Monday, December 27, 2010

Christine Chee goes to Europe!

Christine Chee has been a member of D'Utama Toastmasters Club since October 2009. Recently she went on a trip to Europe covering the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Switzerland and here she shares her experience with us :

Posing with the spitting image of King Henry VIII

A neighbourhood in Staines, West London

English snow made with Malaysian hands

Cycling in Staines

Views along the River Thames

What started out as just a notion to experience snow became a reality when a family friend decided to organize a winter holiday in Europe for the school break. Three weeks! I have not taken leave from work this long before and was feeling apprehensive about ‘What If’s’ and then with some kind of profound rational intervention, trailing it with a more pragmatic ‘Why not?’ and I was all set.

Friends were asking ‘Why go in the winter? It’s going to be cold and you will have shorter daylight time to do things.’ Well, I guess we were all mad then, all the three female adults (excluding two children) were virtually mad! Aside from pictures of winter and the occasional visit to Genting Highlands, I had absolutely no idea what winter cold would be like.

I was too lazy to poke my nose into the planning bit, i.e. choosing the places to visit and left it all to the chief organizer who had spent her university days in the UK some more than 30 years ago! (Yeah, I know, it’s a long time ago - things and places have changed.)

Stemming from a mother’s worry to clothe her child from the cold, I got slightly carried away in getting winter clothing.

We flew with Air Emirates and touched down at London Heathrow Airport where we were met by Jim, a wonderful friend of our chief organizer.

The following is a general idea of our itinerary. London (2 nights) > Paris (4 nights) > Venice > Florence then to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa and back to Stansted Airport, London where we spent 10 days at Staines, west London.

On the first day at Staines, we went for a very lovely walk along the River Thames where the Windsor Castle is close by. Jim told us (still open for verification) that the Queen stays at Windsor Castle on the weekends and when she is there, there will be two flags flying; one, the Union Jack and the other, the Monarch’s flag. The children were firing questions at Uncle Jim about when it will snow. And Uncle Jim, the kind and very knowledgeable soul that he is (he is a retired ex-teacher/lecturer) filled us up on the history of the place. We stayed at Jim’s place. I wondered how Jim could take all the nonsense from 3 and one half Asian ladies and plus a nosy noisy boy in his house.

The next day, it was the EuroStar to Paris. We visited the usual touristy places like the Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, Arc De Triomphe, Seine river cruise, Notre Dame (climbed all the 300 spiral stairs steps right to the top to the bell that was supposedly rung by Quasimodo. We did a bicycle ride tour to the Palace of Versailles where we stopped by the local market to get some picnic food stuff.

It is nice to admire man-made structures. Looking at their sheer enormity and intricate designs, I tried to understand the ancient technologies that existed back in those days, the people that were being used to build those structures. History is not my cup of tea but I do marvel at the ‘power’ within these people to make their dreams come true. The blood, sweat and tears of the nameless ordinary men who helped build them.

My personal interests were visiting natural landscapes, market places and interacting with the locals bearing in mind, language plays such a big part. French food at the cafes and pubs were delectably awesome.

Our next leg was to Zurich, Switzerland to see snow (actually the Alps has snow 365 days – no need to go during winter).

Zurich is such a clean and organized place and the people are so friendly. We signed up for the Mount Titlis tour. On the morning to the coach, it started to drizzled tiny bits of snow and that got us so excited, Malaysians seeing snow for the first time! Shortly after that, the snow came in bigger flakes and it was all over the place and we were so thrilled, snapping pictures away. It was a fantastic tour of Mount Titlis and I felt like I was inside a picture with the majestic snow covered mountains.

Next we traveled to Milan then Venice. Stalls upon stalls of the legendary masks (can I safely say from ‘Phantom of the Opera’?) greeted us. It rained on our full day and we just did a walk about. The Gondola was not working due to the rain so nothing romantic happened. We did have great food and wine though. Next stop to Leaning Tower of Pisa and then back to Staines, London.

We visited Windsor Castle. The State Room where the Queen receives her guests (which was opened to the public during our visit) was really grand.

We attended an afternoon matinee Theatre Show, Les Miserables, visited the Natural History Museum, Science Museum, London Dungeon, Eye of London, Big Ben and etc.

We had very short daylight hours and when 4.30 pm arrived, it was already dark like it was 8 pm.

I hardly ever watch the weather news in Malaysia. However, in London it is more than a daily event. We listened to weather reports and of course news of the Tube workers’ strike before planning the day out. For the record, we actually experienced the heaviest snow in the UK. The last heavy snow was 25 years ago. On the last 2 days before our departure, temperature dipped to -10 degrees Celsius. Did we get more than we bargained for? I guess we did.

I believe the best part of any holiday, is creating fond memories and spending time with loved ones and friends.

View of the Eiffel Tower, Paris

Arc De Triomphe

Outside the Saint James Club, Paris

Venice on a rainy day

The famous Venetian masks

Beautiful Murano glass artifacts

Having fun in the snow at Mount Titlis, Switzerland