A Travellerspoint blog

Bienvenue en France!

overcast 10 °C
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Introducing Navi, our friend, home and transport for the next 3 weeks...

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"Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?" - George Carlin

Foodie moment

After driving aimlessly around Northern France looking for the campsite we booked, of which we knew neither the name nor address of, and had no access to Internet to find out this essential information... we finally happened across a campsite that 'kind of' looked open. Thankfully it was, and we had finally found a home for us and Na'vi at 9pm. The desperate hunt for food then led us to abandoned restaurants and ghost towns, till we finally saw the distant twinkling of neon lights... Ok, ok... our first meal in France was wood fired pizza accompanied by Chianti (Italian wine) but it was delicious and so appreciated by our stomachs! The honey and smoked chicken they added to our pizzas was great!

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Cultural moment

So being that we have spent the majority of the last 2 days on the road, it is only natural that our cultural moment for this blog has to do with French driving, and the differences and difficulties we faced. To say that the French don't mess around when it comes to getting somewhere A.S.A.P would be an understatement. Distance and speed is measured in kilometers, which would be great for us being from Australia, but not when the van we hired is in miles per hour. Travelling on the major highways (A16 from Calais to Paris) is an exciting experience. 130kph (80mph) all the way, Na'vi did surprisingly well holding that speed.

The other funny and dangerous thing we witnessed in Paris was that people driving scooters think they are riding push bikes, in that laws don't apply. Red light ahead? So what, go right through as fast as you can... Car indicating and switching lanes? No problem, cut right past them from behind the blind spot. You're okay, you're the scooter superman!

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Wow moment

The Wow moment for the past couple of days has to be given to...... US!
Mark has had to drive off the ferry in Calais onto the 'wrong' side of the road, in a unfamiliar rental vehicle and following road signs in French. He had adapted to it SO incredibly well with only an occasional mantra of 'Stay on the right' being chanted! It has not been easy driving either... especially once we entered Paris
I have already had to delve deep into my high school French knowledge many times in the past couple of days. The lady at the campsite spoke no English (well anything we said was met with a blank look) so all negotiations, directions and instructions had to be done in French. Without it I just don't know what we would have done! Don't get me wrong... it's total pigeon French - just verbs and nouns - but I'm still pretty proud of what i can tack together after 12 years without a single word!!

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What we learnt today

The countryside of France is dotted with huge wind turbines. They are spinning away merrily, creating power, and make me wonder why Australia hasn't embraced this idea with more vigour

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You really can buy snails in the supermarket!!! You can buy them in cans then also buy the shells so they can be served as if you just caught them in your garden... or wherever :p Yummy!

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Posted by travellinglise 09:31 Archived in France Comments (1)

Colchester, Essex - the nice bit of Essex

Still a couple of fake-tanned teen mums walking around though!

semi-overcast 13 °C
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Colchester is Britain's oldest recorded town, and was for a period the capital of Roman Britain. It is also been named as one of Britain's fastest growing towns.

Foodie moment

Barbara's signature dish, learnt during her years living in Spain, is her Seafood Paella. As always it is delicious, especially with the traditional crunchy bits from where it sticks to the pan...Yum!!

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Cultural moment

Although in an expanding population there are always new houses built, the majority of houses in Colchester are over 100yrs old. Having said that, unless you live in a 19th century or earlier house, it is very unlikely your house will be heritage listed. Even so, you see very few houses being bulldozed, and modern houses being erected. The British home-owners seem to respect the history of their houses, the periods they were built, and they continue to maintain the details (particularly in terms of the tiling on the roofs). It is so nice to walk down the street and still see history in each building - even without laws forcing them to keep them that way.

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Wow moment

Colchester Castle and Gardens are stunning. The castle's keep (tower) was the largest ever built in Britain and the largest surviving example in Europe. The building of the castle was completed in 1100, 913 years ago, but it still stands tall and strong. The gardens that stretch out below the castle are beautifully maintained and full of local wild life such as squirrels, magpies and ducks.

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What we learnt today

Today, unfortunately, we learnt that just like all other councils around the world, Colchester is capable of making big errors when deciding to build attractions to 'attract' tourists (Yes Melbourne council, we refer to Fed square). In Colchester, it is the 'First Site Modern Art Museum'. 28 million pounds later there is a circular art gallery (as pointed out - not the best shape for displaying art) filled with the most random modern 'art' possible. Our favourites were a wall covered in blue tack blobs, an empty sleeping bag on the floor and a basketball in a glass vase.
The only redeeming feature in the gallery is the Berryfield mosaic (the only permanent exhibit). Discovered by a gardener in 1923 when digging a hole for rubbish, the mural dates back to 200AD and is in beautiful condition

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Posted by travellinglise 14:02 Archived in England Tagged colchester colchester_castle Comments (0)

Hello the UK, welcome to Col(d)chester

Talk about climate shock! Don't forget your jacket!

sunny 10 °C
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"The highest temperature ever recorded in England was 38.5 degrees in Kent in 2003"

Introduction

So here we are, finally in England. After a 13 hour flight through the night, catching maybe 2 hours sleep in economy seats, 1 day of jet lag recovery and a bout of tonsillitis, we have our first blog entry from actually within Europe. We are currently staying in Colchester, at Lisa's aunty's house, 1 hour out of London, where we are being spoilt and are very very grateful for it.

Foodie moment

What do you want your first morning in England? A good old fashioned fry up - and that is what we got courtesy of Barbara!

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First night off the plane, totally brain fried, we were taken to a pub in Colchester that had a £10 a head Gurka set menu, and oh boy it was amazing! So much food we didn't even get close to finishing it all. Absolutely great value for money! Curry, now the other traditional dish of England

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A nice trip out to Mersea Island, Barbara took us to West Mersea Oyster Bar. So much amazingly fresh sea food, we had oysters, a seafood platter, cod and chips, and lobster. The best fish 'n' chips I've had!

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Cultural moment

History and culture is something England definitely isn't short of. Most buildings here are hundreds of years old, something that is hard to comprehend when coming from Australia that is only 200 years old! The Peldon Rose, a pub in Colchester has been serving customers for over 500 years! The building is in original condition, and displays such ancient architecture as the entrance way which is only 5 feet tall, a common design of such times.

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Wow moment

Mersea Island, an island on the coast near Colchester, is only an island when it is high tide. When its not, you can get to it by driving over the mud flats. We went on a nice sunny day, even so it was icy cold with the wind off the water. The beach, piers and boats make for a truly picturesque landscape. The below 10 degree temperatures didn't stop the kids from kayaking and fishing for crabs though. The food at the oyster bar was amazing. It was a really awesome day!

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What we learnt today

Driving over here is pretty much the same as back home, except for a few differences. The biggest one that we still can't get used to seeing is parking on either side of the road facing any direction you want. You have cars nose to nose, or end to end on the same side of the road. It's perfectly normal to parallel park on the wrong side of the road facing the oncoming traffic. Doing this back home is a quick way to get a ticket, or the attention of the police pretty quickly.

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Posted by travellinglise 10:43 Archived in England Tagged england colchester mersea_island Comments (0)

The Final Gong for Hong Kong

sunny 30 °C
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Hong Kong - Asia's world city

Our final word on Hong Kong

The Good

Hong Kong is a fantastic place for tourists. It is a great gateway to Asia, a stepping stone to helping tourists become comfortable with the sights, sounds and smells of Asia, just don't expect the rest of Asia to be as accommodating!

  • The people are incredibly friendly and helpful, going out of their way to ask you if you need help.
  • Most people know some English and are happy to use it.
  • The streets are immaculately clean
  • Public transport = amazing!
  • Food choices are diverse and you can try anything from authentic Szechuan cuisine to award winning Italian
  • Affordable prices (apart from accommodation)

And my favourite thing about the city that makes it a tourist paradise, the signage. On most street corners there are tourist signposts pointing out tourist attractions in bright pink, and practical things like the MTR and Public toilets in blue (a life saver after spicy food!!!). Its almost impossible to get lost.. not sure where you are? Look for the glimpse of pink in the distance and you'll be delivered safely to the MTR - which is full of maps and will whip you quickly and safely home.

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The Not So Good

  • "Copy watch, Copy bag, Tailor for suit" - The non-stop harassment in the tourist areas by touts becomes infuriating after one day, and they just don't give up!
  • The air pollution - I just don't think you can get a smog free shot from the Peak at any time any more - it's a shame!
  • Shopping centres!!! Maybe because we're non-shoppers we just don't understand... but do you REALLY need 4 high-rise shopping centres in a city block? Do you need 2 Channel, Dior and Cartier stores one street over from each other? Do you?! We think not, but each to their own and the crowds seem to love it!
  • The nightly light show - really quite lame!!!

Top tips for Hong Kong

  1. Always carry a umbrella in Monsoon season - in fact any time of year...
  2. Use the MTR!
  3. Carry a cardigan - the restaurants and museum pump out the AC!
  4. Try a restaurant with no English on the menu - at least you know its authentic and the excitement waiting to see if you're getting what you think you ordered is almost as fun as the eating!
  5. Use the free Wifi in the parks
  6. Buying your pre-drinks at 7-11 saves your budget
  7. Stay in Central/Causeway bay if you want night life and in Tsim Sha Tsui if you want shopping.

Mei Lam Guest House

Housed in the less notorious Mirador Mansion (in comparison to Chungking Mansion) in Tsim Sha Tsui (right next to MTR), Mei Lam GH is an affordable, comfortable option. The rooms are incredibly tiny (request one with a window if you can or you'll get claustrophobic!) but they are clean, AC is great, TV, bar fridge and super fast Wifi make up for the size. They are also surprisingly quiet (unless you have noisy neighbours in the room next door). The worst things are that the lifts are always busy so you will need to line up or take the stairs, and every time you leave you step right into a nest of annoying touts. Overall, in a city where accommodation is pricey this is a cheap option for the budget conscious. We like!

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Posted by travellinglise 07:41 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged hong_kong_island mtr mei_lam_guesthouse Comments (0)

Winner, Winner Hotdog Dinner!!!

VERY happy in Happy Valley!

sunny 28 °C
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Foodie moment

After rave reviews on Trip advisor we set off to have Dim sum at One Dim Sum Chinese Restaurant. Our luck was with us again as we avoided the expected long wait and got the last table in the house. With a great menu in English and pictures of each, we were guaranteed no nasty surprises. We tried some some stuff we hadn't had before but the steamed dumplings were still our favourite with the Chiu Chow style being some of the best dumplings we've ever had!!!

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Cultural moment

So up until today, we have been pretty accepting of the cultural differences in Hong Kong, and have been quite comfortable with them. However today we stumbled across some not so nice things in the Mong Kok markets. Firstly, we walked through a wet market just out of curiosity and what we saw could only be describe as fish hell! It wasn't the butchering of fish and blood and guts on display that was unsettling, it was the live tanks that got us. Fish are kept alive on display packed in little tanks, some floating upside dead, others looking stressed out of their minds, some of them even jumping out onto the floors trying to escape. We also went to Gold Fish Street, which is a stretch of road lined with pet shops, each showing on display live fish kept in plastic bags much too small to be anything other than torture, some had multiple fish in them and fish MUCH bigger than a goldfish! The bird market with hundreds of birds kept in tiny cages for sale was no better. We know this is a way of life for people here, and its not up to us to judge the morals and ethical issues of these behaviours, but to us seeing it first hand was disturbing.

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Wow moment

Wednesday night is racing night at Happy Valley, and boy did it go off! The grandstands were larger and more modern than i ever imagined, the crowd bigger and more animated. A great mix of Westerners, Chinese tourists and Locals led to a fantastic night. Even though it was more amateur than racing in Melbourne, it still had everything we wanted, and all for $10HK ($1.20AU) who could complain. Oh yeah, and we picked a winner!! A mix of form guide info and gut instinct - all or nothing - $20HK for the win (Yup high rollers!!), we picked an outside chance and celebrated like we'd just won millions (In truth we just shared a hot dog and got another beer - but oh well, poetic license!!).

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What we learnt today

Hong Kong is full of amazing, hidden parks and gardens. Each have aviaries, ponds, waterfalls and free Wifi. They are a great escape from the busy hustle and bustle of the city, yet if you didn't know they were there you would find it hard to believe they existed between the skyscrapers and motorways.

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Posted by travellinglise 02:07 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged parks happy_valley_racecourse one_dim_sum_chinese_restaurant hong_kong_parks horseracing Comments (2)

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