Travel · Uncategorized

Paris: Sassy Lady Friendship Time

One of my best friends Amy just came back from living in Paris for four months as part of her Master’s degree, so just before she came back, I flew out to stay with her for a few days. This was part of one of my New Year’s resolutions to visit at least two different countries this year, a resolution which is now complete thanks to going to Ireland and Paris. I’ve been to Paris before, but it was several years ago on a school trip, and we spent the majority of the time in museums or at Disneyland. It was nice to go back as an adult and soak up some of the Parisian culture in such a relaxed way, and we did a few amazing things that have been on my bucket list for a while.

I decided to fly in rather than get the Eurostar because booking the Eurostar at the time I went was expensive and would have ended up more than the flight anyway if I included the cost of the train from where I live into London. I love airports and I like flying alone, and as the flight was only an hour it gave me some time to just relax, listen to music, and not worry about work or anyone else for once! Landing in Paris, it was raining (typical) but my out-of-practice French helped me to identify which bus I needed, and I bought a ticket at the machine. The bus and metro tickets are so tiny!

I arrived in the evening, so Amy and I didn’t do much, just caught up with some wine (of course) and hid from the rain with her lovely Parisian flat mates. We started our adventures the next day by going to the amazing book shop Shakespeare and Company, exploring its beautiful interior and having coffee in its cute little café.

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Then we went over the river to go to Notre Dame. I’d forgotten just how beautiful Notre Dame is. All the churches and cathedrals in Paris are stunning, and Notre Dame’s stained glass is so perfect, I could have stayed staring at it forever. But Amy and I had bigger things planned.

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If you are between the ages of 18 and 25 and are a European Citizen, then a lot of the historical landmarks and tourist attractions in Paris are free to you. You don’t have to pay the extortionate prices, you just have to queue and wait. Once Amy had told me this, it seemed obvious that we would do something I have always wanted to do, which is to go and see the actual bells and climb right to the top of Notre Dame! It’s not the highest point in Paris but it is still just as beautiful and you get panoramic views right the way around. We were lucky enough to go up whilst it was cloudy in the sky but clear below, and it was cool enough that climbing all those stairs (seriously, there’s a lot) didn’t heat us up too much.12938220_10207790305589096_5137912144553543711_n

We also went to Saint Chapelle, which has even more gorgeous and older stain glass windows, only just around the corner from Notre Dame. It is beautiful, although nothing compares to the Notre Dame gargoyles and grotesques.

For dinner we went to Hank, which is a vegan burger joint. Amy has been vegan for quite a while now, so I ate the same as her on my visit, as I have been trying to cut back on my animal product intake anyway. Hank’s burgers are quite possibly the best burgers I have ever tasted. They are so saucy and delicious with intense, interesting flavors, and yet the texture is perfect, not trying to be meat, but still feeling that burger craving hole. I wish Hank was in the UK.

On the Friday, we went to the catacombs. Before I went to Paris, I looked up interesting things to do, as I wasn’t keen on going to every single art gallery or tourist place, but the catacombs came up in my research and I thought that Amy, as a history nerd, would really enjoy them (luckily she hadn’t got round to doing it yet). We queued for ages in the cold, but once we got in, seeing the necropolis that lives under the city was amazing, and a little bit creepy. My main concern is, whose job was it to stack all those skulls up like that?! Worst job ever.

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In the evening, Amy and her course mates had an end-of-year celebration planned, and were kind enough to invite me along. Along with a couple of their course leaders, they had organized a dinner trip on a boat down the Seine. I’d been along the Seine last time I visited Paris, but this entire boat trip was amazing. Canapés and champagne on arrival, and a three course meal that made me never want to stop eating, all with relaxing music, awesome French waiters, and French wine bought for us by the course leader. It was such a warm evening that we could go out on deck and not feel like we were being swept away, and we went right past the Eiffel Tower as it started to sparkle. It was beautiful and I think it made everyone on the course grateful that they were living in Paris even more than they already were.

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The next morning, after adjusting to dry land once more, Amy decided she needed to do some studying (fair enough), so one of her flat mates, who is American, took me for a walk along to the Sacre Coeur and Montmartre. Montmartre was one of the places I have been dying to revisit for years and years. It is so fascinating and busy and just makes me think of Paris bohemia and freedom. Sacre Coeur, too, is my favorite religious site that I have ever been to. That ceiling?! So worth it. Even if you aren’t allowed to take pictures, which hurts my little social-media soul.

After we wondered around the Sacre Coeur, discussing religion (sorry Coco, probably quite a heavy topic!), we went for crepes in Montmartre. I had mine stuffed full of Nutella and bananas, because why would you not? Crepes are the food of the gods. Also, it meant that the artists stopped coming up asking to draw us, when we had mouths full of crepe and chocolate around our faces.

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We also walked back down the hill to get the metro from the stop near the Moulin Rouge, just so I could see it. We were hoping to find Van Gogh’s house, but got distracted by the adorable Parisian flats, so seeing the Moulin Rouge was good enough!

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Saturday was definitely a treat day, because I also tried tofu for the first time with Amy for dinner in the evening (kind of bland but delicious when she cooked it), and we also took a trip to a vegan bakery that she loves called Vegan Follies, and we bought all of the cake ever. We had vegan brownie and vegan cheese cake, which honestly, although the texture is weird, tastes like sugary, cakey goodness. No wonder she is so good at being vegan in Paris when she has all these options!

Sunday was my last day with Amy, my flight home being in the evening, and so we got up early specifically so we could go to the Palace of Versailles. I have never been anywhere so beautifully indulgent and rich in my life. It’s like a frosted wedding cake, only instead of sugar, its iced in gold, and instead of filling, it’s got paintings and statues and endless perfect gardens. We didn’t pay to go into the gardens, as we were running low on time (and funds), but the inside of the palace was worth the trip out of Paris, worth even my flight over in the first place. Seeing that much grandeur makes you realise just how rich the French royal family were. And how talented artists and architects were.

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It was the perfect end to my trip, and I got back on the plane feeling content with life. Seeing Amy after so many months was good for our friendship and also made me miss living with her!

Now she’s off to Glasgow, so maybe I should use that as an excuse to visit Scotland!!

Au revoir.
xxx

Travel

Dublin: Shite In A Swing Swong

The evening before travelling to Ireland together, my friends and I decided to Google some Irish slang to use whilst we were there.

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Feeling like a shite in a swing swong means, apparently, having a hangover. Despite not actually having too bad a hangover at all over the three days we were there, I feel like this phrase best describes my little mini break in Dublin. Most of our time was spent eating and drinking, after all.

If you’ve never been to Dublin before – which I hadn’t – then think of it as a prettier London, only wetter, with better beer, and more of the Irish accent.

It definitely helps if you like Guinness, too. Because it is literally everywhere. And often cheaper than anything else available to drink. It’s a shame I don’t drink beer at all. I’m much more of a wine or whiskey person.

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Visiting the Guinness Storehouse though was a lot of fun. I don’t think I realized quite how much it has shaped Dublin, or even Ireland itself, and how much work goes into the creation, quality and taste of the drink. The Storehouse itself is massive and is part show-and-tell, part museum, part shop and part tasting experience. You learn everything from how Guinness is made to how to correctly drink it and appreciate it’s flavor, and the price of entry I feel is quite fair, especially seeing as you get a pint of Guinness at the end. Even I managed to drink my whole pint whilst we were in the Gravity Bar, which is the glass bar at the top of the Storehouse, boasting a view of the whole of Dublin. Something about relaxing above the city, realizing the work that goes into the drink, makes it much more enjoyable.

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Still the only whole pint of it I’ve drank though.

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We spent a lot of time in Temple Bar, which is a must-visit place, experiencing the live music that you can find (and attempting to find the ‘original’ Temple Bar), but the pub we spent the most time in, and the one we found first, is a little place called The Celt just around the corner from our hotel near O’Connell Street, which felt like the most stereotypically authentic Irish pub in the whole of Dublin. It’s here that we had Traditional Irish Stew with Guinness Bread, which I have the recipe of, and will hopefully be attempting to make soon!

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Finally, on our last day, my friends allowed me a brief nerdy moment, and came with me to see the Book of Kells, which is a super old religious text, the oldest in Ireland at least, residing in the gorgeous Trinity College, underneath an even more impressive library. After this, we went to St Stephen’s Green, and the boys pretended to be T-Rexes in each others photographs.

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There’s no avoiding this, unfortunately.

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If I go back to Ireland, I think I’d like to do a driving tour around the more rural parts of Ireland, and have a few more days spent just relaxing, not walking around bars so much. If I was to go back to Dublin, I’d love to see more of the iconic literary places, by doing the Ulysses walk, for example, as I studied Irish literature during my degree and would have loved to see where some of the books I have read were created.

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It was so nice to escape to somewhere I’ve never been before with a group of friends who are so easy going and open to doing anything. I can’t wait for more group holidays and mini breaks!

Au revoir.
xxx

 

Travel · Uncategorized

Australia, Part Three: Sydney

I visited Sydney with Chantal midway through my three week trip for two days and a night, and let me tell you, it was bloody hot.12391802_10207469880219422_4492881862891431960_n

Of course the rest of Australia is hot. Melbourne was hot. Perth was supposed to be hot. Its a hot country. Maybe its because we spent a lot of time by the water, maybe it’s because I was with Chantal, who hates the heat, but Sydney felt hotter than everywhere else I had ever been to. The moment we stepped off of the train from the airport, we were covered in a sheen of our own sweat, and we weren’t exactly rushing around doing anything that should make us sweat. Not like the hundreds of runners we saw around the opera house during the hottest part of the afternoon.

What the heck. Why do that.

Anyway, I found Sydney beautiful, although it has a completely different kind of feel to Melbourne. Sydney feels much more touristy, more business oriented, and is way more complicated to get around then Melbourne. Everything isn’t organized into neat little blocks for you in Sydney. But it does have a massive Asian district and lots of delicious places to eat all in one place, and although using the public transport can be super expensive, it was easier then walking.

What I loved about the transport system was that you can tap your travel card on and off boats, so you can use boats just like the trains. This means that we got to see all of the main landmarks that we wanted to see from the water, which trust me, is way more exciting. We departed from Darling Harbour (which looks exactly like it does in Finding Nemo), sailed right under Harbour Bridge, saw the beautiful buildings and sky scrapers surrounding the harbour, and saw the Sydney Opera House in all its glory, the water sparkling around it in the near unbearable sun.

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Honestly, I don’t think anything can beat the sight of it, it’s so distinctive.
We got off so that we could walk around the opera house, indulging in sweet treats, and enjoying the wind that picks up around the back. I didn’t realise that the point parts of it are separate above ground, and I wish we had learned more about it and gone inside, although we were unsure whether it would cost us anything.

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We then found somewhere that is legitimately one of my favorite finds whilst in Australia, and that is the Chinese Friendship Gardens. In this middle of this massive, bustling and confusing city, juxtaposed against the shiny chrome buildings and massive expanse of water, is this gorgeous green utopia, designed in accordance with Feng Shui to make it the most pleasing to the eye. We spent a long time in here, because the greenery and the beautiful buildings made it feel cool, and the water and art work kept it feeling peaceful in comparison to the outside world. We missed the traditional tea ceremony they do, but it was wonderful just to walk around and absorb the beauty of it.

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It’s so important to remember that Australia has a massive Chinese population, and that they have a place in the city too. This lush garden quietened me and made me think about how difficult it is to move hundreds of miles away from your own country into another one. I know from my own friend moving how hard it can be to keep relationships strong through long distance. It’s nice to keep a piece of home close by.

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After seeing all these things, we went to China Town for dinner, which was obviously delicious, but by 8.30 we were back at the hotel and in bed. Early flights and hot weather is not good enough preparation for going out in a city that is unfamiliar to you. Instead we cranked the air conditioning up and watched Keeping Up With The Kardashians. We are so classy.

The next day, though, was much more exciting – we went to Bondi Beach! This is the beach that so many people have gushed to me about, and I guess is a stereotypical Australian destination! We walked from the nearest train station to the beach, which was obviously a mistake in terms of the heat, but it did mean that we saw a lot of the area as we wondered down, and saw it from the top of the hill as an amazing view. We spent a few hours just soaking up the sun and I went in the sea, although not too deep; the current is strong and although I trust my ability, I am always wary of beaches that I’m unfamiliar with, and I would never go out of my depth without someone. But it was cool and refreshing after the heat of getting there, and we saw a lot of surfers having fun in the waves.
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Bondi Beach reminded me a little bit of Sandbanks Beach at home, and of some French beaches I’ve visited before. It wasn’t as big as I thought it was. But it was still lovely and felt typical of Australia, chilled, stylish, and sporty. Even the drinks we went to get in the shade felt hipster and arty (I had a strawberry milkshake and banana bread and it was yummy).

Sydney overall was one of those places where I felt like I was seeing things but not doing anything, and that was good. I needed that break just to look and enjoy things without taking part in some kind of activity. Because it’s only an hour from Melbourne, the flight wasn’t too bad, although getting back to Melbourne was ridiculous due to a storm that brewed up in Sydney as we left. I don’t think I could live in Sydney, but I would go back.

Maybe when it’s not quite so hot.

Au revoir.
xxx

 

 

Travel

Australia, Part Two: Perth

Whilst the majority of my time in Australia was spent falling in love with Melbourne, I also had the opportunity to stay with another friend, my dads friend’s daughter Claire, in Perth, where she lives and works. Perth is a four hour flight from Melbourne, and I had the bright idea to try and get to Perth for nine. I don’t want to discuss how early I had to get up for that flight.

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Although a loyal native to Melbourne, Claire is really into her watersports, and is an avid kite surfer, and I was lucky enough to arrive on a day when she was taking part in a kite surfing competition / race. I was picked up from the airport by her boyfriend, given a mini tour by two of her friends (one of which is also British!), and then we went to the beach to watch Claire kite surf across from the island of Rottnest – or Rotto, damn Australians, shortening everything – to Perth’s coast.12347703_10206835732325361_4392980454713213949_n

Perth is notorious for being a really hot and windy part of Australia, but typically, when I visited it was rainy, and the kite surfing race was nearly called off because of how low the wind was. Everyone kept apologizing to me about the abnormal weather, and all I could do was reassure them that I was used to it, and not worried about rain in the slightest. Luckily, the race still went ahead after a slight delay, and I got to see the amazing view of hundreds of kites soaring like birds across the horizon. Claire, of course, landed on the beach looking glamorously windswept and not really that tired. 12346341_10153830141694319_7187940196074156249_n

Anyway, despite the rain, Perth was still an amazing place to visit. It is one of the most isolated cities in the world, and boasts gorgeous beaches, the perfect place to get up to those weird and wonderful watersports. There is a lot to do, although most of it involves being outside as it’s usually sunny, and if the weather had been better I would have been able to go to Rotto and see the quokka’s – a teeny weeny marsupial with the most Australian sounding name which I’m still not quite sure is real. Claire described them to me as a cross between a rat and a kangaroo. Not buying it.

Yet it was raining, and so I didn’t get that chance. Instead, Claire took me to the markets that surround Perth, like Fremantle (or Freo. I know. Stop shortening things.), full of amazing food, fresh produce, and beautiful handmade items. Then, for lunch, Claire took me to a place called Little Creatures, where I tried kangaroo. It is honestly delicious, kind of like venison, although I felt bad about eating an animal that as a kid I was convinced were extinct. Turns out they aren’t. Lucky me.12301655_10206835735885450_1041483581579357471_n

The thing about my trip to Perth that I noticed most was the difference between the friends I had in Melbourne and the people I met there. The people I hung out with in Perth felt way more stereotypically Australian, and introduced me into their culture almost without trying. One of the main things we talked about was the social differences between the UK and Australia, and I learned way more about Australians and the way they talk, act and work than I did in Melbourne, I suppose because in Melbourne I spent time with friends who were originally from elsewhere. But whilst everyone I met in those three weeks gave me a different insight into how things worked, I think Claire and her friends just let me relax. Maybe if it had been sunnier, that experience would have been different?

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I wouldn’t have experienced Western Australia in quite the same way though!

When I go back to Australia – and I will go back – I’d like to experience more of the life my friends in Perth lead, as well as more of WA in general. It didn’t feel like a city the way Melbourne feels like a city, but that was a nice contrast.

I do want to see the quokkas, though.

Au revoir.
xxx

Travel · Uncategorized

Australia, Part One: Melbourne

When we were eighteen, my friend Chantal’s parents decided to up and move, relocating to Australia and taking herself and her three brothers with them.  It was a change that was a long time coming, and we had plenty of time to prepare our goodbyes, but their leaving was difficult for all of us. I saw Chantal (and her family) almost every day from the age of about thirteen, right up until the day they flew out. Needless to say, we were best friends, and losing a best friend at eighteen is incredibly hard.

Luckily, social media is a godsend, and since her leaving, I have spoken to Chantal at least once a week, if not every other day, through Facebook and Twitter and Skype and even, at the beginning, emails. In November 2014, she and her boyfriend Kaedin came over to visit, and she hadn’t changed one bit, except for the incredibly twangy Australian accent she has picked up.
This December was my turn to go and visit her. We planned it for months, and I guess part of me wasn’t quite sure that it would really happen. But, here I am, I have returned from what was one of the happiest trips of my life, and I don’t think I’ve laughed so much since she first left the UK. And I wanted to talk about it because, and I will say this until I can no longer speak, Australia. Is. Awesome.

There will be three posts about Australia because I visited three major cities there. I hope to soon return and do the rest of the country. But I will, of course, always return to Melbourne, because I have never fallen in love with a city so fast and so hard.

After twenty four hours of travelling, most of which I could not get any sleep on, I thought that I would be exhausted arriving in Melbourne airport. But from the moment I stepped outside, got into a nice, cool, air conditioned car (we Brits are not used to the heat) and saw the city, I suddenly felt like I could stay up for hours. It is hot in December, but not quite as hot as it is in January, I was told repeatedly. I’d like to say I got used to the heat, but I really didn’t. There were days when it was so hot that I could only stay outside for about five minutes before giving up and having to go back into the shade. Those were not good days.

Chantal’s family live about forty minutes from the city by train, just on the beginning of the Mornington Peninsula, which meant that I experienced both the beautiful beaches nearby, and the glory of the city. For me, Mornington was a sunny little seaside town, with clear, calm water, a relaxed, laid back atmosphere and absolutely delicious gelato, which Chantal and I ate too much of. It took two hours in the sun for Chantal to remind me that there is no ozone layer over Australia, but by that point my base tan was set anyway. There were stingrays by the pier, although I didn’t get to see them, and sharks are apparently quite common, on top of the jellyfish. No swimming for me then, just a bit of a paddle.

Not that the idea of sharks usually puts me off going in the sea…

We also went, in Chantal’s spare time, to the hot springs, which are about an hour out from Frankston, and where hot pools follow a leisurely climb up a hill to a gorgeous view above, which I was misfortunate enough not to bring my camera for – where can you put a phone when wearing a swimming costume, really? The beauty of the Australian countryside, despite being a strange mix of browns and greens, is truly breathtaking. I don’t think I’ll ever get used the lush gorgeous sight of the landscape and the sea, and in Aus, where everything is bigger, it was even more dazzling

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But the city is where I fell in love. I was lucky enough to be shown the city twice, once by Chantal (we frequented a lot of shops) and once by my dad’s childhood friend and his son, who took me to the library, to architectural wonders across the city, and to one of the cool, hipster lanes where I was lured into the trap that is Melbourne coffee. Nowhere will ever have coffee quite like Melbourne does. The rumors are true. I’ve come back to the UK to realise that we burn coffee. We’re much better at tea.

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My dad’s friend also took me into some of the bush you can find right there in the city, up to another spectacular view of Melbourne. Having someone who loves the city show you around is an amazing experience.

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But exploring alone was just as fun. I went to galleries and museums, I used the tram system, I found Minotaur, the gigantic pop culture store, I walked all the way up from Flinders Street to the Queen Victoria Market and ate amazing food and drank more delicious coffee (they have a thing called cupping which I still don’t really understand) whilst watching the fruit merchants sell their fresh, amazing smelling produce. I sunbathed in the Botanical Gardens and walked along the Yarra River. I spent time on an adventure with myself, in a city where you fit in whatever you look like, and where no one ever shouted at me or gave me disgusted looks. Nobody is weird in Melbourne, or everyone is, and that is why it is so easy to want to stay there.

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During my second weekend in Aus, we went to Phillip Island, about an hour and a half drive along the coast from Melbourne, where you can watch fairy penguins come in at night and waddle into their little penguin houses. I decided on that evening that if I can’t live in Australia and spend half my time on Phillip Island raising money for the penguins and half my time in Melbourne city with the friends I have, old and new, who live there, then I will have wasted my life.

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There are of course, so many things I’ve missed out, the little moments, the tiny things you notice that are different from where you are from. But the simple fact of travelling in Australia is that you really do have to be there to experience it for yourself, especially Melbourne. Maybe it’s because I spent the most time there, who knows. But any chance I get, I’m going back to Melbourne, and I’m determined to spend longer than three weeks there.

Three weeks is never enough time.

Au revoir.
xxx