Wednesday, September 17, 2008

south to san gim and siena

left florence and headed south!

san gimignano was crawling with tourists! it must be a pain to actually live there. after we wandered off the main streets, it was sunny and delightfully quiet and the corners of town had the most amazing views of the surrounding countryside. heaps of towers, too, but we didn't go up into any of them. there was even a nice looking winery (surprise, surprise - it is italy!), but we opted to pick up some cheap bottles at the grocery store instead. the most entertaining part of the day was our last stop for coffee at a cafe with an incredibly cranky and confrontational lady behind the counter who yelled at everyone headed in the direction of the bathroom 'buy first, THEN use toilet!!'

arrived in siena just as the sun was getting low. we picked out a nice, big plot and proceeded to cook dinner on our charcoal grill. luckily when one of the staff walked by he just warned us not to burn anything down since they were technically illegal. we made friends with him before when we needed to open up a bottle of wine so he seemed to trust us.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

fun in firenze

ponte vecchio - started the bright and sunny day with a walk by the river to the famous bridge, where i drooled over all of the beautiful jewels.

david replica #2 - nearby the uffizi galleries is the palazzo vecchio, outside of which stands another of the david replicas in florence. also some other very excellent marble statues that we tried to appreciate while the throngs of tourists packed the piazza della signora on their way to the uffizi.

il porcellino - a bronze statue in the mercato nuovo where you rub the nose and put a coin in its mouth that drops through the grate below so that you may return to florence! very fun if you can get your turn with the pig!

carousel ride - on our wanderings we stumbled across a piazza with a carousel and we couldn't resist the entertainment for a few euros.

officina profumo farmaceutica di santa maria novella - a really old perfume and pharmaceutical store, it smelled amazing.......

uffizzi galleries - the guidebooks said it was impossible to get through these galleries in one day, but we figured we would try. and we did manage as we only had a few hours to complete the place before it closed. when we had passed by earlier in the day there were lines out the door and down the block, so we came back later in the evening and it was not so severely crowded.

more gellato - this was a place of many, many flavours and i think i got pistachio and coconut :)

Monday, September 15, 2008

what a boar!

i am sorely behind on my blogging so i will just hit the highlights of each day now, you'll get the idea!

the markets - our first stop in the morning and once we actually found them, they were good fun! lots of people and merchandise and i finally found a purse! it turns out that these were the best markets we would experience on our tour of italy. possibly the nest part was the food: roasted boar sandwich!! stuffed with lots of spices and served in cold slices on a plain long crusty bread - absolutely delicious!

car - with much drama, the car was sorted out in mostly working order....

david #1 - he handsomely stands in the middle of the piazzale michelangelo overlooking the city. we had a look at the great panorama at sunset before heading down to the city for dinner.

dinner with the boys - scott, reuben, marie and i headed back down into town in a direction that the boys had seen some restaurants during their day out in florence. we settled on a nice little place on the corner where we sat outside and enjoyed a relatively mild evening with wine and pasta and relaxation.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

first day in firenze

monday mornings rarely start well. because the car was having some trouble overheating ever since the autobahn incident, we got reuben to take a look at it. turned out to be something he couldn't really fix up himself without any tools, etc. so we decided to try to take it to a mechanic. we also decided to move campsites to something closer to town to a place that was recommended to scott and reuben. we finally found the whole in the wall shop and tried to explain what was wrong to the receptionist - the only person there who spoke any english. they said to come back later that day, so we checked into the campsite, set everything up and headed back. apparently the problem wasn't immediately obvious, so we left the car for them to work on overnight and the next day.

now it was on to the sites! we headed toward the cathedral of santa maria del fiore and as we were getting nearer we started to drive by some street markets. marie and i quickly jumped out of the car and let the boys park so we could oggle the streets and streets of goodies. there was leather everywhere!! and also piselli - mostly david's :)

after about as many ciao bellas as we could handle for the day, we made it to the duomo to meet scott and reuben. only reuben and i climbed the dome because marie is afraid of heights and scott had seen enough in rome. what seemed like 4000 steps later, we had a great view of the dome and then even farther up - the city. unfortunately, like pretty much every church in italy, it was packed with tourists, who really take the fun out of doing a lot of things with the pushy attitudes, loud voices and obligatory 'i was here' photos.

after such grueling exercise, i got my first real italian gelatto! despite it being outrageously expensive, mine was quite tasty, though certainly not the best i would have on the trip. as time was running out on our parking, we decided to head back to the campsite, grab some groceries and whip out the charcoal bbq for the first time.

marie and i wandered to the coop market and stocked up on cheese, veggies, sausages (successfully using the italian numbers we learned on he way down to order), bread and drinks. despite finding out later that bbq's weren't allowed at the campsite - we fired ours up.. slowly, but eventually we (and by we i mean marie because all i did was chop tomatoes) made an amazing sizzling meal... which we ate all by ourselves since the boys were busy drinking at the bar.

it was an interesting night trying to balance on a single air mattress with a drunk reuben next to me, but at least it was nice and warm!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

ciao italia!

so long rain and hello shine! the scenery from switzerland to italy was just amazing - the mountains, water, villages and eventually sun!

we didn't have much of a plan for the day - just driving to see how close we could get to florence. once to florence, we were aiming to meet up with scott and reuben, who were making their way up from rome. we were making such good time that arranged to meet them tonight at a camping ground a bit outside of florence.

on the way, we passed by milan, mostly because we hadn't read about anything we were dying to see there and anyone i've talked to who has been there said it was unimpressive and didn't live up the hype. so we kept heading south!

that is until we needed to stop for gas. we decided to grab a quick bite to eat at the rest stop so we could keep driving and make it to florence before dark. and it just so happened that the fast food at this stop was macdonalds. certainly not our first choice cuisine, but we knew it would be quick and easy. or so we thought. turns out we stopped at the only major rest stop macdonalds in europe that didn't speak english. or at least didn't know the menu items in english (despite the fact that they are all printed in english). now i am not a language snob thinking the world should know english for my convenience, but this was just unexpected! after struggling with our orders for a bit, an italian woman next to us finally came to our rescue. such drama just to get a dumb hamburger - how disappointing.

but eventually we made it back on the road and into firenze just at dusk! by the time we made it up to the campsite it was pretty much dark and we had our fingers crossed they were still open. they were, but apparently the man behind the counter wasn't very happy about and here was our first encounter with the ever pleasant and friendly customer service in italy. aaaaand i'm being complately sarcastic. what is it about people who work in customer service in italy?? at least once a day i feared i was going to get my head bitten off or my coffee thrown in my face. the attitudes were a bit shocking at first, but once we accepted it and got used to it, it was just normal.

anyway, reuben and scott arrived in their little car and we all piled into the big tent to relax for what was left of the evening.

Friday, September 12, 2008

unofficial atawhai reunion

it's amazing we found space for aaron in the car, but we managed to wedge him into the back. we only managed to get around the corner before the car was acting up again, overheating this time. with a few jiggles things were relatively ok and we pressed onto zurich.

in zurich it rained... alot... but that didn't stop us from dragging our stuff up to rafael's (huge) apartment, with a few hugs along the way of course! after some catch-up chatting, we decided to head outside and see what sights we could through the fog and drizzle. first stop for me was to buy an umbrella. then we were on our way to the shopping area and lakefront. apparently it's quite gorgeous on a nice day, with the glistening water and mountains in the background. but today was pretty gray.

we decided to head back to the apartment as we were all feeling cold, wet and tired. i personally was a bit under the weather already, which is no fun for sightseeing. while everyone piled upstairs to dry off and get warm, i decided to go for another short wander by myself in order to find a purse - something i had been lacking the whole trip so far. for some reason, however, zurich didn't like my money as both of my credit and debit cards were rejected in three different stores. eventually i was headed back when i stumbled upon a familiar store - bang-on! this was the little t-shirt shop that was my very first job in nyc in the east village, which ultimately led me to meet a good portion of my nyc friends! small world..

after getting back to rafael's and changing into warm clothes, it was dinner time! dinner was a fairly big event with two of rafael's friends and even tanja (who is now living a bit outside or zurich) joining us! it's amazing that five of us who met in a little town in new zealand were now all together in the middle of switzerland.

the rest of the night was quiet, just hanging out in front of the tv, napping, chatting and staying warm.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

broken on the 'bahn

our first day went surprisingly well, so we were happily singing along to the radio when we hear a *clunk clunk* noise. i said "i hope that wasn't important" as a joke and we drove on thinking we just ran over something. if only it was that simple. more noises started happening soon after, so we decided to pull over at a rest stop - good idea right? well, just as we are nearing the end of the off ramp there is one more clunk and we stop short. no movement whatsoever. this is where we start to panic a bit, mostly because there are three impatient cars behind us who want to get by. so we jump out and push but that car wasn't budging an inch. the impatient people manage to drive up on the curb and around us, scowling on the way by as if we had purposefully gotten stuck in the middle of the lane, just to ruin their rest stop experience. another car comes along, this time with a man flailing his arms in anger. he jumps out to make sure we had the car in neutral as we tried to push again - we are girls, you know, and we obviously don't know any better. he finally reverses and goes through to the truckers' side, getting several others to reverse as well. that's about 8 cars and 0 people who have stopped to ask if we needed help.

at this point marie is frantically on the phone with her dad to see if he can diagnose the problem. which left me to go direct traffic away from our exit lane before more people got stuck behind us. notice the fluorescent safety jackets we packed, thinking we would never need.... finally, after many frantic phone calls and the eventual generosity of strangers, marie was able to arrange a tow truck to come pick us up.

the tow truck finally comes and the guy identifies a problem with one of the breaks that he has apparently never seen before. fantastic... we make our way to the garage in who-knows-where-ville and wander inside to wait. there we see two other guys who had been waiting two days for their car to be fixed! oh yeah, it was also friday afternoon, so we were getting a bit worried we would be pitching our tent on the grassy patch nex the garage and waiting..

luckily, we weren't waiting for nearly as long as we thought we might be and we were free to get on our way!

that night, our destination was freiburg to visit aaron. the lady navigated us into town pretty poorly, but eventually we found his apartment. we hadn't gotten his apartment number, so i was hoping his name would be on the buzzer, so i trotted up to the door, found his apartment and buzzed up. just as he was buzzing me into the building, the door opened and an elderly couple stared at me suspiciously. they were probably asking me who i was and why i was looking like i was heading into the building, but i speak no german whatsoever, so i just babbled a bit and asked bishell?? a few times until aaron finally made it down the stairs and explained that i was a friend of his. apparently they were the overprotective landlords.

after getting the tour of aaron's place, having some horrible coffee and just generally catching up, we decided to head out to dinner. aaron took us to a buzzing little local restaurant where we shared some tasty lamb steaks, had some big pints of beer and did some more chatting. after dinner, we went on a little walking tour of the town before we sat down for a cocktail at a busy corner bar.

as we were pretty exhausted from a stressful day, we turned in relatively early, stuffing our two air mattresses into the free space on aaron's floor and making quick plans for our trip to zurich the next day.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

like a racehorse named netto

unlike racehorses, we are quite slow - especialy in the morning. but after a nice sunny breakfast with marie's parents, we were off!... to the market to stock up on supplies for the trip, which obviously included a lot of snacks from netto.

12:00 we were really off! the trunk was stuffed and the back seat was pretty full - mostly of food (like yummy homemade sausage rolls!), so we were fully loaded and excited! not too long afterwards, we made it to the ferry. by the time we finished our sausge roll and faxe kondi meal, we were in germany!

and you know what? there wasn't even a welcome to germany sign! the radio stations, however, were all german, so it took a lot of flipping through the stations to find something we could listen to. after hearing 'i kissed a girl' about 20 times, it was finally getting dark so we decided it would be time to start looking for a campsite. unfortunately, the gps (a.k.a. the lady) didn't list any.

and here starts our first travel adventure! we stopped at a gas station and decided to ask. luckily the woman behind the counter spoke english and told us just head to niederbeisheim, next to oberbeisheim. yeah.. that easy! after leaving the station, desperately clutching the piece of paper with the two myseterious names on it, we punched them into the gps. after winding through some country roads, we finally did see signs for the campingplatz. we pulled up at dusk to the bar and peeked our heads inside to see about half a dozen elderly guys staring wide-eyed at us. this is where i nudge marie to do the talking and we find the guy behind the bar does speak some english and he shows us a spot to put our tent and something about the balcony of the building next to it. i thought he said don't go there if it rains and marie heard something completely different... we will never really know. in fact, i opted not to talk because anytime i said anything he just stared at me...

so the first time we put up our tent was almost completely in the dark, but even then it only took about 15 minutes - pretty good for a massive 4(or 6?) person tent! within a half an hour we were sipping asti from our oversized wine glasses at the foldout table in the middle of our two sleeping compartment tent and snacking on (more) sausage rolls by soft candle light.. how romantic.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

bet you can't say næstved

after getting our last few things together in copenhagen, we were finally headed south!

ok, we didn't really get too far on our first day, only as far as marie's parents' house in næstved. here we had to pick up all of the camping stuff and i had to meet her family, of course! i also met the two hedgehogs and stary cat that hang around the house :)

an uneventful but pretty day.

onsdag is wednesday in danish. tomorrow is torsdag and the day we really get going!

Monday, September 8, 2008

i heart denmark

the danes love hearts (there are even hearts on their coins), elephants and their royals!

we started the day bright and early at noon by watching the changing of the guards. this put us right near the waterfront where the little mermaid sits on her rock. in the 5 minutes we spent there, attempting to apprecite the sculpture, no less than 3 tour buses pulled up, snapped their pictures and waddled back onto the bus. we were only just able to get a photo of our own before i wanted to throw the middle aged, pushy, obnoxious tourists off the rocks. little did i know this would be an ongoing theme throughout the vacation...

by this point in the day, we were starving (also a theme on the vacation) so i got my first danish street vendor sausage. it was a unique experience, ending in some very spicy mustard that may have made me cry just a little.. then it was onto the (very clean and new) subway and heading for carlsberg brewery, because what better way to get to know about the danes than to learn about their brew? it was actually a pretty extensive place, but self-guided so you could skip to the good parts: the stables (to see all the massive, special beer horses) and the bar (for the two free drinks). we tried two wheat beers, but were generally unimpressed with the lack of flavour. i'm a little bummed i am missing tuborg's famous christmas beer, too.

after a few pics with the giant stone elephants, we were off home to start dinner for the hall, where i chopped lots and lots of tomatoes for a taco/burrito-like meal accompanied by lots of chatter. unfortunately, i didn't understand 98% of it, but it was still good times.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

the complicated way to copenhagen

...but like good hard kiwis, andrew and lisa got up at some pre-light hour to drive me to the airport to start my journey to denmark! as ridiculous as it sounds, it was actually cheaper to fly from edinburgh to east midlands and then east midlands to copenhagen, so it was a bit of a busy day on and off planes until i finally touched down in another new country. i arrived on a rather pretty day so i could see a good deal of the landscape while flying. it also meant i got a good little tour of the city when marie was driving me back to her building.

now i haven't seen marie in over a year, so we had a bit of catching up to do - you know the kind of stuff that you just never get around to communicating by phone or email or chat.

after hanging out at marie's hall for a bit, we headed out for a night at the tivoli gardens. we actually came on a perfect evening - not too crowded, not too chilly and there was one hour of free rides! so we made a mad dash from ride to ride and managed to just make it through each one, even this one, which i thought might make acrophobic marie wet her pants. successfully staying dry, we washed down our adrenaline with a tasty steak before heading home.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

lazy in linlithgow

because reuben was heading to rome and i didn't fly to copenhagen until the 8th, i needed a place to stay in scotland on the 7th. luckily, lisa and andrew were only a short train ride away and had a spare bed. so, with much preparation made by reuben (he's so cute when he organizes things for me - down to the phonecall saying 'you should be on the train right now, did you make it?') i made it to little linlithgow. after a quick drive through tour of the town by andrew, we made it to the (not so little) farm where they are working. lisa apparently drank too much at our night out and was vegging out on the couch in front of the tv all day and i gladly joined her. and there we stayed, stuffing wood in the fire and watching shows all day long. when andrew got home, we went out for chinese (mmmmmm) and then decided to watch a movie. i was out within 15 minutes of starting the movie and was probably drooling all over them, but they let me sleep the whole way through. and while i slept like a baby the whole night, poor andrew was hurt from a welding mishap during the day.....

Friday, September 5, 2008

exploring edinburgh

after a long sleep in the attempt to battle somejet lag, reuben and i decided to wander around and see some of the sites. it was a dreary day, but wandering was still on the agenda - first stop was edinburgh castle, of course. buuuut, then we found out it was rather expensive so we got in as far as we could, took pictures and moved on to something more entertaining: the whiskey tour! 'the scotch whiskey experience' was about an hour long guided tour that started with a short tasting class and ended with a disneyland-ish kind of ride in a whiskey barrel through the history of whiskey production. we wandered for a bit after that to and the next stop was the national art gallery. short and simple, really. a bit more wandering and then the whiskey or the fresh air must have hit reuben's brain because he actually offered to go shoe shopping with me!? unfortunately he must have regained sanity quick enough because i couldn't quite convince him to get a kilt, even though i think it would have looked hot on him. in the evening we met up with reuben's friends lisa and andrew, who are from new zealand and have been living and working in scotland a bit north of edinburgh. we opted for a nice looking pub on rose street, a cute little street that cuts through a few blocks of town and is dotted with pubs and bars. don't ever order nachos in scotland, you will just be disappointed.


after a 12 hour flight from auckland to hong kong, 9 hours in hong kong airport, a 13 hour flight from hong kong to london, 2 hours in heathrow, one delayed flilght, an hour and a half on a bumpy flight from london and wayyyy too many airline meals, i finally touched down in edinburgh! reuben was waiting for me at the airport, looking pretty much how he did when i saw him last - 6 months ago! since i arrived in the morning and we couldn't check into our hotel until 2:30pm, we dropped off our bags and started to wander around edinburgh. it's so odd being in a town where everyhing looks so old! we decided not to do any sightseeing yet since we were both pretty exhausted, so we just decided to indulge in some of the local cuisine - haggis and whiskey. i must say, i actually really enjoyed the haggis! finally we could check in and decided to take a nap before heading out to see the town. however, i was far too glad to have a sleep that wasn't on an airplane or in an airport that i didn't wake up until 10pm. so we just ordered room service and went back to bed to have an early start the next day.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

so long en-zed!

my last few days in new zealand were spent in typical kiwi style with a visit to the beach. i was saying with ciaran a bit ouside auckland and since he was having some time off, he wanted to do something relaxing, so we headed to pakiri beach. we stopped for blueberry icecream in one of the little towns before the beach, which might make you think it was warm, but it really wasn't. just sunny enough to enjoy the outdoors. when we got there, ciaran was keen for a swim, but it was way too chilly for me! instead we just walked up the beach, which had just recently been hit with big storms so half the dunes were now missing. we managed to find a suitable dune out of the wind and took a nap in the sun for a bit, then headed back to the little town to get lunch. unfortunately our timing was off and no place was open for lunch, so we went back to ciaran's house to get changed and head out for dinner and a drink. after having my last kiwi fish and chips, ciaran dropped me off at my airport motel for my bright and early departure!