With just 2 nights in Paris (and barely 3 days), we knew we would be unable to even brush the surface of all this magnificent city has to offer. We knew it would be impossible to do all that we wanted and that compromises would have to be made.
What we did not expect was to leave Paris having only visited ONE of our intended destinations. We did get to see a LOT of the Paris sites from the outside, but queues, closed days and even industrial action were barriers we had not anticipated.
We did not manage to get inside even one of the galleries we had wanted to visit, and given we had a list of at least three, we couldn't help but be disappointed. We made mistakes (which is clearer in hindsight of course) and a few of our decisions then had a domino effect, meaning we missed out on other options also.
But, let me assure you we still had a wonderful time. The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, The Musée D'Orsay, The Louvre, The Arc De Triomphe... we saw them all, if only from the outside. Thankfully they are all pretty amazing even on the outside, though of course it would have been nice to take a wander inside too! Que Sera, Sera. We were in PARIS!
We stayed in the Latin Quarter, within walking distance to the Musée du Luxembourg, a short bus trip into The Louvre and close to other attractions. Right next door to our hotel was an amazing patisserie and boulangerie. OMG. The camembert baguette we shared and the amaaaazing chocolate eclair alone were worth the trip across the English channel!!! Seriously, my mouth is just watering thinking about it!
So, you may ask, you didn't get to visit any of these attractions, what DID you see?
Well, we did (on the second attempt) manage to visit the Catacombs. It had been highly recommended, and we were determined to see it. We arrived on our second day, around 2:30 in the afternoon, to be met at the end of a lengthy queue, by a security officer who informed us that from that spot it would take us at least two hours to get in, and that they did not allow entry after 4pm. We were already too late.
We wandered away, disappointed at the latter end of a day of disappointments, and found a seat in a street side cafe and ordered hot chocolates (mouth is watering again!!!). It was nice to sit down and take a break.
We watched the world go by and enjoyed the (stumbling) banter with the (very patient) waiter. We sat and watched as the skies darkened and the wind changed direction. Clouds gathered as distant thunder approached. And as the wind picked up and the thunder grew louder, the skies opened. It was torrential. It was unforgiving, and it was landing right on top of the queue of people waiting at The Catacombs. From our sheltered position, we thanked our stars that we were not with them, sipped our drinks whilst savouring our good fortune!
We decided to return the next day, before our trip back to London, determined to see at least something on our 'must see' list. The next morning we arrived to find the queue was already long, though not too long to break our determination. As we were told it would take about 45 minutes to reach the entrance, and the skies were clear, we were committed. TWO hours later we finally started our descent into the Catacombs of Paris.
The tunnels hold the remains of about 6 million people (removed from the centuries old Cemetery of the Innocents), which now line 1.5kms of old tunnels and mines of Paris. It opened in the late 18th century as a tourist attraction and is an incredible place to visit. I highly recommend it, as long as you aren't too squeamish or claustrophobic. And that you can manage the narrow spiral staircases that lead in and out at each end.
As for the sites we missed, who knows, we may, (one day) return... I could be convinced based on the hot chocolate and incredible chocolate eclairs alone.
Funnily enough, I traveled all that way hoping to surprise Her Maj with my unexpected visit, and she was thinking exactly the same thing about me. Turns out, she was dropping by my place in Melbourne at the precise moment I was hoping on sharing a couple of scones and pot of tea with her at the palace!
Funny how things happen like that sometimes! I really must plan it a little more carefully next time! We are both busy people afterall...
So, let me give you a hint about traveling and technology...
Overnight is the perfect time to recharge your batteries (both physically and technologically), but be warned... when you recharge your camera overnight and get up early, specifically to beat the crowds and the long long queues, make sure BEFORE you depart for the day, you collect the battery from the said charger and put it in your camera.
Don't wait until you get to your destination to realise the battery is still attached to the powerpoint back in your hotel room.
Afterall, a camera without a battery is kinda useless! Trust me, I know.
Thankfully my iphone came to the rescue and through the magic of instagram, the photos still look pretty amazing.
Barcelona is an incredible city with so much to see and do. For us, the highlights were without doubt all of the fabulous Gaudi architecture and the Picasso Museum.
Gaudi's architecture was bold, creative, innovative, artistic, prolific and beautiful. The scale and nature of his work was astounding and even the smallest of details were way beyond what I had imagined. That he was given the opportunity from early in his career to build and create such amazing buildings (mostly through his patron Eusebi Guell) was incredible and many of the buildings are now open as museums for the public to visit.
This is a great city to visit. Many of the sites of interest are in the central district and within easy walking distance of Las Ramblas. And if you want to venture further out, or you are not wanting to walk, the metro system is amazing - clean, prompt and clearly displayed, it's easy to navigate, even as a non Spanish speaker.
Barcelona is Gaudi central. But it also home to the incredible Picasso Museum, with an amazing collection of Picasso's works from his earliest years through to the end of his remarkable career. Make it high on the list. You won't be disappointed. His work from his teenaged years is truly awesome.
Here are some pics of some the wonderful places we were lucky enough to visit.
I am a collector. And love to be surrounded by my things. To have them displayed beautifully and be able to see them every day.
I like to have them within reach. To pick them up and feel their weight. Stroke the smooth surfaces, and the rough, the cool and the soft. I like to turn the items in my hands and consider them carefully.
To move them about. To make simple shrines. To find comfort in them. To hold my small treasures close gives me pleasure.
From the moment we started talking about traveling to Barcelona, we were warned about the dangers and the seedy reputation of the beautiful city's darker side.
We were warned about pickpockets, con-men, gypsies, and shysters.
"Watch out for pickpockets"...
"I just heard a friend of a friend had their suitcase stolen from the reception of their hotel as they booked in, so be careful"...
"When on the trains, watch out for card sharks"...
"Don't trust those buskers in Las Ramblas"...
"The gypsies work in groups you know... be alert"...
So when we booked accommodation (I had technology problems and was unable to book any of the places that came highly recommended on TripAdvisor) we relied on a travel agent.
She told us the best area to stay so that we would be in a safe area but also in the heart of the action. We emphasised our requirement for a central location where we would feel comfortable to come and go at any time of the day or night if we so pleased, and given her experience and knowledge of Barcelona (and lack of ours) we left it in her safe hands to organise.
On the morning we flew from London to Barcelona (knowing we were going to arrive around 8pm) I finally double checked the booking and our hotel location, only to find we had been booked into a hotel in the area our travel agent* had told us to avoid, which also happened to be in the old red light district. Trip advisor reviews were a mixed bunch, but on the whole the hotel location was an issue with many travelers. Unfortunately it was too late to change the booking.
We arrived after dark and my heart sank as I saw the narrow shadowed street where the hotel was located. It was a nice hotel, the staff were friendly and helpful, but their advice on how to get to and from the hotel in hours of darkness did not instill confidence.
The first night we ate locally at a little street side restaurant a few blocks from the hotel. It was a warm evening so there were lots of people out and about, the tables were full and well serviced by attentive waiters and we sat in the flickering lights and neon glow of the neighbouring strip club/porn shop and watched the world go by.
We followed the local custom of sitting with our handbags on our laps whilst dining, deciding it was a pretty good practice and if it was good enough for the locals, it was good enough for us!
Sangria, an enormous pan of paella and a few scuttling cockroaches later... and our warm welcome to Barcelona was complete!
Knowing we were staying in a 'less desirable' location, and with all the warnings ringing in our ears, we spent much of our time in Barcelona alert to our surroundings. We carried our handbags close to our bodies, and once we checked in to our hotel, we locked all our valuables in the safe in our room and carried only what we needed.
And we never had a problem. We walked everywhere, caught buses and the local metro and felt safe wherever we went. And whilst we never personally felt under threat and we left Barcelona with our wallets intact, I think it is fair to say, that problems do exist.
Tourist areas were a particular target and in one of the shops at Park Guell (a major Gaudi attraction at the top of the city), the first thing we noticed was a sign warning of pickpockets IN THE SHOP!!! Local signs, all tourist advice and even the shop keepers and market holders warned us to be careful.
Barcelona has a bad reputation not of violent crime, but of the 'petty' crime that removes passports and wallets from bags, steals cameras, mobiles and valuables and can generally ruins a holiday.
So, if you plan to visit Barcelona (or any other major city for that matter) take my advice...
Carry no more than what you can easily hold on to. Don't be flashy with jewelry or expensive accessories. Keep your valuables close, with bag zips hidden from prying eyes and hands. Try to know where you are going so you are not a target (avoid consulting maps and guidebooks in the streets if you can). Try NOT to look like a tourist. Dress as you would at home. And stay alert.
And whilst you are taking these simple precautions, try and remember not everyone is dangerous. Remember that people can be friendly and helpful and genuinely happy to be of assistance... without wanting to rob you! And remember to have fun. To enjoy your surroundings. To soak up the amazing atmosphere. Get out and enjoy the sights, just be careful.
Because, for all it's 'bad' reputation, Barcelona's reputation as an amazing city, is also well deserved. It is beautiful, fascinating, friendly, intriguing and welcoming. The old city centre with it's narrow lanes and hidden doorways is full of secrets and well worth exploring. The history is incredible and the art and architecture in particular is breathtaking! (another photo filled post to come)
One security guard we saw was standing guard with a baton at his side and chupa chup at the ready... I kid you not - a chupa chup! Supposedly he was ready for any sticky situation! (ha ha!)
*In our agent's defence, on the day of booking there were major computer issues and another agent booked the accommodation, and had I checked the booking earlier, it could have been changed, but I left it until it was too late.
The last couple of weeks of my trip have been so so busy I have struggled to post. I will just have to do some catch up posts when I get back to Australia on the 31st of October, because I just know the next few days are going to be chock-a-block.
I will then be able to post images more successfully as I have a few issues using the blogger app on my mobile. I can't move the images once I have loaded them which I am finding quite frustrating.
But in the meantime, a quick summary if what we have been up to...
Barcelona was amazing. What a city. The art of Picasso and the architecture of Gaudi in particular were worth the trip. I will post more soon. About the crowds, the cost, the pickpockets, the sights.
We arrived back in London late last night and leave for another mini break tomorrow morning, this time 2 nights in Paris. As I said... go go go.
It so happens today is my birthday. I have had a lovely day in Richmond, London with my Mum and friends Lucia & Felipe. We shared an amazing lunch prepared with love by Lucia, followed it by a long walk along the Thames between Richmond and Kew Gardens and then topped it all off with an incredible chocolate cake ala Lucia. 2 slices each!
What a perfect way to spend one's birthday, with such special friends. How lucky I am. We will see them when we get back from Paris, catch up again... and no doubt shed a few tears when we say our goodbyes on Friday.
Unfortunately time is running out and we will be heading back to Aus at the end of this week. And whilst I am looking forward to my own bed, some warmer weather and seeing family and friends, I will be very sad to say goodbye.
I'm not one for history. Not of the 'old' type of history where I have to remember dates at least.
Which is pretty sad for someone travelling in a country brimming, positively overflowing and steeped in the stuff.
So much here is just so bloody old. There's just no avoiding it... Buildings, monuments, artwork, wars, traditions, victories and tragedies. This was all being created, invented, built and discovered here many generations before white man even set foot on Australian shores. Centuries.
And whilst I've just said it doesn't really interest me, as a person who resides in a country where buildings have a use by date, it's hard not to be impressed in a place like this. Just a little bit. And perhaps also (just a little bit) embarrassed about my historical ignorance.
I got talking to a guy on the bus the other day who started asking me all these questions about Australia and it's history, it's politics, it's literary and geographical details. It was hard not to start hyperventilating. It was like school exams all over again, but worse, because I have no doubt my answers were being scored by others on the bus too, not just by my seat-mate.
When he asked me who I considered was the greatest Australian, I didn't have an answer.
I responded (as one does when one is cornered) by turning it back on him, by asking him who he thought was Britain's greatest person. It silenced him for a moment, but he considered it as his exam questions continued, and managed to come up with a selection of responses during our remaining conversation.
It was an impressive group that included Shakespeare, Elizabeth I, Dickens, Darwin. Undoubtedly (historically at least) great people. And not a sportsman amongst them.
And so the question remains. Who IS the greatest Australian? Maybe we haven't got one yet. Maybe Australia hasn't had enough history yet. Or maybe I haven't.
We continue to keep busy. The pace is relentless and the list of destinations is seemingly endless.
I'll admit to craving a day of rest. A day where we can stay local, stay away from London underground, a day where we can hang out and do pretty much nothing... But then, as we did this morning, we look again at the list of things we still want to do and realise there really isn't time to rest. For now in any case.
Today, as every day, it was worth the extra burst of energy.
First up this morning we headed to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, followed by the Tate Modern. Both were high on our must see list, and both were new destinations since the last time I was in London.
The Globe Theatre is open by tour only and was introduced to us by a very theatrical and excellent guide. It is a remarkable building and it was easy to imagine a play on the stage. Unfortunately the season is over for this year so we were unable to view a performance, but it was still well worth a visit.
After we had finished there, we walked less than 5 minutes to the converted Bankside power station next door, which is now home to the Tate Modern.
The 7 levels of modern art ranging from photography and sculpture to multimedia, painting and art installations is extensive and too much to absorb in one visit. But wow.
I was especially taken with a temporary exhibition by artist Taryn Simon called "A living man declared dead and other chapters. I-XVIII" which was created over the course of 4 years. It was a touching and insightful photographic display and narrative. Well worth a visit if you happen to be in London anytime before January 2nd 2012. I'd love to hear your thoughts if you get to see it.
Tomorrow we are having a break of sorts... a day out of town with a trip to Oxford. At least on the trip there and back we get to sit down for a while!
I sat on the tube on my first day in London... Listened to the scraping and squealing of the wheels on the rails, the beeps announcing the closing of the doors, the "mind the gap" warnings... I felt the uneven jolting and rocking of the carriages and the gusts of stale air as underground tunnels were negotiated... And I felt as if I had never been away.
So many things have remained as I remember them. I have been genuinely surprised to find streets are lined with many of the same shops. That buses travel the same routes to the same destinations. Pubs still smell the same (sans the stale smell of cigarettes) and bar staff still welcome patrons with the standard "alright?"
The chaos of central London is certainly more frantic, and yet the relative calm of Richmond (where I used to live, and am now lucky to be staying) feels like the haven it always did.
And as for my long list of things 'uncool' about London in yesterday's post, rest assured, there are so many more things that ARE cool. London public transport is awesome. The history, the tradition, the icons of London are ageless and still take my breath away. The art is brilliant. The shopping is varied and full of treasures (and a lot of crap too!). The shows are vibrant and affordable (if you're willing to sit in the gods!)
The scale of everything here is breathtaking. Each turn uncovers another icon or a hidden treasure. It's easy to fill hours just walking the streets and catching the sights or grabbing a seat somewhere and watching the world go by.
I am loving being back here after all this time. Every now and then I pinch myself to remind myself I am here and how lucky we are to be able to spend six weeks exploring and enjoying it all.
So far I have returned to many places I have been before, but I have also explored new areas too. Windsor and it's castle, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben and parliament, the London Eye, Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street, Hyde Park... Hampton Court Palace, the National Gallery, the British Museum, the Wallace Collection, Kew Gardens. Les Miserables. A long weekend in Aberdeen, Scotland visiting family friends.
Phew! Did I say we'd been busy?
Being a tourist is exhausting. But there's still so much to see and do...
There's still the Globe Theatre, Portobello and Spitalfields markets, The Mousetrap, the Foundling museum, the Tate Gallery... And a few trips out of London... a trip to Bath or Salisbury where we can also catch up with blogging friend Trash... we have a four night trip to Barcelona booked and (time permitting) we might even squeeze in a two night break in Paris. Not to mention catching up with Lucia & Felipe when they get back from Brazil.
Food poisoning is not cool.
Stepping and then standing in front of someone looking at a painting in a gallery is not cool.
Picking your nose on public transport is not cool.
Eating it is definitely not cool.
Singing louder than the performers during a West End show is not cool.
Leaning forward in your theatre seat so that you block the view of the person behind you is not cool.
Having a full on argument with your husband on the tube, with someone sitting between you, is not cool.
Not returning reservation emails is not cool.
Missing a bus and having to wait for another in the rain is not cool.
Blisters on blisters are not cool.
Smothering yourself in perfume and using public transport is not cool.
Littering is not cool.
People speaking at full volume on their mobile phones on public transport are not cool.
Whinging is not cool.
Well here I am, back in the motherland and still a little bit amazed I am here!
Good friends from when I lived here 15 years ago contacted me in July to say they were off to Brazil for a month and offered me and my Mum the use of their flat. Refusal was not an option of course. What an incredible offer.
As you know, I have been here since Sunday... since then I have been jumping on busses into central London and locally, walking heaps, and stopping every now and again to pinch myself. I have been talking about returning for so long now, it still doesn't quite feel real. And yet funnily enough it all feels very comfortable and familiar. Strange.
Mum arrives tomorrow and will take a few days to recover and then we'll be go go go. Mum is keen to do some family history research and the national archives are within walking distance, so that's perfect and London is definitely calling!
We have no set plans, but will spend quite a bit of time in London, galleries, museums, soaking up the atmosphere visiting a few old favourite places, and probably do a few side trips.
We're planning a trip to Aberdeen to visit with friends and hopefully a short break in Barcelona to get some sun and see the Gaudi sights.
No doubt it all sounds rather vague, and it is... But we will make some decisions in the coming days and then prob change them as we go! We head back to Australia via Abu Dhabi on Oct 29, so we have time to be a bit flexible.
I have never been to Barcelona before, so any advice/recommendations would be great.
Well I'm back in London. After 15 years absence. I got to thinking on the plane (at some point in my 24 hour plus journey) what the hell was I doing? Spending 6 weeks of my leave in the UK, much of which will be covering old ground. The trek to get here was as direct as nearly 17,000kms can be, But it is SUCH a long way. And uncomfortable. And more than a little scary.
BUT. Travel aside and less than 24 hours in the UK? I'm so pleased I have come. And whilst I last left London in 1996, and there have definitely been changes, everything is so so familiar. The tube. The busses. The hustle and bustle. The same old winding streets. The Thames.
I walked from my hotel down and along the Thames to meet up with good friends coming to meet me walking in the opposite direction. It was a beautiful walk along a familiar path and I wandered along quite happily breathing it all in. The sun was out, as were fellow wanderers, a few squirrels, Canadian geese, white swans. And 40 minutes later I was reunited with my good friends Lucia and Felipe. The smiles were broad, the hugs tight and filled with laughter. 15 years since we saw each other last, and it was the same as it always was.
It was a great first day.
It's nearly 3am here. I've been awake for an hour now. Jetlag of course. But with a few more hours sleep and a decent breakfast, I'll be out and about and checking the sights.
I will continue to blog as much as I can and stay in touch. I don't expect three will be many 3am posts after tonight though.
I definitely have to post about the guesthouse which is my home until Wednesday. It looks like a castle from the outside and more than needing a little TLC on the inside. And just a little bit spooky on my own!
Ten years ago on September 11 2001, our lives were changed at the hands of a select group of people crazed by hatred. It denied the free world of their innocence and it stole thousands of people of their lives and their futures.
One year ago, I stood at ground zero on this morning and paused in silence as NYC stopped to reflect and remember their terrible loss.
This year, on this ten year anniversary, my thoughts are again in NYC.
A friend just sent me a message to let me know blogger now has a ap for my phone. Thought I'd better give it a try... With just one week before I head to the UK, if it works well, I'll be using it a lot over the next few weeks.
It's been crazy busy here for what seems like weeks now. So many things to tell you about, but even though I have potential posts galore, I also know how distracting and time consuming blogging can be.
I miss it and I miss you too, and I will get back to it (and you) soon, I promise.
Because there is news. Lots of news.
Study in the new year, overseas travel departure in the next few weeks, an unsuccessful bid for redundancy, a reshuffle at home, a big clearout, and a new flat mate.
See what I mean? It's BIG.
And because I have just spent the last couple of hours loading stuff onto ebay (and isn't THAT exhausting) I wanted to just drop by and tell you to go take a look. Because you might just find a bargain or two... and there is more (lots more) to come!
I sell under the username onelittleacorn, and there are bargains to be had. Unfortunately anything big/awkward will have to be collected in person and there are Melbourne readers out there who this might suit, but don't despair for those further afield, some things can be posted, so it's not restricted to Melbourne buyers.
To all you Artists out there, wanting to frame up your creations, I have 4 Ikea 70 cm x 50 cm timber edged frames for sale. They are still in their wrapping and currently sell instore for $59 each. In my ebay sale the current bid is $49.99. And that's for ALL 4 in one lot. They are a GREAT GREAT buy. You have 3 days left to grab this deal!
Also, there are Ikea shelves - (you don't even have to assemble them! I've done that for you!) with a current bid of $89.
There are a few vintage bits and bobs and there will be some crafty books to come in the next few days. There is furniture, cds, DVD's, wooden cotton reels, a Dualit toaster, an unused juicer, some lanterns and an old bakelite radio to come.
Everything but the proverbial kitchen sink!
Come one, come all! The fun is just beginning.
(Listing seems to be taking me ages, so there are not a huge amount of things as yet... but check in again, because there will be more added every day).
Here is a link that will (hopefully) get you to all of my listings in one view... Yippeee!
Here is a picture taken of my Mum in the 50's and beside it a bunch of violets straight from my garden. I picked them a few hours ago and their fragrance has since filled my studio. I am posting them here for my Mum along with a virtual big hug in the hope she feels better this week. She has been sick for 2 weeks now and still not feeling improved.
I wish I could send her their perfume too.
They smell so beautiful.
I returned to Australia in 1996, having lived there for nearly 8 years, and I have missed it ever since.
It's been a long time. Too long, yes?
Well, in September, I will be returning at last. And I am totally excited. I can't wait to visit with old friends, go back to some favourite places, to see the sights, to haunt the galleries, to soak up the atmosphere.