Friday, December 26, 2008

December 26th

Paris Paris Paris. We made it to Paris at 2:30pm and headed straight for Musee de Lourve. Down into the basement carpark, up through the escalators, went through the security checks, bought tickets at the machines, and went into the Denon wing to hunt for the Mona Lisa.

Got into the room with Mona Lisa, and could not believe the crowd present there. The painting was so small, it was underwhelming. I then quickly moved through the Denon, then the Sully and finally the Richelieu wing. The louvre was comb by me in 2.5 hrs. Well not really, but I walked thru and tried to see as much as I could.

We went home for dinner, and then went for a night tour of the city. Paris is so amazingly pretty at night. The lights and the buildings, its just breath-taking. The Eiffel tower sparkling at night, it is so different being there.
The Champ Elysees and Arc de Triomphe was amazing. Being on a bus, we went around it twice just because.

After the tour finised at 10:30pm, we went on to join the christmas eve mass at the Notre Dame. The building had such good acoustics, the choir sounded so surreal. Christmas in Notre Dame was amazing.

The next morning we opened our secret santa presents under the Eiffel tower to real Champagne. We then went up the tower and spend the day walking the city.

That night we spent our time watching the cabaret at the Moulin Rouge in Mont Marte. It was very cool. All the ladies were topless, and I can't help but notice most of the female dancers have small boobs. And the guys weren't very hot either. But what made it great was the performance. We sat right next to the stage which made it even better.

The tour sadly ended that next morning, where I said goodbye to my roomie. Everyone went back to London, but we stayed an extra day in Paris, exploring Gallarie Lafayette and the Champ Elysees and the exclusive shopping strip which I don't know the name of.

That day we had McDonalds for lunch (I know), and then I had sausage roll with mulled wine for dinner. That pretty much ended our time in French land.

The next morning, we all took our separate ways out of Paris (paris has 3 airports). Let me say EasyJet felt like catching a bus in India.

Anyway, Jen and I then made our way to Barcelona while Hilary went back to Sydney.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

December 24th

So the last time I left you at Innsbruck, Austria. Well, the next city we went to was Nice.

Nice was NICE! I enjoyed this place so much I think I might come back...maybe in summer when all the french gays come along and hang out at the beach naked...
Anyway, I like how this place is quaint and small, but its big enough to have everything I would ever want and need. I love how the beach is sandless, but full of beautiful white stones.

We went to Monaco for a super dinner and went and saw Monte Carlo. Its rather overated, and very over the top.

My first day in France, which was in Nice, we had to walk downtown to this restaurant for dinner. On our way there, I was busy talking I didn't look where I was going and hit my left knee on one of the street poles. After many days walking French street, I realised French streets have these little short concrete stubs which stick out of the street. I think they're there to separate footpath from road. Damn that stub, it left me with a bleeding knee.

So after 2 nights in Nice, we moved on to the gastronomy that is Lyon. We got in late and we had the most amazing dinner. Snails, duck, and creme caramel (my favourite dessert) for 20 euros. Hilary got sick half way thru mains and Jen and I contemplated having her dessert. But when dessert came, we were so stuffed we decided to skip it.

Dinner took ages so we missed the bus home. That restaurant was so full it took ages for the courses to come out. While walking down the street with Jen to find a cab home, we stumbled upon a metro station. So I suggested, "why not take the metro home" and we can catch a cab home from the station, so its cheaper.

Anyway, we didn't quite know where we lived, but we know it was generally north-west of the city. We proceded to buy the ticket. I'd bought my ticket when Jen says she doesn't have any coins to buy the ticket. There were no shops open around, so we decided to abandon the metro thing and just catch a cab home.

While looking for a cab on the main street, we stumbled on a convenient store, where Jen then decides to buy a bottle of water. She went on to pay the cashier 20euros for a 0.60 euro water. The guy didn't really want to take our cash, so I lend Jen a 5 euro note. Still not satisfied, the Frenchman said he saw some coins in my hand. I then signalled and said it was for the train, and we need more. Anyway, this whole thing took a while because that guy didn't speak english.

We finally made it back to the metro station and got our ticket. We headed down to the platform and we realised we didn't know which direction we were going and which stop we were getting off. So we had to resurface and take another look at the metro map.

Anyway, we finally made it to our station, and got another non-english-speaking frenchman to explain the way back to our hotel. He tells us to catch a bus. And so we did. We waited and waited but no bus came. We then decide to walk over to a best western (we saw the bright neon light about 500m away). Thank god this guy spoke english. We took out a japanese map and proceeded to draw the way back to our hotel. We were to walk home because the football match on that night took all the taxis out of immediate service. So we walked and walked, and this dodgy guy started following us.

Jen tried to hide her map so as not to indicate we were tourist. I glared back at him, at which point I think he stopped following us.

We got lost once and finally made it to the intersection of our street. It was a 5 way intersection with our street name spelled wrong. We hoped it was the right street, and hoping the address on our sheet was a typo. And we started climbing the hill.
The neon sign of our hotel greeted us, and it took us 1.5hrs to get home!

The next morning, we saw the big hotel sign at the 5-way intersection which we totally missed!

Anyway, that was our Lyon adventure!

The next morning we rushed off to Paris.

Monday, December 22, 2008

December 21st

So it's day 11 of 16 of our contiki tour and I've been through Switzerland, Leichtenstein, Austria, and Italy. We're now leaving Florence for Nice.

So I thought Switzerland was so worth it! We stayed two nights on top of Mt. Pilatus (Swiss Alps) and had a day in Lucerne. Lucerne is a nice tourist town. But one day is enough. The best part was sledging through the swiss alps. Enjoying the swiss scenery.....breathtaking!

I was kinda unsure what language to use while in these countries.....Its German, but its kinda weird speaking German outside of Germany.

As we left Lucerne for Innsbruck, we passed through Liechtenstein. This little place is dead. We spend an hour there, and that was enough. Took a total of 5 pictures!

We made it to Innsbruck (the bridge of the river Inns) in Austria at 4pm(?). This place is famous for Sacre Torte (choc torte with a hard icing and jam in between two layers of cake). Also popular for Swarovski, we viewed the "Winter Wonderland exhibition. The whole place was decorated with Swarovski crystal. Just imagine....cyrstal everywhere!
Wondered through an Austrian christmas market and had mulled was the perfect european experience. Sat down late afternoon for a Vienna coffee and a torte with Hilary....and then it was time to go back to the hotel!

Italy was where we spent 4 days in. First Venice, then Rome, and finally Florence. Venice was a maze full of shops and restaurants. Extremely touristy, this was the town I least liked.
Rome to me was a big outdoors Museum. A few key words we came up for Rome: traffic, chaos, scooters, stone, marble, steps, sculptures, monuments, very large monuments. I enjoyed shopping in Rome- maybe because I bought a hot pair of Italian jeans for 60 euros!

Florence! Florence was my favourite Italian city. Set in Tuscany, this place is just the right size. Quaint and charming. A bit touristy, but that's ok! I'd love to spend summer here, maybe try out the famous char-grilled steak. Gelato here was the best I had in Italy!

My impression on Italian food? Well, unlike most....I'm not a big fan of Italian food. To me, its pizza, pasta, espresso and gelato.
Most meals do not have a lot of variety; is salty, and very oily. Olive oil.
The only thing I like in Italy is gelato, antipasti and espresso. The small stuff- but we can get these back home. Pasta and pizza are over-rated.

Am I in love with Italy....I don't think so. I'd come back to see Florence and enjoy the gelato, and espresso, but it's a place i cannot stand. The people and traffic is just too much for me.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

14th December

London was cool but not as cool as i thought it would be...I guess NZ is more similar to UK, and my experience in the USA cannot be compared to that of in UK.

A few things about London I found cool was that it was such a big metropolitan city, yet you'll see some very old buildings. There are palaces, churches, bridges, etc etc.

I found the streets confusing. Every corner looked the same. All had brick buildings and road with curvy corners.

The weather is sometimes blue skies, but not always....

London is definitely a fun time, but it does lack the buzz that can only be found in NYC.

Our tour started in London. One concern I had was that contiki is goin to be full of young people. This means the tour guide will be "parenting" us.
Good thing of the few things the guide said was "I'm not your mommy or daddy. You take care of yourself. You'll be treated as an adult..."
This was a good start....however as the tour commenced, I found that is if very like my experience in first year uni. Oragnised group dinners, public introductions (where you had to say one lie and two truths), theme dinners, theme parties....

There's very little time in each city/town we visit. We spend most of our time on the road. Packing, unpacking, repacking.

Yesterday, we made our way from Amsterdam to St' Goar in Germany. We spent 45 minutes in cologne. Heaps to see, not enough time.

I'm slowly getting to know people. It is hard. I'm not a very people person. Compounded by the fact that most of them are whites. The whites tend to hang around their bunch. But I've met some aussies and japs and south africans. So its not bad. Its still early days.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

December 7th

So where have I been you ask?

well....It's been a crazy end to the semester....thus no blogging.

I'm now flying over Greenland, suffering from sleeplessness. I've just spent 2 days in Sydney for work, 3 days in San Francisco, and now I'm off to London to meet some friends. This is my "end of university" trip, which began 5 days ago.

Right now, its 11pm in Sydney, 4am in San Francisco, and 12pm in London. I am extremely confused as to what time my body is on....I hope I get some sleep soon.

Anyway, Sydney.....I went there as part of my work's induction. The company I work for is head-quartered there. Even thought it was work related, it was fun, because 10 other of my classmates work for the same company. We all went, so it was like a class trip. After spending 12 hours of induction-related things, we finally had some fun. We all went out on the last night into town for some dessert and a walk around town.
I wish I could have stayed longer and hung out with my friends. There's something really cool about hanging out with a group of your friends in a foreign country (even though Australia isn't that much different to NZ culturally). Its like going on an extended field trip, with no teachers around....

So after that quick trip to Sydney....I flew back to Auckland, only to spend 3 boring hours in the airport, and then I hopped on another plane to San Francisco.
I arrived into a backpackers, where I told myself...."this is the last time I'm doing back-packing". I like the idea of saving money, but having had a taste of luxury in Sydney (courtesy of the company of course), I really want my own room with white towels, shampoo, and all amenities available.
Because I'm on a budget, I took the train into town. On the train, I took out my iPod touch, which never went back into my pocket. Somewhere in between, I think I left it on the yea, I hope insurance will cover it. Life is so bland without music on the go.

San Francisco never disappoints. I swear that this place never rains! Apart from the fog, this place is always sunny and temperate. It is winter, and I manage to do a 6 hr bike ride across the bay. I was sore afterwards, but it was sooo worth it. My favourite thing about SF, is its food/drink. Burritos in Mission, Burgers in Sausalito, Thai in downtown, Coffee in Castro.....I've never tasted bad food since I got here.
A quick stroll through Haight/Ashbury was fun, but the time constraints means I didn't walk up buena vista park. No ocean beach, and no Golden gate park in this trip.
Castro is a place that I enjoy heaps. I feels like a small town.....with just the right sized crowd. Cool clothes, bookshops, and other shops. I had to take a break at Peet's coffee, because the smell coming out of it was so nice.....the drink itself was impressive.

So after one burrito, angus steak burger, spicy cat fish, beef panang, clam chowder,
vanilla cream puff, snapple, milanos, ghiradelli chocolate and lots of waffles, I'm ready to take on Europe.

I'll be arriving in Munich in just under 4 hours, then I'll be on my way to London.
Lufthansa has the most horrible airplane food- salty, texture-less, and some of the dullest colour. The toilets on the other hand are the largest I've seen in the sky. The interior design is distinctively european- modern, and ergonomic.

Ok.....London town, here I come.