Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Wot I did in my holidays - part 6 - the final you will be pleased to hear

My nine year old niece offered an opinion about tourism in France based on her visit last year. "The trouble with France" she advised us "Is that they speak French there"

She's so right. We pottered round Italy with no problems with our four words of Italian. So I've got schoolgirl french so we should be able to communicate, right? I do okay getting the train into town "Bonjour, deux Paris sil vous plait" "merci beaucoup". Then I find the next time I try it, and the next six times, that the French are having a joke at my expense. I have no expectation that I speak correct french, in fact I am sure it is appalling. I would guess that my grammer is equivilent to that of a toddler. It must be blatantly obvious to all native french speakers that I am groping for the correct phrase or word fairly regularly. So of course they go off into paragraphs of rapid fire french and roll their eyes when I look blankly back having understood about three words of the explanation. I gain a new sympathy for migrants at home trying to grasp Kiwiese (one of husbands workmates who speaks English as a second language once went to the doctor as he thought he had broken one of his "leg fingers" when he dropped something on it. An xray confirmed a broken toe). It somewhat offends me that where the Vatican museum can put signs on exhibits in four or five languages in the Louvre it is all in French and only french. Okay I can paraphrase that into English fairly reasonably for husband who picks up his regulation four words and sticks to them but what's so hard about another couple of languages? (Italian translations are delightful at times - I particularly liked the one in the hotel lift that began "Respectful guest, please do be visiting the bar").

Anyway - we find the hotel. Nice to have a decent sized bed again. This one is two singles pushed together so somewhat more spacious than the little room in Rome. There is room to park the suitcase too, the heater is on and it isn't half bad.

The Louvre is pretty amazing anyway. We do of course see the Mona Lisa though you have to sharpen your elbows to hold your own in crowds like that. Some of my favourites were the less notorious paintings though - standing back across the room you suddenly notice how amazing a painting is when viewed from a distance. So we worked our way down the hallways with an eye on the opposite wall.

We couldn't go to the top of the Eiffel tower due to high winds. I don't mind, the view was good anyway. Happily too we went early as when we came down a couple of hours later the queues to go up were stretched out for miles. We had another look after dark.

In Champes Elysees they were painting trees white for Christmas. So pretty. I am a bit worried about the passing pedestrians when the people applying the stuff are wearing respirator type masks and full protective suits though! And what about the poor trees?
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
So it was allright.... bits of it were even good. But it isn't too bad getting on the Eurostar to London.

It takes me 24 hours in London to realise that I am still formulating sentences in my head in French before I converse with anyone except husband. I get over it.

The shops are packed solid, and the underground is sardine like. We go do touristy things - The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, several museums (and surely there is a museum for everything in London - my favourite is the Britain at War one, though the stories of the evacuee children made me cry. Catch a Westend show - Guys and Dolls. I chose that as Patrick Swayze was in it, except he wasn't by the time we got there. Not to worry it was great anyway. It is darn chilly in London.Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Am sort of happy and sad when it is time to go home. If we had known how bad the flight was going to be we would have refused to get on it and stayed where we were. The Air New Zealand flight from hell, 4 and a half hours to get a glass of water! Food choices run out by the time they get to us, horrible smelling overcooked food that I couldn't bear the smell of anyway - and believe me I am not that fussy. At 7 am New Zealand time we are watching the second sunrise of the flight when a flight attendant demands extremely rudely that we shut the blind on the window. The reason - they are not serving breakfast for another three hours and they do not want everyone woken up.
Dear whoever you are:
1 Learn to ask politely
2 I paid for this trip in a tiny seat in this cramped tin can so I can be at the mercy of idiots like you for 24 hours. I will f'ing well watch the sunrise if I want to.
3. What the hell do you think you are doing serving BREAKFAST at 10am New Zealand time? (anyway reheated noodles have never been my idea of a reasonable breakfast, though your reheated eggs are only marginally better I would not have minded having a choice instead of having the noodles dumped in front of me with a "that's all that's left")
4 Will you all get over the obsession with the blinds FFS. I am tired of hearing the blinds must be up or must be down.

So we're home. We had a good time. The Visa bill looks rather large. Next time we'll fly with another airline.

Wot I did in my holidays - part 5

We arrive in Rome in the middle of a bus strike. We didn't want to use a bus anyway but it means taxis are at a premium. We escape an unauthorised taxi who said 80 Euros to our hotel and after half an hour wait get a genuine taxi who takes us there for 17 Euros (but we tipped him the rest of the 20 in gratitude for not being ripped off).

Discover we have the smallest hotel room in captivity. It has a three quarter size bed and about a foot of space round it. Have to keep the suitcase in the bathroom. They are also a little miserly about the heat and only turn the radiators on for an hour twice a day so it is a bit chilly. Still there is a wee balcony with a view of the street, and is only a two minute walk to the metro. We get them back by making sure we eat a heap of the free breakfast and pocket ham croissants and bits and pieces for lunch. Husband who has never been near a metro before isn't sure he wants to travel by that method but I persuade him and he is a convert.

Half of Rome appears to be hiding behind scaffolding and "under restoration" but it is all good, the weather is fine, the coffee at bars is cheap (avoiding sitting at the tables) and there is a heap of things to see. Too much history really. We see the touristy things - throw our coins in the Trevi Fountain, climb the Spanish Steps, see the Colossium, the Roman Forum and the Sistine Chapel (etc). Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Not being Catholic I never gave much thought to the wealth of the Catholic Church. The Vatican Museum and St Peter's is mind boggling, along with other churches round the place that casually have million dollar paintings on display with barely a railing to stop you touching them. We visit the Catacombs too and wander along the Via Appia, Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI remember the Via Appia from Latin lessons at school so think I need to see it. And probably worth the visit too. Along the way we visit Keats grave in the pretty little cemetery for foreigners of non Catholic faith. I have no more or no less time for Keats than any other of the poets of that era but it is peaceful sitting by his grave so we sit for an hour.

After five days of emersion in history we manage an interesting metro and bus ride and catch a plane to Paris.

Just venting - can we just take a moment here to reflect please!

Husbands brother saw fit to end his own life in the weekend. They found the body last night. Husband and brother weren't particularly close as brother has always had some issues and many of the things he has done over the years distanced him from many people. But still losing a sibling is tough, and sad.

His mother was within an hour of hearing the news asking for money for the funeral. My mother is extremely concerned that attending the funeral may interfere with my ability to cook the turkey for Christmas day.

Can we please have a moment to reflect on the man! I am not ready to discuss money (but I don't think so!) or turkeys right now, husband even less so.

Vent over.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Wot I did in my holidays - part 4

Seaside interlude over we head back to the Cotswolds and an explore of the area. Love Oxford, Stow on the Wold, Moreton on the Marsh, Stratford on Avon... as the inhabitant of a relatively newly settled country the age and history of these places bowls me over at times. We head out to dinner one night at a local pub where Sis and BIL went to lunch one Sunday to find they were dining with Paul McCartney (or perhaps more properly in the same restaurant as Paul). We get Paul's table this time. "where was he sitting?" I ask. "In your seat" Sis replies. Wonder what he ate - the sea bass was very good but he may have gone for one of the vegetarian options...

After a week of the Cotswolds we return the rental car and take ourselves to Gatwick for an Easyjet flight to Venice. Like getting on a bus (and a bit cheaper than a long bustrip too, as a comparison the off peak fare from London to the Cotswolds on the train is 20 pounds and Gatwick to Venice is 17 pounds.) Captain informs us as we take off that some people haven't turned up on time and that is their bad luck. Watch out for them on the TV programme. Actually the flights are so cheap and are non refundable so if you decided you didn't want to go you would just not show.

Arrive in Venice airport where we are promptly passed through Immigration and let out into Italy. Catch a waterbus to Piazzo San Marco and with extremely limited Italian (two words) get directions to our hotel and walk off trailing luggage. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Hotel is close to the Rialto Bridge tucked away down a narrow (one person wide narrow) sidestreet. The decor is perhaps a little dated but it is comfortable and charming. We dump the luggage and head out to explore Venice. And to fall in love with the place. Touristy yes but with a character all of it's own. I love narrow streets and unexpected squares, little bridges over canals with barges laden with beer and the drivers holding a glass of the product. I love the unexpected cafes with tables out on the street and we discover that to sit at those tables invites them to charge what they like for whatever you order - coffee at the bar is the cheapest, followed by inside tables, then sit outside and you may pay another five euros to hire that space so to speak. Love the street stalls with Murano glass, carnival masks and postcards. Gobsmacked by the ceiling in San Marco Basilica and the worn floor where centuries of feet have walked. We eat pizza of course in a little bar with extremely expensive drinks, we drink anyway. We learn a couple more words of Italian. The waiter tells us he is a rugby fan - "All Blacks, kamate, kamate." It is well past dark and we wander some more stopping for a last coffee about 11.30pm. The only danger appears to be the wandering rose seller who is determined we need a bunch.

In the morning we take a waterbus to another part of the city and explore some more. We take a gondola ride - highly expensive but you can't go to Venice and not ride in a gondola. Our gondola man does not sing but he whistles, and points out the items of interest.Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Having looked at most of the options I buy some Murano glass for Xmas presents (with the odd piece in there for us of course) Foolish move as I spend the next two weeks worrying about the glass in my suitcase (cocooned in my clothes as well as the packaging the shops put on it) but it was an unfounded fear, all survived. And I buy an Italian leather handbag of course....

Another dinner - this one by the Grand Canal - several more bars where we alternate between coffee and wine and another wander round the narrow little streets and it is time to go. In the morning we are booked on the train to Rome.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Wot I did in my holidays - part 3

Are you bored yet??? If not I'll show you the pictures - there are a couple of thousand (digital cameras are mighty fine things) so there should be something in there to interest you... Remind me later to get the slide show going for you :-).

After Edinburgh we headed up to Inverness (with a look at Stirling Castle on the way) and quite by accident we found one of those magical places. We had booked to stay in a house in Strathconan, about 25 miles out of Inverness. So we drove about 12 miles down a single lane road in the growing dark. At the end of our hesitant drive was a cottage, one of a group of four. It was too dark to see more than a general shape of the outside but inside was great with the fire going, cozy and with everything you could imagine you might need. We settled in for the night.

Got up in the morning and find there is a waterfall across the road. Wow what a view! And out the kitchen window is a meadow across to a river with a stag standing in the distance. It is stunning and I could stay here for ever. Instead we go and look at Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness. I saw the monster five times.... I'm sure I did. Then we check out Culloden Moor. Brr it is cold. Round the road from Culloden is Clava Cairns, ancient burial chambers. Amazing that something four thousand years old is still there. Back to the magical Strathconan, wishing we could stay another day or so. More deer on the road. Very nice 6 or 7 pointer at one point. Any hunter would be fairly pleased at getting that. Could have shot him from the car. Actually I did but only with the camera.

Back down through Glen Coe where the Campbell's slaughtered the McDonald's. Let that be a lesson to all tenants who pay their rent late! Anyway the McDonalds were cattle thieves and generally ruffians. Did I ever mention my maiden name was Campbell? No? Sordid little piece of history actually and Glen Coe is an eerie sort of place. Loch Lomand is pretty and had a good feed of real English (or maybe that is Scottish) fish and chips along the way.

To cut a tedious story a bit shorter we headed to Norfolk over several days where we stayed in an apartment above the stables in a stately home - Felbrigg Hall. Very cool. Recently fitted out apartment, lovely place surrounded by acres of parkland and gardens. Explored Norfolk. It was here that I discovered husband has no map reading skills at all - he got very perturbed when expected town didn't turn up where he expected. I found out he thought we were travelling in the opposite direction to the way we were actually going. Hmm - he can go back to driving and I will be navigator, otherwise we may end up back in Scotland.

Meandered along the south coast (parking very expensive in Brighton BTW) and to Cornwall where we stayed another couple of days in an old Schoolhouse. Another interesting place.

In the Eden Project we were somewhat interested to find they collect the rain water, filter it UV treat it and then (drum roll) use it to flush the toilets. So here is this water that is in far better condition than anything that might come out of the taps but they don't even use it to wash hands! UK seems quite backward to me in conservation matters, they are apparently lagging with recycling and supermarket goods appear over packaged to my eyes. The water collection and treatment to flush the toilets makes me laugh, we use rainwater with less treatment for everything at home (we do filter it before we drink it) I guess we do not have the air pollution problems they may have. I like the Eden Project. I like Cornwall, old mines, the Minarck theatre on the side of a cliff, art galleries and cornish pasties.

Wot I did in my holidays - part 2

Seem to have sorted the jet lag by the morning. Collected rental car and got a guided tour of Cheltenham with BIL. Sis has gone to work and nieces to school. We take a walk around the village in the afternoon. They've all been expecting us so it is a friendly occasion, though slightly disconcerting when total strangers come up to say "you must be J's sister". Must have been in the city too long...

The church (12th century)is open so we wander in to inspect it. Nice. The carving has worn off the older headstones they have been there so long.

The whole lot of us go to the pub for a curry and a pint in the evening. I admire the Grand National winner on the wall - he was trained in the village so they are proud of him. Nieces roll their eyes when told we have had their fathers Cheltenham tour. "I bet you saw the house Dad had in...." Yes I think we did (but we liked it - it was our first tour of Cheltenham). When we go home B from the local guesthouse rings up and offers to take us out to see her horse train in the morning. Yes please! She rings back five minutes later to say she has cleared it with the head lad at the stables and all is fine.

Out in the misty dawn at the training gallops. We hear about B's horse, he's only a youngster, ran once on the flat and won, ran once over hurdles and was leading but faded at the end, they found later he was injured. Then the horses come down. It is like something out of a Dick Francis book, stable lads chatting and call good morning to us as they walk their horses down to the end of the sand track and come back at a half speed gallop. They appear out of the mist in ones and twos and thunder past us. B's horse is looking in great condition, they are planning on running him late the next week and he looks as though he will be ready. Behind me a horse in a paddock comes up and starts windsucking on the fence. I turn round and tell him to stop that, he gives me a startled look and thinks about it before grabbing the fence again. "He's not sure about your accent" B says.

We pack the car up and head off about lunch time, giving the girls their room back for a few weeks. Rental car is a gutless wonder. I am not too happy about the sticker the company have slapped on it proclaiming it is their rental as I am sure it must increase the chance of it being broken into. However it is probably better that people realise that we wouldn't actually own this pathetic excuse for a motor vehicle ourselves as it would be embarrassing to admit our taste in cars was so bad. It appears economical which is good given the price of petrol in the UK.

We get as far as the Lake District before stopping for the night.

Have a quick explore of the Lake District in the morning. Frosty morning but clear skies as you would expect. I used to love the Arthur Ransome books when I was a kid so Coniston Water where many of them were set is on the agenda. Saw a stone circle too. Autumn colours in full force and the area is beautiful.

Headed on to Edinburgh and eventually found our apartment. The actual location was very straight forward. Go down the road, turn left and it is in a street on the right. Looked dead simple on the map. Except the town is full of one way streets, bus lanes and no left turns. We drive round in circles for half an hour. Eventually we get there but it is a mission. Funny little apartment on the first floor of a building. Initial inspection shows a kitchen living room, a bedroom and a toilet with a handbasin. Where's the shower!!!! I'm prepared to get irritated until we find it - in the wardrobe. Interesting. Okay I can live with that.

Spent the next day doing Edinburgh Castle, walking down the Royal Mile admiring the wonderfully tacky souvenirs and the wonderfully expensive kilt shops, having an extremely expensive lunch, checking out a couple of museums and Hollyroodhouse where the Queen stays when in Edinburgh. Wonder if the Queen ever wishes for a nice hotel room, it is a cold and drafty place, even with the heaters going. Quite pretty though. Worked out later we walked about eight miles.

Wot I did in my holidays - part 1

Okay so some time ago, (so much has happened in between that I have to refer to my diary to remember what happened) we went to Auckland and got on a big plane. One medium sized book, a viewing of Finding Nemo and a snooze and we arrived in Hong Kong where the sun was rising. That - and a view from the plane - was all we saw of Hong Kong but the departure lounge was okay (if you like that sort of thing) as two hours later we got back on the plane and being blessed with a blissful lack of many other passengers had a row of seats each to stretch out on and stewards and stewardesses on demand to deliver hot and cold drinks and small snacks as requested. Another movie (The Worlds Fastest Indian) some crappy airline food and another sleep and we touched down at Heathrow.

I am told that the queues for non EU passport holders at Heathrow are horrendous and you get the third degree about the possibility you might be intending to work. But when we got there there was no one in the queue. Immigration man had a short chat to me about my occupation, commented that my boss was very nice to me giving me such a long holiday and slapped a stamp on my passport. He didn't think husbands occupation even worth discussing and stamped his too (though we were advised later that there is quite a shortage of tradesmen of husbands profession so perhaps they didn't mind if he worked). So we strolled through the nothing to declare lane and there we were in England. We had in fact disembarked and completed the formalities so fast that there was no one there to meet us. So we went and got a coffee. And discovered a language barrier - "long black" means nothing to coffee shop staff. After some debate about precisely what I wanted I was told I wanted an Americano. Okay so give me one....

Half an hour later spotted sister and brother in law standing at the arrivals entrance scanning the crowds coming through. Snuck up behind them and scared the hell out of them. Ha!

We piled our luggage in the car and set off with brother in law and sister to the village they reside in (for part of the year) in the Cotswolds. Along the way we catch up with gossip from both sides of the world and have landmarks pointed out to us. I am a little perturbed at the speed brother in law travels in tiny little lanes but avert my eyes - he's lived round here for most of his life (apart from the time he's spent in New Zealand which isn't inconsiderable) so he must know what he is doing. Love the dry stone walls.

BIL and Sis inhabit a delightful 16th century Cotswold stone cottage in a village with three hundred inhabitants, two pubs, a bakery and a post office. It is gorgeous. We are given a welcoming reception from my nieces which is very generous of them since they have been relegated to airbeds in the tiny little study for the duration of our stay.

Gossiped, ate, drank a bottle or two of wine and fell asleep.