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Arriving in Iceland

Iceland (or what I’ve seen of it) is breathtakingly beautiful. The landscape is otherworldly: mostly even, with little vegetation and large volcanic masses jutting out of the earth at irregular intervals as whispers of snow dot the ground. (Take that, female character on the Mighty Ducks 2, whose best description of Iceland is “very green”).

Upon arrival I discovered how difficult it is to adapt to a no-decimal system of currency, especially when tired (I may have taken ten times the amount of cash out of the ATM than I had intended). I had also read that Iceland is expensive. It really is. Not particularly friendly to a couple of students on a tight budget staying for a week. The experience of being here is quite thrilling enough, but it’s difficult to keep running into people who insist you must go angler fishing, scuba diving, snow mobiling and eat at the fancy revolving restaurant or else you’ve wasted your time coming.

Reykjavik is beautiful with all the Christmas lights still up and advent candles in so many windows. The sun begins setting around 2:30pm and it is completely dark by 5:45, so the lights are fully appreciated.

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So far we’ve had a bit of a lazy time here, tending to  domestic tasks. We did the grocery shopping, attempting to find the simplest foods we can prepare for the most reasonable cost (not an easy task). We have also discovered there are exactly zero Laundromats in all of Reykjavik. Our small guestroom basin has now seen a fair bit of handwashing and is likely to see a fair bit more.

We did got for a walk this afternoon, but after all the shops had closed (turns out they all turn in early on new year’s eve), and we did find that the frozen city pond was home to a number of geese and ducks.

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Fireworks having been steadily increasing since about midday today and we are about to head up to the church (the high point of the city) to witness the majority of them being set of from after 10pm. Hopeful we will find a famous Icelandic New Year’s bonfire as well. There is also snow forecast for around midnight – we might be lucky!

Life in the world’s most northern capital  city is quite enjoyable so far. Happy New Year’s Eve all!

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2015 in Misc 'n' Stuff, travel

 

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London, Day Two

The day began bright and early as we headed to the British Museum to be there as it opened. It was very exciting. Here are a number of the artefacts:

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We went from the British Museum to St Paul’s Cathedral:

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Where there is a statue of John Wesley:

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And a squirrel:

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The next all important stop was the TWININGS HOUSE! Opened in the 1700s it is the longest trading location selling the same wares:

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And they give you free tea:

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From there we headed to Harrods to get lost and crushed by many strangers. It was terrific. I like Harrods:

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We leave London tomorrow, which is a pity. It is a truly remarkable city. Hope to be back soon!

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Posted by on December 30, 2014 in travel

 

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London, Day One

Our train ticket advised us to arrive at least 30 minutes before departure. Having not had any qualms getting onboard our train from Rotterdam to Paris, we figured 30 minutes was sufficient. We arrived, French security let us through, and the UK Border Security had only 2 officials on. The line was not moving at all. So we waited. I watched boarding for our train open. The rail staff starting bumping us up the line. We waiting more. We were skipped from line to line until we finally spoke to the British Border Official. He asked the standard questions, then rolled his eyes when we said we were theology students. Sorry we aren’t lawyers, doctors or customs officers. Our belongings were scanned and we hoped we were going to hop on to the waiting train, but alas, boarding had closed. Thankfully they put us on the next train. We were split up though. I got to sit with a family of three who were sleeping and Ben met the French versions of his 9 and 12 year old self and got to play cards and discuss politics. Again, the train journey was a lot of fun and I definitely see the appeal of train travel over air travel for short trips around Europe.

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Having now arrived in London an hour later than expected, the race was on to see all the sites we possible could in just a couple of hours.

The first stop was to get our London Breakfast from T2 in Shoreditch, a walk from our hotel.

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After that, we headed to the water’s edge and took in the Tower of London:

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And the Tower Bridge:

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We headed on to Westminster and by now the sun had set. Passing by the London Eye:

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We saw Big Ben:

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And the buildings at Westminster:

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A good walk up the road, we came to Buckingham Palace, where the flying flag indicated the Queen was in:

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And if you look closely, you’ll see a guard:

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We then walked The Mall to Trafalgar Square, where the dim light made it difficult to see things, but I could make out Nelson, the lions and silhouette of he rooster on Nelson’s fourth column:

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We then hopped on the tube as quick as we could and headed for the Dominion Theatre in time for church:

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We finished the evening by treating ourselves to dinner in an English pub:

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So, if you would ever like the 2 hour, whirlwind tour of the London sites, I have a couple of tips!

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2014 in travel

 

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Paris, Part Two

 

Our second day in Paris, we went to the basement for our complimentary breakfast. It was cosy and cramped, but exciting to eat croissants and baguettes in a stone basement. Ham and cheese was the filling of choice, and with breakfast behind us, we headed out into the cold day. The metro was starting to make sense to us and we found ourselves on the most beautiful bridge:

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From which we could see a most astounding structure:

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Full expecting it was not going to meet expectations because how hyped up it has been in the past, there was no disappointment here. It is as majestic and stately as any description you have heard before:

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We found our way to the Arc de Triomphe and it does live up to its name! However, the roundabout is super chaotic, it’s any wonder we didn’t see a number of accidents while we were there! Mind you, it can’t help that we (and dozens of other tourists) were just milling about the median strip. It makes for good photos though:

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For a while we thought we were going to have to leg it across the hair-raising intersection to make it under the Arc itself, and then we noticed the underground stairs, so we made it safely across without crossing moving traffic.

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It was now time for a stroll down Champs Elysees, which I’m not certain, but I think roughly translates to “Avenue of Car Showrooms”. Peugeot, Mercedes, Toyota, Citroen, Renault all had Christmas spaces with a few cars and plenty of branded knick-knacks for sale.

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Partway through our stroll, I noticed a ‘creperie’ down a side street and we decided it was time for lunch. I had a truly French crepe and it was thoroughly enjoyable. We carried on towards the Christmas markets which were a welcome diversion and we followed the sights and sounds, and the distracting shops all the way to end the street. We hopped on the nearest metro and made our way to Notre Dame.

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It is a beautiful building form the outside (the line was too long to go in). We stood and marvelled at the many carvings, both Ben and I wishing we knew more about the symbolism represented in the carvings and doing our best to describe what we knew.

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As we meandered further and the evening turned to night time, we realised that Paris favours those who can spend money. The shopping looked luxurious, the bars and restaurants lively (but expensive) and the hotels nearer the city centre looked inviting. So the verdict is, Paris is a nice city, that smells like wee, and is most fun when you travel on more than a student budget.

 

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2014 in travel

 

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Paris, Part One

Paris wore me out too much to keep up with the blogging.

Catching the train from Rotterdam to Paris was a breeze. The train ride itself was pleasant and straightforward, despite the lack of room for suitcases. You’re allowed to take 2 large suitcases per person. Do they make provisions for two large suitcases per person? Don’t be silly. Plus it was then that my suitcase handle decided to jam, so stowing it was not easy. (The train ride did jostle it free again, so suitcase was fine going onwards). The Belgian and French countryside provided an excellent backdrop to the journey and three hours was over before we knew it. We had arrived in Paris.

After being spoiled by the beauty of the Netherlands, Paris did not make a good first impression. The other train passengers in the metro were quite protective of whatever space they had claimed and weren’t keen on travellers with suitcases. Plus it smelled like wee. Then we got off the train and the city smelled like wee and cigarettes. However it was a surprise to emerge from the underground train station and be staring at the Moulin Rouge. Turns out we were in some kind of red light district.

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The hotel we stayed at wasn’t great. I know you get what you pay for and a student budget won’t allow you to pay for much, so the tiny room and the disrepair didn’t bother me. I think the mould bothered me the most. It wasn’t a great start at all. But we pulled ourselves together and decided to see if a wander might improve our outlook on the city.

It did.

Rather than getting strait back on the metro, we took a wander down to a more direct metro station and discovered the pretty streets of Paris, narrow and cobbled. Beautiful buildings dotted our walk.

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Finally we hopped on the metro and hopped off to discover the Louvre. And the giddiness began!

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These things I had seen in pictures and read about were now before my very eyes! The other things before my eyes was the incredibly long line to get in. I had read about ‘hidden’ entrances to the Louvre, so I decided we were best off searching for them. After walking in circles/the wrong direction for a while, looking for number 99 and the underground shopping centre, we decided to call it a night and give up trying to get in the Louvre. Time to hunt for some food. Heading back towards the metro, what should I spy but number 99, the underground shopping centre! Dinner forgotten, the Louvre entry was back on the cards! We found the inverted pyramid and the ticket seller. It took about 5 minutes to purchase tickets, which allowed us priority entry at the main entrance. Heading towards the main entry, we gained our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.

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At the Louvre entry, we walked straight in, got scanned for bombs and we were in the clear! The whole process was still quicker than lining up at the main entry. We were stoked!

The Louvre is an enormous warren of more treasures than you can possibly take in. Here is Athena, in her many forms:

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And Artemis, in her many forms:

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We went inside an Egyptian tomb:

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Were astounded by the Islamic mosaics:

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There was this big statue as well:

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We wended our way to the Italian paintings:

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A Da Vinci:

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Finally arriving at the Mona Lisa:

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But the real beauty is what stands opposite the Mona Lisa, The Wedding Feast at Cana:

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This painting filled the entire wall, yet the majority of the crowd spends their time with their back to the beautiful vista, because of a small, dark portrait of an unknown woman. People like to force their way forward to take their photo next to the portrait, so here is a picture of Ben taking a picture of the painting. It’s as good as we were going to get.

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It had been hours in the Louvre, seeing many astonishing artefacts, and weariness was beginning to get the best of us, so we left and headed for some food. Procuring food was more difficult than we had anticipated. The language barrier was far more of a struggle than we thought it would be, despite most people being able to speak English. However, we did find some food and then headed back home to collapse straight into bed. The pouring rain had dampened our desire to explore much more, but Paris had improved!

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2014 in travel

 

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Het Loo Palace

We don’t exactly have palaces in Australia, probably because we don’t exactly have royals. This means I have been deprived of any exploration of palaces up until this point in my life. But today, all that has changed! We went to Het Loo Palace a museum that was once home to the Dutch royals.

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We began in the stables, which smell like horse, but there weren’t any horses in them when we went through.

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These were the royal cars. These. These Fords. Royal cars. Royal cars. Let that sink in.

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There were also a number of sleighs that belonged to the royals on display also. This one belonged to one of the princesses when she was young.

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This is the carriage a queen was carried in to her funeral, so that thing is large enough to carry a casket.

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This is also a bit depressing: these were anti-gas prams for during the war, to keep the children safe.

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Here are some of the Christmas trees on display throughout the palace.

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This was the big outdoor Christmas tree at the entrance to the palace.

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This table was set in the large ballroom. This is known as the hunting table, representing hunted animals.

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The head of the eagle comes off to act as a goblet.

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The wild boar jug (there were matching wild boar mugs as well).

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The sphinx is a little salt bowl, with one between two place settings (not sure how it relates to hunting though).

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This one was in a dark room and had candied oranges that were too sour to eat if they hadn’t been candied.

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This is a sample of crockery that belonged to King Willem the something. The set wound up having over 4000 pieces, all with the ‘w’s monogrammed on them.

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There is currently a Grace Kelly exhibit at the palace (which we didn’t pay extra to see), but when that exhibit opened the current Prince of Monaco held a reception here.

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The palace had its own chapel, which also showcased the Bible that has been handed down through the family for hundreds of years.

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“This thing is too heavy to lug about to church each week. Best build a chapel at home to get around that small problem.”

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The gardens were symmetrical and impressive.

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Het Loo Palace: a royally good time.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2014 in travel

 

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Amsterdam

We caught the train into he city from Ermelo. Our cousin always relays fun train stories of interesting characters and goings on when he catches the train, especially when he rides in the quiet carriage. We jumped in the quiet carriage, ready for a show: nothing. A woman ate a some yoghurt, that was it. And again when we took the train back home: nothing. Amusement clearly favours the locals.

One thins I will say about the Dutch, they don’t tend to beat about the bush. Here is what the on board train WiFi is called:

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And yes, that does mean, “WiFi in the train”. The notion of sexy hyper-branding seems to have bypassed this county and in all honesty it’s pretty refreshing. If Sydney ever bothered to offer its commuters this kind of service, the WiFi would be called something like: Sydney Transport in conjunction with major company sponsor present WiFi convenience for your communing pleasure (available at 245 kb/hour, free for 2 stops, premium service available for the low cost of $87/minute of the sacrifice of your soul).

Once we had arrived in Amsterdam, we pottered about a bit and I found my inner old-lady shoe dwelling sympathies:

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We found some very pretty streets:

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The Rembrandt Exhibit at the Civic National Gallery:

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In the gallery, the carpet was made of artwork that represented the nations of the people living in Amsterdam. Here is Australia:

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There was also the Goliath statue that has head nodding and eye-rolling abilities:

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Rembrandtplein was hosting the winter markets, and Rembrandt himself:

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Plus some other friendly statues:

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This hidden church that we nearly walked straight past:

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And at night, the city lit up:

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That’s a canal boat sailing through the tunnel of lights.

It was a wonderful city to visit:

 

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2014 in travel

 

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