samedi 23 avril 2011

Italy - Pros and Cons

I will do my wonderful glowing travel report later (complete with photos...) but for the moment here are my 'cons' about my Italy trip so far... Well, my first impressions after 2.5 days.

•  I thought the French smoked a lot but the Italians definitely outdo them!
•  Because of this or maybe there are a lot more cars (?) the air pollution seems to be much worse.
•  Because of that (or something else?  I don't know what) I have had a serious allergic reaction to Italy. I just sneeze and have a runny nose non-stop and my eyes and throat itch like crazy too. Histamines don't work for me.
•  Not only that, I had an allergy to the sun (link here to all the various forms and names of this 'disease'). It was super hot and sunny the last 2 days and today it became cold(er) and cloudy. Not that it is specific to Italy but I never had it in any other country besides Australia before... I have these horrible little red itchy bumps on my arms (which look and feel like shaving rash - not that I've ever shaved my arms but you get what I mean!) My skin is so white it's embarrassing. However I don't tan OR burn, I just get this horrible itchiness!
•  Queue cutting! If there is one thing that gets my goat (is that a saying?) it's queue jumpers!! ARGH. I don't care if you are old, or in a hurry, or whatever... at least, ask if you can jump the queue instead of just pushing in surreptitiously. Ever since I was really young I despised this awful rude habit.
•  The shopkeepers are not very nice. I tend to judge a city a lot by how I am treated by people in shops or places like train stations or restaurants or wherever. I have met some kind and helpful strangers but noone who actually works in the service area has been like that to me.

I think that's about it...

•  Well if one thought French had it all in terms of architectural beauty, I'm sorry to say that Italy sure outdoes them. So much so that the French (as I have been told) LOVE to take holidays in Italy. When I first arrived in Turin/Torino (my first stop) I got goosebumps by the sheer size and awesome of all these buildings and the history carried on them. There is just so much beauty and history I can't comprehend it all. My friend told me about Stendhal Syndrome and I can't say that I've had it yet but I can see where they are coming from when I think about Italy...
•  The food of course! The food is not only amazingly good but it's even cheaper than in France (when I thought that that was already heaps cheaper than in Australia).
•  The shopping/fashion. It's a female shopaholics dream. I find all the clothes, shoes, underwear, swimwear, and handbags just utterly amazing and beautiful and for their quality and style, not even that expensive. I want to buy everything but I have no means of carrying it.
•  The shops seem a lot more 'international' than in France too meaning you get all the cool brands.. not that it means anything to me since I don't have much time or money to go shopping! All I've bought really are little souvenirs and food to eat.

Cons about travelling
Not that I have a child but I have friends that do and for me, I feel that having a child is kind of similar to travelling in that there are bad parts to it but you don't really think about them or dwell on them or talk about them much and only celebrate the good parts of it. Because I travel alone I have way too much time to dwell on my thoughts and if you could read my mind.. well I'm sure I'd bore everyone and sound like a great big whinger so I prefer to just talk about the positive things about my trips and decorate them with happy shiny photos :) However there are some things which I realise piss me off and will continue to do so for a long time...
•  People who walk really slowly and block pedestrian traffic, OR people who suddenly stop (usually to send/read a text message on their phone) right in the middle of a very crowded and busy footpath! THAT shits me. If they were a car they'd cause a major accident.
•  Having noone to mind my bags when I just need to do something quickly like go to the toilet. Even worse when there are stairs involved which, being Europe, there usually are. So I have to drag my bags with me everywhere I go which is extremely tiring when I'm already tired. I think that's my number one pet peeve of travelling alone. Figuring out how to deal with my bags/property.
•  No signs or maps. Oh this doesn't need explanation!
•  Smokers who smoke at the train's door so that the smoke all comes inside the train anyway. Smokers in general :P

I think that's about it actually. I don't complain that much afterall.. hahahaa...

There are probably loads of typos in this but meh... I am so tired I arrived in Florence 5 hours ago and didn't do a single thing apart from buy something to eat for dinner.

I only realised too late that perhaps it wasn't exactly the smartest thing to decide to go to Florence and Rome right in the middle of Easter! HAHAHA

In any case, Happy Easter Everyone / Joyeuses Pâques à vous tous !

mardi 19 avril 2011

Paris, je t'aime

Related post you may want to read first as I refer back to those events when I went to Nice and Paris two weeks ago

My super awesome day... My fifth visit to Paris...

Well to be honest I did not want to go to Paris today but I HAD to go and I'll explain soon in an upcoming blog post. For the moment I just want to say that I had a mammoth day - 16 hours worth and despite feeling a bit tired at the start after getting up at 5am I feel great now and it's 10:30pm. For some strange reason I actually feel quite energetic despite such an early morning and long day. Why?

I HAD THE BEST TIME IN PARIS TODAY.  The Gods were certainly looking after me. It was the most perfect weather you could ever imagine and it was a shock to me because EVERY time I've been to Paris (4 times prior) the weather was either unpredictable or cloudy or rainy or windy or freezing or all of the above! This was the FIRST time I'd ever seen Paris completely sunny with no clouds and with hardly a hint of wind at all. It was 26°C.

I had to take the earliest train that left from my town because I had to get there as early as possible to finish up with "the issue" (yes I can say with a huge sigh of relief it's FINALLY done and I can reveal the whole saga soon). They said I had to wait while it was being done or I could come back in an hour , hour and a half. So I chose to get some things done during that time....

I arrived in Gare de Lyon in Paris (my old friend now I've been there so many times as it's the gateway to the south and south-east of France) and wanted/needed to change the time of my return ticket however I couldn't find the office/shop where to do that and I was getting impatient so I forgot about it for the moment and high-tailed it to where I needed to go.

So during this 1.5 hour window I went to the nearest SNCF/Grandes Lignes station which was Gare St Lazare to do this. I also had some problems collecting all of my tickets for Italy from the machines this morning (and being so early, the SNCF office in my town wasn't open) so I had 2 things to do there. I had planned to meet my friend in Paris again but it didn't feel like it would be worth just spending 1.5 hours together so I decided to take a later train 2 hours later and pay 8 euros for the privilege of changing this ticket.

Then, I had some other errand-y thing to do. My cousin asked me to buy her a Longchamp bag (that is, she'll pay me back) because she says they are so much more expensive in Australia. Since I couldn't do it on my last trip to Paris I thought this was the perfect opportunity and how coincidental that all the big department stores were right near Gare St Lazare!

So I bought it from the nearest department store Printemps (which means Spring in French, aptly) and then I needed to find a post office to send it to her. I thought I'd only go if there was one nearby otherwise I couldn't be bothered. Then again I don't want to carry more than I have to all day either. So I found one - at 56 Rue Cler, Paris, corner of Avenue La Motte Picquet (7th arrondissement). Massive RAVE for this post office! OMG. Remember before (in various posts) I said I lived in China? In China and most Asian countries the stores are overstaffed and there is always someone to help/serve you but in Australia and most Western countries it's the opposite and it's certainly the case in France. However I had quite a unique experience here. There were SO MANY STAFF and all so friendly and helpful. It's as if they had been trained by someone.... not in France. Hahaha. At first the lady that helped me (altogether there were 3-4 people that helped me!!) said there was only ONE box that I could use to send something to Australia and it was HUGE and cost a whopping 34 euros (that's with the shipping fee included). There were no bubble-lined envelopes like we have in the post office shops in Australia nor anything smaller but eventually she did find something smaller, luckily so I used that. All done. I felt it was my good deed for the day to 'chase' this thing for my cousin.

And for my reward I got a gorgeous green Longchamp paper bag to put my trench coat in! This morning it was freezing and then during the day I was sweating like crazy and had to take off my layers. It's always such a challenge figuring out what the heck to wear. Either I freeze in the morning (which I did anyway) and be comfortable later or be comfortable in the morning and have to carry round a big heavy coat. Luckily I only wore my autumn/spring trench coat and not my winter one (which some people still wear!!)

Actually I just realised my story got convoluted. After buying the handbag I went back to the office to pick up (something) and then I started walking towards the Eiffel Tower because I could see it and thought I might as well go there since I had almost 3 hours to kill before meeting my friend. That's when I stumbled across the post office by accident. Then, I happened to accidentally pass by the exact same café that my friend and I ate at too last time, only 2 weeks go.  I didn't even realise I had walked the same path - what a coincidence!

I passed a small Carrefour so went and popped in to buy some lunch and a drink. I was starving but I had had no time to eat or look for something cheap to eat until then.

Well Printemps pissed me off because they wanted me to pay 1 euro to use the toilets (considering I just spent a large sum of money in their shop!). I refuse to pay for public toilets unless I'm desperate. Since I wasn't I held it in. So as I was walking I came across a free toilet in the street. One of those automatic self-cleaning ones. You have to wait a while after each person for them to clean it...

While I was waiting in this queue (yes there was a queue!) This taxi driver guy (youngish) looked at me and it kind of weirded me out a bit so I looked away. Then I looked back at him and as he drove away he gave me a big huge smile. Ah it was kind of nice... ;)

It was soooooooooo sunny. OMG it was so beautiful. And also, I have never really seen the Eiffel Tower in the day time either. Only in the late afternoon or evening. I couldn't stop taking photos of it from every angle and distance possible. To me it's like Sydney's Opera House or the Pearl Tower in Shanghai. Photos will never do them justice because it's only until you see them in real life that you realise how incredibly HUGE they are and how awesome they are, wonderful pieces of architecture!!

I did it all backwards compared to my trip during Christmas. I started at the little park next to it and ended up in Trocadero. This time I also bought some Eiffel Tower keyrings just for the heck of it. Last time they offered 6 or 7 to me for 1 Euro and this time the guy offered me 3 for 1 Euro. I should've said 6 at least but I said '5' and he goes '4' and I said 'no' and he was like 'Ok, 5'. I couldn't believe how easy it was (and kicked myself for not saying 6 or 7 haha).

Unfortunately it's the WORST possible time for taking photos, in the middle of the day with the strong sun and lots of harsh shadows.

I had lunch in the park and I could not believe it had only been a little over 3 months since I was here and absolutely freezing in the snow, rain and wind!! Plus it was almost empty then and now, it was teeming with crowds, holidaymakers and tourists.

Anyway it took me so long to get to the top of Trocadero I realised I would be a little late meeting my friend at 2pm so I texted him...

After 2 line changes I eventually made it to our meeting spot, Abbesses métro station. He said it's close to where he lives so he knows it well but the reason he suggested meeting there is because it's one of the highest points of the city so it boasts spectacular views. The first thing we did was look at the "I love you wall" right next the métro exit. (Oh, by the way, luckily he advised me beforehand to take the lift/elevator and not the stairs since there are soooo many. That is one of the biggest lifts I have ever seen in that métro staiton).

It's also near where the Basilique du Sacré Coeur is. Now, a few years ago when I went to Paris for the first time I did see the Basilica (but I got off at Montmartre station instead). However it was an extremely short visit. I don't even know what possessed me to tell him this but because it was such a strong memory for me I just blurted it out. I was with my ex (my longest relationship) and I really wanted to see Moulin Rouge and the Basilica but we didn't have much time. He didn't want to come and see them with me so he went back to the hotel whereas I rushed around like crazy trying to see both in a short space of time. So I didn't have time to climb all those stairs but no such problem today!

I had a whopping 3.5 hours to spend with my friend. OMG the view was utterly breathtaking from up there. But not just of the view but just the buildings, the paths, the stairs and even the tourists themselves.. everything just made Paris even better than what you could imagine. I can't describe it. It was just so amazing and beautiful. He gave me ideas and tips about what I could take photos of (that weren't your typical touristy shots).

The funniest thing was when this old guy (trying to sell some little handicraft animals) started talking about me (something nice but I can't remember what exactly) to a customer in French, assuming I couldn't understand and I looked straight at him and said, "I speak French!" And we got talking and he asked me the typical question of where I'm from, etc etc.. then he asked my friend if I was his fiancée! OMG that was pretty embarrassing and hilarious. Then, as so often happens these days he started flattering me saying how pretty I am and then telling my friend he should get together with me... ahem... I remained silent as it was nice but really embarrassing.

That reminds too, that back at the park next to the Eiffel Tower I asked a random guy to take a photo of me for me. He was pretty young and reminded me of one of my students. This random (American?) lady walked past and asked if we'd like her to take a photo of us together! That is hilarious that she thought we were together?!

Since it was so hot and sunny I had an ice cream craving again. My friend said not to buy it there as it's touristy there so costs more but also he knows where the BEST ice cream in Paris is and that we should go there instead. At first I thought we wouldn't have enough time but we did.

After walking around the Basilica and seeing the funiculaire (cable car) AND all the places around there where the film Amélie was filmed (the pay phone is not there!) etc... He had a suggestion. Oh this was going to be good!

He said he'd come by scooter and he could take me to this island (Ile Saint Louis) to find this ice cream parlor. Sounds great except... I have a fear of riding motorbikes or scooters. It's rather a personal reason why but I thought I'd better get over it. I already refused an offer from another friend for a scooter ride. And these past few years I'm all for challenging myself to do 'hard' things or trying to get over my fears.

I actually said both in French and in English: Je vais mourir / I'm going to die . A tourist passing by heard me and laughed. Seriously deep down I was SHIT SCARED yet excited at the same time. Here goes nothing. At first it was very very scary. You have to sit up very straight and hold on really tight. He said NOT to lean with him when he leans and remain upright. At first I kept knocking my helmet against his. My palms were sweating like crazy and also bright red from holding onto the handlebar things so tightly. It was a billion times better than that bus ride last time. I wanted to film the whole trip but I couldn't bare to let go of the bars meaning I had no hands to hold the camera!

I think the ride went for a total of about 30 minutes and afterwards it became easier as I got more confident so I could hold on with only my left hand, and film with my right :) It was sooooo thrilling. I can't begin to describe it. Also with the sun and also the cool breeze it was just so comfortable and nice. He explained all the buildings and monuments as we drove past although I couldn't really hear much.

I actually had visions of me flying off, no kidding. I was still scared the whole time I think but I just had to pretend I was not because I was just having too much fun and couldn't keep the smile off my face. I toured Paris on scooter.

And the scariest part? When he drove into that massive huge roundabout where the Arc de Triomphe is! The one that's notorious for accidents. I think I screamed out of both fear and excitement.

So we made it to Ile Saint Louis in one piece and luckily didn't have to wait 30 minutes in the queue for the ice cream like he assumed we would. That place was filled to the brim with tourists (all eating ice creams or drinking coffee). I offered to shout him this time but he refused. The ice cream was nice but I wouldn't say it was as good as the one I had in Nice. When I told him I went to a fab ice cream place in Nice he knew EXACTLY which one I was talking about!

By then we only had a little bit of time left. We did a quick walk and crossed those little bridges... that's when I came across those padlocks on the Le Pont des Arts which I only know about because of the TV show The Amazing Race. The locks that lovers put there, 'sealing' their love. Awwww.... It was so beautiful I wanted to take so many photos of it but he reminded me we didn't have much time left.

Towards the very end and right after we had talked about a very personal subject, I asked about his girlfriend. I don't even know why I torture myself like that. The worst part of all of this is that I really like him and I'm pretty sure he knows it but he already has a girlfriend. But even if he didn't, I tell myself it's a totally dumb idea anyway since it'd be a long-distance relationship and I'm terrible at those.

Anyway, then he dropped me off at Gare de Lyon again, like déjà vu from 2 weeks ago. Except this time it was lovely and warm and not cold. I thought I'd sleep on the way home (it was nice and quiet on the train- yay!) but I was so hyped up I was not tired at all and watched the gorgeous landscape outside the window transform from dead flat to mountainous. Also all these bright fluorescent yellow rapeseed flowers had blossomed everywhere in the fields. I couldn't believe how beautiful it was and I cannot believe that it is light until 9 pm these days.

For me, you'll always remember your 'firsts' and that scooter ride was my first and to say that I did it in Paris, well that was like a dream come true. :) I just cannot believe what a lucky week this has been for me. Everything has been going so well and also having perfect weather today was also lucky and for that I will be eternally grateful to the Gods above!

lundi 18 avril 2011

Paris again

I'm off to Paris yet AGAIN and this time I really don't want to go. I would prefer to spend the day doing relaxing things, everyday chores (and I have lots more than usual right now) and saying goodbye to people but alas.. I HAVE to go and soon I will be able to reveal what "the issue" was and my very exciting news!! :D

Guess who's going to Italy?

Guess who's going to Italy? Me! AH I'm so excited I can hardly contain myself. It was a last minute decision and I do regret that a little because one of my train tickets (the one coming back home) was hideously expensive (it cost more than the other 4 tickets combined!). Still, even if they take longer, I much prefer trains and they are also a lot cheaper than planes if you want last minute tickets.

I'm off on a 10 day trip to :
Genoa, Pisa, Florence and Rome
or in French: Gênes, Pise, Florence, Rome 
or in Italian: Genova, Pisa, Firenze, Roma

A bit off topic but it kind of annoys me why they bother to change the city names! I think they should just stay what they are in their native language and not be 'dumbed down' for foreigners! All of my students pronounce the city Lyon as Lie-on because they think that's how it should be pronounced in English! (instead of the French Lee-yon) Grr... I never say Lie-on. It sounds awful.

I have always had an affinity with Italy, I think. There is a really personal thing which I can't share here but there is a very specific reason why I MUST go to Rome.

Also, from a very young age I discovered that Italian was my favourite cuisine and still is. From the ages of around 8-15 I was obsessed with Garfield, that big fat lazy orange cat. I collected all the comic books and various Garfield memorabilia. I related to him because I adore Italian food and I despise Mondays. And Garfield likes to annoy Odie like I used to annoy my little sister.

When I was in high school I had many friends of Italian origins as there was a small community of Italian people in a suburb not far from our school.

Then, thinking about recent events, I discovered that it was a coincidence that my ex in Sydney, my ex in France, and my new best friend here, C, ALL have Italian or part-Italian origins too.

When I was in Nice recently, I couldn't help but notice there was such an Italian air about that place. It made me want to go to Italy more and more. In fact, I've been wanting to go there for the longest time and had planned to go there a few years back with my ex but it never eventuated.

A note about Venice. They say it's the most romantic city in the world and perhaps that is true. That's why I don't want to go there... alone. Maybe it's dumb, maybe it's corny, maybe it's superstitious, but I don't want to go there until I'm with 'the one', the one that I want to be with forever. I only want to go there with him, whoever that may be and whenever that may be that I meet him. So that's why I'm not going to Venice now.

I also ummed and erred about going to Turin/Torino and Milan/Milano and the beautiful La Spezia/Cinque Terre region too but they'll have to wait until next time (as will the south of Italy!)

Reading Eat Pray Love (Elizabeth Gilbert) and The Promise (Lisa Clifford) also made me want to go to Italy badly.

And the last reason I want to go to Italy is a practical one. It's the closest foreign country to me apart from Germany and Switzerland, both of which I've already been to. I cannot stand flying and try to avoid it where possible. It's not a fear, I just hate all the waiting and queuing and stupid rules about luggage. I can't travel to anywhere I want to, it has to be reasonably close to be affordable and so I can get there within the same day.

I have my accommodation (Couchsurfing, of course) lined up for Genoa and Rome. I just need to find one for Florence now!

Unfortunately, at the back of my head, I'll still be wondering about "the issue" and am still waiting and waiting for more news...

Eh ben, Voilà !

Just before I wrote up this blog post, I noticed on Skype that Luca was online. I 'met' him around 21 months ago in July 2009 (through YouTube) when I first started to learn French and haven't spoken to him for over a year. He's from Rome so I said a quick "Hello" and told him I'm coming to Rome and it would be so cool if we could meet up. He wrote back that he doesn't actually live in Rome anymore but in.... Paris! haha (because he has a French girlfriend and I guess the long distance thing was too hard).

We got talking and he tells me he teaches languages online now (quitting his job in Rome as an engineer) and makes quite a good living from it. If you haven't checked out his YouTube videos you should. In fact, I'll put a link to it in my sidebar now. The earlier ones aren't great quality but anyway, he is a very talented polyglot (someone who speaks many languages) and shares his methods for learning foreign languages. The most incredible thing to me is not that he speaks several languages (which many many people do) but the fact that he has a close to native-like accent for each language that he speaks!! Even though we won't get to meet up it was still cool to talk to him again after a long absence from both our parts.

dimanche 17 avril 2011

How to add Subtitles to Films French films

How to add Subtitles to Films / Comment incruster des Sous-titres dans un film

OK it seems like recently a lot of people are coming to my blog looking for info or subtitles to Le Nom de Gens (The Names of Love) and Rien à déclarer (Nothing to declare).

Something one of my very geeky exes taught me (see, boyfriends are useful for something ;) ) is how to put subtitles onto foreign films. I was so happy when he told me about that as it basically opened up a whole new world of possibilities...

How to add subtitles to films

  • Download VLC media player if you don't already have it. It plays almost any sort of media file you can imagine and it's free!
  • Go to or Open Subtitles and search for the subtitle for your movie in the language of your choice. Note that not all languages exist and the file is of type .srt
  • Note where you've placed the movie on your computer (I'm not going to tell you where to get the movies from, I'm sure you can figure that out yourself) and copy the filename of this file to the srt file. So now the two files have exactly the same file name with only the 3 character extension that is different. Make sure they are placed in the same folder/directory.
  • Open up VLC media player and load the film.
  • Voilà ! It should work automatically. If not, something has gone wrong... (sometimes though, if the subtitles are not done well they are not quite in sync with the movie, maybe a few seconds ahead/behind what they are saying).

The main problem I find is that I want to watch both English and French films with French subtitles but generally it's difficult to find subtitles that's in the same language as the film is (ie French subtitles for a French film). Still, give it a try though! It's pretty easy to find English subtitles for French films.

Hope that helped!

Orangina and Rivella

Orangina and Rivella

I would say that 90% of the time I just drink water. Yeah, pretty boring huh? I actually LIKE the taste of water. However every now and then my sweet tooth gets activated and I need something sweet like a soft drink or fruit juice.

I do not like normal soft drinks (soda) and haven't since I was about 16 so I never drink them but I LOVE Orangina and Rivella! They are so different to Coca Cola, Sprite or Fanta. For one thing, they both have a lot less gas and they also seem less artificial/chemical and sweet. To me it's like they are halfway between soft drink and fruit juice.

According to Schweppes, Orangina is a French carbonated fruit drink first created in 1936. It is the largest selling carbonated fruit drink in France. It is well-known for its funny shaped bottle, the 'real fruit pulp' content, containing no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives and funky advertising. It tastes halfway between Fanta and orange juice. There isn't a lot of pulp but enough to give it some 'texture' and extra flavour kick. I buy it here in 2L bottles.

The ingredients are:

       •  Carbonated water,
       •  High fructose corn syrup and/or sugar,
       •  Orange juice concentrate,
       •  Pure orange pulp,
       •  Tangerine juice concentrate
       •  Natural orange flavours.
It has no artificial coloring or flavoring, no caffeine, and is marked kosher. 

Here's a video (in French) all about the history of the company and the drink. Towards the end, the actor Jamel Debbouze (featured in Amélie) is shown appearing in a tv commercial. Also there is a risqué ad featuring computer-generated humanised animals.

and one of the tv commercials featuring a laughing hyena:

Rivella is a carbonated drink from Switzerland first created in 1952. I can't quite put my finger on what flavour it is. It is sweet and fruity but also different to anything I've ever drunk before. There are three varieties but I've only ever had the original (Red).

Ingredients - The exact recipe for Rivella Red is a well kept secret, these are the known listed ingredients:
  • Water
  • Whey (35 %)
  • (lactose, lactic acid and minerals)
  • Sugar (76g of refined sugar and 14g from whey per liter)
  • Herbs
  • Fruitextract
  • Carbonation
  • Acidifier (L(+)-Lactic Acid)
Given the list of ingredients, to me it tastes like something halfway between carbonated fruit juice (with maybe a hint of strawberry flavour) and the Japanese fermented milk drink Calpis/Calpico (ingredients: Lactose, Glucose, Sugar, Skim milk powder, Lactic acid (with a lactic acid cultver), natural and artificial flavours).

In any case, all three drinks have unique flavours and I love them all! Every time I go to Switzerland I try to get me some Rivella.

Here is a Dutch tv commercial for Rivella:

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