London, I love you, I really do, but you just get way too cold…

September 14, 2008

It was quite difficult saying farewell to all the amazing and wonderful people we met on Contiki. I’m convinced there were a couple of people amongst the group that I will remains friends with throughout life. Most of the group headed out the very next day we returned. I woke up early to bid them farewell. We hugged. We cried. We hugged while we cried. It was very emotional. You do not realise how attached you get to people that you have spent every minute of the last 37 days with. I am not usually an emotional person, but I cried like a baby wanting to be bottle-fed. I will see you guys again, I’m sure of it. Who knows where in the world it will be, but someday soon, we will cross paths again.

Back in London for some full-on sight seeing. When I left London to explore the rest of Europe it was warm. Six weeks later and it is absolutely bloody freezing! London, I adore you, I really do. I even considered obtaining a European passport and flying out to live and work here for a year, but why are you so friggin’ cold? Do you want me to freeze to death? Warm up, please, then I will consider re-locating for you.

There were still a few of the Contiki group remaining in London for travel or live/work related purposes so we hung out and went sight seeing together. First up was Buckingham Palace. Buckingham Palace is the official London residence of the British Monarch. Located in the City of Westminster, the Palace is a setting for state occasions and royal entertaining. It just so happens that, at the time I was there, the state dining rooms were, for the very first and last time, open to the public for viewing. This being a once in a life time opportunity, I did not hesitate one bit. The dining rooms were set up as though a royal banquet was being held. It was a spectacular sight. The maroon carpets and rugs blended nicely with the gold antiques and cutlery. I tried to picture myself there, dining amongst royalty; what a thrill it would be. Through the work that he does, my uncle had been invited by the Queen of England to dine in that very room many years ago; lucky bugger!

Me infront of Buckingham Palace

Me in front of the Tower Bridge in LondonWestminster Abbey was next on the agenda. At home, I try, whenever possible to avoid going to church, but here in Europe, I have visited so many churches and absolutely love them. The history and architecture behind them is simply superb. Hmmm… I wonder if our churches looked like this back home, would it make me attend more frequently? I have some doubts there. I took a guided head-phone tour through Westminster and while exiting through the gift store, I purchased a cross to wear on my chain, along with my dove pendant that I bought in Mondsee, Austria.

The Tower of London was next. I did not enjoy this tour as much as I would have liked to. Perhaps because it started pouring down rain mid tour, who knows? I did, however, enjoy the spectacular views of Tower Bridge from the Tower of London.

Cultural cuisine at the Notting Hill marketsUgh, so I will admit now that I am hopelessly addicted to Hugh Grant movies. He may not be the hottest male to graze this earth, but there is something about him; his witty style and sense of humor perhaps, what ever it is, he has miserably won me over. So knowing that we were going to be going to the Notting Hill markets, I had to find the address and make a stop over at the Travel Bookstore from the movie Notting Hill, and once I found it, of course, I had to take a photo of it as proof of being there. I took some wonderful snaps at the Notting Hill markets. The place was vibrant and alive with colors and so many different cultural presence.

Produce at the Notting Hill markets

The next morning Jane and I headed out to check out the London Eye. The London Eye at a height of 135 meters (443ft) is the biggest Ferris wheel in all of Europe and has become the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, visited by over 3 million people a year. We pre-purchased our tickets online and did not have to wait to ride the wheel. I felt a little uneasy looking down at first, because frankly, there was filthy river water below us, but I soon got use to the feeling. The views from the very top point of the London Eye looking out onto Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament were sensational. Again, I was quick to snap up some awesome shots. Later that day I went and took some photos of Big Ben and explored Piccadilly Circus.

Me on the London Eye with Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in the background

I was still yet to cross off Madame Tussauds from my list of things to see, so that is where Jane and I headed next. oMg LyKe MiLey CyRuS’ waX FiGuRe WaS TheRe SoOoOo I NeeDed To GeT a pHoTo!!! Haha. Jane and I posed with Miley for a laugh. Jane secretly admires Miley, though, she is just yet to admit it. We were rather amused to come across the wax figure of Australia’s ex-Prime Minister, so, to be the damn proud Aussie’s that we are, we posed with him, Jane kissing one cheek and me kissing the other. Awww Johnny, shux. My time at Madame Tussauds was thoroughly enjoyed.

Jane and I kissing our home boy, Johnny Howard xoxo

London is known for its big, dazzling Westend musical stage productions, so I definitely had to make the time to check out a couple while here. Jane had never before seen The Sound of Music and had heard me go on and on and on about it so we both went and checked out the stage production of it. As you could imagine, I was terribly excited for this. We got great seats, 7th row from the stage which I was extremely happy about. The show was amazing! I sat there in my seat with a gigantic grin on my face while singing along to all the songs which I know by heart. The actors, especially Maria, did a phenomenal job. It really was nothing short of spectacular. The following day, I had Jane come over to my aunty and uncles house and we watch The Sound of Music on DVD. Jane told me she loved it, but if I told anyone that, she’d have to kill me…

Aunty was able to take some time out of her busy schedule to come and see another Westend production with me; We Will Rock You. It is based on the music of Queen but with a completely different story line. It was absolutely brilliant. I am not a huge Queen fan but I am definitely familiar with their music. The entire theatre clapped along to the songs and joined in with the lyrics. The ending was bloody awesome! I thoroughly enjoyed this stage production.

I know I was cutting it short with only one day in London remaining, but I could not have come all this way without paying a visit to Stonehenge and Bath. I went down town to the tourist information center to grab a few tour brochures and found a tour that was running at a reasonable price. I got back to my aunty and uncles house, jumped online and secured my spot in the tour group. The next morning, I woke bright and early at 5am to make my train into town and meet at the pick up point. I was off to Stonehenge and Bath!

StonehengeStonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire, about 3.2 kilometres west of Amesbury and 13 kilometres north of Salisbury. One of the most famous prehistoric sites in the world, Stonehenge is composed of earthworks surrounding a circular setting of large standing stones. Archaeologists had believed that the iconic stone monument was erected around 2500 BC, however one recent theory has suggested that the first stones were not erected until 2400-2200 BC, whilst another suggests that bluestones may have been erected at the site as early as 3000 BC. Seeing this monument in person was amazing. How those men, way back BC were able to move such gigantic stones without the technology and equipment we have available to us today is beyond me!

The Roman Baths in Bath, England, is one of the only natural hot water baths still existing today. Most Roman cities had at least one, if not many, such buildings, which were centers of public bathing and socializing. Baths were extremely important for Romans. They stayed there fore several hours and went daily. Wealthier Romans were accompanied by one or more slaves. After paying a fee, they would strip naked and wear sandals to protect their feet from heated floors. Before bathing, patrons exercised. They did such things as running, mild weight-lifting, wrestling and swimming. After exercising, servants scraped off oil and dirt. After exploring the Roman Baths, I ventured throughout the city of Bath to explore its inner beauty. It really was a cute little town.

My train home got delayed. Not good considering my uncle had booked me a chauffeur to pick me up from his house at 9pm. I had to call uncle and ask him if he could pick me up from the station and drive me back to his house. My last ride in his Porsche, how sad. I ran right up stairs, made sure everything was packed, bid aunty and uncle farewell and off I went to my hotel at Heathrow airport. I had a super king-sized double bed all to myself. My room was luxury. I had a wonderful nights rest in preparation for a 5am wake up and 8am flight out to the United States of America.

Two months in Europe went by way too fast. I absolutely loved every minute spent in London, England. I really do adore the city and I hope to return some time soon. I’m not quite sure I could ever love England, the way I do, the USA though. Tomorrow will be my third time returning to a country I would like to one day make my home.

Ah USA, how I love thee.

“But mum, it’s legal in Amsterdam…”

August 30, 2008

Amsterdam, or, as we have learned to refer to it as, Amsterdamage is a vibrant and radiant city of the Netherlands. Amsterdam is the fifth most popular tourist destination in all of Europe and after stepping foot into this city, it is not hard to see why. The red light district houses countless sex shops, sex theatres, peep shows, erotic museums and brothels. As if all this isn’t already enough to make a city exciting, there is of course, the added bonus of the legalization of marijuana. I am by no means a pot-head. I don’t even touch the stuff back at home, but since we are in Amsterdam, and it is legal, I guess I have to add it to my list of things to do.

Our first day is spent riding old granny bikes through the back streets and down the canals of Amsterdam. During one of our rest points, our bike tour guide tells us that the grassy areas by the sides of the canal are called “dykes”. She then proceeds to tell us to “stick our fingers in the dykes” so that we can tell everybody back home what a wonderful experience we had “fingering dykes” in Amsterdam. Pretty sick, if you ask me. But sure enough, she cracked a giggle and a smirk out of me. The bike ride was not strenuous and was rather enjoyable.

The gang with our grandma bikes out by the windmill in Amsterdam

Hot clog dude making clogsWe are taken to watch a traditional clog making presentation. Clogs are a type of shoe or sandal made predominately out of wood and are a traditional item amongst the Dutch. The clog-maker was able to whip up a pair from scratch within minutes; quite impressive, as were his looks. I bought some miniature clogs as souvenirs for my grandparents and I. They were so cute, I couldn’t help myself.

That night we got told we were going to a surprise activity. I had a hunch for what it would be, and decided to sign up to tag along. Our group gathered and got shown to our seats in a small theater. Unfortunately, I was split up from the rest of the girls and was given front row, dead center. Dun, dun, dun, DUNNNN!

The “fill-in” act comes out on to the stage while the crowd settles in before the main action begins. It is a semi-attractive skinny, blonde girl wearing barely anything at all. She is smoking a cigar. I lean over to Suzi on my right and whisper to her “I bet she’s going to smoke rings with that thing… not from her mouth, though…” She lays down on the floor and positions herself with her legs clipped behind her head. Alas, I was right. Oh dear. At this moment I thank God for my bad eye sight and for not reminding me to bring my glasses along. We have been brought to a sex show!

Throughout the night we are allowed several drinks which were included in our ticket price. This dampens what is going on right in front of me, helping make it a tad more amusing rather than frightening. Act after act after act, a couple come out and have sex on a rotating stage right before my very eyes; in every position imaginable and some I never thought were quite possible. Every last shred of my innocence is lost right here, right now, at a Dutch sex show.

After the show is over we go to the Grasshopper which is a recommended “coffee shop” by our travel leader. Coffee shops in Amsterdam are where people are able to purchase joints and brownies then go into a little room to smoke/consume their marijuana; it is absolutely and totally legal. I was actually surprised to see people in their sixties, seventies perhaps, smoking bongs and joints out back. I tried to picture my grandma smoking pot. I could not process the image. Way too strange.

The next morning we awoke early as we were extremely keen to make our way over to Anne Franks house. Anne Frank was a Jewish girl born in the city of Frankfurt, Germany in 1929. Anne and her family moved to Amsterdam in 1933 after the Nazis gained power in Germany. As prosecutions against the Jewish population increased, Anne’s family went into hiding in July of 1942 in hidden rooms in her father, Otto Frank’s office building. After two years, the family was betrayed and transported to concentration camps. Seven months after her arrest, Anne Frank died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Her father, Otto, the only surviving family member returned to Amsterdam after the war to find that Anne’s diary has been saved, and his efforts led to its publication in 1974; “The diary of Anne Frank.” After getting lost, we eventually found our way there just before the line started to rapidly grow. The house we were about to step foot in held so much history. Knowing I was about to walk through the same corridors that Anne Frank once had left me feeling a tad weird and spooked.

Me about to enter behind the wsecret book case which hid the entrance into the Frank's secret household
Tonight is our last night together as a Contiki group before we head back to London and go our separate ways. We have a canal river cruise together where we enjoy snapping many last photos with each other whilst dining on cheap champagne; such class. It was enjoyable, but rather sad knowing that our 37 day European Adventure was coming to an end. 37 days have flown way too fast! After our cruise, we are free to have dinner where ever we choose. Our group decides to eat at the Sea Palace restaurant. It is a traditional Chinese restaurant so I make use of my minimal Mandarin skills to communicate with our waiter. Through out the night I greet her, thank her several times and wish her farewell in Mandarin. I think she is rather impressed to see an Australian white girl speaking Chinese!

Jade, myself and Jess outside the Sea Palace restaurant at sunset

Back to the Grasshopper we go. Amsterdam, you are amazing.

There’s a first time for everything…

August 26, 2008

And today, for the first time ever, I finally saw snow! Never before in my life have I seen snow. I live in Melbourne, Australia. It never really drops below maybe 6 decrees Celsius in winter (43 degrees Fahrenheit). We never, ever get snow. You have to drive a fair way out of Melbourne to find snow up in the mountains and since I’m not a fan of freezing cold weather, I just never made the effort.

But wait, what is that you say? Aren’t you traveling Europe in summer? Well, yes, but I am now in Switzerland, you see, and located in Switzerland is Jungfraujoch; the highest mountain peak in all of Europe with 100% guaranteed snow and ice all year round. Despite my unfavoritism towards cold weather, I have always wanted to frolic and play in the snow, just once to say I have, and what better place to experience it than Switzerland!?!

We boarded the cog railway train from where we were staying to get up to where we had to go. The train was old and slow and the journey up was long and cold; I think it may have taken us an hour and a half to make it up to Jungfrau. The scenery along the way up was simply stunning. Breathtaking views were observed in silence as many of us could simply not believe the beautiful scenery that was on the other side of the glass. Many a time I caught myself just sitting in my seat, glaring out the window and smiling happily to myself.

Mel and I on the cog railway going up to Jungfrau
When we stepped foot off the train it was freezing. I had never experience negative temperatures in my life until now. I had to allow my body to get use to such temperatures and I also had to figure out a new breathing pattern. We were so high up that my normal pattern of breathing was causing me some discomfort. The air was thick and cold. I took bigger, deeper breaths till I adjusted to this new climate. We wondered around the building the train had dropped us off at, trying to find our way out. We were all very excited and keen to get outside and experience the snow. The Canadians that were with us thought it was rather hilarious that so many of us Aussie’s were thrilled to be experiencing something they have grown accustom to. There and then, we spotted an exit. Out we went, like a flock of caged birds finally being released into the wild. It was phenomenally stunning. The cliffs that were semi-covered in snow looked beautiful. The thick blanket of whiteness went on for miles and miles. I couldn’t believe it. After 22 years, I was finally stepping foot on snow!

Jess, Jade, Mel and myself on Jungfrau in Switzerland
I did everything you would expect a six year old to do when taken to the snow; I jumped in it; I threw myself into a heap of it; I made snow balls and threw them at my mates when they least expected it; I made a snow angel and got terribly soaked while in the process and last, but not least, I built a snowman. Yes, a snowman. Possibly the greatest snowman in the history of snowmen. In fact, our snowman was so cool, tourists were coming up to us and asking if they could have their photos taken with him; that is just how cool our snowman was. We named him Snowman, Mr. Snowman.

Me making a snow angel_Me posing with Snowman, Mr. Snowman

Despite the freezing conditions, we were so high up that the sun was blazing down on us so we were quick to get quite warm and had to strip some of our layers off. After playing for hours in the snow, Mel and I broke up from the rest of the group and went to check out the Ice Palace. Yes, there is a palace made entirely of ice. There were walls, rooms and ice-carved animals. It was pretty impressive stuff. We decided we better make out way back to the train station as we still had another one and a half hour train ride ahead of us to get back to our accommodation.

That night back at camp we sampled a local traditional dish. Do you, ummm, fondue? Fondue is a Swiss communal dish shared at the table in a pot over a small burner. The term is derived from the French verb fondre (to melt), in the past particulate fondu (melted). Diners use forks to dip bits of food (most often bread) into the warm semi-liquid sauce (commonly a cheese mix). I had never had fondue before and without trying to be funny, I was rather fond of it 😉 It tasted delicious!

We headed back to our rooms to get ready for tonight’s party. We were having an 80’s themed dress up party down at the bomb-shelter bar. We did not have warning or time to go out and buy props so we had to make do with the same stuff we had been carrying around in our suitcases for the past six weeks. Our group looked pretty dang funky. We started pre-drinking back at our rooms while getting ready so by the time we made our way over to the bomb-shelter, we were well and truly ready to party!

The gang all dressed up and ready to party for 80's night in Switzerland

Switzerland is one of my most favorite countries so far.

Hallo! Guten Morgen!

August 24, 2008

Wie geht’s dir? Was gibt’s Neues?

How are you? What’s new?

Where in the world is Lynda? Well, at the moment I am in Munich, Germany. This blog will be short and sweet because we are not here for too long.

The entry gate into Dachau Concentration CampOn the way into Munich yesterday we stopped in at Dachau Concentration Camp. Dachau was a Nazi German concentration camp, and the first opened in Germany, located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory near the medieval town of Dachau. We had free time to explore the camp site which was rather spooky and chilling. I could just picture what was happening there so many years back when the Jews were being held captive against their will. The most creepiest of experiences was walking into the room that housed the kilns they used to burn the Jews in. Curse my vivid imagination, because at that moment, such horrible images ran through my head. I could almost hear the cries and screams of the helpless children and mothers behind that wall, oblivious to what was about to happen to them. Bless their souls.

Just before dinner we stopped to view the Glockenspiel. We were not there at the right time to experience it go off, but apparently it is an extraordinary sight. We were off to the Beer Hall for dinner. I was looking extremely forward to this. The beer glasses in Germany are massive mug-like cups. The German ladies can carry up to ten of these mugs at the one time. They are not light, either, I struggled to lift my own mug, let alone ten. I have no idea how they did it. It was an amazing sight. They bring them to the table then let them go, and due to the weight of the mugs, they make a big bang onto the table top. I am not a big beer fan, however, I forced myself to down the entire beer, just to say that I did it! Dinner was absolutely delicious. Pork knuckle. Yum. The crackling was to-die-for and the pork itself tasted scrumptious. Again, mum, I am sorry, but my God it was slightly better than yours… sorry, do not hurt me, I repeat, do not hurt me. Every few minutes in between dinner, this German man would jump onto the microphone and sing this song in German and we would all have to scream “PROBST” (Cheers in German) and smash our beer mugs together. Too much fun.

Me struggling to down my German mug of beer!

The Hills are Alive with The Sound of Music…

August 22, 2008

The Hillssss are Aliveeee with The Sound of Musiccccc. Guess where I am? AUSTRIA! Yes, finally, I have made it to the land of The Sound of Music. The country in which my all time favorite movie was filmed in did not disappoint. First city we were visiting was Vienna, and our first stop, where else but the Schnapps Factory. Yummy! Free alcohol for all 😀

Free sample shots at the Schnapps Factory in Vienna, AustriaWe were given a presentation and demonstration of mixing alcohols and then we were  allowed three sample shots each… only there was no one keeping count, so three turned into six 😀 Of these shots, Absinthe was also included. Absinthe is referred to as the “green fairy” and is high in alcohol content, the one we were consuming was 75% alcohol so you can image what it did to us.

We sampled Absinthe, Goldschlagers (another strong spirit with flakes of 24 carrot gold floating around in it) and an array of strawberry, chocolate and choc-nut flavored schnapps. I bought my brother a bottle of Absinthe to bring home to him. Should have him on the floor in no time.

After all our sampling and purchasing we headed off to check out the Schonbrunn Palace. If any of you have ever seen Violinist Andrea Rieu live, his stage set is based upon that of the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria. We did not have enough time to explore, so we settled for some photos outside. However, having just consumed six shots of extremely strong alcohol, we were in a rather *I-don’t-want-to-stand-still* mood…

Mel and I tipsy and jumping out the front of the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, Austria
It was time to get some food into our alcohol-filled bellies. We were going to have a traditional Austrian dish tonight; Weiner Schnitzel. I was so excited, schnitzel is one of my favorite dishes back home and this one did not disappoint. It tasted absolutely amazing! Sorry mum, but I think it may have just beat yours… Sorry, do not hurt me, please!

A brand new day and a whole new excited me. Today is the day we head to Mondsee *eeeeee*. Mondsee is a small town in which part of The Sound of Music was filmed. The scenes where Captain Von Trap’s children are climbing and swinging from trees in their curtain play-clothes and the church in which Maria and Captain Von Trap wed are both located here. Now I revert back to the nerd inside of me. I am misserably in love with this movie. So much. It really is my favourite movie in the entire world. You can imagine just how much I am squealing inside to be able to get to go and see these two locations. We arrive there and I go frolicking through the streets. I pose infront of the church and I climb and hang from the trees to imitate that of the famous movie scene. I make a small donation to the church and purchase a dove pendant to put on my necklace. Now I will always have a reminder of visiting The Sound of Music church!

Me swinging from a tree_Mel and I infront of The Sound of Music church in Mondsee, Austria

Our next stop was the Swarovski Crystal World. We went to the museum there… I’m not quite sure what they were trying to achieve, but hell, it was weird. If you went in there drunk it would be sure to trip you out, heck, it tripped me out and I was well and truly sober. I saw this as a good opportunity to indulge a little on myself and also on my mum. I purchased this gorgeous sterling silver and blue Swarovski crystal stone necklace for mum and purchased myself a sterling silver pink and purple Swarovski crystal stone bracelet. They were absolutely gorgeous and set me back a couple of hundred, but definitely worth it.

The next few days of our Austrian adventure were to be spent at Hopfgarten up in the Austrian Tyrol. This was a lovely, lucious, green mountainy area, so high up that the clouds seemed so low to us. We stayed in an awesome log cabin with four to a room. The surroundings and atmosphere were extremely relaxing. The following morning, we went mountain biking through an extremely difficult track up the mountain. When we finally made it to where we had to be, we stopped for a BBQ picnic lunch. The huge roast potatoe was delightful. The end views were spectacular, so the sore butt which I imagine will last for a couple of days is worth it.

The end of the bike track
Austria is known for its thrill sports, so it only made sense to try one out while there. We were going white-water rafting. This is something I have been wanting to cross off my list of things to do for so long, and now, I have finally accomplished it; and what a thrill and rush it was. We had to get wet-suited up and wear helmets to protect our heads in case we fell out of the raft. This was a natural stream with the water coming down from the melting glaciers from the mountains above us. The water was ice cold and there were large rocks scattered throughout the stream. There were six of us in our raft along with out HOT instructor. We jumped in to the water first to adjust our bodies to it; that way it wouldn’t be too much of a shock to us if we fell in. It was a bit chilly, but rather refreshing. It was pure fresh water which was good because salt water often affects my eyes. The rapids we were riding were grade three so they weren’t exactly huge. We did, however, come across one big one which we had to duck down into the raft for. It was an awesome thrill. I just wish we got to experience bigger rapids. Austria was everything I hoped it to be and more.

The group all wet-suited up and ready to rock and roll!

Croatia – surprisingly sensational

August 18, 2008

Unless you are from or have been to Croatia, who would have thought it would be so stunningly spectacular? Not me. Well, my Croatian friends had told me Dubrovnik was beautiful, but I had never really looked into it in depth. I was absolutely blown away at the sheer beauty that is Dubrovnik. “The Pearl or the Adriatic” as it is known, I can truly understand why.

We pulled into Dubrovnik quite late, so we decided to explore the nightlife offerings that evening. A bunch of us ended up at a little bar that had cheap drinks. We all gathered around the table and played “Never have I ever…” For those of you who have never played this game, one person begins by saying “Never have I ever <insert action here>” ie. Never have I ever slept naked. If you have slept naked, you need to either take a shot or a mouth full of your alcoholic beverage. Everyone in the group takes a turn in saying something, and everyone else drinks or doesn’t drink, depending on whether they have done it or not. Needless to say, a lot came out that night and we all had to promise one another it would not be repeated or brought up again. It was a fun night. I really enjoyed getting to know some of the girls I had not had the chance to spend quality time with over the last couple of weeks.

"Never have I ever..."

The next morning we went exploring the city independently. Mel, Andrew and I broke up from the rest of the group and we found this stunning little cafe right on a cliff edge. The views were spectacular. We stopped there to have a drink and soak up the atmosphere. Again, it was one of those *pinch-me-am-I-really-here* type moments.

Mel and I standing by the cafe on the cliff edge

Later that day we boarded a boat and headed out to an island off the coast of Croatia. Our boat guys were awesome. They pumped up the music for us and were serving drinks. The sights we sailed by were breathtaking. The boat docked by one of the piers. The platform of the boat in which we were standing was fairly high up from the water so I was a tad hesitant to jump in, however, once everyone started bombing and diving off hull and the side of the boat, I was too excited not to. Bombs away! It was awesome! I swam around for a bit before climbing back up the boat and jumping into the water, over and over again. I felt so free and I did not have a single worry in the world. The feeling is one I will revert back to in the future when I back to reality and hard at work.

Me jumping off the side of the boat in Croatia

Η Ελλάδα είναι μια υπέροχη χώρα – It’s all Greek to me!

August 14, 2008

Η Ελλάδα είναι μια υπέροχη χώρα – Apparently that means “Greece is a wonderful country” and I could not agree with it more!

Our ferry ride over from Italy was so much fun. It was an overnight ferry ride so we had a cabin of four on the ferry. I must say, that was probably the best nights sleep I’ve had in a very long time. I think it was mainly due to the fact that our cabin was absolutely pitch black and window-free, well, that or the nausea pill that Jess game me knocked me right out; either way, it was a well needed nights sleep.

After docking in Greece we drove over to Athens to pay a visit to the Parthenon. Along the way, though, we made a stop off at the first ever Olympic stadium used when Greece was first to hold the Olympic Games back in 1896. This city holds so much amazing history and culture. I love it. The Parthenon is a temple of the Greek goddess Athena. It was built in the 5th century BC and is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece. Its decorative sculptures are considered one of the high points of Greek art and the Parthenon is regarded as one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments. While I were there, the Parthenon was undergoing a program of restoration and reconstruction and luckily, the reconstruction works did not get in the way of any awesome photo-taking opportunities. It was so surreal to see something like this standing right before me. The vicinity of the Parthenon was filled with run down statues and temples; sand and stone covered the ground, and the stormy, angry sky made for a great back drop to that perfect photo. The weather held up long enough to allow me to go exploring and to capture some great shots. It started to rain and thunder so I joined the others and we made our way back to the bus.

Mel and I in front of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece
That night we went for a Greek Plaka dinner in Athens. For those of you that don’t personally know me, I am quite the fussy eater, so this was the first time ever that I was going to be experiencing Greek food. Greek food is extremely popular where I live in Melbourne because we have the biggest population in the world of Greeks outside of Athens. Pretty impressive, huh? Despite Greek popularity here, I had never tried their food, so this was a first for me. We had lamb kebabs and these amazing Greek potatoes. My taste buds ran wild. Never in my life have I tasted meat with such flavor. It was absolutely superb. A fool I was to be missing out on such flavorsome and delicious food all my life. MENTAL NOTE: Must make Greek food a regular consumption when I return back home.

The next morning we caught another ferry across to the Greek Island of Mykonos. Mykonos is a mass-tourist destination renowned for its cosmopolitan character and its intense nightlife. The nightlife scene is marketed as one of the best in all of Europe and is hugely populated and loved amongst the gay community.

Mel and I super excited as we approach Mykonos on our Ferry
Mykonos was like a dream come true. It was everything you see in travel brochures plus more. Pure, soft, white sand and crystal clear, sparkling blue waters. If this was not heaven, then I don’t know what was. The next three days were going to be devoted purely to relaxation by day and partying by night. The resort we stayed at was gorgeous. We had four of us to a room but the room was large enough for us to be comfortable. In typical, Greek Island form, the resort was white and blue; so beautiful. Our resort pool had a bar which served drinks all day, every day… but who needed the pool when right across the road was a sprakling, fresh, inviting ocean??? The Aegean Sea; another water mass to tick off the swimming list. We were living in pure luxury. I really had to pinch myself because this felt almost too good to be true. I’d never seen anything more beautiful and didn’t think that it could get much better than this. That afternoon, we went banana boating off the back of a speed boat. It was so much bloody fun!

Jade, our tour manager, Me, Mel, Jess & Jackie getting ready to go banana boating!

That night we hit up Paradise Beach. It is known to be one of the biggest partying beaches in the world. It was something straight out of a movie. Guys in g-strings dancing around, girls on bars dancing, people drinking on the beach with a DJ pumping out the latest dance sensations, a pool, couches and umbrellas on the sand and alcohol all around. It kind of reminded me of one of those American movies where all the kids are partying on the beach in Miami for spring break haha. Great night, great memory. I fell in love with Mykonos.

Ciao, Italia!

August 10, 2008

Ciao, buongiorno! Che c e di nuovo?

Hello, good morning! What’s new?

Plenty is new with me. I am in ITALY and it is beyond amazing. Well, it was amazing until I got attacked by mosquitoes and was left with no less than 20 bites all over my legs… but then Canada (Amy) came to the rescue and let me borrow her magic anti-itch stick thing. It was a life saver. Stung like hell, but boy, did it stop me from scratching. This made my Italian trip enjoyable again 🙂

In anti-itch stick thing we trust. Hooray!

WARNING: This is going to be long. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

We’ve been in Italy for roughly seven days. On our bus ride in from Monaco, we visited Verona. This is where the balcony of Juliet from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is situated. There is a golden statue of Juliet outside the balcony on the ground. It is believed that if you clasp Juliet’s breast it will bring you good luck for life; so that is exactly what we did.

Our first main stop in Italy was Venice. Relatives of mine whom had visited Venice told me negative things about this city, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. It was so old and beautiful. I appreciate a city that is well aged, and Venice certainly did not let me down; rather impressive if I may say so myself. We frolicked amidst 40 degree celcius heat (104 degrees fahrenheit) in St. Marks Square. We allowed ourselves to get lost in all the back streets and amongst the canals and alley ways as we explored the rich cultures of the city of love. We window shopped and fed the huge gathering of pigeons at St. Marks Square while enjoying lunch on the steps in the shade.

Next up was our gondola ride. I had been looking forward to this for so long. It was definitely a highlight of my time in Italy. Our gondola guy was a wealth of knowledge, often pointing out interesting tid bits and things to look at. He let us wear his red gondola-man hat while we took photos and tried to take in the scenery. This was really happening. I was really sitting in a gondola and being paddled throughout the canals of Venice. No words, really. No words.

Our gondola guy pointing the real Venice out to us on board

That night when we approached our tables for dinner, we were told we were being given something traditional to Italy before our dinner was served. We were each presented with a shot glass filled with a lemon-scented alcoholic beverage; Limoncello was its name. Limoncello is a lemon liqueur produced in Southern Italy. It is made from lemon rinds, alcohol, water and sugar and because it contains no actual lemon juice, it is not meant to be sour… not meant to be being the key words here. We counted to three and all downed our shots together. YUCK! It was sour and burned as it went down. I could feel it leaving a burning, stinging sensation trail as it made its way down my esophagus. I quickly washed it down with some water and welcomed dinner to eliminate the taste from my mouth.

Me kissing and hugging the Leaning Tower of PisaNext stop was Pisa. No points for guessing what we were eager to see there. Uh, OK, for those who need to refer to their ‘Idiots Guide to Italy’ it begins with Leaning and ends in Tower of Pisa. There! Happy now?

The Leaning Tower of Pisa was much smaller than I imaged it to be. I really did picture it to stand a lot taller than it did. It was time to get our creative juices flowing. We quickly got started on lining up quirky poses with the Tower. My personal favorite is one my mate shot for me; it appears as though I am hugging and kissing the Tower.

Love at first sight, baby!

Rome was where we called home for the next few days. I like Rome, not as much as Venice, but I did like Rome. We were able to catch up a little bit on Australia’s participation in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. I am such an Olympic nerd when I’m at home so it is killing me not being able to watch the swimming and the velodrome cycling… although, I guess the fun and experiences I am having pretty much made up for me missing out.

Today’s first outing consisted of a visit and guided tour of the Collesium. Again, it was another day of sweltering heat. I don’t mind the sun, though, plus, I was in dire need of a deep, chocolate tan. The Collesium was spectacular. It’s so amazing that even way back then, with such little technology and machinery no where near as advanced as it is today, the Romans were able to build such works as the Collesium. I stood there for a while, just gazing upon what was before me, making sure I took it all in. Every last bit.

Me standing inside the Collesium in Rome, Italy

We soon moved on to the Trevi Foutain. A traditional legend holds that if a visitor throws a coin into the fountain, they are ensured a return trip to Rome. Approximately 3000 Euros are thrown into the fountain each day! 3000 Euros! That is unreal. I made sure to contribute to this 3000 Euros. I turned my back to the fountain and flipped the coin over my shoulder into the water. Kodak moment right there, only I don’t own a Kodak, I own a Fuji. Fuji moment right there. Please, no copyright infringements.

From the Trevi Fountain, we walked our way over to the Spanish Steps. The Spanish Steps are a set of steps in Rome, climbing a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base of the Piazza Trinita dei Monti. They are, without a doubt, the longest and widest staircase in all of Europe. We climbed them for a bit, but without a bottle of water handy, I was pretty sure that I’d pass out if I continued to climb to the top. We decided to retire from our climb and to get some photos sitting on the steps.

That night we had a huge party out at the camp site we were staying at. Again, we didn’t have tents, but were put in threes in really cute cabins. The alcohol flowed freely, the music was awesome, and we danced the night away, without a single care in the world.

The morning saw us wake to yet another beautiful summers day. Today we were paying a visit to the Pope’s home and the smallest country in the world; The Vatican City. Interesting tid bit: The city has its own independent postal system and service which is recognised as the fastest and best in the world. Mailing a letter out while within the boundaries of the Vatican City will often see it reach its destination before that of the Roman postal system. Neat stuff! We walked around and admired the architecture and history of the Vatican. The city itself, is only 44 hectares in size with a population of appoximately 900 so it didn’t take a huge portion of our day to get through. We made our own way back to camp using the public transport system.

Jade and myself, proud of our Malibu and pineapple guzzling efforts!Florence was our last major stop in Italy. Ah, lovely Florence. We definitely partied hard in Florence. Our first night there we went to do karaoke. It was so much fun! Just when I thought life could not get any better, I found out this karaoke place we were at served alcohol by the 2 liter jug! 2 LITERS (half a gallon)!!! Malibu and pineapple, it was, a whole jug of it, then another, and another. I was so proud with my guzzling achievements so we took a photo!

The next night we hit up the Space Electronic Disco in Florence. I remember drinking, lots; dancing, lots; kissing a cute boy who was also from Australia; dancing some more; drinking some more; then some where along the lines, we some how got back to our cabins (which were so damn cute by the way) and danced on the tables back at the cafe. There are all sorts of weird photos of us frolicking around that I have no recollection of, pretty funny. That night I some how ripped my cute Winnie the Pooh pajama pants on my suit case. Booo.

We woke bright and early, and luckily for me, hang-over free. Hooray! Too bad the same couldn’t be said for the rest of the group. Despite several peoples’ major head and tummy aches, we continued to smile. We were in Italy, we had no reason to frown. Before departing Italy today, we were going to stop by the ancient ruins of Pompeii for a guided tour.  Our guide, a very wise and knowledgeable old man took us through what used to be the Pompeii brothel. There were pictures of all sorts of sexual positions up on the walls. Our guide told us that the men used to walk in, pick their prostitute and point to the image on the wall that they desired. The prostitute would then perform the sexual position on the male. It was all a bit amusing actually.

Doggy style!

Off we went to board our ferry to take us to Greece. I’m so excited to go to Greece, especially Mykonos. It will be like a vacation within a vacation.

Missing everyone back home, not enough to make me want to come back, though 😉



Lifestyles of the rich and famous…

August 2, 2008

Welcome to the playground of the rich and famous; a country that levies no income tax on individuals and is loved dearly by high-rollers from right around the world… what country am I talking about? Monaco!

Just a quick blog to let you all know that I am safe and well. Yesterday we explored the French Riviera. It was absolutely stunning, well, all except the nude, fat, sunbathers whom were crisper than a super-crisp piece of bacon! Sorry to kill your fun, but not such a great look, love!

Last night we headed out to the Monte Carlo Casino. We were going to frolic amongst the filthy rich, and, for a few hours, pretend that we were somewhat in their caliber of class and wealth. Hey, one can dream! We were told to dress up as we would not want to look like trash in such a classy area. We marveled at the Lamborghini’s, Porsche’s, Ferrari’s and Rolls Royce parked out front of the Monte Carlo Casino. I wondered if the owners of these flashy dream cars worked hard for their money or if they were luckily born into wealth. Perhaps they got lucky at the casino we were about to step foot in? Who knows? I do, however know, that money is not everything, and despite my diminishing bank balance, I am having the absolute time of my life; perhaps better than that of the time being had by the high rollers inside, gambling their meaningless monies away.

The girls and I posing befor entering the Monte Carlo Casino


July 31, 2008

Hola! Buenos tardes de España!

Hello! Good afternoon from Spain! This blog is going to be short and sweet; just like our time here in Barcelona.

We are staying at a camp site right on the beach. Luckily, though, we are not camping. Instead, we have cute little cabins that we are sharing amongst three of us. Our first night here consisted of a group party on the beach. About 25 of us went and bought some munchies and alcohol and partied late into the night. We also took a dip in the Mediterranean Sea… another enormous water mass to tick off my swimming list!

Our time in Barcelona was scarce therefore sight-seeing was minimal. The one major thing I aimed to set sight on, however, was La Sagrada Familia; an enormous Roman Catholic church which began construction in 1882 and is still under construction till this very day. The church was originally designed by Antoni Guadi. He worked on the project for over 40 years and the last 15 years of his life were devoted purely to this endeavor until his death in 1926. He was run over by a tram and due to his ragged attire and empty pockets, cab drivers refused to pick him up for fear that he would be unable to pay the cab fare. He died three days after this incident.

The design and concept of La Sagrada Familia is absolutely phenomenal; Gaudi truly was an architect of caliber not seen in today’s world. Many of his works can be found throughout Barcelona.

That night we planned on having a big night out on the town. We had heard Barcelona was known to be a wild, party city, so we wanted to experience this partying culture. We set out late, around 11pm. Our cab driver, playing dumb, pretended to not understand English. Us, not being able to speak Spanish caused some difficulties, and as a result, our cab driver ripped us off terribly. We were not impressed. Bad start to what we hoped would be an amazingly fun night. We decided not to let this get us down. We walked into the club we had chosen to party at for the night and ordered five shots each, straight up! The night was a continuous flow of liquor, great music, local Spanish boys and bar-top dancing! We partied late into the early hours of the morning, and oh, what a memorable night it was!

Adios, España!

La Sagrada Familia_Bar-top dancing at a Barcelona nightclub