Category Archives: Travelling

My trip in India

So I have recently returned from a two and a half week trip in India  I have a lot of photos, they are here.

Where do I start.  There are some amazing contrasts in India, not just the well-off and poor divide, but the rapid pace of development and ancient monuments, pollution/litter and natural beauty, corruption and generosity, and traffic… that’s a whole category on it’s own.

Continue reading My trip in India

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Things to do in Paris

I originally wrote this for my mother, but thought if other people are travelling, and are looking at things to do, then they might find this information useful.

The Palace of Versailles

There are trains that go directly to Versailles from the centre of Paris and are clearly identified at the station.  It’s a short walk from Versailles station to the palace itself, and I cannot recommend highly enough buying a return ticket in Paris because the queue at the end of the day to buy tickets back to Paris are very long.

Entry to the palace, the gardens and Marie Antionette’s estate are 18 Euros.  This will take an entire day.

The website above has an FAQ about the best days of the week and best times to go and see the palace.

You can prebook your tickets and print them out before you leave and this is highly recommended to avoid queues.

Musee d’Orsay

This is Paris’s home to Impressionist art.  It is massively big, and James and I didn’t finish the entire museum in half a day.  You might be quicker than us, or plan your trip better, but you should spend at least half a day here if you are interested. This is in the middle of Paris, so easy to get to from just about everywhere.

Tickets cost 11 Euros and can be prepurchased and printed ahead of time (a surcharge applies, but you avoid all the queues which is important).

Notre Dame

On the island of Il de la Cite on the Seine, the Cathedral is famous and huge.  There will probably be a queue to enter, it’s free, but the queue moves quickly the the times I’ve been there.  There are also free public toilets just outside the Cathedral, and there is often a queue for them too, but they have helpful attendants who make sure the queue moves and that the toilets are clean (toilets are underground).

The Cathedral has King Louis’ (one of them) dedication of France to God inside, and a lovely statue of Joan d’Arc (and a story about how that Cathedral fought for her to be sainted and her name to be cleared).  There are also three HUGE rose windows in the church.

Depending on how long the queue is and stuff, this probably only takes an hour.

Church of Saint Severin

Just across from Notre Dame is this small, and usually not visited church.  It is incredibly old, it comes with it’s own well, and is actually rather pretty.  This won’t take long at all to visit.

Musee d’Orangerie

This museum hosts Claude Monet’s lillies and if you like Monet’s work, then I highly recommend visiting.  There is also some other art held at this museum, but the main attraction is Monet’s waterlillies, hosted in circular rooms and beautifully lit.  It is easy to spend an hour looking at just the lillies before wandering off to visit the rest of the collection.

This museum is related to the Musee d’Orsay, and when we visited a couple of years ago, you could buy one ticket for both.  This museum can easily be done in half a day.

Tickets are 16 Euros if you are buying a ticket together for the Musee d’Orsay, but as far as I know cannot be purchased online together.  Otherwise the ticket is 9 Euros.

The Basilica of Sacre Coeur

A little outside the main city of Paris, but served well by public transport, Sacre Coeur sits on one of the highest points of the city.  Using the Paris visitor pass (see below) you can catch the Funicular up the hill (there are WAY too many stairs) and see inside the church.  Entry to the church is free, but if you want to see the crypt below (interesting, but not creepy), you have to pay a small fee.

Jardin du Luxumbourg

This is a large formal garden in the heart of Paris, an easy walk from the Latin Quarter.  Entry is free and in the Parisian tradition, if you find an empty seat, you can take it to wherever you’d like to sit in the garden (under a tree, by that fountain, over in that patch of sun).  It’s a very pretty garden and as the website says, there are a range of activities you can do in it.

The Louvre

I cannot stress how important it is to prepurchase your tickets for the Louvre.  The queue often snakes around the courtyard the Louvre entry is in, and if you have a ticket, you can just walk through.

This gallery is massive.  You cannot complete it in one day, and it is really important to decide on what collections you are most interested in and take the time to go and see those.  We fit two and a half collections in a bit over half a day.  I highly recommend the Assyrian and Babylonian exhibition, and the sculpture exhibition (though sometimes a bit macabre) is pretty amazing (that’s where I took the photo of the sleeping knight).

If you are purchasing tickets online, I recommend using FNAC as they have two offices near The Louvre, which will make ticket collection easier.    This holds for all tickets that you have to collect.  Tickets are 13.60 Euros when purchased online.

Le Tour Eiffel

If you are interested in going to the Eiffel Tower (and it is pretty spectacular), you should buy your tickets today (or at least very soon).  Don’t queue because you can queue for 3 hours, and that’s 3 hours you can spend doing other things.  You can do what I’ve done many times and that is wander around the base of the tower and have a look at just how massive it is.  That bit is free.  Prebooking your ticket is pretty cheap, so if you have firm and agreed upon dates (or as soon as you do), and you want to go up the tower, then book as soon as you can.  Access to the tower extends close to midnight in summer.

Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

If you’re interested in seeing where Oscar Wilde, Chopin and Jim Morrison (or a host of others), this is the place to go.  It’s massive, and big, and full of interesting monuments to famous and infamous dead people.  Also lots of monuments to those who died in WW2, which makes it quite sad at times.  It’s somewhere very interesting (and touching) to spend a day.  It’s free, though there are people selling maps outside for 2 Euros with clear notation of where the buried famous people are.

The Latin Quarter

This is the area to find a good meal in.  There are lots of restaurants, with cuisines of all the different cultures that make up France.  Lots of good and cheap food to be found here.

Paris Visite pass

I highly recommend getting one of these to travel around the city.  It makes using the metro a breeze and covers all forms of public transport within the circular ring road of the city.  It’ll probably cost you around 26.50 Euros, and is worth every cent (zones 1 – 3). The ticket to Versaille will be additional to this.

Paris Passport/Paris Museum Pass

I don’t recommend one of these.  To make them worthwhile you have to rush between all the attractions, and you really don’t get to see enough to enjoy yourself.  Plan what you want to do, when you want to do it, and go from there.

Speaking the language

It’s recommended to have some basic French at your disposal, greetings, farewells, please, thank you, sorry, hey you, excuse me, etc.  It also helps to have a little bit extra for restaurants, but most of the ones we went to (including the suburban not tourist ones) had some English and we got by.  Free French lessons can be obtained at Duolingo.

Once you greet someone in French, it is often ok to then ask if they speak English.  Parisians appreciate the effort.

Lonely Planet Paris Guide

I can’t recommend this book highly enough, it has a street map of central Paris, a Metro map, and lots of information about things to see and do.  I’ve only listed a few things here, and really you could stay in Paris for a month, and do something different every day and still not get everything done.

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Europe 2013: Rome

We arrived in Rome on Sunday, completely wasted and insufficiently prepared for the 38C day ahead of us, and the fact that we had 4 hours between us arriving at our accommodation and being able to check in.  We managed… just.  Mostly we managed by finding gelati, followed by finding a restaurant that would serve us lunch early, and then by taking refugee in a nearby park for the remainder of the time.  When we got to our apartment and checked in, we showered, slept for 6 hours, got up had dinner, and then went back to bed and slept for another 8 hours.  We were quite jetlagged.

Photos are here.

Things I’ve learnt about Rome so far

1. Never visit during a heatwave – in fact probably avoid visiting at all during summer

The daily maximum temperature since we’ve arrived has been 37 – 39C.  This is a very hot temperature to wander around in outside, and when you remember that that is the temperature in the shade, the moment you step outside the shade and into a piazza, or a unshaded set of ruins, the temperature rapidly becomes unbearable.  This makes me admire the tenacity of street vendors who spend their day in the sun selling hats, cold water, parasols, fans, sunglasses, and other goods.  I’ve now decided that if I ever do come back to Rome, it’ll be in Spring or Autumn when hopefully the weather is cooler.

We are scheduled to have a cool change (with the max for tomorrow being 30) with possibly some rain, which will bring a whole new light to the city.

2. Romans have dogs

You don’t hear them, you sometimes see them being walked by their owners, but mostly you notice that said owners don’t clean up after their dogs when they take them for walks.  I’m actually surprised by the number of dogs I’ve seen in the neighbourhood I’m in, and the sizes.  I haven’t actually seen any cats, not even stray cats.  There must be cats about somewhere.

3. Ancient Rome is everywhere

We’re staying about 400 metres from the Colosseum, so yeah, you’d expect Ancient Rome to be everywhere here, but it’s everywhere, everywhere.  No matter which way you go, you end up finding a bit of ruined wall here, an old gate there, a former temple or some columns over there.  Judging from the tourist information at the places I’ve been to so far, there is clearly an ongoing dilemma as to whether or not preserve the ruins or move on and modernise the city, and the government of the day plays a large part in the attitude towards such things.  Right now I think Rome is in the maintain the ruins, but previous governments at various times have bulldozed historical remains in order to build roads, train stations, and train lines.  I cannot imagine what it must be like to make those decisions.

Rome also has a law that states that any ancient artefact found in the ground automatically belongs to the state.

There is so much Ancient Rome about the place, that they keep finding it.  Entire houses have been uncovered (either buried by dirt or river silt), and the contents catalogued and stored in museums.  The Roman Archeological Department must be masters in relocating frescos and mosaics, because I went to a museum today and saw many of them mounted on walls.  Moving such fragile and delicate (not to mention fiddly) objects of art would take immense skill.

4. Ancient traditions survive

I played a game called Ceasar III, in which you were building Roman cities and defending your city against barbarian invasions/pacifying the barbarians.  One of the strategies you had to employ was that all the buildings in an area had to have access to fresh water, or they would not increase in size/affluence.  This still happens in Rome.  There are water taps (best description I can come up with) with cold drinking water (very necessary in this heat) available for anyone to use, and they’re everywhere.  You can fill your water bottle, wet your head, give your dog a drink – it’s fresh water provided by the government.  This is awesome.

5. Parking is an artform

Rome is tiny, there are many people with cars who drive from A to B, who want to park their vehicle when they arrive at B (or A).  Consequently, car parking ballet is an interesting sight to behold.   Basically if there is a space on the side of the road, including on the corner of the intersection, people will park in it, no matter what the signs say.  People drive around looking for carparks in the vicinity they want to be in, and then race for that space that they think they’ll park in.  Also, Romans are masters of parallel parking.  I have no idea how people get in or out of the tiny spaces they fit their cars into, nor how they manage when they find that they’ve been entirely boxed in.

6. There are churches everywhere

You cannot sneeze without it hitting a church, or basilica, or other religious site.  Rome really is the most Catholic of all, and they have all the monuments to prove it.  Within 100 metres of my apartment are two basilicas, and numerous more if I drew a 500m radius from where I’m sitting.  As Christianity spread throughout Rome, former temples and monuments to other gods were repurposed, often without changing the exterior.  Also at some point, Popes in Rome enjoyed the artwork of Roman polytheism and didn’t mind that monuments and fountains dedicated to them were covered in Ancient Roman gods.

I do appreciate that there is current acknowledgement at historical sites that the early Christian Church (once it converted emperors), happily persecuted anyone still practicing their old faiths after those faiths were outlawed.  It’s not every day such honesty is displayed.

The Vatican really does have WAY too much power, way too much wealth, and way too much influence.  Guess what I couldn’t find at the local supermarket?  That’s right, condoms.  Yes, seriously.

7. Language is not required

I have been existing mostly in the tourist areas, so the majority of the serving staff I’ve interacted with do speak some English, and since I am a tourist, this has worked out perfectly.  The handful of Italians I have come across that consider themselves poor English speakers have still been relatively easy to communicate with.  The joys of speaking more than one language, and the supremacy of English that makes me lazy.

That’s my quick summation for now.  It’s been too hot to really enjoy the food, however the gelati is amazing.   Stay tuned for an update on Florence (next week), another post about Cologne (the week following), and a final post about Paris (again, at the end of August).

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Cologne

I’ve taken a while to write this post because Cologne was complicated.  It was the city we spent the most time in, and the city that I pretty much explored on my own (as James was busy being at Gamescom).  When I travel I tend to do a lot of reading about the place I’m in, or certain landmarks as they take my fancy – and even notable people  (well statues to them).

There is a lot of history in Cologne, not to say that there wasn’t in Paris or Amsterdam, I just got to experience a lot more history in Cologne.  From it’s Roman occupation in 50AD (I’m sure the local Germanic Celts were really happy with that), to the modern day, Cologne has an incredibly wealth of history that I could go and touch, and see, and marvel at.  Really in Cologne I did history, and a lot of it.

Continue reading Cologne

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Amsterdam!

I’m on my last night in Amsterdam, and it’s a much different city to Paris.  I think that’s partly because we approached it in a different way (we were exhausted after Paris and wanted to be more relaxed), and because we chose possibly one of the busiest spots in Amsterdam to stay in.  That and Paris is mostly on holidays in August, and Amsterdam is not.

Getting around in Amsterdam is again easy, though road crossing are perilous – bikes and scooters (which are treated like bikes apparently) show little regard for red lights, or pedestrian lights, and so a constant watch has to be kept out for them, or you may be collected – they are good at using their bells/horns though, so there is warning (provided you can hear them).

Transport around the city is mostly on foot (or bike if you want to hire one, we didn’t), or tram.  The trams are more accessible than Paris’s Metro, but still not great.  That said, I’ve seen far more people using mobility aids getting around Amsterdam than I did in Paris.

Continue reading Amsterdam!

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Paris!

I am in Paris, I have successfully communicated in French (though not well), and I have explored this fine city (which must suck for those who require mobility aids), and taken a stack of photos.

I’ve had some odd and funny moments while here, which I shall share because leaving that hanging would be a bit unfair.

The first was when we were being shown how to take better photos and use our cameras better as part of Randy Harris’s Photo Tours.  Our guide, Rachael, was born in the US and moved to Paris a few years ago, and now as well as being a photographic artist, she shows people how to take better photos for a living.  She was a great teacher, thought that James and I were weird and funny (which we are), and we had a really great time.

James mentioned at some point late in the lessons/tour, something to do with violent crime.  Rachael replied that Paris is a safe city, and has very little violent crime (which was nice to hear), but the violent crime that does exists is mainly in the immigrant communities.  I almost said, “What, like you?” but didn’t and the moment passed.  I wish I had though.

The other funny thing happened today when James and I were wandering Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, we had stopped at a grave for someone from Guatemala, who clearly was important (though we’d not heard of him and didn’t take his name down so can’t look him up now), and James and I both said “Guatemala” several times.  I then overheard a girl of about 10 or so correct us with “Guatemaya”, and her dad hushed her.  I told James, who hadn’t heard it, and he thought it was the funniest thing he’d heard all day.

 

 

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Mayasia day 5

Today we wandered off to the Batu Caves, a Hindu temple north of Kuala Lumpur.  At the station waiting for the train, we met a Sri Lankan man who was in Malaysia for a Hillsong Conference, as he’s training to be a Priest.  We spent the journey chatting to him on the way to the Caves, then ended up travelling back to KL Sentral with him.

A cement staircase that is very steep

The temple was interesting, beautiful and oh god the stairs.  It was also hot and very humid so I quickly soaked all my clothes.  We climbed and climbed and climbed and eventually made it to the top of the stairs.

The cave complex was absolutely amazing.  Monkeys everywhere being a nuisance, pigeons being pigeons (including crapping on me) and gods and shrines aplenty.

I took plenty of photos, which are in my Malaysian set of photos.

After we’d finished descending all the steps, we hurried off to the station to go and sit in an air conditioned train and to attempt to dry out a bit.

On return to the hotel Scot looked through his photos and then I fell asleep.  I woke up when he returned from the pool saying that it was raining and there was a thunderstorm.

We waited out the thunderstorm in the hotel lounge with a high afternoon tea (and didn’t have any dinner as a result), and then decided to wander off to Central Market, a tourist market of arts and crafts.

I picked up a couple of things for me, and a couple of gifts for other people and then we returned again to our room.

On the way to the Central Market we had an interesting conversation with the taxi driver about the interconnectedness of religions and how all religions were essentially one.  Scott forgot that answering the “Are you a Christian” question with “yes” was far easier than explaining “no, actually I’m an atheist”.  So we talked about the similarities between Hinduism and Islam, and how Christians fast (or not) versus Ramadan for Muslims.  He was a nice guy, and very chatty.

Tomorrow is my last full day in Kuala Lumpur.  I can’t quite decide whether I go and explore more of the places I only saw bits of, or whether I lounge around at the pool all day and just relax before I return home.  Decisions decisions.

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