Feeling très French

So it’s time for an update. I’ve been in Paris now for four days, and I am starting to really enjoy it. In fact, I have been mistaken for a Parisian six times in the last 48 hours!

Firstly, I’d like to say that I have enjoyed my journeying in France thus far, but travelling alone is very different.
Pros – You get to do what you want to do when you want to do it. If I choose to wake up at 9.30am and take my sweet time getting ready and out the door, there is no one to tell me that I’m wasting my day away. Likewise I can spend what I want, eat what I want, when I want, and feel no guilt (except what I put on myself, and I can always justify that away). When I decide that today experiencing Paris means reading a book for three hours in Jardins des Tuileries, then I can enjoy it!

Cons – There is no one around to say ‘oh my gosh, did you see that!’, or ‘that’s brilliant, do you want to do that with me?’. Sharing the moment is a little hard. Also, there is no one around to take a photo of you jumping in front of the Arc de Triomphe, or go with you to take night shots of the Eiffel tower all lit up (which I haven’t done yet, because it’s not the same by yourself). Hassling other people is an option, but I’m scared of handing someone my camera and having them run away with it.

Today though, I think is the first time that I’ve had a truly wonderful French experience. I’ve done some day tours (if you want an amazing free walking tour check out Sandemans New Europe Tours) and museums the last few days, and then trundled back to where I am staying to make myself an awesome fresh baguette from the local boulangerie, with deliciously creamy camembert (so cheap!), tomato and olive tapenade, accompanied by a glass of Merlot.

This morning I woke up late (around 9.30am), pottered around slowly, taking my time to shower, get ready, check facebook, answer emails etc. Then I took the metro to Jardins des Tuileries (the gardens of the Louvre) and bought a takeaway breakfast/lunch (coffee, mozzarella and tomato panini, and a pain au chocolat), enjoying the little bits of sun shining through and reading a book for a few hours. Then I went to the Louvre itself to join a small group tour (five people, run by the Arnaud at Babylon Tours) which was a fantastic entertaining few hours. I highly recommend using Arnaud for any private or small group tours around Paris. He definitely earned more than I paid in just the answers to my questions!

I decided to walk to the Latin Quarter (which was a bit of an effort considering my right foot has decided to hate me for walking on a lot of uneven cobblestones and footpaths for the last few days… I think I might have strained something somewhere) and find some dinner. After making it through Saint-Germain-des-Prés without getting lost, I turned down a little side street, then up another one and stumbled across a fondue restaurant called Heurex Comme Alexandre. I’ve never tried fondue before, and thought ‘what the hell… I’m in Paris!’

I turned up and a beautiful french man bounjoured me. I asked if they could do ‘fondue fromage végétarienne’ and he said ‘oui oui!’. Actually he didn’t say that exactly, but he did say yes. Then the owner Alex (of Alexandre fame) came out and he spoke brilliant English. Such a lovely man. They bought me a complimentary apértif , then a salad, then the bread, the potatotes, the fondue… I had a glass of wine, then another one, and basically I’m blaming Alex for the fourth glass. Also for the chocolat tarte he made me have. I’m not even joking, he said ‘come on, have it for me’. So I did. Also for me though, let’s be honest.

Across the road from where I was eating, drinking, smoking, and reading in the restaurant, there is a little second hand bookshop that has a Canadian flag hanging above it. About half way through my meal there was a group of people that sat at tables outside it and started playing guitar and singing! I was totally moved by their Coldplay and Beatles renditions, and eventually almost three hours later, after an amazing gastronomical experience, I tipsily made my way down to the metro to catch the train back. To complete my perfect typical French night there was of course a man playing a piano accordion when I got in the carriage. Happily I toe-tapped my way back to my station and eventually got home (after entering the wrong apartment complex, mixing up 30 and 32 in my slightly sozzled state).

Before today I was thinking that maybe Paris was just another slightly-charming city that smelled slightly like Vietnam if you stepped up the wrong lane way. But after tonight I have to admit that I have once again been won over to the city of love.

Here is some supporting evidence:

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Along the Seine

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The best outfit on a street performer that stands still for a living that I’ve seen yet!

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Ever wanted to know how to put up an obelisk? The instructions are in gold on the side.

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Like this even needs a caption….

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Looking out over Paris from a clock window at the Musée d’Orsay

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Looking out of another window at the Musée d’Orsay (not just great for Impressionist art, but also amazing views!) for the view over Paris, with the Sacré Coeur right at the top of the hill.

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Me and the pink sphinx hanging. Better than the pink panther I reckon. At least he’s not a cartoon.

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Galerie d’Apollon (Gallery of the Sun King) commissioned by Louis the 14th who loved Apollo and basically wanted to be him.

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See the Mona Lisa in the distance over there? Yeah, I didn’t bother. Did you know that the Mona Lisa only got really famous just over 100 years ago because it was stolen by an Italian cleaner (wanting to return it to his home country and make some money), and then when it resurfaced it suddenly had all this extra security and it was in all the newspapers and was this massive thing. It actually took them TWO WHOLE DAYS to realise it was missing from the Louvre. That’s why it’s famous. Not even DaVinci’s best work.

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Doing a worrying impression of ‘The Young Martyr’ by Paul Delaroche – my favourite painting here (I bought a print of it seven years ago when I was here last!)

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Amazing fondue dinner with bread, potatoes, wine, salad and of course fondue!

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Brighton Beginnings

Well today will be my fifth day in the lovely sunny (so far) town of Brighton.

I don’t yet have a reliable or fast internet connection, so uploading some photos is about all I can do at the moment as far as a blog post is concerned!

I go to Paris in a couple of days and I believe that I will have internet access there, so I will hopefully blogging from there.

I’m off to get a cup of tea now, but these are some shots I took yesterday in North Laine and down at the seaside. They will have to speak for me until I have time to tell my stories!

 

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Looking down one of the streets in the North Laine

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On my list of things I definitely need to try.

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Can I eats them?

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I’d kill for legs like this.

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I just love a good sign.

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Hello ladies!

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Just a typical pub in Brighton

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Obviously there is a lot of nasty crime going on here in Brighton.

The clock all dressed up in t-shirts for Brighton Festival

The clock all dressed up in t-shirts for Brighton Festival

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Close up of the t-shirts that are covering the clock

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Around the Brighton Pier

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Fly, little birdie, fly!

Changing my mind

The last week has been quite emotional for me. It has finally hit me that I am really moving overseas, that things will be changing, and that my mum won’t be around for a hug and a chat whenever I want her.  This of course has resulted in a few random emotional explosions (you know, the ones with tears and fury and kicking fridge doors) as well as a migraine (the doctor told me it was the physical reaction to my mental anxiety). I knew that I still wanted to leave, but I was finding it hard to remember why I wanted to go so badly. I even thought about booking a return ticket now.

Last night I was sitting on the couch with my dad and he flicked over to a movie that was on called Vicky Cristina Barcelona. On a sidenote, the main actor (Javier Bardem) was bugging me the whole movie because he looked so much like another actor that I couldn’t remember and I kept thinking of Gerard Butler but it wasn’t him. Turns out it’s another guy from P.S. I Love You. They look so similar, see?

Javier Bardem on the left, Jeffrey Dean Morgan on the right.  Both totally gorgeous.

Javier Bardem on the left, Jeffrey Dean Morgan on the right.
Both totally gorgeous.

Back to the point: this movie is obviously set in Barcelona (see film title), as well as some beautiful little towns outside it like Avilés and Oviedo, and it reminded me why I wanted to live in a different part of the world. To see incredible beauty, different to what we have in Australia. To surround myself in history, and culture, and languages that I don’t understand (but will endeavour to learn). To be the carefree woman riding a bicycle down a dusty road to have vino and cheese and bread for lunch with someone I just met (like in so many European movies!).

So I thought about it and came up with the 10 places/adventures that I most want to experience while I am over there. Not all of them are the stuff that romantic movies are made of, but they will be part of my journey nonetheless!

In a list from 10 up to numero uno:

10. Visit EuroDisney.
Mainly because I have never been to a Disney park, and there is nothing like rediscovering your childhood! It’s located in France (about 35 minutes from Paris by train) and since there are a couple of other things I want to do in Paris while I’m there (and can get £69 return tickets by train from London), why not?

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EuroDisney – one of millions of castles around Europe, but this one has real princesses!

9. Sleep in a castle. Preferably haunted.
Firstly, sleeping in a 14th century castle, pretty cool right? Add in a four poster bed, a murdered ghost and a nice breakfast the next morning and you’ve got a pretty amazing experience right there!

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This is Ackergill Tower in Scotland. It boasts several murders in a family feud, and is haunted by the beautiful Helen Gunn who was abducted by the other feuding family and either jumped or fell from the tower, trying to escape.

8. Hang out in Paris.
Last time I was in Paris I was only there for a few days, and I missed out on so much! I want to explore the Louvre again, visit the Musée d’Orsay, chill out in Montmartre, see Versailles, admire Notre Dame from the inside, and stroll once more through the midnight fruit & veg markets in the Latin Quarter.

The beautiful latin quarter in Paris, where I stayed last time I was here.

The beautiful Latin Quarter in Paris, tends to be filled with students and bohemian types.

7. Rock out with the Beatles in Liverpool.
Yes, I am a massive Beatles fan, and yes, I will be doing the Beatles tour in Liverpool. They take you on a Magical Mystery Tour to Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields the Beatles homes and places they hung out at, met at and performed! There is even ‘A Day In The Life’ all day tour that I might splurge out on! Then I truly will know whether or not I Am The Walrus.

The Beatles Story museum in Liverpool, England.

The Beatles Story museum in Liverpool, England.

6. Soak in the Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik.
I first heard about Reykjavik because of an amazing Icelandic band called Sigur Rós. After watching their own documentary Heima, a showcase of their music and their stunning country, I immediately wanted to go there. I then heard that they have a rockin’ mayor Jón Gnarr, leader of the Best Party (satirical political party devoted to making life more fun) who is happy to appear in drag at their Pride parade! Really, he deserves his own post. Please look him up. Anyway, the Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa which is fed by the water output from the nearby geothermal power plant which provides electricity. Relaxing and environmental!

The Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, with Svartsengi Power Station in the background.

The Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, with Svartsengi Power Station in the background.

5. Visit Torchwood Headquarters in Cardiff.
Is anybody else out there a massive Doctor Who fan? I also love the spinoff series Torchwood, which has its headquarters in Cardiff, Wales. I want to stand on the right square near the fountain at Roald Dahl Plass and imagine that I too will suddenly be camouflaged by a perception filter and take the lift down into The Hub. I am a sci-fi nerd, yes. Also, the rest of Wales looks lovely.

BAD WOLF. Watch Doctor Who if you don’t understand me.

4. Ride in a Hot Air Balloon in Cappadocia, Turkey.
I just can’t think of a better place to ever go Hot Air Ballooning. Firstly, you get to overlook the amazing ‘fairy chimneys’ where people carved houses and lived in the rocks. Secondly, the sight of so many hot air balloons in pretty colours in the air at once is just gorgeous too! Thirdly, the rest of Turkey is incredibly rich in history and landscape, and I really can’t wait to organise a trip there.

Can you think of anything better to do? Really?

Can you think of anything better to do? Really?

3. Visit a Greek Island. Perhaps two or three even.
I know that it’s stereotyped and typical and everybody does it. But there has to be a reason why! I have seen so many movies and books and photos of the Greek Islands and I just can’t wait to plan a trip. I want to maybe do a boat that goes around a few of them, but I also want to hunker down in one place for a few weeks, drinking ouzo and eating dolmades every night and soaking up the culture. I can even imagine myself sun baking and getting a nice golden tan! Well. Maybe that’s a bit extreme.

A friend of mine stayed here in Mykonos for a few weeks last year, and said it was absolutely not a cliche but a must-do!

2. Live in an Italian Villa for a month or two.
I don’t necessarily have a particular part of Italy in mind. It can be San Gimignano  in Florence, or Assissi (one of my favourite spots in the world so far), or Siena or Ravello in the Amalfi Coast. I don’t care, I just want to soak it up and live like a local. Find a beautiful Italian to have picnics with. Drink red wine at 11am. Write. Paint. Pick flowers while wearing a floppy hat. I want it all!

Where I will be so incredibly inspired with creativity that I will be positively glowing with it. Then a beautiful Italian will fall in love with me and I will write a best-selling book about it which will become another one of those movies you don't watch for the plot but for the scenery.

Where I will be so incredibly inspired with creativity that I will be positively glowing with it. Then a beautiful Italian will fall in love with me and I will write a best-selling book about it which will become another one of those movies you don’t watch for the plot but for the scenery.

And finally, numero uno!
1. Enrol in Hogwarts.

1. Have my breath taken away by the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)
When I was looking for pictures, it took me about 15 minutes just to make myself stop looking at them. They are breathtaking, amazing, incredible and five dozen other descriptive words. The best places to see them in Europe are Greenland, Iceland, Finland, Sweden and Norway. If the wonder and awe of the lights in the sky isn’t enough, there is usually specially-built luxury lodges near the best Aurora Borealis viewing spots, and other awesome activities like reindeer feeding (especially if you go to Finnish Lapland!), snowmobiling and husky sledding! I’ll be taking a couple of photography lessons though before I go to do this one.

A.ma.zing.

A.ma.zing.

I’m sure that I will have many more adventures than just these ten, and I’m glad I did this exercise – it’s made me remember why I so desperately wanted to be on that side of the word in the first place.

To pack, or not to pack: That is the question.

Or rather, what to pack and what not to pack.

With 26 days left until I fly out, I am starting to look at what to sell, what to pack and what to leave behind. I have 30kg checked bags, and 7kg of hand luggage.

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Some things are obvious: my dress-ups collection (including fairy wings, angel wings, hard hats, tool belts, elbow length gloves and safari hats just to name a few) are probably things I need to sell to get a few extra dollars.
My computer I am selling. SIDE NOTE: Calling all nerds! If anybody knows a nice techno-head that I can email the specs through to and they can tell me how much to sell it for, that would be handy!

My clothing I need to go through, and if I haven’t worn it more than twice in the last 12 months then it can probably be sold as well. If it’s warm, take it!

I am packing my pillow (lovely expensive memory foam pillow that I will not part with) and a towel (I like the giant-sized bath sheets because on a 6ft curvy girl, normal towels are a bit more like tea-towels!), toiletries, camera, chargers, adaptors, a power board etc. I can buy a cheap hairdryer over there with the right voltage and such. Obviously I am not going to forget my passports and tickets either *fingers crossed, touch wood*.

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My beloved Kindle screen was crushed in my adventure to Yamba, and I need to replace it this week because I am feeling so lost without it! Happily my parents will mind my 500-odd books for me at home and I can take my electronic library with me. Thank God for technology!

I will take a folder that has my diploma, certificates, uni transcripts and a half dozen copies of my resume so that I can get started on finding a job with an agency when I get there.

I keep getting this nagging feeling though – is there something I’m not thinking of? Surely there must be something that I am going to get to Brighton and smack myself in the forehead for forgetting!

So my question is this: to those who have moved overseas, or have travelled around, is there something that I am going to regret not bringing, or something I’m taking that I shouldn’t bother with?

On backpacking

So this long Easter weekend I decided to catch up with an old friend. In previous years whenever we had a couple of days together, we would make the most of it and go camping.

I don’t know if it’s that I’ve really changed, or just gotten older and more used to my creature comforts, but I decided that I just couldn’t do our normal camping spot (Lamington National Park) this year because of the envirotoilets (composting toilets). They look like this, and are enough to put you off chocolate for the weekend:

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So he suggested going to Yamba, a place which I had heard was lovely but had never been to. Ideally, it’s all sunshine, beaches and tourists (though it turned out to be grey, dull and mostly closed due to it being Good Friday).

So after a lovely first night at his house where we drank and then fell asleep at about 3am watching The Lion King (just like old times). Before and after shots are below.

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Before. As in before we had those last couple of scotch and cokes.

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What a difference those couple of extra drinks make.

Once my friend was sober enough to drive the next morning, we made our way to Yamba. Yamba is one of those typically Australian beautiful beach towns. Looks like this:

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Being Easter weekend with everything horrifically expensive, the Yamba YHA (backpackers) seemed like a great idea. It was my first ‘backpackers’ experience and it’s actually a pretty classy joint from what I’ve heard.

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Problem number 1: Bunk beds. I just don’t do them. Not top bunks anyway, and of course that’s what I got. It was like sleeping in a tall metal crib because of the guards around the top, and when you are 6ft tall and like to starfish in your sleep it’s not a great mix.

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I don’t know who these people are, but these are the bunks at the YHA.

Problem number two: Being forced to socialise. I am quite a social person when I am in the right situation (read: one I want to be in). But I don’t like having to chat to people when I am tired and cold and feeling like I need some me-time. It’s great that the girl in the bunk downstairs is from Melbourne and is with a friend she met in Cronulla who is sleeping in another room and they couldn’t spend the extra 3 nights here that they wanted and so now they have to go to the Gold Coast instead. Good for her. Don’t care.

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If I make too many friends then I won’t have any time left for me!

Problem number three: drunk people. They yell. They dance. They throw open your door at 1am when you’re fast asleep and think they’re hilarious when they ask you why you’re sleeping. And you don’t even know who the hell they are. I’m sorry, but I just don’t like getting woken up by strangers four times in a night.

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Agree. Drunk people, not as funny as they think they are.

Problem number four: You can only sleep in until the first person in the quad dorm gets up. Pack quietly because I don’t do mornings. Enough said.

It ended up being a great little trip though, especially since we decided to randomly check out a little road off the Pacific Motorway on the drive home, and ended up in a 4WD’ing adventure!

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Yes, that is a 4WD that is not even as tall as I am.

Moral of the story: pay the extra per night to get a private room.

I’m Brighton bound!

Okay, so I am moving to Brighton, England. In 35 days. On a one-way ticket.

Why, you say? Mainly because there aren’t any good reasons not to!

I’ve been wanting to move to England for about eight years now, and finally I’m single, with no serious career and no attachments. One of my sisters, Sarah, is already over there and I’m just going to go and join the adventure!

I leave at 2.30am on Sunday the 28th April. I have purchased a beautiful leather travel wallet, and I am working on a to-do list and a to-pack list simultaneously!

Would you like to see where I’m going? Here’s my pre-arrival tour around my new hometown….

First off, welcome to Brighton! I’ll be your tour guide for today, despite the fact that I’ve never actually been there.

The English version of the 'Sunshine Coast', Brighton is known for getting the most hours of sun in England per year.

The English version of the ‘Sunshine Coast’, Brighton is known for getting the most hours of sun in England per year.

Probably the most famous sight in Brighton is the Brighton Pier.

Originally built in 1981, the 'Brighton Marine Palace and Pier' (known as the Palace Pier for short) hosts arcades, rides, food, stalls and more!

Originally built in 1981, the ‘Brighton Marine Palace and Pier’ (known as the Palace Pier for short) hosts arcades, rides, food, stalls and more!

While we’re down on the water, aren’t these beach houses cute?

Beach Houses, Brighton Beach
Another beautiful historic building is the Royal Pavilion. Formerly a royal residence, the building and grounds are generally just a beautiful place to walk, sit, picnic, make out, whatever really.

Yes, it does look like the Taj Mahal. That's cos it was built in the 'Indo-Saracenic' style in 1781 for George, Prince of Wales. Thanks Wiki!

Yes, it does look like the Taj Mahal. That’s cos it was built in the ‘Indo-Saracenic’ style in 1781 for George, Prince of Wales. Thanks Wiki!

So you want to know the cool places to hang while you’re in Brighton visiting me in the near future? Check out The Lanes, good for antiques and jewellery shopping and some fancy restaurants. Very expensive, very beautiful.

The Lanes, Brighton

If you’re more alternate, like me, the hippie area North Laine might be more your groove. North Laine deserves two pictures, one for a special shop that I cannot wait to go buy things in!

This area is full of vintage clothes shops, some of the best record stores in the UK, and general hippie merriment!

This area is full of vintage clothes shops, some of the best record stores in the UK, and general hippie merriment!

And the shop of my dreams…

Where I will indubitably end up spending most of my savings.

Where I will indubitably end up spending most of my savings.

Then there is the gay quarter, Kemptown. I’m really looking forward to spending some time here just people watching. Apparently in the early hours of the morning it looks like this…

Morning in Kemptown

However, at Pride festival (one of the largest in Europe) it may look more like this…

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And finally, Brighton is/was home to a few famous people, including but not limited to Cate Blanchett, Paul McCartney, Jordan and Peter Andre, Nick Cave, Rudyard Kipling, Dusty Springfield and Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley from Harry Potter). Also, Fatboy Slim lives there sometimes, and owns a Japanese restaurant.

Apparently his restaurant is nowhere near as good as his music.

Apparently his restaurant is nowhere near as good as his music.

So there you go folks, tour ended. I’ll be able to tell you more once I get there, but in the meantime I’m living vicariously through google images.