Exchange Report – Ebony Hinds (Paris 2011)

 

 

 

 

Homecoming

Posted: July 12, 2011 in NZ Post Disney & France

I arrived home in Dunedin last night around 5.50pm – a lot later than scheduled, thanks to yet another late flight in a string of late flights. Supposedly leaving LA on the 9th of July at 11.40pm I said goodbye to Jon and to warm weather, then I was told my flight would be a half hour later than scheduled. So I waited around, hopped on a plane and finally the day from hell began.
Completely skipping the 10th of July, I flew into the future (how often does one get to say that?) and landed in Auckland at around 8am on the 11th of July after a short argument with the man in front of me who insisted on shoving his seat back into my knees, two movies, one really strange british TV show and a small amount of sleep. From there I took another plane to Christchurch at midday, waited around a bit more, then a bit more, then got delayed again.. and again.. and again.. until finally I hopped the third plane of the day and arrived home in Dunedin.

Suffice to say I’ve had enough of planes for quite some time.

But, the main point of the above is to say.. well.. after 1 year, 5 months and 22 days, I’m back in Dunedin.

Home.

And I won’t hesitate to say that it’s kinda weird being back, but also pretty good.

Fantastic Four(th of July)

Posted: July 6, 2011 in New York

So.. those Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks.. A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.

They lasted an entire 25 minutes, shooting off roughly 1,600 shells per minute – which is  honestly pretty insane in terms of fireworks, even considering Disney’s already pretty high standards.

Anyway, today is my last day in New York and I’m spending it packing (again). I sent off 7kg of stuff yesterday in order to get into the weight limit for Southwest and my Qantas/Air New Zealand flights after that. Really hope I don’t get stung at the airport later on.

So I’ve had the greatest time in the past week.. I’ll go into detail on a couple more things when I get back home to New Zealand, but for now here’s a list of what I’ve managed to see whilst here:

– Statue of Liberty
– Ellis Island
– Rockefeller Centre
– Fourth of July Fireworks
– Magnolia Bakery (best cupcakes in the world!)
– Five Guys (awesome burgers!)
– Battery Park
– Central Park
– Belvedere Castle
– Central Park Zoo
– The clock from Madagascar
– Little Mismatched
– Museum of Natural History
– Mamma Mia on Broadway
– Cirque du Soleil’s Zarkana
– Times Square
– Deluxe Cafe (about 3 times..)

Did I get everything, Sam?

So, this is going to be three days condensed into one – the 30th of June, and the 1st and 2nd of July – so it could get a little messy at points. I’m going to try my best to keep it simple, though.. promise!!

30th of June
My second full day in New York and Sam has to work. Hmm. Ok, I’ll figure things out and wander a little – that should keep me occupied until she’s free again, right? Yeah, for the most part. Sam’s workplace is near Rockefeller centre, so although I stayed around that area I think I managed to get a good feel for the area and New York in general. Although just as busy as i’d been forewarned, the reputation of angry and pushy New Yorkers seemed for the most part to be false. Most people seemed to be rushed in the morning (and in desperate need of coffee) whilst around lunchtime they all appeared en masse from their office buildings to smoke, eat and breathe non air conditioned air for a while.
Upon returning to Sam’s work after my lunch of Five Guys I was treated to a private show of the fire safety demonstration that she does – an abbreviated version, but still, it was pretty interesting. I can see how it would be useful for small children, in any case. We returned to the apartment for a while then headed across the road and grabbed a slice of pizza for dinner. Fairly relaxed day, just getting used to the timezone once more.

1st of July
Now we’re getting intense. Today was a long, long day but filled with fun. It began pretty early when we headed out the door for breakfast and Broadway tickets. We succeeded in getting both, although Sam’s first foray with the former (breakfast) was thrown in the bin. Eventually we got everything right and ended up with $33 tickets to Mamma Mia, which we were both amazingly excited about.
From there we headed to the bus stop and whiled away the time we had on our hands looking around Dwayne Reade as we used to do while we worked at Disney (except of course it was Target then). Soon enough it was time to head across the street and meet the third member of our group – my flatmate from New Zealand, Dakota!! It was incredibly good seeing her again.

Anyway, our next stop now that everyone was assembled, was South Ferry Terminal and the super massive long to get on said ferry. It wound its way through Battery Park, moving pretty quickly thank goodness, but to look upon it at the beginning was pretty bad. About 45 minutes after installing ourselves in the queue we found ourselves heading through security, and then being herded onto the boat with hundreds of other people. Squashed onto the vessel we made our way first to the Statue of Liberty (where we didn’t disembark, but I took photos – will add them to the blog at a later date!) and then, finally, to Ellis Island, which I’ve wanted to see for quite some time.
It was just as interesting as I’d hoped it would be, and we managed to get all three floors in before we headed back to the mainland. I was really impressed by the exhibits and really loved the pictures of Ellis Island between its abandonment following the departure of the immigrants/invalids and the time the State decided to do it up and make it into a museum.
The ferry ride back was calm, giving us time to collect our thoughts and for me to take a few more photos of Manhattan, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Eventually we were back on dry land, and from there we headed to Chelsea Market – a mall that Dakota spoke highly of. We furnished ourselves with extremely rich hot chocolates and sat down, giving out great sighs of relief. We’d done a lot more walking than we realised!
The last stage of the day was our Broadway show, and it was simply amazing. Although my first venture into musicals did not go well (Cats), I really loved this one. Mamma Mia was simply superb; the actors/actresses were top notch, and I loved the music. Definitely recommend it to anyone in New York!!

2nd of July
Phew. Today was another long day, but this one was mostly spent indoors as opposed to on the deck of a boat. Our first stop, after a very strange encounter with a New Zealand woman who wouldn’t believe I was from New Zealand on the subway, was the Museum of Natural History. We checked out the planetarium first, I took a short nap watching stars and listening to Whoopi Goldberg, then we checked out our weight on the moon and various other places in space.
Over the next couple of hours or so we managed to see dinosaur bones, their Pacific Peoples exhibits, the ‘dum dum’ statue from Night at the Museum, and quite a few stuffed animals. Feeling sufficiently stuffed full of culture, we headed across the road and into Central Park. It was intensely hot outside, and we tried to stick to the shade, but I’m pretty sure my scalp consists of tens of layers of sunburn right now. Anyway, in the park we visited Belvedere Castle (really great place for photos), the Boathouse and the fountain where they shot scenes from Enchanted.
Realising  just how far we’d walked we took a breather at Sam’s place, then headed out once more to Chelsea Market, where there was a shop that sold meat pies – owned by an Australian, apparently – called ‘The Tuck Shop’. We both tried the Mince Pie (‘Traditional Beef’), but to be honest.. it was pretty bad. The pastry was off, and the mince was over spiced. Sam ended up getting a second dinner because she only had two bites, and I was disappointed in my first pie in a year and a half.
Which leaves us at the present point in time. I’m back in Sam’s apartment, sitting here and writing this up after we watched multiple episodes of The Voice and were treated to a pre-4th of July firework extravaganza lit by some idiot in the middle of the street below Sam’s apartment building, which exploded right outside our window. It was pretty interesting!

Anyway, I think I’m sufficiently up to date with New York now. Having a really good time, glad to be spending it with the bestie, but definitely looking forward to seeing the boyfriend in a couple of days time!

So, Day 1 of being in New York. I’ve got a bit to tell you all, beginning with my flight(s) yesterday – of course flying is never simple with me, something always has to go wrong whether it be a delay, cancellation or the weather. In the case of my flight from CDG to Heathrow yesterday it just so happened to be the latter of those three options – thunderstorms over London, to be precise – and so it was that we were informed that we would be arriving AFTER my second flight took off once we’d taken our seats in the plane. Lovely of them not to tell us until we were shut in.. they probably feared there’d be some sort of riot. I just wished I could wait out the delay in the Admiral’s Club Lounge where I’d spent the last three hours eating free food, reading magazines and newspapers, stealing the internet and drinking tea/coffee/fizzy drinks etc. But no, we were going to wait it out on the plane.
I consoled myself with the fact that I was in Club Europe and had it nowhere near as bad as the people in economy at the back of the plane. There wasn’t much legroom where I was, so I hated to think about their cramped conditions. I think business class has spoiled me for future flying, if you haven’t already noticed. It was then that the man next to me started to snore, and I really REALLY wished I was anywhere but beside him. It really started irking me, but I shoved my fingers in my ears and waited it out until we finally took off and the drone of the plane’s engines drowned him out.
We landed and were directed to the man waiting at the end of the air bridge. Everyone on flights to New York had been redirected to a later departing flight and it now happened I was flying into JFK as opposed to Newark, arriving an hour and a half later than I’d originally planned. So, I booked it to the Club World lounge, grabbed myself some more free food and drink and cancelled my shuttle, then rebooked another one, sent out emails to people telling them what had happened and then made my way to the departure gate.
A little under half an hour later I was seated in Business Class, kicking back and enjoying the most comfortable aircraft seat I’d ever sat in and sipping on a glass of champagne. What? They offered me mineral water, orange juice or champagne.. what did you think I was going to choose?!?! Anyway, from there things only got better. I was treated to a three course meal (onboard an airplane – say what?!) , a couple more drinks, a toiletries pack, really great service, a wide choice of movies and a seat that turned itself into a bed. My flight was.. the best I’ve ever had, and it seemed to be over in seconds. For once I really didn’t want to get off the plane!!
Anyway, I arrived into JFK, collected my luggage (Business Class luggage was offloaded first.. yes!), passed through Customs and finally caught my shuttle where I was crammed into a van with 10 other people.  But.. finally – FINALLY – we arrived at my destination and Sam was there waiting!!

We spent roughly the next two or so hours just catching up and talking about random stuff. Honestly, it’s really good to be sharing a room with her again – and I never thought I’d say that about anybody, given how I like having some time to myself every now and then!

This morning we woke up pretty early and headed out to breakfast where Sam got an omelette with broccoli (ever the healthy eater) and I got stuffed french toast with 2 different types of jam and cream cheese (ever NOT the healthy eater). I thought I’d died and gone to heaven it was that good – and I’d also completely forgotten about American portion sizes. The French toast seemed to be about the size of my head. Sam’s omelette was no less impressive, and it was accompanied by toast and ‘home fries’.
From there we headed down to the subway, where I immediately started comparing things to the Paris Metro in my head. It’s so much cleaner down there, and I only saw a mouse (where in Paris I’d seen numerous rats). Anyway, we headed over to Times Square and explored the shops around there, just getting a lay of the land for me. Everything here is huge, and I love it so far. Toys R Us in Times Square has a ferris wheel inside the building, and the M&Ms store had three storeys of merchandise. After a while we got a little sick of the crowds and the heat so we headed back, grabbed some pinkberry (frozen yoghurt shop) for lunch and then took a walk around Sam’s campus, which is honestly one of the nicest campuses I’ve been on.

Right now I’m back at Sam’s place, just chilling and catching up on the world whilst she’s indulging in a class about teaching English poetry (at least that’s what I think it’s about), but she’s coming home soon and we shall head out to get some Chinese food (first Chinese food in 6 months – I’m so excited!!) as well as indulging in more Ebam moments.

So far, so good – my stay in New York is as good as I’d hoped it would be!

First Leg of the Voyage Home

Posted: June 27, 2011 in Paris

Today I moved out of my apartment in Saint-Cloud – it felt so strange seeing it all empty again! As the lady who inspected it said, it was like I’d never even been there. I know it’s a little selfish, but I like to know I’ve left my mark on things or people.. apparently not this time!!

So, I crossed Paris in 40 degree celsius weather, wearing a massive backpack, a bag over my shoulder, carrying a plastic bag with food in it for tonight/tomorrow and pulling my roll on bag. It was.. an interesting experience. Especially considering the bus to the airport was super late and I had to stand out in the sun with all that on, then when I finally got on the bus it took us somewhere around 1.75hrs to get to the airport instead of the normal 1hr because of traffic. Gah.
I finally got to the airport and checked into my hotel, then went across to Terminal 2 and brought the bag I’d left there to my hotel in Terminal 3.. then it was time to head back into Paris and go to my University for some paperwork.. oh joy!!

When I got to Nanterre there was a massive line of people waiting for someone at the International Office. I managed to waylay some poor lady and plead with her to help me out as I was leaving the country tomorrow. When I finally got in to see someone it turned out anybody who could help me was either out of the office or sick. Uh oh.
The lady I was talking with (read: pleading with) eventually ended up calling my exchange advisor, Julia, and she told her what to do, so the paperwork was copied etc and then I ran across the university to get my deposit back as the ‘finance’ office of the university was closing soon. Eesh. I made it just in time, then headed back across Paris.. only to encounter rush hour.
Everybody was heading back home from work, and apparently a lot of people live out by the airport, because for a good part of the journey I was crushed into a corner with people crushed in all around me sweating in the heat. Gosh. It was way more than 40C in that train car, and everybody just wanted to lie down and die. The cold shower I took when I got back to my hotel room was the best cold shower I’ve ever had in my life.

I’m finally relaxing and watching Hitman in french, which is an interesting experience. Tomorrow I take a plane to London, then another plane to NY where I arrive about 9.15pm and catch a shuttle to Sam’s place. I can’t wait – it’s going to be an Epic Holiday in NY! XD

Tour: Vatican Museums, St Peters & Coliseum (Adults Only)

This was going to be the longest day of them all, I had absolutely no illusions about that. It was also going to be the longest time I spent in a bus, as the drive from the port – Civitavecchia – and Rome was an hour and a half one way.. and that was with good traffic. In any case, it meant that I would have to get up early – somewhere around half past 6 in the morning, if I remember correctly. I grabbed breakfast at some time around 7am and loitered around on deck in the early morning sunshine, praying that the sun would prevail.
8am was the meeting time, and from there we headed down to the waiting bus where our Tour Escort presented herself – don’t ask me to remember her name, I purposefully forgot it because.. honestly.. she was awful. Terrible. Horrible.  From the outset she treated us like children – and remember that this was an adult’s only tour – and at numerous points she actually swore when giving her commentary. She told us -TOLD US – we would be taking a ‘peepee break’, that we’d have 30 minutes once we got to the restroom complex, and that if we didn’t get back in time she would ‘kick our asses’. I wish I was kidding on this point, but I’m not. For the level of service I’ve become accustomed to with the Disney company, I certainly didn’t expect a sub-par employee like that..
Fortunately when we hit Rome itself we were gifted with an actual Tour Guide whose work and attitude was markedly better.  We briefly toured some of the sights without stopping – the Circus Maximus, the pyramid which was actually a mausoleum at the edge of Rome’s walls, the Roman Forum, the ‘wedding cake’ also known as the Palazzo Venezia and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier – and finally we pulled up close to the coliseum and stepped into the cloying Rome heat to look up at one of the most famous monuments on earth..


I’d been to the Coliseum before, but last time I’d been here our visit to the Eternal city of Rome was somewhat ruined by the  fact that my mother was pickpocketed and we ended up spending half the day in the Police Station as opposed to seeing the city. I wasn’t entirely interested in this part of the tour so I found myself tuning out and just looking at the sights instead of listening to the history. I’d heard it before – the burning of Christians, the gladiator fights, mechanisms for lifts in the coliseum, where the Emperor sat etc – so I took photos and enjoyed the sun. I couldn’t help but think that it would be so incredibly different when I got home, as in New Zealand it would be winter when I returned. An about face from the weather I’d had so far on the cruise, which was a shame. I love the sun!



Following the tour it was lunchtime – hurrah! The restaurant was only a couple of minutes walk from the coliseum itself, located in a quiet part of Rome – which was all the more surprising given its proximity to several key tourist locations. Just before we got to the restaurant itself, I found 20 Euro on the ground!! It seemed that the day was getting better as it went on..
Tucked away in a small street and underground in what seemed to have been a wine cellar at one point, the decor was one of those ‘classic meets modern’ affairs, and the food was.. disappointing. I chalked it up to the fact that Disney had been spoiling me and made the most of the glasses of champagne and wine that were included with the meal before we had to leave once more.


Sleepy and full we walked back to the bus, which was parked up a small hill. That hill, combined with my full stomach, felt like Baldwin St (the steepest st in the world, for those who aren’t in the know), but I managed to waddle up it and clamber into the bus. Then we were headed for the Vatican City and my 28th country!!
We parked beside the walls, took another short walk (a lot of walking on this tour!) and finally found ourselves in the line for the Vatican Museums. We’d been pre-warned about having to go through the security check, and it was much like going through airport security except we didn’t have to take off our shoes (thank goodness, the line was long enough already!!). Once through the guide collected us together, handed out tickets and took us up the stairs to where we inserted ourselves into what was supposed to be another line, except really it was just a mass of people all pushing and shoving to scan their tickets and get through the turnstiles. It. Was. Horrible. Mainly because I was stuck next to a man who smelled like old sweaty socks, but the crush of people would have been enough to make me uncomfortable.
Europeans have no concept of lines. I’ve become familiar with this since living in France and watching people at Disneyland Paris simply leap on the characters instead of lining up to greet them as they would in the States. It’s bad enough at DLP, but when you’re trying to buy something in a shop it’s even worse. The majority of the time they act as if they didn’t see you, and I’ve flat out heard some people say ‘she’s foreign, don’t worry about it’ when pushing in lines/groups/crowds. It’s like I have a massive neon sign over my head, I swear.
Anyway, tirade over, we managed to get through the mass of people, group up once more and head up the escalator and into the galleries. Everything was just.. amazing. I especially loved the Gallery of Maps (shown below) and the giant bronze ball in the same courtyard as the massive pinecone statue.





Then finally we found ourselves in another ‘line’ to get into the Sistine Chapel, where we weren’t allowed to take photos. I was pretty annoyed about that, to be honest. I mean.. it’s the Sistine Chapel, supposed to be one of the most beautiful places on earth, something most people would want to document. I uh.. yeah. I might have documented it a little bit.



Just a bit..

Anyway, on with the tour! The Sistine Chapel done with, we moved on to St Peter’s Basilica. The first thing I could think of when I saw the interior was ‘seriously? this is a church?’ It’s huge. I mean HUGE. HUUUUUUUUGE. The roof just soars over your head and the artwork is insanely exquisite. My favourite piece was the Pieta, despite its’ being encased behind bulletproof glass (thanks to a psycho with a hammer a couple of years back), which is just.. stunning. The expression on Mary’s face as she holds the body of Jesus is almost heartbreaking. You can feel the emotion. My photo doesn’t do it justice, but here’s an idea of the statue if you’ve never seen it before:


The rest of the Basilica was breathtaking. We had a little bonus in seeing Jean Paul II’s tomb, which is located in the basilica at the moment due to his recent beatification. Right down the middle of the church were markers that gave the length of different churches such as Notre Dame, in order to compare them to the basilica itself.






Anyway, we made our way out of the basilica after much ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’, then walked out to the center of the courtyard and we could see the roof of the Sistine chapel – where the smoke comes out when a pope is chosen. We had a couple of minutes to take more photos, get gelato and pizza, and then we waited on the bus to pick us up whilst being plagued by buskers and beggars alike. Common for large European cities, apparently.
The drive back to Civitavecchia was mostly spent counting hookers – 6 in total, if you’re interested – who were standing along the edge of the highway just outside of Rome.  I took a small nap, but mostly I was looking forward to dinner and watching the Animator’s Palate light up that evening. We made it back to the boat uneventfully, I got ready for dinner and headed to the restaurant a little early, sat outside and read a book for a while.
Animator’s Palate, for those who don’t know, is a restaurant that starts out black and white and slowly colours itself in during your meal. It cost around 5 million USD alone, and it’s my favourite restaurant out of the 3 on board the Magic and the Wonder. That night was ‘show night’ and slowly the room came alive with videos and pictures around the walls, course by course.



Tonight’s fare included butternut squash soup, stir fry veggies and chocolate cake. Yummm.. makes me wish I was back on the boat! I followed it up with some quality comedy by Danny Buckler, who was truly the best comedian I saw on the ship. Highly recommended! Finally, I mosied on down to bed and hit the pillows. It’d been a long, long day and tomorrow would probably be no better!

Facebook Status: “Don’t mind me, just taking some illegal photos here….!”
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