Thursday, 27 March 2014

Paris: Day 1

This is very long overdue.

In the sunny, summery, days of July 2013, a brief trip was made to Paris. The next few posts will cover what ensued...

Our day began before the crack of dawn, at around 3am on the 14th of July 2013. The previous day, we had visited the Warner Bros. 'The Making of Harry Potter' Studio Tour, before having dinner around 11pm and then napping at my house for 2 hours before making our way to the airport..

Sorry Joe. I bet my living room floor was nice and comfy.

Once we arrived and were allocated a parking spot, we handed over Yop Yop's keys to the airport parking assistants, before we hopped onto the shuttle bus to Terminal 4 and made our way to the Air France check-in desk. 

It was madness. There didn't seem to be any concept of a queue, and the air hostesses that weren't working on the desks were incredibly ill-mannered.

Eventually, we made it onto the plane and by 6.40am, we were jetting off to Paris!

Before long (read: 1 hour 20 minutes), we arrived at Charles de Gaulle, where we quickly passed through immigration due to our European passports. It was funny when we got to the front of the queue, just before going up to a desk, when a French immigration officer asked to check our passports - we guess he thought we had queued up for the wrong desk :p

After waiting for our American friend to pass through immigration (their line went on forever!) and logging onto the 30 minutes of free airport wi-fi, we let our family know we had arrived safely, before heading out to begin our Parisian adventures!

The airport was quite pretty, even though it seemed quite small - granted, we only saw a very small part of it. We picked up our luggage, grabbed lots of tourism information, and set off for our accommodation!

As far as I remember (and I've got really terrible memory) the airport was connected to the Metro station, so after walking over to AĆ©roport Charles de Gaulle TGV 2, we made several attempts to work out how to purchase a ticket from the gazillion machines positioned within the giant station. Eventually, we discovered the tourist information centre where we purchased 5-day Metro tickets before making our way onto our first Parisian train of the trip!

Our 5-day Metro ticket was so tiny!! Worth 57.75 Euros, but as easy to drop and lose as a penny.

This is what I look like after about one hour's sleep and a plane ride to match..

It's hideous, but it was the first photo of me in France :p

After encountering a singing lady with a karaoke machine on a makeshift trolley, several train changes, and what felt like ten thousand flights of stairs, we eventually made it to our apartment, located literally ten steps away from Felix Faure station!

The best part of the apartment was definitely the view from the balcony...!!!

We were ravenous by this point, but all the restaurants seemed severely overpriced.. so we found a small supermarket and got some basics to produce our own lunch!

Grilled brie and salami on fresh French baguette? YES, PLEASE.

We were all so tired, we took a nap after lunch until the evening, when we decided to go for an early dinner before heading over to the Eiffel Tower for Bastille Day festivities!

At this point, I had recently discovered Amorino gelato stores in London, so when I found the store in Paris on the way to the station, I was over the moon!

We were a bit clueless on how to get to the Eiffel Tower once we'd come out at the right station, but we needn't have worried. It was like the whole of Paris was out in full force and headed right for it! So we just joined the cheery crowd and walked slowly over - it was so nice to be surrounded by such happy, cheery local people. You could tell they were really enjoying themselves!

Bastille Day is the French National Day, celebrated on the 14th of July every year to commemorate the beginning of the French Revolution and the unity of the French nation.

The beautiful Eiffel in all her glory!

And the masses...

And then night fell (11pm!)...

 And the party began!!!

 And then it ended about half an hour later :(

There were SO many people at the event that it was a nightmare to get home! By the time we'd reached the closest Metro station, there was a huge queue to get in to catch the train. We figured we would miss the train at this rate, as it was already 11.30pm...

As we were standing around weighing up our options, we noticed we were stood next to the set of escalators to leave the station. Suddenly, the escalator stopped moving, and a bunch of people ran down it... we watched it stop twice more, before we took the leap of faith and ran down them ourselves. It actually started moving when we were near the end of it, but we just ran faster and luckily made it into the station!

In our excitement, we boarded the wrong train - as we had come in through what was supposed to be the exit rather than the entrance, we had ended up on the wrong platform... once we'd come to our senses, we caught the correct train and finally made it home...

To another party outside our apartment!!

I was initially so annoyed because we'd had such a tiring day, even with afternoon nap! I actually screamed from the balcony for them to shut up. Obviously to no avail. 

We went on to plan the activities for the next few days, before getting ready for bed.

The party was still going at 4am - the French sure know how to party.. By this point, crazy outdoor ravers or not, I conked right out in bed and slept until the sun shone through the shutters and tried to burn me awake the next morning.

Disclaimer: The amazingly beautiful and professional shots featured in this blog post are not my own. They have been used with kind permission from Kin :) A few of my own photos do appear, but the majority do not belong to me.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Sicily: Day 4

Our final day in Sicily called for a quick group selfie before we set off for our last gander of Sicily.

Some of my favourite people all in one photo! :)
 We refused to leave Sicily without having one last gelato from our new favourite 'local'!

BABBI is a must visit! Cannot recommend enough! :)
Large cone with three huge scoops of hazelnut gelato!
Okay, so I might have had this too...
It's no wonder I have no visible jaw line.

Anyway, after our mid morning gelato power up, we headed for town!
The Fun Train zooms past the beautiful Sicilian garbage..!
Our stroll into the town centre revealed a mini model 'exhibition', showcasing models of famous Sicilian buildings.

 We then made our way towards a small park that we'd never had the chance to step foot in...

Got photobombed by a woman who wouldn't stop selling her stuff :P
There were a lot of these headless statues - I never did find out why...

Headless statue of a Roman emperor
One of the best parts of the day was finding a small park with no children to share with! There was actually a little girl with her Dad, but I think we scared her off... :/

I promise I don't like Harry Styles. Taken for a friend!
Reliving my childhood in a Sicilian park!
The further away we strolled from the centre, the more we got to see of authentic Catania.


As it was our last day in Sicily, the topic of souvenirs came up. We decided to go back to 'Verona and Bonvegna', a Pasticceria which we'd visited on our second day in Catania. The pastries that we'd bought on day 2 had actually been forgotten about until last night - at which point we ate a few and unwillingly threw away the cannolis :(

Our plan was to pack up at the hotel and check out, so that we would be ready to set off for the airport once we got back from the shop. Unfortunately (for Jo and I), we got back to town to find the mini model exhibition from earlier had now disappeared, and in its place were rows and rows of racing cars!

The guys were so into it, we got bored and found a place to sit under the elephant statue. It was another half an hour before the boys decided they'd had enough fun and came back to find us. But not before a man selling stress balls (read: flour filled balloons) tried to sell to us for about 5 minutes. The faces and models he made with the stress balls were actually pretty cool, but I was not about to fork out for something I couldn't bring back to the UK (or actually use).

Okay, so this one was cool!

We were running short on time at this point, so we quickly made our way back to the hotel, did some super-fast packing, checked out, stowed our luggage under a table in the hotel lounge(?!!), before heading out. By this point, the weather had changed and it got windy and cold. We had to go back and get something warmer to wear...

And lucky we did, because about 10 minutes after we'd left the hotel, the skies went grey and the heavens opened... it even began thundering. The flashes of lightning were the scariest - the huge bolts like open wounds, flashing across the murky grey skies... 

But we were on a mission. So we made it. We were totally drenched, but we made it.

I don't know if I mentioned this before, but the staff in Verona and Bonvegna didn't actually speak any English. Kin was the first to pick out the pastries he wanted, and he charmed the lady with his cute attempts at speaking Italian. She mimed out the tray flying on a plane (total skill!) and suggested that the cannolis would not be any good after the flight.. so Kin chose the dry pastries. Still yummy, but it was sad that we couldn't bring back the cannolis, as their cannolis are supposed to be the best in Catania!

After Kin, it was my turn. Unfortunately, I am not the most talkative or confident of people, so my take on picking out pastries was to literally just point and hold my hand up to display how many I wanted. I guess my lack of trying to speak Italian pissed the lady off, as you could physically tell that she was vexed!

Anyway, once we'd got our packages for family and work colleagues, we decided to get some to have at the airport. We picked out some fruit tarts, pastries, and two cannolis to replace the ones we never got to try!

Once everything was wrapped and paid for, we caught a taxi back to the hotel to pick up our luggage, and asked the taxi driver to wait for us. Some of us didn't want to have to walk through the wet streets and catch the bus to the airport, so this seemed the best option despite the cost.

Before long, we arrived cold and damp at the airport. Going through security and bag checks, Kin was taken to one side and asked "you have stone?!"... turned out the large pieces of volcanic rock from Mount Etna that Kin had picked out for his Mum were forbidden... at a fee of about £30 to put them in the cabin, Kin gave up the stone and we set off to find some food for dinner!

We settled for two types of arancini. Arancini are basically rice balls that have been covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried. They usually contain ragu (meat sauce), vegetables, and plenty of mozzarella cheese.

Ragu (meat sauce) arancini
Vegetable arancini
Kin had wanted to try these during our trip, but we had never come across a restaurant or street stall that sold them, so when we saw these at the airport, we paid the extortionate price typical of airports, and nommed our way right through these two little goodies.

This wasn't the last bit of food we had in Sicily. Whilst waiting at the gates, we brought out the pastries we'd bought earlier, and Kin and I finally got to try the famous cannolis. It was the best and worst move ever, because they were amazing, but we'd only bought two and would never get to have them again unless we came back...

I guess that's the true joy of venturing to new countries and delving into their food and culture. You find the most awesome things; mostly things that you just want more of - but these are standard foods and experiences in the country that you're visiting. To them, that amazing calamari you just had is nothing out of ordinary. It's boring. What they really want is to try a full English breakfast instead, and to walk along South Bank. To see Big Ben. To sit on the London Eye. Everything that you take for granted. That's what fascinates me about travelling. The traditions, cultures, and food of every country, or even every state/county/neighbourhood could be different. You just have to go out there and experience it for yourself. What you find normal and boring could bring new perspectives and life experience to someone else.

Compared to some, I haven't travelled much, but compared to others, it seems like I have travelled the world. Either way, every new place I visit, whether country or even just a new area in London, always lends me a fresh insight into how other people live and how that compares with my own life. 

I hope that I am lucky enough to never stop travelling. That I will be lucky enough to continue to delve into the nooks and crannies of every country, and to better myself along the way.

The world is out there for everyone. We should all experience it if we have the chance!

Thank you for coming so far with me, and I hope you've enjoyed reading about my Sicily trip as much as I've enjoyed sharing it with you! :)


Disclaimer: The amazingly beautiful and professional shots featured in this blog post are not my own. They have been used with kind permission from Kin :) A few of my own photos do appear, but the majority do not belong to me.

PS. Although I'm not what you would call religious, if there really is a higher being out there, I pray that the passengers and crew of MH370 are found safe, healthy, and unharmed, immediately. As a person who hates flying, I genuinely cannot imagine anything worse than being tired, scared and worried on a plane, especially during a number of possible events that I personally fear may have happened. I truly hope that every single person on MH370 are found soon, and that they can be reunited with their families so that this cruel uncertainty can be banished. I also hope the authorities find the truth soon, so that if it really was the work of a sick-minded individual/group, they can take the necessary action to ensure this horrible event never happens again.
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