Sunday, 19 August 2007

More Europe :)

  • It has evidentally been 11 days since my last post, that means this might be a long one! It doesn't fell like that long. Maybe the computer lost count. I also have to apologise in adavnce for the typos - the keyboard is really sticky and letters keep on not coming out or are delayed and in the wrong order - but I'll try (a little).
  • Braedon is curretly cooking as we have a hostel with a kitchen and it smells really good!
  • Last time we caught up we were in Rostock staying with the heavily pregnant Andrea and her partner Emiliano. It was really get up there. We lay on the beach for ages without sun block and didn't get burned (and yes the sun was shining brightly). Andrea and Emiliano are busy preparing for the arrival of their first son and seem to be getting excited now that they have everything in place and are ready. It was really great to catch up after so long (10 years!).
  • We took the train to Berlin and stayed at Sandra's flat while she stayed with her partner Sven. We were Snadra's Kiwi Connections hosts when she was studying for her masters in Law in Wellington in 2003. She was a great hostess. She brought us a full German breakfast two mornings and dined with us. We went for dinne the first night and then went to a beach bar on the top of a 5 storey car parking building. They brought in lots of sand and deck chairs and we had drinks in th dark looking over the lights of Berlin. It was pretty cool (except for all the sand in your shoes). She showed us around the Reichstag (she works there so could take us places that tourists don't normally go). It was quite cool. There are lots of buildings with little "secret" corridor links. We saw the Brandenburg gate and the haulocast memorial (fantastic experiential sculpture). It then started to rain really heavily and we got pretty wet running about 100m to a restuarant for lunch. But never fear because it's summer and it was still pretty warm! : ) We visited the Potsdama Platz and the Sony Centre. Berlin has heaps of new developments at the moment as when the wall came down it created large amounts of empty space in the central city so there was quite a lot of inspirational mordern architecture. We also went to the New National Gallery (designed by Mies van der Rohe and constructed 60 yrs after his death). They had an exhibition of French modern (early 20th century) paintings from the NY met (which is currently being renovated), so that was pretty cool to see. Braedon and I had drinks at an old converted brewery. We caught up with Braedon's cousin Amber and her hubby Heiko who live in Berlin. We had brunch at their place then went via a market to the East side gallery, which is a length of the old wall that has been painted by artists. One thing about Berlin is that there is bad graffitti everywhere they can reach, and lots of people had scribbled all over the art on the wall - it was quite sad. We went to the Bauhaus Archives (yet another architectural exhibition), and we tried currywurst, bratwurst, and other wursts (there are seriously sausages everywhere in Germany - at the fair i nRostock approx every third stand was selling sausages, it was pretty funny - Braedon had his half meter bratwurst in a small bun, very amusing). We dropped into the Radisson hotel where there is a glass lift that goes up inside a huge fish tank - not sure of the depth but somewhere between 20-30m. Talked to a German freediver at the WCs about diving in it but h said they're still working on getting permission. : ( We also briefly dropped into the Deutches Historiches Museum before it shut and saw the modern addition by IM Pei (the guy who desighed the Louvre's pyramids). Sandra and Sven took us across town for dinner to a traditional Berlin style pub where we ate traditinal German food (not sausages, but lots of heavy meat of course). We also managed to visit the Jewish Museum, which was incredible - moden architecture again, but really sculptural (Josh would love it). We spent quite a long time there and I'm now well versed in the history of Judaism in Germany. We dropped in and had a look at Sandra and Sven's new apartment that they had just got the keys for and were starting to paint. Then we caught up with Stefan (my old scuba diving buddy until he left and went home to Germany) and Miriam and their daughter Helena who only arrived after they got back to Germany. They cooked us a fantastic meal in their apartment. Stefan also took us on interesting short driving tours of Berlin on the way back to the apartment after dinner and on the way to dropping us off at the airport the next morning. It was quite interesting to hear Berlin history from people who grew up with huge changes there.
  • We flew down to Venice. Venice was so beautiful. Again, no cars, which really makes European towns fantastic. We only got in at about 4pm but managed a gallery visit and a good browse around the area where were stayed before trying out some local cuisine. We went for a walk after dinner and took in San Marco Square by night. The Venice Biannale (modern art representing a number of different countries - NZ did not attend this year but has in the past) is on (this year) so we visited quite a few pavillions as we stumbled upon them dotted around town. We did all the standard touristy things during our 2 days in Venice but it was more an experience of the town. We managed to not get lost either, somehow...
  • We spent a day in Bologne on the way to FLorence, but it was a bit disppointing. The town was beautiful but nothing was open - everything shut for 3 hours over lunchtime, most shops where shut as the owners were away on summer holidays, it was incredibly hot, and the food market that is meant to be pretty cool was all locked up. We ended up visiting the chuches we could get into, then sitting in a park in the shade of a tree for a while. We then waited at the wrong quai 3 that the train station (didn't think the station was big enough to have two quai 3s) and had to run for the train with our 18kg backpacks on. Did catch it, though they had already blown the whistle before we started on the flight of stairs up to the quay...
  • Florence is lovely, but smaller than I had imagined. We fitted two days of plans into today so I think we'll get a sleep in tomorrow and then head off on a day trip to Siena or somewhere else close by on Monday (though we just missed the horse race around the square - it finished yesterday : ( - might be a bit of a mess now). Today Braedon went to the market first thing, hence the cooking, and I painted my toenails - as you should on summer holidays... We saw Michaelangelo's David at the Accademia, visited lots of Brunelleschi buildings: ospedale delgi innocenti, basilica di San Lorenzo, the Duomo and the bapistry. We also saw Michaelangelo's new sacristy (Medici chapel) and the copy of his David where it used to stand outside the Palazzo Vecchio. Tomorrow we're booked in to visit the Ufizzi Gallery and then we'll visit the Ponte Vecchio (famous bridge) and walk past a few more old buildings, so that's pretty much Florence covered...
  • Unforunately we'll be home in a mere two weeks, with our fantastic tans and new legs made for walking. I'll try to organise some photos soon.

Friday, 10 August 2007

No more France :(

We left France on Monday after four fantastic weeks. Paris is an amazing city and I wish we'd had more time there - greedy I know, considering we did get just under three weeks in Paris itself. There's always more to do. They'd just set up Paris Plage (beach) along the seine (river): they ship in lots of sand, set up water features for the kids to play in, bring in trees, and there are heaps of activities. Patti took a free in-line skating lesson there. I think it's for the people who have to work and can nopt get away from Paris for the summer holidays.

In our last French week we took in Montmatre (where Moulin Rouge was filmed). There's a very cool cathedral on the hill (Mont means mountain). There's also a famous market where there are lots of artists. We had a good look around and went to the cafe where Amelie was filmed, as well as a stroll through the red light district (where the Moulin Rouge is).

Have I noted already that we went and watched the final stage of the Tour de France? They race around the centre of Paris. We were set up on a corner with an OK view, but really had no idea what was going on and still don't know who won (though I hear that can take a while before anyone truely knows, after the drug tests...).

We did a trip up the Canal St Martin from the Bastille to the Parc de la Villette. THere were lots of locks and turning bridges to get us through. It was quite interesting and a pleasant ride. THe weather was pretty fantastic. We spent some time in the Parc, but most of the follies were closed for renovation or just clased off to the public. I went on by myself to the Pavillon de l'Arsenal which is the architectural and urban museum of Paris, with a history of the city and a couple of interesting exhibitions: one about housing from about 1900 and two that were competition entries for big developments within Paris - it'll be interesting to see if they go ahead - one was for the redevelopment of Les Halles.

We also finally made it to Versailles, followed by an excursion out to Poissy to see Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye, which was a bit of a mission to get to, but well worth is. Versailles was beautiful inside and out. The gardens (and buildings) were very extensive. Villa Savoye is a modern house from the 1920s which contrasted well with the earlier visit.

I had a day out on my own and did a tour of Stade de France (stadium built for the 1997 soccer world cup, but the rugby world cup final will be hosted there). It's a pretty impressive structure - very huge - seats 80 000 people. They were just replacing the grass when I was there as they'd been using it as a beach for the past fortnight (notice the trend). I then visited St Denis, the cathedral where the Kings and Queens of France are buried - it was pretty wierd as all the sarcophagai had carved images of their contents sleeping on top, and there were heaps of them. I then went and saw some Hertzog and de Meuron apartments, but couldn't get inside unfortunately as the facades of the internal apartments were quite different to the external ones. Also saw some other modern apartments, the Bon Marche (world's first department store, and built by Gustave Eiffel) and went up to the Pere Lachaise cemetery, where lots of famous people are buried. I unfortunately ran out of time beofre they closed so only found Edith Piaff and Oscar Wilde.

We went to Eurodisney on Thursday. We arrived at 9:45am, it opened at 10, we went to Walt Disney Studios in the morning, did all the scarey rides and went to the special effects show, made it to Disneyland at 3:30pm and stayed until after it closed: about 11:30pm. Braedon made me go on all the roller coasters. We did space mountain last which just topped everything off - I dodn't think even Braedon wanted to do any more after that. We again did all the scarey rides, plus the teacups (which B made spin so fast I felt a bit ill) , it's a small world, the Lion King musical, the Buzz Lightyear ride (which B loved as he got to shoot stuff), ate over-priced themed food, and attended the parades and fireworks. It was quite a late night, so we got up really early the next morning and left town for a few days...

We did a trip down to Lyon then to the south: Aix-en-Provence, where we stayed with friends. Our TGV unfortunately stopped right in the middle of Lyon so we payed a huge amount of money for the airport bus to go and see Calatrava's station. But, thankfully it was really fantastic. We then wandered around the old city of Lyon for a while. We had to climb sooo many stairs! The not so old cathedral and the really old ruin of a Roman ampitheatre where really high up on a hill. They were preparing for a concert at the ampitheatre so we sat for a while and listened to some rock music rehearsals in the sunshine before they kicked us out (I think we needed tickets...). We caught the TGV down to Aix-en-Provence where we stayed with Shaun, Heidi and Maia in their beautiful home. They were great hosts. Shaun took us out the to Pont du Gard (Roman aquaduct) and to another aquaduct built in the 19th century, where there where Roman ruins of an ancient town at the top. We saw a bit of the countryside and the local Provencal towns. They had a pool, so we spent a little time in there, which was a welcome refresher - I think I was getting withdrawal symptoms from being out of the water for so long.

On Monday we really just had to pack up our stuff, clean the apartment and head off. We went up to Amsterdam for a few days. Another beautiful city. We booked a guesthouse which turned out to be a rather large (on the european scale) apartment that we had all to ourselves. We went out for a very nice dinner at a local restaurant off the beaten track the first night. We also witnessed the shop windows through the red light district. The following day we went to the architecture centre and then visited the roof of a Renzo Piano building, and browsed around the island area by the train station that is currently under development - the library was pretty cool and looked like it had recently opened. Shopping was quite good in Amsterdam. We visited a couple of museums, both of which were quite good and not too overly extensive: Rijks Museum and Van Gogh museum.

From Amsterdam we took the overnight train to Rostock, Germany, where we are now staying with Andrea, who was an exchange student at my high school 10 years ago. We spent today at teh old fishing village and the neighbouring beach. THere is a big ship festival thing on - 230 big old ships are in the harbour and they sail around during the day. Today they were shocking the whole cite by firing canons. We went for a walk after dinner to the markets and fairground that go along with it - pretty huge.

Anyway, France treated us well and we enjoyed our stay there. We did not have any run ins with the supposedly rude French, in fact I think they were extraordinarily polite, and as long as we had a go at speaking French they looked after us pretty well.