Monday, 31 January 2011

Train travel terror

So the past 20 hours have left me feeling a little less approving of trains. My initial appraisal in my previous entry should now be slightly altered in terms of positivity. Here I was ready for a fairly quick journey to Munich for what I was prepping myself up for a 2 and a half hour wait in Munich station ready for our sleeper train to Rome. Dreading the wait but believing we took the right decision if any delays were to occur I didn't mind the prolonged stops.

So the train chugged along and after some time the sign changed and it no longer said munich... Worry began to settle in a nearby passenger translated that this train was now not going to munich and we had to change over at the next station. By this time everything was still fine. Nothing to it right? Just hop on the train to Munich which had conveniently just arrived and be there with still plenty of time to spare. WRONG!

This train to Munich was the slowest train ever!!! This now counts as one of the most stressful times in my life. There we were looking anxiously at the screen watching station names pass by with no near sign of Munich. I glanced at my watch every five minutes it was still ok, plenty of time to catch the next train. Stop after stop the clock kept on ticking by. We soon learnt this train was not set to arrive in Munich until 8.55pm. The panic set in. My heart began to quicken and the nail biting went full speed (if only the train was going as fast). Our night train was leaving at 9.02pm.

As I sat there thinking through all the possibilities we rallied together believing five minutes was enough to run for the train. What felt like a lifetime the screen flashed up yet another stop, this wasn't it... 8.55pm... What was going on with this train. We take a closer look at the german screen and we gather that it was running late. Our night train was going to depart in one minute. I stood and ran through contingency plans. Everything was crumbling down, I was beginning to feel sick. What if we were stranded in the station for a night! The optimistic side (which was very small) of my brain prayed the night train to Rome was delayed.

We opened the doors and ran like our lives depended on it just in case it had not left. Just my luck, of course it was long gone.
I suddenly felt a yearning for comfort, I wanted to be anywhere but there in that station.

As we approached the service lady all I wanted was them to issue us a new free ticket for tomorrows night train as we were previously informed there was no other. Something at the time I swear could have been granted miracle status she said there was one leaving at 11.40pm! I did not care if there was anything else all I heard was "there is a train tonight" TONIGHT! All panic was lifted. I cared nothing for the change overs through the wee hours of the morning all I wanted was to get to Rome. There was no fuss and so we sat already exhausted but glad for the outcome all things considered.
Once again a Starbucks gave us warmth and a little regaining of sanity.

The next train journey to our first stop - Salzburg was pleasant enough. A carriage all to ourselves and our magazines to relax with; all was well. An hour and a half later we were dropped into a rather deserted looking station. We studied the small departure screen and yet again the panic was creeping up. Our train number wasn't there and there was no sign of our next destination. As Hannah went off to find anyone I sat there guarding our luggage going through the motions: here we were in a quiet station at 1 in the morning, was I doomed to spend the night? She came back, no luck.

Finally a man who looked like some sort of train authority was in sight! He informed us where to go and we were on our way. All the weight had been lifted once we stepped foot on that train. We would be arriving in Rome tomorrow, all was once again well. We asked the ticket inspector whether there was any spare sleepers as we had previously paid for them in the initial train. There was none so we had to settle for a carriage. However we realised the seats converted to beds and no one else was in our cabin, this was a very welcome find indeed.

So here I am after what seems like the longest 36 hours of my life in the famous city of Rome, completely exhausted and filthy dirty but so very very relieved to be here.

Trains - not so convenient after all!




Saturday, 29 January 2011

Train travel

It's a rather pleasant way to travel especially if you are in Europe. However it comes with it's disadvantages. Not reserving seats to save our euros means dodgy seats as we uncomfortably try and shrink with our enormous luggage blocking the isles. The other disadvantage would be the length. From Amsterdam to Rome it will take me a good 23 hours once you factor in the waiting time between trains. For me though these small inconveniences are well worth it. They are smooth vehicles, easy to understand and there is no need to turn up at the station two hours beforehand. Not to mention I still hold train travel in a very romantic light. It was once the beginning of being able to visit neighbouring cities, traveling to far off newfound destinations. People dressed in formal attire as the station manager blowed his whistle for the steam train to chug along on these rail tracks that once seemed so magnificent and new; the human race was and is constantly growing, learning and creating.

A world without trains? If there was such a thing I would surely find another world.

As we wait for an hour and a half for our next train we take salvation rather sadly in an evil take over the world Starbucks. Yes it maybe safe, maybe even wrong but sometimes you cannot go past a place of the known and can you really say no to free wifi? I think the answer to that is an obvious no.



Although I rant about the past and all the beauty it once held I'm not sure how I would actually live without the Internet. It makes travel so easy. You can quickly book accommodation online, check emails and manage your slowly decreasing bank accounts.

So here is to trains and horrible american coffee shops, both rather convenient when one is traveling.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Different

What isn't there to say about Amsterdam. Well maybe that it is probably not the perfect vacation spot for small children. It has been a while since I have arrived somewhere so touristy, it must be a nightmare during summer.

The Anne Frank house was a very emotional visit as you felt all the fear and suffering as you walked through the rooms that saw so much.

The Van Gogh museum was equally busy, complete with a pretty pricey entry fee but well worth it. His paintings are so lively and energetic. And yes, my inner doctor who nerd was thinking of that beautiful Van Gogh episode as I admired his paintings wishing he knew how much the world appreciates and adores him.

A free walking tour took us through the red light district and taught us the colourful history of Amsterdam complete with free cheese tasting! What we learnt was that amsterdam simply turns the other way, they tolerate activities and stand by "plausible deniability." As long as it is profitable and not harming anyone why get rid of it. Tina our tour guide was amazing, friendly with a hilarious sense of humour, she deserved a good tip despite our slowly dwindling wallets.

Meeting people overseas is wonderful. Nothing better than having contacts all over the world. I have also decided that Americans you meet traveling are the best kind as they don't think America is the best country in the world and everything else is horrendously inferior. They actually appreciate the world and all it's diversity.

So Amsterdam is unlike any
other city i have visited and I am extremely glad for the visit. Off to Rome tomorrow morning on a pretty epic train ride but anything is better than airports and planes.





Location:Amsterdam

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Gluttony

What images spring to mind when you think of Belgium? Exactly! The majority of us think delicious chocolate, some maybe beer but for me it is chocolate of all sorts but most importantly of amazing deliciousness!
I am not exaggerating when I say there are chocolate stores everywhere! Literally on every corner you turn, when you walk down a street every third store is either chocolate, pastries, bread or sweets and biscuits. It makes no sense that Europeans are so slim with all these treats tempting them everyday! Yet it isn't just the tourists at the counters, locals pop in buying delectable tarts, breads and chocolates at a constant flow. If I lived in Europe I literally would not be able to fit through doorways.

A trendy city for the fashion conscious has delighted me with a gorgeous Stephen Jones millinery exhibit and numerous fantasies as I tried on exorbitantly priced but fabulous dresses by Matthew Williamson, helmet lang, Alexander Wang, when will the labels end... Never! The feeling of trying something on you have seen in the glossy pages of Vogue is indescribably satisfying.

So today has been filled with chocgasms every five minutes and lustful designer clothing I will hopefully one day be able to afford.

So here is to Antwerp and all the sins it has made me commit!




This is just a tiny proportion of chocolate that I have sampled...
Exercise may soon be increased in order to fit on the plane home!

Location:Antwerp

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Discovery and dreams

As we headed out to explore Luxembourg I began to see the beauty of the city even more. We followed a walk set out in a tourist pamphlet and my goodness it showed Luxembourg in it's greatest light. We discovered a gorgeous part of town with high end shopping and gorgeous restaurants we couldn't afford but a girl can dream.
The walk took us along what is left of the old castle and city barriers. Unfortunately the signs with the historic explanation was only in french and German. The castemates which are the underground tunnels were sadly closed for maintenance - one of the greatest disadvantages of traveling in the winter.
A beautiful and delectable patisserie was the provider for a most calorie high dinner - mushroom quiche followed by an array of desserts, choc tart, apple tart and frangipane tart.
Staying in hostels is actually a wonderful experience - if you stay in the right ones. My dorm was shared by 2 lovely finnish girls who although sometimes rather loud were very friendly. Our last night we were treated to another guest from America. She was amazing for the couple of hours in the wee morning that we spoke to her. She helped us out with places to go in Amsterdam and was (unlike the stereotype) a very well travelled American. Then I began to feel completely inadequate as she began to speak Finnish... We posed the question an she could speak five languages! To make it or the more impressive the Finnish girls spoke three. So here I was with uno número English - how uneducated.
So although my tired body was initially rather infuriated by the rattle of conversation and sounds at 1am I became less so on meeting the new arrival.
The train to Antwerp was wonderful - a quick three hours to Brussels and then to Antwerp in under an hour on lovely clean and spacious trains.
On the way to finding our hotel I am once again in a world of dreams - being in a European city full of picturesque views and to die for architecture on every corner.

So what seems to be my current mood - I believe it is pure elation as I discover the Europe of dreams.



Monday, 17 January 2011

London, lovers and Luxembourg

As I say farewell to Edinburgh I say hello to yet another historically painted city - London! This being my second visit i was ready to be underwhelmed but once again it delighted the senses. I never knew a place could continue to bring so much promise and happiness. I only wish Londoners knew how lucky they are to live in such a magical place.

I love how anyone can navigate the underground. Stations are as easy to find as Asians are in sunnybank, the train runs with absolute efficiency and stops are clearly defined by the screen and the nice lady over the speaker. We took to picadilly circus both nights enjoying a play called the 39 steps an legally blonde the musical (do not judge it was actually a fabulous musical!). Again I cannot fully describe how much I love London. Coming back I almost felt home. This short stay has simply reiterated my desire to work here someday.

After a very efficient and pleasant ride on the eurostar as I was entertained by their quality magazine full of interesting articles we arrived in Paris. As we made our way to the hotel I was again underwhelmed by the so called city of light. Beggars preach on every corner and ghastly smells pollute the air. This scene isn't exactly the perfect place for lovers, more like the city of litter or maybe of loathing any language other than French!

Maybe it would be another story if you were here on a Blair Waldorf budget. A little French under your belt as you are chauffeured around, spending thousands along the champs élysées, sampling the finest macaroons in your Chanel dress before slipping into some Prada as you take your tasebuds on a gastronomical ride at Michelin star restaurants. Maybe then Paris would be the city everyone praises. But for the humble student traveller all you see is the dirt Paris tries to keep swept under their rather deceivingly clean carpets.

So glad to leave Paris a 3 hour train ride has given me Luxembourg an I have been immediately won over. This is the sort of European country I dream of. One worth all those stories of romance and incandescent beauty. The streets are clean, the buildings so unique along the winding roads and the scenery worth a million photos. I cannot wait to explore this town as being a Sunday today a lot of places are shut. Who would have thought this was still the case in some countries especially being so use to australian trading hours.

Keep reading for Luxembourgin adventures ahead!

Monday, 10 January 2011

Accomplishments & Appetites

Sunday was a day of adventure. We climbed Arthur's Seat which in relative terms is a rather steep hill or what I prefer to say a relatively average mountain. Feeling professional with my snow boots with attached spikes I was ready to take on this snow covered and trecherous terrain.
As there were no signs to lead us in any certain direction we simply kept climbing on. We came across a crossroads where there was a rather gradual climb and the other option - some rather steep looking zig zag stairs. You shall all be shocked to know we took the stair option. As we struggled our way up taking a number of breaks runners in full athlete attire ran past our unfit bodies. As the sweat was increasing and the bones were slowly aching we made it to the top and goodness was it worth it. The feeling is so exhilerating and coming from a person who is allergic to gyms and often the outdoors I'm starting to believe I'm converting. Now a small fraction of me understands those who find solice in hiking, climbing, skiing, the list goes on.
The view was spectacular and the feeling was absolutely gratifying. Two days on and the legs are still rather exhausted.

After completing such a challenge we felt our stomachs deserved a treat. We went to Dinner at Stac Polly, a fairly upmarket restaurant specialising in Modern Scottish. We ignored our budgets and devoured three courses each. My meal consisted of haggis wrapped in philo pastry and a gorgeous red wine reduction, followed by a delicious pheasant wrapped in bacon, gravy sauce and greens finished off with a warm clootie dumpling with home made egg custard. It was a wonderful meal and well worth the cash.

Yesterday was a little less active as we slept in and decided once again to treat our appetites with a gorgeous brunch of poached eggs, beans, sausage and all things devine. We slowly walked around to discover a couple of cute boutiques and then caught a short bus ride to Hannah's family friends house who kindly invited us for dinner. The family were so relaxed and friendly. You felt as if you knew them already. Dinner was Scottish right down to the last drop. We started off with haggis and neeps (neeps are the nickname for turnips), followed by a wonderful main of silverside, roast veggies and tatties (potatoes) and perfectly ending with cranachan for dessert (or as they say here 'pudding'). Cranachan consists of rasberries, cream, whiskeys and an oat mix - amazing and a must try!

Today we are off to venture around and in Edinburgh castle! So until then I will say adieu from a rather Scottish filled traveller.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Whimsical Walks

A few days ago I went to visit Julia's Grandad's farm in Dundee. Just a two hour bus trip from Edinburgh to Dundee where we met Julia's rather Scottish aunt who drove us to the farm. It was everything I hoped it would be. Her Grandad is such a lovely old man, even though it was often extremely hard to understand him. Julia's family are Scottish through and through. Think listening to a language you have known all your life but have suddenly started to forget how to understand it. Their accents are strong and sentences fly out their mouths as if talking was going out of fashion.

We spent the entire afternoon exploring acres and acres of farmland in which I paid homage to Bear Grylls; living on the edge climbling steep snowy hills while creating foot holds, sliding down slopes and fording streams. I may have even pretended to track deer. The views were magnificent and the walks were so peaceful and picturesque. Dinner was kindly bought by another Aunty: a classic fish supper as they call it here, which is a good old fish and chips. This was authentic English - wrapped in newspaper, soggy chips and the whole greasy caboodle.
We spent the evening in the cosy quintessential English country house playing board games with the family and eating "sweeties".

It was rather hard to wake up the next morning as the beds were so cosy and warm, layer upon layer of soft doonas and hot water bottle. The view from our room was gorgeous. I gazed out the window to find a beautiful pheasant in the backyard, finches gracefully darting and hills made for pure escapism. We haded off to the ponds for another walk, heading down the rather icy driveway. Well worth the hike as we gazed upon a fairytale scene of frozen ponds and moss green trees. Lunch was homemade potato and leek soup it felt so comforting to the soul. On the bus trip home I thought of how wonderful it was to experience a small bit of country living. Now I truly know I could one day live such a quiet life somewhere amongst rolling green hills with nothing but the beautiful noise of nature to wake your slumber.

Back in Edinburgh now. Today we took a lovely free walking tour which although already here a week it was good to know more of the history. So many stories to tell (not meaning to sound like I'm quoting play school). Edinburgh as I have already mentioned is absolutely swamped in history and according to the guide the locals know and continue to follow these traditions. It made me think about Brisbane, what would we talk about? What would be our most rivetting story to tell? I rake my brain and all I can think about it the 74 floods, maybe Crazy Sir Joe? Nothing exactly as monumentous or long standing as the tales of Edinburgh.

Today I also tried another Scottish delacacy - the deep fried mars bar. Well it is true what they say: anything deep fried taste amazing! That is definitely one of those very rare treats I would say.

We will be taking a visit to Edinburgh castle tomorrow and visiting Glasgow for the weekend so watch this space!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Airports, Arrivals and Atmosphere

So here I thought I just hated flights, however airports are equally easy to dislike. I will not go into too much detail as I simply do not wish to relive such horrible times but let us just say that Lufthansa airlines combined with abnormally busy Frankfurt airport = nightmare. This resulted in more flights and late arrival into Edinburgh, thankfully still arriving on the same night. We shall leave this topic until my return home.

Edinburgh is a town you only thought was in fairytales or make believe. It is simply perfect. It is true what they say, men in full Scottish attire adorn the streets playing bagpipes and speaking in wonderful accents. The architecture makes the place feel so atmospheric. Scots are also extremely proud and patriotic and I love how this keep traditions strong and relevant.

I took part in the torchlight procession held each year on the 30th as part of the Hogmonay celebrations. Torches are lit through the crowds and everyone walks along the royal mile completed with fireworks, songs and a raging bonfire. It felt absolutely wonderful, you were apart of something so old, seeped in tradition and culture. Nothing quite like it in good old Brisbane.

New Years Eve celebrations were equally amazing as we took to the streets. We also went to the Keleidh which is traditional Scottish dancing, bagpipes played as we danced till our feet could no longer walk. Edinburgh streets this morning however aren't exactly postcard material...
Today we took part in the one o'clock run. Starting at the top of Edinburgh Castle and ended at the bottom of the royal mile we ran. Yes, for those who know me well this isn't normally my idea of recreational fun. Although my legs are now feeling the burn, I enjoyed it immensely.

So from what I have so far seem of Edinburgh I am utterly astonished by its' beauty. It makes Brisbane seem so artificial, generic and one dimensional. I cannot wait to explore more. Having a wee wonderful time, stay tuned for more adventures in ye olde Scotland.