Posts Tagged ‘travel’

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.

Hello, Manchester.

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Isn’t it remarkable how much can change in just a few days. This time last week I was in Paris, carrying large boxes to the Post Office and saying goodbye to my friends. I had a wonderful going away party on Wednesday night with so many of my friends coming to wish me bon voyage. It is moments like this that make me realise how lucky I am to be able to have so many friends in so many different parts of the world.

Now I am sitting in an almost-sunny room in my ‘cousin”s house in Swinton. Ahhh Swinton. Centre of the universe. Well, it is a neighbourhood/town within Greater Manchester and is therefore great. I surrounded the word cousin with inverted commas as my relationship with Lesley is quite complicated. Her grandmother was my great grandfather’s sister. Her great grandfather/mother were my great-great grandfather/mother. So you could say we’re close. We do share a love for Volkswagen Beetles so we are obviously related.

I arrived in Manchester last Thursday afternoon, having dragged, carried, lifted and shoved one large heavy suitcase, one small heavy suitcase, and one heavy backpack from my apartment in Paris to Gare du Nord, onto the Eurostar, then from St Pancras station in London to Euston Station, onto another train, and then through Manchester train station to Lesley’s car. We then had to drop the hood on Lesley’s convertible Beetle to get my bags onto the back seat. The transfer of my worldly possessions from France to England went relatively successfully and I am very pleased with my bags and would like to give a big tick of approval to Burton for my large suitcase and the Taiwanese manufacturing company that made the small 10 Euro case.

Leaving the Récollets.

Leaving the Récollets.

I only had to have one argument with a snooty-nosed woman on the train to Manchester who wasn’t impressed that I was rearranging the tiny bag rack on the Virgin train (Useless. Utterly useless.) and that I was therefore touching/moving her bag. She reminded me of a high school English or Economics teacher who has been doing her job for too long. Grumpy grumpy grumpy. Anyway, I made sure to be as polite as possible as loudly as possible and to point out the fact that her bag would be significantly safer if it wasn’t squashed underneath my very large suitcase. I’m reasonably certain that I had the rest of the train passengers on my side.

Since arriving I have organised a SIM card, opened a bank account and am in the process of signing a lease for an apartment in the city. Things are coming together very quickly, largely thanks to the superb organisational skills of Lesley. She is very good at reminding me to call real estate agents. And organising theatre tickets. In the next month I am already going to see two shows, plus a movie and my social calendar is full. Sure, I am mostly hanging out with people over the age of 60, but they’re seriously cool over-60-ers. I love it.

So this is my news so far. As I look out of the window the sunshine has disappeared and been replaced by rain. I have had three beautiful sunny days so far but now the dreary drizzle is returning. It wouldn’t be England if it didn’t rain.

Old building. New building.

Old building. New building.

Top o’ the Mornin’ to Yer

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Wonderful, fantastic, overwhelmingly GREAT news, kids! I know where I am going to be living next month! I realise that I haven’t written about my last few weeks of Visa Adventures as I didn’t want to start writing about the injustice of visa applications until I had a visa in my hand. The internet is an easily searchable entity.

So at the start of January I completed the online application and paid for a two year travel/work visa for the UK. Then after collecting all of the required documents (including a bank statement that had to be stamped by someone from my branch in Claremont… ridiculous.) I went and handed them and my passport over to a French woman sitting behind a desk in a weird office in the middle of the suburbs of Paris. Upon receiving my documents, the woman told me that I couldn’t apply for the visa from France because I didn’t have a Carte de Séjour. NO WHERE on any document or webpage did it ever state that I needed a Carte de Séjour to apply – it simply said I needed permission to live in the country and have been here for over six months. Tick and tick.

She said I could still try and apply but I was likely to be denied. Considering I had already paid for the visa and my only other option would be to return to Australia and hand the same documents over there, I decided to give it a good old try and let them take my passport. And then I waited.

Through some sort of divine miracle or perhaps just some bloody good luck, two weeks and two days later I finally received a poorly written SMS from the Visa processing plant to say that I could collect my passport and documents. There was no indication if this meant I had been successful – it just meant I could get my passport back. To be honest, I just happy about this fact because giving away your passport when you have no other form of identification and your ability to return home relies on the possession of this document is quite unnerving.

I received the SMS at 11am and it clearly stated that the staff would be eating lunch between noon and 1pm and therefore shouldn’t be disturbed. If there is one thing that I have learnt while living in Paris is that you never, EVER interrupt a French person’s lunch break. Doing so will result in spit in your food/ the tearing up your passport/ instant death. So I waited patiently until the afternoon, repeating “You won’t get a visa. You won’t get a visa.” over and over in my head so that when I finally collected my passport and discovered I had been denied entry then there wouldn’t be tears.

When arriving at the Visa centre, two lovely security guards take away all of your possessions and you are then instructed to go to a waiting room. After 30 seconds, my number was called, I was handed a white envelope and then told to leave the building immediately. I had no idea if I had been given a visa or not – all I knew is that I had a white envelope and inside was something that felt like my passport. After collecting my bag, I went outside, sat on a bench and opened the envelope – all that was inside were the original copies of my documents and my passport. No letter, no nothing. So I flicked through the pages of my passport and then TRUMPETS and SINGING ANGELS and FIREWORKS and CHRISTMAS! There was a brand new visa with an awful photograph of me and words suggesting that I can live and work in the UK for two whole years!

Instantly my entire life changed and my world became a much brighter place with a potential future and exciting adventures ahead. I still don’t know exactly where I will end up but I am going to start in Manchester, the birthplace of my great grandfather and home to some of my extended family members.

I leave Paris on 28 February to start my new life in one of the rainiest cities in the world. I’m going to buy some wellington boots! YAY!

Two Years

Friday, February 1st, 2013

I am currently waiting the arrival of my certificate and prize money for having officially survived two years in Paris. That’s right! I, Jessica Davies, have overcome all odds and have managed to live in in one of the rudest, dirtiest, smelliest and most self-absorbed cities in the world. Luckily it is also one of the most beautiful, remarkable and instantly smile-inducing places to live and it has brought me some of the best experiences of my life.

Now that we have officially moved over into February, I have a month left in Paris before I get kicked out. This isn’t very long. Every day I think of new things that I MUST DO before I leave and that list is becoming longer than the number of days I have left. Luckily Europe is a tiny place and no matter where I end up next Paris won’t be far away and I have plenty of spare beds and fold-out sofas available to me thanks to my wonderful friends. I am contemplating making them all compete for my love by pitting them against each other in a Hospitality Battle. Whose sleeping arrangements are most comfortable? Whose bathroom is cleanest? Who serves the best breakfast? Who folds down my sheets and places a small chocolate on my pillow?

Me being me, I have an intense desire to write a self reflective piece about what I have achieved, what I have learnt about myself, what was good, what was bad etc etc. But I suspect no one really wants to hear it so I won’t. Instead I will simply say that the last two years have been two of the greatest years of my life and despite some extremely difficult moments and some disappointments, I am proud of what I have achieved while being here. That mostly being having eaten the most cake of any person in the entire world without getting fat. Speaking of – as it is Friday morning and I am doing a long run tomorrow, I didn’t go for my morning jog and instead baked myself a celebratory cake. It is technically for a dinner party that I am going to tonight, but no one will notice if a piece is missing.

Happy 2 years, me!

 

Celebratory banana bread

Celebratory banana bread

Baking Up a Forge

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

I appear to have fallen into a deep, dark hole when it comes to my blog updates. Very bad. I have an excellent excuse though. Trust me.

Yesterday evening I returned home from Sheffield where I had spent the last five days helping my brother Ben and his business partner, Martha, set up, open and run their bakery. These two have been working hard building shelves, installing ovens, painting walls and buying flour and the opening day had finally arrived. Forge Bakehouse opened with a Friday night shindig where local passers-by and Twitter followers came for free tastings of the bread and baked goods. I was the proudest sister in the history of proud sisters – so many people came and everyone left with huge smiles and very extended bellies. The bread was amazing, the pastries were amazing, and the support from the local community proved that what Ben and Martha are trying to achieve is exactly what the folk of Sheffield want.

Forge Bakehouse

Inside Forge Bakehouse

Over the next few days I helped as checkout chick, customer service provider, chocolate brownie baker (I was officially titled Master of the Universe Brownie Baker), and general kitchen hand. I burnt myself on the oven, I sliced my finger open and my hands cracked and dried from washing my hands so much. I was part of the team!

Forge brownies

I made these!

Watching Ben and Martha work in the bakery was astonishing. Their ability to coordinate when to prep, prove and bake bread, make custards for tarts and whip egg-whites for meringues was just incredible. Considering they are still relative newbies in the bakery world, the fact that they could produce so much bread so successfully is huge credit to them. I kept wanting to give them both hugs for being baking-geniuses.

Working in the bakery was possibly the most fun I have had in yonks. YONKS, I say. It brought back memories of being eight years old and running a café (appropriately named Café Olay (which I didn’t realise until quite a bit later was, in fact, Café Au Lait. Clearly I had French in me from birth) in our computer/office/play room, serving invisible customers, cooking playdough food and thoroughly enjoying the moment when I got to use the till. I now have an intense desire to set up a real café, but I have lots of desires to do many things so I should probably sit on this one for a bit longer. But it was certainly inspiring to watch these two work so hard to get what they want.

I am looking forward to going back at Christmas to help out with the festive season rush. In the mean time I shall rest my cheek bones from excess smiling each time a customer walked in the door. It hurt.

Visiting the Family

Friday, October 19th, 2012

I have been ‘out of range’ for the past week and a half as I went to watch my big bro’ graduate from his baking school in England. Having completed three-and-a-half degrees, he finally went to one of his graduations, previously having chosen not to pay to wear an unflattering gown and stupid hat. I think he chose best graduation to attend because:

  1. It was short
  2. There was an AWESOME lunch afterwards in a normally inaccessible abbey
  3. I could attend.

Ben had been studying on the School of Artisan Food on the Welbeck Estate. I had been looking forward to his graduation as it meant we could have a lunch in the beautiful old stately home that normally is closed to public access.

Welbeck Estate

Welbeck Estate

The lunch was a delicious selection of local produce most of which was made on the estate and we ate in a gorgeous wood-panelled room that I would consider to have been a ‘reception hall’. Very fancy. At least it was fancy until we all attempted to eat slices of beef while standing up and holding a plate, a champagne glass and knives and forks. Not enough hands. Everyone had food around their mouth at some point.

Resulting from Ben’s studies is his new bakery venture with fellow student, Martha. Anyone in the area of Sheffield should make their way to Forge Bakehouse on Abbeydale Road. Due to open early November, you can follow their progress here.

Forge Bakehouse

Mmmm… real bread…

Italia

Monday, August 27th, 2012

My trip to Italy was wonderful – good food, nice people, astonishingly beautiful views. Lake Como is one of those places in the world that make you wonder how somewhere like that can exist. A little piece of natural beauty – a super model of nature. I spent one and a half days in Milan and was somewhat disappointed with the city. I had been told by various Italian friends that it wasn’t the most beautiful city in Italy – they were right. It has pockets of ‘nice’ that make up for the general concrete-box architecture, but I can’t say I wanted to stay there for much longer. Maybe if I was rich and wanted to go shopping at Chanel, Prada and D&G I would have been more entertained, but as your average adventurer there wasn’t much to see.

Navigli

The canal in the Navigli area was my favourite part of Milan.

I met up with my brother and parents in Bellagio, a small town on the edge of Lake Como. Most of the towns scattered around the lake now operate as tourist resorts and while I had gone there expecting tourists, I don’t think I had adequately prepared myself. Lots of souvenir shops, inflated prices, average food and annoying tourists. Thankfully our way of travelling made us remove ourselves as much as possible from these situations and we explored beyond the tourist track, met some locals and sampled some decent food.

Lake Como

Wowzers.

Overall I was a little disappointed with my food intake – not so much as far as quantity but the quality wasn’t what I was hoping for. This is to be expected in a tourist-filled zone where food is produced to please international taste buds en masse rather than offering a REAL experience. The best pizza I ate was in Milan at a restaurant I picked because it was full of locals.

Pizza in Milan

Pizza Caprese

The best gelato was from a gourmet, hipster café, Ronchi, in Como whose cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate) was beyond amazing.

Gelato from Ronchi

The colour says it all.

The best experience of the trip happened on our last day in Bellagio. We had spotted a small church on the other side of the lake and on top of a hill and as we had run out of tourist ferries to take, we decided to walk there.

San Martino

Our destination

I felt very holy and considered converting to Catholicism as we made our way up (and I mean UP) a twisty path that went through towns, forests, gorges and along the edge of cliffs. The view from the top was spectacular – looking down to the lake and across at the mountain ranges. I was surprised by the number of other people who were walking the trail, but it also provided a pleasant relief from the swarms of tourists in the towns.

San Martino

Heading uphill

San Martino

The reward for making it to San Martino

For more photographs of my trip in Italy (we’re talking over 400), visit my Flickr site. To really know what Lake Como looks like, go there.

Italiano

Friday, August 17th, 2012

Exciting travel times – I am off to Italy today! In a few hours I will be in a plane flying to Milan where I will eat, eat, eat. Tomorrow my brother is joining me and we will explore Milan for a day before heading to Lake Como on Sunday. There we are going to meet up with our parents who are flying in from Perth and we will have five days of lake-side living. I can’t wait! The food potential is just too overwhelming. What am I going to eat? Stay tuned – you’re bound to find out.

I Come From the Land Down Under

Monday, July 9th, 2012

Greetings to one and all from the most isolated city on the earth. Or is it? Some people say there’s somewhere in Hawaii that beats us but I am willing to bet there is more to do in Hawaii than there is in Perth. Well, at least you won’t have to sell you left arm in order to do it.

Perth. I do love this city and every time I come home I realise how nice it is. But then I try and do something or buy something or eat something and I realise that something is fundamentally wrong. I have complained about the prices of food in Perth previously but I am going to do it again. IT IS RIDICULOUS. I can’t afford to live here. Ever. So it looks like France will have to accept me and let me stay in Paris forever. Good plan.

My time in Perth so far has involved various ‘catching up’s with friends and family, helping my Dad build a shed at the Wanneroo Museum, and digging holes in the backyard in order to find a leaking pipe. Even the unsuccessful hole digging has brought an element of happiness to my life. The shed installation involved me, a pair of electric shears and some corrugated iron which is the recipe for GOOD TIMES.

Shed at the Wanneroo Museum

Nice shed.

I do enjoy coming back to Perth and seeing what power tool my Dad give me to try out. We’re going to be making a printing press for me to take back to France as well, so who knows what electric saws/drills/sanders I’ll get to use. I should have been a boy.

I am also remembering how glorious the Australian landscape is with its wide open spaces and clean, clean air. I haven’t smelt the horrible stench of urine for over a week! BLISS!

Perth sky

Look at that blue.

On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday mornings of last week, I dragged myself out of bed at 7am when the temperature was hovering around 10 degrees, put on my bathers, and went to the beach. Am I insane? Most probably. Did I feel good jumping into the ridiculously cold waters of the Indian Ocean the day after there was a shark sighting? Not particularly. Will I do it again this week? It is likely. The thing is, after you have gone through the pain of getting so cold that it hurts to walk and you finally go home and step into the warm shower, get dressed and have a cup of tea and some breakfast, and then life is good and you want to do it all again! It is a drug – a very healthy, sinus cleansing drug, and as long as my toes don’t fall off then I think I will continue to do it for as long as I can.

Flying Visit

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Sincere apologies everyone. I have been particularly slack with my entries lately due to many factors – mostly just laziness. But I have been very busy with weddings, family visits, trips to Spain and then packing my bag once again to fly home to Australia. I am currently filling in time before I venture to the airport to stand in lines and wait and wait and wait until I can then get on a plane and wait and wait and wait some more. What fun awaits!!

I am heading home for two and a half weeks to celebrate my grandmother’s 90th birthday. It isn’t every day that someone special turns the big Nine-Zero so a plane flight across the world is worth it. However I am currently wishing teleportation had been developed to a much greater extent so that I could avoid the next 24 hours. I should probably stop complaining and be grateful that it is possible for me to fly home… Nar.

So a quick catch up on things I promised I’d write to you about but never have.

Did I find a dress?

The answer to whether or not my shopping adventures before my cousin’s wedding resulted in the WORLD’S BEST DRESS is both yes and no. No, I didn’t find an amazing dress that was stylish, sexy and slightly ‘unique’ which was quite disappointing. None of the general fashion stores in Paris seemed to have ‘wedding appropriate dresses’. However, at the wedding I discovered that most of the Parisian attendees were less formally dressed than the foreign guests.

I did, however, find a dress that was ON SALE at Esprit (Esprit never fails me) that I wore on the Friday to Freya and Mark’s civil ceremony. It wasn’t what I was looking for but it filled a need that I didn’t even know existed. Clearly it was some sort of sign that I what I really needed was a new dress for the civil ceremony and that I should wear my trusty blue (and super cool) dress to the wedding. And so I did.

The wedding was wonderful with the catholic ceremony held in St Clothilde basilica. The basilica was just astonishing – a huge space with beautiful stained glass windows and light grey stone. The sun came at the end of the ceremony, just in time for photos and an apero in the garden of the Maison d’Amerique Latine. The reception was a lot of fun and absolutely delicious with great food and matching wines and it was so lovely to spend time with my Dutch family. A wonderful, wonderful evening.

For those of you who are interested, you can see photographs of the wedding (and my dresses) on my flickr site.

Did my new printer cartridge work?

Yes, thank goodness.

Was the Guggenheim as awesome as I hoped it would be?

Yes. It sure was. In fact, it was beyond amazing. There have been a few moments in my life where I have felt my jaw drop and then a big, tooth-filled smile spread across my face as I realise what I am seeing. Seeing Times Square for the first time at dusk was one of those moments, and now I can add driving into Bilbao and seeing Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim museum as another. I spent the weekend in Spain and most of Saturday wandering around and through the Guggenheim museum and was completely overwhelmed at how much I loved the space. And then to discover that one of my favourite installations – work by Richard Serra – filled the largest gallery in the building made me literally jump for joy. It was an eye opening and inspirational experience and I came away from it full of excitement about how maybe one day I will be somehow working in a space like that – either as an artist or as part of the gallery staff.

Did I eat good food and drink good wine in Spain?

You bet I did. I was a little disappointed with some of the things I ate but I put this down to my inability to communicate, my dislike for mushed up seafood (lots of the pintxos included this in some form), and my lack of confidence at entering very busy and clearly social places on my own. Eating in Spain is a very communal thing and I felt quite alone when it came to dinner time. However, I got by and managed to have a few conversations and was offered some fried peppers from one friendly couple. But my memories of the food in Madrid are still calling to me and Bilbao didn’t quite match up. That’s ok – it just means I need to go back and try again.

And for those of you with some time on your hands, why not look at my 341 photos of Bilbao and San Sebastian? I can promise you lots of images of the Guggenheim, food and Jesus.

Have I finished packing? 

Not quite. I should do this. And then get some lunch and then go to the airport. So next time you hear from me I will be upside down in the southern hemisphere, joining my fellow Perthians complaining about the weather. Oh, meanwhile yesterday in Paris it reached a rather impressive 33 degrees. It was hot. Everyone was complaining.