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United States of Amazing

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Alicia and Jay-Z were right. New York is amazing. The streets really do make you feel brand new, and the lights honestly inspire you. SJP wasn’t acting when she bounced down the pavement in her Manolo Blahniks, she was effing pumped because she was getting paid a fortune to work in NYC.

Maybe having my sister in New York amplified my positive experience. Or perhaps it was being able to crash with old friends and spoon with a crazy Kelpie. It might have been residual jubilation from the realisation that I had looked death in the face on a flight with Turkish Airlines, and survived.

People who know me said “you will LOVE New York”, but others commented that it was smelly (they mustn’t have been to Athens), and there’s folks trying to sell you stuff every step (clearly never been to Rome), and that the locals were unfriendly (obviously never been to London) and that it’s expensive (cant have been to Sydney).

Maybe I was wearing rose coloured glasses, but it seemed to me that everyone in NYC was happy. The people on their way to work, the guys digging up the road, the men directing the traffic, the folk working at the convenience store. And why not?!? They live in New York baby! They all take the time to say “hello” and “excuse me” and “thank you ma’am”. I love them all!

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The whole time I was in NYC, I felt like I was on a movie set, but this is how these people really talk! At the discount department store their names really are Lashaunda and Quaneesha and Dorrell. They actually do wear weaves and say things like “oh no you didn'”. Some of them really do get their swag on, and some of them have absolutely no effing idea about the rest of the world.

The one thing I didn’t rate about New York was taking a cab. The drivers have absolutely no regard for lanes, indicating, merging or red lights, it feels like you’re on that coal mine ride at Dreamworld, only you’re not strapped in as tightly and they’re playing the news on a screen on the back of the passenger seat.

From New York I headed South, towards New Orleans, via Memphis. People ask “why Memphis?” and I don’t really know. I looked on the map and it was on the way to New Orleans, and the home of Blues and birthplace of Rock n Roll seemed like as good a place as any.

Memphis has a different vibe to NYC (understandably) and while I could have gone for months undetected in New York, this was definitely not the case in Memphis. Before I even opened my mouth it was a dead giveaway that I wasn’t from around those parts, and I’m not sure if the biggest clue was my blonde hair, my fair skin, or my wolf.

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The people of Memphis were very friendly, and though I didn’t feel unsafe, I am well educated when it comes to stranger danger (thanks Debs!), it didn’t help that Jim, the furrier (yes, a furrier that makes patchwork fur blankets, as opposed to a farrier that puts shoes on horses) I sat next to on the plane from Charlotte, said that there are 500 homicides in Memphis every year.

I couldn’t help but interpret: “Hey Noo Zeeeland, wanna catch a moovie and grab some dinner? You gotsta try the shrimp”, as: “I assume you’re travelling alone, and you possibly have learning difficulties cos you’re carrying a stuffed dog. Once I’ve had my way with you, I’m going to dismember you in a motel bathroom and then throw you in the Mississippi”. I know, I know, waaaay too many Criminal Minds eps.

The standard response to the movie and dinner invitation was “I’d love to, but I have to get back to my Maori boyfriend, he’s waiting in the hotel. In his grass skirt. With his spear.” African Americans are obsessed with NZ’s native people – the may-or-ees. Do they live in the same houses as whites? Do they go to the same schools? Do they do that dance thing a lot? How do NZers feel about mixed race relationships? What do the tattoos on their face mean? How come some are more black than others?

If you don’t like being called “baby girl” or “little lady” by toothless African American men, don’t go to Memphis. And if you’re a sucker like me, your wallet will be a lot lighter when you leave. Did you know $20 can feed a homeless family for a whole week?? Yeah, I bet he went straight to Denny’s with that donation and not to the Church of Christ Homeless Shelter…

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For obvious reasons I was unable to visit New Orleans, and headed instead for Miami. Leaving Memphis I was “randomly” tested for explosives (still the holder of the world record for most random explosive tests) and subjected to one of those full body screenings, lucky I was wearing my good knicks.

Flying US Airways you’re also not allowed to “congregate” in aisles, near exits, or outside restrooms on any flight. If only that was standard practice on Turkish Air, I may have made it to the bathroom in time!

I absolutely love Miami. It’s like the Gold Coast, only less fake tan and less terribly obvious plastic surgery, and interestingly fewer tattoos and cases of steroid abuse. In Miami I wasn’t the chubbiest person for once! There was a lot of junk in a lot of trunks, and some serious thighs around the place. I actually felt like I was dressed incredibly conservatively, with minimal make up, and a smaller than average booty – there really is a first time for everything!

Guys in Miami actually drive cars with hydraulics, flickin’ switches ‘n’ sh*t. Women actually run in hot pants and crop tops. Spanish is so prevalent it could almost be the first language of Florida. There are three shops in two blocks selling petite pooches and Mustangs are like eyebrows – everyone’s got two!

As sad as it sounds, one of the most exciting things to happen in Miami was the arrival of some new contact lenses. Third time lucky and after only 11 weeks of waiting. After managing to conserve my daily lenses for 54 whole days, and numerous nights, there is nothing like the feeling of fresh lenses.

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As luck would have it, I found myself rooming with a Canadian whose ancestry was “black, Indian and Scottish”. FYI “black” and “Indian” are not words “whites” are allowed to use (I only made that mistake once)… So Taleesha (actual name) spent a great deal of time white bashing. We can’t dance, we have no style, we don’t understand tradition and we’re all about stealing the black men.

Not surprisingly Taleesha asked several questions about NZ’s native people. In particular, in which ways were Marries treated differently to whites. When I responded “we don’t really differentiate” she threw back a “oh so what you’re sayin’ is that you don’ let them have their culture?? They’ve gotta act like whites?”

Now what is the right answer here?? You don’t get a call from the receptionist: “your 1pm meeting is here, she appears to be part Maori”. When your sister brings her new boyfriend for dinner your dad doesn’t call a secret meeting in the kitchen to air his concerns that the chap’s grandfather was part Maori. What I’m saying is that they live next door, we go to school together, we play sport together, and yeah, sometimes we marry each other. No biggy from where I’m sitting.

Another room mate was a middle aged New Yorker: “Nyew Zeelund huh? That’s near Greenland right?”

“Uh no…”

“Oh, near Iceland?”

“Nope, still the wrong hemisphere”

“Oh, hang on, the Arctic!”

“NZ is kinda near Antarctica?!?”

“Oh yeah, yeah, that’s what I meant”

One of the other joys of staying in a hostel is doing laundry. You’ve got up to 100 people sharing three washing machines and one dryer. When it was my turn to use the dryer I had to remove someone else’s clothes. I found myself at a crossroads, trying to decide whether to put the washing on the floor, on a shelf, or fold it. As I didn’t have any other pressing matters to attend to, I made the decision to fold the washing…

When I returned an hour later to collect my own freshly dried laundry, I found it spread all over the bench with the knicks on top and a crowd of people gathered around it. I squeezed myself through to collect my personal items and uttered a “gosh, that’s a little awkward, look at my underwear just spread all over the place, and with an audience…”.

“You think that’s awkward?” an English girl asked “some guy came in before looking for the person who folded his washing so he could thank them.”

“Really?” I said

“Yeah” she remarked “what kind of a freak folds someone else’s washing?!?!”

“Oh gosh, some sort of perverted weirdo obviously” I replied, backing away, clutching my delicates.

It was with great sadness that I farewelled Miami, although flying over the Caribbean I quickly dried my tears. Four nights in the Bahamas before Brazil, life’s tough!

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I ate: $2 chicken soft shell tacos – Hola!
I perved: At the topless men in Miami, using only my peripheral vision, cos they watch you to make sure you’re watching
I laughed: At the theatre in New York, James Corden is one of the funniest men on the planet

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Never, ever, ever fly Turkish Airways

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I can freely admit, that whilst on tour, I found little to blog about. I was a chubby lemming, following the other lemmings, riding on a lemming bus, staying in a lemming hotel and eating at lemming restaurants. There’s not a lot that can go wrong when your day is planned to the minute by a tour leader who has been doing the tour back to back for six months, or in the fabulous Stella’s case, doing the tour for five years.

I was hoping to ease into my battling ways to liven up the experience…but what I got was more than I bargained for…

When it was time to check out of my hotel in Athens the lift was undergoing maintenance, so I had to manoeuvre my luggage down seven floors of slippery marble stairs – while talking on the phone. Twice I lost the bag down a whole floor, but managed to maintain my composure.

I took the train to the airport, nothing exciting to report, except for the awkward moment when I had to pay for an 8€ train ticket with 7,15€. And of course i got to the bottom of the escalator as the train pulled away, but it was only an 11 minute wait for the next one. I held firmly to my personal belongings for the full 40 minutes – just as the PA reminds you to do, and I avoided eye contact with a filthy beggar and a boy playing the accordion. I bet they didn’t pay for their train tickets…

I got my genuine Louis Vuitton carry bag caught on a pole at the airport train station, in my haste I yanked it, breaking the zip, and spilling my valuables on the pavement.

I got to the check in counter 19 seconds after a tour group of 39 elderly Indians, who held up the queue with their inability to understand the concept of a limit on luggage. When it was finally my turn, I held up the queue as I was interrogated about the whereabouts of my US passport or proof of my US residency. All I had was an electronic copy of my ESTA, and after five phone calls she deemed this acceptable.

Unfortunately, although my baggage was checked all the way to JFK, Ms. Chirpy Angelopoulos was unable to give me two boarding passes, as the flight had been booked as a “miss” therefore registering me as a child, which apparently I am not, and it would have to be sorted in Istanbul. I wasn’t aware that the seats were different for children and adults…?

My mood picked up when I saw the sign for V.A.T. refunds, I was due one of those! And that would pay for a new LV, although probs not a genuine one. As I was standing in line it dawned on me that I put the paperwork in my checked baggage. Losing.

At Customs Control I was confronted with the same Indian tour group, and it was then I realised that unless I took evasive action, I wasn’t going to make the flight. I had to skirt up the inside with my broken bag, and politely ask the lady at the front of the line if I could push in. I’m not sure if she said yes or no, because I couldn’t understand her, but I charged ahead nonetheless.

In Istanbul it took 45 minutes for me to receive the promised boarding pass, they kept assuring me it wasn’t my fault, something wrong their end. Damn right lady, I booked this flight in April, there is definitely not an issue my end.

Leaving Turkey took the sign off of three officials, all of whom asked for my US passport, my visa, my green card and proof of address in the US. I never thought it would be so hard to leave a country I’d only been in for an hour.

When I got onto the plane I realised why it had been so hard to print me a boarding pass – they couldn’t find me a seat! I was literally the last seat in the last row: 53H. The bad news is that it’s the bumpy end of the plane where they put the screaming kids, the good news is that you get served drinks and meals first.

We sat on the runway for an hour and 45 minutes, waiting for some passengers whose plane had been delayed. Does that actually happen?? Do you actually hold 500 people on a runway for that long? Isn’t it just their tough luck? Apparently not. No announcement from the captain or first officer, no briefing from the staff. We just sat there…

My seat mate, Ahmed, struck up a convo with me. He was from Saudi Arabia, recently married, and on his way to an interview at UCLA. He didn’t have any pics of wife on his phone, his friends have never seen her face, they might pick up his phone and see her face in all its glory – risky business!

What Ahmed did have on his phone however, was a pic of him 130kg heavier, before his gastric sleeving procedure. Ahmed also explained the three fundamentals if Islam: No pork; no alcohol, and; no sex with foreign women. And fair enough too, filthy swine the former and the latter, and devil juice the other!

I wish someone had advised me not to watch We Bought a Zoo on the plane, i spent two hours bawling my eyes out. I thought it was going to be a cutesie movie. Hell no, steer clear when surrounded by Arabs.

Warning: Things are about to go horribly wrong, look away if you’ve got a weak stomach…

It was about 2 hours after dinner that I started to feel queasy. Nothing new there, in case you missed it the other 12 times I’ve mentioned it, I get motion sickness. I tried to close my eyes and not think about it, and then the sweats came, and the watering mouth, holy torpedo, I was going to vom.

I leapt out of my seat and made it to the bathroom just in time to projectile vomit all over the floor and walls. Wow. In full view of two hosties might I add, so they knew the sitch.

I made it back to my seat and whipped out some moist towelettes to clean myself up…only seven hours to go, no biggy. Within an hour the feeling was back, the lights were off, most people were asleep, but all the toilets down the a$$ end of the plane were “occupied”.

I had to navigate my way down the plane, in the dark, but it was too late, I had my hands over my mouth, but it wasn’t enough to stop the pressure, I spewed all over my fellow passengers, the whole way up the plane. Some poor guy rocking his baby in the aisle didn’t have a chance, he got vomit all down his back. Various other unlucky passengers got sprayed, looks of horror on their face as they spun around. It was an awkward trip back up the plane, me apologising to all and sundry for the unfortunate incident.

I can’t explain the anxiety as you’re running up the plane, frantically scanning the signs on the toilet doors and praying for a “vacant” to show up sooner rather than later. This happened five times, but people knew to get out of my way after the previous spraying – fast learners! The hosties demonstrated absolutely no sympathy. They didn’t have anywhere for me to lie down, they didn’t have spew bags, they didn’t have lemonade. When I asked for a cup of ice she misheard me, and must have thought I said “can you donate a kidney to me?”, because she had to think about it for a very long time.

After six hours of hell, we finally landed at JFK, two hours behind schedule, but surely nothing more could go wrong?!?! The guy in Customs let me through with much less hassle than I had experienced in Turkey. He even asked if he could spend the night with me in my motel. Clearly couldn’t smell the vom!

After an hour and a half waiting for my pink pack, the announcement came: “that’s the laast of the baaggage, if you’re baag isn’t herre, it’s in Istaanbul. Please head to the baaggage counterr to reporrt your baag missing”.

So an hour later, bag was reported missing, it’s now 2am in NYC, but I’m still on Island time, and it’s 9am there, I’ve been up all night with my head down an airport toilet. I sat on my trolley waiting for my transfer, I thought about having a tear, but I was too dehydrated to coax any tears from my ducts. A man walked past on his way to work at the airport and said “hey, close yourr lehgs, I caan see yourr paanties.”

Mate, I have vomit up my nose, down my legs, up my arms and all over my dress, and to top it off I have absolutely nothing to change into. If you think I’m worried about you seeing my knicks, think again.

So here I am, in NYC, concrete jungle where dreams are made of, I have no clothes, no cosmetics, and no underwear. Living. The. Dream.

I left my personality in the Aegean Sea

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If I was disappointed by Italy, the Greek Islands definitely surpassed my expectations. Fantastic weather, amazing food and divine men. The divine men were usually holding hands though – with each other.

The people on the tour were great fun (well the majority anyway) and the whole vibe was very relaxed. The optional activities were actually optional, and for the most part we lounged around the pool drinking cocktails and entertaining each other. No wake up calls, no tiresome bus rides listening to hours of history at full volume.

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By far the most entertaining were Mick and Erin, a couple of Melbourne expats living in London. Erin is a school teacher and Mick is a car salesman. If you’re not familiar with “Alan! Alan! Alan! Alan!”, then YouTube it. That’s how Mick sounds when he calls Erin’s name. It became a standing joke. Poor Mick, every time he called Erin’s name there were 15 parrots echoing his voice.

It would be impossible to document all of Mick’s stellar calls, but two of the best: “Hey Kev! Kev! Got two words for ya mate: Snickers Ice Cream.”

“Uh Mick, that’s three words.”

And, “Erin, what’s the passcode for your iPhone? Erin! What’s the code? Erin! I’ve entered it twice Erin! Erin! Quick! This is my third go Erin! Quick Erin! I need the code now!” Judging by the urgency Mick must have been under the impression that entering the wrong code three times meant the phone would explode, killing everyone in a 2km radius. He refused to believe it only means you can’t access the phone for a minute or so.

Erin’s reply: “It’s our anniversary Mick…” followed by awkward silence.

There was the time we were filing past Mick and Erin’s room upon arrival in Santorini. “Mick! Close the door! Mick! Mick! Close the door! Mick!!!” and there’s Erin, on the toilet, Mick’s walked out, leaving both doors open, and left her in full view of her tour mates. Classic Mick.

Also entertaining, but for all the wrong reasons, was the Aussie/Italian, Rosaria. Not Rosoria or Rosario. Don’t make that mistake. Rosario made a name for herself by bumping and grinding with the male halves of the couples on tour, and by repeatedly referring to Erin as a slut in Italian. Erin, bless her heart, thought that “putanna” meant “beautiful”, and happily accepted the compliment.

Not quite as entertaining was James, a Mathematics PhD student, tour nickname: Doc. On our first night, Doc opened the convo with “so, NZ aye? What do they export? Their economy is shit.”

Um, beef, lamb, wool products, pine, paper pulp, a shit load of dairy, and fruit. What does Australia export? Fossil fuel and iron ore? Turns out he was born in NZ, left there at the age of 13. Hates the place.

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Debs said she wanted my next blog to be full of all the amazing things I have seen and done. So Debs, as requested, here is an average day on a Greek Island:

0917 – Wake up. Mouth like bottom of bird cage. Wish I hadn’t had that second gyros. Cringe remembering emails and messages sent last night when I couldn’t sleep
0920 – Shower
0943 – Breakfast (fruit, yoghurt, frittata, more fruit, more yoghurt, a slither of extra frittata and boiled eggs smuggled out for later)
1009 – Get changed into something floaty to hide food baby
1021 – Drink Coke Zero to try and expel food baby, wish I had brought Three Ballerina Tea
1035 – Head to pool, reserve sun lounger, consider such factors as: distance from pool and likelihood of being splashed during Olympic diving reenactment; movement of sun and hours of tanning before shadows arrive; angle from which food baby will be least obvious; distance from bald headed American who conveniently can’t reach his back to put on sunscreen
1055 – Roll over
1100 – Sip water
1115 – Roll over
1120 – Sip water
1135 – Roll over
1145 – Sip water
1155 – Roll over
1205 – Use bathroom
1207 – Sea snake into pool
1210 – Sea snake out of pool
1215 – Feed food baby
1230 – Go to mini market to get ciders, take the long way around so as not to walk past bald American
1240 – Devise crafty plan to keep ciders cool
1340 – Food baby is drunk
1341 – Arrange body on lounger
1400 – Roll over
1405 – Sip cider
1420 – Roll over
1425 – Sip cider
1440 – Roll over
1445 – Sip cider
1500 – Roll over
1505 – Use bathroom
1507 – Sea snake into pool
1510 – Sea snake out of pool
1512 – Food baby is drunk and tired
1515 – Go to mini market to get more cider, avoid eye contact with bald American
1525 – Arrange body on lounger
1530 – Sip cider
1545 – Roll over
1550 – Sip cider
1605 – Roll over
1610 – Sip cider
1625 – Roll over
1630 – Sip cider
1645 – Roll over
1700 – Return to room. Nap. Shower. Get dressed
1807 – Get changed (outfit too tight)
1812 – Get changed again (outfit still too tight)
1815 – Get changed again (outfit definitely too tight)
1820 – Ciders on balcony
1845 – Get changed again (new outfit too tight)
1850 – More ciders on the balcony
1930 – Leave for dinner
2130 – Finish dinner, argue over bill (according to the mathematician, 9 + 4 + 3 + 3 + 2 + 1 = 15. Fail)
2145 – Commence daiquiri marathon
2355 – Complete daiquiri marathon, commence Mojito marathon
0235 – Line up for gyros
0242 – Inhale gyros
0245 – Line up for second gyros
0249 – Inhale second gyros
0250 – Contemplate third gyros
0315 – Arrive home
0325 – Can’t sleep, check emails and Facebook
0445 – Sleep
0917 – Wake up. Mouth like bottom of bird cage. Wish I hadn’t had that second gyros. Cringe remembering emails and messages sent last night when I couldn’t sleep

After two nights on Mykonos, Paros and Santorini, the tour headed back to Athens and I skipped back an island to Ios. I wish I had discovered this island when I was 5 – 10 years younger. It’s no place for a middle aged spinster like me.

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I did experience some Australian bogans at their finest in Ios. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Australians, some of my favourite people are Australian, and I rate Australia as a place, but I’m not sure if the ones bearing the Southern Cross (literally) are really the best example to be sending overseas. I have learnt a great new drinking game, that I will probably trial at Hayley’s 30th in order to perfect my technique for Sez’s wedding.

Danger Can is the name of the game. We all stand around a table. I have a giant can of the cheapest beer on the market, I shake it like a Polaroid picture, or like a nail polish I haven’t used for a while. I then smash the shaken can against my forehead while the rest of the group bangs the table and chants “dan-ger-can-dan-ger-can-dan-ger-can”. I pass the can to my left, that person shakes the bejeepers out of the can, and then smashes it against their forehead, while we bang the table and chant “dan-ger-can-dan-ger-can-dan-ger-can”. The game ends when someone smashes the can against their forehead and it explodes, showering the group in cheap beer. Success!

So I am suffering from post Greek Island depression but I am sure I will quickly recover when my plane lands on the runway at JFK tomorrow!!

Get me to the Greek (Islands)

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I apologise in advance for the lack of entertainment in the post below. The most exciting thing to happen to me on tour so far has been watching my delicates fly around the massive drier at the laundromat in Florence. Oh, and there was the kerfuffle when Claudio, the bus driver, took off the front of a Yaris turning the corner.

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With the exception of some tour companions, I have decided that I would rather be travelling with Bert than on a tour. Sitting on a bus for six hours with total strangers I am ok with. Sitting on a bus for six hours with people I don’t really like, but have to get on with, I’m not so ok with.

I don’t want to hear your theory about alien life forms. I don’t care how many of your past students got into Harvard. I don’t agree that South Australians have a different accent because they’re not descendants of convicts. I am offended that you just emphatically referred to Jacobs Creek Moscato as “the shittest wine ever”. I am annoyed that you stampede over everyone to get into the best photo spot. I am frustrated that you raced me to the bus and moved my stuff because you want to sit up the front where the air con works. I wanna sit up the front so I don’t projectile vomit.

Italians don’t do showers well. In Rome there was great pressure but no curtain, so the water sprayed all over the bathroom and under the door. In Sorrento the shower was so small it was impossible to move your arms, I bent over to wash my feet and turned the shower off with my ghetto booty. In Assisi there was a curtain, but it finished 500mm off the floor, which was sloped so that the water ran out of the bathroom into the bedroom, it was a race against time not to drown your room mate.

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Italians don’t do air conditioning well either. I have worn ear plugs the whole trip, and it’s not due to traffic noise or inconsiderate neighbours, it’s cos the air conditioner sounds like a supercharged Massey Ferguson. This would be acceptable if the contraption could effectively control the temperature in the room. It can’t. And no amount of button pressing can turn the bloody things up, down or off. Swearing is also ineffective, as is smashing the control with your palm.

I’m not so keen on the towels that are similar to heavily starched napkins, nor am I a fan of the plastic underlays on the bed. The feet washers, however, I love! They can be used for shaving legs also.

In Florence we had to farewell two of the awesome foursome. As a bonus we also got to farewell: Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum – the stuck up South Australian twins; Brett and Kara – the American couple disguised as Canadians (they had maple leaf badges on their backpacks, day packs, caps and sleeves); Jess and Alvina, Chris and Liam Hemsworth’s biggest fans, and; Stewie, the All American, who was probably a quarterback in college, but failed to make the team in the school of life.

We took a pointless trip to a(nother) walled city – Lucca. Another stop, another walking tour where we have to feign interest in Italian history. Even those that love churches struggled to lift their feet up the steps to the Basilica. I thought that dressing like a catholic school girl would excuse me from church duties, I was wrong. Old mate who guards the door was having a siesta, so I was allowed access. I must admit this church was my fave, it had the body of the Patron Saint of waitresses and single ladies lying in it. She looked pretty good for a 700 year old corpse, another miraculously preserved body.

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Don’t even get me started on Verona. We stopped there on the way to Venice, just so we could fight our way through 8,352 Asian tourists to get a picture of Juliet’s balcony. You know Romeo and Juliet is a work of fiction right? She didn’t stand on that balcony and call out to Romeo, I don’t think she’s buried in that graveyard, but if she is prove it. Dig her up and put her body in a glass casket. And as for sticking your chewing gum on the wall – eewww.

In case no one has told you, Venice stinks! It’s meant to be one of the most romantic cities in the world, and I’m sure people swoon all over the place. Not because they’re overcome with emotion, but because of lack of oxygen to the brain from holding their breath for too long.

I did hear a great call in Venice though. An American woman said “I am sure all those boats carrying stuff are just for show, they’re not real supplies, they’re just so the tourists have something to look at.” Riiiiight.

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I also love that I must look foreign. Well I am foreign, but I mustn’t look like I come from an English speaking country, as I have been on the receiving end of more than a few audible comments. Mainly about my wolf and my tan. Jealousy is a nasty disease b*tches, get well soon.

Today we’re heading back to Rome, tonight is the last night!! Woop woop! I never thought I would be excited about leaving Italy, but it really hasn’t lived up to my expectations, and I blame this terrible tour. I thought it was going to be aperitifs and antipasti served al fresco, but it’s all complex carbohydrates and constipation.

Also, there are no toilet seats in Italy! It’s kind of a blessing, as the only exercise I have had since I got here is hovering over the lav. The automatic flushes add to the excitement, will it get me or won’t it? Wouldn’t wanna try it in pants, lucky none of mine fit.

The Amalfi Coast was amazing, so was Cinque Terre and Lake Garda. If I had my time again, I would spend four days at each of those places and just take a virtual tour of the main centres from my sun lounger. Oh, and I would add on Milan. The money I would save not doing the tour (just a lazy $3k) would go towards a new wardrobe, packed in tissue paper and freighted back to NZ. I’d even pay Debs to hang it up in accordance with my strict wardrobe hanging guidelines.

I can’t wait to sleep in for two days. I am excited about sitting on a bus and not hearing two hours of Italian history booming through the speakers at full volume: “Can you hear me?!? Guys! Guys! Can you hear me?!?” Yes! We can hear you. I am wearing ear plugs and I can hear you. The guy in front is wearing noise cancelling ear phones and he can hear you.

The bus stops every two hours for a compulsory break. I’m not sure who compelled the break, maybe Autogrill, cos we stop at one every single time. We have 10 minutes at each stop: “OK guys, you have 10 minutes, be back on the bus in 10 minutes, at quarter to 2 OK? Back here, on the bus, at 1:45 OK? Make sure you are back here by 15 minutes before 2’o’clock OK guys? Guys! Are you listening? Come back here for 45 minutes past 1.”

“Sorry” I say “I wasn’t listening, what time do we have to be back on the bus?”

Get me to the Greek Islands!

I ate: Three courses. Every night. I am a rolly polly elephant.
I perved: At one set of good calves. That’s it. How disappointing.
I laughed: When Nicola was forced to blow dry her hair in the reflection of the TV. Shorting the power to the first floor in the process. Twice.

Tour of Duty

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After two days in Sorrento and a day in Assisi, I am feeling much better about life. Going from the relaxed bliss of France to the dirty, smelly, gypsy chaos of Rome, and an organised tour with the reincarnation of Mussolini was not great for my mental health.

There are 23 of us on tour. Three couples (one on their honeymoon), 16 females and one single, white, American male, Stewart (Stoo-ert) – shortened to Stewy (Ss-chew-ee) without consent. I’m still not sure how I feel about this whole tour business. I’m not very good at following orders from an Italian dictator, so there is a subconscious resistance at being told when to get up, where to go, when to eat, when to get on the bus, when to get off the bus, what to wear and when to go to the bathroom.

My first room mate made Sluzzy Pants Linn look like a giant. One of the first conversations we had was her telling me how much she hates her sister. She is, apparently, the worst kind of person. She is one of those people with an opinion, who likes to share it, she is one of those friendly types who likes to meet new people, she likes clothes and she talks about her hair and her nails and stuff.

Well sunshine, do you want the good news? Or the bad news? The good news: you’re in Italy for two weeks. The bad news: you’re rooming with your sister.

Right from the first team meeting I was identified as the rebellious one. I’d just been to the supermarket to get a late lunch, and I had it with me in a bag. Mussolini told me that I wasn’t allowed to eat in the meeting and I had to take my food to my room.

“But I’m not gonna eat it” I argued “I’m just gonna hold it.”

“No, no, no” she said “you must-a take-a ze food to your room-a, right now!”

So up the 11 flights of stairs I went, taking my sweet a$$ time, most time under load for my quadriceps and all that.

I managed to stay on the wrong side of Mussolini for the rest of the day, and all of that night…

I asked all the wrong questions on the walking tour (how long did it take to build this fountain? Did they get paid for building it? Did the designer get paid? If those massive marble pillars came from Egypt, how big were the boats that brought them here? And how many people had to row them? How many people fell to their death building that dome? How many tonnes of marble are on those steps? How often do they water blast them? How many people did this arena seat? How often was the fire warden check done? Exactly how tall was Spartacus? What was his chest measurement? How much could he dead lift?).

There were two girls furiously taking notes on little pads, and every time Mussolini gave us a new fact, I would look over and say “quick, better note that down”. My humour was lost on all except three Aussie girls, and after dinner we pricked our fingers and became blood sisters.

At dinner Mussolini took personal offence to my inability to digest gluten. She told the entire restaurant how inconvenient it was that I couldn’t eat either of the two options on the set menu (one pizza and one pasta), but happily made allowances for the vegetarians and those intolerant of lactose.

She ordered me a huge plate of “gluten free” pasta, and then sat down to the most amazing chicken salad I have ever seen. She could have ordered me one! Well the pasta wasn’t gluten free, so half an hour later, when we’re looking at yet another really old structure, I said to my new friends “cover me, I have to find a toilette tout suite”.

Well, Mussolini starts screaming at me, asking where I am going and why. I shout back that I need to find a restroom, she declares that there are none nearby, I tell her she has two options: 1) Point me in the direction of the nearest bathroom, or; 2) Give me her pants, cos I’m just about to soil mine, and she is partly responsible since she fed me pasta, which was laden with gluten, in a gluten sauce, sprinkled with gluten, with gluten on the side.

That performance cemented my status as a leper. Care factor = 0.

Furthering enhancing my terrible reputation was my decision not to take a 40€ tour of the Vatican City. Not only would I rather spend 40€ on a new pair of souvenir footwear, I have family that grew up in Catholic orphanages, I have no interest in visiting the core of Catholicism, besides, if you think covering your knees and shoulders in this weather is conducive to even tanning, you are sorely mistaken.

Even though we were the minority, my blood sisters and I must have identified ourselves as the “cool” kids, because on the second night, when we said we were going to the river for dinner and drinks, our numbers instantly swelled from 4 to 14. After a few mojitoes there was a chorus of “when I first met you I thought you were a b*tch, but you’re actually really nice, and great fun”, from the ones that had condemned me to the sanatorium for my leprosy.

‘Well thank you for your seal of approval, my life is now complete. When I first met you, I thought you were a judgey pants. I still think you’re a judgey pants, and I know it’s only cos your judgey pants are six sizes bigger than my pants that you judged me in the first place. That means that even though I am looking at you like I am so pleased you have “accepted” me, I feel sorry for you, cos you’re a big judgey pants, and judgey pants like you, they miss out on fun times with people like me’ is what I thought.

“Aawww, that’s great, we’re going to have so much fun” is what I said.

The next day I knew I was right not to trust the judgey pants when one of the girls who declined the invitation to the island, said “I hear you hooked up with a couple of black men last night”. It was like being back at school, when someone who shall remain nameless (Kim Jones) started a rumour that I was caught by the police in a stable, in a compromising position with Raki.

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“Oh yes!” I exclaimed excitedly “on a couch, in front of everyone, pretty sure one of the staff filmed it, so it should be on YouTube this arvo, we can all watch it. I’m from small town NZ, that’s how we roll”.

‘And now get your judgey pants out of my face before I taser you’ I thought.

On the way to Sorrento we stopped at Pompeii to check out the village that was buried when the volcano erupted. I’m not sure what year that was, I’ll have to ask one of the girls to look it up in their notebook, but I tell you what, those Romans had a taste for the finer things in life. Even back then they had running water and a whole lotta marble. They were also bulimic, and had swinger parties, and the wives snuck out and had quickies with the gladiators when their husbands were off racing chariots on the M1.

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My favourite day on the tour has been our day on the Isle of Capri. As we sat on a boat, basking in the Mediterranean sunshine, me oiled up in SPF 8, the others lathered in SPF 50, I said audibly “I’ll take this over your precious Vatican City any day”. Forever the antagonist.

Mussolini has warmed to me. I have to smile like a Chesire Cat when I am joking so that she knows I’m not being offensive. I think deep down she prefers the cheeky, easy going ones over the ones who complain about blisters, and the heat, and who correct her on her Italian history.

It has been very interesting watching the Olympics with a bunch of Australians and Canadians (and the one American) of course they’re not broadcasting the rowing here, so I didn’t get my moment of Kiwi glory. I did enjoy the reaction I got from Stewy when I told him that Phelps is a drug cheat.

There are two 18 year old American girls whose only topic of conversation with us Australians (they are unable to grasp the concept that NZ is a different country) is Chris and Liam Hemsworth. They have asked us if we know who they are. They have asked us if they are as big in Australia as they are in America, but my favourite was when they asked why Chris and Liam look different to other native Australians…? They’ve Googled “Native Australians” and the images that come up look nothing like Chris or Liam.

I ate: Too much
I perved: At the McTotty driving our boat around the Isle of Capri
I laughed: At the lily white English girl who confused fake tan with sunscreen, hence getting burnt to a crisp on the boat trip, and then turning a strange shade of tangerine the next day.

Disclaimer: I have absolutely no evidence that Michael Phelps takes performance enhancing drugs. The comment was not intended to be slanderous, merely a mechanism used to infuriate the stereotypical American who had consumed too much red wine.

Buongiorno Italia

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I spent my last day in Nice wandering around the old town. I admit I don’t have an appreciation for the history of European countries, but I enjoy the charm and admire the conservation of all the old buildings and streets. It’s not like other parts of the world where areas deemed obsolete are demolished, roads are widened and streets are dug up to install the infrastructure for ultra fast broadband.

I also enjoy that everything in Europe is so close! No sooner had we finished our ascent out of Nice, we had started our descent into Rome. It was such a quick trip that the refreshments trolley was only half way up the aisle when the Captain called for the cabin crew to prepare for landing.

Arriving in Rome was interesting. First the front half of the plane burst into rounds of applause. Not polite applause, loud, clap your hands above your head applause, like you would if you were calling for an encore at a U2 concert after too much vodka and orange. Which I have never done. Ever. Then this short, round man wearing crocs and a striped polo, leapt out of his seat, grabbed his hand luggage and sprinted for the nearest exit (before the plane was stationary). When we arrived at the terminal (after waiting on the tarmac in a bus for 10 minutes while croc man huffed and puffed) we found that they put all the luggage from several flights on the same carousel.

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It felt like there were 7,284 people crowded around this one carousel. They all had their toes pressed up against the edge, leaning over, knees slightly bent, arms at the ready to grab whatever treasures the chute was going to spew onto the belt. It’s like no one had told them that what you’re going to get is the same as what you put on, except you might be missing a handle or two, and your GHD is probably smashed cos that’s quite a a fall from that chute.

I always experience a certain level of anxiety at luggage carousels. No matter how many times I go through the process without incident, I always think that this could be the time that the zip breaks and my knicks end up splayed all over the belt. Well you’re not gonna believe it, but there were loose items of clothing on the conveyor. I instantly assessed them as not being my possessions, but I will admit to a wee smirk when I saw that they were the huffy, puffy, stripey polo, croc man’s items.

I still find it very strange that there is no passport or border control through most of the EU, just two aisles, a green one if you have nothing to declare and a red one if you have something to declare. Since I’d be silly to declare the 25 condoms of heroin in my intestines or the litter of exotic pygmy panthers unconscious in my hand luggage, that’s a big fat “nincs elvamolnivalom” from me.

I decided to splash out and stay in a hotel for my first night in Rome, albeit a three star one with terrible reviews. It’s the hotel where the tour is meeting, and knowing my luck a million things could go wrong for me the morning before the tour starts.

It was lucky I arrived in Rome 18 hours early, because I got lost. Not quite San Sebastian lost, but still lost. Although this time it wasn’t my fault, and I’ll show you why…

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As you can see from the map above, it appears that Hotel Floridia is on the corner of Via Montbello and Via Castelfidaro, well technically it’s shown as being in the middle of the road, but surely it had to be on one of those four corners. So if you were to come up Via Goito, as I did, you would turn right, capisce? Capisce. Ah no, no, no, no. The hotel is actually on the corner of Via Montbello and Via Volumo. If I had looked left I would have seen the sign, but I didn’t….

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So I made it to the hotel without getting pickpocketed. I did have my b*tch face on, and I was testing my taser every 10 metres – pickpockets can hear the unmistakeable crack from miles away. On the way to the hotel I realised there was one phrase I wish I had learned: “that’s not a taxi, that’s your private vehicle, and if you think I am getting in there and going anywhere with you, you need to think again!”

So the hotel in Rome is dodgy as all hell. The sour faced receptionist was annoyed that I had interrupted her serious conversation with her strange looking boyfriend. My room was 501, and the lift only went up to fourth floor, so I had to lug my case up three more flights of stairs to the attic.

The most exciting thing about my attic room is that I have a special foot washer I can use while sitting on the toilette!

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Half way through washing my feet the phone rang. It was the smiley one from reception, asking me to urgently come downstairs. From her strained tone I knew that one of two things were going to happen: 1) Her boyfriend had organised a group of thugs to take me outside, beat me to a bloody pulp, gang rape me and leave me for dead in the bus shelter, or; 2) She was going to distract me while her boyfriend snuck up to my room and robbed me of all my worldly possessions.

I took my time hiding all my valuables (in the mini bar, under the mattress, behind the bedside cabinet, under the bed – right in the middle), and texting my sister to give her my address and fell her what I was last seen wearing, and also giving a description of my potential assailant.

I got downstairs and all she wanted was my 2 euro room tax! Lady, you dragged me down 11 flights of stairs just to ask me for 2 euro??? I should taser you for being a pain in my a$$!

I ate: A smorgasbord of gluten free goodies on the plane. Easyjet, you’ve outdone yourself.
I perved: At the guy at the check in counter, he reminded me of Peeta Mellark
I laughed: At the two gay stuards having an in flight lovers tiff and ramming each other with the refreshments trolley

Muscat Mayhem

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My last day in London was a sunny one. I thought a quick trip to Westminster would be in order, and as soon as I got there I realised why I don’t do the touristy things – there are way too many tourists.

I had the day scheduled so that I would get to Gatwick with time to spare. What I didn’t factor into the scheduling was that dragging a 35kg bag would turn a 10 minute walk to the station into a 30 minute walk to the station. The effects of this oversight snowballed, reducing my allocated 30 minute buffer for check in, to a mere 4 minutes.

Alli was beside herself when I arrived at the EasyJet counter with two minutes to spare. I told her she better get used to it, cos that’s how we roll (we being Bert and I). She didn’t believe me, until the saga with the trains in Toulouse…

Toulouse was a lovely place. Well I’m sure it still is, we’re just no longer there to enjoy its loveliness. We took the petite train tour and found some markets with aisles of amazing fresh French produce. You could even buy wine by the glass and sit and drink it. We thought it would be rude not to have a glass. Or four.

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It’s hard enough to remember to look left when I’m sober, so crossing the road after a bottle of wine almost had disastrous consequences! Lucky the driver was paying more attention than I, and he stopped in time to save me from certain death, flipping over his car bonnet like a rag doll and into the path of an oncoming bus.

He was very good about it, saw the funny side of nearly running over a half cut blonde just before midday – ‘those Australians, they’re a hard case’, I’m pretty sure that’s what he was thinking. 15 minutes later when we were struggling to hire a pair of bicycles from the docking station, up he popped, the guy who almost ran me over, came to be our knight in shining armour and show us the correct manner in which to wrestle the bikes from their holders.

Our time in Toulouse was short, but probably not as short as we would have liked. We took three trains to get to the station to catch our train to Carcassone. We arrived at 16:22, the train leaves every hour, at 21 past the hour… Never mind, 59 minutes isn’t long to wait for a train. For some unknown reason, they don’t announce the platform the train will arrive on until just before it arrives, so there we were, waiting in the underground corridor, me engrossed in Fifty Shades Darker and Alli trying to soothe an 18 year old Australian who had been travelling non stop for 30 hours, who was beside herself that her train was leaving in 40 minutes and she didn’t know from which platform…

It was then that Alli said “holy guacamole Renee, it’s 17:21, our train is about to leave!!” Up we leapt, scrambling to get all our luggage together, we were half way up the steps,when the train pulled out of the station… “Oh bother” we said. Never to mind, the next one was due in an hour and 45 minutes. By this stage we were starving, and a vending machine loaded with glutenous goodies made it an interesting train trip for us two gluten intolerants…

Carcassonne is a city with a 12th century castle on a hill. Alli was delighted to announce that she had secured us a set of bunks in a great place inside the walls of the castle. Great idea in theory, but in practise, dragging a huge a$$ bag up an incline of 12th century cobbles littered with intermittent steps is less than ideal. Among other things, our hostel greeted us with paper sheets and ambiguous signage.

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“You can have bubbles, but don’t even think about water.”? “If the tap is dripping, don’t think about it.”? “You can turn the tap on full tit, but please don’t let it drip out.”? “Whatever you do, don’t think about the water.”? “Don’t you dare splash that water!”?

From our castle in the sky we moved further along the coast to Montpellier, where it is not only acceptable to get your cans out at the beach, it’s expected. But don’t just lie there subtly, please walk up and order your ice cream, please get up and go to the bathroom, and heck, why not even walk along the beach and up the road to the car with the kids in tow. There was a doughnut man there two days in a row, each time with a tray overflowing with deep fried complex carbohydrates. He walked past several times, and I didn’t see his stocks depleting at all. Something tells me he wasn’t there to sell doughnuts.

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As tempting as it was to stay in Montpellier and receive drunken declarations of love from 16 year old French lads, we had a train booked to Nice. How hard can it be to walk 20m from the hostel and catch a tram for three stops to the train station? Not very. Unless one of you has a mammoth hangover, and no Debs, for once it wasn’t me!

We got to the station and I sent the hungover one to the platform to wait for me while I ordered the tickets. What I hadn’t bargained on, was the platform being 1.5km long. I walked up and down but couldn’t see Alli. The train arrived so I sent her a message with my mind: ‘get on the train Alli’. As the passengers moved from the platform to the train I couldn’t see her waiting – she must be on the train.

Once on the train I sent Alli a text message asking which carriage she was in and telling her that i had some sweet seats (why I didn’t use my telecommunications device instead of ESP the first time is anyone’s guess!). The reply came quickly and consisted of three words: “not on train”.

“Oh darn” I said to Bert “that’d be right”.

Alli stumbled into Nice an hour and a half after me, giving me more than enough time to work on my homeless person impression, with my hat out and Bert giving his best sad wolf eyes.

Nice is nice. Not amazing, but nice. Very GC with the breast implants, collagen lips and Ferraris. If I had done any sort of research I would have found out that the beaches are all rock, a fact that you have now picked up from this incredibly insightful entry. The people aren’t as friendly here as we have experienced elsewhere in France. My favourite was the guy in the Apple store, to whom I explained (in French) that I was very sorry I didn’t speak French, but I would like one of these, and showed him a picture of a memory card adaptor for an iPad. He smiled politely and took us over, explaining all about it in French.

When I apologised and said “je ne comprends pas”, he replied with “oh OK, would you like me to explain it all again? In English this time?”. Well since I don’t speak a$$hole you might have to. To top it off, the effing thing doesn’t work! Ah joy.

Tomorrow I am Italy bound! TAB and Centrebet are calling the odds on how many ditzy Australians will say “you’re 29?!?!? Wow, you don’t look 29!?!”. ‘That’s cos I’m less than 36 months older than you ya dopey tart, how old am I meant to look??’

One last fun fact before I continue my desperate mission to track down Hunger Games: Mocking Jay (give me Peeta Mellark over Christian Grey any day of the week!), if you hang your shorts over the balcony to dry them and you end up with an unfortunately positioned rust stain, Sard Wonder Soap will not get it out.

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I ate: Fromage, fromage, fromage
I perved: At the wide variety of mammary glands on the beach
I laughed (to myself): When a girl at the hostel in Montpellier introduced herself as Roxanne and the boys sung the song…that could have been me had Debs not vetoed dad’s name suggestion!