Ginny on the Road

27 June 2014
London, UK
(Photos 1 of 2)

London’s icons are so often splashed around in the media that like most people, I felt like I had seen a lot of it before I had even gotten there. But you can’t help but feel a little flutter when you see buildings and names that you recognise. On my way to the epic 6 hour walking tour, I strolled down Edgeware Rd to where it intersected with the infamous Oxford St, and wound around Regent and Hyde park on what threatened to be a nice sunny day.

The E-P-I-C 6 hour walking tour started with a short introduction to Buckingham Palace and how Queen Victoria used to take her constitutional stroll up and down the road outside the palace but in her carriage. We didn’t watch the changing of the guards with our faces smooshed up to the gates, but instead we walked a a little bit on the red paved road to see the new guards as they came out of their enclosure. But a little disappointingly for most of the group, the guards were not your usual furry black hat brigade, but instead they were members of the Royal Marines who are being granted special permission to guard the Palace and all the pomp and ceremony that goes with it in order to celebrate  their 350th anniversary.

But we did manage to see some more elaborately dressed guards outside a few other more official looking buildings, some even mounted on horses And the real ‘tourists’ surrounding our group went wild. I just stared really hard at the guards being hassled and looked for a trace of a smile or irritation.

Probably the most touristy moment was taking photos of ourselves around the red phone booths with Big Ben in the background. As I had suspected, our guide told the Government had moved some of the disused phone booths into clusters around the tourist areas to engineer precisely the photo madness that we had allowed ourselves to be a part of.

Westminster Abbey was really rather beautiful from the outside and whilst the walking tour didn’t really allow us to go inside any of the monuments , I had been pretty certain even before I had come to London that there was a particular gentleman in Poet’s corner whom I would like to visit and have wanted to for a long time. But I will write more on that after my visit.

We had a quick break for lunch and after polishing off a Bratwurst, a group of us girls lounged around in a park amongst a bank of free deck chairs in a small park. And for those 15 minutes or so the weather was on its best behaviour, sun brightly shining and not a whisper of a breeze.

Being mindful of the mind boggling number big red buses speeding about, we past Trafalgar Square all decked out for the Pride festival tomorrow; saw an old church near Australia house with WW2 mortar damage; heard the story of Samuel Johnson’s very beloved Hodge the cat who now has his own statue in a courtyard off Fleet street; saw apparently one of the oldest pub in London; and marveled at the size of St Paul’s Cathedral.

After falling in love with Il Duomo in Florence and being wowed by St Peter’s in Rome, I wasn’t fused about seeing yet another huge church but the dome is rather magnificent at a size of 85m high x 34m wide. It is only one of the many designs by Sir Christopher Wren that we saw on our tour today.

Along the way, our American guide told us that when some tourists hear that she is a lesbian and had married a British girl, some are so disgusted that they actually leave the tour. Which is their loss because we learnt more history from this girl (who majored in British history in College) than we could possibly process in one day.

London Bridge, famous from probably more the nursery rhythm than its real history was an ugly metal thing that we beneath on the Thames-side footpath which led to the far more beautiful Tower Bridge. The name London Bridge has been given to several bridges which crossed the Thames over time, the first of which was built by the Romans around 50AD and made of wood. In medieval times, the tarred heads of traitors would be impaled on gatehouses on the stone bridge. But a less gruesome bit of trivia was that when the ‘new’ London bridge of the 1800s was in dire need of being replaced, it ended up being sold to an American business man to be placed in Lake Havasu, Arizona. Though strongly disputed, the urban legend is that he only paid the hefty USD$2.46 million price for it because he thought he was buying the far more beautiful Tower Bridge.

Our tour finished at the Tower of London which I definitely have to come back to visit. I had never looked at pictures of it before and didn’t realise until today that it wasn’t a single tower at all, but instead a massive palace and fortress complex that used to have a zoo that contained polar bears and other exotic animals. The first part of it was built by William the Conquerer in the late 11th century and subsequent Kings added it to it.

The Tower is famous for having been a prison, a place of torture and execution for many enemies of the Monarchy. But in fact only 7 people who were held there were executed there before WWII including Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, who was deemed too important for a public execution.

When the tour ended I was glad to get away to do some shopping on Oxford Street and not think about history for any longer today. We had dinner at a decent Lebanese place on Edgeware Road, seemingly a very popular place for people with Middle Eastern backgrounds to eat, live and congregate. That meant on a Friday night the area was really lively with large families dining together and lots of people just hanging about - especially with no World Cup matches on tonight.

And… one more sleep until “Book of Mormon”!!!

26 June 2014
London, UK

I am not expecting London to be an eye opening, life changing, challenging travel experience. But it sure was nice to arrive at St Pancras station off the Eurostar bring able to understand every word of the announcements and all the signs.

But getting onto the Eurostar was an entirely different experience all together. At check-in, I already failed the first hurdle because I didn’t know the address of the friends I am staying with so I that got me off on the wrong foot with the customers lady. She was rude from the outset but I just called to get the address and got back in line.

She wasn’t done with me yet.

For what seemed like the next 10 minutes, she grilled me non-stop about how long I had been travelling for (by now almost 7 months), where I was going after London, how come I could afford to be on leave for so long. Of course I couldn’t lose my temper but I was annoyed by her inherent attitude that I was going to somehow overstay my allotted 90 days. I wanted to tell her that statistically that the largest group of illegal immigrants in Australia are actually Brits. Is Eurostar the mode of transport of choice for terrorists and illegal immigrants?

Thankfully the phone rang and she seemed to get over whatever was wrong with my entry requirements and waved me past after she hung up. I immediately jumped on WiFi to have a massive bitch about my experiences on Facebook and actually felt a bit better afterwards.

Other than this unexpected star, the Eurostar was very comfortable. Speeding along the countryside into the tunnel, it is hard to believe that the Channel Tunnel has only been in operation for 20 years. All up it is 50.5kms, but it is the longest undersea tunnel in the world at 37.9kms. It was definitely not the cheapest way to get to London from Brussels, but I just wanted to see what the fuss was about ;)

Coming out of St Pancras station, I was immediately greeted by a lovely light London drizzle. But that didn’t stop all the fabulously dressed people on the train from looking… well fabulous. There were some very expensive suits floating about and for the first time in a long time I was acutely reminded of the ‘other’ reality. Of routine and important sounding telephone calls and uncomfortable shoes, but also of a life without carrying all your things on your back, of regular meals, clean clothes and knowing where everything is without consulting a stranger or a scrunched up map.

After such a non-sightseeing day of sitting around the hostel till almost 5pm, then sitting on the Eurostar, then eating dinner, I have booked a 6 hour London walking tour for tomorrow. 6 hours must be a personal record for length of walking tour so we will see how my feet feel after that. Beyond all the famous tourist sights I am far more excited about finally seeing the musical “Book of Mormon” the day after tomorrow. They have a TKTS discount show ticket booth here like they do in New York so I suspect this won’t be the only show I see in London.

25 June 2014
Bruges, Belgium
(Photos part 2 of 2)

Full blog post at: http://ginny-on-the-road.tumblr.com/post/95588070002/25-june-2014-bruges-belgium-photos-part-1-of

25 June 2014
Bruges, Belgium
(Photos part 1 of 2)

I was in bed today till after 12pm, and even the cleaning ladies coming couldn’t quite motivate me to get out of bed. But finally after talking on Facebook to the Columbian guy whom I hung out with yesterday, we decided to take a half day trip to the infamous city of Bruges to join a 3pm walking tour and have a look around its canals.

And MAN am I glad I agreed to go!

What Brussels has as its defining plainness, Bruges more than makes up for in its beauty and tranquility (in spite of the tourists). I was hooked the minute we walked a little ways away from the train station. The area was green and lush and led effortlessly into what resembled a brightly coloured medieval town with small two story houses sporting sloping roofs and small windows; cobblestone streets and an unusual tranquility for such a bustling tourism destination.

Our walking tour guide was quite ridiculous and not in a good way. For the two hours that we followed him around town, it felt like he talked more about himself and other non-related crap rather than the town itself. But we did walk past the main sights, such as the Church of Our Lady (one of the world’s highest brick towers with a spire of 122.3m) which contains Michelangelo’s sculpture Madonna and Child; the 13th century belfry with 48 bells; the Basilica of the Holy Blood; and the Market Square which is less elaborate but just as beautiful and charming as the Grand Place in Brussels. Along the way, I ended up eating my first meal of the day of waffles, washed down with Belgian fries moments later.

But it was easy to forget the crappy guiding with all the beauty of the Bruges canals around us. You cannot help but fall in love with the soft currents of the water, the cute little bridges that lazily stretch across two landings, the window reading seats and overhang the water, the even contours of the buildings until they are broken by this spire or that. The weather was beautiful too, providing the perfect amount of sunshine for everyone’s happy snaps. The whole place embraced you and reminded you that you are on holidays in another age like an sweet elderly grandmother.

A small group of us later returned to the Market Square intending to climb the Belfry but unfortunately its limited opening hours meant that it was just not meant to be. So we did the next best thing and entered the small door leading to an equally small alleyway to De Garre. One of the girls in our group had already tried this, but our guide had recommended that we try the Garre Tripel beer which is pretty close to 12% alcohol (though I have seen online sources that say only 11%).

The Garre Tripel came in very wide whisky-style glasses with the obligatory massive head-to-beer ratio. But for a high percentage beer, it was ridiculously and deliciously smooth. With a small plate of equally smooth Belgian cheese, we had to remind ourselves to drink slowly as we soon headed off to a beer tasting.

The beer tasting was on the other side of the centre in a very unassuming bar. It turned out to be quite a large group, maybe close to 30 people from mostly Australia, the UK and US, many stereotypically so. Unsurprisingly, an Australian girl ran the tasting and we all got small glasses of 5 different beers whilst she talked about the history and flavours of what we were drinking. There were a few clowns who decided to wolf down the beer without a second thought, but most of us were genuinely interested in how these beers were different from your regular tap beers.

Your regular Orval and Duvel were in the mix, but we were treated to a taste of the Westmalle Trappist beer. Until today, I had never heard of Trappist beers before and they are only brewed by only 10 monasteries in the world (6 of them in Belgium). They were first brewed in French Cistercian monasteries with strict rules to ‘feed’ the people, but now the proceeds go towards the order’s work or charities. Some of the Trappist brews are so popular that you have to order with a phone message from a Belgian phone number, pick up in person and only a limited amount!

I did try very hard to remember a bit more about the beers we drank, but the night got a little loud and we all ended up more socialising than paying attention to the beers. But what I did notice was that all the beers were served in glasses with the name of the beer on it. This was even the case yesterday at Delirium where they serve more than 2000 beers - very classy!

Before we knew it it was almost 10pm and the last train back to Brussels was on our minds. Rushing back to the train station without a map, I realised that this was the first night of the World Cup this year that I have completely missed out on but I guess I can be forgiven since it was for the sake of very delicious beer. I have never been much of a beer drinker, but I am definitely a convert now. I wonder how German beers will stack up against my new love of Belgian smoothness?

P.S. And to top off a day where I had only eaten waffles and fries, I had a kebab before I went back to the hostel. YUCK!

24 June 2014
Brussels, Belgium

This morning I woke up in the land of waffles and fries as late as I could muster (gee life’s hard!) and rolled out bed and wandered a few metres from the hostel into the Grand Place - the Grote Markt - central square of Brussels. The centerpiece of the square is undoubtedly the City Hall which towers at 96m and flanked by powerful merchants and guildhalls built in the 16th century but had to be rebuilt a century later after a French bombardment. The rebuilding caused a clash of Gothic, Baroque and French Renaisance style buildings to be constructed - but to a layperson like me, they all looked ‘old’ and beautiful to me.

Like the Grand Place, all squares and streets in Brussels has two names - a tribute to its mixed French and Dutch linguistic heritage which also gives the city its credentials as a ‘crossroad’ between the Germanic and Romance cultures. For the next 3 hours, I learnt much more about the tensions which this unique heritage has caused for more than two centuries - from the most enthusiastic walking tour guide I have had to date. Enthusiastic doesn’t even begin to describe. Better adjectives would be patriotic, passionate, critical, honest and frank. We learnt about the origins of a dislike of the French by the Dutch speaking Flemish population which extends from the times since the 15th century Louis XIV who tried to extend control over Belgium to Napoleon who did control the country. This caused many battles to be fought over/within Belgium. True independence was not won by Belgium until 1831. But this was not the end of the country’s troubles.

Disregarding substantive bloody battles for a moment, a ‘soft’ battle is raging within the country between the Dutch speaking in Flanders and the French speaking in Wallonia. Our guide is Dutch speaking so he wasn’t exactly neutral in his narrative, but according to him the Dutch-speaking have a slightly higher proportion of the population but have the same 50-50% representation in Parliament. The geographically larger Dutch Flanders have more of the jobs, but the French in Wallonia refuse to ‘learn’ Dutch to get these jobs so as a result Wallonia is economically disadvantaged compared to Flanders. Even the curriculum of Dutch and French speaking schools are different causing a real rift in potential linguistic harmony. Brussels is the exception rather than the rule, where the Flemish and the Walloons actually interact, otherwise they live in different halves of the country. For many of them Belgium as a whole does not exist. Quite a bizarre situation for what is the ‘capital’ of the European Union.

Other than this status as the only bilingual neutral territory’, Brussels itself isn’t much to look at beyond the gorgeous central square. The buildings are a mix of fairly ordinary to downright 70s/80s ugly. But it does have its moments in the sun. The city has a small but very hip ‘gay’ area with some cool bars with very unsubtle names. And I had completely forgotten that Tin Tin comes from this country, and there was a few large graffiti murals around the city that pay homage to Belgium’s most famous hero. But Tin Tin is not the only here around here if you believe one of the stories about Manneken Pis, the small but irreverent bronze statue of a boy pissing.

If you don’t know already, the story goes that an invading army wanted to blow up Brussels’ defenses, but a little boy sees the dynamite fuses alight and snaking towards to its catastrophic final destination. A bit of quick thinking leads the little boy peeing on the fuse to put it out. The statue is erected as a thank you but current generations of the city’s citizens love stealing the statue during drunken festivities (hence the gates and security system around him!). Belgians love dressing him up and 100s of costumes have been created just for him - there is even a person within the municipal government who’s sole responsibility is to make sure that Manneken looks his best. The Canadians amongst us were able to pick that his strapping outfit today is actually the Quebec national costume - as it is Quebec national day!

The latter part of our tour involved us getting our first Belgian waffles outside the Cathedral and listened to a really inspiring final speech by our tour guide with some personal anecdotes from his family, some of whom were involved in the first and second world wars. WWI was a really unique part of Belgian history. As a result of a treaty with the UK, Belgian had to do all it can to stop Germany from marching straight through and attacking the UK and co. To fulfil this obligation, King Albert I took personal command of the Belgian army. After being driven back to last stronghold of Belgian territory, the King and men held against the Germans in the trenches behind the River Yser for four years in collaboration with the armies of the Triple Entente - Russia, France and UK. The WWII Regent King Leopold III was not so valiant. In a battle in 1940, the Belgian forces only held for 18 days in 1940 before King Leopold surrendered against the advice of his government. Belgium was occupied by the Germans until 1944 before liberation by the allied forces, during which time the government was in exile and the King was a political prisoner.

The tour was also attended by the Canadian guy who helped me get to my hostel yesterday, an Columbian guy who lives in Florida and is about to start an exchange in Italy, and a Canadian girl travelling about Europe for a few months too. After the tour, we decided to grab a drink before heading to the EU museum which in the end was far too ‘informative’ and not interactive for my information-overloaded brain. I remember only a little about the EU’s history, powers and functions from my university days sitting in a dark lecture theatre, daydreaming whilst trying to remember the arguments for and against agricultural subsidies or a monetary union. Far far easier to come here and hear the objections from the locals themselves. Come to think of it, I have met very few Europeans who didn’t have serious gripes about the Union… perhaps I am not talking to enough public servants?

By this time it was truly beer-o’clock again and we returned to the centre of the city to check out Delirium, the bar has held the Guinness World Record for the biggest beer list since 2004 - coincidently 2004 beers is also number ov beers that Delirium sells. The bar’s name comes from the beer Delirium Tremens, whose pink elephant logo also has a prominent place over the bar’s entrance. The inside of the bar is wooden and central serving station is surrounded by mental pipes running in and out of metal beer kegs. This was a good entree for dinner - where I finally had the small pot of mussels that I had been dying to eat since last night. The restaurant we chose had a good sized TV going in the dining area, so we watched as a warm-up the World Cup match between Italy and Uruguay.

I say warm-up because the game that we were waiting for was Columbia vs Japan since we had a Columbian with us. This was the same bar that I stayed in last night so we all enjoyed some 1 and 2 Euro drinks and cheered loudly for Columbia. The bar was split as half of us watched the Columbia/Japan game and the other half held on for Greece vs Ivory Coast. When Columbia won I was genuinely pleased as this saw them advance out of the group stages for the first time.

As I wandered the very short distance home, I couldn’t help but drop by the beautiful Grand Place again to admire the intricacies of the guildhalls and soak up the atmosphere of a place that has seen so much conflict and yet stands as a testament of the resilience of its people - but given the issues between the Walloons and the Flemish as we heard today, I wonder how much longer Belgium will exist as I have known in my lifetime if the political will for division is found?

23 June 2014
Brussels, Belgium

Coming into Brussels was quite a strange experience. I had been in Paris for long that suddenly arriving into another city was little bit of a shock. Where I arrived near the main train station is quite modern. Concrete and steel do battle with the asphalt just a stone throw’s away. A far cry from France’s low rise surburbs. I did not have my bearings at all and had to ask a fellow passenger who had also gotten off to use his phone’s GPS.

My hostel was located a little bit of a walk away from the train station but right in the centre of the action in a little laneway that shoots off the Grote Markt (Grand Place central plaza). What’s great for all the world cup that I am watching is a little Irish Bar close to my hostel which has happy hour from between 1pm and midnight where most beers are 1 or 2 Euros! I made a brief stop here before the supermarket and I was immediately hit on by a group of slightly tipsy and VERY friendly Peruvians with whom I really had to set down some boundaries early on!

They aren’t kidding when they say that Belgium is filled with (good?) chocolate. Within a 1km radius of centre, the touristy areas naturally, it does feel like every second shop sells chocolate. I did try a little bag on my way from my check-in/admin hostel to where I was actually staying, and it was good, but not so good that I would renounce every other type of chocolate in the world. Nonetheless, all the shops have very cute and sweet little football motifs in their creations at the moment. Belgium have done quite well in the world cup this time round, so I hope that the chocolate shops keep having something to celebrate.

The architecture in the Grote Markt is really beautiful with intricate details rising high into the towers, a real feat given that they were built 300 years ago. I ate a simple dinner of baguette, pesto, cheery tomato and cheese here, admiring the buildings and watching the tourists stumble over themselves to try to fit the tall buildings into one frame. I did come back after midnight to see all the buildings lit up like Disneyland and lots of young people just sitting about drinking in the square like they had always been here.

Before heading back to the same multi-TV screen Irish bar to watch the Brazil game (who eventually won over Cameroon), I stood and listened to a quite beautiful busking band that were just two men, one guitar and one cello. A combination that I think should be used more often! They drew quite a large crowd and I was more than happy purchase a CD as a souvenir.

The football game went long into the night and the large number of Brazil (or Brazilian) supporters around me cheered louder and louder. This was really just the start of the night as I ended up having some long conversations with some people who were also chilling in the downstairs lounge as I tried to finish watching the Godzilla movie which I had started on the bus this morning. Shit movie, but cool people in my hostel - always far more important. And as I stumbled into my top bunk, the skylight directly above me was showing glimpses of sunlight. Better crash now to be fresh for the walking tour!

21 June 2014
Paris, France

This morning my hosts took me to their gym which is meant to be one of the largest in France, if not the largest. It is part of a larger sporting complex including a huge pool area with a wave pool which you can watch from the higher levels of the gym. My hosts tell me that the gym definitely has the largest area of cardio machines in France with over 100 treadmills, many of which were occupied even on such a sunny Saturday morning.

Now friends of mine from back in Melbourne would know what a massive gym junkie that I am so I was quite excited to hit up the gym after so many months of ‘inactivity’ (sorry but walking just doesn’t quite cut it) since leaving the Costa cruise ship. My hosts and I did an half an hour abs class and also a plyometric class (both under the Les Mills program which many of you would be familiar with).

This one hour was such a weird study of my mind… on one hand, my brain remembered all the moves I needed to do (even though I couldn’t understand anything the instructors were saying beyond the odd number), but my body just wouldn’t move. It was almost like getting old. My legs remembered the sensation of sprinting across the room back and forth, my arms remembered doing heaps of push ups, but my body just wouldn’t move like it used to. I felt so helpless yet at the same time a little empowered to start doing a little exercise again around dorms. Without that, I am a little terrified to think about what shape I am gonna be in when I get home.

After the huge salad and salmon back at home, I felt almost like I was back home - gymming and a huge lunch, that was always the weekend routine. But there was no rest for the wicked and before I knew it, I was accompanying one of my hosts and his friends to an all night free music festival had live open air or more intimate concerts all over Paris. We ended up going past the Chinatown area into a very modern part of Paris with a big shopping complex, highrise offices and apartments. And amidst all of that was a punk rock band playing with rather unfortunate technical issues.

After a hour or two of this music (and getting to watch a Michael Jackson fan group perform a few of his signature dances), we headed off closer to the river to meet some other friends at an American diner and I got sneak a peak at the football. The river front was teeming with people as performances littered across the waterfront on boats and in bars. In spite of the music, it was actually quite a disgusting area to walk around as dozens of men were lined up to pee against the wall or in open-air urinals all along the foundations of the roads next to the river. The smell wasn’t pleasant and the amount of rubbish lying around rivalled even what I saw on a day-to-day basis in Brazil during Carnival!

What capped off a random evening was that although we were all under the impression that the music would last all night, most of the performances across the city finished at about midnight. In search of an alternative, we came across an impromptu r&b hip hop party that was taking place in the dark at a skate park under a bridge. The music was loud, raw and the crowd looked about right… We watched the party from the bridge and I was itching to join in but something in my head told me that that would not a good idea. But even that soon finished and thus begun our protracted return home which involved a train to the Chinatown area and then a 15-20 minute walk home.

Wasn’t quite the night that I expected, but I did get to see a few less touristy areas of Paris just for the experience - and that is never a bad thing. Now I will never come away from Paris filled with just the ideal of the romance of the city. And for now, I definitely cannot un-see all that public pee :)

22 June 2014
Paris, France

My last day in Paris and in France. After a month in France and quite an eventful last 9 days in Paris, I don’t feel like I left many stones unturned. I had a lazy morning in the apartment, and then took a long walk around the Champs Elysees and into its surrounding streets with the gorgeous stone facades, rarely marked by obviously graffiti.

Time flew and I eventually found a little bar filled with Algerians across the river from the Eiffel Tower to watch Algeria beat South Korea. I got a lot of odd looks in the bar and I almost wanted to hold up a “I am not South Korean” sign in French to dilute the attention.

The streets went wild after the win. If you didn’t watch the match tonight or watch any football at all, you would’ve thought that France had won the World Cup! I had to go back to the Champs Elysees to catch the metro, and by this time the entire boulevard was lined with cars filled with flag wearing (presumably) Algerians, singing and tooting. Not quite matched in numbers were the police on hand to rein in anything too crazy. But at least I saw nothing but joy. And not so many South Koreans.

20 June 2014
Paris, France

Today was a ridiculously chill day. After getting back fairly late from the Moulin Rouge, I didn’t bother setting an alarm, waking up close to 10am (as did one of my poor hosts who had to rush off to work).

The bulk of the day was spent chill in the apartment, venturing out around noon when  the hunger finally got the better of me. As I have said time and time and before, one of the very few things that I miss about home is having my own kitchen and being to pick up fresh produce to make an amazing meal. It wasn’t quite amazing today, but I did pick up an amazing salmon fillet, ingredients for a salad (sweet potato my favourite yum!!), a fresh bageutte and chevre cheese. I was in heaven. I share the meal with my other host who is working from home and it was a super chill day, blogging and looking through photos.

After the rather disappointing experience of the Moulin Rouge last night, I had all my fingers and toes crossed that Crazy Horse would be good! I quite enjoy burlesque shows as 1. They are beautiful, but 2. I honestly believe they celebrate the power of the female body and sensuality, which is nothing to scoff at.

The Le Crazy Horse de Paris cabaret was opened in 1951 as a stage show performed by nude female dancers chosen to be indistinguishable in height, breast size and general body shape. The venue is located near the Champs-Elysees on a busy avenue. From the outside, unless u knew the show was there, you would not know that the red carpet led not such secrets within.

And the show was spectacular. How can I write about what I saw (since photos were not allowed!). Yes it was an erotic show, yes I saw a lot of boobs for the second day in a row, but the girls were real performers who really sold every move, every wink, every moment.

I was seated in the front row in the middle in a huge, red and dimly lit room. Partly because I asked to be, but I suspect that most people wouldn’t want to be seated so close anyway. By the start of the show, a Japanese business man and a Japanese girl were seated on either side of me. The girl works at a hiking/mountaineering store in Kobe, Japan, but had taken time more than a month off to do one of the major hikes in France, taking 33 days and walking about 800km. Talking to her made me quite embarrased about my level of physical activity lately.

But back to the show. The costumes (what little of then) were delicate, the music sensual and above all the choreography was sexy and technically brilliant all at once. There were times then when girls danced en pointe, around fluorescent poles, stripped sensuously, suggestively kicked and arched their way around curtains and chaises, and even whilst moving on built in treadmills on stage. My absolute favourite of the girls was one who performed a challenging but  visually effortless ropes act that had her writhing, suspended and spinning as she got into beautiful poses.

And we were also treated to a brilliant shadow puppets performance that had its own naughty moments involving fornicating rabbits, and a tapping duo (most likely twins) who performed a mini history of dance, covering genres as diverse as Swan Lake, Michael Jackson and We Will Rock You, all in tap! They were a great reprieve from all the suggestiveness and sexual innuendo, but they were brilliant in their own right too.

This was definitely one of the most brilliant erotic and shows in general I have seen. Yes there are exposed boobs on ten very beautiful girls, and Yes there is only a piece of thin black tape that cover the girls’ finely waxed vaginas from the hungry gaze of the audience, but it was a brilliant dance perfomance, and I would recommend it for any night visit to Paris, especially if you have any appreciation for dance or just burlesque or the erotic. After seeing the Moulin Rouge last night, this was art through and through.

I had a half bottle of champagne included in ticket and now I am happily sitting on the metro heading back into the outskirts of Paris to presumably a quiet Friday night in with my hosts most likely watching them play games haha.. But after the show that I saw, I am content with the day. Ah Paris…how u surprise me.

19 June 2014
Paris, France

You would think after seeing 6 million skull and bones within the catacombs and all those royal burials at Saint Denis that I would be over the dead. But that is obviously not the case since I managed to get myself to the Pere Lachaise cemetery where over 1 million bodies are buried as well as many more cremated remains. It is a tourist destination as it holds the tombs of many illustrious composers, performers, politicians, writers etc.

Signs around the cemetery as well as my hastily acquired map recorded the exact location of the tombs of these famous figures. I was only specifically interested in four of them (all of which are pictured), but given the size of the cemetery, it was a little difficult to locate them at first. I was interested to learn after getting back home today that when it was first built, it was difficult to get burial numbers up. So the administrators of the site undertook a marketing campaign with the burials of two well-known people of the day to boost the prestige of being buried at Pere Lachaise, instead of one of the older cemeteries (which were overflowing). The idea worked and the numbers shot up in the following years.

Walking about the 44 hectare cemetery was really like walking around a very organised park. The more significant streets were named like avenues, and the smaller winding pathways also had names. Some of the tombs were as small as phone booth, others towered as high as the trees. Some looked well maintained or were protected (such as the Oscar Wilde one), others looked like no one had paid them any attention for 100 years. It is always fascinating for me to read the inscriptions on the tombs to see just which families were buried there and how many generations.

Leaving the cemetery I walked a little around the Bastille area which I had seen briefly on my first night here in Paris. Picking up a cheap pair of heels, I went home to change into as ‘formal’ attire as I could muster from the depths of my backpack to dine and watch a show with my hosts. And the show of choice? The Moulin Rouge of course. My hosts, despite having lived around Paris their whole lives, had never seen the show so they decided to accompany me on my little adventure.

The entire auditorium and set of the ‘Ferie’ show was glowing red, which really boosted the excitement of the crowd. But when the show started, it was obvious that the show probably hadn’t been updated in years, the music sounded a bit too midi, the lipsyncing was beyond bad (yes NO live singing whatsoever), the tits were gotten out too early and there was no attempt at all at a coherent theme or storyline. I hadn’t seen a show in such a long time and I really wanted to like the show. But I just couldn’t.

My hosts enjoyed themselves, but I left pretty disappointed with how I just spent a little over 100 euros. This was compounded a little by a kuffafle of missing the night bus after the show but jumping in a taxi remedied it easy enough. I am also booked into see the Crazy Horse nude cabaret show tomorrow so I have ALL my fingers and toes crossed that it will be more positive experience. Otherwise, I will just have to hold out for the West End when I get there. But re: today, at least I got to snap that famous windmill, right?