Wedding Reflections

On Saturday, 12 December 2009, Jen and I got married. :) The wedding was perfect; I could not have asked for anything more. First, my groomsmen were fantastic and I had a great time getting ready with them. The ceremony was absolutely beautiful; there were a lot of happy tears in the chapel. Although I knew all of the music and had spent time arranging and rehearsing it, this was the time for me to just open my mind and heart, to exist entirely in the moment, to truly listen to and feel its meaning. Every word of the ceremony - the celebrant's sections, the music, the reading and the vows - was sincere and deeply significant to us. The reception was very enjoyable and memorable, especially the speeches, all of which were terrific and touching.

Throughout the wedding, I was quite proud and happy to be the centre of attention alongside Jen. :) I was truly humbled and awed by the love and respect for us that everyone - our family and friends - showed. And of course, the whole point of all of this was that Jen and I were publicly declaring our love for each other and intent to be together for the rest of our lives.

The wedding also helped me on a personal level in ways I had not expected. I am a self-critical perfectionist by nature, sometimes to an almost self-destructive extent. I waste so much time regretting, wishing I could do things better and worrying about both the past and future that I almost miss out on the present. Nothing I do is ever good enough for me. However, the wedding was a transcendental experience and helped me to see beyond this. I have made many mistakes, I've downright failed sometimes, but I realised that my path, with all of its ups and downs, had led me to this moment and I wouldn't change it for the world. If I'd found such happiness and love and earnt the respect of so many, especially Jen :), I must have done something right overall. It has left me with a lasting, wonderous sense of clarity, relief, peace, contentment and confidence. I have a great deal to live and learn, but I am who and where I want to be. Now I just have to try to take this state of mind into the new year and beyond. :)
read more

Honeymoon, Part 9 (unfinished)

Note: This post has been floating around on my computer for years, but I never did finish it. I've decided to just post it in its incomplete form; something is better than nothing. :)

Jamie: The last destination of our honeymoon was Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Aside from breaking up our long flight back to Australia, we wanted to catch up with some of my relatives: my Uncle Jerry, Auntie Janet and Dad's cousin S.Y. Upon arriving in KL, we were picked up by my uncle and aunt, who (very generously) drove us to our hotel, also giving us a brief tour of KL on the way. KL is a city that never seems to sleep. It is incredibly well lit at night. Most shops don't close until 10pm, some even later. The city is busy with people on the streets and in shops even late on a weekday evening.

The 5 star Traders Hotel where we stayed was absolutely fantastic and incredibly well priced. Located in the heart of the new city centre, it was walking distance from everything we wanted to visit.

The first thing we did after emerging from our room on Tuesday morning was to find some brunch. Both Dad and Uncle Jerry recommended that we visit the food court in the Pavilion, which is a huge shopping centre. And wow, what a food court it was, sprawling across most of one level of the complex. Food in Malaysia is so damned cheap and so delicious. Among other things, we had Malaysian satay, which is just incredible and miles above the satay one gets in Australia.

Later in the day, we visited KL's acquarium, located in the KL Convention Centre. Although much of the display was obviously visual and informational, but there were also three touch pools. I was able to touch a little shark, a stingray, a horse-shoe crab and a sea cucumber, all of which were fascinating. The most bizarre was definitely the last, which was just... squishy. You can literally squish it in your hand; it's a little creepy.

On Wednesday, we met my aunt and uncle again, along with S.Y. I've never met S.Y. before, despite having heard a lot about her over the years, so it was nice to finally meet her. After spending a very nice hour or so chatting at the hotel, during which we had to call hotel staff to rescue Auntie Janet from the bathroom due to a broken lock :), we went to lunch at a restaurant specialising in Penang food and ate a hell of a lot of it. We were introduced to two delicious side dishes and desserts which I've never had or seen before in Australia, all of which I will miss.

On a random impulse, Uncle Jerry, Jen and I decided to visit the music science section of KL's science centre. ...

As I write this, I'm on the plane back to Australia. The honeymoon is over. I'm a little sad, but also glad to be coming home and looking forward to seeing everyone again. It has been a fantastic and memorable trip. We really have had the time of our lives.
read more

Honeymoon, Part 8 (unfinished)

Note: This post has been floating around on my computer for years, but I never did finish it. I've decided to just post it in its incomplete form; something is better than nothing. :)

Jamie: Our journey from Florence to Cork in Ireland was extremely long, boring and tedious. We left our hotel in Florence at around 6am and didn't arrive at our hotel in Cork until nearly 10pm. Our train from Florence to Rome was running late, so we were worried we'd miss our plane to Dublin, but thankfully, we made it in time. Due to icy roads, we were told it was going to be extremely difficult to get a cab to the hotel, but thankfully, we were okay there, too. These are yet another couple of proverbial travel related bullets we've dodged this trip. We also found out that the weather in Cork was uncharacteristically cold. Soon after, we started hearing endless talk about the "big freeze" on the news. :)

Our hotel in Cork, The Ambassador, was a very nice hotel indeed, probably the best of the trip so far. This was quite fortuitous, as we spent a considerable amount of time there, partly because we wanted to lie around and relax a bit and also because of the icy roads and extreme cold at night. It resides on a hill, which afforded Jen a spectacular view of the city from our room.

We both very much enjoyed the atmosphere of Cork. Everyone we met was extremely warm, friendly and helpful. Of course, there was an abundance of Irish pubs. On our first day, we stopped at a pub for a cup of hot port and one of hot whisky. Yum! (I love warm alcoholic beverages.)

On our last day there, we took a bus to Blarney, a very small town about 15 minutes drive from Cork. Its prominent feature is Blarney Castle. ...
read more

Honeymoon, Part 7.

Jamie: We had a pretty quiet new year's day, having slept rather badly due to the insane, spectacular, long-lasting fireworks and other celebration the previous night.

The view out of our window just before midnight. Everyone was moving toward Piazza del Popolo to watch the fireworks - but we had a great view from the hotel.

Before leaving Rome, we visited the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. We didn't walk all the way up the Spanish Steps due to major crowding, but we did walk about half way up. I was fascinated to see such a long, wide set of steps. There are no turns; it just goes straight up with landings in between. It was difficult for me to get a true sense of the Trevi Fountain, as much of it was out of my reach, but its width, its length and the volume of water cascading therein was pretty spectacular.

The beautiful Trevi Fountain.

I've been researching the various places before or soon after we visited them. Associating the history with the real thing is quite fascinating.

We arrived in Florence on Saturday afternoon. Over a half bottle of wine in the hotel bar, we saw a brochure for a tour company called FunInTuscany which does wine tours and Tuscan cooking classes, among other things. We'd wanted to do something like this while in Europe, but hadn't had any luck booking such before we left. Tours were either hideously over-priced or unavailable at this time of year, so we'd pretty much given up on being able to do it. We called FunInTuscany and were delighted when we discovered that we were able to book a combined wine tour and cooking class for the next day.

It turned out to be probably the best day of our honeymoon. After a rocky start (we couldn't find the meeting point and were worried we'd miss the tour), we found the tour van, were introduced to our guide and began our journey. Aside from us, there were only two others on the tour.

In the van on the way to San Gimignano. We were excited!

The first leg of the journey was about a 40 minute drive. Our first stop was San Gimignano, a small, walled medieval town.

San Gimignano from a distance.

Its 13th century medieval architecture is incredibly well preserved. I was able to get a good sense of this; it just "feels" very old, with its worn, solid stone walls, cobbled streets and frequent narrow alleyways. We spent about 45 minutes there, during which we became more familiar with our guide, who was extremely warm and friendly.

After leaving the town, we drove to the country villa where we were to have our cooking class. This is where the real fun began. We were introduced to our very friendly chef/instructor (and his mother, who also helped out) and a few minutes later, our lesson began.

Jamie, the chef.

The ingredients.

First, we were taught how to make pici pasta from scratch. This was interesting, very much hands-on and much simpler than I had expected once you have the basic idea. I knew that fresh pasta was basically dough, but somehow, i hadn't imagined that making and manipulating it would be just like any other dough. Also, I've never had or heard of pici pasta before.

Rolling the pasta.

Our home-made pasta.

After this, we made two pasta sauces, one tomato-based and one cheese-based.

Making the sauces.

Our master-chef teacher, Fuglio.

His mama.

We learnt that Tuscans use a hell of a lot of extra virgin olive oil in their cooking. :) We used cayenne pepper in both of the sauces, which is something we've never used ourselves before and discovered that we quite like. Subsequently, we made a salad which, among other things, includes crumbled three day old bread soaked in water!

We then made two kinds of bruschetta, as well as preparing three kinds of cheese with various accompaniments. One of the cheeses was covered in honey, sultanas, pine nuts and freshly ground nutmeg. Yum! Finally, we observed the preparation of chicken which would later be cooked in a sauce primarily consisting of orange juice.

The gorgeous table setting.

After quite a bit of socialising and a glass of red wine while we waited for our guide and his friend to return, we proceeded to eat. The food was delicious. In particular, the salad was divine; I've never had anything like it before. I also very much enjoyed the cheeses, particularly the one accompanied with honey, sultanas, etc.; I do like cheese, but especially like it with nice accompaniments. Each course was accompanied by a different wine. It was a long, lingering, social lunch - the best kind! Overall, I was thoroughly impressed by the fruits of our labour, though of course we had our instructors observing and making corrections as we worked. Whether we can replicate it by ourselves remains to be seen. :)

Garlic and oil bruschetta. Mmm, garlic and oil...

Tomato bruschetta and three kinds of cheese.

Our wet bread salad.

Jen: So that we didn't have to remember all the recipes, our lovely chef made us a cookbook to take home.

Following lunch, our guide spontaneously took us up onto a big hill on the property to have a glass of wine. The view was spectacular, and it was such a perfect, clear day. (Jamie: There's nothing quite like fresh, crisp air in the middle of the peaceful, quiet countryside.)

We then went to a local winery for a little tour and some tasting. The white wine there was spectacular, so we bought a bottle to drink the next day - pretty much the only white we've had over here. (Jamie: It, along with most of the other wines, only cost 5 Euro. 5 Euro! So cheap! I wish we could have brought some home with us.) We returned back to our hotel in high spirits, and received some exciting news the next day - Jamie's sister Ro was in labour! The beautiful Siena Rose Scott was born on 5th January at about 2.15am AEST, weighing in at 7 lbs 7 oz.

read more

Honeymoon: Random Ramblings

Sorry for the lack of posts. This has been due to poor internet access and perhaps a tiny bit of laziness. :) For now, here are just a few random ramblings that have been bubbling around in my head during the trip but which I neglected to mention in previous posts.

I had always imagined that communicating in a country where you have little to no grasp of the native language would be somewhat visual in nature, but I don't think the full extent of that reality hit me until I actually lived it. Jen did quite a lot of pointing, other body language, reading signs and menus, etc. in order to communicate. I'm curious to know how other totally blind folks have coped without knowing the language of their destinations while traveling. Of course, one solution is to try to learn the language to at least a basic level prior to traveling; i.e. a little more than hello, goodbye, thanks, do you speak English, basic counting and a few other words. This is something I hope to have time to do before I next venture overseas.

Smoking seems to be a hell of a lot more prevalent in Europe than it is in Australia. There's still quite a bit of smoking in Australia, but there just seemed to be so much more smoking in Europe, particularly in France and Italy.

We encountered an ATM with a qwerty keyboard in Italy! The only use for this that I can come up with is passwords with alphanumeric characters instead of just a numeric PIN, but I suspect it isn't used this way. I can't fathom any other use for this. I'm very curious to know whether it is ever used and, if so, how.

Venice's lack of land traffic really was very different and fascinating. It felt very strange (and quite pleasant) not to have to listen to busy traffic, wait for cars, cross roads, etc. The "streets" in Venice were mostly just alleyways, some of them very narrow at that.

It seems that many street sidewalks in Italy are extremely narrow, in some cases virtually non-existent! This is rather frustrating for those of us who require sighted guide, which can be quite challenging on a narrow sidewalk, especially when others are trying to pass at the same time.

Wine is so cheap in France and Italy! (I assume this is also the case in many other European countries.) Generally, even at a relatively good restaurant, a glass of house wine costs around €2 to €4. Furthermore, rather than being average as is often the case in Australia, the house wine was almost always good (and sometimes excellent), at least according to our palates. It was also great to see Australian wine on several wine lists during our travels.

Dogs seem to be allowed and taken everywhere in Europe, even in some hotels and restaurants! We frequently saw dogs being walked in the streets throughout our travels, which is pretty cool. I wondered about issues caused by bad dog behaviour, but we never saw any problems, apart from the occasional short barking match.

The pedestrian traffic in Rome was absolutely insane. On some roads, people just amble along, often standing in the middle of the road calmly having a conversation, barely moving at all when a car needs to get through. Moving through the massive crowds was slow and tedious enough on foot, let alone in a cab!

The cobbled streets in Rome were certainly a different experience. We encountered cobbled streets in other parts of Europe as well, but nowhere near as many as in Rome. Some of the sidewalks in Rome were also cobbled. They just feel so different under foot and vehicles even sound different as they pass over them.
read more

Honeymoon, Part 6: Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

We're just spending some time in our hotel room before we go out and celebrate Roman New Year (as I like to call it). The cool part of this is that we got to call our families at Australian New Year time. It's like two New Years in one! In a display of solidarity with the Australian revellers (or gluttony, maybe?) we have cracked open a bottle of wine and bought a bunch of chips, nuts and lollies which we've been grazing on for the last few hours. I'm going to have to summon every Chinese bone in my body (I like to think that now that I'm a Teh I have Asian heritage) to assist me in soldiering on through the thousand-course dinner we have booked for a few hours time.

So yes, we're in Rome, and have been for a few days now. We're staying at the Hotel del Corso, which is right on Via del Corso, one of the main streets in the heart of Rome. The great thing about this is that we walk out the front door and straight into the city. The bad thing (especially for Jamie) is the crowds. Here is a picture of the current view from our window (about 6pm on New Year's Eve) - it's very mild right now. Usually we have to squeeze our way through massive crowds outside.

So apart from the usual eating and drinking..

Us eating gelati in the middle of a European Winter night. Idiots.

...we have been doing a bit of sightseeing and shopping. We went to the Colosseum...

This was a couple of days ago. It was very rainy and we were cold and wet, and our tour guide was a sexist moron. If I was in the picture I would be frowning.

and the Vatican...

This was today. As you can see, the weather was spectacular. We didn't have a tour guide. Much better.

and the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele.

"I can feel the lion's toenails!"

We also discovered that there are a number of Braille maps here in Rome - very cool! (Jamie: Unfortunately, I'm still struggling to read them but hey - they're cool anyway.)

We haven't bought much for ourselves over here (apart from the tonnes of food and alcohol we've consumed) but we did decide to treat ourselves to some leather jackets.

"God I'm beautiful!"

They were a bargain at 99 Euro each, and they are made of lamb's leather which I presume is better because the animal it came from is cuter than a cow.

We're here for the next 2 nights, then we go to Florence for 2 days then onto Cork, Ireland. Apparently we both have ancestors from there - hopefully not the same ones...

That's about all I have to say, but here are a few more pictures that we (ok, I) have taken over the last few days:

One of the better street mimes (the guy in front of the bin, not the guy on the left...)

Wine in a poppa! Where was this throughout my primary schooling?!

Jamie posing surreptitiously in front of someone's apartment building in Venice.

A close up in front of the same building.

Love to you all! We're off to eat ourselves into a coma!
read more

Honeymoon, Part 5: Merry Christmas!

Jen: Merry Christmas from Venice! We have spent today eating, drinking and gently drifting along the canal in a gondola. Same old, same old, really! As usual, we have built our day around a very long lunch - about three hours today, I think - and a couple of bottles of wine. We are now in our hotel room awaiting dinner time!

Christmas lunch.

The high (or low?) point of the afternoon was when I said "Should we get another bottle of wine?" and Jamie replied, "It's Christmas!"

We didn't just eat and drink today, though - we started out (after breakfast) by going to Piazza San Marco. Many of the shops were closed due to it being Christmas day but we still managed a look at the Basilica and the bell tower. I'm loving the calm of Venice - the total lack of cars etc is absolutely lovely, and the gentle (if a little bit smelly) lap of the canal is very peaceful.

Here is a little video of our gondola ride. We have seen a lot of tourists spending their whole time in gondolas with video cameras poised - what is the point??! We only have a few seconds of footage here for you - we spent the rest of the time being a starry-eyed newlywed couple. Enjoy!

Jamie: P.S. We just heard and saw a guy riding past our hotel loudly singing jingle bells in Italian while ringing his bicycle bell. Hilarious!
read more

Honeymoon, Part 4

Again, blog post by Jamie and captions by Jen!

The remainder of our stay in Bordeaux was very enjoyable, although the weather was pretty dreary, drizzling almost constantly, the kind of annoying rain which doesn't really stop you from going outside but which leaves everything slightly soggy and cold.

On the food front, although we very much enjoyed the rich French meals, by dinner time on Wednesday, neither Jen or I could stomach any more of it, so we randomly decided to eat at a Brazilian restaurant we encountered. This turned out to be fantastic, especially the desserts! We'll be looking out for a Brazilian restaurant when we return home.

On Thursday morning, we visited Bordeaux's cathedral, which is huge! We happened to visit as the organist was practising on the pipe organ, which was a real treat. I love the sound of a true pipe organ, but rarely get to hear one live. I also got to touch some of the big angel statues, which was rather interesting.

A poorly lit photo of Jamie checking out the angel.

I often have trouble figuring out what statues (or parts of them) are meant to be representing, but these were large enough and carved with so much detail that I could grasp them quite easily.

The overnight train ride to Venice was certainly a mixed experience. First of all, the train was running late due to bad weather conditions; we ended up arriving in Venice about two hours later than intended. We had a private sleeper cabin. The worst part was the food. The only food available (or at least as far as we were led to believe) was in the restaurant carriage. Dinner cost Eur28 per Person. Major rip off! First of all, we were both tired and the train was already running late, which meant that dinner didn't start until 9:30pm. There was only one (very curt) person serving the entire (rather full) carriage. We were given some very stale bread, which no one ate; Jen saw lots of pieces of bread with tiny nibbles taken out of them, similar to our own. The food was very average (and that's probably being kind) and service was hideously slow; we didn't get out of there until after 11, and even then, we left before dessert (pre-packaged chocolate cake) was served. Breakfast was Eur9.50 per person and was similarly crap. Airline food service receives its fair share of complaints, but this was far worse.

We returned to our cabin after dinner to discover that it had been locked while we were away, so we had to find someone to unlock it. The beds were comfortable enough and both of us did manage to get a few hours of disjointed sleep, although the ride was pretty jerky. Just being able to lie down and rest made it far better than a plane trip for me and it was fantastic to have privacy.

Upon arriving in Venice, we took a water taxi to our hotel.

Much more interesting than a regular taxi!

I knew Venice would be fascinating for me and I wasn't disappointed. The whole concept of a city (or at least a large section of it) where non-pedestrian travel occurs in the water instead of on land is just so different to anything I've experienced. Also, the constant, gentle lapping of the water is quite relaxing. Our hotel is in a terrific location, just metres away from the water and the Rialto Bridge and walking distance from everything we want.

Our hotel.

The room is quite old-looking, quaint and (according to Jen) "girly", with patterned fabric on the walls, an old-style key and other similar cuteness.

Our 'girly' room.

As usual, we started our stay with a fantastic, luxuriously lingering meal. :)

One more thing: just after we arrived in Venice, the following (slightly paraphrased) conversation occurred:
Jen: (excitedly) "Oo! China Town!"
Jamie: "Err... we've just arrived in Italy and you're excited about Chinese food?"
Jen: "Yeah, it's because I'm a Teh now..."
read more

Honeymoon, Part 3: Culinary Adventures

Note: This blog entry has been written by Jamie, with photo captions by Jen.

On Monday, We rose at around 6am (ugh) to make the trip to Bordeaux. We decided to pack our backpacks with enough for the next two days and ditch our 20+ kg suitcases in luggage lockers at the train station... and Jen subsequently spent a considerable amount of time babbling about how relieved she was to be rid of them. :) Lugging them around has certainly been challenging, so it's nice to travel light for a few days.

Upon arriving in Bordeaux, we ended up walking to our hotel, as it wasn't that long a walk and turned out to be far easier than trying to find a cab or figuring out public transport. Along the way, we grabbed a bite to eat at a place which served a set three course menu for €12.50. We've found this to be a common trend here; a lot of places serve a set menu for an incredibly good price and often even provide some small choice of dishes. We were greeted with complimentary glasses of port. Yum! We only ordered one meal, as I wasn't feeling particularly hungry due to my stupid cold, which made me sad. (Dad, I'm sure you can understand.) Amusingly enough, I ended up eating a substantial amount of Jen's anyway. The meal was delicious!

Continuing our journey, we noticed that there seem to be a rather insane number of vehicles with sirens which either passed us by or made themselves heard from a distance. We've been able to hear these from our hotel as well. There seems to be at least one every 5 minutes! Even if there is some sort of police/ambulance/fire HQ nearby, they must always approach with sirens blaring. I had fears that my sleep would be terrorised by nightmares of A natural and B natural tones alternating at 60 bpm, complete with doppler effect pitch alterations. Thankfully, my fears were not realised. As it is, I'm sometimes not sure whether I'm actually hearing them from a distance or whether they're just in my head...

Our accommodation here is a serviced apartment. Upon entering, we discovered a big lounge room, but were a bit concerned when we couldn't find the bedroom. Thankfully, we discovered that the couch folds out into a rather large, comfortable bed. There is a tiny kitchenette, although it's not really large or well equipped enough to cook much. This is also the first place we've stayed that has provided free internet access, which is fantastic.

We both very much like Bordeaux, probably more than Paris. It is a smaller, quieter, perhaps quaint place. Many of the buildings are very old with big wooden doors. As we walked down one street in the evening, I kept hearing these doors being closed, reminding me of movies/audio dramas of older times. It is a rather stark contrast to the modern, often automated doors that I usually encounter.

On Monday evening we decided to find another restaurant offering a cheap three course set menu. This is where the adventure truly began. None of the staff spoke a word of English and there was no English menu, so we decided to... make educated guesses/order at random. We had a choice of four starters and four mains.

The menu.

We ensured that we ordered different dishes for each to increase the chance of satisfaction. For the starters, I ordered "Charcuterie" at random, while Jen ordered "Salade au Roquefort", knowing that "Roquefort" was some kind of cheese. For the mains, I ordered "Pave de Bouef", knowing that it was beef, and Jen ordered "Pave de Saunoiy" at random. The beef had a "Roquefort" sauce, so we knew it was some kind of cheese sauce. I raised the objection that perhaps this meant blue cheese (which I don't like much), but Jen smugly pointed out that they'd just say gorgonzola or the like in that case. I theorised that Jen's dish ("Saunoiy") was probably salmon, but Jen smugly retorted that "poisson" was the French word for fish, so it probably wasn't.

So, the starters arrived. Mine was a rather tasty assortment of cold meats, salad, pickled vegetables and paté (I think of it as the French equivalent of antipasto).

Jen's was... a blue cheese salad.


Both of us very much enjoyed our dishes, but I now knew that my beef would be smothered in a blue cheese sauce. We still didn't know what the other main would be.

Eventually, the mains arrived. Mine was as expected, and after Jen scraped off most of the sauce, I quite enjoyed it, although it was a little tough in places.

Jen's turned out to be... salmon.

Oops again.

All of a sudden, Jamie became the smug one...

But at least he took it in good humour.

Very good humour.

Amusingly, we had little trouble discerning the meaning of most of the desserts and they were both utterly delicious.

This one had the words 'citron' and 'meringue' in the title.

And this one had something to do with chocolate and fondant.

All in all, the experience was hilariously enjoyable, helped along by a bottle of gorgeous local red wine.

Thankfully, we know how to say "red wine" in French.

Of course, now that I've had some success at guess-work interpretation of French menu items, I'll probably completely fail from now on.

Au Revoir!
read more

Honeymoon, Part 2: Addendum

Jamie: Just a few things we forgot to write about in the original post.

I'm truly amazed by the efficiency and usefulness of the tube in London. There seems to be no more than 5 minutes between trains and you rarely have to wait even that long. Most of the time, there was a train waiting for us. Even changing lines is not such a big drama because you don't have to wait very long for your connecting train. There was a tube station close to everything we needed, though admittedly, our time was spent pretty close to the centre of London. It seems far preferrable to driving through the awful traffic; we sat on a tour bus for over half an hour for only a few stops and most of that time was spent idling. The metro in Paris also seems to be extremely efficient, although it always seems to be crowded, even in the middle of a Sunday. I'm going to miss this when I get home to Brisbane and its half-hourly, frequently unreliable trains.

In both London and Paris, I haven't encountered a single audio light. I'm told that there are some in London, but as I noted above, we spent most of our time in the centre of London and I somehow didn't encounter a single one. I find this quite perplexing. Are there really so few or are they just at obscure crossings that most people don't use? Are there any at all in Paris?

Music nerd alert: Immediately following our arrival in Paris, one of the first things that caught my attention was the sound preceding announcements at the train station. Rather than the boring old major arpeggio or perfect fifth tones that so often preceed announcements, this was a minor, unresolved, slightly sinister/creepy tune that reminded us somewhat of the X Files. Other pre-announcement sounds heard in Paris were somewhat more cheery, but even so, they were still much more interesting than the norm.

It's been great to have a break from computing and the like, but nevertheless, I'm finding our extremely infrequent internet access to be difficult. It's not so much the social aspect, though it's certainly nice to catch up with people at home every few days. However, more than anything, we tend to take the ability to quickly Google something for granted. Yesterday, we gave in and spent the €20 (ouch!) to get 24 hours of internet access at the hotel. As an example, this enabled us to quickly find a nearby laundromat and pharmacy, including maps. (Concierge told us that the former didn't exist and that we'd have to go quite some distance to find an open pharmacy on a Sunday. Grrr.)
read more