Monthly Archives: October 2009

Vive Paris!

I’ve been to Paris twice, the first time in 1999 and then again towards the end of 2001. (Hopefully I’ll be able to go again before long.) Both times I went with a mate (different ones), and the two trips could hardly have been more different. But one thing came through from both trips – Paris is my one of my favourite cities in the world.

My First Experience of Paris

I went with a friend who, like me, knew basically nothing of Paris, and spoke about as much French as me – virtually none! (Hey I’m not your average Englishman who thinks that everyone can understand me if I raise my voice and speak s l o w l y – I speak reasonable Spanish, and know a little Czech and German [resists urge to mention little Czech called Jan and little German called Hanz] – but I just don’t do French!) This meant a few communication difficulties occasionally, but of course most people there could speak perfectly good English too. Since we didn’t know the layout of Paris we spent a lot of time wandering around wondering where we were, and also made the mistake of getting the 175F (£17.50) travel card – it’s generally much cheaper to buy a pack of ten general purpose tickets instead. We flew in from Heathrow to Orly (not too far from the city centre) on a British Midland flight (breakfast included – an edible breakfast! I was seriously impressed…) for £80 from – pretty good. We got a hotel in St Paul’s for about £60 per night B&B – though finding a hotel with reasonable prices took a while.

The first thing we went to see was the Eiffel Tower, which impressed me immensely (and continues to do so!). We met up with a friend who lives in Paris and went for a meal (she suggested going to McDonalds – tsk… no class, these continentals…) and we found a nice little place just outside the main centre of Paris. That evening however (how my friend must have rued it being his turn to pay) we looked for somewhere to eat on the Champs Elysees itself – BIG MISTAKE!! The meal we had wasn’t all that special and cost nearly £50 each!! Partly due to this I found myself very disappointed with French food from this visit – however this was to be remedied on my next visit…

A combination of not knowing the city or the language combined to make this trip feel far shorter than it was, although a weekend really isn’t enough to see this beautiful city anyway. However I had already fallen in love with Paris, and desperately wanted to visit it again. It was nearly a year and a half before I did…

Me Second Experience of Paris

It was October 2001 (I think – not very good with dates…) when I managed to go to Paris again. But this time I was far mor prepared – not simply because I’d already been and had done a little research, but because I was going with a different friend – one who not only spoke fluent French but had also lived in Paris for a year, and knew it inside out. This meant that when we wanted to go somewhere, we went straight there instead of taking unintentional (but interesting) two-hour detours.

We also had a few friends to visit between us, and one of these showed us where the some of the best restaurants are – mainly on the little side-streets coming off the end of the Champs Elysees, at the Arch de Truimphe end. (My impression of French cuisine rocketed up after that…)The absolute best place in Paris to go for dining out though has to be St Michel – some great Latino places, along with pretty much every other type of cuisine you can think off. I had to go to the Eiffel Tower again, and again at night, along with another ride on the ferris wheel at the end of the Champs Elysees – you get a fantastic view of the street at night. (It was loaned to Birmingham at the end of 2003 / start of 2004 , and apparently was a great success – but somehow I can’t get excited about looking at Stechley and surrounding areas in the same way…)

Doing the river trip down the Seine was great, apart from forgetting my camera that day. The Sacre Coeur isn’t particularly impressive but getting up to it by foot i an achievement. The area around Moulin Rouge looks even seedier than I’d imagined. The Hagen Das café on the Champs Elysees is pure decadence and thus is of course an essential part of your Paris experience. Just walking along the riverside is a pleasant experience. The Trochadero gardens are beautiful, although are even more impressive when viewed from the second stage of the Eiffel Tower.

Now that I knew where I was going (or at least, with someone who did), I found the Metro to be a cheap and reliable way to get around. Though I know we can all be prone to seeing everything through rose-coloured glasses while on holiday, I genuinely think the stations were a lot cleaner than their London counterparts. Incidentally, we went to Paris by Eurostar this time, which was quick, clean, and comfortable – can’t recommend the food much though! (If you’re worried about going through le tunnel then I’ll describe the experience for you – you hear an announcement that you’re going to enter the channel tunnel… you can’t see anything outside for about twenty minutes… then you come out and you’re in France… and that’s it! I get a little claustrophobic – especially in lifts (elevators) – but felt nothing at all in the tunnel.)

On our last day we visited the Louvre – free entry on Sundays! HUGE queues though – you’re looking at at least an our to get in. I wish I’d been there long enough to give it a proper review now – but I think you’d need at least a couple of days just to get through it. Apart from one of the best collections of art anywhere in the world (albeit the Mona Lisa did absolutely nothing for me), with their pre-renaissance paintings particularly impressive, the Louvre also houses several exhibits of archaeological findings. (I was pleased to find that they had a reasonably large collection of important English painters represented too – for some reason Gainsborough seemed to be featured more heavily than any of the others, but that may be because I didn’t get around all of the galleries. My favourtie French artist – Jean-Claude Carot – was of course featured quite extensively too.) Some items only had commentary in French, but as I had a personal translator with me that didn’t matter!

Now that I’ve convinced some of the more gullible of you that I’m cultured (the charade won’t last long though…), I think I’ll wrap up. There’s a lot more to Paris, and a lot that I don’t remember very well. Guess I’ll just have to go there again then! ;-D

Suggested Trips around Paris

Not too far away by train (about an hour) is the little village of Chantille. I can’t say there’s an amazing amount there to do and see, but it’s like stepping into another world – one that has changed very little in the past couple of centuries. Everything there seemed so calm and relaxed.

One place I’ve always wanted to go (ok I admit it, I haven’t been yet – but I still think it’d be a great trip – that’s why I’ve always wanted to go…) is the Monet Gardens in Giverney.

I hope this has given you a rough idea of what Paris is like. Thanks for reading it (and enduring to the end)!

I was required to writ about a place that is special to me. this essay is about Puerto Rico.

My Puerto Rico

Anyone who has ever been on vacation knows how special it can be. Spending time with family, relaxing worry-free, and just getting away from a normal schedule can be very rewarding, and make for some great memories.

The first time I traveled to Puerto Rico, I was nine months old. I don’t remember much about that trip, but there were many more to come in following years. I can recall vividly my most recent trip; After hours of sitting in an airplane’s cramped cabin, snacking on a miniscule serving of extremely salty pretzels, it was a relief to hear the captain’s voice come over the intercom, “We have begun our landing pattern and should be touching down in just over twenty minutes,” what a relief!

It was very refreshing to step off the crowded Boeing 767 and to have my personal space back. After a short stretching session, it was time to claim our baggage.

It’s easy to forget what the tropical Puerto Rican climate is like, especially after spending years straight in Minnesota. The first step is a shocker; the difference between the clean, cool, air conditioned airport, and the hot, heavy, and humid mass of gasses outside is monumental. The first thing to hit is sweat; it comes almost immediately, shortly followed by a feeling of weakness caused by the expansion of one’s blood vessels. After no more than five minutes, these symptoms become inane, and so begins the search for our driver. Once he is located, we began our journey through the “real” Puerto Rico to our destination, Palmas Del Mar.

The “real” Puerto Rico resembles some third-world countries; however, there are no signs of a weak economy. There are some areas that are undoubtedly high-crime, dirty, and not-so-friendly. The roadways leave much to be desired, and the traffic laws are absolutely lacking in nearly all areas. The buildings are brightly colored, and foliage is lush and green. The “real” Puerto Rico is not the place I think of when I think about Puerto Rico. The transition between my Puerto Rico and the “real” Puerto Rico is a brief one. It takes less than one minute; I can see it off in the distance at first, it looks like a large building on the horizon. My excitement builds as we near the structure that is not a gigantic building, but a “fortress wall” that separates my two conceptions of this small Caribbean island. At the cold iron gates stand four guards. Armed with submachine guns, they control the inbound and outbound traffic. Once on the other side of the wall, I am surrounded by a world completely different from the one I had seen just moments before. Like Dorothy in the Land of Oz, I gaze attentively out the window at the perfect grass, beaches of orange sand, and the cleanest ground I had seen since the San Joes Airport. Compared to the distance I had traveled in the past few hours, I felt inches away from this trips destination. My excitement continues to build, a volcano’s liquid-hot magma ready to erupt in a hyperactive sprint toward the ocean.

We pull into the #203 parking space that corresponds to the stucco condominium that will be our home for the week to come. I furiously slide the van door open, and in a few short seconds, I fling myself into the salty wet mass that is the Atlantic Ocean. A sudden pain overtakes me and I am rendered unable to see. In a panic, I make my way onto the coarse beach and rub the salt out of my eyes. Returning to my family, I help to unload the remainder of our baggage and we begin to unpack.

The condominium is medium sized, large enough to house another family, but in this situation, every room is used. In front, a painted iron gate opens to a small area where the air conditioning unit sits. Behind the gate a few feet is the front door. Inside, the ceramic tile floors, white walls, and splashes of colorful artwork present a peaceful free feeling. There are two tastefully decorated bedrooms, two baths, a living/dining room area, and a kitchen.

The condo served as many things for me, a place to sleep, a place to hang out, and a place to plan activities. I enjoyed many restful nights listening to the gentle whisper of the waves, after long days of touring the surrounding areas, swimming in the ocean or swimming pools, or just lazing in the sun. Decisions of the utmost importance were also made in the condo: where to eat, how to spend extra time, or what sights to see while sightseeing. If it was agreed that we would spend some of our extra time hanging out in the condo, there was plenty to do. Watching Spanish TV was always a fulfilling pastime. Though I knew no Spanish at the time, I could still understand the animated character’s intentions. Occasionally, we would open coconuts that had fallen from the tall palm trees during the night before or morning while we were occupied. As far as fruit goes, coconut is very stubborn and difficult to open; unless the aid of a hacksaw is available, one must resort to the use of brute force to yield the thick coconut meat and creamy milk. A way I used to pass time years ago was to like the salt off the window screens. The salt crystallizes on the screens because the waves crashing against the shore causes more evaporation of water and the solute salt within it. When I was much younger, I would spend hours making rounds from screen to screen just to lick the bitter sea salt from them.

Being just a few yards from the beach, there were many opportunities to build elaborate sandcastles. Some of the best sandcastles I ever made were on that beach, with intricate details that no one but the constructor could know about, and tall unstable turrets jutting from the walls inside the moat, they were surely some of my greatest creations.

There were 5 or 6 swimming pools within one half mile, and some nights we would make trips to as many as we could. Many of them were only for patrons of the hotels they belonged to, but we were usually guaranteed at least twenty minutes of hassle-free swimming before hotel security would ask us for our room number. 203 wasn’t the right answer, oh well, on to the next pool.

On some days, the ocean water was clear enough for snorkeling. There were sets of equipment at the condo that were for use by whoever stayed there. Snorkeling was always a fun experience; however, it made me nervous going into the water without at least goggles afterwards. Seeing all of the strange underwater life that can’t be noticed without being able to see underwater really awakened my imagination.

A rest from everyday life is definitely a rewarding experience. A week of laid-back laziness provides a new outlook on ordinary life. My vacations in Palmas Del Mar in Puerto Rico will be memories that will be with me until I die.

Give a detailed description about a favorite holiday destination in your country.

Cameron Highland, which is situated in the state of Pahang, is one of the most beautiful holiday destinations in Malaysia. With its cool weather, lushly greens and well-preserved colonial buildings, Cameron highland is certainly the perfect get-away location where both locals and foreigners should spend their relaxing holiday there.

In hindsight, from a small Hill station, Cameron Highland has developed into a very popular resort. Nowadays, the resorts on Cameron Highland are built not only for the residents of this country but also to woo overseas vacationers as well. Cameron Highland, which is famous for its cool and temperate climate plateau is an ideal alternative escape spot from the sweltering heat of the lowlands in Malaysia. Furthermore, with its picturesque view of the surrounding, which is filled with beautiful flowers and mountains, it’s simply breathtaking.

Cameron Highland, which is, now well developed with numerous luxurious resorts are certainly attracting a lot of visitor. Most of the resorts are still packed with visitors although the rental is still a little higher. Besides that, a couple of the newest attractions are the newly developed nine-hole golf course, a number of newly renovated quaint hotels and old bungalows, in which many of them are built according to the English cottage of the Tudor period. In addition, these houses are large, which gives an airy environment to the tenant who can enjoy our country’s tropical climate.

Agro-tourism is yet another activity on Cameron Highland that draws visitors from every nook and cranny, where they would be able to spend their time visiting in the orchards & plantation farms. Because of the cool weather on Cameron Highland, varies of flowers and fruits are able to grow, where some of the nearly extinct orchids and roses can be found on Cameron Highland. Thus, there is an abundant variety of roses, 200 to be precise can be found here. This cause some flower lover comes to visit frequently. They range from Abraham Lincoln, Kiss of Fire, Alpine Sunset, and Princess De Monaco to Lovely Lady. Be amazed with the Green Rose, a rare variety-distinctively different from the rest in its colour, characteristic and form. Some of these roses are made into jam and perfume whilst, some of them are valued for medical properties. With those flowers discover the most fascinating, beautiful species of butterfly and insects indigenous to Malaysia. These specimens include scorpions, chameleons and insects such as ‘Moving Leaves’ Rhinoceros and Stag beets, and of course the ‘Rajah Brooke’, Malaysia’s national butterfly.

Besides that, Strawberries, which are only produced from the Strawberry farm on Cameron Highland is yet another unique and proud product of Cameron Highland. Strawberry is often seen as the trademark of the hill’s resort too. The brand name is known as ‘Fresno’. One should not leave the strawberry’s farm without a jar of it. However, the main attraction is nonetheless the succulent strawberries, which is popular among the tourists as most of them are freshly plucked and immediately processed for sale to customer.

Vegetable farming is also an important crop here, especially tea. Sungai Palas Tea Estate, which is one of the four tea estates on the Highlands, is the manufacturer of the world renowned ‘Boh’ Tea. Tea planters were among the earliest settlers in the Highlands. Large areas of the slopes are covered with high quality tea bushes. On a fine day, one can see the colourfully clad tea-pickers fast at work among these bushes. Some of the tea plantations have even organized visits to their factories where visitors can observe the process of tea production, from the drying of the tea leaves to their fermentation before packing. Visitor could even purchase some tea, the main product of the highland, as a souvenir.

Lastly, one must make sure not to miss out the Market Square and night market on Cameron Highland, which is also another place of attraction. As a result of the cool weather and the various plantations that grow on Cameron Highland, people would come to visit or do their shopping here as they can get a variety of vegetables, fruits and flowers. Merchandise souvenir items ranging from T-shirts, teas, blowpipes, to memorabilia are also available here.

Cameron Highland is indeed the most favourable holiday destination in Malaysia. With its cool fresh air, it is certainly the most suitable place for the tourists and city tenant to retreat temporarily from the busy life and pollution of the city. Without doubt, Cameron Highland is the place to travel and to relax for both local and foreigners.