Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Happy to be Home

I love going away on holidays, but I love coming home as well. Its the familiarity of it, seeing things that are mine. Sleeping in my own bed and not in a hotel that hundreds of others have stayed in before. Driving my own car (though that was a bit weird after 5 weeks of being away). The loveliness of hearing from people how much they enjoyed my emails about my trip and seeing my photos (and living vicariously through my own adventures). Seeing all my things as they were when I left them (apart from the mouse who has newly entered my room and the damp spots that have appeared on my carpet). Still trying to recuperate from jetlag while still going back to work, organizing my life and doing all the chores one needs to do on a regular basis (laundry, cleaning, groceries all being at the top of my list). Haven't had a chance to catch up with anybody yet, but that will be the next thing to do, once I've gotten back to a proper sleeping pattern and this strange red rash on my lower legs has gone. I have yet to sort through my thousands of photos (literally thousands, I went a bit snap happy). Well, the last time I was in Europe, I only had a film camera, 24 shots and no chance of checking up on them until the roll has been developed, so this time around I just wanted to capture every little thing. You can always delete a wobbly or blurry photo, but you can't get back what you never took in the first place.

Gonna give myself a few months to unwind and settle down before I start planning my next trip - definately want to make it something exciting next time.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

In the lovely Amsterdam

It has been a good few days. On Thursday we got the Eurostar to Brussels, Belgium, only stayed there one night but it was good. We went to Mini Europe this place with 1:25 ratio miniatures of lots of different places in Europe including places in Paris and London we'd been to not long before, and Athens too. In the afternoon had great difficulty finding our hotel, even the girl at the tourism office had no clue where it was. We went where she sent us and it was the wrong place, some nice lady told us to go down the road, had to ask a number of people before we finally got there, very tiring and frustrating. It was ok though. Had a rest then went to town on metro thru dodgy part of town (obviously I didn't know it was dodgy before I went there) good thing it wasn't late at night. Went to see Mannekin Pis this cute little boy statue peeing and the Grand Place Brussels main square which is amazing, very cool buildings and huge! I also got to try a delicious Belgium waffle, and later after a runin with a nice aussie couple, some delicious fries. That was all my plans for the evening as we had a 6:20 train the next day to Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is lovely. I got a city pass which allows me to go lots of places for free so have spent all of yesterday and today cramming in as much as possible. Yesterday went on a canal cruise and to the Museum of purses and handbags. Today went to the Royal Zoo, the Dutch resistance museum, Oude Kerk (old church) which was unbeknownst to me in the middl eof the red light district. Oops. Then the Nieuw kerk (new church) which is 600yrs old, where they're hosting the world press competition of the year winning entries, some very moving and emotional ones. Next went to Stedelik museum of Modern art I don't know who Matisse was but they have a exhibition of his work. Then Van Gogh museum where I learnt more about this man I'd only vaguely heard of as the one who cut off his ear and painted sunflowers. After that stopped by this park with a big I AMSTERDAM sign its quite famous, tried to photograph it but too many people in the way.

Went to the Tulip museum its very cute, It was close to Anne Frank House which I wanted to go to but did't for 2 reasons, the queue was massive and I didn't have enough money. Trying to avoid having to draw more cash since we're leaving tomorrow, haven't quite figured out how I'm getting to the hotel. As long as I can get to the airport I'm all good as theres a free shuttle from there, but this morning after I'd bought a ticket on the train I found out all the airport trains were cancelled today due to some kind of maintenance work. So we had to get a bus partway then hop on the train.

I had an interesting experience on the train where I was chatting to this nice girl I'd just met, American but lives in Ghana and was here for an 8hr stopover, didn't get her name, coz then this black man gets up and starts screaming at us in dutch. We had no idea what he was saying except for the word 'blah blah' which I gathered to mean he was angry that we were talking. At one point he made a gun motion towards us which I gathered to mean he was threatening to shoot us. After screaming at us (I assumed for talking on the train) for about 5mins he collapsed in his seat but continued to yell. I looked at the girl and mouthed to her I have no idea what he was saying, she nodded, followed by I think hes crazy, she nodded again. I didn't feel comfortable in the train, nobody had said anything to him even the ones who definatley would have understood what he was saying. One guy had stood up partway through and I thought he was going to talk but he didn't.

I went out to the back and started randomly talking to this girl who had just watched the whole thing. Another guy goes to me its coz you're a kiwi, it was a kiwi attack. I assume he was aussie though I wasn't paying attention. Then the guy who'd stood up came out so I asked him what it was about, he said the guy was drunk and hungover from a party last night and he was mad that everyone was talking so loud.

Well I don't know why he chose to take it out on us then, coz he was pointedly talking to us, and its rather hypocritical scolding people talking at a low volume then screaming at everyone for 5mins so everyone on the train can hear you. It was an eventful morning, and I was glad to get to the city in one piece.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Loving London

Yesterday, I got to see the Queen!!! I was quite excited about that, since I was just there to see the Changing of the Guard at 11:30am but I was told to arrive early. When I arrived there were masses of people all lining the road from Buckingham Palace, I didnt have a clue what was going on, lots of cops everywhere too. People about 4 deep back, I tried to find a spot with some shorter people so I could look over their heads (sometimes it helps to be tall-ish). And then a bunch of cavalry went by and then next thing you know theres a beautiful carriage with Prince Philip and a lady on the other side, I sort of glimpsed her but not properly, then some more carriages but not as fancy, then Princess Anne. Not sure who else was in there but it was quite exciting.

Found out later it was for the Opening of Parliament and the Queens speech. We found out from the cop she was coming back in about an hour so I waited out in the sun for probably an hour and a half to get a look at her coming back on my side. Heaps of people left during that time so I got right up to the railing. It was funny coz I spent nearly the whole time listen to this aussie lady growl her husband about missing the shot when the Queen went past and about how she had to have a photo of the queen if she was gonna be in London. So about an hour later she went past and I got quite a good photo of her and her carriage though u can barely make her out. I was really happy when I walked off then I heard someone say Prince Charles was going up (but a few mins later) but I guess Im not that fussed about seeing him. I was so elated I ended up giving money to a strange little old english lady who said she was collecting For the Children, so after I walked away I got thinking that doesn't sound like any charity Ive ever heard. Oh well it was a good day. Off to Brussels today then Amsterdam tomorrow then fly home sunday.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Lovely London

My ankles and legs hurt, and I seem to be coming down with a cold (yuck). It has been a full on last few days.
Saturday was our last day in Paris, we went to Parc Asterix which was very cool, we spent 8hrs going around the rides & watching the shows, and still didn't manage to get to everything. Next time maybe. Sunday we got the Eurostar to London, its quite funny. You checkin, then you go to Paris customs and they stamp your passport
to leave, then you walk about 10 metres and the British customs is there and they ask you questions about how long you're going for and whether you've been to England before and then they stamp your passport like you've just arrived in Britain.

We were met at the train station by the lovely Sam and Sean who lent us oyster cards, took us to their place where we dumped our stuff then took us for a tiki tour around some of the major sights - Big Ben, Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Green Park, St James Park (we fed some super cute squirrels) and Buckingham Palace. A lot of roads were closed for some kind of race they were having.

It was great. Meat pies, mushy peas and mash for lunch, then yum hot chocolates at this little cafe, then an awesome asian tapas style dinner at this lovely restaurant, whose name I've forgotten but it was great. Stayed the night at Sam & Shauns, watched a movie. Today they made us yum pancakes then I went off tiki touring by myself. Got the tube to Knightsbridge and went walking around the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park, it took ages coz i got hunting for Princess Diana's fountain. Then I walked to the Natural History museum which had a massive queue so didn't go in (public holiday today) then had a quick peek in the Victoria & Albert museum and the Science museum but didn't go in. Walked past Harrods and got some photos outside, then walked up to Hyde Park corner to see the Oz and NZ Anzac memorials, which I liked very much. Obviously, I liked ours way better than the oz one.

Kind of slap dash and lots of effort, wooden posts with crosses on top, some floral wreaths around them, some pictures and words engraved into them made me a bit emotional.
Went back and picked up Aroha then chatted to Sam & Sean and got some more advice (they were so awesomely helpful with advice on things to see and do) then went and checked in at the hostel we are staying at for the rest of our time here. Then got a bus to Harrods to go see the egyptian escalator my workmate told me about - its amazing!!! got photos too. Lots going on outside even though its late - street performers and buskers and such.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Paris ah oui je t'aime!

Well its has been a whirlwind few days here in Paris, trying desperately to fit in every little thing and see everything I wanted to see (I think I could stay here a couple of weeks and not see everything I want to see). On Wednesday we were in Versailles, the ancient palace and home of King Louis 14-16th, the first one started it, and the third one (husband of Marie Antoinette) was dragged from it, imprisoned elsewhere for a year or two and then guillotined when France got jealous of the rich and sometimes arrogant royals and killed them all.

Actually maybe I already wrote about this - I'm losing track of my days. It was awesome anyway.
Yesterday we went straight to the Louvre & got a 2 day museum pass (in hindsight we realized it would've been cheaper and better to get a 4 day museum pass which would have included our Versaille entry which we'd paid for separately) so we did the super quick Louvre tour - Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, Dying Slave, and a few other things in between, then headed off to Notre Dame and went through it - the stained glass windows were amazing. I wanted to climb the towers but the line was too long, so we went to St Chapelle also on the Ile de la Cite (island in the middle of the Seine) but it was closed till 2:15pm. So we got a bus to the Luxembourg gardens and had a picnic, then went off hunting the Statue of Liberty - which was at the opposite end. It was a copy of the original which had been taken away in 2010 for preservation reasons (which we later saw in the Musee d'Orsay). After that we headed off to see the Pantheon which was partially covered & being renovated, but still great.

We then went to the Eiffel Tower for our Behind the Scenes Tour, it was amazing! We learnt about the creation of the tower and who actually designed (and got no credit for) it. We got to go see an underground bunker on the Champs de Mars field by the tower, then we went underneath the tower and saw the workings of the pulleys, lifts, elevators and wheels, then got taken up to the 2nd floor where we were taken behind some doors to see the wind turbines they have running all the shops on the first floor. We had a look at the view there then got the lift up the top 280m above the ground (the tower is 325m high) the view was incredible. In the distance I could see a group of several tall skyscrapers, I wondered what they were - Paris doesn't really have any really tall buildings apart from the Eiffel Tower.

After that we went to the Musee d'Orsay then had dinner. Late night but a great day.

Today I left home about 7am because I wanted to go see the Grand Arche which was one of the "things to see" on my list. Its a bit out of the way but I was so glad I went there. I arrived & discovered I was amongst all the skyscrapers I'd seen the day before - something to do with the French Defence Department. The Grand Arche is massive!! Its huge and white and square, and I walked out of the Metro to be right in front of it and quite struck by it. The whole thing wouldn't fit in my camera viewfinder - until I'd backed up about 100m. Very cool. After that I went to Place de la Concorde to see the Egyptian obelisk in the middle, then Place de la Bastille the site of where the Bastille prison used to be located that was destroyed during the Revolution (there was only one prisoner in it, so they let him out). After that I went to Notre Dame so I could be there early for when the towers opened at 10am. I arrived 9:25 and there was already a queue. Got in straightaway though and found out why they limit numbers up there - its quite squishy and lots of places where only one person can go through at a time. It was amazing seeing the gargoyles up that close though, and seeing the belfry and bells. There were about 422 steps to climb up and I dropped my camera spare battery in the shop partway up. So after I'd gone through and down I had to go back up again - good workout!

I met Aroha at St Chapelle and got in quite quickly - this lovely chapel full of amazing detailed stained glass windows on two levels, with all sorts of Bible story images. Very cool. We then went to see the Opera Garner building but didn't go inside - these two kiwis we met had said it was the most beautiful building they'd ever seen - will have to go back another time. After that I went to the Musee de quai branly which had an art exhibit - Oceania, America, Asia and Africa. I had to go see the NZ section which I really liked, I kind of skim glanced the rest of it. It was good, I was just tired from all the stairs today. Then I went to see this fountain I'd seen from a distance which turned out to be heaps of fun mostly because after taking photos there I stopped to watch some really good hip hop dancers wowing the crowd nearby, before heading home on the metro.

Tomorrow we go to Parc Asterix which is maybe an hour north of here, then early Sunday we take the Eurostar to London, which I'm looking forward to, as I've never been (except transiting at Heathrow, which so doesn't count!). Can't believe our trip is starting to come towards the end!!! I'm loving it here, I totally want to come back to Paris, its such an amazing city.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Palace of Versailles

Today we spent pretty much the whole day at Versailles Chateau & gardens about 25 mins by train out of the city. It was beautiful! So much opulence, gold and obvious wealth spent here. The hall of mirrors was particularly fabulous, I remember learning about it when I studied french at high school and thinking, one day I'm going to go there. We went through the Chateau first, its now a museum, with sculptures, art work, tapestries and the restored King and Queens apartments/bedrooms. Apparently whole new industries were created to decorate and furnish the Palace when it was originally built.

We then got the Petit-Train down to the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon which were the King & Queens secondary homes - much smaller and simpler than the Chateau, but both lovely. My favorite thing though, was the Queens hamlet, a cute little village built around a lake, it was quite medieval looking, it made me think of Hobbiton only not built into hills. It had a mill, a farm and a lighthouse (of all things!?). The farm had goats, rabbits, peacocks, chickens and donkeys, it was great. By the time we got back from there to the chateau it was mid afternoon and we were a bit too tired to go exploring all the gardens - we did have a quick look at the nearest ones though, then got the train back home.

In the train on the way home I saw an ad about Oceania with a tiki pendant. I didn't see exactly what it was for - maybe an exhibition of some sort, but it reminded me of home and made me feel all warm and cozy inside.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

First day in Paris

Last night we walked over to Basilique Sacre-Coeur, only about 15mins from our apartment (but uphill) but it was totally worth it - gorgeous and white and with an amazing view of the city from the top. We went inside but they were having a service so we could only walk around the sides and have a look, and no photos allowed (some people just ignored that rule).

Today was great, although the weather was a bit awful. It started off sunny though, then turned to rain in the afternoon. We got the metro to the Arc de Triomphe, but it was closed off, there was some sort of ceremony with a foreign president happening. We could take photos of it from the barriers but there were cops and security (with guns!) stopping people getting through (dumb!!) we did have a nice chat with an english family though while we were going around.

As we got to the Champs-Elysees which we were planning to walk down, we were accosted by some teenage girls with petitions asking us to sign their forms and asking if we spoke english. I had heard of this scam already from the internet so I kept asking her in french what it was for and getting very vague answers. I asked her about 3 or 4 times before she finally said Its to make a donation and I said Oh sorry I don't have any change then she left me alone. When Aroha said she wasn't going to give any money (after she started writing her name then crossed it out) the girl yelled at her "You crazy!" and something in a foreign language that sounded like swearing.

Paris is much prettier than I thought it would be, and there is so much more to look at than I thought. We walked past the Grande-Palais (Grand Palace) and that was amazing, across Pont Alexandre with cool gold and stone statues then I saw another awesome building with a gold domed roof - that was the Hotel des Invalides which I'd had no interest in seeing (because I didn't actually know what it looked like) it was so cool!

We got a bus to the Eiffel Tower and I was blown away by how massive it is, and how its actually a almost bronze color not silver like I'd imagined. We got a boat down the river and back - so many amazing buildings, especially Notre Dame and Musee d'Orsay. There were lots of ones they mentioned that you couldn't see from the boat, but I definitely want to go back there later. All of a sudden 6 days doesn't seem like enough. But thats alright maybe I'll have to come back.