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PERUGIA, UMBRIA

so, i am finally around to writing this entry for the 14 days i spent in Umbria...

I had planned to fit in so much in these 2 weeks...when it comes to sightseeing that is...but...because i was, quite frankly, too scared to drive or ride ANYWHERE in italy...and limited to public transport...buses, trains...and their system really...REALLY does suck... a lot. haha! but, i did get around to some places =]...some i discovered once i got to Umbria, and some i discovered, well...by accident because i got off at the wrong stop haha! XD...

when i planned this section of my trip - to come to italy - i had many sky-scraper high hopes...and maybe, expectations... for what i would find out about myself. when i went to ireland, and met my family there for the first time (which i guess was about 7 years ago now?)...my third eye DID in fact open...and opened up my whole world, and really and truely changed my life. no jokes, no exaggerations. here these people were - my family - who i didnt know, and whom didnt know me from a bar of soap either!...yet, they took me in and called me one of their own...instantly!...i felt the warmth and the hospitality and fun and everything, that my mum had told me about for years and years, and that...well...i didnt know if i could believe it until i saw it...i needed to see it and feel it for my own eyes and heart...and i wasnt dissapointed. these people - the Falls' and the Doran's loved me unconditionally from the get-go...and, aside from my mum and my grandad and granny, i feel closer to them - even now, than i do with any of my lot in Oz...they understand me, and if they dont, well, it doesnt matter to them anyway (they dont judge)!...their idea of what makes a person good is the same as mine...theyre not concerned with superficial stupid shitty things like most people are in the busy modern life...and its like im just gonna be picking up where i left off (and theres 7 years of catching up for ALL of us to do!!! haha!) when i see them in a few weeks. when i met them, like i said, it turned my world upside down...but in a good way! ...i found out so much about where i have come from, and i felt like, well, hey!...theres others out there who are like me!...theyre just in another country! haha! ... i instantly belonged somewhere and was a part of something, and i wasnt alone anymore... which was an alien concept to me then. i hoped with all my heart that something similar would happen when i came to italy... that i would feel like this was the air i was supposed to be breathing right at this moment, and i was exactly where i was supposed to be, and that the ground would open up and tell me all the secrets and things that i have wanted to know about my own people... that something good could come from my shitbag of a father. that by coming here, something could help me to see the beauty in this wretched family situation we have ended up in. that i would feel some sort of akin with the italian culture, people and/ or lifestyle, to make some sense of this side of my past/ heritage (like with ireland). i wanted, so desperately, for that third eye to open again, and dish out some clarity and some positivity, and shed some light on things, to help me understand things...like, my dads family and why they do the things they do ...better.

i would have to say, with bitter discontentment, that this hasnt really happened. maybe, it was an impossible task because just about all my italian family has up and moved to autralia now...and, really, i guess they were more arabic anyway? i dont know enough to say...they are all so guarded and ready to thwart of any discussion about cultural backgrounds, the past, or where they have come from, anytime i've broached the subject with them. my dad, uncle and nonni moved to australia when dad was only about 6 months - 1 year old, so...i suppose, he only really qualifies as a quasi-italian. ...he always dismissed his italian-ness and even called himself 'mick' (because hes relatively fair skinned for an italian), for mostly all of my recollected memory...its only when it suddenly became "cool" to be italian that he started calling himself Mario (his *actual* name), and wearing a stupid looking hat (that, only the young men wear here...pffft!...what a wanker, honestly!...) everywhere he goes.

so, i was trying to compare my italian family to the italians who are actually in italy, to get a more accurate picture...are my lot really the quintessential italian family? or are they fakes and trying too hard, or maybe gone through their lives without a cultural identity to cling to. i could be more sympathetic if it were the later, and change how i think of them to giving them another chance, out of pity - not my dad - but, the rest of them. this has been a far from trivial question ive been thinking about for a long, long time.

i suppose, i should, first of all, start at the beginning. I was staying with an elderly (mostly, italy is an aging population...it was strange to me to see 50/60 year old men and women, still totting around on their own, catching trains and buses and being vehemently independent!...my own nonni have been telling me that "their old" since they were in their 40's!...) couple - Giancarlo and Mema. Giancarlo and Mema couldnt have been any more different if they tried. Giancarlo was a real cute, sweet treasure of an old man, who was always helpful and friendly and trying to make a joke with you...Mema on the other hand...always seemed like she had the shits about something. banging and slapping everything around...anyway...she made it an uncomfortable kind of an atmosphere. ... i regailed mum with a few stories about her when i got to Sicily, and...as much as it upset me and gave ME the shits when i was there and living in the moment...we both giggled a little when i was thinking and talking about it in retrospect on the phone =D ... i had intended to meet up with some italian cousins (they are crazy cool! and i love em lots...even if they are *technically* my dads family...theyre not. or, theyre not the same anyways... they are my nonas sisters family, so...whatever that makes them to me...other than super uber awesome haha! :D) from Oz that were gonna be in italy at that time visiting some of their family...HOWEVER...due to the stupid shitty bus and trains...it wasnt possible =P had i realised Perugia was gonna be so difficult to get out of to other places, i probably would have opted to study italian in Firenze (still shit, but, slightly better).

which brings me to the next thing...i went to classes to learn to speak italian better, monday to friday for 3 hours every day. i met some really wonderful people here - both italian, and not italian...who made me feel really welcome and it was just...nice =]...i may have to return, and pick Eleonora and Tina's brains on all matters italian sometime! heehee!

Giancarlo and Mema hosted a miriad of students at their place, so, i met and was living with about 4 other young people who were doing what i was doing...only one (vanessa) went to my skool, where the other 2 girls went to a different skool, and i think stefano was just living there and maybe studying something else, not italian (because he spoke really well already)! like i said earlier, it was not really a very warm or encouraging atmosphere, so...even though it was advertised as an "italian family home-stay" ... i felt uncomfortable there...and the water in the shower was ALWAYS cold (i didnt mind it because it was about a million degrees kinda hot...but...still...i would have liked a little bit of hot...just to take the freeze out of the water)...and the place was soooooo hot - NO air conditioning, but...not even a FAN between us!...i think that even if the train system had of been better, i wouldnt have felt like going anywhere anyway because it was stinking. when vanessa asked about getting a fan, Mema (who was obviously the one who looked after money) replied that it cost too much to run one, and they were environmentally conscious (of emission and so forth)...however, like Josie pointed out...if theyre so conscious of the environment, why was she giving us dinner on plastic plates every night and breakfast in the morning for 2 weeks???!!!...so, i wasnt really too enthralled with the place i was staying at really in the general =P...yeah, i got breakfast (which was pretty ordinary...horrible actually...actually made me sick for the first week!) and dinner (which was usually pasta and some kind of veges and meat or chicken, so...dinner was ok...but, it wouldnt have cost much to prepare it)... in the end, i think i might have wasted my money on that. i could have found a hostel which was in better nick, had hot showers, and at least a fan, and made my OWN breakfast and dinner for probably half of what i paid in the end. oh well, live and learn.

so, what i have deducted from this italian family, is, the stingy factor. the charging alot for a service (taking your money), and not delivering as expected (giving you less than what you paid for)...and offering up unbelievably ridiculous bullshit like "its for the environoment" as a reason for their behaviour (bullshit, bullshit, bullshit!). i guess that i can apply this theory to my family afterall! well, parts of it haha! but, ill stop before i get too bitchy hahaha! XD...

 

what i can deduce from Mema, and...actually, alot of the other people i met in stores and stuff too...which i am in two minds about...is...that, alot of italians seem to be very arrogant about helping people who dont speak italian very well....they say that the french are arrogant...i think popular opinion is sorely mistaken!...i think the italians are arrogant. on my last day, i decided to post my books and stuff home coz they weighed a tonne and i had nowhere to put them anyways...and i wasted about FOUR HOURS doing it! and at TWO DIFFERENT POST OFFICES!!!...i tried my best to bumble my way through in italian, but...i just...didnt have the vocabulary there in the end...but, i was trying!!!...its not like i just waltzed in there talking english from go to wo! Gor, i was SOOOO annoyed!!! the people at BOTH the post offices were INCREDIBLY rude, and i told them so, in no uncertain words - IN ITALIAN - so i made sure they understood...and stormed out in a huff!...on the up side, i got home from the centre of the town in a jiffy because i was raging so hard! haha! XD

so, what im in 2 minds about is...is it good, or is it bad that they expect everyone to know how to speak italian and refuse to serve you if you cant communicate adequately enough in their native toungue?...at best, theyre preserving their language and culture, which shows theyre proud of it...at worse, it makes them arrogant and difficult and make me wanna punch them in the face!!!

i did do some sightseeing whilst i was here...when i wasnt dancing and taking in the atmosphere of the Umbria Jazz Festival which was on in the park we had to walk through to get to school (i guess its like the Sydney Festival...only stacks better!!!), highlights were: illegal auditory candy and occasional sighting of the stage from the bus stop just outside the main stage, for both Santana and Prince!...also, the opening night there were 2 bands...the first one was a swing band that were a bit rocky at the same time, and were pretty supacalifreakin COOL!!! (Caro Emerald was their name) and a Jimmi Hendrix New Orlean's stylez band (Dee Alexander's Evolution Ensemble) headlined. also, a free concert in one of the stages in the centre of the city...where African singers were just completely rocking out!!! it was infectious to say the least!...or going to the open air cinema to watch...well... the first one was a movie called "Biutiful"...a spanish movie, dubbed over in italian...and the second one was a light-hearted... and a poor Amelie type rip-off called "Charisma Me"...which i think (???) might be a french film...dubbed in italian!

I also went to a town nearby (Pieve), by bus...and i think the bus driver thought he might be racing someone!!! haha!...and the road was so wiggly, i really dont know how he managed it!...the town was nice...some of the religious statues in the streets and in the duomo really creeped me out though haha!

also, i made it to Orvieto. this place was on my list of places i DEFINITELY wanted to go to!!! =]...theres a Woody Allen movie that im absolutely in love with...its called "Christina Vicky Barcelona"...and in one of the critical scenes, they go to Orvieto for a weekend...this movie has inspired me so much, so...i really just had to go there! and it lived up to my expectations =]...i was devestated to find that NONE of my photos of the caves came out properly =[...but, they were superb! really not something you see everyday =]...i also went and had a look at the famous theatre that is there, and the breathtakingly gaudy cathedral you see when you first step out of the bus from the furnicular ride...oooh, its just monstrous!...and every inch of it is COVERED in little tiles! ...spectacularly tack-tackular! haha! and, although it was only fleeting, i got a glimpse of the statue that the main male character (who is an artist) finds inspiring and moving in the movie. i also stopped in a town called Gubbio by accident on my way to Orvieto...because i got off at the wrong bus stop hahaa! XD...but, it was a nice little town...but, alot like the others in the area really... Giancarlo had been telling me about it as it was his hometown =]

so, to sum up...the italy i dreamt of, was not the italy in realistic manifestations. in some ways, i feel like i didnt get what i came here for...but, it wasnt a wasted experience. i have had a whole lot of fun, met some really fantastic people, who will be around for a very very long time if not for forever, and i am happy with this reality.

i didnt get a sense of belonging or that whisper in my bones that says "my people were here" and that this is significant. i have found that the places in italy that i have been to - which have been in no way exhaustive - to be cold and without warmth - however beautiful the buildings and gardens may be. the people i have met, have i suppose, in their way, been hospitable...but...they have been suspicious of me...which has made me feel like an outsider.

i do want to come back one day but, and maybe be brave enough to hire a bike or a car or something to get to places...here is my list of places i want to visit that i didnt get to this time around:

1. Bologna: for its medieval towers, red roofs, bolognase pasta (yummy!!!)...and to go out for a night on the town! (night life is supposed to be good according to lonely planet???)...

2. Turin: apparently, its part of a "white magic triangle" with Lyon and Prague, and a "black magic triangle" with London and San Fran (its to do with earth energies and shit)...and its inexpensive, green, and not very touristy :D

3. Genoa/ San Remo: for its cool old dark and twisty streets...its a waterfront town where artists and writers at least used to hang out...again, according to lonely planet...and san remo...well...its the heart of the tv talent show with the stupid hosts!!! :D

4. Siena: meant to be a beautiful town, especially at sundown and sunrise. its a medieval city ...

5. Bari: apparently, the ashes of St Nick (or SANTA!!! haha!) are buried here!!! haha!...they also say that, if Paris had a sea, it would be a little Bari - especially Bari Vecchia...so they say...

6. the amalfi coast

7. the aoelian islands (Stromboli especially!!!) volcanos fascinate me for some weird reason...

8. alberobello: italys strangest world heritage site looks as though it stepped out of a fantasy film!!!...so lonely planet says haha! XD, and

9. Tuscany: i would love to go and walk through a field of sunflowers for the hell of it =]

...And because i like lists (hahaha!) and, there were things that i both loved and hated about italy, i see no better means to communicate it :D

HATED

1. Their public transport system O_o

2. The arrogance of people in the shops and in the post offices

3. The weather...and getting sunburnt...repetitively...

4. The millions upon millions of stairs to get to ANYWHERE

5. Mema's lack of warmth and niceness until the last 4 days of my stay

6. The Jesus pictures everywhere and on the street and stuff...made my skin crawl with creepiness hahaha! XD

LOVED

1. The 4 hour siesta in the afternoon...though, i wish it was just a smidge later...

2. The stubborness of the people to cling to their culture, language etc and not curtail to tourism

3. Gelato, gelato, gelato!!!... my new favourite flavour, unexpectedly, is, Limoncello...mmm...refreshing! :D

4. Coffee...no such thing as a bad coffee in italy haha! XD

5. My teachers at italian skool, and all the friends i made from skool, and from Giancarlo and Mema's house! :D

6. That i was taller than nearly EVERYONE!!!...i felt like a model! ...it was great! :D


PERUGIA DAy 1...THAWTS...

PERUGIA

Day 1: sunday 3 July:

I finally got here after being on the train all FREEKIN' day from Cinque Terre. I honestly cant understand why it took so long!...italy (by comparison to Australia) is so small!, and the distance being travelled was maybe a bit more than sydney city to say, penrith!...and it took from 9am to 5pm, and 4 different trains - to get there!!!...anyway, meh...what can you do?...

So, finally, I arrived at Perugia train station, and i asked a few people (yes Dan, i took your advice so nobody pulled a swifty on me! :D) where i had to go to get to Via Venti Settembre Numero 47, which is where the Italian family who are hosting me for the next 2 weeks (or "due settimani"...hahar! already learning! heehee! :D) live, and where *I* will be living the next 2 weeks :)... was on the right track, but then (of course) i felt like i was lost - i actually WASNT though!...and this really really nice italian couple - who didnt speak a word of english - walked me straight up to the door! which i thought was really sweet actually :)

I rang the bell, and introduced myself "buonasera, mi ciamo Sine...io studentessa parliamo italiano with Lingua In Corsa... venire con tu due settimana..." ...it was the best i could do - far from perfect, but...ok for off the cuff with no practice hahaha! he must have caught my drift because, he buzzed me to come right up, and he met me at the lift. a very slight, white haired, bouncy, happy looking man who was nearly moon-walking out of the lift greeted me! :D...shortly after, I met his wife 'Mema'...who incidentally, is the name that nearly everyone, except my brother and me, call my dad's sister!...it must be short for Marina?... she is quite different from him...she's blustery and bold, loud and abrupt in her manner - especially to start with!

I thought to myself a little bit while i listened and watched them...we were all trying to talk to each other - me in my broken italian, and they hardly understanding a single word that i said in english when i didnt know it in italian! The guy (i have already somehow forgotten his name! chocolate fudgecake and bananas - I. Am... Useless!!!) reminds me of my mum's dad (my awesome grandad!) which is great, because i've really been missing his phone calls and silly jokes thati've heard a bajillion times but are still funny somehow!...only, THIS guy speaks Italian... and Mema reminds me of my dad's mum...well, how i remember her before the shit hit the fan and everything went pear-shaped. Their daughter and grand children live in the place next door, and come over all the time, and its a really nice and friendly atmosphere :) There are another 3 students staying here at the same time as me - I have met 2 of the girls: Josie (who is a really lovely and sweet German girl), Vanessa (who i think is Columbian and also completely awesome!), and there is a Croatian girl yet to come...and there is also this lovely Asian boy (i keep going to call him Alfonsis, but...thats not his name!...his name is Stefano!)...who speaks PERFECT italian (its kinda weird looking to me to hear him speak!...a bit like when we went to Chinese in Ireland mum, and we were more than a tad surprised to hear the chinese waitress talk with an irish accent with asian hints every so often!)...who was a bit of a god-send actually - translating at least some of the more important things between Mema and me =]... Although, there is the obvious difference that we dont speak the same language, and, to a degree, we have a different way of going...and the initial condescending way that Mema was slowing down words really really slow and yelling them at me like i was retarded or something ...well, once we got past that, i feel like part of the family almost instantly, which is nice :)

It's been so long that I have been in the presence of something like this. it feels like such a long long time ago that this was us. this was me with my own grandparents (my dads parents)...where i had almost gotten used to them shouting at each other, and all of that because, that was just them talking, and that was just their way, and it was normal. today, it all just came flooding back, and, for the first time in, really, ages...i do really miss that kind of lifestyle. going next door for a chat and a cup of milk... and helping myself to the fridge, and, when talking to my nona, i guess i had a tendency to get loud and passionate (not such a huge stretch or surprise really), and talk about, and listen to each other whinging and moaning about this, that and the other (because thats what Italian conversations...at least with the older ones heehee! are about...what pills and aches and pains they have and etc etc...) and i kind of went and had a little bit of a cry in my room because the memory of how things were, but, cant - and wont ever be - again... hit me suddenly like a tonne of lead bricks. But, i know that, and also that that time has past, and...i know much much more about those people, and its almost like they flicked a switch from loving and caring, to hateful and untrustworthy...i wont be forgetting that in a hurry. Oooooh how stupid we are when we are kids!...i never seen any of the bullshit coming...not for miles! when, i dunno...i probably should have...should have guessed and known what i do now about their sense of character - or the lack of it!...but...i was totally oblivious =P

Then, i got a text from mum, which made me feel happy again =]...i may have lost a family i once felt really close to, but, now, i feel closer to a better, more genuine family who DO have ALOT of strength of character, and who are genuine do-gooders ... not so they can shout it out from the heavens so everyone knows theyre good people...but...because they feel its the right thing to do. my irish grandparents are closer to me now - much more than they ever were before really, and they are not cowardly, and they WILL stick up for me if needs be...which i cant say for the other lot...they're not courageous enough to go against the grain for a greater good. so, what i have now, is better than what i might have had before =] i swear - mum - you have ESPN sometimes!!! hahaha!...

I think i definitely want to change my last name now =P...i dont want any association with my dad and his family anymore...and i *could* take mums maiden name...but... it just sounds so much less exotic! hahaha!...im thinking something either italian or french for a last name - or even if theres something cool and poetic in german?...Thom has came up with some great ones: Sine Rocknroll, Sine Darko, Sine Casablancas, Sine Razor, Sine Reznor, Sine deBrut, Sine Snow, Sine Phoenix, Sine Morrisson, Sine Jagger...or MY personal funny favourite of his collection: Sine Dotcom (heeheehee! ^.^)...or my own suggestions Sine L'amour (Sine Luuuurve! hahaha! XD) or Sine Nero (translated, im Sine White now, so... to really make a sarcastic comment and stick my rude finger up at them all...be Sine BLACK!!!)... or Sine (whatever 'green fairy' or 'green pixie' is in italian, french or german?) I'm open to suggestions people!...applications dont close till after i get home! hahahaha!...it's totally like you said Thom: "its such a fine line between porn and cool when picking a new name!!!"...haaaalp people, haaaalp! XD...

Mema cooked up a storm for dinner... and i was completely starving becuase i hadnt eaten all day...and, to be honest, was the only reason i was staying awake!...all that waiting for trains, and carrying a heavy 11.5kg bag on your back going up and down all those stairs - from the hostel, at the platform...Perugia is built on a hill, so, again...theres millions of steps - like MIL-LIONS!!!...i was sweating buckets by the time i got there!...i just wasnt with enough energy to listen and have to think what everyone was saying in a foreign language tonight. after dinner, i had got at least a little more energy, and began to join in with conversation a little more...where i could anyway =P...i have decided to crack the bottle of red wine that the receptionist in Milan gave me, with the group tomorrow night as a way to become friends =]

So...tomorrow is my first day of school...and...hopefully, ill have more energy (should do) to make much more of an effort with speaking with this italian family... i hope i learn lots and come away being able to get by and be understood...and maybe even use some fancy words heehee!...in italian, come 2 weeks time =] Im glad its just italian for the next 3 weeks...its been pretty hard adjusting to the different languages every 2 days or so =]... anywhoo... buona notte my friends!!! =D



MILANO AND CINQUE TERRE =D


MILAN

My first impression of the hostel in Milan even from the bus!...was... WOW!... It was a big tall ornate building, that was slightly orange in colour, with a lovely big colourful garden out the front. the bus dropped me all but at the door of the place, and when i walked in, there was a jolly man - who i knew was short even though he was sitting - behind the reception desk, and he gave me such a warm welcome! =] the guy at reception was so so lovely!...i told him that i was making my way to Perugia to study italian, and, upon hearing that... he was trying to help me with talking and was so so so patient! whenever he would talk to me, he'd talk in italian, and, then, he would tell me what it was he was saying if i didnt understand. he also gave me a free breakfast (normally, you would have to pay extra...but...i didnt!) and a bottle of wine to enjoy in cinque terre =]

Italian people seem to have a very strange way of being hospitable. they can be such helpful people out and about if you approach them carefully...Italians are weird like that i noticed...they have a strange and very ubrupt way about them... they kind of seem like theyre always yelling at everyone!!!...but, its just their way. i guess i shouldnt take it too personally heehee! ^.^

CINQUE TERRE

i didnt really see or do too much in cinque terre really coz i only got here at 5pm! stupid train wasnt running until 2pm from milan! =P... it was a hike up the hill...and the hostel i was staying in had MILLIONS and MILLIONS and MILLIONS of stairs!!!...didnt rate the place very much! most of the staff were pretty rude and unhelpful. the lady there was lovely though, and very helpful in telling me where to get free wifi etc.

i (quite literally!!!) bumped into an american girl who i met when i checked in here...my bag was heavy, and it was a small and cramped reception room, and i nearly (by accident) smashed everything in the room!!!...she saved me from tearing the place apart!...well, bumped into her, and then had a few drinks with her and her travel buddies...made friends with the owner of the store offering wifi...the wifi incidentally wasnt free...you had to purchase a drink or something from his bar...but...because he thought i was puuurdy, he let me have internet for free as long as i sat outside (which was where i wanted to sit anyways!)... he kept coming up and chatting to me and laughing with me and telling me his life story, like we were old friends...it was cool! :D he wants me buy him shoes when i get back to london if they are the right specific kind!!! lolz.

i went for a short wander down the street, and, sure enough, after 5 minutes, i got asked on a dinner date by a handsome italian stranger...and although i was weary to spend company with someone who had traditional italian values - like my own dropkick deadbeat dad...i thought i would give this cat a go :)... to one of the fancy restaurants at the water...candles and everything!!!...had penne pasta...and the nicest red wine ive EVER tasted in my life!!! XD...and he bought me half a litre of it!!!...i was quite drunk! XD then, walked along the boardwalk, telling stories, and letting our hair blow in the wind (i felt very eurovision ish!)...and had a wonderful night in spite of myself! =]

i would like to come back to cinque terre someday...its very picturesque, and theres a small bit of water, nice restaurants, nice people...there seemed to be quite a few tourists, but, the people who are here didnt bother to necessarily 'cater' to them (which i think is a HUGE plus!!!)...the people here were really a little bit "its my way or the highway" which i could really appreciate =]



GERMANY

On day 1 in germany, I kind of just got my bearings, and explored the immediate local area once i put my things in the hostel. we kind of got a little lost - somehow!!!...the words "HOTEL BEROLINA" were all but writen in flashing neon lights above the hotel!!! hahaha!...but, we finally found it :)...the local area was a centre of excitement and activity!...there had been some kind of festival on over the 2 days before, and i found out that on the saturday before we came it was the german equivalent of mardi gras!...daaang!...so sorry that i missed it! =[... there were little food stalls up around the main quarters...and a church that did NOT look like a church!!!...it was like a disco church!!!...it was made of glass bricks, and at night, they shone a bright royal blue (with lights in them obviously!)...and the only reason i could tell it was a church is because it had a very unassuming cross on the very top of the building!...strange...very strange!

There was also some kind of demonstration against something or other happening in one corner of the courtyard.

I took myself off to see some of Berlin's nightlife tonight...lynda didnt want to come out, so, i went on my lonesome, and...low and behold! i found an irish pub! nearly at my doorstep!!! hahaha! it was also karaoke night...and there were some very good singers...but, also...some very baaaad singers! there were also very entertaining singers - like the group of slightly smashed mexican's singing ridiculous sounding spanish songs hahaha! oooh, twas hilarious!!! XD... it was here that i met two lovely fellows from South Carolina who were just chillin and having a drink...we were all laughing at the insaneness of the mexican's and got to talking. these 2 men became my friends for the whole time in berlin =]...they were there on business, so...they (or the company they worked for!) paid for our drinks for 4 nights!!! they were really great company, and i think we will all stay friends long after we all leave berlin =]...i got up and sang Lily Allen's song "it's not fair"... and got a standing ovation from a bunch of people!!! hahaha!...i think they were all too plastered to know what they were doing! haha! ;D and i also sang Fleetwood Mac's "Little Lies". i had a great night =]

Day 2, Lynda and i did a free tour of Berlin - which was EXCELLENT!!!...our guide Avril, was an Irish girl, and very very energetic and passionate about the city of Berlin. she told us about the history that we all know about - and have all read about...but, she put a slant on it to make it seem alot more real and individual...who could have known that building a wall could make such a huge difference to a people's culture, thought patterns, way of living etc??? who would have thought it could make such a huge difference in peoples lives? and inspire so much change and creativity?...Avril summed up berlin as a city very succinctly - "that Berlin is almost like an infant child, learning about itself, and struggling to find an identity that both east and west can be happy with." ...theres still so much turmoil and the city itself is a bit of an anomoly - it wants to be reunited as a country (both east and west), but...there is some complaint about inequality over spending of the national budget (east needs more money as it really really declined in the years where the wall was errected).

That night, it was the irish pub again, and this time, we were drinking and hanging out with the 2 boys, another american girl i met at the hostel (Lindsay), and also, the bar tender/ waitress serving the boys the previous night. we then went to this other bar "Gecko" (all of us) and drank shots and various other drinks id never heard of!

The next day, i went to the shopping district that the bartender told me about, called "Simon Dach Strass"...the punk scene and thrift stores here were great! i bought some tartan pants that flare at the end!!! NOT skinny legs!!!...i almost cried with excitement!!! :D ...there was some weird little quirks with some of the stores too - there was one shop - like a shabby shique type shop for fashion...where the girl made all the stuff in there! oh, it was RAD!... the link to the shop: www.rutntutgut.de...but...it didnt have a front door... you had to climb through the window to come into the store!!! i LOVED that!!! :D

That night, i was feeling poorly, so, i stayed in, and pulled out the free magazines i had got from the Music City (and its not a bad music store - despite how much the kids in the movie Empire Records hated it!!! hahaha! :D) had at the door...my god!!! Berlin has soooo many festivals!!!...you could come here for 6 whole months and go to a festival every day!!!...The cool kids of Berlin are recommending the following bands/ singers (in order) are the best to see live this year:

50. Flogging Molly

49. Bands of Horses

48. Blood Red Shoes

47. William Fitzsimmons

46. Warpaint

45. Fleet Foxes

44. System of a Down

43. Underworld

42. The Wombats

41. Junip

40. Robyn

39. Bright Eyes

38. Pendulum

37. Darwin Deez

36. Ozzy Osbourne

35. Moby

34. Bonaparte

33. Kreator

32. Frittenbude

31. Kvelertak

30. 30 Seconds to Mars

29. Kasabian

28. Arctic Monkeys

27. Joy Denalane

26. Judas Priest

25. Turbostaat

24. Interpol

23. Linkin Park (eeerk...i hate these guys =P...ill allow the german public to have ONE utter failure!!! hahaha!) XD...

22. Prinz Pl

21. Gentleman and the Evolution

20. Motorhead

19. Portishead

18. Beady Eye

17.Arcade Fire

16. Kings of Leon (ummm...overdose of these guys on the contiki bus...me no likey anymore! =P...)

15. Bullet for my Valentine

14. Paul Kalkbrenner

13. Iggy and the Stooges

12. Coldplay

11. The Hives

10. Seeed

9. Pulp

8. Die Fantasti-schen Vier

7. Wir Sind Helden

6. The Chemical Brothers

5. Foo Fighters

4. Boys Noize

3. Volbeat

2. Mando Diao, aaand (drum-roll pleeease!!!)

1. BEATSTEAKS!!!

The next day - my last day =[ *whimpers* I did an Alternative tour of Berlin...graffiti, the pubs and clubs, the squats...it was terrific, and what i came to berlin to experience =] Rob, our tour guide told us that these free expressions and free artists squats and abandoned buildings turned into exhibion halls, may be becoming extinct due to gentrification and capitalism and the furthering of big business desires =[...and the thought that they may not be there in a couple of years time, just makes me sad =[...i hate that when my kids come to Berlin, they wont get to experience this fantastic part of their sub culture, and that i will sound like a granny saying "well, back in myyyyy day...when i went to Berlin..." =P... stupid money making people want to strangle and kill everything that is pure and organic...I hope that the people of Berlin get stubborn and fierce about it all though - much like they did with the wall!!!...and not let this part of their culture be disturbed...

... Rob the tour guide must have liked the seems of us, coz we ended up going to a bar for a beer (and OH MY GOD!!!...theyre MASSIVE!!!...They're like a MEAL!!!) ...coz he didnt fancy going to his managers meeting...he'd rather hang with us! :D...and then, we went to a art exhibit opening which had virtually free booze and chocolate cakes! mmmm! nom-nom-noms! :D...and the theme of the exhibit was "cliches of the artist"...there was a simple video of an artist portraying the pressure of having to produce some 'thing' in order to be able to call himself 'an artist'...and the pressure to perform and come up with new things, and the effect this might have on the individual themselves. there was another short video of a woman wearing a dress made out of a roll-up turkish delight dress...who was sitting in a gallery, and people would come up and eat part of her dress...SHE was the installation! interesting!...there were other more experimental-ish looking photography of individual artists...my favourite was a piece that hung on the wall...made out of what looked like calico material...with a big gaping hole in the middle of it, where it almost looked like a window... underneath was a butterfly. on the top it looked like a ghostly kind of figure - very dark and brooding - with the eyes cut out...the only colour of paint that it used was the black on the calico...i liked it...to me it was a representation of the self portrait of how an artist sees themselves... dark, mask-like ontop, which isdark and broody, but, inside, free as a butterfly when they paint/ draw/ artz...if you are so inclined...the link to the exhibit is: "starving artist/ Superstar"... (www.starving-artist.de). Rob's girlfriend was completely lovely too!...lovely smiley lady :)... met some awesome people on the alt tour as well!...i couldnt believe it! - doing a tour where the other people on the tour ACTUALLY understood my sense of humour and had interesting and worthwhile opinions (and not half-baked ones) on things! it was great!...wish that some of these kinds of people were on my contiki tour...then, i probably would have enjoyed it! lolz! XD...oh well, cest la vie ;)...


Amsterdamage XD...


AMSTERDAM

It was really just a fly in, fly out visit to Amsterdamage this time around, but...it was enough time to do what I wanted to do :)... The first day we were there, it was really cold and miserable and wet...and the hotel was actually really nice!!!...so, we ended up just staying in, and looking out the window at the little bit of life that was happening around us. I had to send stuff back home, and my sleeping bag and big jacket to Ireland...my bag was ridiculously heavy...it felt like lead!!!...so, I did that.

The second day, Lynda went to Brussels on a day tour...I decided to go to Anne Frank's house. It really makes a difference going to the places that a story/ history is set, to say, JUST reading the book or watching the movie. I found it all very haunting, and sad...sad because this was a true story, and it actually happened to people - it wasnt made up - and this is just one story amung millions of similar stories that have not been written or told. Human beings can be nasty and pigheaded and...just AWEFUL to other human beings, and it never fails to amaze me how history keeps repeating itself in echoes. we have learnt nothing over all these years it would seem. In the animal kingdom, you hear of one species hunting another species...but its for survivial...humans do this to each other...and we are all the same breed!!!...sometimes, i really just dont understand why some things are the way they are =P...

After Anne Frank's house, i decided i needed a beer, so...i found an O'Reilley's Irish Pub on the way, ordered a schnitzel and chips and a half pint of their cheapest beer...and i managed to make friends with a bunch of really lovely Irish people!...we had quite a few bevvies, and got a little bit high (well...when in Amsterdamage... ;D) together...tn, decided to go for a wander. I shit you not - Amsterdam is a SCARY SCARY place when you have had a little bit of marajuana!!!...there were people in the main square dressed up as chewbackka's and gorillas, and other furry critters...and human statues (these...even when NOT under the influence can seem a little bit creepy really haha!)...and also, a bunch of space age type critters too!!!...actually, now im wondering if maybe they werent a little bit high on the hashish as well!!!??? ...at this stage i started to be very glad that i went to see Anne Frank's house earlier that morning and not waited till the evening haha!...it could have ended up being very (unintentionally) disrespectul!!! XD... then, we found an arcade game place - a bit like Tilt! (am i showing my age?...you've all heard of Tilt, right?!...played games, got the tickets, won prizes???!!!...) and had a complete blast!!! :D...i was a complete giggly-girty!...and the irish people i met were tip-top fo shizz! :D...

And when we emerged from the Arcade...there was an Argentinian with a puppet...and the puppet was playing a guitar. it was all a bit strange ahhhaha! XD... I thought that, after this surreal adventure of today, that i might try and make my way back home XD...to my ultimate surprise, i didnt get lost even ONCE!

I wanted to meet up with the couple I met in Romania who were from Rotterdam, but, alas, they were still in Romania =P

So, this was my Amsterdamage adventure...they dont call it 'Amsterdamage' for nothing i discovered! hahaha! ...


"Is-tan-bul, Con-stan-ti-nople!!!"


ISTANBUL

I will start this post by stating that, I have been chomping at the bit to come to Istanbul for YEARS!!! So...words cannot describe just how excited I was to be finally making my way there!!! :D

I adored Turkish and Moorish culture way before I even knew it had a name... I remember being completely drawn in my the magic and the lights and sounds of this fascinating culture from my first ever memories - the inception of what my idea of style, taste, fashion, art - even was... as juvenile and as superficial as it sounds on paper...the multiple trips to India Fox (eeer...dont be fooled by the name...there was never a great deal of indian influence I never felt =P...apart from the whole "if you steal its bad karma" thing XD) ...just to look around and be in the presence of something quietly, and confidently having a presence of old magic and enchantment.

Armed with a list as long as my arm of things I needed to do, see and eat (from the WONDERFUL Dilek!!!) whilst in Turkey, I felt like quite the adventurer... exploring this exciting land of culture, tolerance, bells, bellydancing...and really, really pretty home decor!!! hahaha! XD

When I arrived, it was evening, and from the moment I stepped into the taxi and started to make our way to the hostel, I could feel the excitement bubbling up and fizzing up in my head (like when you've just had a really huge gulp of coca-cola??...)...and by the time I reached the hostel and met up with Lynda again, it all culminated in getting an ear-worm of "Is-tan-bul, Con-stan-ti-nople!!!" and unable to stay quiet, just burst out in song in front of a few shop owners and the taxi driver...which was funny, because, thats really all of the song that I know! Hahaha!

In the cab, I got a glimpse of what the next 3 days were going to be like...the roads were all wiggly, and shops and vendors are open till late, and, it feels like the whole city of Sultanahmet (a part of Istanbul, and the part we were staying in) is glowing with this lovely sort of mood-lighting and faerie-lights at the same time. I kind of felt it like a warm hug enclosing the city like a parachute of love and mistiqueness ...and that we were following a glow-worm until we reached the end of the tunnel :)

So, I hugged Lynda, dumped my bags, met the very nice Kurdish receptionist Rohaat aaand, then, we decided to go out and try some Turkish cuisine (because i LUUUURVES it, and we were hungry, hungry hippo's! :D)...we had heaps to catch up on, and, so, we ended up walking down nearly the length of the main street...until we got distracted by a little white albino bunny rabbit!!! yar - you heard right... A LITTLE FLUFFY BUGS BUNNY!!! So, needless to say, the bar that owned the bunnies got our business for dinner! hahaha! They were so cute!!! They were only new, so, we got to name them...The white one looked like the only thing that was missing was a pocketwatch and a waistcoat to put it in, so...her name was Alice...and the other one was darker in colour and looked like it had a tweed coat on, so...it just struck me as an Albert, so...he was called Albert! heeheehee! ^.^...I tell you...if you were ever opening a restaurant or bar, bunnies are the way to get clientele!!!...its the only reason why we stopped, and we werent the only ones!!! hahaha!

Then, on our walk back, another restauranteer stopped us, and offered us a free apple tea if we came and sat in the restaurant, so...he had said the magic words (FREE!!! being the scroogy misers we have to be! haha!), so, we went in, and we were chatting with him and a couple of the waiters who were bouncing around...the bar was called "Antique Turquoise"...while we drank our apple tea (something I had never tried before - and something they offer ALOT in Istanbul - and that I actually really liked! yummy! :D)...and were introduced to a guy who was the owner of a leather shop across the road, who was drinking there and playing backgammon with a (seemingly rich!) Slovenian tourist as it was a lull time in his shop. We were invited to come and sit and chat with these 2 fellows, so, we did, and then...I don't even know how it happened!...but... the Slovenian thought I was his lucky charm because he won 3 games since i came to sit with them, and then, all of a sudden, they were playing first to five to win a jacket for me!...if the tourist won, the leather shop owner had to hand over a jacket for nothing...if the leather shop owner won, the tourist had to cough up...either way...I got a free jacket!!! XD...and they were shouting us drinks and the water pipe all night!!!...it was the best ever!!! they were such shining and fabulous company - water pipe and drinks, or not! I felt like I had known these people for years and years...conversation was easy and we were laughing and telling stories till nearly 4am. What a magical introduction to Istanbul! :)

The next day, we went on a walking tour to all the major tourist attractions in the area - the palace, some pretty old and ornate churches, a couple of museums which held sultan's jewels...one of which was the most expensive diamond in the world!!!...mum - you would have loved it!!! so sparkly!!! we had a look at some of the sultan's robes that have been preserved since the 6th century!!!...they were in better nick than what some of MY clothes that i've only had for a YEAR are in!!! hahaha!...and, all I can say is...Fukatylit Farquaad! the sultans were MASSIVE guys!!!...each robe was what looked like what would be a size 52!!! The tour guide was very, very sweet and nice...and he was laughing at Lynda and me with our scarves because we were wearing them and playing with them when we didn't need them (only needed it for the muslim mosque). I tried a chicken doner kebab here in the middle of the main part of town - and Dilek - I will have to confirm that...it was MUCH better than ANY doner kebab i've ever had in Oz!!! hahaha!

The tour guide dropped us off at The Grand Bizzaar, but...everything was very expensive seemingly!...though, we only went up 2 aisles =P... Lynda was getting frustrated and claustrophobic, so...we went back to the hotel nearly as soon as we got there =P To be completely honest, it didnt have a great vibe and atmosphere that I was expecting because everywhere ELSE seemed to have such a great vibe and atmosphere, but...maybe I was too hasty to judge and should have gone through the whole bazaar =P

Bored with staying in the hotel, I went to another smaller bazaar that was around the corner that I saw when we were walking. It was great! Bought some prezzies for people, and bought a white lacy coolish dress. I kind of fancied buying myself a bellydancing getup (it seems I have multiple occassions with which to wear them!!! haha! :D)...and saw that this one shop had a really nice emerald green one...and seeing as that was the colour that i wanted one in, I went in to try it on. The skirt fit like a glove, but, as usual, I might have been able to fit my left elbow into the boob part of the top, and it was just too obscene looking =P...I tried on a top of a different sort, wasnt green though =P...and liked it...didnt buy it tho because it wasnt the right colour. The shop guy was such a sleaze but, it was kind of funny!...I had no idea of really just how obscene the first top was till I got out to the mirror...then, quite quickly, went and covered myself up haha!...but, the guy was like, trying to touch me all the time and trying to "help me do the skirt up" when I was quite capable of doing it myself - it was just a couple of hook and eyes at the front! ...then, he looked at me adoringly and proceeds to say my boobs are "like oranges" in the top! buahahaha!...what a funny way of describing things!!! XD...after that, I promptly got changed into my own clothes, declined his offer of apple tea for after he had closed the shop, and then left the shop XD.

Went to the Turquoise bar again for dinner...had some turkish casserole thing...oooooh my god - *drool*...it was the best =]...The fellow who invited us for apple tea came to us very excitedly and told us that he had just received some good news - that he got accepted for a Dutch visa, and that he was leaving Istanbul with the hope to open his own restaurant. Another waiter in the bar had graduated earlier in the day from doing his Masters in Public Administration...so...it was a hub-ub of excitement and new times ahead in the bar tonight =]

The next day, we did a sightseeing tour (cruise) of The Bosphorous. To be completely honest, it was a complete waste of money in my opinion. Sure, the water was nice, and it included a lunch, but...for $40EU, I expected heaps more - they hardly even gave us any commentary on the history or anything. Ripped off. Should have just taken a water taxi and done it on our own.

Went to the lovely town of Taksim after the cruise...I would love to spend some more time in this town. Parts of it are extremely touristy (which, you know, I can take it or leave it), but, if you wander down some of the alleyways, there are some really cool bars and stuff that play live music of all kinds - jazz, hip hop, rock to punk! we stopped in a bar and had a cheap coffee and listen to the live music. The waiter was just scrumptious ;)...on our way back to the train station, we stopped in a music shop/ book store...I ended up buying a cd that they had playing because it sounded super rad!!!...Turkish ska-punk with a touch of folky-ness to it!!!...I sent it home though because I forgot I dont have a cd drive on my laptop! hahaha! XD

All in all, I will never forget the time I spent in Istanbul, and I will always look on my memory of the place fondly =] ...I would love to come back here to live and work and see the place from a local perspective instead of just merely a voyeur. I would love to come back here with Thom, Moey, and Dilek and go explore the whole place properly - from top to bottom - with people who are more familiar with the place and know where to go etc, as a local than what I do.

I cant even begin to speak of how inspired in mind and soul I am from visiting this place - however short a time it was!...people here are so friendly and cheerful, despite the seemingly shabby conditions (opinion of the walking tour guide, so, must be true?)... and I really think that the world - especially America... AND Australia - could learn a thing or two from Istanbul. They have Catholic Churches backing on to Muslim Mosques...and there is ABSOLUTELY NO ISSUES!... there is no descrimination, OR racial/ religious violence of Catholic versus Muslim...everyone just gets along and is tolerant, accepting and, actually, quite celebratory of the fact that everyone gets on so well!!! There is only issue with THE INDIVIDUAL if THE INDIVIDUAL is rude or unkind...there isnt a generalisation based on culture or creed...I happen to think this is fantastic and something with which to be marvelled at. There is no need for big wars and the spread of malicious propoganda, slurring one religion/ culture and pitting them against the other!...I wish that the governments that be could seriously look at what is going on (or NOT going on) over there, and at least begin to change their ways and their seemingly hateful need to isolate certain minority groups. For all our hoity-toity education (in comparison to what is the normal in Turkey) and university degrees, our government AND society (the popular societal attitude of nastiness and anti-semitism, and "all muslims are terrorists" bullshit...) arent as smart as these people when it comes to humanity.

There is a real feeling of spirituality in Istanbul...and i'm not JUST talking about religion. I'm talking, mostly, about how people interact with each other here. There seems to be a real sense of pride in how they treat people/ animals. For the last few years, I would have to say that, my unwavering belief that "people are mostly good" has been challenged, and to the point where I second-guessed myself in having this belief, and that maybe I had been wrong and foolish for all these years for thinking this way...that maybe I had some rose-coloured glasses on and that I was too naiive - or just pigheaded and didn't WANT to see - all the rotteness that was actually happening right in the front of me. The unthinkable happened...I had gone from a glass half-full person, to a glass half-empty person, and succumbing to the bleak outlook that, well...people are shit. I'm happy to announce, that, my faith in people has now been almost entirely restored, and it's back to optimism!!! yaaay!!! :D

Istanbul has really changed the direction in which my life could have gone...now, instead of thinking I just gotta 'get through' life and not give anyone the chance to screw with me - because they will DEFINITELY try!... My post-Istanbul view is, well, anything is possible, and maybe people arent so bad afterall?... might as well give them a chance before hastily baulking them away and keeping a good arms distance from them knowing how to hurt me. I feel like it's at least a step in the right direction =]

Istanbul, I have fallen completely head over heels for you, and promise that, one day soon, I will be coming back to you. I really feel like you saved me from a mediocre way of living, and inspired me to do better and be better...


Plan B: DUBROVNIK and CAVTAT =]


DUBROVNIK and CAVTAT

Okay, so...my original plan was to go to Montenegro for these 3 days, Dubrovnik airport (as there were no direct flights to Montenegro), my plan of getting a bus from Dubrovnik to Podgorica were foiled. The last bus for the day left at 3pm, and i only got in the airport at 5.10pm, so...just when i thought i was going to have to sleep in the airport, Lynda - my knight in shining armour (buahahahahaha!) came up with a plan - a very good plan!...and booked me into a place near the airport...the town was called Cavtat...which is one of the Dalmatian Islands on the coast off Croatia. BEST. idea EVER!!!...had a completely FABULOUS time!...its a truely lovely piece of the earth there...water was turquoise and green like a postcard, and, as nobody OWNS the beaches, you can go pretty much anywhere you like! :)...i kind of got carried away in my book that i was reading on one of the deckchairs by the water, and going for a swim every 15 minutes to cool down (really really hot there!) and, you guessed it...got roasted again XD...really gotta stop doing that!!! XD...also, took a trip over to Dubrovnik via ferry (which was cool!) to look at the Old Town and the old wall and bell tower and stuff...it was good.

i decided then, after looking at the Old Town, to go for a wander, and found this quaint looking little cafe bar, and thought...well, ok...i havnt had breakfast or lunch today, so, i can afford to splurge ($4EU!!! whooooar! hahaha! XD) a little on some dinner. I looked at the menu, and i thought...all i feel like is some fish and chips since were by the sea...so...yeah, i looked at the menu, and what i chose was "little fish" and chips. what *i* was thinking this was, was, that it was a small sized fish, not a big one...oh how i was wrong!...what i got was a bowl of, quite literally - LITTLE FISH!!!...with millions of little fish eyes looking at me!!!...i forced myself to eat a couple, but...i just couldnt do it!!!...the eyes just really really creeped me out!!! hahaha! XD...so, then began the arduous task of trying to hide the little fish so it looked like i ate some! hahaha!

the strangest thing happened in this little bar. for a few months before leaving for europe (in may) i had been having these weird dreams, where this guy would just pop up at random locations, holding a picture frame around his head, and he was smiling this great big smile...weird right?... well...weirder again was, that, the guy who was my waiter in this bar...was him!...it was the guy! the picture frame guy!!! XD. i think he could have maybe liked me a little because he gave me some homemade grappa on the house :) ... at the table next to me, there was a bunch of South American men sitting and having something to eat and drink. anywhoo...the waiter brought out the grappa for me... i took a sip, and...that stuff is POTENT AS!!!...it certainly clears the senses!!! hahaha!...like METHO!!!...anyway, said South American's were laughing at my facial expression (which must have read "holy shit!!! eerk!" all over it!haha!) and reactions to the grappa, and started to talk to me. Now, i had some people to go out for a night on the town with! haha!...we all got back on the ferry, and proceeded towards this bar that the locals apparently hang out in, and had a pretty fun night of dancing and silliness :)...Thats the thing i noticed about Croatia...doesnt matter what day of the week it is, people still go out to see live music, go dancing etc...it was a monday night when we all went out!...i would have thought that people would be less inclined to go out late because its a skool night! i was delighted to see that that wasnt the case! :) i was glad i came here instead of sticking to my original plans...this place was an unexpected delight! :)



Bran, Transylvannia...ROMANIA

I stayed at a place called Brasov, which is close to Bran Castle...the castle made famous by the Dracula story written by Irish author Bram Stoker. Little did I know that Brasov was a 4 hour drive from Bucharest Airport!!!...Lucky for me, I had organised for someone from the place I was staying at to come and pick me up...mainly because I was petrified of getting bags stolen, or myself into some deep shit with the wrong people because I was a woman travelling alone...so, lucky!!!...I most DEFINITELY would have gotten lost if I tried to get there on my own!!! XD...I was only in this lovely piece of Transylvannia for 2 days...if I had of realised it was so far away, I would have stayed for longer I think. To be completely honest, I felt like I was in transit a bit in Romania...probably because I only really got 1 day to do anything because the rest of the time was taken up with commuting =P...so, yeah, for it to be worth it to go to Brasov, stay longer than 2 days...maybe even stay a week, or two weeks! I went and saw the castle, which was pretty cool...seeing as though it was built on this mammoth rock!...I can see how the landscape would have been inspiring for Bram. There were lots of tiny little windows and cupboards (that you couldnt fit anything in really! haha!) which had little hearts carved out in them (which i thought was really cute!)...but, more than anything, seeing this castle really piqued my interest in the Queen of Romania who actually lived here back in the day! :)... she was quite a visionary and revolutionary woman!

They had a small little alleyway beside the castle which had a guilotine (which i thought was pretty awesome!), a haunted house (which WAS actually a little creepy!) and... a 5D 15 Minute Dracula Story performance (which was craaaaaazy cool!!!) :D...

All I can say is, that, the people in Romania - despite the bad press the country gets about abductions and sex slavery, are absolutely lovely! Every person I met without fail went out of their way to help me when they didnt have to! where i stayed was up a mountain, and...again, another thing I didnt realise, is that no buses or taxis could go up the mountain, so...i had to hike down the mountain (which took about an hour...TWO hours the first time i went down! haha!) to get to the main part of town. ... I didnt really bring the right shoes for this! hahaha! still, i came and went a few times to the main town. The owner of the farm (yes, it was a small farm in the mountains!) Joseph, picked me up from the airport, and we had 4 hours to chat (even though i was severely feeling the jetlag after 24 hours in planes/ waiting for planes!) ... and told him i liked scary things and stuff... well...when i found out about the hiking down the mountain business, he also told me to be careful coming back in the dark because there were wolves and bears on the mountain O_o ...and that only the week before, a bear had slaughtered 3 lambs belonging to the farm next door!!!... so, needless to say...i made sure i was back well and truely before dark!!! hahaha! like i said, the first time down the mountain, it took about 2 hours... ... ... because i got hideously lost (as only i could!!!)...but, I met a local Russian-Romanian lady (Dana), who didnt speak much english, who i asked for directions using a map... she didnt know, so...instead of just throwing her hands up and saying "i dont know, cant help you, dude!"...she whisked me off to another lady called Carmen down the road, who knew english. once Carmen told her where i wanted to go and that i was lost, Dana walked with me almost half the way down to make sure i was on the right track! :)... see what i mean?!...above and beyond helpful and friendly and loveliness!!! Joseph too, was such a sweetheart - he organised a big bonfire on my last night and invited some of the locals around, and also, the other couple who were staying there that i met, who were from Rotterdam, came as well...and we played guitar and sang songs and partied with the locals till the wee hours, before making our way back (in the dark from the bushes...trying to avoid bears and wolves! hahaha!) with a torch to the farm. I had a really really great time in Romania, and cant wait to go back again...just...for longer so to get into the rhythm of the place :)


Contiki Days...

 

CONTIKI DAYS 1 - 20

 

DAY 1 (10 may): London to Paris

Today was the first day of the contiki tour...where we met each other, team manager Andrew, and the hot (but he knew he was lol!) rockstar Portugese bus driver Carlos. During the day, it was pretty much just drive, drive, drive with a few toilet stops, but, in the evening, we embarked on what they called the "Elluminations" tour of Paris by night.

Pretty much, the night tour was a whirlwind tour of the city from the bus - "Quick! take a photo of the Champs Elysses from out of the window!!!" hahaha!

On the way to Paris (on the drive time commute), i got my first glimpse of France's countryside...belle!!!...the grass in all the fields looked like velvet - green velvet...and I just wanted to get out and touch it to see if it would FEEL like velvet too!!! ...I thought that Ireland was the only place that had grass like that!

As with all roadtrips and bustrips, there were games...the first of which being like a quick 'meet and greet' type thing which they likened to a 'speed dating' scenario (5 minutes talking to someone, then move on). There seems to be some moderately nice people on the tour I guess, but, mostly, people who think getting drunk and passing out is a good time. So, really, not the kind of people I would normally gravitate to in general... what i feared was to be on a bus with yobbo lager louts, and, unfortunately, I think this is what the mix is generally =P ... but still, nobody is completely aweful, and everyone seems friendly enough, so...yay! :)

DAY 2-3 (11 and 12 may): Paris

Today, we went to the Chateau Versailles, and sauntered through The Grand Hall of Mirrors, and to Marie Antoinettes bedchamber ... "Let them eat cake!!!" haha! XD. There was so much to pass remark about at this place. The walk up through the grand driveway, there was hecklers selling "bling bling" eiffel towers and other tacky souveniers, and past them onto the stone cobbles leading up to the chalet...these were uneven and imperfect which made them perfect - Dave next door would have chucked a fit!!!... but they were obviously a labour of love...or slave labour! haha! XD...

The chalet itself was firstly GINOURMOUS!!! OH my GOD! It would have been a complete bitch to clean!!!...and the opulence and grandeur of every room was poetic enough in itself. Every inch of every wall had some kind of gaudy wallpaper, and gold leaf detail in it somewhere - and every ceiling had some kind of a profound mural of something on it, and the furniture was very regal and rich.

I've never been all that much of a passionate history buff (apart from the irish stuff of course), but, coming here, and seeing all the exquisite paintings and gold filigree and stone masonry and their fantastic maintenance...its almost as if you can see Marie Antoinette's ghost causing anarchy in the halls, and King Louis XIV having aristocratic dinner parties, and just picture life as they knew it just happening - royal life - just happening, in another time. I could really feel the frenzy and panic Antoinette would have felt when the people stormed the palace - history has never been so alive for me before this.

Another thing I noticed and loved, was, that children of kinder age - or smaller - were taken on excursion to this place. I love that they are brought up from the get-go with culture!...they were all there with digital cameras and taking photos, and learning their history with pride, and it was just wonderful. The only excursions I really remember going on when i was that age was to an animal farm... and sport carnivals...which I always hated lol!...I found it so refreshing to hear the people talk - especially the teachers - "come va les enfants..." this excerpt I could understand, but the rest, I could not, though, I could really just sit there all day and listen to a French person speak, even if I havent a clue whats being said!

Lynda and I decided to perch in a small french cafe near the Louvre in our free time today (day 2 in Paris) instead of visiting The Louvre (we will do it on our own when we return and dedicate a whole day to it, not just 2 hours :)), and had a baguette and orange juice. I dont understand why people say the french are arrogant! We had the most wonderful service by a very jolly waiter, who was only too helpful. We sat and people watched and watched the world tick by - I even think we were being watched a bit ourselves! ...watching the french being fabulous!

I think I was suffering from the great long plane travel, and was sincerely jetlagged and real lack of sleep as I didnt sleep well the night before either...and think I took a migrane - I felt terribly unglamourous in my high heels and red polka-dotted dress, spewing in a corner of one of the most manicured public gardens i've ever seen in my life!...but, you know, what's a girl to do? so...instead of going to the french cabaret show (NEXT to the Moulin Rouge, but, not IN the Moulin Rouge)...which I was really looking forward to since they had acrobats and such, I went 'home' to the campsite to spew in an already quite dingy toilet (which made me feel not quite so bad haha!). Another thing about the campsite - I guess it was pretty stupid of ME to think this, but, I just assumed that, because Paris is so lovely, that it wouldn't have bugs. Oooooh! how I was mistaken! haha! Honestly, im NEVER going camping again once Contiki is over!... I remember going camping as a kid, and didnt think too much of it, but... eergh... its certainly not my cup of tea now!!! hahaha! ...Pitching a tent was traumatic enough, but the bugs were really the icing on the cake - oh yeah! and not having power TOTALLY sucks arse!!! On a more positive note, I am very quickly overcoming my book-face addiction due to there is simply no facilities! haha!

I was having trouble hailing a cab (I was going for the ones with the light on, when you should go for the ones WITHOUT the light...or was it the other way round?...anywhoo, I was going for the wrong ones lol!)...so, I went down to the cafe we had lunch in because I knew they spoke english...the guy there whistled and got one for me within 3 minutes...and told me how to hail one and which ones to hail (so pretty much what i was doing wrong haha!)...and then...he asked me on a dinner date in Rue Mufftard!...ordinarily, I would have said yes, sure! but...my head hurt, and...I actually kind of remembered that I wouldnt actually be in France the day he nominated =[ ... so, his request, a peck on the cheek, and he opened the door for me and closed it after me, and I thought he was incredibly sweet :)...what a bizaar way to end the day! hahaha! XD

Before the migrane hit, and we were walking around Paris, I was surprised of two things...1. That i knew as much french as I did - albeit with my handy dandy phrase book!...and 2. That other french people were asking ME for directions!!!...and that I could actually reply back (pidgeon french, but, all the same!). I was sooo chuffed with myself at both things! :D...that the french thought i was fabulous enough to be a local, and that I could hold my own and be understood when speaking french!...I dont know where this french came from because, I didnt use the phrasebook the whole time! its amazing how quickly you learn when you need to! :)

I love Paris...it really is like Jackson Pollock sipping vodka and dripping paint over a raw canvas. I would move here in a heartbeat :)...Its the little things that i love the most about this city...even at the train stations...they have buskers, but...not just an ordinary guy with a guitar or violin...no...there was a whole string quartet just hanging out at the train station! ... it truely is as romantic a city as all the advertisements say...it really is the kind of city where you can expect to hear music while you passionately embrace and kiss your sweetheart. I cant wait to return, where I will be popping Lynda's Montmarte cherry :D

DAY 4 (13 may): Paris to Lyon

We ended up stopping (service stop) at a little sleepy old town called Ontibe... it was a beautiful little city that i think has started to be discovered as a tourist place...but, only just. There was the tell tale signs of tourists being sacreligious and graffiti-ing the walls of these magnificent buildings (although, everything it seems in France is old and beautiful)...i didnt leave my mark out of respect...but, alas, i was not respectful enough not to take a photo or two of other people's mark's haha! XD... i decided to do a mini photo shoot (with Lynda and Tash - another woman on tour who was good craic! :)) in front of one of the doors to a cathedral, and just wandered around the alleyways aimlessly which was fun :)

Next we headed to 'Contiki's 16th century Chateau' in Beaujolaise wine country. It was a very pretty spot, but... we were all mostly kinda ticked off with Andy because he never prepared us to bring our swimmers...when the plan was to mostly bum by the pool there!...so, the only ones who actually could go for a swim were the ones who were happy to go swimming in their knickers or else go starkers!...neither of which i was about to do with these lads and ladies! =P...we tried some wine...*a* single glass of wine...so...not like the usual wine tasting things where you taste a bunch of different wines!...weird, i thought =? and then, rehearsed jokes from the contiki reps, and where they tried to make us buy stuff!...needless to say...this wasnt the highlight of my day. I sort of felt like the chateau visit was stupid and pointless really. just an opportunity for contiki to flog their wares.

DAY 5 (14 may): Lyon to Barcelona

Driving again mostly today, but, driving to Barcelona!!! yaaaay!!! :D... i had never been to Spain before and am super excited to go exploring it proper! :) our service stop was at Pont du Guard which had a pretty impressive and cool roman aquaduct there...but, mostly everyone was too hungover to really enjoy it too much. meh...what can you do? haha!

DAY 6 (15 may): Barcelona

Today, was a free day, but...to be honest...all Lynda and i felt like doing was bumming at the beach and not doing too much. We are coming back to Barcelona in September, so, im gonna go see Goudi's famous church and the Salvadore Dali Museum and stuff when we come back :)...there's plenty of time :). i dont think we are used to the frenetic pace and all this driving and ridiculous o'clock early morning starts! so, during the day, we just headed off to the beach at the end of the campsite and sunbaked and dipped our toes in the water haha!

On this night, the whole group went out for a night on the town in Barcelona, starting with a flamenco show in town. The dancers in the show were really great, and the fellow playing the spanish guitar was very very good...mesmerising in fact. i dont know what it is about the spanish guitar, but, it never fails to move me in some way.

I understand that these places are trying to cater to an audience and clientele who are very different to me and my tastes... everything with contiki seems to be centred on getting drunk and getting laid! im more interested in seeing a place for how it actually is and how the people actually are, without them trying to jump though hoops to please me...but, like i said, we all gotta earn a living somehow, and they'd probably earn a good trade catering to yobbos...

Andrew introduced me to the owner of the bar (it was a cute little bar with faerie lights everywhere and bombo's on the walls...reminded Lilou and me a little of the Freaky Tiki in Spewtown actually!...but, i could see it could probably be a nifty little bar when it was the local's night!) who told me where i can go to see some un-touristy proper spanish guitar when we return to Barcalona in September, so, i have a few names of places now of where to go :)...we began our night with a tall glass of sangria each (nom-nom!)...Lynda didnt like it, so, i got 2!!! :D, watched the show, and, then, they put on some spanishy music after the show, where...i dunno...i cant help myself...i like to dance! or "me gusta bailar!" in espanole hahaha!... so, Lilou and i pulled out the naughty salsa hips and went nuts for an hour or two :)

After the show, we all clambered into the beloved bus, to kick on...though, i think we were taken to yet another very touristic strip, so...i dont know if we really got to go out and party like the *actual* Barcelonian's do!...all the same, i had a pretty good night :)...lots of crazy dancing to crappy house music, cheap drinks...and it really is the land of the free pour!!!... FiretrUUUUUUCK!!! even with the tourist-ness of the night, Barcelona nightlife KILLED me!!!... there were some stunning digestive pyrotechniques from me this night!...accidentally though (i actually really dislike the feeling of being drunk and out of control of my physical self...i like a drink, but...not too many! haha!...the free pour really screwed with me!)... i was lucky enough to be picked up by a few spanish men who were very very sweet and nice! but, apparently, some of the other girls on contiki were being hassled by fellows who were not so lovely and were actually a lil bit creepy! so... i guess thats a turn up for the books! XD ... i would have to say (and it probably shouldnt be much of a surprise to me really) that the men in Spain make me weak at the knees!...holy batballs, batman! - like you said Thomy - even the guys serving you paella look like they belong in a magazine! mrrrreeeeow! ;D ... i really cant wait to come here again and see more of the place :)

DAY 7 (16 may): Barcelona to French Riviera

Another pretty long driving day today. nothing of any real significance to report...more nice countryside...more of me being introverted and doing alot of thinking and reflecting on things...and sleeping because i was hungover XD...

Service stop in a place called Arles...i would LOVE to come though here with MY people... it was a lovely little french town - a bit like Ontibe - only, theres a wonderful grand open air concert ancient arena where they say the acoustics are still so fantastic and great that they still have gigs here!!!...even though its crumbling in places!...i vow that, if i ever get enough of a fanbase in France with my music or acting or circus or whatevers, that im GONNA have a show here!...it was really cool! :D

DAY 8 (17 may): French Riviera/ Monaco

Today, i had a ball!!! we got to bum on the beach - where the rich and famous like to play and beach-bum! the beach had NO sand!!!...its the kind of beach that my stupid rotten drop-kick of a father would love. i wasnt sure if i would like it or not, but, i think i did!...after a while, if you removed a rock here and there from under your shoulderblades, it got comfortable enough to lie down on...and you didnt get sand in places you dont wanna get sand in! hahaha! XD...the water still had a little bit of sand - not much though...and it was pretty cold, but...it was stinking hot, so, i quite enjoyed going for a little dip :)

Apparently rollerskating is all the rage at the moment here, so... of course, i had a go!...i loved it!!!...rollerskating along the boulevard was soooooo much fun!...took a while to get used to because they were rollerblades, not skates...and i never really learned how to stop properly (in either derby skating OR blading!) hahaha!...so...my way of stooping was crashing into a wall or a pole hahaha! somewhere between my sun-worshipping and rollerskating today, i ended up getting COMPLETELY roasted!...its my fault i guess...i know that i so much as look at the sun, and i get burnt...but, i did reapply sunscreen a few times during the day =P...oh well...so, im preparing myself for a big snakeskin type peel, and then im going to be black (yaaaaay!!!! :D)...i will be a negro faerie not a green one! hahaha! XD

Next up, we went to a perfumery. ... i thought that this place was, like the contiki chateau, another place where they were trying to flog their wares... i didnt like it, and i didnt really fancy any of the perfumes either...they all smelt like old lady spice. would have rathered to spend more time on the boulevard...

We went to the royal palace where Princess Grace lived, and went past the church she was married in...pretty cool place really! also got out and had a photo opportunity at the big rock where she ran off the road (pretty crazy sharp turn!...glad they've blocked it off and put an alternative route there now!)

There are alot of really interesting facts about Monaco in general!!!...only TWELVE policemen in the WHOLE of the country!!!...we met three of them at the palace haha! XD... if you want to be a citizen of Monaco, you have to pay $10, 000 Euro to the Prince - non refundable (alot of famous people are citizens and have to live there for only 3 months a year...because they get mad tax breaks or something)...Michael Jackson applied 7 times, and got rejected 7 times!!!...shit, i wish i had that much money to throw around! =P

In the evening, most of the group went to the big casino in Monaco...im not a gambler, and i figured it was just more of the same touristy shiite, so...Lilou and i, and another 2 fabulous girls (Brooke and Alex) decided to go to McDonalds instead because we were peckish... we won!!!...the walk to the casino was epic and wyndy...and then we realised that the McDonald's was all the way down the bottom near where we were dropped off...but, it was still a win hahaha!... lots of excercise this night...gotta stay fit and all...right???!!! (says she after having a chicken nuggets and chips happy meal!...i got a TOY!!!...again - WIN!) ahahaha! XD...then, raced all the way to the top to meet the others again...then, back down to where the bus was again hahaha! XD

On Monaco: Beautiful architecture and stomping grounds...beautiful! but, its a bit of a ghost town. nobody lives here, so...of course its safe! ... the prince's castle looked like it was made of plastic bricks, and the walls looked like they were made from cardboard...i half expected to see a gingerbread house or something when we went through the country parts...though, there's not much country parts left now, its all pretty built up. the view over the ships in the harbour just made me want to live on a houseboat even more hahaha!...and they did some interesting things with the obvious surplus of canon balls! It was nice to get dolled-up for a night out on the French Riviera where the rich and famous play...but, was disapointed to hear you had to pay $10Euro just to get into the casino. seeing as though we were only allowed 2 hours in there, it seemed like a splendifourous waste of money. there were HEAPS of very pretty pretty cars here! they were getting ready for a grand prix there and closing off a bunch of the streets and stuff...i enjoyed looking at all the purdy cars ^.^

DAY 9 (18 may): French Riviera to Venice

Today, we went and stopped in Verona. i was sooooo excited!!! i LURVE Romeo and Juliette!!! SUCH a cool little city!...there's a small tunnel leading up to where Juliette's balcony is that is absolutely PLASTERED with graffiti, but...its really cool somehow!...it has heart!...its got the same feel as the street graffiti/ art you see in the likes of Berlin :D...i really wish i had of bought along a liquid paper pen or something, to profess my love to my soulmate whoever the next one may be!... i DID do the tourist thing, and write a love letter - one for myself, and another letter which was more of a letter to look over a friend of mine...well, i wrote it on her behalf (she asked me to), and plopped it in the wall :)...and i touched Juliettes boob (wooooh! *looks innocent*)...something about the balcony and this whole place i really liked. it was unashamed, and, whilst touristy, it still felt quaint somehow :) ...i also went to the ampitheatre and busted out my best performance as Mercuitio: "Aye, a scratch...a SCRATCH!!!... ... you have made worms meat of me - a plague...on BOTH your houses... ... a PLAGUE...on BOTH. YOUR. HOUSEEEEEEEEES!!!" *dies*. hahaha! XD

Then, onwards and forwards, with more driving in the bus...on and on to Venice we go...

DAY 10 (19 may): Venice

Caught the ferry accross to the mainland of Venice at ridiculous o'clock in the morning. just thought i would mention that, at the campsite...they had mosquito's that were HUMOUNGOAS!!!...its like comparing city mice to bush rats - those things were HUGE! ...and bitey!...i got eaten alive! =P...but, anywhoodlez...

First thing that happened when we got off the ferry was, there was a shop with its door open, so, therefore, i assumed it was open. Had a masquerade party at the campsite bar last night, and this shop was selling masks for $5Euro...what can i say - i was inspired! i was having a gander at a few of them, and the shop lady came up to me, grabbed me by the shoulders, turned me on my heels and told me to get out of the shop because it wasnt open. i actually found it a little bit rude!...coulda just told me!...or coulda just closed the door until you WERE open!...needless to say, i didnt buy a mask from her...hmmmph! hahaha! XD so, this being my first impression of Venice wasnt an altogether perfect and romantic one like you hear about the place.

Did a walking tour with this absolutely gorgeous and hilarious and sweet little older french lady - Gor, she was making me giggle all the way through it just from her way of going! hahaha! the alleyways and canals were so skinny...no wonder Venetians are such tiny pint-sized things!...they would never fit if they were overweight!...everyone used bicycles here to get around when they arent in the canals (using gondola's or private boats obviously). Some really pretty scenes from the little bridges and stuff here :) Also, there were some window displays still up from Carnivale (its at the end of february)...i think this place would be completely awesome around Carnivale time if their window dressings and the costumes that are in them are anything to go by!...i think i would actually like to come back special for that experience :)

We were fortunate enough to see a quick presentation of Marino glass-blowing...like i said...QUICK!...then, it was onwards and forwards with the flogging of wares again...

Next, was the obligatory gondola ride (it had to be done)...again - gorgeous gondola drivers!!!...not our one...but...phoooar!...it was kind of like a smorgesboard of lovely looking men!...i smiled alot when we were here hahaha!...our gondola man was a bit of a gossip i think!...it was funny and refreshing to hear the language spoken properly, and by such a jolly man! :D...i kind of half understood some of the things being said in the conversation...a bit about placing bets on something...and a bit of bitching and moaning about somebody they both knew and making jokes about it hahaha! :D

Tried my first pizza in Italy EVER here in Venice...and also, my first proper italian gelati in italy! :D...both were some kind of amazing!!! :D...i think i am going to further my research on this pizza and gelati thing and try at least one in every town we get to! hahaha!

To be completely honest with you, by this stage of the trip...actually, last night, i had a bit of a meltdown. i was ready to pack it all in and just go to ireland for the rest of the time i was supposed to be on contiki - even though i was really enjoying the places we are going to. its amazing the difference it makes when your in constant company with people you feel uncomfortable around and where i felt i couldnt be myself. but...more on that later... i had a bit of a cry on the phone to my mammy, who convinced me to stay and to stick it out...but, today...i decided i didnt really want to be around the whole group. there was me, Lilou, and another few upstanding fellows (Peter and David) who we kept on bumping into haha! :D...anywhoo... we decided we wanted some fruit or something as a snack...and when we saw the fruit market, we thought...well...it has to be done! hahah!...so...i called on whatever little bit of italian i remember hearing my dad and dad's family saying...and a bit more which, i honestly dont know WHERE it came from!...and talked to the fruiterer, and got him down on the price by using my pidgeon italian, and he who was using his pidgeon english - aaaah, it was fun :)...and i bought a punnet of strawberries for Lilou and i to share...the strawberries were strawberries on crack though...they were pretty gosh darn big! and alot of them!...and super juicy and yummy! nom-noms! XD...something both Lilou and i discovered and noted that we didnt like though...there's nowhere to sit in Venice!...you're not allowed to sit on the floor, and you have to pay through the nose to sit in a restaurant...so, after we got ushered away (though, we did have enough time to sit and leisurely eat our strawberries) from this wall which offered a teensy bit of shade (did i mention it was about a million degrees?!), we went to the post office and hung in there till it was time to go. actually, where we were sitting (before getting asked to leave) was pretty cool! there was an orchestra type band playing for one of the fancy restaurants (though...i dont recall that there were many people actually IN the restaurant! haha!) and, i could have sworn they did a version of Rick Astley's "Never gonna give you up" orchestra styles! hahaha!...it was swell :D...

Venice smelled horrid though. i think that that is my strongest memory of the place. and, i dont think many people live here anymore either - i suppose its because everything is flooded so badly. I wouldnt be in a major rush to come back here again to be completely honest with you... i have heard that the Venetian Islands are alot nicer...maybe one day, ill come back for Carnivale and go to the islands :)...

DAY 11 (20 may): Venice to Firenze

Drive, drive, drive again today, with a stop at the leaning tower of Pisa. i laugh because, leave it to the Italians to celebrate a great failure in architecture! hahaha! took the obligatory photo's of trying to kick the tower over...also, (i couldnt resist) took photos of EVERYONE ELSE trying to do something to this building using trick photography hahaha!

DAY 12 (21 may): Firenze

I LOVED Firenze!!!...it has such a wonderful atmosphere!...free and artistic and friendly :) Pizza was not as good as Venice, but, gelati was waaaay above par here!...i had 2 different ones just to make sure! ;) Saw the Duomo (which was stunning), Basilica Santa Croce, Giotto's Bell Tower and wandered the streets and promenade in the Piazza. there was so many people drawing and doing art everywhere...it was wonderful...though, i am told that all that is mostly fairly seasonal =P...guess i came at a great time :)

The shop where we saw a leather craft demonstration (again, where they were trying to flog their wares!) i did see a pretty cool outfit, that...if i had of had the money, i would have bought it...i lust after that outfit...it was a suede/ leather Pocahontas outfit (pants and top) which was just devine :D...

We had spare time over lunch, and Lilou and I decided we wanted to have a long lunch...like the Italians's do it!...yeah! why not?!...in our time, and so did 2 other lovely ladies in our tour (Hayley and Emily)...but, i think the four of us were really starting to get sick of doing everything in the big contiki group and wearing the branded name of 'contiki' every place we went to...so, the four of us decided to break away on our own, we chose a place, sat down, and enjoyed ourselves :) As Hayley mentioned at the time, it was a little bit of a Eat Pray Love moment (I know you hate that movie Brad-ooles...but, it was a lovely moment, i promise you! :D xxx), where we had good company, and talking about our experiences, and i think there was a little about religion sprinkled in there, but, we all listened to each other...this sounds silly, but...often times, i think people are all too happy to speak, but...we are not good at listening... too busy thinking about what theyre going to say next. well, it was just really nice :)...this is going down as one of my more favourite contiki moments :)... after lunch, we kinda just wandered around, i talked to some of the artists who were around, got a gelati, and i bought a postcard for my godmother, Carmel, who's italian and who'd really appreciate the kind of day i had :)

DAY 13 (22 may): Firenze to Roma

Drove though some pretty spectacular countryside today - lots of vineyards...but the vines are all really small and low to the ground!...not at all like the ones in Oz!...and stopped at the Colosseum and The Roman Forum. to be honest, i got a little chill down my back when i was here. to think of all the stories that happened here (real ones from the real people who were gladiators or whatevers here, not the fiction ones). i know ive read about what happened here, and seen countless movies like Gladiator and stuff on what happened here...but...it didnt really hit me till i got here. if those walls could talk - man! what stories they would tell!...the horrible thing is, people are still as aweful as they used to be back then - so many people are still out for blood...but, its blood of a different kind. its more emotional fuckwittage blood than actual red blood...and i really got to thinking...i wonder what is worse?!...at least they were in your face about it and not scared to hide it, now, we are sophisticated in our ways of destroying people and breaking them down. ...just saying...

On a brighter note, we got sucked in and ripped off by a bunch of romans who were taking elaborate photos...we thought it was free, but...it ended up not being so free haha!...and i found it amusing to see a person dressed in the medieval roman garb just crossing the street...and just chillin with a person dressed as a king or whatever heehee! ^.^

And i found it funny...we were told not to buy anything from vendors who didnt have a proper shop and who sold things on a sheet on the floor kind of thing, because its illegal (apparently to do with encouraging child labour if you buy from them)...so, on our travels, we noticed some of these illegal vendors...and then we noticed the italian police cars sniffing around, and all the vendors were rushing to pack their stuff up and run away! heeheehee!...aaaah, it doesnt sound funny when i describe it, but, it was funny watching the mad scramble haha!...guess you had to be there O_o...

Something else i noticed...the Colosseum had scaffolding on it - and looked like it had been there a while! like years and years!...and its where the main thoroughfare of people go to walk through in these tiny little gaps and stuff...i feel like its been under construction and it will remain under construction for some many more years to come!!! hahaha! XD

Next, the Trevi Fountain!... i felt like this place could have a very nice romantic vibe...IF there werent so many dang people!!!...all the same, i threw the 2 coins over the shoulder into the well :)... the fountain itself is very pretty...but, i wont necessarily be rushing back to see it again =P...

DAY 14 (23 may): Roma

Really and truely, you could spend a week just in Rome looking at everything. so many statues and pretty buildings and art just...all around!...there were some pretty cool street performance artists (like a mime i guess) in Roma...there was one guy - dressed all in white, with white curly hair and painted face (white)...who was trying to be a stone cherub...who was fantastic at his art!...i enjoyed just watching him from a circus/ clown/mime perspective he was brilliant - making jokes and pulling faces...and witty, quick thinking jokes that not necessarily everyone would pick up on!...fabulous!

Statue of David was pretty exquisite!...so much detail in the craftsmanship!...you could even see the veins in his wrists!!!...im not much on statues and churches generally...they all can bleed into one after a while...but, he was pretty out of this world.

Did a walking tour of The Vatican. some pretty amazing paintings in St. Peter's Basilica - especially the roof!!! phwooooar!...the people in the figures almost look like they are coming out and down on you! it was all in all pretty cool!...im glad i opted for this option to come here...The Vatican and the idea of it, even though im not religious AT ALL...was pretty humbling. i even managed to get a photo with a random nun lady i found someplace haha! XD ...at one stage, it thundered and lightning-ed - and i swear - i thought we were gonna get struck down by lightning!...i promise - i was NOT blasphemous in the Vatican! i didnt!!! XD...

DAY 15 (24 may): Roma to Sorrento

Brief visit in Napoli to catch the ferry accross to the Isle of Capri. Napoli is quite a dirty town - which was very different to the other places in Italy we had visited up until now...but, it does have its own character. i didnt get the impression that its a very safe place however, so, at least on my travels THIS time around, i wont be returning to explore it further. i happened to be reading a book about the Sicilian Mafia (book's called "Cosa Nostra") where it mentions that Napoli was quite significant in the days where the mafia ruled the roost, and that there is still a very strong mafia presence there now. after knowing my family - and im sure they have known people along the way who have been in the mafia - could have even DONE things in the mafia themselves?! i wouldnt know!... but, knowing what i know...that whole idea kinda sorta really scares me, so, yeah...maybe if i come with a lot of people, but, not otherwise =]

The Isle of Capri was a nice, sweet relaxing time where we did alot of "dolce far niente" (sweet nothing) and bummed on the beach, had a wander around the main port...we were thinking we should have hired a boat and gone and swam in the blue grotto and the green grotto... i still think we should have, but, oh well =P...theres a grotto somewhere in the aeolian islands or the amalfi coast (i cant remember which at the mo) where you can go swimming in the grotto naked after midnight...so, i think ill do that instead :)...

DAY 16 (25 may): Sorrento to Corfu

Today, before we set sail on the ferry for Corfu, we popped in to Pompeii and did a walking tour. The concrete moulds were every bit as haunting as i thought they would be - especially the one of the dog, the pregnant lady, and the one of the man all folded and crumpled up.

BUT...something i WASNT expecting and that they dont tell you about...is that, actually, it was a really dirty dirty seedy little town back in the day! and a tradition that carries on till today!!!... brothels EVERYWHERE!!!...and you should see some of the souveneirs they had for sale! (i bought some heehee!...but, alas, i will not say what they are as they are presents for people :D...you will laugh :D)... i took many pictures of the dirty porn paintings they had! hahha!...oooh, i loved it! it was a lovely surprise!...well...i guess soliciting is the oldest proffession in the book after all! O_o...

The ferry to Corfu was alright i guess...accept for the dirty Greek men who were outright oggling me!...the French and the Italians and the Spanish are sleazy too, but...i dunno - they do it with a sense of humour and charm that, i definitely would have to say, the Greek men severely lack!...i mean, i was asked on a dinner date at Rue Mufftard when in France, a nice young spanish man jokingly asked to "Marry me!!!", and we all got wolf whistles and compliments from many an Italian man wherever we were...yet, i wasnt creeped out or disgusted. on the ferry...i was boiling up - i dont deal with hot weather well, it makes me cranky lol!...so, i had shorts and a singlet on, and trying to think myself cool by thinking of Antarctica...and these men would stare, and then, when i looked back, they were still staring!...as much as i was boiling, i went and put more clothes on because i was creeped out!...really, they need to learn some manners! hmmph! ;)...

DAY 17-19 (26-28 may): Corfu

When we got to Corfu, it was pretty relaxing and Andrew described it as "a holiday within a holiday"...probably because its the first place we really stopped and stayed put for any length of time. the water was beautiful and serene...Lilou taught me how to float (i've never been able to do it!) ...it helped that the water was hella salty! :D...i didnt bother with the water sports because i'd done them before at home...there was nothing terribly exotic about them.

On day 2 of being in Corfu, i received the most horrible and heartbreaking news, that my Godmother, Carmel, had died a few days prior. i felt like i had been punched in the stomach and the wind completely went out of my sails. All i wanted to do from this point really, is curl up in a ball and cry...and to go home to make sure mum and everybody had my support. i know everybody always says "you dont understand" when it comes to feeling sad from tragedies concerning loved ones, but...i really feel people dont understand the connection that i had - or mum had - with Carm... she had become like another limb to the both of us - especially my mum!...they have been through so much together...to say that she was mums best friend and that she was my godmother...it really, REALLY doesnt even begin to cut it!...she was such a big part of everything we did, and even now, its so strange to know she isnt here...but, ill post more on that later too i guess.

In an attempt to try and cheer myself up, which seemed an impossible task, i went on George's Boat. generally, it was more of the same catering to yobbos bullshit...but, it passed the time i guess =P...all i could think about is that someone so special and close to me was no longer gonna be around, and that my mum and a few other people who i knew felt close to her, were really really hurting, and im on the other side of the world =[ ...by this stage of the tour, ive lost ALL of my will at trying to be diplomatic when people were shitting me - and TRUST ME - they were!...i all but pulled my hair out with their perpetual-high-school-at-20-something-years-of-age bullshit - probably because i was sad, sick and just wanted to go home and to be with my people who i could fart in front of and they'd still love me. i just wanted to be around people who werent gonna get shitty with me for being deflated and angry. so...i *tried* to get in contact with my travel agent via teh interwebs...however...the internet seemed to be down in Corfu where we were. i even paid to use the campsite's computers...i needed to look at writing something for her eulogy and send it in case i didnt get back in time for the funeral - but, couldnt get on...and the lady who worked in there was rude as all hell!...she expected me to pay for it even though the internet never worked! pffft!...all because "she'd put it through the till already"...well bloody take it OUT of the till again you twitface! jeezus!...but, she started yelling at me over the counter - even Lilou could hear her and she was at the pool!...eeergh...not what i needed.

After finding out this news, and not getting onto the internet, i decided...fuck it!...im getting drunk tonight because im fucking devestated and shit aint working for me today!...so, i stormed up to the little shop at the top of the campsite, bought myself a bottle of baileys and some milk...and the people in this shop were the only really nice greek people so far that i have met.

It was just my luck that Kelly (the cook) had ice-cream for dessert...Carm was the one to enlighten me with the taste sensation of baileys on ice-cream, so...i got myself a massive bowl of it - probably about 6 people's portion sized (at this point, all my consideration for people is out the window and down the highway...i just couldnt give a bloody shit), smothered it with baileys, and tucked in.

Everybody else went to a toga night party thing...i just wasnt up to it...my night was a hot date with myself, getting hideously drunk (it ended up being 2 bottles of baileys), writing her eulogy, and crying till i fell asleep. contacting the travel agent would have to wait till tomorrow.

DAY 20 (29 may): Corfu to Athena

Frankly, i wasnt terribly interested in the world today...but, from what i can tell...i dont like Athens. its a city that looks like its under construction, the food is oily greasy and shitty, people thus far havent been particularly nice, the men are creeps, the air was dirty and thick and heavy and rotten and i couldnt hardly breathe at all with my asthma. i finally got in contact with my travel agent, and mum had got in contact with her first, and they organised for me to come home, they were just waiting on the ok from me... Lilou and i decided no more camping...not even one more night...i was coughing like a Trojan, and it was only gonna get worse in that campsite. we went and caught a taxi from out the front of the Athens campsite...but, before then, i met this nice German lady at the internet station who gave me what was meant to be (in her eyes...i think my cough was just too bloody severe by then) a miracle cough suppressant, and had a bit of a chat with us. the lady at the reception at this campsite was lovely and incredibly helpful too and gave us a map and all of that. we were going to take the bus, but, seeing as though the timetable was written in Greek and neither of us can read or speak Greek, we decided to cab it. taxi driver was very sympathetic to my coughing and was actually very very nice, and pointed us in the right direction of a cheap hostel nearer to town. we popped out, went to the hotel, and things were already better :) ... the man at the reception of the hostel was soooo helpful and such a sweetheart, and let me print out my e-ticket and showed us step by step how to get to the airport via train.

The next day, we made our way to the airport via train...it was crowded, and stuffy and unpleasant generally...even thinking about it makes me cranky now! i felt so much better once i got to the actual airport and knew i would be home soon. as it ended up, i missed the funeral as there were no earlier flights out, but...at least i would be home and be able to grieve with my mam.

ON THE WHOLE CONTIKI EXPERIENCE:

Heh...i dont know what i was thinking when i booked this. i mean...i know...i was thinking its a very cheap way of seeing so many countries, because Contiki have done all the bargaining for things FOR you, and they are also trading on their name. BUT...im a fairly feminine woman - tomboy too, but...when it comes down to the wire...i like my creature comforts...like being able to stand up to get dressed!...im just not a camper...i like high heels, and you know...pitching a tent and taking a tent down in heels probably isnt ideal hahaha! XD

For many reasons Contiki was not for me. I wanted to go to other countries and get the FULL culture shock to get a REAL feel for the place and its people... Contiki doesnt offer that. You go to all these places, and the places, and the guides, and the commentary that we got from Andy in the bus was really excellent! ... but, as regards to getting an authentic experience...i really doubt thats what we got here. I might have met 3 people in total who werent from Contiki, or were not a business affiliate with Contiki, in that whole time. I kind of hate it that the people in these countries that work with Contiki were prostituting their culture and raping it of its beauty - and also of its ugliness too - by trying to be dancing monkeys for us! That whole thing really tests me and goes against my grain. In saying that, it wasnt a complete waste of time. I got to go to the really very touristy destinations that i probably otherwise would have skipped, so...now i can say i've been and i've went and i've seen...and i have something to compare my individual travels to.

Another criticism is, that...i feel like everything was done so quickly!...like, we only had 3 or 4 hours to explore a city before having to head off again. I dont know if its really fair to do that because you miss so so much of a place when youre in a hurry. I know, I know...i would have known thats the way it was gonna be before booking it, so, i shouldnt have booked this one...or maybe done another contiki that maybe goes to less places but stays there longer...i know, i know all this, and i take complete responsibility for it...my mistake =P

The other main criticism...and its the BIG one...and...i know (again) i should have followed my instincts and not booked it, but, here it is and i did book it, and did experience it, and im telling it how it is as i see it...please do NOT get offended anybody =P... Contiki is geared for getting pissed as a mule and getting laid. However, its getting drunk and sleeping with OTHER australians, OTHER new zealander's, OTHER canadians...so...its not like youre even getting laid by someone who is actually FROM these other countries - youre just sleeping with people who you'd find in your own country, in exotic locations!...what the fuck is the point in that?!...If i wanted to get drunk every night (no offense PLEASE...im just talking...read this to the end, it will make more sense) i would find better company...sorry...no - people who understand my sense of humour, and who would have the same kind of dinner table conversation (movies, music, quotes of things, ways of thinking etc) as myself, with which to do so...and, same goes with the getting laid part...i could find people who *i* find more attractive (sorry dudes, but, not one of you were spunky to me that way...) with which to do so.

Im not saying that the people on this tour were pure evil...not at all!...quite the opposite!...some of you are incredibly sweet and an absolute joy to be around...just...not all the time...and, often i found i liked peoples company when we weren't in the big group. the dynamic and personalities of people changed considerably when it was the big group as to individual. i think everyone on this tour is truely a lovely person, i just didnt feel comfortable being myself with y'awl when it was the big group. people didnt have to say anything for me to know i was being judged. and just...hardly any of you understood my sense of humour really, so, i gave up. some of you were really giving me the irrates with the high school behaviour...i mean the whole boys club over here, and the girls over there?! really?... i hate overt displays of machoism and 'being one of the boys and having to save face' crapness! how old are you - 12?! i feel like alot of people probably werent being themselves and were trying to do as the crowd does to fit in...you do know theres no need for that?!...i dont know...i know i've always been a thinker, and mature minded about who i am, and have had to put up with alot of shit because i am how i am, and all of that, but...honestly, i made peace with that years ago...like maybe when i was 12 or 13 i was insecure and unsure of who i had to be, but...since then, fuck it! im not hiding anymore!...surely some of you arent still at the mental age of 12 with that stuff?...or maybe i've grown up with a different culture altogether and im just missing something. if i am, please...explain it to me.

i feel like ive had a culture shock alright...not the culture i set out to be shocked with, but, a culture shock all the same. Most of my friends at home are either not australian, or else, theyre like me - born australian but family are all from overseas and so, grow up with more that culture than australian. so, this was a real eye-opener for me about the culture i am supposed to be coming from. i've never really experienced that whole "lets get drunk and make a point of it" thing...if we get drunk its by accident lolz.

so, i say again...youre all truely very lovely people, we just have trouble understanding each other and our wicked little ways i guess. probably everything would have been fine if we werent in each others faces 24/ 7 hahaha! XD

i've learnt so much already from this trip, which...is what i wanted i guess. i've learned that, well, actually, im alot more confident in myself than i thought i was (so thats good! haha!)!

Ive done alot of thinking on this Contiki trip too when ive been keeping to myself. at home, im always seeming to be partying and going out and that, and on tour, it was nice to shift that dynamic a little. i learned how to pull back from people who i may not necessarily trust, instead of just going full steam ahead with it anyway... and, its a work in progress still of course, but... i think i've re-learned how to listen better. for so long, ive been the one doing all the talking because i cant stand uncomfortable silences...so, i already know im good at talking...but...this has been a test for me to listen and to observe before jumping right in. I learnt now - for sure! to trust my instincts from now on in. I already knew that my friends and a few people in my family are simply amazing...i did already know that and already counted my blessings there...however...this trip has really shone a bright, bright fluorescent light - especially on the dozen to fifteen or so people who are closest - on just how incredible and rare and one in a million they are...like seriously!...its like oil in water obvious!

I still have a ways to go yet with the whole knowing how to budget, and the whole trusting men and stuff...and i have a new one to test myself with...thats discipline. i know i can do it because i was so disciplined with dancing before...but...its been a long time since then, and, i do find it hard!...as it is, i wrote this post all out at once for the whole trip on the plane going back instead of day by day hahaha!...

so...by the time i get to actually post this, i will be in Romania - a place called Brasov in fact which is near Dracula's Castle inTransylvannia! :) hopefully i dont get lost or snatched before i get to the hostel...hope...full...y...

until next time... :D

 

Alright…well, I have finally managed to land at a campsite which has FREE wifi (woot woot!) and realised that, well, actually, I can still write my diary on Lynda’s laptop (total score! Hahhaa!)…so, I guess, I will start at the beginning…

We landed at Heathrow on 9 May… good enough flight – didn’t loose any shoes due to fidgetting lol!...had an INCREDIBLY teary farewell to my mother at the airport =P (knew it was coming tho), realised that I had packed everything except the kitchen sink!...well… actually, THAT, and my theatre makeup (waaah! Hahaha!)…but, its ok, the sitch got relatively fixed I guess J … I just felt like a complete eedgit, but, that’s ok haha! J

Landed at ridiculous o’clock (5am), so, we went and checked our bags in at the hotel…couldn’t check ourselves in till 2pm tho, so… we went and had a toddle around Russel Square (I have a few pics for you Miss Amy!!! :D), then, got a bit bored, so, decided to take off to Camden Markets…but, I will speak about that shortly.

 I have decided to tell you my thoughts of these places as we visit…but… the Contiki experience of these places will be a completely different view of things to when I go to them whilst not on tour, so… be prepared to see things twice…it aint a typo :D…

LONDON/ England:

My first impressions of good old Sam’s Town is that people are unfriendly, unhelpful, grumpy and hate life. The line from Sweeny Todd comes to mind… “There’s a hole in the world, and it’s a great big pit, and it’s filled with people, who are filled with shit, and the vermon of the world inhabit it – and it goes by the name of Lon-don!!!”… returning here again, I was trying my best to put my predjudices aside, and forget my previous experiences of this shitty, and try to enjoy it for what it is, and that maybe things had changed. Going through customs to get my passport stamped, I was greeted with a very sophisticatedly snide and snooty remark and judgement about looking Irish from the man behind the booth…I just had to sigh and roll my eyes, honestly… what a dick… but, still, trying to keep an open mind…

We navigated the train to Russel Square pretty easily…though, it was a bit of a mission on escalators to get to the actual platform!!! Sheesh! =P… I guess because we were there so early, we managed to get seats on the train (yay!)…but, after a few stops, the train was full. I remember what happened when I was in London last and tried to strike up a conversation with somebody to break the monotony, and how I was outrightly fobbed off, and frankly, i'm far too tired by this point (this time around) to even try to communicate...so, i'm people watching...in a semi-comatose state, and I was looking at everybodies faces and observing body language, and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them really…this inner city of London is so full of people, bustling in and on top of each other, yet, nobody is interested in each other or each others stories. I’ve been to so many major cities, where, granted, they probably aren’t as busy as London, they were still busy…people still smiled at each other, even though they were strangers – and wanted to hear each others story, or *a* story of theirs anyway… well, that has been my experience anyways. But, not in this city. It, to me, felt like a very, very busy city that had no noise. On the trains, people are mostly staring into space or each other, with completely blank faces; or reading a magazine, paper or a book; or bumping non-chalantly and without remorse, into others; others (like me) who clearly werent morning people and were falling asleep; or else getting angry that some one was bumping into them. Nobody talked to each other or even tried to interact. It's strange...I thought that we'd be targets for theft because of our big backpacks, but, honestly, I think the people would be too afraid to for feaar of having to interact with someone! So…to sum up, my original impressions of inner city London haven’t really changed. I still think that mostly this city’s people could do with an attitude adjustment… maybe the government should invest in supplying pills for everyone to as part of PBS to keep them halfway happy???!!! Hahaha! Jokes jokes people… ;)

Camden and Camden Markets however, BLEW MY MIND it was so so very cool and awesome at the same time!!! It’s a crazy big punk/ goth/ cyber market town… as you probably could tell, us rockabilly/ goth/ punk queens were in our element! J… I replaced my cherry creepers (oh god! How they were dead, dead, dead!) with a new pair of furry leopard creepers :D… I was ‘stroking the furry wall’ for a few hours at least when we eventually got in to the hotel XD. We started to walk down the cobblestoned streets and it just felt so comfortable and relaxed - everywhere we looked there was some weird contraption sculpture or ornament adorning the pavement…or the doorway of a shop!...and there was even a little Bazaar that we found! :D…everyone was clad in animal print, faux leather, and rollicking good rockabilly stylez…nice spiky shoes - even the GENTLEMEN!!! - and colourful haired freaks, and it felt comfortable and wonderful :D… everyone we met here were sooooo lovely and friendly (and they actually were English…not from somewhere else).

We decided to go to a small pub...i was drawn to it purely for its name “At World’s End” (Pirates of the Carribean…and general pirate feeling hahaha!)… to have a beer, and to take a load off. The decor was, well, i guess some would say 'faddy'...skeletons and little individual 'scenes' all over the place...and it was a lovely old, old pub where the wood even smelt of wiseness. We walked in and they had this ridiculous sign of things that were prohibited… when I figure out how, those pics will be going up! I was lining up to get a beer from the bar, and I remember pulling out a 10 pound note to pay for it...even the money felt old!!!...I got my beer (cold!), we sat down, and the juke box played Love Cats by The Cure, followed by Siouxsie Sue and the Banshees, a Zombie Ghost-train song, Bat out of Hell by Meatloaf, Scar Tissue by The Chilli Peppers, a Garbage song, followed by a song by The Doors!... I looked around me and kinda laughed...they could have just taken the playlist from my selection that is in my car, in my bedroom…from my life. Amazing. This place has single handedly changed my mind about England being a shitty city. I loved it, and I wanna go back for a few weeks…we ended up distracting ourselves until about 8pm – so much for just wasting time till we could check in!!! pffft! Hahaha!...and even then, im sure we missed half of the place. Overall, excellent plan…excellent place to go…excellent time had! :D

So, I am exhausted of this thinking and all right now, so, I will write up my other journal entries for you at another time J…im seriously missing you all like crazy… xoxo