Of course, when I said I’d get better about posting these, I actually meant worse.
Turns out Bourbon Street isn’t so bad at night, after a full afternoon of drinking with new friends. It’s definitely an experience everyone should have at least once, but that heavy partying scene isn’t really for me.
Day 24 Travel day. Early bus out of New Orleans to Austin, with a connection in Houston. Got in pretty late.
Austin is wonderful. It’s just a chill, laid back kind of place. The weather is nice, it’s clean, there are parks, galleries and trendy bars. I’m kind of glad I missed SXSW, because I think I’m too old for festivals (but ask me again after I go to GTM Bendigo next month).
I checked out the Mexic-arte Museum, which celebrates art by Lantinx artists. It’s a cool little place, well worth price of entry.
Day 26 Today I made the trek to Castle Hill Graffiti Park, which was pretty cool. A lot of it is just kind of a mess of people tagging on top of each other, but there was some seriously cool art. Apparently it’s scheduled to be demolished and relocated soon, so I’m glad I saw the original.
Also, Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in the world. So just after sunset you can see them emerge from under the Congress Bridge. There’s a viewing area set up and everything.
Travel day. And it was a doozy. All through the night until…
The reason we’re all here. Because to get where we’re going, there’s one place we’ve got to go past. And you can’t go the wrong way, because who knows where you’ll end up?
I am of course referring to this blog’s namesake, That Left Turn At Albuquerque. Bane of the early trans-continental traveller’s existence, and subject of one of Bugs Bunny’s lesser known catchphrases.
Albuquerque is a pretty cool little city, and their zoo is impressive for the size of the place. I can see why Weird Al wrote that one song about it.
Day 29 Travel day. This time I traded in the slow, quiet atmosphere in Albuquerque for the bright lights of Las Vegas.
But the Strip was going to have to wait, because I had a bucket list item to tick off.
I’ll admit, until now, I’d looked at pictures of the Grand Canyon, and just shrugged. It’s a hole in the ground. It looks pretty cool, but is it really a ‘Wonder’?
Well, I’m here to say, no pictures do it justice. No picture can really depict the sheer scale of the canyon. Can’t capture the array of colours in the rock. Can’t convey the awe-inspiring feeling of just how small we really are compared to the world.
Go to the Grand Canyon y’all. If you only ever go to one of the places I’ve told you about, make it this one.
I’m not a gambler. The entire sex industry really creeps me out (but hey, do whatever you want with your own body). And I’m not into drinking on my own. So really, Las Vegas didn’t have much to offer me.
I hit the buffet at the MGM Grand in the morning, and couldn’t really move again until the sun went down. I walked the Sunset Strip, and watched the Bellagio Fountain for hours (and got pretty close to the actual Stanley Cup while they were shooting promo videos for the upcoming NHL Playoffs).
Las Vegas is definitely a spectacle, but if I was to come back, it would have to be with other people.
Which brings us to today, which was another travel day. I left Vegas in the morning, and despite my bus being in a minor accident somewhere near San Bernardino, I am now in Anaheim, within walking distance of the Happiest Place On Earth, Disneyland.
Depending on how tight my LA hostel is with letting me use their facilities after I check out, my last diary might actually be written after I get home. Unless I shock everyone and write one that’s just about Disney. Which is probably the only thing that could improve my post rate.
Ok, I’m getting lazier with these. But I’m here now, everything is alright.
When I last checked in, I had just got to Buffalo, so it made sense that my first stop would be the one thing in the Buffalo area: Niagara Falls.
The Canadian side is supposed to be much nicer, but I didn’t want to add an extra border crossing to my week, no point complicating things. The American side was still quite spectacular, though not as loud as I expected.
The rest of the night is a blur, because the only thing to do in Buffalo at this time of the year is drink. And, since it was actually St Patrick’s Day, it was certainly the day for it.
For some reason, the St Patrick’s Day Parade is held the day after St Patrick’s Day, so today was a continuation of the previous night’s drinking, though somewhat more cautious than the night before. Not much to report travel-wise, Buffalo might be full of great people, but it’s not much for the sights.
Time for another travel day, crossing over into the Great White North, Canada. Of course, I didn’t see a bit of snow the whole time I was there, which was quite a nice change from New York state (and London the week before).
I spent the rest of the afternoon recovering from Buffalo.
Another day, another bucket list item (I will get around to updating the list, maybe today even?). This time it was the one-time tallest building in the world, the CN Tower.
The view from the main viewing area (in that middle bubble part) is pretty spectacular, especially over Lake Ontario. The elevator windows certainly make the trip up to that section much more exciting than other tall towers.
However, the topmost viewing area is a little… Underwhelming. The windows are small, it’s cramped and covered in graffiti.
In hindsight, I probably could have done a diary that afternoon, since I spent it chilling out at the hostel, which was a pretty cool little place called The Only Backpacker’s Hostel.
Day 15 You know what I love? Dinosaurs. Because I’ll never stop being a five year old. So a trip to the Royal Ontario Museum was in order. It’s more of a catch-all museum than the places I had visited in New York, or London, so it had quite a collection of artifacts from multiple cultures, in addition to a nice collection of dinosaur bones.
Fun fact, it took longer for me to pass US Customs at the Canadian border than it did coming in at JFK.
Massive travel day to Chicago, via Detroit, so I basically got to the hostel and crashed.
Both the CN Tower and the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower claim to be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. The CN Tower is taller, but a lot of sources don’t count the spire. Even so, One World Trade Center is taller than the Willis Tower.
I think this is my last tall building for a while, because I don’t much feel like paying for a view. The view of Chicago is nice enough, and the weather was clearer, so looking out over Lake Michigan was nicer than looking out over Lake Ontario. Apparently on a very clear day, you can see into four states. Unfortunately, they don’t exactly mark the borders on the ground, so I can’t confirm or deny.
I continued channeling my inner Cameron from Ferris Bueller and made my way over to the Art Institute of Chicago to look at some paintings. Sidenote: The CityPass is 100% worth it if you have a few days. I actually used everything in it this time.
I also managed to go to the former Public Library, which is now a Cultural center, though the beautiful entrance hall and upper halls are fully intact and quite stunning.
Day 18 Today I, uh, went to see some dinosaurs. But not just any dinosaurs. A dinosaur celebrity. The one. The only. The largest, most complete and best preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex. The gender-neutral pronoun-using Twitter personality, Sue the T-Rex.
The museum are actually in the process of moving them into a new room, to make way for a massive Titanosaur in their main hall, but they know Sue is the main draw, so you can see the progress being made in reconstructing their skeleton.
There’s a heap of other cool stuff at the Field Museum, including the famous man-eating Tsavo Lions. But I just really like dinosaurs y’all.
Since it was on my CityPass, I headed over to the Chicago Science and Industry museum, which is definitely aimed at kids. But I’m a child at heart, so it was a pretty cool day. I didn’t learn much, but they also had a three-storey smoke vortex. And some trains. And a bunch of cool anatomy samples.
Folks, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of checking your travel dates. Otherwise you do things like end up in heavily ‘Irish’ cities on St Patrick’s Day when you hate crowds. Or go to Aquariums on the first day of Spring Break.
I have a lot of friends who are teachers, and I don’t know how they deal with kids all day long. Same goes for parents. Honestly, the Shedd Aquarium is pretty cool as far as aquariums go, but it’s a nightmare when it’s packed with kids. I got to see a beluga whale, so it was a pretty cool day.
I also had an afternoon to kill, so I went to the movies. Y’all should go see A Wrinkle In Time if it’s still out.
And thus began the longest travel day I’ve had since that very first flight out of Australia.
Trains are my favourite way to travel. But I’m cheap, and bought a seat instead of a sleeper ticket. And the water was high in the Mississippi, so a spillway was opened, which means the City of New Orleans service from Chicago to New Orleans was a bus service from Jackson, Mississippi. Which landed me in New Orleans two hours later than planned.
But I survived, met some nice folks at the hostel, and had a nice night drinking.
Hey y’all, the French Quarter kind of smells like a toilet. It’s not so bad if you get a couple of blocks away from Bourbon Street. But it’s pretty bad.
I love the old buildings, but underneath that, Bourbon Street just looks like the main street in any town known for tourists and getting drunk. I did check out the Museum of Death and the Voodoo Museum, which were kind of cool. I even made a wish in the Wishing Stump.
Which brings us to now. I promise the next one will be sooner than this. Maybe in Vegas?
Alright, I’m on the road again, which means y’all get to live vicariously through my travel diaries. Let’s get going.
First travel day doesn’t count. Gatwick Airport was probably the easiest airport experience of my life, even being an international flight.
I had forgotten that I booked the emergency exit row, so I had a nice surprise, and legroom for days. Norwegian is a pretty good airline if you’re ever given the choice, I got my ticket on sale. Movie selection was a bit rubbish, but I got through it.
We landed at JFK earlier than we were scheduled, so I was actually at my hotel at around 11 that night, which was better than I expected. If you’re not in a hurry, don’t spring for a cab from the airport, use a shuttle service instead. It’s half the price, and you’ll need that extra cash because New York is expensive. Not London expensive, but still, pretty pricey.
I woke up fairly early, because I didn’t beat jetlag quite as much as I thought I had. No complaints, because at this point, the snow was still nice. But more on the weather later.
Since I was staying a block away, the obvious first destination was Central Park. It’s quite beautiful in the snow, though I can only imagine how nice it is in spring.
I worked my way downtown, switching to the subway about halfway down the park. I picked up my New York Pass at Times Square (Much like the London and Paris passes, I highly recommend it if you’re hitting a heap of paid attractions in a limited period of time), and went to The Met.
Since I’d been to the British Museum less than a week before, I must admit I was a little underwhelmed by their collection, though it is objectively quite impressive. Especially the Egyptian collection, which definitely rivals the collection across the pond.
Of course, while I was at The Met, the Nor’easter really blew in, and my journey home was wet, cold and miserable.
Day 2 The weather cleared up nicely, though the snow stayed on the ground for days after, which was quite nice after the slush.
I got to cross off a bucket list item today, when I went to the Natural History Museum. If you follow the Instagram feed (or my personal accounts), you know I love dinosaurs. And space. And since ‘Natural History Museum’ basically means ‘Dinosaurs and Space Museum (With Rocks and Taxidermy)’, I was in my element.
Again, I can’t help but compare it to its London counterpart, but this time the New York version won out. Between the incredibly impressive Titanosaur and their taxidermied animals actually being in action poses, it’s just way cooler. The London one will forever have my heart as one of my favourite buildings though.
I am a little uncomfortable that they included non-European human history at the Natural History Museum, which is definitely problematic.
I spent the rest of the afternoon on a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of Downtown Manhattan, which was great for planning my week more than anything else.
I started my day off with one of my favourite activities: a walking tour. Of course, being in the crown jewel of capitalism, gone are my beloved free walking tours, instead I only took walking tours that were on my New York Pass.
Today’s tour was of Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown, where our charming tour guide taught us about the history of the area, especially the waves of immigration that basically built the city of New York. I was also introduced to one of the cheapest eateries in the city, which certainly came in handy. It’s a tiny shop on Mosco St in Chinatown, where you get five pork dumplings for $1.25, or, since the lady at the counter doesn’t like giving change, eight dumplings for $2 (or, apparently, 20 for $5 unless you specify you want change).
While I was in the area, I went to the Tenement Museum, which wasn’t on my pass, but well worth the price of entry. I suggest you book ahead, since I was quite lucky to get a spot on a tour. Even though the tour I took wasn’t my first choice, it as still a very interesting look into life as an exploited immigrant over a century ago.
And finally, I got to cross off another bucket list item, the Empire State Building. I got up just in time to catch the sunset, and waited around for some nighttime views of the city. It was well worth the risk of frostbite in the wintery wind.
Day 4 Today I took another walking tour, this time over the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, and around the DUMBO neighbourhood in Brooklyn. The tour guide gave us a rundown of the building of the bridge, courtesy of John, Washington and Emily Roebling. He also gave us an insight into the gentrification of downtown Brooklyn.
While I as in Brooklyn, I headed over to the Transit Museum, which is actually inside an old subway station. I’m going to let you in on a secret: I like trains y’all. It was cool to see the history of mass transit in the city, but it’s not exactly extensive. They do have a bunch of cool old subway carriages though.
The Intrepid Museum is set on the World War 2 era aircraft carrier Intrepid, which is notable for several reasons, but it isn’t the real draw. Neither is the submarine Growler. Both are really cool, but they kind of pale in comparison to what’s on the flight deck of the Intrepid.
Not one of the helicopters. Not one of the planes (though the Blackbird is cool). A thousand times more impressive is the Space Shuttle Enterprise. An actual space shuttle. One of three remaining shuttles (and there’s another in Los Angeles, so I might get to see two). Space stuff rules guys, and it doesn’t get spacier than this.
I spent the afternoon wandering around Greenwich Village, retracing the steps of Bob Dylan, who is one of my favourite musicians. I also stopped off in Washington Square Park, because it’s the location of one of my favourite comic book scenes (from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman).
That evening, I took a Circle Lines tour, which had beautiful views of the city lights. It is probably much nicer in the summer, when it’s not around zero degrees Celsius.
I started off my day with a disappointment. I had a tour guide not show up for my walking tour. But I did make friends with a couple of cool Canadian ladies, who also missed out on the tour.
So we went to the Statue of Liberty, which is a must-see. We didn’t do any of the museums, so it really didn’t take that much time.
Next up we headed to the 9/11 Memorial site and museum, which was of course very sombre and moving. There are a lot of ways the museum could have gone in the wrong direction, but it is very tasteful.
We finished up at the Museum of Sex, which was… interesting. It’s pretty much what it says on the tin, though the current special exhibition is a little… weird.
Today I hit another must-see and went to MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art. I’m not an art person for the most part, so I could have skipped all but the fifth floor here. But the fifth floor is worth the price of entry. Because one of the most famous paintings in the world is there, and probably my favourite: Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. (They also have the melty clock one by Dali, but it’s not on display right now)
My new friends wanted to check out Radio City Music Hall, and it was on my pass, so I joined them, and it was well worth almost being late for my walking tour later. I had no knowledge of the theatre before, but it’s grand. I love art deco style, and it is practically dripping in it.
Then I rushed to Trinity Church to take the Hamilton Happy Hour tour, which is a brief walking tour around the financial district, focusing on Alexander Hamilton, founding father and first Secretary of the Treasury. And of course, subject of a massively popular musical. And really, while the play does take some liberties and leave some things out, there’s not much you learn from the tour that you don’t know by paying attention to the soundtrack. It was still pretty cool to be ‘in the room where it happened’ so to speak.
That night I headed out to Brooklyn again for a book launch by one of my favourite poets. I was very happy to find out that my dates lined up for this, as I missed out on seeing my favourite singer/songwriter by only a few days.
At this point, my pass had ran out, so I limited myself to free attractions. I started out at the New York Public Library, where I took the free tour. It’s an absolutely gorgeous building, and exactly the kind of place I would love to hang out at all the time.
I then walked a block or two to Grand Central Station, to take a look at the Main Concourse, which is that Beaux-Arts style that I loved about Paris.
I then walked the Chelsea High Line, which definitely would have been better at any other time of year. Parks and winter don’t really mix, and there was a lot of maintenance going on. It was cool walking between buildings at the level of the old freight railway line though, and the street art looked great.
My last real day in New York City, and I decided to take it easy. I had one goal remaining, as far as food went in New York City. I’d had a hot dog. I’d had a bagel. I’d had a slice. All I had left was a New York deli meal, and where better than Katz’s Delicatessen on the Lower East Side?
I wanted to cover all my bases, so I had half a corned beef sandwich and matzo ball soup. Definitely the best thing I’ve had to eat in weeks, maybe months.
I then made a quick trip into Brooklyn to check out the Superhero Supply Store, which is a pretty cool novelty shop, which funds 826NYC, which is a non-profit helping kids with creative writing.
That brings me to today, which was a travel day. Now I’m in Buffalo. Not much to report there. I got in after 6pm, so I’m just hanging out at the hostel.
Well, it’s been over a year, but I finally found some time to travel. If you follow my Instagram or Facebook, you will have been getting some updates over the past year, but nothing that really warranted a full travel diary. If I had thought to bring my SD card reader, there probably would have been two of these posts.
Ok, so here we go, my week on the Emerald Isle…
Day 1 I took a bus from London the previous night, and caught the Holyhead-Dublin ferry, arriving in Dublin at around 6 am, which I don’t recommend, unless you really want to save some money like I did.
After dropping my bags off at the hotel, I decided to take a walk around town, because I honestly had no idea what I was going to do. Unlike last year’s trip, I didn’t really have any plan, beyond ‘three nights Dublin, two nights Killarney, three nights Cork’. I knew I’d go to Trinity College at some stage, because that library is on the old Bucket List, and a couple of pints in Temple Bar was a must-do, but beyond that… I had no plan.
Which is why I was happy to discover the National Leprechaun Museum. Outside of one room at the beginning, it’s not a museum in the traditional sense. It’s really a guided tour through a selection of Ireland’s folklore and mythology, not limited to leprechauns. They offer two tours a the moment, the day time, child-friendly tour, and the night time, adults only, slightly scarier tour, which has some quite bloody stories to go with it. I took both, naturally.
I also decided that today was the day to get all my alcohol-related tourism out of the way. After catching the smell of the Guinness Brewery near my hotel, I had absolutely no intention of doing anything Guinness related. To be honest, I wasn’t too keen on it anyway. Between trips to the Leprechaun Museum, I took in a tour at the Jameson Distillery, complete with tastings and a free drink after.
After my second run through the Leprechaun Museum, I decided to hit Temple Bar. On advice of my coworker, I went to The Auld Dubliner, and had a couple of pints (Irish Cider, Bulmers, rather than a beer), but to be honest, it was far too crowded, and full of tourists, so I decided to retire to my hotel for the night.
Day 2 Because I’m apparently a glutton for punishment, I dusted off my walking shoes and did the old ‘two walking tours in one day’ trick. The guys at Dublin Free Walking Tours were fantastic. They were knowledgeable and really knew how to keep your attention.
So first up was the South Side tour, which, as the name suggests, was on the south side of the River Liffey. This tour covered the more ancient history, Trinity College, both main cathedrals, Dublin ‘Castle’, as well as Temple Bar. It was really cool learning about what little remains of medieval Dublin, and the history of Temple Bar.
The North Side tour, shock horror, took place on the north side of the River Liffey. This tour focussed more on the 1916 Uprising, and everything leading up to the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922, as well as a general overview of the history of English/Irish/Northern Irish relations.
Day 3 Another day of a million sights. I probably could have done with one extra day in Dublin.
I started off at Killmainham Gaol, which has operated for centuries, but is most famous as the location the leaders of the 1916 Rebellion were imprisoned and executed. It is also home to that impressive cell block that I posted on Instagram, which our tour guide called the ‘Photogenic Wing’.
I then took a short walking tour of Trinity College, which led me to my favourite part of the trip, the Long Room.
Often cited as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, it’s hard to argue the point.
I finished the day with a problem. I only had time for one more stop. So was it to be EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum, or Dublinia, the Viking history of Dublin. EPIC won out, since everyone knows Ireland’s main export is the Irish themselves.
It really was interesting to see all the places that people with Irish blood have left their mark, as well as an indepth look at the driving factors for their leaving in the first place.
Day 4 Travel Day. Train from Dublin to Killarney, with a change at Mallow. Nothing interesting to report at all really.
Day 5 I took a bus tour around the Ring of Kerry, which is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a ringroad that goes around County Kerry, beginning and ending in Killarney. It travels through Killarney National Park, through beautiful mountains, picturesque ocean views and a quintessential Irish landscape. All in all, not a bad way to spend a day.
Day 7 Another travel day. This time a train from Killarney to Cork, again stopping in Mallow.
Day 8 Cork is, unfortunately, really only interesting for one reason, and that’s Blarney Castle. The Gardens are probably the highlight, at least for me. From the Poison Garden, which contains a number of poisonous plants, in order to educate people (although what the marijuana was doing there is anyone’s guess), to the Fairy Grove and Druid’s Cave.
I did climb up to the top of Blarney Castle, which is more waiting than climbing. I almost kissed the Blarney Stone, but my fear of heights got the better of me at the last moment. Not that I’m too worried, I’ve heard some horror stories about what happens to the stone when tourists aren’t around.
I’m writing this on a bus, as it leaves Vienna (although, there is probably a chance I’ll be out of Austria by the time I finish). I’ll post it as soon as I get settled in Budapest.
Like I said in the last entry, I spent most of today on a bus. Fourteen hours or so by the end of it. On the brightside, I reached Munich. At like, 1 AM.
Munich is a pretty nice place, all things told. I took a walk through the middle of the city. Within minutes of leaving my hostel, I discovered a parade of old fire trucks going through Karlsplatz. At least a hundred of them, from all eras. It was really cool, and totally unexpected.
I couldn’t go to Munich and not see the Frauenkirche, which is, as so many things have been, currently being restored. Inside it is kind of underwhelming, but the outside, with the two large towers, is quite impressive.
The Neue Rathaus is an interesting building, although I’m a little disappointed that I just missed the glockenspiel show. By mere minutes when I came back that evening.
I climbed to the top of St Peter’s for the full panoramic view of Munich, which was nice. Well worth 300 steps (I actually remembered to count this time).
I took a walk through the Hofgarten, I went to Odeonsplatz, which is where the infamous Beerhall Putsch took place. I then spent a few hours in the museum at the Munich Residence of the Bavarian monarchs.
That night at the hostel bar, I joined up with a group of English guys on a Stag Weekend, and we went to the Lowenbrauhaus for dinner, and on to a couple of other bars. Because what’s the point of being an Aussie in Munich without a spot of binge drinking?
This was a grim day in more ways than one. First up, my hangover kept me in bed past midday. By the time I managed to drag myself onto a train, I didn’t reach my destination until 3 pm.
The destination? Dachau Concentration Camp. The two hours I spent there didn’t do it justice. The atrocities that were committed there still echo through the halls. It’s really moving, and not always in a good way. Well worth the visit.
A word of advice though: Don’t bring your bloody kids. I saw so many families there. There are things a child shouldn’t see, and the photos on display can be fairly graphic.
And now for something completely different. A four hour round trip from Munich is the town of Fussen. 3 km out of Fussen is Neuschwannstein Castle. Built in the ninteenth century by mad King Ludwig as his perfect ideal of a medieval castle. It’s like something out of a fairytale. So much so that Walt Disney himself based Sleeping Beauty’s Castle on it.
It’s absolutely gorgeous, and an absolute must-see if you’re in Bavaria.
Another travel day. Something like ten hours on a bus, with an hour delay. But I got to Vienna at around 10.30 PM. Managed to score a six-bed dorm to myself at the hostel too, so I guess it was a pretty good day.
I wish I had given myself more time in Vienna. The city is absolutely beautiful. The best word I can use to describe it is ‘Grand’. The buildings are just gorgeous. I know exactly nothing about architecture, so I can’t really describe what I mean, except that it looks like my idea of a nineteenth century metropolis, and the center of the last great European Empire.
I found my way into two museums. Yet again I found a city trying to pass off one museum, with three distinct sections, as three museums. The Hofburg is divided into the Silver Collection, which is a snoozefest after a while, the Sisi Museum, dedicated to the beloved Empress Elisabeth, and the Imperial Apartments. Apart from the Silver Collection, which does have a few cool pieces, it’s really interesting.
As I’ve been discovering while travelling in this region, Empress Elisabeth is something of a legend in these parts. Her apartments at the Doge’s Palace in Venice are on display. She was born in Bavaria, so she is on postcards in Munich. She warrants her own museum in Vienna. And since she was instrumental in having Hungary’s independence recognised, changing the Austrian Empire into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, I expect to find her honored in Budapest too.
I finished my day at the Technical Museum, which is really cool. Obviously geared towards kids in a lot of ways, there is plenty to interest adults. Hands-on displays keep the kids entertained while educating them, while machinery from times gone by is absolutely fascinating.
And here we are. On a bus, from Vienna to Budapest. I should get into Budapest in the afternoon, which means I can clean up this diary, including adding photos and fact-checking, and have it posted before dinner.
Slightly earlier than usual, here’s a travel diary. Won’t be much to report this time around, mostly some do-nothing days. All this travelling is hard work, you have to relax sometimes.
My last full day in Rome, I figured I should make the most of it. First up I trekked my way over to the Catacombs of St Callixtus, one of five underground cemeteries in Rome. I suggest you take the bus, as the walk from the nearest Metro stop is not as easy as Google Maps would suggest. I got onto the last English tour before they closed at noon (to reopen at two pm, like so many other places in Italy). it was really interesting, however, unlike the famous Paris Catacombs, the bodies have been removed from the publicly accessible tombs, including more than a few Popes.
After taking another ill-thought out walk, I found my way back into the city proper, and went to the Spanish Steps… which are currently under extensive restoration. You can see the steps through the transparent barriers, but I think I’ll save the photos for next time.
From there, it was a short jaunt to the Pantheon, which is quite impressive. Not sure what I was expecting, it’s one of those sights you know you have to see when you’re in Rome, but I don’t know, I never had a coherent picture of it in my mind. But yeah, another big, ancient church to cross off my list.
I made the most of my ten o’clock checkout, and slept in. At this point, I want to plug the place I stayed in Rome, Hard Rock Rooms. It’s a tiny place, an apartment converted into a two-dorm hostel. It’s a minute away from the Metro, the staff are incredibly friendly and helpful, and in addition to the standard free hostel breakfast, they provide a pasta dinner every night. It’s almost like a big family dinner, with everyone around the small table. By far the best place I’ve stayed.
Anyway, I took an afternoon train to Naples, found my way to my hostel, and didn’t do much else with my day.
A bucket list item got crossed off today, one of the big ones: Pompeii. Getting there is easy enough, despite Italy’s famously poor rail system.
One thing I didn’t know is just how enormous Pompeii is. A lot of it is kind of same-y after a while, and the distance between the points of interest are kind of long, especially for someone of my fitness level. It also rained. But all in all, I’d say a good day. Pompeii is just too cool to be any other kind of day.
I decided to have a look around Naples today, I climbed up to St Elmo’s Castle, or at least the square in front of it, for an amazing panoramic view of the city. I then hiked all the way down to Castle Nuovo on the waterfront. I didn’t go into either, because I thought they were impressive enough from outside, and I’m trying to save a little money at this stage in my trip, since I overspent in that first month.
I did spend money checking out ancient Greek/Roman aqueduct under the city, which was converted to a bomb shelter in the 1940s. The two-hour tour only cost €10, and was fantastic.
A couple of do-nothing days, caught up on laundry, uploaded some photos watched some TV and read some comics. Basically just recharged my batteries, before catching the overnight ferry to Palermo…
I got into Palermo at around 6.30 am, having got around three hours sleep on the ship. So I found my way to the hostel, which was easy enough, and dropped off my bag. I then proceeded to wander the city for the morning, until I could check into the hostel. I didn’t accomplish much of anything, to be perfectly honest. Too tired.
I think fifty days is an achievement in itself, and to celebrate (because I definitely knew I was fifty days in), I had another lazy day, this time heading to the beach for a few hours. Which brings us to this exact moment, as I have returned to the hostel now, since it has clouded over a little, and I am relaying my week to all of you adoring readers.
Tomorrow I’ll do some proper sightseeing in Palermo, it’s really a nice city. And maybe some more the day after, since I am once again waiting for a night ferry back to the mainland.
Here we go, another update on just what I’ve been up to the past… nine days. I promise I’ll start doing these more often.
My first full day in Amsterdam, and what a day it was. Amsterdam is a beautiful city, and preservation laws keep it that way, property owners cannot change the facade of their building without express permission from governing bodies, keeping a vast majority of the buildings in the central area looking almost exactly like they did centuries ago.
I went to my number one Amsterdam sight first. The Anne Frank House. They don’t allow photos, and to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have taken any out of respect, so I can’t share it with you. Suffice to say, it is a very moving experience. Well worth waiting in line for an hour.
I then walked to the Rijksmuseum, which I honestly found a little underwhelming. For the price, I was expecting a multiple-hour experience like the Louvre or Musee d’Orsay. Instead, I was through in just over an hour. Sure, there are masterpieces there, Rembrant’s Night Watch, a Van Gogh Self Portrait or two, Vermeer’s Milkmaid, but a lot of the art just gets kind of same-y. When you’ve seen one portrait of a minor Dutch nobleman, you’ve seen them all.
I started late today, and found myself at yet another slightly disappointing gallery. This time the Van Gogh Museum. I wouldn’t be so mad about it if they didn’t charge so much, to basically see three paintings. All of Van Gogh’s major works are in other museums, Musee d’Orsay, New York Museum of Modern Art, Rijksmuseum and the J. Paul Getty Museum, to name a few. The Van Gogh Museum has everything else.
That night, I met up with my friends from Paris and together we checked out the infamous Red Light District. We basically pubcrawled until we found a cheap place. But along the way, we saw exactly what the Red Light District is famous for, and, quite frankly, it’s pretty weird.
So basically, there are these glass doors facing out into the street. Standing in the windows are prostitutes, in their underwear, tapping on the glass to get your attention. Every now and then you see a guy approach, ask how much, and go into the room, where a curtain is drawn and… well, I don’t have to paint a picture.
I’m all for women doing whatever they want with their bodies, it’s their right, but it just seems incredibly demeaning to me. Standing in a window like a literal product… It’s just creepy.
This day, my mate and I decided to check out some of the seedier museums in Amsterdam. We started out at the Sex Museum, went on to the Museum of Erotica and finished up with the Museum of Prostitution.
To be perfectly honest, the first two were kind of boring. You can giggle at the art, the mannequins and whatnot, but eventually the novelty wears off.
The Museum of Prostitution is actually interesting. It’s a proper museum, with information, recreations of the rooms behind the window, first-hand experiences and the history of the industry in the district.
Not-so-fun Fact: It is estimated that between 10 and 90 percent of the prostitution in Amsterdam is forced. Which basically means authorities said “Stuffed if I know, it definitely happens, but I’m pretty sure some of them are willing”. They do have a hotline to call if you suspect your prostitute is being forced into it though.
Ended the day with a canal cruise, combining my three favourite things: sightseeing, dinner and drinks. One of the cruise companies runs a pizza cruise together with Heineken. So you basically get a full 90-minute tour of the city, eat a personal pizza, and drink bottomless beer and wine.
Day 16 was a bit of a cruisy one for me. I wandered around the city on foot, got a closer look at some of the places I saw on the cruise the previous night, and just enjoyed my surroundings.
Day 17 I took a day trip out to The Hague, the centre of The Netherlands’ government (Amsterdam is the official capital, but all the government buildings are at The Hague).
I walked around the city centre for a while, and looked at all the 17th century buildings, but the main reason I made the trip out was for one special lady, Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Earring, which is housed at the Mauritshuis Museum, along with a number of paintings by the Dutch Masters.
This one was a travel day, as I caught an early train to Rotterdam. I did manage to get a bit of sightseeing done, not that there are too many big-ticket items within Rotterdam, it was just nice to walk around and look at a city, without having any expectations.
The one must-see item around Rotterdam is the Kinderdijk. It’s UNESCO World Heritage listed, and is really quite impressive. The series of windmills, reservoirs and dams is part of the massive, nationwide effort to keep the country’s vast swaths of land that is below sea level, dry.
And that brings us to today. It was a travel day today, I’m now back in Belgium, but this time in Antwerp. I had a quick walk around, but tomorrow will be my main sightseeing day.
I have left longer between these entries than I had intended. However, the WiFi aboard the Eurostar leaves a little to be desired, and then I went ahead and made friends in Paris, so my downtime turned into drinking time. Anyway, here’s the last ten days.
Having a whole day left on my London Pass, I decided to make use of it. First stop was The Tower of London, which was originally built by William The Conquerer, and is therefore pretty much as old as England itself. Plus there are Roman ruins on the site, so it’s even older than that. A nice way to spend a morning, but there is a lot of walking up stairs, so it might not be for everyone. Disabled access wasn’t an issue back in 1078. Come here for the Crown Jewels (which are 100% worth seeing), and stay for the cool history and ancient castle. I didn’t take the tour, but I did jump on a tour right at the end, so I could see inside the church where they buried poor Queen Anne Boleyn.
The afternoon saw me just a little ways up the Thames, at Tower Bridge (you know, the one everyone thinks is London Bridge). I say ‘a little ways up’, and I mean on the flat plane. Vertically… That’s a whole other matter. It’s over two hundred steps up to the top of the towers. There is an elevator, but I got impatient, as I am prone to being. There are some great views from the stairwell though, as there are windows positioned regularly all the way up. Once at the top, you then walk across the upper walkways, which includes a glass floor, through which you can look down at the pedestrians and cars below. From there, it’s down to the engine room, where you can see the huge hydraulic pumps that are used to lift the bridge to allow ships to pass under.
In the evening, I once again found myself above the city, this time at ArcelorMittal Orbit, the bizarre-looking tower next to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. I would have given it a miss, since they haven’t built the world’s biggest slide there yet (it’s on the way though), but they had a Lego Exhibition this weekend.
Day 4 was primarily a travel day. I travelled from St Pancras station in London to Paris Gare du Nord via the Eurostar, through the Channel Tunnel. Which was pretty cool. That’s a Modern Wonder I can cross off my Bucket List.
I found my hostel easily, in the 18th Arrondissement, Montmartre. It was a little place called Le Village Hostel, which is a very cool, nicely located place, for a good price. Five minutes from Sacre Couer, and two minutes from Anvers Metro station.
I decided to take advantage of the proximity to Sacre Coeur and visit a little earlier than I had intended, again walking up hundreds of stairs, but this time to take in what I would have to say was the greatest view of Paris I saw, the entire time I was there.
I picked up my Paris Museum Pass (Not the Paris Pass), and immediately made a beeline for the Musee d’Orsay. I spent the entire morning, and a good chunk of the afternoon there, admiring the works of Monet, Renoir, Manet and my personal favourite, Van Gogh. I also have to admit to having taken at least a dozen, but probably two dozen, photos of the huge clock that dominates one end of this former train station.
To end the day, I decided to cross off another Bucket List item, and climbed the Arc de Triomphe, for yet another amazing view of Paris.
This was the biggest day for me. Two of my absolute must-do items. The Louvre to start. I got in early, to avoid crowds around the Mona Lisa, and enjoyed a fairly unhindered walk around the gallery. It goes without saying that I was also excited to see Venus de Milo, and the painting of that guy from that one internet meme.
I rounded out the day with Notre-Dame de Paris. One of the most famous, and beautiful, cathedrals in the world. And the setting of one of my favourite Disney movies, but that’s beside the point. Which also meant that I got to finish my day with yet another amazing view of Paris.
This was another travel day for me, unfortunately. Due to a mistake with the dates on my UK Residency Permit, I couldn’t pick it up while I was in London, so instead I had to travel back for an afternoon just to pick it up. On the bright side, I read two books on my Kindle on the train.
I should also mention at this stage that staying in a hostel is a great experience. You meet the best people in hostels. You also meet the worst. Which is why, today, I changed rooms at my hostel. I’m not going to go into detail, but suffice to say, I was not looking forward to spending the rest of the week with the roommates I had. I’m glad I changed, because I got to meet some great people in my new room, and we had a great time in the bars of Montmartre.
Which, of course, led to a late start the next day. We did manage to drag our butts out of bed to go see Napoleon’s Tomb, and part of the military museum at Les Invalides that afternoon.
Of course, the absolute highlight was that night, when we finally went to the Eiffel Tower. I’m glad I saved it for night time, because it was simply magical. Every hour, blinking lights bounce around the outside, and we stayed to see it twice. Once from inside the tower, and once from the ground.
The Palace of Versailles was the last thing on my list for Paris, at least this time around. I’ve spent the last week becoming increasingly aware of just how much I want to see.
I thought the Palace was very nice, even if the areas open to the public were quite few, and the Gardens were beautiful, even if everything was trimmed back. I’d love to come back at the height of summer.
Another travel day, this time taking a bus from Paris to Brussels. I found my way to the place I was staying, this time an Airbnb, and spent the rest of the day there, talking to my host. His apartment was sparsely furnished, and I didn’t have any room to blog, or else you’d have this two days earlier.
I got to explore Brussels, which I think is a very underrated city for tourists. It just doesn’t rank among the Parises and the Romes. But it is a very pleasant place, even in these troubled times. You can still sense the scars of the people, it’s a very quiet place, and everyone seems to be in a hurry to get everywhere, and no-one makes eye contact with anyone.
I couldn’t help but go to the famous Mannekin Pis, and his lesser-known sister, Jeanneke Pis, but I was primarily in Brussels for one man: Tintin.
Who would have thought, someone who wants to be a travel blogger grew up reading Tintin comics, and watching the cartoon series. Well, Brussels is his home, and they are proud of him. Art adorns a number of walls, including within one of their main train stations. A large section of the amazing Comic Strip Museum is dedicated to Herge (and the number of comic book stores for a city that size was astounding). The official Tintin Shop is just off the famous Grand-Place, and there is a museum dedicated to Herge (which was unfortunately closed today).
I finished the day by meeting up with one of the guys I met in Paris, and we had drinks at Delirium Cafe, followed by a cheap, but good-quality dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Which brings us to today. I’m blogging to you live from Amsterdam, at my hostel, waiting for check-in. And, quite frankly, it’s probably the coolest-looking hostel I’ve ever been to. And conveniently located, just a short (free) ferry-ride from Amsterdam Central Station. It’s called ClinkNOORD, and you should stay here if you’re ever in town. I won’t post until after I check-in, since all the cords I need to download photos from my camera are in my bag, which is in their luggage storage.
Note: Actually posting the day after, but I’ll leave today’s activities for the next one.
Well, I’m nearing the end of my third day in London, and I thought I should give you an update. This isn’t going to be a daily thing, just whenever I get a spare minute and a decent spot to write. So, here goes:
I left Melbourne on a Qantas flight to Singapore, which was really quite lovely. The seats were comfortable, the service was good, the food was good (for an airline), the movie selection was fantastic (I watched three films I’ve been meaning to see for a while) and it was a pleasant flight.
Changi Airport in Singapore was a sight to behold, quite unlike anything I have seen in my very limited experience as a traveller. Being one of the busiest airports in the world, and one of the most common stop-overs on the way to Asia and the Pacific, they know how to keep you occupied while you wait for your connecting flight. Their smokers’ areas are actually themed gardens (I was quite fond of the Cactus Garden), they have cinemas, video games, koi ponds, as well as the standard Duty Free shops, bars and food outlets.
I don’t have a lot of good to say about flying with Swiss. The next leg of my journey was the overnight Singapore to Zurich. The seats were too narrow and uncomfortable, the food was subpar and the staff were clumsy and rude. One of them spilled hot water on me during tea and coffee service, didn’t bother apologising and just handed me a napkin to clean up with.
The sole bright point of my Swiss experience was Zurich Airport. While the area I first saw after leaving my flight was stark and utilitarian, all concrete walls and linoleum floors, with several sections probably underground, when I found myself in Terminal D, I was greeted by a beautiful, modern terminal, and views of the Swiss Alps. Short-term free wifi aside, it was a very nice place to spend a few hours.
Even though this is the day I reached London, I’m not counting it. Another Swiss flight, with uncomfortable seats (although the staff and food were better), an hour or so in the line at customs, and another hour or so to my hotel… and the hotel door was locked, because the owner had gone out to lunch. At 3pm. Then I found out my residence card wouldn’t be available for pickup until the week I was in Paris (silly me thought that if I told them my date of entry months in advance, it would be available on the day).
Now it’s time to see if it’s all worth it. Two days of crap, but at least I’m finally in London. So what to do first? I’ve spent most of 48 hours on my butt, so it’s time to do some walking…
The British Museum. It’s enormous. And worth feeling like your legs are going to fall off at the end of it. Thanks to the British belief that if you stick a flag somewhere, it belongs to you, there are thousands of wonderful things that have been looted, plundered, discovered and stolen, all right there to be looked at.
The Rosetta Stone is a big-ticket item. Such a big-ticket item that they have two. The actual stone, in a glass case in the Egyptian section, and another, a replica that you can touch. The Parthenon exhibit, which I’ll not go into the politics of, and I won’t be posting photos of, is another major exhibit.
I’m crossing three Wonders of the Ancient World off my bucket list, The British Museum has pieces of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Mausoleum of Helicarnassus and the Ishtar Gate on display, and since all three have been destroyed (the Ishtar Gate has been reconstructed in Berlin, but still), I’m counting them 100%.
Today I picked up my London Pass (which I highly recommend doing), and did some sightseeing. I started at Trafalgar Square, where in addition to Nelson’s Column and the various other statues, there is temporarily a giant Monopoly Board set up (albeit with a timeline of video game history, instead of the streets).
I walked along Whitehall and Parliament Way to The Palace of Westminster (aka the Houses of Parliament, aka the rest of the building Big Ben is in). Elizabeth Tower (renamed from ‘Clock Tower’ in 2012 for Liz’s Diamond Jubilee) is much, much bigger than it looks on TV.
Westminster Abbey was next, I’m far from a religious man, but even I had to pay my respects. Buried beneath this triumph of architecture, art and design, are many of England’s great leaders and thinkers. Queens Elizabeth I and Marys I and II, Mary Queen of Scots, Kings Edward I, III and The Confessor, Henry III, V and VII and James I (VI of Scotland) to name a few of the monarchs. Scientists such as Newton, Darwin, Lord Kelvin and Ernest Rutherford, along with artists such as Geoffrey Chaucer, Rudyard Kipling, Handel and Charles Dickens. Mixed in with memorials to those buried here, are memorials to those buried elsewhere. It’s almost impossible to see them all. I certainly missed more than a few, now that I’m looking at the list on Wikipedia.
After Westminster Abbey, I hopped on a bus tour, which took me past Hyde Park, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge and The Tower of London, the Monument (to the Great Fire of London) and the London Eye, as well as down some iconic streets (it was like Monopoly, but without the intra-familial hatred).
I had a look around the world-famous King’s Cross Station to finish my day, but the line for Platform 9 and 3/4s was too long just for a photo, so I ended it there.