Je Ba Boo Paris…or something like that - Contiki Days 1 and 2
After saying our goodbyes in London, we boarded a newly upgraded air conditioned coach that despite being seemingly sterile, was easy to imagine that it would become our new and very warm home over the next 14 days.
Our tour guide Sara was full of energy which is just what we all needed as we drove for several hours, caught a boat along the English channel into France and then drove sole more into Paris.
We got to our hotel (our first hotel in months!), checked in for what seemed like no time at all and boarded the coach for a city tour.
Whilst on the coach we got to know a few fairly rad people including Alan, a Brazillian medical student studying neurosurgery who was not only intelligent but also a bit of an enigma. We also met Chez, a legal secretary from Newcastle who Mitch and I instantly clicked with. A couple of other colorful characters included Greg, or as he wanted to be known…Frog. We would later discover Frog in greater depth.
While driving through the city on the first night, we did hear a few loud shouts in the form of “oh yeah” from what appeared to be at first glance…an obnoxious Canadian (what we soon quickly realised was that the guy was not obnoxious, just Canadian…and a bit of a legend)
After passing the Arc De Triumph, Opera Theatre and a few other famous buildings that for the life of me I can’t recall, we arrived at the stunning Eiffel Tower. Photos, postcards, Google…nothing really does it justice
I stood there overwhelmed at its sheer beauty. We were only given about ten minutes on our turbo tourist night out as we were whisked away to our next stop, a Parisian cafe.
There we were treated to escargot and champagne (which I couldn’t have any due to my ear infection anti biotics which prevented me from drinking for the first two days of the tour)
The snails were swimming in a pool of butter and garlic, so you could hardly taste their true flavour. It was however incredibly amusing watching the group of six from Colinsville, QLD debate on whether they should try this delicacy.
We met a really nice group of guys and girls who all worked in the mines up north and had never been overseas. One character, Luke or Wyper as he was aptly known got into it but was not impressed.
We called an early night and decided that Chez, Mitch and I would spend the day tomorrow conquering the Eifell Tower and getting lost inside the Louvre.
We woke up to our complimentary breakfast of what seemed to be mostly sugary treats, the kind of rise and fall food you probably don’t need when being a turbo tourist.
We walked to the Eifell Tower and saw most people getting the lift up to the top. We decided to brave it despite the sweltering temperatures and make our way up the stairs.
The walk up was tiring but rewarding with incredible views of the city. After making our way up to the about 2/3 of the way we were told we couldn’t walk anymore so we waited in line for the lift getting to know Alan and also Joe, a chef from Adelaide with a very distinctive laugh and a penchant for MJ dance moves.
After 40 minutes in line, we were told that we needed another ticket and would therefore have to go to the back of the line. We were not happy!
We decided to cut our losses and walk back down. Once we were back on solid ground, this poor looking woman came up to me telling me she was mute and deaf (with hand signals and a piece of paper that told me so). She shoved a petition in my face and told me to sign it. As soon as I had signed it, she asked me for money so I gave her 5 euro.
Next thing I see two cops come out of nowhere arresting this girl and forcing her to give me my money back. Turns out I got scammed. This proved very amusing to everyone and all I could really do was laugh.
Next stop was the Louvre, an incredible museum filled with unique artifacts, classic and famous paintings and every man and his dog in Paris. The place was packed making it slightly difficult to move through the museum faster than your average punter.
Highlights included the Egyptian collection, the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper.
With about thirty minutes to spare, we sat down for a quick expresso and enjoyed some good old fashioned people watching.
We went back to the hotel, got changed for dinner and boarded the bus. Tonight the whole group, well apart from one or two who didn’t want to pay the additional costs of dinner, went to a Parisian diner that served authentic French cuisine.
At first glance, the place looked more Italian than French with red checkered table clothes and large candelabras. But after being served French onion soup and Duck A’Lorange, which was ridiculously melt in your mouth good, it definitely felt French to me.
We left with our bellies full on to a cabaret show. The cost of this was 55 euro but we were told it was an absolute must.
For the next two hours we all sat spellbound as we watched drag queens, comedians, ventriloquists, topless dancers (certainly a favourite) and magicians wow us.
There were some parts that would have not been accepted on a P&O ship , some parts that were very Eurovision but all in all, they were very talented.
We spent the next few hours dancing in a pub across the road and headed back at around 2 as we had to be up at 7 to jump on a bus to the French riviera.
London - a snapshot of three days spent pre Contiki
As I turned 26 back on Sydney time, I somehow managed to find my way in a business class seat on the flight back into London. I was well chuffed about that and sat in luxury, eating some fairly posh chicken and salad and having an entire row of leather seats to myself.
That Saturday night, the plan was to celebrate my birthday with drinks in Covent Garden. Ed had arranged to come down from Atherstone and meet us which was pretty cool of him to do…i did feel honoured! The three of us met at Kings Cross station and walked down to Clink78, the hostel we were staying at. We quickly got changed and went down to the Thai restaurant across the street where we had a quick dinner to kick off the night.
We then met Holly, Maryanne, her friend Dontae and Paul, a family friend from back home at a bar across from the Shrek Theatre by Covent Garden. After a few drinks, we made our way to Foundation Bar, a bar I really like due to it being quite spacious, playing decent music and serving whisky cokes out of jars used for nuts and sweets.
After an hour or so there to ring in my actual birthday, we headed to one last club that had a Jacksons on George vibe to it so we didn’t stay there long. After a long but very fun night, we headed back to the hostel.
Next day, we said our goodbyes and started our preparations for Contiki. We headed to Westfield in Shepherds Bush where we bought a couple of things including a laptop for Mitch. It is amazing that Frank Lowy can literally just replicate something so enormous and iconic in Australia and plonk it in the middle of London. They even had a Boost Juice and Build a Bear…WHAT THE?
That night, we decided to go see the Inbetweeners movie as Mitch had not seen it yet. Mitch kindly paid for my ticket as a birthday present and we laughed our way through two hours of shameful irreverent British humour.
The next day we got everything ready and said our goodbyes to London for our turbo tourism Contiki tour.
Italy Days 8, 9 and 10….NAPOLI
So after the last week, the plan was to relax for the last few days, so really there isn’t much to say about our last three days, except for Day 9, where I spent the day exploring Naples with Cami.
Mitch who had arrived in Naples a day earlier than me actually had time to explore the city. Therefore, he wasn’t keen to go back and opted for a day in the sun by the beach (I can’t blame the guy…he is about to spend five months in cold Lake Louise)
We left Fabric Hostel and made our way down to Portici train station, had a quick wait there before heading into Naples. At first glance, Naples was downright gritty, polluted and somewhat crowded.
With no specific things we wanted to see and do, we decided that we would walk and at any point in time, one of us would call left or right and we would turn with no questions asked. This strategy paid off as we managed to make our way through some interesting markets where you could buy everything from fresh pomodoro to inflatable pool equipment to dubbed Italian pirated DVD’s. After that, we made our way to the town square and quintessential cathedral.
As we continued walking, we got a hot tip from two friendly cops in their cop car who told us to go to Miguel’s Pizzeria. So we followed their lead and low and behold we arrived at a place with a long queue that went out the door. This could only mean good things. We found out that this was one of the oldest pizzerias in all of Naples and that they did not succumb to the pressures of modern cuisine and simply made two types of pizza…Margherita and Marinara (just tomato). We got one of each to share and headed to find somewhere to eat them. We found some steps blocked off from the street where we could sit and people watch. The marinara was unbelievable although Cami argued that you shouldn’t put pasta sauce on a pizza. Despite our trivial differences, we pushed on and decided to take a detour in the name of searching for hi-tops.
For some reason, there was a disproportionate amount of shoe places in Napoli making it very easy to do some credit card damage. Between the two of us, we bought four pairs which we were quite proud of. We spent most of the day laughing at simple amusing things about Napoli and before making our way to the train station to go back to Portici, we were greeted with the not so pleasant sound of gunfire which made us hurry to the station quicker. We couldn’t let this minor thing dampen an otherwise fun day.
We went back and met Mitch who had fallen asleep at the beach and now resembled an oompa loompa. The rest of the night was made only more amusing by looking at Mitch’s badly burnt face. The three of us headed down to the beach before sitting down with some cheap vino and a scrabble board.
Next stop was back to London to celebrate me turning the ripe old age of 26!
Italy Day 7 - Positano Part Tre
Cosimo organised for our hostel to have a private boat tour for the day to the Isle of Capri meaning we had twelve pretty cool people sharing a cosy boat for the day.
We made the walk down to the boat, greeted by the captain who offered us welcome beers. My ear was starting to play up so I was unable to really swim, which was a bit of a downer but I managed to find some earplugs that resembled the humble Blue Tak.
Despite my concern over its ability to keep my ear water safe, I could not ignore the opportunity to swim in such crystal clear water, so at the first swim stop, the entire boat group jumped off into the most refreshing water ever. I spent the next hour chatting to Cami, Beezy, Robby and Alannah and Kate, two country Victorian girls. Kate was telling me about her business building and designing homes and we agreed that we could help each other out at some point (she could design my apartment’s bathroom when I renovate it and I could give her some online marketing advice)…enough about shady business deals ;)
We arrived at the famous La Grotta Azura which is a famous cave off the isle of Capri due to it being flooded with shades of blue and emerald light, giving the water a very unique shiny blue colour. We were nearing the island and headed off the boat for four hour stop on the famous island of Capri, known for being a celebrity hot spot where the likes of Pitt and Jolie can live their life of excess.
We stopped for lunch where I had some ordinary reheated ravioli, before making our way up the city steps, reminiscent of the Positano hike. With the sun beating down on us, we were rewarded at the top with some ice cold lemon granita and a stellar view of Capri below us.
We finally made it to the beach where we sat in the shade tired from previous nights activities and did a bit of people watching. Amusingly, within the first ten minutes, we saw an old man lose his camera in the water. The guy lost it with his wife but he was the one who tripped in the water after trying to take a photo. We couldn’t help but laugh.
Finally, it was time to go back to the hostel where we showered and got ready for the night ahead.
That night, we decided to make a better decision re: restaurant and went for a bit of social proof, finding the the restaurant that had most people in it. Robby, Beezy, Cami, Alannah, Kate, Mitch and I all headed down the road to a very nice family run trattoria. We had simple yet very tasty bruschetta, grilled and crumbed fish and a half a four cheese pizza which was not for the faint hearted or the lactose intolerant.
We went back to the hostel where I played DJ for a few hours and we sat on the terrace talking and drinking the night away.
Positano was definitely a highlight for me!
Italy Day 6…Positano Part Deux
Mitch and I woke up and decided to make our way down to the Amalfi Coast and Ravello. After learning there was a bus strike (which is fairly common around this area), we waited awhile before finally being able to land a 45 minute bus ride down to the Amalfi.
Our somewhat archaic looking bus competed with zippy scooters, Fiat Pandas and the occasional pedestrian on sharp windy roads meaning it had to go about 30km an hour. This was certainly welcomed meaning we actually had time to really take in the views.
We decided to walk down to the dock, play a few tunes and sit back taking it all in. A somewhat lazy way to do the Amalfi coast, but definitely welcomed after the previous night’s shenanigans. We grabbed a tuna, olive and tomato sandwich and some insanely good gelato before deciding to get on a bus to Ravello, a town steeped in classical music tradition.
The view from the top of Ravello was arguably the best view of the Amalfi Coast I had seen yet.
We headed back to the hostel and decided to go grab dinner with Will, Alex, Cami, Beezy and Robby where we had been promised the best pizza in all of Italy (Well Mitch’s parents had given us a tip). The vegetarian pizza covered in semi-dried tomatoes, eggplant and capsicum was mouth watering but not the best (sorry to the Dowling family). We all had a laugh about writing complaint letters to Mitch’s parents and made our way back to the hostel for an early night.
The plan was to get up early for a boat trip to Capri!
Italy Day 5….Positano Part 1
We said our goodbyes to Jack and co at Sorrento train station and headed onto the 45 minute bus ride to Positano…a place we knew little about, accept for the fact that it was meant to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. The scenic drive went quickly and low and behold, they weren’t lying.
Positano is a town known famously for its 831 steps from the top of the town to the very bottom (by the beach). This incline made for one incredible view…words can hardly describe its true beauty so I will try and upload photos at some stage.
We arrived at Hostel Brikette, which thankfully, was right next to where the bus dropped us off. We were greeted by Rachel (I think that was her name…this is what happens when you don’t blog for awhile!), who was 26 from Illinois. With her feet up on the desk, cranking some chilled tunes and a very sunny disposition, you couldn’t help but feel relaxed. We dropped our bags off, and decided to get some lunch and lazily headed across the road, to a tiny little trattoria where we sat down for some mouth watering pizza.
After lunch, we met the main host of the hostel, the very charismatic Cosimo, a young guy who had clearly lived in Positano his whole life, made evident by his passion for this beautiful town. He told us that tonight was party night at one of the two clubs in Positano, known as Music On The Rocks.
We had a little sleep and met a couple of pretty rad people, including Cami, a solo traveler from Melbourne who had spent a month studying in Florence, Will & Alex, two English brothers who I bonded with over our love for Larry David and Ricky Gervais and Beezy & Robby, two buddies from Portland.
Cosimo and Rachel took us down to the club via the ardous 831 steps that we had already climbed up and down twice today. On our way down, we stopped for a free shot of limoncello where we harmoniously drank together like one big family. Hostel Brikete does pride itself on being a bit of a family hostel. They really do look after you!
We made our way along the beach to Music on the Rocks, a club inside a cave. At first glance, it looked like an over-the-top barmitvah, with ice sculptures, neon lights and incredibly cheesy DJ’s who would rap over songs with “Love…Sex…and Music on the Rocks”. We all found it pretty amusing and subversively mocked the place with nauseating dance moves.
After a very long night and quite a bit of bad decision juice, we decided to try and fit nine people into Cosimo’s tiny VW Polo for the drive back up the hill. With Cami sitting on my arm, I felt like Ryan Reynolds in 127 Hours almost losing circulation. It was certainly an almost record breaking feat for how many people you can fit inside one of those things.
Italy Day 4…Sorrento - There’s nothing like doing nothing…
The three of us dragged ourselves out of bed and made our way to Sorrento where the plan was to catch a boat to Capri. After the 45 minute train ride and ten minute walk down to the wharf, we were told that a boat to Capri was 30 euro return. We all agreed that it wasn’t really worth it for today given how nice Sorrento was and that we had not explored it yet.
We walked through all the beaches and realised you had to pay anywhere between 10 and 15 euro to visit the beach (which would normally include chair or sunbed rental). We finally agreed on the beach and spent the next three hours lazing by the water, reading and taking in the breathtaking views of the coastline. Mitch and Jack went for a swim making me incredibly jealous as I was still on medication for my Adriatic Sea induced ear infection.
After lazing by the water, we all felt a sense of lethargy, perpetuated by the lack of food in our bodies. We decided on a retirement home like dinner of a 5pm start and made our way to a nice trattoria. I can safely say I had the best pasta of my life after ordering the Homemade Spaghetti with Seafood. The egg based spaghetti was soft and rich in flavour due to the tomato based seafood like stew making its home amongst the pasta.
We decided to get the train back and made our way to the train station. The train attendant said that the train would go to Napoli Garibaldi (the main station) via Portici. As our dazed and confused faces watched the train speed past Bellavista, we unwillingly accepted an additional forty minute there and back journey to Napoli Garibaldi.
Finally at around 8.30, we got back to the hostel where we met Brooke and Stacey, two Ontarian students who we chilled, had a few beers with and played a couple of games of Presidents and Assholes with. As the clock struck twelve, the three boys decided to go out to the bar while the girls, who had just flown in from Toronto called it a night early…despite our best attempts to get them to come out.
We walked down to the beach and spent a couple of hours in a few of the bars checking out the local scene…and talent and made a few obversations
1) Italian guys love to wear tighter clothing than their female counterparts
2) Italian guys love the shave and sweep…shave your head, sweep a pile of hair over it
3) Italian women are the prettiest in Europe
A couple of locals overheard us talking and introduced themselves to us. A group of about ten were there celebrating one of the girl’s 21st birthday with some champagne and cake. We had a bit of a laugh with them before deciding we would head to the beach club.
Low and behold, the bouncers resembled power tripped up Kings Cross security guards with their “no woman no entry” policy. We saw loads of groups of guys loitering outside frustrated by this stupid rule.
At about 3, we decided to cut our losses and head to bed!
Italy Day 3…Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius… or put in the words of Karl Pilkington…old stuff and a big hole
So after doing pretty much F.A. squared for the last two days, we agreed that our Italian holiday would really start and we would try and make the most of the seven days in front of us. We woke up at around 10.30, grabbed our staple banana and made our way to Bellavista train station where we would get on the train to the station Pompeii Scavi. We got off the station and paid the 11 euro for access to this incredible sight. Despite the stinking heat, we were eager to get moving as we had quite a bit to see.
After just a brief initial glance, you could see why this is a UNESCO heritage site. It is simply astounding. Walking through the city, you could imagine living through a period seemingly primitive. The preservation of this site made it all the more authentic for the busloads of tourist groups…although, I did laugh at the bins which were designed with similar rock formations to some of the houses to cover the bin and make it feel like it had been around for centuries. The oddly placed kiosks and gelateria did however make it feel more touristy.
The hedonistic ways of the Romans was made clear by the presence of brothels that some American tourists were in tourist overkill mode with their cameras. Some were even stopped by tour guides for using flash photography despite the warnings not to.
We decided to pay 19 euro to jump on a three hour tour bus up to Mount Vesuvius. There an Aussie guy wearing a Melbourne Demons jersey overheard Mitch and I talk. Him and his girlfriend Charlotte were really easy to talk to, so we spent the next hour with them on the bus getting to know them. The car that took us up the mountain could have been from the set of Jurrasic Park giving the experience a somewhat more brave and risque adventure than it actually was.
We got off the tour bus and spent the next 15 minutes climbing up the mountain to be rewarded with first glance of his beast of a volcano. Our tour guide did his best to educate with his fact telling and entertain with his anecdotes about his wife…”my wife is an alligator vampire”. He told us about the famous 1944 eruption where a million people living around Vesuvius were killed within minutes due to the poisonous gas emissions coming from the volcano.
Despite it not erupting for years, you would think that it wouldnt exactly be prime real estate…wrong!…a three bedroom place on the water resembles Point Piper pricing with it being around the one million Euro mark! The four of us spent the next hour and a half walking through around the volcano and being slightly sidetracked by that ‘getting to know you’ energy that people get when they first meet.
After the volcano, the four of us grabbed some dinner. I had a great tuna, tomato, olive and onion panini which satisfied my hunger for health and taste. We said our goodbyes to Dave and Charlotte and arranged to hopefully meet up later in October.
We got back to the hostel and met Jack, a 21 year old medical student from somewhere outside of Manchester and chilled with him in the hostel agreeing that the three of us would go to Capri the next day.
Napoli-Portici…Day 1 and 2….before we actually did stuff
So long story short, after catching three planes, I walked into the baggage reclaim terminal and had automatic doors slam on me in an aggresive fashion. I should have taken it as a sign to come as the next thing I knew, I could clearly see that my baggage had performed a Copperfield esque disappearing act.
I went to the lost and found along with about five or so other disgruntled customers and tried to remain calm and in a passive state, despite this being Lufthansa’s second hoorah with my bag.
I was told that they would look for it, but for now it could be at Heathrow, Brussels Airport, Milan Malpenza or on the back of some guy’s truck. Who knew!
I jumped in a cab through the gritty streets of Naples and finally arrived in Portici, at the Fabric Hostel and Club…should use the latter term loosely. It was only fitting that we would drown my sorrows in our first Italian meal and headed up the street to the guy at the front desk’s favourite place. The guy was about 7 foot and looked like he knew a thing or two about carb loading, so we respectfully took his advice and made our way in the above 30 temps to the restaurant.
There we ordered two big pizzas despite having no idea what it was in fact we were ordered. It sure put Dominoes to shame…It is a tradition for most tourists that after said pizza, you go to a gelateria for an icy treat. I tried the Pistachio and Coffee ice cream. The Pistachio was definitely the winner with its sharp nutty flavour.
Woke up the next morning and decided to head down the street through the local market for a few essentials due to me being sans baggage. There were not many clothes but I did manage to find a fairly loud and garish green tshirt that is ashamedly something I would possibly wear at some point in my life. After that, I spent most of this frustrating day on the phone to Lufthansa and Covermore making my second and probably hard to fathom claim.
That night, we hung around the hostel and watched Euro Trip with Gary and Hannah, a British couple who are traveling for two years including a stint promoting clubs in Ibiza, a 17 year old Australian girl whose name I can’t remember and a couple of Canadians. We all laughed at how this movie lacked a sense of realism, made glaringly obvious by the Vatican City scene.