Posts Tagged ‘tourist’

Croatia

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

A long time ago, I went to Croatia. At least it feels like a long time ago – I have since returned to the reality of life, work and responsibilities and all notions of relaxation that I gained on my travels have disappeared. I have been particularly busy on my return to Manchester and haven’t had time to write about my time away. I am slowly putting my photographs up on my Flickr site so you can eventually see photographic evidence of my trip. Just keep checking back for more updates. I like to keep you in suspense.

Croatia – country of fancy boats, blue water, and red roof tiles

Croatia – country of fancy boats, blue water, and red roof tiles

The biggest highlight of the trip was being able to spend an extended period of time with my best friend, Gill. We haven’t lived in the same city for years and so being able to hang out and eat food together was an absolute luxury.

Croatia was both all that I hoped it to be and full of little surprises. I had imagined it to be a combination of Italy and Greece and found the Italian influences a lot stronger than expected. This was particularly evident in the food with a lot of pizzas, pasta and risotto on the menus. Seafood was the main player food wise and I consumed more seabass in a week than I had in the entirety of my life.

On our first night in Croatia, Gill and I ate two seabass each. It was unintentional but delicious.

On our first night in Croatia, Gill and I ate two seabass each. It was unintentional but delicious.

There was also plenty of ice cream around, however the quality was no where near that of Italian gelato. It seems ice cream supply is ruled by two main companies that add ridiculously over the top flavours to vanilla ice cream. This fact, however, did not stop us from averaging two ice creams a day. Ice cream is good for us – it contains calcium.

This Hello Kitty ice cream did not taste like cat.

This Hello Kitty ice cream did not taste like cat.

The beaches weren’t quite as spectacular as those I swam at in Crete but that’s just me being picky. I always find it remarkable to discover that ocean water really can be the bright aqua blue that you see in photographs in tourist magazines. It had been over a year since I had last swam in the ocean so the sensation of submerging into water was wonderful.

I had this cove to myself on my last morning in Croatia.

I had this cove to myself on my last morning in Croatia.

I don’t think I will ever accept stone-covered beaches. They just hurt. You can’t sit on them, you can’t stand on them, and they make you look like a stumbling idiot getting in and out of the water. Rock beaches aren’t that much better as you have to clamber over spiky rocks and then try not to slip on the green algae that coats the rocks closer to the water. Where is the romance? The locals and the tourists were certainly making use of every spare spot of sun-baking space. As Gill and I hunted for shade and coated our whitest-of-white skin in ten layers of 50+ sunscreen, we watched as everyone else turned into crispy bacon lying for hours in the direct sun.

Beautiful but painful.

Beautiful but painful.

We stayed in three towns during our trip – Split, Zadar and Trogir. All had booming tourist trades with restaurant menus translated into five different languages and endless shops selling postcards, white and navy striped clothing, and magnets. While I am aware that I am a tourist myself and therefore part of the problem, it saddens me how beautiful old cities are destroyed by tourism. Nothing is left untouched and every monument you enter has a shop at the exit selling miniature snow-dome versions of what you just saw. While the majority of the Croatians we met were very friendly and welcoming, there were many instances where it was obvious that the fact that we were just another set of tourists was a great annoyance to them. I wish it was possible to travel and visit new places without having to participate in the tourism industry but it is becoming increasingly more difficult. We weren’t even travelling during peak tourist season. I wonder how it feels to have grown up in one of these cities and to have seen your home town transformed into Disneyland. You don’t have much choice but to join in and make the most of the lucrative benefits of rich tourists.

Some particularly amusing translation. I had the goldfish – it was surprisingly large.

Some particularly amusing translation. I had the goldfish – it was surprisingly large.

One particularly interesting thing we noticed was that most tourists in Croatia were either German, French or another nationality that we couldn’t quite recognise. There weren’t many anglophones which was a HUGE relief as we couldn’t understand the annoying things they were saying. Gone was the cringe factor I usually feel while standing in a line to climb a tower and l overhear the conversations of fellow English speakers. Instead we just had to deal with grumpy fat germans and backpacking French teenagers. Easy.

Gill and I decided that for our next Croatian adventure we would rent a car and explore more of the inland areas. The country has some fascinating landscapes that deserve exploration and a car would remove the need to join evil bus tour groups and we could see some of the unspoiled and non-tourist areas.

The Real Water Lilies

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

When my parents were in town we caught the train to Vernon and then a shuttle bus to a small town called Giverny to visit Monet’s gardens. This was something I had been meaning to do for some time and as my Mum loves gardens it was the perfect opportunity. Thanks to the advice of some wise friends, I booked our tickets online the night before so that we could skip the queue of tourists as we all moved from train to bus to garden like a well trained flock of sheep. While everyone else went to the ticket office, we snuck in the back entrance. Smooth.

I went there knowing and expecting it to be tourist laden, and, of course, it was. But nothing really prepares me for the inner hatred that sprouts from me whenever I am in those sorts of places. I attempt to accept my position as a tourist and embrace my inability to change the situation or the people I am surrounded by, but I can’t help it. I hate it. Absolutely hate it. I blame the slight peevishness that I have inherited from my father’s side (sorry, Dad) so technically it isn’t my fault. I was born this way. But the sight of masses of tourists arriving in a bus, then following signs to stand around and take photos of something that represents something that once existed makes me want to hit my head against a wall. And then I participate in this circus… shocking.

Sure, I admit, Monet’s gardens were beautiful. There were water lilies just like in his paintings, and despite Autumn being almost in full swing, the garden was scattered with bright flowers. We had chosen to go on a good day and there weren’t that many other people visiting. You were able to get your photo of the pond and the bridge without someone standing in the way and ruining the shot. It was quiet and peaceful (apart from the occasional semi-trailer that roared past on the main road adjacent) and a pleasant way to spend a morning.

Monet's water lily pond

Imagine this with a blue sky – unfortunately we went on an overcast and drizzly day

In the gardens was “Monet’s House”, which I have to put in inverted commas because 1. he never owned it and 2. it had clearly been completely refurbished because no one can keep a house THAT clean. The tiles on the kitchen wall looked brand new, the pots hanging on the walls had never been used and I don’t think Monet had that poor taste in colours of paint for the walls.

Monet's house

Monet’s house

His studio was the most ‘real’ looking space although all of the paintings hanging on the wall were replicas that had been done by artists who had never even met Monet. Needless to say, it was disappointing. As I walked around inside the house, I couldn’t help but feel that I was in a Monet-version of Disneyland. Everything was fake. On reflection, the gardens I had just admired were also fake – there’s no way that Monet would have spent that much time, effort and money on maintaining the garden. He certainly didn’t have a troop of gardeners ensuring there were always lilies available for him to paint.

Monet's garden

Yes! No tourists!

Giverny itself would have been a gorgeous little village had it not been overrun by tourist cafés selling over priced and terrible food. We wandered slowly through the town, looking at the little houses and the decent interpretive signage that had been installed outside some of the main points of interest did provide an interesting insight into the history. But it did just add to the Disneyfication of the place, and all I could think was how much I would hate to live there.

Giverny

A nice little house in Giverny

Overall, I did manage to let myself enjoy the gardens and Giverny, but I was really happy to get back on the train and return to Paris, where you can avoid being sucked into the tourist traps and life is actually somewhat real. Sure, as soon as I step outside my front gate I will spot a tourist, but here they are observing the real world of Paris, or just visiting the Louvre. And I never go there, so no heads against walls for me. Would I recommend going? Yes. Would I go again? Never.

Flowers in Monet's garden

Despite my whinging, I did like these flowers a LOT.

A la Bretagne

Friday, April 8th, 2011

Grave apologies for the lack of posts. Actually, no… My Dad said to me via email that it is good when he doesn’t hear from me as it means I am too busy doing enjoyable things. Therefore if I don’t write on my blog it is because I am far too busy discovering new places, travelling, shopping, eating etc to spend time telling you about it. But today my planned shopping trip with my friend Pip has been postponed and so I am finally having a day at home. And so I shall write.

I think I will do as I did when I returned home from Nancy and write a list of things to write about in case I forget. Ok, here’s what you have to look forward to:

  1. More sickness
  2. Bretagne in all its glory
    • Crepes
    • Coastline and countryside
    • Friends
    • Salted butter caramel
  3. Mont Saint Michel and impressive tidal movements
  4. The weirdest salmon dish I have ever eaten.

Ok, that will do. I have other things to write about but they fit under other categories and will have to appear separately. Ready? GO!

So Tuesday afternoon I wandered around Montmartre shopping with my Australian friends, Rom and Sam. I bought an amazing dress from a wonderful clothing store called Aeschne and was served, dressed and sold the dress by the woman who made it. I also had a chat with a model who was in all of the photographs scattered around the store. I didn’t just talk to the photos – she was actually there and was very friendly. Anyway, the dress is a beautiful blue silk and is just stunning. I am now searching for a reason to wear it and will continue to hint to Tom that he needs to take me out for a nice meal. You can see the dress if you go to the Aeschne website and look at the Automne/Hiver 2010 collection and look for the picture of a short-haired woman standing against a white wall. My dress is a nicer colour though. And it looks WAY better on me.

So my point is that I had a good day but at about 5.30pm my stomach started turning on me again and I felt like the dread E-coli was returning. It didn’t completely but I did have a dinner of plain rice and boiled broccoli (which I actually enjoyed). On top of this, Tom had been complaining about feeling off all day but as I decided I was feeling worse I ignored him.

The next day we got up early (too early – we ended up waiting about 40 minutes at the train station because we were too organised) and caught the metro to Montparnasse before catching a train to Morlaix in Bretagne. Tom spent most of the train ride groaning and saying he was sickly, which I continued to ignore. We arrived in Morlaix and were met by Sarah (a friend who had been staying at Tom’s house the week before we left for Paris. Sarah is French and her husband, Brandon, is American and they live in Paris but are spending the year travelling through Australia. They had to return to Paris for a few weeks to sort out Brandon’s visa) who took us to her house for lunch before showing us around Morlaix. That evening, Tom lay in bed with a fever as he had apparently caught the flu and actually was sick. Damn.

 

Sick Tom

French blood tests are just as gross as Australian blood tests – I had to watch in case he fainted and I had to translate his unconscious groans.

So Tom ended up spending about two and a half days in bed while Sarah and Brandon took me exploring in Bretagne. Tom went to the doctor and had a blood test which I kept trying to talk-up as an ‘exciting experience in France’! I don’t think Tom felt the same way.

Bretagne is beautiful – rugged coastline, beaches and green, green, green countryside. We had one day of amazing sunshine and Sarah took me (Tom stayed home) on a long drive along the northern coast of France, visiting little coastal towns along the way. A highlight – galettes and crepes for lunch (a galette is a savoury crepe). Also being able to walk along the beach in the sunshine and inhale fresh sea air was quite wonderful. It has been awhile and I am getting a bit sick of Paris’s pollution and general secondary-smoke.

 

Bretagne

From a cold and windy day...

Bretagne

To sunshine by the beach – Bretagne has it all.

It was nice to be in a family environment again and to speak a bit of French. It is quite strange talking to Sarah and Brandon in French as I spent a week talking to them in English in Perth but now that we are in France it seems only appropriate to change languages. Speaking French with Brandon is very weird – he is American so it is instinctual to speak to him in English but we spent a lot of our time speaking in French. I guess when you are surrounded by the language it is easier to just stick to it rather than constantly reverting back. I do enjoy jumping between English and French with people who can speak both languages. It adds a new level to conversations and you can explain yourself to a much greater extent. Somethings sound better in French than English and vice versa.

I think it is about time that I wrote about the food. As I have previously mentioned, galettes and crepes are products of Bretagne and it is customary to drink cider with them. As they say, do as the locals. While I find eating galettes fun and a bit naughty, I’m not sure I would choose to eat them often. Crepes, on the other hand, I would eat at the end of every meal if I wasn’t guaranteed to get fat. Particularly if they are filled with nutella…

 

Galette

Spot the difference between a galette...

Crepe

... and a crepe

I also sampled a cake which was made from pastry, sugar and butter and butter and butter and butter. You had to drink a litre of water after every mouthful as it was so buttery. So so good. And then there was the salted butter caramel. I’m generally not that interested in caramel but this stuff was amazing. On our way to Mont Saint Michel, Sarah took us to Saint Malo where we had afternoon tea at an amazing cafe with amazing cakes. I had a piece of chocolate and caramel tart which was one of the greatest things I have ever eaten in my life. Crispy tart base with a huge slab of gooey, buttery caramel and then a thick layer of dark chocolate on top. My eyes almost popped out of my head as I ate it. It was a huge piece and I doubted my ability to finish it, but I did. I worked through it and I made it to the end. I am proud of my achievements.

 

Chocolate and Caramel Tart

Look at it! That's a burst artery.

So the few days we spent with Sarah and Brandon were full of fun and exploration (and Tom’s constant coughing fits and general groans) and it was sad to part ways. At least we did it at the top of Mont Saint Michel as we were being surrounded by approaching tides. Very cool.

So, for those of you who don’t know, Mont Saint Michel is an island off the coast of Normandy on top of which there is an abbey dating back to the 700s. It has become a bit of a tourist haunt as most days of the year (as the moon prescribes) during the day the tide goes out and you can walk across the sand (being careful to avoid quick sand) to the island, while at night the tides return and the island is surrounded by water. There is a dyke with a road allowing for easy access these days but you still need to remove your car from certain car parks before the water returns to avoid having it washed away.

 

Mont Saint Michel

Wow.

We arrived on the island at about 5.30pm and stood in the rain and slightly cool temperatures until 7.45pm and watched the water come in from the ocean.

 

Mont Saint Michel

The water approaches

It was one of the most amazing natural phenomena that I have ever seen. I put it on a similar scale to seeing the salt lakes near Menzies in Western Australia – truly spectacular. It started slowly – you could see the water approaching from the ocean far off in the distance and slowly covering the sand. Then, at about 7.15pm, it all started happening – the water broke over the lip of sand and you could see waves of water sweeping across and filling every hole it could find in the sand. The current was strong and before we knew it we were surrounded by water. Of course, my camera ran out of batteries as the water really started doing its thing, but you can see some photos and movies on my flickr site if you are interested.

 

Mont Saint Michel

Waves!

Staying on Mont Saint Michel was nice as there were hardly any other tourists around, but it was also very touristy and every shop and restaurant was set up to remove money from us. We knew we would have no option but to eat rubbish touristy food and so tried to find the best option. I don’t think we made a wise decision. We each had a set menu which is the normal deal for tourist restaurants. The food was edible but not special and my main meal was one of the most thought-provoking dishes I have ever eaten. I ordered “saumon avec riz de bretagne” – simply translated, it means salmon with rice of Bretagne. It sounded ok – I like salmon and rice so I couldn’t go too wrong. The salmon was a fairly average fillet but at least it was salmon. The rice consisted of two inverted cups of rice – one flavoured with saffron, the other was some sort of ‘wild rice’. Tasteless but I love plain rice so that was ok. It was the sauce that really got me – I think they were trying to make a béarnaise sauce but I’m not sure what they were thinking. I’m fairly certain they had whipped it, creating a soft, fluffy sauce that was just WEIRD. The fish was completely surrounded (swimming, if you will) in the stuff. Further consideration of the dish makes me wonder if perhaps the chefs were trying to represent Mont Saint Michel and the tidal movements in the form of a seafood meal. Whatever they were thinking, they should think again.

 

Salmon

Just weird.

The other problem with Mont Saint Michel is accessing it without a car. We had to catch a train from Rennes, a town 1.5 hours away at 6.30pm and so we figured we had plenty of time to wander the island before catching a connecting bus to the train station. Luckily I decided to check the bus timetable in the morning and discovered we would have to catch a bus at 2.30pm in order to be in Rennes at the right time. There were only four buses a day and the last bus would arrive 15 minutes after our train left. So we visited the abbey, wandered through the town, ate a quick lunch before catching the bus to Rennes and wandering aimlessly through the town for 2.5 hours. Luckily the weather was beautiful and Rennes is a lovely town so it wasn’t so bad. But considering the bus connection between Mont Saint Michel and Rennes is promoted as being the way to get there, it was quite disappointing.

 

Rennes

Look at how French Rennes is!

So a great week away was had and we returned to Paris being not all that excited to see rubbish and filth and dog-poo everywhere again. That said, this week Paris has had amazingly warm weather and I have been quite happy to wander aimlessly through the streets. The parks are in full bloom and every evening the canal is chock-a-block full with people sitting by the water drinking wine and eating Pringles. Tom and I joined them on Wednesday night with beer and cashews before trying out another local restaurant. Very, very pleasant. I think we will be doing that a lot in summer.

 

Beer and the canal

Good times.

Canal

All of the French people were silly and faced away from the nice view

Canal

But not the Australians!