A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Blue Teddy

Martedi (Tuesday)

Swiss Alps, San Siro and Giovanni

sunny 11 °C

I wake around 6.30 as I have to be at the station to catch my train at 9. My dad taught me very early on in life not to be late, so I have carried that mantra through my life. I don’t like being late for anything and would much rather get somewhere early and wait than be late.

I arrive at the station just before 8 after having my breakfast and heading into the main train terminal by the suburban network.

I board the train for Milan. The man at the booking office the day before was right. The train left promptly at 9.01. The day before when I was organising my ticket collection, I had said to the attendant that my train was at 9 oclock . He promptly told me 9.01. He was right. At 9.01 the Milan bound train pulled out of the station.

The next almost 4 hours was some of the most breathtaking scenery I had seen on my trip so far. The Swiss Alps were totally beautiful. I couldn’t get enough of them. The only downside was my seat was on the wrong side of the train for even more spectacular views. I can’t complain though the views I had were of scenery I am never likely to see again. It was the most enjoyable 4 hour train journey. Travelling all through Switzerland and northern Italy was beautiful.

I needed to go the toilet at one stage and decided to head in that direction. We had not long stopped at a station and some people got on and off. Some of the people who got on were Police. As I was walking through the train looking for a free toilet cubicle, I watched the police. They would stop and ask people if the luggage in the overhead locker was theirs. People would say yes or no depending on what was pointed at. As I got close to one toilet cubicle they knocked on the door of the cubicle. I correct myself, they didn’t knock, they used a metal device, similar in size to a key ring in the shape of a very small hammer, they pounded on the door and demanded it be open. The poor man inside the cubicle did as told and opened the door mid stream. I saw more that day than I planned. I was almost petrified to go into the cubicle myself for two reasons, I would hate to have to open the door midstream for the police and b) I have no idea where the man’s midstream peeing was interrupted and whether it all remained where it should have in the toilet bowl.
The police continued along the passage ways and the peeing man exited shaking his head at me. I took my chances and entered the cubicle wiping the seat down before i let nature take its course. I then sat there in a panic thinking, my luggage is unattended while I doing the toileting. I hope they don’t reach my seat before I get back as they might evict my luggage from the train. I get back and they haven’t yet arrived where my luggage is. They point to it and I acknowledge it is mine and they nod happily. Perhaps I don’t look like someone who would have something in their luggage that they didn’t seem suitable. No idea what it was they were looking for, but it seems my luggage wasn’t hiding it.
There was a younger guy a few rows in front of me, probably mid 20s, when they got to his luggage they made him get it down. They then made him open it and show them the contents. I couldn’t see over the top of the seats what was being shown, but if it was anything like the contents of my suitcase it would have been underwear, socks, clothes and shoes . After about 5 minutes they left him to put all his items back in his suitcase. No one else seemed at all surprised by these goings on, so perhaps this is routine train travel from Switzerland to Italy. They get off the train in Lugano and we continue on policeless to Milan.
On arrival at Milano Centrale it is not as user friendly as my experiences had been so far. There are men waiting with trolleys at the station to help you with your luggage. Again, this is not a free service and for the unsuspecting tourist, they would be asked to pay money for this service. They get a little offended when you don’t take them up on their offer and swear at you in Italian and the one who I rejected then spat at the ground. I guess that’s not a good thing, so I just keep walking.
There is a distinct lack of signs in English and I muddle my way through Italian and hope that I am heading in the right direction. I have looked for the directions of how to get to the hotel from the train station, I just need to work out how to get out of the train station. There is renovations under way at the station, so we are taken on a merry tour around and around and around the station to the exits.

I finally get out of the station, but have no clue if Im at the right exit for the directions I have. Again I have people in my face saying, Signora Signora taxi, taxi. I again ignore them. What is it with people needing to be in your face? I don’t need their assistance, I don’t need their taxi, i don’t need them in my face.

I ask in a shop just inside the station which exit I am at. He tries to sell me a map. I thank him and politely decline his oh so generous offer. I will work this out for myself, I have after all helped some Canadians on their way to Lucerne!
Thankfully I have written down the instructions and know that looking at the internet before I left that I had to head left. I headed left figuring that no matter which exit I had come out at i would be eventually at the point I needed to be at. I heard someone get told that the front of the station was around the corner, so I knew I needed to head around the corner once to be at the starting point for my journey to the hotel.
It was about an 8 minute walk to the hotel. It was very Italian. That’s the best way i can describe the hotel. Lots of marble, lots of wallpaper, lots of over the top decorations. Certainly not like my 14 pillows black and white themed bedroom at home. I ask about the internet and am told there is wireless internet through the hotel and I have to pay 20 euro for 24 hours usage. I advise the guy at reception that I will come back after I have put my things in my room etc.
I head to my room and it is so very hot in there. I immediately hope that there is a window as fresh air is badly needed in the room. Thankfully there is a window and I can get fresh air. The rooms are what I thought was wallpapered, but it turns out it is fabric with a underlay type feel behind the material. The hotel boasts great soundproofing, so I’m guessing this is part of that arrangement. There is far too much fuss in the room for me.
I decide to go for a walk around the hotel as I always like to do this in daylight so that I can get my bearings for later. I head into where there are shops and decide that Milan isn’t my favourite place. I can’t explain it other than saying it just wasn’t what I expected.

I head back to the hotel and pay my money for the internet connection. I go to my room hoping to do some emails and blog entries and can’t get the internet to work. No matter what I try there is no connection. I go back downstairs and ask the guy and he tells me that it should be working. I tell him it isn’t. I go back and get my laptop and take it back downstairs. He tells me that it is my laptop that is the problem, not the hotel internet. I tell him that i have now used my laptop in 3 different countries, including Switzerland and had no problems until now. He asks if he can have a look at my laptop and tells me, aaaaaah Acer, you will have problems with this. He insists again that it is not their connection but my laptop that is causing the problem. He then tells me the technicians are coming in later and he will get them to check the internet but it won’t be their problem it will be my laptop. I ask him if there is a computer that I can use in the hotel. He tells me that there is one computer and it is being used by someone else at the moment. I ask if you need to book a time and he said no, you just come and get the key for the computer on the 1st floor. I ask if he knows how long the person who is using it now will have it for and he says no. I then ask him if he knows if there are any internet cafes close by. He tells me that there is one a couple of streets away. While I am getting ready to leave another guest arrives to complain about the internet not working, I smile and wonder if he too has an Acer laptop.
I head to the internet cafe and check emails and let people know that I have arrived safely in Milan. The internet cafe is run by Italian/Indians. It is odd to hear Indian looking people speaking Italiian. I don’t know, small things I find amusing I guess.

As with restaurants and cafes through Europe, you can also smoke in internet cafes. This makes my internet time not so pleasant. I decide not to stay too long there and head back to the hotel. When i arrive back at the hotel I ask for my refund of my internet connection that isn’t going to work. The guy at reception grudginfly refunds my 20 euro.

I plan for my night ahead and decide to get a shower and head to the stadium for the big game. Im quite excited about attending the football game at San Siro stadium. I have already established that I am going to travel by train and then walk from the train station to the stadium. The train trip is about 15 minutes the internet tells me it is about 20 minute walk from the station. I head off. I know I am well over 2 hours early, but I figure it best to get there early than run into problems. As we get closer to the stadium, more and more people get on the train wearing their scarves and carrying flags. The mood in the train gets exciting and people start to sing and there is general joviality. I figure I will just follow the other people on the train and get off where they do. I had looked and knew I had to get off at Lotto and was encouraged when they all too got off at Lotto. I just followed them to the stadium

Wow, what a sight I got more and more excited as I got closer to the venue There was a general jovial mood by the people I was walking alongside. A guy who was walking alongside me with his I assume girlfriend, turned to me and asked me something in Italian. I said no, no, Italian. He said NO? With a very shocked expression on his face. His girlfriend told him I had no Italian. I think he asked me where we going in the right direction to the stadium and when I said no, he was shocked. The girl asked where I was from and I said Australia. She was quite excited to tell me that her uncle was in
Sydney. I told her that Sydney was a long way from where I lived. She seemed disappointed that I didn’t know her uncle.
On arrival at stadium I then had to work out how to read my ticket as it was in Itallian. Ingressi means gate, I think, or entry or something, so my ticket said Ingressi 3 and thankfully so did the big sign. All along the way from the station there were food vans, drink vans, probably about 30 or so along the way. And they weren’t small little vans, these were the size of semi trailers that they would then come and tow away at the end of the night. Very impressive. There was mountains of food in them, pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, ice creams. They all sell both soft drink and alcohol. I didn’t purchase anything but there didn’t seem to be anyone asking for ID for the alcohol, but maybe they did when you were actually buying something.

I entered into Ingressi 3 and then had to wait in a queue. The actual stadium wasn’t open as yet. I was early!
I only waited about 10 minutes and then the stadium opened. My passport was checked to ensure that the ticket was for me. When this fact was established I was allowed to enter. I found my seat and noticed there was still 2.30 hours to kick off time. I didn’t care that I was early, I was at San Siro!
Some of you may wonder how I got to actually be at San Siro to see AC Milan vs Real Madrid. One of my friends, is an absolute football fanatic. He loves football. He loves sport in general, but he is a football purist and loves it. When he found out I was going to be in Milan he half jokingly said i should go on a tour of San Siro stadium. Until that conversation I hadn’t even heard of San Siro stadium. I thought ok, I can do that. I went online to see if I could do a tour and the website informed me I couldn’t as it was game day. I then looked into what game was being played and was surprised to find out it was a UEFA Champions League. For all you non football fans, this is a big thing. I half heartedly thought it would be awesome if I could get a ticket to go and watch the game. Went down the path of clicking on the website to purchase a ticket and was surprised to find I could, albeit quite expensively, but I thought this is probably going to be the only time I will be in Milan and it just happens to be on the exact day I am arriving in Milan as I had already booked my train ticket from Zurich through the Swiss Alps ending in Milan.

I made a split second decision to purchase the ticket at 195 euro plus 30 euro delivery. The payment was processed and I was advised that I had just purchased a ticket to the game. I emailed my friend and told him that he would probably hate me but this is what I had done. He wrote back saying he didn’t hate me but he was freaking jealous and that it was awesome!
So, I have him to thank for one of the best experiences I had on my holiday. So, thank you Jonathan.

I sat in my seat and just watched as the stadium filled up slowly. I love watching people and being in an atmosphere like that I had a great time.

The clock on the scoreboard counted down to kick off time. When it got to under an hour, the stadium had started to fill more. They then showed highlights on the screen of AC Milan games and when goals were scored the crows went insane. I knew I was going to be in for a huge night if the highlight reaction was any indication.
Some of the Real Madrid players came out to do a warm up and kick the ball around. They crowd booed them. I’ve been at many an Aussie Rules game before, even Grand Finals and I can’t explain it, but this was just different. This was raw passion, this was emotion evoked at birth, this was what it was like to be among people who knew no more than to follow their team wearing their hearts firmly on their sleeves and not being ashamed to show that passion. There are pockets of supporters like that in AFL games I have been to, but this was everyone there. You can’t help but get caught up in the emotion of it all.

The national anthem is played and people are almost crying. It is a different atmosphere to when I have been in sporting events when the Australian national anthem is being played. Perhaps it’s the fact the tune is a different sort of tune. I don’t know, nor can I explain it properly. We had been given pieces of plastic on our seats with instructions written in Italian. I had no idea what the instructions said but figured I would just follow the people around me when the time arrived. I didn’t realise but the same section at the other end of the ground also had bits of plastic on their seats and when the national anthem was being played, we each held out pieces of plastic up to make a sign that read Tongiht. What a buzz. After the anthem, and the field is cleared of non players and officials it is kick off time.

If I thought there was passion before, boy was I wrong. These people are crazy!
The noise is deafening, the atmosphere electric. There is chanting, singing,, swearing. They stand as one when the ball comes down our end and there is possibility of a goal being scored. They sit as one and sigh putting their hands to their heads when that goal isn’t scored. The Spanish crowd have been put in an area behind portioning. I suggest this is for their own safety. When they start chanting for their team, the AC Milan supporters turn to them and chant Real Real ah fungool. Now I remember from my Italian friends at school this is not a good thing. They point, they swear, but it’s almost a fun thing as they do it in tune.
When Real Madrid score the first goal I think oh dear, this could get nasty. Apart from the pocket of Real fans, there is a deafening silence permeating across the ground. I sit there quietly afraid if I show any other emotion than being one of them, I might get bombarded. Not long after that, a penalty is given to Rhonaldino and it is then I experience football at its best. He scores and the stadium erupts. There is a guy behind me that was very vocal and getting the crowd geed up previously. You can hear him singing passionately through the national anthem that i recorded. It is then that I feel my head being grabbed and split second wonder of what is going to happen. He then plants a kiss on the top of my head. A signora signora. I turn around and he gives me a high five. This is football emotion at its purest. He then realises what he has done and says scusi scusi. I tell him its ok while I am smiling and I think he understands that everything is ok, I took no offence. He then asks me Italian? I say no. Again he says NO? There is a guy sitting a few seats up from him that must have seen what was unfolding and said to him, no speak Italian English, English. The kisser man nods and says ahhhh. I tell him tonight I am itallian for Milan and he smiles and takes both my hands in his hands and kisses them. Funny stuff these Italians.
At half time with the score at 1 – 1 I am sitting there happily when I get a tap on the shoulder. I turn around and the kisser man has a chocolate for me. It is a Baci chocolate. He gives it to me saying, scusi scusi again. I think he thought I was offended by what had happened. I wasn’t at all. I thank him for the chocolate and gesturing with my hands that it is all ok. He insists i take the chocolate. The man who had briefly translated to him my non Italian skills then offered me a Lindt ball. It is very difficult to decline offers from Italian men. I don’t know if this is a regular occurrence, so I happily accept the Lindt ball as well.
The game continues and no more goals are scored. There is still chanting, singing swearing right up to the end of the game. Then everyone files out and heads back to stations, cars etc.

I think road rage originated in Italy. I have made this assumption from the very brief exposure to Italian drivers I have had, only arriving this morning. At traffic lights, the second the light turns green if the car in front hasn’t moved a centimetre the horns start honking incessantly. It doesn’t stop until the traffic is moving freely. If you are walking on a crossing and the lights flash from green to amber, that means you are about to get run over, up and get off the road quicksmart!

I follow the throng of people back to the station and there is a train waiting. You wouldn’t have been able to fit someone the Z girls size on the train at this time yet they are still trying to cram more and more people on the train. I figure that there will be another train along eventually and decide that it isn’t worth risking being injured to cram into a train with thousands of people, not many of them being female. Another train appears about 5 minutes after the previous train had departed and we all cram in like sardines. The train trip home is jovial. I hear snippets of conversation and most revolve around Rhonaldino. They worship him in Milan. There is more singing along the train journey home. I’m glad it was at least a draw as I don’t know what the atmosphere would have been had Milan lost. I can only imagine what it would have been like had they won.

I get back to the hotel and get a shower and head to bed, what a day!

I’m still really excited by the whole experience of the game and take ages to get to sleep, hearing chanting and singing in my ears still. I wish there was another game that I could go to again the next night!

Goodnight Milan.

Posted by Blue Teddy 03:56 Archived in Italy Tagged events Comments (0)

Montag (Monday)

overcast

I wake up after finally going back to sleep and look outside to see that it is pouring. Now I don’t mean just a bit of rain, it is actually bucketing down. It looks quite bleak. I have breakfast and try to decide what I might do for the day. I’m tempted to sit in my room all day and not venture out. I figure that would be a stupid thing to do, so I ask at reception what kind of tours I could do. They give me a heap of brochures and I decide that I will go on a trolley car and train ride.

The hotel book the trip for me and I am advised it starts at 12pm. I get the directions and head off. I am heading to Milan tomorrow by trainand have booked my ticket online. I have to validate it at the train terminal so figure I should try and do this while I am waiting for the tour. I don’t know that international travellers would be able to find their way around Melbourne or Sydney train terminals as easily as I have been able to do so far on this trip. They really do cater for visitors to their cities.

I go to the information centre and get my ticket validated. The man is extremely helpful. He advises me that the train will depart from platform 5 or 6 tomorrow and to just check the boards when I arrive in the morning. He also advises me that the train will depart on time, don’t be late!

I head off in the rain to where my tour is supposed to start.
I am early so head to Starbucks to wait and have a cup of tea. It is cold. I really miss just being able to put the kettle on myself and have a cup of tea when I like, but this is how it is travelling.
You need a code to use the bathroom, so if you’re ever in Zurich on a bus tour and have to wait at the Starbucks nearby, the code is 1110. They give it to anyone who asks, so no idea why the door isn’t just open.
There is a front part which is undercover on the trolley car and a back part that is undercover, but has plastic fold up and down window shutters. It has been raining so all the seats are wet. The driver of the trolley car, pulling all the plastic down to shut the back part in. He is quite grumpy. The couple in front of me ask him if he has a cloth to dry the seats. He turns to them and says, in somewhat understandable English, I have two hands, you see them one, two. I am doing the window, I will wipe the seat when I am finished, ok? The lady tells him that she was offering to wipe the seats for him. He just shook his head and gave her a filthy look. I said nothing. All the seats inside are full, so there are no options but to wait for the back section. He closes all the openings and proceeds to wipe the seats with a piece of paper towel. I don’t think one bit of paper towel was going to work somehow, but again, i said nothing. He finishes with the piece of paper towel and turns to the lady in front who had offered to dry the seats, and says see! All finished! Ok, maybe he had a dry seat up the front part of the trolley, but these were no mean dry. I found myself a seat and used my scarf to dry the seat properly. When I had finished and the seat was dry, a huge amount of rain dropped from the sky. I noticed a couple in the front of the trolley get off, so I thought my options might be better going inside where there was at least no chance of rain coming in from the sides. Someone else could now utilise my now dry seat.
The seat I sat in was only a one person seat and there was another one similar on the opposite side of the trolley car. There was a man sitting alone in that seat. He was probably mid 70s. He asked me where I was from and I told him. He said, ahhh beautiful place. We struck up a conversation and he was from America, Hollywood in fact. I got the impression that he was a well to do man, but he didn’t disclose much more than he was from Hollywood. He travels alone now as his wife is in a nursing home. He had planned to visit a friend in Zurich, but when he rang her she told him she had swine flu. So he figured a trolley car ride would be a better option.

The trolley car filled up and we headed off. I didn’t have much faith in the driver but again, when in a foreign country and you are doing touristy things, you sometimes have to close your eyes and hope for the best.
He took us all through the new and old parts of Zurich. It is very pretty. The old part has so much history. The new part, wow, there is money there. The tourguide audio tells me that 70% of Zurich people don’t own their own homes or apartments and they rent. Most are owned by commercial companies, banks etc and the government own some as well. I don’t think this meant public housing like I know it, but I’m not totally sure. A lot of younger people are moving out of Zurich to greenspaces. The tour lasts for about 2 hours with a couple of stops of 10 and 15 minutes along the way. The tour takes us into the Zurich hills and it is here you see where the really wealthy live. Well i assume they are really wealthy as the houses are spectacular and quite spacious with a lot of land around them.
We drop off those passengers who have paid to go on a river cruise. I decided against this because of the rain, instead opting for a train ride to the top of Zurich. Assuming, incorrectly, that it would be a guided tour.
The driver gets to the train station and says those going on train ride get off here. Ok, i get off here. I ask him where is the train ride starting from, he tells me left, left, down, left. I assume he is telling me that’s where I will meet the tour guide. Again, I assumed incorrectly. There is another couple asking the same questions as myself. When I repeated to him left, left, down, left they seemed to think I had a good understanding of where to go so they told me they would follow me. I had become a tour guide in a strange city to strangers.
We found the train platform where our train was departing and it was just a passenger train that would take us to the top of Zurich for us to explore around the area. This wasn’t a guided tour at all. Oh well, we would make the most of it. It turns out that the couple I had hooked up with where originally from Hong Kong but had been living in Canada for over 30 years. They were a lovely couple. They told me I was very brave to be travelling on my own. I didn’t see it as a brave thing. They said I seemed to have a good understanding of how things worked. I told them when travelling on your own you didn’t have much option but to find places yourself and get there. I said it was a lot different these days with the internet at your finger tips, mobile phones when you get in trouble etc.
We went up to the top of Zurich and it was quite foggy along the way. When we got to the top, we established that the restaurant was closed on Mondays and you guessed it today was Monday. The train only leaves every half an hour. There was a lookout tower you could climb but considering the rain and fog I figured there wouldn’t be much point. I told the coupld that I was heading back as there was no point in me going to the tower. They said they would come with me. So we headed back into Zurich. The trip lasted about 20 minutes. We establish on the way that he was a Physiotherapist and she was a retired nurse. I would suggest they were probably late 50s but it is difficult for me to tell the age of Asian people.
We get back into Zurich and I say goodbye to them. They thank me for my company and showing them where to catch the train. It wasn’t planned, it was more luck we found it.
I am starving and wanting something hot to eat. I walk around the station for probably half an hour and see lots of places where I can buy a sandwich or a roll, but I want something hot. I look for a toilet to use and see a sign that says WC, I figure this will be the place to go. On my arrival at said WC I note that it is called Mc Clean. Now this has absolutely nothing to do with McDonalds. It costs 2 euro to use McClean and 10 euro to use the shower facilities at McClean. I opt for the 2 euro version as I don’t need a shower. It is like a beauty parlour. There are mirrors and tables set up for you to do your makeup, it smells lovely in there, with a variety of different soaps to choose from. All I want to do is use the loo. Before I enter I take a photo of McClean, but the lady at the paying desk tells me it is forbidden. No idea why, but I obey her directions. I don’t know that it was worth 2 euro to pee but my bladder appreciated it.
As I leave McClean i notice another food area and venture in. As I’m walking through I notice here you can get some pasta and figure this would be a good option for my hungry stomach. I then hear someone saying hello! Hello! I don’t bother to look around as I’m in a strange city knowing not a soul, and assuming no one would be yelling hello at me. Again hear hello! Hello! I look around and sure enough there is my fellow train journey friends. I hadn’t established names with them, so they didn’t know to yell out my name. I probably would have even answered to Benedict! They beckon me over and invite me to sit with them to have something to eat. I tell them i wand something hot and they tell me that the soup is delicious. So soup it is, it is a thick vegetable soup with some kind of meat in it. I have stopped trying to ascertain what meat i am eating as I’m content in the perhaps misbelieve that I am eating cow or sheep or pig. Being in a foreign country however, I’m not exactly sure that is what is being served up. What I don’t know won’t hurt me I figure. It is then we exchange names. He is Ben (doubt he would have been Ben at birth, but Ben it is) and she is Olen (at least I think that’s how you spell it, that’s how she said it). They tell me they are thinking about going to Lucerne tomorrow and are deciding whether to go on an organised bus tour. The tour is with the same company that we just experienced the pour service so they are unsure. I tell them that when we finish eating I can show them where to go and find out about prices and things for the train. They tell me this would be a much better option as the bus tour you are locked in to being there for 6 hours of free time and if you don’t like it you won’t be able to come back until the bus is ready to depart.
We finish our meal and they now know a lot more about me as they grilled me. It was nice to have a conversation with someone. I think I would have told them anything just to converse in English.
We head upstairs to the booking area. I knew where this was as I had discovered it the day before when I needed to get my ticket validated. There is a sculpture that hangs from the ceiling of the Zurich train terminal. No idea what she is supposed to represent, but I think she is fantastic. She reminds me of myself a little. Large, colourful and out there for all to see. They have a map of Zurich, but I have a better one that I got at the station the day before, so I show them where I got the map from. It clearly shows the sculpture on the map so it’s a good landmark to find your way around the station. They again tell me I am very clever to know so much. I show them how to take a ticket to get service. Don’t they have all these kind of things in Canada? Surely, I am not the only tourist that can work these things out. We wait our turn. I say we as they asked me to stay with them and help them. I oblige, I have nowhere else to be and i feel important. Out turn arrives and it ends up that I do the talking. Don’t know how this happened, but ask away I did. I find out that it will cost 43 euro each for them to travel to Lucerne tomorrow. The trains leave every half hour starting at 4 minutes past the hour. The bus trip was going to cost them 58 euro each. They think I have got them some kind of miraculous bargain. I remind them that this has nothing to do with me,, just the way the fare is structured. They still think i am some miracle worker. They pay their money and get given their tickets. They ask me to establish that they can come back from Lucerne at any time. Even though I know the answer to this question, I ask it for them, just so they can get the person on the other side of the glass to advise them. I don’t know how they have travelled part way round the world. I gather they had everything organised for them by a travel agent. They had previously been on a cruise before ending up in Zurich. I think their Zurich leg was the only part of their journey not organised for them by someone else. But as I ended up organising some of that for them, i guess that previous statement is redundant. It is now starting to get dark and I tell them that I really need to get back to my hotel now as I don’t want to be travelling too much in the dark. Ben agrees and shakes my hand and tells me to take care. Olen gives me a hug and thanks me so much for being their unofficial tour guide in Zurich. What a funny day I had. Strange even.
I head back to my hotel and decide what I’m going to have for dinner. I decide I’m going to take something back to the hotel and eat in my room. When I get off the train there is a place that makes fresh dough pretzels. I decide Im going to have one of these. There is another stall that sells cooked spare ribs. So I buy two of these. All thats missing is the beer! And I could be a real man, beer, beef and pretzels!
I head back to the hotel and watch some TV. There is English TV in my hotel and I watch a couple of very poorly acted tv soapies. One is coronoation street. My god it is woeful acting, but my god I loved every minute of it. I was instantly totally engrossed in the comings and goings of the inhabitants of coronoation street. Then there was another which name escapes me. Equally as appalling, equally as engrossing.

Then there was show on that I so hope we get in Australia at some stage. It was called Golden Balls. It was tacky, pitted human against human but I loved it! There are 4 contestants, and each get given golden balls, inside the balls are different amounts of cash. They have to then either tell the truth or bluff to their opponents as to what the amount of money is. There are also killer balls. It is then up the other contestants to decide who they will eliminate from the round. Each contestant has to decide who they want to eliminate based on the arguments put before them. This continues for the next round and then the game changes a bit in the 3rd round, where there are extra balla put in and the final two contestants play off. They each have to convince the other that they will split the money at the end, when in fact they have a split or steal ball to choose from. I sat there and after only one episode was quite excited at the prospect of both guys splitting the money. Off camera each contestant tells what they will do and one cow of a woman said she was going to steal the money. Yet on camera she was convincing them that she would split the money. She got eliminated thank fully. One guy said his wife would kill him if he didn’t steal the money as he had been burnt in a previous round. He said off camera he was prepared for his wife’s wrath but he was going to split. Thankfully it got down to the two guys and both said they would split. I had my fingers crossed that they were both telling the truth. The moment arrived when they had to reveal their choices and both men showed split balls. This meant they would each take home 20 thousand pounds. The man who was still to face his wife had tears in his eyes and sais that he was so proud that the other guy hadn’t lied to him. It was a great show, I loved it. I imagine it would wear thing quite quickly, but for a one off episode I loved it. The host of the show’s name was Jasper Carrot. I think I prefer Benedict to going through life as Jasper Carrot.

I sit back and eat my pretzel and beef rib, thoroughly enjoying both. I then head to bed. I have a big day ahead of me tomorrow and Im quite excited.

Posted by Blue Teddy 03:56 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Sonntag (Sunday)

overcast 9 °C

I head to the airport to catch my flight to Zurich. I allow plenty of time and figure there isn’t too much time to do much else in Vienna this morning so i may as well sit at Vienna airport and watch the world go by.

The flight is absolutely packed. Again i flew Niki Air. It is one of the cheap airlines that Niki Lauda set up. I had booked my flight well in advance and was able to fly from Vienna to Zurich for $39. There is no inflight entertainment offered, instead you get to see where you are flying over all the time on the tv screens. I had a window seat this time and flying into Zurich was simply awesome. Seeing snow on the mountains was a treat.

I don’t have the same problems as I had arriving in Vienna and am able to find my hotel quite easily. Checking it out properly on the internet the night before really paid off. The only problem is that I have to go up and down stairs to get out of the stations. My right arm is becoming quite strong lifting 20 kilos up and down train stations. So even though you are able to carry 20 kgs of luggage on a plane, you still have to get it up and down the stairs!
The hotel is probably a 5 minute walk from the train station and through what is a office complex type area. It is Sunday afternoon, so there aren’t too many people around. I notice that on the other side of the station there are restaurants, including Maccas, and another couple of hotel complexes. I check in and decide that I will go for a walk to see what my options might be for dinner. It is just starting to get dark and I get to the station area and decide that I probably shouldn’t risk my safety and not go under the station to get to the other side. I then decide that it looks like I will be having dinner in the hotel tonight. I’m not a fan of eating in the hotel as I don’t believe they ever offer you anything traditional. It is fairly standard food no matter where in the world you are. I imagine it would be different in a 5 star hotel, where they would probably have top chefs, but so far I’ve seen fairly standard type food ina lot of restaurants.

I am not wrong this time either. I settle on a Caesar salad with chicken and bacon. This is the 2nd time now in a matter of weeks, that my Caesar salad hasn’t come with egg. I thought that was a standard offereing with Caesar salad, but clearly I am wrong. It is nice, but it is nothing spectacular. I am happy to just sit in the restaurant and watch people. Trying to decide how people are related, are they work colleageues etc.
It is then I think i witness infidelity.
An older man comes into the restaurant and a younger Asian man enters about 10 minutes later. They sit not far from me. They look like they don’t know each other as there are introductions of sorts conducted. I can’t hear what they are saying, but it looks like 2 people who don’t really know each other. The older man’s mobile phone rings and he answers it. It is then that I establish that whoever is on the other end of the phone is supposedly the person that this man loves. He makes gestures to the younger man, of someone yack yack yacking. The younger man nods and smiles. It is then that the younger man runs his foot up and down the older man’s leg. I sit there dumbstruck. I am sitting by the window on a high table on a stool. They are sitting at a normal table on chairs, so I am looking down at their level. I don’t think they realised that I could see what was happening under the table. I look away, not wanting to draw attention to myself and what I’d seen. The older man hangs up the phone with an I love you. Now it could have been one of his children, it could have been anyone in the whole world, but he certainly gave the impression that the person on the other end of the phone was someone he was intimate with.
There was a lot more leg rubbing and I decided I couldn’t sit and watch any more. So I paid for my dinner and headed upstairs to my room.

No idea where they ended up, but it entertained me for 15 minutes or so.
The hotel in the room at least has English TV channels. After only spending 2 nights in Zurich, I am thoroughly sick of CNN as all it is is repeats of the same interview over and over and over again. I have seen Stan Grant interview a sheik from Abu Dhabi about 4 times now. I have seen a lion cub be adopted by Osafa Powell the same amount of times. There are only news channels, but at least it’s in English.
I wake during the night and can’t sleep so turn the tv on. Wow, night time tv is certainly different in Zurich.
There is a strip poker game on. I am intrigued by the concept of this show, so decide I will watch it for a while. There are 4 girls on and each take off their outer clothes and leave underwear on. This then allows them to be given chips. Now I know what some of you are thinking. Why did I watch it? But I was in shock that something like this was on I wanted to see what it was all about. They have their turns and when the first girl runs out of chips, she removes her bra. I don’t know how much clothes got removed as I felt like it was time I should be changing the channel, so I did. Very bizarre.

Zurich really is a different place!

Posted by Blue Teddy 03:56 Archived in Switzerland Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

Szombati (Saturday)

The day I became a man!

overcast 8 °C

I wake early as I know I have to be downstairs for the bus at 6.30 to Budapest.
The bus arrives at around 7 and it is a small mini bus that takes us to the central meeting place for the large bus to leave. There are a few different tours happening, so we stop at different hotels along the way to pick people up. The tour ends up leaving around 7.30.
We have a tour guide, who speaks Hungarian, German and English, very impressive. She is Hungarian herself.

The bus trip takes about 3 hours. The landscape is quite stark and quite grey. It is very foggy this morning, so I can’t quite see anything past the fog line.
It is not until today that I actually establish that Budapest is pronounced Boodah Pesh, two separate words. They were actually two different places and in the early 19th century became one place. Buda is on one side of the Danube and Pest on the other. One is mountaneous, the other is flat.

When we actually arrive in Budapest, the first thing that strikes me is there is not much colour. I can’t describe if any better than that. It is just a very grey place.
We get off at Heroes square and are given a history lesson as to how the 7 leaders came from Asia and became heroes. We have 15 minutes to look around the 7 statues, but I’m much more impressed with going and seeing the children and families close by feeding the ducks. I’m missing the z girl and imagine that soon I will be able to take her to feed ducks somewhere.
We then head off for lunch and it is here that I meet Olga and I became a male for the day.
We went to a restaurant and I was one of the first off the bus. There were certain tables allocated for us to eat at. As I was hoping to interact with someone, I decided to sit at a table for four, hopefully prompting someone else to sit down with me. Most people filed in and sat at either tables for 2, or at other tables of four, not wanting to break out of their comfort zones. The tour guide comes along and asks me, is it ok for Olga to sit with you, she speaks English. I say, of course.
Olga shakes my hand and tells me her name. I notice an accent, a quite muddled accent. I tell her my name is Bernie and she says, what? Huh? I say it again, and I can still see no recognition. So I say Bernadette, my name is short for Bernadette. She smiles and says, ahhhh Benedict, what a beautiful name. He was a wonderful man and a saint and your parents gave you a good strong name. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I wasn’t a Benedict but a Bernadette. So for the rest of the day I was Benedict.
Olga has lived in America for 60 years but was born in Hungary. She is presently recovering from cancer surgery and post cancer treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation. She lived through depressions and wars, concentration camps and has generally had a hard time for a lot of her earlier life. Her parents then went to America after the war and she grew up there and became a nurse. She uses a cane as the treatment she is receiving for the cancer has affected her eyes. She asked me all about myself and I gave her a brief snapshot. We spoke a lot and she told me that if she was a male, she would marry me as she thought I was one great broad. I smiled. At least she acknowledged I was female even if she gave me a male name. Olga was 89. So, for all those wondering, yes I was hit on, albeit a sight impaired Hungarian/American who was 89.

The lunch was delicious. It is here that I have Goulash for the very first time and wow, it was awesome. It was hot and not too spicy. We then get served a pork dish. It was 2 pieces of pork that had been slow cooked. These were served over paprika potatoes. There was far too much food, but it was delicious. We then had a Hungarian chocolate cake. It had about 6 layers to it. It was chocolate and coffee, and tasted delicious.

We then headed back on the bus for the Buda side of the tour. This was the very hilly side. Olga said she wouldn’t go on this part of the tour but instead would sit in a cafe and enjoy the time to just sit. I noticed she had her camera and I asked her if she wanted me to take her camera for her and take pictures so that at least when she gets her sight back properly she will be able to see some of what she used to know. She said, you know Benedict that is a fine thing for you to offer to do for me.
So Benedict took the camera and gave Olga a view of Budapest through someone else’s eyes other than her own. No idea if she will like what she sees, but I won’t be around to find out, so no harm done.
We then headed to the Pest side and had some free time. We were told to try out the famous Hungarian cake shop. I sat in there and ordered a piece of Dobar, which had been recommended by the tour guide. It was also delicious. It had about 10 layers and a toffee top. It was beautiful.

The drive back to Vienna was uneventful. I nodded on and off, most of the other passengers slept.
As Olga is getting off the bus, she looks up the bus and says to no one in particular as I don’t think she could see where I was sitting. Goodbye Benedict at the top of her voice. I don’t know if the others knew who Benedict was, but Olga did.
What a lovely old stick Olga was.
Got back to the hotel and pretty much went to bed. I was exhausted. Being a man is hard work!

Posted by Blue Teddy 03:55 Archived in Hungary Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

der Freitag (Friday)

Castles Street Stalls and Music.....culture Austrian style

semi-overcast 10 °C

Tonight I am going to an operetta and a ballet performance. I’m quite excited. I get on the Vienna version of the hop on hop off bus and plan to head to Schobrunn Palace today. Today it is cold. I am still only wearing a short sleeve shirt, with my wind jacket in my bag. I don’t want to be carrying around bulky items of clothing. I must seem very odd as I know a lot of people are looking at me. They have heavy coats, scarves, hats and gloves and I have my jeans and short sleeve shirt on. Oh well, we already knew I was crazy.

I think the best way to see a foreign city is on bus where they have English speaking guides via headset. You get to learn the history of a place as well as seeing things that you probably wouldn’t get to if you were just walking by yourself. It would probably be different if you weren’t travelling solo, where at least you could look at a map with someone and decide where you might go and whether you’re prepared to walk somewhere you might not necessarily feel safe going alone.

Schobrunn Palace is spectacular. Seems Marie Elizabeth was one very spoiled woman, even if she did have 16 children. I think from what I gather from the tour that she was pregnant but that was about the extent of her caring or nurturing her children. A lot died. She spent a lot of time away from Vienna and I later find out that she spent a lot of her time in Budapest. She didn’t like being married and she said as much in her journal that was found after her death.

I hear my first Aussie accent and it was in the most amusing of circumstances. (swearing about to appear, if you don’t want to read it, skip ahead a sentence or three) I’m walking through the palace and there are two guys up ahead. They are probably early 20s and all I hear is, shit I was fucked up that night and knew instantly it was an Aussie accent. I smiled and as I caught up to them said, nice to finally see some Aussies. They asked how I knew they were Aussies and I told them I heard their conversation. They laughed, hugged me and told me they were from Brisbane. I found it odd that 2 young guys, early 20s would be on a Palace tour. Now don’t get me wrong, it was amazing, but I don’t know that my own two 20 something boys would be happily walking through a palace. I told them that I’m surprised that they were here. They looked at me sheepishly and said yeah it is a bit odd. I asked them where they interested in the history of the place and they said no and laughed. I asked what brought them here and they said, mates had told them that historical tourist places were a good place to pick up. Haha I laughed with them. I asked how it was going so far. One (Ben) said well it worked at The Collaseum. I wished them luck on their endeavours and bid them farewell. The other was Mick. They both shook my hand and we headed in different directions in the castle. Me to admire the historical aspects, them on their quest of creating some kind of history of their own.

The hop on hop off bus, left the Schobrunn Palace every hour and looking at my watch I had just missed a bus. I decided that I would end my hop on hop off the bus experience there and head back to the hotel via the normal train system. I was getting hungry and a little cold.
When I got off at my station I noticed there was an open air market all along the street. I started to walk through and decided that I would go back to my hotel, drop my bag off and come back and wander through the market. I had decided earlier that I would go to Budapest tomorrow, so also needed to organise that.
Got back to the hotel and the people that run the hotel were really lovely.I It is nothing like a large hotel chain or anything, more like an adult backpackers place with all the modern comforts. They organised my trip for me for tomorrow and told me I had to be downstairs at 6.30am and the bus would pick me up from the hotel and bring me back that night around 8pm. It was going to be a long day.
I headed back down to the market area and was amazed by all the produce. I have never seen so many herbs and spices in my life. I didn’t even know there were that many in existence!
There were beer stalls, wine stalls, fruit and vegetable stalls, flower stalls, bread stalls, cheeses, olives, cold meats, fresh meats, things that I have no idea what they were. There was huge wine barrels with pickles and sauerkrat waiting to be purchased. I stood watching this for a while. People either brought their own containers and got them filled with the cabbage and pickles or the stall holders had containers. The cabbage literally walked out of there.
I walk along deciding what I’m going to have to eat. I settle on a kebab.It was called a kebab sandwich. The sandwich part was actually one large round flat loaf that had been cut into quarters and then split and all the filling was piled into the split quarter.

I tell the guy I don’t want garlic sauce. His English was as good as my German. He laughs, indicating he has no idea what I have just said, so I point to the yoghurt and say nein nein. He says, ahhhh beautiful, ya ya. He is telling me yoghurt yoghurt and I think yep I know what it is I just don’t want any. He insists I should have some and we are both laughing. He then goes to put onion on and I say again nein nein. He raises his eyes as if to say fussy woman. I tell myself I am going to the operetta and ballet I don’t want to be the person that someone sits next to and goes home and makes a comment that I stink!l. His mate who speaks even less English than him smiles and soon the 3 of us are laughing. I don’t really know what we are laughing at but we are laughing all the same. He goes to put chilli on and before he does he looks at me and I shake my head and he again raises his eyes and laughs. He points to his mate and tells me American, American! I look at his mate and think the only thing American about him is the jumper that he is wearing that says New York, that was no doubt made in a Chinese sweat shop somewhere. He points to me and I think he is asking me where I am from, so I say Australia and he puts his hands near his chest and hops. Yep they know about kanagaroos in Austria. One of the funniest tshirts I saw in Vienna was like a beware symbol and where in Australia it might say Kangaroos next 10km. This one says, No Kangaroos In Austria. Cute.
I take my ‘sandwich’ and go to leave and he notices my camera and points to the two of them and makes a gesture for me to take a photo. The 3 of us laugh, just having had a conversation of sorts that had pretty much no dialogue. Very amusing.

The sandwich is absolutely delicious. The meat is tender and juicy. It was just what I needed.
It is starting to get dark, so I decide to head back to my hotel room and have a shower ready for my night at the operetta and ballet.

I head into town a little earlier than I needed to be, but wasn’t quite sure where it was that the performance was on.
I find the place. It is not far from the Australian bar, so I go there to have a drink. It is on the way there that I encounter another couple of Aussies. This time girls. This time it was cringe worthy, but Aussies they were all the same.
I was walking behind two girls and I could hear their conversation quite clearly. One of the girls, was doing most of the talking and for those that know, she sounded just like Kylie Mole. We went here and like, you know, she said this and you know, like, and then we did that, and she goes etc etc. Perhaps not verbatim but it wasn’t far off that. I smiled as I knew only an Australian would speak like that. As I walked past them I said, gday and the girl having done most of the talking said, oh my god, like you’re an aussie. I said yep that I am. They asked me if I was a tourist and I said yes and they said oh, have a great holiday! They kept walking and the girl doing the talking, continued doing the talking and continued on her conversation from where she’d left it off.
On arrival at the Aussie Bar there was quite a few people in there now. Couldn’t hear any Aussie accents, mostly German. There was one guy who struck up a conversation, he was Canadian. He asked me what the best Aussie beer was. I told him that i didn’t drink, but I know from most people that they prefer VB, which they had in stubbie form in the fridge. He said, how come Foster’s is so popular. I said because Aussies won’t drink it, they have to send it overseas. He asked me about VB and I told him it stood for Victoria Bitter. He said, oh a bitter, so you drink it warm? I said, no self respecting Aussie drinks warm beer. He then continued trying to tell me that he was sure you drank bitters warm. I said perhaps somewhere they do, but definitely not in Australia. I said probably England.

At the bar, they had these quaint little snacks that I had never seen before. They are crisps in nature and shaped like little kangaroos. When you get a drink, you get given a little bowl of them. The Canadian asked me where do you get them. I said I had never seen them before, ,but they were very nice. He agreed and said that he wanted to find out about them and buy some. He asked the girl behind the bar and she shrugged and said she didn’t know either. So the little kangaroo snacks remain a mystery. I bid my newfound Canadian friend goodbye and headed off for the performance.

It was spectacular. There was Mozart in the first part, with a woman coming out and singing opera for a few songs. There was some ballet performances. A girl solo and then with a male partner. The first part the orchestra were all in period costume.
There was then a break and then in the second part there was Strauss. Everyone was dressed much more formally. The same woman sang opera, the same people danced. It was simply sensational and I didn’t want it to end.
But end it did and I headed back to the hotel for some sleep, i was quite excited when I got back to the hotel. Today had been the most interaction I had had along the way with total strangers and then to have it all topped off with a musical performance was very special.

Goodnight Vienna

Posted by Blue Teddy 03:54 Archived in Austria Tagged events Comments (0)

der Donnerstag (Thursday)

Beautiful Vienna

sunny 10 °C

I head into town to explore the beautiful city of Vienna. What is about churches? They are everywhere! I end up walking through St Stephens. I am still in awe of the architecture of these buildings that were built without the modern aids we have today. How did someone simply know that a spire would come together with a dome inside? Pretty much all done with a slide rule, is pretty impressive. I’m sure there were basic drawings, but wow, this stuff is breathtaking. And then when the spire is complete and they have the dome in place, someone has to get up there, goodness knows how and paint it all! Over the past few days I’ve been impressed with art in general and anyone that has the skill to see something and then be able to transpose that to cavass is impressive, but to literally hang upside down and paint, suspended from god knows what, wow.

I see an Australian bar and by this stage I’m really hanging to hear an aussie voice. I haven’t heard one since I left my colleagues in Paris. You get in a different mind set when all you can hear around you is foreign language. I didn’t realise till now, how much I actually must listen to conversations around me. Not necessarily eavesdropping but just knowing there is conversation around you.
My best friend has become my ipod. Being able to listen to music while walking, while exploring has probably stopped me going even more crazy than I am. I also underestimated the sense of speech. Back in my hotel room I found myself actually saying things out loud, just so that I could actually speak. The only speech you have in a foreign country if you don’t know the language is simple words that you need to get you by. You learn to say please, thank you, good morning etc. The rest you can pretty much get away with pointing and raising one or two fingers depending on what it is you are after.
I head into the Australian bar and I get greeted in the most amazing cockney voice, hello luv. Great, I’m in Austria and an English backpacker is serving me. At least I can have a conversation with him. He is on a working holiday and he asks me what am I doing in Vienna. I tell him that I am on a holiday etc. As it’s an Australian bar, what else would it be without sport on the tv screen. He tells me that it’s part of the deal, they are only allowed to show sport on the tv screens. There is currently a replay of a football match on. (as I’m travelling through Europe, I will refer to football as the real football, what we generally call soccer). It is a game from 2002. It is the England qualifying match for the World Cup. The bar guy is quite enthused that there is someone in the bar with him at this time of the day that actually has an understanding of football. He tells me to watch this watch this! I watch the goal that is scored against England to put them out. He groans and asks me if I have any idea how many times he has watched that goal. I tell him I have no idea, but I’m guessing a few considering he knew the exact moment that the goal was about to be scored. He says, shattered, just shattered. I remind him that it was 7 years ago. He still says it hurts. I am reminded that football to the English is a passion that cannot be underestimated or explained.

I ask him if he has any bitters. He says bitters? Like a bitter beer? I say no, it’s an additive, very concentrated....No luv, none of this bitters you talk about, but we do have great Aussie beer. I tell him that I don’t drink. And he says, wow an Aussie that doesn’t drink in an Aussie pub. Yep,, I tell him I’m a rarity.

My quest is to find bitters on my trip somewhere. The more I can’t find it, the more I want it.
I finish my orange juice and think I should be exploring and seeing Viennese things rather than sitting in an Aussie bar. He tells me to come back later because the Aussies are playing cricket and the game will be on live. I tell him I will think about it. I notice they have vegemite on toast on the menu and it says. This is an Australian thing, not an Austrian thing. It is an acquired taste! I plan to head back there at some stage and experience the joys of home!

I mostly just wander through the streets of Vienna today going out to where the ferris wheel is. It isn’t working when I get there *sigh*. I will have to come back another time.
I experience the delights of the Sacher Torte. It is a very old, very famous chocolate cake. In the middle of the cake there is apricot jam (or something similar) and it is covered with a very rich, very dark chocolate. It is delightful. It is actually called the Original Sacher Torte. There was a naming rights debate in 1967 and Demel who also produce a Sacher Torte, won the rights to call their creation a Sacher Torte, where the Sacher Torte served at the Sacher Hotel won the rights to call theirs the Original Sacher Torte. It comes with fluffy cream. I’m not a fan of cream from a can never have been. It tastes like fluff, but something is needed to break the richness of the chocolate cake. I would love to have it with some King Island Cream. MMMM.
Again, all things come with a glass of water. This is good when you have eaten something rich, as you need it.
I will never get used to people being able to smoke inside restaurants, cafes, cars in Austria. It is horrid. At least in Paris, they can only smoke outside, which is still annoying but nowhere near as much as in Austria..
It is such an uncommon sight for me now to see ashtrays on tables in restaurants. There are no scary pictures on their cigarette packets either. I wonder what the cancer rates are in Austria. Maybe one day they will catch up to us in Australia. It will be interesting to see what the regulations are when i travel through Switzerland and Italy.

I wander through the Opera House on a tour. It is truly amazing. It’s a shame that you can’t take pictures in a lot of these places, but I think they also make a lot of money from selling photographs and paraphernalia themselves. I haven’t bought anything yet. I don’t really see anything that I want. There are lots of beer steins, which are heavy and would no doubt sit on the shelf gathering dust to whomever I gave them to. I am conscious that I still have a lot of travelling to do as well and don’t want to rack the kilos in the luggage up.
I head back to the Aussie bar and watch Ricky Ponting bat while I’m eating vegemite on toast. An Aussie sitting in a bar in Vienna watching cricket eating vegemite on toast, it doesn’t get much better than this!
I go to an Austrian supermarket and am in awe. It’s more like a food hall than a supermarket. I get some ham, some fresh bread roll and some tomato and cheese and decide that’s going to be my dinner tonight. (again) I was planning on going back to the Viennese restaurant again and having schnitzel again, but decide I’m tired and probably just want to sit in my room and veg out.
19 television stations. 2 in English, 1 is MTV and the other is CNN. It’s funny watching MTV and hearing all the songs I know etc and then when there is a break the ads are all in German. It still sounds like they are yelling every time an ad comes on. They sat fahrt a lot, no idea what it means but I still giggle when I hear it.
I catch up with a few people online and then head to bed.

Posted by Blue Teddy 03:53 Archived in Austria Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Merdi in the morning, Dienstag in the afternoon

Off to Vienna

13 °C

I set my alarm for 5.30am, thinking my flight is at 10.45. For some reason I log on and check my flight details and it tells me it is at 8.45, I race around like a blue ass fly and think there is no way I am going to catch this flight. I had planned to catch the train at a leisurely pace. The instructions for the key told me to leave them on the table, turn the lights off, turn heating off and shut the door. I take one suitcase downstairs and then go back up for the other suitcase. Make sure I haven’t left anything this time, leave the Sugar Daddy for the next tenants, and the washing detergent and leave the key on the table and close the door. I head down the spiral staircase for the last time and it is then that I am terrified. What I omitted to previously say is that upon entering the staircase there is a door that requires a key to open and close it. However, sometimes it was unlocked, other times it was locked. I am now in an absolute state of panic as I have no clue if it is locked or unlocked and the keys are inside the apartment on the table. I hadn’t seen any body else in the 4 nights I stayed there, I heard people using the stair case but that was it. I took a deep breath and turned the handle of the door, it opened! It actually opened! I wasn’t going to have to knock on doors at 6.00 to try and get someone to open the door for me. Then I actually thought, irresponsible people leaving the door open during the night! I always locked it on entering and leaving. I was secretly glad the last person through the door wasn’t anal like me and had left it open!
I head in the direction of the train station, which was about 200 meters away. I notice cabs and think I have to catch a taxi, I’ve no idea how long the train will take. I don’t even know which direction the airport is. I had allowed heaps of time for that to all unfold for a 10.45 flight!

I get in the taxi and the lady asks me which terminal? She asks this question as if I should know the answer. Clearly I was supposed to know the answer. Clearly I had no clue. All this information was on the usb memory stick that had been in London having a good time for the weekend and now enjoying it’ flight home to Australia. I tell her I don’t know and that I am flying Niki Air. She gives me a book and tells me to look it up. She drives, I sweat thinking I’m going to miss this flight a) because I’m late and b) because I have no clue which terminal it leaves from!

I start at the Terminal 1 page, and scroll down, and can’t see Niki Air anywhere. At this stage I didn’t realise there were other pages. The taxi lady just told me to look on that page, the next page had an ad on it, so I assumed that was it. She gestured I turn the page. Now I’ve previously mentioned you get in a Paris taxi and close your eyes. Well I wanted to as even though it was just after 6am, taking corners on two wheels, dodging buses and cyclists seems to be a standard no matter the time of day. I keep trying to concentrate and am hoping that Niki Air bounces off the page. I finish Terminal 2 and wonder how the hell many terminals are there at Charles De Gaulle airport. I get to terminal 3 and there it is Niki Air! I say quite excitedly 3, 3. She nods and then gives me a different book to check, to make sure. Now this book is in alphabetical order, not Terminal Order. And sure enough under N is Niki Air and Terminal 3. I’m sure she gave me the other book first just to test my nerves. Well she won, they were shot!

We get to terminal 3 and I race inside thinking there is no way I am going to be allowed to board this flight.
No issues at all. The guy looks at me as if I was half crazy for worrying. I assumed that I was travelling international and needed to be there 2 hours before the flight. It turns out Paris to Austria isn’t an International flight at all in the scheme of things, it is a city to city flight. Wow and here was me thinking France was one country and Austria was another country, therefore that would mean I was travelling International. Wrong. He gives me my boarding pass and tells me to go through to gate 5.

Going through the security check, this time putting everything in the right tubs and feeling so proud of myself, the alarms go off as i walk through. She guard tells me to take my shoes off, I do. He tells me to go through the walkway again and still the alarms go off. I think that it must be my bracelet or watch, so take them both off. I go through again, feeling confident and hearing the familiar noise again. I start to wonder what the heck it is. There is a little more interest in me know and a female comes over and asks if its ok for her to touch me. Do I have a choice? She pats me down and I mean pats me down and she obviously finds nothing. I’m relieved by this as I know I’m not carrying anything or hiding anything. She is not so happy about this though. She puts the electronic wand over me and sure enough it beeps loudly on my back. Oh god, they are going to think I have something concealed. It is about this time that I can hear conversations in French and wonder what is going to happen to me, when she puts the wand on my back again and it beeps. It appears that my bra strap decided today of all days that it wanted to perform. She feels all around my bra strap and established that I have nothing hiding and tells me to put my shoes on it’s ok to go through. By this stage, people are looking at me. I know if i was in a queue and it was happening to someone else I too would be looking at that person.

I ring my son in Australia for his birthday, happy birthday Matt.

Terminal 3 is a little terminal that reminds me of an airport close to home, Albury airport. You have to wait, then board a bus and get driven to your plane. I find this very amusing as I had already assumed incorrectly that I was travelling International and therefore didn’t imagine that I would be travelling by bus to my plane.

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We get to the plane and the doors are closed. The ground crew staff that accompanied us said something in French out loud. A lot of people on the bus laughed, but I had no idea what he had said. Obviously something about the doors being locked. His female counterpart hit his arm as if to remind him that it probably wasn’t funny. He got off the bus, walked up the stairs and then I really laughed when he knocked on the door. Everyone on the bus laughed. The door opened and the flight attendants greeted him.

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We boarded the plane and waited. I thought wow there aren’t many people on the plane. I had been given an aisle seat and though, cool, I will move to a window seat. We waited and waited and then another bus load of people arrived. I figured that i was going to lose the window seat and sure enough I was correct. I moved back to my aisle seat and a couple sat in the other two seats next to me.

The flight was 1hr 45 minutes. Surely people can hold their bladder for that long, but not in this case. He got up to go to the toilet, so I stood up, his travelling companion, I assume wife stood up, and he got out. The reverse happened on his return. He sat down. About 15 minutes later the female needed to go to the toilet so I stood up, moved to the aisle way and let her out. They could have given me the window seat as the both read a newspaper each the whole way. I didn’t need to use the bathroom. It would have been a much better working arrangement for me.

We arrive in Vienna and I am amazed that it’s just like flying between Sydney and Melbourne, you get off the plane, you get your luggage and you’re free. No passport required, no stamp in unrequired passport. This is bizarre.

I catch the CAT into Vienna. CAT stands for City Airport train. It is a dedicated train that only travels between the airport and the city. It takes 16 minutes and doesn’t stop in between.

As all the details I needed were on the errant memory stick I had asked Jacqui to look at my itinerary and text me the address of the hotel. Being the good child that she is, she did as asked. I showed the address to the lady at the city terminal of the CAT and asked her to show me on the map where I needed to go. Now in German there is Strabe and Strass, one is a town and one is a road or street. The address I had was Gumpfendorfer Strabe 39. At this stage I didn’t know there was a difference in Strave and Strass, so the helpful lady at the station told me I needed to catch the train on U3, and get off at a particular station and get the U6 for one stop. I bought my ticket and followed the directions. When I got to the desitnation, I had no idea where I should be. I walked up and down, up and down the street with two cases dragging behind me. I went into a florist and asked for directions there. I soon learnt that English was not so frequently spoken in Vienna as it had been in Paris. I went into another shop and the man glared at me. Oh dear.

I sat there for a while, then decided to open my suitcase and get out my pieces of paper to see if there was any other information I had in paper form and not electronic form. All that my piece of paper told me was what Jacqui had sent me via text, By this stage is was 12.30pm local time so I knew it was 10.30pm home time. I knew Jacqui would be asleep, so thought who else will be up and have internet access and be able to help me. Mother Judy to the rescue!

Judy has a daughter travelling overseas at present and has been known to give directions to her daughter in times of need. This is how I decided Judy was my best bet.

I texted her and asked if she was still up. She texted back saying she was, I hope she didn’t lie to me. I then rang her and told her of my predicament and if she could log on to my itinerary and see if there was any further information. She did and there wasn’t. Hmmm, she then had the brain wave to google the hotel and see if she could get directions that way. It is then that she was able to give me directions that were nothing at all like the CAT girl had given me. Who was I going to trust in this situation? The CAT lady or Judy? Judy wins hands down.
She texted me the directions so I could have them in front of me as I was trying to negotiate a now new train system. She then asked me if I was staying in a hostel. I said I didn’t think so. She said, oh, it just looks very colourful on the webpage. Ok, I thought.

With Judy’s impeccable directions I got back on the train, found the station Judy mentioned and ended up at the right place. This is when I established that Strabe and Strass are different. The girl at the CAT must have just looked at the first part and not taken into consideration the rest.

I finally got to the hotel and yes it was very colourful. I hoped I had the right place and the welcome I received assured me I did.

The hotel is called Kopling Wein Zentral. It is run by a mother ;and son, and when I get to my room I read the philosophy of the hotel. It has been built that people with disabilities can come and use the hotel freely. Therefore the doors are wide etc to accommodate wheelchairs. There is also a Christian philosophy behind the hotel. It is very clean, it reminds me of a hospital room. It has everything I need and the cheerful people that run it are absolutely lovely. It wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I figure if I was planning on spending most of the time in my room, then I should have booked into a 5 star hotel.

I head off and venture into town. I don’t plan on doing too much today as it is now about 3pm by the time I get settled and unpack the necessary things. I do note though that there are some funny signs, that I have understanding of them at all. I'm not sure what ghey is in German, but it amuses me.

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It is about a 10 to 15 minute walk into town. I head for the Opera ring. It is there that I am approached by a guy wearing period costume asking me if I would like to see Opera and ballet. I tell him that I would, and we negotiate that I am going to be attending on Friday night. So that is that sorted. I pay for my ticket and am quite excited by this prospect.

I head back to the hotel as at 4.30 it is almost dark. I’d forgotten I was in Europe and that the days are shorter. Not knowing how safe the area the hotel is in, i didn’t want to push my luck on my first day in Vienna. My first impressions of Vieanna are that it is beautiful.

I ask at reception for a recommendation for dinner. The lady asks me if I would like traditional Austrian or Italian. I am in Austria, so of course I choose traditional Austrian. She gives me the name of the place which is off the street the hotel is in about 5 minute walk. I ask her if it is a safe area to walk in the dark. She assures me it is very safe, and off I venture.

I get to the restaurant and a lovely man greets me with hello beautiful lady. He is a lovely man and asks me if I am here for drinks or dinner. I tell him for dinner. I establish that I am the only one here and think maybe i have been led down the garden path. I soldier on regardless. The menu is all written in German, and my new found friend assures me he will translate. The place is called Ludwig Van and it is old with very old paintings on the wall. He lights a candle and brings it to my table. He asks me if anyone else is joining me and I tell him no, just me. He says a beautiful lady like you dining alone, shame shame. I think I love this man. He asks me what I would like and I say schnitzel. He smiles and says, ahhhhhh schnitzel! It was how I imagined it would be said and I smile. He asks, just schnitzel? And I say with some vegetable. He goes to the kitchen window and orders the schnitzel. I then here extreme hammering going on in the kitchen. I can only assume this is my schnitzel being beaten into submission.

The said dish arrives and there are two pieces of schnitzel on the plate. He then brings me some potato in a dish in some kind of sauce. Not much sauce, but some.

It turns out the potato is cold and the sauce has apple in it. It is absolutely beautiful. Not what I expected at all, but fantastic all the same. The schnitzel if melt in your mouth tender and the meat is almost white. I have no idea if this is veal, nor do I want to know. I just know that it was the best schnitzel I have had in my life!

He then asks me if I want dessert. He sits next to me and translates the German desserts for me. He tells me of gnocchi with a jam sauce, that doesn’t sound appetizing for dessert. He then tells me about something like tiramisu but Austrian and then tells me about a baked apple with currants and a sauce, which sounds amazing. I settle on the apple and he tells me nooooo, you have to try the Austrian tiramisu. I laugh and ask him why he told me about the others and he shrugs his shoulders and laughs. I agree with him that I will try the Austrian tiramisu. I ask him if it coffee based and he smiles and says, coffee, rum, a few other things He assures me I will love it. When it is served, it comes out on a plate in two balls, not what I was expecting. The flavour is sensational. Not like an Italian Tiramisu, but exquisite. It is light and not too sweet and just the right amount of everything. He asks me if it was good and I tell him yes. He smiles and says I don’t lie for the beautiful woman. I blush. By this time there are other people filling the restaurant and I just want to sit and watch people. I hear them order, having no idea what it is they are getting. He picks up on this and says to me you are happy, you are watching people. He is obviously observant as I love doing this. He asks if I want tea or coffee and I decide I will have coffee. It is also beautiful. I sit and obseve all the goings on for a while longer and then think i better move as it probably looks odd a lone female sitting watching the goings on around. I pay and leave and think wow, that was an exceptional meal and evening.

I fall into bed quite happily fed.

Posted by Blue Teddy 03:37 Archived in Austria Tagged air_travel Comments (1)

Lundi the 2nd

The Louvre and Sushi for Breakfast

semi-overcast 13 °C

Sushi for breakfast

I still had the sushi from the day before and had put it in the fridge. I argued internally for a couple of minutes while having my shower deciding if it was acceptable to have sushi for breakfast. I asked myself if the Japanese would even have sushi for breakfast. I decided that you know what, I didn’t care if it was the done thing or not, I was having sushi for breakfast. Ok it was odd, but absolutely delicious. I don’t think I can honestly say I have ever eaten raw fish when I would normally eat corn flakes, but eat it I did.

With breakfast sorted I decided that today was The Louvre day as I knew it was closed on
Tuesday and I was leaving early Wednesday morning.

I headed into The Louvre again and the crowds were still quite large, but much more respectable than the previous day.

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There was a queue so I joined it. I establish that this queue was just to get through the security area, where it is just like being at the airport with your bags being scanned. I hope there is nothing in my bag which shouldn’t be there. I go through the security check and it seems that there is nothing in my bag out of the ordinary. You then go down the escalator to join the queues to purchase your ticket. I bought the whole lot. The permanenet and temporary displays. I bought an audio guide machine and set off. I figured that I would go and see the woman first up, and get it out of the way. It seems that everyone has that idea as we travelled in hoards to the sign pointing to the famous lady. I can honestly say she is nice and all, but she certainly wasn’t my favourite exhibition. I was somewhat underwhelmed by her. Brilliant and all, but yeah just a painting.

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I absolutely loved the sculptures and spent hours wandering through the sculpture area. It was surprisingly lacking in crowds and this amazed me. I was able to stay at each sculpture for some times up to 5 minutes without there being another soul in sight. I studied them in detail.

My opinion of them is, how to put this delicately, men are all different. No matter how I write this it will sound like I had an attraction for naked men statues, but naked men statues were in abundance. Some men were huge in stature with what seemed out of proportion bits and pieces. I wonder if the artists completing the sculptures were intimidated and decided to make small bits and pieces. What do you do if you’re a male and someone does a sculpture of you and it turns out that it looks realistic all but certain bits. Do you ask for more clay to be added, or do you accept that you have been sculpted and learn to live with how the artist saw you.

There is one sculpture that is supposed to be called a gladiator. He has not a stitch of clothes on and I think wow, if I were a gladiator I’d want something on to protect my special treasures.

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Then all I could envisage was this man in a fight, covering his precious pieces with one hand while fending off someone with an arrow or club in the other hand. I giggled. I don’t know if anyone else thinks like me, or if anyone else has stood in the Louvre, one of the most sacred art museums in the world and giggled at a naked man statue.
There was another statue close by and he had an arrow through his neck. He had a loin cloth on at least. Modest,, but still dead.

There is an Egyptian temporary display. The sculptures there were spectacular, especially the sphinx. Again there weren’t many people around and I was beginning to think that people only came to see the famous pieces and not explore the rest of the museum.

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I sat in an internal courtyard area surround by busts of famous people, sat back against the wall and closed my eyes. No idea how long I had my eyes closed or how long I’d actually nodded off, but I can say that I slept at the museum! I don’t think it was long, nor do I know if people took pictures of me while I rested my eyes, but I didn’t quite care either. If my photo appears on some website asleep at the museum, I will be famous for something.

My electronic audio guide decides to stop working, which is quite annoying as you get to a display and press the corresponding number and it gives you a description of the art.

I am almost at the days end of walking the museum and decide that I will head back to collect my ID that I had to leave as security for the audio guide. I tell the assistant that it stopped working and she shrugs her shoulders and says, flat battery. Great deduction Einstein. There are 35,000 items on display in the museum and I figure I may have seen 2000 if lucky, but enough is enough for one day.

I notice some people that I had seen at the Eiffel tower the night before. I guess we’re all tourists doing the tourist things at the same time.

I head home and go back to the supermarket and purchase some more of the delicious Jambon I had previously had and decide that I am going to spend the night inside and get all my stuff together for my departure in the morning.

Posted by Blue Teddy 00:54 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Dimanche (Sunday)

220 steps and 6 hours later, I have conquered the Eiffel Tower

sunny 11 °C

I get myself up and am really hanging for something other than water to drink. I get my shower, using my newly acquired douching products. (That’s such a funny word). Head to the supermarket which I knew was about 100 meters from the apartment as we’d gone past it in the taxi. Buy some tea bags, some sugar. The brand of sugar I buy is Sugar Daddy. I find this very amusing, some Jambon (ham), some tomatoes, some brie and some fantastic French bread.

I also buy some washing detergent as there is a washing machine in the apartment I intend to use. I also purchase my new favourite drink in the world Orangina! Fizzy Orange juice which is absolutely delicious.

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I head back to the apartment and have some breakfast and decide what I’m going to do for the day. I think I am going to go to the Louvre. I head off into town on my now new train line. Station Bastille. Line 5 or 8 will get me to Bastille.

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I get off at Musee de Louvre and see the size of the crowds there and think nope I’m not doing the Louvre today,, it can wait till tomorrow. I get back on the bass and do the tour of the part of Paris I haven’t yet done The tour through St Germain. I really love this part of Paris. It is different, there is a peacefulness about it. It isn’t so rushed and it just has a lovely feel to it. I get off the bus and just happily wander through the streets. I stop to look in all the different shops, not sure where I wanted to stop, what I wanted to do. I plan on going to the Eiffel Tower this afternoon and am conscious of the time. I buy some sushi planning to eat that for a late lunch. As soon as I buy the sushi I see a place where I can have 3 courses for 9.90 euro. I suddenly feel like something hot and think that the sushi can wait. I go in and am treated to a lovely salad with bacon for entree, a piece of fish and some vegetable for the main meal and chocolate mousse for dessert. It was a lovely meal in a lovely little restaurant in St Germaine.

I then get back on the bus and continue the tour around until it meets up with the other bus so I can change buses and head for the Eiffel tower. I get to the Eiffel tower just before 5. Everyone told me that I should do the tour so i can appreciate the lights and that it would be quite pretty.

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There are 4 entrances to the Eiffel Tower, North,, South, East and West. I notice that East is closed and decide to join one of the other queues. I assumed all the queue were the same, so I joined the south queue. I was in the queue for just on an hour and a half and after waiting all that time as I got closer the the front of the queue I noticed that this was a stairs queue. Sigh,, trust me to get in the wrong queue. I had the choice of leaving this queue at this point in time or staying in the queue and tolerating 220 stairs. I didn’t really want to wait another 1 and a half hours in one of the other queues just to catch the lift up.

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As I'm standing in the queues I look up and get a different perspective of the tower.

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I wonder how many nuts and bolts hold this thing together.

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Bought my ticket, and up the stairs i went. It was hard work. I’m not fit and 220 steps is hard work, no matter how you look at it. I got up and the view was amazing. 220 steps is only to Level 1. I establish that I can go up some more steps, I imagine another couple of hundred or I can buy a supplementary ticket and catch the elevator up. I decide on this option. I join another queue to purchase this supplementary ticket. When it gets to my turn at the machine, it tells me that my card doesn’t work in this machine. So I find the cash machine and realise it only takes coins, not notes, I don’t have the 4.50 euro required in coins to buy the supplementary ticket. I go into the shop and ask for change the man tells me I have to buy something. I purchase my first tin of Eiffel Tower mints for 2.50 euro. I go an purchase my supplementary ticket and take the elevator after waiting in another queue for about half an hour. I’m getting used to this queue mentality. It’s amusing watching people and how they behave when placed in uncomfortable situations like queueing. I get up to the second level and the view is amazing, simply breathtaking.

I am shocked by just how far from home I actually am.

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But there is a third level that you can go to! I am excited by this, but you guess it, another supplementary ticket is required for me to get to the 3rd level. I now know the situation and know that my card won’t work and I need coin. But I also know that I have another 10 euro note. Into the souvenir shop I go on the second level knowing exactly what I need to purchase to change the 10 euro. I purchase my second tin of Eiffel tower mints. I think the mints company and the lift ticket company are one and the same!

It just wouldn't be right, getting this far up without having a goofy photo of myself.

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I join yet another queue and get in the lift to the 3rd floor. Wow, what a view. It’s now extremely dark and the lights are amazing. It is now 8.30. All in all I have been queuing climbing, queuing, elevating, mint purchasing for over 3 hours.
I spend about an hour at the top. The wind is amazing, it’s quite cold and then I decide that I better head back as I have to catch the train back. We wait in the queue to get the elevator down for 45 minutes.

The view of the tower at night is breathtaking. This photo doesn't do it justice, but it's all I have for the moment.

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I get to the bottom and have no idea which way the Metro station is from here. I remember seeing a Police sign when i was in the South queue, so head back to there to find out. There was one policeman and his English was as poor as my French, so therefore pretty much non existent. He establishes I want the metro and he nods emphatically and points and gestures with his land left, left, down.
I say merci and head off in the direction of left, left and down and as I am following throngs of people I assume I’m headed in the right direction for something. Might not necessarily be the metro, but we’re all heading to this place of unknown together.

I arrive at the Metro work out which train I need to be on to get to Line 5 or 8 and head for home. Paris is amazing, i don’t think it ever sleeps. I get home and it is now almost 11pm. So all in all my Eiffel Tower experience took around 6 hours.

I shower and climb into bed. My plans for writing this blog were that I would do it at the end of every day. Exhaustion proved those foolish dreams. I have had to catch up on the blog at later stages.

Posted by Blue Teddy 12:42 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Samedi (Saturday)

Rain, more rain, and being scared witless

rain 12 °C

I woke this morning with my first night minus the little blue man, hmmmpf, still not happy. It was raining, quite heavily at the moment. Glad I made the decision to not stay at the universite and head to Versailles, probably means I won’t get to see it this trip, so I will just have to make another trip and come see it then! I had to pick the keys up for the apartment after 5pm today which is a stupid arrangement for visitors but one that obviously works for them

Decided to head to head into the city and get a 2 day pass for the Hop On, Hop off bus. Did 1 complete circuit of the blue line and decided to get off at Sacre Couer. Got off and knew there was a heap of stairs to climb to get to the church entrance.
As soon as you approach the steps you are accosted by boys/men wanting to put coloured pieces of string on your fingers as a good luck gesture. You are then hassled for money. I didn’t acknowledge them and they tend to leave you alone, but I did watch from a distance how it all works. Many an unsuspecting tourist thinks they are just being nice. Nothing is free in Paris, especially things coming from men outside churches.

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All I can say about the inside of the church is wow. It a known fact that there is money in religion but there is a hell of a lot of money in France tied up in religion. There was a mass service being conducted while I was there. It was all in French, so I had no idea what was being said. I did however notice tourists crying openly. These tourists weren’t attending the mass session because they were sitting in front of different alters. Some just sat there openly crying, some were weeping. I guess I had almost been reduced to tears at the Arc De Triomphe so I shouldn’t have been surprised. You couldn’t take photos inside the church which was disappointing. But I also respect that religious icons aren’t supposed to be photographed.

And even though for some of us, football is a religion and we can take photos of our football teams, it isn’t quite the same.

I spent a couple of hours in the church, just marvelling at the architecture of the place more so than the religious memorabilia. So much gold. I think I could take a small shaving off some of the statues and it would translate to being able to purchase a house in Australia. I look around to see if I can see the statue of St Bernadette, but it doesn’t look like she was good enough for the Sacre Couer. There are alters all around the church dedicated to different saints.

The view from the church over Paris is also spectacular.

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As its raining quite heavily I decide to stay on the bus today and just have a really good look at Paris. It really is quite beautiful. I am still conscious of the fact I have to get the keys for the apartment I am staying at for the next 4 nights. But I can’t get them until after 5. I get off the bus and have a very late lunch and a cup of tea. I want something warm, it’s wet and cold and I’m suddenly aware that I am now on my own for the next 3 weeks or so till I get to be with someone I actually know in London.

I get back on the bus and go back up through the Montmartre area and have a look in the shops. I don’t see anything that takes my eye and that I simply must have.

I look at my map and work out where is the best place to get off the bus so I can catch the train to Strasbourg St Denis. With trusty map in hand I get off the bus and head for the station. It is now about 4.30 in Paris getting on the verge of late afternoon daylight and raining and quite bleak all day. Day light savings ends tonight. I find my way to the station and am proud that I have this Paris Metro system worked out. However, what awaits me at the Strasbourg St Denis station is the scariest experience I have had in Paris. I have a map in my hand of the place to pick the keys up and as I come up from the underground, there are probably 20 or 30 young men of African descent heckling me, in my face and in general being very scary. They want money. They clearly know I’m a tourist as the map in my hand is probably a dead give away. I try the old trick of ignoring them, but they gather round me and follow. My feet are doing one thing; my head and heart are doing another. My feet continue moving, my heart is racing and my head is totally confused. What to do, where to go. I can’t stop to look at the map again as this will just encourage them further. So I keep walking without looking at them hoping that they will just give up and leave me alone. They continue following me for what feels like an hour but was probably 2 minutes. In the end, they just gave up, but I noticed I was walking through a street that was very dodgy, very unclean, very intimidating. The people in the shops were also hanging out the doors looking for a tourist dollar or ten. I just kept walking until I felt I was safe to be able to stop and check my map. I had gone about 2 streets past where I was supposed to be and then I noticed where I was supposed to be was through an alley way. I walked around the block to see if there was another entrance that would get me to the same place avoiding the alley. Nope. I had to brave the alley. I took a deep breath and don’t think I exhaled until I was through the alley way.

There were a couple of homeless people in the alley way and I actually felt safer with them, as they just wanted to sleep, than I did with the hecklers from the station. I found where I needed to be and you had to enter a password on an electronic key pad to enter the place. When I got in there, there was a man in there putting keys in safety boxes. The instructions were that I was to put another code in the safety box to get my keys, leave the remainder of the money and be on my way. At this point in time, I was still scared and thinking should I have decided to stay in an apartment on my own and not in the somewhat safer environment of a hotel, even though looking on the internet at hotels in Paris was confusing. My brain was still in melt down mode and I was trying to work out how much I was supposed to be leaving for the remainder of my apartment cost. Thankfully the man that was putting the keys in the boxes had a list and he was able to tell me how much I had to pay. I put the money in an envelope, took my keys and hightailed it out of there. I then had another dilemma; I had to get back on the train.

I looked at my map to see how far it was to a different station. I figured it wasn’t worth trying to walk through somewhere else as I had no guarantees it would be any safer, so I ventured back to Strasbourg St Denis and hoped for the best. I figured that all I needed to do was get past them as once you go underground in the Metro you need a ticket. I also figured if they were above ground hassling for money then they probably wouldn’t spend the 1.8i0 euro to go below ground. I saw a couple walking in the general direction and hope they are also heading to the station. They could have been axe murderers but I was prepared to take my chances with them above the heckling guys. Before I knew it I could feel my feet going down steps, I don’t rightly remember getting that last 50 meters I just know that I did. I now had to get back to the hotel I had been staying to collect my luggage and then head to the apartment. It was now almost 6pm. I knew the area where the hotel was and even though it was dark and a 10 minute walk, I felt safe. Foolhardy perhaps, but I had done it a few times now and there was always lots of people and cafes along the way.

I got back to the hotel and figured as I had no idea of the area the apartment was in and after my Strasbourg St Denis experience; I was going to take a taxi. I asked the hotel to ring me a taxi and sat there, still with a racing heart.

The taxi headed off and it seemed like he perhaps had misunderstood the address I gave him, as we went in a direction that I hadn’t been before in Paris. The driver had a conversation the whole way there with his ear piece in and I heard him say St Antoine so I figured we were headed in the right direction after all. We went through quite an open area for a bit and then we were heading back into what I had accustomed to of Paris streets, lots of people, lots of cafes and restaurants. We then turned into a main thoroughfare and this was the street I would call home for the next 4 nights. It was an apartment at 26 rue de fabourg, St Antoine.

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The taxi cost me 44 euro, which is a lot of money, but hey, I was safe. I had another pin number to enter into an electronic key pad. There was levi’s store one side, an furniture store the other and a whole myriad of shops nearby.

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There were people everywhere. I didn’t know if it was safe to punch the number in the keypad while people watched, never having done this before, other than the scary getting of the key affair. I waited till a few people walked past and punched in the number, I heard the click and the door was open. What greeted me was confusion. There was a courtyard, with lots of doorways leading off this courtyard. I had to get my instructions out again to see where it was I was supposed to go. Esc B. There was A esc B, there was B esc B, C esc B and so on up to E. By this stage I was starting to stress and thinking about walking out, forfeiting all the money I had paid and give up, but I tried A esc B and my key wouldn’t work, so I thought I will do this in sequential order, bingo. B esc B worked and the door opened. What greeted me was a spiral staircase. So up I lugged just over 20 kgs of luggage up the small spiral staircase until I found the apartment. There was a sign on the door that told me it was the rental apartment. I inserted the key and turned the lock, turned the lock turned the lock and nothing happened. I knew I must have been at the right place, because the key fitted the lock, so I took a deep breath, took the key out, and inserted it again. It seemed I had double locked it previously and it then unlocked and opened. I breathed a sigh of relief and entered. It was a lovely apartment and I felt safe. I was tired, I knew there was a bath in the apartment, so all I could think about was having a bath and relaxing. Get undressed (too much info I know, but there’s a reason for stating that fact), run the bath, go to my suitcase to get my toiletries and discover no shampoo, no body wash. Fantastic! I knew exactly where they were, in the shower of the hotel I had checked out of this morning.

Total things left behind so far
1 blue teddy
1 bottle of Natio Spa Organics shampoo
1 tube of Natio Sap organics body wash (my favourite body wash)
1 usb memory stick

I hadn’t mentioned the memory stick before now as it was inconsequential in the scheme of things, but now that I’m mentioning other things left behind it seems relevant.

While at the universite, I was the only one that had a memory stick with them at the time of the infamous words to I am You are We are Australian being needed to be printed. One of my colleagues took the memory stick and got the words printed and I never saw the memory stick again. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but would miss it days later when I was having another mini crisis.

I couldn’t have a bath or shower with no shampoo or body wash as after the day I had had I just wanted to soak and relax. So put my clothes on again and head out. There was a body shop directly across the road from the main entrance to the apartment block. I headed there and the guy was in for a huge sales pitch. If I bought this and this and this I would get a discount of this. I didn’t want this and this and this, I just wanted shampoo and body wash. I couldn’t convince him that I would be fine and I could get any other body shop product at home because my daughter sold it. With new shampoo and body wash in hand (albeit a different brand) I headed back to the apartment, again making sure no one was around and headed back up the spiral staircase.

There was nothing at all in the apartment in the way of being edible or drinkable other than water. Thankfully I had a late lunch so knew I would survive without dinner, but I was really craving a cup of tea. I wasn’t going out again and decided that water would have to do until morning when I would go to the shops.

I turned on the tv just wanting to have some noise and everything was in French, every single 11 channels. I then found a music channel that became my best friend. The songs were the current songs I knew from home, the ads were in French, I could cope with this. So any time I was in the apartment for the next 4 days I would have music.

I had my bath, got in bed and was thankful that this day was now complete.

I got a text in the middle of the night. Friends and family still haven’t remembered I’m on a different time zone. Yeah my phone was on silent, and only on vibrate, but I still heard it. No I don’t want to turn it off in case I really am needed by a family member in crisis. Not sure what I can do from the other side of the world, but hey, logic sometimes goes out the window.

I slept.

Posted by Blue Teddy 11:08 Archived in France Tagged transportation Comments (0)

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