Eurolines – or how to get back to Paris in 8hrs

Eurolines a bus service that runs from Victoria Coach Station in London to Paris Gallieni Station (Metro Line 3). The other bus options are idbus.com which arrives in Paris Bercy (Metro Line 6) or Megabus which arrives in Porte Maillot (Metro Line 1). I always take the Euroline service because it is the most convenient for me in terms of metro line. I came back from Paris with Eurolines about a month ago and have been thinking about writing a post for a while. I usually don’t take the bus if I have  my ticket for the Eurostar bought in time it costs £36 if you buy at least 3 months in advance which is about the same price as a bus ticket with Eurolines.

Gare du Nord
Gare du Nord

Eurostar had pissed me off previously because I had taken the train from Paris to London on the 1st July, I remember very clearly that there had been a lot of problems with Eurostar because of the situation at the border in Calais and Eurostar had cancelled many services the previous day. On this particular day, it was 37degrees which is ridiculous for Paris and Gare du Nord was packed with no air conditionning. When I arrived there, everyone was queuing to go up the escalators where we are normally allowed to go and check in. It took about 40 minutes before we were told why we all had to queue in the immense and disgusting heat and why our train was delayed – due to left luggage apparently. When I finally got on the train I swear it was hrs after and since Eurostar was so late I missed my connecting train and ended up paying for 2 tickets. To cut a long story short, Eurostar insists that the train was only late 59 minutes therefore I was not due any compensation for the delay as within the European guidelines which is absolute bullshit. Eurostar are just going down from all the hotels and shit that they had to pay for cancelling a full day of services.

Anyway, for this reason, I decided to boycott Eurostar and take the Eurolines bus. Now, I have taken Eurolines quite a few times from London to Paris and vice versa and I have never had a bad experience before with Eurolines but it is really fucking boring. First of all, my parents live in Cambridge and I had to take the train to Kings Cross and then change onto the Victoria tube line which isn’t far but because I am retarded I took the right train jumped off thinking it was the wrong one and then jumped back onto the next one. When I arrived at Victoria train station, I dragged my suitcases up the stairs (I can never work out where the lift is). I find the walk to Victoria Coach station really irritating and normally the walk is cut short when you take the escalators through the shopping centre it seems to be a bit shorter but of course the escalators were out of order and there was no way that I was going to lug all that crap up the stairs so I walked around the building, when I finally arrived at the coach station I remembered how annoying it is to get to the International departures. Eurolines requires you to print out an ‘e-ticket’ and then check at the desks located right at the end of the whole station and it is a pain to push through all the people. In the end, I didn’t end up waiting too long for the coach but the people who were waiting with me, I found to be very rude – there was no sense of order to the queue because on Eurolines, there is no allocated seating so it is first come first serve.

When I boarded the bus, there wasn’t too many people yet and I picked a seat not too far from the driver because I hate being at the back and in the middle there are the toilets after 8hrs, it can get a bit whiffy. I was quite happy for about half an hr until some guy decided to sit next to me when there was still plenty of seats available. And I soon realised that this guy was going to be trying to chat to me all through the 8hrs. I’m not anti-social but during these trips I really do prefer to sleep. Plus he was saying all this disgusting stuff like how he had shoes on without socks so he was sorry if I could smell his feet. Who the hell says that to someone? That was super irritating. Fortunately, the bus is not uncomfortable, there is a lot of room compared to a regular bus but I had a big handbag and a backpack that didn’t fit in the overhead storage so I did feel a bit cramped.

The thing about Eurolines is that there are an awful lot of stops, I feel like there is a lot of getting on and off but it does depend because sometimes when we reach Dover, we don’t get off the bus and the passport officers come aboard to collect all the passports and then dishes them out again but this time, we were hurried off the bus by the driver because apparently we didn’t have a lot of time until we had to get into the shuttle to cross the channel. We had quite a long wait as well to board but once we were on the shuttle, we were again allowed to get off the bus. But when we are in the tunnel, I don’t really like to get off the bus because it’s all dark and there isn’t a lot of space to walk around and I am always quite afraid someone is going to steal my things. (My friend had a passport stolen once).

My overall opinion of Eurolines is not a bad one depending on who you travel with and at what time. It takes around 8hrs so you need to prepare yourself for a day of travel. I once did the trip over night and I have to say it is a lot worse than taking it during the day. I thought that I could sleep but nope! you have to get on and off the bus in the middle of the night for passport checks etc, not pleasant at all and it is super dark it is really not safe. If you are travelling alone, it can be annoying so choose your seat wisely because there are some irritating people around. Another experience I had was to sit next to a larger gentlemen and he took up half my seat so I spent 8hrs crushed up against the window! But booking is easy, there is wifi on board that works on and off – just don’t forget to pack your charger in your bag, there are USB ports and you must imperatively print your ticket in advance!

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Pisa (CiaoFlorence Tour part 3)

Part 1 here

Part 2 here

PISA

Ahhhhh… Pisa, the last stop on our wonderful tour, and for me the most anticipated yet most disappointing. Its a tower that leans whats not to love! Well.. a lot of things…

By this point in the tour we had already been trapsing around in 40c heat for 9hrs, I had had enough if I was honest and getting off that air conditioned bus really did kill me inside slightly.
And as soon as we got off the bus, we were met by street sellers who were offering fake raybans and Louis Vuitton handbags – not exactly the exciting welcome that I was looking for if any. As with the rest of the tour, the bus was parked super far from the actual site that we were going to and this again involved all 53 of us following the famous pink umbrella. However, this time was a little bit different because I was bitten by a mosquito and ended up having an enormous lump on my arm. I am not exagerating I am seriously allergic to those motherfuckers.

By the time, we had got close to the walls of the Piazza dei Miracoli, we were then again met by the stalls of fake designer handbags and more streetsellers. This made me very unsettled and I held onto my bag for dear life. From experience, this never ends well for me – I am always the one with something stolen, pickpocketed what have you. So on reaching this point, Francesca, our lovely tour guide told us that we would be meeting up again in 50 minutes outside the Burger King. At this point, we were hot and bothered and my mother was dying to go to the loo. We walked into the Piazza dei Miracoli after having bypassed all the crazy stalls and streetsellers. The first sight of the Cathedral, the baptistry and the leaning tower itself in the background was impressive as everything is made of a beautiful white marble but this was quickly ruined by the sites of the hords of tourists taking pictures. There were a ridiculous amount of people all trying to get their selfies in.

We made our way around the Piazza, took a few pictures and then made our way to the DSC_0854toilets and by this time, we had already taken 45 minutes and had to make our way back to the meeting point. For what can be classed as an architectural failure, this attraction certainly pulls its fair share of tourists.

In conclusion, to my review on the tour – I think that the tour is worth it for holidaymakers that would like to see the main sites and don’t want to take their time to really discover the secrets of the city. Basically, if you’re a take a photo and then go kind of person, book a tour. Concerning the tour of 3 cities at once, I wasn’t disappointed in the end because we fit in a lot that we wouldn’t have found ourselves and have some good memories of the place, however, I would have preferred to have had a better lunch and maybe the bus could have parked up a little closer so that we had more free time in each of the places. Otherwise, hats off to our tourguide and the bus was extremely comfortable and the places were beautiful of course.

San Gimignano (CiaoFlorence tour part 2)

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To continue on with the tour first part located right here (Siena (CiaoFlorence Tour part 1)

After walking back to the bus, we headed back towards San Gimignano and finally arrived at the restaurant for lunch. Franscesca, our tour guide, told us before we got off the bus that we would have tables outside and to make sure that we went to get our seats before going to the toilets if we wanted to sit with our friends or families etc. The restaurant was nice enough, it had an amazing view of San Gimignano and was placed between some mountains and some vineyards.

The restaurant was called Trattoria Borgo di Racciano, here is their San Gimignanowebsite http://borgodiracciano.it/. So when we got off the bus we were quickly bunched in to the terrasse where they had set up about 5 rows of tables together with about 16 covers per table. Being an exceptionally hot tuscan summer day, the congregation of hot bodies was really unbearable at this point and being around so much greenery, we pretty much turned into a feasting ground for the mosquitoes. On the right you can see the photo of people queuing disorderly to sit down on the tables.

Our family was seated in the middle of some Americans and some Canadians, they were nice enough but I always find it quite awkward to be sat too close to a stranger but I think this is quite a common thing in Europe. The tables were laid out quite nicely with green table clothes with the checked pattern (see photo below). On each table there was a bottle of red wine and a bottle of white wine as well as sparkling water and still water. These bottles were shared between about 4-6 people. Any other drinks such beers or soft drinks had additional charge.

After we were seated, the waiters came around very quickly with a bottle of homemade/brewed (not really sure what the term is for wine) and asked around whether anyone wanted to try some and also informing us that if we did, there was the possibility to buy this wine inside. So basically, a little bit of shameless plugging. The first course arrived quite quickly, each time a course was served, the vegetarians would be served first. On the bus, Franscesca had briefly explained to us the menu that we would be receiving. She said that for the starter it would be Bruscheta with ham and cheese and the vegetarians would get more cheese on their plate. When the starters were served, the first thing I noticed was that the portions were very small; I mean I know it’s a starter but come on. There was three pieces of bruschetta on the plate with two pieces of very thin dried ham San Gimignanoand 2 olives with some olive oil drizzled on the top and no cheese for the meat eaters! I have eaten bruschetta before in France and in England but honestly, I had never tried it in Italy. I just thought that it was a very very hardened piece of toast! And each bite was almost painful on my teeth but in terms of taste it wasn’t too bad but definitely nothing special – the vegetarian option was looking a lot better at this point.

After everyone was finished with their starters, the waiters very quickly cleared up the plates and began to dish out the main course for the vegetarians. The main course, again, was really nothing special it was basically Penne with tomato sauce and for the rest of us, it was the same but with a tiny bit of minced beef mixed inside. What I wasn’t too impressed about was that the Penne was clearly overcooked and there was not really much sauce and definitely hardly any meat. Also, they brought out huge bowls of pasta and said that we had to share between 4 people which made me think that personally that this was really a low budget meal but it was included in the tour and catering for 50 people at once. Well… I wasn’t expecting a gastronomic 3-course meal but with all the morning walks I was pretty hungry at this point. Unfortunately, I haven’t got any pictures of the pasta because it was just so hot to sit there with all the people.

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The dessert was probably the best part of the meal for me but it was very small! A panacotta with a very hard chocolate biscuit and red fruit coulis I believe. I think I finished the desserts in about 2 bites. But certainly very tasty. I think that lunch took about an 1-1 and half max and we were then quickly hurried back onto bus so that we could go to visit San Gimignano. I liked the idea of the restaurant, it was well placed and had an excellent view, unfortunately not from our table but if we wanted to take any nice pictures we had to venture out into the road a little in the burning hot sun.

When we arrived in San Gimignano, we were told that we would have to walk again because coaches are not allowed near the walls of the hilltop town. This aggravated my parents slightly as they were already complaining throughout the trip. We were given an hr freetime within the city and our tourguide suggested that we visit one of the Torture museums (I don’t know why she mentioned that we clearly wouldn’t have time) and also she informed us that San Gimignano has the best ice cream in the world and that we should try it.

Gelato

The walk inside the  walls of medieval town was pleasant and most places were shaded but it did seem like a place uniquely for tourists, all the shops were displaying postcards and little souvenir trinkets which I was quite disappointed with. However, my general mood picked up once we reached the Piazza Cisterna. Sam Gimignano is renowned for its gelato. On the Piazza, most people tend to go Gelateria Dondoli which is located on the left and can be easily recognised by the large queue outside of it as their Gelato maker, funnily enough Mr Gelateria DondoliDondoli has won maybe gelato competitions worldwide. (Who knew that such a thing existed!! Definitely jealous of the judges for these things). Anyway, I can’t really remember why but my brother decided that we should go to another Gelateria with a little less queue but I think I was still impressed by the flavour and the consistency of the gelato. We decided to try mint, pistacchio and vanilla (my brother is obsessed with mint flavoured stuff). What is confusing though is that they have a very large banner outside the shop titled “The best ice cream in the World” as well as on their cups of ice cream as shown above. Also, the prices are quite reasonable, I think we paid €3 for 3 scoops. My suggestion would be to try both if you have the time and have the taste for Gelato!

Personally, I don’t think that I would visit San Gimignano again as I had the feeling I was stuck within the walls of a town made for tourists. Although, the architecture that remains in interesting, I much preferred our previous stop, Siena. What was impressive to be about San Gimignano was the panoramic views it gave across the Tuscan countryside since the town is built on a hilltop. With the tour giving us only an hour here, we weren’t able to do much else except take a few pictures and eat Gelato. I probably would have tried to climb up one of the towers to get an even better view since after Sam Gimignano is known as “the city of beautiful towers”

San Gimignano

Siena (CiaoFlorence tour part 1)

 

Piazza Del Campo. View of the Palazzo Publico and railings ready for the Palio race
Piazza Del Campo. View of the Palazzo Publico and railings ready for the Palio race

Recently, I went on a family holiday with my parents and brother to Florence. We decided to stay for 5 days, which apparently, seemed a little too long for my impatient parents and annoying older brother so when the hotel provided me with some brochures of tours around Tuscany, one of them immediately jumped out at me.

The company promoted by hotel was Ciaoflorence (https://www.ciaoflorence.it/en/)offering numerous tours leaving from Florence, Rome, Venice and Milan. The brochure that I received only showed the tours in English and Spanish but from their website, they also offer French and Italian tours.

I decided upon the tour A special day in Tuscany: Pisa, San Gimignano, Siena because my parents wanted to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa but I had also been warned by my sister that the actual city of Pisa was extremely small and wasn’t worth a day trip. In addition, when I was in Hong Kong, I met an Italian guy who told me to not be so conventional and just stay in Florence and Pisa and to go see Siena, for San Gimignano… Well, why the hell not. The price of the tour was €80 per head; the price seemed fair for a 12hr tour including lunch.

The tour was also extremely easy to book, I just went down to the front desk of my hotel and the receptionist called the travel agency booked our places and asked that I pay in cash €90 deposit directly and then she gave me a voucher to give to the tour operator the morning of the tour and pay the rest by cash or card.

The meeting place for the beginning of the tour was the Piazza Adua, just near the Santa Maria Novella Station, which was convenient for us because it was just the end of the street of where our hotel was located. When we arrived there was already large groups of people waiting and a makeshift stand with two young ladies holding a clipboard. I went over to the clipboard, handed in my voucher and paid the rest of the money owed. The lady then ticked me off and gave me 4 green Tuscany stickers but with no further instructions. What was confusing here was that there were in fact two different groups and the other group had the same green Tuscany sticker but with a yellow 2 over the top of it. And it was quite confusing that in fact we were on different buses and they were in fact on the Spanish tour! So the Spanish tourmakers were loaded on the bus first while we waited.

The tour guides then proceeded to hand out radios with headphones which she said was for the guided tour in Siena. We were then finally allowed to board the bus. Seats were not allocated so we chose whichever seats suited us. The bus was nice and comfortable equipped with wifi (that sometimes didn’t work) and air-conditioning (very much appreciated in 38c heat) but no toilets. Since the seats were not assigned, it was first come first serve. This became a slight issue along the tour as we stopped many times and there was some ennui about the seat swapping.

When the bus set off, the tour guide introduced herself as Francesca. She was a native Italian lady, very kind and helpful but it was sometimes difficult to understand her accent. She announced that our first stop would be Siena. The trip to Siena took about 1h30 where she talked to us a little bit about Siena and showed us some of the spots we could see alongside the road we were talking. When we arrived in Siena, she informed us that the bus could not enter the city and that we would have to walk.

walking towards the Piazza del Campo
walking towards the Piazza del Campo

Ah.. It was certainly a walk.. A large group of around 50 people following a little Italian lady with a closed pink umbrella held up in the air..

We were led directly to the Piazza Del Campo, a historical square where we were lucky enough to see the preparations for the Palio di Siena, a horse race that is held two times a year. We arrived at the this square around 9.40am and Francesca told us that we had some free time before we met our local tour guide under the tower of the Palazzo Pubblico. I think most of the group decided to go for a quick bathroom break. I certainly did and ended paying €3 for an espresso.

In the bus, we were told that we would have two different local guides because we were such a big group but we actually ended up having only one tour guide. She was quite a nice lady and the radios worked quite well but honestly, as a English native speaker I could not understand much

going down to the Piazza Del Campo
going down to the Piazza Del Campo

of what she was saying and for what I understood, I can’t say that I found it particularly interesting. But it was a nice walk towards the Cathedral of Siena. During our passage, we even saw what I believe to be the Ceri Parade where children bring a candle to the Virgin Mary before the Palio race.

The tour with the local guide which lasted around 45 minutes ended inside the Duomo di Siena and I think a lot of us, myself included had removed our earphones and began to investigate the Cathedral ourselves. We were told by Francesca that we all needed to make our own way back to the Piazza del Campo by 11.15am.

 

Duomo di Siena
Duomo di Siena

I have a mixed opinion concerning the local guide; she was was worth it but also not. I think that with any tour it is always difficult because there is a lot to see and we allocated very little time. With this same tour there is also an option to book without the tickets to the Cathedral and the local guide which came up to €65. The local guides explanations were a little long winded and I think a lot of people got quite fed up but without booking the tour with the local guide, we would have had to buy our own tickets into the cathedral and honestly freetime was pretty limited anyway.

Siena has an interesting medieval history and culture that I don’t feel I was able to discover with just one hour in the city, but the tour did give me a quick glimpse of the highlights. When I visit Tuscany again, I would definitely like to make a day trip to Siena to fully discover what it has to offer.

Note: When going into the Cathedral, visitors must cover their shoulders and legs if wearing hot pants or very short skirts but there are shawl type sheets available at the entrance of this Cathedral.

 

A little warning

Sin Tat Plaza Hong Kong

Hong Kong is known for being a paradise for electronics. On a recent trip to visit my sister, I spent about 4 weeks in Hong Kong and decided it was time to upgrade my mobile phone. At the time I was using a moto g with a very side 8gb memory and I had had enough of having to delete apps every few days to make room for new apps or photos.

Since I am a huge klutz and also I somehow seem to attract trouble, I manage to lose or have a phone stolen around every 6 months. I had been wanting to buy an iphone for a while but could not justify spending more than my rent on a phone!

It was then that my sister suggested that I check out the Sin Tat Plaza in Mongkok which is basically 2 floors of mobile phone dealers and fixers. It can be somewhat overwhelming as each shop space is tiny and there are just rows and rows of displays with mobile phones.

I had been looking at a few models and had passed around the shopping centre a few times when I finally decided on an iphone 5 – not too old and at an affordable price. We walked around the centre a few times looking at prices and finally we decided on a store. The salesman was very friendly and came over to us straight away asking if he could help. My sister asked if the phones were new and he said yes. We walked around again to compare prices and finally decided to go back to this shop.

The same salesman came over to us and asked us which one I wanted and what colour; I finally decided on a iphone 5 white 32gb. He went to fetch a new one, and opened it with the film wrap etc as if everything was new. He then insert my UK sim card and passed the phone to my sister because at this point in time we were more concerned if the phone was unlocked than if it was actually new!

My sister rang her own phone and it worked. Everything looked like it was in order and we left the shop. When we got back home, I looked more closely at my “new iphone” and realised that there was a scratch on the back aluminium cover and with more inspection, there was also a small scratch on the front. I began to wonder if the phone was new at all, how could it be possible that a new iphone could have a scratch.

Then, I saw that the phone had not much battery and had “not been charged before” so I plugged it in, only to get a warning message that the plug was not a certified plug! Finally, I began to do a little research online and one of the websites noted to check the IMEI numbers on the back of my phone and on the box! They do not match! However, on the receipt, he had taken note of the IMEI number on the box and not the phone. There was nothing I could do.

Well, I am since back in the UK and I can say that the phone works fine and I don’t have any problems luckily except for 2 minor scratches which are covered up by the phone cases I bought but the battery sucks! I am not sure if that is an Apple thing or because the phone is secondhand.

But be warned! When buying phones or electronics in general check the IMEI numbers match and make a thorough check of the item. I was tricked because the seller took the time to repackage the phone so perfectly, but I guess at the price I paid it is still a bargain…