Great British Adventure

Ah, Britain. I was SO excited to arrive back in my home country after so long in countries where i couldn’t speak the language. I was starting to get really homesick, despite all the fun I was having. We arrived in the UK on November 5th, and we stayed in a little pub called “The Crown” about an hour or so outside London in Clapham Junction. It wasn’t too bad a train ride to get into the city each day, and I had a lot of fun taking my boyfriend round all the major sights.

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

We saw most if not all of the typical London things to see… The London Eye (although I’d already been on it and the boyfriend doesn’t do heights, so we didn’t go up it), Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, London Bridge etc. etc. I don’t feel like I can delve into everything that I love about London, simply because there’s so much. I’m not sure I’d necessarily want to live there, but I’ll definitely be going back as often as I can.

Covent Garden plus telephone boxes

Covent Garden plus telephone boxes

A few highlights, I guess, were Covent Garden, Big Ben and Hamley’s. I’m aware that Big Ben is the bell and not the building, but as I don’t know what the building is called Big Ben will have to do it (we didn’t see the bell…). I get the impression from conversations with my mother that Covent Garden is much more high-end than it was in the seventies and eighties, but I loved it nonetheless, despite or even maybe because of the fact that I couldn’t afford anything. I will be going back, with lots more money.

Covent Garden market hall

 

I think the main thing that endeared me to it was the way it was set out. I loved the contrast of the cheap and nasty souvenir and second hand market across the road from the kitschy, artsy stalls selling things like silk scarves, metalwork jewellery and carved wooden ornaments that I’d never have been able to get through Australian customs if my life depended on it. And then in the next few streets there were all the higher end stores selling off their own brands, like the Dr. Martens or the Cambridge Satchel Company pop-up store. We spent a good hour in the Tintin shop where the boy spent about as much money as I spent on my mask on merchandise, and to top it all off it looks really pretty at sunset. A plus in anyone’s books, I reckon.

Isn't it gorgeous?

Big Ben, and surrounds, I have to say were simply impressive. There’s not really another way to describe it. Even though I’ve been to London before, a few times (hell, I’d been just before going to Greece to get my passport renewed!) I don’t think I’ve ever been that close to Westminster Abbey, or if I have, I don’t think I realised it at the time. I was surprised by how dwarfed it is by its surrounds, making a fairly massive building by the standards of its time, appear quaint and understated, which you really don’t get from this picture at all…

Westminster Abbey (not looking quite so small from this angle)

Westminster Abbey (not looking quite so small from this angle)

Hamley’s I don’t really have any pictures of, just this one with me next to life-size Lego models of members of the royal family…

Lookit, Kate, Will and Harry. Also Phillip.

Lookit, Kate, Will and Harry. Also Phillip.

We were there during the Christmas shopping high period, and my poor boyfriend (kidding, it was hilarious) bore the brunt of some British humour in the form of an information attendant in Oxford Circus. As we came out of the tube station, we were both quite disoriented and weren’t sure which way the shop was, so we decided to ask for directions. The exchange went something like this:

Me: Hi, which way is Hamley’s?

Info Guy: (totally deadpan) Hamley’s? You’re out of luck, they’ve closed for Christmas!

Boyfriend: Oh… okay then

AND THEN HE STARTED TO WALK AWAY. I Think sometimes he’s way too polite to guess when people are joking… coming from a British background, I see now why he thinks my mother doesn’t like him. It’s not that, she just likes making fun of him. The poor info guy looked completely taken aback that he’d been taken seriously, having heard my accent he’d assumed we were both British and would understand, poor bloke unwittingly confused the life out of my silly Aussie boy, who hasn’t yet learnt from me that this is considered high class humour where I’m from…

After London, (having stayed in a small hostel above a pub in Clapham Junction, about an hour out of the city by train, and only been harassed by one drunken man for pizza) we moved on to Cambridge, where my parents were renting a flat for my dad’s sabbatical and mum’s long service leave (for those of you in countries where this doesn’t exist, basically she gets one school term, or ten weeks, worth of paid leave every ten years she works at that school. We were really lucky everything coincided like it did).

One of the many impressive university buildings in Cambridge

One of the many impressive university buildings in Cambridge

 

We stayed there, very cramped up (we took over my brother’s bedroom, and he slept on an air mattress in the hall) for a few days, wandering around Cambridge to museums and cafes, before heading to Lancashire to visit some old friends for a few days. We went on a walk through some farmland, and I saw the girls I went to nursery school with again.

Ah, Northern English countryside

Ah, Northern English countryside

From Lancashire we drove to Bromyard, a small town on the border with Wales, for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of my dad’s parents, at which point (or just before) I got really sick. Like, I didn’t change out of pajamas for about a week kind of sick (that sounds grosser than I intended. By no means did I wear the SAME pajamas for the week, I changed out of one pair and into another). Most of my family was there for this, which could have been slightly awkward for my boyfriend, suddenly being foisted upon my grandparents, aunt, three of my cousins and right at the end my uncle and his new wife, but if it was he didn’t show it. It was a pretty cottage-type house with plenty of room and it was a great week of celebrations, culminating in a massive Chinese take-out banquet, at which not nearly all of the food was eaten, because it’s Chinese take-out, it never ever gets finished and you always order too much rice.

The house in Bromyard

The house in Bromyard

We had an afternoon in Hay-on-Wye, another small town, this time just inside Wales, which is almost entirely made up of bookshops. I went gift shopping while everyone else went wandering, and then we got back in the car and drove into mid-Wales (I’m really not sure if that’s one word or not…) to see my mum’s parents and stay with them for a week. Still being sick, I wasn’t too keen on the walks around the village everyone else was going on, so with the promise that I’d come with when I came back at Christmas, they went without me.

One of few walks I DID do was around this dam (you can see the wall in the distance) which was overflowing. I'd been there a few months prior and the water wasn't even hitting the top of the wall, let alone going over it!

One of few walks I DID do was around this dam (you can see the wall in the distance) which was overflowing. I’d been there a few months prior and the water wasn’t even hitting the top of the wall, let alone going over it!

Another British-staple type-thing we did was drive from Wales to Manchester for a football game (soccer, for any Aussies or Americans reading. And potentially Canadians, what do you call football in Canada?). We watched Man City beat Aston Villa by an atrocious margin, just as well we were sitting on the City side (my home team). After the match, Dad drove us past the house we lived in when I was born, and pointed out all the differences. I was really appreciative of that, because I was only two when we moved from Manchester to a little village about three-quarters of an hour outside Lancaster.

 

Shocking. Aston Villa way off their game for the whole season, I believe.

Shocking. Aston Villa way off their game for the whole season, I believe.

Etihad Stadium

Etihad Stadium

The last big thing with did in the UK before flying on to Germany was go to Leavesden Studios in Watford Junction for the “Harry Potter Experience” it’s some of the best fun I’ve ever had (such that when I got back to the UK around Christmas, I went again with my little brother), and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who’s even a bit of a fan of the movies. They’ve got pretty much everything you could possibly want to see, and the interactive digital guides are a must. Seriously. Go there.

The bus you get from the train station to the studios

The bus you get from the train station to the studios

Me outside the studios

Me outside the studios

Mmm, butterbeer (I think it was some kind of creaming soda style pop, but not the noxious pink stuff you get here, with vanilla cream to get the "head")

Mmm, butterbeer (I think it was some kind of creaming soda style pop, but not the noxious pink stuff you get here, with vanilla cream to get the “head”)

I’m kicking myself for how long it’s taken me to write this, and I think I’ve only got two, maybe three posts to go before I’m finished writing about my trip and have to find something else to write about… in the meantime you can follow me on twitter or instagram (or both?) I’m helenrov on both, and I will most likely follow you back, although I’m still learning about using them so bear with me!

Next time: Germany, with maybe a little Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

Until then,

Helen

La Belle Paris

I’m going to start off straight off with this: I love Paris. I love the art galleries, the culture, the streets of shops and the ENORMOUS department stores. I loved being able to see the Eiffel Tower from the metro station near our hostel, the views from the main attractions, all the people everywhere and just the atmosphere. It was late October by the time we got to Paris and starting to cool down, which I was grateful for. I don’t think I would have managed the bajillion odd stairs I climbed up with Osgood-Schlatters if it was also 35ºC outside. I might have melted.

From the metro station at the top of the hill our hostel was on. EIFFEL TOWER!

From the metro station at the top of the hill our hostel was on. EIFFEL TOWER!

All this said, I don’t speak any French, and my boyfriend speaks even less (ha). I can do basics, but my accent isn’t good and I don’t understand any of it (it’s one thing to ask, “hello, where is the nearest metro station?” it’s a completely different thing to understand the answer). We go by ordering food, and generally speaking if you throw in a few French words here and there (Bonjour, Merci, etc.) and look generally apologetic for not speaking their language, people aren’t rude to you, and are generally happy enough to help.

Basically my favourite gargoyle

Basically my favourite gargoyle

Our first day we climbed Notre Dame. 387 steps in a spiral. Agony, but well worth it. I seriously do not regret the pain at all (and seriously, not that hard. If I can do it, you probably can. About 90% of the world is fitter than me so really, just do it). The view is magnificent. And so many gargoyles! I have photos of pretty much every one I saw, but I won’t share them all with you, I’ll stick to my favourites. Emmanuel (the bell) is enormous, definitely worth a look, and once you get up the very top, it’s incredibly high. Like, I-can-see-the-whole-city high.

Paris... from very very high up. 387 steps high up

Paris… from very very high up. 387 steps high up

That evening we caught the metro down to the Moulin Rouge to have a look at the windmill and walked through Montmartre up to Sacre Coeur to watch the sunset. Word of warning, you can’t see the Eiffel Tower from Sacre Coeur, there’re trees in the way. It was all gorgeous nonetheless, but due to the crowds (and our own exhaustedness) we didn’t get inside the cathedral, which I’d have loved to do. We were unfortunate in only having planned for a week (truthfully, we could’ve stayed longer but I was getting seriously homesick and wanted to get back to England asap as it was pretty much the longest I’d ever been without seeing my mum), but we still got as much in as I guess we could have hoped for.

Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur

Myself in front of the Paris skyline

Myself in front of the Paris skyline

The next morning we queued for the longest amount of time so far on the trip to climb the Eiffel Tower. We got the lifts up, but I hope one day (when I go back with an un-injured knee) to climb the stairs (although you can only climb halfway, then you have to take the lift). It was super packed due to a long weekend in a number of European countries, and full of dressed-up kids due to it being Halloween. I’d never seen the Eiffel Tower before, despite having been to Paris a couple of times on camping trips as a small child, and I was totally blown away by it. It’s enormous and beautiful.

Magnificent, is it not?

Magnificent, is it not?

Another Parisian view, with amazing weather featuring the massive shadow of the tower

Another Parisian view, with amazing weather featuring the massive shadow of the tower

Later on that day we walked down the Champs-Élysées (stopping off to gawk at some HUMONGOUS stores on the way) and climbed the Arc de Triomphe, also breathtaking with amazing views of the Eiffel tower. We stayed up there for sunset, in time for the lights on the tower to be turned on and everything to start glittering. Romantic? Incredibly.

Eiffel Tower being sparkly and amazing

Eiffel Tower being sparkly and amazing

 

Champs-Élysées at night

Champs-Élysées at night

Arc de Triomphe being impressive

Arc de Triomphe being impressive

On November 1st we spent our morning at the Louvre (can I just say I really loved being 18 on this trip? I got in free pretty much everywhere…). We stood in a massive crowd to see the Mona Lisa, which, conversely to popular opinion, was bigger than I was expecting it to be. Maybe it’s because I’ve heard so many people go on about how TINY the painting is… I don’t know. It was more amazing to see the people crowding around her than the actual painting, to be honest. I appreciate its a masterpiece and all, but the social obligation to go to the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa if you’re in Paris sort of astounds me. You don’t really get the same thing about art anywhere else. No one is shocked if you go to Canberra and don’t see Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series… I digress. We saw the staples, if you will, of the Louvre, and then headed back over towards Notre Dame for souvenir shopping (I may or may not have an extensive snow globe collection…)

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Ooooh, art.

Friday (the next day) was my “Paris Shopping Day” which I completely failed at seeing as I didn’t buy a single thing. I had a look at some art outside a church behind the Louvre by Mauro Perucchetti, and made my way over to the LaFayette centre, which is the biggest shopping center/department store/thing EVER. Probably (not really, but I think it was for a bit). They had their Christmas tree up ALREADY (November 3rd. Really, guys?) and it was probably the biggest tree I’ve ever seen.

Female David

Female David

 

Flipping huge tree, right?

Flipping huge tree, right?

On our last day in Paris we went to see the pyramids outside the Louvre and walked through the Jardin des Tuileries. This took a surprisingly long time as, not only is it much bigger than I was expecting but we kept stopping to look at things and sit to watch ducks swim around in fountains.

Pyramid!

Pyramid!

 

Completely gorgeous day, also ducks

Completely gorgeous day, also ducks

As you can probably tell from the pictures it was a completely gorgeous day, some of the most perfect weather we experienced on the whole trip; not hot, not too cold, and sunny with pretty, fluffy clouds. After marvelling at the obelisk for a bit we went to Pierre Hermé to buy macarons, some of which were really nice, others were a bit odd…

Obelisk being tall

Obelisk being tall

Pretty box, pretty macarons..

Pretty box, pretty macarons..

 

I think this one was some kind of flower flavour, which was interesting

I think this one was some kind of flower flavour, which was interesting

On the 4th of November we took a Eurolines bus (I tell you, getting that ticket was the most stressful thing ever) from Paris to London, and arrived in the early evening, actually managing to miss my parents being in the city by about an hour.

More on the UK next time, hope you’ve enjoyed my photos, feel free to ask me anything about my time in Paris, especially if you’re planning to go there yourself, I’d be happy to help in any way I can. (I totally broke my 500 word limit and made this post even longer… sorry. Let me know what you’d prefer to read from me anyway, once I’m done with my travels these posts will be less essay-like, I swear)

Until then,

Helen

You Slacker, You. Also Switzerland.

I’m clearly not very good at keeping on top of things. Being that it’s been over a month since my last post and even longer since the events I’m writing about, it should be clear what my New Year’s resolution is (not that I managed to write them anywhere!); be more organised. From now on I hope to keep to a posting schedule of at least once a week.

Last post I spoke about Milan. Well, after Milan, and after a fair amount of stress around getting on a train, we arrived in Zürich, where my boyfriend’s aunt lived. We had stayed with my relatives already on this trip, however I hadn’t met my Dad’s cousins either so it was equally daunting for the both of us. This time however I was meeting a woman my boyfriend obviously had a good relationship with and I had no idea what to expect. Would she like me? Would I like her? Was her husband nice, did her children behave like total brats? I was lost, and a complete nervous wreck.

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It’s just postcard perfect, isn’t it?

As it turned out she is a lovely woman, who looks about ten years younger than she is, her husband was an absolute delight and their children some of the best behaved I’ve come across in some time. Phew. Once that dilemma was well and truly dealt with, I was much more relaxed about our trip. Truthfully, I didn’t have a clue what there was to do in Zürich and was completely reliant on my boyfriend to sort things out. We spent a week in Lenze Heide with his aunt’s family, up in the Swiss Alps, which is a completely beautiful area. Unfortunately due to having developed Osgood-Schlatter’s in my right knee, I was finding it difficult to be as active as I wanted to be, especially when it came to going up and down the mountains. Luckily my boy is very patient in times like this and put up with my slow pace and hisses of indignant pain when needed.

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I was more than ready to return to Zürich from the Alps when the time came. I was having a slight bit of technology withdrawal, as the holiday house was newly purchased we weren’t even sleeping on proper beds, so wifi was out of the question. Zürich is interesting, but I probably wouldn’t list it up with my favourite cities. It’s certainly pretty, the museum is incredible and the view from the top of one of the mountains nearby is breathtaking (I honestly don’t remember which one), but by this point, and so soon after my favourite city (Venice) it’s not somewhere I’d go out of my way to return to now.

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I find Swiss-German very difficult. I’m nearly fluent in German after five years of continuous study and an exchange trip, but Swiss-German is just too different, and nearly impossible for me to understand, so keep that in mind when planning a trip. They may share some similarities, and certainly written it is easier to understand, but the accent and pronunciation can be vastly different.

From Zürich we travelled to Lutry, a little town near Lausanne in the French part of Switzerland where my Dad’s cousin Philip lives with his wife. Philip is one of the most amazing people I know in terms of being multilingual. His first language is Cypriot Greek from his father’s side (brother to my Grandmother or Yiayia in Greek) Armenian from his mother’s side, English from school and my Grandparents whom he stayed with often when he studied in England, German which he learned to speak to his wife (and to read the good car magazines!), and finally French which I believe was also learnt in school but is practised due to where he lives, just amazing. I find two languages hard enough, but to have five sitting there in your head is insane.

Reformation Monument in Geneva

Reformation Monument in Geneva

With Philip we travelled around Lausanne, Gruyere and Geneva. Lausanne is incredibly pretty in the snow and the cathedral is breathtaking. Gruyere was interesting… we saw Spanish football fans doing something with bells (see picture) and that was a stand-out moment. Geneva was again, really pretty but just about the most expensive place we went. Both Philip and his wife Barbara are amazing cooks so the food was incredible, but as my knee was still playing up I couldn’t go for spontaneous walks like my boyfriend could, so I didn’t see anything I wasn’t driven to.

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In conclusion (wow, I haven’t written that since high school…), Switzerland is completely gorgeous, but incredibly expensive so if you’re looking to go there I’d recommend saving a lot or finding people to stay with (you also get local knowledge this way, which was invaluable for us as otherwise we quite possibly would have spent our 2-3 weeks in Switzerland being confused by the funny not-quite German or French that neither of us spoke, then get to the end of our stay and totally regret everything we didn’t see because we didn’t know about it (or at least, I would have…). Anywho, we got on a train from Lausanne to Geneva, then a high-speed TGV to Paris, and that is where I’m leaving this post for now because honestly, if it hasn’t become obvious by now that I’m truly crap at this, making this post any longer would do it. So next up: Paris, then London, then Germany and surrounding cities we went to just outside Germany (probably in two posts… a whole month is a lot to cram into one post, and given that one country is practically an essay I won’t do that again. I swear. 500 word limit)

Until next time,

Helen

The Epic Boredom of Milan

If there’s anywhere I regret going on this trip, it’s probably Milan. The only thing I really got out of this trip was a Facebook profile picture (seriously). Il Duomo was pretty enough, sure, but as we were only in the city for one day, which happened to be a Sunday, Milan was closed.

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Myself in front of Il Duomo

I had offered my Dad Cinelli merchandise, which I was unfortunately unable to get (yes, I know, I can order it online, but he’s the kind of man who’ll appreciate it more coming from somewhere significant, like the birth place of the brand), we never actually went into Il Duomo as the crowds were so massive we had little chance of getting close, and seeing as I’d managed to develop Osgood-Schlatter’s Disease (or something similar) during our stay in Venice, walking was not especially comfortable.

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Galleria

I had hoped to make it out to a particular suburb on the outskirts of Milan, the name of which I cannot at present find or remember (typical…) which is where my Grandfather’s Grandfather came from, just to have a look at some family history, however we simply didn’t get around to it, what with my decreased walking speed (still not entirely better a month or so on) and not being entirely certain how to get there…

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Il Duomo

All around a bit of a flop. I can really only recommend Milan to people who are only going there for fashion and shopping, which really you can just do in Paris, a much prettier and far more interesting city.

To top it all off, when we tried to book seats on a train to Zürich, we ended up having to book a new hotel room instead as every train that day was completely full except first class, which neither of us could afford. Brilliant.

Anyone else felt pure disappointment about a travel destination before?

More to come, next up: Switzerland

Helen

Venetian Love

As I stated in my last post, Venice easily and quickly earned it’s place at the top of my “favourite cities” list. I loved it there, and I will definitely be returning as soon as I can afford it again, for as lengthy a stay as I can get away with.

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Me in Venice!!

Now, our stay in Venice was not without its stresses. I stress out far too easily (The phrase “take a chill pill” and all its derivatives make me want to wallop whomever delivered it. Over the head. With something heavy. And then scream for a bit…) and the rather unsuccessful beginning to this stay was not conducive to a stress-free environment. Still, I can now (in hindsight) chalk it up to experience and admit that maybe I overreacted at the time.

The kind couple handing over their half-used ticket was a nice beginning, I’ll admit, but came after fifteen or so minutes standing in the wrong line before giving up, realising how stupid we were because the line we were meant to be in was so painfully obvious that only a total fool could have missed it. It then took us a while to realise what this couple was actually giving us, and then a few more after that to switch out of the tickets line and into the line for actually getting on the boat…

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Off the back of the water bus

The boat trip itself was fine. We sat out the back and I didn’t get sick (huzzah!). We got off at the stop as instructed on the directions provided by the hostel and then… lost. Not so lost that we had no idea whatsoever where we were, but we didn’t have a map and the directions were in garbled English mentioning street names that had no signs and “go left”s when they meant “straight on”. Frustrating and lead to several wrong turns and a few aggravated groans. I’m so lucky my boyfriend puts up with that from me for the most part (although he gives as good as he gets) because I was incredibly close to snapping by the time we finally found the place. I guess my injured knee and overall level of un-fitness (is that even a word? Well, I guess it is now…) didn’t help this. All the up-ing and down-ing over bridges wasn’t exactly helping…

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Gondolas lined up on the banks of the canal

And then we finally got there. It wasn’t a very obvious hostel, I’ll admit. And the inside wasn’t much like a hostel either. Hardly even a hotel, more a homestay. We got there, gave our names, and the receptionist/owner’s face fell. “Oh dear, guys, there’s been a mistake.” Never good words to hear. “The room has been booked for tomorrow, you’re early.” My boyfriend maintains that this is all my fault. I maintain that as he paid with his card, it was his responsibility to check the details and therefore not all blame can be put on me, but that’s beside the point. My heart dropped completely. We had two hostels in two different cities booked for the next night, but none for that night.

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Just outside the hostel on the night we got there

I guess luck was on our side for some reason or other, because the outcome of this potential disaster was that we stayed an extra night in Venice (our room was free, huzzah!) and got free towels from the guy at the desk because he felt so bad for us (not exactly a huge deal, but a nice gesture). Overall, we should have planned two nights from the beginning. It wouldn’t have been enough time (and we still didn’t get to see Michaelangelo’s David…) and we’d have rushed through everything.

The city is beautiful. The people are lovely. In St Mark’s square there were two bands alternating playing sets, and a few couples got up from there over-priced meals to dance, spurring much applause from onlookers who couldn’t afford to eat at such a location. The next morning we went to Murano, the glass-making island, and saw a large amount of truly beautiful hand-blown glass… in amongst a lot of cheap crap imported from China. Still, the stuff was very beautiful. I spent nearly two hours browsing mask shops that afternoon, we had “the best ice-cream in Venice” (as recommended by the hostel) and some of the best take-away pizza ever as well.

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Murano glass, Water feature

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Murano glass, Fire feature

Our second morning we got up early to watch the sunrise in St Mark’s square. The sunrise itself wasn’t anything special (it clouded over during the night and was drizzling slightly) but simply seeing the square nearly empty made up for that. After some careful persuasion (and a bit of early xmas cash wired through paypal) from my aunt, I took the plunge and purchased my very own Venetian mask. I swear, it’s probably the most beautiful thing I own. I definitely need to make a gown or something to match, even if I’ll never have anywhere to wear it. The mask itself is currently wrapped up in Cambridge, ready to be my carry-on luggage on the way home. I’m so pleased I did it, though, and didn’t talk myself out of it. Anyone else have that problem? Sometimes I think I can be too frugal.

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St Mark’s Square at dawn

The Rialto bridge is magnificent. I was thoroughly impressed by the sheer number of people on or around it (although not quite as packed as the Trevi Fountain or Spanish Steps in Rome, still an impressive number of people, even though it’s not quite evident in the photo below). Michaelangelo’s David will have to wait until next time as we simply didn’t make it. We had to get back to the hostel to check out and get back to the train station to get to Milan. At the station, I was compelled to pass on our half-used water bus ticket, as had been done for us. We found a couple of girls on the station steps, looking a little lost to give it to (we got one ticket for two people). I have no idea if they used it, but they were the only ones who fit the bill–that is, people who looked like they needed it. Everyone in line was older and fairly obviously wealthy. We wanted this gift to go to someone who could appreciate it like we did. I hope they continued the cycle. Ever felt the need to pay it forward? It’s a great feeling, I must admit.

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The Rialto Bridge

Venice is still a highlight, even now a month or so on (I know, I’m so slack) having visited Switzerland, Paris, the UK, North Germany and now Amsterdam (more on those later) with still further to go, and I will definitely be going back, and recommending it to anyone who will sit still long enough.

A bit exhausted, but still excited,

Until next time,

Helen

When Things Go Wrong, and when they don’t

I’ve begun to lose track of how long I’ve been away. It’s sad, I wanted to document this trip so much and it just hasn’t happened. On the other hand, I am spending my time enjoying my traves rather than constantly coming up with blog posts in my head- I will get better with this in time, and writing this blog is a learning experience, after all.

A brightly lit mask shop in Venice

As the name of my blog would suggest, I’m a worrier. So far on this trip I have worried myself to the point of distraction more times than I could count. Luckily, very little has gone properly wrong. By “properly” wrong, I mean so-wrong-there’s-no-way-out-we’re-stuck-with-no-money-and-no-food-and-nowhere-to-sleep kind of wrong. When you’re booking trains and accommodation on the fly with very little concrete planning, this is a risk, however with the help of HostelBookers.com (seriously. I love this website. This tripe wouldn’t have gone nearly so smooth without them) we have managed to avoid sleeping in parks or anything like that.

The first thing that went wrong I wrote about in my last post. The second occurred when we arrived in Venice. I had been looking forward to Venice more than perhaps anything else we had planned. With good reason. The first thing we did when we got to Venice was go line up for tickets for the waterbus. A long line that was virtually un-moving, you wait to pay a whopping €7 for one hour on the waterbusses. We got lucky. An incredibly kind and generous couple spotted us in line with our massive packs, and came up to us. In a move shocking enough to render both myself and my boyfriend speechless beyond a stunned “Thank you. Thank you so, so much,” they handed over their two-person ticket, which still had a half-hour left on it. We made our way to the hostel, the first time we’d booked a private room since we planned to get up for sunrise in St Mark’s Square.

View out the back of the waterbus

Except we’d booked the hostel for the wrong date. The day after we got there. We were lucky again, our room was free! It cost us an extra €44 each, but in the end it was completely worth it. Venice is certainly a highlight of the trip, one of my favourite experiences and one I will definitely live again over the years. We got an extra day in a city that may in the coming years end up completely underwater. I’m so glad we didn’t miss it. I will post again about Venice with more detail. I’d like now to get back on topic: things that went wrong.

We discovered the first night in Venice that we had booked Milan for the same night. The hostel we had booked was full for the next night, so we lost our deposit and had to look for somewhere else. This in itself was more of an irritation than a real problem, but worth mentioning, I feel, because on a budget as tight as mine this is the sort of thing I shouldn’t really be able to afford to do.

Venetian Gondolas, all lined up in a row.

Our stay in Milan was… disappointing. There wasn’t anything special about the city, really. We had only a Sunday there, so nothing was open. We could barely get close to the  cathedral and didn’t even think about going inside. My Dad had requested Cinelli merchandise, but all the shops were shut (and most Cinelli dealers in Milan only sell bicycles, not caps or T-shirts like he wanted…). We found a market to wander around and ended up having to buy an umbrella when the heavens opened and we narrowly avoided being soaked to the bones.

We made our way to the train station to try and get to Zurich only to discover that every train that day was full, unless we wanted to purchase full-price First-Class tickets. No, thank you. Half an hour of drama later, we had booked ourselves on a train the next morning, and with the help of HostelBookers, managed to find a room about 600m from the station. Not too bad, in the end, but hellishly stressful at the time. We considered going to San Siro to have a look, but in the end it was rainy, miserable, we were both exhausted and given the time of day we decided it mightn’t be the best idea anyway, given how dodgy the area is reported to be.

This is what you get when you book a “double room with private bathroom” in Milan. That’s three singles pushed together with a shower in the corner.

We got to Zurich well enough, where we stayed with my boyfriend’s aunt and her family. They have two incredibly sweet girls and the stay was an incredible break from taking care of ourselves so completely for the first time (keep in mind we are both teenagers living with our parents… my major homesick moment happened in Greece when I realised how long it had been since I’d seen my Mum—four weeks—and how long it would be until I’d see her again—five weeks—and broke down completely). We are now staying outside of Lausanne with one of my Dad’s cousins (more Greek rellies!) and his wife. We are going to Geneva with him tomorrow morning, and on Monday we will get a train to Paris. Six nights there before we head to London, which I am really looking forward to.

Some Swiss Alps from the family’s holiday home up in Lenzerheide

I’m a bit apprehensive about going to Paris. The last time I was there I was five, my mum was still pregnant with my little brother and we were camping with another family. I learned to swim on that trip. This time I am staying in a shared room and it will matter a little more that neither my boyfriend nor myself speak any French beyond bonjour, sil’vous plait and merci. Could be interesting. Switzerland so far has been easy since we both speak German (and most people speak English anyway) but I get the impression it will not be so easy with the French to simply look a bit lost and act as polite as possible while pointing at what we want and saying “une -blank-, sil’vous plait?” I doubt that will go down so well, especially since we likely won’t have any idea what we’re asking for… luckily the hostel we’re staying at includes breakfast.

Here’s hoping the last bit of this leg goes well, you should hear from me again soon with details from Venice and other tidbits I’ve learned while travelling.

Until next time,