Saturday, 6 October 2012

A bientôt Paris!

They say time flies when you’re having fun, but that can be an understatement after a trip like the one I had. While there were ups and downs, the past four months have been the most exhilarating time in my life! I have learned a lot about the French culture, had the opportunity to live in a different country, continent and language, and travelled Europe alone. It has definitely been a growing experience for me.

I feel like my trip is ending too soon, but I know I'll return to Paris. Once I land in Vancouver I will start planning my next trip.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Mom and I take on Paris

For her 60th birthday, my Dad flew my Mom out to spend the last two weeks of my trip with me in Paris. It has been the best Mother-Daughter trip ever!

The first full day I took her for a bike tour around beautiful Paris and to a wine tasting. Now every French restaurant we go to, we know which wines are our favourites and which to avoid. Not to mention, we learned how to do a proper "dégustation" of the wine before we drink it!

Other than our trip to Gail and Francis’, we had two other day trips and spent the rest of the time in Paris.

We went to Mont Sainte Michel one day, which is a monastery from the 700s! It has the most interesting history as it was an abbey, prison and even a military fraction! It is a small island connected to the mainland by a man-made causeway - which is new and very contested. The views made the trip worth it as I spent half the time craning my neck to see out windows and around walls. We spent the day touring the Abbey, had a delicious lunch out on a terrace overlooking the water and country beyond, then made our way back to Paris.

The other day trip we took was to Reims in the region of Champagne. This one was one of the best days Mom and I had, including the slight bump at the end. We arrived in Reims for breakfast, and afterward made our way to the tourist building. First thing we did was a bus tour to see the town. Then we visited the Notre Dame Chapel there. It was in this chapel the Kings of France were crowned, which was astounding to be standing in front of. 

After the visit to the chapel, we went to a champagne tasting at La Gande Maison, Mumm! It was so great - how could anyone tell you otherwise?! You can’t go to Champagne without tasting some champagne am I right? We had a tour of the caves and then tried some Cordon Rouge Brut! It was the best I've tasted, so we just had to buy a bottle to bring home. 

Our day didn’t end here, however, as we were ready to do a bit of shopping before our dinner reservation and train home. Our dinner reservation was at seven to make sure we’d catch our train home and after more champagne we grabbed our goodies and arrived at the train station with planty of time to make the train. Only, apparently our train was leaving from a different station and we were stuck in Reims for another night. Hmm... What are we to do? Well find the nearest - and nicest - hotel to stay the night in! After all, who doesn't want an extra night in Champagne?! We caught the morning train the next day and still made it to the market in Paris for lunch!

Since being back in Paris we have been up to Montmartre, went inside Sacre Coeur - which Mom has loved - went to the Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysees, and did some shopping. It’s been the perfect last few days in Paris and I am very sorry to see it end.

It has been very hard to say goodbye to my little corner in Paris, but I know this isn't the end of my time in the city. I have fallen in love with all its quirks and sights, and I see myself returning in the very near future. After all, I have lots of friends to visit in France so why not?

A step back in time

Eighteen years ago my Mom took me on a trip to France. I was about four years old at the time and we were visiting good friends of ours from Montreal who had moved to Aix-en-Provence. Last week we went again to visit these friends now living two hours outside of Lyon, all of us 18 years older! 

We had three full days together and made those three days count! Mom arrived in Paris and two days later we were on the TGV heading to France's countryside. Rolling hills as far as the eye can see, small cottages and old houses dotting the scene with cows grazing everywhere – it was breathtaking. Gail and Francis, our friends, live in a beautiful home built in 1783 - if I remember correctly - that has been fixed up since, but has kept it’s charm and look of the pre-revolution time. It’s gorgeous!

The days were spent catching up on eighteen years of news, drinking fantastic wine, and touring the towns and chateaus nearby. Oh, I have not mentioned the food yet… Well, Gail is a fantastic cook and I did my very best to learn as much I could from her in such a short time – even got some recipes to bring home! 

The only thing that made the trip better was when my friends Julia - Gail and Francis’ daughter - and her boyfriend, Malcolm, arrived the second night. When they arrived Gail taught everyone how to make pasta and we all had the fun of working the dough, turning the pasta machine to flatten it and cutting it into long strands to be ready to cook. A pasta machine is definitely going on my Christmas list!

The last day Gail and Julia took Mom and I to a beautiful Chateau. We toured the whole palace and enjoyed hearing the scandalous story of the previous owners. Only France would have history describing a Countess who was a widow and yet later on, had six children! The Chateau was exquisite. completely over the top, and we made sure to take in both the prison and glacerie - where they make ice - which were also on the land. May I just say, the gardens at all the chateaus I have seen are unbelievable?!

This trip was one of the highlights of my four months here. After all, nothing can hold a candle to night spent with family and friends! And in the French country side no less ;)

Monday, 24 September 2012

Greek Myths and Turkish Delights

Ask me to navigate a foreign city in my second language, bien sur! Ask me to navigate a foreign city in a language that doesn’t even use the same alphabet?! Forget it!

I arrived in Athens for my weeklong cruise bright and early Sunday morning. After finding my way to the baggage claim and then out the door I showed my cab driver the address of my hotel and we were off!

Do you know anything about Greek drivers? If not, picture Italian drivers… but worse! I did make it to my hotel in one piece, thank God, and took my time to unload my stuff. I grabbed a map from the front lobby and circled everything I wanted to see on it. I was on the metro heading to the city centre by 11am.

It is quite a sight to be walking down the streets of a modern city and see ruins way above you from many thousands of years ago. It is a lifestyle I love ask I've been enjoying while in Europe. I explored the Plaka and a few other areas until realizing the time and making my way back to the hotel.

I met my roommate and after a bit of get-to-know-you chatter, we both realized we were travelling on our own and loved Greece already! There was about 26 of us in the group and maybe 15 people went out for the traditional dinner that night, which was delicious! The food was fantastic and there was even some traditional dancing – which I was forced to do by one of the men to join in. I can tell you now; I am no natural at the Zorbas dance!

The next morning, woken from an abrupt wake up call, Lexi - my new best friend and hotel roommate - and I wandered down to the hotel buffet for breakfast before getting on the ship.

The day was spent lounging by the pool on the cruise ship with our fellow travellers - all of whom seemed to be Australians - on our way to Mykonos. It was our first destination. Known for its windmills, Mykonos was extremely windy, and I could see why it was so famous for these! In tradition, the village was full of small winding streets with white washed buildings that all have blue accents. The idea was that you are supposed to get lost in the village - it's my kind of place! Historically it was set up this way so that if pirates arrived they would not be able to navigate the town and the people could escape. This was my favourite island of the whole cruise.

Now, it’s important to note, we were not the only Contiki group on the boat. There was another group and we spent our whole week all together. Majority Australians, these guys and girls knew how to have a good time! Given this, every night seemed to find us out at the ship club dancing the night away and enjoying the cocktails made by the ship's crew. We practiced the Zorbas dance but I am still no better on it. 

Every morning we were up early for tours. It was tough, but I was determined to not miss a thing! 

Day two we went to Turkey. We woke in Kusadasi, the port town very close to Greece and took a bus inland. On a bus with the other sleepy Contiki travellers and we headed for Saint Mary’s home and ancient Ephesus! If being surrounded by this place doesn’t wake you up, then I don’t know what will! It was magical. We walked through Saint Mary’s home and chapel, left wishes on the wishing wall, washed our hands in the fountain of health and made our way to ancient Ephesus where we walked among ruins from Cleopatra’s time! If you ask me the highlight of my trip, this was it! The rest of the afternoon was spent in Kusadasi, trying the authentic Turkish foods and back on the ship for our late afternoon in Patmos.

Lexi and I parted from the group in Patmos, to do some shopping before meeting everyone for cocktails and Greek beer at a local pub. It was the perfect end to a great day and start to a memorable night aboard ship!

The next day was spent on the island of Rhodes. A few of us took a bus to Lindos and saw the Acropolis there and explored the ancient city way above sea level before coming back to the ship. Back in Rhodes, we swam in the Aegean sea and lay on the beach. 

On day four we spent the morning on the ship followed by the afternoon and evening in Santorini. If you want to see Greece as all those pictures depict it, go to Santorini! It was beautiful. Eight years ago, they abolished the law stating all the accent colours against the white, had to be blue, so the colours on the houses are all different and range from dark pinks to bright greens. It was probably the most beautiful of all the islands we saw.

The next morning we were dropped back in Athens and the cruise was over. A group of us stayed in Athens two extra nights so I had a chance to hang out, sight see, and eat with my favourite Australians! We had fantastic meals, an unforgettable afternoon on the “happy train” - a hop on-hop off little train that chugs around Athens - and a tearful goodbye.

A few friends on this trip are visiting me in upcoming months, and I can hardly wait to see them! It’s amazing, but after just one week together, we felt like we knew each other for years. Can’t wait for our adventures to continue in Vancouver and, of course in Australia.

Let’s face it, I’ve already looked at flight prices ;)

Monday, 17 September 2012

Would you like some wine with that?

What do you get when two best friends take on the city of Paris? Late nights, days of sight seeing and too much wine! Or at least that sums up the week when my friend Rosie came to visit me in Paris. 

As soon as she arrived in Paris, we popped a bottle of champagne and made a plan of attack for her visit. Rosie had been to Paris before, so the ‘must dos’ when you come to Paris had already been taken care of allowing us to enjoy the city more slowly and for me to show her the local sides of Paris.

We shopped in the Latin Quarter, had a few picnics up at Sacre Coeur and along Canal St. Martin, shopped at the food markets, ate out at amazing restaurants and I even took her on my last bike tour! We went out with Mikayla a few times too, making the week that much better. The biggest disappointment of the trip was that the Hagen Das on the Champs Elysee only made virgin cocktails out of ice cream – a fact a coworker of mine had confused.

There was a small world moment on day two, which added another level of excitement to the trip…

Rosie and I were doing some research into a few restaurants for the upcoming week when she saw on Facebook a friend of hers from law school was in Paris! She wrote him to find out what he was doing here and it turned out he was here for the week! We met for a fantastic dinner in Montmartre. The four hour meal flew by without a minute of silence. We ended up making plans to go out for Rosie’s last night, and he met us for a night of dancing at Showcase!  

Showcase is located under Pont Alexandre III - the bridge - and the view of the seine is beautiful. It was a perfect way to end an awesome week and when it finally did get busy, did it ever fill up! With the party still going hard at 4am, Rosie, Cam and I decided it was time to head home. We hailed a cab and rehashed the events of the night the whole drive back.

I was very sad to see Rosie go the next day, but after a Parisian breakfast and some coffee we realized it would not be much longer until we saw each other again! You see, I only have 3 weeks left of this trip. September is quickly turning into the best month yet, but is unfortunately going way too fast!