Saturday, December 26, 2009

Honeymoon, Part 5: Merry Christmas!

Jen: Merry Christmas from Venice! We have spent today eating, drinking and gently drifting along the canal in a gondola. Same old, same old, really! As usual, we have built our day around a very long lunch - about three hours today, I think - and a couple of bottles of wine. We are now in our hotel room awaiting dinner time!

Christmas lunch.

The high (or low?) point of the afternoon was when I said "Should we get another bottle of wine?" and Jamie replied, "It's Christmas!"

We didn't just eat and drink today, though - we started out (after breakfast) by going to Piazza San Marco. Many of the shops were closed due to it being Christmas day but we still managed a look at the Basilica and the bell tower. I'm loving the calm of Venice - the total lack of cars etc is absolutely lovely, and the gentle (if a little bit smelly) lap of the canal is very peaceful.

Here is a little video of our gondola ride. We have seen a lot of tourists spending their whole time in gondolas with video cameras poised - what is the point??! We only have a few seconds of footage here for you - we spent the rest of the time being a starry-eyed newlywed couple. Enjoy!

Jamie: P.S. We just heard and saw a guy riding past our hotel loudly singing jingle bells in Italian while ringing his bicycle bell. Hilarious!

Honeymoon, Part 4

Again, blog post by Jamie and captions by Jen!

The remainder of our stay in Bordeaux was very enjoyable, although the weather was pretty dreary, drizzling almost constantly, the kind of annoying rain which doesn't really stop you from going outside but which leaves everything slightly soggy and cold.

On the food front, although we very much enjoyed the rich French meals, by dinner time on Wednesday, neither Jen or I could stomach any more of it, so we randomly decided to eat at a Brazilian restaurant we encountered. This turned out to be fantastic, especially the desserts! We'll be looking out for a Brazilian restaurant when we return home.

On Thursday morning, we visited Bordeaux's cathedral, which is huge! We happened to visit as the organist was practising on the pipe organ, which was a real treat. I love the sound of a true pipe organ, but rarely get to hear one live. I also got to touch some of the big angel statues, which was rather interesting.

A poorly lit photo of Jamie checking out the angel.

I often have trouble figuring out what statues (or parts of them) are meant to be representing, but these were large enough and carved with so much detail that I could grasp them quite easily.

The overnight train ride to Venice was certainly a mixed experience. First of all, the train was running late due to bad weather conditions; we ended up arriving in Venice about two hours later than intended. We had a private sleeper cabin. The worst part was the food. The only food available (or at least as far as we were led to believe) was in the restaurant carriage. Dinner cost Eur28 per Person. Major rip off! First of all, we were both tired and the train was already running late, which meant that dinner didn't start until 9:30pm. There was only one (very curt) person serving the entire (rather full) carriage. We were given some very stale bread, which no one ate; Jen saw lots of pieces of bread with tiny nibbles taken out of them, similar to our own. The food was very average (and that's probably being kind) and service was hideously slow; we didn't get out of there until after 11, and even then, we left before dessert (pre-packaged chocolate cake) was served. Breakfast was Eur9.50 per person and was similarly crap. Airline food service receives its fair share of complaints, but this was far worse.

We returned to our cabin after dinner to discover that it had been locked while we were away, so we had to find someone to unlock it. The beds were comfortable enough and both of us did manage to get a few hours of disjointed sleep, although the ride was pretty jerky. Just being able to lie down and rest made it far better than a plane trip for me and it was fantastic to have privacy.

Upon arriving in Venice, we took a water taxi to our hotel.

Much more interesting than a regular taxi!

I knew Venice would be fascinating for me and I wasn't disappointed. The whole concept of a city (or at least a large section of it) where non-pedestrian travel occurs in the water instead of on land is just so different to anything I've experienced. Also, the constant, gentle lapping of the water is quite relaxing. Our hotel is in a terrific location, just metres away from the water and the Rialto Bridge and walking distance from everything we want.

Our hotel.

The room is quite old-looking, quaint and (according to Jen) "girly", with patterned fabric on the walls, an old-style key and other similar cuteness.

Our 'girly' room.

As usual, we started our stay with a fantastic, luxuriously lingering meal. :)

One more thing: just after we arrived in Venice, the following (slightly paraphrased) conversation occurred:
Jen: (excitedly) "Oo! China Town!"
Jamie: "Err... we've just arrived in Italy and you're excited about Chinese food?"
Jen: "Yeah, it's because I'm a Teh now..."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Honeymoon, Part 3: Culinary Adventures

Note: This blog entry has been written by Jamie, with photo captions by Jen.

On Monday, We rose at around 6am (ugh) to make the trip to Bordeaux. We decided to pack our backpacks with enough for the next two days and ditch our 20+ kg suitcases in luggage lockers at the train station... and Jen subsequently spent a considerable amount of time babbling about how relieved she was to be rid of them. :) Lugging them around has certainly been challenging, so it's nice to travel light for a few days.

Upon arriving in Bordeaux, we ended up walking to our hotel, as it wasn't that long a walk and turned out to be far easier than trying to find a cab or figuring out public transport. Along the way, we grabbed a bite to eat at a place which served a set three course menu for €12.50. We've found this to be a common trend here; a lot of places serve a set menu for an incredibly good price and often even provide some small choice of dishes. We were greeted with complimentary glasses of port. Yum! We only ordered one meal, as I wasn't feeling particularly hungry due to my stupid cold, which made me sad. (Dad, I'm sure you can understand.) Amusingly enough, I ended up eating a substantial amount of Jen's anyway. The meal was delicious!

Continuing our journey, we noticed that there seem to be a rather insane number of vehicles with sirens which either passed us by or made themselves heard from a distance. We've been able to hear these from our hotel as well. There seems to be at least one every 5 minutes! Even if there is some sort of police/ambulance/fire HQ nearby, they must always approach with sirens blaring. I had fears that my sleep would be terrorised by nightmares of A natural and B natural tones alternating at 60 bpm, complete with doppler effect pitch alterations. Thankfully, my fears were not realised. As it is, I'm sometimes not sure whether I'm actually hearing them from a distance or whether they're just in my head...

Our accommodation here is a serviced apartment. Upon entering, we discovered a big lounge room, but were a bit concerned when we couldn't find the bedroom. Thankfully, we discovered that the couch folds out into a rather large, comfortable bed. There is a tiny kitchenette, although it's not really large or well equipped enough to cook much. This is also the first place we've stayed that has provided free internet access, which is fantastic.

We both very much like Bordeaux, probably more than Paris. It is a smaller, quieter, perhaps quaint place. Many of the buildings are very old with big wooden doors. As we walked down one street in the evening, I kept hearing these doors being closed, reminding me of movies/audio dramas of older times. It is a rather stark contrast to the modern, often automated doors that I usually encounter.

On Monday evening we decided to find another restaurant offering a cheap three course set menu. This is where the adventure truly began. None of the staff spoke a word of English and there was no English menu, so we decided to... make educated guesses/order at random. We had a choice of four starters and four mains.

The menu.

We ensured that we ordered different dishes for each to increase the chance of satisfaction. For the starters, I ordered "Charcuterie" at random, while Jen ordered "Salade au Roquefort", knowing that "Roquefort" was some kind of cheese. For the mains, I ordered "Pave de Bouef", knowing that it was beef, and Jen ordered "Pave de Saunoiy" at random. The beef had a "Roquefort" sauce, so we knew it was some kind of cheese sauce. I raised the objection that perhaps this meant blue cheese (which I don't like much), but Jen smugly pointed out that they'd just say gorgonzola or the like in that case. I theorised that Jen's dish ("Saunoiy") was probably salmon, but Jen smugly retorted that "poisson" was the French word for fish, so it probably wasn't.

So, the starters arrived. Mine was a rather tasty assortment of cold meats, salad, pickled vegetables and paté (I think of it as the French equivalent of antipasto).

Jen's was... a blue cheese salad.


Both of us very much enjoyed our dishes, but I now knew that my beef would be smothered in a blue cheese sauce. We still didn't know what the other main would be.

Eventually, the mains arrived. Mine was as expected, and after Jen scraped off most of the sauce, I quite enjoyed it, although it was a little tough in places.

Jen's turned out to be... salmon.

Oops again.

All of a sudden, Jamie became the smug one...

But at least he took it in good humour.

Very good humour.

Amusingly, we had little trouble discerning the meaning of most of the desserts and they were both utterly delicious.

This one had the words 'citron' and 'meringue' in the title.

And this one had something to do with chocolate and fondant.

All in all, the experience was hilariously enjoyable, helped along by a bottle of gorgeous local red wine.

Thankfully, we know how to say "red wine" in French.

Of course, now that I've had some success at guess-work interpretation of French menu items, I'll probably completely fail from now on.

Au Revoir!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Honeymoon, Part 2: Addendum

Jamie: Just a few things we forgot to write about in the original post.

I'm truly amazed by the efficiency and usefulness of the tube in London. There seems to be no more than 5 minutes between trains and you rarely have to wait even that long. Most of the time, there was a train waiting for us. Even changing lines is not such a big drama because you don't have to wait very long for your connecting train. There was a tube station close to everything we needed, though admittedly, our time was spent pretty close to the centre of London. It seems far preferrable to driving through the awful traffic; we sat on a tour bus for over half an hour for only a few stops and most of that time was spent idling. The metro in Paris also seems to be extremely efficient, although it always seems to be crowded, even in the middle of a Sunday. I'm going to miss this when I get home to Brisbane and its half-hourly, frequently unreliable trains.

In both London and Paris, I haven't encountered a single audio light. I'm told that there are some in London, but as I noted above, we spent most of our time in the centre of London and I somehow didn't encounter a single one. I find this quite perplexing. Are there really so few or are they just at obscure crossings that most people don't use? Are there any at all in Paris?

Music nerd alert: Immediately following our arrival in Paris, one of the first things that caught my attention was the sound preceding announcements at the train station. Rather than the boring old major arpeggio or perfect fifth tones that so often preceed announcements, this was a minor, unresolved, slightly sinister/creepy tune that reminded us somewhat of the X Files. Other pre-announcement sounds heard in Paris were somewhat more cheery, but even so, they were still much more interesting than the norm.

It's been great to have a break from computing and the like, but nevertheless, I'm finding our extremely infrequent internet access to be difficult. It's not so much the social aspect, though it's certainly nice to catch up with people at home every few days. However, more than anything, we tend to take the ability to quickly Google something for granted. Yesterday, we gave in and spent the €20 (ouch!) to get 24 hours of internet access at the hotel. As an example, this enabled us to quickly find a nearby laundromat and pharmacy, including maps. (Concierge told us that the former didn't exist and that we'd have to go quite some distance to find an open pharmacy on a Sunday. Grrr.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Honeymoon, Part 2

Jamie: The trip to Bayswater went pretty smoothly. We caught a shuttle back to the airport and another bus to Liverpool Street Station, from where we decided to catch a cab rather than trying to lug our luggage on to the tube when we didn't really know where we were going. Our hotel (Queen's Park Hotel) was a bit old and quaint, but functional enough and spotlessly clean. The lift was a tiny, slow little box which could barely fit the two of us with our luggage. The room was smallish, though nothing on the Tune Hotel in Malaysia.

Jen: In London, we got to see "We Will Rock You", "Hairspray", "The Lion King" and snow.
Please ignore my bizarre facial expression and look only at the snow.

All four were very exciting. We actually saw "Hairspray" and "The Lion King" on the same day, following a long and moderately boozy lunch at an Indian restaurant, so I fell asleep for a bit of Lion King, which I felt pretty bad about because it was a spectacular show. It was in one of the ballads, I think, and I woke up when Jamie nudged me to ask what had just happened on stage. I don't think he was particularly impressed when he realised he'd just woken me...

Jamie: I found the theatre culture in London to be fascinating. It almost seems like theatre in London is as commonplace as going to the movies at home. This is evident not only in its easy availability (we purchased our tickets to Hairspray just a few hours before we saw it), but also in the enthusiastic response of the audience.

Jen: After a few days in London we made the trek out to the main station and caught the Eurostar to Paris. As it turns out we're really lucky, because apparently all Eurostar trips between London and Paris have now been suspended due to problems with FIVE of them breaking down in the middle of the tunnel, resulting in people being stuck on the train, with no lights and heating, and with food all run out, for up to 16 hours. We caught the Eurostar the day before all this happened, and aren't catching it again thankfully.

The weather in Paris has been cold but really nice - the novelty of snow has not worn off. Yesterday we found some lovely soft snow to walk in, as well as crunchy, slushy snow. (Jamie: Walking on the snow is quite an interesting and pleasant feeling. Sometimes, it almost just sounds and feels like gravel, but at others, it's more like walking on a fluffy, crunchy carpet.)

We spent a ridiculous amount of time playing in the snow.

We also have been trying not to slip on the ice. Special thanks to Sharon and Terry for our fur-lined boots - they are amazing!!

We have been rugging up a bit.

Paris is quite beautiful in parts. The area our hotel is in is pretty average looking but the hotel itself is awesome (it helps that we got another room upgrade). Yesterday, after a cliched breakfast of croissants in a dodgy little cafe:
we caught the tube with the intention of getting off at the Eiffel Tower, but we went by Champs-Elysses station and decided to get off on a whim (OK, it's because of the Art vs Science song which starts with "The Champs-Elysses is a busy street...".) There were Christmas markets there which we spent ages at drinking mulled wine and hot chocolate with Baileys, and wandering around in the snow.

We didn't make it to the Eiffel Tower (I saw it from a distance and that's enough - it looks really ugly...) and instead went to the Louvre. This was a highlight of the trip for Jamie...not. Having Jamie there was actually really awesome because it turns out that blindies get free entry into every museum and art gallery in France so we got to jump the queue and get in for free. And he didn't even die of boredom, because we got those headphone tour things so as we wandered round he could listen to all the socio-historical stuff. We did a 45 minute tour called "Masterpieces" which included Venus de Milo (the highlight for me - amazing)
and Mona Lisa (not so breathtaking). I could have spent days there but that would have been a bit crap for Jamie. Today we found a chemist (we both have colds, unsurprisingly considering that it is below freezing!) and a laundromat (the only trip to a laundry we will need to make, thankfully.)
Note the tasteful picture of Jennifer Lopez in the background.

We then stepped into a gorgeous little bar/restaurant and ate and drank for 2 hours.

I finished with the cheese platter and will not be needing dinner tonight.

Jamie had pannacotta, and I think he nearly cried when he got to the last spoonful. It was a magical journey for him.

So now we are here in our hotel room packing for Bordeaux. Well, I'm blogging and Jamie is complaining about packing. We do have more photos, but can only access the ones on my iPhone at the moment. Au revoir!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Honeymoon, Part 1

Jamie: Our honeymoon has begun! :) This is the first of several posts about our experiences. They're primarily intended for interested family and friends, but I figure I may as well post them here for all to see.

We're flying with Air Asia, our first intended destination being London. We had about an 11 hour stop over in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. First of all, the Air Asia flights have actually been far better than we were expecting. Even without the larger seats, we weren't hideously cramped, although I wouldn't want to be particularly tall. (There are some advantages to having less height. :)) We'd been told there was no in-flight entertainment at all, but it seems that there is now, although you have to pay extra for it of course. The food is fantastic, which is a refreshing change from most airline food.

Anyway, we arrived at the KL low cost terminal some time after 4am on Monday. We had booked a room in the nearby, no frills Tune Hotel just to have a shower and get a few hours sleep... or so we thought. After spending forever getting through customs, we decided to walk to the hotel rather than organising a shuttle bus, as it is apparently only about 5 minutes walk. Big mistake. We made it eventually, but dragging our 20+ kg suitcases over grass, busy roads, narrow pathways and a fence proved to be quite strenuous and exasperating. :( (Jen: It didn't help that even at 4am the temperature was about 25 degrees and the humidity was absolutely disgusting.)

Upon arrival, we discovered that for some reason, we didn't actually have a booking. I remember Jen going through the process, but obviously, it wasn't confirmed properly or the like; unfortunately, our error, as we couldn't find any record of the confirmation either. Worse still, they were fully booked. Terrific. We were told that a room would become available in about 4 hours for the refresher package, which allows for a 3 hour stay to freshen up. Having no other option and being exhausted and in serious need of a shower, we decided to wait.

In the meantime, we went to the hotel's 24 hour cafe to grab a bite to eat. A rather random place indeed. We were going to buy a breakfast sandwich, but they didn't have any bread. We opted for Rendang noodles in the end, which turned out to be fantastic. They just used a pre-packaged frozen meal, but as we discovered, even frozen meals in Malaysia are absolutely delicious. Why can't frozen meals in Australia be that good?

After several hours of waiting on a couch in the lobby, me dozing on and off, we finally got our room. And whoa, what an experience! These rooms are intended to be extremely low cost, no frills rooms for stopovers and the like and we had read about how small they were in reviews, but that didn't prepare us for the reality. There was literally barely enough room to walk around the bed! With two suitcases, climbing over the bed was the only option. Having said that, the shower was good, the bed was comfortable and there was air conditioning, so it certainly served its purpose.

At about 1pm, we caught a shuttle bus back to the airport to catch our flight to London. We had the joyful experience of waiting at the departure gate listening to almost continuous, loud, extremely distorted announcements over the PA system. Arrrg! :) As I write this, we're about half way through the flight.

Jen: The flight from KL to London was great - for me. I slept for about 8 hours, so time flew and I felt pretty good. Poor Jamie barely got any sleep at all, so he was pretty delirious by about 3 hours before landing. I convince him to put in some earplugs and try to get some sleep (before that he hadn't really tried because "Trying to sleep is more frustrating than not sleeping") but he did manage to doze off for a fair while. We arrived in London at about 10.20pm, collected our stuff and went to wait for our hotel shuttle in the 2 degree freezing cold, which was fairly invigorating! We were pretty excited by the time we arrived at the hotel (by sheer mystery deal coincidence we ended up at the Stansted Hilton) and were taking photos while waiting in line. The man at the desk offered to take it for us, and we told him we were on our honeymoon. He checked us in and said "I think you'll like this room...". Upon arriving to our room we discovered that he had upgraded us to the Presidential Suite! It has a big bed, 2 bathrooms, 2 massive plasma screen TVs, a lounge room and free wine! Is it terrible that the free wine was the most exciting part for us? Rather than going straight to bed we stayed up until 2am drinking a beautiful Chilean Cab Sav, eating room service and watching TV, until we both hit a wall and crashed.
We've now just had a lovely breakfast and are back up in our Presidential Suite with an hour and a half until we check out and travel into Bayswater to check into the hotel we will be at for the next 3 nights. So far the honeymoon is going very well. We are taking every opportunity to introduce each other as "my husband" and "my wife". I was very excited when I got to call room service and say "Good evening, this is Jennifer Teh from room 201...". I can't believe we still have a month to go!