A merry insmas and an emo new year
to all our reader
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Tue, 3rd January, 2012
Well, you know it’s Christmas
And my heart is open wide!
Gonna give you something
So you know what’s on my mind!
Homeless Santa came to our office party dressed for the part – traditional red suit, black boots, and bag full of toys. He gladdened hearts with his rosy cheeks and his hearty “Ho, Ho, Ho!” He had a magical touch with children, and my daughter beamed as she sat on his lap.
To begin with, Christmas is celebrated with electricity. We celebrate Chanukah with candles. Itty-bitty, shitty candles, as if we are living in a cave in the fifth century and hydroelectric power is unknown to us.
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday dear Jesus!
Happy birthday to you.
Sat, 25th December, 2010
On Xmas Eve, we don our gay apparel,
Kevlar vests, asbestos stockings, and a barrel.
And if Grandma’s Xmas fruitcake finally reaches critical mass,
It can be re-gifted straight to Santa’s ass.
‘Though I am a frequent flyer with Delta they did not mind offending me, a Christian, with an email stating “Happy Holidays From The Delta Family”.’
Feigning joy and surprise at the gifts we despise
Over mulled wine with you
On the twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month
The sleigh bells are in time, ringing true.
Fri, 25th December, 2009
String up the lights and light up the tree
We’re going to make some revelry
Spirits are high, so I can tell
It’s Christmas time in Hell.
“When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter; I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.” (You know that the State of California has a home invasion law where it’s actually legal to shoot someone just for entering your residence—and I mean perfectly legal. Did you know that? Well, it’s true.) “Away to the window I flew like a flash, tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.”
From out of the cold dark night he comes, dragged through the bitter abyss by a herd of cloven hoofed beasts, their jagged horns tearing through the winter winds.
An obese, hairy figure of pagan lore, clad in animal hides of the deepest crimson, cracking his whip with a perverse laugh—ho ho ho!
He comes with a list of children who know that bolted doors cannot keep him out.
Tue, 25th December, 2007
It’s Christmas in Heaven
There’s great films on TV
The Sound of Music twice an hour
And Jaws I, II, and III.
Last Friday, Smalley totally dressed me down for wishing someone a Merry Christmas. I told him I thought we were supposed to say that, and he was like, “You’re supposed to say ‘Happy Holidays.’ It fosters an environment of religious inclusion.” I got a news flash for you, Smalley: It don’t make no difference if you tell them “Happy Ass Day.” They’re there to get a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree.
O Tuesday Night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night to watch TV and play cards.
Fall on your knees
And do a jigsaw puzzle
Just stay inside tonight
It’s half past nine.
Mon, 30th April, 2007
I stayed in Amsterdam over four months ago now, so it took me quite awhile to get around to writing this, even by my very relaxed backblogging habits.
The widely-recognised symbol for Amsterdam is the three crosses XXX, which despite a natural inference by most people doesn’t refer to the city’s sex industry, but to the three big dangers which have always made the people of Amsterdam shake in their clogs. They are Flood, Fire, and Venereal Disease. Officially the last one is Pestilence but we all know that this is just window dressing.
The Dutch are a strange people who appear to be waging a never-ending battle against the sea. Reclaiming land is a very slow process; first you have to pump out all the water and then leave the land to dry for umpteen years before building on it, only to have the bastard probably flood again if you stuffed up somewhere, or if God just felt like it. I’m positive this determination in the face of such futility is part of what gives the Dutch their unique sense of humour and their famously liberal culture.
The drive through the Dutch countryside took us along vast levees with seemingly countless windmills toiling away, pumping all that sea farther out to sea. Indeed the highway is noticeably below sea level. Windmills are all of the modern electric ‘aeroplane propeller’ variety these days. If you strain your eyes you can spot maybe one of the old-school mechanical windmills left standing as a historical item.
Amsterdam’s nightlife district is, I have to say, Man Kingdom. Not so much because of the ladies under the red lights—although there is that—but mainly due to the omnipresence of the open-air urinals. That’s right men, you can pee standing up in public. There’s a ninety degree angle partition that gives you just enough privacy if you lean into it. It’s a much more liberal city you might say, with the legal marijuana in coffee shops, served in dozens of varieties, au naturel as well as in all manner of biscuits and gâteaux. Seeing it be sold with such impunity and to not have murder and mayhem result makes you wonder what all the fuss is about back home, assuming you weren’t wondering already.
The nightlife was exciting with an impressive array of venues, and on this Saturday night literally every one of them was packed to the gills with people. Most of us wound up at Paradiso, the historic multi-level music venue where the highlight of my evening was slipping and falling flat on my arse whilst managing not to spill my glass of Heineken.
The stay in Amsterdam also featured the obligatory trip to the cheese and clogs place (pictured), a rather delightful cruise through the canals, and a cabbie who managed to fleece us good despite having a GPS unit that gives you explicit directions to the desired place.
Amsterdam is so far my favourite city in Europe, even beating Paris of which admittedly I didn’t see as much as I would have liked. From here it would be a non-stop drive through Belgium, back to the port at Calais and a trip back across the channel that seemed far too soon after we had come the other way.
Sat, 10th February, 2007
Returning to Germany, the first overnight stop was a town in the Rhine Valley called St. Goar. We tasted a range of white wines, including reisling and ice wine, none of which is really my thing, but I’m happy enough to be seen as refined. Extensive graffiti in the long wooden tables in the underground cellar (Dazza Was ‘Ere Contiki June 98) shows just how well-beaten the path through St. Goar has been for this tour company throughout the ages, and how lucrative it must be for the town.
We perused a shop with hundreds of steins on display, including some expensive ones with chunks of the Berlin Wall perched atop them. I purchased a glass mug and a plain grey stein, both with the brewer’s logo HB, remembering fondly the Munich hopera house.
We partied the night away in the hotel bar, just a few locals and a lot of Australians. It was definitely the most fun of the little towns we stayed in, and indeed was the only little town we stayed in. Also, it was the night that one of the girls got a rather stubborn case of lockjaw, leading to a hospital trip and a series of events that got me locked me out of my hotel room for hours. Good times.
Of course everyone is keen to get to Berlin. This is a city that was essentially a big smoking crater at the end of the War, and although the city and country have come back reminders such as the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the Breitscheidplatz still exist, deliberately left there as a warning about the horrors of war. Today, this plaza and the precinct around it is a thriving shopping and commercial area, of course filled with Christmas markets at the time, and filled with people at all times. Indeed, I spent most of my day shopping in this area and taking in the Christmassy vibe.
My Berlin experience was non-stop. I was busy enough shopping to completely miss the bus pick-up to go to dinner, and had great fun getting to the address by good old-fashioned map, foot, and train. Taxis are for chumps.
Apparently from dinner it was straight onto our pub tour, so running down the road to buy deodorant, and changing in to some of the clothes I’d just bought, we embarked on a walking tour of clubs that were mostly empty except for us, the exception being the Sophienclub, where there were also people from another Contiki tour, and some actual locals. Songs that still stick in my head from pubbing and clubbing on this trip come from such insidious sources as the Pussycat Dolls, Nelly Furtado, and the Black Eyed Peas featuring Fergie. After nearly walking into the paths of a taxi and a tram, and helping a very pissed Californian search in vain for her jacket, I decided to call time on a very varied and satisfying day in Berlin.
The final stop on the road to Amsterdam is Hamburg, which I took in a great deal while frantically searching for Internet access to remedy an alarming bank imbalance. It turned out to be in an electronics store metres from the central train station where I’d started. But it had certainly helped me see a lot of this harbour city in the short time that we had to spend there. The hotel was a fair way out, and the group used this evening as a rest (yeah, meaning drinks in the hotel bar) between two exciting cities.
Fri, 19th January, 2007
In an increasingly integrated Europe, border crossings seem to be a thing of the past. Crossing into the tiny principality of Liechtenstein, which is run somewhat as a region of Switzerland in areas like currency and customs, you are crossing into neutral, non-EU territory and dudes who technically might want to actually see your passport. They had no interest in seeing ours, and these two landlocked countries are part of the Schengen agreement, meaning that the surrounding countries are trusted to have already arrested all the terrorists.
Things are pretty expensive in Swiss francs. We could only spend lunchtime in Liechtenstein—some ate at the Christmas markets, others made a bee-line for the kebab-in-a-bun place we’d heard about. Yes, when in Liechtenstein, our tour manager has a little kebab place he likes to go to. Apparently the Germanic people do not eat hummus.
We then had to high-tail it to Lucerne, Switzerland, as the last lift up to Pilatus is at 4:30pm, and there is no other way to get up there. Pilatus is a mountain that would be great for skiing and all kinds of winter activities, but the bulk of it is blanketed by tall trees and protected by some kind of heritage listing that prevents them from being knocked down. Thus, apart from Swissco (a conference room they converted into a nightclub for the two Contiki tour groups on the mountain) there was sweet Fanny Adams to do up on Pilatus. We descended during the following day to Lucerne, where people bought a lot of watches, army knives, chocolate, and other Swiss accoutrements.
Lucerne is a beautiful old city divided by a river. The most historic bridge is the Kapellbrücke, a 14th century covered wooden bridge that some brat with a cigarette burned down a few years ago, requiring that most of it be rebuilt. Perhaps the lesson is that wooden bridges are not a good idea, but I guess this is a risk they are willing to take.
Mon, 8th January, 2007
Our first stop in Germany was the Olympic city, Munich. After a perfunctory look at some kind of historic church we all made a bee-line for the Hofbräuhaus, the enormous Bavarian beer establishment that everyone had been raving about for days. I myself had only heard the name talked about, not seen its spelling, so I was keen to check out this “hopera house” I’d heard so much about, assuming it to be a lame pun related to beer.
Munich is well known for its annual Oktoberfest beer festival. P.J. O’Rourke once wrote of our “dainty little” beer glasses back in Australia, “hardly enough for one serving of fish-fry batter back where I come from”. For those who do prefer their beer in huge increments, the Maßkrug is a whole litre, and it really is possible to drink several of them in one evening without feeling any ill effect. There is probably an explanation of moderate alcohol content or something like that.
Of course, the hopera house was totally packed, and there simply weren’t 50 spare seats for us, so I ended up eating and drinking elsewhere, and squeezing into the hopera house much later on for dessert.
Sadly, it was only an overnight stop in Munich. So, apart from my first taste of German drink and traditional cuisine, which were both delicious, the sight-seeing was brief, and I was unprepared for an evening as cold as a well-digger’s bum. So it is definitely high on the list of cities to return to soon.
Fri, 29th December, 2006
Our hotel in Vienna was a treat—spacious rooms, spa and pool facilities, and even volleyball and squash courts, but unfortunately for me, no squash-playing equipment (or indeed anyone against whom to play), which was a shame because I had been hanging out for a game, and indeed for any physical activity whatsoever that could have offset the many days and nights of sloth and gluttony prior and since.
Austria is the home of classical music and the birthplace of Mozart. Austrians are celebrating this, the 250th year since the birth of Mozart, with great gusto, Mozart memorabilia and snacks flying off shelves like that brilliant simile that didn’t occur to you until long after you’d already pressed “Publish” on the article. Our first night in Vienna comprised a delightful Mozart concert performed by a company of skilled, yet easygoing, musicians and dancers, delivering a solid set of the familiar Mozart standards punctuated by moments of comic relief and audience participation.
You notice a lot of changes passing into the ‘Germanic’ countries from a place like Italy. The quality of food, drink, and service take a giant leap upward. Toilets have seats again. And buildings and infrastructure are generally newer, on account of Austria and Germany getting bombed back into the Charlemagne age at the end of WW2. Vienna is one city that chose to rebuild in the pre-war architectural style, so it’s both old and new at the same time.
The ubiquitous Christmas markets always have sausages, glühwein—a warm, spicy wine served in a mug—and other traditional holiday food and drink, plus a broad selection of craft, toys, and other knick-knacks for sale. In any major German or Austrian city, there is a Christmas market (Weihnachtsmarkt) in literally every conceivable public space, bottlenecking major pedestrian thoroughfares that you’d like to get through at more than ten metres per minute. Your attendance at, and enjoyment of, Weihnachtsmärkten is therefore not open to negotiation if you live in Germany or Austria.
The full day in Vienna, I slept in, missed breakfast, missed the daily briefing of where and when the bus was picking up from, and lost my map. I caught a train to a station that looked reasonably central and then walked around arbitrarily until I randomly spotted an Australian pub, where I requested a Coopers and a map. At schnapps tasting I bought some absinthe and learned about the large schnapps factory that was obliterated by the Allies and is now a small schnapps factory. We wandered around Vienna looking for a decent place to drink and settled on The Duke, a pub run by a couple of Scottish dudes with no Austrian beer at all.
Our journey toward Germany took in the rain-soaked town of Mondsee, where we saw Christmas markets, and unfortunately a lot of scaffolding in the way of the altar at St. Michael’s, the church made famous by The Sound of Music apparently—I haven’t seen it.
Tue, 26th December, 2006
On the way to Venice, we stopped by the Republic of San Marino for just a couple of hours. San Marino is a small enclave of Italy, the size of a town, that has somehow avoided being annexed by Italy over the years that all of the other small states on this peninsula were. San Marino is something of a tax haven, where Italians (and indeed other foreigners like us) can come for cheaper liquor, cigarettes, and deadly weapons. It was a surreal experience up on the mountain, with many shops closed, very few other visitors, and a thick mist stretching as far as the eye could see giving us the illusion of being alone above the clouds.
Venice is quite pleasant in the wintertime—I had heard stories of how bad the place smells due to the stagnant water in some of the canals, but I think the cool weather probably kept the odours to an acceptable level. For some reason I had initially opted out of the optional gondola ride and dinner, in favour of doing my own thing, but I came to my senses upon arriving in Venice, realising that it isn’t the best place to freestyle. It is a place where you want to do the standard touristy activities like gondola rides, because there isn’t much else to do. After all, it is a bunch of islands and semi-submerged old buildings situated a decent ferry trip from anywhere. It was great fun selecting a range of wines in the town, then cruising around the canals drinking the wine and exchanging cups of it with the other gondolas.
My innate skepticism (not outright rejection, though) of standard touristy activities, combined with my preference for quiet reflection over posing for photographs every 0.1 sec, earned me the title of ‘grinch’ in this city. Kym, I am in your debt—really.
The Piazza di San Marco, featuring the basilica and its campanile, is probably a good candidate for one of those lengthy and expensive restoration efforts I’ve heard so much about. It is a natural meeting place for people and pigeons. Millions and millions of them. Temporary wooden platforms around the place showed that the town was in a state of readiness for an upcoming flood. Or they get flooded all the time, and they are always ready.
Our first day in Rome, we awoke at the crack o’ dawn in an attempt to beat the crowds that would inevitably have amassed at the Vatican Museum if we didn’t bust a move. To say that we had beaten a crowd would definitely be a lie—the line already stretched around the block shortly after 8:00am, and it is a large block—but we certainly got there before the majority of people.
Once you cross the threshold into the Vatican City, you are technically entering a sovereign country, of which the Pope is a sort of monarch. We didn’t see the Pope at the Vatican, as he probably had the good sense to be in bed at that time. But we did get a very informed guided tour of the museum and the Sistine Chapel, which looks magnificent in its post-restored state. Centuries of neglect had blackened the paintings covering the walls and ceiling of the chapel, including Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, and much effort and money had to be expended to restore it. Small sections have been left uncleaned as a sort of historical record.
I felt somewhat conflicted walking around Saint Peter’s Basilica, the largest and most significant church in Christendom. The building is like a massive work of art with exquisite painting, sculpture, and masonry in every direction, and impossibly tall ceilings. Whilst certainly impressed, all I could think of was how much it all must have cost, and how the church could have built things many, many times more useful with the money.
We saw the Colosseum, the Vittorio Emanuele II memorial, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and drank a beer on a red carpet outside a restaurant. We had dinner at a place called Pizza and Beer, where we ate tube pasta, chicken, and apples, and drank wine. I had got more tourist-y value out of Rome than the other cities so far, and I was sad not to see Mario anywhere, but there is always next time.
Florence was another city that I enjoyed more at night than during the day. This is simply because we arrived at night and I wasn’t hung over yet.
When a Contiki bus arrives in a city, it almost seems as though the local boganry has been pre-warned that a lot of foreign talent is going to be present at a certain bar/club at a certain time. Florence’s sausage-magnet was called Space Electronic Discoteque, where admittedly some pretty good DJing was going on, but I felt little motivation to do anything except get drunk. Italians do things differently, whether it be the toilets without seats, men’s much more grabby flirting style, or the way my credit card didn’t work when it was time to pay for my drinks.
To the best of my recollection, the morning after involved a trip to a leather goods store called Leonardo’s, followed by some free time and a walking tour of the town. The massive Santa Maria del Fiore along with its tower and baptistry are a spectacular sight in their three colours of marble: red, green, white. There is the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge), and that museum containing the statue of David that we didn’t have time to go into, outside which are likenesses of every Italian you’ve ever heard of—Dante, Galileo, all four ‘Ninja Turtles’, the list goes on—all of which either were born, or spent the best part of their careers, in or around Florence.
People travelling in Italy often remark upon how dirty they believe the country to be. As true as this may be, cut them a little bit of slack. A single statue in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence cost the city €1 million to restore after it was broken. One statue. Think about how much of Italy could do with that level of restoration, or at least a quick blast from a Kärcher. There is just not enough time or money, and meanwhile there’s all this great food and wine to be had. It is simply not an easy task.
I also had some gelato.
Mon, 25th December, 2006
He knows when you are sleeping
He knows when you’re on the can
He’ll hunt you down and blast your ass
from here to Pakistan.
Grandma got run over by a reindeer
Walking home from our house Christmas eve
You can say there’s no such thing as Santa
But as for me and grandpa we believe.
Put on your yarmulke
Here comes Hanukkah
So much fun-ukah
To celebrate Hanukkah
Hanukkah is the festival of lights
Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights.
The Christmas poo
He loves me
I love you
Therefore vicariously he loves you.
Mon, 18th December, 2006
The three places we visited in Italy were Florence, Rome, and Venice. Thankfully we got a full day to visit Rome and Venice; with Florence we were not so lucky, but thankfully it had been a short drive, so we were not only able to check out this beautiful city for a few hours, but we stopped by Pisa as well.
I had assumed that Pisa consisted entirely of the historic Leaning Tower of Pisa (known locally as the leaning tower of pizza) and little else worth looking at—just municipal buildings and houses. Photos of Pisa rarely include the tower’s surrounding buildings. In actual fact, there is a whole array of leaning structures in Pisa, from the leaning baptistry to the leaning souvenir stand.
Italians have mastered the art of the souvenir. In all my travels to date (I’m writing from Amsterdam) there have never been more random people trying to sell various crappy goods on the street than in Italy. Each of them sells precisely one thing—a toy, a fake handbag or watch, a gadget of some kind. I figure that capitalism allows these men (never, ever women—rarely European either now that I think about it) to thrive or perish based upon the demand for their wares.
Fri, 15th December, 2006
Next stop was the French Riviera (Côte d’Azur) in the south of France. Think Cannes, Saint-Tropez, Nice—of course the tiny principality of Monaco is nearby—and it is obvious this part of the world has a lot of attractive views both natural and man-made. We were lucky enough to stay in a hotel pretty much right on the Promenade des Anglais which runs along the beach in Nice. The Promenade was built, back in the day (which, by the way, was a Wednesday) by wealthy English who would flock to the town during winter. It was t-shirt weather (certainly as far as I was concerned) so I can understand wanting to give London the flick to chill out here.
I enjoyed putting my French to use in Nice and I’m looking forward to spending more time in the country at some point in the near future. The lady at one clothing store (yes, fellows—she was a looker) expressed surprise that I was buying a t-shirt in winter. When I explained that I was from Australia, she suggested that this weather must be depressing in comparison to the weather down there. Maybe that would be true if I weren’t so stoked about finally seeing France.
We visited Monaco for a meal and a trip to one of the casinos. Not being a casino fan, I walked around checking out a lot of nice cars, which seem to be more the rule than the exception on the streets of Monte Carlo. Oh, there’s a Ferrari. Oh, there’s another Ferrari. Monaco is a very affluent little country and paupers are given the bum’s rush.
If Monaco had any paupers in the first place, when you get to Nice it is obvious where they ended up. There is an abundance of begging and I heard of someone getting beaten and robbed on the way back from the nightclub. I myself was approached by a man who I believe was requesting money and the kebab that I was eating. I initially gave him the kebab but then thought better of it and snatched it back.
Nice at night is home to a sufficient array of nightlife destinations; again most of us hit an English-speaking pub, Wayne’s, where we danced to a live English band whilst drinking Irish beer. Again not the most authentic experience; I think I was semi–hit on in French but at any rate it was a pretty lazy effort on her part.
Thu, 14th December, 2006
On the way south from Paris to Barcelona, we stop by the historic site of the Pont du Gard near Remoulins. It is a Roman aqueduct built around 2,000 years ago, solid enough to have survived floods which have smashed to pieces more modern bridges over that river. As the Romans took over new areas, they would have to build infrastructure to get water there. There is not much that slave labour can not achieve.
Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, a region of Spain with its own particular dialect and cultural identity. The most obvious example of Catalonian culture is flamenco, where women in pretty dresses rattle castanets and clap their hands to a very complex and melancholy acoustic guitar arrangement that seems to go on for days.
Most of my day time in this city was spent just walking around looking at buildings. Barcelona is famous for Gaudi’s over-rated, unfinishable, towering eye-sore the Sagrada Família church, a tremendous white elephant that will dwarf all secular buildings in the town. Gaudi’s eccentric architectural style is certainly a signature of Barcelona.
The night life is pretty good, actually a fairly good crowd at the Mare Magnum clubs near the marina. On these tours it becomes obvious that there are ‘tourist’ pubs and the ones where the locals go, but I actually didn’t end up caring about this as much as I had thought I would have. I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to pubs and clubs; as long as there is good music and quality booze, that will do me fine.
Wed, 13th December, 2006
Lyon * 06:26:39
The next destination was Lyon, France. This was the first of the overnight stops, so sadly there was not much time to see the place. Lyon is another one of these historic cities with a lot of remarkable buildings well lit up at night.
The most remarkable such building was some kind of citadel up on the hill overlooking the city. Being that I have no idea what it is called, and that hooking up a camera to random internet terminals around the places is between hard and impossible, I have no way to elaborate on any of that. But trust me that it is pretty sweet.
We had dinner in a nice place called Le Tablier Bouchon Lyonnais. Please eat there if you can, and do not crack the shits if you see a black cat just chilling out in the dungeon seating area. The cat lives there, you’re just a guest. Apparently the people I was dining with have an objection to a cat sharing their dining space—not from a superstitious point of view, but on grounds of hygiene and a general hatred of cats. The waiter very obligingly took the cat away without further incident.
After the meal, a group of us took the advice of the lady outside the door of that restaurant (yes, fellows—she was a looker) who told us about an Australian pub in Lyon. Sure enough, we found the place (after I enquired of a local using my French-speaking knowledge—good times) in a small street in the city, Rue Desirée. It was called Ayers Rock Australian Café.
If you see these Australian pubs in foreign countries, you will notice the definition of ‘Australian pub’ is that there are road signs and basically pictures of kangaroos everywhere, and the bar and tables are made of unpolished wood. Also, more often than not, the (only) beer on tap will be Foster’s. In most other respects it is exactly like any other pub. Also Powderfinger’s latest album was playing on the PA. Nevertheless, it took me right back to my carefree days at the RE when I drank there.
Thu, 7th December, 2006
Paris * 01:57:03
Paris is a beautiful city—not least by night—which is when I took in the majority of the scenery, and when the majority of the people on the tour began to take their first photos, namely of the Eiffel Tower across the Champ de Mars. As wave after wave of visitors rock up to take photos of the tower, local kids—who just hang out in the Champ de Mars as it is their local park—helpfully shout “Cheese” in a range of languages, and expose their bare arses to the camera. Another very European thing I experienced for the first time is armies of dudes trying to sell you the exact same bullshit on every street, usually a crappy little toy or some other trinket or a flower.
After that, and a quick tour of the shops and restaurants along the Champs-Élysées, we drank pink champagne in a park near the presidential palace and spent two hours basically walking back to our hotel in La Défense, as the Metro was closed and taxis refused to take us such a short distance.
After spending the next morning at the Louvre museum—the Mona Lisa is quite small in real life, a fact that everyone in the world seems to know except for me—I felt the need to make a Metro and walking journey back to the hotel (I am too cheap for taxis) which can only be described as cruel and unusual punishment for the night before.
The main landmark in La Défense, the main financial area of Paris, is the massive Grande Arche, a gigantic office building and monument that looks like two long and tall skyscrapers with a third one lying flat across the top of them. As I was to find out many times in my tour of Europe, there would be a lot of looking up.
The bus journey from Paris to Lyon is a fairly long one, and the tour manager uses it to get everyone to come to the front of the bus to introduce themselves. I am an alcoholic who is into death metal and has an IT degree.
Sat, 2nd December, 2006
So I’ve embarked on a Contiki tour called the Winter Wanderer. So far it has taken me from London to Paris, to Lyon, to Barcelona, and now to Nice on the Côte d’Azur in France.
Some said that the Contiki tour would be full of bogans. I can now say from experience that this is not true—the tour is not full of bogans—there’s certainly some. Nah, it’s a pretty diverse group considering the fairly narrow range of age and nationalities that the people tend to come from.
The last couple of things I did in London were the British Museum—definitely a lot of fascinating stuff there and no place to take a heavy backpack. It is home to the Rosetta stone, which is protected by a buffer of thick glass plates and schoolchildren. The other thing was the House of Commons, which was fascinating to watch, even though it was the Queen’s Speech (not Question Time as I’d hoped) and largely featured MPs banging on about transport issues in their local constituencies.
Also my iBook broke again so if anyone has Googled this, tell me why an iBook would not boot (“disk0s3 IO error”) despite appearing to have no particular hardware faults or power issues. I’m enjoying the challenge of finding Internet cafés in foreign cities.
Thu, 23rd November, 2006
Part of travelling to a new country is the excitement of new experiences. Last night I had Nando’s at Chalk Farm Road, which was delicious and somewhat expensive. You know what else is expensive in England? Everything. A lot of things here cost almost as much in pounds as they do in Australian dollars at home, and a pound costs $2.45. Thankfully, being that I am seeing London by myself, I can generally avoid the expensive tourist magnets (both literal and figurative) on offer.
London today turned on some of that weather I’d heard about. The day was spent checking out the vicinity of Westminster Bridge, including the Palace of Westminster (comprising Big Ben and the houses of Parliament), the walkway along the south bank of the Thames which goes past the Eye and the National Theatre, and a fair amount of time in Westminster Abbey. I’m a big fan of the tube, and I’d like to see Can-Do get one up in Brisbane as soon as he can. Ta.
Westminster Abbey is definitely one of those ‘must see’ paid-admission attractions (adults £10.00) and it is quite doable on one’s own, if not more so. The history and magnitude of the place is just awe-inspiring, and it almost seems like a shame to have to install signs, barricades, and other fixtures (however temporary they be) to deal with the constant flow of visitors; the Abbey is self-supporting, with no financial assistance from church, Crown, or state, and the money they get from tourism manages to keep the place in tip top shape.
I’d like to try and see Question Time at the House of Commons, but priority is given to UK citizens, so it’s probably not gonna happen. I didn’t go on the Eye—definitely a group activity.
Headed to the BK Lounge at Leicester Square, and to a Häagen-Dazs restaurant—yes, an ice cream restaurant with waiters who come to your table. Très bien.
I’ve noticed some Skype action from some of the wireless laptopers here in the hotel lobby. Whether checking on family and friends, conducting business from across the globe, or just getting advice on how to unstick a stuck zipper—Skype lets the whole world talk for free.