Skiing in the French Alps

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Flaine Ski Slopes, skiing in France

For the hardcore, snow bunnies, you need to add the Alps to the ski bucket list and I’m going to tell you why.

I was lucky  to go with French friends over NYE.  This proved to be a treat, not only did I get to experience freaking, awesome skiing, but also the delicious french specialities of the Savoie region and the all-important Apres ski!

The snow season is in full swing in Australian and I thought it a good time to summarise the French offering for those inspired to go further a field.

French Food Specialities (Alpes Region)

Cheese fondue:  Dip bread over a heated pot of gorgeous, melted cheese. A traditional, common peasant meal in the Alps, as cheese, wine and bread were readily available, however, Fondue has gained popularity in western culture, too.  Usually with  2 or more types of cheese, aged Gruyère is commonly used, for the great flavour.  Beef fondue exists also, the fondue bourgignonne, which is beef filed fried in oil which is dipped in the cheese using skewers.

Omelette norvège - Beautiful dessert of ice cream and cake, coated with  a generous layer of browned meringue.  Pour the rum over the cake and ignite for the flaming effect.

Raclette – My favourite.  Mountain or ‘raclette’ cheese is melted over fire or a raclette device, and the action ‘racler’ means to scrape as you do with the melted cheese.  Salami,  jambon, potatoes, gherkins cured onions and olives are dipped into delicious, warm, melted cheese.

The above warm and hearty dishes are commonly found in ski resorts in France. Luckily for you, restaurants are common on the French slopes, allowing you to savour all the delicacies at lunch if you fancy, in between hitting up the slopes.

Apres Ski

There’s something special about kicking back after a exhilirating day of skiing/snowboarding to a couple of drinks in a cosy bar.  The relaxed vibe at the mountain is the icing on the cake, a welcome change to hitting up bars in a busy city.

At Flaine, we become regulars at the Brasserie Les Cimes, a bar across the road from our accommodation on the mountain. We were introduced to the 1 metre shot glass! Fun.

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The French Alps
Each mountain has different quirks.
If an upmarket resort with all the bells and whistles is your style, check out Val d’Isere.
 Flaine offers 267 km of managed ski runs and is located in the Savoie region.  Flaine specialised in great skiing, with no pretention. Also with amenities for all, including families with small children.   Vaujany is also a great ski field I visited with over 220 km of managed ski runs, and is located near Alpe d’Huez.
Why bother? Much larger, more impressive moutnains (than Australia), plus the charming, cultural element.
What to expect? Prepare to hear different language and experience different foods.
  Noting that the resorts are also well equipped with English language variations.
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Un Bonheur n’arrive jamais seul

Can opposites attract?   This movie, ‘Happiness never comes alone’, proves so.  A chance encounter between an unlikely pair, leaves a lasting impression.

Charlotte, (played by Sophie Marceau) a 40-something mother of three, recently separated from her powerful and controlling husband.  Sacha (Gad Elmaleh), by contrast is spontaneous and carefree, living up the bachleor life and devoted to his work as a jazz musician.  He spends his time seducing women at the jazz clubs where he plays into the wee hours of the morning.  But he is ready to give this all up when he meets Charlotte..

Sacha gets thrown in the deep end with her  kids, and has to quickly overcome his fear of children.  He tries to become the man of the house, a far cry for someone,who actually has his mother coming over to do his cooking and laundry!  This normally has diastraous consequences but he seems to get his way out of it cracking jokes and making her kids laugh all the way.

Despite the strong attraction between these two, is it enough to overcome some sinister forces that want to keep these two apart?!

A charming, romantic comedy, with all the French touches that set it apart from a western rom-com.    Don’t expect anything ground-breaking in terms of  plot, but if you enjoy a feel-good movie, where you don’t have to think too much, this is a one for you.

Check out the trailer.

The actors

Gad Elmaleh,  became famous in France as a stand up comedian and later studied drama. The Moroccan-born has done several feature films, including,  Priceless (Hors du Prix) and The Valet ( La Doublure).

I like the skits on  his YouTube channel; it’s an entertaining way of keeping up  my French.

My favourite one is the one where he makes fun of the stero-typed way we learn languages at school.  Why do teachers always focus on ensuring some random, obscure phrases are drummed into us at school?!   In France, it was about finding where Brian is. Is he in the kitchen?!! Where is Brian?! Check it out here or below

I also like the one about smoking where he pokes the fun at smokers and their habits. What you miss out as a non-smoker!

Sophie Marceau is a well loved actress in France.  She became world-famous after the James Bond movie, The World is Not Enough and Braveheart.

She is a also a successful screenwriter, director and author in her own right.

Northern Vietnam highlights – Sapa/Halong Bay/Hanoi

sapa mountains Vietnam 1024x682 Northern Vietnam highlights   Sapa/Halong Bay/HanoiVietnam is up there as a favourite holiday destination- there is much to see including beaches, mountains and lively cities.   After a two week holiday, I felt like I had only scratched the surface of what Vietnam has to offer.

See my post on Northern Vietnam highlights, in particular Sapa, Halong Bay and Hanoi.

Sapa
Wanting to experience the real Vietnam we opted for the local overnight train from Hanoi, instead of the more expensive trains normally booked by Westerners.  It was comfortable, although on the top bunk bed, I feared that I may fall off and so didn’t have the deepest of sleeps!

As you pull into the Sapa village, you immediately feel yourself unwind, taking in the spectacular views of mountains all around you; – feeling a million miles away from daily life never felt so good!
Sapa is located on the border between Vietnam and China and is home to many ethnic minority groups from Laos, China, Vietnam and Thailand. Each group wears brightly coloured hand-made clothing worn a different way depending on the tribe.

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I did a walking tour with the Hmong people, which gave an opportunity to see how these groups live off the land and with minimal electricity.   This gave a rich insight to the village life and I found it interesting to learn that when a woman is married, a dowry of a pig or the money equivalent would be offered, and men may have more than one wife.

Their livelihood relies on produce and rice, and on the tour you can admire the man-made, sculpted rice terraces, shaped this way for growth.
Walking tour cost is $20USD

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Be careful, in the Sapa town the tribes are keen to sell their bags/clothing etc. Don’t encourage this too much, as they will follow you until you buy something.

I recommend hiring a motorbike in Sapa, I didn’t drive, but it was lovely to ride on a motorbike in this region. The hotel will be able to organise this for you.

Sapa View Hotel costs $20 per night.  The staff were helpful; try to ask for a view of the mountains as the view is well worth it.

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Halong Bay

DSC 0574iuiouu 1024x682 Northern Vietnam highlights   Sapa/Halong Bay/HanoiAfter Halong Bay become Unesco listed, it was decided all boats in the bay must be white in colour, and from an aesthetic point of view this has strong impact.

The evening on the boat was my first taste of how seriously the Vietnamese take karaoke. They blasted the karaoke music to the point where it almost hurt your ears, and boy did they like to express themselves!  There weren’t many non Vietnamese willing to take on the crew with singing, except for one English girl who wasn’t fazed at all.

The caves are great to explore at Halong Bay, (although a little touristy), the formations give impressions of shapes/cartoons/characters, where your imagination can take over.
halong bay caves Northern Vietnam highlights   Sapa/Halong Bay/Hanoi

Normally, the tours all are inclusive, (accommodation/meals and normally water sports, cooking class and visiting the fishing village huts).
For me, it was fascinating to check out the street food, watching the Vietnamese congregate on the streets at meal times. A daily, simple tradition where they catch up with their friends.  It seems to ring true to their culture that values communities and looking after one another, over the individual.
For the avid foodie that I am, (especially when in new countries!), I liked that I could see all the food preparation right in front of me plus the variety of fresh ingredients used.
I loved watching the street vendors carrying their goods on their bikes from selling pineapples to flowers to artwork!  Their multi-tasking is impressive  as they manage to balance their goods whilst promoting/selling at the same time!
See below speciality of Hanoi- bun cha  (made of pork mince and noodles with fish sauce dipping sauce).  This was so delicious and is best to try in Hanoi!
bun cha Northern Vietnam highlights   Sapa/Halong Bay/Hanoi

How to avoid Paris Hotel horror stories

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I sympathise with tourists looking for accomodation in the romantic ‘City of Lights’. I, myself had some horrifying moments in my Paris hotel and apartment search.  From been conned by a brand new gorgeous apartment with an older potential flatmate, who was actually looking for a girlfriend rather than a flatmate it turned out, (I had to endure a glass of wine and dinner with him whilst he bragged about his relations to Victor Hugo and how he had “a way with words” like Bob Dylan!), to living in a tiny studio where the toilet was a adjacent to the studio, and the male owner would walk through the studio for maintenance whilst my underwear was drying!   I had to let  a few people know what was what!

And finally when I left Paris, putting my ‘announce’ or ad on the flatfinder site, my mobile nearly broke with over 200 voicemails clogging the inbox.  I guess it was a good test of my French, listening to these Parisians pleading to be considered for my room.  It’s clear the demand for Paris apartments greatly outweighs the supply.

I, for one, know it can be hard to find good accomodation in Paris; the normal complaints of tiny rooms with even tinier bathrooms, or of exaggerated  photos showing  large rooms online, that don’t quite match up to what you get.  It pays to be careful where you book, in terms of location and actual size.  Read this post to learn hints for Paris hotels/accomodation.

If you are looking for budget hotels, have you considered Airbnb?  It’s an online site whereby you can arrange to book and stay with locals for a fee per night or hire out the entire apartment (without the owners).  A great way to see how Parisian live and from my experience, the hosts were friendly and helpful with advice that you probably won’t get of a Lonely Planet book.

Its simple, you create an account, search for the desired location and sort through your options to find one that appeals.  You will see a description of host, the apartment details and photos.  The host will confirm if they accept the booking and payment is done online.  If you search and plan in advance, you can get some good deals on Airbnb, I saw prices as low as 45 euros, for a brand new room, in the central and trendy arrondisement of Bastille.  So it’s just a matter of getting in before someone else does.

Sometimes the owner will rent out the entire apartment to you.  A different experience from a hotel, with the local Parisian vibe plus the comfort of having a kitchen, fridge and toilets handy to make feel more at home. Generally, you are likely to have a bigger space than just a hotel room too.  I had a great experience with Airbnb, staying with a local girl in Amsterdam and a lovely couple in San Sebastian.

Vacation in Paris offer apartment hire all over Paris.  Prices range from 100 euros per night to 500 euros per night (for a larger, posher apartments), and can cater for single visits or groups of 6 people or more.  It’s a nice way of having your own space in Paris.

If the hotel service is more your thing, try a hotel chain you know, as generally the standards/quality of service are the same, no matter where you are.  I was recommended the Ibis Paris Tour Eiffel hotel, because of the location and quality for money.  It was cool to have a view of the Eiffel Tower, and not pay through the roof (prices start from $126).  If this takes your fancy and fits your criteria for a Paris hotel, see more information here.

Or, if you are on a tighter budget, check the Hostelworld or Hostelbookers sites.  Hostels are a great way to meet other people, especially comforting if you are traveling solo.  I stayed at Le Montclair and I recommend it because of the friendly and helpful staff, the nicely sized rooms in the hip and arty area of Montmartre; see below photo.

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Exploring Disneyland…

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I was given tickets to Disneyland as a leaving gift from my work in Paris. It was a great form of escapism and really lived up to and beyond my wildest expectations!

The Hollywood Tower of Terror was my favourite attraction at Disneyland, and its the most recent addition to the resort.  The lift opens at different levels of the haunted, art deco styled hotel. Then suddenly the lights go out and you are waiting, waiting…, until you drop to what feels like 5 levels underground, to be then taken up in 3 seconds flat to the top of the hotel, where you suspend, taking in an amazing view of the park.

So you get the general idea.  A bit of a thrill and a really impressive, choreographed attraction.   As in normal Disney style every intricate decoration detail is there, you feel like you are in this scary hotel lift..  Even the lift controller is in character as a quirky  bell-hop with dark humour jokes.

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Main Street USA is one of the 5 lands in Disneyland Paris. 

Be transported back to the era when Walt Disney grew up, to the times of horse drawn carts and traditional candy shops and the Ice Cream Parlour!

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Discoveryland is where I spent most of the time.

Space mountain is an awesome roller-coaster that gives the impression you are blasting off into space, with futurist bright flashes coming at you at light speed!  You need to hold on tight!

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Frontierland is the land of the wild, wild west. Explore canyons, cactuses, in the territory of indians and cowboys.  The wild west train of the Mississipi is fun, and the Haunted House is worth your time, too.

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Fantasyland is popular with young kids, girls especially.  Its’ a very girly world with castles to explore plus the infamous Mad Hatter tea cups ride.

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 Adventureland is all about adventures at sea tackling pirates or even Indiana Jones!  Unfortunately the major rides were closed when I went.

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The Fast Pass is a great new ticket system, where you find the attraction of interest, take a fast pass ticket and come back at a designated time for the ride, without queuing. If you know the attractions of interest and can orientate yourself around the park, you will be able to skip queues for most of the day.  Disneyland Paris is always busy and especially on the weeekend, so waiting time for rides of up to 1 hour or more is normal.  The Fast Pass is an efficient way to avoid this.

During a normal day, there is a parade at 11am with all your favourite Disney characters and a firework and light show at night. The ligthshow is cool as the well known Disney characters like Tigger are projected onto the famous castle.

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Disneyland is the most popular attraction in Europe, attracting more visitors than the Lourve and double that of the Eiffel Tower.  Despite record ticket sales and millions of visitors from all over Europe, the attraction isn’t making a profit and hasn’t for a while.

Walking through the park, you can’t help but notice how every square metre is lavished in attention and detail; it must cost millions for the upkeep of the park, in keeping every attraction 100% in character and in pristine condition.  I think Disney’s dedication to this park is incredible, despite not generating a profit for the Disney empire, it’s clear that their goal and dedication is rather that children and families, (and for generations to come), should be allowed the pleasure to enjoy the magic and wonderland that is Disney.

 Practical information

Paris Disneyland is located about 40 minutes from central Paris by train.  Take the line RER (A) at Chatelet, Gare de Lyon, Auber, Nation, or Charles de Gaulle in the direction of Marnee La Vallee, and you will descend the train at Marnee La Vallee-Chessy.  The park is a short walk from the station.

If you want to stay right near Disneyland Paris, there are half a dozen Disney hotels to choose from.  For more information check hotels here.

In my opinion, best to pack lunch/snacks if possible, I remember the fast food there was expensive and not amazing.

For more information on Disneyland, see the official site.

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On va manger ou a Paris?!

It’s important to eat well in Paris, even on a budget, and so I compiled a list of affordable but quality restaurants, where you can get a hearty  meal for 13 euros or under.  I was surprised (and delighted!) to find so many affordable restaurants in Paris, making it easier to go out for dinner more often and get the best out of the dining experience.

It’s worth getting off the beaten track, to find where the Parisian locals frequent, giving insights to the different social scenes and helping to uncover little gems that you are not going to find in the touristy areas.

Chez Gladines

Chez Gladines is located at the buttes aux cailles, in the 13eme arrondisement, an area known for its Chinese community.   The buttes aux cailles is becoming well known for its funky and original bars, restaurants, and boutique shops that populate the area.  This is a place where Parisians students and artists frequent; there aren’t likely to be many tourists, which is probably due to its location far away from major tourist attractions.  There is a strong village feeling here with one-off bars and restaurants, and no signs of massive chains to ruin the individualistic, hipster vibe.

Chez Gladines has hearty food, served in large portions at affordable prices.  The cuisine is French with a focus on the south-west and basque regions.  Steak, veal and duck dishes are prices between 11-13 euros, or the basque options include chicken and omlettes at similiar prices.  I tried a salad, a massive dish of lettuce, tomatoes, jambon, cheese, garlic potatoes, egg, which only cost 10 euros.

It’s always busy and lively at Chez Gladines, due to the great food served at low prices, so you will normally have a sangria or glass of wine whilst you wait maybe 30 minutes for a free space.  The tables are communal and this just adds to the fun and bustling atmosphere.  Probably not the place where you would take a date, but its great for a group of friends.  Chez Gladines is located on rue 30 rue des Cinq Diamant, closest metro are Corvisart or Place d’Italie.  

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Le Jardin D’en Face

A tiny, hole in the wall restaurant, that serves great french dishes at a fraction of the price in comparison to posher suburbs of Paris.  The ambience is cosy as it’s so small, and the decor is minimalistic, as the restaurant prime focus is serving great French food.  I normally start with the oeuf cocotte with foie gras, and the magret de canard as a main.  For the desssert, creme brulee is good with a pear digestif.  At 25 euros per person, for a shared entree, main dessert and wine; it’s almost too good to be true!

The restaurant is an all-rounder, suitable for dates, family and friends.  On a long windy street in Monmartre, just a couple of streets away from the touristy areas of Sacre Coeur at 16 rue de trois freres.  The sister restaurant  Le Potager is opposite, a couple of doors down on the same street and has more or less the same menu.  The restaurant is open for dinner only.  It fills up quickly so be sure to book on this number - 01 53 28 26 20.  Closest metro is Abesses

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 Creperie Josselin

A charming Breton-styled creperie in the Montparnasse area, an area known for its high concentration of creperies.  You could easily be in provincial Brittany, with the traditional wooden style decor and lacy tableclothes that create a warm, welcoming ambience.  Not only is this restaurant attractive, but its practical, quick and affordable.  The kitchen is open plan, so you can watch the crepes been made right in front of you.

Try a wholesome galette or also called crepe du ble noir, (crepe made of buckwheat), with jambon, egg and gruyere cheese, and wash it down with a traditional glass of cider.  Most of the crepes will set you back less than 10 euros at lunch and around 19 euros at dinner to have savoury followed by a sweet crepe.  This will keep you full for a while too!  There are sometimes queues but these move quickly.  Address is 67 rue du Montparnasse, 75014, closest metro is Montparnasse Bienvenue or Edgar Quinet

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L’As de Fallafel

Nice to try some simple take away food in the uber trendy area of Le Marais.  L’As de Fallafel is a little Israeli eatery, found in the characteristically Jewish section of the Marais, amongst Kosher butchers, synagogues and expert bakeries.  On the small, cobbled laneway at 34 rue des Rosiers is the small restaurant, where you can eat quality food in a comfortable environment.  Try a fallafel pita, with tahiny and hummous plus roasted eggplants, cabbage slaw, tomatoes and cucumber. All this for under 6 euros takeaway

Favourite French dishes

1. Steak Tartare

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Initially a little putt off by this meal, but it has actually become one of my favourites.  The fine, minced beef is cured with onions, capers, seasonings and sometimes an egg.  Hard to explain why I like this, because I am not normally a big meat eater,  but there is something about it that keeps me going back for more.

2. Pain perdu

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A sweet dessert which literally means ‘lost bread.’  One day old bread is perfect to use; soak this in a mixture of eggs, cinnamon, vanilla, sugar and fry on a pan with butter until cooked and brown on each side.  Simple to cook yourself, and delicious with a bit of ice cream.

Paris sous la Neige- Paris in the Snow

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Il y a une semaine, j’ai reçu quelques photos de Paris sous la neige. Apparemment, cela fait des années qu’il n’a pas neigé comme ça.  Même pour moi qui y ai habité, je n’ai jamais vu de la neige comme sur la photo.  En fait, en février 2012, il a beaucoup neigé mais c’était quand j’ai pris mes vacances en Australie.  Donc, je n’ai pas eu le plaisir de faire un bonhomme de neige ou de faire ‘les anges’ ou même de faire une bataille de boules de neige!

Mais voilà! C’est le parc ‘Buttes Chaumont’ ou je courais tout le temps! Ca a toujours été un endroit de soleil et de sport pour moi avec des gens partout.  C’est difficile de l’imaginer avec de la neige partout!

J’ai entendu dire que certains Parisiens ont profité de la neige. A Montmartre par exemple, les gens se déplacer en ski dans le quartier! Il y avait assez de neige pour le faire.

 

I received some photos of a very snowy Paris, about a week ago.  Apparently, Paris has not seen snow like that for years.   And even though I lived there for one year, I never saw snow like this!  In fact, in February 2012, there was a lot of snow and blizzards during one week, but it was the week I was on holidays in Australia.  So, I never had the fun of making a snow man, making snow angels by lying down in the snow, or even a snow fight with friends!

So here is the park ‘Buttes Chaumont,’ where I jogged all the time.  It was always a place of sun and sport for me with people everywhere.  It’s weird to imagine it like this photo, with snow everywhere!

Some Parisiens took advantage of the snow, with people living in Montmartre skiing to get around their neighbourhood! There was enough snow for this!

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D’un autre côté (plus sérieux), les vols ont été bloqués à cause de la neige et le verglas sur les routes a rendu tout déplacement en voiture difficile et dangereux.  Il a été recommandé que les gens soient très prudents sur la route et qu’ils attendent que les conditions s’améliorent.

Avec ces problèmes, il était difficile d’aller au travail ou à l’école.  Donc, pour quelques uns, c’était un ‘snow day’ à la maison. Quelle chance!

On the serious side, the amount of snow stopped many plane flights and the black ice on the roads made it very difficult and dangerous for people to drive.   People were recommended to be extremely careful on the roads and wait if possible for better driving conditions.

With all these problems, it was hard for the French to go to work and school.  So, for some it was a ‘snow day!’  How lucky!

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Surfing on the Bellarine Peninsula

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The Surfie haveen of Victoria

Bell’s Beach is targuably one of the best surf beaches in the world.  Convenient for surf-crazed Melbournians, located only 1.5 hr from Melbourne by car, near the start of the Great Ocean Road, between Torquay and Anglesea.

Over Easter, Bells Beach is home to the Rip Curl Pro, one of the oldest surfing competitions, where pro surfers show off their talents to thousands of cheering fans who spectate from the surrounding beach and cliffs.   See amazing  coverage of professional surfing ripping up the waves here.  Surfing at Bell’s Beach is not really suitable for everyone, and is mostly geared towards experienced surfers.

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If you like the idea of surfing, but have never done this before, why not consider a lesson?!  Go Ride A Wave in Torquay offers 2 hour lesson, wet-suit and surfboard hire for only $65!  There are normally a couple of instructors per class, so you can be guaranteed attention and advice, with instructors that will physically help you onto waves if you struggle at first!

The class is fun and was a great introduction to surfing. I find there is nothing more therapeutic or relaxing than been so close to nature and experienceing the thrill of a wave, even if you can only stand up for a couple of seconds like me!

 Surfing on the Bellarine Peninsula

History

Did you know that Tasmania used to be apart of Victoria? 20,000 to 100,000 years ago, an ice age developed causing sea levels to fall. Before this time, the Bass Strait was just a  low lying coastal grassy plain, that stretched to Tasmania. So in fact, you could walk to Tasmania.  Through time however, sea levels have risen separating Tasmania and the Victoria area.

 Surfing on the Bellarine Peninsula

Enjoy Fish and Chips on the beach

A true blue Aussie tradition, initially inherited and made popular by the English working class. When you can’t be bothered to cook, why not pick up some fish and chip from the local shop and find a nice spot on a beach to eat it! A simple pleasure, that is an old-time favourite for the summer!

 Surfing on the Bellarine Peninsula

Thailand, a special trip – Temples, Lanterns and what lies beneath

Katrina is my guest blogger this week, read about her inspirational story and her recent trip to Thailand, where spirituality, cooking classes and diving were among some of the highlights. Read Katrina’s blog here.

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I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Katrina from WinterOnSpargos; my elevator story is this:

In August 2012 after a very long labour I nearly died delivering our girl Chloe. I had contracted AFE in the last possible moments of labour. I was lucky enough to come away with my health, but, our perfect little girl sadly became an angel 6 days later.

Thailand was the trip to avoid Christmas like the plague!! And what amazing trip it was. I’ll be introducing you to Chang Mai in the north, Hua Hin south of Bangkok and island life in Koh Tao.

(Before I go on, I have to make a confession. I don’t encourage the use of motorcycles. But they were a great and liberating method of transport! Check with your insurance company, as many simply don’t insure you for Thailand and Bali. )

Chang Mai has some of the most beautiful people, wonderful food and gorgeous temples. The highlight of the trip was taking a scooter up into the mountains and visiting a bustling temple. A stunning day, surrounded by many people from east and west.

I discovered gold bells lining the eaves of the low lying rooves with inscriptions of hope and warm wishes. It was obvious this was something we needed to do. And on we went to make Chloe’s mark on this beautiful place. There is a central gold monument which Chloe’s bell looks onto. This is such a beautiful place, made special by the ever so spiritual Thai locals.

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In Chang Mai there is a lot to do and see such as an elephant sanctuary, cooking classes and many opportunities for massages basically everyday if you like.  We made pad thai, red and green curry and banana spring rolls along side fellow travellers, guided by our teacher at the Smart Cook, Thai Cookery School.  It was a great experience.

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Hua Hin was next. We have friends here and it was the location of our New Years celebration. Having recently had a baby, it has been quite some time since I’d really had a big night out. So we all let our hair down. And then the next day we got ourselves decent for New Years!!

They have a tradition in Thailand during the New Years celebration to release lanterns into the night sky. The lanterns were the size of hula hoops. They believe it releases the souls, so I was quite swept away with the emotion of what this meant for us and set our lantern off whilst sipping champagne with our beautiful friends on the beach of Hua Hin. We also visited a gigantic, yet peaceful budda monument and a vineyard. We again hired a motorcycle to visit areas outside the city.

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Next stop, Koh Tao! This is the part where our lives get to slow down a little and we can take in the beauty of what lies beneath!  My husband and I scuba dive, and had several dives with Roctopus dive centre. I highly recommend this company, our wonderful dive master could pass for Jessica Alba too!

For me, I take my time diving, it’s not natural for anyone to breath underwater. On one particular dive we hadn’t realised how bad the current was going to be until we were  struggling to swim against it. My equipment was great, I had confidence in my fellow divers and I was able to discover the beautiful pinnacle for a few moments before hanging on to fixed line. Back on the boat and we were all praised for dealing with the difficult conditions so well. For me, it was fine, I could even say I enjoyed it. So it turned out to be a real confidence booster.

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In between these cities we stayed in Bangkok. We enjoyed nice hotels and some temples, but I think you need to get of the city to see the beauty of the place. I’ve heard good reports of the floating villages. Another place with floating or water village is in Brunei which was our stop over between Melbourne and Thailand and return. It also happens to be the country where my mum was born. Very special. My highlights are a Japanese restaurant on the water side, the palaces and a water taxi trip around the water villiage.

Have a brilliant day, and hopefully I’ll see you around WinterOnSpargos soon.

 

Studying Abroad in Paris

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My guest blogger spent one year studying in Paris.  Read her advice and tips if you are considering a year abroad and check out her blog for more great posts.

I spent a year in Paris during my third year at University, as part of my degree at Reading University in the UK, where I was studying French.  I would like to share some tips to those who are thinking of studying in Paris to help make their first year in a new country easier:

1) Rent an apartment in the center of Paris

Apartments are very expensive but it is well worth it to get a studio or  a room if you can in the center.  It is better to be in the center of all the action and close to your University. Rent in Paris can be anywhere from $500 to $700 for either a studio or a small room.  I was living at La Résidence Grande Arche which was in La Défense, the business district in Paris.  It was a brand new building with studios and one bedroom apartments for rent to many of the students studying at Léonard de Vinci Pôle Universitaire. It has since been turned into a hotel.  While I was in Paris, I would have breakfast in the café on the ground floor which is where I met some friends in the building.

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2) Speak French

This may sound obvious but if you are going to University in France, you may find yourself drawn to the other English speaking people.  The objective of coming to France is to improve your French which you will not do if you are speaking English daily. I met a Swedish girl while I was at University and while we could have just spoken English all day (the Swedes are great at English), I made a conscious effort to speak French.  I made a lot of friends at Uni who were from a wide range of different countries, but was the only English speaking person to speak French.

3) Accept Bureaucracy

If Bureaucracy was an Olympic sport, the French would probably get a gold medal.  There is so much bureaucracy and administration in France and this includes at the University.  Even if your Uni back home has arranged this exchange for you, the admin staff at your French Uni will still need extra forms to be filled out and will not be the most welcoming. Be patient and keep in mind that you are the foreigner so adhere to their rules.  Remember that lunch time is the sacred hour, so do not attempt to go and see the secretary between 11:45 – 2:15.  Everything  you will want to do or have help complete will be “impossible” (French accent!!)

4) Take Part in Erasmus Activities

Depending on the University, there will be some activities organised for the exchange students.  The most number of activities will be at the start of the year when the French students are not yet back at school and their long essay or “memoire” assignments. When I first arrived in Paris, we were all invited for a weekend away on the outskirts of the city where we stayed in little chalets, took part in sports, had a bbq and went to the local bar. It was a great chance to meet the other Erasmus and I made many friends in this way.

5) Explore the city on Foot

Instead of taking the metro (which costs money), walk around Paris exploring this beautiful city.  You will discover much more of the city in a shorter time frame. I used to walk with a friend of mine from La Défense to Paris, along the La Défense to Les Champs-Élysées and then to Le Jardin de Tuileries.  This garden, along with Le Jardin du Luxembourg were my favourite gardens in Paris.

My French improved considerably in France.  However, it was difficult to make friends with the French and University is very hard in France, with French students (in the good schools) doing several hours of coursework a night.  University to many is simply an extension of school and these students are conscious to study hard to ensure a good job when they graduate.  I suggest take as many opportunities as you can to meet other Erasmus, live in the centre of Paris and go out and enjoy the city.

 

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