Birthdays and “un-houses”

•4 April, 2013 • 1 Comment

After all, what are birthdays? Here today and gone tomorrow.

This post is being dedicated to my favourite token kiwi – Claire ūüėÄ

So I thought I should write a quick post about what has been going on; you know, with Christmas, turning 30 (!) and seeing “un-houses”.¬† These are all experiences worth sharing.

Actually Christmas isn’t really worth sharing.¬† I don’t know what it is about Christmas in London but it never feels like Christmas.¬† Maybe its the lack of hot weather, BBQ’s, sitting in the sun drinking, hot weather, BBQ’s, oh did I mention the hot weather?

Anyways, so February saw me turning 30.¬† As much as I wanted to treat it like a normal day, others wouldn’t let me.¬† I got into work to find the boys had attacked my desk with confetti, balloons, big 30 signs, you name it.¬† Photos will be uploaded here later.¬† The girls arranged a yummy chocolate cake and card and the boys arranged a card signed by the office and a bottle of JD woohoo!¬† The boys took me out for lunch, we went to the chinese buffet that Laurence and i go to and then we had a few drinks at work.¬† All in all it was a pretty good day.

Un-houses.¬† Non-houses.¬† Houses that are houses but aren’t really houses.¬† Whatever you want to call them, Claire took me on a bit of an excursion.¬† Well actually we were walking that way and she said to me “have you seen the un-houses (or whatever she calls them, I can’t remember and annoyingly she’s not on MSN to check)”¬† To be honest, I thought she had lost the plot, but apparently not.¬†¬† One minute I was walking¬† down the street with Kensington Gardens to my right, next thing I know I’m standing in front of an un-house on Leinster Gardens.¬† If you were casually walking down the street and didn’t know about these un-houses, you would think they were normal every day houses.¬† But no.¬† Numbers 23 and 24 Leinster Gardens are just fake houses.¬† There is nothing behind the front fa√ßade and the reason for this is that there used to be steam trains run along the tracks below and behind these houses.¬† This open area was used as a fumes vent from these trains.¬† However, because of all the expensive houses and hotels in the area, they built up these “un-houses” instead of an unsightly gap in a row of buildings.¬† So the fa√ßade is identical to the houses next to them, except for the painted “windows” and the lack of door handle on the front door.¬† More information (and its honestly worth reading) can be found here!¬† This was a pretty cool find and if I hadn’t been out with Claire I probably wouldn’t have known about this.¬† One day I will go back and take some photos of my own.

That’s pretty much all that’s really happened so far.¬† I plan on using this blog a bit more often (haha how many times have you read that over the last 5 years?), but I plan on it being a bit more of a general blog rather than just blogging when I’ve been away or something.¬† Who knows, I might actually blog more often haha!

Look out for my next post:¬† The London List ūüôā

Frustration

•27 March, 2013 • Leave a Comment

If it seems as though you haven’t “felt at all how” for a long time, look behind you. It could be that your tail is missing.

When your tail is missing, remember that you have every right to Mope.

Having your tail recovered is well and good, but remember that it will have to be reattached. With a hammer and a nail.

Frustration is an emotion I have always struggled with, most other emotions I can easily hide if I need to or want too, but frustration is a whole different ball game.
As a kid my biggest frustration came from numbers. Maths and I just didn’t get along, I’d get frustrated by not understanding it to the point I’d go hide in my room and cry. In class I struggled just the same and in some cases would have to leave the room so I didn’t burst in to tears. I don’t know what it is about numbers but I look at them and the only answer I get is “purple, because aliens don’t wear hats”, makes no sense does it? Well that’s exactly how I feel about numbers. Even now, doing finance stuff I get incredibly frustrated and have to have a “time out”. To this day if I can’t work it out on my fingers, it’s not worth knowing haha. Oh and by the way … I’ve not used algebra since I left school, so to all those teachers who said we would use it every day …. You lied! (Strangely, I’m actually pretty good at working out budgets for, not only myself, but for others too … Weird huh?).

But these last few months I have been getting extremely frustrated with things. Well everything really.

You know those moments where you want to tell people/someone something but you can’t because of other things and you need to wait but you just become so frustrated you feel like you could burst?¬† Or the fact that¬† Spring just wont appear.¬† It honestly feels like its been 18 months of winter thanks to the crappy summer we had last year.¬† Its becoming increasingly frustrating.

I think frustration has to be the most annoying emotion out there.
I mean if you’re happy you can say “I’m so happy” “I’m smiling” etc.¬† If you’re sad you can say “I’m sad, I want to cry”.¬† If you’re angry you can say ” Grr I’m angry I want to throw something (someone)”.¬† But if you’re frustrated you’re just … *does weird hand gestures to try to explain* … Well you’re just frustrated.

Anyways, there you have it.  Frustration in a nutshell.

Chapter two … in which we explore France and Italy

•18 December, 2012 • Leave a Comment

“This writing business.¬† Pencils and what-not.¬† Over-rated, if you ask me.¬† Silly stuff.¬† Nothing in it.”

Okay so this post is a little late … okay a lot late but whatever!¬† Better late than never ūüėČ

So this part of our journey started with a trip on the Eurostar.¬† I’ve been here 4 years and I hadn’t ever been on it.¬† So we decided that seeing as its only a few hours to Paris we may as well give it a go.¬† Well I was unimpressed to be honest.¬†¬† I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting but it was definitely more than what we got.¬† The trains were grey and dirty which made them look so depressing.¬† However, I did get to sleep for half the journey into Paris, so it wasn’t all bad.

Within a couple of hours we had made it into Paris and as we came out of the station we decided that we would just take a taxi to the hotel so we can get out an explore.¬† Well one would think that would be an easy task especially when there are a large number of taxi’s just outside the station.¬† However, not one of these taxi’s had a driver in it….

We finally found a taxi with a driver (always helpful!) and set off for our hotel even though it was only 10.30 and check in wasn’t until 2pm.¬† The staff at the Novotel in Paris were amazing!¬† The guy went through the metro map with us, explained where everything was and then walked us to the lift. Awesome service – shame about the no wi-fi in the rooms though ūüė¶

After a brief look at the map and something to eat and a coffee we set off in search of the Eiffel Tower, you know that big tall metal thing in the middle of Paris?¬† Yeah that.¬† Its funny, while walking the streets deep in conversation it’s actually quite easy to lose the Eiffel Tower.¬† But we kept walking in the general direction and eventually ended up where we needed to be.

Jess had a bright idea to walk up the Eiffel Tower …. seriously!¬† Last time I listen to her bright ideas haha!¬† We should have timed to see how long it took us, it felt like a very long time.¬†¬† Although it did work out cheaper to walk up the Eiffel Tower rather than take the lift up, plus with the amount of pizza and pasta we will be eating in Italy, it’s probably for the best ūüėȬ† So off we went, walking up every single step, right the way to the very top of the Eiffel Tower and right the way back down again, with a lot of photos stops in between.

After our mammoth walk up and down the tower we decided to head out to the Louvre.¬† We managed to see the Glass Pyramid outside and the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper and I think that was about the point in which we realised how sore our feet were and how hungry we were!!¬† So again on foot we set off for the hotel.¬† We didn’t think it was that far away, but it turned out it was an hours walk away!!¬† So by the time we reached the hotel we stopped for a quick sit down and headed across the road for some pizza.

Obviously the early morning caught up with us because we forgot to set the alarm and slept in till 9.45am.¬† Whoops!¬†¬† With a hurried start to our morning, we set off for Notre-Dame.¬† Again, we walked and it took us a good hour to get there.¬† The line to get in was so long it just wasn’t worth standing in the cold and the rain to try to get in.¬† The line was also moving extremely slowly so we gave it a miss but we did take a large number of photos out here.¬† So we went in search of the Galleries Lafayette.¬† This place is massive!!!¬† Seven Storey department store.¬† But omg there were so many people in here, it was shoulder to shoulder packed on the ground floor, it was truly hideous!!¬† Almost as bad as Ballantynes (for those who know my Ballantynes dilemma).¬† We also saw the Arc de Triomphe and the Champ Elsees before heading back to the hotel absolutely exhausted.

Another early morning start, this time we are flying down to Nice.  A very short flight this morning and we are in Sunny Nice!!!   After finding our way to the hotel and checking out the map, we managed to get on the tram that takes us into the center of Nice.  The weather here is dramatically better than it was in Paris.  The sun was shining and it was nice and hot.  We strolled through the cobbled streets of Nice and found our way down to the coast line and watched the waves come in and the boats racing.  We walked around looking at shops etc, but being Sunday a lot of things were closed.  But we are only passing through.  Tomorrow we are off to Milan.

This morning we took the train from Nice into Milan.¬† Our first train was a crappy double-decked commuter train and it was so hot….too hot and packed full of people.¬† However, after an hour we got to our changing point where we had to very quickly work out where we needed to be as we had 10 minutes from getting off the first train to leaving on the second train.¬† Thankfully I managed to work it out pretty quickly and we got on to the next train and set off for Milan.

Thankfully our hotel was only a 25 minute walk from the train station in Milan, however it was rather warm when we got there.  We headed into the centre of Milan and went to the Piazza Duomo and saw the Cathedral.  The Cathedral was pretty spectacular from the outside.   It took almost six centuries to build the Gothic building and is the fifth largest cathedral in the world.  We also saw the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele which is an open shopping arcade.  It is also the oldest shopping arcade in Italy.   All the shops were very high end designer labels.  Not that we expected anything less Рwe are in Milan after all.

This morning started off with a proper breakfast: bacon, eggs (for me, not Jess), yoghurt, fruit and coffee.¬† Plus we made sandwiches with the food that was out for breakfast so we could take that with us for lunch!!¬† This time we set off down the other end of the centre of Milan to have a look around, it did take us a while to walk down here but we saw the Piazza Sempione with the Arch of Peace.¬†¬† We also walked through the Castello Sforza (the Milan Castle) which to be honest, wasn’t overly impressive.¬† Seeing as it was already 1pm we decided to stop for lunch.¬† After lunch we headed down to the Parco delle Basiliche (Park of Basilica’s).¬† This park connects the Basilica of San Lorenzo and the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio.¬† We then headed back towards the Piazza Duomo where I found this cute wee shop and bought myself a green dress for only¬†‚ā¨15 !!¬† This is the first trip where I have actually bought myself something instead of only buying for others.¬† We discovered this amazing bakery on our way back to the hotel, the yummiest pizza breads ever, and so cheap!!
However, for me Milan was just an over priced Paris and I don’t like Paris.

This morning we headed off to Venice.¬† It was only a short train ride and our train was much nicer than the last one.¬† Our hotel was also only an eight minute walk from the station.¬† Bonus!¬† I have to admit the hotel here was pretty nice, I was quite impressed.¬† We didn’t stay in Venice itself, we actually stayed on Mestre but there was a bus stop like 3 mins down the road that took us directly into Venice.

Just stepping onto the bridge that takes you over the canal in Venice I completely fell in love with this place. ¬†So far we had done France and Milan and I wasn’t a fan, but Venice? ¬†OMG Totally love it! ¬†The sun was shining and it was nice and warm so we wandered along the canals, through the rabbits warren of streets and shops and little markets. ¬†Eventually we stopped for dinner – Pasta!!! ¬†Then we tried headed back to the bus station to take us to the hotel, well this proved to be very interesting. ¬†By this point it was dark, the only map we had was a crappy map with the main points of interest – which wasn’t very helpful. ¬†It’s also quite easy to lose all sense of direction in this place at night. ¬†My sense of direction and map reading skills are pretty good usually, but even I was lost. ¬†Eventually we worked it out – with the help of an Old Italian guy. ¬†Love the Italians!!!

Today we had a shopping day.  We went into nearly every single shop in Venice.  We looked at so many Venetian masks, it was so awesome.  I bought myself a green pleather jacket (I thought I bought this in Milan but according to my scribbles I did not), I also bought two (green) Venetian masks, one eye mask and one small full face mask.  I also got a green  wallet.  There seems to be a theme there!

This morning we caught the train to Florence. ¬†We are only here for one night, as I remembered there’s not a whole lot to do in Florence. ¬†After dropping our bags off at the hotel we set off with our trusty map and went in search of a naked man in a town square (aka The Statue of David). ¬†Having been to Florence before on my Topdeck (would not recommend them if you are over 20!) trip a few years back, I remember there being a fake Statue of David in a square somewhere. ¬†So I checked out our maps, couldn’t find it. ¬†Had a look on Google, couldn’t find it. ¬†After a while I gave up rather annoyed that I couldn’t find it. ¬†So we ended up at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore which is the main church in Florence. ¬†I love this building, there’s something about it that I could quite happily go to Florence and just see this and then leave. ¬†The weather was pretty rubbish here so we wandered around the town for probably the better part of three hours before the rain really started to come down. ¬†So we gave up and headed back to the hotel. ¬†However, as we were walking back to the hotel, I saw some statues that caught my eye. ¬†I knew we hadn’t been down there, so we went down and had a look and sure enough, there at the end was the Naked man himself. ¬†The Statue of David. ¬†I was so impressed, I honestly had given up all hope of finding it

 

This morning started off with our train to Rome being delayed by 20 minutes, however we did have a nice comfy train so I’m not going to complain too much. ¬†We got into Rome, dropped our luggage off and set out to explore Rome. ¬†Rome is still one of my favourite cities. ¬†Thankfully the weather was holding out for us so we took the metro out to the Vatican and stood in line to get into St Peter’s Basilica for about an hour. ¬†Seriously if you’ve ever been here, you know what the size of the square in front of St Peters is like – this line snaked right the way around and then backed onto itself :-/ ¬† But the line moved fast so it wasn’t too bad. ¬†However, by the time we got through the line and into the Basilica and took a billion and four photos it was too late to get into the Vatican¬†Museum¬†(aka The Sistine Chapel), so we set off for the castle although we didn’t go into the castle we took a lot of photos outside. ¬†Plus I got to take a photo of every single Angel that lines the bridge heading up to the castle. ¬†I love that bridge! ¬†However there was one Angel that a bird was annoyingly perched on. ¬†I stayed as long as I could waiting for that damn bird to fly away but it didn’t ūüė¶ ¬†He ruined one of my photos *sad panda*. ¬†We then headed to Piazza Navona, I really like this place. ¬†The Fountain of Four Rivers is pretty amazing plus the Neptune Fountain. ¬†Next stop was the Pantheon, however when we got here it was closed to the public for some sort of Mass so we headed to Trevi Fountain – my favourite place in Rome!! ¬†I could happily stand at Trevi Fountain just looking at it for hours. ¬†After a lot of photos we headed back towards the Pantheon but it was still closed. ¬†So instead we decided to have dinner. ¬†I somehow managed to find the same restaurant that Michelle and I went to 3 years before that she went to some 20 years before that! ¬†However we didn’t eat there, we went somewhere else instead. ¬†After a lot of pizza we had to try to walk some of it off. ¬†So back to the Pantheon we went – third time lucky! ¬†We took a lot of photos here too and then set off for the Spanish Steps on our way back to the hotel.

This morning we set out early to get to the Vatican. ¬†They open they museum on the last Sunday of every month from 9-12 and its free entry, so we were really luck we managed to get in, but my god that line to get in was massive! ¬† It reached right back to the Basilica. ¬†Thankfully we were only in line for an hour and a half and we actually got in, because I honestly didn’t think we would. ¬†So we wandered through the museum until we finally got to what we really came for – The Sistine Chapel. ¬†I’ve been here twice and so far I’ve not been brave enough to try to photo it. ¬†Usually if it says no photography, I do it in a sneaky way and get it anyways. ¬†However, with the amount of security and seeing one guard escort a guy out for taking photos I didn’t bother. ¬†I know I’ve seen it twice. ¬†That all that counts ūüôā

After some lunch we headed out to the Colosseum and the Roman Forums. ¬†I’m not a big fan of the Colosseum, I think its nicer from the outside than the inside and you only need half an hour to get in there and see it all and then you head out to the forums. ¬†The Forums on the other hand, I totally love. ¬† There’s something about the structures there that I love. ¬†Maybe because it’s not complete and you have to imagine what it actually would have looked like? ¬†I don’t know, but I much prefer the Forums.

Then sadly it was time to go home and back to work first thing in the morning. ¬†I seriously don’t know why I do it to myself haha!! ¬†I need to plan my coming back earlier so I can rest before work!

But there you have it.  I have finally caught up with my blog.  All photos from this trip can be found here.

“And by and by Christopher Robin came to an end of things, and he was silent, and he sat there, looking out over the world, just wishing it wouldn’t stop”

Chapter One … in which Jess comes to stay

•17 November, 2012 • Leave a Comment

“When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen”

(Two Winnie-the-Pooh references and I haven’t even started the actual blog.¬† My god I am awesome haha!)

So the month of October saw my sister Jess arrive in the UK on her first trip out of NZ, with little holiday left for the year I managed to book off what was left and planned two trips with Jess.  This blog post will be based around our first trip РScotland and Ireland.

One would think that after four years of travel I would stop torturing myself with early morning flights, it would seem I just don’t learn! This morning we were up at 3.30 to get a taxi to take us to the bus that will take us to the airport – FUN! ¬†First stop was Edinburgh. ¬†Our journey up to Edinburgh was (thankfully) fairly uneventful. ¬†However, we did have a few issues when we went to pick up the car. ¬†After we finally got this sorted, we jumped in the wee Fiat 500 and took off in search of our hotel.

My god the streets of Edinburgh are awful!!  There is construction everywhere and no right hand turns.  Which means you kind of go round in circles until you find a way that will allow you to get to where you need to be.  Eventually we made it to the hotel.

This afternoon we met up with Aunty Cath and Rena at Scott Monument before heading across the road to the Old Waverley Hotel for some Afternoon tea. ¬†Aunty Cath and Rena came to New Zealand when I was about 8 or 9 and we havent seen them since…that was about 20 years ago. ¬†I didn’t recognise Rena at first, but definitely recognised Aunty Cath. ¬†After a couple of hours of catching up, we got some family photos and Jess and I set off to explore Edinburgh. ¬†It was extremely cold and very windy but we wandered around the city, up the Royal Mile etc, got quite lost and settled on a pub for a drink and something to eat.

 

This morning we had to check out of the hotel, so we did that nice and early and set off in to the city.
We headed out towards Scott Monument, but it was cold and rainy, so first stop was coffee. ¬† With coffee in our systems, we set off to Scott Monument, ¬£3 and 287 steps later we reached the very top. ¬†There were amazing views from the top and a very rude Australian guy, who thought we were Aussies and when we told him we were Kiwis he made some smart comment about it. ¬†It was quite a tight squeeze up there, if you don’t light heights, I wouldn’t recommend doing it, thankfully neither of us had that issue. ¬†Another 287 steps later and we found ourselves back at the bottom where we set off for the Royal Mile. ¬†We headed down to the castle and took some photos from the outside, we didn’t bother to go in though and then strolled back down the royal mile towards the car.

A quick supermarket stop on the way and we set off for Stirling Castle with a lunch stop on the way.  Trying to get out of Edinburgh is a mission in itself, thankfully I had the iPad with me to use as a SatNav.  Unfortunately it had been updated and was using Apple Maps not Google Maps.  After testing both Apple and Google maps, Google maps is far superior and is a lot more accurate too Рin case you were wondering haha!

We finally got to Stirling and the weather had cleared up, although neither of us were that impressed by the outside of Stirling Castle, which turned out to be a good thing as they were closing up for the day and we couldn’t get in anyways. ¬†So we continued on our mission through to Glasgow.

Seeing as we got in late, we headed straight out for a walk into the centre of Glasgow. ¬†We passed St Georges Church which was all lit up. Then we headed down to the Glasgow City of Chambers which is an amazing building, and massive too. ¬†So we stopped to take some photos of all the buildings lit up at night …. and then we found the TARDIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ¬†OMG I was so excited!! ¬†There were a ton of photos taken here, I just wanted to jump inside it. ¬†ūüôā

 

This morning we checked out of our hotel and took the car out to the Cathedral. ¬†Unfortunately there was something going on there so we couldn’t actually go in, but it was pretty awesome from the outside. ¬†It was just a shame that it was surrounded by scaffolding.

From here we walked back out to where we were last night, so we could take photos of the same buildings but in day light.  I did find some funky angels too!!!  We did a bit of shopping after this and then headed out to the airport and before we knew it we were heading off to Dublin.

The flight from Glasgow to Dublin is pretty short which is nice and the airport staff were nice and helpful too! ¬†We found a kiosk with maps and they could even tell us how to get to our hotel by bus from the airport!! ¬†In fact the bus stops just at the end of the street we were staying on, how handy! ¬†By the time we got to the hotel, checked in, took a proper look at the map and set off to explore, it was pouring with rain. ¬†However, we set off in the rain, walked down the main street and decided to just head to a pub. ¬†So we found O’Neill’s and had a drink before setting off in search of food. ¬†We managed to find the cutest wee American Diner, it was so awesome. ¬†We ate so much food here it was just ridiculous – but kinda worth it!

 

This morning it was a quick get up, check out, leave our luggage, find something for breakfast and get to the Jameson Distillery before 10am. ¬†We just made it! ¬†While I was trying to unlock my phone to find our confirmation number, the guy behind the counter commented on Johnny Bravo wallpaper on my phone. ¬†Oh yeah!! ūüôā ¬†So while we were here we got to see a 10 min short film about Mr Jameson and the Distillery before we went through the museum and finally finishing up with a glass of Jameson. ¬†Considering we only paid¬†‚ā¨11.70 I thought it was well priced. ¬†After our early morning drink we decided to wander through the back streets of Dublin and do a bit of ¬†shopping before collecting our luggage and heading off for Galway.

It turned out our hotel was right next to the train station which was good because by the time we got in, it was getting dark, it was cold and raining.  So following tradition we headed to the pub for steak and cider.

The following morning we set off down the main shopping street, we did a fair bit of window shopping.  We decided to follow the water around and see where it took us.  We walked for a large portion of the day until we were too hungry to walk any more.  We took so many photos in Galway, the weather was amazing and Galway is very pretty.

The following morning we took our time getting ready as we were checking out and heading back to Dublin to catch a flight back into London so the day was pretty uneventful.

I have one day of work to get through before we start our next journey …. France and Italy! ¬†This will be done as a separate post so you can look forward to more waffle in the next one ūüėČ

Here there and everywhere

•22 September, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Yes, I was off on holiday yet again!  This time I went on the Classic Rhapsody trek with Busabout.  Very different to the Scandi-Baltic tour I did back in June, but I loved it all the same.

 

6th Sept 2012
Object – Off to Prague I go.

Instead of the usual ridiculously early morning start I managed to get a later flight from London to Prague. ¬†However, this too has it downsides ¬†Getting a later flight meant that I got into Prague later (obviously) but it also meant it was getting dark by the time I managed to find a taxi and actually make my way from the airport to my hostel. ¬†So I didn’t venture very far. ¬† Unfortunately, unlike the Scandi-Baltic tour we didn’t see Prague as a group on the first day of the tour. ¬†So Prague is back on my list of places to go (although to be honest, it’s not very high up the list).

 

7th Sept 2012

Object – Join the Classic Rhapsody Trek.

After an early night and noisy people in the hostel I had very little sleep.
I met up with the Busabout group for breakfast and before I knew it we were heading off to Kutna Hora to see the ¬†“Bone Church” (Sedlec Ossuary). ¬†Apparently it is estimated to have the bones of between 40,000 and 70,000 people!!!

Legend has it that in 1278 a handful of earth from “The Holy Land” was sprinkled over this site making it a desirably place to be buried. ¬†During the 14th century during the Black Death, thousands more people were buried here and eventually new burials outgrew the space available. ¬†The older bones were eventually removed and stored in the Crypt. ¬†In 1870 Frantisek Rink (a wood-carver) was given the task of decorating the chapel. ¬†There is a massive chandelier that contains every single bone in the human body! ¬†There is also a coat of arms made of bones.
After everyone had taken all the photos they wanted we then headed off to Olomouc, Czech Republic.
We had a walking tour of the city when we first got there.  We saw the huge Astronomical Clock.  Apparently this one is a rare heliocentric astronomical clock Рbasically this means that the model shows the earth and planets revolving around a relatively stationary sun at the center of the solar system.
We also got to see the Holy Trinity column in the town square. ¬†We saw St Wenceslas Church which is amazing from the outside, but not so amazing on the inside. ¬†However, we did also see the Church of St Michael – on the outside it is very plain (I thought it was very similar to those in¬†Vilnius¬†in Lithuania), but when you go inside its breathtaking. ¬†We all went out for dinner as a group that night – the food was extremely average that I can’t even remember what we had haha!

 

8th Sept 2012
Object – Auschwitz – Birkenau

**Please note these are my thoughts and feelings. ¬†Auschwitz is an extremely personal experience. ¬†Skip this part if you don’t want to read it**

Our first stop today was Auschwitz and Birkenau. ¬†I have to admit I was quite nervous about going. ¬†I had wanted to go for so long and I’ve read so much and seen so many documentaries and movies about it that I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. ¬†However, the closer we got, the more reality hit and the more nervous I got.

So many people lost their lives in these places, there is so much history here but nothing can prepare you for actually being there.

Auschwitz 1 was restored and turned into a museum honouring the victims.  You can see the sleeping arrangements and toilet facilities.  Depending on the area determined what you actually saw, in some cases it was nothing but straw on a floor to sleep on.  The gas chamber in Auschwitz 1 was converted into an air raid shelter for the SS when the gas chambers in Auschwitz II-Birkenau were created.  This building has actually been restored.  There are huge cases filled with a collection of items the victims were encouraged to bring with them.

The museum has the following in its collection

  • about 110,000 shoes
  • about 3,800 suitcases – 2,100 of these have the owners names on them
  • over 12,000 kitchen utensils
  • 470 prosthetics
  • 350 striped camp garments

There were a lot of personal items on display. ¬†Things like glasses, shoe polish, children’s dolls, brushes and combs etc.
There is also a glass case about 30 meters long filled with human hair.
This is what I found the hardest to deal with.  To me, looking at a case filled with shoes and combs seemed so impersonal.  But seeing human hair, knowing they had to get this hair somehow Рa lot of it was after death, it was heart breaking and really hard to deal with.  I think a lot of people found it hard to be in this room.  I definitely struggled with it and had to force the tears back.
However, after seeing all of this we then headed to Auschwitz II – Birkenau which was just up the road.

Standing outside the barbed wire fence, I tried to take it all in. ¬†I didn’t expect this place to be as big as it was. ¬†From this point you could not see the boundary on the other side. ¬†Even now, I still can’t comprehend how huge Birkenau was. ¬†I never expected that.

Birkenau was mainly made up of buildings that couldn’t withstand the harsh weather. ¬†Instead of restoring Birkenau they have preserved it. ¬†Nineteen of the 300 wooden barracks have been reconstructed from authentic materials. ¬†You can even still see the chimneys that provided (inefficient) heating to these barracks. ¬†The remains of the gas chambers are still here too.

Birkenau is now listed as a UNESCO world heritage site and the ashes of the victims have been scattered between the huts.¬† There is also a massive international memorial site with plaques in different languages. ¬†You can also see one of the deportation trains/carriage – it’s very small!

This was a sign that was inside Auschwitz 1 which unfortunately my photo didn’t turn out so I’m putting here because I think its important for people to see this.

“In the years 1940 – 1945 the nazis deported at least 1,300,000 people in Auschwitz:
1,100,000 Jews
140,000 – 150,000 Poles
23,000 Roma (Gypsies)
15,000 Soviet Prisoners of war
25,000 Prisoners from other ethnic groups
1,000,000 of these people died in Auschwitz. ¬†Approximately 99% of these victims were Jews. ¬†The SS murdered the majority of them in the gas chambers”

I left Auschwitz-Birkenau feeling very grateful for the life that I have, my family, my friends etc.

Be thankful for the lives you currently have. ¬†Even when it seems like all hope is gone, just remember you didn’t have to wear those striped pyjamas.

 

9th Sept 2012
Object – Discover Krakow by bike

This morning we had a free bike tour of the city. ¬†I’m still unsure of bikes, but I went along for the ride (see what I did there? haha!) and I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed it. ¬†We cycled¬†through the old town and saw the castle from a distance. ¬†About half way through the tour we stopped at a cafe. ¬†This cafe was awesome! ¬†It was situated along the river with a little “beach” in the front. ¬†We crashed out on the bean bags and enjoyed the hot sun for 20 minutes before having to continue on the bike tour.
After the bike tour we had free time. ¬†So first stop was to get some¬†souvenirs. ¬†We then wandered down to St Andrews Church which was stunning both inside and out. ¬†I stopped and bought a wee soft toy dragon for AJ. ¬†We then headed out to the Jewish Quarter. ¬†I wanted to see the Synagogue, but it looked so unimpressive from the outside and you had to pay to go in, so we didn’t bother. ¬†We did however¬†go to the small Jewish Cemetery which was really cool. ¬†It’s all over grown with ground cover and vines creeping all over everything. ¬†After taking some (a lot) of photos here we then made our way to the castle. ¬†We didn’t go in here but we walked around the grounds and went down in the dragons caves. ¬†For only 2 zlotys to go through the caves it was actually pretty cool through there.
By this point we had already had a massive day, so we went and sat along the river sitting in the sun for an hour or two before heading back to the old town for ice cream.
On our way back to the hostel we stopped at the Dominican Church where we got to hear Monks chanting.  I have to admit this was truly awesome!!

 

10th Sept 2012
Object – Zakopane

After a 3 hour drive we ended up in Zakopane.  A Polish holiday destination.  This place was gorgeous.  It reminded me a lot of Lauterbrennen in Switzerland.  It was very hot here, which was awesome!  Being in london I miss the sun Рa lot!
Instead of walking up the mountain, which Abbers assured us only took 25 minutes to walk up (rumour has it, it takes longer than that haha), we took the cable car up the mountain and the views were¬†spectacular. ¬†We took a lot of photos up there. ¬†We stopped for lunch when we got there. ¬†We had potato pancake things, they were actually pretty good, they had mushroom and bacon and cheese on the top. So good! ¬†We wandered about for post cards etc and some ice cream – seeing as it was hot! ¬† It was a good thing we only had a small lunch because for dinner we’re off to the meat palace.
OMG this place was insane.  We got a four person platter of meat.  Holy Crap it was crazy!  Pork Knuckle, Red & White Sausages, blood sausages, black pudding, bacon, garlic potatoes.  I considered becoming a vegetarian after this haha.

 

11th Sept 2012
Object – Tank rides in Slovakia, Budapest & a Danube River cruise

This morning we set off for Budapest. ¬†However, our first stop was actually Slovakia where we were going to ride a tank. ¬†Yes, you read that right, a military tank. ¬†I was a little worried about how my ears where going to handle this, the last thing I needed was vertigo to the point where I can’t get out of bed. ¬†So I decided to watch the first group of 15 go first. ¬†I really wish I hadn’t! ¬†I almost talked myself out of it as I watched 15 people being thrown about & screaming in a tank. ¬†However, Id already paid for it and so 15 minutes later I found myself on the front of the tank being thrown about. ¬†Apparently you don’t feel it as bad in the front compared to the back, but nothing prepares you for that moment you go up a steep mud hill and then suddenly drop down. ¬†You feel like you’re about to be thrown over the top of the tank and into the mud. ¬†Or those moments you’re almost flat on the side of the tank rather than being the right way up. ¬†However, I did it and I loved it. ¬†It was like 4wdriving but in a military tank. ¬†So much fun!

We stayed at a Wombat hostel in Budapest, it was quite nice actually. ¬†I’m not a hostel person, but this place was funky. ¬†They had a massive area for people to gather, and a bar so people can drink.
We went out for dinner as a group – I had goulash but I didn’t think it was that nice, and it left me feeling rather ill. ¬†After dinner we went on a night river cruise¬†¬†down the Danube. ¬†All the buildings were lit up, looking pretty spectacular. ¬†There were heaps of bird circling the building as well, like moths to a flame, it was birds to a lit up building. ¬†It was a bit creepy actually. ¬†Like something out of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. ¬†Tomorrow is a free day to explore.

Well today didn’t have the best start. ¬†I woke up feeling really sick – cold sweats, dizzy, shaking, light-headed. ¬†I got up and managed a small amount of muesli. ¬†Just 3 minutes before we were due to head out on the hop on hop off bus I decided it was best not to go. ¬†Thankfully I chose my timing well and by the time I got to my floor I knew I was going to be sick. ¬†Sure enough, within seconds of me opening the door I was throwing up (TMI). ¬†However, afterwards I felt about 90% better. ¬†So not wanting to waste the day I set off on my own on the bus and headed down to Hero Square. ¬†I took a few photos here, but I really wasnt feeling it. ¬†So I got back on the bus and headed out to the castle district. ¬†I had only been here about 10-15 minutes when I ran into the girls I was meant to go out with this morning. ¬†After some photos we headed back to the bus and went to the Citadel and took some photos of the amazing view. ¬†There is even a photo of me which never happens! ¬†We also went to the Parliament buildings as well, after this I headed back to the hostel, I was shattered by this point but it wasnt far off dinner time either, so I’d still managed a big day.
After freshening up we decided that instead of going to the thermal baths we were going to go out for dinner. ¬†I stuck with salad – or at least I tried to, but¬†couldn’t manage it.
Tonight we said goodbye to a large number of people who were leaving the tour, but apparently we pick up some new people tomorrow for the rest of the tour.

 

13th sept 2012
Object – Mememto Park & Croatia

Its raining. ¬†I can not believe its raining, and not just a light drizzle, its properly raining. ¬†Unimpressed and not dressed for it. ¬†Our first stop this morning was the Mememto Park. ¬†This park has massive statues of people relating to Budapest’s Communist period (1949 – 1989). ¬†There are statues of Lenin, Marx & Engels to name a few. ¬†Getting out of the coach in the rain to take photos was a mission in itself, but it was worth it, even if it only took us a couple of minutes.

We then headed off to the Croatian border. ¬†Because Croatia isnt part of the EU (although they will be in 2013) their border patrols are a bit all over the place. ¬†One of the guys came on board and took everyone’s passports which I wasnt so keen on. ¬†Another guy came on board and went through the bus looking for stuff. ¬†All up we were there just over an hour. ¬†BUT I got a stamp on my passport! YAY!

By the time we got to our campsite (don’t worry we weren’t actually camping, we had cute wee cabins that I wish Id taken a photo of but didn’t), it was cold and wet and I was pretty over it. ¬†We were having a BBQ for dinner – in the rain. ¬†A couple of us prepared all the vegetables and in the end, Nicole and I went back to our cabin and sat about chatting and missed out on dinner anyways.

 

14th Sept 2012
Object – Plitvice National Park

Well its still raining.  My white canvas shoes are now wet canvas shoes, but they are the only shoes Рapart from my jandals that I have. So it was an early start to get to the National Park before the crowds appeared.  I really wasnt feeling it, I was cold and wet and just miserable.  However, this place is beautiful.  Despite the rain I really enjoyed it here.  At the start of the day I had no idea how we were going to spend 4 hours here, but we did it easily.  We wandered about looking at the waterfalls and taking photos.  We took the boat across the lake to the other side and had hot chocolate when we got there.  Amazing hot chocolate.  Then we took the bus up the top of the hill to take some more photos.  Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the coach.  We were all pretty wet by this point.  However, we were on our way to Split where we hoped the weather would be better.  We had a long day on the coach as we had a number of detours, but thankfully I got a bit of a sleep on the way!
We eventually got into the hotels at about 6.30, we had a short city walk where the main places were pointed out and then we all went off on our separate ways. ¬†This was the end of the tour. ¬†Some people were off on Sail Croatia, some people were doing other busabout tours, some people were sticking about in Split for a few days – I however, had to head home the next day ūüė¶

 

15th Sept 2012
Object – sight seeing during the day then fly back to london

This morning Nicola and I set off to do a spot of shopping and see some of the sights in Split.  It was a stunning day, the sun was shinning and Split is beautiful.  We wandered down by the water front and then through the markets.  We also went up the Bell Tower, oh wow the views from here were so cool, we had to walk up quite a few steps and there was only one set for both up and down traffic which was so annoying and not easy in a short skirt and jandals Рespecially because some of the steps were quite high.

We then met up with some of the other girls and walked up to the view-point, which is even more steps!!! ¬†But the views from here were just as amazing. ¬†After this is was then time for me to leave ūüė¶ ¬†The girls were all staying and had booked what looked to be an awesome tour of the blue lagoon – I was totally jealous.

As it was, I should have just stayed. ¬†My flight was delayed by 7 hours and I ended up having to get a taxi home from Luton Airport which cost me an arm and a leg. ¬†I’m now in dispute with WizzAir about that. ¬†Trust me, never ever fly WizzAir!

Now I’m back in London, the weather sucks and I have about 900 photos to sort through from this trip.

However, in only 2 weeks my sister will be here ūüėÄ ¬†YAY!

Ciao xx

Alcohol and Torches and ceremonies. Oh My!

•13 August, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Well this blog post is going to be a mixture of things, none of which involves me leaving London unfortunately.¬† But never fear, my next holiday is near!¬† In fact, its only 24 days away and I’m excited ūüôā

At the end of May I had logged into twitter as I usually do and saw a lot of people tweeting about #DryJuly.  I had no idea what was behind this hash tag so I had a quick Google and saw that in New Zealand and Australia they were doing DryJuly (click the link to find out more) where people sponsored other people to stay dry (not drink alcohol) for an entire month.  The proceeds of Dry July are then used to help adults living with cancer.  So I figured, after being on holiday and drinking a fair amount (those black balsams are a killer) I could do with a month to detox.
Now I didn’t do the sponsorship side of it seeing as I’m currently based in the UK, but I did do the whole ‘not drinking’ thing.¬† To be fair, I’m not a big drinker anyways and I usually only drink on a Friday night at work around the beer trolley.¬† So not drinking was actually fairly easy.¬† What was not so easy was listening to people’s responses when I said I wasnt drinking.

“You’re insane”, “Why would you want to do that”, “Oh I couldn’t possibly do that”, “but its hot here and cold back there so it makes sense to do it in November here” yep, I heard them all.¬† The English mentality is very similar to the kiwis when it comes to alcohol; you drink, drink and drink some more.¬† But the main difference is that with the kiwis if you say you’re not drinking, that’s it, end of conversation and you sip away on your L&P.¬† The English aren’t so kind about it.¬† They like to make sure that you know you are doing something that to them is completely and utterly ridiculous. ¬† So I tried to avoid the beer trolley to start with and then August rolled around and I realised that was just too easy.¬† So I decided to keep up with the no drinking thing and continue until I go away in September.

However, Friday we had Chloe’s leaving drinks.¬† I stood my ground and I didn’t drink.¬† Now I thought the above comments were bad enough, but oh no it gets worse!¬† We were having a good time, standing around drinking (me with my non-alcoholic drink), laughing, chatting.¬† They way a typical Friday night drinks goes.¬† But then it came time for one of the guys to get a round of drinks in and this is where the comments started.¬† I got told I was “boring” and that I needed alcohol to “loosen up”, in fact these two guys were so incredibly rude that one of them refused to buy me a drink because I wasnt drinking alcohol.¬† At the end of the day, I didn’t really care, the guy is a complete knob and I wouldn’t have trusted him to get me something non-alcoholic anyways.
But at the end of the night it ended up just me and one of the guys left drinking and as we walked to the Station to catch our separate trains home, he told me I was so stubborn that he knew I could stand my ground and not let them get to me.  I had a good time, its funny to be the only sober person there, but it was a good night.

On Tuesday the 24th of July the Olympic torch came through Ealing. ¬†Danny managed to get us (free) tickets to get into Walpole Park to see the torch. ¬†It was incredibly hot and I was rather sick and just didn’t want to be there. ¬†But I stuck it out and we eventually got to see the torch come through and then up on the big screen. ¬† I managed to get a couple of photos on my iPhone (which are extremely bad quality as I’m zoomed right in) and then pretty much went home to bed. ¬†Turned out I had a chest infection – not fun. ¬†Photos of the torch are HERE.

London was host to the 2012 Olympic games. ¬†The opening ceremony was a little on the odd side, but the lighting of the torch at the end was pretty spectacular. ¬†Thankfully my boss didn’t mind me watching the games (well at least he never said anything and I just assumed I could do it haha), it was a bit of friendly competition with Team NZ and Team GB competing in the same sporting events at the same time. ¬†The rowing was the best one. ¬†I had myself set up with my laptop screen showing one lot of sports and my iPad showing another. ¬†I had a pretty sweet set up to be honest (photo here) ūüôā ¬†At one point Team NZ and Team GB were racing together in the rowing, Claire came down and the two of us watched as NZ took the lead and won the race!!! ¬†Thankfully when Claire realised that Team GB weren’t going to win, she backed NZ ūüėČ ¬†She’s my token Kiwi ūüôā

However, I got bored with the Olympics pretty quickly.  By the end of the first week I was done.  I think I probably watched no more than an hour of the Olympics during the last week Рwith the exception of the Closing Ceremony.
Now the Closing ceremony I sat up and watched. ¬†I have to admit I didn’t like it. ¬†I thought it was pretty rubbish actually. ¬†So many great bands/artists have come out of the UK and yet the music in the ceremonies was pretty lame. ¬†In fact the best parts of the Olympic Closing Ceremony was Freddie Mercury, John Lennon and David Bowie – two of which are dead and the other just wasnt there. ¬†Such a shame. ¬†When I finally thought it couldn’t get any worse, they finally played the Brian May card – absolutely primo, till they teamed him up with Jessie J – who can sing when she’s been in the studio and they have made her sound good, but the girl cannot sing live. ¬†It was an epic fail of massive proportions.
Kind of like the Brits not liking people who don’t drink – they also don’t like people with an opinion, especially if that opinion is something of disgust against the Brits and as much as I hate London, I also didn’t like the closing ceremony and my opinions have not gone down well in some cases. ¬†In fact one guy got quite nasty about it and pretty much called me stupid because “I wouldn’t¬†understand, because I just wouldnt”…Im still not sure what this means exactly, I seem to know a lot of douches. ¬†There wasnt much to get in that ceremony. ¬†But oh well.

I don’t think I really have anything else to write about.

So until next time – “we can’t all and most of us don’t and that’s all there is to it”

The Scandi-Baltic Adventures

•10 July, 2012 • 3 Comments

15th June
Object – Get up ridiculously early and fly to Vilnius, Lithuania

Don’t you just love early starts?¬† No me either.¬† It almost wasnt worth me going to bed at all.

I found it really hard to pack this time too which is unusual as it normally only takes me 5 minutes to pack.¬† Maybe its the lack of sleep from the night before, stressing about work and having a cold.¬† However, after only 2.5 hours sleep the night before I finally managed to pack and hauled my ass to bed at about 9.30, BUT, my alarm was set for 2.30am!!! ūüė¶
At 3.30am a guy from Boston Manor cars came to pick me up in a flash as new Merc!¬† So Comfy!¬† Much nicer than taking a black cab.¬† He dropped me off at Victoria where I took the coach to Luton Airport.¬† Seriously by the time you’ve travelled from the West Side of London to Luton Airport you feel like you should be in another country, it’s so far away!¬† Anyways, by the time I got my passport checked, gone through security my gate had opened and soon enough I was on my way to Vilnius in Lithuania.¬† Once in Vilnius I had a Wizz Air transfer (now for those who don’t know Wizz air are a budget airline (very budget) and the landing was so bad that when the pilot turned the plane off, everyone clapped), the guy came to pick me up in a big huge flash Lexus (so not complaining) and dropped me off at my hostel.
By the time I had checked in, sat down and relaxed and text home it was about 1pm local time (2 hours ahead of London).¬† So I decided to go for a wonder and see how lost I could get.¬† Turns out its pretty easy to get lost!¬† I did get so completely lost at one point I almost go my map out to find out where I was when I spotted a funky looking building and I just continued to walk (that’s what got me lost in the first place) but somehow I managed to find my way back to where I started.
The architecture in Vilnius is amazing.¬† There are a lot of buildings that look so well restored and then others that are in disrepair.¬† The Cathedral and Bell Tower were amazing, I’ve never seen a Cathedral like it.¬† I’m so used to Cathedrals being tall and made of grey stone.¬† but this was long and white, it was really odd but still quite cool.¬† The currency in Vilnius is confusing me to no end.¬† Everything is so cheap when you convert it back to pounds.¬† But I keep looking at it like it is pounds – I bought three postcards today and handed over 10 Litas and got 4 litas change, my brain automatically thought “wait did I just pay ¬£6 for three postcards” but of course I hadn’t, it actually worked out to be about ¬£1.40!¬† However I did have a steak dinner that worked out to only be ¬£8.64!!¬† Bargin!

So I start my Busabout tour tomorrow.¬† I’m really excited but I’ve no idea what to expect.¬† I’ve never done a tour with Busabout and I don’t really know what to expect from any of the places I’m headed to.¬† Should be fun!

16th June
Object – Join the Busabout Tour Group

So Lithuania is two hours ahead of London and I still managed to wake up at 5am local time ūüė¶¬† So I took my time getting ready and then checked out of the hostel and went in search of our meeting point.¬† We met our tour guide Dax and then set off on a 45 minute walking tour of Vilnius.¬† Most of what we saw I had seen the day before but I did get to see (go to) The Republic of Uzupis where you always need to smile, drive at only 20 km/hr and be creative.¬† We got to see their constitution which is posted on the walls with things like “Everyone has the right to make mistakes” and “A dog has the right to be a dog” and “Do not fight back” and “Do not surrender”.¬† It is a very weird place.¬† We also got to see St Annes which is a gothic looking red bricked church which is very different to the rest of Vilnius.

After our walking tour we set off on the coach to Trakai.
FACT: Trakai Castle is the only castle in Eastern Europe that is built on an island.
It’s quite a cool castle.¬† It looks massive from the outside, looking out of the lakes, but when you get inside it actually feels quite small.¬† It is surrounded by beautiful lakes which make the place look quite serene.¬† While we were there they had a Medieval Festival so we went and checked that out.¬† They had Knights fighting, men and women dressed in medieval costumes and they had fox fur for only 35lt (¬£8).¬† Now we are back on the coach.¬† Next stop Klaipeda.

I havent seen a proper beach in years and tonight I felt right at home.
We took the coach from Trakai into Klaipeda.  Once here we had enough time to freshen up then we headed off on a small ferry, Dax and Mitch with their supermarket trolley full of food and coal for the BBQ (that took 4 Aussies to try to put together!!  So funny to watch as the BBQ is just a small one!).  The ferry took us on a short journey across to the Curonian Spit.

The beach here is so beautiful but by god the water is cold!  Its right on the Baltic Ocean and its so cold it almost burns!
It was still reasonably warm so we had a BBQ outside on the beach.  After a few ciders and some BBQ food Sarah and I went for a stroll down the beach as the place was deserted.   We stopped to take a lot of photos and had a good old chat.  By the time we got back to the BBQ most people had already left so we had a couple more drinks with the tour guides and then caught the last ferry home at 11.15.

17th June
Object – Make our way to Riga, Latvia.

We had an early start this morning.  The hostel that we are staying at leave breakfast for each room in a little picnic basket outside the door.  It was so cute!  Filled with bread and jams and cheese and ham and the worlds worst coffee.  After breakfast it was back on the coach to head towards Riga, Latvia.
However our first stop was the Hill of Crosses.  Originally this place was used as a place of pilgrimage.  The exact number of crosses is unknown but in 2006 it was estimated to have 100,000.  This place was used for Lithuanians to pray for peace for their country as well as their loved ones they lost during the war of Independence.   These days people place crosses when someone gets married or has a child etc.
After an hour or so here we jumped back on the coach to complete our journey into Riga.

Dax took us on a walking tour of Riga when we first got here and took us through the old town.  We got to see the Riga Dome Church, St Peters Tower and the Cat House Рa medieval building with art nouveau traits that has two cats with raised backs and their tails up.  Legend has it the owner requested the cats to have their bottoms to the House of the Great Guild as he held a grudge against them.  Over time the cats were moved to be facing the Guild.

That night we headed out on a pub crawl.¬† We got to see a traditional Latvian pub as well as a Kiwi Pub (which was packed due to the football being on).¬† We had shots of Black Balsam <— do not try this, its hideous!¬† But we eventually got back to the hostel at about 6.30am and headed for the showers then bed…I still have no idea why we decided to have showers before bed.¬†¬† Then it was up again for a 10am walking tour of Russian Communist Riga.¬† This walking tour wasnt so great, although to be fair that’s probably down to the lack of sleep, but I wish I had done the Occupation museum instead.
After our walking tour we had free time.¬† Kat and I decided to head to the Lido for lunch – seriously cheap food and large quantities.¬† While here we decided to write¬†our postcards and try to post them before we left.¬† Finding a post box was not so easy.¬† Even the locals couldn’t really help.¬† All they could tell us was that there is usually one on each corner and they are yellow.¬† After about 20 minutes we eventually found one!¬† Then it was off to the cruise ship for our trip into Stockholm.
I was a little excited about this, having never been on a cruise ship; and a little scared because I wasnt sure how well my ears would handle it (turned out they were reasonably okay).
These cruise ships are huge!¬†¬† lots of shops and duty free alcohol and the most amazing views ever!¬† There was a constant twilight, the sun just did not set.¬† I’ve never seen anything so amazing.

19th June
Object: Pilgrimaging in Stockholm.

Today we arrived in Stockholm.¬† We started the day off like all the others – with a walking tour.¬† However, this was different.¬† This was a Viking Walking Tour through the old town so we got to wear Viking hats as we walked around the town. ¬†There are so many amazing buildings around here but I’m not liking Stockholm as much as Vilnius or Riga.
After our walking tour we had free time so I wandered about for a while. ¬†I’m now sitting on some steps in the sun writing this. ¬†I’ve got the river next to me and lots of people I can watch. ¬†Seeing as I’m in Stockholm I thought Id better check into H&M and ended up buying myself two tops. ¬†White bat wings and a singlet with a big bow on it.
Last night we went to the Beer Garden just across from our hostel and watched the football (Euro 2012) seeing as Sweden were playing France. ¬†Most of our group came along and we stood around drinking and chatting while watching the football. ¬†The atmosphere was amazing, surrounded by Swedes watching as they won the game. ¬†I managed to get a blow up hand (I think I stole this from Dax). ¬†Tim and I had a hand fight….I think he won tho! haha. ¬†Sarah got a wrist band and someone else got a bucket hat.
After the game we went in search of an open pub – seeing as it was Tuesday night we failed epically and went home.

20th June
Object: Free  day in Stockholm then off to Helsinki

Today was a free day in Stockholm. ¬†So I set off with my maps (which I didn’t even use) and got myself lost. ¬†Stockholm is one of those rabbit warren places where you take a side street and end up nowhere near where you thought you would. ¬†Its great. ¬†I got to see lots of cool streets and buildings and shops that I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
After a long day of walking I headed back to the hostel to catch the coach that took us to our next cruise ship.  This time our destination was Helsinki.

This cruise ship is a lot bigger than the last one, however it is still difficult for four people and their luggage to fit comfortably in these rooms. ¬†We tried some pickled herring on the way which is interesting to say the lest, but I quite liked it. ¬†Once we rid ourselves of our luggage we went in search of food and settled on Mexican and had the yummiest vegetable fajita’s! ¬†Then we sat around drinking for the rest of the night.

21st June
Object:  Arrive in Helsinki

Helsinki is actually pretty awesome.  Not as cool as Lithuania and Latvia, but cooler than Stockholm!

As usual we started with a walking tour of Helsinki.  The weather was amazingly hot and I got badly burnt haha!  (Dont worry it tanned up pretty quickly!)
As part of the walking tour we went across on the ferry to Soumenlinna Island where we sat in the sun and ate ice cream (Irish coffee hazelnut ice cream). ¬†When we had enough of the sun Tracy and I headed back into Helsinki and stopped at H&M for a little bit of shopping. ¬†After shopping we headed back to the hostel where we decided to go try out the sauna. ¬†We managed to get the room up to 90 degrees at the top but it was probably about 75-80 where we sitting. ¬†After about 10-15 mins in the sauna it was a quick jump out and straight into a freezing cold shower. ¬†We did this probably about 3 times but omg it was so good! ¬†I didn’t think I would be able to handle the heat but I managed ok.
After showers we all went out for dinner with the group at a place Dax found. ¬†I got to have reindeer which was pretty cool. ¬†Very rich though, so you wouldn’t want a lot of it. ¬†Someone compared it to Game, but I’ve not had it so can’t comment.
After dinner we wandered slowly back to the hostel.  It was probably about half ten, still very warm and very light out.  So we stopped to take some photos of the harbour and of Uspenski Cathedral and then we had an early night after getting back about midnight.

22nd June
Object: Tallinn!

This morning we caught our last ferry to our final destination:  Tallinn, Estonia.  it was only about two hours on the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn.
We had our usual walking tour through the old town of Tallinn. ¬†We got to see St John’s Church and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, an amazing view-point looking out over the roofs of Tallinn. ¬†Such beauty in this view. ¬†We saw the Town Hall and the Cats Well too.
After this,¬†Busabout surprised us with a free bike tour of Tallinn. ¬†So this went to the outskirts over Tallinn. ¬†I wasn’t overly keen on this except they took us to Patarei Prison in Tallinn. ¬†This place was amazing and disgusting. ¬†It was an old¬†Soviet¬†prison which parts of it was still in use until 2004. ¬†Originally it opened as a sea fortress in 1840. ¬†It housed inmates from 1919 until 2004 and has been left virtually untouched. ¬†Inside there are the old bunks and¬†mattresses. ¬†There’s medical equipment and test tubes in there. ¬†From the back of the prison there is an amazing view of the beach. ¬†However if you go out into the beach its surrounded by barbed wire. ¬†Very¬†bizarre¬†to see.
After the bike tour we all went out for dinner as our last night together.  Macca made a moving speech, as did Dax.  We went out to Hell Hunt for dinner Рvery cheap and good food!  I had an amazing baked salmon for only 9 euros.  Some people continued on for a big night, others went home after dinner, some people left that night and others left very early the next morning.  Only a few of us seemed to be staying here an extra day.  But this was the end of the tour.

23rd June
Object: The end ūüė¶

So our tour ended this morning.  There was lots of hugs and good byes over breakfast.  We also got to see the new group come in too.
It is absolutely pouring with rain so it’s a bit difficult to get much of anything done. ¬†So Jane, Em, Rob and I just relaxed in the hostel until it was time for me to check into my next hostel and ¬†go in search of food (crepes). ¬†Unfortunately the place we wanted was shut so we ended up in a cave of a place for some Indian (random I know). ¬†After Indian we went in search of sweetness. ¬†We ended up in a cafe with their weirdest toilet ever. ¬†Its built into a fireplace. ¬†It’s far to difficult to try to explain. ¬†Eventually we went our separate ways and headed to our hostels where I had a well deserved early night.

24th June
Object: Homeward Bound.

Thankfully checkout wasnt until 11am because I slept in and pottered about this morning.  After leaving my bag at the hostel I did some more walking through Tallinn.  I went back to Alexander Nevsky  Cathedral as it is so amazing.  I took even more photos!
Before I knew it, it was time to head to the airport.  Thankfully I asked the guy at the hostel what it should cost to get there, he said about 7 -10 euros.  I asked the first guy I saw who wanted 18, so I walked away laughing.  Eventually found someone who said 10 and off I went.  Tallinn airport is very small but very clean and quite nice.  I pottered about and then it was time to leave gorgeous Tallinn.

I absolutely loved this tour, the places I went and the people I met.  I would highly recommend the Scandi-Baltic Tour with Busabout.
Now I’m back in london and its done pretty much nothing but rain since I got back.

All photos can be found HERE.