Saturday, October 15, 2011

Euro-Tour- 86 Exchange Students, 19 Days, 9 Countries (Days 6 to 7)

Day 6

The 6th Day of Euro-tour began in Paris, with a visit to Versailles. I was excited to be visiting the home of Marie-Antoinette. The palace is beautiful, but I was surprised that the rooms were not the same as I had seen on TV, or maybe I didn’t see all the rooms, Versailles is massive, easily twice the size of the Hermitage (or at least I remember it feeling bigger) the ceilings are higher, and the building is huge from the outside too. There is even more gold then in Russia too! 

We had audio guides that told us a bit about the history of the place, but it was hard to concentrate on anything because there was so many people everywhere. I have never seen so many people in one place at one time in my life. It was packed. There also seemed to be many cute French children who shouted all their English knowledge at passing tourists. They were probably the highlight of the visit because the crowds made it almost impossible to take in any of the beauty of the palace.

The gardens were fantastic and I wish I had spent my time outside instead of inside. It was easily the best backyard in the world, and it looked like it went on forever. I was just perfect.

After lunch (which unfortunately resembled Finnish school food in taste and appearance) we had a bus tour of the city.  I think I like Paris and I can see why everyone goes on about it so much.  Its like the real thing, and I can see where imitation French style comes from now. It is pretty everywhere and I little bit dusty so it has an interesting atmosphere. I didn’t take many photos of the tour because it was raining the whole time and I couldn’t see much, so my memories of how Paris looks, comes from the next day when we were left to explore the city on our own.

We ended the tour but climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower, (in the lift). A word of warning for future travellers do not bring flags with you to Paris, because when you try to go up the Eiffel Tower they will be taken from you forcefully and put in the bin. The bin bag will then be changed while you are at the top, and the explanation given will be-this is the Law of the Eiffel Tower.

Before we had to be back at the hotel we had some free time, I visited a Tribal Art Museum with 3 of my friends. I don’t think I would recommend going in as the collection wasn’t very interesting but the outside of the building was really nice. It was covered in different kinds of plants and where it wasn’t there was glass. I think I would like to live in a house like that maybe.

We then were taken to a kebab shop by one of the exchange students who were from Paris. The food was great, and in France they put French fries in their kebabs, which tastes lovely.

Day  7

Day 7 was our first completely free day, we were told to be back in the hotel for breakfast the next morning at 8am.  The lesson I learnt from this day was to plan ahead. 1 day might seem like a short time but it is not, you can do a lot, but you need a plan. We did not have one, and I wish we would have. It was still a pleasant day.

·      We explored the city,
·       ate amazing chocolate cake,
·      looked at shops,
·      got lost
·      and lost again, (one good thing about Paris is that even if you can’t get lost after a while walking in one direction you know exactly where you are-this is suprising because the city seems like a bit of a maze.)
·      Got on the wrong train and ending up in what we affectionately called the armpit of Paris.
·      ate many crepes
·      met a lovely lost dog, who we thought was lost but was actually part of a street show where a cat was attached to the same lead as the dog and they sat together with the intention of looking cute. It was a bit sick really.
·      tricked a caricature artist into thinking it was my birthday-I now have a drawing from him saying ‘Happy Birthday in Paris’ which I got for a discount price. A passing Eiffel Tower Key-ring seller passed and overheard and I got a free key-ring as well for my ‘Birthday’
·      We ate candy floss under the Eiffel Tower
·      Met and exchange small talk with other travellers
·      And headed back to the hotel on the last train tired with sore feet from walking all day.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Quick Update - More later

 So I haven't written anything in ages so hear are are few highlights of the past 2 months (or more) and I will write more about them later. I have been super busy and I am tired almost all of my free time when I should be updating my blog, but I will try soon I promise, I still haven't finish writing about Euro-tour and that even before I start writing about all the fantastic things that have happened since.

The summer was fantastic, I spent a lot of time swimming in the lake and river and my host family took me on a trip to southern Finland. We first visited Tampere and I spend time with a German exchange student who had spent her exchange year there and was about to go home. From there we spent a few days around the Helsinki area, I did a lot of shopping with Essi my host sister and we stayed with my host father's brothers and sisters. We spent one day on Savonlinna an old fortress on a island which was a key part of defeating the Russians. The island is about 30 km from Helsinki and we took the ferry. It was absolutely beautiful and we had a picnic lunch and I went swimming in the Gulf of Finland.

On of my best friend from Australia, Evelyn had been planning to come to visit Finland with her Dad as they had been on a cruise around Scandinavia, so when we were in the car on the way back from Helsinki I got a text message from her saying that they were sitting outside the local supermarket. It was really nice to see them, they were in Lieksa for the weekend. I took them on a tour of the town on their first night. The same day Lieksa Brass Week, Lieksa's main town event had started, so the next day, Saturday, we went to see different things that were happening around the town. Evelyn and I went to visit one of my good Finnish friend's house as she was going on Rotary Summer exchange the next day, and we spent Sunday with my host parents at their Summer cottage. It was really nice to have her meet everyone so next year when I talk about everyone she knows exactly who I am talking about.

Last week my band got the chance to play for the President of Finland. It was so exciting to see her, all the Lieksa kids and I had wide open mouths when we saw her. She is really funny too. We played a concert for her during the day in a nearby city, she only stayed for the first half and then we provided background music for a dinner she attended that night. She cracked a joke too! The dinner was for a forestry convention and it was an informal dinner. The key note speaker a man from India gave a small toast there. He said as soon as we heard it was a informal dinner President Halonen tried to cut off my tie, and after he said this the president shouted out "But I didn't".

I have also started circus school which I love, there has only been one class so far but it is so much fun. It is a small group of girls and we are starting to learn basic acrobatics.

Last weekend I was at a Rotary District Camp in Central Finland. It was really nice to meet all the exchange students who have just arrived and spend time with 4 of the Australians who I arrived with. The rebounds were also there so my host sister from my next family Johanna who was in Kempsey NSW last year was also at the camp. It was such a fun weekend!


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Back to School

The Summer is now over, and this morning I had to wake up and get ready for the school day. Not only was it hard to wake up earlier then I had all summer, but I had made myself the promise that from now on I will only speak Finnish in School, so I was also worried about how that would go.

Now although I already broke the no English Rule, (I spoke in English with the School Councilor when I chose my subjects, and with a friend over Lunch) I spoke more Finnish then I ever have at Lieksan Lukio. I am determined to achieve my goal of speaking Finnish well. This means speaking it at school and tomorrow when classes begin, there will be no slip ups. If I achieve this I will buy myself a bar of chocolate as a reward.

But the first day back was quite ok. I was only in school between 9 and 11:30ish. We had a short assembly and then a information lesson with our home class. I got a free school diary with coupons for discounts at H&M and some food stores. This was the first highlight of my day. After this lesson was finished I went to choose my new timetable. I am now taking 2 classes of English (the same course with two different classes) - probably a bad idea in hindsight but its a break - Finnish, Psychology, Heath Sciences, Music and only one class of Sport.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Euro-Tour- 86 Exchange Students, 19 Days, 9 Countries (Days 1 to 5)

Day One;

I had an early start to the Euro-tour, waking up at 4 am so I could arrive in Joensuu on time of my 6:40am train to get to Turku which is in the South West corner of Finland.

It was a long train trip, but I met up with more and more of the exchangers as I got closer to Turku, so the time past without boredom.

We arrived in Turku at 2pm and took a taxi to the port where met up with all the 86 exchange students who we would be spending the next 19 days with.

We would first be taking an overnight ferry to Stockholm; it didn’t leave until 7pm so I spend the afternoon catching up with my friends on the grass at the bottom of Turku’s castle.

It felt so strange that Euro-tour was actually starting. I remember on Karkku Euro-Tour seemed like forever away. Some of the Oldies who were not coming on the Trip had also come to the harbour to say their final goodbyes, before they headed home ending their exchange.  The start trip also meant that when we returned to Finland most of the Oldies had only a few days or weeks before it was time for them to return to their home countries.
Leaving Turku

The ship we were on was HUGE and really fancy. The food was also really good, which is always nice.

After dinner we headed off to the Karaoke Disco for the night. Almost all the exchange students were there. Two groups of Australians sang some karaoke numbers as well as several Finns, while however many exchange students sang loudly alone and danced up a storm.

At one point a bald heavy metal type man came to the stage. His song choice began slowly and he began with his back to the audience. One exchange student who is a fan of this kind of music went into some kind of trance when the song started. As the song continued it picked up and our French Canadian friend began head banging, while we just looked on in amazement.

It was such a good way to begin the tour.

Day 2.

 We woke up, ate another delicious boat meal. (Overall this was probably the best food we got on Euro-tour) And headed out from our cabins, and onto the buses our home for the next 19 days. There were 2 buses and I was on bus 1. Affectionately known as the non-Latin bus.

We drove through Sweden making a quick stop, at Franssons Polkagristillverkning- a boiled sweets factory.

Our next stop on Swedish shores was at the harbour, so we could take the ferry to Denmark. We spend the trip on the top deck stretching our arms our so it looked like we were touching both Sweden and Denmark at the same time.

Copenhagen was hands down my favourite city of the whole tour. As soon as it came into sight it was amazing. The buildings are beautiful. The port that we came into was right in the middle of a group of really nice old buildings and wasn’t one of those large industrial ports.

The Statue of Hans Christian Anderson

That evening after a quick exploratory trip around the city with one of my friends, we headed to Tivoli the original amusement park for the evening. Going into the Tivoli was like walking into the past, it looks just like the movies set in the late 19th Century. Even the modern rides had been made to look vintage.

A Clown in the Silent Pantamime in Tivoli

Day 3.

The hotel was so hot. I had forgotten what it is like to be in actual warm weather and I could not cope. But the rooms looked really cool because the metal of the bunk beds had been painted an ocean blue, so I liked this hotel.

We had a bus tour of the city. The highlight of this trip was seeing the Little Mermaid, the statue in Copenhagen of the character from the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale. I also like seeing the rest of the city. Copenhagen is perhaps (Equal with Dresden) the most beautiful European City I have visited. And what I liked about it most was that there was art everywhere you looked. Every corner of Copenhagen there is something beautiful to find. I remember being told at my art school interview that Copenhagen is the art hotspot at the moment. And I believe it. It is now high on my places to live list.

Danish Guards
The Little Mermaid

We had a few hours of free time and a group of us decided to visit Christiania a free state in the middle of Copenhagen. This was a really interesting place to visit. The residents of Christiania make all their own houses so they are all unique and quirky. Like in the rest of Copenhagen there is art everywhere. In Christiania it is the murals and the houses. Photography is forbidden in Christiania, which kind of adds to the whole experience because the only thing you can take are your memories of the place. I really want to visit again and spend a day sketching, because really there is nowhere else in the world quite like Christiania.

That night we boarded our 3rd ferry and headed off to Germany. It was comforting to be in a foreign language and be able to understand everything and communicate in it. It felt nice to be in Germany as well

We were staying the night in Bremen home to the Bremen musician. The Statue where there is a chicken, on a cat, on a dog, on a donkey. It was on the front cover of my year 8 German book so it was weird to see it in front of me in person. When we drove into the Hotel Car park our eyes were treated to the sight of thousands of German people rollerblading. It was a never-ending chain of people in fluorescent clothing wearing 4-wheeled shoes.

Day 4.

After departing Bremen at 8am we headed to the Netherlands. We stopped off at this type of dam. The road ran over it and on one side there was the ocean and on the other there was a lake.  

The Ocean
Our first tourism destination for the day was a clog and cheese factory. There were every type of wooden shoe you could imagine, high healed clogs and clogs painted like popular sports shoes. We frequented the gift shop where I was re-acquainted with Strumf-waffles which are probably one of the tastiest items of food available world wide, for many of my fellow exchange students it was their first meeting with the tasty devils, made out of 2 crispy waffle biscuits stuck together with luscious caramel.

But this location was filled with delightful flavours as the cheese factory next door contained the best cheese I have ever eaten in my life. And too take advantage of that I ate the greatest amount of cheese at once in my life. It was just so good.
The Cheese Shop and one of the Sampling Stations

And there was Green Cheese, that also tasted AMAZING!

We had lunch in a small Dutch village just outside of Amsterdam where we went souvenir shopping. I am now the proud owner of an Amsterdam tracksuit. What Style!

After that we (and our happy tummies) headed off for an afternoon in Amsterdam. This was the only city on our schedule that I had visited before and I was excited to go back after 3 years.

We visited the Anne Frank Museum, which is in the house that her family hid from the Nazi’s in. Otto Frank, Anne’s father had decided to keep the rooms empty rather then furnish them as they were during their time in the house. It was a really interesting museum, but I think I would have got more out of it if I had read her diary before visiting.

We had a boat tour of Amsterdam’s canals. Amsterdam is still beautiful but it has lost some of the excitement it held when I saw it as a 15 year old. I am still definitely going back there.

Our hotel was outside of Amsterdam and looked like a large stately home. But more importantly it was home to an EMU! I am a few of the other Australian girls were so excited to see it. One of the bad things about being away from home is that you get so excited when you see something from your home country. Over the tour we would talk to everyone we walked past with an Australian accent and take photos of everything that had something to do with Australia. You would think it would be the other way round, but no.

Day 5.

After almost missing the hotel breakfast because I woke up too late, I made it to the bus in time and we drove for Paris via Brussels, Belgium.

I really liked Brussels. It is a beautiful city that reminds me of something carefully scap-booked. The buildings are carefully decorated with tiny details, and all are really light making the city really beautiful.

In Brussels we had free time, during which I found some people with a basket of puppies and a hamburger phone which I am now the owner of. We drove past many important buildings and had lunch.

After that we drove onto Paris. During the trip we would always drive into the cities, entering them slowly and loosing the wow factor of being dropped into somewhere amazing. I had never been one of those people who desperately wanted to go to Paris, but by the time it was coming I was excited to see the famed city. I decided to blindfold myself and take it off once we were in the middle of the city. Which would not be until the next day.

We had French Macdonald’s before going to sleep. 

Having now eaten Maccas in 4 countries (not including Singapore when I was 11) I can now give you an educated ranking on how good they all are in comparison to each other. I would have to say Finnish is the best (Because the Maccas in Joensuu is really good, it is bad however in Helsinki so without the quality of the Joensuu Maccas the second place would be in first position), followed (surprisingly by) Russian, then by French and finally Australian Macdonald-which is definitely the worst.