February 21, 2009

So, we kinda won a ski trip to France!

WARNING: Post may induce severe jealousy

Dear Lisa,


You visited us last October at the French Tourist Office stand during the Metro Ski Show in Olympia (22 – 26 October 2008) and you participated in our prize draw.

Many thanks and Bravo!
Your name has been picked out and you are the lucky winner of:

A skiing holiday for 2 to Isola 2000 ski resort
including 6-day ski passes and one week accommodation

Offered by the French ski resorts
-Please see terms and conditions as for the dates of validity-
More info:

To claim your prize, all you need to do now is to send us back your complete postal address* by email or by fax (0207 061 6647) - Please note that if you do not reply before Friday, Dec 5th 5pm, we will release the prize by picking out a new winner.

The French Tourist Office and its partners hope you enjoyed the Metro Ski Show and wish you a great skiing season!

Best regards,

Melina Covo on behalf of the French ski resorts

It's not every day you win a ski trip to France, but that's exactly what happened to me last November when I received the above email in my inbox. I had to re-read it about five times and call the contact number before I believed it was real. But it turns out that when I visited a ski and snow exhibition in London in October, I filled out a form to win a French ski holiday, and, as it turns out, I actually won!

Isola 2000 in southern France was our destination, a small ski resort about an hour from Nice, which is famous for its sunny ski conditions. After taking the one euro bus (yes, one euro!) from Nice airport to the resort, we were thrilled to find that our accommodation for the week was a new, one-bedroom apartment about 100m from the slopes.

The day we arrived it was overcast and miserable – so much for sunny ski conditions, we scoffed. So when I threw open the curtains the next day – our first day of skiing/snowboarding – and was greeted with the most amazing blue skies, I couldn't help but squeal with delight!

We both took to the slopes with some trepidation, Craig hadn't been snowboarding for a couple of years, and I hadn't been skiing since a school trip eight years ago (yikes, I'm old). But we both whizzed off straight away, and it was a good half a day before either of us had a stack.

On our second day, it snowed the whole day. The miserable conditions prompted us to spend most of the day chilling in our apartment, watching CNN (the only thing on TV in English, we're now experts on Obama's stimulus package) and eating lots of pasta.

Day three. Glorious. The sun was beaming and there was so much fresh powder it felt like you were skiing on a cloud. Craig went crazy for off-piste, while I managed to master the red runs. Zali Steggall eat your heart out!

The rest of our week was spent going up chairlifts and coming down runs, with a visit to our hotel's spa, a massage and birthday dinner thrown in for good measure. By the end, we were sore and exhausted, but completely elated about the awesome week we'd just had.

Best. Week. Ever.

February 20, 2009

On-the-go updates = neato!

Dear bloggy friends,

In our never-ending bid to make this blog as brilliant as possible, we have now added a nifty new addition to the blog sidebar family – on-the-go updates.

If you cast your eyes slightly to the right, you'll see the green box where these updates live. Courtesy of the latest online-networking craze, Twitter (seriously, everyone from Barack to Britney is doing it), these teeny chunks of info are there to keep you satiated and in-the-know in between the regular blog posts you all know and love.

Signing off,
Lisa and Craig x

February 12, 2009

Holy Hogmanay, Batman – it's 2009!

Whether you were sitting on a rug with an esky on Sydney Harbour, chillin' at a low-key barbecue or getting wasted with your mates at your local, one thing's for sure – your New Year celebrations ain't got nothing on ours!

While you were knocking back Bacardi Breezers in your friend's backyard, we were Superstylin' with Groove Armada while fireworks filled the sky over Edinburgh castle. Such is Edinburgh's Hogmanay.

Our Edinburgh adventure kicked off on December 30, when we met up with Jackie and Fiona for our four-hour train ride from London's Kings Cross station to the Scottish capital. I had been struck down with a monster flu the day before, so I used the journey as an opportunity to catch some much-needed shut eye.

Once we arrived, we walked about 12 minutes to our accommodation for the next four nights, Ardenlee Guest House. Run by a charming Scottish couple (Kenny and Kay, could hardly understand a word they said, but they were cool), our four-person room plus en suite was not only cheaper per person than staying in a 14-bed hostel room, it included a full, cooked breakfast daily to boot!

With Edinburgh as our oyster, we took off to walk the famous Royal Mile, catch a glimpse of the castle and try some minced sheep's heart, lungs and liver mixed with onion, oatmeal and spice – or as the Scots would call it, haggis. Yes, we were four walking, talking cliches, and damn proud of it!

By the time New Year's Eve rolled around, Craig had come down with my aforementioned monstrous flu. But despite our foggy heads, runny noses and chesty coughs, we were determined to soldier on. This was our only chance to experience Edinburgh's famous New Year's celebration, and we were gonna make the most of it!

So once we had put on about five layers of clothes each, we joined Jackie and Fiona and headed to a pub for a few sneaky beers and vodka and Red Bulls. Once the Red Bull had done its job, it was time to fill some almost empty bottles of Coke with vodka and head to the street party.

While the street party was all well and good, we were just a little bit too cool for school. While there are plenty of live acts on tap, this year, Groove Armada was where it was at. Since we had paid good money to watch them live at the Concert in the Park, we quickly headed down to their stage and scored ourselves a sweet possie about 15m from the front.

The rest of the night was a blur of dancing, singing and kick-arse fireworks. Groove Armada were brilliant, and it was a truly euphoric way to ring in 2009!

Happy New Year!

February 10, 2009

How we rolled in Amsterdam

How we got there...
It was EasyJet all the way, baby. £50 each and just over an hour in flying time – too easy.

Where we slept...
Clean, basic and super central. For just 60 euros a night, we stayed at Hotel Cafe Corner House. After staying at camping grounds on our short-lived van tour – where you are forced to trek miles into the centre of town each day – it was great to just walk out the door and be smack-bang in central Amsterdam. Situated above a pub, the staff were super friendly and helpful, plus the lingering scent of pot was complimentary! We highly recommend it to the budget traveller.

What we ate...
We really stretched our palettes with traditional Dutch culinary delights such as Big Macs and these weird crumbed chicken pieces from a cosy local haunt called KFC.

Sarcasm aside, in a city where prices are aimed solely at cashed-up tourists, our budget often left us with no other option but to brave the bright lights and beeping tills of McDonald's. We did, however, tuck into hot chips covered in mayonnaise (a Dutch fave, for real), and treat ourselves to a pizza near the Red Light District.

What we did...
While it may come as a shock to the harder partiers among you (and probably a relief to our parents), this was not a pot-smoking, hash-cookie-munching, magic-mushroom-eating trip – we were too busy leering at prostitutes for those kind of shenanigans!

For those not clued up on the ways of Amsterdam's Red Light District, it's basically a few streets filled with windows that are hired out by prostitutes. Each tiny window is equipped with a bed (and a curtain for modesty) and, if you want, the girls will do their business with you there and then. We did devote at least a few hours a day to 'window shopping' – rating the hot, cringeing at the not, laughing at the old men who would come out from their 'appointments'.

While our nights were filled with skanks and hoes, our days were filled with more demure activities. On top of many hours of walking around, there was a trip to Anne Frank House, which was a true highlight – to be standing in Anne's room, looking at the pictures of film stars she had pasted on her wall, and then to see her actual diary, was something special – there was also an afternoon spent whizzing around the compact, canal-filled city on bicycles, and an entertaining canal cruise which allowed us to see Amsterdam from a completely different perspective.

It's such a shame that all our photos were stolen along with our camera when our flat was broken into in November. Amsterdam was a really beautiful, eclectic city and we had a brilliant time there. Now, all we have left are our memories, and, of course, a fridge magnet!

February 02, 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

When he heard reports that it was set to snow in London this week, the news didn't exactly rock our socks – our previous experiences of 'snow' here have consisted of a bit of ice on windscreens in the morning. So we were shocked when we peered out the window last night to find inches of the stuff covering everything. Turns out, it's the largest snowfall in London in 18 years.

With the capital brought to a standstill, a 'snow day' was called at both our works (I thought snow days only existed for school children who eagerly sat around radios on American sitcoms).

Even though we had only just returned from a week on the slopes in France (blog post coming soon, promise), we couldn't help but get among the soft white stuff for a good old-fashioned frolic!

February 01, 2009

London – the good, the bad and the ugly

A working holiday in London has long been a right of passage for twenty-something Aussies. For over three decades we've been coming over by the planeful, cramming ourselves into flats south of the Thames, pulling pints in pubs (or whatever we can to keep the pounds rolling in) and complaining about the shithouse weather.

2008 was the year that me, Craig and 13,062 other Aussies decided to do our requisite stint in the UK on a Working Holiday Visa (WHV). It was also the year Britain started spiralling into recession and the almighty sterling hit all-time lows.

In other words, the worst possible time in history to come to the UK on a WHV.

After miraculously finding ourselves some work, we managed to get ourselves off Jackie's floor and into a bed – words can't describe how wonderful it felt to put our clothes in drawers! – sharing with another Aussie couple in Clapham South (er, sharing a flat, not the bed).

With the current 'credit crunch' sending Australians home in droves (over 1,500 a month are fleeing the Motherland), this could mark the end of the traditional London stint.

After three months of braving the Tube, donning scarves and gloves as a necessity rather than a fashion statement and calling potato chips 'crisps'. Here's what we rate and hate about living in England's capital.

The good
Travel. The novelty of being able to jet off abroad on any given weekend will never wear off. An overseas journey from Australia requires weeks of planning, at least a week off work, and a few grand in the bank. Here, you just log onto EasyJet's website and you're just a few clicks away from cheap weekend in Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Budapest, Berlin, Dublin, Munich, Prague, Lagos, Brussels...
Transport. While Londoners are quick to moan about their public transport system (and everything else, for that matter), they've never lived in Sydney. Nab yourself a Tube map and a Oyster card and you've unlocked the key to getting around London with relative ease and minimum fuss. Sure, there's the occasional signal failure or suicide jumper on the tracks, but with trains running every couple of minutes (as opposed to the once-hourly weekend bus to the city from Drummoyne), timetables are obsolete – just rock up and go.
Metropolis. Sydney's CBD feels like a ghost town compared downtown Oxford Street, when you're in London, there is no mistaking you're in a truly global city. It's easy to lose yourself in hustle and bustle, and it's exciting to feel like you are a part of this unflagging metropolis.
Entertainment. You could spend weeks in London and still not get around to doing everything. In fact, we've been here for three months and our 'to do' list is still quite impressive. There's the usual tourist fare — Oxford Street, Trafalgar Sqaure, Piccadilly Circus – along with galleries and museums galore, plus infamous attractions such the London Eye and Madame Tussauds. The West End is where it's at for theatre and shopping, then there's the famous Portobello markets and nearby Notting Hill to explore. If that's not enough to satiate your appetite, there's always a plethora of sporting events to pick from.

The bad
Weather. It's true, the weather really does suck... hard. While we are currently experiencing the coldest winter recorded in England for 13 years, summer sucked, too. Over summer, I only bared my legs for a total of 11 measly days, the rest of the time the temperature hung around the 17 degree mark, forcing me to sport clothes usually reserved for an Australian winter. The weather really does drag you down — getting up in the dark and getting home in the dark, with grey clouds and icy winds in between, does not a happy Couchsitter make.
Crime. As avid readers will remember, we were broken into shortly before Christmas. Yes, this could happen anywhere, but it didn't, it happened in London. And while our experience may have made us slightly biased, the crime statistics speak for themselves — in 2008 alone, 30 teenagers died from knife attacks.
Transport. I know I said the public transport here truly rocks, which it does. But I just have one gripe — the morning cram. Cramming onto a Tube in peak hour is total hell. It's hot, it's stuffy and you're pressed up against total strangers for the entire duration of your journey.

The ugly
Economy. The current global crisis has definitely brought out the uglier side of London. With the UK said to be the hardest-hit nation, doom and gloom has set in over the capital like the constant grey skies. With the papers constantly drumming into you that you're bound to lose your job and end up like the thousands of others in the dole queue, it's hard to maintain any form of optimism. Though, we all know that Londoners are secretly loving the current recession, it gives them something new to moan about!

In five short weeks we plan to leave London and continue on our travels. It was hard and downright depressing at times, but totally worth it. Having earned our 'I've lived in London' badges, it's time to move on. It's just too bloody cold!