Vienna Calling, Day 1

So, by reading this, you’ll all be glad to know that I made it home from my trip to Vienna safely, though my luggage didn’t. that’s a rant for later on in the week.

The day is 4th September. It is 9AM. I leave Mercuryvapour Towers, with Daddykins, in order to pick Chris and Jonathan up. Just as we’re leaving the gravel driveway… “SHIT, forgot my coat…”, which meant Daddykins had to reverse back up while I fumbled around looking for my keys, grab the afore-mentioned garment, and head back out.

Half way to their house it dawned on me, that the €300 I’d got for the trip was sitting on the table. Whoops. Daddykins was less than impressed, especially because the time it took for c+J to get ready seemed like an age. Really, it was probably only about 15 minutes.

The road to the airport was uninteresting. It’s a journey I’ve made three times now, so I’m expectant at every little thing.

One thing I didn’t expect is that, checking in at the desk next to mine was none other than the entire England cricket team. I’d have been awestruck if I actually knew any of them.

Something I realised while I was in the airport, is that I actually hate them. I seem to remember having this feeling on the way back from Paris. They’re just vast, open spaces, selling you rubbish items. Some guy, who obviously didn’t like his job, attempted to sell me a credit card, while C+J exchanged some money. I saw the Mastercard logo, and I pretty much said “Not interested, but isn’t that the England Cricket team over there”? We both then had a good long chat about famous celebrities who had used the airport recently.

Later on, I passed the same guy, I asked “Have you sold any more yet?” He just shook his head and smiled.

Off we went to check-in, with the obligatory stop ‘n’ search. Waiting in the queue for this is the worst thing possible. Everything you own, including your belt, into a box. You then walk through a metal detector. If it doesn’t beep, you’re OK. If it does, you’re frisked. None of us beeped. Phew. Jonathan had to pay £1 for a little plastic bag to put his toiletries into. Laugh? I almost bought one myself.

Thankfully, there wasn’t much waiting around for the plane to Heathrow, I had enough time to dessimate the facilities (I seem to have a habit of doing this at airports), and then we boarded.

The window seat, as you can imagine was mine. No matter how often I fly on planes, I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of staring inanely out of the window. I’m just a bit gutted that you can’t film the take-off and landing.

Vienna Day 1, the journey there...

In just over an hour, I was in London, or to be more exact, Heathrow Airport. We arrived at the very posh and clean looking Terminal 5. I was hoping we’d fly from there, but no. It was Terminal 3 we were going from. I knew there would be some sitting around and wandering aimlessly at this point, but nothing quite as dull as I was expecting.

We found somewhere to get something to eat. One of those dodgy fake “pub” things. I had a chicken Tikka, Jonathan had the all-day breakfast. Chris sat there, slowly slipping on a pint of coke, staring inanely into the inky abyss. He really doesn’t enjoy flying. I was able to get an internet signal on my phone for the whole time in the airport, so that killed some time. I checked into Foursquare a couple of times

By the time we left England, the sun was setting and the moon was rising, making for some pretty impressive views over the horizon. Unfortunately, the camera couldn’t handle the reflection from the window.

Oh, one thing I must mention about airline travel, or at least BA travel is these:-

Vienna Day 1, the journey there...

They’re like korma flavoured mini poppadoms, and they were awesome. I have a feeling I’ll never be able to buy them anywhere, as they’re plastered all over the front with “Exclusively for British Airways”, but I’m going to look for them. In fact the whole reason I took that photo is so I can spend the most of today looking on the internet to see if I can find them.

So, we arrive in Vienna. My first worry came when we arrived slightly late, the plane was due in at 22:00, but by the time we’d collected baggage, etc, it was 22:45. Chris had thought ahead when he was booking the trip, and arranged a car to collect us. Would the driver be there? Thankfully he was. He introduced himself, but unfortunately, I can’t remember his name.

A drive through the night streets of Vienna told me a couple of things srreetlighting wise. They like the use of domestic fluorescent, metal halide and sodium light the main roads, and mercury is virtually non-existant.

We get to see some of the sights at night, and we drive up to the hotel. Now, I knew the location but everything I’d looked at online game a different name for it. The reason is, that it had just changed hands a couple of months ago. It showed that it was just a couple of months old, as the place was absolutely spotless. You walk through the front door, and you step into something that resembles a nightclub, as the reception desk also doubles up as the hotel’s bar. LED lighting casts violet hues over everything. There is a dining area to the left, chairs and sofas to the right, and behind the reception desk is a pool table. A FREE pool table.

We check in, I was in 318, C+J were in 303. This was great, until we actually went to the rooms. Mine had two beds in it, and theirs only had one, so we simply just swapped, not realising this could cause problems when it came to stuff like room service, and if we got locked out of our rooms. Which it did, later in the week.

So, eventually we get our rooms sorted. I then noticed something amazing. Instead of minibars, six steps away from room was a vending machine. Not just any old vending machine, however, this one served beer…

Vienna, Hotel vending machine

I’d saved a bag of coins from previous holidays, meaning I had €14 to throw inside of this thing. At €2 a bottle, it wasn’t cheap, but this bag of coins was classed as “bonus money”, therefore I’d thrown 6 bottles down my neck, a packet of crisps and a bag of Haribo teddies. I was simply amazed, and if we hadn’t swapped rooms, I’d had never known it was there.

Nottingham! It’s in Nottinghamshire! (Part 2)

So, I awoke on the 2nd day at about 8AM, after a perfectly acceptable nights’ sleep. This was surprising, as I’m not a fan of hotel beds. I seen to recall my sleep was disturbed by a passing police car. Despite being on the 7th floor, and quite a distance from the road, the building next to ours reflected the sound into the room, and by the time the car had headed along Maid Marian Way (no, seriously, that’s that the road was called), I was awake, bright as buttons. Gah.

Chris slept through it, so I amused myself by abusing my phone and uploading all sorts of garbage to Facebook. I gave it until 9PM before I decided to surface and risk waking Chris up. 19 minutes later, while in the middle of a shave, my phone started going nuts, it was Chris’s dad. Amusingly, Chris slept through approximately 20 seconds of my annoying shopping centre yet there were two charity shops in there, a particularly bad YMCA shop that had literally 10 CDs in there, and a much better shop, where I spent under £7 on CDs. I could have spent more, but I didn’t realise the singles were “Buy one Get one Free”…

By this time, Chris’s boredom threshold was being tested to its limits, so we went in search of the now removed railway, and found it entirely by chance…

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The closed tunnel entrance in the centre of the picture, the unmistakable blue brick to the right forming the entrance to what was once a railway tunnel, now a car park.

By this point, the effects of the Greggs Pasty were wearing off. I was hungry, and so was Chris. I had a bag of CDs to drop off at the hotel. It suddenly dawned on us. Where the fuck was the hotel? I knew one thing, we were near this building…

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In hindsight, this building was visible from the hotel window, but we were lost enough for me to break out “the technology” – bring up Google Maps on my phone and make sure we were heading in the right direction. We were! Eventually we returned at the hotel, I dropped my CDs off, and headed in the general direction for something to eat.

Three days consisting of nothing but curry would probably be a bit too much, so we gave the curry houses a miss and headed off back into the town, eventually resorting to going to the Wetherspoons we’d went to the previous night. I settled for the “simple” steak ‘n’ chips, while Chris had some type of Panini thing. I always thought they just made sticker annuals…

Food was consumed, and the day was still young. The only tourist attraction either of us could think of was the castle, as Nottingham, at one point, had a large fortification overlooking the city. It was £5.50 in. Unfortunately, there’s very little remaining of the castle itself, except the walls. Inside, is a large museum and art gallery. There’s also a fair amount of gardens to walk around and admire that thing where they make shapes out of plants… erm… can’t remember its name…

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The highlight, for me was the fact that the museum actually contains the very football shirt Maradonna wore during his infamous “Hand Of God” incident. Now that’s not something you see every day.

We left the grounds just as a horde of foreign students invaded the place. Perfect timing! They all seemed like proper twunts. We made or way to “Ye Olde Pube”. I can’t remember its proper name, but it’s set inside the cliffs that Nottingham Castle stood on. While me and Chris were enjoying a quiet pint in the “beer garden”, the hordes of students had apparently left the castle and headed to our quiet little inn. None of them were over the age to drink, so they just stood outside and took photos of the place. In pure “Jamie is a complete dick” style, I tried to photobomb as many as possible. There’ll be some kid, thousands of miles away, wondering why there’s a bearded guy with a pint glass on his head.

At this point, it started to get cold, and the time for food was fast approaching. We headed off back to the hotel. After remembering how bad the beer was in the free bar the previous night, we stopped off at the Tescos and picked up essential supplies…

Amusingly, there were signs on the hotel entrance that “No food or drink to be consumed in the room”. I’m sure they’d try and stop me.

No food or drink in the hotel....

After a quick change, we headed out of the hotel and, after a quick walk round, decided that our next meal would once again be consumed at “Chutney”. After all, their service and food was superb last time. It was even better. the staff were friendly, and even gave us another discount because we’d been there the day before. Ten, no, eleven points for service.

Once again, we headed back to the hotel and got ready for the night’s festivities. I say festivities, I really mean drinking some of the world’s most watered down lager known to man. It’s not even worthy of the “Making Love in a Canoe” joke…

We returned to the room early, pouched the cans, and I attempted to take some long exposure shots out of the hotel window. I’d show you them, except it would appear that Flickr has eaten them. Grrrr.

Paris, Day 2

No sooner had Day 1 ended, than Day 2 began. Now this, of course means, unfortunately that I didn’t get much sleep. This was mainly because of the afore mentioned factors in Day 1 about everything being too hot. This was something I’d obviously have to get used to.

I awoke at 7. C+J were obviously still going to be asleep, so I took a bit of a walk without them. They wouldn’t be up for hours. I think we made tentative arrangements to get up early, but not THAT early.

I donned my clothes and headed off, camcorder in hand, to the Eiffel Tower. This is the first time I’ve mentioned the camcorder in this trip. Yes, I did indeed take it with me, but thanks to my hard drive being a bit of a nuisance at the minute, I’ll not be able to work my way through the tape until I attempt to format my storage hard drive. That’s something I’ll leave for now, however.

Anyway. the time is 7:30 AM by the time I have a shit, shave and shower. I head off outside the hotel, and in the general direction of the tower. It seemed eerily quiet. I really didn’t expect it to be like this. In fact, I think I only saw a handful of people on my entire journey.

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Unbelievably, one of those people was one of those stupid sodding crap-keyring sellers. Aaaaaargh. Is there no time of the day safe from them? Clearly not.

Thankfully, he was the only one I saw, but still!

I continued my journey, and headed along the bridge across the Seine. It looked like a nice walk.

Interestingly (or rather erm… not really very interestingly), their road sweepers use a lot more water than ours. Instead of a shitty little drizzle in front of the brushes, this thing splurts out a great big gush of water across the entire pavement.

The walk continued, and I continued taking photos and filming, as you can imagine I would. This was easier said than done, as there seemed to be hoardes of joggers out in the early morning.

I continued the walk as it was still early, and went along to the impressive structure known as Hotel Invalides. Little did I know that this was the way we’d came originally, and I’d totally missed it on the way there. Mainly because all I cared about was getting to the hotel.

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I didn’t know much about the bouilding at this point, so I took a few photos, and headed back to the hotel.

I awoke Chris and Jonathan, and we headed out onto the Parisienne streets. I can’t for the life of me remember if we had breakfast on this particular morning. I think it was more likely that we picked up something from The Shoppy.

The shoppy (actually spelled Shopi) is a chain of supermarkets throughout France (by the looks of it), and the prices are perfectly acceptable. Now, we actually discovered this wonderful little supermarché on Day 1, but I didn’t mention it. In all, I think I spent something like €22 in there just on the first day.

Anyway, off we went to the shoppy, and bought what we needed, and headed off in the general direction of Le Tour Eiffel.

The first question of the day was how we were going to see the sights of the city. We initially thought that most of the attractions were a distance from each other, so, after consulting a map, it was agreed that we would get a pass for one of the river cruisers. Seemed expensive, but we got a 5-day pass, which cost €16. It looked as if this was the best way to see the sights.

Indeed, it was great to see the famous landmarks from the comfort of a riverboat. It was nice to be able to break the camera out and take photos of them too.

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First stop for us was Notre Dame cathedral. I must admit, it’s a stunning piece of architecture. Unfortunately, this was the first time we realised that Paris was really quite a bit too touristy. I remember I had to stop myself from collapsing with laughter every time I heard the inane statements and frustratingly annoying drawl of the American tourists walking behind us.

Though, the worst part must have been the camera flashes. It’s almost impossible to appreciate the building and the years of immensely hard work that would have been put into it, when every time you look at something, it’s doused in a split second of bright white light. You may find it a bit hypocritical of me to say that I would like to see them banned from a place such as this, especially as I took a boat load of photos while I was in there, but it’s true. You may also notice that on my photos, I didn’t use the flash once. Wasn’t bothered how blurry they came out. I simply respected the rights of other people around me to enjoy the building as it should be.

Therefore, I can see why Durham Cathedral banned cameras, and I stand with their agreement on this policy. I also retract any previous statements where I may have stated otherwise.

After the trip around there, it was then time to get some water, and a trip through the side streets in order to find a shop that actually looked like they’d stock something to drink. Eventually, I found somewhere. It looked like a proper dive, however, and this was confirmed by the fact that the water was manufactured in Greece, and was “sparkling”, though I couldn’t tell that by looking at the label. Bah. I hate sparkling water. On a hot summer day, it’s about as refreshing as a sand and razorblade sorbet.

Next stop was The Louvre, or at least the outside of it, as time was getting on, and there was no chance of being able to see most of of it, therefore we just stayed outside. As far as I was concerned there was plenty for me to photograph anyway.

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After we’d picked up some food and stocked up on more water (this time at €2.50 a bottle… ffs), we headed off down Le Jardin des Tuileries, towards the Arc De Triomphe. Now, at first it didn’t look like a particularly long walk. We could see it in the distance.

However, this was entirely deceptive. Turns out the short walk was actually two miles. Never mind, we made it. It is MUCH bigger than what I expected. Last year, in Berlin, you may remember we went to see the Brandenburg gate, and were shocked at how small it was, well this was HUGE.

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Of course, around the Arc De Triomphe is a comedy roundabout. Honestly, you could sit and watch this thing for hours, with all of the near misses. 12 different roads merge into one roundabout, which is roughly 4 or 5 lanes wide. There are no road markings. It is literally every man for himself. Oubviously, when this structure and the surrounding buildings were constructed, there wouldn’t have been any cars on the road.

Now this gives me an opportunity to explain a little about the traffic system in France, or at least Paris… there is *no* traffic system. Firstly, let me start off with traffic signals. Now, I’m sure you all remember your Green Cross code… look left, look right, wait for the green man. Well, you can forget it. Just forget everything you know. Over there, there’s no need to wait for the green man, because wether the lights are on red or not, they still go through them. If you happen to be obeying the green man, and actually crossing at that time, wish yourself luck, run like fuck and pray that you don’t end up splattered across the front of a Renault Twingo. I swear, I lost count of how many times one of the three of us almost ended up in a body bag because we thought that the red traffic light meant “stop”.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone in Paris is a bad driver, I’m just saying that everyone in Paris is a bad driver. OK, there’s bound to be one or two exceptions to the rule, but we found it hard to find a car without some type of dent or scratch in it.

Anyway, back to the Arc De Triomphe. There was a dimly lit subway which takes you from one side of the road, and onto the main building itself. We weren’t aware that you could get to the top of it until we got there. Awesome. The cost was €9. Again, we left this for another day.

After that, we began to head back to the hotel. It wasn’t too late by this time (about 4:30) so we walked it.

At exactly 5PM, we stumbled across the tunnel where Princess Di met her fate. Oddly, on the top of the tunnel is a replica of the flame from the Statue of Liberty. The top of the tunnel itself is covered in graffiti.

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After a walk that felt like a week, we ended up back at the hotel, but not before we watched some brass band from England do their best to re-create the Austin Powers theme. Seconds later, off we went to the shoppy.

I picked up only the bare essentials in this particular trip. Water, cherry coke and more bacon Bugles. Oh, and some apples. And possibly some fruit juice too. The “pièce de résistance”, however, came in the shape of beer. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called, but it came in a blue can and was 7.9%. the price? Something like €1.40 a can. I bought 4 of them.

Off we went, back to the hotel, again, and began to flick through the various pieces of complete garbage that was on the telly. Let me tell you that the French version of Countdown (i.e. the original one) isn’t really that good.

So, after a quick change of clothes, an’t a bit-o’Brut-slappy-chop-chops, we decided to check some of the local eateries. There was a vast selection where we were located, though it seemed most of them didn’t offer a wide selection of stuff. Well, not for me anyway, the annoyingly fussy eater I am. Again, the meals were expensive, but a bit more reasonable than the drinks. After knocking down a chicken brochette, while C+J had a cod steak, we left La Terrasse behind, and began to try and find a cheap place to have a drink. We kept on walking. And walking. eventually, through pure chance, we ended up back on the Champs-Élysées. Bugger. This was not going to be a cheap night at all. Down a side street, we found a place that was reasonable, and actually looked like a bar instead of a cafe.

We entered, and was shown to a table. Wait, I thought this was a pub? No. It’s just another expensive cafe that’s made to look like a bar. Growl.

And expensive it was. €7.50 each for a “pint” of 1664. (Note that in France, 1664 and Kroenenburg are two separate lagers), and thanks to the language barrier, it turned out that Chris actually ordered 5 instead of 3, therefore the cheap drink suddenly changed into a not so cheap €37.50… awesome. The beer wasn’t even that nice either.

So, we left, and set off on the journey back to the hotel. It was getting late by this point. We left the “pub” at about 11, and didn’t get back in the hotel until 11:45, though I did get a chance to see something cool – the Eiffel tower, doused in blue light, covered in sparkling lights.

By the time we got back to the hotel, my back teeth were floating. Absolutely desperate for a pee. It’s moments like this that you don’t wish you had a room on the third floor. As I pleaded for the lift to go faster, it only seemed to go slower. Luckily it reached its destination in time, and I remembered how to open the door without having to resort to brute force.

It was approaching midnight, so me and Chris headed off back to the Eiffel tower to see if we can catch the light display. Indeed we did, and I even got it on tape, as I gave Chris the camcorder while I tried to get jaunty angles of it.

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After that, we went back to the hotel and watched the tape of what I’d filmed. I then knocked back those cans I mentioned earlier and went to bed. Tomorrow was going to be a high, in more than one respect.

Paris, Day 1

Hello, and welcome to Day 1 of my Paris holiday write-up. Let me tell you that this should be well documented, as I have taken over 1,000 photos. No, seriously.

Right, where to start? Well, the beginning would be nice, I suppose. therefore, I shall whisk you back to approximately 7AM on Tuesday, 15th July 2008. I awoke from my steaming pit at that time, as we were going to pick up Jonathan and Chris at 7:30. Well, that’s what I thought anyway.

I had a quick bath, only for Daddykins to inform me that he actually wanted to set off at 7:20 and get to Chris’s by 7:30. Oh, the joy of it all. Therefore, the quick bath got even quicker. In fact, I barely had enough time to stick my balls under the tap.

I then jumped out the bath and began meticulously checking my hand written list of things I was taking, just to make sure everything I needed was there. It looked as if it was. Awesome!

We set off, and arrived at Chris and Jonathan’s house by ooooh, 7:34. So, only 4 minutes late. Not too bad.

I knock on the door, only to find that Jonathan wasn’t ready, due to the fact he’d been driving up here until 2AM in the morning, as he currently lives daaaahn saaaaf.

Off we jolly well popped, up the A19 to Newcastle Airport. It wasn’t long until the camera was broken out, though for now, I’ll not resort to showing you scary photos, or photos of streetlights, there’s plenty of time for that in the next hundred or so updates I’ll write about this trip.

After last years’ fiasco over parking, where Daddykins got charged £6 for waiting about 15 minutes in Newcastle Airport, he dropped us off on the outskirts, near the roundabout, meaning that there was a slight walk to the entrance. Perfectly acceptable, I thought, especially as we’d be doing plenty of walking over the coming days.

So, we enter the complex and arrive at the check-in desk. The lovely young lady behind the counter instructs us to the use the self check-in machines. As much as I love computers, I absolutely hate anything that has the word “self” at the beginning. They just never work. This was no exception. After following the instructions on the screen, it prints out ONE boarding card. There are three of us. The bloody self-service machine brings up an error, and then instructs us to contact the lovely young lady sat behind the Air France desk, who then checks the other two of us in. Why couldn’t she have done that in the sodding first place? Sigh.

As our bags disappeared along the conveyor belt into the unknown, I nipped off to buy a little travel guide – one of the Lonely Planet ones. £6 it cost, but did turn out to be very handy. I’d say that it was probably better than the one I bought for Berlin last year.

Chris got his money exchanged, and we headed to the departure lounge. Of course, this involves the added indignity of having to remove your belt, and in some cases, shoes too. It’s something that is necessary, yet strangely humiliating (though not as humiliating as getting frisked like I had to be last year).

Thankfully, this year we didn’t change planes, so didn’t have to do this twice in each direction.

Once again, the passports were checked, and we headed off to find the bar we went to last year… Disaster! The departure lounge had completely changed, and the bar was boarded up and closed! The large seating areas were now taken up by another bar (it was actually the same bar I was referring to, but it had moved out of its old location, and into where the seating area was).

The large amounts of open space has also been “built on”, and to access the gates, you had to go through a duty-free store. This annoyed me, slightly.

I went into WH Smiths, in order to buy something to read on the plane, Chris bought something to drink from the same shop, and Jonathan looked around somewhere else. As could be predicted, we got separated, and had to cross through this bloody duty free shop.

A heavily done up assistant approached me, looking like she’d just tripped up in the make-up aisle.

“Are you looking for anything in particular?”, she asked, Geordily.

I looked at Chris and said “Yes, his brother…”

There was a few moments silence, and she walked off looking slightly bemused. Eventually, we met up with Jonathan (the shop assistant was no help at all on that one), and proceeded to another bar which had been constructed, coincidentally in a Parisienne style fashion. Now, considering this was a duty free area, the beer was 33% more expensive than it was last year, and it tasted 33% warmer too.

At some point during this whole waiting procedure, we looked out across the runway to see an awesome looking flighter jet getting some service done to it.

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We then hovered about, watching the destination boards, waiting for our plane to come up and show a gate number. This seemed to take forever, but eventually, up it came, and we headed off in that general direction. I believe it was the same departure gate we were at for Berlin last year, but can’t really remember. It seemed to look very familiar.

The plane was tiny. It looked even smaller than the little fokker I flew in last year. I didn’t really mind, but I was a bit concerned that we’d have to land half way through so someone could get out and wind the elastic band back up.

We headed out onto the tarmac, but not before getting our passports checked AGAIN. The flight was perfectly fine. I got chatting to a nice young lady sat next to me who explained she was off to Disneyland with her neice who was in front.

We landed, and the weather was lovely. Let me just try to explain how big Charles De Gaulle airport is… HUGE. I’m surprised it doesn’t have its own national anthem.

According to a quick play with Google Earth, Heathrow Airport is 3.3 miles from corner to corner, this is 5.5 miles.

This would explain the queue for the passport checks that we were in that must have been at least a quarter of a mile long. In fact by the time we’d reached halfway down the queue, I’d eaten an entire bag of Haribo chews. The person who I’d talked to on the plane got right to the front of the queue instanmtly because their family had a kid. By the looks of the line, it seemed quite possible that I could court, copulate and become a father by the time I got to passport control. In the sheer boredom, I began to wonder if there was anyone even slightly famous in the queue.

We collected our bags, and attempted to find some type of exit. Apparently the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was in that queue somewhere, as someone was waiting to pick them up outside the airport, waving a big white card.

Now, finding our way to the centre of Paris was going to be fun. Something that we (or rather I, as I decided which hotel to book) didn’t take into account is the distance of the airport from the hotel. A taxi may have been possible, but expensive. We decided to risk the train system. We must have spent about an hour trying to work out the tube map and roughly where we wanted to be. It would have been a good idea to actually plan that type of stuff before I’d left England, or at least consulted Google Earth for the nearest tube map. It would be something I’d kick myself later on in the day about.

We consulted the tiny (yet useful as the week went on) tube map, and got a train to one of the main stations in Paris – the name of which escapes me (Gare Du Nord, or Gare De Lyon, I think), and then get on to the metro to a station named Invalides. Unfortunately, this metro station was 0.6 miles away from the hotel, and Chris’s homing-pigeon instincts let us down for the first time EVER, and we headed off in completely the wrong direction, meaning that the journey we’d taken walking with heavy bags actually went on for 1.2 miles. Luckily, on the way there was a shop that sold water at a reasonable price, otherwise I don’t think I’d have made it. Although it was warm at the airport, the city heat just made it unbearable, especially when we didn’t know where we were going, with no end in sight. Eventually, after what felt like a month, we just happened to stumble upon the hotel. We checked in, and after taking a moment to regain composure, and to soak up the sweat, we headed up to the rooms.

The first of (thankfully not many) embarrasing moments came when I collected my key and couldn’t actually open the door – Jonathan showed me how to do it. Turns out the handle on the front of the door is just for show. you open the door by turning the key clockwise, and then pushing. Clever, but confusing when you’re dehydrated, hungry and fed up of lugging a case and a bag around a capital city. Actually, it’s not clever at all. I guess I just suck at opening other people’s doors. Maybe I’m the ani-burglar, or something

Anyway, I went into my room, Chris and Jonathan (hereafter referred to as C+J as it’s too hard to type otherwise) went in theirs. It was about 6PM at this point, and we arranged to meet an hour later to go out and see the Eiffel Tower, as it was less than a mile away from the hotel. I decided to have a proper bath seeing as my earlier one had been so rudely interrupted, and a lie down.

Two hours later I awoke. I went to C+J’s room, and knocked on the door. No answer. Were they both dead? Had they gone and left me all on my own?

At great expense, I called Jonathan on his mobile. Chris answered. I asked where they were, and they replied they were already at the Eiffel Tower. He’d knocked on my door, and there was absolutely no answer. How odd.

Anyway, they made their way back along to meet me, and all three of us had a wander up to the Eiffel Tower.

This was 15th July, the day after the Bastille Day celebrations, which meant that there were still areas cordoned off. New trees which had been planted still had bits of hardboard around them, and metal barriers littered the avenue leading up to the tower. This arrangement, however, allowed some people to make use of the obscure arrangement and make a temporary football pitch in the sand.

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It’s only until you get underneath it that you notice all of the effort that had gone into creating it. it’s really quite intimidating.

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Something also intimidating is the sheer amount of foreigners selling stupid, badly made little miniature eiffel tower keyrings and shit like that. There are hundreds of them littered around the city, all selling exactly the same tat.

Something impressive was the size of the queues. to get up the tower. Absolutely enourmous. 45 minute waiting times at least. I could think of better things to do for our first night, so we gave it a miss. Instead, we crossed the River Seine for the first time, and began to take photos of the sun going down, with the Eiffel Tower mostly in the foreground.

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After the sun set, we headed off to the bars near the hotel, as there were quite a few. It was getting on, and we didn’t fancy anything to eat, so we just got beers. Extortionate is the word that would fit in nicely here. Something like €5.50 for a 250ml glass. That’s less than half a pint. Holy cow.

One small beer later, we returned to the hotel to sum up the day, but not before we nipped into a local shop to pick up some essentials, and those essentials would be… BACON FLAVOUR BUGLES! My word, I had no idea they still made Bugles! I know they don’t over here. I think the last packet of those I had was back in March 2002 when I went down to London. I much prefer the BBQ flavour, but they don’t seem to exist anymore, even in France. Ah well.

I went to put the stuff in my room, and as I exited, Chris was in the middle of saying something…

“And then after that, we can… wait, did you come out of room 302?”

I nodded affirmatively, and audibly confirmed this with an “Aaaaaye?”

“BOLLOCKS. I thought you were in room 301. I was knocking on the wrong door earlier…”

I ate my Bugles, and went to bed. It was far too warm to sleep with the window closed, and far too noisy to sleep with the window open. Turns out that the hotel is situated alongside a military school, with nice solid walls so any traffic noise, or in fact the noise of people breathing echoes upwards. What doesn’t help either is the fact that the end of the road was actually on cobbles.

What made things even worse is that the room door was thin, and let any type of noise in. I swear, someone farted 4 doors away and I could smell it.

Eventually, I fell asleep on top of the covers, and prepared for Day 2…

The last day in Berlin…

Judging by the lack of comments on the last few posts, I guess that by this point, I’ve completely bored you all to death with my ramblings of travelling to a far-flung land. Normal service will be resumed my the end of this post. You’ll all be reading again about how much I hate work, how much I like streetlights, how much curry I’ve eaten, and how much of it flies out of my bowels at a shocking rate of knots. I bet you can’t wait. In fact, I’ll even try to cover all of them in this post.

So, anyway, it was a sunday. I awoke to see the worst weather in the whole of my time there. The building site across the road from the hotel was one big puddle. It wasn’t a nice day. Now, you’ll remember my 72-hour ticket? Well, it was used up…. and there was no point getting a travel ticket for just one day. by the time we’d got ready, the rain hadn’t let up at all… it was still lashing down.

On our way out of the door to begin the last day, Chris asked the guy behind the reception desk if they had any umbrellas. But they didn’t. The hotel was “all out of umbrellas”. I did, however, successfully manage to order a taxi, to pick us up from the hotel the following morning. Or rather, I just asked the guy behind the reception desk to do it for me.

We decided to give the outdoor cafes a miss, and instead headed off to a Starbucks nearby. I can’t see the fascination with coffee, personally, so I settled for a croissant and a bottle of water. Chris also had a croissant, and some fruit smoothie thing which just looked odd. As we weren’t going to travel around much, we decided to stay in the vacinity. The tour guide Jonathan had picked up from the hotel showed some good museums, and Chris remembered a few places he wanted to see from that very first bus trip, all of them were in the same general direction…

By the time we’d finished eating and drinking, it was getting a little bit brighter… the rain had stopped, and the place was drying out nicely. Chris wanted a closer look at this building…

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… and also to find out why it had a big V painted on the front of it. I think it was adverising some exhibition or another. Anyway, turns out it’s one of the Humboldt University buildings, therefore it was locked. And that book sale wasn’t there either. We crossed over the road, in the hope of finding something open, and while Chris and Jonathan took care of the map, I took photos…

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Unsuccessful, we crossed back over the road, and noticed a sign saying “Kunst”… First of all, I thought it was a strip club for dyslexics, but it turned out to be an arts and crafts market, though, it didn’t take me long to be in my element…

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I didn’t buy anything at this point, because there was no way they’d survive in the suitcase, and I didn’t fancy carrying LPs all the way through on hand luggage. I’d already had that Herbert Groenemeyer CD, so I was more then happy to spend only a few minutes looking through these, especially as they were expensive. Chris found joy by searching through some old print stamps… one of which he’d pay €20 for later in the day. The craft fair ended after about 20 stalls, and we followed the road round until we came to something more like a traditional flea market affair, selling CDs for cheap. €1 each. Happiness! I ended up buying the Gladiators (yes, GladiatorS) soundtrack, and a song called Highland, by Swedish band “One More Time” (Wiki), which are of no musical relation to Swedish band One 2 Many. Apparently.

Another stall sold 7″ singles, by far my audio format favourite. I picked “I promised Myself” by Nick Kamen – a song which I’d heard originally in the Hartlepool shopping centre, at about 8AM in the morning before the shops even opened. But that’s a story for another day. I also bought two others which aren’t really worth mentioning, as they were simply ro replace scratched copies of records I already had.

Either way, I bought these records, and it looked like it was about to piss down, so the next step was to find a cheap umbrella that we could all share. And, there was indeed a store that sold umbrellas. Wooo. So, for €6, we ended up with the shoddiest looking umbrella you have ever seen, with holes in to complete the job. Ironically, about 30 seconds later, the rain stopped, so it wasn’t much use anyway. We returned to the hotel, and I dropped off my musical delights.

Within seconds we were back out of the door, and heading back in the same direction from whence we came, but this time omitting the KunstMarkt, or whatever it was called, and headed over the bridge to the other side of the river. We had a quick look around the Berliner Dom, an architectually stunning building….

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The next stop was the DDR museum – a museum showing the way of life in the old East Germany, including a real-life trabant…

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Chris was more than excited at the sight of an old model kit he used to have as a kid. I also managed to get a shot of the traffic lights which are all over the city. For some reason, they’re a lot more “jolly” than the ones we have over here. The green man has a hat on, and he looks like he’s all set off for a bloody good stroll…

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Classy. By this time, it was mid afternoon so we headed back out, in the search of some “luxury” items to take back. I ended up getting a pen, a t-shirt, and some…. strange thing with little gold coins in it. It was all a terrible waste of money, but it was better than lots of useless Euros bashing about in my wallet.

It was getting on, so we returned back to the hotel, and began the tedious task of packing our belongings away. This was relatively straightforward for me… everything liquid based went in the bin. Everything else went in the case. I travelled light in all honesty, so I was finished within an hour or so. Chris and Jonathan took slightly longer, as Chris had to work out how to pack two boxes of chocolates without them getting shattered or melted.

Eventually, we were finished, and headed off out just one more time. Unfortunately, it looked like it was about to absolutely piss down….

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This was around the same time that the last of my electrical items went back in the case, so I’m sure you’ll all be glad to know that there are no more big photos to look at.

So, we wanted somewhere not too far away, under cover… Have a guess where we went. Yes, of course… the INDIAN. I just had to have one more German curry. Even Chris went for the Madras.

Before the main meal, they left these poppadom things I’ve never seen before. They weren’t just normal poppadoms, but they had some stupidly hot flavouring to them. I was in *love*. Unfortunately, I don’t know the German for “What were those hot poppadom things?” so exactly what they were will remain forever a mystery. Bugger.

The meal was consumed, and I was as happy as a pig in shit. I’d somehow survived a week where I didn’t know the food, didn’t know the language, and more importantly, I learned that there was more to a trip away than just finding the nearest Gregg’s….

The finale of the night was spent back at the Berliner Republik…. the place where we’d spent most of our mornings getting stocked up on pretzels and Currywurst. This time, we sat inside, and tried out something which wouldn’t be allowed in England… beer trading.

To put it bluntly, Beer trading means the prices of the different beers change every 6 minutes, up or down, depending on some unknwon factor.

I was down to my last few Euros, so I was taking this beer trading thing seriously, sipping my pseudo-pint slowly, until the price of the beer I was drinking changed. I watched the screen… Oooo! My preferred tipple had went down from €3.70 to €3.50… GREAT! I quickly call a waitress over (easier said than done), point at my glass, she takes a note and then disappears off to fetch the beer.

The clock slowly counts down, with no sign of the beer…

4 minutes left before the price change… then two minutes… one minute… thirty seconds… five seconds… DING! The prices change.. aaaand, my beer’s gone up to €3.90.

Seconds after the price change, out pops the waitress… surely, I’d only be charged the €3.50? No ‘king way. The receipt said €3.90. At that point, I just totally lost interest in “beer trading”, which is clearly just a rip-off. I didn’t feel like drinking anyway, as I was completely stuffed from the wonderful curry I’d eaten earlier. It was about 10:30 by this point, and we decided to move on… except everywhere else was shutting up. It was like a ghost town. The bad weather had held off, so that wasn’t to blame. It was just all very eerie and quiet.

We walked back to the hotel, crossing the River Spree one final time, and we headed into the hotel bar for one last drink of authentic German Pilsner, knowing it would be one hell of a long time before I would ever come into contact with it again. Sob.

We left the bar, and returned to our respective hotel rooms for one last time, knowing that there was a 600-mile journey back to blightly in front of us the next day… I awoke, at 4AM, with the biggest case of the shits I’ve had in years. I have no idea if it was the curry or the beer. I’ll steer clear of the details, but this went on for two hours. It did give me a chance to take some last photos out of the window. It was amazing how quiet and still everything was at 6AM in the morning.

Eventually, I got back off to sleep and awoke at 8AM, to find one of the machines on the building site completely ruined….

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Chris said there was one hell of a bang as it went over. Somehow, I slept through it.

The last of the packing was done, I double-checked, and triple checked everything, and jumped into the taxi for the journey back to the airport. The taxi driver was the most miserable bastard in the whole history of the world. The only words he spoke (with the exception of expletives and horn-sound) was “AIR BERLIN???”, as we approached the airport. Not understanding him, we all nodded politely and said “yes”, suddenly realising that Air Berlin was the name of one of the departure gates. But it was too late. The driver huffed and puffed, like I’d just taken his toys away, and eventually dropped us at the airport. The total cost was €18. I gave him 20. The bastard didn’t even give me any change.

The airport was the same rigmariole as before, only I knew what to expect, so it was even more boring. We get a drink, then check in. Our bags disappear to places unknown, and we sit around, waiting for the plane to turn up. Oh, and I bought some duty free, namely a box of Dime (I refuse to call them Daim) bars, and a 500-gram bag of Haribo cola bottles. Larvely. No alcohol, though. I was disappointed in myself.

Eventually, the plane turns up, we board, and the journey starts. I didn’t have a window seat, so I studied the on-board literature. A lot. Though, there could only be so many times I could read about fastening my seatbelt before it came tedious. Sandwhiches were passed around. they had a wonderful choice of two (count ’em! TWO!) types. Salmon and something, and Cheese and something… I passed, but did take up the opportunity of having a nice, cold refreshing can of beer. After all, it was 11AM by this point. Erm.

So, we land in Amsterdam. The weather was better than it was on the journey there. No chance of any delays THIS time. Once again, we go through the usual security checks… empty pockets, take off belt, blah de blah. Now I’d managed to get through three of these things, surely I’d be able to get through the fourth…. No.

It beeped. The whole thing lit up like a christmas tree. What the fooch?

“Step to one side, sir”… said some balding, middle aged bloke.

“Do you mind if I search you?”.

“No, of course, not”, I reply. After all, what were my alternatives? I really didn’t fancy the ol’ “rubber Glove” treatment, so I let him do his thing. Thankfully I was free to go, though I was still unaware of what made the machine squeal. Maybe the can of beer I’d drank contained a shiny penny? I will never know.

The journey from Amsterdam back to Newcastle was even more boring. Chris and Jonathan were on one side of the aisle, I was on the other. I couldn’t even see out of the window, without looking over everyone else. Shite. The only reason it’s worth mentioning is that I had another can of beer.

Upon my return back to the UK, I switched on my phone, to find that Daddykins was picking me up, and waiting in the car park, which eventually cost him £6. the final stupid expense of the trip. The A1 back home was completely blocked by an overturned lorry, which shed 18 tonnes of cable over the carriageway. This led to a detour around the suburbs of South Tyneside, and getting lost about three times.

And that, is it. The end. There is no more. Actually, there’s lots more, but I thought that after three weeks of typing this holiday up, I’ll draw the line here and now. I shall conclude by posting Youtube links to the video I made while I was there….

Day 1… http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=fJRuIbhX260 (Incomplete due to a tape fault)
Day 2 part 1… http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=MIbDSfEkrIg
Day 2 part 2… http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=fYhQZ95Vw78
Day 2 dart 3… http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=2Tg6gE1EQjo
Day 3… http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=1k4ozi1bcTc

The rest of the days coming soon, including the zoo footage…

Now I can get back to talking about other stuff. Wooooo.