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Just Back from 6 weeks in England, Paris and Italy

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Jul 26th, 2003, 12:03 AM
  #1
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Just Back from 6 weeks in England, Paris and Italy

We've actually been back 4 weeks after a brilliant trip - I have had a yearning for years to go to France and at last convinced my other half that we should make the 22 hour journey from Sydney. I would have liked to have seen absolutely EVERYTHING and gone EVERYWHERE on this trip - but sanity prevailed and the leisurely pace of our itinerary was perfect.
London - 5 nights
South West England - 6 nights
Paris - 7 nights
Milan - 3 nights
Venice - 4 nights
Tuscany - 7 nights
Rome - 5 nights
Positano - 5 nights
Rome - 1 night before our flight home

We are in our late 40's and this was our first trip to England and Europe - we booked our flights and a couple of hotels through a travel agent - the rest of our accomodation we booked over the internet and we organised our rail travel between cities when we arrived in each destination. We knew very little French and Italian but we had a number of useful phrases we could use in (hopefully) the right situation - it was fun to try rather than just speaking English. I had done a fair amount of research, but we were very much novices - however we coped fine. My advice to anyone is "just do it". We will certainly be going back to do it again.

This may end up being a rather long report - but everything is starting to rush back into my mind as I start to write.
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Jul 26th, 2003, 01:14 AM
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London
Flying over the coastline, the English countryside looked like a patchwork quilt - the small neat farms a far cry from seeing Australia from the air.

Arrived at Heathrow, headed for the Underground and caught the train to Gloucester Road station. The Atlas-Apollo Hotel in SOuth Kensington was a 5 minute walk from the station. A basic hotel in a row of Georgian terraces we booked through our travel agent - we had a big room with bathroom overlooking the street on the 3rd floor.
We liked this area, probably less than 10 minutes by underground to the city centre. A Sainsbury supermarket and coffee shop nearby and quite a few little restaurants.

Our room wasnt ready so we left our luggage, caught the U/G to Leicester Square and headed to Trafalgar Square. There was lots of construction under way and not many people around - but here we were in London - what a great feeling! The National Portrait Gallery was our first stop, and then we found St Martin's-in-the-field Crypt where we disappeared downstairs into the warmth of the cafe for coffee and a snack. We were just in time for a lunchtime concert in the church above - a young girl playing the harp in this beautiful church - it was quite a haunting, magic performance.
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Jul 26th, 2003, 02:44 AM
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We used the Underground a lot, buying daily Travel Passes. We experienced typical "English" weather for the time we were here - from sunny and mild, to sunny and windy, to misty rain and cool, to foggy and cold. But that suited me fine - I didn't come all the way to England to have hot and sunny "Australian" weather.

DAY 2
Red Bus tour, a river cruise, the Tower of London (had a very interesting chat with one of the Yeoman Warders who lives with his family within the tower walls), pub dinner at White Horse Inn (cnr Rupert & Archer Sts, Soho - very nice - table upstairs by a window - great for people watching).

DAY 3
St Paul's Cathedral & crypt (walked up 525 steps to the top of the dome and have completely overcome my fear of heights), did a tour of Shakespears's Globe theatre (and went back the same night to see a performance of Richard II - fantastic!), and short visit to British Museum

DAY 4
Catch U/G to Green Park - walk to Buckingham palace for Changing of the Guard but it was cancelled because of rain (had interesting chat to a policewomen on a horse who should she would keep an eye out for us there the next day & give us a wave - I love talking to people like this - it gives you a real connection with the locals), went to Harrods for lunch, then to the Victoria & Albert Museum (I liked this museum better than the British Museum) and the Natural History Exhibition which was set up in the open. After dinner we wandered along Oxford street to Marble Arch and then down Park Lane to Hyde Park corner to catch a bus back to our hotel.

DAY 5
Catch U/G to Notting Hill Gate and spent the morning at the Portobello Road Markets - what a great, lively area and market this is. We browsed for antique brooches for our daughter (she ended up with 4 - we couldn't decide on just one). Had lunch and a couple of drinks in a funky old pub on the way back to the station - it was just like something out of the 70's. Caught U/G to Lancaster Gate, wandered through Kensington Gardens then along High Street Kensington and walked back to our hotel.

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Jul 26th, 2003, 03:36 AM
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Next Challenge - to pick up rental car from Marble Arch and find our way out of London. It was a Sunday with not too much traffic about so it was not too difficult - we missed one turn early on but just went in a huge circle back to where we started from, and this time we got it right. The roads are great, with goods signs giving you plenty of time before you need to turn or take an exit.

First stop Stonehenge - raining - we bought a 7 day Heritage Pass here. The audio tour was great and gave it all more meaning. Old Sarum was our next stop - sunny, but very cold - Salisbury cathedral was originally built here but was then dismantled and rebuilt where it now stands - amazing.

We took the long way to Salisbury, driving through Middle, Lower and Upper Woodford - 3 tiny villages, very pretty. Found Bridge Farm B&B - we had booked this on the recommendation of friends who had stayed there - when we arrived I wanted to stay the next 6 nights here, not just 1. It was a gorgeous old place with wisteria vines covering the walls and a stream (with swans) meandering through the back garden and Norma(our host) was just lovely. We had dinner that night at the Old Yew Inn - very nice and very friendly publican.

Next morning we went to Salisbury Cathedral - every church, every old building continues to take our breath away - how did they build these magnificent buildings so very long ago? We did a guided tour up to the spire - to see the size and number of huge timber beams that were hoisted up so high, and how they coated the domed ceilings and created the vaulted ceilings - wow! We bought traditional pasties for lunch and then headed towards Exmouth. Just near Shaftesbury we saw a sign pointing to Waldour Castle - a five mile drive along a narrow winding road, through picturesque villages and up steep hills bought us to one of our favourite places - well worth a visit! There was another couple there when we first arrived but then we had it all to ourselves. The audio tour was excellent. The back of the castle is mostly ruined through past battles but floors have been rebuilt at the front of the castle and you are able to go up the original staircases to the top (about 4 floors). The setting is magic - real Robin Hood type country.
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Jul 26th, 2003, 03:55 AM
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For future reference: A 7-day travelcard would've been cheaper than 5 daily travelcards. (Except for families with kids under 16.)
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Jul 26th, 2003, 04:10 AM
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Helen, love your report so far, please continue. Sounds like you had a great time.
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Jul 26th, 2003, 04:17 AM
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We seemed to have a slight problem over the next few days in that we would drive through somewhere really nice with charming, traditional little B&B's in the middle of the day - then when we needed to find somewhere to stay later in the day, nothing looked as appealing. While Exmouth looked fine on the map, maybe Dawlish or Paignton (a little further on) may have been better - or maybe we just missed the best parts of Exmouth. However, each time I didn't exactly feel excited about where we were going to spend the night something always happened to make it special. At the B&B in Exmouth we met two couples at breakfast - from New Zealand and Wales, and from a very polite 'good morning' proceeded to have the most fun breakfast we have ever had - we laughed till we cried!

Next morning we head off towards Dartmoor, stopping at Paignton on the way - the brightly painted beach huts along the promenade are just gorgeous, as were the (only other) couple at the beach. They had obviously arrived on holiday and taken up residence in their beach hut. They were braving the blustery, cold wind and grey skies no matter what, dressed in shorts and summer tops - but sitting on their deck chairs wrapped in blankets.

Next stop was the pretty little town of Ashburton (in Dartmoor National Park). We had lunch at Studio Tea Shop - was just like walking into your aunts lounge room - two orders of grilled cheese on toast and cries of "ooh my poor grills overloaded" came from the tiny kitchen - we felt like old friends when we got smiles and "bye bye's" as we left. From there it was to Buckland-in-the-Moor and Widecombe-in-the-Moor where we stopped to look at the old village church. We then drove miles through narrow lanes with high hedges on each side until we came to the high windswept moors and saw lots of wild moor ponies.

Arriving at Bude, we went through our daily search for a B&B to stay the night. Stayed at Surf Haven, opposite the golf course and near a very rocky beach with more beach huts (but not nearly as pretty as the huts at Paignton). The owners of the B&B were very friendly - they had a son who had spent a couple of years in Sydney ( instant conversation starter).

Had dinner at Marina on the Green pub - I couldn't decide which beer to have, so the barman poured 2 different beers into small glasses so I could try before I ordered - how cute is that?
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Jul 26th, 2003, 04:38 AM
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Hi Helen,

Lovely report. More, more.
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Jul 26th, 2003, 05:22 AM
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Next morning, after our best 'full' English Breakfast so far, we headed down the coast to Crackington Haven. It was very rocky beach with steep, shale-like cliffs. It was starting to rain and we could see the mist moving in over the water. We saw a group of hikers walking along the coastal path, so decided to follow them for a short way - we walked for about half an hour, then sat and just watched the mist really roll in. It must have been a perfect place for smugglers in days gone by! One day we will come back and do a real walk along this amazing coastal path.

Next stop is Boscastle - very pretty little harbour, witches museum and gorgeous B&B's. We walk along the sea wall - the rain is falling heavier, the fog is getting thicker.

What a day to visit Tintagel, place of the origin of the legend of King Arthur. The remains of castles, palaces and numerous other buildings cover this steep, rocky outcrop which is barely connected to the mainland - these days stairs lead you up, down and all around, but to think a whole community of people lived here - you could almost imagine the pomp and ceremony that must have happened here, the ladies in their finery sitting in garden areas, the paths leading from here to there, the parades of the lords and their ladies. We could barely see to the edge of the cliffs because of the fog, but it certainly added a medieval, mystical feel to our visit.
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Jul 26th, 2003, 05:48 AM
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We had intended to go right down the Cornish Coast to Penzance and St Ives, but as Paul and I like to 'linger', we were never going to have enough time this time, so we decide to head to Bideford to try to find a B&B for tonight - no luck, so we continue to Barnstaple - still no luck. We look at the map and see that Lynton is not that far away - the New Zealand couple we met at Exmouth had said Lynton was rather nice. So we head off through Exmoor National park in the thick fog (we could only see about 50 metres ahead) to Lynton. What a gem! Lynton (up high) and Lynmouth (down low at the mouth of the river by the ocean with a beautiful little harbour, shops and B&B's) were definitely favourites - The town of Lynmouth was partially washed away by a flood in 1953 and the sides of the river had to be rebuilt. There is a beautiful walk which zig zags down the steep embankment from Lynton to Lynmouth and a water operated train/cable car which connects the two towns. We stayed at the Denes B&B - again we lucked out with friendly, helpful owners.

Valley of the rocks is a short drive from Lynton - on the way back we encountered goats with huge horns jumping the hedged boundaries of the fields they were in, and then fighting and clashing horns in the middle of the road as we were trying to pass (have a photograph to prove it!)

We had a Cream Tea at Lacey's tea rooms in Lynton - couldn't help but overhear some of the gossip of a group of local ladies - just as well we didn't know the people they were chatting about!#?!
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Jul 26th, 2003, 11:32 PM
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Next night we stayed in Wells at Bay Tree House B&B. Following morning we tourned Wells Cathedral and the Bishops Palace before heading to Bath. We parked at Newbury and caught the park & ride bus into Bath. We did a tour of the Roman Baths and then did a walking tour of the town which was free and was excellent.

Out last night in England we stayed in Hungerford - we had booked this by phone the previous day as this weekend was a long weekend (Bank Holiday) and the car was to be returned to Heathrow the next morning. Our B&B was by a canal - the next morning we went for a walk and a short way along the canal we came to a lock and a gorgeous little brightly painted houseboat. We found out that it if you walk alongside the canal, about every half hour or so you will pass an inn. That is another thing to put on our list to do next time!

We arrived at Heathrow without too much trouble - but did not have directions as to where the Hertz Depot was, so we headed to Terminal 4 - no sign of any rental car depots. Lucky for us we spotted a Hertz shuttle bus and the driver said to follow him - it would have taken us ages to find it otherwise.

The airport was crowded with holiday weekend crowds -Paris here we come!!!
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Jul 27th, 2003, 11:15 PM
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PARIS
Arrived at Paris CDG Airport 4.30pm on Saturday - grey and raining - caught a shuttle bus to the RER station - then a train to Les Halles. My first heartstopping moment in Paris was a young fellow busking, playing a piano accordian on the train - here I was - Paris at last. Arrived at Les Halles & struggled off with our luggage - trains were very crowded. Next challenge was to find the Metro line to Ettienne Marcel - only a couple of stops away but it seemed like those underground tunnels go for miles and all their arrows pointing the way seemed topsy turvy compared to "Australian" arrows!#*. Well we eventually arrived at our station and lugged our suitcases up even more stairs. I always pride myself on having a really good sense of direction but I was totally bamboozled when we surfaced onto the street so off we headed in the wrong direction. Luckily we soon realised and we headed back and found our hotel for the next 7 nights (it was only about 200 metres from the station) - Hotel Tiquetonne on rue Tiquetonne in the 2nd arrondissement. This is a brilliant 1 star hotel - VERY basic - but in a great area - the elderly lady at reception did not speak English and we spoke very little French, but by the end of the week we were just like old friends - you should have seen her trying to impress on us that the front door was locked at midnight and we had to be back in the hotel by then. There was always an old German Shepherd in the hall or in the reception area - just their form of security I guess! We had Room #9 on the second floor, which overlooked the narrow cobbled pedestrian street which was lined with an interesting array of shops (tattoo & body piercing, hairdressers, patisserie, restaurants, etc), with apartments above the shops - there was a tiny lift but we always used the spiral staircase. Our room with private bathroom was quite big with very high ceilings and tall windows that opened floor to ceiling to give us our 'window balcony' - we had a curved wall which backed onto the spiral staircase, rich red carpet, curtains and bedspread and a speckled pink wallpaper - very Parisienne to my mind! The hotel was very noisy the first night but fairly quite for the rest of the week. Just around the corner was rue St Denis - a pedestrian street (actually a red-light district) which led all the way to the Seine. We never felt unsafe - there were always a lot of people around. At the other end of our street was rue Montorgueil - a lively market street and behind us was Grand passag de Clerf, an upmarket arcade of arts and crafts. All this for 46 Euros per night!!!!!
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Jul 28th, 2003, 12:32 AM
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Hi Helen,

Your reports are still vibrant.

Try www.multimap.com and look up rue Tiquetonne.

Are you sure you didn't walk from Les Halles to Etienne Marcel? (You could have.)
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Jul 29th, 2003, 05:01 PM
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More please HelenJ. I
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Aug 5th, 2003, 11:52 PM
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Paris (continued)
We visited all the main tourist sites, places I had only dreamed about for years - I was in seventh heaven - the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame (including climbing 375 steps to the top), St Chapelle, Rodin Gallery, the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysses, the Pompidou Centre, Hotel des Invalides, Sacre Coeur and Montmartre, we walked the Marais, Place des Vogues, the Latin Quarter, the Luxembourg gardens and the banks of the Seine and our last day we spent at Versailles. The Musee D'Orsay was on strike both days we went there and the day we went to the Marais was a public holiday (Ascension Day) and the Picasso Museum was closed - c'est la vie! We did heaps of walking but also used the Metro quite a bit. It is very easy to work out which line you need to take and we bought the carnet of 10 tickets as we needed them.

Throughout the week we bought fresh cherries, roast chickens, bunches of cherry tomatoes, baguettes, pastries, and wine from shops in our area (this really tested our French, but what fun) - lots of picnic lunches and snacks. Our breakfast each morning was coffee and pastries with the locals on their way to work at the bar of a little cafe just by Ettienne Marcel Metro station. We did not eat at expensive restaurants - just small places that looked inviting, wherever we happened to be when we got hungry.

Little things we loved - people riding their bicycles sitting up ever so straight, some even singing or whistling as they whizzed by; all the polite "bonjours" - the experience of asking at our hotel where to find the Laundromat (I recognised the street name amongst a flurry of other information that was offered) and then doing our laundry with lots of help and sign language from the other people in the Laundromat, the gendarmes blowing their whistles and waving people away from sitting on the grass

We bought our Eurostar tickets to Milan on our 2nd day in Paris - this was a bit nervewracking as we stood in line trying to memorise how to ask for the tickets in French - we bought the tickets at Gare de Lyon so we knew where to go on the day we were to catch the train - very easy! we thought. However on the day we arrived at the station complete with luggage it all looked very unfamiliar - we had come up a different escalator at the other end of the station - it took us a while to find the right platforms but then, after validating our tickets we boarded the train and proceeded to have a very comfortable 6 hour journey to Milan. The scenery as we passed through the Alps was stunning - MASSIVE snow-capped mountains and small towns and the roads which seemed to go disappear through tunnels under the mountains at every turn.
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Aug 6th, 2003, 05:16 AM
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Enjoying your report, Helen. Keep it coming!
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Aug 6th, 2003, 06:23 AM
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Helen, you've left us hanging! Please continue!
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Aug 6th, 2003, 05:59 PM
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MILANO
As soon as we reached Italy the weather turned HOT. The train station at Milan sounded like a sideshow alley with the announcements continually coming over the loudspeakers. We decided we would buy our train tickets for the next leg of our trip to Venice while we were at the station - there were a lot of people standing around in the ticket office, but no-one was actually lined up at the windows. So up we went and started trying to ask for "due biglietti a Venezia" - the guy at the ticket window started giving us a hard time and then we realised that we needed to take a ticket and wait for our number to be called - Whoops! After waiting with our ticket for ages and not much happening we decided to go get our tickets from a ticket machine - very easy!!!!

Caught Metro and found Speronari Hotel (just behind the Piazza del Duomo) after asking a very helpful gentleman. Again this hotel is fairly basic - we did have a fan (which we needed) in our room which was at the back of the hotel - they do sell drinks and snacks at reception and the staff were very friendly and helpful. The location was excellent!!!

We had booked tickets for the Last Supper for the next morning ? very worthwhile - quite a moving experience - pity that the friars had enlarged the door into their kitchen and cut off the feet of Jesus!

Our one and only "pickpocket moment" - getting on the train back from the Last Supper, two women unobtrusively blocked my way - I didn?t think too much of it, but normally if someone wants to get past, people will move aside - they didn't. I had my small bag across my shoulder, all 3 zips closed, but something made me reach down - one zip had been opened and a pack of tissues from my bag were on the ground. I pushed her hands up - she was very pregnant and had quite a big tote bag - this, with the fact she was very close to me gave her the cover she needed to fiddle with the zip on my bag. Well - I was in shock - I pushed past her to where Paul was standing and told him what had happened - my legs were like jelly. She did not get my wallet (which did not have anything of value in it anyhow), and I glared at her - she just looked back at me and then got off at the next stop. I then started to think I was just imagining it!?!? What is the 'best' thing to do in this situation? - If my wallet had been gone I would have made a fuss!!! Was a good lesson - made us very aware!
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Aug 6th, 2003, 06:04 PM
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Milano (Continued)
We headed back to Piazza del Duomo ? there was lots of activity, barriers all around the piazza, TV crews, loud speakers and people everywhere wearing lolly pink t-shirts and riding bikes. We were in the middle of the last race of the month- long Giro D?Italia bicycle event. The announcers were whipping the competitors and spectators into a frenzy as they sent the riders on their way, one by one, complete with their police escort and support vehicles.

We were in the Navigli area later in the day and that was part of the route for the race ? people were lining the streets cheering, police were waving their little lollipop batons to control the traffic and pedestrians as the police motorbike came through blaring their siren, then the rider, then the support vehicle complete with horns blaring and the occupants waving and encouraging their rider. Such excitement!- such a great day! Lots of shops in the Navigli area were closed (it was Sunday), there were market stalls set up along the canal and there were some interesting art studios and shops in very picturesque little courtyard buildings.

We also went for a walk in the area around Loreto station ? our daughter had stayed at Hotel Vallazze (1 star) in this area a couple of years ago and had fallen in love with the area. While it was quite a lovely street and nice area (again no shops were open ? it was Sunday!) I was happier that we were staying right in the centre of the city.

We headed back to the Duomo and caught the lift to the top ? it was amazing ? we were literally on the roof, up amongst all the spires. The religious quest to be as close to the heavens as humanly possible is very evident with the height and number of ornate spires on this church ? who on the ground was ever going to see all the intricate carving and decoration ? We were amazed that we were allowed to clamber where ever we wanted ? there were only a few security people up there. We could look down from the roof into the church through a gap in an open window ? there was a service taking place ? we were so high up and we could hear the voices and music wafting up ? quite surreal. An interesting observation, some of the gargoyles at the top of the building were designed to be used as very effective drainage to carry water away from the side of the building when it rains. There was a thunderstorm the next afternoon (the only rain we had while in Italy) and torrents of water poured from the open mouths of the gargoyles, about a metre out from the side of the church.

We encountered another public holiday on the Monday (all the shops were closed again today) ? Republique Day. We caught the train to Lake Como for the day. From there we caught a ferry to Bellagio. Again spectacular scenery ? the high, high mountains coming right down to the waters edge, the beautiful lake and prettier than pretty towns along the edge of the lake. Bellagio was quite busy but we climbed the steep little streets and wandered until we found a delightful restaurant for lunch. Then back to Milan and more walking and more food until we called it a day.

Getting on the train at Milano Centrale to Venice was an experience. We had booked on an Intercity train, but the platform the train was leaving from was not announced until just a few minutes before the train was due to leave. This created a crush of hundreds of people complete with luggage all moving towards Platform 8. We got on the train but then I stepped aside to let some more people on before the train actually pulled out. This meant Paul and I were separated by about 10 people. The compartments were packed and the narrow corridors were packed, it was hot and everyone was trying to move along. We eventually got to our ?booked? seats ? with people already sitting in them. No worries! ? I passed our tickets up to Paul and the people in our seats manoeuvered themselves and their luggage out of the compartment and Paul and I manoeuvered ourselves in. By this time about 25 minutes of our journey had passed. Whew! ? time for a drink and something to eat ? I had a couple of squashed panini I had been lugging behind me. Two men opposite us then reached up into their luggage and retrieved a plastic bag with lots of big chunky sandwiches in it and a bottle of red wine and proceeded to picnic. Silly us ? we only had water ? next time we will bring wine! Two ladies and a small child then took out their food for the trip and even though we didn?t understand a word that was spoken, with smiles and heads nodding it felt that we were all friends embarking on an exciting journey.
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Aug 6th, 2003, 07:47 PM
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Fabulous trip report - I've been reading it aloud to my husband, who actually MUTED the TV! Your journey reads like a novel. I especially love that you find the people as interesting as the sights. That's what traveling should be.
I'm also fascinated that Australians get so much time off. When we were in Italy 2 years ago, we befriended 2 couples from Australia who were in the middle of an 8-week European trip.
I'm 59 and a home-health physical therapist, with no benefits. When we go on vacation, I go without pay. My husband is 61 and gets 2 weeks off a year. America is SO far behind the rest of the world when it comes to leisure time. You're SO LUCKY!!!!!!!
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