A Travellerspoint blog

And the travel band unites!

Watch out Greece...it's a Page/Wetmore/Oxford invasion...

Prior to my arrival in Athens, anytime I mentioned to anyone that is where I was headed, I always got a response along the lines of, "Athens is a hole". I'm not sure if perhaps I adjusted my expectations barometre, or the fact that I was surrounded by superior company, but I really enjoyed it! Sure it was a bit run down (I like to think of it as having character) but it is full of ancient history, the people are so friendly (I suppose tourism is now imperative for the country's flailing economy) and the food was incredible! And being that we started our Greek adventure in Athens (allegedly the least desirable of the places we visited)...it could surely only get better!

As a bit of background to the Greek adventure, when I had mentioned to my brother (Alex) and his wife (Kel) that I was planning to be in Europe for a portion of my mature aged gap year, they jumped at the chance to join me. Kel's sister, Sam, is currently studying in Italy and it was the perfect timing for them to kill three birds with one stone, so to speak (see Sam, see me and go somewhere in Europe they had never been). News travels fast in our family and It didn't take long for the Greece plans to reach the Wetmores. Unfortunately, Elena & Tori's brother, Brett had summer classes so couldn't come, but the girls were most definitely keen. And the travel band unites...

I was certainly not nearly as prepared as I should have been on arrival in Athens. No map and I completely forgot about researching how to get where I was going before I left the hotel in Turkey...oooooppppsssss. Fortunately, I did find some maps right at the baggage claim and was able to get the gist of where I needed to be and began to make my way to the apartment that we rented via the metro system. What a difference it makes going from countries like Spain and France to Greece, where the lettering is completely different and almost seems non-sensical! There was absolutely no hope for me to feign my way through anything in Greek (definitely no such thing as Greek-lish)! But the great thing about Greece is that the people are very friendly and if they are able to speak English (seemed like most did), they were more than happy to assist you in anyway that they could. And as Melbourne houses the largest population of Greek people outside of Athens (who says this blog isn't educational?!), they absolutely love Aussies and EVERYONE had an uncle, cousin, sister, brother, etc. that lived in Melbourne.

The friendliness of the Greeks came particularly in handy when I first came out of the Metaxourgio Metro Station as I couldn't figure out where I was on the map as the signs around me were only in Greek lettering. It clearly was very apparent that I was lost and two police officers kindly approached me and asked if I needed assistance. Hurrah! A few minutes later I was at our apartment and our host, Nick, was waiting for me. The neighbourhood itself was a bit run down but it was fantastically cheap and came fully equipped with an amazing terrace (we could even see the Acropolis in the background!). About an hour and a half later, Alex, Kel and Kel's sister Sam showed up. Now the party was really starting!

After an hour or so of catching up (there was lots to catch up on), we made our way for our first feed and stumbled upon a lovely little bistro (bistro might be an overstatement, perhaps more of a snack shop) where I had the first of what probably was 100 Greek salads for the trip. Sensational (and I don't think I am exaggerating if I said that I am probably ruined for Greek salads until I go back to Greece, of course!). Following lunch, we made a beeline straight back to the apartment (but of course via a liquor store) so that we could make great use of that terrace. A few hours later, before it started to get sloppy, food was most definitely in order, so Alex and I walked down to the local Kurdish kebab shop that Nick had recommended. We were able to get takeout for the four of us for 10 Euro (and still managed to have left overs!). And so delicious!

The following morning we enjoyed some delicious Greek yogurt on the terrace and made a plan for the day. As our cousins, Elena and Tori, were due to arrive the following day (they're American and we couldn't have them miss their July 4th celebrations!), we didn't want to do too many touristy things. We settled on having a wander through Psirri, which is a really trendy area of Athens. I loved Psirri, such a funky area with lots of interesting restaurants and buildings covered in street art (my latest obsession to photograph). We then ventured on to see the Monstiraki Flea Market. The Market was quite nice and full of all kinds of famous Greek exports, most notably the custom made Greek sandals! We then took the metro down to Piraeus which is the seaside port where the ferries depart. There wasn't really anything too exciting about Piraeus except some extremely over priced lattes.

Lunch time was approaching and because Piraeus didn't seem to have too much on offer, we decided to go back to our beloved Psirri for lunch. We found a brilliant spot, unfortunately the name escapes me, and a huge meal, two crafts of wine and 4 shots of ouzo later, we hit the pavement again and made our way to Mount Lycabettus. Fortunately, there was a monorail that took us to the top as the last thing we felt like doing after all that food and drink was to get a sweat on. Mount Lycabettus boasts an incredible view of the city! We did a spot of shopping that afternoon and then retired to our terrace. Time to get our drink on...round two.

The next day was a great day for two reasons; the first it was Kelly's 30th birthday (welcome to the thirties club Kel!), and the second, was that Elena and Tori were arriving (woohoo! It had been a really long time since I had spent quality time with Elena and particularly Tori!). Now our travel band was finally complete so we could start all the serious site seeing. And because our group was expanding, we relocated to a different apartment. We were very lucky to score a very spacious apartment in a lovely area very close to the Acropolis. It was certainly very stylishly decorated and came complete with a stripper pole (interesting!).

The girls weren't due to arrive until the late afternoon, and as we hadn't had breakfast yet, we decided to go for a very early lunch to begin Kel's birthday festivities. Afterall, you only turn 30 once! We lunched at a neighbouring square where we noshed on all kinds of Greek delights, washing it all down with two kilos of vino. I love that Greek menus list the quantities of wine by kilo and not by the litre. Amazing, although it does makes us sound like complete alcos though! Ah, we're on holiday! Some of us more or less a permanent(ish) one...

Our cousins arrived around 2pm and of course the eager beavers that we are, we planned accordingly. The wine was on chill and the nibbles had been prepared. Despite being severely jet lagged, the girls pulled though and still managed to have a few wines with us without crashing. In hindsight, I should have really reconsidered the choice of beverage as wine really isn't the greatest pick me up.

In the early evening we headed into town for Kel's official birthday dinner in Plaka. Unfortunately the area was a bit of a tourist trap, but the food was good and not as horrendously overpriced as you would usually expect in overly touristic areas. Post dinner, we continued the celebrations by hitting up the Athens Gate Hotel which allegedly has the honour of being the best rooftop bar in the world! The views were sensational and we could see straight into the Panathenaic Stadium and the pillars (from the Temple of Olympian Zeus). Not a bad way to ring in the big 3-0.

The next day, our official site seeing day started off far later than we had anticipated. This is what happens when you don't set alarms and then spend the morning faffing about! Kel, Alex and Sam were needing a bit extra time to get ready so at about 11am, Elena, Tori and I decided to hit the pavement. We wanted to make sure that we hit up all of our hit list, which included the Acropolis, going to Glyfada (beach area), the Ancient Agoda and seeing Mt. Lycabettus (again for me, but it was certainly a must do for the girls as it boasts such a spectacular view of the city!). We met Alex, Kel and Sam for dinner at a fantastic restaurant in Kolonaki called Kalamki Kolonaki for some phenomenal traditional Greek food (another recommendation from our host).

We didn't have a very late evening that night as there was a 7am ferry to catch to Santorini...wooohooooooo!!! Bring on the island hopping!

Hope this finds you well, wherever it is in the world that you are.

Mel xx

Athens at sunset from our apartment in the Metaxourgio area (apartment #1).
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Cruising the streets of Psirri.
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The chaos of Greece...check out this double, erm, triple parking?!
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The bro and his roadie...he rarely roamed any of the streets without one! And umm....I think your fly is undone...bahahaaaa!
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Amazing street art in Psirri.
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The watermelon man! I spent the entire first night in Athens being extremely confused about what I kept hearing from a loud projector from our balcony. We were too high to see what it was on the streets, but finally at lunch the following day one of these utes cruised past projecting the same advertisement I had been hearing the previous evening. Watermelon...a hot commodity clearly!
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Kel and Al taking their ouzo like good boys and girls...it was free. It would be rude not to!
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Sam and I don't like to be rude either!
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Athens from Mt. Lycabettus.
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More of Athens...
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Alex & I at the top of Mt. Lycabettus.
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Kel & I admiring the view too!
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I have a new found obsession with street art!
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The birthday girl and her hubs!
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Elena & I at Kel's birthday dinner.
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Tori & Sam at Kel's bday dinner.
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Alex and his dinner...talk about meat sweats! The gross thing is that he ate it all....oink!
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Rooftop balcony birthday drinks at the Athens Gate Hotel.
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The Acropolis
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And again
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And again
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And again...impressive!
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Elena, Tori & I found an amazing water playground on our trek to Glyfada. Shame we didn't bring our suits out with us!
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Tori & Elena on Mt. Lycabettus.
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The gorgeous church at the top of Mt. Lycabettus.
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Our second apartment came complete with a stripper pole! Interesting to say the least...Al showing his moves!
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Posted by melpage 16:40 Archived in Greece Tagged athens Comments (1)

Gobble gobble

A whirlwind tour of beautiful Turkey

If you have ever wanted to visited Morocco (or any other Muslim country) but are not sure if you could handle it, Turkey is a great taster! It was far more relaxed and western than Morocco but still gave you the cultural experience of a Muslim country. With such a rich history (blending of the ancient, Christian and Ottoman worlds) and a strong culture, it is a fascinating country to explore. I found the people to be very welcoming and certainly very tourist friendly. English is widely spoken and the food, ohhhhh the food...

Like Morocco, as a solo female traveller, I felt that it was probably in my best interest to travel in a tour group rather than venturing it alone (in hindsight, it probably would not have been all that bad?!). This time I decided to go with the G Adventures Yolo tour, not for any other particular reason other than the fact that is was firstly cheap, and secondly, fit in with my timeline (which had quickly become quite rigid). Because it was a Yolo tour (budget), the group dynamic was much different than the group that I had in Morocco. This time I was one of the older tourists in the group. At first I had some reservations about this, fearing that some of the younger tourists may be lacking in maturity (and resulting in me feeling more like a mother hen), but this couldn't be further from the case! I am not sure if perhaps I am young at heart, or if they were just incredibly mature, but I really enjoyed all of their company. They were certainly some of the coolest early twenties people that I have ever met (and the late twenties and plus thirties were pretty cool too)!

As G Adentures is a Canadian company, I was expecting to be out numbered as an Aussie, but as I have quickly found, you really can't throw a stone and miss an Aussie while travelling! Not that I am complaining, I love Aussies, but it would just be nice to have a bit more diversity in the group. But despite the group being mainly Aussies, they were the good ones (not the embarrasing ones that give us all a bad rep overseas), and we did have a few tokens to spice things up too.

So here is the run down of our crew...In no particular order -

Sebastian #2 - the first person that I met in the group. A Vancouverite with a very dry sense of humour. I later caught up with him when I went to Vancouver this past July...a great guy!

Sebastian #1 & Ragha - the token Norweigans. Probably two of the most good-looking people on the planet and so lovely. Expert hikers (Ragha bascially does piruettes up the mountain, I am not joking!). Sebastian #1 is an avid fan of Tom Jones (small caveat: when under the influence of copious amounts of Raki).

Maddie & Jade - I loved these ladies! Two very free spirited chicks from Melbourne in their early twenties. Both doing extended trips through Europe this summer (and Maddie until the end of the year). Beautiful souls. And so mature for their age, I loved hanging with these two.

Mary - Everytime I think of Mary, "Oh Mary!" comes to mind. Mary was my roommate and absolutely hysterical. From Perth and was 19. There was definitely a few motherhen moments here (Mary cannot handle her alcohol at all - I'm talking a One Can Sam). But she is a sweetheart and provided countless hours of entertainment as everything seemed to be a small melo-drama (Nicole and I loved it!). She is also a glutton for sorbet when inebriated - kind of random (I cannot tell you the number of times we have searched for sorbet on the way home after a big night! Classic). I'd have her again as my roomie any day.

Nicole - Absolute legend. From Sydney and just finished up an extensive sail through the Greek islands which I was unbelievably envious of. I spent a lot of time with Nicole because she was so easy going and just an all round good girl to hang out with.

Felice & Lauren - Two more from Sydney. Fantastic girls! They were doing extensive travels through Europe also and were my go tos when you wanted to have a few bevvies. They both had great sense of humours and were just all around fun.

Thomas - Top bloke. A Dutch guy living in Belgium and our resident doctor (Lauren was our resident nurse - both worked in the emergency room) and fortunately for our group, we needed them both on several occasions! We were a very illness and accident prone group (fortunately I was not affected!). Thomas had some serious moves on the dancefloor and really liked to party.

Zhanna - Our New Yorker! From Queens...has a fantastic accent and one of the best senses of humour in the group (extremely cynical humour). She kept me in stitches. She was a lot of fun. I subsequently caught up with her in NYC when I was there in August and the barrel of laughs continued.

Ben & Melissa - An American couple who were both teachers/professors that were very interested in history (Ben actually taught it). Really lovely couple and I was so happy to have them in the group as they were great with prompting Ilyus for all kinds of important history related questions. At some points I think they might have known more about the history though...or at least done their research.

Chloe & Virginie - Two French Canadian girls who had just graduated high school and were on a our of Turkey and Greece as birthday/graduation gifts. It took them a while to open up (I didn't know they actually spoke English until a few days in) but once they warmed up to us, they were always down for a party. Lovely girls.

And finally our tour leader, Ilyus - Obviously Turkish. He was a bit of a partier, which was great when you were in the mood. Even though I haven't had extensive experience with tour groups, I stand firm in my opinion that Abdu (guide from Morocco) has ruined me for all tour guides! He was so fabulous and set the bar very high. Let's just say that Ilyus could be hit or miss. But I didn't care, I loved the group and honestly, to me, that is all that matters!

Day One - Istanbul

As I didn't have the best ticket (when you are travelling extensively you have to often travel using the cheapest and least direct means in order to save a few pennies!) and took Tarom airlines. Tarom airlines was actually decent enough though and one of the few airlines that are still serving free food and alcohol! But because it was the cheapest flight, it meant that I had to spend a two hour layover in Bucharest. Normally this wouldn't have been an issue except for the fact that a) the Bucharest airport is extremely dull, and b) because there was a layover, I got stuck in some bad weather in the air so that meant we did a lot of circling and had a very late landing. This also meant that unfortunately I missed the welcome dinner. I was knackered anyway, so quite happy to get back to the hotel, grab some bottled water (here we go again with the bottled water) and catch up on my blog until bedtime.

Day Two - Istanbul

The next morning I met the rest of the tour group in the lobby prior to our initial wander around Istanbul with the guide. Istanbul was not at all what I had expected. What a beautiful city (and an absolutely enormous place)! I really could not get over the size of it! It is far more cosmopolitan and European than I had initially anticipated and certainly far more liberal than I had expected. I didn't see nearly as many women wearing the traditional Muslim dress and it was common place to see non-related men and women in public together (and even a bit of PDA!). Definitely a much different vibe than Morocco!

We started off our morning with Ilyus giving us a tour of Istanbul by foot. We visited the Aya Sofya (in Sutanahmet Park), Topkapi Palace (home of the Ottoman Sultans and their harems), explored the Blue Mosque, wandered through the Ancient Hippodrome and walked through the famous Spice Bazaar. The Spice Bazaar was built in 1660 and is also known as the Egyptian Bazaar as that is where the majority of the spices were imported at that time. Even today, the Spice Bazaar remains to be the centre of Istanbul's spice trade. It is certainly a sensory delight! If you don't mind dodging the crowds...

Following our tour of the market, Ilyus took us to his favourite local kebab shop where we feasted on some delicious kebabs. I went for the lamb (when in Rome), and it was sensational! The seasoning was to die for! (This may or may not also be the location where four of the members of our group potentially contracted food poisoning...but it's up for debate...some say illness). All I can say is that I am grateful for a stomach of steel.

We walked off our lunch by taking a stroll down to the Bosphorous, which is the strait that forms the boundary between the European and Asian part of Turkey (did you know that Turkey is in both Europe and Asia?!). The banks of the Bosphorous are action packed. It's great for people watching and is where the terminal for the local ferries and tour boats are. Touring the strait via boat is a great way to see how spectacular Istanbul is by water. Ben, Melissa, Sebastian #2 & I did a tour of the Bosphorous later that afternoon.

Later that evening, we all boarded our first of two overnight buses. It was 13 hour long and I believe that hellacious would be an adequate word to describe it (but at least there was wifi!). 4 our of our 17 tourees had come down with some kind of "illness", so needless to say, there was quite a lot of vomiting going on! Pretty gross. Being the eternal optimist that I am, at least they were relatively discrete about it.

Day Three - Cappadocia

As you can imagine, I was absolutely exhausted after the bus ride from hell! We had breakfast as soon as we arrived and I tried a "Gozleme" for the first time. A Gozleme is a Turkish pancake with cheese and potato (absolutely divine!). At that moment, I knew that I would not go hungry in this country! Following breakfast, we milled around the lobby until we could check in to our rooms. I then took a solid 3.5 hour nap to make up for a rough sleep on the bus. Later that afternoon, a few of us headed for a traditional Turkish Bath, which was a phenomenal experience (and the perfect way to recover after being cramped in a bus all night!). A Turkish Bath is similar to a Moroccan hamam with some small differences; they use different products and we were laying on marble tiles. All in all, it comprised of lots of scrubbing and was finished off with a lovely olive oil massage. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, a few of us went out for an early meal and then we hit the hay.

Day Four - Cappadocia

This was by far one of my favourite (and the most exciting things) that I did in Turkey, a hot air balloon ride over the Cappadocia valley! Even though I am afraid of heights, I did feel eerily calm in the balloon. I'm not really sure how that happened though, those baskets are only made of wicker! Post the balloon ride, we took a Region Tour by private bus (visiting several notable sites in Cappadocia including the Open Air Museum - medieval painted cave churches that were painted by Orthodox Monks and approximately 1,000 years old). Cappadocia has the most unique terrain that I have ever seen (you will see in pics below). We then had a traditional Turkish lunch with a Turkish family in their home. The food was divine...stuffed eggplant...yum, yum! Post lunch, we waddled over for a carpet demonstartion (the Turks use a double knot system), visited a castle, and saw some traditional Turkish pottery being made (and the world's largest handmade plate in the making!). That evening we had Turkish night, which consisted of more amazing food; a Turkish mezza and lamb while we watched some traditional Turkish dancing and belly dancers!

Day Five - Cappadocia

We had the first half of the day as free time. Mary (my roommate) and I decided to do a bit of shopping in the village and go for some apple tea (so delicious!!! By far my favourite beverage of the trip - to the point where all of the other tourists were teasing me about it...I drank it with everything at any time!) . That afternoon Ilyus took us on a bike ride through the Louaire Valley which was absolutely stunning! Poor Mary came off her bike early on and got pretty scraped up so had to leave the ride early (along with a couple of the other girls). We went to Fat Boys for dinner which was a local restaurant run by a Turkish man and his Australian wife. They even had Vegemite on the menu - winning! I opted for the very Turkish meal of nachos (sometimes you just need a break). That night we took another overnight bus to Antalya. Fortunately no one in our group actually got sick this time, but a Turkish woman at the back of the bus (where we were sitting) was violently vomiting for the entire eight hour journey. It was by far the grossest thing that I have ever encountered. Let's just say not many of us got sleep that night, between all the sound effects and the result of inherited nausea, it made for a long night!

Day Six - Antalya (Cirali)

We arrived in Cirali (on the Mediterranean Coast) feeling a little worse for wear with the lack of sleep. Luckily we had time for a quick nap before we ventured down to the beach. We were pleasantly surprised to find a stunning beach that was outfitted full of loungers and a full service bar. If you bought a beverage, you got a free lounger. It was by far the best 4 Lira that I ever spent! That evening we had a group dinner and then visited the Chimera. Unfortunately we were iladvised by Ilyus that we were able to climb the rocks to see Chimera in our thongs - worst advice ever. Climbing those rocks in the dark with a beer in one hand and a torch, my camera and a 1.5L of water in the other was hard yakka! What was described by Ilyus as an easy 100m climb up some stone steps, really turned out to be about 1km of cliff scaling (well, it felt like that anyway!). Somehow we all made it up relatively unscathed (a few people fell) but it was certainly worth the arduous walk. In hindsight, I really should have rethought how necessary it was for me to take a beer with me.

Day Seven - Kekova

Today was hot, hot (supposed to be 42C). We weren't due to leave until mid morning so Ben, Melissa, Thomas and I decided to go and see the Olympus ruins which were a short walk from our hotel. Very impressive! We then took a three hour bus from Cirali to Kekova where we boarded the Myra 1 for our overnight stay on the water. What an amazing experience! We swam in dolphin caves, with turtles, saw an underwater city, saw a castle on a remote island, and had one of the best meals of the trip (barbecued fish and a mezza). As you can imagine this was quite the rowdy night, which started with a few solid games of Kings Cup (a great way for things to go pear shaped) and ended with swimming under the stars (Efes in hand, of course!). One thing that will never cease to amaze me is the universal language of a drinking game. No matter what country you come from, you will always know the same games (sometimes slightly varying rules of course!). The water in Antalya is so insanely blue and is very salty, which made it very easy to stay buoyant (a good thing when you are inebriated). And I am very pleased to report that Day Seven was the first day that no one was ill on our trip (aside from perhaps some self induced illness, but that didn't happen until the following morning anyway...and looked like was a walk in the park in comparison to the other bouts of sickness!).

Day Eight - Dalyan

Following our night under the stars, we had a traditional Turkish breakfast aboard the Myra 1, and then made our way back to shore and boarded a four hour bus for Dalyan. It was 44C and there was no AC on the bus. Brutal was an understatement (especially when you are feeling a tad seedy)! Once we finally arrived, I retired to the room for a solid session in the AC and a snooze. A few of us went out for dinner that evening and later discovered an amazing mango daiquiri bar! Woohoo! Dalyan is a big time tourist trap so definitely was much more expensive than other locations in Turkey. We didn't stay out too long that evening, our wallets wouldn't allow us.

Day Nine - Dalyan

We started early on our ninth day. Ilyus had organised us a private boat tour of the canals of Dalyan where we can go and see the Carian rock tombs and the remains of the ancient cities of Dalyan and Kaunos. Post viewing the tombs, we visited a Turkish mud bath and then we continued on the boat to a secluded beach that was only accessibly by boat called Izhuzu (rated as one of hte top ten beaches in the world, I am still not convinced why). En route to the beach, we fed the turtles and placed orders for a blue crab lunch. That evening, per the request of Thomas, who is an absolute machine on the dance floor, we went our for dinner at Multi Culti followed by a night of dancing. This ended up being by far one of our biggest nights, with several members of the group (namely Thomas, Sebastian #1, Mary, Chloe, Ragha, Maddie, & Nicole) absolutely dominating the dance floor all night long. As you can imagine, I had a good go too! The Turks were absolutely loving it and trying (quite hard, I might add) to teach us some of their traditional dances. Unfortunately their efforts were at a complete loss for most of us (especially me!). It was an exceptional night and I cringe now thinking about the amoung of raki shots that were consumed (some how most of it ended up being free).

Day Ten - Pamukkale

Yet another long ride on the bus (perils of touring an entire country in two short weeks!), and we finally arrived at our destination in the afternoon. We first visited the famous white cliffs of Pamukkale (there are no words!) and then visited the Hieropolis. We had dinner in the town and had an early night (except a few avid soccer fans who were glued to the World Cup). Most of us had tired dancing shoes.

Bit of education - the white cliffs of Pamukkale are 2,700m long and 160m high, and visible up to 20kms away. They are truly remarkable and you can even swim in the natural hot springs, which are renowned for their healing properties. Of course we took full advantage! There are 17 hot springs and they can vary in temperature anywhere from 35 and 100 degrees. The white cliffs are formed when the calcium carbonate hardens over time (it is as soft as jelly at first). The hot springs have been used since the second century BC.

Day Eleven - Selcuk

Another three or so hour on the bus and we finally arrived at our destination around midday. As we had free time, as a group, we went and saw the St. Jean Bascilica and the Isa Bey mosque. Post our touring stint, we went into the Old Town for a spot of shopping and had dinner on the terrace of our hotel (suitably named Canberra Hotel). We played drinking games until late.

Day Twelve - Selcuk

Ilyus had given us free time in the morning, so a few of us decided to get up early and make good use of it by taking a local "dolmus" bus to a neighbouring town called Sirince to sample some of the local Turkish fruit wines and shop for crafts. Sirince is a gorgeous town that has a strong Greek influence dating back to sometime in the 19th century when freed Greek slaves inhabited it.

Post our wine tasting, the group reconvened and we visited the ancient Roman ruins of the town Ephesus. Ephesus was one of the foremost cities
of its time as was strategically placed on the trade route and is one of the best places in the world to get feeling of what life must have been like during Roman times. It is incredibly well preserved (Roman brothels and all!). Seriously impressive (even moreso if you are a history buff).

We had dinner in the Old Town that evening and kept it relatively low key.

Day Thirteen - Troy/Canakkale

We had a long seven hour bus ride to get to Canakkale with a pitstop in Troy. Troy is renowned by the Iliad, Homer's epic poem. For centuries the Iliad was regarded as a myth until the ruins of Troy were discovered in the mid nineteenth century. The ruins of Troy are not nearly as impressive as Ephesus (mainly due to the fact that they are not as well preserved) but are much, much older (i.e. 3000BC) so in a way, that is impressive in itself!

Post our pitstop in Troy, we ventured to the gorgeous city of Canakkale for our overnight stay. Canakkale is a harbour town, with a busy port and a thriving student population. The waterfront is always bustling and the nightlife is (usually) great. We were smack in the middle of Ramadan so when we decided to go out that evening, there wasn't too much of a scene. I guess after a day of fasting, when the sun goes down, the Muslims must be knackered and have no energy to go out...fair enough! But we had fun anyway...we always do!

Day Fourteen - Gallipoli/Istabnul and goodbye group!

We had a very early start the following morning for our trip to Gallipoli en route to Istanbul. The traffic in Istanbul is horrendous (I am talking standstill traffic. Ilyus told us that there are 6M cars in Istanbul! Insanity). As most of our group was Australian, the stop in Gallipoli was a very important and quite a moving experience (certainly a very important part of our history!). For those of you who are unaware, Gallipoli is a penninsula on the Aegan sea coast of the Turkey. It is the site of the landing of the ANZACS in the Battle of Gallipoli in World War I. Many ANZACS (and allies) and Turks lost their lives here during WWI. There is a commemorative site for both the ANZACS and Turks who fought and lost their lives. Truly remarkable to have a site dedicated to non-Turks on Turkish soil (especially considering we were fighting against the Turks, who were obviously allied with the Germans).

Post paying our respects, we again boarded the bus for a very long journey into Istanbul. The distance was not far, but our pace was severly lacking! That evening, we went out for dinner and drinks as a group but it was relatively tame. Most people had early morning flights.

While I was really sad to leave the crew behind and bid farewell to Turkey, I was beyond excited for Greece and to spend some time with my family! Bring on the ouzo!!!

Hope this finds you well, wherever it is in the world that you are!

Mel xx

The Aya Sofya.
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Inside the Blue Mosque.
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Inside the Blue Mosque.
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The Blue Mosque.
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Inside the Aya Sofya.
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Me outside the Blue Mosque (and practically everyone is out in Istanbul!). It's a very busy spot!!!
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The Blue Mosque from the Bosphorus
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Istanbul from our boat cruise (Blue Mosque in the background...can't miss it!)
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Cappadocia. The most bizarre terrain I have ever seen but just stunning.
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Our hot air balloon!
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Zhanna & Nicole demonstrating our emergency landing position. We all had to practice this before we went up in the air (not really something you want to think about right before you go on a hot air balloon!).
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Cappadocia from up the balloon.
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Zhanna, Nicole, Mary (my roommate) and I in our quadrant of the balloon.
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Snapping pics of the other balloons that were up in the air with us.
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Cappadocia from the air.
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More balloons (I really did take a million pictures!!)
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The hot air ballooning crew and our very talented pilot (he also had quite a quirky sense of humour and kept joking about jumping out with his parachute...)
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Upon returning back to land, we toasted with champagne. Not a bad way to start the day!
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Cappadocia during the Region Tour.
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Region Tour.
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Region Tour.
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The Turkish family that cooked for us. The food was exquisite!
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More Region Tour.
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I love this photo of Chloe! One of our two token French Canadians, this lovely lady was showing us how its done making pottery (rather proving it's actually quite difficult!). It was Chloe's birthday that day, she turned 19! Oh to be 19 again...and who would have ever thought that at 30 I would be partying with a 19 year old for her birthday...
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A Turkish dance show.
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Belly dancer! I have a great video of this girl...very impressive!
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Biking in Cappadocia.
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More biking...
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Stunning Antalya (Cirali)...it was absolutely roasting!
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The whole gang in the tray on the back of a truck on the way to go and see the Chimera (the naturally flaming rocks).
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The flaming rocks! The picture does not do it justice. It is really quite amazing!
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Cirali beach...the quiet part!
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The Olympus Ruins at Cirali.
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Kekova on our overnight - look at that water! Such a royal blue!!! Incredible.
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The crew swimming in the dolphin cave. Unfortunately it wasn't the season for it, but this is where the local dolphins come to have their babies.
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Felice, Sebastian & Ilyus jumping off the Myra 1! Those crazy kids...
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The underwater city in Kekova. This was amazing! Our boat had a couple of glass windows on the bottom and you could see old artifacts (like cups, plates, etc) that would have been used in ancient times under the water. It is illegal to swim there though as there were instances of people stealing some of them.
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Love that water!
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The boats of Turkey!
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Sleeping beauties. We all slept together on the top of the boat.
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Mud monsters! The crew at the mud baths.
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Carian rock tombs in Dalyan.
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Iztuzu beach which is apparently Turkey's most famous beach...very nice!
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The blue crab! Delish...
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Inhaling my crab!! Yum, yum...
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Mary, Chloe, Nicole & Ragha throwing some Turkish dance moves in Dalyan.
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I love this photo! Sebastian up on the bar dancing to Sex Bomb with the Turks. This is what about seven raki shots will do to you! Talk about loose...
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The amphitheatre at Hierapolis in Pamukkale.
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The famous white cliffs at Pamukkale
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Me at the white cliffs.
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Felice, Lauren and Thomas wine tasting the local Turkish wine in Sirince...delish!
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Sirince...gorgeous town! You can certainly see the Greek influence here.
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Wandering the streets of Sirince.
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The lady at the restaurant we were at for lunch let me take a photo of her making gozleme...my favourite!
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Ruins at Ephesus.
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This is the ruins of the goddess Nike at Ephesus.
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The library at Ephesus...exquisite!
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This is gold...
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The horse of Troy! Clearly not the original...me saying hi from the upper right window (how's your eyesight?!).
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A few of the group posed for the gimmick photos...pretty savage!
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Ruins of Troy.
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Beautiful Canakkale.
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Partying it up in Canakkale. Sebastian #2, Sebastian #1, Ragha & Ben.
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Lauren, Felice & Sebastian #2.
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Ben, Nicole & I.
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Thomas, Ilyus, Jade, Maddie, Melissa, Virginie, Chloe & Mary.
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ANZAC Cove. Hauntingly beautiful...
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Me at the ANZAC sign...had to be done!
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Mary and the Turkish ice cream! I absolutely adored Turkish ice cream. It is delicious! I'm not really sure how to describe it but it is really thick and very creamy. The best part is the ordering process as the Turks love to play with you by teasing you with the ice cream. You try to grab it, but then they take it away. You grab the cone, but then they move it and it turns out there are two cones, so you are left with the empty one. And because it is so thick, they can flip it upside down and it won't spill. I really wish that I had some footage of the guy messing with me when I tried it for the first time...he was ruthless! It was hilarious.
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It's Ramadan so everyone is out at night! Amazing...
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The Blue Mosque at night..
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Posted by melpage 15:24 Archived in Turkey Tagged cappadocia istanbul antalya gallipoli kekova dalyan selcuk pamukkale çanakkale cirali Comments (0)

Just like clock work...

The home of the Swiss Army Knife, Lindt chocolate, and fondues

Switzerland was just how I had imagined it would be, very Swiss! Meaning that it was very clean, livable, orderly and let's not forget, PUNCTUAL! I had been to Lucerne about ten years ago and loved it, so when the opportunity came for me to go and visit my friend Elise (and meet her beautiful one and a half year old daughter Emma), who has been living in (or around) Geneva for a number of years now, I jumped at the chance. I love this place!

Elise and I had been friends for many years. I knew her from the old swimming days in Adelaide and while I was in the US swimming at college, she also came over for a few years to swim at a school in New York. Anyone who has ever been away from family during the Holiday season can attest that it can be hard spending times like this away from your family (and with basic strangers no less!). Fortunately, I always had my American family to go visit during the winter months, and as Elise had nobody, of course I had her come and stay with us for Christmas. Elise is so much fun and as you can imagine, we got up to all kinds of mischief partying in NYC over the silly season.

Unfortunately, my flight from Bordeaux did not arrive until after 11pm that evening. Elise came to collect me from the Geneva airport, which was not too far from their home. They are now living in Gland (pronounced Glon), which is a midway point between Geneva and Lausanne. Pierrick, Elise's French husband, works in Geneva, and Elise works in Lausanne. After a few years of having to commute an hour to work, Elise had had enough...can't blame her! The compromise was Gland, which is a very small town on Lake Geneva. There is not much to Gland really, but there is a train station and that is quite frankly, all that I cared about!

I had a bit of a slow start on my first day. By the time we finished with the catch ups the evening prior, it was past 1am (and I didn't have to go to work the next day - yikes!). My plan for the day was to head into Lausanne, which is about a thirty minute train ride from Gland. Lausanne, for those of you who did not know (I didn't until I arrived), is the Olympic Capital! It's a small city with less than 150,000 people and is on Lake Geneva and still in the French part of Switzerland. Upon arrival, I made a bee line straight for the tourism office which was conveniently in the station (yay, Switzerland...you make it easy to find!) and then set foot out for the day exploring the sites. As Lausanne is not a big city, it is very easy to do by foot.

Over the course of the afternoon I was able to see most of the notable sites in Lausanne; Cathedrale de Lausanne which is perched at the top of the hill in the City and boasts a great view of the city and the lake. It's a 13th century Gothic cathedral and is the biggest in Switzerland. I also saw Chateau Saint-Marie, statue of Major David, who was a hero in local history, and Place de la Palud (town hall site with the statue in the centre).

Post my self navigated tour of the Old Town, I walked down to Ouchy, which was a former fishing village. It's a very social area with many lovely restaurants that line the lake front and there are plenty of water related amsusements on the lake. After Ouchy, I walked over to the Olympic Museum, which I would highly recommend. Coming from a person who doesn't really like museums too much (and is a sports buff), I found this fascinating and was a great place to kill three or so hours. It is very interactive and there is so much information. Fascinating!

As Elise worked in Lausanne, she picked me up after work. Pierrick cooked us a lovely barbecue that evening that was washed down with local wine, gruyere cheese and cake. Delicious!

The following morning, I caught the train into Geneva. My main priority was to go and do a visit of the United Nations (I had my passport ready to go!) and had a few hours to kill before the 2.30pm tour. I wandered along Quai du Mont-Blanc and Quai Wilson, which are at the edge of Lake Geneva. Lake Geneva is seriously impressive. The water is crystal clear and the scenery is so picturesque. Truly gorgeous! Following the lake front, I made my way through Parc Mon-Repos, Parc Moynier, and La Perle du Lac before finishing at the Jardin Bontanique (which was right on the edge of where the Palais des Nations began). The United Nations park is enormous! Unfortunately you cannot go into the park grounds on the tour for security reasons, so we had to stick inside and have a tour of the buildings. But we did get to see where so many of these very important meetings are held. We were even fortunate enough to view one as it was happening! Pretty interesting.

By the time I was done with the UN (there was an enormous queue to get in, the tour doesn't last long, just over an hour), it was after 4pm and I still hadn't done the Old Town in Geneva. I quickly hightailed it back over the other side of the city, crossing Le Rhone, and wandered through the old streets. What beautiful buildings!

I visited Place de Neuve (where the Grand Theatre is and where we would be seeing our opera show La Wally). Pierrick had scored Elise & I some free box tickets courtesy of PwC (thank you P-dubbs! Still reaping the benefits for my stint in slave labour). We had some amazing seats (but no free champagne...boo! The other boxes seemed to have the champers flowing). It's funny, in the US PwC give you sports tickets, in Switzerland, it's the opera!

La Wally is an Italian opera that is the work of Alfredo Catalini. Fortunately, there were English (and French) subtitles (not that that was always helping!). As is the case with most operas, it is a love story, this one a bit tragic (SPOILERALERT - the lovers after being apart for a long time were finally killed by an avalanche! Maybe a common thing in the Alps?!). There were a few confusing elements, like the woman dressed as a man, which later turned out was trying to portray a young boy (surely they could have just cast a young boy? I was getting all confused trying to think it was the main characters alter-ego or something! Clearly I was overthinking it!). Despite not always understanding what was going on, it was very enjoyable and the voices of the singers were unbelievable. I'd highly recommend going to see one if you ever get the chance.

On my last full day in Switzerland, I decided to take the train to Vevey. As Julz had spent over a year nannying in the Geneva area, she highly recommended a trip to Vevey. What an absolutely stunning small village Vevey is! It is the perfect setting for some amazing photos (and typically Swiss, I think!). In typical fashion (I have this whole tourist thing down pat!), I made a beeline straight for the tourism office to get a map and find out what to see in the area. The lady at the office suggested that I walked by the lake and then through the Old Town. It was a beautiful walk, and a lovely day. Following the walk, I headed past the Nestle headquarters (which has a magnificent view of the Lake) and took the funicular up an enormous hill where I was able to get some great photos of Vevey from up high. I made my way back into town, did a spot of shopping, and grabbed a beer on the lakefront. Before I knew it, it was 5pm and I was due to take my train back to Gland at 5.35pm.

Poor Elise was at home sick when I arrived (she had been strugging with a cold the entire visit) but Pierrick and Emma kept me well entertained with some rose, a lovely dinner and filling me in on life in Switzerland.

The following morning I made my way to the airport to depart Geneva for Turkey (via Bucharest...long story but basically when you are travelling on a budget like I am, sometimes you have to take some seriously random flight paths). TACOM air?! I had never even heard of it! As long as it stays in the air, I'm happy.

That's all for now folks, next up is Turkey! Beyond excited, I have heard amazing things! (Spoiler alert: it's a PHENOMENAL place!!!).

Hope this finds you well, wherever it is that you are in the world!

Mel xx

Lake Geneva at Lausanne. Stunning!
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Lausanne.
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Lake Geneva at Lausanne (again).
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I could not get over how clear that water is!
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The Olympic Museum. A must do if you are ever in Lausanne.
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Beautiful Lausanne.
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The United Nations in Geneva.
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Inside one of the largest conference rooms in the UN.
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The UN logo. I had never noticed that the logo is of the world from a "top view". It has been designed this way in order to prevent any bias as to which country(ies) are given the centre focus. Quite interesting!
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The Grand Theatre in Geneva. This was where Elise & I saw La Wally.
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I loved these loungers; made of faux grass and all over the city. Looks comfy!
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Cathedrale Saint Pierre.
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Show time! Inside the Grand Theatre.
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Stunning Vevey.
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This fork is right outside of the Alimentarium (which is a food and nutritional museum that is put on by Nestle so I suppose it is fitting!). Just a bit random!
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A tribute to Charlie Chaplin in Vevey.
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More of Vevey...such a scenic town! The photos really don't do it justice!
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And another...
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Posted by melpage 07:19 Archived in Switzerland Tagged geneva lausanne vevey Comments (0)

Chalet living

It's a tough life...but someone's gotta do it!

As mentioned in my previous post, we headed to the Bordeaux train station at 5.30pm for Craig and Kelly's arrival. Craig is a longtime friend of Jacko's, and over the years as I went back forth to Australia to visit, I had gotten to know both him and his lovely girlfriend Kelly. They're a great couple and are lots of fun - the perfect addition to the trip! Craig and Kel were just beginning their European adventure and when they heard that we were planning to be in France at a chalet in the Dordogne region in June, they jumped at the chance to join us. And there certainly was plenty of room!

Back while I was still living in Bermuda and feeling that my mature aged gap year was a mere pipe dream, Jacko had been emailing us about the chalets that he was looking to rent for us. They all looked exquisite and would be certainly more than nice enough for our stay. We happily left the ultimate decision up to him and it was a lovely surprise to find that my favourite out of the ones he did show us, was the one he had chosen! Who doesn't love a pool?! The house slept up to nine people, came fully equipped with a ping pong table, pool, huge garden (to play pétanque, of course!), and a large entertaining area with one of the largest "help yourself" wine racks that I have ever seen (you just re-fill what you drink at the end); it was more than fabulous! And definitely ideal for having a few lazy days at home too.

Craig and Kel were right on time and it didn't take too long for us to find them. After some very excited greetings, it was hard not to miss the giant rock that was now placed on Kel's left hand. They had gotten engaged in Paris! Now we really had a reason to celebrate (not that just being in France itself isn't enough!). We quickly scurried back to the car, and saved the story for the journey (we had at least a three hour drive to Castelnaud la Chapelle). Without stealing any of Craig & Kel's thunder for the sharing of the story, it was perfect (and of course, knowing those two, had some great comedic value to it!). Craig and Kel had a relatively early midday train from Paris to Bordeaux. Poor Kel had been unwell lately battling with a pretty nasty case of vertigo which was a horrible side effect of a very stressful job. She arrived in Paris feeling more precious than the average jet lagged person, but as the trooper that she is, still managed to see many of the sites of Paris in the day and a half that they were there. Their morning started much earlier than anticipated (an unfortunate side-effect of jet lag), and Craig, knowing that he didn't want to be carrying around the ring the entire holiday, suggested they head to the Eiffel Tower nice and early. Even though it was well ahead of the scheduled departure from the train station in Paris it took some stern coercion by Craig to convince Kel to go for a morning walk ("Just a quick look to take some pictures, it's so early, there will be nobody there!"). He was right, and right there in front of the Paris' most renowned landmark, he got down on one knee. Of course she said yes, and felt a little silly that it had taken so much convincing to get her there in the first place. Their photos of the engagement are beautiful. As it was so early in the morning, there wasn't a person in sight (so much so that they had to scour the grounds to find someone to snap their photos!).

Three plus hours later, we arrived at our new abode and despite the lethargy you would normally feel after being squeezed into a car for ours, we were immediately filled with so much energy and excitement! The house was absolutely perfect, an ideal location to have a very chilled week of drinking wine, eating cheese and doing the odd day trip as we pleased.

Castelnaud la Chapelle is a gorgeous medieval town on the Dordogne River. There isn't too much to the town itself; a handful of restaurants, an excellent patisserie (very important!), an obscenely overpriced general store (only to be visited under dire circumstances) and a castle! All of the neighbouring villages are relatively close by and are more or less the same size or larger. As we were tired and could not bare the thought of being in a car any longer than we had to, we opted to eat locally at a lovely Basque restaurant called Chez Antoinette. That evening I had my first taste of foie gras (actually is delicious as long as you don't think about what it actually is as you are eating it) and some more duck. We had a very early night that evening, everyone was shattered.

Monday was the epitome of laziness. Craig and Kelly were very jet lagged, as expected, so we made a point of laying low and relaxing by the pool. I was of course thrilled with this idea, after being on the road for almost five months and never in a place for longer than a few days, I was certainly due for some me time! Later that evening, the boys spoiled us with a delicious dinner of roasted chicken, potatoes and salad (all washed down with lots of wine of course!).

The following day was far more action packed as we had scheduled to go on a 16km canoeing adventure down the Dordogne. Jon and Haley, while they were visiting the region, had done it and said it was by far one of the highlights of their trip in the region. Apparently you hardly had to paddle as the current is so strong and takes you down the river quickly. They said that they wished they had done a longer route as the scenery is stunning. After a sales pitch like that, it was a done deal. We opted for the 16km canoe and off we went. Unfortunately the weather was not nearly as hot as we thought it would be, which was probably quite fortunate as the current was not nearly as strong as what Jon and Haley had experienced. We had quite a bit of hardcore paddling ahead of us. Regardless, it was a glorious day with another picnic lunch on the bank of the Dordogne about half way through our paddle. No canoe trip would be complete without a capsize, and I am very pleased to report that it was not the girls! After copping an earful about how we were likely going to go bottoms up multiple times during out trip, we were thrilled when the boys eventually caught up to us completely wet! That's what you get when you mess around in the canoe gates that the professionals use! Hate to tell you lads, but your canoe skills are far from professional! We had another relaxed evening again. The boys made us dinner for the second time in a row (I could really get used to this! Although not sure it was worth hearing about it all night! ) of barbecued fish, sausages, potatoes and salad. Following dinner, we continued on the wine train and played card games.

We had already been staying in Castelnaud for three days and we still had not explored our own village! The castle in Castelnaud is claimed to be the best castle in the area, and I certainly would not disagree. It's an old medieval castle that has been furnished for the tourists to see what the day in the life of royalty may have looked like in the medieval times. Following our exploration of the home base, we ventured to Domme, which was the favourite village of Jon and Haley when they were in the region. Domme is a gorgeous town that is situated on a hill that boasts fabulous views of the river and neighbouring villages. That evening, the girls finally got their shit together, pardon my French, and cooked dinner. We made spaghetti bolognaise with garlic bread and a salad. It was far from reaching the status of Corinne's exquisite meal, but we were at a severe disadvantage as we were missing a few key ingredients and only realised it a little too late into the game. Even with the meal missing a few key ingredients, it still tasted delicious. We closed that night with more wine and card games.

Thursday and Friday were two very low key days. We made a couple of trips to some neighbouring villages to have a look, but other than that, we just laid by the pool with books (wine in hand of course!).

On Saturday we ventured into Sarlat for the region renowned Sarlat Markets. It seemed that everyone who was anyone in the area had come to this small village to shop! There were hoards of people everywhere and most were local. Since I have been on the road, if I ever mentioned to anyone that I was going to the South of France, they always emphasized that I must go and see the French markets. Being a bit of a foodie and someone that enjoys to cook, it seemed like the perfect way to spend the morning, gathering some delicious local produce to whip into some fine French cuisine later at the chalet. Quite unexpectedly, I spent the first hour and a half at the market being very unimpressed. All I can remember is thinking to myself (actually I am pretty sure that we were all saying this out loud to each other), "seriously, this is it?!". From what we could see, it seemed more like a yard sale than anything else! It was hot, there were crowds of people pushing around and I wouldn't be exaggerating by saying that we were all a bit crabby. There goes our plans for a beautiful home cooked French meal! We eventually found a food cart, grabbed a quite bite and then decided to take another direction back to the car. Talk about taking a wrong turn! About five minutes later we were in a food market heaven! I have never seen so much fresh produce, meat, cheese, fish and olives, etc. in all my life. All of it was displayed so beautifully, it really was an art form! The only problem with our new discovery was that we were about 20 minutes late, and they were all in the process of packing up for the day! We didn't have enough time to purchase any ingredients for our home cooked meal but we did get an opportunity to have some samplers. Jacko and I headed to one stand where there were some olives, roasted garlic, pickled vegetables etc. I dared Jacko to have a taste of the pickled garlic as he made a comment at how gross it would be. He did and while doing so said "I don't think my wife will kiss me for the rest of the day". The sales people at the stand both looked at me with a horrified look on their faces (French people really love their garlic!); I laughed and pointed to Julz saying,, "oh, that's his wife". They smiled, and laughed, "of course, you are the mistress!". Only in France could Jacko holiday with both his wife and mistress!

Sunday, our last full day at Castelnaud la Chapelle, was a very lazy day indeed. We took a drive over to some of neighbouring towns for a walk and spent most of the day getting ready for an early departure the next morning. We stopped at Cave du Vin de Domme and sampled some of the local wines. The rose was outstanding! I don't know what they do to the rose in France but I have a new found love for it! Wine tasting in France was not at all what I expected though. It is not nearly as social and revolved around entertaining as it is in Australia. I am sure a big part of this was the fact that we were not able to communicate in our native tongues, so it was very hard to find the tasting experience to be educational (which I quite enjoy). They also didn't seem to have parts of many of the wineries we visited, where you can just relax, order a plate of cheese and enjoy a bottle (one of my favourite pastimes in Australia!). Nonetheless, the wine that we did taste, was divine. And that's all that matters, right?

The last supper was fittingly at Chez Antoinette, the location of the first meal. Again, the duck really wowed us! Who knew we would all develop an obsession with duck!

What an end to such a fabulous trip with my best friend (and Jacko...and Craig and Kel!). So many laughs and fantastic memories that I will treasure forever. I don't think that I could have dreamed that this trip would have ever turned out as amazing as it did. I feel so lucky to have such wonderful people in my life. As hard as it was saying goodbye to my partner in crime, there was still so much to look forward to...I was off to Geneva to catch up with an old swimming friend of mine who now lives there.

Hope this finds you well, wherever it is in the world that you are!

Mel xx

Our fabulous abode for our stay in the Dordogne region.
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Our lunch picnic for our canoeing adventure! We were halfway down our four hour and 16km journey down the Dordogne River. All smiles! And before the boys flipped their canoe! After all the abuse we copped about the likelihood of us flipping ours...not one strand on our heads was wet! The blokes on the other hand...
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We were killing it down the river! Posing in front of a beautiful castle on the river front.
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Hey Craig!
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Chateau de Castelnaud. Our village's castle! Pretty cool, ey?!
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A neighbouring village and their castle (clearly nowhere nearly as good as ours!)
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Walking around our village. Hey team!
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The view of the region from the top of our castle.
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View of the region from the lookout at Domme. So beautiful! Reminded me a little bit of the Hills at home (with not as many hills, clearly).
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Girls finally took over the cooking responsibilities! About to tuck into some delicious spaghetti bolognaise. We tried to recreate how Corinne prepared it but fell short. It was still very tasty though!
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Out for dinner at La Petit Tonnelle...delicious!
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Wandering though Beynac, which was a neighbouring village, and where we had dinner.
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More of Beynac.
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Sunset on the water post dinner.
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The gardens at Chateau de Hautefort.
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Chateau Hautefort.
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More gardens. A bit of a woeful attempt at trying to portray how finely manicured this property is! Amazing. I don't even want to know how often the maintenance is!
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The Surlat markets! This was the crappier part (just clothes and trinkets, etc). We didn't discover the food and beverage part until much later unfortunately!
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More of Surlat and it's markets.
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La Roque-Gageac (another neighbouring village).
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The lovely ladies taking a stroll along the Main Street of La Roque-Gageac.
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All dressed up and out for dinner!
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Tour panoramique de Moncalou at Domme.
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View of the vines at Cave du Vin de Domme (where we went wine tasting).
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Craig helping us with our bearings!
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I should have really put this in the roadtrip post, but this was Jacko's pet project to capture where we went during our week. Jacko is unbelievably organised (I really don't know he could stand Julz & I half the time!), and the entire thing is colour coded as to what we did in each spot. Magenta (I threw you a bone here Jacko, we all know that it's pink, not magenta! - inside recurring joke/disagreement we had about the pink highlighter) was the route we took, blue were the places we stayed overnight, orange were the places that we visited on day trips. Impressive, huh?! We pretty much covered the entire southern border of France!
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Posted by melpage 03:16 Archived in France Tagged dordogne_region Comments (0)

Road trippin' with the Jacksons

A Jackson, a Beauchamp and a Page hit the road...

The Three Amigos reunited again...it's a road trip!!! As great as it was to be have Julz all to myself, I knew I would have to share her eventually and honestly, I was really looking forward to seeing Jacko and hearing about what kind of mischief he got up to on his week away.

As mentioned in my previous post, our morning started off a little seedier than anticipated but was certainly not anything that would going to get in the way of making our bus (and then train) to Avignon. Unfortunately the conditions on the first bus from Saint Tropez to Marsailles were sub par considering our current condition - no air conditioning! On a hot day, when you are feeling hungover and dehydrated, is MISERABLE! Why, oh why, do I drink before travel days (note to self, don't do it again...Sneak preview: I later break this promise, on several occasions! Surprised?). Fortunately, the hangover was quickly cured at a 'hole in the wall' sandwich shop that we found at the Marsailles train station. Even the 'hole in the walls' deliver a culinary masterpiece! The best croquet monsieur of my life. No exaggeration. I love France.

We arrived at the Avignon station at around 3.30pm. There is a really strange bus system that operates inside the wall of the old city and as Julz and I were a bit confused about what was going on and where we were going (it actually may have been quite simple but we had killed quite a few brain cells the previous night), of course we caught the wrong bus to the apartment (where Jacko was probably patiently waiting). Once we had realised this (Julz was mastering some serious French conversational skills with the bus driver), we quickly got off the bus and decided to endure the heat and do the rest by foot. Fifteen minutes later, which really felt like an hour, we were there. But there was no Jacko. We knew he had arrived as he had texted Julz, but he wasn't answering the door (and completely ignoring all the yelling up at the window that I was doing). I am sure the neighbours wanted to kill me! To make things worse, Julz had no credit on her phone so we couldn't call. Where on earth could he be? Let's just say our exhaustion was beginning to turn into agitation. After a good 15-20 minutes of waiting, Julz decided that she would go hunt in the town centre for a place where she could top up her phone; perhaps we got the address wrong? I decided to stay at the house and wait for her return (and maybe he would come back?). All I wanted to do was be in airconditioning! A few minutes later, Jacko came bounding down the street with a huge smile, greeting me with a giant hug. I don't think I have ever been so happy to see him; I could have cried! "Where did you go?". "Oh I just thought you girls might be hungry after the trip so went to the shops to get some croissants, cheese, and champagne as a big of a celebration of being back together". What a peach! How could you ever get mad at that guy? This is why we love him!

Following Jacko's welcome back party, we hit the streets of Avignon for a light stroll through the village. Avignon is a gorgeous medieval village that is surrounded by 4.3km stone wall and is famous for its art and culture, particularly during the 14th century. From 1309 to 1377, seven French-born popes invested large sums of money to build a papal palace (Palais des Papes), which is what Avignon is known for.

The next day we went to see Palais des Papes, Pont Saint Benezet, and the rose show that was being displayed at Palais des Papes (Alte Rosa). We then enjoyed a gorgeous lunch at a restaurant in the Place de l'Horloge. Julz and I quite possibly had some of the best roasted chicken we have ever had! Adam spent the remainder of the afternoon playing golf at a local course and Julz and I hit the shops. We spent that evening at home drinking wine and relaxing. I made dinner, which mainly featured vegetables, something that we have been strugging to eat (and I was beginning to feel as though I was in desperate need of!). Unfortunately wine, cheese and bread does not check the 5 a day box!

I was particularly excited for today as it marked the first day of our real adventure; the road trip! I was very much looking forward to this for several reasons, the first because I love long car rides with friends (so much great banter), it's fun to rock out in the backseat when you have no driving responsibilities (sorry Jacko!), and lastly, it will be so liberating to have a car again and be free to go wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted. Our plan was to plan as we go, and only enough as to decide where we were sleeping that night the morning prior. And if we had to sleep in the car, so be it (not sure the other two agreed to that though, but I was up for it, haha!).

As Jacko was imparted with the great responsibility of driving the precious cargo (Julz & I), he came up with some car rules. Each day Julz and I were to rotate Chief Navigator responsibilities. As Chief Navigator, that person had to use the GPS to audibly direct Jacko where we are going - in ENGLISH (fair enough, it was hard enough to make sure he stayed on the right hand side of the road...bloody Aussies!), where we would go that day, where we would eat and where we would sleep. Oh, and of course had full control of the radio (this may have been something he might have later regretted!). Seems easy enough, right? But for Julz and I, who are not the greatest of decision makers (due to more of a wishy-washy "oh I don't mind" kind of attitude), it proved slightly more difficult than it may have for those who are more assertive in life. It actually turned out to be good practice for both of us, and didn't take too long for us to make snap decisions (which sometimes worked in our favour, and sometimes were a bit of a flop); but at least we decided! There were however, several occasions that Jacko could hardly stand our undecidedness, so would just decide for us (thank you Jacko!). At times, I really think he has the patience of a Saint.

Day one in the Peugeot and Julz had CN responsibilities (yay, I was off the hook!). She decided to take us to Gordes, Orange and to visit the Pont du Gard. The sites were beautiful and everything we imagined them to be aside from the planned visit to Theatre antique d'Orange. Unfortunately there must have been a concert the previous night at the theatre (it was an antique Roman theatre that was built in1AD), so there were many workers running around packing things up that the excitement just seemed to kill the ambiance of being there (so hardly worth our hard earned Euros for an entry fee). We kyboshed that plan and hit the road. Post the visit to Pont du Gard, which was spectacular, we hit an obscene amount of traffic. Not familiar with the French customs and clearly blissfully unaware of what day it was, we had not realised that it was the end of a four day weekend in France and everyone was on the highway making their way back to their home (it appeared most were heading towards Toulouse - our direction). As a result of this, there was no way that we were going to be able to spend the night in our planned destination so we had to settle for an unplanned stay in Carcassone. Carcassone is another medievel village that was wholly encompassed by a huge wall and stone fort. It was beautiful, especially at night as there were lights that lit up the lovely walls. It looked like something out of a movie set! One thing that was on our must do list while we were in this region, as suggested by Corinne, was to try the confit cassoulet (duck casserole). We managed to find it at one of the restaurants within the walls and it was delicious!

The following morning we had a very late start to the date. It was my day to test the waters as CN, and I had chosen to visit Toulouse on our way for an overnight stay in Andorra. My stint as the CN did not begin well. The GPS was down so I was forced to navigate our journey the old school way - maps! It wasn't too difficult, not like I had to use a compass or anything, but it certainly wasn't as mindless as using a GPS. I somehow managed to get us into the city centre of Toulouse, we parked the car and walked around. We had a lovely burger for lunch at a resturant near Place du Capitol. We managed to accidentally stumble across Cloitre des Jacobins, which was a lovely church with some beautiful gardens. Winning! Toulouse has a thriving cafe scene, and there were some stunning cafes in Place du Capitole. Great pople watching! It's also a serious sports city that lives and breathes rugby (a great town if you ask me!). It is France's 4th largest city and is sandwiched between Canal du Midi and the River Garonne. It was a short stop, but certainly seemed a very pleasant and livable place.

Following our lunch, we proceeded out of the city. I don't know how we managed to, but we got very lucky to magically get on the right highway. I'd like to give my navigating skills the credit here, but I think it was more of a fluke than anything! We spent the next three hours weaving in and out of the Pyranees mountains to get to a tiny country called Andorra. Funnily enough, it was not until Adam had mentioned that he was interested in checking it out, that I had even heard of it! Andorra is about 460 square kilometres. The main language spoken is Spanish (as about a third of the inhabitants are Spanish). It's a tax haven, so there are plenty of alcohol, perfume and clothing shops. It's quite a quirky little place. Certainly during the summer when there is no skiing, it feels more like a giant Duty Free store than anything else. There are hundreds of duty-free like stores! I would imagine it would be incredible for skiing as it is certainly built up that way. Unfortunately, many of the restuarants and shops were closed at this time of year as it is very seasonal.

Finally day four of the road trip had arrived and I could hand over the CN duties to Julz. Now she can deal with the shotty GPS! Low and behold, the GPS began to magically work again. Lucky Julz! Jacko had requested us to have an early departure and we were on the road by 9am (which was almost two hours earlier than the previous day...ouch!). Julz had opted for us to visit Lourdes and have our overnight in Pau.

I'm not sure where to begin to describe Lourdes, other making a statement that it may well be the most bizarre place that I have ever been to. Described by the Lonely Planet as the Catholic version of Las Vegas, it seemed like an intriguing statement to verify. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Lourdes (I was too), it is the largest Catholic pilgrimage site in France and one of the most popular in the world. It is a small town of 17,000 inhabitants and receives over 5 million pilgrims every year due to a young girl named Bernadette seeing visions of the Virgin Mary in 1858. There are over twenty places of worship within the sanctuary. A very holy place indeed! As far as the Las Vegas comment, that still remains unverified as we had arrived mid afternoon and could not see the entire town being lit up in neon lights. I cannot imagine seeing God's messages flashing in neon lights. It seems a little repugnant. But from what I did see, this town cannot be more unlike Vegas!

We were hungry upon arrival, so our first stop was to a local grocery store for our picnic supplies. After we were suitably prepared, we made our way over to where the Sanctuaries Notre Dame de Lourdes was as there was a large park that overlooked the holy grotto (an ideal picnic location). We parked and made our way down a long series of stairs and windy ramps towards the holy grotto. At the foot of the hill, there were hundreds of people congregated, all in silence holding various holy trinkets and lighting holy candles. People were walking around with signs advising that this was a quiet area and to refrain from speaking. You could hear an eerie hum of people singing religious hymns from the other side of the grotto. The hairs on the back on my neck were now standing; it was so creepy. The majority of the pilgrims were very old, and mostly appeared to be ailing health or frail (I guess that is why they are making the pilgrimage?). Most were not even able-bodied and were being carted around in these strange wheelchair pulley devices. It was one of the strangest things that I have ever seen, and was definitely unnerving. Standing there with a baguette in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other and looking like I was rocking up for a party, I could not have looked more out of place and perhaps down right disrespectful! A little worried that we may spontaneous combust for our perceived transgressions, I met eyes with Julz. She shot me a concerned look that perhaps maybe we really shouldn't be hanging around there with our pleasures, and we bee-lined it out of there, over the bridge and to the other side of the grotto, where there was a large stretch of lawn.

We picnicked a very safe distance from the pilgrims, afraid that our accompanied alcoholic beverage would insult someone (but Jesus liked wine didn't he?!). Following our bread and cheese gorge, we made our way to the car (the long way to avoid the congregation of pilgrims). Once back in the safe confines of the Peugeot, we each sighed a deep sigh of relief and then erupted into laughter. "Sorry guys, I had no idea it was going to be like that!". Oh well, at least it made for a good story! It was time to high tail it out of Lourdes, it was far too bizarre for us to handle. The next stop was to be an overnight at the beautiful village of Pau, which was about 50km from Lourdes.

We reached Pau by about 3pm and made our way to the hotel. Our preferred stay for our road trip was the Budget Ibis as it very affordably sleeps three people with a large double bed and a single bunk on the top (I felt like I was holidaying with my parents with that set up, ha!). We had a lovely stroll through Pau that evening and settled on a Chinese dinner. It was quite a production to order with the Chinese fellow who spoke no English (only French and Chinese) but somehow we managed relatively unscathed, however, I happened to only receive half of my meal. I'm still not sure how I managed to order that way (or maybe he just didn't like me?), but it didn't matter. At that point, I could have really used a caloric deficit!

The next day I was back in the CN seat, ready to take the reigns again. We weren't even out of Pau when the GPS failed again. The all too familiar warning 'satellites cannot be located' was flashing again. I was already feeling quite proficient with using a map (after all, I have had a lot of practice!), so it didn't worry me too much. We were on our way to San Sebastián for three nights, with a stop over in Biarritz and Saint Jean de Luz. The decision to go to San Sebastián was at the recommendation of my friend Lucie who had recently done a trip down there with her husband Matt. After hearing all the amazing stories about their visit down there, I knew that it was a must do for our road trip as the Jacko's would love it. We had three nights in San Sebastián.

The failing GPS was not a problem until we hit the city limits of San Sebastián. Now, how on earth were we going to find this apartment? I had the address, but the city is enormous and I didn't have a detailed map. The whole process was an absolute nightmare but we finally managed to stumble across a tourist information shop who could assist in directing us to our apartment. The apartment was a lovely loft that was on the top of a hill and had a great view of the bay area. It was a short 15 minute bus ride to the centre of town, and the buses ran late so did not inconvenience any of our nocturnal activities. We had a very low key evening with a few casual tapas in town. We met a lovely older couple from Melbourne who were about to cycle around France. This really put us young folk to shame as we could not even begin to imagine peddling up some of those hills! They are monstrous! I just hope they made it.

Early the next morning, we went to the town centre to meet for the free walking tour. As usual, we were not the only Aussies in the group (actually I think they were all Aussies!) and amongst them was a lovely girl called Phoebe who was travelling on her own. When our tour guide was finally declared a no-show, we invited Phoebe to come around with us and enjoy the sites on our own Jacko guided tour. His only commission was a few bevvies on our pub crawl later and as long as you didn't mind some completely illegitimate tales of the history of San Sebastián, it was a steal! Jacko took us to all of the notable sites of San Sebastián; we climbed Mont Urgull, had a pintxos lunch with sangria, walked along the beach, and then took a funicular up to the top of Mont Igeldo for another beautiful view of the city (also up there was an old school theme park!).

Following the "San Sebastian by Jacko" tour, we introduced Phoebe to our picnics, and had an incredible budget picnic on the beach with three bottles of cheap white wine and a couple of bags of chips. Not very healthy, but it was fun. It wasn't long until that picnic took a sharp turn for debauchery and we were heading back to the bodeguita for some more bottles of white wine. Six bottles later, it was closing on 10pm and we were pretty wasted (to put it mildly). Phoebe was due to meet a friend who was arriving in San Sebastián that evening at her hostel, and Julz, Jacko and I decided we should probably get a feed in an attempt to soak up some of the wine. Phoebe was trying to coax us to come out with her and her friend, but thankfully we declined (I'm not sure how I would have survived the next day if we had!). We stumbled back to our apartment and were passed out before midnight.

The alarm the next morning at 8.30am and may as well have been a giant gong chiming in our ear drums. Wow, that hurt! We were so hungover and felt awful. Julz was CN that day and had decided to go to Bilbao to see the Guggenheim (to note the GPS worked today). It was a 70km journey in the car and I cannot even begin to tell you how thankful I was to be able to slump in the backseat with my sunglasses on, sipping away at my Coke. Full fat coke, a true miracle worker in times like this! By the time we had arrived at Bilbao, my hangover was basically cured (now just battling with extreme dehydration) and was ready and able to check out the museum. The Guggenheim was seriously impressive and I would definitely recommend a visit!

We got back to San Sebastián not long after 4.30pm and I had decided a nap was in order before we headed out for our pintxos tour. The thought of drinking again started to make me feel green and I had figured the only way to turn that around was to see if I could sleep it off. Following the nap, I did some quick research online for a suggested route for the pintxos tour. Sure you could pay a guide, but we figured if we spent a bit more effort looking up which taverns to go to and what is the specialty at each, then we could go at our own pace and make it our own. There was tonnes of information out there and I found a fabulous suggested route from a serious NYC foodie. Can't go wrong! We finally rolled into San Sebastián for our hijacked pintxos tour at around 7pm. It seemed that we were certainly hitting all the hot spots as all the other guided tours seemed to be at the same establishments we were. Success! We spent the next three or so hours perusing the bars amongst all the rowdy bucks shows that seemed to be shadowing us on their tours. It was certainly entertaining!

The following morning, we had a relatively early start again. I was designated CN again, and can you believe it, the GPS did not work again! Seriously? This must be some kind of a joke. Lucky me had to old school navigate us to Bordeaux, with a pitstop in Biarritz. It was the last day of our official road trip and I was beginning to get a little sad. Only one more week with the Jackos! Fortunately, the next week was going to be absolute bliss so part of me was definitely in two minds about it.

At around lunch time we found ourselves back in Biarritz. This time around the weather was magnificent, Mother Nature really turned it on for us! What a contrast to the dreary and wet day that we first saw the town in. And I must say, it really is a beautiful town (even when it is overcast and wet). We found a lovely gourmet bakery on the edge of town and each bought a pre-made baguette to nosh on at the beach. It felt like everyone was out at the beach that day and was a very enjoyable hour sitting seaside. We still had quite a distance to travel to get to Bordeaux so unfortunately the lunch break was not too long and it was time to pile back in the car and hit the road.

We reached Bordeaux at about 3pm and checked into our hotel. We were here for one night, but at first glance, it seemed that one night was enough in the city (longer would be needed if you wanted to stay in the region, which is magnificent!). We spent a few hours perusing the city before we decided to take a drive over to Saint Emilion, a small quaint village that is about a 45 minute drive from Bordeaux for dinner. Saint Emilion was my favourite small French village. Very famous for its wine, and unbelievably picturesque as is surrounded by vineyards as far as the eye can see. We had another exquisite meal washed down with some delicious local red. Seems there is no chance of having a bad meal in France!

We were not due to pick Craig and Kelly (friends from Australia) from the Bordeaux train station until 5.30pm the following day. Being that we still had a full day ahead of us, the CN (Julz), decided for us to do a self navigated tour of la Route des Chateaux (essentially driving a famous chateau road). Who doesn't love a good gawk at some monster mansions? We saw some absolutely incredible properties but soon discovered that appointments were necessary to actually go inside of them (this was last minute, so clearly didn't book!) and that they are all closed on Sundays (actually it is ridiculously hard to find anything open in France on a Sunday unless you are in a big city!). Despite the two strikes, it was still a really enjoyable drive and we discovered some very quirky towns along the way. We finished our outing with a quick session of wine tasting, and then swiftly made our way to the train station to pick up Craig and Kel...it was finally time to make our way to the Dordogne region for a week of relaxation!

Hope this finds you well, wherever you are in the world.

Mel xx

Avignon:

The grand Palais des Papes.
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Pont Saint Benezet over the Rhone River.
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A rose exhibit inside of the Palais des Papes. Great timing as it only happens once a year!
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View of Avignon from the tower in Palais des Papes.
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Julz & Jacko at the tower.
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View of Pont Saint Benezet from the tower.
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The gorgeous town of Gordes. The view from the lookout was absolutely breathtaking. A very beautiful village indeed!
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A lavender field outside of Gordes. While it was not some of the larger fields that Provence was known for, it was a must for me to see one. We complacently thought we would drive through lots of them as we cruised through the countryside, apparently not so! Thankfully, we made a point to stop at this one and take a few pics as it was close to Gordes.
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Pont du Gard in all her glory.
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Another shot of the famous bridge.
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The castle at Carcassone.
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At the recommendation of Corinne, as we were in the area known for the canard cassoulet (duck cassoulet), we had to try it! It was delicious! I have never been a bit fan of duck, but this trip to France has made me find a whole new appreciation for it. I found it nowhere near as greasy there as some of the other places that I have tried it.
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Toulouse.
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Not sure what this bloke is doing here, but it's a fountain in Toulouse.
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View from our hotel in Andorra. Warning, there are a few photos of Andorra here (mainly for the benefit of my Dad who apparently has Andorra on his must do list!).
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Julz in front of her shop! There are so many Julia shops in Andorra (selling perfumes and cosmetics). Of course Julz had to go in and purchase something!
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More of the Andorra countryside. I can imagine during the high season (winter), it would be quite spectacular! Ideal for some great skiing. Although the traffic must be an absolute nightmare as there is only one main road that leads into the country from France!
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More of Andorra (taken from the back seat...backseat bandit!). Thank goodness it was Julz's turn to navigate. Seriously, how many more times am I going to have to navigate the old school way?! Clearly I am Gen Y...
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Lourdes. There are no words to describe what an odd place this was. Maybe creepy is a better word? Definitely was an experience...and gave us a lot of laughs!!!
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There are HOARDS (and I am not exaggerating here) of old sick people here that are carted around in these strange wheelchair pulleys. I have never seen anything like it in all my life. We were definitely the youngest people here by many, many years. I felt very out of place!
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Our only salvation (pun intended!) was that it was picnic time (and as always there was wine, phew! We needed it). We appropriately found a spot well away from the pilgrims and enjoyed our picnic.
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The healing waters of Grotto of Massabielle in Lourdes. At one point, Julz and I were slightly worried about Jacko because he began to make his way to the water and we thought he was going to take part in some kind of cleansing ritual or something. We were wondering what had gotten into him!! We later found out that he just went to go and rinse out our wine glasses in the river. I'm not sure if that was a faux pas or not?! Anyway, we certainly got a kick out of it!
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Basilica of the Rosary in Lourdes.
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Chateau de Pau. Unfortunately it was closed by the time we got there, but it certainly looks like it would have been beautiful!
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One of the main squares in Pau. We sat here and had a few glasses of vinos one evening.
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In St. Jean de Luz - Adam being a spaz outside the front of House of Adam.
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San Sebastián:

Julz and I after climbing up Mont Urgull. Exsquisite views of one of my favourite towns in Europe!
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View of San Sebastián from Mont Igeldo (after our fun ride up the funicular!).
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The Old Town of San Seb. These streets are lined with phenomenal pintxos bars where you can sample some of the fine fare. It's such a fun way of socialising and eating. I loved it! The food was incredible.
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The beach!
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Another shot from Mont Igeldo.
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Sunset on the beach...during our boozefest with Phoebe!
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It's a cheap white wine and chip party! Albeit cheap wine in Europe is actually decent, unlike in Australia where a cheap wine would basically taste like paint thinner!
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And the wheels are falling off...
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Posing in the sunset!
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Julz & Jacko having an attempt at a selfie (and a very successful one I might add! Clearly they can teach me a thing or two!). Beautiful photo of my favourite couple!
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The pintxos...nom nom nom....
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Outside the Guggenheim at Bilbao....a giant flower dog? Regardless, it's really cool!
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The Guggenheim at Bilbao. I highly recommend going here for a visit if you are in San Sebastián. It is an amazing building and hosts some really interesting pieces. Yoko Ono was being exhibited while we were there. She's an interesting lady! Some very off the wall pieces. Some I appreciated, and others I found quite hard to relate to (or even see the point?).
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Outside the museum again.
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I decided to show Biarritz when it wasn't raining. It is far more beautiful! I really loved this town.
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The swell at Biarritz. I believe all the good surf happens on the other side of the coast.
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Bordeaux:

Pont de Pierre that connects the left bank of the Garonne River to the right bank.
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It was a boiling hot day the first day that we arrived in Bordeaux. This square was right on the banks of the river and people were running through the fountains in an effort to cool down! I believe it was just off of Place del la Bourse.
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A fountain in Place del la Bourse (I think it is the Fountain in the Square at Dusk).
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Wandering around Bordeaux.
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The beautiful Saint Emilion.
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Saint Emilion again. I fell in love with this village. Absolutely stunning and exactly how I imagined a French village to be.
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The vineyards of Saint Emilion.
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One of the chateaus that we found on la Route des Chateaux in the Medoc region.
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I'm ready to move in!
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Unfortunately I don't remember the name of this town, it was within 40 minutes of Bordeaux but on Sundays it is the home of one of the most bizarre markets I have ever seen. Children were dancing around on stilts in a parade.
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There were also sheep dogs that were herding sheep during the parade! Quite impressive...but strange.
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Posted by melpage 08:36 Archived in France Tagged pau avignon san_sebastian bordeaux andorra carcassone Comments (0)

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