Casa’s Blog

A Life Abroad

This is the last song, (This is the last song). That I will dedicate to you. Made my peace and now i’m through..

So here we are.  I have no been back in Australia for just over exactly one week and the time has come to wrap up this blog with one last post.  I thought about doing this as soon as I got back but thought waiting the week so that I could actually have some perspective on my return may be worth while.  I also thought I could get away with being lazy as no one would care seeing as I was back.  Although that turned out to be false as I have been reminded about by open-ended blog by a few different people.

I was also better telling a story when the chronology is correct so let me start back in London at Heathrow.  I had enjoyed my time in the Hilton eating my  free 30 quid Ribeye Steak, trying to make the most of the  free 40 quid buffet dinner and having a few beers with Leath (a guy from Ballarat who had also taken up the almost too good to be true offer).  As we were relaxing in relative comfort we waited until the last minute to check in.  It all went smoothly and I got my voucher from Qantas that I could redeem for my money but there was the interesting point that had we checked in earlier, THIS flight was also overbooked and I could’ve doubled my money and taken the deal once again.  I was happy to be heading home though…it had been a long 6 1/2 months so the fact 1000 dollars had slipped through my fingers didn’t bother me too much.  I just had enough time to spend my last p and pounds on a magazine before boarding commenced.

Although I then spent almost a day on a plane as I boarded QF to Melbourne via Singapore it all went rather quickly.  I watched Adventureland which although on appearances was a “poor man’s Eurotrip” was actually a rather brilliant coming of age film.  I was pleasantly surprised. Then there was the fact that I was able to spend a lot of time asleep or at least in that ‘almost asleep stage’ which was good.  Before I even knew it we had stopped over in Singapore and we were commencing our descent in to Melbourne.  It was at this moment that I REALLY wanted to be home.  I could see the finishing line just out of grasp and was really annoyed there was nothing I could do to speed up the process.  I looked out the window and saw the lights of outer Melbourne and it looked familar.  It was a view I had seen quite a few times in my life and was definitely “home-y”.

As soon as the plane landed I turned on my phone and was greeted by the familiar buzzing and beeps as I had been welcomed back in to the country by some of my friends.   I then struggled to stay patient as we waited for the plane full of people to disembark (me sitting in the very back row didn’t help my lack of patience) and then quickly made my way through immigration and customs.  As it was about 5am by this point the airport was far from busy but there was still a hoard of people surrounding me with the familiar yet foreign Australian accents.  I can understand how laid back us Australians sound to foreigners now!  My bag was one of the first economy ones off the plane and I was able to make it out of those big doors at Melbourne Airport as one of the first people from my flight.  You can’t half tell I was eager can you :P

Waiting for me on the other sides with a smile and hug (although they were obviously tired considering the time) were Mum and Dad.  Some friends had planned to meet me at the airport as well but as much as they love me, I am well aware they don’t 4am wake up love me :P  They had even made signs which didn’t go to waste as they had broken in to my house and put one on the stairs and one in my room which would lead to my homecoming grin getting almost inhumanly wider.  I was really happy to see Mum and Dad again but it was slightly weird as I realised that I hadn’t been gone that long.  Something I came to realise on the drive home is that although in hindsight I have done so much while away that I could’ve been gone for 2 years, not almost 7 months, and the sights and sounds of England and Leeds had become so routine I had ONLY been gone for almost 7 months and it was slightly weird that things didn’t seem more different.

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My Sunday and the rest of the week were as expected.  I caught up with my brilliant friends and family and hugs were well and truly exchanged (although there are still many to see still on my to-do list).  I would tell the stories and show the photos of my adventures to anyone who would listen (although I am trying hard to not be that person who makes radical links to tell something about their time away eg “Oh yes and talking about super intelligent space monkeys who can solve partial differential equations in Russian,when I was at St Paul’s Cathedral…” – I have no idea if I have passed or failed though).  I have also gone back to university, straight back in to the fire, and although the being back at work thing hasn’t annoyed me too much I did have some “first day of school butterflies” when I first walked to Monash which I haven’t had since it actually was my first day there back in 2006!

I have also had a few other things I have needed to adjust to such as saying dollars instead of pounds/quid as well as the feel of plastic notes and the fact that the numbers on price tags are approximately double.  A tenner will no longer buy me dinner.  However some things such as driving my car and even knowing the directions to certain places needed no refreshing at all.

So that is it really.  After what is a lot of flights, a lot of trains, a lot of buses, a lot of hostels, a lot of firsts, a lot of fun, a lot of money being spent, a lot of good people and friends met,  a lot of laughs and a few tears my time away has ended.  I have come back in one piece.  I have come back the same person, although a little older and maybe just a little wiser.

July 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

I fly like paper, get high like planes. If you catch me at the border I got visas in my name. If you come around here, I make ‘em all day. I get one down in a second if you wait….

Okay so at this point in time I should be 38,000 feet in the air en route to Melbourne via Hong Kong.  Well plans have changed slightly. I am in a hotel room and now taking a 10pm flight to Melbourne via Singapore that gets in a 4:45am instead of 8pm on Saturday night.

This morning I awoke and said goodbye and thank you to Marmi and Uncle before taking the tube to Heathrow Terminal 4. It was at this point that things got a little interesting. I went to check in and the first comment I got was “this flight is overbooked, would you be prepared to take a later flight. You will be compensated for the inconvenience.”  My first response was one of shock and that I didn’t really want to go through the trouble of changing flights.  I had already told my friends and family when I would be arriving.  It was all planned and I was really looking forward to seeing them all as well.  However, it was when the check in dude pointed to a piece of paper that said “516 pounds cash compensation” that I thought about the offer.  It turned out that the offer was for the cash (or 710 pounds worth of travel vouchers), a day in the Heathrow Hilton, free lunch and free dinner.

At this point a million thoughts were racing through my head.  Most of them pound and dollar signs as my ‘brokeness’ means that 1000 dollars is a very handy cheaque to cash.  I went over and used one of those credit card international telephones to try and call mum.  I was unsure but the offer seemed too good to refuse.  While I was calling her mobile and getting no response I decided that my friends and family would understand, the offer was too good to refuse and I would take the later flight.  When I got through to my answering machine I left a message with mum that said “Iwill be going on a later flight for 1000 bucks.  Tell the masses.” I then went over and signed up.

As I was there so early I was second on the list and that meant that there was a 99% chance that I would be needed to take the later flight but I stil had to wait around until 11:30am when check in closed for final confirmation.  I did get a 7 pound starbucks voucher to use while I waited though which gave me something to do.  11:30am rolled around and yep I was filling in the forms regard to be one of the volunteers (how it is volunteering when I am being paid I do not know?) and was soon sitting back and relaxing in my hotel room watching the aussies struggle in the Ashes.

After sending proper emails home and speaking to a few friends to inform them of the changed situation I then went and grabbed my lunch.  I ended up eating with a bloke who I had chatted with in the line who was doing the same thing.  It was good though as I ate my 22 pound free rib eye steak and we watched/chatted cricket.  I now have the rest of the day to kill while bumming around on the net and watching cricket….time I am being paid 100+ dollars an hour for haha

I really want to be home.  I really want to see friends and family and I really want to get back to my Australian life.  However, I really want a thousand dollars and I think I made the right choice :D

July 18, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Just a little insight won’t make this right. It’s too late to fight. It ends tonight, It ends tonight.

So what have I been up to in London over the past day or 2?  Well yesterday arvo I headed in to London.  I wasn’t in the mood to do any of the tourist things and just wanted to experience a bit more of life in the UK until I head back.  I walked around the city and saw the Wellington Arch and War Memorial up close.  I explored the streets of the “rich areas.”  I window shopped in the shops where I can’t really afford to even look at. I went to Harrod’s, which was having a sale so my temptation to shop was tested further – the Tom Ford Suits, Paul Smith accessories and the Fossils department (yes real fossils) were where I realised I need to become stinky rich sometime :P.  I also had a stroll through Hyde Park and had an interesting moment where I walked past Victoria Coach Station and I had a strong and very real urge to jump a bus to Leeds.  After that I caught up with Justin, Chris, Ray and Scotty for a pint or many.  Ray and Scott are doing there European trip and are part of a tour going to the Lords test match.  The excitement we all had about realising our dreams of going to a test at Lords was really strong.  It was an interesting, fun night and hey we even met Peter Siddle’s parents.

So today was the big day.  It was the day were Juz and I would relive those rainy days going to the Boxing Day test at the home of cricket – Lords, and not just going to a test but going to Day 1 of an Ashes test.  I met Justin at 9:30 at St John Wood station…we had meant to meet at 8:30 but had both been late.  Although for the record Juz was latest by a fair way so I stood at the station looking somewhat foolish for an hour searching for his face in every crowd of passengers that exited.  Nothing could kill my excitement though.  LORDS BABY!

To sum up the Lords experience in a few words I think polite, formal and SO ENGLISH do justice.  It all starts with the tickets that are beautifully crafted and a great souvenir.  Then there is the old proper pom announcer who makes you feel like you are almost going back in time with his posh English accent.   Blooming hell there is even a “picnic hamper collection point”!  How more English could you get?!  It was such a picturesque ground and looks even better with a capacity crowd and a game going on in the middle than it did on the tour.  It was also a good touch that British and Australian servicemen and women were acting as some of the stewards.

Juz and I took our seats and awaited the first ball to be bowled.  We were sitting in the Grandstand  in the second row.  That is right!  Second Row!  We were done at fine leg on the media centre side and although not the best seats in the house they were brilliant in our eyes.  Unfortunately we didn’t get our wish to see the Aussies bat and even worse was the fact that England dominated the first session in a somewhat bland fashion.  They eventually got to almost 200 before Cook who had played a great knock got out to the first good ball Mitchell Johnson bowled.  It was crazy how poorly Johnson bowled for the majority of today as he made an art of bowling either full on the pads or short and wide.  The other embarrassing thing about the Australian performance was Haddin’s appalling keeping.  He struggled to take even the simplest delivery and of course ended up with a large number of byes against his name and a dropped catch.  He made Geraint Jones look like Ian Healy behind the wickets and did it with a smile all day which just angered me.

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Luckily things changed later on in the day with Australia getting a few wickets to leave them 6 down with a fair few runs on the board but we were in a much better position than we were at lunch.  Johnson’s last spell was even good and a few of the other bowlers like Siddle and Hilfenhaus looked  a little dangerous.  The man of the day was Strauss though who batted sensibly, smartly and well to be 161 not out at the end of play.

I can’t really believe in retrospect that I have now been to a Lords Ashes test.  The cricket was even pretty good and the weather fantastic for England.  We expected Boxing Day like conditions  (ie Rain) as we thought we had jinxed it with only having tickets to 1 day of the test but for the most part the sun was shining. Juz even needed to buy some sunnies at some point.  It really was a day to remember for this cricket tragic and it was brilliant that I got to share it with my brother.  As an ending to my time away I couldn’t think of a better day.

Alright I better stop typing as I have a bag that wont pack itself.  Although if any of my more geeky-inclined friends can invent a bag that does I would be greatly appreciative.  I can’t believe I am heading home tomorrow.  At midday tomorrow I start my long 24 trek back to Melbourne and I look forward to seeing all those faces and hearing all those voices and laughs that I missed.

By the way I have added photos for Vienna, Munich and some of Berlin and I will get around to finishing this blog with the rest of the photos back in Melbourne.  Although I am pretty sure I will be boring many of you with my photos regardless haha

July 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Everything has changed (everything has changed), the faces stay the same (faces stay the same)…

I had an interesting time for reflection on the Eurostar to London.  I was looking through my backpack and found the MTV Europe Travel Guide book which was the first travel book I bought when I applied to go overseas.  I got it to see what cities and countries I would like to travel to and to just do some broad research.  I have had it so long that I got it before Justin had even applied to move to Prague.
Well here it was, the book that started it all, so I started to flick through the pages.  On the inner cover is a map of Europe and I realised how much of Europe I have travelled.  Okay I haven’t seen it all – far from it, but I have seen a fair chunk (much more than I thought I had especially when you count in the detour to North America).  I flicked through a few more pages.  Of the list of “best places”, “best museums”, “best tours”, “best churches”, etc I was equally surprised to see how many of them I had ticked of the list.  It was about this point that the perspective about exactly how much I have done in the past few months started to sink in.  When I logged in to this blog the dashboard screen also smacks me across the face like a Siddle bouncer with all I have done and how long I have been away for. This is my 191st post.  Like I was suspicious when I started this that I would last a more than a few posts and started off aiming for one every few days…but I have written a lot more than I aimed to do.  So many memories, thoughts and fun times summed up in just under 200 post.  What gets scary is that I think the average word length is about 800 – 1000 words. :O I may have written 160,000 words in just less than 7 months…that doesn’t seem real to me. (Plus if you have read close to every post- hi mum and dad :P – imagine what how much time you have wasted reading such a length :P haha)

I should probably wait until the exact end of my trip, in a couple of days, for this sort of post but this is what I was thinking then, on that train, and what I am still thinking now.  I think it is because I can see the end in sight that I am now almost slowly adjusting to the fact it is coming.   I feel the end is here and I am eager to come home.  Weirdly though is as I sat there watching the fields of France fly past me, the excitement of returning to Melbourne felt almost as if it was crushing me as every happy thought of Melbourne was countered by a sad thought of what I am leaving behind.  An equal, yet opposite reaction. Every time I thought of the lunches with friends at Monash…I thought about the coffees I won’t have with Joey at Leeds or the movies we won’t see at our regular 2pm on Wednesdays at the Vue. Every time I think about being able to watch my beloved lions play live or go to any AFL game with my friends…I think of the nights at the Pub watching EPL, Champions League or any other football game with Josh and Brent as we sank a few pints.  Every time I think about hitting the clubs with my Melbourne peeps for a night out…I think about the nights I that won’t be danced away at Tiger Tiger with Rob and Co or the fact that I am pretty sure my last BDD with Ally is behind me. Every time I think about those winter nights in or summer barbeques to come with my friends in Melbourne…I think about the fact I will no longer be having those nights of drink, barbeques and Narnia with Ben.  Okay this may be getting a bit too sappy but you get the point.  I am torn.  Excited to get back home and depressed to be leaving home. Oh and don’t get me started about my love of travelling and the fact that my next trip is a fair way away (especially with my level of debt lol).

So…after all those emotions (Yuk! Let me see if I can be manly for a minute.  Stop laughing Christina! :P)  what have I been up to.  Well I got back and in to Ham and have had a good time both relaxing in a homey environment (as in welcoming place to live and not as in “homie I’ll pop a cap in your ass” haha) with Marmi and Uncle.  This morning I had a relaxed morning before heading in to London.  Justin and Chris were doing a tour of Lords (something I had already done) so I headed in and walked around London.  It was weird to see Big Ben, Westminster, Trafalgar Square, Green Park, Buckingham Palace, etc, etc in Summer as they were bathed in sunshine as I had explored those streets last in the frosty, frozen days of English Winter in January.  It was great to see the city in a different light as well as also help get some closure again about the fact I really have been gone away THAT long (Seeing movies for sale on DVD that I saw in the cinema also helps reiterate this point!).  I also took the time to buy some souvenirs and gifts.  Not many as I have limited luggage space but just a few things for myself and some family.  I was also trying to buy things that were British and UK or Englan related instead of London.  I have LOVED my time in England, more so than my time in London.  I have been in the UK for 6 months, not London and that is what I want to be remembered.  It was strange seeing the weird things they sell though, such as I <3 London condoms.  That was just weird although if they were in Union Jack design odds are I would’ve bought them as a pure novelty item haha

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After that I met up with Chris and Justin to ride the London Eye.  I had put it on the to do list last time I was in London as the weather was so dodgy and I wanted to make the most of it as I don’t imagine it is the kind of thing you do twice.  Lucky that we did as the views from our pod were amazing.  You could see for miles and you really sense how mammoth London truly is.  I had to giggle at the fact that it had such a “airplane” theme though with it referred to as a flight, there were boarding gates and you had landing and departure.  You can’t half tell that it was sponsored by BA can you!

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Juzzy and I then made our way back to Ham where a family dinner of sorts were planned.  Luckily the tube ride to Richmond was uneventful as we just managed to avoid the suspension of the service due to a signal fault and Juz even managed to ride on his first proper doubledecker bus.  The family dinner gave Justin a chance to catch up with Marmi and Uncle and also meet Riza.  Riza unfortunately seemed to revel in the fact that he had someone to join in with for his picking on me though :( hehe All in good fun though.  There was loads of amazing curry eaten, there were stories to be told, jokes to be made (the more immature coming from Riza of course :P haha) and even some well intellectual discussion of sorts – maybe we are mature after all.  There was even a chance for a few games of Carrom which when Justin and I played was summed up by the phrases “special Olympics of Carrom”, “may be here all night” and eventually “hey, lets just see who can get the queen closest to the hole so we can all go to bed” haha.  It was a great night and reminded me again how one thing I can take away from me from my time away is that I am reminded of the strong bonds of family. My time in Ham and in Copenhagen and especially the beers and conversations shared with Riza have been a wonderful part of my experience.  It turns out that distance doesn’t fray the family bonds at all.  I am proud to come back to Australia claiming to be friends with my extended family, particularly the friendship with UkCuz  (which I must admit was unexpected when I left the shores of my homeland).

I have gained so much since January 8th.  I don’t even think I could adequately sum it up 2 million words and 500 terabytes of photos.  Let alone the 180,000 words of this blog and 8 gigabytes of photos.

July 15, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Come on baby, light my fire. Come on baby, light my fire. Try to set the night on fire…

Let me start of with a rant.  Who would think that the towel drying at the end of my bunk would be the bathmat?!!!! Okay, granted my towel I have been using is the size of a bathmat, but it was drying on the end of my bed.  Last night when I went to bed I didn’t notice anything wrong but this morning when I woke up and went to have a shower I couldn’t find my towel.  I looked around to see if it had fallen down but nope…it was no where to be seen.  I then walk in to the bathroom and see it hanging there and it was damp.  At this point I questioned my sanity – had I already had a shower and just forgotten? – before asking the Turkish guy on the bunk above me if he knew what was going on.  He looked at me strangely and said “I had a shower and assumed that was the bathmat.”  At this point I looked at him with utter contempt.  I decided it wasn’t worth an argument.  This was going to be my last shower with that towel anyway as I head back to London later today.  So I had to forgo the shower and make a note to have one when I get in to Ham this evening.  BUT COME ON!  It was on MY BED!

After making use of the free breakfast of Orange Juice and Croissants for the first time (not being a breakfast person I had always forgone the meals on offer but today I had time to spare and thought I really should have a Croissant or two while in France.  Best of all as it was the end of breakfast I got to eat more than my “allowed amount” of croissants as there were leftovers), I headed off to a cemetery.  Mum would be so proud :P  I had a morning and a lunchtime to kill in Paris and well…when you think  “kill” you think of a cemetery don’t you? :P  This is no ordinary cemetery.   It is a famous one, not just for the many elaborate tombs there but also a variety of famous people are buried there.  Once I found my way there by the Metro I grabbed a map and looked through the list and decided the graves I would like to see.  In the end the “highlights” of the cemetery for me were Jim Morrison’s, Edith Piaf’s, Oscar Wilde’s and Chopin’s graves (is it wrong to say highlights when talking about graves?)  It was an interesting experience visiting the graves of famous people but it was probably as interesting to just explore the other tombs and grave sites and see the stories the tombstones told of the people buried there.  The Oscar Wilde tomb was covered in lipstick kisses and various other forms of “graffiti” (as the sign asking you not to deface the tomb described it) and I can only assume that this is some sort of tradition that I hadn’t heard of…it was too organised for people to have just done it on whim I think.

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After my time in the cemetery was done I made my way back to the area of my hotel and went up to the Sacre Couer church one more time.  I had seen the view at dusk and night and I wanted to see it during the day as well.  Also, I had realised that not once had I actually been inside in the church (an oversight on my behalf) so I had to check out the interior.  As I stolled around the inside of the church, feeling a bit weird as there was a service going on but masses of tourists being parading around the church at the same time, I was surprised at how amazing the interior of the church was.  I have gotten used to churches being great on the exterior or having great views but being less interesting on the interior, or vice versa.  This was not the case as it was an interior that matched the exquisite view of Paris and outside of the building.

That brings to an end my touristing of Continental Europe.  I am now just filling in time to catch the Eurostar back to London where I will be for a couple of days before going back home (Back to my “proper” home).    Back to MY bed :D , MY room :D MY Tv/Dvds :D as well as Harry Potter :D, Christmas  In July :D , 21sts :D , Tutoring (money :D) and oh yeah…study :(

July 13, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Louie louie, Oh baby I gotta go. Louie louie, Oh baby I gotta go.

Last night I caught up with Nellie, MacKenzie and Luke who were the Americans I met on the tours in Munich and had dinner and beers with.  They had been as busy in Paris as I have been but at 10:30pm last night we caught up for what was an uber-late dinner (Maybe even so late by the time we started eating that it is an early breakfast or new meal entirely).  It was good to see the guys again as although we are quite different they are fun to hang out with.  We ended up also being joined by Nhi, a californian staying in their hotel who was also travelling alone and the more the merrier.

We thought about going to see the Eiffel Tower at night but they have closed off most of the parks around it as they are setting up for Bastille Day so instead we headed up to Sacre Couer.  The church when all lit up was even more amazing than in the day time.  The view over Paris probably wasn’t as nice as it was at dusk but it was well worth the trek up that hill once again.  We ended up finding a food place just around the corner which was like a tent restaurant which although touristy had pretty good food and wine.

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We chatted away the night and eventually strolled back at 1:30am.  We even touched on the religion topic at points which wasn’t as much of an explosive topic as I thought it could’ve been (although I wasn’t as forthright and blunt as I can be…I was being polite Simon :P).  The problem with the walk home was that firstly it was pouring with rain and on cobblestones we kept slipping over besides just getting drenched and secondly there were a variety of sleazy drunk french men on the streets. As we had more girls than guys in the group that seemed to be an invitation for them to approach the girls and it wasn’t a “pick up line” kind of approach…more the grab the skirt kind of approach which lead to Luke and I having to act as “rape bouncers”.  Gently balancing between getting ourselves between the guys and the girls, pushing them out of the way and stopping them touching the girls and making sure to do it with a smile and a joke so that we didn’t start something more serious.  We were okay in the end…but it would’ve been a lot easier if I knew French.  Nobody had any idea what these guys were saying!

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Anyway, although I had a somewhat late night last night I was up early today and off to Versailles.  For those that don’t know Versailles is the place of one of the old French palaces and it is probably one of the most ornate palaces in the world.  For me it was also the place where the Treaty of Versailles was signed (For me it was more amazing being in the Hall of Mirrors for this reason than the actual room itself).  Getting there by train was cheap and easy enough but one thing I didn’t think about was the lines.  OH MY GOD THE LINES!  When you first walk in there is about an hours wait in line to buy a ticket, then a 30 minute wait to get in to the palace and then a 20 minute wait for an audio.  Basically there was just way too many people.  I felt the whole time I was there that I was exiting the MCG after a capacity crowd and I was contemplating killing the people near me just to get some personal space.

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Once I got in to the palace though I took the audio guide through the State Apartments, Hall of Mirrors, art gallery, the other apartments and the museum section.  I can see what all the fuss about the beauty of the interiors is about as they truly were lovely but it was just too crowded for me to enjoy it properly.  When I compare it to the Summer Palace in Vienna it was MUCH MUCH MUCH more enjoyable to see and I was left with the opinion that it was a much better palace. You never know, maybe if I had a private view of the palace at Versailles I would think differently.

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The Hall of Battles was particularly interesting as the massive artworks on the wall that traced the glory of France in battles through its history until 1830 was juxtaposed with more recent, 20th/21st Century famous photographs of war such as the Iraqi on a leash from Gitmo and the march of De Gaulle when Paris was liberated.  It really gave an interesting contrast and the fact the audio guide went to the effort of telling you the story behind a number of the battles was interesting for me.

Another point of note that came up often was the strong connection between France and the United States of America.  I knew that the french to a large extent fundraised the War of Independence and saw a few statues of Washing and Jefferson around Paris but the historical ties are very strong between the two countries.  The War of Independence was even depicted as part of the Hall of Battles.  It really makes the whole cowardly French, “Freedom Fries”, John Kerry is “basically French” stuff a little bit more interesting I think.

So that was my day. I am now really exhausted and after having a morning in Paris tomorrow I then head back to London where I make camp for a couple of days, do a few more tourist things (The Eye and the Ashes at Lords top of the list) before I head home.  With my energy levels at the moment…my bed at home is sounding brilliant to me!

July 13, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Milo Venus was a beautiful lass. She had the world in the palm of her hand. But she lost both her arms in a wrestling match…

As awesome as I may appear to be I have never really been much of a worldly artistic kind of guy.  My knowledge of art basically boils down to pop culture references, painting the table in year 7 art instead of the paper, anything I don’t understand being “art” and that I should look intently at art with on finger on my lip and nod my head when I am at a museum.  It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy seeing some art…it is more that I have just not been exposed to a lot of it or have I ever really learnt enough about art to have a basic understanding.  Well I think you can classify my day today as diving in to the deep end of the art world without a life jacket, floaties or kickboard.  A scary analogy when my poor swimming skills are considered.  Today I got up early and spent the whole day (9am til 4pm) roving around the halls of the biggest and most famous Art Museum in the world – The Louvre.

Although I knew little about art going in, I had done my research about the Museum itself.  I knew I needed to get there early.  I knew I needed to dedicate a hole day to exploring it. I also knew, thanks to Justin, that on weekends it is free entry for anyone with a EU passport under 26 *Simon waves* and that the multimedia guides are good and that the tours are a good way to see a variety of what the museum has to offer.

The first tour I did was the 45 minute one that covers the three main masterpieces of the collection – The Mona Lisa, Venus De Milo (or Aphroditie of Milos as she should be called supposedly) and the other statue with Nike that I probably should’ve been more impressed by seeing.  Starting this tour so early, as the first thing I did, was a stroke of genius.  Most people were still finding their way in or around the museum as I made it to the Venus De Milo.  In fact, I thought I may have stumbled across a replica as when I got there the whole space was empty.  Sure enough though, there she was in all her glory and as I listened to her story I got a great chance to get an upclose look at her from all angles.  The thing that struck me straight away was the craftsmanship that must have gone in to making this statute.  The multimedia guide is great because it draws your eye to all the different aspects that the untrained (like me) may not have noticed but are the basic components of what makes it such a special statue.

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As I moved on to the second statue, a crowd had started to gather around the statue and my peaceful contemplation was broken.  It was a good time to move on.  The second statue I can’t remember the name of but was made to represent a naval victory and has Nike (goddess of victory and not the shoe) sitting a top the front of a stone boat.  Now there were elements of this piece that interested me but I think it was just too damaged for me to understand its true glory.  Yes Venus is armless, but the statue is basically in one piece otherwise.  Here the base is partially reconstructed and besides having the main body and wings of nike there the feet, arms and head are all missing and maybe I am just not imaginative enough to take it all in.

Regardless I was off to see Ms Lisa herself and although there was a crowd there, obviously people had run there as soon as the doors have opened like the cheap shoes section at a Boxing Day Sale, it was still nothing compared to what it would be like later on in the day or how it had been described to me.  Most people I now who have seen the Mona Lisa comment about how relatively small it is.  Well upon hearing this constantly I think I went in with a slightly pessimisstic attitude and was surprised that it was actually a bit largely than I had pictured it being.  The eyes did follow you around the room though (I did the lame tourist thing and tested it out ;) ) and the smile was intriguing.  I can’t see why it is the most famous painting over other pieces in the Louvre collection…but it was clearly a masterpiece.  It was also a good thing that I can now say I have seen the Mona Lisa…everyone wishes they can say that and if it happens to be brought up at parties I can be one of those travel wankers who acts like a true expert because I stood there and stared at it for 5 minutes.  I did take some photographic proof that I saw this wonders as well.  It was surprising to me that you could take photos, albeit without a flash, as not many museums allow that these days.

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My tour had finished and after a well timed text from ShanChops booking in a trip to the cinemas to see Harry Potter on Tuesday week (yes, I will be well and truly back in the country by then) that allowed me to gloat about my current location I started up on another of the set Louvre tours.  This time it was a tour of the Italian masterpieces which was really interesting. Best of all, as an artistic layman, they spent a fair bit not only discussing the pieces but also breaking them down in to what makes them so good, discussing the artists and even spending a fair bit explaining the wonders of the Louvre building itself (after all it was a palace before being turned in to a museum so it is a marvellous building with some great interiors).  Personally I found a few pieces that I liked more than others and strangely the “other” Da Vinci’s in the collection I think I was more drawn to than the Mona Lisa.  At the end of the Italian section though there was a small amount of Spanish art (small in comparison to the Italian section but not in number) and although the Italian works were great I can say that those ones – particularly a stylised Crucifixion and The Clubbed Foot, where my favourite things I saw today.

After a quick lunch break where I was clearly ripped off, but at least my stomach had silenced its complaints of agony, I decided to do the French tour which was the longest of the lot (unsurprising as we are in France after all).  This part of the collection really expansive and the sculptures were probably where I spent the most time but overall the style of art seemed to be less appealing to me than the Italian or Spanish pieces.  So in the end…Spain wins a close battle with Italy for my Art love with France not a distant, but a certain, third.  After 7 hours in an art museum I feel I have the ability to make such wild generalisations :P

Anyway so that was my day and before I am off to maybe catch up with some more Americans I met along the way I just have to say…GO LIONS! Geelong may have been injured beyond belief but we are 4 points closer to finals baby!

July 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir (ce soir, what what what) Voulez vous coucher avec moi

So I suppose I couldn’t have done the more Iconic Paris things today if I tried.  In my first full day in town I have checked off the Eiffel Tower, the Arc De Triumph and Notre Dame…and much much more.

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I woke up early this morning and hit the Metro. I was lucky enough to just need to catch one train and up I popped at the Arc De Triumph.  Sitting in the centre of the craziest roundabout in the world (not only is it massive…but it has NO lane markings) is this grand structure.  It was definitely bigger and taller than I imagined it would be.  This would be the theme for the day in retrospect.  I took my pictures from the ground and inspected the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Eternal flame before making my way up the 200 plus steps to the top.  There was a really cool animated display just before you hit the top of the Arc which explained the history as well as the importance of the structure to France and its people- all with wizzbang graphics!

The view from the top was surreal though.  Paris is such a beautiful city and I never imagined (or probably cared to predict) just how amazing it would be.  From the Arc you get brilliant views of the Champs Elysee as well as the Eiffel Tower and every other building you would care to check out in Paris’ vast area.  It was a clear day and the view was stunning.    You can also see why many other cities have tried to, or contemplated, replicating the Paris layout.  It is a well designed city for beauty’s sake at least.

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After descending the Arc it was time to be uber-touristy and check out the Eiffel Tower.  I managed to make my way there through the maze of French streets which I thought was an achievement in itself but I think waiting in line for a ticket is probably a bigger achievement.  The lines were seemingly endless when you join them but surprisingly moved fast enough to not make one got mad and want to stab out your own eyes and the eyes of innocent bystanders.  Which is something I feared.

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Once again the tower was much more imposing and larger than I expected.  You read about its size, especially how it was larger than any other building on earth when it was built but you still don’t imagine its true stature until you are standing underneath it feeling as if you are an ant.  When I got to the front of the line they had paused selling tickets for the very top so I only ended up going to the 2nd level but I suppose this meant I didn’t have to wait around and gave me time to fill in the rest of my day with more things.

From up the top the views were good, but personally I felt the Sacre Couer view from yesterday was more picturesque and from the top of the Arc was more interesting.  Maybe if I had gone to the top I would’ve had a different point of view.  What interested me more was the shear impressiveness of the building as an architectural feat.  Especially for being built in the 19th century, it is a design ahead of its time.  Even the Elevators are interesting.  On the 1st floor there was also a good montage of how the tower has become a film star in French, USA, English and films from around the word which was also really interesting.

After walking down all the way to the bottom via the stairs I grabbed a Brie and Salad Baget for lunch and was back exploring the Paris streets.  I was on my way to Notre Dame Cathedral but I wanted to walk through the city and along the river instead of missing all the sights and sounds of Paris by taking the Metro.  It took me a while but eventually with tired legs I made it to Notre Dame…which again was MASSIVE and much larger than I expected (see I said it was a theme for the day).

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As I had already seen Paris from above so often I didn’t bother with the tower but spent a fair bit of time exploring the nooks and crannies of this impressive gothic cathedral.  The outside (with the gargoyles, etc) was probably more visually appealing to me, but the inside had a lot going for it as well.  Although I think the best part of the cathedral is the area at the very back which is different as most of the time the view of the first few steps in to a Cathedral is the “wow” moment.

The day was quickly flying past me but at 4pm I managed to catch another Free Sandeman’s tour of the city this time with Phillip (a kiwi) as my guide.  As Paris is such a huge place we didn’t really get to see many sights up close on the tour.  However, this is okay as I had already seen the big ones earlier in the day and the main reason I went on the tour was for the stories and the more minor parts of the city I would probably walk past and never notice unless I had it screamed at me by a guide in a red shirt.  The tour covered most of the main parts of Paris though and I learnt more about the French Revolution than I ever knew (although admittedly I knew very little to begin with).

Partway through the tour though I ran in to Anushka and Mel who I studied with in Leeds.  It is really weird how I keep running in to people I know while travelling around Europe…it is like we are all on the same itinerary or something haha

Finally the tour ended and I made my way back to the hostel to rest up after a long day.  I do have two points about tourist life in Paris though before I go:

1)  They love smoking here so much that even outdoors I am coughing…I can’t wait to get back to UK/Aus in that regard

AND

2) If you were a beret while travelling Paris…particularly if you are male and/or have NEVER worn a beret before…you are the definition of a Plonker!

July 11, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I’m leaving for Paris, no I don’t think that I’ll see you. I’m leaving for Paris, no I don’t think that I need to. So I’m leaving for Paris, won’t you try to take care of yourself?

Bonjour from Paris people!

After finally getting some well needed sleep in Ham I was once again off travelling.  I made my way to St Pancras and had my first ride of the Eurostar to Paris.  The immigration, boarding and the like are well organised and the train station is new and clean but besides that it is basically a similar train journey to the rest I have had around Europe and in North America.  It just spent a fair bit of time in a very long tunnel and your ears pop a little bit because of the speed, etc.

Arriving in Paris at the main train station was easy enough but I struggled at first to find the hostel. The directions included with the booking could have been a little more descriptive but eventually I did find my way to the Vintage Hostel.  It is in a good location (right near the train station), really clean and even has a few fancy bits worthy of note such as a marble staircase and nice lounge downstairs.  From the looks of it, it is an old converted hotel…which makes for a nice hostel.

What was weird though was as I was in a tired state checking in, I was greeted with a “you dude!  What are the chances?” from the guy in front of me, in a strong New Jersey accent.  I was shocked at first but there was Ryan.  He was one of the guys I went out with in Munich and had a great time drinking beer and having shots with (for the record the shots were Blue Curacao, Malibu, Vodka and a dash of Orange Juice.  I forgot to ask what they were…but Ryan did).  It turns out that Ryan and Mikey were leaving in the morning but just happened to run in to me so I had a friendly face, or two to be accurate, to spend my first night in Paris with.

We decided to grab some dinner and as we were in Paris, and they hadn’t had a proper French dinner, on the recommendation of the hostel receptionist we made our way to a local french cafe.  It was a lovely place with really nice staff. For 15 Euros each we got a entree and main and two glasses of the house red.  The wine was nice and so was my Quiche but by far the best part of the meal was my Steak Tartare main.  It was surprising how brilliant it was because I only ordered it so I could add something to my “weird stuff I have eaten” list as Steak Tartare is a raw mince meat patty thing.  It was amazing.  The texture didn’t seem raw and it was REALLY tasty.  Mikey even had a bit and was so surprised with how good it taste that he grabbed the recipe.  Raw beef = good eating!

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As the two guys were at the end of their time in Paris we then did something they suggest.  Just as the day was becoming a little dusk-like we headed up to Sacre Coeur Church which is on a hill just around the corner from the hostel.  Up to the top you get AMAZING views of Paris.  Especially with the light we had at this time of day it was such a beautiful view.  The buildings were so white and unique…it really doesn’t look like the other European cities which surprised me.  Up the top of the hill we had a beer, looked out over the view, avoided the dodgy African guys trying to scam you with a string on the finger trip and saw a guy who was the greatest freestyle footballer ever.  He was juggling and doing tricks I have never seen before or I thought possible.  All with ease and a good level of showmanship.  He even climbed up a lamppost to the top…WHILE BALANCING A SOCCER BALL ON HIS FOREHEAD!  Now that is a skill!

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With that I said goodbye and good night to my american friends and I was off to bed.  I have a lot to do in Paris so I need to make sure I am well rested.

July 10, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lillee’s pounding down like a machine. Pascoe’s making divots in the green. Marshy’s taking wickets. Hookesy’s clearing pickets…

I couldn’t have hoped for a better time in Cardiff or a better “Ashes in England” experience!

After getting in to Cardiff I had some time to kill before the other guys got in on a later train so I explored the city. It was a really small city as cities go and I basically managed to walk around in just under 45mins.  One thing that hits you is that particularly in the area where my hostel and Justin, Gary, Chris and Jake’s hotel was it was quite a depressing area.  There were more shops shut down than open, every house seemed to be for sale or let and it was quite dirty and damaged.  It was quite a depressing side of town to walk around IMO. Of course there were the main shopping street and the main restaurant/bar street which were slightly more cheerful although as expected in the UK they were full of chain stores, bars and restaurants.  It was funny when Chris asked me when I had been to Cardiff before. I haven’t but as there is an Edwards , a Revolution, a Walkabout, etc, etc in every british city I could advise us where to go.

After the guys had got in and settled we headed off for drinks and dinner at Edwards.  The burgers were good although the starters weren’t.  Worse still is that Justin had an urge to drink “british beer” so that meant orders of Carling rounds which initially I resisted with 2 quid cocktails available but I eventually relented.  Carling is a shocking beer!  It was a good night of just hanging out with the guys and it was good to catch up with people I hadn’t seen in over 7 months.  All of us knew though that tomorrow was the big day.  Tomorrow was the start of the Ashes. Tomorrow would be our first attendance at an Ashes test in England.  Tomorrow was going to be a big day!

I woke up bright and early.  I had no choice as my hostel which was on the river seemed to be surrounded by seagulls, in a scene reminiscent of the Birds, and they were  intent on not letting me sleep in.  I checked out and headed over to Justin and co’s hotel, wearing my Australian top with pride, pumped at seeing some cricket.  As we walked to Swalec Stadium (or Sophia Gardens as it was once known) it was a little similar to the walk to the MCG.  It is a small 16,000 seat stadium set in parkland so although the stadium couldn’t be more different the location has real similarities.  What wasn’t reminiscent of home though was the multiple tv interviews we did on the way in to the ground.  They seemed eager to get the opinion of 4 aussie guys on the game.  Some of the questions were predictable (who will win?  Scoreline for the series? etc) however some of them were a little out of left field such as asking the australians if we felt anything special about the game being in Cardiff.  The short answer is no…we wouldve gone to any ground in the UK to see the first ball of the Ashes.

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As we sat down in our seats which was right over the bowlers arm, next to the media center and at the 2nd last row of seats (which is not that far back by Australian standards) the sun was beaming down and it looked like we should have a good day of cricket ahead of us.  There was of course the usual procedure of the toss and national anthems but two things were different from the cricket experience we are used to.  Firstly, the bars didn’t open until after play started.  Even the polite UK fans were a bit put off by that.  Secondly though our “mini-celebrity status” continued as Justin and I were actually interviewed live on radio which was broadcast throughout the UK (pretty cool).  We were last minute ring ins as they had lost the Australian fanatics leader so instead the two aussies sitting next to the media center got a go.  Here was Alec Stewart, Jason Gillespie, an English Cricket Commentator, the head of the Barmy Army talking about how we thought the day would unfold.  That was uber-cool!  Dude…I’ve now been on the radio.

The cricket soon started and it was a fairly interesting days cricket.  Johnson struggled early. Hilfenhaus was a surprise inclusion to open the bowling but was great.  Siddle bowled a lot better than his figures reflect and England were surprisingly strong as throughout the day there were no half chances that went down.  To see a day of cricket and not a dropped catch was a testament to the good level of cricket being played out there.  As we enjoyed the game, the setting, the beers and chatting to the random Welsh, Irish, Australian and English who surrounded us it was a great day. A day I had always wanted to have and I can’t really imagine that I have actually had a proper English Ashes experience.

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There was a distinct different atmosphere though as the crowd was probably more “polite” in all meanings of the word where people wouldn’t get up to get drinks during an over and you could even hear the player chatting on the middle of the pitch as you were so close and the crowd so quiet.  We did make our mark though with a few things…including a Warney chant when angered by Hauritz bowling for Australia.

It was after the days play that things got a little more interesting though.  We had already had our photo taken with Jason Gillespie but as we waited for Jake to go to the toilet there stood Mark Nicholas and so we got a photo with him.  It was funny though because Jake’s mission was to meet Mr Nicholas and he missed it so afterwards we set about finding him so he could get his chance.  Mark Nicholas was doing some work on the pitch so we waited for him to walk past again.  In the mean time though we got to meet and get photos with Alan Border as well a see people like Brendan Julian just walking past.  Mark Nicholas eventually came over and was more than nice enough to have another photo with Jake but he was also a great guy who chatted to us for 5 to 10 mins.  It wasn’t as if he felt he have to.  He was just a good bloke and for the record he also thinks Hauritz is rubbish ;)

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Spurred on from meeting a few of our heroes we waited as the players finished their warm downs.  In the end we were like 8 year old kids gleefully getting photos and autographs from the likes of Stuart Clark (who annoyed the very nice security guards where he invited us over the fence on to the field for our photo), Shane Watson (who couldn’t have done more for the fans especially the kids), Freddie Flintoff, Stuart Broad, Graham Manou, Andrew Macdonald and even Mushtaq Ahmed!  It was a really relaxed atmosphere and great that you could get up close with these blokes.  Kevin Peterson was an interesting case as he was probably the only really rude response we got.  KP obviously more worried about figuring out how the hell he got out to Nathan Hauritz than chatting to the fans :P

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The weirdest thing though was not one of the famous people we met but someone remarkably unfamous.  As Andrew Macdonald was doing his laps and what not on the pitch after the day’s play there was a guy next to him that looked familiar.  He was a guy who looked familar when I am pretty sure he ran past me yesterday when walking through the city.  It was a guy I quickly identified as Mr Helmot…a teacher from back in my primary school days who I knew was involved with representative cricket coaching but never expected him to be with the Aussies in Cardiff.  As him and Macdonald made their way off the field it was a little funny as everybody else tried to get the red headed Victorians attention while I was bothering my old Primary School teacher.  He sort of recognised me from my face, but admitted that with a shaved head and about 10 years since he last saw me he had no idea what my name was though.  After I gave him my unique last name he clearly remembered me and we chatted for a bit which was  cool and weird experience at the same time.

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Who goes to the Cardiff for the Ashes and meets their childhood teacher? haha

Anyway the long day was done and I made my way back to London to get a well needed good nights sleep in Ham before heading off to Paris – my last city before I come back to London, see the Ashes again at Lords and then head home!

July 9, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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