Monday, July 24, 2006

Returning to the motherland....

So much has happened in the last few weeks it’s hard to know where to start….

Leaving Nice was a little sad as I had intended to spend 3 nights there but ended up spending a whole week. It was so nice (get it?) to be able to relax on a beach again and just have a slower pace of life with no pressure to see all of the sites in 3 days!!

I had met so many people on the Busabout loop that told me that Lauterbrunnen was their favorite place...
I found this hard to believe given all of the other amazing places I had seen and also thought that because I would always choose beach over snow perhaps this feeling of favoritism wouldn’t ring true for me. How wrong I could be. Lauterbrunnen was the most visually stunning place I have visited since leaving Australia . Driving into the valley comprising of no less than 72 waterfalls was only marred by the vision of 6 Contiki coaches parked at our campsite.

It was a nice change to get off the bus and not be met with a wave of heat and smog comparable to running across the Anzac Bridge during peak hour traffic. We were met by Helga (or something similar) who told us ze rules of ze cambsite. Departing the bus also signaled the meeting of perhaps my best matched partner in crime (other than Kate of course), Clare Safstrong. Clare is an Aussie who has been living in London for a year or so and we spent the most hilarious night together. We went to the Oberlander for rostis, traditional Swiss potato dishes, only to be met by an Aussie larrikin running the restaurant who continually asked us if we wanted to order knuckle sandwiches (Dan I had visions of you in 30 years time). After swapping travel stories that were strangely similar we returned to the campsite to brave the Bombshelter.

Recipe for a Bombshelter:
Take a room the size of a portaloo
Pump with smoke
Add 300 Contiki passengers and a sprinkling of interested onlookers
Pour in copious amounts of highly fermented fruit juice
To the sound of Brittney Spears, Ja Rule and Men at Work expel air through kneading
Take small handfuls, consisting of 2 to 3 Contiki passengers, and roll into a small ball
Top with a spattering of tears from the princess without a pash
Place on camping mat for 2 to 4 minutes and watch for results

Enough said…. Clare and I were in hysterics and after purchasing one highly over priced sparkling wine and decided that it was funnier to remain sober and start a book on the series of events. I have never seen anything like it and as you will all appreciate, this is some feat given my introduction into the 18+ world at Club Troppo. Sadly, Clare was only spending one night in Lauterbrunnen but I am sure we will meet again for more frivolity.

Lauterbrunnen also saw the return of Lauren Croft.
Rising after the hilarity of the Bombshelter was literally breathtaking. I stood outside my cabin just staring at my surroundings. The Alps are indescribable and certainly bring to reality how flat Australia is. I went for a walk up behind a nearby waterfall before going whitewater-rafting!! I was a little apprehensive about the rafting given it was on a river with grade 5 rapids (highest being a deathly 6) but kept telling myself that if I could skydive, canyon and survive 3 years sitting next to Matt Chapman it was likely I could survive anything. As soon I was in the river I calmed down. The water was icy but incredibly clear. IU had so much fun! Despite my shoulders locking up I came out unscathed which is more than could be said for some of the nights out in Nice. At the swimming in the lake at Interlaken was one of the highlights. It was the first time I had ever swum in fresh water and it was the strangest feeling.

Mountain biking the next day was also incredible. I rode for about 3 hours (regular photo stops) through a track along the river from Lauterbrunnen to Interlaken with a couple I had met from Turramurra. After lunch we rode around Interlaken and I thought Id be really tricky and jump up a gutter only to pop a tyre!!! Thank goodness we were close to the train station so I could jump on the train rather than hike back with a flat!

Annecy take 2…..
Was completely different but equally as good as take 1. Last time I had visited Jess Brennan in Annecy it had snowed the week prior and we spent a whole day playing in the snow at Chamonix . This time it was hot, sunny and involved swimming in the lake. I had a fantastic time walking around until it got dark at 10.30. Hanging out with the kids Jess looks after and taking Vanille the dog for a walk. Saying goodbye to Jess after another week together was really difficult. We have such a great friendship now and it is horrible not knowing the next time we’ll see each other.

If I had any apprehension returning to France on my leg from Italy it was numerously multiplied upon my return to Paris …..
I had to spend one night in Paris (ha ha) on my way back to London and was not looking forward to it. After finding my room which had 3 single beds pushed together to allow entry into the cupboard space that it may have well been I luckily ran into Erika one of my favorite people from Busabout. She invited me to dinner with her and some others that she had met and we ended up at Eds, a close by bar. I felt safest OFF the streets of Paris and thought only a dose of karaoke will render my impression of Paris more positive than last time…next thing I knew I was on the stage belting out Mr Jones. So there you go Paris , present me with a bad time and see what you get as payback!!!!!

Reunions are oft not what they are built up to be…..
I constantly hear of horror stories of people reuniting with ex-partners, 10 year school reunions where you find out you are still the nerdy kid or even reuniting with study after a hefty break. The one I had with Sarah Treliving upon my return to London should really restore faith for all of those who look upon reunion with negativity. Seeing her at Victoria Station was amazing. We spent the next 3 days catching up on what had happened since I had left Australia and she returned to London . I met her fantastic friends (except for Karen who was a complete cow – Tree make sure you forward this onto her), drank plenty of red wine and was stuffed silly by her parents who were the sweetest hosts I could ask for. We met up with Duncan for lunch at Canary wharf which was even more mind blowing. It was so surreal to have made these 2 fantastic English friends in Australia and to now be in their home country with them! Although I haven’t really spent enough time in London to comment with authority it seems some things don’t change. As we sat down for lunch the wind started up, this was the first time I had required jeans, closed shoes and a jacket in the last 2 months and I was relieved that I had the foresight to think ahead. As our food was brought out my salad was picked up by the wind and deposited all over Sarah, just in time for her job interview later that day. Shortly after the waiter laughed it off without offering a replacement salad it started to rain….. Sarah and Duncan looked unfazed. I looked at them confused as to why they had returned home.

One of the best friends I have made while traveling is Matty Joyce.
Matt is one of those people that you meet and can’t help but fall in love with. I am sure that no mater whose life he enters he leaves his mark which is smile on said persons face. Matt is from Urunga near Coffs Harbour and has been working for Busabout for 2 years or so. Upon hearing my sob story about Paris he was determined that I shouldn’t leave Europe without rectifying the impression that I had built of the ghastly city and as such arranged to meet me in Paris for a guided tour. It pains me to say but I now fall into the cliché of believing that Paris truly is a beautiful city.

When I arrived in Paris I decided to climb the Eiffel tower which was pretty cool. It gives an awesome perspective of just how big the city is. That evening a group of us took some wine up to the Sacre Cour (the only hill in Paris ) and sat watching the city sparkle as we listened to those around us chatter and play music. Seeing the city at night, even from a distance was the start of my change in attitude. The next day was incredibly hot and not at all conducive to sightseeing so I hung out in the best room in Paris . I had managed to score a room with 3 balconies a view of the Sacre Coeur and Eiffel Tower for 30 euro a night. As the day cooled Matt, myself and some others from the hostel made our way to the Eiffel Tower to meet a group for a night bike ride. It was great to share the city with other people and hear all of their impressions of the sites etc. I am completely convinced that big cities should only be seen in company. Seeing the sun set through the glass pyramid of the Louvre was definitely a highlight.

The Loz you all know came out…
after a cruise along the Seine and a few local reds when we jumped back on our bikes to head back to the Eiffel Tower . Feeling a little tipsy not only made the bike ride more fun but also brought to light the dangers of drink driving. As I pumped my legs to keep up to the group I saw a pole fast approaching. Despite it being 10 metres away I knew I wouldn’t be able to swerve to miss in time and ran straight into it. This would have been fine given I didn’t fall over but as Matt was in hysterics I burst out laughing and proceeded to fall off my bike. I looked up to see a group of German students giggling behind their hands. As I tried to disentangle myself from the bike, I picked the handle bars up back to front which meant to bike wouldn’t lift and I fell back on the ground. I was unable to stop laughing and when I noticed the German students were in the same state and actually pointing at me I thought ‘OK get yourself under control’ only to wonder ‘if I didn’t hit my head why are all of those lights in my eyes’. The answer would be that the German students had started to take photos of me!!!!! Matt was almost falling off his bike by this stage and all I could do was stand up, bow and run to catch up with the group. This would have to be my stack of the trip.

My last day in Paris coincided with Bastille Day, which was part of the reason I had returned. I figured that if I was to rectify the bad impression I had of Paris what better day to do it than their national day of pride. I wasn’t disappointed. Partly due to the luck I had with my room I had the most incredible view of the fireworks and the sparkling Eiffel Tower . The city was absolutely pumping with people everywhere. By the end of my time here Paris has changed from a dirty, unfriendly destination to a sparkling city that has affirmed one of my best ever friendships.

After a short few days in London ….
catching up with Tree, Dunc , Mo and Brett I have now made my way to Malta . It is stifling hot here and I am about to go to the beach before heading to a party where Bob Sinclair is playing tonight.

I am missing you all lots and hope to hear from you soon. I will have a new Maltese phone number shortly and will send it as soon as it is confirmed.

Take care

Xx Loz

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Ciao Bella.... Bonjour Mademoiselle

Hello Everyone!!

The French Riviera certainly lived up to any romantic expectations I had of Cannes, in the south as opposed to Caen, in the north. Despite ending up in Slovenia rather than Italy on one leg of Busabout - apparently due to the incorrect coordinates that head office had conspiratorially wired through to the GPS system (which I later found out was nonexistent) - this time my efforts to reach the South of France could not go too wrong, or if they did were at least out of my control.

There was a moment of sadness as we cruised out of Italy. I, by this stage had spent over a month in the gorgeous country and it now holds some very special memories for me. I must also admit that thought of returning to France was less than high on my agenda and crossing the border did coincide with a wave of nausea as I remembered the defecation, arrogance and nasty bus drivers that I had encountered 3 months previous. To my great relief the only nausea that I felt after this initial wave was due wholeheartedly to excessive consumption of champagne at ladies night at Wayne’s (authentically French, I know).

Hotel Anderes seemed to be run by a group of dodgy Frenchmen……
When I walked into the 2 star hotel (it was a hotel not to be confused with a hostel) I ran into Rose who luckily warned me of the state of the rooms. When I made my way to the fifth floor carrying a backpack weighing a third of me all I wanted was an air-conditioned room. I burst through the door to be greeted by a musty smell, about 3 square centimetres of floor space and 4 bunk beds. After this initial shock I had a shower and met Rose and Ian (the other members of the Cinque Terre A-Team) for dinner. It was the 21st June when I arrived which happened to be Fete de la Musique. This is a national day of music in France where street performers, bands and attention seekers hit the streets and perform for hours on end. In the old town of Nice one couldn’t walk 100 metres without being struck with music from a different band or encountering acrobats doing back flips, people drinking and attempting to imitate the acrobats or people drinking and imitating the bands (I fell, literally into all 3 categories).
After a few hours of wandering around and checking out the sites we settled at Wayne’s where a stage had been set up on the street and bands of different nationalities played varying sets. I had such a great time particularly after I cottoned onto the fact that the neighbouring kebab shop was selling beer for one sixth of the price that Wayne’s was and if I was subtle enough I was able to buy the cheap stuff and pour it into my glass under the table – you can take the girl out of the coast but not the coast out of the girl I hear you say. Nathan, Greg and Chris, three friends from Busabout met Monika, a Canadian friend I made, and I at Wayne’s where we subsequently took to dancing on the tables and having an all round great night. It was such a lift to hear live music again. I didn’t realise how much I had missed it. I had a fantastic night, in my top 3 overseas. When the rest of us decided to head home Chris took off on a scooter with some locals and woke up at 8am the next morning on a rock in Monaco – enough said.

Most of the friends I had made in Cinque Terre moved on the next day…..
So I explored Nice by myself. Nice was quite cosmopolitan and although it is not the prettiest of cities it was much more friendly than my previous experience of France had been. I lay on the beach, well small boulders really, nursing my Fete de la Musique hangover and struggling into the water to swim every 15 minutes or so. It was so difficult to hobble in and out of the water that I thought it would be a god idea to wear my thongs in. Low and behold I suffered a blow out that would lead to a multitude of problems later in the day. I have been trying to adopt the local habits of the country that I’m in. In Malta, I ate, drank and spoke excessively. In Rome I ate nothing but Pizza and drank nothing but red wine. So in the South of France I sun baked all day, had a siesta then partied all night. After my siesta on this particular day 7 of us headed to the local chicken shop and had a feast of roast chicken and veggies. This, I must say was a surprise and delight for my pizza, pasta and ham sandwiched conditioned stomach. After dinner and a few bottles of champagne with Kirra from Melbourne and Lauren and Sarah from Canberra we trotted off to Wayne’s proudly displaying Aussie flag tattoos, to watch Australia play Croatia in the soccer. After my first €6 beer I realised it was ladies night, paid €2 and was presented with a classy plastic cup that would not be empty of sweet, gold, bubbly and most importantly alcoholic liquid for the remainder of the night. Needless to say there was more dancing on the tables.

The thong blow out from earlier in the day soon came into contention with my swiftly moving feet. During the night I had no less than three near misses to falling from the table due to further blow outs. The worst however, was imminent. At 2.50am, in a state of panic we realised that we were at least a half hour walk from the hostel which had a lock out from 3-6am. As I was wearing black tights and a black singlet I already had the lets get physical vibe and started running back to the hostel, really, there were no alternatives as cabs were nowhere to be seen. Anyone who has visited Nice in the last 2 years will appreciate that the entire main street is a mess due to construction of light rail this combined with the thong blow out was a recipe for disaster. As I set the pace for my team of partiers I sprinted along, saw a piece of wood that resembled a skate ramp and tried to slide down it sideways. Now if the makeshift ramp had not been covered in dew I would have pulled off an impressive move. Unfortunately for me, my feet slid out from under me and I was left with a scratch and bruise to reckon with the one I had endured from the roller skating incident at Kate’s 80’s party – I have photographic evidence. I bounced back to my feet undeterred, only to find myself on all fours100 meters down the road when I had yet another blow out and stacked it fair on the main road. 2 grazed knees (one now infected), a grazed wrist, swollen previously sprained ankle, grazed right foot, grazed left toes, cut and bruised back later I made it to the hostel just as the doors were closing and sweetly smiled my way in. I’m thinking of sending this story to Havaianas and requesting a free pair many of the above injuries would not have been sustained had the thongs been of my sturdy a construction.

The best thing about the South of France was not necessarily Nice (ha ha)….
It was the proximity of Nice to some of the most beautiful beaches I have seen in Europe. After 3 days in Nice I met Jess Brennan at Antibes for 2 nights. It was fantastic to see a friend and be able to chat with someone so normally – no questions about how long you’re travelling, what you do back home etc etc. Jess & I spent 1 day together in Antibes and one in Monaco.
Antibes had a lot of character. It has both a new and old part of town. It is much smaller than Nice which gave me a chance to speak to quite a few locals . Most of the people living in Antibes are transient, as they work on the mega-yachts docked in Antibes. On our second night Jess, myself and a friend Matt from Busabout went and watched the sunset with a few bottles of wine before heading to a Spanish bar. The bar itself had a great atmosphere but we decided it was a night for double dares. Had anyone wanted to test the affects of alcohol on 3 excitable young people this was the night. After Matt hit on a guy, then himself in a mirror, Jess crawled (but refused to bark) from the front door to the bar. Obviously the other two had under active imaginations as I was only dared to baby talk to a dog (WHAT were they thinking? I do that anyway) then walk up to a group of French people, smash a cup of ice and start the conversation with “now that the ice is broken”…. Obviously neither of them are completely familiar with my penchant for Dad jokes.

Monaco is gorgeous and I fell in love with it as soon as I left the train. It is incredibly clean and well kept which isn’t surprising given that to live there you must submit a €1,000,000 deposit and application and be prepared to lose this deposit if you are rejected. This rule isn’t taken lightly. Madonna’s application was rejected!!!!! The beach at Monaco is stunning. A man drives around all day on a jet ski with a net to catch any floating rubbish or seaweed so the water is constantly crystal clear. The beach is covered in the tiniest pebbles which are as comfortable as sand but nowhere near as annoying as you are not, for days following, shaking sand from all possessions taken to the beach.
Villefranche was a smaller village between Monaco and Nice that I loved. The town itself reminded me of Riomaggiore in Cinque Terre, it was still the old town painted in vivid colours but contained some fantastic shops obviously catering for the elite. The beach was quite long and sandy and had a break wall covered in brilliant purple flowers that both smelt and looked amazing. After my day here I returned to a very busy Nice as France won when they played Spain in the soccer. There were people everywhere and the atmosphere was fantastic if not a tad noisy!!!

So unfortunately my time in the South of France had to come to an end. I boarded the bus for Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland on Friday and headed away from the coast but towards the Swiss alps.

Stayed tuned for the next instalment…… there are also some personal messages below….

xx Loz

Saturday, July 1, 2006

Leather goods and leathery looks :)

Bonjour my dear friends......

Well I have now made may way from the South of Italy to the South of France and have a tan to rival Paris Hilton's fake one (but mine is real and achieved through periodic application of sunscreen).

After Rome and travelling with my partners in crime, Giddo and Spitty, I needed to sit the next few plays out.....
Siena was the perfect place to do this, as there is not a great deal to do there. Siena is in the region of Tuscany and lived up to the stereotypical image of the area. It was set in a very hilly area full of vineyards (yes Darcy, wine farms) and small towns that pop up out of nowhere. As the goal of my 2 nights here was to take it easy this is exactly what I did. On the first day I walked around Siena which had some fantastic shopping and also tasted the best gelatti that I had in Italy. Day 2 comprised of a day trip to San Giginamo a smaller fortressed town about 1 hour from Siena. It had amazing views of the region and was full of local people as opposed to tourists. All in all the stay at Siena was very relaxing but providing of very few stories given the sobriety of oneself.

Florence was a whole new kettle of fish as I made new friends!!!!
When we arrived at the camping ground in Florence I realised that I had booked the wrong accommodation and as such had to deal with a surly Italian mama who didn't want a bar of giving me the Busabout discount to which I was entitled. After giving her the sob story of losing €30 to the previous accommodation I had stayed at (this is true) and by dropping a few Italian words that I knew from Malta, she gave in and gave me a room to myself plus the discount - thanks Lionel for teaching me those negotiating skills!!

After relaxing and having an afternoon beer with Shrek and Donkey (driver & guide Matt) as well as the Kiwi spitting image of Hugh Jackman, Aaron I was ready for a night of karaoke!!!!! We all headed into Florence for an orientation tour that took in the main sites and basically showed us our way around the city then onto dinner with most people from Busabout. By this stage I'd made quite a few new friends so was in my element to get back behind the microphone. Matt, the guide thought I was all talk - obviously not familiar with the "Loz I dare you to (fill in any activity that may result in me injuring or embarrassing myself) phenomena...." which led me to wanting to prove him wrong waaaaaay too early in the night. I jumped up to sing Livin' on a Prayer only to find that this karaoke guy didn't have it. Yes Al, an absolute travesty. I decided to settle for a Land Down Under duet with another girl from the bus only to put poor Tiff and Mish to shame when I forgot most of the words. I somewhat redeemed myself with Eye of the Tiger thanks to the previous few months rehearsal with The Bollocks (Josh, you would have gone down again) and expert shadow boxing training from Kate & Todd (unfortunately sans Converse sneakers).

The next day was spent with Ian Murray, old ad exec from Melbourne. We spent most of the day trying to find a wine tasting place that had been recommended to both of us but just managed to get lost. Our frustration was only heightened by the fact that summer had well and truly set in and we were in dire need of some rehydration. We gave up looking and settled on a local wine bar in the suburbs outside of Florence. It was actually a blessing in disguise to get out of the hustle and bustle and to be surrounded by locals rather than tourists. Ian is a great guy and it was a refreshing change top have a normal conversation as opposed to the somewhat teenage dialogue that Ive been experiencing of late.

Friday saw me take off by myself into Florence where I simply wandered around for hours. My eye was caught by a stall selling leather jackets and although I had no intention of purchasing one I made my way over to take a look. After chatting with the stall owner for a bit he took me back to his shop and showed me a jacket that I fell in love with. It was marked €385 which is approximately 2 weeks food and accommodation. He instantly said I could have a 50% discount but I said I needed to think about it. On my way out he asked me to join him for a coffee and I thought - "Why not, this can only assist in the process of negotiation". Half an hour later I had him down to €150. This still wasn't good enough so I said goodbye and in the meantime received very drunken phone calls from Dan and Guy, both of whom slurring told me that I absolutely should buy the jacket and I may never be in Florence to do so again. So I decided that could I get him down to €100 I'd buy it. Half an hour later the poor guy was being admonished by his boss and I was walking out of the store with a gorgeous leather jacket!!!

Cinque Terre was the next stop and I had only heard good things about it....
If you haven't heard of it, the Cinque Terre consists of 5 small villages built into the side of cliffs along the northern Italian coast. It is absolutely stunning. All of the houses are really brightly coloured and literally built on the cliff face. I spent the first day with Ian and Rose (a lady I met from the Sunshine Coast). We took a ferry from Riomaggiore (town 5) to Monterosso (town 1). After exploring for some time we returned to Manarola (town 4) and walked back to Riomaggiore. Italy were playing.... actually I can even remember who in the soccer so the atmosphere around town was fantastic. Despite planning to do the 6 hour walk town to town the next day Ian, Rose and I enjoyed quite a few drinks before dispersing and finding our own groups of locals to chat to. I had such a great time as everyone was so happy that Italy had won the game!

Despite knowing that there was a world of pain ahead of me I rose at 8.30am to meet Ian and Rose to do the Cinque Terre `walk'. I am now more acutely aware that this so called walk, is actually quite an intense hike, and unbeknowns to any of us we were about to become the 3 billy goats gruff. We smashed the first 4 towns with ease, in around 3.5 hours and henceforth were known as the A-Team. It was here, perhaps due to the sudden bout of confidence that all party members possessed, that things started to fall apart. As you may remember I had sprained my ankle in Rome so by this stage it was once again, beginning to resemble a coconut however I insisted on pressing on so I could say that I had walked all 5 towns. We checked a map and came to the conclusion that as long as we didn't take route 8 or 8b we would be at the last town in 1.5hrs. After 2.5hrs of hiking uphill and sweating like a Kraft cheese sandwich in a 6 year old's lunch box, not seeing anyone else and having swallowed around 10 bugs we came to the conclusion that we were on the wrong track. To our alarm the first sign we saw said none other than the dreaded route 8. This was 2.5hrs into the trek and we finally ran into some serious hikers who informed us that we were at least 2.5hrs from out intended destination. By this stage I was imagining myself dying. I had visions of passing out and rolling down the side of a cliff never to be seen again. So the A-Team decided to turn around and we made it back down the track in half an hour. I hope this is an indication as to how steep the hike up was. Needless to say I was no longer up to trekking the correct track to the final town so returned to bed for a much required nap.

I have so many more stories to share about the South of France where I am now that they deserve their own email....

Thank you to everyone who has been writing to me. It really helps when I have a few days alone and the homesickness kicks in. I miss you all very much and love hearing from you. So wait with baited breath for the next installation that will cover Pisa and the South of France.

All my love