Thursday, May 31, 2012

Roman Holiday

I'm sure you'll all be glad to know my exams are done and dusted. Thanks for your concern. So now I have plenty of time for updating my poor neglected blog. Ok, well that's a fib. The next three weeks are going be full on to say the least so I'm going to schedule some posts to give the illusion that spending time on my blog.

Ok, so we are about half way into the crazy European adventure that was. Aaah Rome. You were an interesting place for more reasons that I will be divulging on this blog. Not least of all because we arrived on Easter Sunday. Yeeaaaah...that was never going to go well for us. Our tour guide failed to compensate for altered public transport timetables which meant waiting in the freeeeezing cold for over two hours for two different buses. Good times.

Anyway on to the photos which is the real reason this is being read, if it is. We arrived on the Sunday afternoon for a brief walking tour of the city. Aside from the fact that we were all dressed for a summer day in spite of the dead-of-winter-temperatures it was a great initiation to the city and all it's craziness.

Day Two

We had the Monday to ourselves but we all opted to do the 3 hour guided tour and boy were we happy with our choice. Our American tour guide was phenomenal - he knew everything about everything to do with Roman history. We were all suitably impressed.

Our day looked like this...

Obligatory Colosseum tourist photo.

St Peter's Basilica

The only photo I managed to snap of the Swiss guard - so disappointed it's such poor quality.

Sadly my camera died about ten minutes after being inside St Peter's. Take my word for it - that place is exquisite and flipping huge, much bigger than it appears from the outside.

Next up: Florence!!

Sunday, May 27, 2012


At long last we reached Italy!! I was so excited to get to Venice - it has been on my must-see list for as long as I can remember. And I absolutely loved it. Such a beautiful city, unsuprisingly. It felt so strange to be that close to the ocean without being at the beach though - that's not how we do it in Oz, that's for sure.

The weathe was unreal while we were in this lovely city, especially the miserableness that followed us for the rest of the trip. We spent our free day island-hopping and gelati-eating. Perfect combo.  

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Toblerone Country

From the Rhine Valley we continued venturing south to Switzerland, Alps bound. I was surprised to see how many people actually live in the area - I know that probably says more about my ignorance than anything else.

Even in spite of the relatively crappy weather we had while there (it was super overcast and the clouds hung really low) it was still unbelievably beautiful. I've certainly never seen anything like it before.

On our free day most of the tour group opted to head to the top of Jungfrau mountain which is known as the top of Europe. At 130 Swiss franks I opted out. Instead a small group of us spent the day exploring a few little towns in the area.

First up was Interlacken at the base of the mountain. Such a picturesque town - I would love to have been there in Spring or Summer when everything was green and lush.

From there we jumped on another train and headed up the opposite side of the mountain to Lauterbrunnen. Rumour has it, this tiny weeny town was the inspiration for Tolkein's Rivendell. I'll be honest, I struggled to see it but it was utterly beautiful with all the waterfalls.



Friday, May 25, 2012

Neun und Neunzig Luftballoons*

Two exams down, one to go. Perfect time for a celebratory blog post me thinks.

After one hell of a bus ride we made it to the Rhine Valley, Germany. I was a little disappointed that the tour bypassed all the fantastic cities in Germany, especially considering we would be going from the mountainous Rhine Valley straight to the mountainous Swiss Alps. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the very brief time we spent in Germany. We arrived mid-afternoon with about an hour to kill before jumping on a river cruise up the Rhine. Was a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend the afternoon.

I seem to remember our tour guide mentioning that the St Goar area has the highest density of castles in Europe. Don't quote me on that though, it could be all lies. There were ALOT of castles to be spotted though.

Nothing like the classic half-blink to ruin an otherwise nice photo.
*This title has absolutely nothing to do with the post - it was just the first German-related thing that popped into my head.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cheese and Clogs

I'm a terrible blogger. I don't even know how long it's been since my last post. I wish I could say I've been doing something productive with my time but I really haven't. I've written two mediocre essays and pretended to study for upcoming exams, the first of which is tomorrow. So in the name of procrastination, here is my latest Europe installment.

So after my little French adventure on my lonesome, I jumped on a plane to Amsterdam. Actually, that's a fib. I flew into Eindhoven and then coach-ed it to Amsterdam. It was actually a really nice introduction to the Netherlands. I could not believe how flat the landscape was; bit of a change to good ol' mountainous Brissie.

I arrived the day before the tour started which gave me a chance to wander around a little village in Monnickendam right next to the hotel. I think the coach ride threw me off a bit because it felt so strange to have a view of a marina from my hotel window - my brain kept telling me we are way too far inland for there to be so much water around!

After a few hours delay the next morning, our tour finally started with a bike ride. Now, I'll be honest, the idea of doing a tour through the Dutch countryside was equal parts exciting and daunting. I haven't ridden my bike in years so I was more than a little nervous. Turns out I was right to be. Those Dutch bikes are damn hard to control; I think it has something to do with the huge handle bars and the fact that the only way to brake was to pedal backwards. I got the hang of it eventually and it really was a lovely way to see the Edam. That's right, it's not just a cheese. Although there was plenty of that.

We ended the bike ride at a Cheese and Clog making demonstration. Those two things don't usually go together but they do when it comes to tourism.

That night we headed into town for a quick walking tour of Amsterdam, and when I say Amsterdam it safe to assume we pretty much just saw the red light district. We were then left to our own devices for the rest of the evening. Sounds ominous, I know, but we took the cultured route and headed to dinner and then to Anne Frank's House.

Enjoy is not the right word to describe the Anne Frank House experience but I'm so glad I went. I know I would have got a lot more out of it if I'd read the book but my knowledge of the Holocaust is more than sufficient in terms of understanding and appreciating her story. Walking through the house is quite eery, especially her bedroom where some of her original wallpaper and decorations (usually cut-outs of film stars glued to the wall) still exist. I think everyone learns about the Holocaust at school, in some capacity, and as horrific as the stories are it is nearly impossible to comprehend just what life was like during that period. Being in that house made is much more real.

There were two displays that affected me most, neither of which were in the house itself. After you finish touring the house, there is a museum filled with things that had no place in any of the rooms. There is a video playing interviews with various people who knew Anne and her family. One interview was with a man who went to school with Anne, who at the time of the interview was quite elderly. He spoke about how his class pretty much ceased to exist as family after family were taken to camps or went into hiding. The sorrow in his eyes and in his voice was utterly devastating.

There was also a letter written by Anne's father Otto to a family friend, after he was released from Auschwitz. He wrote to thank his friend for helping his family while they were in hiding. His letter was full of gratitude and appreciation, in spite of his own tremendous loss. He hardly referred to the fact that he was the sole survivor of his family - his concern was only for the family of an old friend who had tried to help. His apparent selflessness was astounding and inspiring.

On a lighter note, the rest of the evening was spent slowly making our way back to the bus and eventually the hotel. Of course, not without a few photo stops on the way.

I love the architecture of Amsterdam, especially all the wonky buildings. It is a very very cool city. Everything about the city screams style...ok, except for the whole decriminalisation of pot and thriving sex sector thing. The people are incredibly well dressed, and their homes look like something out of an Ikea catalogue.  I love the idea of living there but I don't know how I'd adjust to the whole, 'riding a bike everywhere even when you can't tell if you're on a road until you realise there is a car behind you' thing. Bit daunting but a nice idea.

Stay tuned for the next part of my tour: Germany.