So very slack

There are two reasons why I decided today to add to a blog that I have not touched for three months.

  1. I read an article by Michael Palin in Vanity Fair about effective diary-writing skills and he said that it is not important to be interesting, it’s just important that you write regularly. Kind of goes against the whole ‘quality not quantity’ argument, but I’m a big fan of Mr Palin’s work so it inspired me to once again put pen to paper. Or fingertips to keypad. Not quite so whimsical and romantic.
  2. I received an email from my old boss at Freehills, the lovely Andrew, encouraging me to continue on, and who knows? Andrew is not my boss anymore but I like to think that I was always quite the obedient subordinate, so maybe some deep lurking sense of duty remains…

Plus, a lot has happened in the past three months and some of it actually is interesting (if I do say so myself) so here it is…

I just re-read my last blog post – yikes. Someone was suffering a little but of the winter blues. Some of you may have read that as a kind of sweet, innocent way of venting about some of the things I find less than enjoyable about living here, but don’t be fooled. At that time the mercury hadn’t broken zero for a week and I was actually going a little bit insane.

Following that cyber-vent our pipes in our house froze and we lost the ability to use our shower and washing machine. I also got water stuck in my ears from trying to wash my hair in the bath – how medieval. Although I assure you I had a bath at least once a day, not once a week or month or whatever they used to do. Ironically the whole pipe freezing thing and ensuing battles with rental agent and plumbers made me so stressed out that all I wanted to do was relax in a hot bath… Grrr.

Not to worry, Christmas rolled around and things started to look up.

Carlie joined us for Christmas day and, yes, it was a white Christmas. We had a lovely time Skyping family and opening presents. We even tried to make a snowman in the front yard – and failed miserably, although we all had fun regressing and having snowball fights and pushing each other over in the snow. Okay, nobody pushed Ryan over. And Carlie and I did not push each other over. Actually now that I think about it, Ryan, the 6’4” 104 kg bully pushed us both over… Boys will be boys.

Christmas day and night was spent with the other International orphans here at the club and was so lovely. Kids everywhere, way too much food, way to much wine, Carlie regaling us with stories from the land of Pfizer such as how Viagra actually works in a biological sense – a great day had by all.

We finished the Christmas break off with a trip to Prague, then Edinburgh.

Prague was like a fairytale city and well worth the visit. I did, however, question the wisdom of going somewhere even colder than Wigan. And it was bloody cold! Minus 10ºC, in fact. The kind of cold that makes you double-over in shock when you first walk out the door. But it was worth the trip, and the cold.

Then onto the partying aspect of our little trip in Edinburgh. We caught up with Carlie and her friends, as well as the usual contingent on other Aussies on the European/UK drinking trail – we actually ran into some of our cohorts from Oktoberfest! But again, a great time was had by all and the zero temperature felt positively balmy compared to what we had experience in Prague so that was a bonus too.

When we arrived home from our trips, the snow had completely melted and it hasn’t re-appeared since. We also arrived home to a single sweet potato laying in our driveway. I had forgotten that we left it in the snow during our ill-fated snowman attempt of Christmas day and when the snow melted it was like our own little produce-based welcoming committee in the driveway.

In January we basically made the most of the last of pre-season and the associated free weekends. We took a trip up to the Lake District (one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen), and another trip to Dublin, which we also enjoyed. I had to laugh when we were at Manchester Airport grabbing some dinner before our flight to Dublin, and our waiter says: “So are you off on holidays?”, “Yep, off to Dublin” I answered. Then he gives us a knowing smile, “Oh, holidays or home?”. Wink, wink. Irish? Really? Mixing us up with the Kiwis I can understand, but Irish?

Before we knew it, February had rolled around and so had the start of the season. We’re now 6 rounds in and the boys are unbeaten – 5 wins and 1 draw. That doesn’t count the World Club Challenge, of course, in which the boys went down to St George, but as we didn’t win I have decided that WCC doesn’t really matter. As opposed to the year Ryan played with Melbourne and did win, in which case it is of course a vitally important fixture on the rugby league international calendar.

I actually went to see Ryan play last night in Huddersfield. The beauty of being here is that an away game does not necessarily mean a plane trip, as it always does in Melbourne, so I have been able to get to all of Ryan’s games so far (thank goodness for the invention of the GPS). Last night for the first time I sat amongst the Wigan supporters and holy moly! Actually, there wasn’t much holy about it. I sat in from of this boy who could not have been more than 11 years old and he swore so loudly, so consistently and so profusely that he would have put Gordon Ramsay, any wharfie and any actor in any Quentin Tarantino film to shame. In actual fact, I agreed with his rather colourful views on the refereeing, but I do feel the young lad would do well to expand his vocabulary somewhat. That said, the Wigan supporters are amazing. There is the banner that hangs in the stadium during home games that says “My wife told me it was Wigan rugby or her. I’m really going to miss her.” That about sums it up. They are so passionate, so parochial and man, do they have some high expectations. Still, it is a very old and prestigious club so you can see why passions run high. I met one of the neighbours in our street and he has been going to Wigan games for over 50 years. Can you imagine? Coming from Melbourne Storm, the teenager of Australian rugby league, it’s kind of hard to get your head around.

February was an interesting month on the work front too. I had an attack of guilty conscience for being lazy so I got a job. Then I had an attack of guilty conscience for demanding so many holidays from my new employer so I quit said job after two weeks. Then I felt guilty for accepting the job in the first place and mucking everyone around. Now I feel guilty for being lazy again. Ah, familiar territory. Better the devil you know, I guess. In my defence (and I am aware I am only defending myself against myself at this point), the whole reason we moved here was so that we could see a bit more of the world and have some new experiences, so I really just need to make my peace with it. I’m hoping that will happen any day now.

Probably my favourite thing that I have done in the last couple of months (apart from cheer on my beloved, of course) was a little trip to New York that I took last week. My lovely cousin Hayley was over in Washington DC for a conference and had the brilliant idea of tacking on a week of travel after her conference to hand out in New York and invited me to tag along. I accepted, of course, and we had the most wonderful time. New York is far more affordable from London! And only 6 hours too, which is pretty great. Couple that with the US versus AUS dollar at the moment and it would have practically been a crime not to go.

For me, the highlights were the shows that we saw. We saw How to succeed in business without really trying, starring Harry Potter. Oops, I mean Daniel Radcliffe. He was so good. I may have fallen a little bit in love just for that night. We also saw a great off-Broadway show called Newsical: the Musical (think Saturday Night Live the Musical), and La Cage Aux Folles, a show I have been desperate to see every since the powers that be at Phoenix Theatre Company made me dress up in silver sequinned bra and undies and a cap with an orange fountain of feathers coming out and sing “We are what we are”. Side note: I now realise that song is about transvestites. I wonder if anyone that saw that cabaret show ever believed I was a transvestite? I was only fourteen and had very small boobs, so you never know. At any rate, I adored La Cage Aux Folles and think it might have officially taken its place as my third favourite show of all time after Chicago and West Side Story. We were fortunate enough to see it with Harvey Fierstein, who has this amazing smoky voice and who wrote the show in the first place, so that was a treat.

For me, New York City lived up to the hype, which I think is rare, in this exceedingly hyper day-and-age. As a friend pointed out to me, it is a very surreal place to visit because I felt like I knew it so well, even though I had only been there once before in 1996. I found myself making vague navigational decisions in trying to get to Madison Square Garden based solely on a Friends episode I once saw.

In humming New York, New York to myself in the lead up to the trip and during, I was reminded of a visit to London late last year. Ryan, Carlie and I had decided to check out the Christmas markets, and in the spirit of Christmas, Carlie had decided to try some roasted chestnuts. She takes once bite, spits it out and says “Yuck! Why do people sing about those? They’re awful!” I’m pleased to report that unlike chestnuts roasting on an open fire, I think New York, New York definitely lives up to its song-worthy status.

As an aside, I actually don’t think we were eating the chestnuts properly. I think you’re supposed to peel them or something. Us poor Aussie kids, we don’t know how to build snowmen, we don’t know how to eat chestnuts. A white Christmas really should come with some kind of instruction manual, methinks.

Anyway, I am back on British soil now and am eagerly awaiting the barrage of visitors that commences with Annie in early-April and continues pretty solidly until July. Many trips planned, lots of fun to be had – many Wigan orientations to conduct. I am very much looking forward to the next few months – I promise not to let three of them go by before doing this again.


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Pollyanna Effect

When I was a little girl my Grandma introduced me to a delightful little film called Pollyanna. It was released in 1960 and provides the following synopsis:

“A young girl comes to an embittered town and confronts its attitude with her determination to see the best in life.”

I loved the movie (and it’s child star Hayley Mills) instantly. Pollyanna takes it upon herself to introduce the ‘Glad Game’ to everyone in the town, with varying results initially, typified by the following excerpt:

Housekeeper: You know why I hate Sunday? Because it means the starting of another week.

Some other bloke: Me too.

Pollyanna: That’s when you can play the Glad Game.

Housekeeper: Here it comes, Miss-Goody-Two-Shoes is going to find something about Sunday to be glad about.

Some other lady: Oh lay off

Pollyanna: Well, there’s always something…. You’d glad because…

Housekeeper: (impatient) Well, because what?

Pollyanna: (triumphant) Because it will be six whole days before Sunday comes around again!

Having seen the movie more than a few times as a little one, the term ‘Pollyanna’, worked its way into our family vernacular, most frequently used by my dad in response to me trying to see the lighter side of any given dodgy situation. For example: “Yeah, good on ya, Pollyanna.”

So, by way of homage to one of my all-time favourite films, and also in light of the scary parallels between Pollyanna’s story and my own… (Okay, that’s a stretch. As I turned 28 last Thursday I don’t think I can any longer be described as a ‘young girl’, and certainly I have ended up in Wigan under circumstances far more pleasant than being orphaned and having to go and live with a distant aunt. But still – I would consider Wigan to come across as an embittered town from time to time. Mostly when the weather is vile.)

But, I digress. On with the blog; an analysis of Wigan and the Pollyanna effect.

Item number one that people around here whinge about:

It is pitch black at 4pm, usually meaning around only 8 hours of daylight a day.

Pollyanna might say, “Yes, it gets dark at 4pm, but at least you get to turn your Christmas lights on earlier.” Good point.

Item number two that people around here (mostly Ryan and I) might whinge about:

It is so cold outside that parts of our house simply won’t heat up. Case in point, our study with big glass sliding doors and a poorly positioned credenza in front of the heater.

Pollyanna might suggest that if you ever have a big party and can’t fit all of the food and drink in your fridge, you could use the study as an extra, gigantic walk in fridge.

(I might counter that by pointing out that we are unlikely to have a large party because we are new here and have very few friends that would come to said party. But that would be somewhat counter-productive to the exercise, me thinks.)

Item number 3 that people around here constantly whinge about:

The weather.

Pollyanna might point out that the constant whinging about the weather negates the need to actively seek weather forecasts on the internet or similar, because you can bet that someone will hear your accent and accost you for moving here when you could have stayed in sunny Australia and then proceed to rattle off exactly how bad the weather is going to be in the next week or so. Very handy. Happened in Tesco the other day, so killed two birds with one stone there.

Item number 4 that I might be inclined to whinge about:

The interesting array of food that one finds here on menus and the incessant appearances of ‘black pudding’. This is a type of sausage made by cooking blood or dried blood with a filler until it is thick enough to congeal when cooled.  Perhaps having a revival in light of inflated number of attractive vampires appearing in popular culture?

Pollyanna might remind you that you have also been introduced to a cup of hot mulled wine or spiced apple cider during your forays into Manchester and London and that it is safe to say that you feel your life is better for having tried these heavenly beverages.

Item number 5 that I might be inclined to whinge about:

The interesting interior design choices of our fully-furnished home (which, I should add, is perfectly fine and we are very grateful for).

Pollyanna might rightly point out that should I ever need to know the Latin names of any basic cooking herbs, I needn’t venture far as there are a series of pictures on my kitchen and laundry walls indicating just that. For example, did you know that mint might also be known as Mentha Spicata? I certainly did not and I feel all the wiser for knowing it now.

Items number 6 that one might feel justified in whinging about:

I took my brand new birthday present watch to the watchmakers to have two links taken out (initially a thirty minute job) and they cracked another link and I now have to wait until after Christmas when the replacement part comes so that it can be fixed.

Pollyanna might have two suggestions here.:

a) I should be glad that I have such slender wrists that it was necessary to have two links taken out; or

b) I could potentially embrace the prospect of having no watch for the next few weeks and have an Easy Rider style break from reality where the concept of time doesn’t matter as I am a free spirit and don’t conform to the restrictions of man-made time and it’s associated limitations.

(More likely (a), I don’t think Pollyanna would have seen Easy Rider).

Anyway, enough putting words into a 50-year old fictional character’s mouth for my own amusement. Perhaps by the time we leave Wigan the sign under ‘Welcome to Wigan’ will no longer read ‘2010 Super League Champions’, perhaps it will read ‘A Glad Town’ just like in the movie. Actually, come to think of it, I would much rather it read ‘2011 Super League Champions’. A far more useful goal to work towards, perhaps.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Week 3… and four… and part of five….

Hmmm. Perhaps it’s time to stop naming each blog entry after the week it relates to as it makes it for more obvious when I am slack and don’t write an entry for a couple of weeks.

As I finished the last entry in anticipation of Ryan’s Christmas lights promo in town, perhaps I should start this entry with a bit of a de-brief. Going to see Ryan being a part of this promo was an eye-opener as it was the first time I had ventured into town after dark and my, what an experience. I saw a woman holding a baby spit on the ground. The woman, not the baby. I know it’s not a huge, big deal and to be honest, I’ve seen very few spitting incidents since, but I was just so shocked. Here I am thinking that after five weeks travelling around Europe and after having moved overseas to live I was becoming a little more worldly, but this little incident brought me crashing back to reality. Ok, I’ll stop talking about it now. Nobody likes to think about spitting.

That said, I just wanted to paint a picture. Different standards of social and public etiquette everywhere I guess… It seems that Wigan is no exception. I also saw a young girl inexplicably dressed as a nun. That little mystery remains as yet unsolved.

The rest of the promo was uneventful. We couldn’t quite work out why they had waited until 7pm to schedule the turning on of the lights seeing as it’s dark around 4pm.

I was also fortunate enough to see a couple of celebrities as part of the proceedings – someone from Blue and someone from UK Big Brother 9. I definitely would have got autographs had the queue been shorter.

On the subject of celebrities over here – I have never seen, heard or read so much about Peter Andre is all my life. I mean, I was as big a fan of ‘Gimme a Little Sign’ as much as anyone, I believe it may have even made an appearance on one of my 100% Hits albums (probably 100% Hits Volume 1), but that was about 17 years ago and I wasn’t aware he had done anything of note since. Evidently he has carved out quite the niche for himself over here, marrying other celebrities of questionable levels of talent and what-not. Apparently the fragrance, Mysterious Girl, is coming out soon.

In fact, Peter Andre is just one thing in a long list of things/people that seem to be beloved over here and I can’t for the life of me figure out why, as follows:

  1. Peter Andre
  2. Neigbours (there is even a reality TV series here called ‘Make me a Star on Neighbours’ where people here go in a competition to win a role on the show)
  3. Big hair (think Amy Winehouse)
  4. Black pudding
  5. Soccer
  6. Fake tan (it’s snowing people, who do you think you are fooling)
  7. Wearing Ugg boots outside (grrrrr)

After this little jaunt into town I was hungry for more so it was fortunate timing that Ryan and I were invited out to dinner the following Saturday with lots of other couples from the club. Everyone here is so very nice. The Aussie girls are fantastic because they warn you of what to expect in terms of the roller-coaster of emotions that is moving far away from home (apparently I can expect to spend two days crying in bed in about two weeks from now), and the locals girls are lovely too and really keen to hear your first impressions of Wigan. I confessed that I originally thought Wigan was about the size of Dibley (as in The Vicar of Dibley) so ultimately I have been pleasantly surprised as to the size of the town and the ready availability of shops, restaurants, bars and the like.

This night was also my first experience of going out in Wigan. There is this street here called King Street, which I guess is a little like Kings Cross only smaller and less strip clubs (none that I could see, in fact). There are all these pubs and clubs jammed into one street, which is just off the town and supposedly things can get pretty wild. Apparently our night was actually pretty tame by the usual standards, which was probably a good thing for us King Street virgins. Although I did see a girl wearing only a bra as a top (which seems kind of a lazy approach to dressing to me) and the hemlines here quite outrageous too.

So aside from experiences of what Wigan has to offer after dark I have been spending my time adhering to my usual routine of going for walks, housework, writing and study. I have also been kindly looped into a weekly coffee catch up with all the mums here, which is a great way to keep in touch and break up the week. Last week after Wednesday morning coffee Tina and I drove 40 minutes to our closest Wagamama as we both had a craving for gyoza. Well worth the drive.

So I guess all that’s left to comment on at this point is the weather and don’t people love to do just that over here?! I am so utterly stunned at the amount of time people spend talking about the weather here! I guess it is a little extreme at times and therefore worthy of comment, but geez! Doesn’t it happen every twelve months or so? Every time someone hears my accent they launch into the usual ‘why on earth did you move here it’s so miserable compared to where you’re from’ tirade. At this point I mention the great proximity to Europe and opportunity for travel (usually met with a blank stare) and I also go out of my way to specify that I am from Melbourne – not as cold as here but bloody cold at times! I really think that someone needs to educate these people as to the fine print of life in Australia – it does rain, it does get cold and it’s not all sunny beaches and Bondi Rescue life guards everywhere you go. They are always quite shocked and to be honest, a little disbelieving when I mention this.

The most important thing to note is that it has snowed already! Hurrah! I thought we would be waiting until at least Christmas to see any of the white stuff but apparently the snow has arrived unseasonably early this year – lucky us. The first time I saw it I couldn’t believe it. It ‘snowed’ for about five minutes and didn’t even last on the ground, but the next day the ground was covered! I was so excited I immediately rugged up and went out to explore. I found that the river in the park near our house had totally frozen over and I truly couldn’t believe it! I even spent a disproportionate amount of time standing on the bridge, waiting for dog-walkers to pass by then throwing sticks and rocks as hard as I could down below to see if I could crack it, with no success.

At any rate, I am finding it very exciting although I’m told the novelty will wear off soon. Seeing as our boiler broke down last night so we have no heating or hot water in our house this may happen sooner rather than later, but for now I am staying positive. I figure there is a chance this may be our only real winter ever if we are only here for the year so I am trying to make the most of it.

Lots of fun stuff planned for the upcoming weeks. Heading to London to see Carlie next weekend (including a long-awaited catch up with my friend Penny) and then not long until Santa comes with a trip to Prague and Edinburgh to look forward to! Life is good. Cold, but good.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Week two: Baby steps

The following is a list of my key achievements for our second week of life in Wigan:

1. Our car is no longer on the road illegally – it has had an MOT test, the car tax has been paid and the registration certificate is in the mail

2. I have increased the number of people I know here from four (Joey, Madge, neighbour Louise and Ryan) to eight (aforementioned four plus Tina, Jeff, Finchy and other neighbour Keith). That is a 100% increase in familiar faces. If this were a KPI I reckon I would be up for a bit of a raise or at least a pat on the back this week

3. I have followed through on at least four of the things I said I was going to take the time to do whilst here and not working: continuing German studies, writing (books, blogs, letters, emails), a dance class and daily housework so that everything doesn’t pile up until I have no choice but to spend five horrendous hours slaving away once it finally gets vile and unliveable. Sadly, I have yet to educate myself any further in ukulele playing but stay tuned (get it?)

4. I have my first library card in about 15 years

5. I did a hand-break start

It’s funny the things you take for granted as a person that has never moved even interstate let alone overseas. At home, you are educated as to the various administrative tasks that accompany vehicle ownership as sure as you are educated in driving itself. But here is took us nearly two full weeks to work out how to get a new little sticker four our windshield that says “31 Oct 11” and not “31 Oct 10”. But it was surprisingly rewarding when we did work it out. I stopped short of taking a photo but I was tempted.

That little experience is indicative of how this week has been for me. Many, many challenges and just when you get to the point when you think ‘bloody hell I just wish something would come easy for a change’, you work something out of your own accord and spend the next little while feeling proud as punch.

On the subject of familiar faces this week has been a good week. I have briefly met a few of Ryan’s new team-mates but most excitingly, the three other recent Melbourne imports arrived in town. Again, for those of you non-footy friends, two other players signed to come from Melbourne Storm to Wigan at the end of last season – Jeff Lima and his lovely wife Tina, and Brett Finch, henceforth known as Finchy.

Jeff and Tina have settled into a little apartment about 400m from our front door, which is fantastic. I am no longer strange girl with weird accent wandering around Haigh Park in the freezing cold by myself. I am one of two strange girls with weird accents wandering around Haigh Park in the freezing cold, sometimes with stroller (Jeff and Tina’s little bundle of joy, Giaan).

In terms of passing the time, my plans to improve my German, write something of note, be more organised around the house and get back to dancing are going really well. It’s enough to pass the time while Ryan is at training and I am genuinely enjoying my little routine that I have set for myself.

The dance class was a bit of an adventure. Like so many things here I really had to force myself to walk in the door of the place because I had no idea what to expect. I picked a ‘street’ class, not having done any previously, but it was beginner level so I figured I would be safe. The only flaw in the plan would be if beginner actually meant ‘teeny bopper’ and if I was the lone 5’9” twenty-seven year old in a class full of homey midgets.

In the end it wasn’t quite as bad as all that, but it was pretty bad. Actually, ‘bad’ is not the right word, ‘hilarious’ might be more apt. From what I could tell the average age of the class wasn’t quite as low as I feared. On the other hand there was only 5 of us in the class so there was no hiding there. And also – street? What was I thinking? Good old Lanky Magee trying to do street dancing? I looked hilarious if I do say so myself. It’s funny, with a rough 15 years of dance training under my belt I can definitely do the movements, they just don’t look the same as the guy teaching when he does it. I truly think my attire had something to do with it. Maybe if I ditched the dance pants and t-shirt for pants with the crotch around the knees, an over-sized hoody and skate shoes I would look a little more competent. I think I may have to revert back to straight jazz and dancing to show tunes. At least then they might not choreograph so many movements symbolising drive by shootings into the routine. Yikes.

And finally to the hand-break start. That’s right, folks, Melissa Hoffman is learning to drive a manual. If I had to put a list together of things in life I am absolutely no good at, it would probably look something like this:

1. Any and all sports

2. Street dance

3. Driving generally

4. Driving a manual

I have had about 5 lessons with driving-instructor Hoffy so far and to all the doubters – he actually makes a great teacher. It’s no secret that Ryan and I lock horns over his driving-style – after 7 years of regularly being in the car with him I still panic at least once a trip. I actually think I may get arthritis from long-term white-knuckled behaviour. So I was a little sceptical as to how the lessons would go but I have to admit, I have been pleasantly surprised. He is a great teacher and I have progressed from stalling my way out of our driveway and around May Tree Drive to driving reasonably competently from our house to Tesco and the DW Stadium where Ryan sometimes trains. I even reversed out of our driveway and did a three-point term but until yesterday, the hill start had eluded me in spectacular fashion. However, yesterday when Ryan forced me into the driver’s seat (and I do need to be forced) I performed a perfect hill start. Hurrah! This does not mean I am going to be off of any alpine adventures in the little VW Polo anytime soon, I’m just happy to have at least one successful hill start under my belt.

And now to a couple of things we have not as yet achieved. When we first got here, a landline/broadband/cable TV package was somewhat of a priority. Less than half way into our first week we had done our research and arranged for the Sky man to come and install a dish on Saturday 13 November. The landline and broadband was to follow on 22 November. A little wait, but hey, soon we were to be up and running. Or so we thought. Sky Man knocked on the door bright and early on Saturday morning and within the first two minutes determined that we could probably never have Sky TV at our house because of….. the trees. Apparently it is vital that they point the dish in a certain direction and from our house there is no gap in the tree line that the signal can get through so we will never be able to receive a Sky signal. “You could move” he tells us, if we really want it. Ryan and I were stunned. As Ryan quite rightly pointed out, it seems odd that we could put a man on the moon but we haven’t come technologically far enough to get a Pay TV signal through some trees. And further, aren’t the satellites up? “Point the bloody thing at the sky” could also be heard ringing out over May Tree Drive that Saturday.

Never fear though, we went straight to the competition who work via fibre optic cable and we are booked in for installation on 30 November. That is unless any pesky rabbits are blocking the cable with their little warrens and rabbit babies. Honestly.

I have also not as yet achieved any confidence when fishing coins out of my purse as I still have no idea which ones are which without holding them up to the light and reading what is physically written on them. And we are back to have one and two cent (pence) pieces! Boo hiss. I had forgotten how very annoying they were.

So apart from muddling our way through life this week we did a few fun things as well. A trip to the movies on Friday, a romantic dinner date just me, Ryan and Finchy on Saturday (definitely a restaurant to return to I am happy to report) and a trip to Liverpool and ‘The Beatles Story’ on Sunday.

This week is Ryan’s first week of formal preseason training. It is two days in currently and he is really excited to be back. He has been so impressed with everything so far and is really relishing a fresh start and a new way of doing things. He is definitely working his little butt off and comes home exhausted, but what can I say? He is a sucker for punishment.

I have much to look forward to this week. I will be meeting a few of the other wives and girlfriends tomorrow at Joey’s house, Ryan is doing a promo on Thursday launching the Christmas lights in town on Thursday (the Christmas geek in me is so excited) and we will no doubt trial some more of Wigan’s culinary offerings at some stage over the weekend.

All in all we are enjoying ourselves immensely whilst concurrently missing everyone and everything at home, an odd juxtaposition, but that’s life for now I guess!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Week one: a very Wigan welcome

To those of you that thought this blog would cease once the European travels did – never fear, it continues! Or, sucked in, it continues! Depending on which way you look at it…

To understand how strange and weird and wonderful this week has been for Ryan and I, one needs to understand just how very long we’ve talked about this move, thought about this move, mulled over this move and then once it was a certainty, planned for this move. I feel like I have thought about it for so long that living in Wigan might only ever be just that – a thought. But, last Monday, we landed in Manchester at about 10.30am and what we had thought about for so very long had finally become a reality.

On the subject of landing in Manchester, it was at this point, literally at the point of landing, that I had my very first naïve Australian moment. We were about 1 hour and 5 minutes into our flight from Paris to Manchester…

Sidebar: I would advise against Flybe airlines, just FYI. Unless you appreciate being herded around Paris CDG airport like cows, then left in a bus at the departure gate with no air, then being driven to the plane (a drive which was so long that I began to think we had accidentally booked coach tickets to Manchester), then left on the tarmac in the bus, again with no air at the foot of the plane. Honestly, do we need those signs for the ground staff like we have at casinos? “It is not appropriate to leave your children or pets or airline customers in your vehicle with no air, they may suffocate.” But I digress…

Back to the moment of immense naivety. As mentioned, we had been flying for about 1 hour and 5 minutes and were due to land soon. I was idly looking out the window at the clouds and figuring we must have been delayed again because judging by how high up we must be, we couldn’t possibly be anywhere near landing. Then suddenly – clunk! We landed and I nearly peed my pants. One minute we were flying high above the clouds, not a spec of ground to be seen, the next we are touching down on the runway. My face was so shocked that Ryan laughed out loud. Turns out we weren’t ‘flying high above the clouds’ at all – that’s just how low the clouds set in here in the north of England…

So a short drive down the M6 later and we arrived at Joey and Madge’s house. For those of you non-footy people, Joelle and Michael Maguire (henceforth known as Joey and Madge) moved from Melbourne Storm to Wigan themselves at the end of the 2009 season, Madge as Wigan’s new head coach. In fact, Joey’s last night in Melbourne was the night of our wedding and the pair of them and their three lovely children are the main reason why this move did not strike as much fear in our hearts as it maybe could have.

After a quick catch up with Joey and Madge it was off to our new home. It is very nerve-racking, walking into a place that is to be your home for the next year that you have never laid eyes on, except for one picture of the outside. We needn’t have feared, it is a beautiful, big home and not only that – we arrived to a fully stocked fridge and pantry, as well as new towels and linen to boot. Ryan and I had purposely ensured we arrived early to our new home so that we would have time to find Ikea and kit it out, but it turns out no such trip was necessary – we had well and truly been looked after – just about everything would could need for the time being was there. As an aside – is it crazy that I was actually a little disappointed not to have an excuse to wander endlessly around Ikea buying brightly coloured kitchen utensils and Swedish-named flat-packed furniture?

Day two was an orientation day – I went for a walk (without freezing my nose off, I am happy to report) and we even muddled our way into town and to the supermarket where we had our first Tesco experience. What a place. I have yet to find something that you can’t buy there.

When I first ventured out of our house on foot into the neighbourhood it was the strangest feeling. I had no idea what was around any corner, but I was concurrently thrilled to take it all in. I also had the oddest sensation that everyone was watching me and that everyone must know that I am new to town and that I had no idea where I’m going or what I was doing. We later found out that in our street only two families have moved out in the 17 years since the houses in the street were built so perhaps I wasn’t far wrong.

Wigan on the whole has in some ways met my expectations and in other ways has not – it has exceeded them.

It is exactly as I had envisioned in that the houses are all very English-looking (is ‘English’ a legitimate adjective when describing suburban architecture?!), it rains a lot, the sun does’ot shine a lot, the roads are windy and people have very strange accents (although I am aware I am outnumbered in that regard).

I have been pleasantly surprised by the size of the town itself, the number of restaurants, the number of pubs (about fifty thousand at last count), the presence of a cinema and the beautiful park right near our house called  Haigh Park.

I stumbled upon Haigh Park on my second walk and fell in love instantly, albeit after a brief moment of concern that it might be an active hunting ground. Never fear, this passed when I realised:

a) In this day and age, a hunting ground would probably be well-signed

b) No sign of any Elmer Fudd type characters roaming around

c) I am not even sure if people hunt in this part of the world and if they do, I don’t think Wigan is quite rural enough

d) Even if they did, it is probably not Melissa season

At the moment the park is bright with autumn leaves and the walking track winds through a bit of a forest and out between a golf course and miniature train line. This is the second house in a row that Ryan and I have lived in that is within walking distance to a miniature train line – how odd. Am I a closet rail enthusiast? I have also noted that I am the only one that walks through the park without a dog. I think I need to make a friend that has a dog so I can borrow it and not look like a crazy person wandering around in the cold by myself.

I am also very pleased to report that the people here are very friendly. We have had a couple of neighbours knock on our door and introduce themselves and offer any kind of assistance (that didn’t really happen in two and a half years of living in Balwyn North) and people out and about (at the supermarket, bank and post office, for example) seem to pick up pretty quickly that you are not from around here and could use all the help and advice you can get! This is usually followed by the question ‘And why did you move to Wigan?’.

Anyway, in summing up our first week here, I’ll leave you with a list of things that I have noted Wigan locals (Wiganers? The Wiganish?) seem to like and dislike:

Things that Wigan locals seem to be quite fond of:

  1. Using the word ‘fond’
  2. Fake flowers
  3. Fireworks
  4. Pubs with names such as ‘The Brocket Arms’ or ‘The Boors Head’
  5. Calling you ‘love’
  6. Walking their dogs
  7. Rugby league

Things that Wigan locals do not seem to be at all fond of:

  1. Neutral interior design palettes
  2. Having hot water available at your disposal throughout the day
  3. Vietnamese restaurants (very sad – no rice paper rolls or wanton soup to be found)
  4. Sakatas – also a very sad culinary loss

This coming week I do not have the excuse of boring house-setting-up administrative tasks to keep me busy so will have to keep myself amused of my own accord. Wish me luck! Or perhaps prepare for a barrage of blog entries as I have nothing else to do… How cruel – all the time in the world to write these and not a whole lot to write about! Ah, incentive to make things happen.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Grand Finale. (Otherwise entitled: Paris)

For me, it was always about Paris. If by some cruel twist of travel fate I were only allowed to visit one European city in my whole life, I would choose Paris. This city is what I would term a personal non-negotiable – I have always wanted to come here. Obviously I am delighted that it didn’t come to that and I have seen a whole bunch of this wonderful continent, but as far as travel aspirations go, Paris has been number one, probably since I crossed Disneyland off the list as a seven year old. And then again as a thirteen year old. And then again as a twenty-three year old. What? It’s the happiest place on earth; I defy you to grow out of it.

I sense that my exceedingly high expectations of places and experiences make Ryan really nervous. He always seems to be really relieved when something lives up to my expectations (which is mostly the case). I’m not sure what he thinks the consequence will be if something doesn’t live up to my expectations. Or what he could do about it. But it is very sweet that he monitors the situation nonetheless. And from the moment we emerged from the train station in Paris to find our little apartment, there was nothing for him to worry about it. I’m not sure why but I knew immediately our week long stay was going to be everything I had hoped.

Our Rue Montmartre apartment was another little stroke of luck. It is a two-minute walk to a major train station that basically covers every line in Paris. It is a one-minute walk from a pedestrianised road lined with restaurants, patisseries, fromageries (cheese), boucheries (meat) and rotisseries (hot chooks and potatoes). It is within of the key shopping districts of Paris including every single international brand you could name plus a bunch of little French boutiques as well. It is walking distance to the Louvre and Notre Dame. You get the picture.

Our first full day was a designated sight-seeing day. We had gotten a little lazy in Nice and Lyon so we thought we should hit the ground running. It turned out to be a mega-day – Notre Dame, the Panthéon, Musée d’Orsay, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysées. Phew. We definitely made up for sight-seeing laziness and it still boggles the mind that we saw so many icons of world architecture in one city and in more day. You really do need to pinch yourself when you cross the Pont Neuf and you catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower off in the distance.

Wednesday was quite a unique day in that it was a day dedicated to the one and only activity that for Ryan was a personal non-negotiable, a tour of the WWI battlefields of the Somme. For those of you that don’t know, Ryan can be a pretty cruisey bloke for the most part and has basically allowed me to dictate this entire trip and what we do within it. But the one request he made was that we dedicate one day in Paris to a tour of these sights.

So Wednesday dawned bright and early, although not quite early enough – Ryan’s phone inexplicably turned itself off during the night so we didn’t hear our 6.30am alarm which was set so that we didn’t miss our 8.04am train from one of Paris’ other main train stations to Amiens, where our tour was to start. Thank goodness our apartment is opposite the beautiful Saint-Eustache church, whose bell chimes every half hour commencing at 7.30am. It took me until 7.34am to realise what had happened but I am proud to say we made it to Gare du Nord station with about 5 minutes to spare. Sans showers and breakfast, but still, impressive nonetheless, I think.

I have to admit, I was approaching this tour as ‘Ryan’s day’. We had a night at the Moulin Rouge still to come (my own non-negotiable) so I looked at the Somme tour as ‘Ryan’s thing’ and the Moulin Rouge visit as mine. But from the moment we hopped in the car with our lovely tour guide from True Blue Digger Tours, (who was about as true blue as foie gras or escargot, but incredibly knowledgeable all the same), I knew I had misjudged this day – in a good way.

Barbara the tour guide began by driving us to the first stop in the tour and on the way setting the scene for Australian soldiers in the area in World War 1. I had no idea our soldiers were so well-respected and so revered by the people of this area of France. She started by saying that she considers Amiens to be her town, and that the reason her town was untouched by WWI was because Australian soldiers stopped the Germans at Villers-Bretonneux (a feat that cost over 1200 Australian lives) and that to this day, people are still grateful. The evidence of this appreciation is everywhere from Amiens to Villers-Bretonneux – where you will find Rue de Melbourne and Rue Victoria (streets), and even ‘Le Restaurant Kangourou’.

Perhaps the most powerful stop of the day was the Victoria School in Villers-Bretonneux. This primary school of 140-odd pupils was rebuilt after WWI using donations from school children in Victoria. In every classroom and in one enormous sign in the school quadrangle you will see the words – NEVER FORGET AUSTRALIA. Not being much of a history buff I had never thought much about this time in our history (to my own detriment I now realise), so it was as much a surprise to me as it would have been to anyone to find myself feeling really quite moved in seeing this type of gratitude.

There is also a Franco-Australian museum housed in the school, it was so wonderful to see photos of Australia soldiers, accompanied by anecdotes that suggested that it was as much the Australians’ sense of humour that stood out about them, as it was their ability to fight. Pictures of soldiers having taken a town and renaming a street ‘Roo de Kanga’, or a picture of an Australian soldier with two ladies on his arm which was captioned – ‘Other Australian success’. My favourite quote of Barbara’s for the day and perhaps the most telling, was that Australian soldiers were considered to be ‘terrible soldiers, but exceptional fighters’.

We spent the rest of the day touring the various sites of the battlefields of the Somme and a number of memorials. The Adelaide Cemetry, the National Memorial of Australia, Poziéres and even the Great British and Canadian monuments. I don’t really want to go in to too much detail of each of these, because I now know how limited my knowledge of this part of history is, a fact that I intend to change with immediate effect. Suffice to say, each stop was as enlightening and powerful as the last, and I would recommend anyone coming as far as Paris should have a look at this amazing part of the world too – so far away from home, yet somehow so familiar, and so much a part of our short history.

Upon returning to Paris from Amiens (after an inevitable hour long delay because of train strikes), we arrived at our dinner reservation half an hour late. You will note the lack of emphasis on dining so far. This is because on our first night in Paris we headed to my friend Megan’s recommendation of Au Vieux Comptoir and it was closed. We headed there again on the second night and it was full. So we made a reservation for a third time lucky and even though we were late, they squeezed us in and it was worth the effort. We shared foie gras, I had scallops and Ryan had steak, then waffles and chocolate mousse for dessert. Friendly service, beautiful wine – if was worth the wait. Thanks Megs!

After the mammoth days that were Tuesday and Wednesday, we took it easy on Thursday. A sleep-in (as much as one can with the half-hourly church bells), a leisurely breakfast and a visit to the Louvre. Whilst the Mona Lisa is indeed one intriguing chick, my favourite part was Napoleon’s apartments. Many interior design ideas stowed away for future use there.

Thursday afternoon was basically dedicated to wandering the streets of Paris – today’s offering was the Latin Quarter. We had decided we wanted to tick off the tourist spots pretty early so we had time to do this and we are so glad we did. Nothing ground-breaking or truly out-standing to report – just that it is so lovely to wander around Paris on a clear autumn day arm-in-arm with your lover. (That’s for Tara – she loves me saying things like that).

On Friday we had to take it easy and pace ourselves because the day had finally arrived – the day of the Moulin Rouge – hurrah! A brief visit to La Conciergerie (once the prison of Marie Antoinette) and then a wander around Montmartre and up to the Basilique du Sacré Coeur to check out the best view in Paris.

How to sum up the Moulin Rouge… Standing in line under the glow of that famous red windmill was truly exciting. I really think that cabaret is a lost art in our times and I was so excited to spend an evening in what is considered the world’s most famous. And also I love sequins.

When the curtains opened and the show began, I have to admit, by first impression of the Moulin Rouge is that the dancing is below par. I asked Ryan what he thought and he didn’t see it, so I am confident it is jus t me being ultra-picky, but I have to admit, I was a little surprised. Let me be clear: I did not feel let down – the atmosphere was amazing, the costumes were amazing, as I say, I was just surprised.

Although the more I thought about it, the more I came to think that maybe the standard of dancing is not below par, maybe it is just that the French dancers of the Moulin Rouge seemed to come across as many of the French do generally in my view – disinclined to go out of their way to do any over and above what is absolutely necessary to get the job done. I have really found in being here that the French seem to have the attitude – ‘this is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, what more do we need to do to impress you?’. There are of course, many exceptions to this grossly general rule. But maybe in the case of the Moulin Rouge these girls might similarly think, ‘I am a beautiful girl and I have no top on – what more do you want?’. Purely speculation of course.  And I am acutely aware that at one time or another up to two-thirds of the Moulin Rouge dancers are Australian so I should be very careful what I say!

Also, all the bare breasts in the galleries of Florence and Rome combined do not prepare you for the boob onslaught of the Moulin Rouge. Probably because they are real (I guess?) and dancing around the stage. You get used to it after a while, but it is really very strange. Ryan and I spent a good amount of time trying to work out why some girls go topless and some do not. Age maybe? Longevity of service? We have since learnt that it is much simpler than that. If you have good boobs you go topless. If you don’t, you don’t.

Anyway, the show eventually warmed up and I even think the dancing got better after a while (or maybe it was just the champagne), and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I didn’t realise that the dancing parts were punctuated with other acts – a juggler, an acrobatic duo who did ridiculous things involving inhuman strength, and a very amusing multi-lingual ventriloquist. These people were amazing and worth seeing in and of themselves.

The can-can was my favourite – I don’t think there is enough can-caning as a general rule so it was wonderful to see it on stage in all it’s ruffled glory. All in all, a wonderful and memorable night.

Which brings us to yesterday, what I termed ‘market day’. There were three markets mentioned in the Lonely Planet – one very far north and huge, one very far south and tiny and one to the east supposedly in between. Seeing as we could never fit them all in I hedged our bets and took us to the one in the north – the big one – thinking that if it is so big it will hopefully cover off everything that the other ones have to offer.

When we arrived I had that feeling that you sometimes get when you stumble into a place and you know it’s probably not in your best interests to be there – abort, abort, abort!! But it was too late, we were already off the train so we pressed on. The Marché au Puces de St-Ouen was a very scary place. The first grouping of ‘stalls’ (or rugs on the ground under an overpass to be more precise) consisted of wares such as a blade from a food processor (food processor MIA), a four-pack of batteries (one missing) and socks (second hand). You get the picture. I suppose you could say that it improved after that… At least the wares went from incomplete and second hand to complete and new. Which is great if you are in the market for some really baggy jeans, a pair of high top sneakers or some fluro undies with hemp leaves on the butt cheeks. And it seems that the stall holders use their stall not only to sell their wares but to debut there latest rap recordings as well, so they stalk around the front of their shops, music blaring, miming along. Both Ryan and I separately ended up with Elvis Presley’s ‘In the Ghetto’ in our heads as we wandered through.

The rest of market day was marginally more successful, (in that we actually felt safe at the others we wandered around), and we finished with a celebration of our last non-school night of holidays – dinner and (quite) a few drinks.

So today it is Sunday, our last official day of holidays, although as I don’t have a job I’m not entirely sure what that really means to me. And we’ve had a lovely day – a sleep in and the obligatory rush for rehydration over breakfast after a big night, followed by a lazy walk of the shops of the Champs-Elysées and lunch/afternoon tea at Laduree – world famous for their macaroons.

Tonight we will have pack our bags, have a quiet French dinner in our charming neighbourhood and hit the hay ahead of an early start and early flight to Manchester – ‘home’. So very strange.

Frankly I couldn’t think of a better way to finish off what has been a truly amazing, enlightening, relaxing, surprising and exceedingly wonderful trip.


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

You can’t win ‘em all. (Otherwise entitled: Lyon).

I can count on one hand the number of things I have liked about Lyon, as follows:

1) Our hotel

2) Automated ordering at McDonalds

3) The Lumiere Museum

4) Georges Brasserie

5) The cinema that showed English films with French subtitles, not dubbed in French

Let’s go with the good first.

Our hotel is great. Frankly I have no idea how this fitted into Mel’s European Holiday Accommodation Budget but it must have been some flukey special I found without realising what a good deal we were getting. The receptionists speak English, it has a great Wifi connection, the room is spacious and there is a shower curtain. I never realised that shower curtains were a luxury item in a hotel room but you really miss them when they’re gone!

Now onto what I think is the most important innovation to come to the hospitality industry since sliced bread, literally – McDonald’s easy order. Although Ryan and I have become quite good at the French/English/Charades style of communication, we were stoked to duck into McDonalds one morning for a coffee to be greeted with ‘Easy Order’; a credit card machine where you can select your language, make your order, pay, get a ticket and wait for your order at the ‘Easy Order’ section of the counter. Of course it’s not fool proof, you have to know what your ticket number sounds like in French so you know when they are calling out your order, but you can generally wing it.

On Saturday we made the hike out to the Lumiere Museum. For those of you that didn’t take the supremely useful Cinema Studies major at RMIT like yours truly, the Lumiere Brothers invented the movies as we know it. They built the first camera and made the first film in 1895, a film of all the employees of their father’s factory leaving work at the end of a workday. It went for about 50 seconds.

Since Ryan and I spend a vast amount of our time watching movies (and Ryan spends a vast amount of our money buying movies and single-handedly keeping JB Hi Fi in business), we thought we should go and check out where it all began. It was a great little museum. It is built in the Lumiere family home, the one they built after making their fortune on cinema technology, so it has a really personal feel and house is pretty amazing in and of itself.

There is also a number of the original films playing and the first thing that struck me was how little our collective movie going tastes have changed since 1895. I know that now we can pretty much create anything and everything using CGI and digital technology, but it’s heartening to know that many of today’s most loved films follow the same slap stick comedy format that the Lumiere Brothers committed to film 115 years ago.

Anyway, I know when I sat in my first Cinema Studies classes nearly ten years ago learning about the Lumiere Brothers and their impact on pop culture as we know it, I never thought for a second I would one day have the opportunity to check out equipment and their home first hand which is a pretty amazing thought.

Last night for dinner we went to Georges Brasserie and whilst it was not my favourite meal I have had since travelling (let’s face it, there is pretty stiff competition there), it was probably my favourite dining experience so far. We stumbled onto Georges Brasserie whilst surfing the net and basically trying to find a restaurant here that fit our criteria:

a) Lyonaisse cuisine

b) Not too expensive

c) Not too far from our hotel

d) Some semblance of English on the menu so we know what we are ordering

Georges Brasseries well and truly fit the bill so we headed there with no real expectations and it was fantastic. It was a giant art deco style hall that had been fitted out with booths and red leather seating. I think it would have seated around 300-400 people and it was full. There was a jazz band playing in the corner and the waiters wore tuxedos. I really wish I had put my flapper outfit on for the occasion. I really wish I had a flapper outfit actually. And don’t get me wrong – the food wasn’t at all bad, it’s just that the ambience warrants more attention and comment – so very fun. For the first time in his life Ryan ordered a cognac, because “it seemed like the place to do it if you were ever going to do it”, and I enjoyed laughing as the fumes burnt his nose hairs.

And finally, my point on the movies basically explains itself. We wandered past one of many cinemas we have seen since being in France and noticed Wall Street 2 and The Social Network advertised with a note, something along the lines of ‘Version originale avec sous-titres’. It did not appear that any of the local films were advertised with such a note so we took a punt hoping that it meant, ‘Original version with subtitles’ and much to our joy – we were correct. Since it is cold and rainy today and every single shop except Starbucks is shut (being Sunday), we hit the movies. It actually felt really nice to do something that we probably would have been doing on a home on a rainy Sunday afternoon. And we can recommend Wall Street 2.

So now to the bad, reluctantly. I don’t really like to rag on anywhere or anyone, and to be fair I think we have caught Lyon at a bad time, but we really haven’t enjoyed it here apart from the aforementioned five experiences.

My very first impressions (and they say they count), is that this is a very angst-filled place. During our very first wander around town we saw about fifty thousand riot police and we had to re-route our walk back to our hotel in the afternoon because a bit of a stand off had developed between said riot police and local protesters in the main pedestrian zone. Of course I don’t mind people speaking their mind and standing up for what they believe in, but we noticed a lot of the young men had their scarves, jumpers and hoodies pulled up obscuring their faces, which is a little scary. Also, in wandering through the main pedestrian shopping thoroughfare, it is really disappointing to note all the cracks in shop windows, clearly made from some sort of blunt objects as a protest went by. I’m glad we weren’t there to witness that. And when an old man on his way home from doing the grocery shopping starts yelling something about ‘faciste’ (no need for translation there) we thought it pertinent to go back to the hotel.

Then yesterday while trying to have a peaceful wander around the city (in which there does not appear to be much to see – I could be wrong), our thoughts were drowned out by a massive motorbike protest. Apparently the French government are trying to make it illegal for motorcyclists to split lanes, so the call went out to all motorcyclists to get together en masse and toot, rev and honk their way through the streets in cities throughout France to bring attention to their cause. At one intersection it took them about 15 minutes to pass, there was so many of them – and they were so loud. It was exciting for about the first 30 seconds, then I started to think – do these people ever take the day off from publicly whinging about something? Like I said, just bad timing I think.

Anyway, for me, most of the time spent out of our hotel here I have felt intimidated – there’s really no other way to put it. People don’t seem to be very friendly, there are police everywhere, and like I said, it just seems like an angry place. Don’t get me wrong – I have never felt threatened or anything, I just prefer my holidays a little more on the relaxed side.

However, onward and upward, as they say. Off to Paris tomorrow where it doesn’t matter if people are cranky – there’s too much to do and too much to see and too much to eat to let it bother us – hurrah!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

It’s Nice, it’s different, it’s unusual. (Otherwise entitled: Nice)

Uh oh. Mum, I know I promised I would come home as soon as possible but that was before Nice. Quite unlike anything Kath and Kim would have ever experienced, I should think.

I’ve never really been to a place and thought, ‘yep, I could stay here.’ In my travels around Europe so far I have determined that Europe is an amazing place to travel, but Australia is an amazing place to live. Now Nice has made me do a bit of a double-take.

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, it’s a moot point as

a)    I don’t speak any French; and

b)    There is no rugby league team here (we checked).

We arrived to Nice late on Sunday evening after my first EasyJet experience (with the obligatory hour-plus delay) and it was very dark and very cold. The airport was dead, we waited ages for a cab and when we got one it was really expensive. In the cab, I began to question the wisdom of including an ambitious five-night stay in Nice as part of our trip. It was to be our longest stay yet and given the amount of sight-seeing we had packed into most days thus far I wondered whether our incessant need for new stimuli might be our undoing here.

The idea behind the long stay originally was two-fold:

a)    it was intended as a place to relax and have a break from said incessant sight-seeing; and

b)    hopefully one last decent injection of Vitamin D before Lyon, Paris, and more permanently, Wigan

So it was not love at first sight, but Monday morning dawned sunny and bright and upon leaving our hotel we found ourselves in a city that we loved from that point on.

We started by wandering down the main drag of Nice which was doubling as a protest route that day (more about that later). It is usually a bustling shopping strip with every fashion label imaginable, as well as a healthy sprinkling of the cheap and cheerful.

We wandered around this part of Nice semi-aimlessly for a while but ultimately, and it did not have to be said, we knew we were looking for the water. When we found it, like so many other of our experiences of Europe so far, it did not disappoint and exceeded our expectations.  It was stunning.

After gazing love-stricken out into the Mediterranean Sea for a while, we followed the signs to Old Nice pulled up a pew for our first non-Italian meal in over a week. Big yay.

The lunch destination turned out to be an amazing find. Not because the food was particularly good. In fact, the service was so slow that our brunch turned into an almost-late lunch, when it was served it was cold, and the Jack Russell at the table two over from ours seemed to get more attention from the waiter than we did, however, I digress.

The lunch destination was a find because it was jammed up against Old Nice’s weekly flea market.

Now, this part is for the ladies. Don’t you hate those articles that you find in women’s magazines – Cleo, Cosmo, Shop Til You Drop and so on – where they do these profiles of women in the fashion industry? They always make me feel so inadequate. Like the 24 year old who started by sewing together curtains Maria-style and selling them as clothes out of her parents garage when she was 16. At 24 now runs her own uber-successful fashion label with distributors in London, Paris, Milan, rah rah rah. They make it sound so effortless. And you read the interview and they ask things like “what’s playing on your Ipod right now?” and the answer is never ever Britnery Spears or Lady Gaga. It’s always something obscure like “Oh, I am really enjoying this CD that Greenpeace produced of baby whale sounds set to a symphony of traffic noise from the streets of Mumabi.” Sure you do. Anyway, I have found in reading these profiles that they invariably refer to the flea markets of France in gushing terms as a goldmine of treasure and the ultimate source of inspiration. “I just love rifling through the junk and finding a real gem”, they say. Sure you do. French flea markets are probably no more a goldmine for treasure than Camberwell market is at about 11am on a Sunday morning, after all the carnies have gone through and bought all the good stuff that they can on-sell at their own stall at a later date.

However, after wandering through this flea market in Old Nice, in the words of the Monkees, I’m a believer. It. Was. Amazing. We saw a vintage Louis Viutton travel case on sale for €1600. We saw vintage Chanel jewellery and Hermes scarves. And it didn’t stop at jewellery and fashion – whole china crockery sets, whole silverware sets, furniture, slights, military medals – you name it, it was there.

Luckily I have recently adopted a new policy of never buying anything ever again unless I can use it up (like soap or deoderant), or consume it (like Swiss Chocolate). Clothes are the exception to the rule, but they must always replace an item not worn in the past year. Not surprisingly, I devised this new life-strategy whilst packing up our house in North Balwyn and realising I am ultimately resigned to a life semi-frequently moving house and we have too much stuff!!

Had I not adopted this policy, we could have easily left the market with any number of fashion items, a set of coloured crystal goblets and two art deco wall sconces. As it was, I left with two brooches for a respectable €10. Very restrained, I feel.

I have to say, I not only marvelled at the wares available for sale at the markets, I also marvelled at how well the stall-holders ‘do’ the markets. For starters, they don’t harass potential buyers. I guess they figure you either want it or you don’t and if you don’t there is sure to be some 24 year old fashion designer with cash to burn that will come along and buy them out so they can go home and brag to their friends and be photographed in their shabby chic apartments for more fashion magazines.

Secondly, I was so impressed at the way they do lunch. (Yes, it is always about the food with me). Whereas at the Camberwell markets you would either go on a Maccas hunt or pull out a thermos of canned soup and a ham and cheese sandwich, these people were pulling out little tables for two and sitting down to a full lunch of Nicoise salad and a glass of wine, followed by a crepe. They had knives and forks and wine glasses and everything. So civilised.

That is one key thing I have noticed particularly in Italy and in France so far – the act of eating rarely seems to be grabbing a baguette or burger on the run. You respect whatever meal you are eating and you give it the time and attention it deserves. I knew there was a reason I loved this place.

After thoroughly scouring the markets (kudos to Ryan here for the penultimate display of husband-patience) we spent some more time in the sun before happy hour at Chez Wayne’s and a dinner of local Nicoise specialities including Petit Farcis – roasted vegetables stuffed with a meat, breadcrumb and herb filling. So yum.

Day two in Nice dawned even brighter and even sunnier and was a dedicated shopping day. It was very successful, both in terms of unique finds but also exercising restraint. After shopping, sometime in the afternoon we dropped our bags back at the hotel and Ryan even got changed and went for a swim at the beach. Who would have thought our gamble to stay in Nice in the hope of good weather would have paid such dividends. Dumb luck strikes again.

Day three was perhaps not so lucky. We went to the train station to try to book our tickets to Lyon for Friday and unfortunately the automatic credit card machines would not take our cards so we had to line up at the ticket office for around 90 minutes to book the trip. This killed us, as the weather was so brilliant outside and we had already accidentally overslept horrendously. We were wasting valuable Vitamin D people!!

When we finally got to the front of the line we were informed that the train strike that had taken place the day before (of which we were vaguely aware) was continuing intermittently and we could book our tickets but we would have no way of knowing if the trains were going to be running that day until the evening prior. Wonderful. Anyway, we took our chances, booked the tickets and got out of the train station as quickly as possible.

We had been keenly aware of the political unrest since our first waking hour in France. Day one had seen the aforementioned protest run straight down the middle of Nice and was quite raucous at times. On day two (shopping day), we were sitting having our breakfast at a quintessential French café with the chairs side-by-side facing out onto the street and after a visit from a policeman, the café started moving all their outdoor seating inside. As we looked down the street, many of the shops had their roller doors pulled half down, as though preparing to shut up quickly if another protest went by. Even the main department store seemed to have added security and closed all but one entrance. It turned out to be a bit of a fizzer in the end. Ryan and I didn’t see any activity at all.

By the end of the week the police presence in the streets of Nice was approaching ludicrous. Normal police, the ‘Gendarme’ who looked like SWAT to me, police dogs, motorbikes, riot shields, all became the norm during the course of our stay although we never saw anything warranting that level of presence. We did, however, see scenes to the contrary in other parts of France on the news so maybe they were just playing it safe. Kind of a pre-emptive strike. Apparently it worked.

Back to day three, after the horrendous ticket line wait we hopped on a bus for €1 and headed to Monaco. Someone had given us the tip to avoid tours (too expensive) and the train (no scenery) and hop on the bus and what a tip it turned out to be. At one point I contemplated skipping Monaco and just riding the number 100 bus back and forth between Nice and Monaco all day – glorious.

In Monaco we really had only two things to tick off on our ‘to do’ list. The first was to walk down to the marina and have a look at all the luxury yachts docked there. The second was to see the Monte Carlo casino – from the outside only of course.

Monaco exudes an overwhelming amount of wealth and the yachts parked at the marina were no exception. Wow. We had admired the yachts and super yachts in Nice from afar but Monaco was something else again. Giant forty-foot mansions on water basically, with lots of toys. Ryan and I walked away from the marina with a renewed enthusiasm for becoming really, really good at something and making enough money to buy ourselves one of those babies. We later found pictures of a yacht online that was about what we had in mind – My Petra – she was selling for a cool €24.5million. Even with the dollar as decent as it is at the moment we have a little way to go.

We then ventured up to the casino and on the way I jabbed Ryan in the ribs and pointed out a young girl driving a very new Ferrari that would have looked more in place on the streets of Monaco during the famous Grand Prix. She as rather attractive too. Never before had I felt so relieved to have suckered Ryan into marriage – unlucky Hoff.

We finally found the Monte Carlo and there were about a dozen cars parked out the front – Bentleys, Aston Martins, Ferraris, Jags, a Rolls Royce and one lowly little Mercedes. I never thought I would see the day when I considered a Mercedes Benz to be muddying up an otherwise attractive array of automobiles.

Having been thoroughly overwhelmed by Monaco and all its excess we jumped back on the bus and enjoyed the dusk coastal trip back to Nice. Give me aqua blue water, flea markets, amazing food and sunshine over unlimited casino chips and an Aston Martin any day.

Our last full day in Nice was spent taking it very easy and soaking up every last ray of sunshine we could manage. We started by walking along the beach to the Nice marina. Our yacht-seeing in Monaco had whetted Ryan’s appetite and he wanted to check out what Nice had to offer. Lo and behold – there she was in the flesh – My Petra. It was like meeting a movie star in real life. For me personally I just can’t get over how shiny all the boats are! They would want to be too. Two out of three of the boats seemed to have deckhands (usually Australian, Kiwi or English) up on the deck, tunes blaring, shoes off, scrubbing away.

So we ambled back along the beach to Nice, grabbed a baguette and sat by the water, planning all the features we would include in our own 44 foot super yacht when we come by the funds to either buy or build. It would have a spa on the deck, a full entertainment system and the contact details of a great masseur in every port. It would either be called ‘Up to?’ or ‘No dice’. Ryan’s choices. I lobbied for ‘Princess Melly’ but to no avail.

So after five nights we bade a fond farewell to Nice. We loved the beach, the food, the sun and the lack of hardcore sight-seeing, but we now head off to Lyon for the weekend, refreshed, and perhaps even a little tanned, ready to tackle the last week and a half of our trip.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Accidental pilgrims. (Otherwise entitled: Rome)

My first impression of Rome? Holy moly. Literally – holy moly, for the most part.

Before I get to the inevitable run down of sight-seeing feats achieved, I would like to share a few observations I have noted about Roman people.

Sidebar: does one call modern-day citizens of Rome, Romans? It sounds a little wrong and Monty Python-esque to me, but let’s run with it.

Things that Romans seem to like a lot:

Public displays of affection

Leather boots

Leather jackets


Driving really fast, regardless of cobble-stones or incredibly narrow streets

Their dogs


Things that Romans seem to dislike a lot:

Parking in allocated bays

Smiling on the underground

Slowing down for pedestrian crossings

Waiting for passengers to get off the train before getting on themselves

We arrived to Rome off the back of my first logistical/navigational error. We were waiting patiently at Firenze Santa Maria Novella, Florence’s major train station, for our train to Rome, when it became apparent that we could not see our train on the list of departures. About 12 minutes before we were due to leave I noticed that the departing station on our ticket was not Firenze Santa Maria Novella, but some other station we had not come across in our travels. It took us about 5 minutes to work out how to get to this new phantom station and the next train there was going to take us 8 minutes to get there. You do the math. Anyway, we figure one miscalculation of this nature is not the end of the world so we purchased two more tickets on the next train and somehow ended up in Rome an our earlier than if we would’ve have caught the train we had originally meant to catch.

We were pretty overwhelmed when we first arrived to Rome, especially seeing as it was the first stop where we had decided to use VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) to arrange to stay at a private apartment. We arrived to Roma Termini and then caught the underground Metro to our little neighbourhood, about 6 train stops out of central Rome.

We decided our first day of Rome should be a ‘Rome sights day’ (as opposed to a ‘Vatican City sights’ day). I had to laugh when Ryan looked out the window that morning and declared that it was ‘very overcast’. It turned out to actually be a ripper of a day, it’s just that Ryan was checking the weather through the shutters of our bedroom and was actually looking at the beige wall of the apartment building next to ours.

In day one we achieved far more than we anticipated – the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo and Campo de’ Fiori, not to mention a visit to Rome’s number one gelataria San Crispino. Yikes. It was a gigantic day and I couldn’t tell you how many kilometres covered on foot.

I really enjoyed the ruins of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, it’s amazing how much has withstood the years and how patient subsequent generations have been with excavating and showcasing it.

The Colosseum was great to see as well. Having spent a bit of time in football stadia over the last 8 years or so it is interesting to note that the basic design features have not really changed in the last 1900-odd years.

The Trevi Fountain was my favourite. I’m not sure why – perhaps I associate the aqua running water with a little oasis in the heart of Rome? At any rate I am ashamed to admit that I joined the hoards of tourists in tossing a coin over my shoulder for good luck, thereby contributing to the suggested €3000 that goes into the fountain courtesy of the tourist trade every day.

It was also on Thursday that we happened upon a little church hall in the back streets of Rome with a couple of banners out the front with pictures of Mary McKillop. We had been told that Mary McKillop’s canonisation was taking place that Sunday but we had no idea how it worked and whether we would be able to check it out.

Ryan talked me into going in with him and asking for some information, and a lovely lady at the door pointed us in the direction of the head honcho. They turned out up be a group running a collection station for groups that were making the trip over for the canonisation to pick up their tickets and welcome pack comprising a bit of Mary McKillop information, a bottle of water, a poncho and an Australian commemorative scarf. So we explained to the man in charge that we hadn’t booked tickets and had really just fluked the timing of being in Rome on holidays, and we asked whether he knew how we would go about seeing it. Just like that he handed us two tickets and two welcome packs and said ‘see you there’. We were so touched. We thanked him profusely then left the church marvelling at our good fortune. Had we walked past on another day or gone another route from A to B (and believe me, in Rome, there’s always more than one option), we would have missed it. It is yet another example of the good fortune that Ryan and I have enjoyed our entire trip so far.

Day two in Rome was a designated Vatican City day. On this day it really was overcast so a good day to don the long pants and sleeves and head to the Papal State.

Of course arriving at our first stop, the Vatican Museum, we were confronted with an enormous queue. Never fear, by now we were adept at waiting it out so while Ryan took our place in the queue, I hunted down paninis for breakfast and we settled in for the long haul.

It was only about an hour’s wait in the end and the museum was worthwhile. I expected the succession of Catholic artworks (you guessed it, more Madonna and the Child) but I did not expect the section to dedicated to what I called ‘Pope-mobiles’ through the ages. First horse drawn carriages, then regal-looking Mercedes Benzes and finally an open top Jeep – very naughties.

It culminated with the Sistine Chapel, which was obviously breath-taking, but I had to have a giggle at the continuously looping PA announcement in various languages reminding tourists that the chapel is a holy place and silence is therefore requested.

Following the museum we headed over to St Peter’s Square and Basilica. The square was already set-up for proceedings on Sunday, which was exciting, and the Basilica did not did not fail to impress – definitely my favourite part of Vatican day.

Upon leaving the basilica Ryan and I perched ourselves on the steps of St Peter’s square and were both suddenly overcome with exhaustion. We had fit an awful lot into the previous four or five days and it felt like it all caught up with us at that exact moment. So we headed back for a siesta and late dinner and looked forward to a plan-free day the following day.

The one thing we did achieve the following day was a trip to the Catacombs of San Callisto. Eventually. Technically the catacombs were only about two kilometres from our apartment and we took the train part of the way there, but somehow we still ended up walking for two hours before we arrived there.

The error was deciding it was a good idea to walk to the catacombs by cutting through Appia Antica Regional Park, which is a giant archaeological park on the outskirts of central Rome including walking paths, ruins and the occasional farm animal. Finally – some indication as to how Romans work off all those carbs they consume at breakfast, lunch and dinner! We had seen no signs of strenuous activity or exercise until this point.

The stroll through the park was really pleasant. For the first hour. Closing in on hour two I decided I could have skipped the park and stuck to the roads. After two hours had passed, I decided I could probably skip the catacombs all together and just go home and tip the trailer load of gravel out of my (very inappropriate walking) shoes and put my feet up.

We did make it to the catacombs eventually and it was just about worth the trip. At first I thought it was a bit rich that they demanded you only look at the catacombs with a tour guide, but when I learnt that the catacombs are basically a cemetery spanning 20 kilometres across and four levels down, I began to see the wisdom of sticking with the guide. And our guide turned out to be a bit of a laugh too (not easy when you tour graves underground for a large portion of your day), so all in all, an interesting and educational afternoon. And we well and truly earned our last dinner in Rome – hurrah!

Our last day in Rome included an early start to head off to St Peter’s Square to catch the canonisation. We were not sure what to expect – we had been told that Mary McKillop’s canonisation has seen the largest number of Australians travel to Europe at one time since the second world war, and she was only one of six saint newbies so we thought it could be bedlam. But as they say (and I usually concur), nothing worth having ever comes easy so we steeled ourselves.

When we arrived it was only semi-bedlam, which was a nice surprise. The square was a little over half full and we managed to pull up a bit of barricade to lean on towards the back.

Not being at my best in a crowd, I had given myself a couple of pep-talks beforehand and tried to come up with a couple of examples previously where I had successfully spent an extended period in a crowd. The closest thing I could come up with was Big Day Out or perhaps a grand final, and in arriving it was interesting to note just how similar the two events were. Security, barricades, big screens, big crowds, cameras, people wearing their team (saint) colours, flags, programs, even signed photos of the Pope himself.

All-in-all it was a really enjoyable service. It was lovely to see a couple of Australians get up there in front of all those people and talk about Mary McKillop, and of course seeing the Pope doing his thing was a thrill. We even saw the current Pope-mobile in action cutting it’s way through the masses.

So for the first time Ryan and I attended a church service together, albeit in Italian. I had to laugh when Ryan was surprised that I was ignoring his ramblings even when the Pope was speaking in Italian. The placating went something like this, “darling, it’s not every day that you can hear the Pope deliver a mass, I can listen to you do Anchorman quotes anytime.”

This afternoon finds us killing time in our little Roman home away from home (via a trip to Rome’s best coffee café and back to award winning gelati for a farewell bite), waiting to catch our plane to Nice. We have truly enjoyed Italy and the limited parts that we have been fortunate enough to enjoy, but we have had a fill of pizza, pasta and gelati and we are ready to move on. Arrivederci Italia!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Profuse nudity. (Otherwise entitled: Florence, days 2, 3 and 4)

Florence is a funny place. On the way here in boning up on the sights in our (now very dog-eared) Lonely Planet, I suddenly questioned why we decided to come here in the first place. In reading the LP I realised that Florence is really all about the art.

It’s evident as soon as you get off the train. There are references to Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello everywhere and we are not talking about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Anyone looking for a street named after Splinter or April O’Neil will be sorely disappointed.

The thing is, as uncool, uncouth and uneducated as it might be to admit it, I don’t know the first thing about art. My experience basically extends to those exhibitions I had to see whilst working at Freehills with a bunch of lawyers and their clients in tow and usually on those occasions I wasn’t really in a frame of mind to appreciate it on the level that was probably warranted.

Anyway, the phrase ‘when in Rome’ applies as much to its northern neighbour as it does to Rome so we downed our Betta-made coffee, croissants and toast and headed to the first stop – Palazzo Pitti. Palazzo Pitti was the summer residence of the Medici in the 16th century and now houses Galleria Palentina, which is basically a gallery with about fifty billion paintings adorning the palace walls. In my view it gives Betty’s Buckingham Palace a run for its money.

It was also at this first stop that we had our first experience of Florence’s epic ability to generate a queue. Holy moly. We arrived to the Palazzo at about 10.30am and waited in the ticket line for about half an hour. About twenty minutes into this wait, I noted that the entry line to the Galleria Palentina itself was about twice the length of the ticket purchase line so we decided to divide and conquer. It probably saved us about 7 minutes in the next queue in the end. 7 minutes of what I estimate was about a 90 – 100 minute wait to get into the museum. It had the potential to be a horrendously boring wait, if it wasn’t for this Italian man (‘Hairy lugs’ as Ryan called him) in the queue ahead of us who insisted on yelling at the security guards in Italian and flailing his arms about every 15 minutes or so. Highly entertaining.

This was a good start to our day because it was very much indicative of Florence in general. Florence is basically just one long queue. You queue along the footpaths to walk down the road, you queue behind people at the lights to cross the road, you queue behind people outside restaurants to check out the menu, you queue to get into the sights and heaven help you if you are a lady and you need to go to the toilet.

Still, with our newfound interest in art seemed to come infinite patience so we persevered.

Next stop was the Duomo, a gothic cathedral that is one of the world’s largest and took 142 years to build. Exterior view only – as mentioned we are saving our enthusiasm for religious sites for our next stop – Rome.

It was in the surrounds of the Duomo that I had my first Italian gelato for lunch (what, I’m on holidays) and Ryan had his first slice of authentic Italian pizza. Four very enthusiastic thumbs up.

We next headed to the Galleria Dell’Accademia which houses the one and only piece of art that Ryan and I were particularly interested to see – Michelangelo’s David, or Dirty Dave, as we termed him. Dirty Dave fortunately only commanded a thirty-minute queue – score – and I have to say, even as an art dunce, the bloke really did take my breath away. He is really huge and oddly, has quite the presence about him even though he is only made of marble. That Michelango was really quite an amazing man to have sculpted him out of a single piece of marble.

Lastly, we set out to tackle the Galleria Degli Uffizi, or the Uffizi Gallery to us. I say tackle, because we had stopped there earlier in the day and were confronted with the mother of all lines – a 2+ hour wait. In hovering around the front of the line trying to ensure that it was the gallery line (and not just the ladies’ toilet) a friendly security guard (a rarity here) suggested we come back at 4.30pm, which was supposedly the quietest time of the day.

It wasn’t quite 4.30pm but we gave it a crack anyway. The line was exactly the same length as it had been earlier in the day, perhaps a little longer. I started to think it was a lot like Disneyland but without the happy music and adrenaline rush at the end of it. Just as we were about to give up and buy an advance ticket (with a levy, of course) to come back on Tuesday a giant wave of people ahead of us were let in and we were past the point of no return.

The gallery was pretty amazing. It is supposed to be the most popular in Italy and again, houses about fifty billion paintings and sculptures. Herein lies the nudity. Renaissance artists really did seem to have a predilection towards painting and sculpting people in their birthday suits.

It was by this stage that I started to notice a very strong trend. It seemed to me that the subject matter of these 100 billion paintings were all very similar – Catholic in overtone. In fact, I reckon about 4 in every five paintings were named Madonna and Child. Not the Material Girl of course, although a portrait of her may not have gone astray, just to shake things up a bit.

Anyway, by the end of the day we were better educated, slightly more cultured and really quite proud of our efforts. Despite our uncertainty as to why we decided to do the Florence art thing in the first place, we were really glad that we did.

As we had sat down for a grand total of about 9 minutes since breakfast (one of the queues had intermittent barriers you could sit on), we decided on a pretty quiet night. Pizza, pasta, a half bottle of Chianti wine and we hit the hay, ready for a tour of Tuscany that we had booked for the following day.

Food, wine and the rolling hills of Tuscany. Oh yeah, that’s why we had decided to come to Florence. So on Monday we high-tailed it down to the station and hopped onto our coach to head out into hills.

Our first stop was Siena and whilst I hesitate to go into too much detail around the history and culture of these places (I hope all my friends and family either have already been or get to go one day), I do want to mention this little town in a little more detail as it is such a crazy place. It is a town of about 50,000 people and the town is split into 17 districts, each named after an animal. Quite silly animals really- caterpillars, giraffes, rhinoceroses, for example. Anyway each district or contrade as they call them, has its own shield, its own church and you are born into the district. Wherever else you live in the town (or the world) you are fiercely loyal to the contrade where you were born. From what I can tell, your contrade has very little bearing on your day-to-day existence, except on the two days of the year where the entire 50,000 citizens of the town pack into the town square, which is

a) more like a circle; and

b) about the size of a high school oval

and watches the Palio di Siena – a twice yearly horse race between the contrades. In these races, a ballot is drawn (only 10 contrades can compete per race) and each contrade is allocated a horse from a local farm. The race is three times around the town square (circle?) and the contrade whose horse gets over the line first (with rider or without) gets bragging rights, and their flag hung all around the town for the rest of the year. Apparently it is all quite serious. Contrades form alliances amongst each other to hinder other riders, jockeys are bribed and the horses are carefully guarded in the contrade stable to protect against horse sabotage. Honestly, it puts our so-called race that stops a nation to shame. At least we have pretty hats.

Anyway, onto the next stop – an organic Chianti winery – hurrah! It was here that Ryan and I tasted the best pasta of our lives. Seriously. Apologies to anyone that has ever cooked us pasta but there is nothing quite like homemade pasta made from wheat that is grown at the same farm, with a side of salad, picked from the veggie patch that morning smothered in olive oil made with hand-pressed olives from the trees outside the winery window. Yes, yes, yes.

The next stop was another medieval town, San Gimignano, otherwise entitled the Medieval Manhattan because of the medieval towers that dominate the skyline. To be honest, if it wasn’t for another award winning gelato shop in the main square, I probably would have said it was one medieval town too many for the day.

Then, onto the last stop, Pisa. Or so we thought. About fifteen minutes out from San Gimignano our bus broke down and we were forced to wait for an hour for another one. Not to worry, although it was a boring wait there was an upside. When we got to Pisa it was dark, but you could still see the famous Leaning Tower and the hoards of tourists that are inevitably there during the day were long gone so it was really quite pleasant.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa was great to see in the flesh, and good to confirm that it is not, in fact, a Leaning Tower of Pizza, as I had thought when I was younger. A reasonable mistake to make, I think.

So we got back to Florence an hour later than intended but never fear, the Florentines are notoriously late diners so we slipped into a pizzeria at about 10pm, devoured a quick pizza and pasta and headed off to bed.

Which brings us to today – what I like to call an ‘administrative day’. No concrete plans, no mad rush to see any sights in particular, just whatever takes our fancy with a couple of boring ‘must do’ jobs in between. Unfortunately the real world still goes on when you are gallivanting around eating your weight in pizza, being mesmerised by world-famous artworks and roaming the Tuscan countryside. Yep – Michaelangelo, Chianti Wine and working out where in Italy to print, complete and scan a health insurance form – just another day.

In wandering around Florence today we couldn’t help but notice the Italians’ love of their dogs. It seems every day we notice more and more crazy things that these people like to do with their dogs. On Sunday when we lined up at the Palazzo Pitti there was a lady in the queue ahead of us who was really confused when the security guard told her she couldn’t take her dog into the gallery. Later that day we saw another lady try to take her two dogs into a Chanel shop – I wouldn’t even trust me in there, let alone a dog. And today the icing on the cake – a lady sitting at the restaurant where we had dinner, smoking a cigarette, enjoying a glass of wine with her little Pug perched on the chair next to her. I think the dogs of Australia would be a little jealous if they knew how good these Italian dogs have it.

This afternoon we took the advice of the tour guide from the day prior and headed up to the Piazzale Michelangelo at around sunset – apparently the best views of Florence and even though it was quite a climb up, it was worth it. A lovely place to sit and watch the world go by before our final Florence dinner and – you guessed it – more gelato. Tomorrow we head off to Rome and I think it will also have to be a GFD – Gelato Free Day. Just to prove to myself that I still can.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment