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Speaking of mini-breaks, we're off to Poland this weekend for a quick holiday. It's definitely a flying visit.

We're only spending two days in Krakow. On day one we're going to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine (my curiosity about this attraction is what prompted our trip). We're also going to pay our respects at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Although we've already been to Dachau (the first camp and the model for all subsequent concentration camps), I feel it's our moral duty to visit Auschwitz. Especially since we're going to be so close. On day two we're going to walk through the old town of Krakow. We fly back to London at 8pm on Sunday evening.

Wondering what to pack, I checked the five-day forecast on BBC weather. I was a bit surprised to find that it's currently snowing in Krakow and snow is also predicted for the weekend. The temperatures are bit on the chilly side with a forecast maximum of 0 degrees. Brrr! I'll have to remember to pack the thermals.

jess - 14th Nov 2007, 11:11 tags: travel nablopomo nablopomo07 poland snow krakow

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It's been a childhood dream of mine to visit Pompeii. Finally, as a thirty year old, my dream has been realised. The story of Pompeii has always fascinated me. A whole city buried underneath the ash and pumice, lying hidden for hundreds of years. Happily, Pompeii lived up to expectations. I'm amazed it is so well preserved.

Highlights of Pompeii:
  • Streets of Pompeii -- at each intersection and at intervals along the streets are three large stones. We were trying to figure out what they were? Were they barriers to prevent carts from coming into the streets? Clever Sue came up with this theory which we think is the correct one. They are stepping stones! In Pompeian times all sorts of muck would have flowed down the streets. Using the stepping stones you would have been able to cross the street without getting your sandals dirty.

  • Beautiful houses -- I really loved the layout of some of the more affluent houses. A wealthy house had an entry room with a skylight in the ceiling and a small pool to catch rainwater. (A water feature!) The entry room lead out to a small courtyard with a beautifully manicured garden. Around the courtyard would be the dining rooms, living rooms and bedrooms. These rooms were often decorated with beautiful frescos in earthy hues of animals or gods. I can imagine it would have been quite pleasant to dine of an evening in a beautifully decorated room with a lovely garden as a backdrop.

  • Plaster casts of victims -- During the 1860 excavations, the lead archaeologist realised that the cavities in the ash which contained human remains, were actually voids left by decomposing bodies. He devised a technique of injecting plaster into these cavities to form a cast of the victim. The detail on these casts is quite startling. You can see folds in the clothing, straps on sandals and quite often the terror on the face of the victim. These casts are of Pompeiani who left their escape too late.

  • Brothel -- apparently the Romans had a much more relaxed attitude towards sex. While in Pompeii we wandered through Lupanare, a brothel. The brothel walls were decorated with naughty pictures. There is a theory that these pictures were like a menu from which a customer could order. In one of the rooms there is Latin graffiti scrawled on the walls. Apparently one of the inscriptions reads along the lines of "For a good time call..." It made me giggle. The graffiti fascinates me as it makes the Pompeiani seem more real. (In one of the baths, which we didn't visit, there are also naughty pictures. One archaeologist has suggested that these pictures were used as away of remembering where you left your belongings. Oh that's right! I left my bag underneath "threesome".)

Ruins with Vesuvius in the backgroundRoman Abbey Roadvictim

More photos on Flickr...

You'd think that today a repeat of Pompeii would be impossible, with 2,000 years of technological advancements and an greater understanding of science and the world around us. Well, you'd be wrong. In 1985, the town of Armero in Colombia vanished forever when it was covered by Lahars generated from a volcanic explosion. Over 20,000 people died in the tragedy. I wonder if tourists will be wandering through Armero in a few thousands years time marvelling at a 20th century city and its customs.

jess - 13th Nov 2007, 11:11 tags: travel nablopomo italy nablopomo07 pompeii tincrane_italy

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It's the main reason we're living here. Australia --> far away from everywhere. London --> close to everywhere. Fly for less than an hour and you've reached a different country, with a different culture and a different language.

During our expat adventure we are trying to travel as much as possible. That means a mini-break at least once month. Our trips aren't even ridiculously expensive with cheap flights on budget airlines, like Easyjet and Ryanair, and a willingness to share a bathroom at a hostel.

Before last year my country tally was at a measly six countries (this tally included Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. Andrew says that they don't count.) Now my country count is much healthier and my "Where I've been map" for Europe is almost looking more blue than green. Almost... (Blue for where I've been, Green for where I want to go...)

(Of course, there is some serious cheating happening on my Where I've been map. On most of our mini-breaks we've only visited one city within the country and yet I get to colour the whole country as visited. For instance, the whole of Russia is ticked off when we've really only been to Moscow / St Petersburg. That's a hefty part of Europe checked off when in reality we've only just touched the tip of the Russia iceberg.)

jess - 12th Nov 2007, 11:11 tags: travel london nablopomo nablopomo07 love_london

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At the end of October we were lucky to join Sue and J for part of their Italian odyssey. Natalie, Andrew and I met them in Naples. We spent three days in the Naples region and managed to squeeze in Pompeii, Capri and the Amalfi Coast. We then caught a train to Rome where we had four days doing what the Romans do. Well, not really because in Rome we were touristy tourists. We did a whirlwind tour of all the famous sites.

Rather than give you a blow by blow account of our trip to Italy. I thought I'd just write some stories about the most interesting events and my favourite bits.

Driving in Naples

We often discuss future trips with our London buddies. They can impart useful advice on future destinations. What should we do, see, eat? When mentioning our plans for visiting and driving in Naples, one point was emphasised by everybody. The drivers in Naples are CRAZY! We were advised to get a small car, full insurance and pack an extra pair of undies in our daypacks.

This point was first confirmed when we picked up the car. When picking up any hire car, the rental office usually provides you with a diagram of the car and documents on the diagram any scratches or dents that are on the vehicle. In Naples, our rental officer placed the diagram in front of us and then practically coloured in the diagram while pointing out the damage. We waited for the few minutes it took him to circle the scratches and dents. "Here is a scratch, and a dent here, and a scratch here, and a dent here, and a scratch here... and here, and here, and here!"

When we got out onto the roads we experienced the chaos firsthand. Italian drivers are crazy! They honk if you're not going fast enough. And by fast enough I mean 30 km over the posted speed limit. They think the merge sign is just a suggestion and two cars will drive side by side in one lane on a single carriageway road. They pull out into the oncoming lane to overtake 3 cars in a row, on a road which is perched on the side of a cliff, on a blind corner. Usually a big tourist bus would be coming around that corner. I'm surprised that we didn't see more accidents while we were there.

Tom-Tom (Natalie's GPS) was definitely our saviour. Without Tom-Tom we would have had to multi-task. We would have to navigate, figure out where we were going and watch out for signs. It's a bit hard to navigate when you're closing your eyes as you enter an intersection. (Hopefully, our dependable driver, Andrew wasn't closing his eyes.) During our time in Naples, we missed several exits and made several wrong turns. Trusty Tom-Tom would just recalculate the route and once again point us in the right direction.

We did have one very amusing incident with Tom-Tom. You hear stories of people blindly following Tom-Tom and driving into lakes and onto railway tracks. I'm ashamed to admit that we had our own Tom-Tom episode.

Tom-Tom told us to drive down a street that was marked with a "Road Narrows" street sign. We noted that the road was quite narrow but trusted Tom-Tom and courageously continued. After a minute or so the road did narrow quite a bit. Narrowed to the point that it was only wide enough for our car to fit. At this stage we pulled in the passenger side mirror. We drove for 10 metres or so before we conceded and pulled in the driver side mirror. We drove for another 10 metres or so before we noticed that there was a pedestrian behind us. There wasn't enough room for her to pass so she was forced to walk behind us. She was walking faster than we were driving.

It was at this point that Tom-Tom decided that he had made a mistake and told us to "turn around where possible". The whole car cracked up at that direction. There was no going back. We were stuck moving forward until we reached the end of the alley. We nearly made it out unscathed. Unfortunately, the alley narrowed to the point where the car didn't quite fit. We acquired a small scratch on one wheel arch. It was a badge of honour.

We spent three days around Naples. After a few day trips in the car we feel that we are able to deal with Italian drivers and drive on Neapolitan roads. Well, Andrew is a fully qualified Italian driver. I'm a fully qualified Italian backseat driver.

jess - 11th Nov 2007, 11:11 tags: travel nablopomo italy nablopomo07 naples tincrane_italy

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The City of London, not to be confused with Greater London, is the historical centre of London. It's where London started and grew from. Even though it's only a square mile (2.6 km2) in area it has its own police force. Today it houses London's financial district.

I often giggle at the names of the streets in the City. I find it amusing to walk down Poultry, Bread Street and Fish Street Hill. Many of the street names are ancient and tell a story about London's past. It's often easy to pick the industries that used to situated at these locations in the past. The poultry market was at Poultry, bakeries on Bread St and the fish market on Fish Street Hill.

Some other historical street names in the City of London:
  • Wood Street
  • Milk Street
  • Honey Lane
  • Ironmonger Lane
  • Goldsmiths Street
  • Cornhill Street (wheat centre)
I think my favourite street name would have to be Pudding Lane. It sounds like it should be a street of cakes, but it's really named for the animal organs and entrails, nicknamed puddings, which would fall from butcher's carts on their way from the market to waste barges on the Thames. Pudding Lane is famous as the source of the Great Fire of London. The fire started in a bakery in Pudding Lane and raged for four days, destroying most of the City of London.

jess - 10th Nov 2007, 11:11 tags: london nablopomo nablopomo07 love_london

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