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The Chronicles of the Weezie and the inflatable turtle
Weezie's random ramblings!!! Wahaaa!!
The perils of travelling with family...
I've been meaning to write a decent journal entry for quite a while now. But things keep cropping up.

Last proper entry I wrote was shortly after me and Dad went up to Auckland for the Shakespeare thing that one weekend, and now a lot has happened since then.

Probably the biggest event was the overseas trip in May.

The four of us: me, Taina, Dad and Nick headed over to the US first. We flew to Houston first, because Houston is one of the main places international flights to the US land in. We spent a day there, which was good because I get wiped out pretty easily by long flights so I really needed the time to get a full sleep and catch up. We didn't do much else in Houston, although we ate out a lot at various restaurants near where we were staying.

Then we went up to New York for a few days. You may recall me and Taina went to New York before, back during our big US trip in 2013. Dad and Nick had also been before, but the thing about New York is you do need more than just a few days to properly see it.

We walked through Battery Park, and saw the 9/11 memorial, both of which we hadn't done last time. We went to Central Park, which we did do last time, but walked through different parts of it this time. We went to see Avenue Q on Broadway, which had been on my list of must-see shows ever since like 2008 or 2009 so it was great to finally see it. It also meant I had finally seen the two shows I had always wanted to see for so many years, as last time in New York we saw Wicked.

We went up the Rockefeller centre again, which we did last time. And we went to the Met, which I hadn't done last time (although we briefly stopped outside it last time while on a bus tour) and it was amazing. So huge, so much to see.

After NY we flew across to Paris. However, we stayed just overnight before renting a car and starting a road trip around France, Germany and Switzerland.

It was Dad who had planned the trip and who was paying for the whole thing, so there were places we went that seemed a little underwhelming, and at times it seemed rushed while other times long and boring, but you can't complain when you are getting a free overseas trip.

The small towns in France we saw were okay, but not places I would ever have planned to go to myself. They were places often with one or two semi famous landmarks, like a really old cathedral or buildings of a particular style from a few hundred years ago or whatever, but because Dad was wanting to cram as many places as possible, often we'd spend a while driving to a place, just to look around the outside of it, take some photos and then leave again.

In Germany we went to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which is this little town, the centre of which is preserved to look like it did in the middle ages/early renaissance. A lot of cute little medieval buildings with wooden thatching, novelty shops selling Christmas decorations and gifts, and a couple of museums. Sure, it was a "tourist trap". It had been maintained well to appeal to tourists, and it had a commercial vibe to it. But it was fun. We spent several hours there, but me and Taina wanted to see more but Dad and Nick were already over it and wanting to leave to see another town on the same day.

So we drove to this other town, which also had buildings from a similar time period. Except not as many, and they were interspersed with more modern buildings which kind of ruined the atmosphere of it. And also, by then it was suddenly really cold and raining, and so me and Taina were just kind of thinking, "Why did we rush to leave Rothenburg ob der Tauber just to see this?"

But hey, these are the perils of travelling with family.

Also in Germany, we went to Neuschwanstein, the unfinished, exorbitant castle of King Ludwig that inspired the designs of castles in Disney movies.

It was up on a mountain, overlooking a valley and a lake and some other mountains, so the views from near the castle were amazing and really beautiful. There was also another castle, built by another King, within close distance across on another hill, so while we had time to spare before going to Neuschwanstein, we took a horse and cart ride up to the other castle.

Neuschwanstein is a very popular tourist spot, so instead of letting people wander around inside on their own, which would get too crowded, you have to go as part of a tour group and book a specific time. And they don't let you take photos inside, because it slows down the group too much so they can't get as many groups through.

Still, as we later learned, this was a very sensible way to do it, because it meant you had enough space to actually look at things properly while going through because the building wasn't crammed wall-to-wall with people.

In fact, a lot of people could learn from the German way of running places like this. Yes, I'm looking at you, France.

Switzerland was a country I had few prior opinions and little knowledge about, so I had no particular expectations about going there.

However, Switzerland went out of its way to win me over.

The beautiful scenery I was talking about when we were at Neuschwanstein in Germany? Yeah, Switzerland is that beautiful-ness...as an entire country.

Everywhere we looked, every spot seemed like a picturesque photo opportunity. Lakes, mountains, some topped with snow, long plains with bright yellow flowers everywhere... it was so pretty.

Montreux, it appeared, had a long history of association with rock music. Freddie Mercury (and the other members of Queen) had fallen so in love with Montreux when they went there that they purchased a recording studio and recorded seven of their albums there.

The area where the recording studio is is actually part of the city's casino, and so the casino created an exhibition dedicated to the band, so you go in for free and see all their recording equipment and rooms and see clothes worn by the band, handwritten song lyrics by Freddie, all sorts of cool stuff. Down the street, along the waterfront of the lake was a Freddie Mercury statue too.

If the name Montreux and the mention of a casino seems familiar at all, there could be a reason for this also. Do you know the Deep Purple song, 'Smoke on the Water'? One of the lines in the song is "We all went down to Montreux, on the lake Geneva shoreline". Yep, the song is about Montreux, specifically an event where a band was playing a concert there during the 1960's, and a big fire broke out, which "burned down the gambling house" like the song says.

I don't know if it was also because the weather was really nice that day too, but I particularly liked Montreux.

Geneva as a city was challenging. Taina came away from it with somewhat negative associations, largely because we got stuck in traffic, and it took a super long time just to drive through the main part of the city. It seemed true they didn't have a good traffic system in that the traffic light sequences were really short. But nevertheless, the weather was pretty, the landmarks and gardens were nice, and it had a really good vibe. I'd go back there...I just maybe wouldn't go in a car.

Soon after getting back into France and commencing our drive back up towards Paris, I came down with a cold. At first it was just a sore throat for several days, which was annoying but tolerable.

At this stage of the trip we were in a part of France with a lot of castles, some of which were nice. Taina was getting a bit tired and sick of driving around by then though, plus the stress of being behind on class work and assignments for his IT course was catching up with him, so he took a day off and stayed back at the place we were staying to relax and study a bit, while me, Dad and Nick went to a couple of castles nearby.

One of the last places we saw before getting back up to Paris was Versailles, known for the big Palace of Versailles.

The palace was impressive, no doubt about it. Big fancy detailed turrets and arches, and almost everything painted gold so the whole place seemed to glisten in the sunlight.

But jeez, it was crowded. Unlike Neuschwanstein, there was no well-organised system. There was this long queue everyone lined up in for like hours, thinking it was the only way to get tickets to go inside...then only when we got really close to the front of the queue someone noticed a side room with automatic ticket machines that no one was using- and that none of the palace staff had pointed out to anyone or directed anyone to!

The cafeteria to get lunch had several mini small rooms, each with one big table in the middle of the room and heaps of space around it. So only about ten people could eat in each room, so of course at lunchtime while it was busy, all of the tables were full. But it seemed silly, because the rooms would have been big enough to have several more tables in them. So as a result most people had to sit or stand awkwardly on the concrete outside to eat lunch.

Then the queue to actually get into the palace once you had your ticket took approximately 2-3 hours. Once we finally got in, it was packed full of people and made me feel very claustrophobic very quickly, and it was impossible to get a photo of anything without someone getting in the way and blocking the shot. That and it was a hot day, so the crowd just got unbearable.

However, after Versailles, we headed back up to Paris for a few days.

Paris is one of those places everyone kind of has to go to if they can, just so they can say they've been, so you can say you've seen all those classic, famous places. And of course I did them: the Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Musee D'orsay, the Eiffel Tower, and walking along the Champs Elysee.

But here's the thing: you'd expect, given how famous the city is, and how iconic these landmarks are, you'd expect they'd be amazing somehow. Paris is portrayed as this romantic city of love. But to me it seemed like any big city.

The Eiffel Tower was cool, especially as me and Taina went by ourselves just before nightfall, so we saw the view in daylight, and then got to see the sunset from the Tower, and then it got dark and they turned on all these sparkling lights to light up the Tower. We timed it perfectly.

But in the end, the Notre Dame was just like any really old cathedral, in fact less impressive than others we'd seen earlier in the trip. The Arc de Triomphe was interesting. The Louvre had some awesome stuff, and it was great to see the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo up close, but overall it was no more impressive than the Met in New York.

If you've never been to Paris then definitely go, tick off all those must-see things. But don't be fooled into thinking it's this magical place. It's just a city after all.

Nick's original plan after leaving Paris had been to go straight over to the UK and start living over there straightaway. But he had had a last minute hold up on his working visa for the UK, and they required him to do some tests and stuff that he could only do from back home in New Zealand, so instead of heading to England, he flew home from Paris back to NZ.

Me, Taina and Dad had one more place to go however: San Francisco.

San Fran was another pretty city, although perhaps my views were again slanted by the beautiful weather.

I loved the Piers along the waterfront. We found a left-handed gift shop, much like Ned Flanders shop on The Simpsons, and Dad got a bit carried away buying stuff for me and him.

We found this cool arcade, that had classic old game machines- like really old, from the early 1900s and stuff. Stuff like those self-playing pianos were you insert a coin and choose a tune and the piano plays itself, pressing keys on its own. Or fortune teller machines, and machines to test your grip strength.

And then they also had more modern video game arcade machines too, like for games from the 80s and early 90s and stuff. Dad wasn't as fascinated, but me and Taina found that place awesome.

Overall, I had an awesome trip, despite that it was like a month long and we got pretty tired, and despite it being Dad's trip that was a bit different to how we would prefer to travel and do things. But we saw awesome things and went to places I didn't know if I'd ever get to see, and I'm definitely grateful for that.

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