Nom de Plumage

August 2, 2013

Reflections

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Today is a milestone, for it is six months since I have left home and it is also the day that I shall be leaving the European continent, bound for Britain. It is then only fitting, that I should reflect on my adventures and prepare myself for new ones.

My three-day visit with the French woman did not entirely play out as planned. Although, I did get to see spectacular scenery and fulfil my dream to see the Somme Valley and the war cemeteries, it was not without some dramas. I did something very out of the ordinary and excepted an invitation from a stranger to stay in their home. I have always felt uncomfortable about such things and hence the reason it took so long to confirm my visit. My hesitation was in tune with my intuition and I should have listened to it. Without going into too much detail, basically the woman suffers from severe depression and made me feel very uncomfortable and through her jealousy and insecurities, she judged me unfairly. It was hard to overcome such ill-treatment, but I am wiser for the experience and leave France sadly on a sour note.

I experienced something also that I believe many travellers, regardless of their sex or age must experience, and that is pursued by someone who is married.  It is while I was in Lucerne that I met a man who worked in a bar and throughout one evening he flirted. This time, I listened to my intuition and decided against returning any flirtation because of my imminent departure and eventual return to Australia. I ask advice from some friends and they all said that I should not have been so quick to fob him off and that I should go back and see where it will lead. It lead to my finding out from a third-party that the man is not only married, but has children. He did nothing to deny it and could only muster a sheepish smile. Thankfully, nothing happened and if not for the fact that I regretted wasting the money to return to Lucerne, it did save me embarrassment and eliminated the dreaded ‘what if’ ?

My three-month Eurail Pass has now officially expired and it is with a wonderful sense of achievement that I store the pass away as a reminder of my unbelievable destinations. Before departing on each train journey, I needed to fill out the form (to validate each journey) on the pass. I had used my pass extensively, that while in Berlin, I needed another form. The two attendants at the train station, were in shock that I requested another form, so much so, that they read the form to see what countries I have visited. Impressed, they laughed and handed me a new form and wished me well.

If you had asked me just one question before I even left Australia about what I fear most on my journey, you will be surprised to know that it is the fear of not being able to communicate with people. True! It is because I knew that I could not learn every language of the countries that I shall visit. I have read and heard countless stories of locals being rude to tourists who will not/cannot communicate in the language of the people, that I was very nervous. And for what? I will not lie that I did not meet a few rude people, but once I had made some attempt to communicate in their language, the language barrier dissipated and communication (either verbal or hand) is established. Funny, that even though I could not understand the actual language spoken, I somehow could understand the meaning behind the words. It is the unwritten law of communication and it surprised me that with some effort, we understood each other. Unfortunately, I missed not being able to read everything that surrounded me, or even have a meaningful conversation with the locals.

Of all the train stations in Europe that I travelled to/through, it is undoubtably Gare de Nord in Paris that was the station I visited the most. Not my most favourite of stations and yet it is fittingly the last station that I visit as I leave Paris bound for Britain on the Eurostar. I make my way up the stairs towards the UK customs and it is with relief when the customs officer speaks to me in perfect English. Ahhh! We spoke while he was processing my ticket and then he stopped and shook his head while he was flicking through my passport. The dreaded stamps from Berlin! I tried to make light note of it and although he laughed and informed me that many tourist also make the same mistake, he reiterated politely and strongly the foolishness of my actions. What now makes perfect sense, then seemed sensible. In fact, for a five euros and five stamps, each of countries that now do not exist, I had in fact committed an offence. He assured me that I will not have my passport confiscated because many other tourists fall into the same trap, but he warned me to think twice about my actions and that passports are legal documents that must not be tampered with. Point taken!

I believe that I may have had high expectations of the Eurostar train and it was only when I enter the train, reality hit. In fact, the train was very cramped, leg space minimal, luggage space minimal and the decor is a faded and worn grey colour. The journey itself was barely two hours long, but it was the experience of travelling under the channel that I was anticipating the most. Twenty minutes; that was all it took. Barely a blink and I was on British soil.  I exited the train at St Pancreas station, and became euphoric at the sound of the English language. My journey got that much easier simply because I could put the fear of not being able to communicate behind me, to a world where I could read and communicate perfectly. Bloody marvellous! My journey on the London metro was not so easy, especially when it is almost peek-hour. But it also does not help when I am carrying a very big back-pack and the metro train is very cramped and narrow. I was very taken back and had to contend with being jostled about.

At my destination, I had no idea where my hostel is. The hostel is operated by a private company and they do not provide directions. I tried looking for a taxi and could not find any or the taxi stand, so I went to ask someone at the station. The guard directed me to a place around the corner and still I could not find it. Went back to the station and he informed me again what I need to look for. It is in fact, a tiny shop (without a sign) and when I peered inside the large window, there was a large group of men of many different ethnicity playing cards. I hesitantly walk in to ask if this is where I can get a taxi. A quick discussion of whose turn it is next, a little Jamaican guy jumps up and takes me to his taxi. No sign and no meter. I am nervous and he senses my hesitation and assures me that it is a flat five-pound fee.

When I reach my hostel, I knock for about ten minutes before someone eventually hears me and opens the door. I had to telephone the office that I arrived and they inform me that they emailed me informing me that I have to go to another of their properties. Thankfully, the secretary comes to pick me up and it is only a short drive to the hostel. It is more like a huge house, clean and very comfortable and full of Aussies. I feel right at home and in good company.

 

July 2, 2013

Paris Again

Filed under: Solo Travelling,Travel Journal — nomdeplumage @ 6:04 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Paris is my destination before I leave Europe for good in a weeks time. It is only fitting that I should leave from the city from which I first arrived many months ago. The weather has not improved since my last visit, cold and wet; but at least it has kept the tourists away and that gives me a little more breathing space. This time, I will stay away from the main tourist attractions and see what else Paris has to offer. But of the places that I wish to revisit, it would have Notre Dame and the Arc de Triumph.

I have seen many cathedrals on my travels and Italy has the best by far. Notre Dame would seem almost paltry compared to the Vatican and yet, it is my favourite cathedral. I just had to come back and visit. This time at a more leisurely pace. It was pouring with rain and the cathedral offered shelter and warmth, it also offered peace and music. A choir was practising and I sat and listened to the beautiful music. What I love about Notre Dame has nothing to do with any religious affiliation, but the gothic architecture so unique to any other building associated with religion.

I then ventured within the suburbs of Paris on a literary sojourn. St Germaine is a beautiful suburb associated with writers and one place of residence was a little hard to find. I was on the hunt for house that Voltaire died in and it took a lot of searching for a very small plaque to direct me. I found it! The other very famous place, is actually a café famous for the literary élite who would visit regularly during the period between both wars. The café Les Deux Maggots is a very posh beautiful place and the temptation to go and have a coffee was strong, but ultimately my nerves failed me and I observed from afar. Something about Parisian café intimidate me.

If you are looking to spend an hour or so having fun, may I suggest the Arc de Triumph. Just stand or sit on the pavement that surrounds the Arc and watch cars navigate their way around the infamous round-about. It make you not only cringe, but admire the sheer chaos as cars somehow manage to get on and off without having an accident. There are no rules; every car for themselves and may God help you. Loved it!

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Paris has its own version of Madame Tussaud’s and it is called Grevin. I love going to these types of museums because it is something we do not have in Australia and it is also wonderful to see life-like figures of famous people who I would otherwise not see. Grevin is smaller than the other wax museums and it is also set out in a different manner. Each section is divided into scenes that relate to the era that the person(s) lived and so you get a feel for who the characters were. There are the movie stars and my two favourites, Jean Reno and Thierry Lemitte; and kings, sport stars and writer’s. French history intrigues and I love reading about the exploits of the King Louis XIV and the ribald career of Moliere and Voltaire. Each is represented here.Worth the visit and a lot of fun.

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April 18, 2013

The Longest Weekend

When I woke this morning to leave Spain, I was unaware of the trials and tribulations that would accompany me on my journey to the Netherlands.

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I was never under any delusion that the glorious warm weather that I experienced on my ten-day exploration of Spain, was only a temporary winter glitch and that it would end. Well, it did and on my last day. It meant that I had walk ten minutes in a downpour to the bus station and then stand under a small bus shelter, which did little to protect me from the deluge. A short bus trip to the main station in Cordoba and an hour wait for my train to Madrid. A relatively uneventful train journey to Madrid, if not for the couple opposite me who had their lips glued together for the hour. But hey, you get entertainment where you can.

From Atocha station, I needed to catch the metro to the main station. It was an easy and comprehensible navigation to the metro, which is a fantastically reliable system. The journey itself was long and very crowded and by the time I got to Charmartin station, my back and shoulder ached from carrying my heavy backpack. But what a great station it is. Clean, massive, efficient, great security and more like an airport than a train station.  The station is my temporary refuge for five hours as I wait for my overnight train to Paris. God bless Stieg Larsson and his brilliant trilogy because the hours just flew by whilst I am absorbed in his fantastic tale.

The overnight train was the same train that I travelled to Barcelona, but this time I only had one roommate, a young English woman named Eva. She lives in Madrid and was going home for the holiday season and I was very grateful for her company. While the train rattled along, we both sat at the bar for a drink and some gossiping, before we went back to our cabin to try to get some sleep. I say ‘sleep’ with some reluctance because laying down in the dark and with constant rhythmic motion from the old train, motion sickness plagued me. I did not embarrass myself, but I did not feel well and looked even worse when we arrived in snow-covered Paris.

Winter has hit hard, not just in Paris, but throughout Europe. Paris is completely white with snow and it is a sign of the coming memorable events.

Our train arrived half an hour late into Austerlitz station. We are both hungry and go to a café for a very French breakfast of hot coffee and croissant. Delicious! Then, a short metro trip to Gare du Nord where Eva volunteers to help me buy my ticket to the Netherlands (if the teller spoke no English). I am extremely grateful because the queue is quite long and only two counters are working. But, in the end, the woman spoke perfect English and was very friendly. I literally got the last ticket into the Netherlands. Although it meant that I would have to wait five hours before my departure, it mattered not because I had a ticket. Eva and I parted and I put my luggage into storage.

And so it begins…..

As I have mentioned, the snow and cold are incredible. For anyone who knows Gare du Nord station, can relate that there is no warm enclosed waiting area. Heat lamps are set-up, but they are crowded. The cold is exhausting and the crowd becomes thicker and tempers flare when trains get cancelled or delayed by many hours due to the unprecedented weather. I could only walk up and down the station, wary of thieves and trying to find somewhere warm. The time for my ‘supposed’ departure came and went and like everyone else, my eyes are glued to the boards, hoping that I would get a train. Hours pass and my hands and feet are numb. I find some refuge near the heat lamps, but it wasn’t enough. Eight hours later, a miracle; my train gets called.

Of all the trains that I have had to reserve a seat, this is the most expensive at 55 euros. The train is very modern and fast and in the end, it is barely full. No services are provided ( food etc) because of the dramas, so I had to contend myself that at least I am warm and on my way to Den Haag. A journey that should have taken two hours; becomes three. Although it was dark outside, glimpses of the severity of the season presented itself when travelling through major stations. I had to change trains at Rotterdam and although I did not have to wait long, I waited to wait with some very intoxicated Scottish men. They were harmless in the end. Ten minutes later, I catch the train and take the 20 minute journey to Den Haag in relative silence.

I arrive late at 9 pm and had no idea where my hostel is. I walk to a tram station and ask for some help from a young woman. She spoke perfect English and directed me to a tram and away I went – the wrong way. I knew it after a few stops and got off and caught another tram back to where I started from. I get off the terminating tram and try to get my bearings. I reread the hostel’s address and instructions, only to realise, that it is only a five-minute walk from the station. It has been a VERY LONG DAY and I over-looked such a simple thing. Can I be excused, please?

I arrive tired, cold and very late, but I am greeted by very friendly staff and they book my in very quickly. I walk up the two flights of stairs and enter a very modern and clean room. I am not alone and apologise to my sleeping roommate for the disturbance. She accepts and with no other thought it mind, I make my bed,have a long hot shower, change and crash. I sleep like a fiend.

February 17, 2013

The Paris of The North – Prague

Locomotive Class 363, Orient Express, Praha-Sm...

Locomotive Class 363, Orient Express, Praha-Smíchov train station, Czech Republic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fast train approaching Prague's main station

Fast train approaching Prague’s main station (Photo credit: czechian)

A last act of kindness or regret for my leaving, my roommate offers to drive me to the train station. Ok, she has for the past five days taken my patience to a new limit and made me question her sanity, as well as mine. But ultimately and most importantly, I do like her and feel very sorry for her and her predicament. Whether her situation is entirely of her own making or of circumstances that got beyond her control, her passion and commitment for justice has cost her her home and her freedom. A high price to pay in anyones book. I know that she craves human companionship and a friend to listen to her and that is a small asking on her behalf. So, my patience is tested, but I have a home to go to and a family waiting there.

There are times when I have either gotten too complacent or not studied my journey enough and small mistakes ultimately occur; like today. After I am dropped off at Westbahnhoff train station, I went in search of the platform from where my train shall depart. I look and look and finally came to the quick realisation, that I was at the wrong station. To make matters worse, being a Sunday, there was no-one to help me. Slowly, my stress levels rise and I need to think quick. I run some distance, slow and hard because that is about as quick as I can run carrying a heavy back-pack, to the platform where an u-bahn is about to depart. There is no direct route to Mielding Station. The time is 9:10 am and my train for Prague leaves at 9:30 and I am not 100% sure of my direction. After a few stops, the u-bahn pulls in to a station and I see on the other side a sign that says Mielding. I jump off, run up the escalator and down to the correct platform and jump on to an u-bahn. Problem; it was going the wrong way. Now I start to panic and my story ends predictably, with my missing the train by mere minutes to Prague.

Thankfully, I had no booking and lost no money, but I had to wait three hours for the next train. Ordinarily, this would not be a problem, but sitting in a station with a cold draught constantly coming in from the wintery conditions outside, made three hours pass very slow. All I could really do was sit (rigorously minding my luggage) and read my book.

Eventually, my train departs Vienna at 12:30 pm, bound for the unknown city of Prague. Modern, quiet and empty, my six-hour journey was both pleasant and filled with trepidation. I could not open my book to continue reading, for the scenery that lay before me, was changing and becoming unfamiliar. The further the train travelled, the denser the forests became and the snow thicker, the more nervous I became. Prague is a city that is still unknown, compared to other more popular cities of Europe. With the demise of communism, the doors of tourism have opened and what started out as a small trickle, has now become the must see destination. The ‘Paris’ of the north, a city untouched by the masses, non-conformed by modernism and perfectly preserved, it is these qualities that set me on the train bound for a new discovery. In saying all this, I cannot help but feel some kind of fear for a country still new to the modern world and one that is known so little about.

The train arrives at 6:00pm into a massive station. My first task is to change currencies. The Euro is non-applicable here and the Kroner is very strange to me. With the relevant currency in my purse, I needed to get the metro to my hostel and this is  my first major challenge. I asked for no help and am determined that I should first try before I should seek assistance. It was a challenge, but I observed the ‘locals’ and kept my wits about me and to my surprise, I brought the correct ticket (using a machine) to the station I needed and found the metro/platform that I needed. A few stops later, I get off and find the exit. The directions to the hostel are basic, but it is now dark, cold and the ice is slippery and treacherous and my boots are not safe for such conditions. I walk one direction slowly before  I realise that I am going the wrong way. I turn around and walk the other way. The weight of my back-pack and the slippery ice, make the journey slow. The underlying fear of slipping over and breaking something in a foreign country, is a tourist no-no. My hostel is before me and I am greeted by a friendly host and shown to a huge, clean and comfortable room.

Although the room is satisfactory, it is cold with the absence of heating. I thought that a hot shower would warm me up before I jump under the covers, but alas, I  am thwarted by luke-warm water, which made for a very quick shower. Colder than before, I did the only sensible thing and that was to borrow a quilt/blanket from another unused bed, to warm up. Blessedly, the heater kicked-in at midnight, but by that time, I was dreaming like a fiend.

English: Information board about departures at...

English: Information board about departures at Prague´s Central Train Station (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

February 9, 2013

Horses Reign Supreme

Whatever your predilection is to horses or horse performances, the Spanish Riding School has been a legendary institute that has through the centuries, dazzled and wowed the audiences. There are not many of these types of performances in the world and certainly none with the same reputation as the one here in Vienna. For me, there never was going to be the choice of whether I should go or not, but which price I should pay for the privilege. For a seated performance, it costs 89 euros and for standing, a reasonable 23 euros.

When I arrived, the direction to entrance  the hall, was not stated very well. In fact I was somewhat lost and hoped to find other’s to guide me. I found a door and stood outside with some other people, who are just as lost and confused as I am. So we all stood together, waiting and praying that all will be well. I met a lovely man from the US named Patrick and since the both of us were here alone, we started talking about  our respective travels and it helped to forget the bitter cold that no winter jacket or boots could compete with. Further down, we saw other  lost ticket holders move towards a now opened wooden door and it was quickly established, that we had indeed stood at the wrong door. A quick dash in an orderly manner and we were ushered in and shown to our seating. Patrick and I said our goodbyes. For those people who have a standing only ticket, there is no designated place that you have to stand. All around the outer perimeter and behind the seated area, are areas with elevated wooden benches that you can choose were you wish to stand. I choose somewhere in the middle of the arena and just behind the seats. In fact, I was happy to discover that the 66 euro price difference, gave you the same unobstructed view.

No photo’s are allowed once the horses enter and that is for the simple reason, that the many multitude of flashes will spook the horses. So I got a quick photo in of the arena and then went to buy an expensive tourist book, for a souvenir of my memorable experience.

The Lipinanzer horses are a unique breed, especially bred and trained for this riding school. Born a dark dirty grey colour, it is when they mature that their coats change to a pure white colour. Some of the horses still had traces of grey somewhere on their coats, a sure sign of still being a teenager. The eighty minute performance was beautiful and each horse masters the precision in executing their moves. One cannot help but be in awe of their elegance and beauty, but also of the countless hours spent in training. I certainly enjoyed the performance, although I cannot say that for everyone because one couple kissed throughout the whole spectacle . Oh well, guess horses are not their thing.

The weather was not going to be kind today. Heavy dark clouds came over and the temperature just kept getting colder. But I was not going to be deterred and I got onto the U-Bahn (train) and made my way to the very popular Schonbrun Castle. From the train station, it is an easy ten minute walk up the very expansive driveway to the castle. What was a special treat, a Christmas market had been set up at the front and it is quite large. Here, for the first time since Paris, I encountered a huge queue of people purchasing entrance tickets. My only bonus for not having to wait in the long line, was that I had purchased a ‘Vienna Card’ and that got me through much quicker. Entrance price is 11,40 euros, with no tour guide to accompany you, only a set of headphones. Personally, I like the tour guides better because they tend to add that little bit more information that recorded guides do not. There is also that element of it being more personal and you can asks questions. Times are changing and with the massive onset of tourists, changes need to be made.

The majestic schloss is several hundred years old, but it was only during the regal era of Empress Maria Teresa, that it truly became what we have the privilege to see today. The interior is of the unique Rococo style, with a lot of gold gilding, stunning tapestries and beautiful portraits of family members. Two rooms, that for me personally were the most remarkable, was Maria Teresa’s marriage bedroom and a room dedicated to the drawings of her children. The bedroom had a stunning bed, one that has outshone all the previous royal family beds that I have seen to-date. The other room, is predominately of two colours; blue and white. Framed drawings of her children and grandchildren, are beautifully arranged to dominate the four walls.

Outside, I wish I can write that the gardens were in full bloom and the sun shone. In fact, it was very cold, the snow covered the majority of the landscape and not a flower in sight. It still is a massive garden and one still used by many families who come here with their children for a walk. I am sure it is stunning in summer and spring.

The sun was slowly disappearing in the horizon and my tummy was in need of some nourishment. I made my way to the Christmas market and was in awe of the choice of food. I had to try something different and yet discovered that it is not so different from the food that I have been brought up on. Thick noodles generously coated  in ground hazelnuts and dusted with sugar. Now that is comfort food and it may not be wholesome and adhere to dietary requirements, but damn it tasted so good and I thought of my mum and really missed her home cooking. Now, I have personally stopped counting how many gluwein’s I have had, but need I write that I had another one and it really warmed my insides up because the cold was so bitter.

 

Brilliantly converted into a restaurant

Brilliantly converted into a restaurant

 

 

 

The front view

The front view

 

The main fountain

The main fountain

 

A beautiful evening

A beautiful evening

DSC00077English: Spanische Hofreitschule in Vienna.

English: Spanische Hofreitschule in Vienna. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Vienna

Vienna (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Spanische Hofreitschule in Vienna.

English: Spanische Hofreitschule in Vienna. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

August 14, 2012

Villa Borghese – A Jewel That Gives Versailles a Run For Its Splendour

 

All by myself again……………

As ever, loneliness can dampen the spirits and it is in these times, that walking can offer some respite.

I really had no set plan for the day and just wanted to get lost in Rome. I love to walk and with the sun making a rare appearance, I glorified in the opportunity of staying dry and having my bones thaw a little.

               

My memory is shocking in relating names of places and for obvious reasons, in that I discovered an affluent suburb of stunning boulevards, villa’s and restaurants and cannot relate the name. Sorry! But it was beautiful and it reminded me so much of a misplaced street in Paris, neatly re-allocated in Rome. And it was here, walking through a massive foliage rich garden, that I discovered a true gem.

When you think grandeur and royalty, you think Versailles. Having seen the French monstrosity, I believed nothing could compare. Wrong! Villa Borghese is much smaller than Versailles and built by the other type of royalty that only the Romans know and that is the Catholic Church. A woman of power and the mistress of social elite, oh, and it helps to have your brother as the Pope, she created something truly magnificent. The villa is dominated by marble, marble and more marble. Perfect white statues of stone and stunning frescoes that decorate each room, one cannot help but ogle  the stunning beauty and acknowledge her taste in all things magnificent. I loved every minute that I spent there and each turn brought new delights and bigger gasps. As always, no photos allowed, but if you ever get the chance, please make the effort to visit this little beauty.

               

 

And so I kept walking……….

I had the very best of intentions in finding Rome’s Olympic Park; by foot that is; but I underestimated the size of Rome and mother nature. I crossed the Tiber River and continued walking. You remember how I mentioned first up about blue sky and thawing my bones? Yeap! For each step that took me closer to the park, the sky kept getting darker and the temperature plummeted. I made it as far as the major traffic intersection and before the ascent to the park’s entrance. Here I stopped. I just knew that all hell was about to break loose and so I turned and made my way to the nearest bus stop. Just as I stepped onto the bus, it began to pour. The day was over. Wet and cold, I made my way back to my hostel to thaw and catch up on some reading time.

 

July 15, 2012

All Things Roma

Last night I met my new roommate. When I arrived back at the hostel, the hostel attendant informed me that my roommate had arrived and was in the living room waiting to meet me. I was greeted with a cheery “G’day” and new straight away that Gayle is an Aussie. Cheerful, fun, outrageous and very likeable, we got on from the very beginning. We talked about our travel adventures over dinner and made plans to spend tomorrow exploring Rome.

The city is, as all major cities, filled to the brim with so many sights to see. To narrow it down and cram as much as we could in a day, was no small feat. Unfortunately, Gayle wanted to visit the ancient ruins and the colosseum, but I had seen that yesterday and was keen to explore something new. She was very accommodating and we decided to visit the Vatican first up.

We arrived in the city and walked towards the Vatican. The walk was like navigating your way through a minefield. Enthusiastic ‘tour guides’ kept stopping us, offering us special deals to view the Vatican and it’s museum. One guide was an Aussie and when he heard our accent he became more friendly and trying even harder to get our business. It was tempting and he was very nice, but the price was still outrageous. So we politely declined and continued towards the Vatican. The line to get into the museum was ridiculous, it was more than one hundred metres long. Well, the Vatican’s line was even longer. We would have waited, but the rain was a great deterrent, so we moved on.

                 

Palazzo Novano is a stunning rectangular square, dominated by a beautiful fountain that is every bit Italian. Stunning muscular ‘Gods” scantly clad, majestic animals and flowing water, all make it a very popular fountain. It was here that we found a quaint cafe of no great merit. Looks can be deceiving and what they lacked in decor, they made up in abundance with their food. A two course set menu of brushetta and  creamy gnocchi, accompanied by red wine and followed by an espresso. Simple, delicious and every morsel Italian. We decided on stopping at a gelateria for dessert – chocolate, creme caramel and panna cotta.

                            

Rome has it’s own version of the Pathenon. It is nowhere as stunning as the one in Paris and the fact that it is under renovations, takes away even more of its appeal.   The outer facade is a dark dirty stone, but once you enter the huge carved wooden doors, the atmosphere changes and the interior is stunning in it’s marble and stone ornaments, carvings and statues.

                         

When you walk through the narrow streets of Rome, you discover little treasures and unusual buildings that surprise and delight you. But all of it so exciting because as we continued our walking tour, we found  the most beautiful treasure of them all -Trevi fountain.   Firstly, I have to write that it was not situated as I expected. It is against a wall and there are concrete stairs that represent seats surrounding the fountain. But when you look past all that, what is left is truly amazing. It is a very popular tourist destination, that to try and get a photo not obscured by people, is rare. At the time that Gayle and I were there, a famous Italian man was being interviewed. Have no idea who he was, but I upset the camera man when Gayle was directing me into position for a photo and unwittingly into his shoot. He was trying to shoo me out of the shot, but I just smiled. I can only hope that I was not cut from the final reel and made the Italian news that night?

                    

                 

The Spanish Steps are just that -steps. But it is the surrounding area that is the real attraction. I am an avid lover of all things books, so it was a wonderful surprise to see two museums dedicated to two very famous English poets; Keats and Bryon. Unfortunately, Gayle did not share my enthusiasm and so I regrettably missed viewing them. There is also a wonderful cafe just down the road from the museums, that both poets would daily have their coffee there. Beautiful, posh, elegant and very expensive, we could only enter to have a quick look, but did not dare have a drink there in fear of depleting our savings. It is an area synonymous with wealth and elegance. We then walked up the Spanish Steps for a wonderful overlook of the area and continued our way exploring before we arrived at our final destination for the day; the Republicca. A beautiful piazza with hotel, cafes, restaurants and McDonalds’s (as there always is), but for us both, it was the round-a-bout that was the clincher. Hilarious to watch cars manoeuvre their way round it, trying to get through it without crashing and that is no small feat. The sun was slowly starting to go down and the Roma train station was nearby, so we made our way there and onwards to our hostel for dinner and an early night, for tomorrow would be an even greater and more exciting adventure.

 

 

July 1, 2012

All Roads Lead to Rome

Filed under: Diary,European Flavour,Solo Travelling,Travel Journal — nomdeplumage @ 4:21 pm
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When you have the chance, use it! Some cliches come in handy and when the opportunity presents itself……… “Arrivederci Firenzi! It is with sadness that I am leaving Florence after a week of exploring this magnificent city. Whether it be a week, a month or a year, no amount of time would have been enough. Grateful and very thankful for the wonderful experience, I have in my pocket a ‘gratitude rock’ from the Tuscan Hills and each time that I touch it, it will be a reminder of a dream achieved. I leave onboard the famous ‘Eurostar‘ train for a very quick one-and-a-half hour journey through some very ordinary scenery to Rome. Confession time! I have met many travellers on my journey so far and each and every one who has been to Rome, has told me that it is more crowded then Paris. So it is with some trepidation that I arrive at the huge Roma train station and ‘bloody-hell’ the crowd. Does every Roman citizen congregate at the train station? It felt like it and then reality hits when my first gypsy arrives begging for money. My first priority is to find a public telephone to ring my hostel for directions. The man on the phone is very helpful and tells me what train and at what time I get the train to Zargarolo.                                                                                                                          

The smaller town of Zagarolo is approximately thirty minutes out of Rome. When I arrive, Luca one of the hosts from the hostel, arrives within minutes to drive me back to the hostel. He is very friendly and young and we become friends fast. The hostel is old yet has great facilities, including a swimming pool, but unfortunately the season for swimming is over. My hostess is the sister of Luca and after checking-in, she throws my twenty kilo back-pack onto her shoulders and almost runs up three flight of stairs to my room. Never under-estimate small women! My room is the only one on the third level and I am the only guest so far. So I have a choice of double beds and my own bathroom, life is good.

The rules at this hostel are more relaxed than at previous hostels that I have stayed in. I was allowed to come and go as I please and could enter my room at any time. The only rule that they really had was a curfew on when the last pick-up from the train station was. No later than 9 pm. So, taking advantage of this privilege, I stay in my room to relax, catch-up on some reading and make plans for my first full day in Rome tomorrow.

February 14, 2012

Goodbye New York, Bonjour Paris

My Hotel RoomMy Hotel RoomMy Hotel Room and ThroneMy final day in Manhattan and with so little time to spare, I decide on an easier tour on foot. First things first, I check out of my hotel room and put my luggage in security for a couple of hours. I exit the hotel and turn right towards the ever impressive and massive Central Park. To see the park in full, would no doubt take all day, something I could not afford, so I opt for a short walk just to get a small glimpse. Not far from the park are a few notable sights. The audacious black glass structure of Trump Towers with the bold signage in gold. There is also the Majestic Hotel made famous with the marriage of Katherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas. Across the street from the hotel is the F.A.Q Schwarz toy store the appeared in the movie “Big” with Tom Hanks. This was something that I was really looking forward to explore, only to be surprised at just how small the store actually is. A great store otherwise, but not what I expected. My final stop for the day was at the Museum of Natural History. I needed to get at least one museum in and I thought this one would be a great example. It did not disappoint. The wonderful display of North American animals, history and culture was so well documented that I enjoyed the few hours of exploring. I reluctantly walked back to my hotel to await my pre-booked shuttle bus to take me to Newark Airport.
My shuttle bus luck continued because I was privileged to sit next to the driver, therefore getting a farewell tour of New York and also catching a glimpse of New Jersey. When I finally arrived at the airport, I checked in without any problems and made my way slowly to my departure gate. It was here, sitting down and looking at my ticket, that I realised that I had not been given a seat placement. At first, I did not worry and so proceeded to read a book and even write in my journal. But something kept nagging me and I had to go and ask one of the attendants for information. Ah Paris, the city of lights, love and BLOODY STRIKES! I was aware of the public transport strikes in Paris, A FEW WEEKS AGO and had not realised that the Parisians can hold a grudge for so long. So all flights into Paris were either delayed or cancelled. Even though I had booked my flight six months ago, I had no seat. This meant either I may be lucky to get a later flight or will have to stay another night in New York and hope that I can get a flight tomorrow. I was not dealing well with this dilemma, the seasoned traveller that I am (not!) and when the passengers were finally called to board the flight, I was swearing and cursing under my breathe. My plans appeared doomed and I would have to come up with another alternative, which equalled more money. When everyone was finally boarded, I waited and prayed and sure enough, four people did not show and I was the very last person to be called up. I jumped up from my seat, ran to the gate and handed over my passport. The flight attendant ripped out my green card (which I would later get in trouble for) and I ran onto the plane. My seat was right at the back, near the window and thankfully I sat next to a very nice woman from New Jersey who was travelling to Paris with her husband. Seating in a state of disbelief and euphoria that I was on my way, was short lived. Newark Airport is so congested that when your flight departure says 18:05pm, it actually means 19:05pm. One hour sitting and waiting for the traffic to ease and our plane’s turn to depart. Then, it finally happened and we were on our way. A smooth, uneventful seven hour flight to Paris and the mess that was waiting for me.

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