto the platforms so that those already on the platforms were either able to get on the train or not get pushed under it. Madness! Gay Parie, the city of lights, it’s a must for anyone coming to Europe but you’ll need more than 3 nights.

History and beer halls…

Posted: 23/10/2008 in Europe

One of the first things I learnt about Munich (aside from Oktoberfest) is that this is where the the nazi party started and where Hitler nearly lost his life marching against the police. It seems a strange bit of history to want own with as much vehemenceas our guide did but he wanted to make it clear that Berlin doesn’t own everything Nazi – hmmmm, okay! I learnt this on yet another walking tour which taught me a lot and tired my feet. Apparently the Munikians, Munchans, people who live in Munich are known for 3 things:

Being very traditional – some of them still wear ladahowsin (the funny Knickerbocker things which I have no idea how to spell). The women who work in the beer halls wear the traditional outfits too.

Fiercely catholic – the opposite to Berlin which is Protestant dominated. Everything is closed on a Sunday except museums, beer halls and of course churches. Strangely one of their stories is about one of the churches that was built as instructed by the devil!Seems very strange that the devil would ask for a church to his enemy to be built hey? Anyway he told the builder he wanted beams of natural light but no windows. The architect did it but only through a trick, you couldn’t see the windows from the inside, and the devil was so peeved he stamped his foot on the ground. The footprint is there to this day and looks amazingly like a man’s size 10!

For loving their beer – On average Munich locals drink one and a half litres of beer a day which adds up to a lot of litres per year of beer consumed in Munich. There are beer halls everywhere too and the best thing it’s preservative free, unlike beer anywhere else in the world.

Another interesting point and one, I think, of importance is that they have dedicated parking spots for dogs and even have signs up to show where you should park them!

While there I also checked out the science museum and got in touch with my inner child by playing with things and pushing buttons. I walked around the beautiful English gardens which, on a Sunday afternoon, is where everyone seemed to be. It has a nude sun-baking park too where mostly middle aged German men go and after a lifetime of beer I can’t imagine how that would look, urgggh. Thankfully it was too cold.

My favorite thing was bumping into 2 girls I met early in the trip and going out for dinner at the Augustine beer hall. I had my steins, the most deliciously yummy roast duck and of course….apple strudel. It was absolutely packed because it was one of the 10 celebration nights they have each year and a traditional Bavarian band was playing. Such fantastic atmosphere but stinking hot!

I really love Germany, probably the most out of all the countries I’ve been to, that, I didn’t expect.

I reckon this place tops my list of favorites. Switzerland is beyond description when it comes to how beautiful it is, but I could try…beautiful, stunning, inspiring, grandiose, breathtaking, full of hot men (did I say that?). Autumn is my favorite time of year, so to come here now when the leaves are at their most brilliant is amazing. I stayed in a campsite that is a valley between large and ominous cliffs. Cascading down the cliffs were numerous waterfalls, the most spectacular being the Trumbuck falls which are actually inside a mountain. The roar of the water is deafening! The rooms were in this large, really warm 3 story hut. My bed was as usual a bunk but this one was one HUGE bunk with 3 mattresses together top and bottom. Luckily we were in a “4 bed” room so the girls on the top and us on the bottom had plenty of room. It would have been awkward and weird to sleep next to a stranger! It was like being back at school camp.

When we were told about the campsite and how we’d wake up to the jingle of cow bells I thought they were joking. No, you actually wake to the sound of the river and the bells dangling around the cows, sheep and goats necks. It’s like church bells but quieter. Poor cows, imagine having those heavy noisy things around your neck. Apparently it’s so the farmer can find them if they get lost. Mum maybe you need one!

I spent a lot of time walking around the area breathing the cleanest air, but the highlight…Paragliding!!!!! Yep, I ran off a mountain into the air. It’s the strangest feeling coz you have to keep running even when you think your going to take off, so your legs end up doing that cartoon running in the air thing. Then suddenly it’s quiet and your floating. The guide (No I wasn’t on my own and yes he was a spunk Trish) pointed things out, took heaps of photos, spun me out, literally, with some stomach spinning tricks and within 15 minutes it was all over. I cannot describe how amazing it was to jump into a valley with these aewsome snow capped alps surrounding you. Now I’m ready to do some more things back home. Anyone for skydiving?

I also took the cable car, all 4 of them, up to Schilthorn, 3000m above sea level. This is the place where one of the James Bond movies (don’t ask me which one) was filmed. It also has a revolving restaurant of which I did not attend due to the EUR8.00 cup of coffee, that’s $16AUS for those who don’t know. Unfortunatly it was pretty cloudy so the view wasn’t great but you get the idea of the magnitude of the alps being up there. I saw this eagle just soaring back and forth, it was so beautiful.

It was time to have a good dinner, I was so sick of pizza and pasta, so some friends and I went out to the local pub. Hmmmmm, the meal was brilliant. I had steak and aldente vegies – so good, red wine and desert was chocolate cake with chocolate moose and chocolate ice-cream (sorry Jen). The Hmmmbit relates to the 50 frank price tag that went with it. I have never paid that much at home, on a nurses wage, hear the laughter!!!! It was worth it though. Meat, ahhhhhh, just as long as it wasn’t one of those cute cows with the bells!

I love this place and if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s so cold and so far from Australia and not Melbourne and not near a beach and without a big shopping centre, I would move there in a heartbeat, maybe not. But it is amazing. I wish I had stayed longer.

Nice not so nice

Posted: 17/10/2008 in Europe

I wonder if that has ever been said before? Reading about Nice hadn’t impressed me enough to want to stay there. I hate overindulgent and showy wealth like that when the world is full of starving and homeless people, diseases and socio-economic próblems galore and I’m really not into celebrity. And I can’t really comment either because I was only there overnight but what I saw did not impress me.

I did some shopping in the afternoon and then got ready in the tinniest tiny room to go out for dinner with a bunch of people. Honestly i reckon the owners have transformed the attic of a hotel into a “hostel”. There were 3 bunks in a tiny room, one of which is was under the sloping roof and the person in that bunk could not avoid hitting their head when getting into bed. The shower was a closet and mouldy with a door falling off. The toilet roll holder was pipes sticking out from the wall. Worst place I’ve been in, in fact the 4 hotels I’ve stayed in have been well below the standard of the hostels. Granted they are only 1 or 2 star but still!

Anyway I met the big group down stairs and as we were heading out the door I quickly stopped by the desk to hand in my key. When I got out the door they had vanished into this massive crowd of people. I lost them altogether. Luckily another busabout girl who had done the dinner 2 nights before came out to buy a drink and walked me down to the restaurant. The dinner was great after so much pizza and pasta but the city itself strikes me as rich and a little scary with numerous pickpockets and beggars (that all looked healthy, well fed, had mobile phones and dogs).

I was glad to be leaving in the mórning and get to some fresh country air in Switzerland.

Bed Bugs!

Posted: 17/10/2008 in Europe

Yes it happened to me and stop laughing all of you! Seriously I can’t beliéve I got bed bugs. I feel violated by the little suckers. I woke in Rome to find little tracking bite marks on my ankles and wrists and a common backpackers topic is bed bugs, so I knew that this is what their bites are like (the bed bugs not the backpackers). I told the hostel, moved rooms and searched my bag inside out to see if they had hitched a ride from a place that I suspect may be the culprit. I found one happily sitting on one of my jumpers. How rude! Just moved in and made itself at home. Very lucky it happened on the day it did because I had planned on taking the entire day off to relax, wash clothes etc… Of course it just meant I had to wash all of my clothes, wipe out the bags and search everything I own for any more more than I relaxed. I was also blessed in that they were barely itchy and did not get very big. I still have some scabbed over 2 weeks later. I’ve discovered it’s actually very common but GROSS!!!

Other ailments while away:

The common cold: Not a big problem except for the keeping everyone in your room awake with the coughing and sniffing. And of course trying to understand the directions on the medications provided by the pharmacist that spoke little English.

Gastro: Can you believe it? While on a train in the middle of nowhere with the most delightful toilet that became a very scary place when I left….because it didn’t flush!!!

Weird itchy ankle rash thing: Got it after flight from Melbourne to London and again after walking everywhere in Rome.

Knee owies: From very unspectacular and most embarrassing fall in the Cinque Terre.

Weight loss: Hang on, that’s not an ailment that’s a miracle! And yes despite all the naughty food, walking for 12 hours a day is better than any gym!

Other people’s ailments: Well it’s not even worth a list because there are so many and once they know your a nurse they think you care, oops I mean want to help. No that’s not what I meant to say either. They think that it should automatically be up to you to tell them what they should do, so I say “Go to a Doctor”. I met a girl who was complaining because she had to pay $200 for some procedure in a hospital and I said that was a bit strange, surely travel insurance should cover that. Didn’t have it!!! WHY??? 

Certainly makes for interesting times and conversation. When I was in Rome….