Friday, August 27, 2010

Days 16, 17, 18

OK so the hotels on the first two Islands had wifi- for exorbitant prices. It is now day 30 (zoooohh my gooooodness how’d that happen?) and I’m currently sitting by the pool in my hotel in Santorini. Yes the wifi works BY THE POOL! Awesome sauce. I’m still way behind with my blogging but I’m going to work hard to catch up to myself- it’s just too difficult to type about things that happened almost two weeks ago! I’ll type in my spare time so that at the times when I have wifi access I can just upload straight away.

Ok, so are you ready? Are you ready for the cutest furry little motherfucker EVAR? Not really, but here’s days 16, 17 and 18:

Day 16: Rain, Hangovers and the Cinque Terre

Holy. Hangover. Like, my god! I crawled out of bed, quite possibly still drunk and somehow managed to get my suitcase onto the bus. At around 9:30am I suddenly realised that regurgitation was imminent. Luckily I had a plastic bag at my feet containing some things that couldn’t quite fit in my suitcase. So I emptied it and aimed. Unluckily this bag had a hole in it... Not pretty.

After that ladylike display we made a stop over in pisa, to see (obv.) the leaning tower thereof. It was raining, crowded and none of us were all too enthused about a tower on a slant. There are quite a few in Europe. 45minutes of torture and it was back on the bus. I was fine until we went into a tunnel and did a lot of stop starting. When we made our final stop I realised that it was round two and reached for the bag someone had given me earlier just in case. It wasn’t fun...

At the station waiting for the train to take us to the Cinque Terre (“5 villages”) I did something I’ve never done- I had pepto. I took pills to settle my stomach- Americans and their handy drugs! They must have worked because I survived the train ride, had some hot chips and a lemon soda and was relatively ok. The Cinque Terre are beautiful. We walked between a few instead of getting the train, about 2km on each trip. The first walk was rather rocky and steep but at the end we found a gorgeous lagoon that was fantastic for a swim. Gelato was consumed and we walked to the next Terre, to catch the train back to La Spezia. It was at this time that I realised why the metro is so good- because European trains are shit. It was 25min late for no reason.

That night was another of our “spectacular” included dinners. We had a really good first course of pasta (pesto or pomodoro- choices!). This of course made us preemptively excited for the main. Which ended up being chicken and hot chips. Chicken and hot chips. In Italy. Really?! The hotel however was pretty snazzy. Had a bit of a mod theme, with a hot pink hallway wall and matching chairs in the room. I think it’s safe to say I slept damn well that night.

Day 17: Fashion, Palmistry and more rain.

Day 17 was a wet one. It rained all day, which wasn’t the best setting for our visit to Milan but good indoor shopping conditions. Our first stop was Milan’s Duomo (big ass church). Unfortunately my outfit was not deemed church appropriate and I was denied entry but I’ve seen enough big ass churches anyway. Besides, I was far more concerned with the main reason people visit Milan: The Fashion. Being August, a lot of stores were shut, and to be honest there really weren’t any exciting stores that you don’t find everywhere else in Italy anyway. I payed a visit to Prada, Louis, Gucci, and a random “discount outlet” where expensive clothes were just made to look cheap by being thrown on tables and such. It was a fun and torturous day but I do have one complaint about Italian shopping: Where’s Chanel? I only saw one store, in Florence. I know, Chanel is French, you don’t need to point that out but so is Louis Vuitton and it’s still CHANEL. Nobody puts Coco in the corner!

While wandering the streets, my roommate Lisa and myself encountered a rather... interesting... individual. He stopped us and said “wow such a nice pink aura, you are a princess” to me and then started reading my palm. He said a few random things, throwing American city names around and talking about a “lion who did not understand me” on my heart line (bah ex was a Leo. Funny). For Lisa he said he felt bad things had happened in Turkey, which was pretty interesting because she’s Armenian. He then tried to get us to pay him for full readings. When Lisa said no, he accepted it, saying that she has a man’s brain and when she says no it means no. But when I said no, he turned a bit nasty. He pointed at me, like he was placing a curse or something and said “YOU will fall pregnant. You will forget to take your pill and you will have an unexpected pregnancy,” and then claimed that the positive energy he could pass on to me would stop this happening. Total bullshit, obviously but still rattling. He was an absolute nutter, telling us about how he’s getting gender reassignment surgery next year because he’s half woman, and occasionally speaking in his high pitched “woman voice.” Crazy Italians.

For lunch we treated ourselves to a decadent meal from a charmingly Italian establishment called McDonalds. It was there, it smelled good, I wanted it... I got a McRoyale Deluxe which is rather a lot like a deluxe cheeseburger but the size of a quarter pounder and with tomato as well. We did have a laugh at some of the amusing burger names of course, e.g. the Crispy McBacon, but I’m still disappointed that I can’t get a Royale with cheese (what do they call a whopper?)

After failing to find Italian Grazia at yet another news stand, I picked up a German copy instead (yes, they had German but not Italian?) and found it quite interesting to see that it’s exactly the same as the Australian version. EXACTLY THE SAME. Same layout. Like, not only does it have the same sections, but they’re IN THE SAME ORDER. Now I know where we get our layout from, both French and Italian are totally different.

That night we stayed in the best hotel of all time. It was incredible- 4 star, only lacking one due to it being in the backarse of east jesus nowhere, just to the east of woop woop, but it was fantastic! We had a bath tub! And the lobby was really snazzy. For the first time we got a decent included dinner of saffron risotto followed by some description of meat. I don’t remember but I do know it was good. (any Contikiers, if you read this and know what we ate, feel free to tell me. Then, as it’s august and all of the bars were shut, and the hotel drinks were pricey, they let us bring our own booze down to the lobby and have a wee shindig. As the night drew on, the glasses got emptier, the voices got louder and people made ever more trips to the bathroom, but never once did they complain about noise! I thought it was fair decent of them, and we all had a pretty good chilled night.

Day 18: Verona, Venice and a very gay man (and MORE rain)

The day started in Sirmione (after the bus that is) where we discovered there is honestly nothing to do but eat/drink/wander in the sun. Like, there’s really nothing there, except for a ridiculously high number of restaurants and Italians celebrating the 15th of August by eating at aforementioned restaurants. I opted out of the optional boat trip over the lake to get to Sirmione, as did two others. Why boat when you can drive? We arrived at the same time as the boaters, and everyone sort of wandered aimlessly. I had gelato AND a granita. It was good. And that’s really all I can say about Sirmione... Oh and it smelled of sulphur. That’s it. Nothing else to it.

After Sirmione we headed somewhere actually exciting: Verona. The home of Romeo and Juliet. On the way in, our tour leader set the mood by playing Taylor Swift. I said to myself “Dire Straits would have been so better,” because obviously their romeo and Juliet song is totally awesomeand not at all lame. But whatevs.

When we arrived in town we ran straight for cover, because one of those awesome summer storms that last for 10minutes was underway. When it was over, a few people were talking about how cool it was to piss down and clear up so quickly. But that’s just November/December back home! Standard summer afternoon storm.

Of course, in Verona we visited Juliet’s balcony, where we copped a feel of her statue for some good luck (she has one ultra shiny bewb from all the rubbing, let me tell you. SKANK.) as well as a whale bone that’s attatched to an arch. They think it’ll fall one day but it looked pretty damn secure to me and in all honety the bone was small enough to dodge if it did fall. Total anti-climax. It’s meant to be Moby Dick’s rib bone but since he’s a fictional whale that’s not entirely possible.
Me and Lisa had the thrill of the most-adorable-and-knowledgeable-in-the-field-of-makeup-gay-man-with-a-quiff-EVAR in Sephora (cosmetics department store). He picked out the perfect foundation for Lisa straight away, and using a brush he had conveniently attatched to his belt, he performed visual magic on her face. He was adorable. When we left, he even said “Caio-Ciao!” and gave a cute little finger wave. We need more adorable gay Italian men who can operate a makeup brush in Sydney I say.

From Verona we headed to our final destination for the next two nights- Venice (well our hotel was a quick train ride out really). When we got on the bus to leave, my prayers were answered as dire strait's romeo and juliet played over the speakers. I much prefer the Killers version of course but it's such a good song (bah smart group memories!). That night we headed to the only restaurant still open near our hotel and then off to a bar that our tour leader recommended. Unfortunately, this bar was also shut. Luckily we found a bar basically underneath our hotel, but the clientele were a bit... interesting. We’d been there maybe 10min when a prostitute walked in. Well, to be fair we don’t know for a fact she was a prostitute but I sure hope she was after seeing what she was wearing.

I had planned to do day 19 as well but it’s getting late and I am sleepy. Big day ahead tomorrow- hiking swimming and donkey riding in Santorini and that’s all before lunch! Looking forward to it.

I actually have free wifi for the next few days so hopefully I’ll be back super soon!

-m xx

p.s. can't believe I ended that post on a prostitute...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Days 12-15 (Overduuueee...)

Firstly: I'm sorry!
I've been wifi free for the last 2 weeks so that means I've got a few posts to try and pump out over the next few days. But apparently at least the next two hotels have wifi so we should be good to go! And it is Sunday so I'm on schedule... sort of. Anyway, today is day 25, with I think 65 left? So it's going super fast!I'm in Athens, which I don't really recommend you visit. It's not that great. They have an Acropolis, that's about it. And we're in the dodgy area so I've been offered a matchbox of weed, seen an argument that I think was about drugs, and witnessed someone shooting up in the street at 9pm. I'm scared to wander around the streets alone in the middle of the day to be honest. Now, since more than about 4 days in each post is ridiculous; today's consists of days 12, 13, 14 and 15 (as the title suggests...)which is pretty difficult to write about since I can't remember any of it! Thank god I take notes.

Day 12: Ol’ Vesuv, Pizza extravaganza and Sorrento

The first day of experiencing the joys of a coach tour (One of those joys being named Joy but more on that wee gem later). The day dawned bright and early, with a 6:30am wake up call. It was torturous to drag myself out of bed after my sleep ins for the previous... um... 6 months? We and our luggage were on the bus and hitting the road only 5 minutes behind schedule. Destination? Sorrento via the ruins of Pompeii (yes, super excitement!!)

The thing about Italy is, it’s super small. Just like the whole of Europe really but you really get to realise just how small a country is when you drive around it. Honestly, I think Pompeii was only a couple of hours away. Our longest drive was from Venice to Rome, a maximum of 8 hours road time. That wouldn’t get you from Sydney to Coffs! Anyway, I digress (how uncharacteristic of me). It was pretty exciting to be driving along towards Pompeii and getting a brilliant view of Mt Vesuvius himself out the window- complete with an ominously placed cloud, making it look like the long overdue eruption was in progress. When we got to Pompeii we were met with our walking tour guide, including possibly the creepiest/weirdest/worst/yet best invention ever: The “whisper” vox headset. Just one ear bud, connected to a microphone used by the guide to aid in leading large groups. Fantastic in theory, but signal problems, uncomfortable ear pieces that tend to fall out at inconvenient times and the scary voice whispering “contiiiiikiiiiii” from an unknown direction grow old very quickly. It was pretty fantastic though. The ruins are a lot bigger than I expected and it’s incredible how intact everything is. We even had the pleasure of perusing an ancient brothel- complete with a sex position picture menu, and adorned with penises so it’s impossible to miss out (“what’s a phallic symbol?” Ah Americans...)

After Pompeii we headed to Sorrento, which is situated along the bay of Naples, in the Souhtern coastal region of Italy. It’s absolutely beautiful, really it is. On our first night we went out for an aperitivo (pre-dinner drink. Yes, they have pre pres in Italy!) at a bar overlooking the water followed by a pizza evening- bruschetta, salad, and as much pizza as you want, complete with wine and followed by a shot of limoncello. The food was great but even better was the entertainment, which goes by the name of Joy. Ah Joy... me and my roommate Lisa (25, from the Northern Suburbs, is also a Scorpio and doesn’t like roast capsicum) sat at a table which was all-American apart from ourselves (and one Canadian). I sure am glad we did because not only did I meet my New York mums, but our table came complete with its own drunk obnoxious Californian. Well into the dinner, aforementioned DOC requested an audience with Stephanie (New York mum number one). It went a little bit like this “I’m sorry I can’t remember your name. Imma be straight wit chu... I’m Joy, and I’m gunna get you laid.” Dead set, that is what she said (ghetto witness anyone? "they rapin errbody up in here"). It is still a mystery as to why she targeted Steph as her own personal sex project- her justifications were “I was the whore on my last trip” (passing on the torch perhaps?) and “I’m a really good pimp” (ah financial gain was her goal...) neither of which were enough to entice Steph under her wing. Funny though.

After dinner, I went with some of the girls from our table back to the bar from the beginning of the night, where we shared a bottle of red and some gelato and spent most of the time laughing about the events of dinner. Nothing makes a bond like someone else’s drunkenness.

Day 13: Spaghettios, Heidi and Seal and Karaoke.

From our hotel in Sorrento we headed down to the wharf to catch a ferry to the Isle of Capri- a beautiful and beautifully rich tourist infested Island, where many a hard earned/inherited Euro is spent. One of the optional excursions of the day was to catch a second boat and go see the grotto and swim in the “med.” Having an aversion to boats in general I chose to stay on the main Island to drool over Prada and eat my weight in gelato. A few others were sticking with dry land as well and we stayed together, exploring the two towns of Capri. Unfortunately in doing so we missed out on what was probably the highlight of everyone elses day- seeing Heidi Klum, Seal and their pups out on the water, and having a chance to play paparazzi. We did however, get in some beach time, which was certainly a new experience. The med is a much warmer ocean than our Pacific, let me tell you. Unfortunately though, they don’t really have sand on Capri, just pebbles, which makes walking a wee bit uncomfortable. Also, there are lots of girls with impossibly beautiful bodies and overweight middle aged men in Speedos, which is never a good combination. I have found though, that it’s virtually impossible to get burnt in Europe. I guess that whole ozone layer thingummy really is all it’s cracked up to be- I mean, they only get UVA rays coming through! And getting yourself treated for melanoma is cheaper than buying sunscreen regularly here anyway so sun it up.

Back in Sorrento, we enjoyed one of our deliciously extravagant (read: crap) included hotel dinners- something akin to spaghettios, followed by a surprisingly decent second course of veal. After dinner, we got a mini bus and about 15 of us went into town for drinks and general debauchery. 6 or so of us went to one of Italy’s many “American bars” which all include karaoke. I discovered this delicious drink called the “love drink” which is just raspberry vodka and lemon soda, although I have my suspicions that they were watering down their spirits because drink after drink had little effect. It was enough to have Erin, who spent the whole night thinking I want to be a designer for some reason, up on the pole, doing her thang which granted me endless amusement. Drunk people are funny...

Day 14: Bus introductions, wine and more karaoke

On day 14 we left Sorrento and headed for Florence, via Tuscany for wine and olive oil tasting (yes. Be jealous). On the way to our wine tasting we made use of the time by introducing ourselves to the bus at large- one by one, all 45 of us. I still couldn’t get everyone’s names correct... The vineyard itself was gorgeous, they took us down into the cellar where the wine is made which was fantastic on such a hot day. We got to sample a rose, a red, garlic bread with extra virgin olive oil and a desert wine with biscotti. Of course most of us bought a few bottles- it was surprisingly cheap. Their “expensive” wines were 25€ and the rose I bought was only 5!

On our first night in Florence we had a surprisingly decent (read: edible) included dinner which consisted of pasta (given) and SALAD!! (mucho excitement indeed!) followed by limoncello of course. Then we headed to yet another American karaoke bar, called the Red Garter where they actually had a man playing guitar along to the karaoke tracks. Badly. It was a good night, especially when Rick wandered off to the bar and returned with 4 mjitos which he said were up for grabs. There’s no mojito like a free mojito! The best part about the red garter is its proximity to a “kebap” shop. Of course at 1:30am a few of us Aussies insisted on a kebab and it was the best thing I’ve ever tasted- not only do they use Spanish onions, but I decided to be really European and get mayo and tomato sauce and it’s incredible. Seriously, if you find a kebab shop which stocks mayo, fuck barbeque sauce and do it. It’s so good!

When we got back to the hotel, me and Alyssa headed up to the same floor. The doors had code entry but hers was locked from the inside, so she couldn’t get in. She knocked, and Joy (yes. THAT Joy) her room mate called out “just a minute.” Then we looked down and saw it. It. A sock. Hanging. On the door handle. Universal sign for... well you know, it’s universal. Very funny indeed. She swore nothing happened, but Alyssa claims she could... sense... it in the air.

Day 15: sleeping in, exploring Florence and balsamic spritz.

Ah a wake up call of 8:15. Bliss. A portion of the group got up early to go see the David but I decided sleeping in was a much better way to spend the morning. When we eventually did arise, we met up with the early birds in front of the Santa Croce to begin the days activities- a demonstration of Florences most famous export, leather. They make these awesome entirely leather boxes. yes, a bos made of nothing but leather- no stitching, no hinges. Just leather. Also they do jewellery at the same place, where you can pick up one of the famous puzzle rings. It consists of four or six rings which have to be arranged in a specific way to fit together into one ring. They were originally made as promise rings, so that if a man left town and his wife took off the ring to cheat,the rings would separate. And obviously, being a woman, she wouldn't be able to work out how to put it back together.

After a coffee, we rejoined to begin our walking tour of Florence. The guide was talking far too much and I have to admit I tuned out and can barely remember where we went ("There's a river in Florence?!") but I do remember her ranting about the beggars and how we shouldn't give them money because of what the government gives them from her tax money. Bah, love it. Freedom from the tour was blissful, and a few of us ladies took in some shopping followed by lunch. We went on a wee bit of a trek because Steph had been recommended a particular restaurant, located in a square that WASN'T ON OUR MAP. Eventually we found it. Closed. So we found the nearest restaurant with available tables (bad sign?). They had balsamic vinegar in a spray bottle. The food however, was surprisingly not bad, but still, balsamic spritz? In Italy?

After lunch we head back to the Santa Croce (Sacred Heart- another old church) which holds the tomb of Michelangelo (and Machiavelli, who they seem to be big fans of in Italy. Does no one remember that he was power hungry to the point of evil? Absolute power corrupts and all that? Nope.) Of course, being a church, they have a dress code which I, in my shorts, didnt't quite adhere to. Luckily, they have a solution for these circumstances. An ultra stylish styrofoam robe, complete with a waste tie and ironically see-through so that it doesn't actually cover anything. I looked hot, have no doubt.

That night we drove up onto... some hill with a David replica on it... for a group photo, followed by a Tuscan themed feast. They gave our table two bottles of white wine, but everyone except myself and Steph was drinking red. We finished both bottles- not the best idea. Then we headed to Space Electronic Discoteque, the most popular club in Florence. It comes complete with a fish tank bar and (you guessed it) karaoke. It's pretty cool, but you don't pay up front for you drinks. They give you a card and punch holes in it and after 3 or 4 drinks you go to another counter to pay and either get another drink card or an exit card. Drink was taken. Me and Alyssa ran around trying to convince people she was Taylor Swift, which wasn't entirely effective since the italians don't know who she is. I don't remember going home, but I do remember getting there and having to be let in by Lisa, and I'm sure I entertained her with my drunken stories. Like I said- drunk people are funny, right?

So that's all I can do for now, I plan to be back tomorrow and every day after untill I'm up to date because it's bugging me! Off to Paros tomorrow, pretty excited.

Untill next time

-m xx

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Paris and Rome- Days 9, 10, 11

NOTE: Though published Thursday, Day 15b of my trip, this was written on Sunday. The last few days have been devoid of free wifi. I am now in Florence with a much nicer hotel than the previous ones and as much wifi as i could ever want. So this post is late but I was still dedicated to writing it on time. Expect another soon including the recent days.

So it’s day 11. Or night to be more accurate. I’m sitting in my bed for the night in my hotel for the night in Rome, my location for the night. My first tour has begun and we head off around Italy from tomorrow. Currently, the TV is playing Police Academy, dubbed in Italian. Since i’ve never seen it in English, I don't know what I'm missing.

Day 9: Sleep ins, fevers and laundry.

Day 9 began late. That is to say, I began day 9 late and slightly hung-over after the bottle and a half of red wine consumed the night before. Eventually, I arose, too late for my free breakfast and headed for the Musee d’Orsay, Paris most popular and well known modern art museum- showcasing Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Monet, Manet (yes both, in case you weren’t confused enough) and Degas among others. It had virtually no line, was only 5.50€ for entry but due to renovations on one floor, all of the works (and subsequent crowds) were squashed into a smaller place. And, basically, let’s face it- there are a lot of stupid people in museums. People who stop in the doorway to rooms, taking up too much space for you to pass them; People who try to look really knowledgeable by standing back from a painting and furrowing their brow, in the process getting in my way; and of course, people who bring young kids. Kids don’t understand art, they get bored, hungry, tired- why take them? No one wants a screaming child next to them while they’re looking at Manet’s controversial ‘Olympia’- she’s a prostitute for god’s sake! But, stupid people aside, it was good to see Degas’ ballet dancer pastels, and Toulouse-Lautrec’s Moulin Rouge inspired works in real life. They even had a few super old photographic displays. I did however, get sick of all of the people.

When I left the museum I made the unwise decision of sitting in the sun to read for a while. Bad. Idea. Hangover + Mel = inability to regulate temperature + direct sunlight = mild fever/sunstroke symptoms. I had to leave and find shade before I threw up/passed out, the nearest I could think of being The Jardin Tuilleries, where conveniently, they sell granitas in every imaginable flavour. I got coke (or as the French say: cock-ah) as it’s one of my hangover fixes, and sat in the shade till I felt better.

Another highlight of the day was using a French Laundromat. So confusing... But I now have an array of clean underwear. I have realised, that with about a weeks worth or underwear, necessitating weekly washing, 2 weeks + worth of shirts just isn’t practical. I need to send some things home because my suitcase is now dangerously close to the weight limit. But more on that later. Laden with clean clothing and microwaveable macaroni and meatballs, I headed back home, and was in bed by 9. Pretty tame day, all in all.

Day 10: A rude awakening, a new line of defence and feeling like a true local

Ah my last day in Paris. Another day where I woke immeasurably tired and unable to get up at 8am. However, I was re-awoken at about 9am, by my mother, who assumed I’d be up and about by then. How very wrong she was... Needless to say, I was well and truly awake after that, and dragged myself out of bed. I decided to relax on my last day- wandered around the shops again, keeping purchases to a minimum. I did invest in what looks at a distance to be an engagement ring- a bit of an experiment I want to try; whether I can avoid having to even talk to men to reject them. My theory is if seen, the idea of commitment alone would scare most boys off. We’ll see how that unfolds. I also got lucky with a 10€ pair of wedges. They’re canvas, like sneakers, but they don’t look like sneakers since they’re all black. They’re quite comfy- I even changed into them post-purchase and wore them the rest of the day.

Now yesterday I wandered into McDonalds with the idea in mind to fulfil a personal goal- get a royale with cheese. Miraculously, this particular maccas didn’t have them! They only have a bacon royale, and since I don’t like bacon... I attempted to use one of those express order computer things. But it wouldn’t take my card. Bastard. And then when I finally got my cheeseburger, it was lacking in saucy goodness! Nothing worse than a sauce deficient burger. Full yet strangely unsatisfied, I went in search of my nearest metro, which happened to be Bastille, one I’ve never used. You know you’re getting to know the inner workings of the Paris metro when you can get home from anywhere, the simplest way possible. I made a point of learning the names of my surrounding metros, so if it requires 3 changes to get onto my line, 12, I look to see if line 2 is more directly accessible, since it has stops down the road from me. Reinforcing my feeling of familiarity with Paris, was a middle aged English couple, who stopped me on the street to ask if I knew how to get into the cemetery, which, as it were, I got to know on my first day in Montmartre/Paris/France/Europe, just over a week previously. It’s gone fast, really it has.

My last night in Paris was nothing spectacular- packing, cooking in the ill-equipped kitchen, doing cryptic crosswords in the lobby and going for a wander up to the Sacre Coeur with fellow Aussie, Jeremiah (was a bullfrooooggg!).

Day 11: Au Revoir Paris and Bongiorno Roma!

A morning I had to get up early, and get myself to the airport. Tired as all hell, I somehow got on the metro in the wrong direction, even though I’ve caught it so many times over the last week. I think I got disoriented by using the elevator instead of the stairs. No drama, just off and back again in the correct direction. Did of course, result in a few more stairs. Eventually, I got to the Orly bus without hassle, which is saying something because Paris signs are pretty vague. They point in the general direction of something, but the signs are so sporadic that you end up getting lost between them. When I finally found the airport, I got completely lost. Everything being in French, I had no idea where to go to check in. Eventally I worked out the desk number and that that was on a different level, and when I found the right place, I was confronted with the largest, un-moving line i’ve ever encountered in an airport. After a delay due to technical difficulties, I was conveniently ushered to the front since they needed to close check in for my flight by this point, where I embarrassingly gave the woman the wrong reference number- I misread my own handwriting!

Shamefaced, I headed to my gate, which of course wasn’t written on my boarding pass. Miraculously, Orly airport has these cute scanner things that remind me of price scanners in Big W, but they scan your boarding pass and TELL YOU YOUR GATE NUMBER! Incredible. I would have been wandering around lost for a while without discovering that. Of course, we boarded severely late and I think the flight was set back by about an hour. When I finally got to Rome, I had a long wait before the next bus to the town centre, which was about a 40min trip when it finally left. Of course, I sat behind one of those annoying couples who kiss every 3minutes or so. The really noisy types of peck kisses, with that irritating clicky/mwah sound? Gah I almost asked them to stop being coupley it was so annoying! It was relief indeed when we arrived at Termini train station, where I had a brief encounter with the Rome metro to get me to “the nearest metro station to my hotel” which isn’t walking distance and therefore can’t have been the nearest metro (or else Rome needs to fix their metro). After a 14€ cab ride, I arrived at the Hotel Regent, about 90min late, for the first group meeting with our tour manager.

So that brings me to where I am, now watching Star Wars episode 5, dubbed in Italian, next to my sleeping roommate who is surprise surprise also from Sydney and travelling alone- gee Contiki, I never guessed something like that would happen. Tomorrow we have the joy of a 6:15am wake up call to look forward to, before we set off for Sorento, via Pompeii. I have some serious suitcase reshuffling to do, and I’ll need to get to a post office ASAP because it’s fit to capacity at this point. Apparently theft is particularly bad in Italy, goodie! It’ll be tough adjusting to moving around every day and literally living out of my suitcase as opposed to in Paris where I had half of my stuff piled up in a corner. Also, one of the straps on my in flight bag broke today, so I’ll need to find a replacement before the other straps break as well- perhaps a bigger one, since I’ll be carrying my valuables around with me (apparently hotel rooms nor buses are secure places here)

Written on day 15: So I'll see you guys in a couple of days. I'm off to get ready for a decadent Tuscan feast followed by the biggest club in town- where apparently you only have to be 14 to get entry which could be interesting. A night for the ring methinks ahaha. Peace

-m xx

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Paris: Days 5, 6, 7 and 8

Dear Paris,
Please invest in more gay men. To my knowledge I’ve only met two here so far and they wore matching glasses and considered themselves to be friends with benefits. THEY were adorable, unlike the pesky straight men roaming the streets, targets set on any woman who strays away from her protective herd. They can be sent to... say... Sydney. There’s a deficit of available men there, so I’ve heard, and Parisian men take on an “exotic sexyness” when thrown out of their natural habitat, unlike when they’re actually IN Paris, when they’re just annoying. Also, if you could invest on air conditioners for your over-crowded metro trains, I’d appreciate it.
Dearest regards,

The men are getting on my nerves. It has now been over a week of putting up with them. And the worst bit is, it’s not just the French men- it’s the tourists too! Honestly. Does my head in.

It is now day 8 in Paris, with two days left. My next post is due the day I arrive in Rome, and in the interests of my readers’ eyesight, I figured a mid-week post is necessary to prevent one that takes about 3 days to read. Today I’ve been taking it easy, it’s currently about 4:30pm on a Thursday and I’m already back “home,” blogging. Now I do have 4 days to cover in the post, so it could be a long one, but I’ll try and keep it brief. (Ha.) To shake things up a bit, I’ll underline the ultra important bits so you can skim if you want. Here goes:

Day 5: Getting interviewed, rained on and humiliated.

Day 5 feels so long ago! I made the smart decision to make brief notes throughout each day, just so I can remember what I did when. I started off the day with a visit to Notre Dame. I almost turned away when I saw the line (Ican’t stand lines. I’ve skipped a few things because of lines over days 5-8, but more on that later) but it was moving rapidly so I went with it. I must say, for anyone planning to go to Paris, for god’s sake see Notre Dame BEFORE Sacre Ceour. Notre Dame, though impressive, didn’t meet my expectations, nor did it make me feel like weeping at its beauty like Sacre Ceour did. That said, it is beautiful, but nowhere near as beautiful as its cousin up on the hill (the hill being Montmartre) which comes fully equipped with one of the best views in Paris. So like I said, Notre Dame BEFORE Sacre Ceour.

Next I headed back to Shakespeare and Company, to buy a book. I walked out with three, and sat down to take a break before heading off to Cimitiere du Pere-Lachaise and Montparnasse. A woman asked if she could sit down also and of course, i said yes. Things then took a turn for the unexpected and my plans were thrown out the window (defenestrated, if you will) as she, after a moments pause, asked if she could interview me. Her name is Saskia Jansens and she’s working on a novel centering around Shakespeare and Company. She’s interviewing people who love books for character ideas or something along those lines and the philosopher she’d arranged to meet had failed to show up (that’s philosophers for you...) She said the reason she was drawn to me was simply because I was wearing a black and red scarf, her favourite colours. Anyway, I figured why not be interviewed by a journalist/poet/historian in Paris outside a bookshop? It was an interesting experience to say the least, and Saskia was certainly a colourful character.

Of course, this ate up about 2 and a half hours of my time and I had to rush of to Pere Lachaise where of course it began to rain. I visited Jim, but didn’t bother exploring the rest of the cemetery due to the weather. I thought it best to head back to Montmartre at that point, where of course it stopped raining as soon as I got there. I stepped into Quick, a burger shop with ironically slow service. I went upstairs to eat and encountered the kind of crazy only Paris can produce. He wore mismatching shoes, and sat at a table ripping up paper. He seemed to have some OCD-related issue, as every time he had a sip from his drink he’d raise it to his mouth and then lower it about 6 times before actually drinking. When he left, he shuffled left to right at the top of the stairs a few times, then apologised to the guy who he was in the way of. Crazy, but polite.

Of course, when I left, I slipped on the stairs and landed on my butt, which now has a rather impressive bruise. That was the only sign I needed to head straight home and into bed (it was about 7pm.) In my defence, I didn’t sleep, I read one of my new books, ‘Room.’ It’s about a young woman and her 5 year old son, who live in an 11x11 foot room, after the woman was kidnapped and locked in there 7 years previously. It’s all told from the perspective of the boy, Jack, who for the first 5 years of his life though that “room” was all there was, and that the things he saw on TV were fictional. The book follows their escape, and their struggles with the differences of outside. It’s good- read it! The use of the innocent voice to describe such horrible experiences is really affecting.

Day 6: Modern art, great lasagne and exceptional views.

I headed straight into the city on day 6, with plans of seeing the YSL exhibit. After the long walk from Saint Michel to the Petit Palais, I arrived outside the exhibit and at the end of a line which was in line with a sign that estimated a 2 hour wait. Fabulous. I waited for maybe 10min to see if the line moved at all, which it didn’t. I gave up- not much is worth lining up in the sun for two hours.

So I trekked on to Palais de Tokyo/Musee d’Art Moderne- a modern art museum, separated into two buildings with separate names, with a skate park out front and a fabulous view of the Eiffel Tower. In between the two halves, was a cafe where I stopped to lunch on the best lasagne of my life thus far and a glass of rose. The advantage of an exhibit in two parts is that you can refuel halfway and therefore maintain concentration and sanity. Of course, as I do, I took photos of my food. Which made me realise something- I do that with pretty much every meal I have out and I have no idea why. Food is pretty damn sexy I guess. It was a great feeling sitting there though, with a full belly and a half-full glass of wine, with nowhere to rush off to, dwarfed by the Eiffel Tower and surrounded by contemporary art. The exhibit was the perfect size- leaving you wanting more art as opposed to overloading you with it. It’s an advantage for them, because the closest thing with any artistic element is the shop.

One piece I fell in love with was a film called “Visionary Iraq” by Gabriel Abrantes and Benjamin Crathy in which the two boys play all of the characters- most notably a young man, Manuel and his adopted sister Ginger who fell in love at age 14 and are currently in the midst of fighting in Iraq. Their father has undergone a business deal which means he profits directly from the war- or as put in the film, from the suffering of his own children. It’s both heartbreaking and hilarious, and entirely strange.

Allthough I was tired enough to drop, I took a scenic route via the tower to a metro; destination Montparnasse Tower- host of THE BEST view in Paris. Reasons why Montparnasse is better than Eiffel
#1: It’s a lot cheaper to go up. The most you’ll pay is 11€.
2# There’s a tiny tiny line.
#3 You can actually see the Eiffel Tower from Montparnasse Tower, but you can’t see it when you’re on top of it. Let’s face it, the skyline is a lot better with the Eiffel Tower in it.
4# You can actually see Montparnasse Tower from the Eiffel Tower, but you can't see it when you're on top of it. Let’s face it- it’s hideous and the only reason it’s still standing is because it’s full of asbestos.
So why not save some money, and get a better view? And the view is spectacular. Also, if you’re like me and the 365° view of Paris makes you thirsty, a 250mL bottle of wine in the Montparnasse Tower cafe will cost about 5€, and if you don’t finish it- you can take the rest with you!

Day 7: Shopping, shopping and err... shopping.

Yesterday I planned to go see the Catacombs. Montparnasse is on my metro line which make it convenient to get to and from. It’s a pretty good area, not only are there shops INSIDE the station, but I discovered while walking to the Catacombs that they have markets lining the streets, with jewellery, clothes and fresh food. I took a detour through Cimitiere Montparnasse, which is a lot more linear and well organised than Montmartre and Pere-Lachaise, but hasn’t as many famous names. When I got to the Catacombs of course, I saw a line curving all the way around the corner. I grabbed a French Grazia (for 1€ zomg) and sat near the front of the line to gauge it’s progress speed. It didn’t seem to move much at all in the 15-20min or so I was there so once again I skipped something due to not wanting to wait around. It’s not my thing to line up for stuff, at least not on my own because there’s no one to entertain me!

So instead, I went shopping. In Montparnasse they have a Zara, which is a magical land of reasonably priced, up-to-date fashion. I want to move in to a Zara store. I then headed into the city and found all of the shops that line the streets near Chatalet metro, which miraculously I hadn’t seen before. I bought a lot. H&M is also fantastic. That’s all we say about my shopping adventure... Towards the end of the day, I finally bought some sneakers. I didn’t try them on, because my feet were absolutely filthy, but I grabbed a 40 and figured if anything they'd stretch and end up too big. But, alas, I can only JUST get them on my feet. So, though wearing them brings relief to my feet-palms (what DO you call them?) it also kills my heels and hobbles up my toes. Fun times.

Day 8: Alarms, exploring and quail.

This morning I woke up at 5:30am. Or should I say, was forcibly awoken at 5:30am. This is, sadly, not a strange occurrence- it happens every morning. The room mate who sleeps in the bed below mine (one of them that is, apparently it’s two girls who live here and didn’t want to pay for two beds yet take up all the space underneath so there’s no room for me to put my suitcase) has an annoyingly loud circus-esque alarm that goes off every morning. Annoyingly, she’s always the last to hear it. This morning, the entire alarm played 5 whole times before she woke up and turned it off. Then, it went off again at about 7:30am. The weirdest bit is, neither of them get out of bed at 5:30am so I don’t even know what it’s for. And, there’s never a “oh I’m so sorry I woke you with such annoying sounds at 5:30 in the morning,” which is possibly the most annoying bit.

As I mentioned previously, today I’ve been taking it easy. I wandered into an area I haven’t been yet, and i’m not even sure if I was still in Montmartre but i found a few shops. Then, I got lazy and caught the metro two stops to get closer to home. I sat on a bench in the red light district and read, surrounded by sex shops and the museum of eroticism. I had lunch at Cafe de Luna- quail in mushroom sauce and a glass of (you guessed it!) Rose. I had the whole quail, like a midget chicken, on the plate. It was a bit fiddly. Then I wandered a bit more, bought an icecream and now here I am. Sitting at my little table by the window, an unseasonably cold wind blowing in. It’s a bit cloudy, but If it clears up I plan on heading into the city after dinner to watch the tower light up.

In my last two days in Paris I have plenty of options of what to do- Musee d’Orsay, unless the line is ridiculous, le Maison Europeen de Photographie, if I can find it, see the Arc de Triomphe, get a hot chocolate at Angelinas, and of course file the police report for my “stolen in strabucks” wallet that I’m yet to get around to doing. (It was the barista, I swear! He held a grudge ever since I interrupted his coffee making to ask for a spoon!) or I could just wander around and people watch. We’ll see.

Untill Sunday,

-m xx

Monday, August 02, 2010

Paris: days 3 and 4

Dear Paris: I am disappointed in you! Well not you per se, but your people! I don’t want to come off as discriminatory here, but they’re just too nice! Where are all the rude arrogant Parisians you warned us all about? Why is everyone helpful and friendly, and more than happy to talk to me in English? Hmm? I was under the distinct impression that they’d all be too cool for school and no one would even glance at me. I was clearly ill-informed in that regard! I trust that you understand my issue, and will work on rectifying this embarrassing problem.

Sincerely yours,

OK so really, everyone here is nice! What’s up with that?
It is now day 4 in Paris and my feet are feeling the abuse I (the charmingly uneven ground of Paris, the stairs and hills of Montmartre and the thinness of my shoes) have hurled upon them. I had to wash blood off the inside of one of the offending shoes today in fact. This was of course, after hours of limping around town, looking like a total (as the French say) shower.
Get it? No? Moving on.

Bi-lingual puns aside I won’t be surprised if I wake up tomorrow morning to find my legs are paralysed and my feet gangrenous. So what have I been up to in the two long days since we last conversed? Well if you insist, I guess I’ll tell you.

Day 3: Venturing out of Montmartre and losing stuff (sanity included)

Ah day 3. What can I say about day 3? It was, undeniably, the day that started well and ended in a shit storm. Intrigued yet? No? Oh well.

Yesterday I ventured onto the mysterious world of the metro; destination: St. Michel in the Latin Quarter. This is where you need to head if you plan on going on a free walking tour of Paris, which is exactly what I was doing of course. Paris is not too unlike Sydney- there are tourists everywhere, lots of traffic and scam artist trying to get you to “donate money for peace in Africa.” In my brief exploration of the Latin Quarter I encountered lots of shoe stores and possibly the best invention in the history of the culinary arts: The Nutella crepe. Yes, you read that correctly. You’re not hallucinating magical nom noms out of starvation. Nutella crepe. For 2€ 50 you can get a freshly made, hot-from-the-hot-thing-that-crepes-are-cooked-on, edible heaven of oozing deliciousness. Paris, je taime! But enough about the crepe... The free walking tour takes you around to see a view key highlight of Paris. It’s a good way to get your bearings and also decide on things that are worth devoting more time to later. Obviously, as it’s free, there’s a lot more looking at the Louvre than going inside for example, but you get complimentary random facts! Such as this: every year, 600 people are admitted to the emergency room due to dog poo related injuries. Parisians love their dogs. So we took in the Fontaine St. Michel, the Louvre (the outside bits that is), the Jardin Tuilleries, the Pont Neuf, Starbucks and a few other key sites. Of course, my enjoyment was shadowed when I discovered at the end of the tour that I was sans wallet. Which means I was sans money, sans train ticket, sans drivers license and sans James’ yr 12 school photo. Not fun. So its most likely I was pick pocketed in Starbucks, and that is the story I will stick with when I file a police report so I can claim the cash on my insurance (...yay for insurance fraud?). Then of course, because I am the luckiest person we know, I got to misplace my sunglasses while stressing about my wallet! And this is why I left my Ray Bans at home... Anyway, they were found by one of the tour leaders so I just need to find them and my corneas are saved from the 18 hours of daily Parisian sunlight. The rest of the day was a bit of a mess, I borrowed a train ticket, and headed to the embassy, in case they could somehow magically conjure me a new drivers license. Of course, they were shut so I just went home and tried to work out how to cancel my travelex card. Couldnt log in, because I didn’t have the card number of course. Anyway, I’m using my second one, and Steph is investigating what I should do.

I bought a small purse type thing for like 3€ and it has a snazzy little keyring attachment, so I can keep in my bag by clipping it onto the inside zipper for example. It’s snazzy. Also, it’s small and doesn’t fit much cash, which means if I DO lose it, I don’t lose 120€, forcing me to commit insurance fraud (yay?).

Crisis averted (kinda) me and my passport took my new ultra secure money holder out for a few (hundred) drinks on the Pub Crawl. A few people from my free tour were there, and about 80% of us were Aussie so all in all a good time was had! Consequently, I wasn’t up early enough to get to St. Michel at 11am to reclaim my sunglasses. Another day another Journey...

Day 4: having my mind blown in the Centre Pompidou, getting lost and consequently buying clothes, and contracting trench foot

Spoiler: I don’t have trench foot (yet?) It’s a joke. DON’T JUDGE ME!

As I mentioned, I slept in a wee bit today. Got up about 90minutes later than normal and dilly dallied on fb for too long and got to St. Michel about 45min too late. I decided to pretty much follow the tour route from yesterday to try and catch up with my guide, but failed when I decided to take a “short cut” and get lost en route to Starbucks (ever my downfall... Gloria Jeans come back to me!). When it was clear I had no idea where I was, I bought an awesome sandwich and headed back to the Louvre to eat and watch tourists line up for hours. Bah who goes to the Louvre on free museum Sunday? But this sandwich, it must have looked as good as it tasted because some French boy came up to ask where I got it. I have the directional ability of a blind man with no dog so I wasn’t much help with my vague pointing-left-saying-right instructions but i hope he found his sandwich. Then I followed (Ha.) my map to the Centre Pompidou- the second most significant modern art museum IN THE WORLD (second to MoMA in NYC). I got lost on the way of course, when I decided to stop and put bandaid on my toes to discover them covered in blood. I often have this problem (it’s gunna get gross now...) when I wear shoes, where my wonky pinky toe nails get long enough to dig into the next toe. This causes pain, difficulty in walking and no doubt infection since the Parisian men pee everywhere. (Not a joke. If it looks like a puddle, it isn’t). And of course I can’t feel that I’m bleeding, it just hurts. Then I end up with a shoe full of blood. After fixing my feet (read: dabbing a tissue in a fountain and wiping off enough blood so that the bandaids will stick) I miraculously noticed that there were three whole clothing shops around me- and they were open! (Most shops are shut on Sundays, except for the cheap Asia- run ones that are so much better than their Sydney counterparts). So I bought a maxi dress and some shiny sandal/thong things for the grand total price of 23€. Win.

Armed with my new purchases I finally made it to the art museum. Despite the fact I could barely walk at this point, I persevered for about 3 hours and I’m so glad I did. The impressive contemporary floor includes Mona Hatoum, The Guerilla Girls, Barbara Kruger, Yayoi Kusama and the vagina-cam video which from memory is Julie Rrap (anyone know?) The latter was particularly amusing from an other-peoples-reactions perspective- First the intrigue, then confusion, then suspicion as it slowly dawns of them that this bizarre abstract film is from inside the artists... well insides.

One particular piece was a video of a girl hula-ing with a barbed wire hoop (I could barely look it was horrible and slow motion and... eurgh). The gallery is FULL of feminist art and naked ladies (sometimes both! A perfect merging of two contradicting aspects of art!). In fact one room was actually devoted entirely to nether regions. It was called Genital something or other. Ah French people...

Above the contemporary gallery, is the modern gallery (1905-1960) where you can find Picasso, Matisse, Pollock, Modigliani etc etc namedrop namedrop. I’m not hugely into that period, contemporary is far more my kettle of fish, but it was pretty incredible to be so close to so many famous pieces. I’m planning to get a couple more in before I leave beautiful Paris to go to the fat-mel-maker that will be Rome. After my onslaught of mind blowing art, I went to the museums cafe where you can get a vitamin water for the low low price of 5€. Yes, that’s right folks. Get em while they’re hot! (Or cold). What a bargain! (Read: zomg I can’t believe I paid $8AUD for a vitamin water...) Paying that price did have one perk: I didn’t feel guilty about sitting there for a lot longer than is necessary in order to rest my poor feet.

I left and wandered off in search of the nearest metro, and somehow ended up on the Ile-de-Paris, smack bam in front of the Notre Dame, completely on accident. I didn’t go in- the line was a bit ridiculous and by this point I’d filled my SLRs memory card and didn’t have a spare, but I’ll go back tomorrow. From there I found myself in front of Shakespeare and Company. Which is small and hot but charming and I may go back and buy a book and sit in the nearby park like a native. Finally, I was back at St. Michel, and onto my now-familiar m4-Marcadet m12-Home routine. Where I was finally able to tend lovingly to my foot wounds. There you go my pretties, no more in-closed shoes. I did get a few odd looks in the lobby of my hostel, as I limped down the hall, only to return 2 seconds later when my key wouldn’t work. If only they knew the pain I endured...

It is now 9pm here in Paris, the sunset has just begun and I’m thinking it’s about time I wandered down to the grocery to buy a microwaveable dinner for about 2€ (not sparing any expense here!) If I leave my next post till Sunday it’s likely to be about a kilometre long so we’ll see how I go. Don’t blame me for my wordiness- blame Paris.

Au Revoir
-m xx

p.s. you might not notice because of the time difference anyway, but I uploaded this monday. Not my fault, my internet was being a bitch!