Monday, July 28, 2008

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Funky Cold Medina

I don't feel like I've given near enough detail to some parts of our trip on my blog, but such is the nature of international travel!

Paris was good. I got used to the dinginess and seediness of the area, and began to quite enjoy it. There were lots of shops and cafes and stuff. Not dissimilar to Fitzroy. We left Paris without much ado, although Anita did get told off and kicked out of the elevator by a narky Italian woman at the hotel..

We took the chunnel train to London from Paris, which was good. It was very quick, and you really had no idea at all that you were travelling underneath the English Channel. It was dark, but yeah. You get that...

On our arrival in London, we experienced some whinging whingy Poms. Surprised? Surprisinly, I *was* surprised. Throughout the trip it has been the Americans who have stood out the most for the complaining and arguing (the best one I think I heard, was the couple demanding their money back from a museum exhibit at the castle in Prague because not all of the exhibitions captions were in English). And I was quite taken aback by the ferocity with which some people we encountered would not let go of the 'wrong-doing' that someone had committed against them, namely, pressing the stop button on a travelator when a bottle-neck of people and suitcase threatened to take everyone out.

In any case, we spent a short amount of time in London, had a look around, came out to stay with Anita's friend Sarah, then on the second day, we went to Spitalfields market, which I quite enjoyed, in fact, I was really disappointed, as I saw an excellent upcycled bodice made of vintage ties and pants and I just couldn't find one in colours that I could justify paying the asking price for. We didn't make it to Portobello Road though. I was really disappointed about it, but it is one of those things, where we could rush and not see either properly, or meander, and really enjoy the one we were at.

We headed on to Victoria station, and caught the train to Gatwick airport, making ready for our early morning Easyjet flight to Marrakech. Which was delayed because a computer wasn't working (after we had been pushed back and were getting ready to take off) so they pushed us back and then got the engineers or technicians or whoever. Not before a woman, who showed up at the check in gate 15 minutes before we were due to take off ranted and raved because she could not sit with her daughter. Then engaged in a disagreement with the flight stewards. Who were then called because another (American) passenger had made a complaint about this woman. At which point the captain came out of the cockpit, and took her to the back of the plane for a good talking too.

All good now we could take off. Until the captain announced we would have to wait in the queue because other planes had passed us. At which point the guy sitting opposite us started shouting 'You've got to be taking the piss' and other such insightful comments, prompting another passenger to ask him to stop swearing because his kids could hear, and so it went.

We finally took off, made it to Marrakech, where, with 5 people in front of us at customs, we were waved through, rather than having the official actually do some work. We made it into the old city, the Medina, and were hit with the heat, the noise, the smells, and the overwhelming culture shock.

Once we had found our hotel (riad) and paid the kids who took us there, we settled in for a rest after a very long morning,. We ventured into the main square where we saw snake charmers, tarot readers (who I'm sure could give a very accurate reading in a couple of languages...) and henna tattoo artists. We then retreated to a terrace cafe for a cold drink and some subtle observing. We had dinner in the same place, a brilliant meal, and reasonably cheap too. A really good way to get used to the sights and sounds and smells of the frenzy of Djemaa el-Fna square in full swing after dark.

The next day we ventured into the souks, a labrynthine series of shops and stalls with vast range of treasures, from shoes to jewellery to clothes to spices. We spent a few hours being beckoned into shops aplenty, did some shopping and rested again. We experienced a dust storm, which was cool, but over very quickly, and went to a traditional Hammam, which was an experience.

In the hammam, we stripped to our underwear and were taken to a room where a woman poured water all over us. We were then rubbed down with olive oil soap, the consistency of jam and sent to the sauna for ten or fifteen minutes. After this we were washed down again and a cool mud was applied to our bodies, and we went back in to sweat through some more. After this, we lay down and were scrubbed to within an inch of our lives. Washed down again we were wrapped in robes and ushered into a dark room to drink some mint tea. Next we were treated to a massage. All in all, it was awesome.

Dinner in the square was an experience... They serve lambs brains and sheeps heads. We chose wisely. Vegetarian Tagine...

Back in London, and staying with Sarah, we are trying to fit a month's worth of shopping and dirty clothes into our bags. Tomorrow we are heading out early, making our way to our hotel (which is a bit flash), tryin to cram in as much as we can before we go to see Avenue Q tomorrow night.

I'm really excited to head home. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone and Angus!!
I'm even slightly looking forward to the cool weather. A bit. I'll be over it after a few days I'm sure!

Can't wait!!
Will be putting up a tonne of photos when I can!


Wednesday, July 23, 2008


The culture shock hit like a tonne of bricks, but once we settled in, it's been amazing.
The food is glorious, the shopping is grand, and the heat... well we finally got the summer we wanted.. three weeks worth in two days!!
Yesterday was 42 degrees!!

We're about to catch a cab back to the airport and to chilly London... I know, I know, it's freezing at home! We're hoping to stay with Sarah tonight. See a show tomorrow night. And fit everything else into Thursday!

So looking forward to London, but can't wait to get home!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Gatwick, Marrakech and the Long Journey Home

As we sit at the exorbitantly priced net cafe at Gatwick airport, we are mere hours away from boarding a flight to Marrakech.
After a somewhat traumatic night in Paris, we spent a night in a Hotel Ibis, with lockable doors, a clean bathroom, and thankfully, a complete lack of yelling, screaming, running and banging all through the night. Oh and clean sheets were an extra added bonus!!
We stayed last night with Anita's school friend Sarah. Spent today at Spitalfields market, and generally pottering about. Tonight we are stepping out in style at Gatwick Travelodge...
After two nights in Marrakech, we have two in London.
we're hoping to fit in the changing of the guard, westminster cathedral, the london eye, a west end show and some last minute souvenir buying... in a day and a half!!!
Then the long flight home, via Dubai. And meeting Cherie on the same flight from Dubai to Melbourne.

All will be well, we will be sure to rug up in the coats our kindly parents bring us when they collect us from Tullamarine in the wee small hours, and head out for Catty's birthday celebrations Sunday night.

Hope everyone's well.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Still in Paris...

So we decided to spend some time online tonight... may be a better option than sitting in our hotel room..

We will be heading off a bit later on to head up to Sacre Coeur and watch the sun set, though it is very overcast, so we will have to see how we go!!

Wanted to put up some pictures though...

Cause I love my pictures. We all know that...

Eiffel Tower at sunset

The pyramids at the Louvre

The insane traffic in Paris... who needs road rules?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Quick One From Gay Paris

So we're in Paris, spent from a massive 12 hour stint at Disneyland yesterday, and we're looking for somewhere to stay the night tomorrow, before we head off to London...
We're both happy and well, and hope everyone else is too...

Also, if you want to leave a comment, at the end of the post, click comments... there you can read what others have left, and leave your own comment... If you do it as 'anonymous', make sure you tell me who you are!!!


PS: hanging out for parmarama!!!!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Post With The Cumulative Photos

I have had some troubles with accessing my photos due to the huge volume of data on the card

Fear Not. They are safe and accessible now, and thus I present to you:

Tanya's Favourite Photos From The Trip

(...well, some of them)

The view from our train compartment. Prague - Cesky Krumlov.

The castle at dusk, Cesky Krumlov

Rainy Day in Cesky Krumlov

Zorro vs Skateboard Kid, Florence

Il Duomo, Florence

Anita on the Venice Canals

Gondola a go go, Venice

Basilica San Pietro, Rome

St Peter and St Paul Feast Day, Basilica San Pietro, Rome

The Pantheon, Rome

Sienese Celebrations, Il Palio, Siena

The Church at dusk in Siena

Vive La France!!

And so we find ourselves in Paris on Bastille Day...

My first impressions of Paris? I was definitely underwhelmed...

Not so much, now.. With some sleep, a full belly, and an advenutrous spirit, we headed out this morning in search of the Bastille Day military parade and the Eiffel Tower.. and found both. The military parade, at least what we saw of it, was very impressive. France certainly flexed it's military might today, with each battalion marching and singing as they paraded through the streets. The singing came as a real surprise to me, and I can really see how, in times past of hand to hand combat and face to face warfare, the sound of such a mighty army singing would be pretty bloody intimidating!

They also paraded many of their army vehicles.. feeling the streets rumble as tanks and trucks zoomed past was an impressive sight indeed!

We walked and walked, mingling with uniformed military members, hundreds of police, thousands of Parisians, and a tonne of other tourists, easily recognised by the searching look for street signs, map in hand, and the universal gesture for 'I give up, let's just follow them.' We passed the patriotically decked out Champs Elyssee, the Seine, several palaces and Les Invalides, which was like a home for all French war veterans.

Eventually we found ourselves at the Eiffel Tower, which is massive. We staked out the queues for heading up in the elevator (no mention of Superman 2, please!!) and have decided that it is on the list for before we leave..

Also on the list is, of course, EuroDisney, the Louvre, Sacre Couer (tonight for the fireworks), Notre Dame and possibly Versailles...
I know that my initial reaction to Paris was based on fatigue, hunger, and the fact that the first part we saw was pretty seedy.. I'm not in love with the city yet, but there is potential... and the promise of loads of uncompromised, ridiculously juvenile and gloriously childish fun to be had at EuroDisney!!!

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Tale of Amsterdam & The Far Canal

We arrived in Amsterdam two nights ago on a flight from Prague, beleagured with a bunch of drunk and loud American boys and a screaming two year old sitting behind us. But the air hostesses were not as surly as last time, which was great!

One of the statues on Charles Bridge in Prague

We found and caught the train into Amsterdam Centraal, astounded that the rain had followed us from the Czech Republic. Covering up our packs, we ventured out into the night in search of our hostel. It was 10.30 pm and still twilight...

Without too much ado, we found our place, a couple of doors down from a shop called "Gays and Gadgets", which is very cute. We checked in, dumped our stuff, and ventured out for some food and a wander.. Ambling about Amsterdam in the driving rain, wearing little more than a t-shirt and three quarter pants, we soon tired of our adventure. We bought an umbrella, and headed to the nearest fast food venue, a charming little hole in the wall, whose name will live with me in the Hall of Glorious Puns for a long time to come. Behold. "Chipsy Kings". A fried chips outlet that sells nothing more than chips, with a vast array of condiments to suit all tastes. THIS is what I had been waiting for!

We ate our fill, headed back, and still marvelling at the constant smell of marijuana in every street, slept a good night's sleep.

The Palace in Damrak Square, Amsterdam

Yesterday we wandered. We dropped in our laundry (9kgs thank you very much!) and wandered in the cold and rain until it was ready for us. We found the Homomonument, the Pink Point, which is a little kiosk with every kind of gay information you could imagine. And some seriously fantastic stickers, magnets and keyrings. We saw Anne Frank's House (and the very, very long queue to get in) We saw canals, near and far. We found Maoz, the fabled felafel restaurant, and enjoyed it to the max. (Well, I did, Anita almost suffocated when she thought the chilli sauce was basil pesto, and served herself up a very generous helping.) After a litre or so of water, we set off again, not far, just across the road, to Ben & Jerry's, home of the wonderful "Choc-Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream". I think most of you know how I feel about this place....

Wearied though not beaten, we made it home from our wandering about 8.30 for a rest. At about 10.00 we headed out again with Misty, an American girl from our dorm, to have some dinner and check out the red light district. We hit Maoz again (it's cheap and healthy, folks, cheap and healthy..) and wandered off in search of the luminous red glow of the 4 blocks that make up Amsterdam's famous Red Light District.

The novelty wears off reasonably quickly. It's interesting given that prostitution here is legal and organised (they have their own union) the illicitness of it is not really there. The women rent a window for a shift, and then stand in the window gesturing at the passers by (and there were ALOT of passers by) in the hope that one of them will pay her a visit.

The multitude of sex shops were something else. Never before have I heard so many cries of 'Ew!' and 'What is that for?'. The live sex show venues have spruikers out the front, calling in couples, lovers and ladies with cries of "Save Your Marriage". It is all quite real. I think that is the interesting thing. There is this lure to the place because it is so illicit, so unknown. But then when you get there, it becomes patently obvious that there is a reason why it is illicit. It looks like a big theme park with all it's bells and whistles, lights and moving characters. But when you are there it is what it is. A couple of blocks full of hookers and deviants...

Which is not to say I didn't have fun.

The Red Light District, Amsterdam

Today is quiet day. My knees are not happy with me at all, so we are pottering around, blogging, chilling out, and then this afternoon will head out to visit a coffee shop or two, see some more of Amsterdam, and hopefully find a way to get to Paris before Bastille Day on Monday..

Photos to come soon...

Love to all.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Indeed it is surreal to be sitting in the fourth floor common room of a Prague backpackers, nursing a very big hangover and watching The Simpsons in Czech as I type...

Prague has been good, we have managed to navigate our way around and see some very cool stuff.

I am excited to head to Amsterdam, where purchases will only involve one mental conversion (euros to AUD$) as opposed to the exhausting two that we are doing now (Czech Krons to euros to AUD$).

I am excited to be somewhere for more than one night.. (we have four in Amsterdam). I am super excited to do some laundry. Clean clothes... *sigh*

Am also looking forward to some yummy food, some Ben & Jerry's choc-chip cookie dough ice cream, some maoz felafel, and of course, all the other things I enjoyed when I was last there..
Maybe not alcohol. At least for a couple of days..

We have some amazing photos of Cesky Krumlov and of Prague, and some horrendous ones of last night's massive amounts of fun, which should probably never see the light of day, but we're in Europe, noone knows us here!

Hope everyone's well! Tanya

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Czech it out...

It is with a heavy heart that I blog today. Due to the siesta of Italian afternoons, we did not get to see the Jesus with a doodle. Exactly what happened last time! And to make it worse, this foreign keyboard just somehow deleted the post I had spent 25 minutes writing, and so now I am starting again.

It has been a long journey from Venice. We left our hotel at 8,30 am, taking a water bus and then a bus out to Treviso airport. We flew SkyEurope, and aside from a little bit of turbulence and a very surl flight attendant, arrived happy in Prague. We experienced the notorious rudeness of Prague information desk workers and finally caught a shuttle bus into the centre. We made our way to the bus terminal, and discovered we would have to wait four hours for the bus.. We found the metro station, bought tickets, and made it to the overland rail station, bought tickets and got on the train, all off our own steam. I was very proud of us at this point.. we were using a new currency, a language that neither of us had a hope of deciphering, and we were safely on our way.

On the train, we had Buttercup and Bill (my new squirrely friend( with us. The conductor gave us a warm smile on seeing them, and we knew we would be fine. We made our way on the adventurous 4,5 hour train journey and finally we were in the fairy-tale-like Česky Krumlov.

We found a great vegetarian place that was just like Vegie Bar in Brunswick street. And the beer they served .. yes.. half a litre thereof.. was called Bernard. Bernard steins. Bernard Glasses. Bernard Umbrellas. It was nice to have a beer with Bernard...

We awoke to rain yesterday, which limited our options, but we went up to the castle. I climbed the tower and had an amazing view over the village. And saw the bears in the moat! We spent alot of time wandering, and sampling some of the local food, including some kind of strange cylindrical pastry rolled in cinnamon sugar.. a world of goodness!

It's really beautiful here, and I am sad to say goodbye, but am equally excited about heading back to Prague this afternoon. And tomorrow night we fly out to Amsterdam!

I have loved getting messages from people, even though I can't always work out who is 'anonymous'!! Please leave messages for me, as it's a really good connection to what's happening at home..

Much love...

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Treviso Aeroporta - Venezia

with a minute and a half left of credit, I am just checkin in to say we're about to get on a plane to Prague, then a train or a bus to Cesky Krumlov!
We're both well and tanned and having a ball!
Loving getting the comments!

It's a nice connection to home!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Siena, Il Palio and Onward to Florence

Since I last blogged I have been accutely reminded of the need for down time when travelling.. Having almost become acclimatised to the heat and humidity in Europe, after leaving the cold, windy, rainy Melbourne, I am having 3 or more showers a day, drinking litres upon litres of water, and developing a very enviable watch-tan.

We had three nights in Rome, and contending with jet lag and coming off a 12 week term with reports and parent teacher interviews, the decision to spend an afternoon in bed was taken out of my hands when my body decided it just wasn't prepared to do anything else. And it made a huge difference. We didn't get to see all we wanted to see, and I am disappointed about not getting to Bocca della Veritas (The Mouth of Truth), the Sistine Chapel, or the Bone Church. This has been more than made up for, though, by having a more rested start to our Tuscan adventure.

We arrived in Siena and caught the bus to the centre. What an amazing city! It reminded me alot of Delft in the south of the Netherlands. It is a walled Medieval city, and with the exception of the shops (and even then, not all of them), not much has changed since then. We arrived in time for the Palio, a traditional horse race which takes place around the main square (which is not a square at all, rather a kind of concave shell-like shape), Il Campo. In Siena, there are 17 contrades, or districts. 10 of these are selected to compete each year. The horses are allocated to the contrade's chosen jockey by ballot. Each day, there is a trial run, and people pile into the centre of Il Campo, decked out in their contrade's colour and symbol.

We ventured into Il Campo for the trial the night before the big race. After the Carabinieri (horse-riding security police) led a charge around the square, dressed in full regalia, the canons sounded and the horses pelted around the square three times, before coming to a halt. Each horse and jockey was surrounded by the members of it's contrade as the horse was paraded around, and led back to it's contrade. We followed the Porcupine contrade that night, and had lots of fun joining in the frivolity.

Yesterday was the big day. We headed to the square in the morning for the final trial run, and were surprised at the lack of attendance and enthusiasm. Until we recalled the feasts that were held in each contrade the night before. Deciding to conserve our energy for the big race, we headed back to the hotel for some rest. I popped across to Chiesa San Domenico, the church where St Catherine of Siena's head and thumb are on display. I was a little disappointed not to be able to get close enough for a decent photo of her mummified head for the kids, but it was very cool in a kind of morbid and fascinating way.

We headed to Il Campo and staked out a spot, where we stood in the sun for over three hours. After the charge of the Caribinieri (again) they opened the gates so the thousands upon thousands of Sienese and tourists could enter the square. What followed can only be called a mob scene. Anita and I clung together initially laughing and joking with those around us about how crazy it was, with people pushing and shoving to get in. The rush to get in became increasingly violent, and as the two of us were shoved and elbowed out of the way, we saw punches thrown and men and women, heads down, elbows out, charging into the crowd in an attempt to get into the square, we decided that perhaps it would not be the wisest place to stay. It took us a good twenty minutes to fight through the crowd of people still trying to get in, but once we were out, shaken and nervously laughing, we discovered Anita's camera had been stolen. We both decided we were lucky to get out not missing anything else. Like an arm.

We headed aroun the winding streets surrounding Il Campo and found a bar across from our hotel, when the actions of the owner, who fetched us a chair and sat it in front of the TV so we could watch the race with a beer, redeemed our opinions of people. Having seen the race, I am glad we weren't there. That being said, I am SO glad we went the night before to the trial run, as it was exhilerating, exciting, and fun. The Contrade of the Porcupine won.

The hotel we stayed in was fantastic. It's shutters (yes, shutters) opened to the view and sound of the church bells of Chiesa San Domenico, tolling each morning. We had a big room all to our selves, and glorious water pressure in the shower!

We left Siena this morning, on a train for Florence. I was sad to say goodbye to Siena. It is an amazingly beautiful city, and I would love to go back again, to explore when it is not so busy, and to see the town and it's surroundings. Today is a day of rest before heading out tomorrow to see all the sights Florence offers us, including, but not limited to, a church with a crucifix. Nothing unusual there I hear you say. Well in this church, on this crucifix, Jesus is not adorned with a loin cloth. That's right folks, tomorrow, I am going to see Jesus' doodle!

In an interesting note, Anita is watching satellite TV. McLeod's Daughters dubbed in Italian is gold!!