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Trip Report Europe Road Trip Report (Poland-Germany-Belgium) — Day 2

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Our warm greetings to those who have already joined our blog and to those who have just found us. We do continue travelling and sharing with you our first impressions of what we have seen and done. We remind that we have departed from Tallinn in Estonia and we are driving through numerous countries to reach our final destination, which is the southern coast of France. We plan to make shorter stops on the way, but we will have a longer stay in Paris - the most romantic city in the world. Keep following our blog to get the most fresh updates and more photos.

But now we carry on with an overview of the second day of the trip.

If you have read our Day 1 description you are aware that we have made an overnight stop not far from the capital of Poland, Warsaw, in one of the roadside hotels and after having a good sleep we continued our journey. We woke up early (approximately at 3:30 a.m) when it was still dark outside for two reasons. First, we wanted to cross Poland when there is not so much traffic on the motorways. And secondly, we had a bold plan to arrive in Paris by the end of the day, which subsequently turned out to be far too optimistic :)

In Poland we were driving by motorway A2 (in Polish Autostrada A2), which connects the western and the eastern parts of the country. It begins at the Polish-German border in a place called Świecko and runs through largest cities such as Poznań, Łódź and Warszawa ending at the border with Belorussia in a place called Kukuryki. The road has been only recently built and is therefore in good condition. There is a speed limit of 140 km/h, however, as we noticed majority of locals do not drive within the allowed limits. The motorway has a toll collection system, which is binding for all vehicles. You would have to pay a certain fare depending on the vehicle type and the road section you have passed. There is a possibility to pay with a credit card (Visa or MasterCard) or in cash either in PLN or EUR or USD. However, you should be aware that in case you pay in EUR or USD the change anyway will be given in PLN. We have bought some currency beforehand and therefore we were paying in PLN in cash. The total amount we have paid is 63 PLN (in EUR 15). By the way, there are also some roadside currency exchange offices in Poland (in Polish Kantor), where you may exchange money, but we are not aware of the exchange rates used by such offices.

As mentioned before the road is in good condition, there are several parkings and petrol stations. The staff working at the stations is usually friendly, although their english is not always very good. However, we did not face any communication problems with local people.

In case you want to have more information about the A2 motorway, its toll collection system and fares, please, visit its website at: http://autostrada-a2.pl/

In 4 hours we have reached Polish-German border and had a pleasure to drive through German Autobahns until the end of the day. As most of you may know there are no speed limits here, however, the advised speed is 130 km/h. We were extremely pleased with the German driving culture. There is almost no tailgating as all the drivers keep the adequate safety distance. Even in case a slower moving car occupies the left lane when overtaking another car, the Germans will not force those slow drivers to change the lane by tailgating. This came as a bright contrast to Polish driving manners. What is also worth mentioning is that German drivers seem to be really well trained to drive on high-speed autobahns - they are extremely polite to other drivers and together with official traffic rules also follow the unofficial ones, which are more like traditional customs. For example, we learned that drivers usually switch on their hazard blinkers to warn the approaching traffic of the slowdown in case there is a traffic jam ahead.

Our overall impression of driving through Germany was extremely positive. The roads are smooth, exits are very well and safely designed and it is obvious that the maintenance of such high quality motorways is constantly in place. We have passed through many road reconstruction areas with lower speed limits of 80 km/h, however, despite the heavy traffic there were no big holdups, as the movement is very well organised. There are petrol stations directly on the autobahn almost every 50 km, so keep that in mind and be aware that it is illegal to run out of petrol on the autobahn. Service areas usually have petrol stations, snack bars, small shops, showers and WC and even playgrounds. There are also regular parking places without service areas, but where drivers may have a rest.

By the end of the second day of our journey we have left Poland and Germany behind. Two largest countries have been already crossed and only approximately 400 km were left till our first destination — Paris. Nevertheless, we decided not to drive during the night and have a good sleep instead. Near the Belgian—German border, but already in Belgium, we have stopped again in a roadside hotel Ibis Budget (if interested, visit http://ibisbudgethotel.ibis.com/gb/hotel-6322-ibis-budget-aachen-raeren-grenze-ex-etap-hotel/index.shtml).

Next day we plan to enter France and reach Paris, where we will stay for a couple of days to enjoy the atmosphere of this amazing city. Stay tuned for the updates!

Second day result:
Travelled: 1230 km
Petrol used: 152 €

Tip of the day:
Driving in heavy traffic may be exhausting. If you feel tired — make a stop as soon as possible. Two hours of driving are equivalent to 20 minutes of rest. Don't forget to make exercises and walk a bit.

Some photos & map:
http://mindsparklemag.com/u/3k

First day:
http://mindsparklemag.com/u/3m

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    Looks like an interesting trip. However, people here will find it easier to follow you if you post everything to one thread, instead of starting a new one for each day. Just type the next post as a reply.

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    Europe Road Trip Report (Belgium-Paris) — Day 3

    Hello everyone! The third day of our journey is almost over and we have lots of news and emotions to share with you.

    Today we have finally reached France. Having such a long drive yesterday (1230 km on Day 2) the distance that we had to overcome today seemed to be really funny - only 400 km! We woke up early as always and set out in the direction of Paris. Unfortunately, there is not so much to say about Belgium, since we did not have a chance to discover the country or at least enjoy the views from the car windows, as we have crossed the country when it was still dark outside. But we do hope that maybe next time when we go for a new trip we will certainly not miss out the beauty of this land.

    We expected to reach Paris by 9 a.m. at the latest and we were almost in line with the plan. The only thing we overlooked were the traffic jams in the morning hours on the Boulevard Périphérique - the ring road, which is a link between the city of Paris and its suburbs. Although the actual speed limit here is 80 km/h, it is not more than 40 km/h on average that one may expect to drive during the day considering its busy traffic. In our case we were moving really slow, as the traffic jam was quite big. But we have considered it as an advantage in a way, since we had more time to think and to decide which line to take to make necessary exits and turns. It is good to mention that our navigator worked really well and there were no situation when it had led us in a wrong direction.

    All in all we have passed last 19 km till our final stop in Paris within 1,5 hours thanks to this traffic jam:)) But how happy were we to know that the whole evening and also the next day we will have a real break from driving and will have a pleasure to walk across La Seine, enjoy the views from La Tour Eiffel, visit cosy cafes on the streets of Monmartre and admire the grandeur of Notre Dame de Paris. So let's not waste time and enjoy the holidays. We will post more photos today-tomorrow, keep following us :)

    Third day result:
    Travelled: 422 km
    Petrol used: 70 €

    Tip of the day:
    Stay relaxed and enjoy every second of your journey no matter the circumstances. Every moment is a treasure, that will stay with you forever.



    Some photos & map:
    http://mindsparklemag.com/u/28


    First day:
    http://mindsparklemag.com/u/3m

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    Europe Road Trip Report (Paris-French Riviera) — Day 4

    Good morning! We hope you had an excellent weekend and now you're ready for another working week. We wish everyone a pleasant Monday and in order to cheer you up we share with you some photos and our emotions of arriving to the south of France.

    We left Paris at 6 a.m. on a rainy morning and headed towards south. The distance we had to cover was 920 km and our goal was to arrive not later than 18.00 as the check-in in our camping was available only until this time. Although we were driving on Autoroute du Soleil ( A6 road, in english Motorway of the Sun) the weather was not at all sunny - cloudy and rainy instead - so it was rather hard to imagine that in several hours we will be lying on one of the numerous beaches of the Mediterranean enjoying warm weather. The roads in France are of high quality, there are lots of parking places and service points on the way. However, you have to pay toll (in french Péage) for the distance you pass. In our case the total toll paid reached 72 €.

    In the south we planned to stay at a camping site in Antibes - a town situated between Cannes and Nice. There are quite many campings in the town and one has lots of options to choose from. Some campings do not require reservations, but as summer is a high season we decided to safeguard ourselves and made a booking for 5 nights. Please, note that you would have to pay a reservation fee and the tax in case you book in advance. The camping we chose was La Sequoia ( http://www.sequoia-antibes.com), which is located not far from the sea (about 1 km) and the train station is also within walking distance. We were provided with the driving instructions upon our booking, so we were able to find the place relatively quickly and fortunately arrived before the closing of reception.

    We were extremely satisfied with the camping - it was quiet, very clean and comfortable, lots of trees, which cast a pleasant shade on sunny days, there is also own swimming pool and a snack bar. The staff also welcomed us warmly and was always there to help us. There are possibilities to stay at small cottages equipped with necessary things, with your own caravan or with a tent. We opted for the latter alternative, which was both comfortable and not that expensive. One night costed us 29 euros and this included a stay for 2 adults, a parking place, unlimited and free use of sanitary facilities, and electricity access. By the end of the day we were very tired of all the driving we had and of arranging our tent, so we decided to wash away this fatigue and went to have a good swim in the blue waters of the sea.

    The following day our plan was to go to Nice to walk on the famous Promenade des Anglais, climb up to to the hill of Chateau and admire the beautiful coastline and the roofs of the old town. We decided to leave our car in the camping and travel around French Riviera by local transport, so we took the train to Nice. The city is the 5th largest city by population in France, and is definitely known mostly for its beautiful beaches, hotels and resorts. In fact it is the second most popular place for tourists in France after Paris.

    We just can not find the right words to express all our delight and admiration, so please enjoy the pictures of this beautiful scenery. We will post an update - more photos and comments on our trip to Nice - later tomorrow.

    Forth day result:
    Travelled: 920 km
    Petrol used: 120 €

    Tip of the day:
    To have a pleasant stay at camping one has to think in advance about all the things that might be needed. Think to the smallest details - our list is not all inclusive. You might need: folding chairs and tables, electric grill, portable fridge, socket, extension cord, plates and dishes, forks and knives, towels, dish wash liquid, towel rail, buckets etc.

    Photos & Map
    http://mindsparklemag.com/?travel/day-4.html

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    Europe Road Trip Report (Nice, French Riviera) — Day 5

    Here is the post we promised yesterday about our visit to Nice. As mentioned already we decided to leave our car in the camping and travel around the coast by local transport. Luckily, the nearest bus stop and the train station called Biot were situated approximately 800 meters away from our camping. So we took a bus to get to Nice, which costed us 1,5 euros per person. All buses are equipped with air conditioner, which makes the trip very comfortable even on a hot summer day.

    And the day was actually really hot! By noon the temperature has risen up to 30 degrees and for people coming from the northern part of Europe this is extremely hot weather. :) It is rather tiresome to walk all day in the summer heat, so we suggest taking your swimsuits everywhere you go, as there are beaches almost everywhere and you will have a chance to refresh yourself and then continue sightseeing! And this is exactly what we did. :)

    Later during the day we decided to rent bicycles, because by bike one may see even more sights and discover the beauty of the city. The so-called bike rental stations are spread across the city and one may easily find them. The 1 day rent costs 1 euro, and 5 euros for a week. All one need to have to be able to rent a bike is a valid credit card. You have an option to register yourself in advance by internet or then register immediately at the bike station. Please, visit the website for more details (http://www.velobleu.org).

    Below you may find the photos we made during the day and we really do hope you like them! Comments and questions are always welcome :)

    Lots of amazing photos
    http://mindsparklemag.com/?travel/2013/07/23/day-5.html

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    Europe Road Trip Report (Monaco, French Riviera) — Day 6

    Welcome to the 6th day of our journey, which we have spent in a very charming place - Monaco. Although the total area of the Principality is a bit over 2 square km, Monaco offers a great variety of attractions and entertainment for visitors. Generally, the whole area is divided into 4 parts: Monaco-Ville, the hill where the Prince's Palace is situated and from where one can have a wonderful view over Port Hercules; Monte-Carlo, famous for its prominent Casino and luxurious Hotel de Paris; Condamine, the quarter where most expensive yachts are moored; and finally the newest quarter called Fontvieille. Of course, for tourists most interest offering quarters would be Monaco-Ville and Monte-Carlo, however, it is definitely worth walking around other areas as well.

    We have begun our Monaco tour by first climbing up the famous Rock in Monaco-Ville. One may go up with the stairs or there is also a possibility to take a lift. The views opening from the top are absolutely amazing - high mountains at the background, numerous white yachts on the blue water, and very cosy harbour Port Hercules. It is definitely a must for every visitor to take a picture of the opening panorama.

    Then we were just walking around the quarter - Prince's Palace, St Nicholas cathedral, where the members of the ruling family are buried, some beautiful parks, and finally we arrived to the well known Oceanographic Museum. The building itself is very impressive - it is built on the rock at the height of about 85 m. The museum has various aquariums, where one may see fishes and other representatives of sea fauna from different climate zones. What impressed us most, was the chance to touch small "baby"-sharks in an open aquarium. Of course we had to wash our hands before touching them and there were trained people observing all us. Those "babies" were really small, not longer than 30 sm long, and not at all scary, although we have seen their sharp teeth when they were "smiling" to us. :)

    Next, after having a small break close to Fort Antoine - sunbathing and swimming in a small bay - we headed towards Monte-Carlo. We have to admit that we were too lazy to go all the way through Condamine quarter to reach Monte-Carlo, so we took a Boat taxi called Bateau Bus. For only 2 euros per person and within 5 minutes we were transported from one side of Port Hercules to the other.

    Monte Carlo is a home for one of the most well-known Casinos, which has been initially opened already in 19 century and which is now owned and operated by Societe des Bains de Mer - the company in which the ruling family of Monaco is a major shareholder. Next to Casino one may see not less well known Hotel de Paris, Cafe de Paris and the casino theatre hosting the Opera de Monte Carlo. Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to enter the Casino or even come a bit closer, as there were preparations for some upcoming event going on. But next time when we will have a chance to visit Monaco we will definitely try our fortune. :)

    There are also lots of other nice places in Monaco - parks, beaches, luxury shops and cafe-lounges with stunning views over the sea. Even if the total area of Monaco is 2 square km, one day is absolutely not enough to fully feel the atmosphere of the place. We returned to our camping by train, because we finally decided that it is more convenient and a bit faster to travel by train rather than by bus. The train ticket costs a bit more the a bus ticket, but there are discounts for the young up to 26 years old. For more information on train connections, prices and timetables, you may visit the website: http://www.ter-sncf.com/Regions/paca/Fr/Default.aspx.

    Please, have a look at the photos we made and don't forget to comment. Tomorrow we will tell you about our trip to Grasse - the capital of perfumes! Stay tuned! :)

    Lots of amazing photos
    http://mindsparklemag.com/?travel/day-6.html

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    Those, who have either read a novel "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" by Patrick Süskind or seen its film adaptation, might remember that the main hero Grenouille decided to make it to the city of Grasse, the home of greatest perfumers, in order to become one of them. Although according to the plot the story took place in 18 century, even nowadays Grasse is considered to be the world's capital of perfume.

    The history of the city itself is rather interesting. For example, in the Middle Ages the city was mostly known for its leather industry - local artisans were making high quality gloves and other leather products for export and for noble persons of the country. However, the leather smelled badly and one of the tanners called Galimard came up with a brilliant idea to make scented gloves. Soon after this "innovation" was spread across France and became very popular among nobleman and royal court, Grasse has gained its worldwide status. However, high taxes on leather and competition from Nice brought a decline for the leather industry in Grasse, and production of leather fragrance ceased. Instead local artisans focused on creation of scents and perfumes - tradition which lasted until today.

    At present Grasse is a home for the International Museum of Perfumes, and other smaller factory-museums of famous perfumers of the past. Most of you might have heard the names such as Galimard, Molinard and Fragonard - these are the names of parfumeries still operating in Grasse. One interesting fact is that Galimard and Molinard were actually perfumers, whereas Fragonard was a famous painter born in Grasse.

    We decided to visit the factory-museum of the second oldest perfumery in the world Galimard (opened in 1747) and also attend a special workshop, where one may create his/her own perfume. We have booked the workshop in advance by internet. If interested visit the homepage of the company: http://www.galimard.com.

    This process of creating a personal fragrance was surely one of the brightest memories of our journey. The Nose guided and explained basic techniques of perfume creation. For example, we understood the differences between the base notes, heart notes and the top notes and learned the families of the scents. This all helped us to create our own formula and then mix all components together to get our truly personal perfume. At the end of the workshop we were given diplomas proving that we have passed an initial course in Parfumerie and the 100ml bottle of perfume carrying the name we have chosen ourselves.

    Then we visited the factory Galimard, where a very charming lady explained us how the perfume is produced and bottled. She also explained what kind of flowers are growing in Grasse, and how many tonnes of petals are needed to produce 100 ml of the flower essence. Our tour ended in the perfume shop, where we were introduced to the "hits" of the summer season among female and male scents. There is also a chance to buy perfumes for a cheaper price.

    We absolutely advice everyone going to French Riviera to find some time to visit Grasse and gain an unforgettable experience of feeling yourself in the role of a perfumer.


    Photos
    http://mindsparklemag.com/?travel/day-7.html

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