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KayF Oct 24th, 2018 03:05 AM

A week in London, then a month in France - all by public transport
 
After living for five years in England I said we’d never go back. I thought there are too many other places to see and explore. But nearly nine years later we flew into Heathrow after about 30 hours of travel time from Brisbane. Nine days in London were followed by four weeks in France. We’ve had many trips to France but this one covered mostly new territory.

We really enjoyed London, more than I expected, and France was good, but not fabulous. I think in hindsight, we went to too many town and cities that were similar. We had initially considered two weeks in France and two weeks in another country. That might have been better for us.

We were away all of September and the first few days of October. Weather was mostly mild, warm in Bordeaux and La Rochelle, spitty rain in Vannes and cold by the time we reached Paris.

I’ve put together some info and tips that might help other travellers, rather than a day by day account. If anyone wants details of places we visited and what we did, just sing out. We used public transport for the whole trip.

Where we stayed

Breakfast is an optional extra in France at around 10 euro each.

London – Studios2Let, Bloomsbury, £149 per night.

Loved the area, 5-10 min walk to St Pancras/Kings Cross or Russell St tube station, bus, supermarket, cafes, shops etc. Studio room, bathroom tiny, little kitchenette, quiet.

Bordeaux – Aparthotel Adagio Bordeaux Gambetta, 116 euro per night.

Nice, spacious room, like a business hotel. There is a three storey hypermarket, Auchan, over the road.

La Rochelle – Hotel Le Bord’O, 102 euro per night.

Narrow steep stairs, small room with quirky design.

Nantes – Hotel Nantes Centre Passage Pommeraye, 132 euro per night.

Very central (just as well as Nantes has no public toilets to speak of so we could easily nip back) doing a lot of renovation, room felt a bit old and damp.

Vannes – Hotel de Bretagne, 68 euro per night.

In main shopping street, lots of restaurants close by, small room, tiny bathroom, shower flooded the bathroom.

Rennes – Garden Appartments, 104 euro per night.

Operated by Garden Hotel which is two minutes around the corner. A nice surprise, quiet, lots of room, great modern bathroom.

Dinan – Café Hotel du Theatre, 66 euro per night.

In middle of town, steep, narrow stairs, only a few rooms above a café/bar and overlooking a square. Small basic room but we liked it.

Paris – Hotel Excelsior Latin, 163 euro per night.

Quiet, no views, spacious (for Paris) with fridge, kettle and microwave. Small Marks and Spencer supermarket two minutes walk and loads of places to eat in area. Close to Luxembourg RER station, for airport trains. (The first hotel I booked in Paris sent us an email saying they had cancelled our reservation. I still don’t know why and was annoyed at the time as I had to spend more time finding somewhere else to stay.)

KayF Oct 24th, 2018 03:07 AM

...more to come...tomorrow.

Kay

littlejane Oct 24th, 2018 03:38 AM

Thanks Kay. A visit to France is well overdue for us and many of the towns you list are on our shortlist... so will be really interested to hear your most and least favourite. Cheers j

Coquelicot Oct 24th, 2018 05:33 AM

You're off to a good start, Kay. I'm looking forward to more.

rhon Oct 24th, 2018 05:58 AM

Looking forward to hearing more. We are in France at the moment, in the south, and it is still warm but going to change in a few days. We are from up the range in Toowoomba and it seems there has been welcome rain at home.
It is always difficult when planning to get a good balance of places to visit. We spend a lot of time planning but sometimes it is not perfect. This time at the start we had quite a bit of hills, gorges, winding roads and were a bit tired after a while. Some places also do not meet quite all expectations and sometimes outside influences come into play. But we are enjoying it as always and have two weeks left after this .
Waiting for the next part of your report.

bilboburgler Oct 24th, 2018 06:08 AM

on for the ride

kerouac Oct 24th, 2018 06:29 AM

Will be happy to read the report, but I remain a big fan of the Accor hotels (such as Adagio) because the prices are generally quite reasonable and I have never had an unpleasant surprise. I can not say the same for many of the so-called "family" hotels scattered everywhere.

bilboburgler Oct 24th, 2018 09:27 AM

I have to admit I stand more and more with kerouac on this, my interest in stair cases that are gently falling down and bathrooms made up of half another bedroom is waning when I can stay in a better Ibis

xcountry Oct 24th, 2018 11:05 AM

I guess the place I stayed at in London last month would be out of the question then.

https://cimg9.ibsrv.net/gimg/www.fod...70abf84e4.jpeg

YHA - St. Paul’s. Great location except for the church bells.

Adelaidean Oct 24th, 2018 12:23 PM

I would like “day to day” details, Kay, we always use public transport in Europe and France may be coming up as a destination in the coming years.

KayF Oct 24th, 2018 07:06 PM

Thanks everyone for reading so far. The encouragement is nice. I do all the research, planning and booking and my husband is the person who gets us around on the ground (and lifts the heavy bags up to the luggage racks and up and down all the steps :) ). I have zero sense of direction and we work well together.

This trip seemed harder to plan than many others. Partly because every place in France I looked at looked gorgeous. The plans hit a roadblock when I discovered there was a huge convention in Rennes during our dates and no accommodation available. Then I started looking at different areas of France and got all confused. I'm sure other planners know how it is. In the end I reversed the trip and we went to Bordeaux first, then headed north.

I also didn't know how long to allocate to each place. We generally like to have 3 or 4 nights rather than skimming the surface but if you've never been somewhere how do you know if you'll like it? Walking from the train station in Vannes to our hotel I had this feeling of oh, what the hell are we going to do here? But away from the station it's the most beautiful town. And the same in Nantes, there were major roadworks and a tent migrant camp and it just didn't feel good.

The Accor hotels are usually good and the one in Bordeaux was one of the best of our trip. The hotel in Nantes was also Accor but didn't have much to recommend it except the central location. They are doing it up though so it will be hopefully improved. I like accommodation with character, which often means family run, but not if it means a saggy mattress or a flooded bathroom every time you use the shower. My key criteria in choosing a hotel was location, it had to be central. Cost and reviews/photos etc were important too.

I'll work on what we did day to day and come back with that later.

Kay

KayF Oct 24th, 2018 08:26 PM

General Stuff

The best advice I have on dealing with the long flights (14 hours then 8 hours on this trip) is to zone out. Try not to worry (or check) how long you've been in the air or how long until you land. Just watch a movie or read or doze. Drink as much water as you can, it helps a lot with jetlag and move your legs around as much as possible to try and avoid DVT. It took us a couple of days to get over the flight, it does knock you around.

For anyone flying with Singapore Airlines with a transfer in Singapore, don’t get water or liquids before the flight as security is AT the gate and they have the usual international liquids rules. We threw out our water and kept the empty bottles, luckily they had a water fountain inside the gate area to refill. Keeping hydrated is so important on a long flight.

We got cash from ATMs when necessary and paid cash for most things, using credit card for large amounts like hotels. It was one way to try and avoid having our cards frozen or cancelled, as has happened before. It’s difficult dealing with all that when you are away.

Having a few different credit and debit cards worked well. If one card didn’t work, there was another we could try. Where we each had a card from the same account, one of us would carry both cards and the other person would carry both cards from another bank, to minimise problems if a wallet was lost.

Cobblestones are very hard on your feet. Best to wear comfortable closed in flat shoes. Cobbles are also hard on your wheeled luggage. Our new suitcase wheels lasted less than two weeks and ended up shredded which was very annoying.

London is next...

bilboburgler Oct 24th, 2018 11:14 PM

@ xcountry I recommend YHA on this site a lot, but then in London it is hard to beat those prices. Those same prices are what I then use on the continent. So yes I would recommend staying in the facility you have snapped. :-)

KayF Oct 25th, 2018 01:10 AM

London

In London we bought local SIM cards at ‘3’, cost £15 each, more than enough allowance, we used the phones for maps, emails etc every day in London and France. Lasts for a month but you can top up. It took about 3 hours to work after activation. We went first to a Carphone Warehouse but they don’t do SIM cards, they suggested 3, Vodafone or EE.

Something to remember with refunds on Oyster Cards is if it is under £10.00, you can get a refund in cash via a machine. If it’s more than that, you can only get a refund if your card is registered. Of course if you plan on returning, just keep your Oyster Card with the money on it for next time.

We decided to try and use the buses whenever possible, to see more and also get more of a feel for what’s where. The tube is great but you pop up from underground with no sense of where you’ve come from. Our tip is to allow plenty of time, we had one bus with mechanical problems so the bus was very slow and eventually we all had to pile off and wait for another bus. The tube is generally quicker as it doesn’t have to cope with traffic.

We saw some gorgeous old buildings from the front seat on the upper deck. Also had a birds eye view of the people with a death wish who walk in front of buses while glued to their phones. And cyclists who weave in and out of traffic. Madness. The roads are so narrow, I think the bus just won’t fit. But it does. (It helps that I’m breathing in.)

Nothing much is open on Sunday mornings in London and with jetlag we were up at stupid o’clock. We ended up at nearby St Pancras where everything was open, mostly upmarket shops and cafes and there were lots of people about due to the Eurostar terminal there.

Enjoyed a posh afternoon tea at Ham Yard Hotel in Soho, £22.00 each for tea, sandwiches, mini savouries, scones and little cakes. They used lovely china and we had nice food with pleasant service. I was concerned because we didn’t have clothes to dress up in, but no need to worry. A lot of places I looked at online had a dress code and I didn’t want to be embarrassed and turned away. The price was cheaper than most places I looked at and the food was good. The waitress offered to box up what we couldn’t finish.

We booked theatre tickets for two plays from home. The Comedy About a Bank Robbery was fantastic. So inventive, energetic and fun. We were a bit underwhelmed by The Book of Mormon, the singing and dancing was great but didn’t like the story much.

Did a behind-the-scenes tour of Royal Albert Hall, which I’d booked from home online. It was good but not riveting. They were setting up inside the hall for the Proms and we saw the Royal Box and Royal entrance with staircase and waiting room that is exclusively for the royals. One thing I found fascinating is that back in 1850, to raise money to build the Hall, they sold seats or boxes to wealthy families on a 999 year lease. There are still over 1000 seats remaining within families, passed down from generation to generation. Quite something to pass on!

I love beautiful jewellery and had read that some of Queen Victoria’s jewellery – mainly three stunning tiaras – were on display at Kensington Palace. I booked this online which made entry a bit quicker on the day, also slightly cheaper. You see inside some of the palace, there are beautiful views of the grounds and lake, and there were 27 of Princess Diana’s gowns on display as well.

If catching the Eurostar at St Pancras, allow plenty of time. We had an early morning train and luckily we arrived early as the queue stretched a loooong way. We could hardly believe our eyes. It was very crowded, rushed and actually a bit stressful. For anyone who has not booked Eurostar before, the earlier you book, the cheaper the price.

We found the crowds in general hard to deal with at times and also lack of toilets a frustration. Even in large department stores in London often the toilets were out of order and there was always a queue. Don’t get me started on France – few toilets and lack of cleanliness was a real issue.

Next is France.

rhon Oct 25th, 2018 04:35 AM

We find as we get older the flights are harder. Unfortunately our budget does not stretch to business class so we tell ourselves it is just a day ( and a half!!) This time we flew Brisbane - Singapore- Munich -Lyon , so were a bit tired by the time we arrived in Lyon !! Trip planning is difficult and sometimes it is hard to decide. We stay in gites and we often narrow it down to a couple and then we hope we make the right decision. We have been lucky and not regretted any of our choices in gites, but as I said , sometimes areas can be not what we expect. We always enjoy them but some more than others.
Sounds as though you had a lovely time in London. It has been a few years since we were in the UK.
Ah, toilets in France. We have good and bad experiences. We visited a Plus Beau Village in our first week . It was one of only a couple we have been to over the years that did not appeal, and when I opened the door to the public toilet I almost passed out. The smell was overpowering and it was squat toilet , so I held on. Next week we visited another very small village with a lovely clean proper toilet, paper , soap, paper towels for drying. If they can do it why can't others.
Looking forward to your next installment.

xcountry Oct 25th, 2018 06:33 AM

Bilboburgler - you have been giving good advice re the YHAs. Excellent places to stay. I think I paid £65 per night for four beds, three toilets and two showers. :)

Kay your comments about the buses make sense. I like the tube because if you just miss one the next one is not far behind. I read this article a few months ago. Interesting to see the thinking that goes on behind the scenes:

https://www.wired.co.uk/article/lond...gy-experiments

Adelaidean Oct 25th, 2018 11:30 AM

Kay, one of our solutions for travel fatigue is to use the transit hotel in Singapore for a nap and shower between those long haul flights. In our case, our layover has been about 7 hours, although next year it is significantly longer.
I really dislike crowds and am getting even crankier as I get older :nervous: , so still avoiding places that look appealing but too many visitors.

KayF Oct 25th, 2018 02:48 PM

Hi rohn, I have many toilet stories! I only came across one squat loo in France, luckily there was a disabled toilet (Western loo) around the corner which I used. We got off the bus in Dinan and I followed a sign to toilets. In front of me was a French woman who opened the door, recoiled in horror, and said "non, non, non" and gestured to me that it was too dreadful to be used. Many times I just had to hold on.

Hi xcountry - we lived in London for 2.5 years and used the tube almost every day but came away not having a great sense of where places fitted on a map. If you drive in an area, you get a much better feel. Coming out of the tube, especially when there are numerous exits to different streets, can be confusing. There are also much fewer steps if you use buses and it's cheaper. If you have the extra time it takes, I'd definitely recommend it. Thanks for the link.

Hi Adelaidean, the transit hotel idea is a good one but I'd be too worried about missing the flight to be able to sleep. We only had 55 minutes between flights (both Singapore Airlines) on the way over but our flight was delayed by an hour as they were waiting on connecting flights to arrive. On the return it was only 3 hours which disappeared, as usual. We just want to get where we are going, then collapse in a heap, so lately have not had a stopover. If you dislike crowds, definitely avoid London and Paris. No wonder the locals get cranky.

Kay

StCirq Oct 25th, 2018 02:54 PM

Odd. I live way out in rural France and never encounter unpleasant loos. Haven't for years.

KayF Oct 25th, 2018 08:41 PM

France

Our favourite places were La Rochelle, Vannes and Dinan. I was so glad Dinan was our last stop before Paris as we loved it there. Nantes was my least favourite destination and I would have been happy to miss Rennes. Paris has never been a huge favourite of mine and that hasn’t changed.

The French generally seem polite and quite formal, very different from Australians. A bonjour Monsieur or Madame in greeting when entering a shop or before speaking to someone will go a long way. You can also say merci, au revoir on leaving.

Not for the first time, I found not being able to speak or understand the language quite isolating. You can often figure out roughly what is being said, by the context, or by knowing a few words, but you can’t have a conversation, a laugh, or a quick chat to anyone.

We used Google Translate a fair bit. It was good for words here and there but a long way from perfect. Some of the translations made no sense at all. It’s certainly better than nothing. The pronunciation facility was useful.

A word about not speaking the language and learning French. My husband and I listened to French language podcasts for months. I took two French language classes. We practised a lot. What happens is – you manage to get a proper sentence out of your mouth in French (with an accent that makes the French person wince). They answer in French. You give them a blank look. No idea. They say to you “anglais?”. And I think no, I’m not English. I’m Australian but I speak English. Then you start again in English.

It’s nice to have a few words or simple phrases but really I wonder if it’s worth it sometimes. Our confidence with the language did grow as the weeks went by but we’re never going to be able to be anywhere near fluent. You can often get by with smiles and gestures. Occasionally I’d get so flummoxed that I’d even forget my English.

I bought an old guidebook on France for $2 and (yes, I know this is a horrible thing to do to a book) cut out the pages we needed, then threw them out after we left each place.

We found the huge number of smokers in France quite shocking. Inhaling second-hand smoke is not a favourite activity but people seemed oblivious to the fact that they were blowing smoke on you. Sometimes we would sit inside to eat, just to escape the smokers. There have been huge campaigns for years in Australia about the health issues around smoking, and cigarettes are expensive here due to high tax. We saw a lot of people using those vape thingies, I guess no cigarette butts is a plus but I don’t get it.

I’m the sort of person who is constantly in need of a toilet so we loaded two different “Where to find toilets” apps which were of some help.

I've got some stuff on trains I'll post next...


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