Friday, July 30, 2010

Quick Update..

Well... the rain never passed. Our 'day at the beach' turned into a day trapped in our hotel room while it BUCKETED down. I think La Spezia received its yearly rainfall in a day. For us this meant more reading, more eating, more drinking, more games of Uno.
Sigh.. What can you do?
We woke up the morning and sun was shining brightly (that'd be right). We hit the road for Siena, which is where we are now. Somehow, the rain followed us here.
We're currently trying to sort out some sort of tour for tomorrow. It looks like it will be wine and lunch in Chianti. Fingers crossed for no rain!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Waiting for the rain to pass..

After a couple of hours at the beach in Monterosso yesterday, we were in love. We went home completely enthused and asked our hostel manager if we could stay an extra night. We could. 
The plan was to spend an entire day at the beach today (we deserve it!!!) before moving on to Siena (2 nights) and then Rome (2 nights). Then home to Oz.
What a great plan, we thought. Perfect. A bit of beach time before heading to the country and then to the city. We can relax, work on our tans. Fantastic!

We awoke this morning to the loud rumble of thunder... and the heavens opened up. The sky is dark. It actually looks like winter. Perfect chance to do some blogging... but not quite what was planned. Yesterday was clear and sunny.. this was SO not on the cards.  I guess you can only laugh. Hopefully it will clear up later so we can get some beach time in.

Cinque Stars for Cinque Terre!

After the outrage in Pisa, we continued north by Train to a little place called La Spezia. It is a small fishing village that isnt really an attraction by itself.. but it has the benefit of being 7 minutes by train from the Cinque Terre (5 towns).

Before you start reading this blog, please do something. Open google, type in Cinque Terre, and hit 'image results'. Uploading photos is too tiresome for us but we need you to see what we have just seen.

Cinque Terre is another place that has been on our itinerary from the beginning. We knew we wanted to see it and hike between the 5 towns. We have been so excited about it - and it has not let us down. This is one of the highlights of the trip! Probably just what we needed to snap out of our 'cultural burnout'.

Tuesday night we enjoyed a wander around little La Spezia, a nice dinner and an early night in preparation for the big hike the next day.
Wednesday morning, we arrived in the first town (Riomaggiore) at around 10am. The site when you jump off the train is quite astounding. You're on the edge of a cliff with stunning views over the mediterranean. The entire area - all 5 towns and the paths between - are a UNESCO national park. But if you dont want to walk it, a train also runs between each town.

The first leg of the hike is fairly easy.. only about 15 minutes along what is known as 'Lovers Lane'. It is a tunnel filled with graffiti of couples names and lots of padlocks. The padlocks are seen all through Europe. I believe couples write their names on them, lock them to something (normally bridges) and throw the key into the ocean.

We arrived in the next town and were thrilled that it looks just likethe pictures.. a little town built on a cliff with all of the tall houses painted in gorgeous pastel or gelati-toned colours. Definitely postcard worthy pictures.

From here... the hike gets harder. The entire hike is actually only 9kms. But it takes 5 hours. It is up and down stairs and cliffs and is a real work out. Particularly in the harsh sun. Each leg of the trip takes about 1 or 1.5 hours - and at the end of each walk you are rewarded with another beautiful little town.
To give an example, when you actually arrive at one town, a sign will say "Welcome. Please climb 365 stairs to visit our village". And you do it because thats nothing really after the climb you've done.

In the 4th town, Vernazza, we stopped for a lunch of pizza and beer. It was a really cute town filled with boats and people swimming.. and lots of little restaurants. Plus we needed the break as we knew that the final leg from Vernazza to Monterosso is the hardest. Only 2 or 3 kms, but takes the longest - 2 hours. Man was it tough! About 10 minutes in, I was groaning that we should just take the train. I had a belly full of pizza, sore legs and it was the hottest part of the day. We climbed for what seemed like forever. And every time we would go DOWN stairs, it'd make me want to cry.. for we knew that when you go down, you need to climb back up again eventually. The paths on this leg are often about 30cm wide.. with a big drop off the edge. So we were lucky not many people were coming the opposite way. When they do, you just have to wait and pass each other one by one.

It was tough, but every now and then you'd reach a flat piece of ground, look around at the water and cliffs and the other towns in the distance and just go: "wow. look at where we are". It was seriously beautiful. And you didnt really mind the pain either.. because it just felt good to be achieving it.

We made it to Monterosso sweaty, hot and parched. Thank god, this last town has the best beaches of the 5 towns, as we really deserved the swim in the sparkling blue water that was waiting for us (even if we had to pay 25 euro for the privelege!).

Cinque Terre gets two thumbs up. Or cinque stars. A great experience.

Pizza in Pisa... JUST!

Leaving Florence early Tuesday morning we thought we'd stop off in Pisa for a look at that famous leaning tower, before moving on to our next destination.

The Tower is about 1.5km from the train station so we got a look at the town. It doesnt have a lot to offer.. funny that stuffing up a building has resulted in it being a tourist destination! As we arrived at the street that lead to the Tower, it really was quite a shocking site. At the end of the street you can see the enormous Duomo standing tall.. and right in front of it in the most bizarre angle is the Tower. Of course we'd seen pics and knew what to expect.. but it is an odd sit to see.

We took the obligatory photos of us holding up the tower - it had to be done!

The plan was to have a picnic on the grass in front of the tower, but we werent actually allowed on the grass so we thought we'd get a pizza instead. We found a little place and placed our orders.. and waited. And waited. We had a train to catch, so asked the waitress how long it would be. "5 minutes" she said. 10 minutes later, she brings out a slimy looking pasta dish. "uhhh.. we ordered pizza" we said. Hmm. She goes back inside, then comes out and says "your pizza wont be ready. You can pay for your drinks and go".
WTF??????? We were pretty mad by then.

We walked back to the train station and the title of this blog ALMOST became "Big Macs in Pisa". But we found a little takeaway pizza place, got a slice and jumped on the train.

It's funny how one person can change your entire experience of a place... Adam couldnt bring himself to write this blog about Pisa as he now hates it.

As an aside (and an extension) of this story, I have always thought that I was the intolerant one in our relationship that would be more likely to be rude, while Adam was more easygoing one. It seems this is not so!!!! Here are a few little stories from this trip that involve Adams nasty temper when people bug him!

1. In Paris on Bastille Day when 200,000 people were sitting on the grass, some Americans sat down next to us. There wasn quite enough room. And their accents are annoying. We were all muttering under our breath.. but Adam stands up and loudly says "We'll just move ok? Since you've come and sat ON OUR LAPS, we will just move! No worries!!". Hehee!

2. On our first Easyjet plane (no allocated seating), Adam didnt want anyone to sit next to him. A woman comes up and says "can i have this seat?". So Adam sighs, grunts, looks to the back of the plane and says "No. I actually want to spread out". She snarled at him, said "wouldnt we all like to spread out?" and sat down anyway.. with him huffing and puffing. What made this extra funny was (a) She was an Easyjet employee!!!! and (b) the plane was FULL, so its not like she could have sat ANYWHERE else. I laughed the whole way to Athens.

3. In Santorini airport, about 10 Italian guys were infront of us in line. An extra one walked up and went to join his friends in front of us. So Adam has grabbed his backpack (!!) and sent him to the back of the line. 2 minutes later, with a chnage of heart Adam offered for him to go in fromt of us. I'm sure the guy was too scared to, but he did anyway.

4. The next one happened just after we were told to leave the Pizza place in Pisa. The girl behind the counter said sorry. Adam starts saying (in a very loud voice) "No you're not. You're not sorry at all. Are you? You're not, are you? IS MY TIME WORTH NOTHING????? You're NOT sorry!!!"

5. Just after this outburst, while we're storming off down the street, a little asian guy is wheeling his bike down the road. He was a little slow, and in Adams way. So Adam PICKS UP his bike (while he is holding it) and moves ist against a wall. The poor guy looked shocked as Adam kept thundering down the road.

Aahhhh.. it is all quite hilarious!!! Everytime we have one of these outbursts i am shocked, then slightly embarrassed, then in hysterics for the next hour.  Who knows when the next tantrum will strike!
I meanwhile remain calm and in a state of Zen... :)

Fatigue hits in Florence

Jess here, ready to pump out a few updates from the last week.

From Venice, we caught a train to Florence and arrived at our lovely little B&B, Il Cielo. We have actually been really happy with all of our accommodation on this trip and would recommend any of it. This one didnt let us down. It was really nice, with a slight bird theme throughout and a lovely host, Giancarlo.

Florence is a nice city. Its population is only about 300,000 so it isnt that big, but is packed with shops and museums. It has a nice feel, and is tourist friendly.

But... if we are perfectly honest, I think Florence is where we were hit with "cultural burnout". We could have gone to see the statue of David, but we couldnt really be bothered. There are several other sites, but we couldnt really be bothered. We'd learned our lesson in Paris about not just ticking boxes.. and after 5 weeks of negotiating maps, train schedules, working out what to do, where to go, early mornings, late nights, etc... we just decided to relax.

We wandered the streets, did some shopping, climbed up to Michaelangelos Square for a view of the city. Then we bought wine, chose a book each from the shelf in the B&B lounge room - and just relaxed.
The next day, we did pretty much the same. We each finished our books (in 2 days) and were well rested.

It wasnt a waste of time, nor a reflection on Florence.. we just needed a rest. And the sanctuary of little Il Cielo was the perfect place to do it.

We did have a couple of great meals again too.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Venice.......Lobster pasta and Jason Donovan

We Left Greece after one of the best days ever with one of the biggest hangovers ever, heading for Venice. We flew from Santorini to Milan and then got a train to venice.
On arriving in Venice the exit from the train station does blow you away, it  really is a completely different city to anywhere else in the world. We found our hotel easily and it was pretty good, we think we got upgraded as we got air con and a water view which was not expected.
We left the hotel to explore and have dinner. It is a very busy place in tourist season and it did not take long before we were sick of the many americans wandering around being generally annoying. We had a nice dinner and called it a night.
The next day we checked out all the sites to see , ( photos to follow ) and just took in the beautiful city. For lunch Jess had one of her best meals for the trip, homemade ravioli stuffed with prawns. We continued in the afternoon looking around before heading back to the room for a siesta. during this stroll we had our first 'star spot'..... Jason Donovan! ( not that exciing but i was a 80,s neighbous fan).
About an hour into the nap we were awaken by what  we thought was someone knocking on our door only to realise that it was comimg through the wall followed by some moaning and a final climax...... ah ha ha ha ha ha ha...siesta.
We showered  and headed out for a Gondola ride and dinner. I thought the gondoliers were supposed to be ambassadors for the city ( seen on a doccumentary) , but instead are arrogant , money grabbing cocks. We did not do a gondola ride.
We went looking for a place for dinner , they all start looking the same after a while. standing outside of one, jess spotted a lobster dish that looked good. We ate here and it was a great meal, the linguini with half a Lobster had become jess's # 1 dish for the trip and her life.
The next day we checked out and headed for the train station and were off to Florence.
Venice was beautiful, a little too many tourists but it was expected. It will be remebered for geat views , cracking food and 'afternoon delight' coming through the wall.
Ciao .

p.s.  if i am missing the letter 'r' or 't' in any words i apologise , i have had a f*cker of a keyboad.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

THE Wedding

This post is not complete without pictures. But we dont have time to upload yet. Regardless, we HAVE to tell you about the wedding we attended in Santorini.

Lia and Mark were the couple. They put on an event like no other. We feel like we experienced Santorini better on this one day than we could have in a whole week. Here's what we did:

...We made our way down a cliff to a tiny chapel overlookiung the water, where the ceremony took place. All girls were given parsols, guys were given hats - and the drinks were flowing early. Lia was stunning...

...We all rode in convoy on 4-wheelers to the other side of the island. "Just Married" sign included. There was 24 guests.

...We ate an enormous and delicious lunch of Greek Seafood in a gorgeous restaurant in a gorgeous bay. Speeches were lovely and heartfelt. There was several toasts with  Greek Raki. (Never again!!). The setting was perfect.

... We wandered over to a boat that was waiting for us.. and cruised back to our side of the island.

... We stopped along the way to swim in a bay...

... On arrival at shore, we were offered the chance to ride (a) a chairlift or (b) a donkey to the top of the hill. We chose donkeys.

... We walked back to the resort where the wedding party was staying (beautiful views along the way).

... We made it there in time for the amazing Santorini Sunset.

... Then the party continued through the night. 40 x yiros arrived. Cocktails were flowing and the dancing started.

It was one of the best days of our lives and we were so pleased to share it with this fantastic couple. AMAZING!!!!!


Late on Tuesday we arrived in Santorini. It was a crazy, hectic welcome to the island with loads of locals trying to entice us into cabs, buses, accommodation, etc. We rejected them all... which resulted in us being stranded - last ones at the port!

We finally got to our apartment, which we were sharing with 4 other couples. (3 of which we shared with in San Sebastian, plus one extra couple from Australia). Kristy has excelled at finding us great accommodation. It was perfect. We all had our own "wings" with separate bathrooms, lounge rooms and kitchens.

On arrival, Adam and the boys got re-acquainted with the booze. Kristy immediately took me to see the sunset over the other side of the island. A-MAZING. We had a great night catching up with the others on where we've been, what we've seen, what we've loved, not loved, etc.

Santorini was a pretty crazy island - a much faster pace than Paros. In some ways it reminds me of Thailand - people everywhere, no road rules and just a buzz in the air. On our first full day, we went and hired a 4-wheeler and set about exploring the island. In convoy, the group of us made our way to "Black Beach" to spent the afternoon. It was exactly as it sounds - a black beach which was something new for us. We spent the day swimming, drinking and lazing under umbrellas. It was perfect.

That night, Adam, myself and Kristy and James headed out for dinner and lovely little retaurant on a cliff overlooking the sea. Yum.

Somewhere in amongst this was another 8 or so yiros. I cant even think about them right now - too much!!

The next day was the wedding of Lia and Mark (James' sister) and this deserves a post all of its own.... next up.

Pics to come. Santorini NEEDS imagery.

From Paros with Love

Sunday morning bright and early (as in 3:30am) we left Paris en route to Paros, Greece.  We had to fly into Athens first, which quite frankly doesnt even rate a mention. We thought we were in the bronx. It is a dirt hole, with rubbish strewn across every road and derelict houses and it just looks dry like a desert - but ugly. I was actually singing the whole way in the bus without knowing how this song got in my head... "U-G-L-Y, you aint got no alibi, you're ugly". Sorry parents - you probably wont know that one. We only rode from airport to ferry - but it was a good hour of us looking at each other in disgust.

After an 2 hour ferry we arrived in Paros. To be honest, the islands are still very dry and desert like (not the tropical paradise of other islands we've seen), but when we reached the village of Naoussa we were happy. It was like the postcards. Tiny laneways of white and blue buildings, with pink flowers overhanging the balconies. Just gorgeous. It is actually impossible to take a bad photo in Greece. We'll upload some soon.
We've since realised (in comparison to Santorini) that Paros is a quiet island as far as the Greek Islands go. It has enough buzz to feel like a destination, but it has a cruisy, relaxed atmosphere that suits us well as a holiday. You can walk pretty much everywhere once you're in the village and it is simply beautiful.

Our little hotel was run by two guys, George and Michael. Ha. George Michael. This made us laugh.

Day one - we headed out for a greek dinner and a couple of cocktails, but a relatively early night after a long day of travelling.

Day two - we spent the entire day lazing in the sun and around the swimming pool of our hotel. We wandered into town for lunch and shopping.. then back to the pool. This might seem wasteful on a beautiful island, but Naoussa village offered enough entertainment for us, and after a busy 3 weeks were were happy lazing about.

That night, we headed out for drinks. We had sussed out the happy hour of every bar in the village and thought we'd time it so we got to all of them for half price drinks. At the first one though, we encoutered a really lovely bartender who kept serving us bowls of nuts and fresh fruit. Maybe because we were the first ones there. After we'd ordered, he suddenly went inside and changed the music to John Farnham 'You're the voice'. Coincidence?? No. The next song was Men at Work 'I come from the land down under'.

Ok.. so this guy wanted to please us. And he wanted to chat. Turns out his name was Danny, he comes from Pakistan and works in Paros in high season. He told us all about the island and how in September / October it completely closes down. Everyone boards up their shops and leaves and they dont come back until April.. when they start painting everything blue and white again and preparing for the tourist season. Oh, he's also a massive fan of cricket and took to calling Adam "Adam Gilchrist!!' all night.

Danny was so nice that we felt bad about moving on to the next happy hour. So we made friends with a few germans and a fellow aussie.. and we made our own fun. We had them dancing round the bar and playing our catwalk game.. It was classic.

Late in the night we left for yet another yiros. And somehow stumbled home to bed. Made for a tough morning packing and leaving for Santorini the next day.. but we got through. We had time to explore a close-by beach, eat ANOTHER yiros and laze around a bit more, before jumping aboard our ferry. Ahh it is bliss just remembering it...

In summary.... GO TO PAROS! You wont regret it. It is stunning.

Where have we been???

I know, you're all wondering where we are and what we've been doing. You miss us and our updates, dont you?
Well we are currently in Venice, having a good explore and getting lost in laneways.
We had an amazing time in Paros and Santorini (Greece) and will have to come back later to update you on the magic of it all.
No time now, sightseeing to be done!


Saturday, July 17, 2010

10 things we love about Paris

  1. Our Apartment. Check it out on this website.      It is gorgeous. We get free international phonecalls, free computer and internet, have been able to do our washing and fill our fridge with loads of food. The owner Quentin is an absolute gem. He met us here, helped us settle in and even arranged our cab for the airport. We love him. We love the apartment.
  2. Cheap Evian.  Its the cheapest thing you can drink.
  3. The glorious Architecture.  The buildings are gorgeous. All of them. We havent seen an ugly one, and cant work out whether none of them are new... or whether the new ones are just still built with old-time beauty.
  4. Dog Friendly. People in Paris love their dogs. They take them everywhere. They are all well behaved and you often wont notice there is a dog sitting next to you on the metro or under a counter in a shop. Being dog lovers, we like this. Notes - they are all better behaved than our dog. And despite what people tell you, we didnt see a single dog shit in the streets.
  5. Our area, Le Marais. It is beautiful, clean, is the premier neighbourhood for eating out. It is very trendy with upcoming designers. Its well located. Its just good and we recommend it.
  6. Galettes and Crepes. Available from market stalls with a variety of fillings, these are a delicious snack or lunch on the go.
  7. Cheap booze in the supermarket. (Also available in the rest of europe, we know).Why hasnt this caught on in Australia? So easy to buy beer and wine with your food shopping. Adam has particularly loved Kronenburg 1664.
  8. Transport. Stinky as it is, its easy to navigate and we never took longer than éà minutes to get anywhere. I thought only Adelaide could claim that!
  9. The people.  OK, so i know i said they stink while i was grumpy the other day.. But they didnt live up to the 'arrogant french' reputation. They have all been good to us, they have all spoken english as soon as they realise its our language of choice, and have been generally nice. Much better customer service than we received in London!! (Plus during this trip we've realised, if you're not AMERICAN, you're a bloody legend!)
  10. The fact that its only the halfway point of our trip. You beauty!!!
From Paris to Paros.... we'll report next from the beautiful greek islands. Note that we wont have internet on hand again so blog posts will slow waaaaayyy down again.


Vingt-huit (28) and the last day in Paris

Today is my 28th Birthday. It's also our last day in Paris. And it's the day we saw how good Paris really is.
We woke up early, checked facebook for all of my birthday messages and enjoyed a breakfast of ham and cheese baguettes (the staple food of the trip so far).
We were trying to decide what to do for the day as we are a bit 'over' following the tourist trail. Paris hasn't been my favourite location and I think its because we have spent time doing things that dont really interest us - i.e. visiting Museums and Churches - just because you kind of think you should. I want to love Paris like I thought I would. After today I pretty much do.

First off we headed to the Catacombes. I know I said we wanted to avoid the tourist trail, but this one interested us! For those that dont know, the Catacombes was a disused quarry that was used to store bones once the cemetaries got full. You go 20m underground (lots of stairs) and follow a trail of underground corridors all lined with bones and skulls. Eeerie to look at - but fascinating.

The line to the Catacombes was long.. so Adam went and bought us Coffee and Macarons and I managed to tick off one of my Paris experiences while we were waiting. Great idea on his part... though I'm not sure how genuinely Parisian the macarons from McCafe are!!! Ah well, they were tasty!

After the Catacombes we decided to jump on a bus and head off for some shopping. I must say that riding the bus was one of the best decisions we have made. We've spent the last 4 days riding the metro underground train system and have missed out seeing this spectacular city in all its glory. I had a new appreciation of Paris by the time we reached Galleries Lafayette, an enormous department store. The store was huge and I have never seen so much high-end designer gear in one place. Very impressive, though a little out of our budget. What was also cool about the department store was (a) its ceiling, and (b) the view from its roof. See both below.
Leaving the shopping centre empty-handed, we jumped on the metro to head home. I decided we should hop off one station early and walk through our neighbourhood. Well... what a decision! Turns out we are in the most gorgeous are of Paris. And it's cool. The streets are lined with cool cafes, cool bars, cool shops, and cool fashion designers selling their wares. We are stoked, but a little disapppointed we didnt discover it sooner as it really would have changed the way we 'did' Paris.

We stopped in at one of the cafes for lunch (at 5pm!) of French Onion Soup - woohoo another item ticked off the list! It was delicious, as the before and after below surely shows.  

We're heading back tonight to enjoy the area, before we shoot off to Greece first thing in the morning.

All in all it was a good birthday. But then.... every day is like a birthday when you're on holidays.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mona, Mona, Mona...... The Dougwood's trip to the Louvre

Museums dont really do it for me. Jess does not care for them either...... 
The Louvre!.. probably should do that one.

We finished the bike tour and headed to the Louvre, it stays open to 9:30 on fridays and only 6pm on a school night so being a friday we thought we could knock it over in a few hours. Got there at about 4pm and headed to see what this ' Mona and her friend Lisa were doing to drag in millions of people a year .

Basically it was pretty cool to see some of the great pieces of art and sculpture to grace the earth but we did enjoy seeing some of the more obscure pieces, the unexplainable images and just alot of boobs out and small dicks.( you would think if someone was going to make a sculpture of you or paint your picture, wouldnt you say ' you might need a bit more paint on that brush leonardo' or 'how about a bit more clay on the extremities Luis'.

The following pictures are a bit of a story of some of the beautiful, not so beautiful, just plain weird and what the fuck is that? .....

                                            The show stoppers! (the ones we've heard of)

(that's the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo/Aphrodite for those more uncultured than us!!)

The weird ones that entertained us for the next couple of hours...

'but grandpa, what a big mince-meat nose you have'

Wow, im a bit freaky.. (we're still laughing at this one!!)

You could take an eye out with that stick.
OR maybe - I'd rather poke myself in the eye with a blunt stick than look at the 'cherub' above;

A pinch and a punch for the first day of the month.

Jess(on the right): Get home to bed you village drunk
Heath(on the left): Oh whats the problem? Cant he stay out with the boys?
Adam (in the middle): euauuuggcch?

"Snakebites" - Getting girl's tits out for years now.

The way we felt after a few hours at the Louvre.

Fat Tire Bike Tour...... WooHoo

Today we were doing the 'Fat Tire Bike Tour ' which was a gift from Stace and Erica. Stace had done this tour previously and thought it would be great for us to do to get a good look at the city. We met the tour group under the Eiffel Tower before a short walk to there offices to get the bikes. The bikes are big 'cruiser' style with fat tyres ( obviously ) and long handle bars which are easy to ride and a lttle bit cool. 

The Tour starst off with a gentle ride through a park before venturing out onto some of the busiest roads in Paris covering off the main sites and attractions of the city. Sites ticked off were , Eiffel Tower, Champ de mars, Ecole militaire, The Dome Church ( Napoleans tomb ), Hotel des Invalides, Jardin des Tuileries, Placa de la Concorde( stolen from the Egyptians ) , Musee d'Orsee and Musee du Louvre. The tour guide gives an  informative trip through French history with a bit of a slant to keep it entertaining , the french had a violent and crazy past.  It was really good fun and jess was a demon on her bike as some of the pics will show. The tour finishes back at the Eiffel tower for some great shots and back to the office to drop the bikes off.

Thank you very much Shags for a great gift that we really enjoyed.

A & J .