Oh Venezia let me hold you close a moment

Location - SWITZERLAND, Lucerne
Weather has been cold!!! More on Swiss experiences later, but at the top of Mt Titlus it was -5 degress C!
Local time 6.05 pm
My whole life (so far) I’ve always said if I never went anywhere else in the world, I wanted to go to Venice. I’m not even sure where my love affair with the Italian city started. Probably a film or book around my pre-teens or something. A romanticised notion of something that I imprinted upon the city, so Venice had a lot to live up to.
And it was every bit as wonderful as I was hoping. It has been my favourite so far, which I would have expected, followed by Paris and Rome I think, which I wouldn’t have expected Paris to feature too highly, and Rome I thought would be No. 2 for sure.
We took the optional extra of the Gondola ride, having asked the Tour Director early in the trip if it was worth the 39 Euro each (so approx $150 AUD for us both). It struck me as one of the type of things that could be inflated, us being the tourist bumpkins we are, and we will pay blindly. The tour director (Iris) said you can pay up to 100 Euro for a gondola ride, as they know everyone wants to do it, so they charge whatever they want!
For our money we got 40 mins, plus musicians in one of the 4 boats singing for the whole group, and there were 6 in our gondola (which was fine, 2 other lovely couples) and I never expected us to be on our own.
We overheard a quote to some people on the street for half an hour for 80 euro, no musicians. And we assume that was 80 for the entire boat, not each, so I’m happy with that.
It was just so magical, sitting in the gondola going through the little canals, it was a little lightbulb moment for me that we really WERE on the other side of the world. Just amazing.
We’re on the downhill slope now, the last week of our tour and its gone so fast. I will be relieved to stop “touring” but our two weeks at the end are shaping up to be very busy also so I may need to get back to Sydney for some rest! We’re taking it easy from now, I always kind of said that after Venice, everything was gravy. Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Athens, Olympia, Venice, they were all the places I really wanted to cover, and the Alpine countries we’re in now are just a bonus. Crossing into the Italian/Austrian Alp area felt like we were starting a whole different journey, which is great. Everything feels fresh again, and we’ve all been able to pull out our “cold” clothes, which no one on the tour has seen yet so its almost like starting anew, but with old friends.
Vienna was pretty, but kind of boring. After we did our city sightseeing tour we had 3.5 hours to kill, and their shops are all closed on Sundays so we just sort of wandered aimlessly, having lunch and a kleiner brauner, German for an espresso macchiato (of which in Europe you have to add the espresso part or you get a long one. They also have latte macchiato’s in Austria! So after wandering around, considering catching the train back to the hotel but giving up when we couldn’t figure out their systems, we ended up sitting in Starbucks for an hour. Now, in my defense, we did have a coffee in a local shop, but we knew Starbucks wouldn’t kick us out if we sat there for an hour and a half, which we did because it was raining and miserable. Sightseeing is decidedly less fun in the pouring rain, I can tell you.

Its all Greek to me

Greece is not what I expected at all. And I can’t help but feel disappointed with what I got, to be honest.
I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting, and perhaps on the whole, in comparison to Rome, Barcelona, and Paris, its MORE what I wanted than ever, in that those cities were so much more developed than I expected.
For me, to sum up Greece in a few words, I would say smog, desolate, and sad.
No lush green countryside, no beautiful skyline, and in a country that looked like it might not have rained in the last ten years, it rained our last night there. I know you can’t control the weather, but it was a little disappointing.
Athens for the most part is about 10 years behind Rome. In some ways it was refreshing to visit the ancient sites without the hawkers trying to sell you’re their junk, but in other ways its just a bit strange.
Greek coffee is the worst I’ve encountered. 
Undrinkable, and I gave it three chances. The first was even Illy, an Italian brand they have in Australia too that I quite like.
My third and final Greek espresso. 
Thankfully we’re back in Italy where the coffee is FANTASTIC. I remember my first sip of Italian coffee at a little roadstop on the highway. It was SO good, I had shivers.
One of the weirdest things in Greece is that you're still allowed to smoke in public places. And they still advertise cigarettes everywhere. I suppose we're lucky we don't have to put up with smoking everywhere anymore at home, but its very strange in Greece to have people smoking indoors! 
 Lots of public smoking means lots of cigarette butts EVERYWHERE. 
The rubbish in general was a problem too.
One of a million cigarette billboards around Athens. 
The first time I saw this billboard I thought it was A- an Ad for White Lady Funerals.
then B - a feminine hygiene advertisement, as the tones and feel of the billboard screams TAMPONS! Then I realised it was for "feminine cigarettes". Weird.

Come to the cabaret my friend

UPDATED with M's escargot video

oh boy did we go to the cabaret and it was totally worth the 60 euro p/p it cost (we have a Euro symbol on the keyboard, two actually, do I know how to make them work? No.

We went to the Lido show, which is located on the Champs- Elysees, he main avenue in Paris. It was so magnificent, I wish we had been allowed to take pictures but alas we weren't.

Unfortunately this is as good as it gets. It really was as spectacular as this picture though. We also saw the Eiffel Tower with its lights blinking, which it only does for ten minutes a night, probably because it costs an absolute bomb to do.
We have noticed a lot of wind farms here though, so maybe their energy is greener than back home.
The last quick thing, I have eaten the escargot! Yay me! Of an entree of 6, I ate 5, and M managed 1. Video of his experience here soon! :0

Count as he gags. FOUR TIMES he says, while trying to swallow it.

English? *hand gestures* ???

LOCATION Olympia, Greece
Weather is VERY humid. Very warm, unpleasantly so with no breeze. Annoying the internet service is only working for us in the lobby, where they have no air-con going!!
local Time 9.02 PM

We've reached the half way point of the tour, and not for the first time we've counted ourselves lucky that we speak English at least. Because we're with a tour guide, we don't have too many hiccups with language barriers, but I'm now on my sixth book, and I would hate to be trying to buy books in another language. Not that its easy finding English books mind you, but generally the larger bookstores have the native language, and a small English section also.

Now before anyone jumps down my throat, no I haven't been reading instead of enjoying our holiday. I mostly read on the bus, when we're travelling down the highways. There's not much to see after you've looked out the window for half an hour, trust me.

One of our first times trying to "go it alone" was Day 3 in Tours, France, for lunch. Having had lunch the previous day in Paris we had the most beautiful baguette with salad and ham which we just pointed at (rudely I know) so it was fairly easy. Tours, we were hopng for something similar but no matter how many streets we walked somehow we didn't quite manage to see anything similar. Running out of time, and not wanting to eat in a full-on restaurant, we stumbled upon a Subway.

Even then we struggled!! And felt stupid for it, M particularly when the menu said Meatball, but they couldn't understand what he wanted. So that was a disappointing meal, in that we were trying to stay away from things we could just eat at home, but were running out of options.

After leaving London feeling very Tube-savvy, when faced with the option of catching the Metro (subway/tube) back out of the middle of Barcelona and to our hotel, we felt confident we could do it. The tour is structured, in the cities we have two nights in, that the morning will be an included sightseeing tour with a local guide, and the afternoon an optional (extra$$) excursion. The drawback however is that if you take the optional excursion, generally you don't get to see any of the city yourself. By the time you get back from the second trip, you're exhausted and don't want to go out again that night, so if you want wandering time you have to forego the excursion and make your own way back to the hotel. We'd done it mostly ok in Paris, so thought we'd handle it again in Barcelona. It was all fine, and nothing got stolen, but when we went into the underground to go home, the ticket wouldn't work. We tried again before asking a guard, only to be told we'd bought the wrong ticket, and we had to buy another one, EACH, to go through the correct gate! We felt like morons, but it was lesson learned, and unlike at home, the tickets are only 1 euro each anyway, regardless how far you go (why does Sydney's public transport suck so much?!?!)
Oh well, we laughed, and just bought the right one.

A few nights ago we went out and about by ourselves in Rome however, with great success. We caught the Metro in and out of the city all by ourselves, and had dinner, a very pleasant meal.
We also managed a few more sights that our included tours hadn't fit in, which was good.

Nice is nice

LOCATION Nice, France
Weather is beautiful, but very warm. You're almost sweating at 10pm still.

So an eventful departure from Barcelona. When in the breakfast room, one of our tour group had her handbag stolen. It was so fast it was incredible, she put it down, went to get something, not even her whole breakfast, and when she came back it was gone. Afterward a bunch of people remembered seeing two dodgy looking blokes that weren’t in our group, I saw one of them myself but just assumed he was another guest at the hotel. As he left apparently, a different female member realized her bag was gone too, and looked at him, asking if he had it. He proceeded to open his coat, give it back to her and mumble something about “a mistake”.

Scary for the whole tour group, though we had been warned about not leaving our things unattended at breakfast, and thankfully the woman whose bag was stolen found her passport in her other carry-on, along with her “big” credit cards.

**updated-thankfully her bag was found near the hotel after we left Barcelona. As suspected, only the cash was taken, credit cards, camera etc were all intact and they will set about returning the bag to her somehow.**

Barcelona was beautiful, very hot, we saw a sign at 2pm saying it was 33 degrees, and when we got on the bus this morning it was 25 at 8am. So very warm! Not really the weather for boots, but I was determined to buy some anyway and we appeared to arrive just as winter stock was going out in the shops, so there was quite a selection. Boots in Spain, I’m “allowed” a handbag in Italy, and some new sunglasses would be nice. Perhaps in Greece? Heheheheh
We were warned a lot about pickpockets in Barcelona, particularly on the main walking mall area, the “rambla”. There was heaps of great street art and performance, but the consequence is to make you less aware of your person. Thankfully with two of us we could be hyperaware of what was going on around us, but it certainly dampens the experience of being in a foreign city. We definitely saw a few dodgy looking blokes, and I was pretty worried about any man on his own really. Apparently young girls can be just as bad though.
I was disappointed overall with the shopping in Spain, I think we were in the wrong area, because there seemed to be potential we just couldn’t find quite what I was looking for. One of my favourite Sydney shops is called Starfish Earrings. They started with a little shop in Hornsby and expanded to several stores, which was great for them as it was run by a family. The first shop in Hornsby started off only stocking earrings. Earrings from all over the world that are gorgeous. The consequence is though, that I’ve come to Spain looking for cool and interesting jewelry, and found all these things I’ve seen already! That’s a bit sad, but I suppose that’s the way the world is heading! Can’t wait for Venice, hoping to get some Venetian glass pieces.

Touring is interesting.
There is one super annoying Canadian woman on our tour. She’s traveling alone, I can only assume because none of her friends would have her. Unfortunately for another woman traveling singly also, they get lumped in the same room most of the time. She has an irritating habit of talking to herself, or sort of talking at the air, saying things that we don’t care about!!!! Trying not to listen to her, hoping she will curl up and die. Okay not really, but just trying to ignore her as much as we can. Without bringing the subject up, others appear to have the same opinion of her.

Most of the people seem good though, very friendly and middle class so we fit right in. A few younger couples which is nice, but wasn’t a priority for us, so its just gravy.

English people are weird

I have heard, on more than one occassion that Australians are in denial about the weather. Some people think we pretend its not cold, shirking warm clothing for thongs and singlets. While this is not always true, I agree with it for the most part. The sunday before we flew out of Sydney, the sun came out and I perservered with shorts, for the first time in 3 months or so. It was awesome, for about 12 seconds, and then the sun went behind a cloud, I put a jacket on, and it felt less like summer after all.
Me at Tower Bridge. Loved it.

The point is, I think English people do the exact same thing : in reverse. The convince themselves its really not that hot!
Our first full day in London, it was gorgeous weather. We walked the banks of the Thames, being utter tourists, but it almost felt like we could be at home, most definitely a bare legs day, thongs and sunscreen.
But the "natives" were all walking around like it was 10 degrees colder than it actually was. I think it hit 25-26 degrees and I spotted a woman in Ugg boots (sheepskin slipper boots).
It was insane! And people were carrying coats everywhere!! Nuts.
Sadly we even saw a little boy, whose parents were only wearing T-shirts, but for some reason they thought he needed a woolen vest. I assure you he did NOT.
I think I mostly found it weird because we're just leaving winter at home, and they're just leaving summer, but they were wearing very similar things. Jeans and boots, knitwear etc. Scarves!

We managed to squeeze in a Soccer/Football game while we were away also, and that was great.
 West Ham United vs Blackburn.
The atmosphere was just incredible, and one of the things I was amazed by was the tiny number of spectators for the other team. Go to an NRL game in Australia and the ground might be 60/40 home to away. But in a ground of 33,000 people that turned out for a regular round match of soccer, there would have been lucky to be 1,000 supporters for the other side. Their section wasn't even full.
The "away" supporters at the game 
Oh yes, Section. They're not allowed to sit together! The black mesh in this photo spanned about 5 rows of seats, (its not standing up) and there were police all over the section too. Crazy!

The other amazing thing was that we were at West Ham for the ground, and its Suburban! 33,000 had to then catch the train back to wherever they came from and they have it so wel worked out we were on a train within 20 minutes of leaving the stadium. That would NEVER happen in Sydney. We're very impressed with the Tube system!

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