Last of London and on to Greece

About a week and a half ago now, I left Leeds. It’s all a blur of suitcases, goodbyes and tears. I was really thankful that I had my sister there to help me out with final packing and giving me a hug.

We then headed to London! My grandmother had never been to London and my sister hadn’t been since she was five, so it was really nice for me to see their excitement whenever we caught a glimse of the major sites like Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge and Big Ben.

We couldn’t walk too far with my grandma so we got on the “big bus” tour which was great. I learnt lots of new fun facts about London’s history.

As part of our bus ticket, we also got a river cruise out to Greenwich. For those who aren’t quite as nerdy as me, this is the location from where time is calculated giving us Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Greenwich was actually really nice and has some lovely historical buildings on the banks of the river.

I got one final chance to see Kim in London! We had lunch at Tower Bridge and it was really lovely. I’m going to miss Kim! She’s been such a huge part of my UK life. Any time either of us were doing it tough, we were just a skype call away! She’s such a great friend and I’ve been so lucky to have her!!

One last typical telephone box photo and our days in London were over.

On our final night in London, I booked tickets to see Mamma Mia! It was perfect because it’s set in Greece (my Grandma is Greek) and it’s ABBA!! The show was fantastic and I’m so glad we went.

So, after a whirlwind few days in London, it was time to leave the UK for the final time so we boarded our flight bound for Crete in Greece!! Crete is the biggest island in Greece and we stayed in Iraklio because one of my cousins study’s at the university here. It was so lovely to see some of my cousins and my great aunt from Samos again. Iraklio reminds me a lot of a mini-Athens. We did lots of shopping and took some really cool photos at the port.

On Thursday we went to Santorini which is so gorgeous!! Santorini is the island with all the white and blue buildings so it’s really beautiful. We had a great day and visited Oia, Thira and Camari. I had such an amazing day and wish I could have stayed longer.

On Friday, back in Crete, we took a bus to the town of Rethymno where another cousin is studying. Rethymno is smaller than Iraklio and has nicer beaches for swimming. Two of my cousins, Katerina and Maria, prepared a beautiful meal for us and we had a great time.

Before I knew it, my Greece adventure was over as I boarded my (very delayed) flight to Croatia. I had the best time and I’d have to say the most important part was getting to hang out with my sister for the first time since January!!

I’m now in Croatia so I’ll post a new blog about Zagreb as soon as I have some spare time.

Last blog from Leeds!!

150 days, 100 hours of class, countless trips, memories and friends… and it’s all over! I honestly can’t believe that it’s five months ago I was boarding my plane in Brisbane, bound for a 28 hour marathon trip to England. I was the first of the new exchange students to arrive in my hallway in Leeds and I’ll be the last to leave tomorrow morning after Mal and Christina head to the Airport – wahhhhhhh!!

The last few weeks in Leeds have been really great. We had Summer Ball – basically a festival with tents and live acts as usual but everyone gets really dressed up. Apart from the stage tents, they also had carnival rides and different food stalls.

Then we did the Otley Run the day after! For the uninitiated, see the following educational literature: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otley_Run. We started around 4pm and finished at midnight and our theme was “Childhood Aspirations”. I was a spy and I was joined by a fairy princess, hippie, air hostess, nurse, doctor, builder and even Avril Lavigne put in an appearance.

This week, we did a day trip to Blackpool where we went to an awesome theme park, Pleasure Beach. My neck is still hurting from some of the crazy rollercoasters but it was so much fun. We caught up with Jack who is a local of Blackpool so it was good to see him one last time before heading off.

We also went to Manchester where we took a walk around town, got way too excited about the high-tech tourist maps in the information centre and visited the museum where we saw unwrapped mummies (awesome but icky!)

The main point of us going to Manchester was to pick up my sister and grandma who arrived in England to visit me! I haven’t seen my sister since January so I’m so excited to have her and my yiayia here in England!!

And today was my last day! We went for a walk around town, took a ridiculous amount of photos and had a bit of a cry.

I’ve met the most incredible people – classmates, the dance girls, my cheerleader friends, the United Nations guys, conference and competition buddies (particularly the Milan and Athens girls), Kim (my London BFF), the Whetton crew (aka Georgia’s flatmates from Whetton) and my floor 3 flatmates Hannah, Candy, Aika, Woroud, Bhadra, Liz, Liss, Luciana, Christina and Malorie! These people have been my family for five months and saying goodbye to them is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a single thing and I couldn’t have imagined my exchange experience without every single one of these amazing friends!

I honestly think every single person should go on exchange! It’s the best decision I ever made. I was a bit nervous before coming and I wasn’t sure what to expect but it’s been everything I thought it would be and sooooo much more!

But don’t think you’re getting rid of me that easily!! I’m off to do a little bit of traveling before starting a short study abroad in Croatia at the end of July! So, internet permitting, I’ll keep you posted on all my happenings for the next month until I get back to Australia.

So, for the last time, that’s all from Leeds! *cries and hugs the girls*

Pizza Pasta Gelato, I went to Milano!

Going back about a month, I was fortunate to meet four really awesome friends from Milan when they were competing in the same case competition in Maastricht. We had so much fun and bascally meshed into one QUT-Bocconi team. So how could I leave Europe without paying them a visit?

So last week, I went to Italy! I’ll tell you one thing, between Ryanair, Jet2 and Easyjet I have become very good friends with Europe’s budget airlines. And Milan was SO worth it!!

Milan is amazing! It’s renowned as a fashion hot spot but there is also amazing culture, historical monuments and FOOD!! If I had that diet for a few weeks longer, I’d be returning to Australia as a competitor on the Biggest Loser. Between pizza, pasta, Italian hot chocolate, gelato, gelato and more gelato I LOVED all the food!

All the girls were such great hosts and showed me around the beautiful place where they study. During the week, we walked around the whole city, visited the Duomo (the second largest cathedral in Italy behind the one in the Vatican), the museum of 21st century art where I saw some incredible works and the castle with really pretty gardens.

I also went to the girls university, Boconni. We went to a guest lecture by Olivier Blanchard – Chief Economist at the International Monetary Fund and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Call me a nerd but it was AMAZING!!

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great but we were lucky to get a really great weather day on Thursday! So we headed to Lake Como which was really beautiful. FYI, George Clooney has a holiday house there. I didn’t bump into him but still pretty cool. We went sightseeing, paddle boating and ate more incredible food!

I had such an incredible week staying with all the girls and can’t thank them enough for their incredible hospitality! They are the most amazing people and I’m so glad I got to visit them!!

That was my last trip before coming back to move out of Leeds. I’m moving out on Saturday and hopefully I’ll be able to do another blog between packing and saying goodbye to everyone.

Ciao!

PTD (post travel depression)

I officially finished my exchange to Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada, nearly 8 weeks ago, and have been home for 2 weeks..

After exams finished in Halifax there were a few days of celebration before the goodbyes kicked off. For the first few departures it was more of a ‘see you soon’, as we had travel plans over the next month which coincided in various cities in Canada and the USA, but for others it was a ‘goodbye’ with an indefinite period of time stretching between that moment and the next meeting. Tears were common and sadness hung in the air as the numbers dwindled to just 5 in Fenwick Tower.

On April 27, myself and the three kiwi girls flew out to Toronto for a week’s exploration. After a week’s rain in Halifax we were hoping for a break in the weather, but got no such luck! Undeterred, we went out to Niagra Falls with a friend we met in Halifax who lived in Guelph, just outside Toronto. The falls were great to see, but not as big as I had expected. We stayed with Alannah at her parent’s house in Guelph for the weekend and enjoyed a few walks through the Ontario countryside, which was really enjoyable.
The rest of our trip to Toronto was spent shopping and trying to avoid the rain. I went to the Supreme Court one morning and watched a witness being questioned in a murder trial (what a law nerd!), which I really enjoyed!

After a week in Ontario, we headed back east to Montreal, where after a day of rain we were blessed with 6 days of beautiful sunshine (FINALLY!).

Montreal is STUNNING, such an old city with incredible architecture and history (and a raging nightlife to boot!). After 4 months of Halifax pubs and live music we were stoked to experience a real night club again! We hired bikes and rode through the whole city with another kiwi boy we met at the hostel and his German friend. We also enjoyed a Sunday afternoon in the sun on Mont Royal in the park at the base, where we listened to the Tam Tam (drum) players, watched and participated in a medieval mock battle and saw people doing numerous circus tricks. Such an awesome afternoon!

After one of the best weeks of the year (possibly due to the awesome weather!), Niki (a kiwi girl I lived with in Halifax) and I caught the train to New York City! It was an 11 hour journey, involving an hour or two of sitting in the same spot while a US Customs Officer boarded the train and questioned all the passengers one by one.. not the funnest day, but the scenery was beautiful and we were rewarded in the end with the most amazing gift that is NEW YORK CITY.

New York is honestly indescribable. It is everything you expect, everything you have seen on the countless TV shows and movies and more. There is ALWAYS something to do and always someone to do it with!

Niki and I had booked into a hostel on the upper west side, but returned home on night 3 to find that the state of New York had closed the hostel down and that we had to vacate by 10am the next morning. After a lot of stress (nearly everything was sold out in anywhere remotely near our price range) we found a night at the HI hostel just a few blocks away. Each night we had to check out of the HI and hope something came up, but as the days progressed we were able to book in for the rest of our stay. If anyone is ever in NYC I highly recommend staying at the HI. Even though it is quite far uptown, it is so close to the subway and the facilities and staff are amazing, not to mention the awesome people staying there!

New York was another rainy adventure, but being New York, there was still a million and one things to do (although I do regret not spending more time in Central Park (although given the weather it just wasn’t pleasant!)).

After New York I flew back to Vancouver and met up with Sam (an Aussie guy I lived with in Halifax) and we were picked up by my family friend Megan, who had kindly offered to let us crash her and her friend’s annual May Long Weekend camping trip.
We drove out to Morris Lake (about 2 hours from Vancouver) and set up camp on possibly the most picturesque piece of land I have ever seen. It was green as green could be, on a huuuuuge placid lake and framed by snow capped Rocky Mountains.
Sam and I had so much fun with Megan and her friends that we ended up staying at Megan’s house in Abbotsford for another 5 days instead of returning to Vancouver!
We caught the greyhound back to Vancouver on Thursday of my last week, and met up with Jayne and Niki (2 kiwi’s we lived with in Halifax). We had a day of exploring in Van, but were again treated to some rain (it was following me around North America I’m sure of it!) so it wasn’t the best day.

Finally the time came to go to Vancouver International Airport, where my adventure began 5 months earlier. Tears were shed and promises made to be back before the year was out. I then went through security and the dream was over.

After my 38 hour trek home (loooooong stopovers are not recommended!), I was thrilled to see my family and friends. The first week was exciting and it was so nice to be home, but after the thrill wore off and reality set in, my parents went to work and my friends put their noses to the grindstone in SWOTVAC, the boredom and depression set in!
Not actual depression, but a definite longing to be back in the land of the maple leaf with the people who made the first half of 2011 the best 5 months of my life..

It was in this state that I wandered back into my travel agent’s chair and put down a deposit for tickets back to Canada in December!! I just couldn’t wait any longer to return!
Long story short, exchange was the BEST experience of my life, and anyone even considering one should 150% definitely GO!

Je ne parle pas français

Last Friday morning (after successfully completing the last of my Leeds assessment) I boarded a plane bound for Paris!! I was really fortunate that my amazing friend Louisa lives in Paris and offered to have me. She was the best host, tour guide and translator ever!

On my first day in Paris we did a walking tour around the Notre Dame. We learned about the original and refurbished parts of the church.

In the evening we went to Montemartre for dinner at the restaurant that was used in the film “Inglorious Basterds” – a truly local establishment. Then we went up to the Sacre Coure and saw an amazing view of Paris at night!

Saturday started with another walking tour. This time the Opera house, Place Vendôme where we saw the Ritz (where Princess Di was staying before her death) and Jardins (Gardens) de Touleries.

From there, we went for a little adventure to the Louvre and then walked all the way up the Champs Elysee to the Arch de Triumph. It was very much a “pinch yourself” moment when you’re sitting in a café, sipping on your drink and looking at the Arch de Triumph!!

After some epic site seeing, we went to the movies to watch “Midnight in Paris” with Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams. It was awesome – mostly because the places I was seeing in the movie were places I had walked passed that day! The movie itself was also really funny and I would definitely recommend it.

On Sunday, it was Versailles day! The Palace of Versailles is one of the most grand and impressive estates in the world. There is so much gold and the size of the Palace is overwhelming.

Once you get outside, the gardens are incredible! We walked down to Marie Antoinette’s Estate which was also beautiful. We saw the “Queen’s Hamlet” which is basically a tiny villiage in a very British style that Marie Antoinette had built for herself, like her own little Disneyland.

After our epic day at Versailles, Louisa’s uni friends came over for dinner. They were so lovely and they spoke English so that I could understand but, at that point, I really wished I understood French. We had a really nice night and it was great to meet so many great French people!

Monday marked the commencement of the Paris International Model United Nations (PIMUN). It was hosted at Sciences Po University, a private and very highly regarded university in Paris. The campus itself is located at Saint Germain De Pres – a really expensive area in the Latin Quarter. At PIMUN, my position was chairperson of the Security Council. Our topics were “the situation in Sudan” and “security protocols on the North and South Poles”. The Security Council at PIMUN had a great mix of delegates and I had such a great time chairing them. I also met some really awesome girls from Greece and chairs from the other PIMUN committees.

In the end no resolutions were passed but this is pretty common in the Security Council because of the veto powers. However, our draft resolutions were really good. For example, our Sudan resolution recommended a 50km demilitarised zone on the border between Sudan and South Sudan. The next day, the Government of Sudan announced a 50km demilitarised zone – translation: the Security Council at PIMUN were geniuses! When discussing the North Pole security, there were some pretty priceless moments: recommendations that the French use their world class sewer system to trade with China, considerations for the rights of Santa Clause and one quote from the delegate for India that any MUN people reading will appreciate: “If this resolution is going to fail, I want it to fail BIG!”

Over the three days there were some 14 hours of negotiations culminating in two vetoed (but still great) resolutions. At the end of the conference on Wednesday, I selected my three awards – outstanding, distinguished and honourable – which was really tough to decide. After these were announced it was all over! We had a buffet in the Science Po courtyard before heading to the river for a cruise down La Seinne. I got to see all the main sites along the riverbank but the most incredible was the Eiffel Tower! And on the hour, we got to see the flashing lights, it was just gorgeous.

Having not yet seen the Eiffel Tower up close, I ventured to the tower on Thursday morning. It was packed with people but I go some great photos from the base. It really is the icon of Paris, even if the locals feel it looks like a phone reception tower.

Then we went into the Louvre where we saw the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and centuries of other art and artefacts.

Paris was such an incredible week and I had the best time! Thank you to all the people who made it so much fun. Au revoir!