Post-mortem in Paris

Reluctantly we left Prague. Still one of my favourite places. We stayed an extra night, giving up our night-train plan for a flight straight to Amsterdam the next day.

Amsterdam was… I’m not sure I’m a fan, really, but our first night wasn’t much help in that regard. First of all, Amsterdam is FUCKING expensive. I know people say that Amsterdam is expensive, but that’s not accurate. It is FUCKING expensive. That’s accurate. And it requires capital letters for accuracy.

The first night in Amsterdam, we stayed in… First, let me point out that it was simultaneously the cheapest place we could find that wasn’t a dorm room AND was the most expensive room we’d rented in two months of travel. See above re: FUCKING expensive.

It wasn’t so much a hotel as a little apartment, and it was actually really nice. Absurdly steep and narrow staircase up to a beautifully furnished and decorated tiny lounge/kitchenette. Our room was very sweet also. We happily dropped our bags and collapsed on to the bed.

That night, Diana did not sleep at all. I did, but not particularly well. Firstly, the windows didn’t have curtains. They had a kind of blind that went about halfway down and was semi-transparent. So I spent the night being woken up by the massive street Christmas decorations outside, shining in like daylight to the room. And if I happened to sit up and stop blocking the light from Diana, I got a thwack in the back of the head for “shining a torch” in her eyes and snapping her out of a nap.

That wasn’t the main problem, though. The main problem was that there was absolutely no soundproofing at all. The single-glazed windows felt non-existent as we listened to the street erupt into mad nightclubbing debauchery. Every beat from every club, every broken bottle and crying drunk girl and 5am brawl and every damned drop of vomit, we could hear clear as a bell through our magical amphitheatre windows.

So we were off to a great start. Before we learned the horror, I had actually emailed the proprietor and asked if the room was available for a second night, to which he swiftly replied that it was, but for twice the price of the first night. (See above re: FUCKING expensive.) Fortunately I decided against that and found another relatively inexpensive (read: FUCKING expensive) place 20 minutes’ walk away.

Just trying to find accommodation remotely affordable meant I selected through booking.com on price, not rating, and it wasn’t until after I was locked in to our second night’s accommodation that I read the reviews. One reviewer was outraged by the box of rat poison in his room which was never removed even after he complained about it. The most recent review (a few weeks earlier) gave helpful advice on which pharmacy to visit to get a good deal on cream for the flea bites her family endured.

“What do the reviews say?” Diana asks.

“They say–” IS THAT A UNITED COLOURS OF BENETTON OUTLET STORE?!” I answer.

Anyway, it honestly turned out to be absolutely great, and right next to a big park called Vondelpark, through which we very much enjoyed strolling. Great breakfast, helpful staff, clean warm room, etc. Charged for wifi, though, which has become a pet peeve of mine in Western Europe. Yes, you can squeeze the equivalent of a week’s broadband fees out of each guest in exchange for three hours of wifi, but it will make us hate you.

We decided to check out the Artis Zoo in Amsterdam, and the contrast with Belgrade was extraordinary. Funding, probably. Artis Zoo was one of my favourite things so far. This was a little overshadowed by the whole day of fireworks (during daylight, just to make loud noises) scaring the hell out of the outdoor animals more or less constantly.

That aside, we met some buddies from New Zealand in the form of two keas who gave me the impression that they didn’t belong there, they knew it, and they were breaking out of the joint. Every other bird in the place was going about its business, shitting and eating and squawking. Meanwhile one of the keas was keeping watch at the top of the room-sized cage while the other handily picked up bits of floor stone and deposited them in a growing pile.

There’s too much zoo to go into here. Naturally I have photos and videos, naturally they’re on the phone not the iPad, and naturally I’ll upload them when I get back to New Zealand. For now, let’s just say that I can attest to the overwhelming stench of tapir piss on my leg and we’ll move on.

We took a train to Eindhoven, where we would meet Diana’s childhood best friend and her boyfriend for a New Year’s party. Through sheer luck, I had booked a hotel directly across the road from the party venue.

If you know me (and, let’s face it, if you didn’t you wouldn’t be reading this blog – hi, Kev!), you’ll know that massive rave parties are not my thing. I like to ring in the new year with quiet contemplation, a book or a computer game, and a sudden realisation that midnight was 40 minutes ago but I was too caught up in the book/game to notice. And I don’t like crowds.

So packing me into a warehouse with 5000 increasingly drunken and drugged Dutch people isn’t precisely ideal, but I managed to have a good time until we headed to the hotel at 4am to sleep.

The next day we drove to Lierop, where Diana’s friend (Sam)’s boyfriend (Ton) lives. This resulted in quite a relaxing day and night of doing little beyond watching Comedy Central. From there, it was another train, this time to Breda, where we stayed with a family friend of Diana’s. We stayed for three nights there, before getting a train to Paris.

So that’s almost a week in that last paragraph, you know.

Now we’re in Paris, and tomorrow morning we leave for Thailand. Yesterday we went to Disneyland, which I really loved, though I have learned that I really don’t like roller-coasters, but I like other themed rides. We did Pirates twice, and had an awesome time on the Buzz Lightyear ride shooting aliens and getting points, and the Star Tours simulator is good fun. And lots of other rides. And I wished I had more hair so I could get a haircut from Dapper Dan’s.

Anyway. Now we’re in Paris, and tomorrow morning we leave for Thailand.

Now we’re in Paris, and tomorrow morning we leave for Thailand.

Now we’re in Paris, and tomorrow morning we leave for Thailand.

Gonna have to think on that one some.

Procrastination in Prague

Again, sorry about the delay. Again, caused in part by Diana’s obsession with playing Civilisation on the iPad. She assures me that this has now ended, as she has attained a high score on the highest difficulty setting.

Brasov, Transylvania, Romania, was a welcome break from firing from one place to another. Throughout former Yugoslavia, we hadn’t spent more than two nights in any one place, despite loving everywhere we went. After our disheartening rip-off in Romania, we decided to chill out in Brasov for four nights, where the rent and food was absurdly cheap.

Brasov is a sleepy mountain town, mainly visited due to skiing and Bram Stoker. We ate consistently excellent food for absurdly low prices, enjoyed the Christmas markets and mulled wine, and on our last day there it snowed. In theory, I’m at least a little used to snow from my childhood in Mosgiel. Still, it was a surprise to me to exit a pub at 3pm to find the town transformed in a matter of hours. You know when it’s raining outside, even if only subconsciously, because of the noise. But snow sneaks up on you.

The novelty wore off slightly when I realised I had to walk like an idiot to not fall over. And maybe it’s lack of practice or lack of appropriate footwear, but there is something uniquely embarrassing about carefully trodding from step to step through snow while locals wander past you at top speed. I felt a bit like someone hallucinating lava on the footpath while straight and sober normals trot by unconcerned.

From Brasov to Budapest, which quickly became another of my favourite cities. We explored the insanely beautiful city, went up Castle Hill and into an amazing church that’s being restored by local art students, enjoyed possibly the best food we’ve ever had in our lives. Such a great place. Two nights there. No, wait, three nights there. Wished we could stay longer.

Then Vienna, on a day train that took around four hours. The transition from Romanian prices to Austrian prices is like being dipped in freezing cold water. It was Vienna for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and we left on Boxing Day. The whole place was shut down for the holidays, really, and the highlights were in the hotel room: a Skype video chat with the Beebies and watching a downloaded Joyeux Noel on the iPad with a bottle of local wine.

Now we’re in Prague, one of the most beautiful cities in the world (and an equally beautiful exchange rate), but we have to leave tomorrow to keep to what has become a fairly busy schedule. Diana’s friend Sam has hooked us up with tickets to a New Year’s event in Eindhoven, Netherlands, and we’ve got half a continent to get through. Next step, finding out the options for an overnight speedy train to Amsterdam.

The timing is right. Time’s been speeding up on the downhill towards Thailand and the end of the trip. If we were still walking uphill, as it were, I’d be feeling weary. But now it feels like the final lap. Night train to Amsterdam, train to Eindhoven, a few days of catching up with friends of Diana’s family, train to Paris, Eurodisney, three nights in a beautiful hotel courtesy of the Beebies and then a flight to Thailand.

Then 24-hour massages at Thai-baht prices.