Thursday, March 31, 2005

Florence: The search for good coffee continues

What I found in my coffee today
Originally uploaded by F o u t u g r a p h e.

There doesnt seem to be much time for lengthy blog updates these days, does there?

I am writing this from my 2nd hotel in Florence. We abandoned our first one - which for fear of legal repercussions I cannot name - in favour of this sanctuary only today. I am not kidding when I say that our first hotel was "the very fleabitten gateway to hell". It was so upsetting I am not even prepared to blog about it, and I am not a drama queen about these things. But there are some things a girl cannot abide - holes in the floor, dribbly shower with no water pressure, being just two of them.

So I move on.

Our three day sojourn in Florence has been blessed by sensational weather, so it has been pants and tshirts all round. We found a laundromat to freshen these clothes, much to the relief of the Florentines I am sure. But once that was out of the way, we criss crossed the City and explored cafe after Museum after Church. Very comprehensive, let me tell you.

Today we were on our feet from 9am until we went to an English cinema at 5.50pm. Now that is quite some walking - and some of it was even uphill. But I hope that our photos, soon to be blogged here, will be a good reflection of this town.

Florence is busier than I remembered, and one must pay particular attention lest ye be run down by a horse drawn carriage, car, bus, or moped.

The police here have funny white tophats and handbags, and we have been joking that our friend Courtney would just love it. She would love the policemen, but particularly the fact that Florence is the leather, gold, and silver jewellery capital of the world. The shopping here is just superb.

We each did a bit of damage to our credit cards in Venice, so we have been taking it easier here. Still, it does no harm to window shop - and gelati by the bucket load is not doing us any real damage either, I am sure.

Next stop is Rome, then Milan, then back to Paris.

Thanks to everyone for their emails of encouragement and good wishes. I am over the cold that hit me in Venice, so I am ready to tackle the Roman sites and enjoy this next stage of our adventure.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Menace in Venice

A quick update from the watery city...
Given the colds that AB and I have been suffering, we figured a sleep-in on Easter Sunday was a much better idea than jostling with crowds in St Mark's Square, or anywhere else for that matter.
And it turned out that we were right. When we emerged from our well-earned rest, we realised that Europe had been tricky with daylight saving (as with everywhere else I expect), and it was an hour later than we thought it was. The crowds were soldiering on despite the space/time continuum vortex thing that is daylight savings, and we were caught in some serious traffic jams trying to make it to the major shopping and sight-seeing districts.
We spent our Easter Sunday 'morning' in queues, lining up for the bell tower and for St Mark's Basilica, and our collective patience was duly rewarded. The views from both sites were stunning and afforded us some pretty good photos to be posted shortly.
Next stop on our Italian adventure is beautiful Florence, and I'm really looking forward to getting back there. This time, given my stairs 'regime' (responsible, I think, for my fabulous weight loss in recent weeks), I am vowing to climb right to the top of the Duomo and fully appreciate being at the highest point in the city.
Best to sign off - with much love to all from Venezia xox

Friday, March 25, 2005

Bella Venezia

Originally uploaded by dimdim.

Well no prizes for guessing where we are now and no, I did not take this picture, but I am grateful to those of you who thought I might have, even if it was only for a second.

We have not done much yet, but we are resolved to walk around Venice and see all the beautiful sites before we leave on Tuesday. We are staying in convent accommodation - a piece of cake for Catholic little me - and we are even considering heading to St Marks Basilica for Easter Mass. Yes, I know it all sounds very holy. Dont worry you little heathens, I will pray for each and every one of you.

The weather has turned a little sour here so that is a little disappointing, but it makes Venice look so beautiful which is not a bad thing. And I think I will squeal like a little girl if St Marks Square floods - like it sometimes does - leapfrogging across the little stepping stones sounds like such a neat idea.

For those of you interested in the romance situation, I can confirm that there have been no pashes to blog about. However, I can confirm that on a purely superficial and observational level, the boys in Switzerland are much cuter than the French lads. Sorry to those girls whose romantic notions have built up the Paris fellas. No word yet on where the Italian boys come in this silly competition, but I shall keep you posted.

Well I am off to explore Venice. Take care and have a safe and happy Easter.


Sunday, March 20, 2005

Bern baby Bern

I am sitting in Geneva right now, enjoying the hospitality of Peter and Jess Gardner in their charming (and surprisingly spacious) new apartment.
There is something about Switzerland I am really responding to. The weather is really beautiful (around 18 to 20 degrees during the day), and the food and wine is clean and fresh. Coupled with the scenery - are those really the Swiss Alps? - I am having a great time here.
We have just come from 3 days in the capital city, Bern - photos to come. I had a great time in Bern, and we checked out all the things to see - monuments, museums, cafes - the whole thing. Oh and we stayed an extra night so we could be part of Museum Night 2005 (nerds!). But the night was fun - all the museums in Bern stay open till 2am and you can buy a master ticket that lets you go through them for free. Something for everyone.
And to top it all off, I caught sight of a man named Uli walking down the main street with his wife. Uli was a guy who was in my French class in Vichy (France) when I was there in 2001. He didn't see me though, and I took a few minutes to register it was actually him so he was gone by the time I fully noticed it. Typical.

So we're in Geneva now until Thursday, when we board the train to Venice for Easter. The next few days will be sight-seeing, having lunch with Jess at the United Nations (as you do), and enjoying the clean air and stunning views that Switzerland affords.
Hope all is well - more news to come, and more pics to be posted.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Alps beckon

Tomorrow we are off to Switzerland, ahead of the Italy journey that will then bring us back to Paris. Confused? Me too.

We've decided that our first day in Switzerland will be spent on the train, commuting from Paris to the Swiss capital Bern, via Lausanne. We've got two days in Bern (weather forecast looks good), and will most likely catch up on sleep and do a bit of sightseeing. Please cross your fingers for me that we're not in Switzerland at the wrong time of year - I don't think I could take it again.

After Bern, we catch the train back to Geneva to spend time with Peter and Jess Gardner, and then into Italy - where I can FINALLY get a decent coffee. Looking forward to kicking back in a kerbside cafe in Italy, with a biscotti and a coffee. How lovely does that sound?

So until I check in here again, take care of yourselves and be good.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Travelling Pics

The Fab Four
Originally uploaded by tink007.

Hey folks!

I'm not sure if I've posted these pics correctly, but I've added some photos from my France adventure onto the flickr account I've been keeping.

If you click on this picture, it will take you to my photo album, so you can scroll through the pics (if you have time)....

Cheers xox

Sunday, March 13, 2005

It's Monday so this must be Paris

Greetings blogreaders

Unfortunately you've caught me at my most vague, having emerged at the end of a two-week (or was it three-week?) jaunt around the length and breadth of the French countryside. If you could be bothered getting out a map of France, follow me around while I briefly describe how we've passed the time (photos to follow).

Oh and you should note that I am not going to comment on the things I didn't like or what didn't work in the course of the holiday. I think those so-called "bad points" are best relegated to history and I sure as Hades don't want to relive them. So here we go - Gab's amateur geography lesson of France. Follow me, if you dare.

The Montparnasse train station in Paris was shrouded in a powdery snowfall the morning we left bound for Bordeaux. It was very easy to purchase a ticket and RUN for the train (the chase was one once I heard the "sorry mademoiselle but the 11am train has sold out, you can catch the one that leaves in 7 minutes if you would prefer"). So after a minor cardio workout and subsequent heart failure, I was not inclined to disembark the train at Poitiers for lunch, as originally planned. Good idea too, because we got to Bordeaux at about 2pm in quite fine weather, so it was good for a reconaissance mission on foot.

The town of Bordeaux is beautiful but is undergoing some serious renovations to revamp its tired image. Ancient houses and glorious buildings are being sandblasted to bring them back to their former glory. Neverthless, the city is easy to explore and the modern-day tram blends old and new effortlessly. It was also easy to check in to the Tourism Office and book a walking tour and wine tasting adventure, to help fill the 2 days we had there.

While the skies stayed clear but the wind cold, we schmoozed with two Canadians and indulged in our common love of drinking red wine, telling tall stories, and genuinely enjoyed each others company for 48 hours that passed by very quickly.

Having missed a very early morning train, our punishment was to endure Bordeaux's train station for 5 hours until the next one. Fortunately we'd missed the train by about 90 seconds, so the train ticket guy was happy to charge me a simple reservation fee for the next train, rather than the full amount of a replacement ticket. Bless him. Maybe given our destination, he figured we were devout pilgrims or something? Whatever his reasoning, we got out of the situation lightly.

The train to Lourdes passed without incident and, as we neared the Pyrenees, the snow along the roadsides and on top of the houses grew heavier. Arriving in Lourdes, the taxi driver had mentioned a 20 cm snowfall had preceeded our arrival, so that explained the literal chunks of snow all around the town. It was a magical sight really, and I find I quite enjoy the crispness of the air when the snow is either about to fall, or has just done so. Our hotel was very centrally located, warm, and comfortable - even if it was under the management of three women who hated their lives, and hated us more for intruding in it. But there you go.

A quick visit to the Grotto, a splash in the holy water, and a walk around the town was basically all we could do in Lourdes given that (yet again) we were there in the wrong time of year. Some die-hard souvenir shops were nevertheless trading and it was a good thing too, because a few tacky yet fun presents were purchased (and some sensible ones too, of course).

Katie has long been a fan of Carcassonne so it was somewhere I had to see, given that I was going to find myself in the area. The train ride to the medieval city was easy, and we'd made sure to arrive at the station to avoid a repeat of our Bordeaux performance! See, we CAN be taught!

Previous posts have already mentioned the Carcassonne YHA and adventures with the ancient French keyboard, so I won't rehash them here. I will mention, however, that when we left the medieval city on the earlier train than expected, it was with a few cool photos and postcards in our possession, to atone for windswept and bedraggled appearance across the board.

Ahh Arles, the inspiration for Van Gogh's works. Apparently - we can't confirm this, given that none of Van Gogh's paintings are actually IN the town (need to read the guide book more carefully next time?). But hey, we had great accommodation in a wonderful converted farmhouse about 5km out of the main town.

On one of the mornings in Arles we actually walked into town and this, coupled with the stairs in HK and Paris, have contributed to my 4kg weight loss, I know. Otherwise I think Kate's scales are lying to me, but I love them anyway. But I digress.

Our accommodation in Arles is a member of a number of "Silence Hotels" scattered across Europe, so called because they like to give their visitors a peaceful and quiet stay. So that means no rubbish trucks at 5am, no honking cars, and no jackhammers carving up a construction site nearby. As a result, I slept well, ate better, and emerged after 3 days feeling very relaxed.

Okay so we thought we were coming straight back to Paris after Arles, but Kate negotiated a train trip to Strasbourg, in the far north east of France, almost to the German border. I had thought Kate and her Dad were going to be at a Conference in Strasbourg, but it turns out they had agreed to take a weekend trip through the Alsace region, and we were welcome to come along.

So there we were, visiting an ancient castle, eating way too much sauerkraut and pork products, and walking the cobbled streets past quaint cottages painted all the colours of the rainbow. Absolutely beautiful, and a stunning way to limp back to Paris.

We arrived back at Kate's place around 8.30pm last night, and have spent the better part of today doing washing and preparing for the next leg of our journey. We will head to Geneva, en route to Italy. Then it's back to Paris to fly to Turkey for a fortnight.

I find it hard to believe we're been away for a month already, but it's the sign of a good holiday that we haven't stopped long enough to think about it. Right?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The histoire thus far

Aaaaah a bottle of red wine and a roaring fire (plus a troubador musician for good measure), and I am one happy girl.

Tonight I find myself in Carcassonne (as per my earlier and shorter post), and this comes after a rather hectic few days. First we were in Bordeaux and there we enjoyed Spartan but comfortable accommodation. We kept ourselves occupied doing a walking tour of the City (very beautiful as it turns out) and then did a 5 hour winery tour which absolutely sucked. If we did an equivalent tour in Adelaide we would have been returned to our accommodation smashed. In Bordeaux, however, we were treated to three glasses of very average wine over that 5 hour period. Crap. Still, it was so cold back in the town, we were hard pressed to think of what else we would have done had we stayed behind.

So we left that town and trained it to Lourdes. After 5 hours waiting in the station after missing our train; we got to Lourdes, checked in at the coldest and most rude hotel in town (naturally) which included icicles in the toilet bowl and all, and pretty much went to sleep. We woke the next day and went to the Grotto, frolicked in the freezing holy water and then explored the ghost town. Guidebooks dont tell you that Lourdes virtually closes down between Christmas and Easter so there was nothing to do and even less to see.

But we got a decent chance to catch up on sleep, and now we find ourselves in Carcassonne for one night, before heading to Vincent Van Gogh's inspirational town of Arles.

Will write more from there.

Keepin it brief

Those who know me best will know what a challenge keeping these posts brief really is, and here is another just like it.

I am perched atop a barstool in a YHA in the medieval town of Carcassonne trying to once again unlock the mysteries of a medieval keyboard.

Thanks to all for your inside tips about the Aussie weather situation, but can I reiterate that I just dont care how warm it is back home?? Sniff I miss the hot sun on my face but then again, snow crunching under my feet has its own appeal.

Will write again soon, assuming we survive our first night together in a PROPER youth hostel. Big bottle o red is in order; methinks.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Bonjour Everyone

Greetings to all from a French keyboard in frosty Lourdes...

This will be a brief posting just to let you all know that batreg and I are both safe and still having a good time.

In the past week we have left Paris behind to get drunk with new Canadian friends in Bordeaux - and that is before we went to the vineyards - and now we are in Lourdes, a virtual ghost town in this freezing weather.

Must sign off now because I need to coordinate train travel for the next stop in our adventure - the medieval village of Carcassonne.

Hope all is well - we are missing you. Really.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

A Snowy Marshmallow Church

Today was not a day for being outside and doing the tourism "thang".

Nevertheless, we forced ourselves to get out and about, navigating the underground Metro to emerge at the foot of the Sacre Coeur at Montmatre. More accurately, we were ALMOST at the foot of the great white church. Okay, I'll level with you, we were about 3 blocks away. In the other direction. But the point of the story is, we climbed up to the top, saw a panoramic view of Paris, and sought sanctuary inside the great building, away from the blustery wind and delicate snow. While a cranky Frenchman not-so-politely shushed the devoted Catholics and heathen tourists alike, one woman attempted to take a photograph and was almost manhandled out of the church. That little Frenchman was not taking any prisoners on HIS watch.

Descending the hill by cable car, we explored the network of cheap souvenir shops and $2 establishments dotted along the laneways of Montmartre, stopping only to purchase a chew-toy for Andrea's dog, Hershey. Next stop was a coffee shop, and a pause to view the snow falling (a little heavier now) outside. Once we had refilled and defrosted, we grabbed the Metro back to Kate's place.

A heartening afternoon snack of hot chips and cheap red wine was just the tonic for our tired bones. We have now thrown our collective belongings into one suitcase, ready to attack the European trains first thing tomorrow morning.

Not sure when the next blog post will be, so perhaps you can just behave yourselves in the mean time, until I next check in.

My New Gloves

My New Gloves
Originally uploaded by tink007.

I've raved about them - and now you can see them for yourself. These are my new gloves, designed by a dynamic French/Aussie duo whose shop in Paris is a quaint little treasure around the corner from Kate's place.

I do feel like a cat burglar wearing them, but batreg is right - I'd feel even more like one if only I could do things while wearing the gloves! As it is now, i have to remove them every time I want to get money out of my purse, blow my nose, scratch my head, eat a pastry, bla bla.

Oh well, while standing still, doing nothing but wearing the gloves, I look positively chic.

The Bond Girls Take Paris

Gab, Andrea and me at the Bond ball
Originally uploaded by Kate is in Paris.

Here is the first and only pic you'll see of me and Andrea at the Bond Ball in Paris.

It's the only pic because I didn't take my camera to the party. Little wonder really, when you consider that my 5kg of hand luggage allowance has turned up as bags under my eyes!

The Ball brought together very chic expats from across the globe, and French nationals who have lived and worked in other countries so the melting pot was rich and inspiring.

The gin and tonic took a bit of getting used to, but perhaps I should have opted for the vodka martini - shaken, not stirred. Naturally.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Watch your step

Le Marais in Paris was hit by a pretty hefty snowfall last night, and it's still so cold that it has stayed on the ground. It's a very pretty sight, and reminds me that I am actually in Europe, but it can pretty quite perilous. When the snow melts, often iced puddles are left behind, and these are harder to see. I have already very nearly come to grief in this circumstance a few times, but averted a complete tumble on each occasion. Somehow. I guess it's only a matter of time. The snow that is hanging around today is not enough to manufacture snowballs, but it's sufficient to give the air a frosty chill and the cars a powdery coating of white so pretty that belies its dangerous potential.

I am really looking forward to getting out today and seeing whether the rest of Paris was similarly afflicted. I think last night's temperature city-wide was -7 degrees Celcius and it's at temperatures like that when I'm grateful that the Metro stations are opened during the night (rather than closing down at midnight), to accommodate Paris's many homeless people. Otherwise, their chances of survival would be slim to none, I'm sure.

This is my last full day in Paris for a while, so I'm not going to let the residual snow and lingering cold deter me from exploring. I think today's adventure will take us to the Sacre Coeur and maybe to the Eiffel Tower if it's not too windy. What we don't get done today can always wait until next time. But a non-negotiable inclusion on today's program is a crepe with nutella from one of the great little kiosks scattered around. They look so good, I can no longer fight it.

Blurry days, sleepy nights

It's official - I have no idea what day it is. I got myself organised this morning to log on and confirm our hotel reservations for the upcoming rail journey and what did I find? We don't leave Paris tomorrow like I'd first thought - we're leaving on Thursday. I wouldn't want to follow me around Europe, that's for sure! Now that I've discovered my faux pas I've regrouped and feel pretty organised. I think.

Perhaps this degree of amnesia is the sign of a good holiday - perhaps it is the sign of old age. Who cares - I don't believe there would be anything more romantic than growing old in Paris. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Dreamy French Cuisine

Last night I dined in an authentic French bistro around the corner from Kate's place. And you might say I had real French cuisine - lamb chops, sauteed potatoes, and green salad. Hmmm. Snails were on the menu of course but I wasn't quite ready to indulge. Kate lives in the Marais district, which is apparently Paris's answer to Oxford Street in Sydney. If you didn't know that before coming here, the she-man waiter who served us (resplendent in his glittery lipstick) should tip you off.

Tonight it's our job to make dinner for Kate and her NZ flatmate, Kirsten. Not sure what delights we are going to bake, but we've got the whole day to think about it. And there is no shortage of inspiration around here - and patisseries so close by that maybe we should just start with dessert and work back.