Sunday, 28 August 2011

Tour de France et Espagne

We were determined to make the most of these summer holidays (on a shoestring), so we embarked on a journey from Leeds to Barcelona and back, in our Vauxhall Astra (1998 version). To begin with, for convienience's sake, this was Ben's highlight of the trip:

But to go bak to the beginning, we drove to Dover and camped in a field waking up to this sea sunset.

Following our passage to Calais, we stopped off in Amiens to see the cathedral, which many people feel is better than Notre Dame. It might be more intricate but I prefer Notre Dame.

People say everyone leaves Paris for the month of August to go on holiday, but it's still a very happening place if you ask me. There are things going on everywhere like beach volleyball outside the Hotel de Ville:

On the night we arrived we ate crepes overlooking the Tour Eiffel and then headed to La Defence, one of our favourite places. We walked along the bridge to nowhere at sunset and looked for Ben's two and a half year old graffitti.

We frequented Breakfast in America three times during our trip. We were introduced to this place by Mel and Arne and have loved it ever since. We're allowed to go there since we're not American, and it still feels very Parisian. I always got a chocolate milkshake.

We visited Sacre Couer one morning and although Montmatre isn't one of our favourite places in Paris, it was very beautiful.

Ben met up with Dimitri. While in Paris we also met up with Kalli and Jacob who came on our road trip from here to Barcelona. We stayed in the Latin quarter around the corner from the Pantheon in Keyvan's apartment. It was the perfect location and I'd love to leave here if I ever moved to Paris (which I definitely will).

After Paris we ate at many boulangeries. This is one of the many things we love about France.

We travelled to Grenoble where we were going to find one of Ben and Jacob's mission friends but we found out he had moved to Paris. Grenoble itself was very pretty however, surrounded by cloud shrouded mountains.

Next stop was Cannes, followed by Arles. We found Cannes a bit plasticy, although I don't like to judge a city on such a small snippet. I think I might actually like it. Arles was a beautiful medieval town with a collosseum.We bought these tarts in Nimes. One sunday we visited the Pont du Gare. We were quite disappointed when we had to pay 15 euros to park, but then we realised we could swim, and with that and a picnic it was a really good afternoon.

Ben on the riviera, dying to move on.

After Arles we travelled to Barcelona. Barcelona was breath takingly refreshing. The architecture is like nowhere else and we spent lots of time soaking it up.

Fiesta de Gracia was happening when we arrived and the street decorations were magnificent - again like nothing I had ever seen. Each street was themed and the residentshad gone all out.

In Barcelona we met Gary who we had a really good time with. We enjiyed eating out and exploring lots. Here we are in my favourite square.

Following a looong journey up through France after saying goodbye to Jacob, Kalli and Gary, we spent the evening in Paris. Ben afterall did think everything else was pointless after Paris the first time around. We hired bikes and cycled around some of the sites. It was a wonderful way to see Paris, and to end our amazing eurotrip.

Millau Viaduct - it was one of Ben's life time ambitions to see this!

Thursday, 24 March 2011


It is sporadically warm and sunny. On a day like today I reminis aboout the Taipei dys. When this happens there's a beautiful smell in the air and smells bring back memories more than anything else (bar photos). This is what it was like in Taiwan winter when the temperature would jump 15 degrees from one day to the next.

Since last post we have been to Thailand and Malaysia (to round up our Asia trip), and wait for it....NEW YORK CITY, the ciry where dreams are made of.

I didn't emvision we'd get to go to America so soon. Part of it was a very generous present from my mum and dad for christmas.

We stayed in Chocolat Hostel and were expecting a right dive. The reviews on the internet were quite shocking. But it was cheap and my thinking was we've stayed in Mirador Mansions and that was fine, so could it really be any worse?

But it looked rather nice from the outside. Inside was fine also - grotty, like what you'd expect for a tenner a night grotty, but fine.

Manhattan felt surreal. The constant feeling of knowing a place we had never been was nice. We thought we'd try and live a bit like americans. We couldn't wait to go to diners and this one was just around the corner.

It was exciting going up the Empire State Building and seeing where Blair found her pink peonies in the bin after missing Chuck.

But it was even better for the views.

Walking across the park to the Upper East Side was so peaceful. As was the Upper East Side, strolling down Madison Ave as you do.

The Guggenheim was one of my hightlights, though as Ben put it, if you're not that into cubism then don't bother. I'd disagree. It's worth a visit just for the buiding itself.

I don't know how anyone could feel disgruntled after visiting MoMA however. It was really good to see all the Abstract Expressionism which brought NY to the forefront of international art.

You could never get bored walking around midtown. The buildings never cease to amaze. Here's Hellie freezing between the sky scrapers.

The first few days were 'next levvveeell cold'. Like, seriously.

But we ended the week with a few warmer days and it was quite pleasent walking around Grenwich Village as I remember. Abi enjoyed living the NYU dream. She wants to do a year there and I hope she does.

One night we ventured all the way to Coney Island. It felt proper, because how could Manhattan ever feel real? It was raining and cold and we got off the train and went straight to Maccy Ds, which Ben said had to be one of the worst ones ever, Then we realised the fairground was closed (obviously because it was winter, der) so we went to Dunkin Donuts.

Wandering around NY streets you could usually hear the random shouts and grunts of people talking to themselves, or to anyone who would listen. Grand Theft Auto sprang to Ben's mind. But there really are so many homeless people it just makes you think how.

Blackpool times a million according to Ben. But he did like it really.
New York might be the most magnificent place we've been. This post goes nowhere near to showing what it's really like. Oh how we'd love to live there for a while. It has so much charm, maybe even more than Paris. And maybe one day soon we'll get to. We'll try at least. In another year and a half I'll be a teacher with Ben and the world will be our oyster.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Shi-fan and Ping-shi - Lanterns

I was in such a bad mood coming into chinese new year, much to Ben's dismay. Very fed up, not feeling well and wanting to go home. I cheered up however as we reached this little town, Shi-fan. After standing on a packed-full train and being pushed and shoved everywhere (it's every man for himself courtesies apply), I wasn't really expecting much, but the lantern lined street with it's decorated rickety shops had a unique ambiance about it. It's character was far from a quaint French or English village. It might have been because there was a festival that day, which included a parade with lion dances and people letting off lanterns with fireworks dangling from them.
We had lunch at this little restaurant.

The mountainous back-drop.
We walked in the rain to see a waterfall. We came here with the Rowlands and Nicole's sister and brother in law, Greg and Charise. This is my friend, Nicole. Below is her daughter, Jadyn. She's such a lovely girl and never comlained all day.

We travelled on to Ping-shi where we were expecting the big annual lantern festival. It turned out we were two weeks early but we wrote on, and let off a lantern in the rain anyway. We all wrote our wishes on it. Ping-shi was equally cute and we ate street food for tea (deep fried chicken, sausages, guava and some other treats) before getting the train back to Taipei.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Into 2010

I really like the way some of these places have been put together. It reminds of the mice who lived in Rodney Peppe's shoe.

If you want to fit in on public transport you drop your head. Cynics might think that they do it so that if the elderly or pregnant get on then they won't see and won't feel obliged to stand up for them. I think they just like resting their eyes. I saw one bloke that was standing up drop his head as if he was asleep but he couldn't have been because he'd only just walked onto the train. One woman I saw was pummelling her face around the eyes and cheeks with the tips of her fingers, but I didn't ask her why.

This was on the way back from a hike I almost didn't get to go on. I would have been most upset. We had a Saturday activity planned at work but it was cancelled because the kids had something going on at their real school. (I teach at the school where they go when they've finished school and some of them are still there while eight and beyond - my working hours change when they go on holiday from real school to 8.30-6; sometimes 8.30 to 7.30).

We met some friends on a beautiful Saturday morning in a place on the east coast called Dali. Sally doesn't like the rain but I made her come anyway. She cheered up on the way downhill and I'll admit that I would have preferred a clear day to the drenching we got.

It was a trail through the hills and it incorporated some history about someone important who was stuck up in the mountains and he drew the ancient Chinese character for a tiger on a rock to protect himself.

This was on the way down... after she'd cheered up.

We crossed a tonne of people on the trail. The rain didn't seem to bother them either. Everyone had these plastic bags on, but some had umbrellas. They like to walk into you with their umbrellas. In the end you just start pushing the umbrellas out of your way. They don't mind.

These two were just stationed along the trail promoting something. Maresa and Camille beat them at the game they were playing with people so they won some hats.

Rice paddy

They leave brooms in the corners of these shrines, so I made use. It's definitely not as funny as I thought it was at the time though.

Most of these people are the people we went on the walk with, but I'm not sure why the lady in the centre-right is waving. It might be because we were about to share a bus-ride. They are very friendly.


I won't go into detail about our trip because Sally already did. One particular morning, Sally and I went to visit the temple grounds and distribution centre. We found out that the latter is about 5 miles away from the former, but as we approached the temple I heard a distress call from this little kitten. We spent a couple of years deciding what to do with it but since it was right next to a busy road and there was a woman being dragged along by her dog at the other side of the hedge we popped the kitten in Sally's bag and took it with us.

The missionaries gave it some milk and told us that stray cats are no big deal in Hong Kong. We wanted to take it home. Sally always wants kittens. I really liked this one.


For my birthday we went out with some friends to Chili's, an American restaurant in an ex-pat area of Taipei, and bowling.

Christmas was brilliant. I got the day off. It made it a three-day weekend, we got invited round for dinner and we opened all our presents on Christmas Eve.

We met up with Brant on Boxing Day and went to the National Museum of History. They had a load of Van Gogh's earlier work in there, it was really good. Unlucky for us everyone else thought so too. They seemed to prefer being in a place with lots of other people than looking at the art. They're very social. You couldn't even move, let alone see anything...

... so we took pictures outside instead and went back later.

It was less crowded about an hour before closing and worth the money it hadn't been before. After you get annoyed that you can't do anything on your days off because everything's rammed, you start to understand that this is how these people live their lives.

Their only paid holidays are national holidays that the government always moves to the weekend, and when they don't everyone has to have a make-up day on another Saturday. Apart from a week off at Chinese New Year, that's it. No one takes unpaid holiday because it means they have to catch up at work afterwards.

We'd planned on getting away for two weeks at Chinese New Year since one of those weeks was paid, but by the time they got back to me to let me know it was okay to take the time the flight prices had gone up so much that it wasn't nearly worth it. And that was only when I managed to find flights that weren't already full. They have a mass exodus every February.

So on those rare days when they don't have to go to work, neither does anybody else, so the museums, the hot springs, the restaurants, the cinemas, the hiking trails, everything gets full and becomes rubbish because its so crowded.

On our way to the cinema

Van Gogh

These are the flowers I bought for Sally on Christmas day. They look beautiful, but we're getting used to the idea that no matter how good something looks, it will inevitably disappoint sooner or later. They turned brown within a few days.

We went to see Avatar and either the glasses we had made everything too dark to see the screen properly or we were sat in a bad spot in the cinema, because we didn't seem to be getting the same effect that people are raving about.

The cakes here also look incredible. Then you eat them and you wish you had some 99p gateau from Morisson's instead.

Like this one...

... looks good, tastes sick.

But then we had a nice experience with a French restaurant. The Chinese chef was brilliant. Brant took us out to a full on dinner at a posh restaurant because he was leaving to go home (via Japan) the next day. We were really lucky to be able to spend December in the company of Benji and Brant. Otherwise it would have sucked.

I even got to go rock climbing (indoors) because Brant's Swedish friend from Chinese school does it a lot. Benji's dream is to be a famous underwear model. He's done a load of stuff for various adverts and he eventually convinced me to sign up too (with my clothes on). Modelling's a bit different here - if you're white you're in. I've been in a couple of adverts, the first of which was a Chinese tug-of-war team losing to a team of Westerners until they smell the noodles being advertised and proceed to pull us all over.