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London

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London is always on everyone’s list so I eventually added it to mine to see what the fuss is all about. As a long-term British accent and tea lover, I was also keen to see whether there would be any big differences culturally between there and Australia. We are after all, a colony of England. I booked a private room at an Airbnb house and mentally prepared myself for how expensive this week would be. To give you an estimate, it’s about 0.45 Australian cents to 1 pound!

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One of the first things I did a walking tour to tick off all the main sights. I chose Sandemann’s Free Walking Tour which brought us to Trafalgar square, Buckingham palace and Westminister were covered on the tour (free walking Sandemann’s). Also on my list were the British Museum, Natural History Museum, V&A, Oxford St and Borough markets (to try the chorizo burger from Brindisa, it was delicious!).

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What I didn’t expect, for some weird reason, was how many people there were everywhere at any given time. I was told to avoid the tube during peak hour and from what I’ve heard, you don’t want to be there at that time anyway. Even out of these hours, I found tube stations FULL of people. This picture above was taken at the Natural History Museum and the line to see the dinosaur exhibition! I was also pleasantly surprised by how many parks there were within the city centre. Sydney also has a Hyde Park but is miniscule compared to the London Hyde Park! Near Buckingham Palace were also Green and St Jame’s Park which were both a scene of autumn colours. Ahh, it was so pretty!

One of things that wasn’t initially on my list was London Tower: the old fort looking onto the Thames. It wasn’t until I was walking past after my tower bridge walk that I stood outside and thought ” hey, this is pretty cool” and that I would pay to go in. I highly recommend the free tour that they run every 30mins with the beefeaters. It’s the perfect place to entertain young kids and anyone who is interested in forts and medieval times.

Other activities that I ended up doing were booking tickets to see 2 musicals. Coming from Sydney where there is usually only 1 major musical on at a time, I had a field day trying to decide what to see. I ended up picking Billy Eliot and Wicked. I preferred Wicked which had excellent staging and costuming. Plus, who can pass up an opportunity to hear Defying Gravity live?! I got my tickets from TKTS which is located in Leicester Square and they offer discount tickets too.

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I’m happy to have checked London off my list but to be completely honest, London wasn’t really for me. I found it too similar culturally to what I know and what I know is not what I want to experience away from home. It is definitely a place to check out, I think the number of bars out number the number of shops sometimes! By the way, the public transport there is amazing. However, the road traffic is not.

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Is London on your list? What did you like and/or not like about London? Let me know in the comments!

-S.

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Paris

 

 

 

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Paris. Swoon. Paris is one of my favourite cities and how can it not be, just LOOK at the buildings! This was my third time in Paris and I still had things to see. On the list this time were Musee D’Orsay, Musee d’Orangerie, Versaille and to go into Printemps and Galeries Lafayette.

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My favourite of my main attractions list was Musee D’Orsay which is housed in an old train station. The museum has some great paintings as well as other things such as sculptures and furniture but the paintings were my favourite. The line is long so you should think about pre-purchasing tickets online OR go to Musee d’Orangerie first and buy a combo ticket (and can be used on 2 consecutive days).

The attraction that I found the most frustrating was Versaille! My tip is to go early. And then go earlier. By the time I arrived at 10:30am, there was already a gigantic entry line to pass security. By gigantic, I mean it took me 1.5 hours to make it inside which put me in a bad place to really get to enjoy the palace. The trip to Versaille is a whole day out. The gardens are magnificent but be warned, it is really big so bring some good comfortable shoes.

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This picture above is from the Palais de Justice (where you can also buy a combined ticket for Saint Chapelle located next door). I found this pretty meh. It was where Marie Antoinette was held in her last days but the original prison cell no longer exists. It give you a peep into a handful of cells for the different types of socio-classes. I would say to save this for the bottom of the Paris list. Saint Chapelle however, is gorgeous. I imagine it would be spectacular on a sunny day with light pouring inside across the mosaic windows which are ceiling to floor high.

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This last picture is the interiors of Galeries Lafayette which is in great contrast to the seemingly ordinary exterior. I just went in for a wonder and to shelter from the rain.

Have you been to any of these places and what are your thoughts about them? I’d love to hear about them.

Day trip around the French Riviera

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Our first town on this trip was Cannes, famously known for the annual Cannes Film Festival. We made the obligatory stop outside the Cannes Theatre and unfortunately, the red carpet was not rolled out on this morning. Right next to it are some bars/restaurants with their own little section of beach (with sand!) and across the road, every designer brand you could ever want. For me, I don’t think I would personally base myself in this town as compared to Nice, Cannes is tiny.

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Our next town was Antibes. Again, another tiny town but morning food markets, Picasso museum and some streets of the old town could easily consume you for half a day. A lovely walled old city, you can also marvel at the million dollar boats in the marina.

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Next stop and the one i was MOST looking forward to, was Monaco.

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This is where you can get a glimpse into the lifestyle of the rich and the famous. The country of no tax for it’s residence, to move here you will need a bank deposit of a few hundred thousand to begin with. The city centre has a complete driving speed of 50km/hr and has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Bordering on non-existent.

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We also stopped briefly at Monte Carlo to have a look at the casino and as many lambourgini’s in a day than you would see over a 2 year period.

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Our final town was Eze. Like most small towns perched ontop of a hill, you can climb and climb to reach a garden at the top which will give you amazing views however, this is an entry free (I thought quite expensive!) and still a nice viewing area outside the church in town. Eze was very touristy and much like every other small town in the south of France, housed much of the same stores. The windy rocky streets however are such a charm and something I will never get sick of!

I really would have loved to have spent more time in Monaco but due to time constaints, I couldn’t go myself for the day. There’s an aquarium on the cliff edge as well as the royal palace to check out which I really would’ve liked to see!

Have you been to any of these towns and if so, which one did you like and why?

-S.

Provence in one day

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Travelling in the south of France is easier if you hire a car but for those who prefer not to, a tour will get you around.  I decided to join Provence Reservation for their All Provence in one day tour to get a snapshot of the area and because of my time limit. I was promptly picked up in the morning and then whisked away to our first stop: The Lavender Museum. The museum is run by the Lincele family who have a ‘real’ lavender farm in Vaucluse high up in the mountains. This museum is geared towards visitors and included a short film about how lavender oils are extracted, museum featuring antique distilling equipment and a store selling their products. I thought it was a great museum that was easy to navigate and was informative.

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Our first town was Gordes for their Tuesday markets. As you may have already guessed, these small towns thrive on tourism (as well as farming) but are not packed with tourists. There were cheese stalls, clothes stalls, nougat stores and of course soap. This market was excellent for those looking for gifts or some nibbles. Go behind the buildings following down-hill paths to get views of the surrounding area.

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Next stop, the town of Roussillion perched on a red rock. The redness comes about due to the presence of ocre in the surrounding lands is quite a contrast from Gordes which is approximately a 15 minute drive away. One major street in the city will take you up to the church and sweeping panoramic views of the surrounding area.

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Our last town was Les Baux de Provence which was my favourite town. This town felt bigger than Gordes and Roussillon and is perched on a white rock. There is a castle remain at the very top however, due to time constraints, I didn’t get to visit it. There were many stores and cafes around on every winding street and only one entrance and exit to the town so, impossible to get lost. There were more options here in terms of gifts as well (soap, Provence specialty foods, jewellery and ceramics).

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Our last stop of the day was the old roman aqueduct Pont du Gard. This three tier bridge was beautiful and paths on either side allow every angle of this bridge imaginable. Level 1 is a pedestrian bridge and allows you to cross to the other side. There are parking lots on both sides of the bridge. Can you believe this bridge use to be open to cars?!

This 10-hour day trip was worth the money as it included entry into the Lavender Museum plus audio guides and into the Pont du Gard site. You need some sturdy shoes as these towns existing ontop of rock formations are of course, rocky and include a lot of uphill and downhill walking. These towns are gems in the Provence region and I would highly recommend a tour if you’re not driving. Time wise, we spent about 1 hour in each town, it’s enough to see everything but not loiter and I would have really liked to have seen the castle ruins in Les Baux. There is always next time!

Do you have any recommendations for other towns in Provence? What did you like about them?

A bientot,

-S.

Toulouse in pictures

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The best pistachio and raspberry tart probably in the world. Find it at the cafe O The Divin.

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I like these blue shutters!

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The interiors of the convent

Day trip to Ronda in pictures

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Zahara de la Sierra

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Main street in Zahara de la Sierra

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Barcelona!!

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Barcelona. Wow is the one word that sums it up for me. I don’t know about you but when other people get excited about a town and tell me about it, I’m excited for them and with them but don’t have the feeling for the town because, obviously I haven’t been there. Let me tell you about it! The public transport system is easy to navigate and there are nice tourist day passes or 10-trip cards that make buying tickets so much easier. A metro every 3 minutes? Yes please!

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Of course, if you’re in Barcelona, a MUST SEE (clichéd “must sees” but really, it’s a must see) is the Sagrada Familia. Designed by Gaudi and even though currently still under construction, this towering cathedral will leave you gobsmacked. I expected it to be big but in person, it’s enormous. And fascinatingly, the yet to be built tallest tower is going to be even taller than the existing ones. I paid for the audio guide and also to go up the nativity tower but I think if you don’t want to go up the tower, you’re not missing out on much except city views. I’m not sure why but I was expecting great interior architecture inside the tower….obviously I do not study architecture.

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A quick metro ride away is Barcelona beach. Well, it’s a strip of beaches but they’re each called different names. Fun fact that I learnt, the beaches are man-made and the sand has been shipped from Egypt. The water is really nice and if it’s not windy, would be such a nice day outside!

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During my few days (too short!) in Barcelona, the annual La Merce festival was on. There were many events happening around the city and one that I did catch was the Correfoc or ‘fire run’. People dressed as devils with fireworks were going through the streets dancing to different rhythmic drumming groups (set course not running through every street) and was suppose to turn this part of the city into hell for the duration of the event. What an event! I didn’t take part as I wasn’t well dressed (you get small holes in your clothes) but from observing everyone who did, they seemed to be having a great time. It was great to see because an event like this in Australia would not exist due to how “dangerous” this event would be classified as.

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There are plenty of tours around as well to see the city and surrounding mountains. On this trip I look a free walking tour and a Gaudi tour. These modernists buildings are hidden around the city and some even on small streets that you may not even find! Modernism is just a part of Barcelona.

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One of my favourite parts of this city was La Boqueria market on the Rambla. Fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood, meat, cheese and ready to go fruit containers (my favourite) are what this market is about. The fresh fruit containers and fresh fruit juices seemed to be very popular. I found the prices here cheaper than the supermarket and more fresh so definitely put it on your list.

I didn’t expect to like Barcelona this much but everyone was very friendly and even though it was quite touristy, I got the sense that the Catalans pride themselves in their city and what they can offer. Let us now get into a discussion about Spain and Barcelona. It’s such a liveable city that once was not, so it was great to see what a bustling city it is now.

Have you visited Barcelona? What do you think about it? Let me know in the comments!

-S.

Day trip to Ronda, Spain

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I am a big fan of day tours especially over half day tours (they are too rushed) so, whilst in Seville, I decided that I wanted to go and see Ronda. After going to the tourist office, I booked in on a day tour. The landscape changed so quickly once you get out of town and continued to change the further out you go. We saw farm lands, fields of olive trees, a national park and cork trees!

The first town we stopped at was Zahara de la Sierra. This town is one of the ‘Pueblos Blancos’ or white towns dotted in Andalusia. Spectacular. It was a tiny town but we only stopped for a morning tea break. I had heard a rumour that these towns are required to paint their houses white at least twice a year but cannot confirm! Our guide assured us that we would see at least one house painting their house today. We didn’t end up seeing any! The photo above and below are of Zahara de la Sierra.

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After a rocky descent up surrounding mountains and over the hill and far away, we stopped at another pueblo blancos, Grazalema for lunch. This town was bigger and I think, a stopping point for different tour groups. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any time to walk around to discover the city but this is where the local area hospital and high school are. And then, we went to Ronda.

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This town was packed with tourists but I am told that there are even more in the peak summer season. The viewing point for this picture above is off the beaten track so I was so happy that our guide brought us here. There was no-one around allowing an un-interrupted picture for once. This is the bridge that comes up when you google Ronda. This town (I guess much like the rest of the big towns in Andalusia) has a mixture of roman ruins and Christian and Muslim architecture co-exisiting. Ronda is also surrounding by fields so don’t forget to also look out and beyond.

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If you’re without a car, I would recommend a tour as the pueblos blancos are each quite small. Taking a bus out and then having to find another bus to your next destination will be quite hard as buses don’t run very frequently to these small towns and they are worth seeing if you’re in the area. We had 1-hour free time in Ronda, but I think you could spend at least half a day there walking around the town. Remember to pack your good walking shoes as these towns away from main cities tend to be very hilly and paths stoney.

Have you been out to any other pueblos blancos? Let me know in the comments!

-S.

A letter from Sophie

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Hey guys,

I hope you’re liking the travel snaps. I’m currently writing this from Avignon in the south of Fraance. Yes, my blogs are about 2 weeks behind! Argh! The balance between writing in my personal journal, blogging and sight-seeing hasn’t been reached.

I did a day trip out of Sevilla which I will be blogging about then went to Barcelona. Wow, I did not expect Barcelona to be such a wonderful city. After Spain, I flew into Toulouse to visit a friend and have since gone to Montpellier and Avignon. Mucho to write about and pictures to share so stay put! I have a feeling there will be blogs being published left right and centre very soon.

Stay well!
-S.