Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The French Riviera! -Monaco

Monaco is a sovereign city-sate on the French Rivera. So essentially Monaco is it's own country with it's own Royal family, King, Queen and all that good stuff.


To become a citizen of Monaco you are forced through a rigorous and lengthy process where only those rich enough can afford to live there. The home of Grace Kelly and know for being a 'tax heaven' Monaco is a draw for the rich and famous.

The main attraction is with out a doubt the Monte Carlo Casino. Before i entered the country i had grand fantasies about the Monte Carlo Casino. While entering the country our tour manager warned us not to get our hopes up. Too late. My hopes had been sky high the second i saw 'Monaco' on the tour map, sitting in my lounge room months before we even booked the tour.

I was disappointed.

While there were million dollar cars parked out front and the building itself was magnificent and the architecture and detail was breathtaking, everything else kind of fell flat for me. Maybe it was because it was the first casino, high class fancy one at that, that i had ever been to. Maybe my expectations were just too high. 

I suppose i imagined it to be like an episode of Las Vegas but more elite. There was a small selection of poker machines as you walk in that we couldn't get to take our money and four card tables (beautifully sculptured card tables) in the center of a massive room. That's was it. Everything was a myriad of golds, reds and crisp whites. The bar was was extremely overpriced. I couldn't afford coke.

At least that was all we had access to. I have to believe that the rest of the casino is some beyond exclusive exclusive members only access with gambling stations up the wazoo and gold fountains filled with champagne, hidden from commoners such as myself. Because that was basically the image i originally had in my head. 



Saturday, 11 October 2014

The French Riviera! -Nice

Back into France my Contiki family and i go.

When you're on a Contiki tour the group of people you are travelling with become close very quickly. Bonding tends to start on about the second long coach trip. Little friendship groups form and like High School, everyone tends to break off into groups and exclude that one creepy man that doesn't quite know his boundaries. While getting to know everyone on the tour is your best option, forming a small group of people that you just click with is kind of amazing.
Especially when you have a free day to go exploring the city of Nice, France. It can be difficult to coordinate with everyone when you are staying in a hotel room with one other person and there is no specific 'wake up' times that dictates the other 99% of the tour. Like me you might end up rising super early to take in the day and realise you have no idea when anyone else will get up or if they are already out and about. So you head off with a lovely but awkward Asian boy on a mission to find the Castle Hill and set an uncomfortable 'getting to know one another' conversation while taking in the magnificent seaside town you have the privilege of travelling to.



Castle Hill was not easy to fine, even though it was right beside us the entire time. On one side of the hill is a never ending zigg-zagging trail of stairs buried along the face, hidden within the foliage and on the other...an elevator. A self automated, no pushing of any buttons, elevator. Of course we took the never ending stairs.

 The pay off was worth it though. We got a spectacular view and worked off last nights alcohol. While i was completely expecting an actual castle all we found were castle runes. We probably should have read the brochure.
There is also a breathtaking waterfall that appears more transcendent when looking at it from the streets below.

It was around this time that i lost my exploration partner. I still have no idea how. I turn around and poof! i was by myself. But this tale is not a sad one because not five minutes later i heard a slightly american "CONTIKI"! being shouted at my back. I had found a new friend. A friend that hadn't learnt my name yet.

Across Europe during the festive season of Christmas you are able to find Christmas markets. Everywhere. And it's magnificent.
I love Christmas and finally having the opportunity to have another, my second, 'white Christmas' was a dream come true, But what made it even better was the markets. Rows and rows of winter cabin style booths, red and green smothering every inch. It was like heaven, if heaven was Christmas all day everyday to the end of eternity. 

That night in true Contiki style we got ready for a big night out, walked and drank our way through bottles of wine before we danced on tabletops in an 'Australian' style bar until the wee hours. And as our tour manager instructed, turned left at the giant Christmas bauble to find your drunken way back to the hotel...if you can find the giant bauble that is. 




Friday, 10 October 2014

Lucerne!

Long, tedious Coach trips can be brutal, But when point B is Lucerne, Switzerland you just don't seem to mind as much. Especially when everything slowly starts to become blanketed by a white substance called snow!
Living on the South Coast of Australia means i have had very little opportunity to see a town covered in snow. Skiing doesn't really cut it for me. I mean actually living surrounded by snow, your roof covered by it and your driveway needing to be shoveled because of it. Lucerne gave me a portion of that experience and i'll be forever grateful.

We stayed at the Swiss Mountain Hotel, aptly named as it is literally half way up the mountain. After a terrifying trip in the coach, winding around too narrow one lane roads with a mountain on one side and air on the other.

When people talk about snow they gush about the softness and the fluffyness of snow, but what they always seem to forget to mention is all the frozen ice that comes with it. And when you're lugging a backpacking backpack across ice and up stairs it becomes an issue. I almost lost myself more than once.

 Lucerne is famous for its scenery and buildings, notably the Wooden Chapel Bridge, Harry's Shop and the Lion Monument. But probably most notably for Mt Rigi.

It takes three stages of cable cars to reach the peak. And for someone who isn't the greatest fan of heights it can be a challenge to get in that last group cable car. Though let me say, going up is a hell of a lot easier than coming back down.


The end result is however worth every second of unease. But again, watch out for that ice because it's Everywhere.

The Wooden Chapel Bridge, or The Kapellbrücke, is another spectacular monument. The bridge runs diagonally across the Reuss River and was named after St. Peter's Chapel which is nearby. The bridge has become such a landmark because of the interior paintings which date back to around the 17th Century. Though the old bridge and many of the paintings were destroyed in a fire in 1933 and were subsequently restored.

It's incredible. I end up saying that about most everything i saw while overseas, but that doesn't subtract from the fact that's it's beyond true. Especially when you live in an essentially 'new' town. that has maybe three or four historical buildings or landmarks.

Harry's Shop Is actually two shops across from one another. A souvenir shop and a Swiss watch and army knife shop. While admittedly i have no need for a Swiss army knife i couldn't go past the Novelty of owning a Swiss army knife. Especially a white army knife as the white knifes are only sold in Switzerland making it, for me, even more special.

And lastly The Lion Monument. This monument is dedicated Helvetiorum Fidei ac Virtuti or "To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss" and sits in a semi-secluded area and at night is very poorly lit, however the majesty of the lion is undeniable.

Top it all off with an extreme overload of genuine Swiss chocolate and you have the perfect couple of days.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Paris!

It's a sad day when you have to consult your travel journal to refresh your memory about a trip that you, at one point couldn't stop thinking about and reliving. Constantly.
Reading back over a journal of any kind, whether travel or personal is always a bit of a daunting task for me. I never know what to expect from my past self. Generally i'm horrified by the things i thought completely ration to preserve in ink or the completely appropriate sketch of the cute guy opposite me in the coach. I wasn't quite prepared for that. 
They call Paris the city of Lights and Love for a very good reason. I always thought it was a tad clique but after being there and seeing it, i completely understand why.

The hotel we were staying at was a ways out of the center and the coach took us on a 'Paris by night' bus tour around the city. There was a lot of stretched necks swiveling every which way trying to take in the sights out of both sides of the bus at the same time, which never quite works and you always end up missing something. 
Driving around the Arc De Triomphe was actually frightening. I just don't understand how there wasn't a major accident every two seconds with the way the drive!

Our full day in Paris saw our group visit the Eiffel Tower. Completely breathtaking, but again i wasn't too sure about how stable those elevators were, especially the elevator which takes you to the highest level. I swear i thought it was going to do a Willy Wonka and propel itself right out of the top. 

Like a true tourist i couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit every tourist attraction, standing under the dominating presence of the Arc De Triomphe for example or taking a leisurely stroll down The Avenue des Champs-Élysées towards the Louvre and Notre Dame. Admittedly we power walked through the Louver to the Mona Lisa and back but it was still an experience dripping with culture. 

The day was finished off with a spectacular  show at the Moulin Rouge and a visit to O'Sullivan's pub. While it can be defined as a 'glorified titty show' it was a must see and something i will never forget. I mean there was a tank of water filled with Boa-constrictors which rose up from the stage! And ponies! Freaking ponies! 

Paris was unforgettable.      

Sunday, 6 April 2014

#NoRegrets


#NoRegrets.

Also prominently known as "what happens on Contiki, stays on Contiki"Unless that somethings a sexually transmitted disease, that hitches a ride home with you.

For some Contiki can be seen as a no consequences limbo in life, between having no responsibility and actual adulthood. A last hurrah of sorts. For others its one of many 'last hurrahs'.

It's their motto; hash tag no regrets. And if you live your Contiki experience by it, it'll serve you well.

Away from the prying eyes of you family members you are able to 'cut loose' and be your craziest self. No judgments. No regrets. And it's okay because whatever embarrassing antics you get up to will be in the coach's rear view mirror the very next day. 

Watch out for the dreaded camera phone however.

In life there are countless moments and experiences that we pass over because we're too scared or nervous, or think we're going to look like fools. It's after the opportunity is passed and gone that we realise how much we regret our decision.
Coniki is you moment. your opportunity to say yes to everything, lose out on nothing, make life long memories and never once say "i regret not..." 

It's a simple concept that should be experienced.

Just keep in mind however that these amazing places are not your own personal playgrounds, it's someones home.

#NOREGRETS

    

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Contiki


Running late for a very important date is never a good thing in a girl's scheduled.The date i was running late for? Contiki check-in.

Now for those who have been hiding under your beds this last decade Contiki is a tour company. Similar to the likes of Topdeck and BusABout. An organised chaotic adventure for those 18-35 operating all over the globe. A great way to get a taste of counties, make lasting friendships and drink until your liver disowns you.

Now when you compare Russell Square tube station with the myriad of others dotted around London its recognised as a rather small station. No length after length of escalators carrying you deeper into London'd underground. Just one, albeit large, elevator. Which descends down for who knows how long.

Standing at the back of a very claustrophobic crowd during peak hour with five minutes to spare before your sister goes spare can make a girl desperate. I'll testify to that.

It was a stupidly stressful moment as i felt myself start to panic at the thought of missing check-in. Worrying about the horrific consequences as if i was still in school late for a class. People were unreasonably impatient not allowing me to impatiently squeeze past them towards the elevator. 
Out the corner of my eye i saw the "emergency only stairs" that i had overlooked previous trips. I'm not one to break the rules. 
Emergency only is emergency only, however, through my own reasoning my situation could be construed as an emergency. If you squint. 

It was decided. 

The moment i (of course) saw somebody else run up past that stop sign i would follow...so i didn't look like  total asshole. 

I wasn't even a quarter of the way up that spiral emergency exit of doom when i began to regret my decision. Too late to turn back i continued up that never ending circle. Passing passengers that had the much easier job of descending the countless steps. 
Sweating, out of breath, heart pounding i finally heaved my legs up the last step. I then proceeded to run the rest of the way back to the hotel.

The London base for Contiki; the Royal National Hotel. 

There's nothing particularly 'Royal' about the hotel but it's cheap, relatively clean and where the Contiki tours start and finishes all it's tours.

Sitting in that big room, only knowing one other person, my sister, was rather nerve wracking. Unnecessarily so. We received all the information we required. when to meet the next morning, who our tour manager and driver were and a quick passport check-in. After i ran to the bag storage room to hastily get my passport and Contiki pack.

Organisation people!

With multiple tours piled into the same room it was difficult to tell who would be on the same tour. You found yourself staring at an attractive guy thinking "European Vista" "Be on European Vista". Jedi mind tricks at their best.

The next morning we had to be up before the sun. Though in a British winter that wasn't terribly hard to do.

In the courtyard by seven, bags in tow and standing in our designated corner with similarly nervously excited travelers. Waiting for the coach to pull up. It's always tentative. conversations with strangers. But after about ten minutes of solid small talk it can seem as if you've known them for an age.

Seeing that purple coach pull in with 'Contiki' splashed across the side was an intensely thrilling moment of my life.

Half an hour and bags under the coach later and we were on our way to see the White Cliffs of Dover with out very own eyes.


The White Cliffs of Dover
              

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Harry Potter London Studio Tour. A Life Completed.


The Harry Potter London Studio Tour was my ultimate destination while abroad. 

It must be number one on everyone's 'to-do' lists while traveling the UK. 

Magic. Purely and simply magical. My purple prose gets the better of me most of the time, however in this instance it is truly warranted. The website advertises it and the media promises it; 

A magical experience. 

An easy "Overground" tube trip away and you've found yourself at Leavesden studios, where all the magic of the Harry Potter films was artificially produced for our enjoyment. 
If you're a real Potterhead (like myself) then the moment you're standing in front of the studio entrance your pulse will pick up pace and you'll see this imaginary aura of brilliance surrounding the building...or maybe you'll just see a building.

I shudder at the thought of spoiling the incredible secrets revealed within, so i wont and you'll just have to trust my word surrounding its wonderfulness. 

I was one of hundreds, most likely thousands, that visited around Christmas. The Great Hall decked out exactly how we see it in the films at Christmas, the witch flying around the tree and fake snow outside.

     
BUTTERBEER. The most heavenly syrup on earth. Sold in only two places in the world. Harry Potter theme park in Orlando, America and the Harry Potter London Studio Tour. The flavour is almost indescribable. Sweet and cold. Sickly sweet, amazingly sickly sweet. Like golden liquid sliding down your throat with amazingly sweet whipped cream, that doesn't taste quite like cream on top. Just thinking about it is giving me nostalgic mouthwatering flashbacks.
    

Its calling you.