Thursday, 31 May 2007

Warning the following entry contains fanatical ramblings about art

OK just as a quick precursor to this entry which will be by and large told by Monique (the resident "Artiste" =) I will be giving a shorter boys summary at the end. So on with the tale of woe and misery - no wait that's another story - here's the Louvre!

We headed for the Louvre at 8am, our guide had told us that few people know that there are actually quite a few entrances to the Louvre not just the one under the big pyramid. But as there were only 8 people queued up at the main entrance we decided just to use that one. They only check your bags at the door then you go down an escalator into a big atrium where they have several ticket booths as well as ticket machines and an info desk. We were directed to a machine got our tickets (E8.50 each) then the race was on. Having learnt from the Sistine chapel we hoofed it for the "Mona Lisa" it was sign posted pretty well, it must be the fasted I have ever gone up stairs. We nearly strode past the room it was in but I spied it out of the corner of my eye and dragged Scott in like he normally does to me when we are getting on a busy subway train. It was amazing to see it in person, and in the company of only 4 other people! (Its a lot bluer at the top than my folding screen in my bedroom.)

Once we had finished admiring Leonardos handy work and more people started pouring in we decided to go straight to the "Venus de Milo" the other celebrity of the Louvre and come back to see the rest of the Grand gallery. Again we managed to beat the crowds the previously deserted stairways were a buzz with people now though. The "Venus de Milo" was only in a temporary spot while they are renovating, they had a write up on the wall in English which was great explaining that she was found on an island and her stance is quite innovative for her age, and that "her arms and hands have never been found" which we thought was an odd comment as your hands are generally on the ends of your arms aren't they? Scott thinks she was actually modelled on me as when you walk around it you can actually see her butt crack peeping out of the strategically draped fabric (carved in the marble that is) hiding her naughty bits.

Now we could go about things at a leisurely pace, so we headed for the Grand gallery again this is full of Italian paintings and on the way to Mona. Its quite intriguing watching other people appreciate art, there are a group of about 5 Leonardo DaVinci paintings along one wall (I spied them as we rushed past the first time) now these are of the same if not better quality as Mona but people were barely giving them a glance. Ok so I knew what they were but there are signs albeit in Italian but you can still read the name of the artist. Now I know I've said it in like every blog entry I've written after going to a major gallery but I can not express how overwhelming it is to see paintings in the flesh that I've studied and previously only seen in books. Ok so we all know that Leonardo Da Vinci was a genius, but I thought his paintings really stood out from the rest, it's hard to explain but although a lot of the other paintings in this hall are also good, the people in them tend to look almost superimposed in to the painting, where as Da Vinci's subjects looked part of the scene and the focus was almost photo like in the way random points say a knee were really crisp and clear where as the rest of the painting gradually fuzzed out to the edges. Like when you take a photo and objects in the foreground (or another chosen spot) appear clearer, and grab the focus of the camera. I know I'm ranting sorry to those non arty blog devotees out there but I was really impressed.

The Louvre is absolutely massively huge there is no way in h#!l you could see everything kinda huge. It also contained a lot more than just Renaissance paintings, there is a large Egyptian section as well as other ancient civilisation sections, Napoleon III (not Bonaparte another king) royal apartment (the louvre was of course once a palace), and what is called the medieval louvre which is several levels underground and is the remnants of the original medieval castle/fortress that stood on the site that they seemed to find when they were installing the large pyramid in the courtyard.

Now your ticket lasts all day and the guide book had said you may find you need to pop out for fresh air away from the crowd or for lunch. We thought then you may have to queue again so had lunch at one of the over priced cafes inside. Since then we have discovered if you go down behind the info desk towards the inverted pyramid there is a Star bucks (big whoop not much cheaper you are thinking) but if you keep going you will notice that the inverted pyramid is actually another entrance/exit (that doesn't have a big queue) and comes out in a shopping mall (called La Carrousel du Louvre) which if you follow the signs saying restaurant leads you to a food court. Now granted the prices aren't normal food court prices but hey you are bloody close to the Louvre and the prices are a lot worse inside trust me that's a little HOT TIP for this episode.

By 3pm the feet were very weary, so we decided to go back to the hostel and pick up our packs and go to the new hotel. The new place was on the other side of town, in a typical French neighbourhood with fresh vegie stalls in the streets, and people walking around with baguettes (French sticks). Our hotel room was basically a cupboard with a bathroom and a mini fridge and a microwave but it was great. It was a little more expensive than we had been paying but it included a free buffet breakfast and we had were able to cook tea in the trusty microwave so what extra we paid in accommodation we saved on food.

Another HOT TIP be very careful with your belongings at the Louvre, just because its a gallery and you have to pay to get in doesn't mean anything there are professionals out there we have heard some horror stories.

OK - so now for the boy version - we went early so we avoided the large lines and weren't surrounded by arty types trying to explain to the unwashed masses how such and such an artist was trying to portray something deep and meaningful in their art - when we really all know that they were just trying to paint something that would sell so they could buy their next bottle of absinthe!

The Mona Lisa was actually pretty cool - we had been told that it is a lot smaller that you think so I was somewhat prepared for that but I wasn't prepared for just how significant a piece of art it is. If only the Sistine Chapel had been as quiet and orderly as viewing this was... Standing in front of arguably the most famous painting in the world is something else - not humbling but quite significant probably more so for all the people that have seen it before you - Mum and Dad for example some 30-odd years ago. Oh but it is still pretty cool - the eyes definitely appear to follow you and I'm pretty sure it's actually a self-portrait of sorts - the grin would therefore be Leonardo thinking to himself "I wonder how long it will take them to figure this out"!

The Venus de Milo was also pretty cool but not as staggeringly so as David had been in Florence - I guess I was expecting a similar reaction but of course this is a lot older and in a different style. It just doesn't have a realism and detail but is still a great sculpture.

The real highlight for me (apart from these two) was seeing all the ancient culture stuff - as above they had a lot of things from the Babylonians', the Phoenicians', the Mesopotamians' and a few others that I had never heard off - and of course the obligatory Egyptian mummies etc. Very cool and very well laid out. We were asking ourselves at many points - just how did they get this stuff inside - some of the exhibits are huge - like elephant sized and made of solid stone/marble - just amazing.


Hope we haven't bored you lovely devotees to death. Until next time.

Love to everyone
Monique and Scott

Sunday, 27 May 2007

The City of Luurv

We arrived in Paris on Monday at 4pm. Now we thought we had reserved a double room at a hostel really close to the Louvre but we didn't receive a confirmation email, we were slightly concerned by this but we decided to just turn up anyway. We found it easy enough (the metro station at the train station was having work done on it so that wasn't labelled so well but being the subway experts that we are now it was no problem!) When we got there they had us on record but had no double rooms left so we ended up in dorm rooms on separate floors (as they are split into girls and boys). They told us there might be a double room the next day so we took it. In my (Monique's) room there were 2 slutty American girls (they weren't the sharpest tools in the shed either) and a fellow kiwi chick who get this is off to work in Toronto for a year she arrives 2 days after us!! I (Scott) got the multicultural room with a Brazilian, a Mexican and some dude who turned up at about 2am, snored loudly and was gone by 6am so no one in the room even saw him?!?! Still talking to the central & south Americans was fun - both very funny guys. Must say though that as a typical Kiwi (i.e.. only speaking one language) you do feel a little inadequate as they were fluent in their own languages (Portuguese and Spanish respectively) as well as being fluent in English and each others languages (Spanish and Portuguese respectively - not too confuse things too much =)

The next morning after breakfast we asked and they still didn't have any double rooms, by now we weren't too impressed with the place; A: Being in separate rooms isn't quite what we had in mind especially in the City of Lights/Love; B: Not long after we arrived 2 school groups arrived, one a bunch of teeny boppers and the other 10 year olds (who apparently wreaked havoc in the other half of the hostel at 4am); and C: the showers were really quite stupid (you know in some public toilets you push down the taps and they turn themselves off - well that was how you worked the shower I had to push it 4 times just to rinse out the shampoo let alone wash the rest of me - Monique again). I (Scott) didn't have so much of a problem - I just leant against the button and used all the hot water I felt like =) But as we mentioned earlier - this place is really close to the the Louvre (like a 2-minute walk close) so we decided to hang in there for another night and go to the louvre early the next day (since it's closed on Tuesday) and leave our bags at the hostel for the day then leave.

So for our first full day in Paris we went on a free walking tour - these are great things you find in all the major tourist hotspots in Europe - basically you get a run-down on the major sights so you know which ones to go back to and you only have to tip the guide - we tipped E5 (NZ$10) for the tour and he was happy with that so it's pretty affordable (no catch either, they do tell you about their paid tours but there is absolutely no obligation). It started from the metro stop on the island on the Seine that Notre dame is on (which we actually walked to) and went for 3.5 hours showing us some of the major sites (outsides only but it gives you a feel for where everything is and what you want to go back and see + you get a bit of a commentary) like Notre dame, Pont Neuf, Louvre, garden des Tuileries, Place du concorde, Hospital des Invalides, and of course the Eiffel Tower. After the tour we went back to the tour office and used the Internet and found somewhere to stay on the other side of town. Then we headed back to the Eiffel Tower to check out the lines and what not, the guide said the queues calm down a bit about 6pm so we think we will do it at night as a lot of the buildings around Paris are lit up at night - hence the City of Lights.

Next stop was the Champs Elysees the most famous street in Paris it use to be the really posh street but now there are chain stores mixed in with the flash ones. The street runs from the garden des Tuileries to that crazy unlaned round about with the Arc de Triomphe in the middle of it. We just stood there for ages watching the traffic navigate the round about it was amazing there were no crashes, at times there were 5 rows of traffic going around and cars just stop in the middle of the road and wait for a gap to take the exit they want it was crazy and what was even more insane was the fact that scooters and people on push bikes we taking it on as well!! I (Scott) have a theory on how this roundabout works and how it wouldn't work anywhere else - the French are a little shall we say "confident" so they head into the roundabout knowing that they will get through unscathed because they are all the best drivers in the world - and because of this conviction they actually do get through unscathed!

As it was now 4 pm and we hadn't had lunch we had Mcdonalds and sat upstairs and watched the world go by. We have seen some interesting sights a lot of people trying to be "Parisian", a lot of camel toe (there was in Italy as well actually). Just about non-existent shorts with tights underneath and boots is quite popular, the odd freshly collagen induced Angelina Jolie lips, and quite a few facelifts gone horrendously wrong. Oh and I forgot the guy that looked like a mafia don and his trophy girlfriend in a gold coat and gold stilettos.

By now we were rather tired neither of us had slept particularly well the night before, and then walking around all day wasn't a good combination so we headed back to the hostel, stopping off at the lovely patisserie round the corner on the way for a baguette for tea and a little something nice. We had a little rest and a bite to eat then headed to the Louvre to take some photos of it all lit up. It was absolutely gorgeous, and we took heaps of photos. Needless to say we both slept heaps better that night. My (Scott) room was full this night, still with the Mexican guy and the Brazilian but also with two young Americans fresh off a ferry from Ireland - it took them something like 15-hours but only cost them about E50. Still that's longer than any of our flights and in a space just as cramped - they didn't recommend it for anything other than the price. Hopefully we find something a little more comfortable eh =)

Love to everyone

Monique and Scott

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Time for a holiday...

On the Saturday we headed into town again but this time Marsden (that is Scott's friend also called Scott for those just joining the show) took us in on push bikes. Now I (Monique) hadn't been on a bike in 10 years let alone on the wrong side of the road in a bike lane without a helmet. We went into town and sorted out train tickets to Paris and had another wander, then Marsden took us on a tiki tour home along the river, the trip ended with a hill that Scott and I ended up walking up (Marsden does mountain biking and is super fit) and I had the only bike with gears and good brakes. It is really a great way to see a city it was really fun. Unfortunately having not ridden a bike for quite sometime has the same result as girls who don't normally ride horses going horse riding (I know you know what I mean Lesley) yeah 2 days on and I'm still having to be careful how I sit down. The boys of course thought it was hilarious. I don't know if it was the just the fact I hadn't ridden a bike for ages or whether it was because it was a guys bike and a little too tall for me so girls you have been warned HOT TIP#1 beware of bikes they can be evil. Scott here - I actually really enjoyed the biking - first time I'd really done any since high school and as Monique said it is really a great way to see a place - you can cover so much more than walking and still have the freedom to see what you want when you want. In places like Freiburg (and this goes for Munich as well) where there are cycle lanes etc. everywhere it's just so easy.

But after several weeks of hard slog around Europe we figured, what with the weather not being that flash, that it was time for us to take a break. Don't be fooled - we're not on a holiday - an OE is an entirely different thing. Relaxation is so far down the list of priorities - just after sleeping (just kidding - Monique miss her daily 10 hour sleep just isn't happening)! Besides we needed to organise for Paris so on Sunday we just blobbed and looked for accommodation in Paris, and went for a walk up another hill near their apartment late in the afternoon. It's been so great just taking it easy, but I suppose Paris is going to be a shock to the system now we aren't use to walking for miles anymore. HOT TIP#2 Book your accommodation well in advance as a lot of French hotel/hostel websites don't tell you if they are available immediately you have to email them and they aren't very good at emailing back!!

So with some trepidation about where we'll end up in Paris we bid you all farewell.

Scott & Monique

PS. Once again thanks to Scott and Katinka - yep that's them in the photo standing in front of their loungeroom decoration - a New Zealand flag! Good stuff eh - and I hear Katinka is even beginning to develop a taste for Vegemite...

Great friends, great food, great beer, great times

Next stop was Freiburg, this is in the south-western corner of Germany, is only 25min from the French border, 30min from the Swiss border and home to Scott and Katinka (Scott went to Auckland University with Scott just to confuse you more!) They kindly let us take over their lounge for a week, and fed us heaps of yummy German food, including real Black-forest gateau, sheep feta cheese, quark (your homework is to research that one - 500 words handed in tomorrow), leberwurst hmmmm leberwurst ( that was scotts input I did not eat liver sausage) and Black forest ham ( I even ate asparagus it was white and covered in hollandaise sauce but it was still asparagus). It was great to have a relaxed week to rejuvenate, (Scott actually let me sleep in to what I consider a sleep in!!!).

Freiburg is a lovely city, a lot of old buildings mixed with the new. They have these funny ditches/drains with running water in them, apparently if a guy steps in one he will marry a freiburgian. Katinka is hoping (Her) Scott will fall in. It was quite funny we were wandering around town and we saw a group of 3 12 year old girls trying to push a boy in the drain, he didn't look too amused. One of the features of Freiburg is the big cathedral in the old town - it remarkarbly survived the allied bombing of WW2 that flattened a lot of the old city. It's called the Munster and is a awesome old gothic structure - along with some interesting gargoyles running around the building. Check out the link and you'll see just how interesting some of this old architecture is...

We had a couple of days just wandering around town, then on the Thursday it was a public holiday so Marsden (Katinka's Scott) took the Friday off to show us around, unfortunately Katinka was sick and missed out on a bit. On the Friday the weather fined up and Marsden took us into the black forest first we went to Hexloch where they make cuckoo clocks then to Lake Titisee which was full of tourists, it was quite amusing watching people struggle with row boats. Then we headed up to the lookout on the top of this big hill, on a clear day you can see to France from up there.

Catch ya later

Luv Monique and Scott

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Trams, Palaces and automobiles

Sunday was our last day in Munich so we decided to try out the public transport system and caught the train to Nympemburg palace. This place is massive and there are lots of different options when buying tickets you can pay- 5E to see the palace and hall of beauties, (this was the cheapest we are getting a bit broke) - you can pay more and also see some other small palaces on the same grounds, and the ceramics museum. The gardens are absolutely huge like you can't see the boundaries huge and also free!! HOT TIP #1 Take a picnic as the cafe is really expensive, and pick a day that isn't too hot. We didn't walk around the whole gardens as it was a beautiful sunny day and boiling hot, we also had forgotten to pack a picnic and ventured into the cafe saw the prices and quickly left.

Back out on the main road there wasn't much in the way of food either so we jumped back on to the tram and went back to the main train-station to grab lunch and the metro. We took the metro to the Olympic stop, here is a big park with a lake, and big wide footpaths with heaps of rollerbladers and of course all the pavilions from the Olympic games. But the main reason we went out here and also the main feature on the skyline in this area was the BMW headquarters, factory and museum. They are currently building an amazing new building which will house the new look museum, a conference centre and more. It looks like a Frank Gehry but I don't think it is (thats a large swirly metal folded paper like looking building for those of you who don't know what I'm on about.) When they have the new museum all set up (meant to be the end of the year I think) they are going to have tours through the factory as well. At the moment as the museum is quite small it is only E2 to get in, although I expect this will change with the move across the road. It was really quite interesting a lot of the signs are in English as-well as German. I mean even I knew that BMW started off making plane engines, but i didn't realise that during the war the Americans shut them down basically and then after the war they were only allowed to make items that we needed to rebuild the city so they were manufacturing bikes as well as washing machines, blenders and other kitchen appliances, and general household items. Then of course there were the cars and motorbikes, they had this cool convertible that was a limited edition in the 80's and the doors like slid down inside the side of the car like a window, it was pretty cool the upholstery was a bit tacky tho. Blair you so have to come here!!!

After the museum we had a wander around the park and had an icecream and sat under a tree on the bank of the lake and watched the world go by. There were people rollerblading everywhere and I'm not just talking about kids here. There were heaps of adults and they had these little bright coloured plastic cups that they lined up and were weaving in and out of they looked like there legs were made of rubber it was freaky. ( Jo I don't think I would rollerblade here I'd feel like a fool, the stuff these guys were doing was pretty impressive they did all have knee pads on at least we use to look cool and tough ay!! none of that sissy stuff!!)

We headed back towards the hotel and it was someone's silly idea to get off the metro at Marienplatz and walk back through town, yeah we were a lot more tired than we thought. So after grabbing tea at the main train-station again we headed home to pack ready for heading off to Freiburg the next day.

Catch ya later

Luv Monique and Scott

You never know what you might find when you are out and about

So with just a couple more days to go in Munich we thought we'd better have a good look around the town itself. Friday morning Monique had her meeting with Gerhard re: German distribution of her lamps - by all accounts it went very well and we had a good yarn about why PC's are better than Apples (he agrees with me incidentally about the obvious superiority of the PC line). Did I mention he is an electrical engineer by trade too - something about great minds comes to mind!

Friday afternoon we took to the streets and had a good wander around Marienplatz and the old city, Odeonplatz and the English Gardens. Mareinplatz is essentially the heart of the old city with some awesome old towers, churches etc. Old but not ancient - with plenty of onion-topped buildings. The town-clock has some revolving animation thingy (a bit like a giant cuckoo clock) and a dragon climbing it for some reason?! Odeonplatz is a huge square (Germany's version of a piazza) and is one of the places where Hitler was preaching his fanatical lunacy. They have changed it a fair bit but it's still an odd feeling being there in the big open square knowing what went on.

The English Gardens get a paragraph of their own - you'll soon see why. The English Gardens are a huge complex of parkland, bike tracks, a Japanese Teahouse and even a horse-racing track. Ok, so we see this old round shape building - like a giant pergola so we think hey lets cut across the horse-racing paddock (there were some people lounging around on the grass so we figured there would be no problems) when I see a guy stand up and put his pants on! Yep, we were in the middle of one of those parks where the Germans strip down for a spot of all-over tanning! And once we realised this it was really obvious that there were a lot of naked Germans - we scurried rather quickly in the direction of the pergola thing... We found a bench in a normal part of the park - near a guy practising extreme bar-tending skills (picture Tom Cruise in Cocktail) - and enjoyed the sun (with our clothes on mind you). We even got interrupted by non-English speaking Jehovah's - handy that non-German speaking thing. When it started to cloud over and get cooler we headed back to town - just coincidentally through the nude people area. Thought since it was quite a bit cooler they would be wearing more and we were right - they'd put tops on but not bottoms - these Germans are crazy I tell you!

Saturday was much the same as Friday, more exploration of the town - but fortunately no more nude locals (fortunately you ask? Well yes, most of the nude people are like the ones you see on the NZ documentaries about nudist colonies playing tennis or riding bikes - enough said). Today we headed back to Odeonplatz to have a quiet picnic in the park next door (park just before the English Gardens that is) only to be disturbed by a huge protest going on in the the Odeonplatz - not sure what the people on stage were saying but the crowd was pretty enthusiastic about it - another eerie feeling. They have an Egyptian museum right next to the park and so after lunch we had to have a look inside. Not a huge exhibit but quite a different range of items on display from tools and household implements to royal jewellery to the standard sarcophagi. There is another Egyptian obelisk in the middle of a large round-about on an alternate route back to where we were staying so we thought we'd go and check that out to. Absolutely huge - amazing that things like this were brought back to Europe so long ago. From here we realised we were close to the Konigplatz(?) which is where the Nazi party was actually based so we continued up the road to here. The road is actually a long one that runs all the way from Odeonplatz to the round-about through the centre of ... and this formed one of the main spots where you've seen all the pictures of the goose-step marching. It was also here that we came across the only mention we have seen acknowledging Munich's past and it had an English translation as well. A lot of the old buildings that were taken over by the Nazi's and survived the Allied bombing are now being used by the University and Art Schools etc. Quite ironic and a pretty good idea if you ask me.

Getting bit late in the day now - so we headed back to the hostel and got all dressed up - it was our 9-month anniversary so we headed out to dinner. Found a nice place specialising in Thai, Chinese and Indian and for the right price too - excellent service and it tasted great. We both recommend the Thai-China House for people visiting Munich on a budget =)

Cheers bay,
Scott & Monique

The Real Disneyland

Guten tag again. On Thursday we decided to go to Neuswanstein Castle, this is the original castle that the one at Disney land is modelled off. Now weirdly it was cheaper for us to go on a tour to get there than organise train tickets ourselves, and lucky we did because we had to chaange trains half way there (its a 2 hour train ride to Fussen then a little bus ride to get to the castle) which wasn't a problem but when we were almost there the train just stopped in the middle of no where and we all had to get off. We don't know why, then we had to wait around for 30 min for a bus to come and pick us up and take us to the station in Fussen to catch the next bus. Now I needed to go to the loo when we got off the train, so by the time we got to Swangau (thwe little village where the castle is) I was just about exploding I jumped off the bus and dashed for the loo only to find you had to pay to get in!!! After a quick lunch and a break we headed up the hill to the castle. Now you can get a bus up TAKE IT!!! We thought it didn't look too bad and that it would feel good to know you had done it, Yeah NO!! The guide told us to go on ahead as he directed the clever people to the bus and to wait for him at the souvineer shop, that shop is half way and I was already dying. From here you have 2 options a short steep way or the longer slightly shallower way, both take you to the castle level, then from there there is another short steep bit to get to a viewing level (also the level that the bus goes to) and then a little windy not so steep track to get up to The Marien bridge which has an awesome view of the castle on one side and a waterfall the other. Well being fools we took the steep shorter route I could hardly talk when i got to the viewing platform, then when we went round to go to the bridge there was a little old man slowly working his way up with a walking stick! (he must have got the bus up to that point) That gave me the push I needed to carry on.

After taking lots of pictures of the outside it was finally time to go inside. You aren't allowed to take photos inside which Nick our guide thought was something to do with postcard sales. The castle was absolutely amazing it was built by King Ludwig II in the late 19th century (yeah its a spring chicken like NZ which was a little disapointing) he actually died before it was completed having lived in it for only 170 days. About 6 weeks after his death it was opened to the public and has been ever since.

They have set 20min tours in the castle so our guide met us outside afterwards his last words of wisdom before we went in were "if you are going to buy souvenirs wait till the second shop on the way out its half the price of the first." The guide in the castle obviously wasn't a native english speaker, he spoke in a monotone and it sounded really rehearsed, but it was quite interesting. The interior was really ornate, there were hidden doors and mosaics and off one room there was a fake cave complete with stalagmites and stalagtites, very Hugh Heffner.

We had to meet Nick our guide at 3.50pm, we just made it in time and he took us down the hill a different way through the gorge. It was sooo beautiful there was a waterfall and all the trees it was very reminiscent of home. If you can go down this way do its well worth it, there is a little turn off half way between the castle and the way up to the bridge, its not up hill at all.

Thankfully there were no hick ups with the train on the way back, I fell asleep on the train again!! It was an absolutely amazing day it really is a must see for those of you venturing over here.

Thanks for tuning in see you here next time.

Love Monique and Scott

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Beer, Sausage and Coincidence

Guten tag people. We arrived in München (Munich) on Tuesday, and managed to make it from the main train-station to our hotel down the road just before it started raining. Yeah just as we decided to go and have a wander (because we hadn't found the tourist info office in the train station when we arrived) it promptly bucketed down we got a bit wet but at least we didn't have our big packs on.

It was really quite odd when we arrived at the hotel there were another couple at reception that had obviously just arrived too. As I got my passport out the guy said snap as they were Kiwi's too, and Scott pipes up "You were in the hostel at Napier Boys eh?" How random is that you meet someone on the other side of the world in a hostel that you met years ago in a hostel!

Anyway the next day it was still raining and we decided to have an organising day. So we went and did a load of washing and finally found the tourist info office (yeah München HBF (the main train station) isn't very well signposted - lots of food places though) and found a supermarket. So we were all ready to explore.

We met up with Ian and Sara Brownlie (the kiwis from the hostel) and they took us to the Hofbrauhaus beer hall. Well it turns out to be one of the most famous beer halls in the world (they have a really big tent at Oktoberfest). This place is absolutely huge, and really packed. They only have big tables that seat about 8 with benches, and they had a traditional German ommpah band complete with lederhosen. We managed to find a table that only had 2 people at it, and it was in the Non smoking section which was a fluke, (still haven't got use to people smoking inside again). Now I'm not normally a beer drinker but Sara convinced me to try a Weiss beer (white/wheat beer) and it was really nice it only came in a 500ml glass though, where as all the other types come in big 1L steins. So next round Scott had the same again a Hofbräu Dunkel (1L) and Sara and I shared a Ruß'n basically a 1L shandy (I thought shandy would be a dirty word over here but apparently not) just so we could have a big stein. Scott thought it was hilarious that I had to use 2 hands to drink out of it! And we had traditional German food sausages, mashed potato and sauerkraut ( the sauerkraut here isn't as bad as in Austria). It was a great night we now have a list a mile long of places we have to visit, and Sara has offered to take me to the markets in London ( they live there but have been travelling around Europe in a van for a year). So if you are coming to Munich you so have to go to Hofbrauhaus it was absolutely amazing. I had forgotten to take my camera (Scott convinced me I didn't need yo take my day pack) but Ian and Sara are going to email us the photos so we will keep you posted with that.

Well that's about it for now.

love to all

from Monique and Scott

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Any blog newbies out there???

Hi to those just joining us - just a quick note to say most posts have a photo attached and to view it you just need to click the yellow arrow next to the blog entry's title. This post has an example for you to try with - go on you know you want to =)

Cheers ears,
Scott & Monique

PS. The photo was taken in Innsbruck and yes they really do just walk them around as pets - you'll just have to click the link to find out what I'm talking about though!

Bear, Beaver & Buffalo

We were going to do Austria in one entry but we forgot our trip to the Alpenzoo (Alpine zoo) which was just up the road from where we were staying. Now we had seen a bus go past all stickered up with animals on it but thought we must be at least half way up the hill and decided to walk. Not the most brilliant of ideas. After several stops along the way we made it up the hill, absolutely exhausted to find out that the zoo is spread over the top of the hill so even more hill climbing!!! Oh well it was good practice for things to come (keep an eye out in a Munich entry). They seemed to be doing up the zoo, building new enclosures and upgrading existing ones. They had elk (moose), eagles, lots of mountain goats, wild boar, buffalo, beavers, ferrets, creepy looking birds that are nearly extinct in Europe, snakes, otters, frogs, lizards, an aquarium, and of course a brown bear. They are examples of animals living in Alpine areas of Austria.

Note the link was a rubbish bin.

Catch you guys later,

love Monique and Scott

We're not in Italy anymore Toto

So we were going to go to Verona prior to heading North to Munich but checking the net for accommodation for places to stay - well funnily enough Verona is not cheap! The whole reason we had thought of Verona is because it is on the main trunk north into Germany - well so is Innsbruck and being the off-season for skiing it is relatively cheap - Austria here we come!

Austria is brilliant - right from the start I loved Innsbruck. The people are friendly (or at least they don't look down at you like you're something attached to the bottom of your shoe), they actually will step out of your way if you're going to crash into each other on the street, they have (or at least follow) road-rules, there is more to eat than pizza and pasta, well I'll stop now because it'll be a long list. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Italy, simply put, it is incredible but after nearly 6 weeks it starts to wear a little. A friend we just met (Sara) reckons we were Italied out and I reckon I agree. Anyway enough of the digressing...

Innsbruck is a gorgeous city - located in a valley with snow-capped peaks on all sides - it must look incredible during Winter. We were staying in a hostel (Hostel Nickolaus Glockenhaus) on the north side of the river - about 10-min walk down to the centre of town. The old town was really neat - very different to Italy with the onion-domed church steeples and wide cobbled streets closed to traffic. The new centre is right next to it - with even wider streets and a well sign-posted shops. Apart from the age of many of the buildings (an of course the onion-topped towers) it was very reminiscent of NZ - other than the German of course!

Speaking of German - when we were planning the trip we never thought of Germany/Austria so we weren't really ready for German. The night we arrived (latish) I still managed to order food (OK it was Burger King but the lady didn't speak English) and we managed to get to the hostel. Into town the next day where we were welcomed to Austria by the lady who sold us the phrase-book =) Armed with that and a tourist map we headed into the city and had a good look around.

Went out for tea one night - to an Austrian restaurant. I had bauernschmaus which consists of sauerkraut, mashed potato, roast beef, smoked pork, würste sausage and a dumpling - apparently a very Austrian dish - it was brilliant! Oh yeah they still smoke inside in Austria which is weird after so many smoke-free years in NZ - having to ask for no-smoking seats is just odd - especially since even Italy is smoke-free now! Monique did try some of the sauerkraut but her nose did wrinkle just a little =) Lets just say she's not a huge fan - she did however like her lamb stew and potatoes.

Munich next so for now guten abend und auf wiedersehen,
Scott & Monique

PS. Innsbruck main claims to fame are that the Hadsburgs were based here when they were ruling and skiing. As such without any real tourist information after looking at the royal remnants we actually used the time to unwind, catch up on washing etc... Boring stuff really eh. Definitely coming back once we can snowboard!!!

PPS. No border checks into Austria either - just before the border the train stopped and the Trenitalia staff were replaced with OBB ones from Austria and we only knew we'd crossed the border was because we spied a road-sign out the window.

The Italy Wrap

This is quite the complex topic and we'll both have goes at it so don't be surprised if it starts heading off on different tangents ok... Oh yeah and we'll probably be repeating things we've said, other people have said before us etc... Can't think of any other disclaimers at present... Or any other reason to have three dots...

Italy is quite simply like no other country. In fact North Italy and South Italy might as well be separate countries too - the only commonalities being the normally excellent train system, the language and the currency (oh and the excellent and cheap coffee). The country itself is very reliant on tourism (in particular the south and Venice) yet the common Italian seems to take the reasons for those tourists for granted. Everything you've heard about Italians is probably true, they're rude, bossy, smelly, noisy, push-in, and will try to rip you off. The one thing you might be surprised about is their dress-sense - it's absolutely ghastly! Yes they do suits and formal very, very well but there is a bit of national movement toward casual (I'm guessing caused by American music though I'm in no way blaming the Americans for that). But they just can't seem to pull it off - guys wearing glittering gold sneakers, jeans riding under their bums and a pink sequinned shirt that says GIRLS is hardly cool. And they of course have these awesome haircuts to match - it's part David Beckham mohawk, part mullet and all bad! Apparently one of the head guys at Armani even publicly told the youth to snap out of it because they're only going to look back on it in years to come and grimace. Needless to say the girls are just as bad - of course they don't look like a nation of florists, just a bunch of cheap floozy's! ( except the nuns there are heaps of nuns in Italy).

This gets it own paragraph because quite simply it's the best tasting and the most affordable coffee you will buy ever, EVER! Now for those who know me I don't drink milk so in NZ I have what's called a Long Black, or the newer name of Americano. In Italy they all know what an Americano is so I was Most places were charging about E.80 to E1 and this is about NZ$1.55 to NZ$1.90 which is about half the price of what you'd pay in New Zealand (or Australia or Austria for that matter) and the taste. Damn, every single cup was quite the simply one of the best cups I'd ever had - even the best coffee's I'd had in NZ or Australia would only reach ok in Italy. Oh and they make it a lot, lot faster too. I'm not sure why, the machines look the same, there's no special ingredients I just don't know but if you love coffee you will put up with all the noisy, smelly, bossy, push-iny Italians because it will be so worth it! ( Blah blah blah Cuppah !!! I say hehehe - Monique now)

You get a lot more variety in the North which is good. We were getting so sick of tomatoes and cheese, because they are in everything, pizza, pasta, sandwiches there is no escaping them. And frankly Italian pizza is only OK, so they invented it but everywhere else has perfected it, give me Pizza Hut any day. I've found it a little tricky at times as I don't like a few things, its a bit scary ordering things when you aren't quite sure what's in them no major foul ups tho. They put mushrooms in heaps of things too which cut the options down a bit, but I have been eating ham and salami both of which I don't normally do (they like there ham thin here - luckily that's the only way I eat it) but otherwise the only options in your sammie's is TOMATOES & CHEESE!!!! Gelato is fabulous!!!! Eat it at all opportunities that's an order!!! My favourite flavours were (now not quite sure how to spell it) Nociocolato this it wasn't every where also found it here called nuttella its hazelnut and chocolate really yum, Menta was mint really refreshing on a hot day and goes well with the above, Nociola was just hazelnut flavour now I know that sounds a bit weird but it was really nice (good mixed with ciocolato /chocolate when they don't have my fav Nociocolato). They have disposable gloves in supermarkets for handling fruit which was a dag. Oh nuttella is everywhere you see people with these big 1-litre jars its insane! Really good with croissants tho or as they call them brioches. The only thing we really disliked was Chinotto which is a drink put out by a few brands including Fanta looks like coke but tastes like pepper (Scott says unsweetened sarsaparilla with a bitter aftertaste) its revolting and apparently only old Italian people like it. You have been WARNED! On the whole the food was fine, very simple, they don't mix flavours. You won't find spicy even at Indian restaurants (these are hard to find by the way we found 1 in Milan) our definition of a medium curry would blow them away (dad you would probably like it) apparently in Sicily there food is spicier but we can't verify that. Another thing its rather difficult to satisfy sugar cravings, most of the cafes just have croissants (some with fillings like chocolate) but they don't always do the trick.

Transport and getting around (Scott again):
The public transport system here is fantastic (except when they are on strike apparently we hit the strike season (it runs from January 1st to December 31st) I've really enjoyed travelling by train, you see so much and its relatively fast. We have just bought our tickets as we went as we didn't know where we were off to before we left, I think this is the best way to go. Travel agents will tell you to get a Eurorail pass worth NZ$600 (approx) and you apparently only have to pay a booking fee when you get here, but we met an aussie guy the other day (we have bumped into him in quite a few places now) and they were trying to make him pay full ticket price (he had no probs with it in Italy but couldn't use it in Austria).

It takes a bit of getting use to the traffic in Italy our advise would be to not drive if you don't have to. On the motorways its probably not an issue but in the cities its insane. Road rules don't seem to exist, indicators are for decoration, park anywhere there is half a car length gap, tooting is mandatory as is yelling at everyone and everything. Needless to say crossing the road is interesting, at a pedestrian crossing you just have to walk out confidently and hope they are going to stop they have to by law, but will only do it if they think you are going to damage there front bumper.

Cities in short:

-Rome (Roma) is Rome! Its chaotic, its old, there are hawkers everywhere but you love it anyway.

- Cassino small little city off the beaten track, amazing abbey, commonwealth war cemetery

- Naples (Napoli) parts of the city are probably very nice unfortunately we didn't see those parts. Enough said

- Salerno nice little coastal town, great place to stay for day trips to Pompeii and the Amalfi coast. (Beware big brother showers at Hostel Koine)

- Bologna is a city not on most itineraries but a gorgeous city without the chaos.

- Milan (Milano) do go there, everyone says there is not much to do there they are telling fibs. Ok it's not a tourist city but that's a good thing sometimes.

- Florence (Firenze) absolutely gorgeous, if you are into art there's heaps to do! Do get up early and line up at 7ish to get into things its well worth it. Great view from Piazza Michelangelo + Camping Michelangelo.

- Venice (Venezia) Absolutely full of tourists and how they don't have major boating accidents I don't know. but like nothing else you have ever seen.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Yep, just a couple of bums...

So what do you do on your last day in Venice - well if you're like us and you're on the cheap you just walk around exploring - this is actually half the fun as you may have gathered from some previous posts.

It was a gorgeous fine day which makes a difference, and we were travelling light as our little day packs had gotten absolutely saturated the day before, so we looked ever so sophisticated carrying round a yellow supermarket plastic bag.

We decided to look at a different area so headed to the right of the train station (right if you are looking at the station for those of you venturing forth). Now as we were travelling light we were carrying neither the guide book or the map as both were still a bit soggy, (we were a bit naughty and left the air con on all day to dry everything) so we didn't quite do our normal " ooh what's down here" trick and played careful attention to landmarks (or nice shops as the case may be hehehe) so as to not get too lost. turns out that heading in that direction takes you to the shopping district, not just directly to the fancy shops as our previous route had. There was quite an assortment we found a dog accessory shop, a chocolate shop that was selling broken bits (had to get a bag of that it was good too).

We'd heard of this Venice custom of filling any old bottle with the wine of your choice and we just happened to have a couple of old Fanta 1.5L bottles - how convenient I hear you say... Well so did we so we found one of these places and got one filled with the local speciality Prosecco and the other filled with one of my fav's Pinot Noir (well I think that's what it was since they called it Pinot Nero, nero being Italian for dark and noir being French for dark so I figured hey it's probably the right stuff). So three litres of cheap Italian wine for the princely sum of E4.85. Anyway we'd been wandering for sometime now and the feet were starting to want a rest when we again conveniently discovered a nice little park to rest them. Out with the bottle of white (since it was still kinda cold) and there we were, unemployed, sitting on a park bench during the day drinking wine out of plastic bottles - our parents must be proud now!!!!

We actually didn't do much else - funny how cheap booze just drains the enthusiasm right out of you - so we headed back to the camp and prepared for disembarking again the next day. The air-con all day worked a treat too as pretty much everything was dry. Oh, that night we discovered Verona was ridiculously expensive so we're headed for Innsbruck in Austria instead (it's on the way to Munich so stay tuned for the Italy wrap-up). Oh yeah and we had pizza that we took back to our chalet and had some more of that cheap booze - Monique had just a smidgeon too much and was giggling like a French school girl (plenty of them over here)!

Same bat-time, same bat-channel,
Scott & Monique

There's more to Venice than just Venice

So we'd walked around Venice a fair bit so thought it was time to explore some of the other islands in the lagoon. Murano and Burano are probably the most famous (and Lido for it's beaches but since the weather was rather poorly...) so we thought we'd check them out. Doing so is relatively easy as the ferry service that connects all the islands is essentially an extension of the water-bus service so we got a couple of 24-hour passes from the main biglietteria (Italian for ticket office) at the bus station and headed down to the Piazzale Roma waterbus stop. Incidentally this also necessitated our first trip down the Canale Grande!

The Canale Grande:
Water-bus tickets in Venice are somewhat expensive - even by Venice's somewhat extreme standards (a 1-hr pass is E6, 12-hr is E13, 24-hr is E20 etc.) Since we had to get there and back we figured we'd better get the 12-hour pass. Note: while there aren't turnstiles to validate tickets etc. they check them onboard regularly and if yours isn't valid it's a E30 spot fine plus the cost of the actual ticket and they don't accept I'm a tourist and didn't know as an excuse apparently. Anyway I digress, we waited at the Piazzale Roma stop for the #1 to show up, didn't take too long as it's the most used water-bus travelling the length of the Canale Grande stopping at all but one stops then heading out to Lido. Now because of this a lot of other people got onto the #1 with us - it was standing room only and actually pretty tight for space so our trip down the Canale Grande was not exactly a romantic affair. It was still enjoyable however, you get to see just how busy the canals are - there are the water-buses, water-taxis, gondola and personal boats everywhere and much like the actual roads in Italy there appears to be scant use of any rules! And of course the view of Venice from the water is pretty amazing, all the vast old palazzo (palaces for those just joining the show) and the view of the Ponte Rialto (Rialto Bridge) was just pretty cool as it sits just around a bend in the river and is covered in tourists and is a main gondola dock. It was at least half an hour later by the time we reached the San Zaccharia stop (where we swapped to a ferry) which is the stop just after San Marco so we were also treated to seeing the big main piazza from the water.

Burano is a charming little island after the madness of Venice proper and is famous for two things:
1) Handmade lace. Women have been making lace here for centuries and specialise in only one stitch each so they have these sort of production lines where an item is passed around for the appropriate stitch at the appropriate time.
2) Paint-jobs. They have painted their houses bright colours - often with contrasting sills and doors - quite the comical site.
When we arrived it had started to spit so we found a sheltered spot under some trees and tucked into our picnic lunch - only got a couple of odd stares from the locals including some from an old woman who was getting her washing in from a line across a footpath leading from the ferry stop to the town centre?? Headed into the town and had a look around - like Venice this is actually a clump of islands too with it's own set of bridges and boat-filled canals. I really liked Burano - had a very different feel to Venice - they weren't all trying to make a buck from (though don't even think about buying a coffee their - that's clearly where they make their money)! It is however pretty small so after about an hour we headed down to the ferry stop to catch a ride to our next destination.

This is sort of like Burano's big brother, the one with the nice sensible job. A lot busier than Burano, Murano is famous for making all the glass on sale at the tourist stores in Venice. At one time apparently, it even had the European monopoly on mirrors! The cool thing about Murano is that the glass factories are still in operation, right on the main street and they often have their doors open so you can watch the glass being made! A lot of the product is quite touristy, glass animals, chess sets etc. but there is the occasional piece that makes you stop for a second - they clearly know the art of glass-making here. One store that we found - just a small one about as big as your average hotel room had a good collection of quite different pieces - it took me about an hour to pry Monique away (to catch the ferry back to Venice) but she did by what she assures me is a very cool necklace! Apparently it is a paperweight substitute (which she collects) - it does look a little like a small one. So with the pack only a little heavier we caught the ferry back to Venice while the rain was starting to get really heavy. And then the fun began...

Getting back to the bus-stop was more of a challenge than expected however. For one there isn't much cover over the footpaths, street names and directions are hard to find at the best of times and Italians love to cut you off! The ferry stop was not the same one as to where we left and consequently not on one of the main water-bus routes and we were in a hurry to get back to Piazzale Roma to catch the bus back to the campsite - so it was by foot we went. Now I'd been trying pretty hard to get lost in Venice up until now and I almost pulled it off guiding us back to the bus-stop but my keen sense of direction didn't fail and we got there in one piece. To be fair, it did take a little longer than it could have but it was fun - albeit wet fun ha ha.

One more day in Venice to go...
Scott & Monique

Monday, 7 May 2007

Italy Chikita Friendly

This is just a random little entry I've been meaning to mention this for a while and keep forgetting Chikita (for those who don't know she's my families chihuahua)would really like Italy, not only would she get to go in the car but she can also go on buses, trains , the metro, water buses and into shops, and what's more the person taking her for a walk doesn't have to pick up her doo doos over here you just leave them on the footpath for the next unsuspecting person. Check out the link, this was taken on an escalator in a United Colors of Benetton shop we have seen similar ones on the sides of buses near the doors.

Say hi to kiti for me love ya all heaps

from Monique

P.S Scott says tell chikita he says grrrrrr.
PPS. Where are the comments people - we'll stop writing these blog entries!!!

Venice what a random place to build a city

Now we all know that Venice is full of canals, but (I don't think I'm alone in this) I didn't realise that Venice is actually a group of islands only connect to the mainland via a bridge that is 4 lanes of traffic and at least 4 of rail wide. (Scott reckons he knew cos he's a legend and knows just about everything).

On day 2 we wandered around the city. We had no time schedule so we just randomly picked roads that looked interesting to walk down and eventually made it to Piazza San Marco via Ponte Rialto.

Ponte Rialto is one of the major bridges across the grand canal. And much like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence it is covered in shops. Unlike its relative though it doesn't look ready to collapse, has 3 different lanes to disperse the tourists, and it has souvenir shops rather than jewellers.

Piazza San Marco was insanely full of tourists and pigeons. You can tell when you are getting close there are several streets of nice shops (oh exquisite shoes Lesley you are going to need an extra suitcase) and the amount of people increases ten fold as well as the price of gelato. At one end of the piazza you have the duomo (as per normal) with golden mosaics on the facade, the line to have a look inside was huge so we thought we had seen enough duomos anyway and gave it a miss. The rest of the piazza is surrounded by shops and restaurants and has a covered walkway around it. It was quite amazing some of the decor of the restaurants very antique french looking lots of gilt, ornate wrought iron balustrades and pooffy chairs (thats a technical term that). A few of these posh eateries had people playing grand pianos out the front one even had a full band. Needless to say we didn't venture forth and managed to find a ham an egg sandwich (it was really good too hadn't had egg for quite a few weeks) which we had take away as you get charged more if you sit down.

We were wandering around the piazza and were looking at some glass paper weights in a window when we heard some screaming we turned around to see the pigeons going postal it was like a seen from the birds, there were thousands of them. I was sooo glad we were under cover also glad to know I'm not the only one who is scared of pigeons! (Scott is still hassling me about the incident in Bologna).

After that we headed for the waterfront by the Canale della Guidecca and sat down rested the poor feet and watched a huge cruise ship go past. It was really nice down there, it was quite funny we were walking along an all of a sudden there was a supermarket it was really random.

After that we decided to call it a day and headed for the bus station to catch the shuttle to the camping ground that it turned out was running.

Catch ya later

Love from Monique and Scott

Venice Sun, Stairs and rude italians

We arrived in Venezia (Venice) on Monday 30th to a gorgeous sunny day. We had to cross 3 bridges to get to Piazza Roma (the bus station and major water bus station on the grand canal). Now three bridges your probably thinking yeah big woop but these aren't normal bridges no, because of all the water buses, gondolas, water taxis and dingys going down the canals the bridges have a flight of stairs on each side ( a rather steep one at that), so needless to say we were rather puffed and melting by the time we got to the bus station.

That is some thing I have noticed a lot in Italy, but particularly in Venice, although they have a surprising amount of people missing limbs the cities particularly around train stations are not very disabled person friendly, i.e lots of stairs which don't always have hand rails either. Actually they aren't very friendly to people with luggage either. And bus stops very rarely have seats! Well thats my little bitch for the day can you tell my knee is playing up? Stairs and a big backpack ARE NOT good friends!

Ok I've got a bit side tracked we got to the bus station now we had read that the place where we are staying had a shuttle service but it didn't start running till later in the season so we finally worked out we were going to have to catch the No#5 bus to the airport and then catch the No#15 for 4 stops. What we guessed was the ticket booth had a sign up with prices starting at E6, we were thinking damn thats a bloody expensive bus ride but those prices turned out to be for the water buses. Got our tickets and then saw the No#5 bus drive away and had to wait around for half an hour. We lined up waiting for the bus to arrive when 2 Italian tourists ( 1 with horrendous bright stubbies on and sunscreen only half rubbed in) came and stood infront of us right where the bus would park. Of course when the bus arrived they got tooted at to get out of the way, now A: I've got a damn heavy pack on and am unable to move in a hurry, and B: I'm not letting some bloody rude Italians push in front of me! So i didn't move, he starts abusing me in Italian I explain in English you pushed in and he makes mocking baby noises, so I turned to the universal language of the finger. I think he was rather shocked that a girl did it and wouldn't back down to him. Needless to say I was rather glad when they got off at a different stop to us. Actually that was the 2nd run in I've had with tourists pushing in the first was some dumb Americans who had failed to read the rather obvious sign showing you where to line up outside the Accademia (where David lives) in Florence, (Scott didn't include that in the blog entry to retain the blogs G rating.)

We made it to Alba D'oro the camping ground we were staying at alright. It wasn't quite as flash as it looked on the website but it was fine. Had a beautiful pool and spas (that we didn't get to use because it closed before we got home or the weather wasn't permitting), a bar, restaurant, and supermarket. We had a chalet with our own bathroom for E37 a night, these chalets are alot closer together than the ones we stayed in in Bologna, so it was alot noisier. Matthew you would love it, the camp is right next to the Marco Polo Airport there were 747's taking off all the time right above us you could read all the signage on the planes we were that close.

Well that was the grand sum of our first day in Venice. See you here next time.

Love from Monique and Scott

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Frescoes - just for a change!

Just a short blog entry for a change =) Last full day in Florence and wondering what to do when I stumbled across an entry for some frescoes in some random church. Apparently they were done by two guys; the master (age 41) and the student (age 22) some years back. By the end the circle was complete, with the apprentice teaching the master my young jedi (sorry wrong movie)! Anyway, Michelangelo was so impressed by these frescoes that he came and took sketches from them before doing the Sistine Chapel (and when you look at them you can see some resemblance's - not that he was copying - I believe you arty-types call in appropriation). Oh and as the story goes, he so enraged a young artist with his arrogance while looking at these frescoes that the young guy broke his nose on the chapel steps.

Quite a nice walk to the church (Santa Maria del Carmine for those keeping count) from the campsite - on the same side of the river (south-side) so got some nice views of the town when I wasn't dragging Monique up some side-street determined to get as lost as possible. Anyway, finally got there and had to wait to go in (they only let in so many at a time and then only for 15-minutes) - but the price was surprisingly not too bad E4 for me and E3 for Molly as she is just a youngun' (Note: if you're under 26 you're often eligible for a reduced rate - worth checking out - of course no good for a seasoned individual as myself - ho hum...) While waiting on the steps to the church I managed to capture the photo linked to this entry - this is typical in Italy - two people on a scooter going flat past some squillion year old treasure!

Oh yeah - so to summarise if you get to Florence, these frescoes are worth checking out, the tourist crowd is minimal - there may have been about 30 other people milling about and they are the second best frescoes (after the Sistine Chapel of course). Actually they may have been better - this is way you should get to see the Sistine, in small groups and not hurried and barged through like cattle to the slaughterhouse, it was nice and quiet and you could actually appreciate them properly. Unfortunately no flash photography and with low light levels everything came out blurry so if you want to know what they're like you'll have to just come here and see for yourself (no googling cos that's cheating)!

South-side in the house!
Scott & Monique

Just another sculpture - NOT!

So there's this little sculpture called David done by some guy called Michelangelo - you may have heard of it. Anyway, it's pretty popular around these parts so we figured we should go and see what all the fuss was about. Now this is the weird part - especially for Florence, David lives in the Galleria dell'Academia (or something like that) which is located just North of the central city (Duomo etc.). Much like the Uffizi we got up early to beat the crowds and walked down into the town - really is a nice city before all the tourists swamp everything (damn tourists ha ha).

Anyway, I was pretty much following my nose (not literally recommended in Italy with the streets pretty much being used as WC's) but anyway we found the place located up a little street with only 2 150-mm square signs to let you know where to queue (one for reservations, one for without reserved tickets - we of course joined the disorganised persons line - 3rd and 4th). Totally unassuming and quite bizarre - closer to opening time with the lines a lot longer, hawkers setting up etc. it would be a lot easier to spot.

At this point I have to highly recommend just turning up without a reservation (well outside of the high season anyway) providing you can pry yourself out of bed (I don't think Monique would have made it if she was tripping by herself!) Both here and at the Uffizi we've just turned up early and gotten in at the same time as those with early reservations - except we haven't paid the booking fees!

NOTE: To buy your ticket inside you need exact change - I think this is actually a cunning plan to make sure you buy over-priced postcards from the gift shop conveniently located next to the ticket booths!

Anyway, got our tickets and had the smart idea of just going straight to David to avoid the rush of people later on - so we turned 2 corners and there he was already (this gallery isn't very big).

I must say out of all the amazing sites I've seen (the Colosseum, Vatican, Pompeii, Pisa etc.) David was the first thing that has left me awe-struck. It is quite simply an amazing site to behold, the size (he must be 4-metres high and the detail and the naturalness of his pose his just incredible. Being that early we got to see him up close and for quite a while - the setting was quiet and with no hustle and bustle - this is what the Sistine Chapel should've been like. With the corridor leading to him lined with unfinished Michelangelo sculptures I now feel like I've seen something special. Unfortunately no photo's allowed so sorry no pics of him.

We did have a look around the rest of the museum (some art showing the transition from Byzantine to Renaissance styling, the musical instruments collection of the Medici's and some more marble busts and sculptures) and finally left when tour groups and school kids started crowding the viewing room.

Since I hadn't had my daily coffee yet we decided to find somewhere to stop for a bit. Just around the corner we found one bar that was chockfull of tourists and just past it a second one that had a couple of locals in - that was us. Always go for the places with the locals, the coffee is better and usually cheaper too!

After recharging we headed off to see the Duomo, Belltower and Baptistry in the centre of the city. These three structures right in the middle of old Florence are simply incredible. Built when Florence was at it's peak to demonstrate to the rest of the world just how mighty they were - the Duomo especially is a gigantic building of dark and white marble, spires and so many different levels your eyes get a bit lost trying to take it all in. Just walking around these buildings was an effort in itself with the Piazza Duomo full of people so we had a good look and escaped into the rich people shopping district to have a look around (could not for the life of me get Monique into Versace, but did manage to drag her into Armani and Louis Vutton - I figured she'd regret it later if she didn't and of course Kate would never let her live it down =)

Well as it was now getting on a bit we headed back to the train/bus station to organise train to Venice and bus back to camping ground. On the way we passed a department store with actually nice looking things inside so we thought we'd check it out. Lucky we did too because I've now brought something for myself over here - I now own a genuine Italian leather wallet (my old one was actually falling to pieces - no really it was!) and got it for the princely sum of E19.80. All in all a good day.

Prossima fermata
Scott & Monique

PS. Had steak for tea too - it was great!

Uffizi Gallery

Hello again
On day 3 in Florence we decided to go to the Uffizi gallery (thee most famous gallery/museum in Italy). Now we had heard quite a bit about the queue to get in rivalling that of the vatican museums and it looked pretty lengthy when we had seen it a couple of days before, so we decided to try and ring the reservation line. We rang the night before and you couldn't get a prebooked ticket (which costs a couple of euro more) until the 4 May! So we were going to have to get up early to try and beat the crowds.

We got up at 6am (cos I had to wash my hair Lesson #1 do not have showers at Camping Michelangelo at 6 in the morning the hot water has not been wasted yet and you will end up with 2nd degree burns!! according to Scott this was not a problem in the boys apparently boys are tough.) Ok so after my scalding we walked into town at rather a fast pace, and got to the Uffizi at 7.15am (took about 15min to walk) and ended up about 6th and 7th in line (Lesson#2 the early bird really does catch the worm). We had taken a big 1.5litre bottle of water with us to save money on drinks during the day, but you aren't allowed to take liquids or food into the museum so we had to throw it away. (Lesson#3 don't take drinks into museums).

The building itself the gallery is in is pretty impressive, the collection of works started off as the Medici families private collection, and I think the building was their house, but it has been a museum since the mid 1700s (or something like that ages anyway).

The highlight of the museum is "The birth of venus" by Bottecelli (the one of the chick standing in the clamshell with her long hair swept round hiding her rude bits for those of you who didn't know). It was absolutely amazing to see in person its really big. We managed to get to see it just before a big japanese tour group which was good timing. I spent the whole time we were aqt the gallery saying "oh we saw that in Art history and that" it must have driven scott nuts. I was really annoyed "the Annunciation " by Da Vinci was on loan to the Museum in Tokyo!! I had used this painting in an essay when I was studying and it would have been the first completed painting by DaVinci that we had seen (they had another one by him there but half of it was still sketches like the one at the vatican). Scott was annoyed the painting of one of the Medici's wearing red that they always use to advertise the museum wasn't there either, oh well I spose it gives us an excuse to come back to Florence.

After the Uffizi we went and checked out the Ponte Vecchio the oldest bridge in Firenze. I spose it is a bridge in a sense that it links one river bank with the other but it feels more like a street when you are on it as it is lined with shops, mostly jewellers. I can see your eyes light up mum but not only were they incredibly expensive some of the stuff was just so heinous and over the top it was ridiculous. I wonder how most of them survive on window shopppers alone.

For some unknown reason we decided to walk back up to the camping ground. Lesson#4 Getting up at 6 and having a carsick tablet the day before are not good friends! I thought we were getting fitter but man that was a killer. ( Scott adds he was tough walking back up). All in all tho an awesome day well worth getting up early.

Love to everyone, Missed you arty folk walking around the gallery ( not that the company was bad) .
From Monique and Scott

It sure does lean

So we figured we'd better go to Pisa and see what the fuss is all about. Got up pretty early - must've been about 6:30am (well hey it's early for us anyway!) and made our way to the train station to get a local train out there. It's not too far - took about an hour and a half with probably about half a dozen stops on the way (seemed a lot shorter to Monique though it would be if you are asleep for half the trip!). Really neat region Tuscany - along the way we kept seeing examples of the picturesque hill towns you hear so much about - a small ridge and there will be a dozen stone towers and palazzo (that's palace for you Italian newbies) sticking out of it.

Got to Pisa and decided to walk to the tower - now while it is a small town, there is a lot more to Pisa than just the tower - maybe I'm just showing my ignorance but it's not that small and back in the day, Pisa was threatening Florence for a while. The station is south of the town so we walked through these narrow little streets, just following a general compass direction (yep, that phone of mine sure does come in handy with the built-in compass). Pisa is actually a really nice place, away from the tower itself it's not overwhelmed by tourists guessing they mostly arrive by bus and never see the town itself). Found a couple of little market places with fresh food (and more fish/octopus/shellfish for Monique to turn her nose up at) and a lot of neat little specialty stores.

As we crossed the river, things changed a little, the streets got a little wider and a fair bit busier. Oh and the scooters were back in force (being a university town, there are a fair few around). When the street stalls selling every touristy knickknack imaginable (except cufflinks - why not flipping cufflinks I ask!) started appearing we figured we were heading in the right direction. Then turned a corner and appearing out of nowhere was the tower and the duomo at the end of the street. You'd think we'd be used to this after Rome but it's still gets us everytime - you turn some normal corner on a normal street and there's this famous monument/building etc. right there.

Just as an aside for those who didn't know (I certainly didn't until I read the guidebook =) the Leaning Tower is not sitting somewhere by itself, it's actually the belltower for a huge duomo (or cathedral) and on the other side of the duomo is a nearly as impressive baptistry. Any I digress...

We made our way to the tower and found our way to the ticket booth - two E15 tickets later we had a 40-minute wait to climb the tower. This bit surprised me - I assumed there would be a huge wait with massive queues but not at all, they let 40 people up at a time and every 20-minutes! So we mucked around on the big lawns around the tower base until it was time (oh and found the loo's for Molly =). They warn you about the climb but after St. Peters Basilica this was nothing, a little windy and a little cramped but got up to the top without too much trouble (only a measly 300 steps) - see we are becoming fit!!! The weird thing was because of the lean half the steps are really easy to step up onto and the other half are harder. Oh and the steps are really worn - and then you realise you're following people like Gallileo up there (though we're not allowed to throw anything off :-( but still very, very cool.

The view from the top is simply incredible, the lean is quite obvious and you could see some tourists were having just a little trouble with it - white skinned knuckles holding onto the handrails etc. They rang the bells while were up there too which was pretty cool - even if they did give poor Monique a bit of a fright (they had given a multilingual warning prior as well - most amusing). Oh yeah, when I say the top I mean the top top, you walk around one of balconies two flights down first but you do get to the actual top. Beautiful sunny day and not as much haze as the big cities meant we did get some great views - but too quickly they tell you to make your way down!

Down the bottom we found a stall that was selling American hot dogs of all things and you know what - after nearly a month of pizza and panini that sounded pretty damn good - so hot dogs and coke it was for lunch.

We'd brought tickets for the duomo as well (being a significantly cheaper E2) and headed in there. Not as big as the duomo in Florence but still pretty neat. Nice and cool too - was nice to escape the heat for a little while.

We'd come to the tower from the East (remember just following my nose/compass) so we decided to take the main route out on the south side of the complex. This was absolutely teeming with market stalls, "independent vendors" and tourists. I think about half the worlds supply of leather handbags, wallets and belts was on sale here. But we forged on and braved the throng! Luckily we did to - because off of one of the "independent vendors" Monique purchased a Dolce and Gabbana belt - top notch quality for just E13 (though this was his special price to us because we're his friends he said!) Oh yeah and he needed a translator who then tried to sell me a Genuine Rolex. We really must've been his friends too because he was offering the Genuine Rolex for just E20!!!

We managed to escape the markets with our wallets still intact - warning to Kate and Lynda (give your money to someone else to hold onto or you will end up stuck in Italy with no money left and only about 6 dozen handbags to show for it)! Wandered back through the town - this time through the University area. Much like a normal university town it's kinda weird, all these students mulling around with the Leaning Tower so close! We found a gelato shop and got a cone to help beat the heat and made our way back to the train station just in time to catch it back to Florence (Monique complained about how long the trip took - but it was only because this time she wasn't shark-facing!)

All in all another great day in Italy!

Miss you all (but not enough to come back yet ;-)
Scott & Monique

fireNZe First Encounters

Finally got a chance to write about Florence (Firenze). Where do I start?

Ok the camping ground we are staying in (Camping Michelangelo) is up on this hill next to Piazza Michelangelo which is a big square/lookout (which is always full of tourist buses, souvenir stalls and hawkers selling fake Gucci handbags) with a bronze statue of David in the centre. The rest of the area up here is quite flash (very garden district for those of you that know what i mean) tree lined streets, massive old villas/mansions behind big cast iron gates, its gorgeous. The camping ground was pretty well equipped a bar, supermarket, atm horrendously expensive internet, amazing view it was pretty good for 35E a night.

Our first proper day there we walked down this walkway from the piazza to town and wandered around town all day. Man there are tourists everywhere here!! Heaps of markets (Mum you would go mental) lots of stalls selling leather goods, unfortunately all the handbags I like are still quite dear!!! Typical!

We saw the line for The Uffizi gallery man it was huge so we decided we would use the booking line. That was about all for day 1.

Catch you later

love from Monique and Scott