Archive | July, 2012

Topdeck Travel: Day Six

31 Jul

The Duomo.

This morning we had a walking tour of Florence with a local guide. It is a pretty amazing city. For the Aussies who have never been out of Australia before, seeing any building that is over two centuries old is impressive – but the Duomo cathedral is absolutely stunning even by European standards.

Next to the Duomo was the Baptistry, with its bronze doors that allegedly begun the Renaissance. We also saw the Ponte Vecchio, one of the last remaining bridges after the Second World War, and the Accademia, which houses loads of sculptures, including Michelangelo’s ‘David’.

Little Lion Man was more impressed with this statue, but you can see David’s feet in the background.

I would have liked to see Santa Croce, the church which holds the tombs of Michelangelo, Dante and Galileo, but it was way too hot to buy some kind of garment to cover my shoulders (something you must do in Italy to visit many of the religious sites). The tour finished with a demonstration of leather-making, including Florentine jewellery boxes. To be honest, I only went to the demonstration to get out of the heat (Italy is HOT) and soon us veggies were heading to the nearest pizzaria.

Next it was back onto the bus to head to the town of Orvieto, something that wasn’t on the planned itinerary but which was well worthwhile. If you’re ever nearby I was totally recommend visiting. It’s a beautiful place.

And now I am in Rome, sitting in the bar by the pool and melting like gelati. It’s pretty weird to think that a couple of days ago we were standing knee-deep in snow in the Swiss Alps. I can’t believe it’s almost been a week, this trip is going so quickly!

Going to call it an early one tonight as we have a six hour walking tour in the morning. Yikes.

Ciao! x

Read the rest of my European Wonder adventures here.

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Topdeck Travel: Day Five

30 Jul

Last night was definitely the best night of the trip.

A lot of us decided to chill by the ‘lake’ (a tiny stream next to reception where people put their beers to keep them cool), and had a sing-a-long with Croc and his guitar. I had a few beers and might have actually sung a few solos, much my chagrin upon waking…

We were up this morning bright and early to drive to Italy; it was a big bus day today as well. It’s true that there is a lot of time on the road on this tour. Sometimes it’s close to ten hours, but it’s not not every day, and it does let us see a lot of the countryside and catch up on our sleep (or blogging…). Today it also gave us an opportunity to play ‘Bogan Bingo’ and watch some YouTube videos. Having someone sit you down and show you all their favourite YouTube clips is usually boring as hell, but it wasn’t too bad – aside from the rick-rolling.

Also, I don’t think I’ve mentioned it but Jamie plays ‘Moves Like Jagger‘ every time he wants us to wake up before a stop. We’re going to be like Pavlov’s dogs before the end of the trip, instantly snapping wide awake in clubs for years to come.

Pisa was our first stop after Switzerland, for the standard photographs and bargaining with the vendors (pics to follow: stay tuned). Florence from Boston missed the bus on the way back so she had to make her own way to Florence, which was kind of ironic — but she made it back in one piece.

It’s really interesting to see the relationships forming between everyone on the coach. I think the situation is definitely a crucible to accelerate friendships, but I can also picture us being quite a volatile lot towards the end, after the girls’ periods have synchronised and none of us have had an orgasm in two weeks (saying that though, there are a few couples that have sprung into creation, even this early in the trip).

I’m writing this on the really infuriating internet connection in Florence. The rest of the guys have gone into town for karaoke. There’s also a wet t-shirt competition in the bar downstairs… I can hear it from here, so I don’t feel like I’m missing much (besides, after all the drinks in Switzerland my brain still kinda feels like Swiss cheese).

I wanted to go to Borgo Santa Croce tonight to check out one of the bars but us ladies have been warned against travelling alone at night.It kind of irks me when the burden of responsibility for that sort of thing is put on women instead of men – but I suppose this isn’t my country and I should do as I’m told. It is just a shame that no matter where you go in the world, after a certain time of day the streets are male spaces. I’d hardly touched down on Italian soil for more than a few minutes this morning when a seedy guy tried to chat me up at a truck stop. Shame I didn’t know how to say “I’ve got a lion in my backpack” in Italian.

Read the rest of my European Wonder adventures here.

Topdeck Travel: Day Four

29 Jul

That’s right. Snow in summer.

This morning we had the option of taking Jungfrau Railway to the Jungfraujoch, the train station in the Swiss Alps which marks the top of Europe. Setting off after breakfast with a packed lunch, we boarded the train for the two hour journey to the top.

The first 2k of the train journey from Kleine Scheidegg (which translates as ‘Little Vagina Corner’ according to our tour guide…) runs through open terrain. It is impossible to describe how picturesque Switzerland is. After the first 2k there is a 10k journey through a tunnel actually hewn out of the alpine rock. The train stops twice on the way up to let its passengers adjust to the altitude.

At the top, the beauty takes your breath away (literally). Standing at the top of Europe was definitely a life-altering experience for me. I mean, have you ever been inside of a cloud? Or been sunburnt in freezing temperatures?! For a lot of people, today was their first snow; I can’t even imagine the impact that must have had. There was a perfect moment up the top when we were sitting in the white, making snowcones with our juiceboxes, and the Canadian girls were playing music on their phone. It was just one of those ‘woah I’m going to remember this forever’ moments. I think this trip is going to have a lot of them…

This is pretty much what it felt like huh.

I’m writing this in in Lauterbrunnen where we’re staying, and where they make a surprisingly good flat white. I have to head pretty soon – we’re having fondue.

Read the rest of my European Wonder adventures here.

Topdeck Travel: Days Two & Three

28 Jul

I’m currently typing this in our cabin at the Schutzenbach-retreat in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. Everything here looks like a postcard, it’s slightly surreal to think we were in Paris this morning.

Speaking of which…

Day Two

The second day of our tour began by waking up in Paris. Not bad. Our breakfast was provided by the hotel – it was just a generic pastry and yogurt sort of deal but the coffee machine was impressive. Day two was a free day, which meant we could do as we liked until 3pm – when those who wanted to do a bicycle tour of the city had the option – or 7pm, when we’d all meet for a gourmet picnic at the park in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. As you do.

Me & Little Lion Man at The Louvre.

Rachael, Vicky and I had bonded a little the night before over our shared vegetarianism and proximity to Moet. We decided to go to the Opera House. We then headed to the Artclub Gallery, which was around the corner from The Louvre. It looked like a really interesting alternative to checking out the Mona Lisa, but it was also very much closed, though the glass walls meant that most of the gallery was on display anyway.

After a slightly cynically-charged walk down Love Lock Bridge – where couples write their names on a padlock, attach it to the bridge, and throw the key into the river – we went our separate ways. I’ve done Paris before so I thought I’d do something a little different. After a vegan lunch from a cafe next to a taxidermy shop I headed to Rue Saint Croix de la Bretonneire to check out the Marais District (see also: the gay district).

My favourite places in the Marais Distrcit were Les Paris Gourmands, which sold miniature candy- and biscuit-shaped jewellery, and Open Cafe, which was pretty much like every other gay bar in Europe but in Paris. (So, more expensive.) I was saving my pennies for the optional cabaret that night but it turned out I didn’t need them after all, as wine was included.

The cabaret was incredible; the staff wouldn’t let us take pictures, sadly, but if you don’t believe me just ask Helga. There was a trapeze artist, unicycle act that defied all logic, and lots of singing and dancing and flesh. I have to admit I missed some of the show because Rachael and I got into a very drunken heated and excited conversation about sex-positive feminism (yay!) and I wasn’t watching the stage. I seem to remember lots of lycra, dry ice and… motorbikes?

Paris was beautiful. But I am still sad. There is a quote floating around Tumblr, it goes like this:

Paris was a city for lovers, and my lover is missing from me.

Day Three
Even on the third day, putting a coachful of sleepy and slightly-sheepish people onto a bus still feels a lot like going to school camp. School camp with hangovers.

It was a lo-oo-oo-ong bus day today – the longest of the trip hopefully. However, we were saved from boredom by a few games and some singing from Croc (one of the Aussie guys). We also did a round of introductions over the coach microphone – which was when our first slice of intercultural drama popped up (thanks Michelle from America for the link!).

But now we’re in Switzerland.

Guy Secretan, a Swiss human.

Internet access here costs three Swiss-franc for half an hour, but wifi codes are free if you buy a drink at the bar.

Two guesses where I’m heading next?

Read the rest of my European Wonder adventures here.

Topdeck Travel: Day One

26 Jul

Bonjour, solipsists. As promised, here is the first update. I am in Paris!

The famous Paris Hilton.

The first day of the European Wonder tour saw us congregate at the Clink 78 Hostel at 6am, where I had spent the night previously (mostly through fear of missing the coach). The hostel had a really nice atmosphere and breakfast was included, but the rooms were so hot and sauna-like that I thought I was gonna die. I did share a room with two girls who are on the tour though — Isabella and Patricia from Brazil.

I also found a stowaway in my suitcase. He can stay though.

#GPOY?

On the coach we were introduced to Jamie, who will be our guide for the trip. “Look around,” he said. “One of these people is going to be your friend for life.” He also assured us that this trip is one of the best experiences we will ever do. I’m a bit of a cynic, but on the coach drive from London to Dover we drove over the Thames, where I saw the HMS President (where I spent a year when I was working for global tolerance). It reminded me how far I’d come and what a journey there is still to go. But you know what? This is definitely going to be my year.

We got the ferry over to Calais. Jamie had warned us not to buy crates of Fosters on the duty-free on the ferry because beer is so cheap throughout Europe, and also because nobody should be a crate of Fosters anyway. In Paris we pulled up to the B&B Hotel. I’m sharing a room with Vicky – another English Lit graduate who works in PR and comms – and Rachael, another Aussie.

Around the corner from the hotel we were treated to ‘traditional French cousine’ at l’Orange Bleue — French onion soup (do they just call it onion soup here?), escargot and frogs’ legs. Dave from New Zealand treated us to a 65-euro bottle of Moet and by the time we all got on the bus for a driving tour around the sights of Paris, we were all feeling a bit merry.

Kevin, the bus driver, drove into the heart of Paris while Jamie gave us the history of Europe in a nutshell over the microphone. We drove past the Moulin Rouge, the phantom’s Opera House, the Louvre, Arc De Triomphe, Conciergerie, and Notre Dame. We also drove down the Champs Elysees, and visited a few of the lesser-known sights of Paris, including Avenue Kléber where Marilyn Monroe allegedly lived (and where Doctor Who was filmed as well!).

The highlight of the bus tour was definitely the soundtrack — ‘Foux Du FaFa‘ by Flight of the Conchords, the Mission Impossible theme-song when we were going through a particularly narrow tunnel, ‘Move Bitch’ by Ludacris when there was another bus blocking us off by the Eiffel Tower…

Oh yeah, the Eiffel Tower. That was pretty cool. I’d seen it before, but this guy hadn’t:

Little Lion Man at the Eiffel Tower

Little Lion Man at the Eiffel Tower.

Free day tomorrow! Au revoir! x

Read the rest of my European Wonder adventures here.

Reviewing a View: Topdeck Travel

26 Jul

So I graduated last week.

Pics or it didn't happen.

Pics or it didn’t happen.

But as the opening line of Avenue Q so eloquently questions, “What can you do with a BA in English?”

Well: who has two thumbs, speaks limited french, and is going on a 14-day tour of Europe?

 This moi.

Yes, it’s time for something a little different here at The Solipsistic Socialite. At the time of writing, I’m currently sitting on a ferry bound for Calais, about to take the first leg of Topdeck’s European Wonder tour. This tour has many legs. It is like a centipede.

I plan to update sporadically during the next fortnight and update y’all about my travels through Paris, the Swiss Alps, Florence, Rome, Venice, Tyrol, the Rhine Valley, Amsterdam and Bruges. I am very excited. I am also scared out of my mind.

See you in Paris! x

Your Musicology is My Mythology. Featuring: Chumbawamba.

15 Jul

Like most seven-year-olds in ’97, I first heard of anarcho-punk band Chumbawamba through their chart-topping single ‘Tumthumping‘. Last week, in a break from the recent trend of nineties bands reforming, Chumbawamba announced on their website their intention to call it a day (or, as The Quietus/every site ever so drolly reports: “They get knocked down, they don’t get back up again”).

However, what I’m quickly learning is that these guys are decidedly not a nineties band. Chumbawamba’s legacy spans three decades, after all. First forming in 1982, influenced by fellow anarcho-punk peers Crass, the band journeyed through genres experimenting with post-punk, mainstream pop, electro-pop, acoustic and a capella sounds, to their ultimate reinvention as a “soft, heavily melodic folk sound“. Chumbawamba have constantly evolved, experimented and entertained.

If John Prescott has the nerve to turn up at events like the BRIT Awards in a vain attempt to make Labour seem cool and trendy, then he deserves all we can throw at him - Danbert Nobacon

Chumbawamba dumped a bucket of water over Labour politician John Prescott at the ’98 Brit Awards.

(Speaking of the nineties though, man do they hate boy bands.

In fact, their fifteenth studio album, which gives Fiona Apple a run for her money in terms of absolute lack of brevity, is called The Boy Bands Have Won, and All the Copyists and the Tribute Bands and the TV Talent Show Producers Have Won, If We Allow Our Culture to Be Shaped by Mimicry, Whether from Lack of Ideas or From Exaggerated Respect. You Should Never Try to Freeze Culture. What You Can Do Is Recycle That Culture. Take Your Older Brother’s Hand-Me-Down Jacket and Re-Style It, Re-Fashion It to the Point Where It Becomes Your Own. But Don’t Just Regurgitate Creative History, or Hold Art and Music and Literature as Fixed, Untouchable and Kept Under Glass. The People Who Try to ‘Guard’ Any Particular Form of Music Are, Like the Copyists and Manufactured Bands, Doing It the Worst Disservice, Because the Only Thing That You Can Do to Music That Will Damage It Is Not Change It, Not Make It Your Own. Because Then It Dies, Then It’s Over, Then It’s Done, and the Boy Bands Have Won. It definitely deserved a listen.)

I like to think that ‘Tubthumping’, that little gem of an earworm, was their way of infiltrating the music industry and sharing their politics with a wider audience. It’s like how people discovered The Dresden Dolls through ‘Coin-Operated Boy‘, or think ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart‘ encapsulates the Joy Division experience. ‘Tubthumping’ was an anomaly that didn’t really capture the band’s sound, but allowed them to find a broader and more willingly receptive audience.

It wasn’t until I befriended the ever-effervescent Tommy Monroe and he played me ‘Homophobia‘ that I understood how mind-blowing Chumbawamba really were. The band have always been candid about their politics, and their stances towards class struggle, feminism and anti-fascism. They’ve covered the Bee Gees, funded numerous anarchist projects, and chucked water over John Prescott. Amazing.

If you always thought Chumbawamba were one-hit wonders, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate. Here is ‘Bad Dog’ from their 1994 album Anarchy (fanny warning re: the album art):