So in 5 days (CRAP), I will be 20. If we’re talking about Australian time then it’s like 4 days away and for some reason I AM FREAKING OUT. I know people are always talking about a mid-life crisis and now there’s a thing called the quarter life crisis but is it possible to have a fifth life crisis?! What I’m most scared about is this image of people in their twenties moving from teenage hood to young adulthood, transitioning from recklessness to maturity. Of course, you’re thinking what’s wrong with that? You’d hope that the older you get, the wiser you’d become. But the thing is that I’ve hardly been reckless, been crazy, done stupid things without thinking about the consequences. And then the thing is you’d be thinking, what’s wrong with avoiding all the mistakes that other people have made when they were young? But deep down there’s a part of me that feels like I’m missing out, that I was born with the personality of a grandma in the body of a teenager and it’s been a lifetime of internal conflicts. Of course, I have done so many things that I’d never thought I’d dream of doing, like travelling to Europe, eating gelato in Italy, standing amidst the snowy alps of Switzerland. I’m lucky, there’s no doubt about it, but at the same time I’ve never gone skinny dipping, never smoked a cigarette, never kissed a guy. Call me sensible or call me a prude, I’ve always been someone who followed the rules, avoided doing “stupid” things. Even when I left home and was granted total freedom, I was always my biggest critic and would always keep myself in check. Even when we would go out drinking, as soon as I felt even slightly tipsy I would stop and then try and shove my face with food in order to help myself sober up. I only recall being drunk once and the fact that I can remember it so clearly only goes to show that I wasn’t even that wasted. The next morning when I woke up with an uncomfortable headache, I was even slightly proud of myself that I had finally let loose and that I had gone all in with the drinking games the night before. I don’t want to make mistakes that I’m going to regret for the rest of my life but there is this crazy, spontaneous, risky teenager so well hidden inside of me and I’m just scared that I’ve suppressed it too much during my teens and it will unexpectedly burst out in my 20s.
It feels weird to be writing about the past weekend because even though it’s already passed, I feel like I’m still holding onto it, not wanting to let go. It was a great weekend – we saw amazing views of majestic mountains coated in white snow, ate so much chocolate and cheese that my stomach is still recovering and of course just returned to our crazy selves when we’re around each other. The thing is that the higher you go, the harder you fall. Saying goodbye was one of the hardest things to do. I wanted to wrap Bianca up in my arms and just bring her back to Geneva to stay with me, and I didn’t want Vicky to go back to Copenhagen. I feel like there are days that you feel grown up and in control, and there are others where you just want to curl up in a ball and cry and be that little girl who just really misses home.
But despite my emotional turbulence, I can’t even begin to describe how amazing this past weekend has been. We saw the most amazing mountains which just took our breath away. The scenery was honestly one of the most surreal things I have ever seen in my life. We also looked completely crazy in these huge Santa suits that Manon’s mum (Bianca’s host mum) had bought for us as a part of the Père Noël weekend where the cable cars were free if you were dressed up in a Santa Claus suit. The snow was also super soft, so soft that if you weren’t carefully, your leg might be completely swallowed by the ground.
Of course, going up the mountains was a definite highlight, but every moment spent with Bianca and Vicky was so much fun – trying raclette for the first time and gulfing down the cheese before it solidified; drinking tea and talking into the late of the night; walking around the village and taking photos and walking back carefully, trying not to slip and drop the cake we bought for Manon’s brother’s birthday.
It was fun. So incredibly fun. But until next time, take care girls.
This week has whizzed by and I seriously have no idea where all the time has gone. I arrived in Copenhagen last Thursday and met Vicky in the reception of her uni and seriously, I can’t even describe how excited I was to see her. We were jumping up and down and squealing and it felt surreal to be seeing her in the flesh despite having talked to her on the phone just the night before. It was crazy to be able to see everything that she had described to me in real life – when we got to her place, she gave me a tour of her room and her kitchen. I had seen it all before on my phone screen but wow, this was the real thing.
That night, we went to Tivoli Gardens which is one of the oldest theme parks in Europe. It was beautifully decorated for Halloween with all these carved pumpkins and orange fairy lights. It felt a bit like a little village with all these small huts selling food and stalls with fairground games. We bought tickets for The Haunted (house) which was terrifying! The actors looked so real and they were coming at you from in front and from behind and this dead guy even stroked my hair. We ended up bursting out the exit screaming and laughing; it was crazy.
The next morning, I set off for Gothenburg to see Sophie. I was spending the weekend there and would then come back to Copenhagen and spend the rest of my time there. Again, I was so excited to see Sophie that the bus ride there felt so long. When I got there, I couldn’t contain my happiness – how lucky was I to be able to see two of my closest friends one day after the other! That night all we did was eat pizza and snacks and binge watch Stranger Things 2 – both of us had promised that we would resist the temptation to watch it beforehand when it had come out a week earlier.
The next day, we spent the morning in Haga which is the old town in Gothenburg. They had all these little cute boutiques, but the best part had to be the giant Swedish cinnamon bun (kanelbulle) in Café Husaren which we had for lunch because it was so massive. At night, we went to Alingsås (pronounced “Alingsauce”) to see the light show. It was an hour out from Gothenburg in this cute suburb and although the light show wasn’t super big and spectacular, the atmosphere was lovely – it reminded me of when our family would take walks around nearby neighbourhoods to see the Christmas lights.
Sunday Funday! Actually, the weather was terrible and dreary on Sunday but that didn’t dampen our spirits. We ended up going to one of the islands in the Archipelago called Dansös. It was a quaint fishing island which was nice but really hard to enjoy in the freezing wind. Hence, we ended up sitting in a café, drinking hot tea and admiring the view from inside the warm room. We felt a bit adventurous at night and thought that we’d cook some pasta instead of eating frozen food again for dinner – like what we had done for the past two nights. We also tried to bake brownies with this pre-bought mix which turned out both a bit overcooked on the outside and undercooked on the inside – something definitely went wrong but I still have no idea where. The night was spent watching musical films – The Last Five Years and Into the Woods – while eating our delicious partially homemade food. And that was the end of my short and spectacular stay in Gothenburg. I have to say that we had truly maximised all the time that we spent together, so much that I was exhausted by the time I hopped on the bus back to Copenhagen the next morning.
Vicky is truly the most experimental with her cooking out of the three of us (which may not be saying much since Sophie and I both don’t cook a lot). Over the last few days, we made 红烧肉 (this Chinese braised pork dish which I have been craving), bimbibap and bubble milk tea. I’d like to say that she has inspired me to not eat the same dish everyday (aka tomato and egg, which tastes great by the way) and to actually experiment with my food, but we’ll see how we go when I’m back in Geneva. The other crazy thing I did, other than cook good food, was getting bangs! I have been contemplating it for the longest time now – I remember discussing it with Jo back when we were in China, but I was always too scared to go through with it. Well guess what? It’s done now! I did it. I’m kind of in a love hate relationship with it though – sometimes it looks sleek but other times I just look like a five-year-old kid. Hopefully it grows on me more.
Yesterday, Vicky and I went to see the Little Mermaid which was immensely underwhelming. But we all knew it was – I had been warned by multiple people beforehad. But coming to Copenhagen, it’s one of those things you just have to see anyway, despite there being not much to see at all. We had fun though. After seeing the Little Mermaid and taking a quick photo, we walked around looking at small design stores along the street and eating pastries and hotdogs with fried onions.
Vicky had Danish class in the afternoon so I was left on my own to explore. I went to Norrebro which had a kebab store every 200 metres and not much else, so I ended up deciding to head home early. I arrived at the S-station near Vicky’s place pretty early and thought I would have a look around the shopping centre nearby. It got me super excited for Christmas because so many stores had already put up decorations and were selling real fir trees and wreaths, which is something you never see in Australia. Then I went into H&M. And ended up doing quite a bit of shopping, which was so much fun. The irony is that the night before I had literally just watched Confessions of a Shopaholic.
At night, we ended up making bubble tea and dancing and prancing around the kitchen while we were at it. Afterwards, we helped Imogen, one of Vicky’s neighbours, with her assignment and we literally spent two hours filming sock puppets acting out a scene from Pulp Fiction. I must say it was a pretty funny sight.
Of course, every great adventure must come to an end, otherwise how would we appreciate it so much each time. I just realised that Vicky is coming down to Geneva in a couple of weeks and then all three of us will be meeting up for Christmas and New Year’s. There is so much to look forward to.
But for now, back to school and back to those assignments.
So I went on my first solo trip by myself yesterday, and to be honest, it was only a day and a night so it wasn’t a very long trip at all. But the point of this story is that it was enough time for me to figure out that I don’t really like travelling by myself. I mean Lyon was beautiful and it was just as stunning as I remember, but I think it would’ve been more fun with someone there to share it with. I think the main reason why I chose to go by myself, and I’m still glad that I did, was because it holds a lot of meaning for me personally. I mean four years ago, it was my first time travelling without my family (or more specifically my sister), my first time in Europe, in a country where I was still struggling to learn the language and it was truly an overwhelming experience. But it was also, not to be too dramatic, life changing in so many ways – it forced me to be more emotionally resilient, it opened up my world view drastically and it fuelled my desire to travel and to see even more of the world that I live in. So I wanted to go back alone, realising that four years later I could be standing in the same place but as someone very different. Wow, okay I’m getting very dramatic here. But I think we all have some personal milestones which may associate with a person, a place or even a souvenir of that experience and Lyon is one of those milestones for me.
Lyon was beautiful, is beautiful. I think I’ve already established that multiple times already. But the river, the old buildings, the cobblestone paths, those are just some of the things I love about it. I got there quite early in the morning and the first thing I got was a praline pastry. It was also great because the Halles de Paul Bocuse were really close to the train station, so I went straight in to buy a bag of pralines. Pralines are these pink sugar-coated almonds which are everywhere in Lyon. And guess what? I got it from the exact shop that I did four years ago – they still had the paper logo with “Maison Claude” stuck onto the jar.
I wasn’t actually intending on visiting the school again just because I couldn’t remember its exact location, but walking through the old town I accidentally stumbled upon it. And the first sign that I recognised were the super steep stairs next to the train station. I remember having to climb up them every morning and literally dying on the way up.
I spent the whole day just walking around – in some parts it was quiet and calm, and others were busier and more crowded. It’s been so long that I no longer really know the city and to be honest I was quite lost walking around. But it’s also surprising the things that you do remember.
Even though one day is truly too short a trip to such a spectacular city, I’m sure that being only two hours away, I will definitely have the opportunity to go again.
I’m finally in Geneva. Well, it’s actually been two weeks since I’ve arrived. And to be quite honest, on one hand I have no idea where all that time has gone, but on the other, I feel like I’ve done so much that it can’t have possibly only been two weeks. Time is definitely a very weird thing. I guess if I have say what my biggest challenge has been coming here, it has to be cooking and the struggle of speaking French. I mean you’d think that as someone who’s been out of home for a year and a half that I’d know how to properly feed myself, but boy, are you wrong. I’m going to have to blame my dad for this, because he always cooks for us at home and I have never had to cook a single meal at home. I’m realising more and more how spoiled I was at home. And I have to say, I am really missing that good life. I hate to admit it but there’s only so many packets of instant noodles you can have before it becomes a health hazard. But also, opening a bank account, buying a phone plan, getting a residence permit – I mean I’ve never had to do all these things before because they were all set up for me by my parents when I was younger. And the language barrier. Well, it’s not so much as a barrier but the fact that I am scared of embarrassing myself when talking in French and not knowing the words to say and also just sounding like a tourist in general. I mean the words just never come out smoothly. But I’m still working on that.
And my thoughts about Geneva? It’s a beautiful city and perfectly sized, not overwhelming in any way. It’s so easy to walk from one place to the other or catch the bus or tram or even bike if you want to. But there is also so much to discover. Narrow roads and quaint buildings in Carouge or my favourite Parc des Bastions where you can sit and watch some Turkish men play life sized chess with such speed and skill that it surely isn’t a game for amateurs. I love being surrounded by so many exchange students and being in such an international city. It’s crazy how much I am learning not only about Genevan culture but about Spain and Germany and Tunisia. Everybody has a story to share, a reason for coming here and I feel so blessed to be a part of this community.
Being the history buff that I am, I was so pumped to visit the Berlin Wall and the Memorial for the Jews and everything else. Being able to actually be in this city, the place where so much unfolded during the twentieth century – it feels like you are somehow connected to its history, a step closer to understanding the events that happened here.
The first day was spent at the Reichstag which is where the German parliament meets for several weeks during the year. It has this incredible glass dome on its rooftop where you can get a 360 view of the city while walking along the spiralling ramp. The automatic audio guide and panoramic map you get when you arrive points out where the Brandenburg gate is and the Berlin Victory Column, as well as the many embassies adjacent to the Reichstag. Of course, we went to see all of these sights afterwards, but the most incredible one had to be the Memorial for the Jews. It is this huge square filled with massive concrete blocks of all different heights lined up in neat rows. On the edges of the square, the blocks are quite short, but the deeper you walk into the maze, the taller the blocks get, and soon you are swallowed by the dark grey slabs of concrete. Not only is it a great piece of architecture but that feeling you get walking through it – there is an overwhelming feeling of being lost.
Of course we also had to visit the Berlin Wall – or what is left of it at the East Side Gallery. Again, it is so hard to even begin to imagine a city divided into two, with police patrolling the border and shooting whoever tried to escape to West Berlin. We also went to the DDR museum which was an interactive museum showing what it was like to live in East Berlin during the Cold War.
Besides the history, the real fun began in Mitte with all the cute, hip stores and galleries waiting to be discovered. AND BUBBLE TEA OF COURSE! We saw these Chinese people drinking bubble tea and straight up asked where they got it from. And obviously we went back to get it TWICE in THREE days. Man, it was so good!
Anyway, back to the cute, hip stores. So basically in Mitte there are the Hackesche Höfe courtyards which house all these galleries and pop up stores displaying different boutique and designer goods which are stunning to look at. There was this store where you had to climb up a flight of graffiti walled stairs and inside it was filled with crazy artistic books and cool, funky prints – you could call it a bookstore but none of the art was really mainstream.
Sophie and Vicky were in love with this stationary store called R.S.V.P. which basically had curated pieces from all over the world. My favourite was the jewellery store of the brand Broke & Schön. It was one of those stores where I stepped into and literally wanted to buy every piece of jewellery that it sold because they were all so nice. Obviously, I did end up doing a little bit of shopping there.
All three of us loved Berlin for different reasons – it was historical and artistic, new yet old, traditional but progressive. The significance of Berlin also partially lay with the fact that it was the final stop of our grand Europe trip. Our last night together was bittersweet. Smile because it happened, cry because it’s over. The next morning, sending Sophie to the metro station at 6am was such a weird feeling. I don’t think any of us really could take it all in – that we would be separated for the next five months, on our own, without each other. Despite the pain of separation, I am so grateful that we went on this trip, no, on this journey together. As cliché as it sounds, we have learnt so much more about ourselves, about each other, and how precious this friendship is. We laugh, we cry, we fight, we forgive but we will always be friends.
Things I learnt in Prague:
- That Prague castle is not actually a castle and the thing you think that looks like a castle in the distance is actually a chapel
- Just because the beer in Prague is famous for tasting good, it doesn’t mean it no longer tastes like beer
- Prague dumplings are actually Chinese steamed buns
I’m going to be completely honest – the first thing we did when we got to Prague was find some Asian food. Since Venice was a tourist town which only sold the many types of pizza and pasta you expect to find in Italy, there were hardly any Asian restaurants around. And even when we did find one, we had no idea how to find it again without getting lost among the mazes of streets.
After googling “best Asian restaurant in Prague” and then google mapping how to get to “the best Asian restaurant in Prague”, we found ourselves at a Korean restaurant. All I can say is that you know you’ve hit jackpot when there are real Koreans eating at the Korean restaurant.
After dinner, and feeling filled to the brim with bibimbap, we went to see Charles Bridge and Prague castle at night. Apparently Charles Bridge actually has eggs in its cement – something that the king added following the advice of his mother.
The next few days were spent walking around Prague, visiting the Old Town Square (which is where they filmed an episode of Running Man China), walking around Prague Castle and café hopping. The architecture of the city is very unique with little house shaped windows peeking out of red tiled rooves.
Here is a haiku because I really don’t have that much to write about.
The pink hazy dusk
Gondolas bobbing gently
What a dream-like scene
Venice was nice. It was relaxing.
The thing is, there really aren’t many major monuments to visit in Venice. It’s tiny and you can easily catch the ferry to the other side of the island yet somehow end up walking back home without even realizing it. It is fun to stroll around because the streets are like mazes with many small canals weaving between bridges.
It is a beautiful city. You realise it as soon as you walk out of the train station and are faced with a wide canal lined with quaint houses painted in brick red. You realise it when you are on the ferry and you can see all the hustle and bustle of the boats on the water. You realise it when you are sitting at the edge of Venice and are looking out at the vast expanse of ocean.
We did a lot of looking. And a lot of sitting around and zoning out. Which was very calming.
I think the thing I found most interesting about Venice though was that it was completely a tourist town. All the people you’d see on the streets, on the ferries, in the restaurants were all tourists. It is crazy because other than the people who run the restaurants, who row the gondolas, there aren’t any locals around. The bad thing about that, besides the fact that everything is extremely expensive, is that everywhere everything is the same. There are the same Italian restaurants that serve the standard Italian dishes on every street, the same stores selling Venice’s famous Murano glass or Venetian masks. Other than hotels, restaurants and souvenir stores, there wasn’t much else. Because of this, it was lacking a sense of local culture – that immersion you get when you visit a city and try to understand what it would be like to actually live there. Everything had been shaped in order to cater to the consumer interests of the tourist. It kind of made me sad because other than the coming and going of the travellers and the wanderers, Venice was a shell of a city which was missing actual people.
Rome was hot. It was sticky. And perhaps the most exhausting three days on this trip so far.
I think you could say that we started off on the wrong foot. Besides the stress of the trip from Paris to Rome (as mentioned in my last post), the bus which was meant to take us from the metro station to the street outside our hostel never came. We literally sat next to this old rusted pole (which to be honest did not look like a bus stop in the first place) for a solid hour in the stifling heat before giving up and deciding that we would lug our suitcases to our hostel ourselves. WHAT A TERRIBLE IDEA. Firstly, it was around 35 degrees that day, the path was made up of bumpy cobblestones which meant I couldn’t even push my suitcase on its four wheels, plus the walk was around a kilometre, which may not sound long but let me tell you, it felt like a lifetime away.
Anyway, I could’ve cried when we finally reached our wondrously air-conned hostel room. After taking a nice cold shower, we re-entered the heat of the day and went to go see Vatican City. How crazy is it to think that Vatican City is an actual country?!! It’s so tiny! I think the novelty of it was really all the reason that I needed to convince me that it was a must-see on our Europe trip, plus the Pope lives there which I guess is also pretty cool. We went inside St Peter’s Basilica which had this massive window on the back wall where all this sunlight was streaming through – it was very beautiful indeed. However I’m coming to realise that I really need to brush up on my history before I visit these famous historical sites. That night when I was video calling my Dad, he asked if I saw Peter’s grave. I was really confused about what he was talking about until he explained to me that the basilica is named St Peter’s Basilica because St Peter is said to be buried there. I can’t believe that I completely overlooked its actual significance when I was there.
I felt similarly when we went to visit Palentino Hill and the Roman Forum the day after – I didn’t completely understand what I was looking at half the time and since it was completely outdoors, all I could think about was how I was melting under the deadly heat of the blazing sun. However, visiting the Colosseum that afternoon was great! I actually remember researching about it for a Grade 6 assignment so to be able to see it first hand was surreal. Also, to think that it was a place where gladiators fought to the death seems crazy, but also sooo freaking cool!
On our third and final day in Rome we went to visit the Vatican Museum. The line was crazy and we ended up waiting in line for a good hour and a half before getting in. It was really funny because we were lining up behind this small group of Chinese people and this tour guide kept on coming up to us and the people in front of us, trying to convince us to pay more to skip the lane – obviously mistaking us for rich Asians instead of a bunch of poor uni students. The Vatican Museum was great and was a lot bigger than I had thought – there was a mummy exhibition, sculpture rooms, a room of maps and a room of tapestries, the list goes on. Of course, everybody was just dying to see Michelangelo’s painting The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel, which was conveniently located at the end of the museum, which you reached only after going through all the other rooms. I have to be honest, the painting is a lot smaller than what you’d think in real life, but still breathtakingly intricate and beautiful.
I half wished that we could’ve stayed longer in Rome because there is just so much to see, but on the other hand I’m so glad that we are setting out further north so that we can escape the intense heat. I have actually eaten way too much gelato for my own good during the last few days, but then again what better place to eat it than in Rome.
8 August 2017
I am again writing this one the train – this time from Milan to Rome and this time as I stand wedged between two massive suitcases in the corridor between two carriages of the train. We left Paris last night in an overnight train to Milan. When we got on the train, there were already people sitting in our cabin! Somehow that carriage had been double booked and people were squished along the narrow corridor with all their luggage, confused as to where to go. When we finally got moved, we ended up sharing our cabin with a lovely Italian lady who ended up giving us all this advice of where we should visit in Rome.
Unluckily for us, the train this morning arrived in Milan half an hour late, so we missed our connecting train to Rome, went to the Information Desk to get put on the next train, but all the seats are now full and we have nowhere to sit. Saying that, I don’t really mind too much – it’s still a lot better than that time in China when Christabelle and I were stuck between a rubbish bin and the toilet on a slow train for eight hours, while the guy opposite us would not stop smoking. Gotta count your blessings right?
Anyway, so what did we get up to in Paris? Firstly, I have to say that I really wished we stayed in Paris longer. I don’t know whether it was the city, or all the patisseries we ate, or the fact that we had our own place in an Airbnb, but I really didn’t want to leave. My favourite place was definitely the Notre Dame Cathedral – it was my favourite the last time I came and it is still my favourite this time. At first I was scared that it would turn out different from what I remembered it to be (I definitely have a way of overhyping things in my head) but the colourful and detailed stain glass windows were still there shining in all their glory within the dimly lit cathedral.
I think visiting a city that you’ve already been to is also exciting because you get to go to the places that you didn’t have time to visit last time you were there. Crazy enough, last time, even though I saw the Eiffel Tower I didn’t actually go up the Eiffel Tower. So this time I was determined to say that I’d actually gone up the tower. Since the line for the elevators were horrendously long, we decided we’d climb the 600 or so stairs up to the second level. Well, that was fun. But in all honesty it wasn’t that bad and I preferred it a lot more than lining up in the queue.
We also went to Shakespeare & Co. which was an old English bookstore which had been set up in the early 1900s and visited and used by many famous English writers. Not only did it sell books but there was also a section upstairs where you could read a collection of books which have been a part of its library for decades.
We almost ran out of time to do this but on our last full day in Paris we went to see the Catacombes. It was crazy cool but also really morbid if you think about it. To give you a bit of a history brief, in the late 18th century, the cemeteries in the city of Paris were overflowing which led to a lot of hygiene issues. In order to solve this, King Louis the something turned these underground quarries into ossuaries so basically all the bodies in the cemeteries were emptied and relocated there. I mean imagine having your dead body dumped underground with six million other people. The other thing is that due to the changing nature and shape of the organic matter which is the bones, every year a group of professionals come and reorganise and restack the bones so that the piles will not collapse.
Talking about food, there were so many pastries!!! Despite all that walking around, I probably gained weight because of all the pastries I ate. Of course there were chocolate croissants and almond croissants but also eclairs, brioches, flans, raspberry tarts and macarons – literally everything and anything you could want!
We also did some cooking in our Airbnb – really simple stuff that didn’t need a lot of effort. On the second night we cooked the classic tomato and egg Chinese dish and had that with ramen and another night we made pesto ravioli which was literally pre-packaged from the supermarket. I mean it’s not up there stuff but at least I’m starting to think I won’t die of starvation when I get to Geneva. But those nights staying in and eating the food we cooked ourselves were the best. We’d literally just sit on the balcony and eat and chat for hours. It makes you remember that even though travelling itself is fun and exciting but it’s also a blessing to be able to do it with really great company.