Guess who’s back, back again? Ailish’s back, tell a friend. Guess who’s back? Guess who’s back? Guess who’s back? Dun nah nah, nah nah…
Now that I’ve successfully gotten Eminem in your head, I think it’s time to get on with this long post that I’ve been putting off for a while. You have no idea how hard this is to write. After three months of no rhythm whatsoever – this including my journal, which has suffered immensely – it is time I finally tell you how I’m doing, and what I’ve been doing!
To make this easier for everyone, I’m going to turn this summer into three chapters. I’m not going to go by month, but more like sections of my holidays. I guess you’ll understand what I’m talking when you read them. I figured I’m going to be even more persuaded to procrastinate if I try to make this a one chapter/post, so I’ll work my fingers away on this good old English keyboard to keep you up to date! Didn’t understand what I was saying about an ‘English’ keyboard? Well that’s one of the reasons why I haven’t written to you in months- I didn’t have my laptop with me! Of course, whenever you’re on someone else’s computer it doesn’t feel comfortable, nor do you want to spend too much time on it, but what is even worse here is that I’ve been using a French computer! Yep, and the keys are not at all the same. It does make it easier to type in French, but it’s not always helpful when you can’t seem to find the ‘@’ button and it turns out you have to hit three keys just to get to it. So, I’m sorry for all of those who have been going mad not hearing news from me- the magic of Europe and France just got to me.
Without further ado, welcome to my first three weeks of my 2012 summer holidays!
Tuesday 19th June is where we begin the story. An early start to the day in my host father’s parents’ Parisian apartment, and my host mother (Ségolène- if you remember her name) and I make our way on the RER to Charles de Gaulle airport so that I can catch my 10am plane. We find the place to validate my boarding pass, and then wait at the meeting point for my friend, Tineke (from New Zealand and staying in France with STS as well) who will be taking the same flight as me. Ségolène and Tineke have a coffee at one of the many airport cafes, and then Ségolène and I wish each other the best for the next few months. Everything goes according to plan, and just before entering the plane, Tineke and I find Mamiaw (from Thailand) who we had been trying to find but couldn’t until that point. The flight is as good as a flight can be, I meet an interesting woman from the United States and we have a good chat, so once we’ve left the plane and we have to say goodbye, she gives me a hug (so sweet, right?). Mamiaw, Tineke and I meet each other just outside the aeroplane, and by this time it is 12pm and we have officially arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark! We find our way to the youth hostel, and that’s where we meet most of the group! In our STS Europe Tour we have 13 Australians, 7 New Zealanders, 2 Canadians, one Thai, one Taiwanese, one Chinese, one Ecuadorian, 2 Italians, and our 3 Swedish leaders (Anne, Farida, and P.O. (the chauffeur). These statistics obviously mean that during the Tour one must be deaf to not hear prominent Australian and Kiwi accents from the left, right and centre. In fact, having Australians and Kiwis together means a lot of accent comparing, and my Australian friend Veronica makes sure to criticise my accent at every chance she gets.
Copenhagen! We spend the afternoon and the next morning getting to know this vibrant, Scandinavian city! While there isn’t much to go see in Copenhagen, you can easily spend your time strolling through the streets, looking at stores, and taking in the positive, touristic energy of the town. The first night I had the pleasure in participating in a Scottish comedian’s street performance, as he lay shirtless on a bed of glass while a large man stood on his stomach I had to be the support of the large man. You may have seen the photos I was tagged in on Facebook- it was pretty scary but hilarious. The next day we all hopped on the Tour bus for the first time, and drove towards Germany! I’m going to be honest with you: I didn’t really enjoy Germany. We spent two nights and one and a half days there, and I was blatantly disappointed. The morning after we arrived was spent in the bus with a tour guide, driving around Berlin, and I found the history interesting but the town itself much too modern and much too miserable. We took a stop at the Berlin wall and the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, and at the end of the tour we were dropped off at Check Point Charlie Museum. A lot of the others agreed with me in saying that the museum had much too information to read and not enough room to reflect upon what it was all about. In fact, I still don’t have any idea as to what the museum was about- there were just too many paragraphs on the walls that I read the information without registering it into my brain. After the museum, we had time to eat lunch and go souvenir shopping, and then it was off to a Concentration Camp! Of course having overcast weather did not help with the mood at all, and so the visit was just a big ball of depression. It was a Working Camp, so it wasn’t as depressing as it could be, because I’ve heard that Extermination Camps stay in your memories forever, but it was as still as morbid as any Concentration could be. Of course I took only one photo, because I thought it would be inappropriate to go all out.
Next day, and we were on the road again! We made two more stops in Germany, which I actually really liked; Spreewald being a cute little German village where we took a boat ride on the beautiful river, and Dresden being a magnificent, historical town that we got to saw in the blaring hot sun (meaning that we bought some delicious, cheap ice creams). That evening we arrived in Prague, Czech Republic! Believe it or not: that was one of my favourite places we went to on tour! Our day in Prague was a busy, crazy, fun day! Taking the tram and then the metro that morning, we got to central Prague! Just outside of the metro station, we were met by our city guide who took us on an hour’s tour and told us a great bit about the history of the city. Everything about Prague was absolutely beautiful, ancient and mystical. I’m really happy that Prague was in the Europe Tour; because otherwise I would’ve never visited it and never seen what wonders had awaited me. That day I hung out with my Kiwi friends - Tineke, Monique, Tara, Amy – and my Australian friend Veronica (and at one point we were with two other Australians- Brooke and Ellen). For lunch we had traditional Czech food at a restaurant, and then we had some delicious Prague pastries. The weather was absolutely beautiful, and hot, so from doing a lot of walking we were exhausted by the end of the day. Being exhausted made it hard for us to get the energy to go to the largest dance club in Europe, but we went that night anyway! Of course, I thought it would be more amazing than it was, but the music was pretty terrible and it was really hard to dance to, so I came to the conclusion that I don’t like clubbing.
Nekk day we moved on to Vienna, Austria!! Arriving at midday, we set off to do what we wanted until 4pm, so we decided to eat a balanced lunch at McDonald’s. This meaning I could eat a rainbow-filled Mars Bar McFlurry. At 4pm we all met by the cathedral to take a horse carriage ride through Vienna! That was an awesome way to begin our visit! That night for dinner we went to a town called Grinzing to eat at a cute little restaurant where we ate schnitzel and enjoyed the music of some Austrian performers. A full day ahead of us, and we could do whatever we wanted, so what did my Kiwi friends and I do? We got lost in Vienna! For lunch we ate some Austrian treats from a bakery and criticised them as if we were Masterchef judges, and then we visited the Butterfly House of Vienna! It was a very pretty and serene place where you can see many different types of flowers and butterflies (I guess it was like what Butterfly Creek in Auckland would be like). That night was a fun-filled evening as we went to the well-known ‘Prater’ which is an amusement park that you don’t pay for the entry but for each ride. It was fairly expensive, but we enjoyed it nevertheless! Heading off early in the morning – it was always early, like 8 or 7am – we arrived in Budapest by lunchtime! That afternoon with my group of kiwi friends plus Veronica, we took a walk through the town and found the indoor market! Everything was so interesting and cheap, so we bought a zillion things! After lunch and a bit of shopping, we strolled over the bridge which looked over the Danube. We took some photos, hung out a bit, and discovered the beauty of Hungary. Once we’d gotten to our Hungarian hotel, we ate dinner and I went on my first ever run with Tara! Figure that, I started to run in the holidays! We left that hotel in the morning to stay the next night in Balaton which was one of my preferred towns of the trip, and my favourite hotel of all! The day was spent at a farm where we watched a “Puszta” show (a horse show) and ate a traditional Hungarian meal! That night was probably the best moment of the whole tour. I ate an ice cream for dinner, Amy, Tara, Tineke and I went running, we took a swim in the hotel’s pool, and then hung out in the hotel’s sauna with a large percentage of the STS group. Of course we had the funniest of conversations in the sauna, but as well as some meaningful discussions between us. That night was such a great bonding time between a lot of us, and I think most of us appreciated getting some down time to just talk about anything.
A day on the bus! The day was cut in the middle, as we got to visit the Postojna caves in Slovenia (which gave me many ideas for my future novels), and by that evening we had arrived in Lido di Jesolo in Italy! Taking a ferry the first thing next morning from Lido to Venice, we landed in one of the most beautiful cities in the world to be greeted by clear skies and intense humidity. My. Gosh. I don’t really want to explain to you how amazing that place is because I don’t think I would do it justice! I’m sure many of the films you’ve seen have given you some ideas (don’t count The Tourist because I really don’t like that movie). Let’s just say there’s no way I’m not going back! The only problem is that there were too many people. We basically spent the whole day shopping for masks, and of course we ate some pizza and gelatos for lunch. That evening as a goodbye to the two Italians in the group (Kiara and Lorenzo) we went to the beach in Lido and played some fun games, and went swimming in the amazingly warm sea. The next day was such a great day. We could wake up when we wanted, do what we wanted, and be with who we wanted in Lido di Jesolo. I took this opportunity to sleep in and miss breakfast (as did most people), we went shopping (I bought those amazing, floral pants), go swimming at the hotel pool, ate pizza for lunch, and hung out on the beach, where we hired paddle boats! ITALY IS SO GOOD. More bus time, and we had driven to Switzerland the next day! Zermatt: a town without cars, and what a beautiful town it is! Situated in a Youth Hostel among many other hotels and chalets, our bedroom window faced Mt. Toblerone, but because of the fog we couldn’t see the mountains. The weather in Switzerland was the worst that we got during the tour, but in a way it was the best. It was freezing, raining and foggy practically the whole time, but I found that it made everything prettier and that the air was so fresh and clean. The day we spent in Zermatt we went tramping in the mountains, but because it was too cold and Tineke, Amy, Mamiaw and I were too slow we all retreated earlier than the others and took hot showers at the youth hostel. We then went souvenir shopping in the village where I bought an engraved Swiss army knife! The day we left Zermatt the sun was shining and the sky was clear, and right outside our window was Mt. Toblerone saying ‘Guten Morgen’ to everyone!
More driving and we got to Paris!! I’m going to be pretty brief with you on this part of the trip, because I’m pretty sure you’re all familiar with Paris (and will be even more informed by the end of this year, as I’m going there two more times). The hotel we stayed in was in a not-so-ideal suburb of Paris, and so we had horrible rooms and really bad customer service. I did not enjoying staying there- especially by the fact that we stayed there for three nights! First day in Paris was pretty scary, to say the least. The morning was spent on a bus tour looking at the big sights of Paris (I fell asleep, I was too tired and already knew the history anyway), and then spent the rest of the day doing what we want. With Veronica, Monique, Brooke and Ellen we went to the Catacombs of Denfer Rochereau, ate some good old French cuisine for lunch, did souvenir shopping, saw the Shakespeare Library/store, and had no time to go to the Louvre (which is what I had been wanting to see forever). That evening everyone met up at Montmartre (you know? The Sacre Coeur) to eat dinner in a little restaurant, and then we drove to the Eiffel Tower to climb it at night! It even sparkled while we were standing on it. The next day was spent in Disneyland! It’s pretty clear that that was a magical day! We went on many rides, ate many delicious things, and got to see the Disney parade! After leaving the dodgy hotel the next day, we had another day on the bus, cut in the middle by a little trip in Brussels (where we ate fries and waffles) before arriving in Amsterdam! We spent the afternoon in a cheese and clog factory (where I bought cheese and clogs), and then we got to the best Youth Hostel we had had on the whole trip. The only problem was that that night I accidentally made my favourite necklace (the Chert one) fall and smash- not a fun night. We spent the next morning in the Anne Frank museum where we walked into the ‘Annexe’ and got to see exactly what it was like when her and her family were in hiding! It was really interesting. The rest of day was saved for doing whatever we wanted. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the Red Light District because we were bad with directions- I guess that gives me a reason to return. Instead we went shopping, and I ate some Dutch drop and stroopwafel! That afternoon we took a boat tour on the river, but I didn’t really listen to the information they were giving about Amsterdam and instead just enjoyed the scenery. ! The sun was shining bright that day, and the river was so beautiful, so I really enjoyed being in such a pretty town with some really interesting architecture.
Only a few days remained after Holland, and the day after Amsterdam we drove back to Denmark. In the trip from the Netherlands to Denmark I slept for 3 hours on the bus, which was very satisfying! For the next two nights we stayed in cabins of 8 at a Water Park resort called Lalandia. In those cabins we made our own lunches and dinners at the little kitchenette. Our last day together was pretty casual. We ate a big lunch together in the central part of Lalandia, and then could split off to do whatever we want, so I went back to my cabin and slept (yeah, I never got a sufficient amount of sleep on that tour), ate some lunch, and then that afternoon we hit the pools! It was pretty great; they had cold pools, hot pools, and two slides. Of course it wasn’t mega Water Park like they’d have in the USA, but it was quite a nice place to spend the last day in. That night was a part-ay! Everyone gathered together in one of the cabins and we truly put on a wild soiree! Junk food, loud music, funny games, and everyone signing everyone’s red STS t-shirts, a great way to finish an amazing three weeks. We packed everything up the next morning, hopped on the bus, and made our way back to Copenhagen and the hostel we had first arrived at to meet everyone. I stayed another night before taking my flight back to France, but a lot of people left then and there- so obviously some tears were involved (not from me funnily enough- I don’t seem to be able to cry as easily nowadays). The next day it was over. Everything had ended. It was time to go back to France and go on a train to the north of France, but that’s for next time…
So, the things I won’t forget from the Europe tour?
- The bus- all our games, music (Ed Sheeran playing non-stop), sleep, movies, and random facts taught by P.O. The bus is where everything happened.
- Late-night McDonald’s meal with Siv and Hank in Switzerland.
- Singing at just about every place we went to.
- Eating so much junk food I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a vegetable.
- Veronica’s and my never-ending midnight conversation in Prague.
- Eating one and a half pizzas in Lalandia, and still feeling hungry.
That trip was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done, and I don’t think it’s something I could ever forget, but of course it’s always those little, random things that stay in your head.
Okay, well that’s it for now, I’ll continue with my recount of the holidays soon!
Until next time,