Speckles' extremely belated trip report

Dec 1st, 2007, 05:29 AM
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Speckles' extremely belated trip report

It's been 14 months since my trip to the UK and Europe in August / September 2006 and about time I posted a trip report. My mum (58) and I (33) spent 6 weeks travelling around Europe and the UK from Australia. It was mum's first trip to this region of the world, but I have been before.

I have rediscovered the emails I wrote to friends at the time of the trip, which I will use for the majority of my trip report, so please excuse the fact that much of it will be written in the present tense. Also be aware that some of the people I was writing to at the time are not as travel savvy as those on this board, hence the frequent explanations of things. It was the first trip which I had fully planned myself and the first time I had used the trains in Europe/UK.

Well, boring bits aside.. on with the show:

We flew from Adelaide, South Australia to Singapore with Singapore Airlines. This leg was over 7 hours long. Unfortunately, we had a six hour layover in Changi Airport and so spent the time scoping out the shops for our return visit. It seems I could leave buying Swiss chocolate until the trip home! The Koi pond area is nice and relaxing to see. We got a short-stay hotel room, which I recommend for such long-haul trips and long layovers. The second leg from Singapore to Zurich took over 12 hours.

The unfortunate thing about living in Australia is the cost and time involved in travelling to just about anywhere except for New Zealand.

On arriving very early in the morning and very tired in Zurich we witnessed a man staking out and then stealing a bag from an Indian couple who were waiting for a taxi at the airport. They had too much stuff to look after properly and were obviously returning from a trip. This was an unpleasant start to our trip, but kept us aware of our own belongings.
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Dec 1st, 2007, 05:34 AM
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I forgot to add, that I am extremely grateful for all the good advice I received from Fodorites in planning my trip.

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Gruezi from Zurich
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Well, the flight was long but fine. We arrived at our Zurich hotel at 8am, but couldn't check in til 2pm, so went for a general wander through the city centre. [Australian flights through Asia tend to arrive early into Europe and the UK]. You won't be surprised to know that one of my first purchases was some chocolate! [I am a chocoholic]. Apparently, it contains no preservatives, so it is more pure than most chocolate. It also means I will have to eat it soon as it only keeps for about 6 weeks - shame about that!

Today (Tuesday) we went for a 1.5 hour boat trip along the lake, booked our train tickets for throughout Europe, caught a tram through the city centre and visited a Swiss Museum. Nothing exciting, but a taste of Switzerland. In general people have been very nice and friendly and most have been able to speak English very well which has put mum at ease. [I can speak some German, but my mum only speaks English and was worried how she'd cope in Europe]. Tomorrow we catch our first train to the town of Luzern.
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Dec 1st, 2007, 05:43 AM
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Gruezi from Luzern
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G'day from Luzern, Switzerland.

If you ever get to Switzerland, you must come and see Luzern - it is beautiful.
Yesterday (Wed) we walked around the city, over the 2 famous wooden bridges and along the river front. Luzern is surrounded by mountains and sits on the edge of a large lake. The river front in the city itself is lined with beautiful Baroque architecture and has two wooden bridges spanning it. In the afternoon we decided to walk along the old city walls. It was a bit of an effort as Luzern is quite hilly in places. At one stage we stopped on top of the high wall to take a photo and mum dropped her water bottle which we then watched as it rolled away from us and over the edge, crashing at the bottom. Luckily no one was underneath!

Today we went on the Mt Pilatus Golden Round Trip. Starting with an 1.5 hour boat cruise along the lake, surrounded by mountains on all sides. It was very picturesque. Then we took a half hour ride in a cog wheel railcar up the very steep Mt Pilatus. The views were breathtaking and we could even hear the sound of real Swiss cowbells on some of the alpine cattle.

Once at the top we had time for a photo or two and then the mist and rain enveloped the mountain top. So our mountain top view was not quite as spectacular as we would have liked - in fact it wasn't much more than fog. It was freezing up on the mountain. Well, actually it was 2 degrees C, but it felt darn cold (our hometown has similar weather to California, so we're not used to the cold]. Due to the fog we decided not to spend too much time up there as there wasn't much we could really see. It was a shame as the previous day's weather was much nicer. Today is the first rain we've really had. We came down the other side of the mountain in cable cars.
The first section was very steep and they crammed 37 people into a large car. It was standing room only, but the view got better as we descended through the clouds and mist.

On the second section, smaller, four person cable cars are used. As we had stopped for a photo and look around there was hardly anyone left at the stop. The cable car guy assisted us into a cable car.. and then got in too. Turns out he wasn't the cable car guy, but a sole tourist. He told us he was a Tamil Tiger from Sir Lanka and was studying medicine in Russia. We weren't sure whether he was just lonely or if he was a bit suss. However, we survived the very long journey to the bottom, so he must have just been lonely.

Tomorrow we're off to the Swiss mountain village of Zermatt - a village without cars.
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Dec 1st, 2007, 05:48 AM
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Greetings from Zermatt
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On Saturday we took a three stage cable car up to the Klein Matterhorn - a mountain near to, but not quite as high as the famous Matterhorn mountain (the one that Toblerone chocolate is designed after!). At times the cable car was so steep we thought it was going to plough straight into the rockface in front of us, but didn't. At the top, both mum and I noticed we felt a bit of altitude sickness (slight giddiness), as did some other tourists up there.

This mountain is almost 4000 metres above sea level and as a result it snows all year round, so there were plenty of people up there skiing and snowboarding. The top area seemed quite flat, like a giant blanket of snow for miles. Unfortunately, clouds and mist blocked our view of the Matterhorn mountain nearby (just as our view from Mt Pilatus a few days earlier had also been blocked). We did, however, experience light snowfall while up there - mum has never seen snow before so was quite excited by the experience. We also went inside a glacial ice cave where they had carved statues from the ice. It was quite a long way in and even though there were rubber mats to walk on I almost went arse-over on a slippery bit, but luckily had been hanging onto the guide rope.

Zermatt is a quaint village, but full of tourists and adventure sport thrill seekers. The place is dotted with old style wooden chalets, some are quite small and look derelict and some are used by farmers to store hay for their animals away from the elements.

From Zermatt we headed to Venice by train. The train trip was long - 7.5 hours in total of travel, but that was our longest train trip and the rest are shorter from now on.
It was okay, but next time I would plan shorter distances between places.
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Dec 1st, 2007, 05:56 AM
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Ciao from Venezia
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Hello from sunny Venice. In contrast to Switzerland it is quite warm and sunny here in Venice. Today (Tuesday 15th August) is a religious holiday but enough places are still open to keep the crowds busy. Speaking of the crowds, it's like herding cattle here to move along the narrow lanes. As soon as anyone stops to look at something the whole forward movement of the crowd stops too. We're currently washing our clothes in the laundrymat next door as we have run out of clean clothes. [I believe it was Venice's only public laundrymat]. Our hotel room (Hotel Graspo de Ua) is compact as is the bathroom, which is okay but the shower is barely big enough to move in! Our room is also on the 5th floor of a five story building with no lift so mum and I are getting our exercise and get to our room huffing and puffing! Mum's not impressed with my choice of hotel. [I don't recommend this hotel either].

Yesterday we took a vaporetto - public transport boat - from the main island of Venice to two smaller islands of Murano and Burano. There are quite a few seats on the boats but it was packed and we were in standing room only in the front of the boat. The cool sea breeze was nice as we motored along.

Murano is about a 10 minute boat ride away and is famous for glass making which began on the island in 1300 when it was deemed too much of a fire risk for the furnaces to stay on the main island of Venice. There was shop after shop of glass sellers, often the products were the same, but sometimes a shop had something different and the prices varied with the quality. There were quite a few smooth looking characters running some of the stores.

While in one store an American guy boldly and loudly stated to his wife that a lot of this "junk" was made in China as his wife was trying to purchase a number of glass bracelets. The Italian shopowner was so infuriated at his accusation that she grabbed all the items the wife was trying to buy and put them back on the shelf defiantly saying they were indeed made in Murano and not in China! It was a bit more relaxed in Murano than the constant rush-rush we had experienced in Venice. The weather was probably mid 20s C but felt warmer with all the walking we did, the sun and wearing jeans with closed in shoes.

When the forecast for Europe was all rain before we left Australia I decided not to take my sandels, which I have regretted a number of days since.

From Murano we took another vaporetto boat out to the island of Burano about a further 30 minutes away. Even though the boat was full (and we had to stand with our tired, aching feet) the island seemed a lot less busy than even Murano had and certainly more than Venice. If you come to Venice make sure you visit these two islands even if only to escape the maddening crowds in Venice!

Burano is traditionally known for its lace making, but it is now a dying artform as the younger women choose not to take up the craft of their mamas and nonas. The lace stores now supplement their expensive Burano handmade lace stocks with machine made lace and also Murano glass articles.

We sat and ate gelati in the shade overlooking the water's edge - it was very pleasant. As we headed back to the boatstop we came across an artist and his son who both painted images of Venice and Burano - the father in watercolour and the son in oil. Their paintings were very nice. By the end of the day (it was about 6.30pm) we were tired and loaded down with purchases and headed back to Venice by vaporetto.

This morning (Tuesday) we headed to the Doge's Palace. The Doge was the former ruler of Venice much like a president from early in the millenium until Napoleon invaded in the late 1700s. We took a tour which showed us around the secret rooms of the authorities, including the prison and secret archives (much like the secret service in former Communist countries).
Coming out on to St Mark's Square afterwards I wasn't sure whether there were more pigeons or more people - both were everywhere. We took a few photos and then made hast to get out of the crowds, which continued for some way into the alleys off the Square. The day-trippers tend to flock to these areas, but once they leave in the early evening things calm down again.

Another day and a half to go in Venice and we'll be off to Austria.
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Dec 1st, 2007, 05:58 AM
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Gruessen from Salzburg
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Well, we've just arrived in Salzburg (at 9pm) after a 6 hour train ride from Venice. We met a nice young Australian couple who were touring around Europe on their honeymoon. The views from the train were nice - mountains and green pastures with many little white churches all of a similar style.
Unfortunately, the hotel couldn't find a record of our booking, but they had 2 single rooms to give us instead.

Yesterday in Venice we visited the Basilica San Marco - the large church in the main square of Venice. The square is packed with people and pigeons and one landed on my shoulder as I tried to take a photo of the Basilica. The queue was long, but I had planned ahead and made a reservation allowing us to jump the queue.

Later in the day we took the obligatory gondola ride through the back canals. Our gondolier was an older man who had been in the business for 42 years and had followed on from previous family members. Today there are approximately 300 gondolas, all for tourist purposes. About 50 years ago there were 600 gondolas and in times past, upto 10,000 as it was the main form of transport. Today the locals have motorboats or use the public transport vaporetto boats. There has also been a dramatic decline in the resident population of Venice over the past few centuries. It is no longer the great port it once was.
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Dec 1st, 2007, 06:01 AM
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an incident that occurred while we were in Venice..

I was trying on a glass ring in a cheap Venetian shop the other day when the bloody thing got stuck on my finger. As I pulled it off, it went flying to the floor and smashed. The shopkeeper said something in Italian which sounded like swear words. It cost me 5 Euro for the privilege. Mum was going to buy something there but I asked if we could speedily exit I was so embarrased. It's not like me to be clumsy like that. Afterwards mum kept telling me not to touch anything!
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Dec 1st, 2007, 06:10 AM
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Gruessen from Salzburg
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We only spent the one day in Salzburg. We walked from the hotel to the old city centre. I really like the architecture of this city. The painted houses and the churches with their Baroque style domes.

We walked through a marketplace (of mostly souvenirs) and towards the castle. One lady I bought some tourist tatt off asked me where we were from. She was impressed with my German accent and didn't think we were Australian at all. I was quite chuffed with that.

We took the funicular to the castle. I had visited the castle as a 16 year old in 1989. Wanting to take a nice photo of the sunset my friends and I spent 45 minutes sitting in a courtyard waiting for the sun to go down. By the time it did, the castle was closing so I never got to see the inside. This trip I decided to remedy that decision from 1989 and mum and I took a tour around the buildings. The view from the top tower is very scenic, as Salzburg seems to be nestled within a ring of mountains and greenery.

On walking back to the hotel be came across the Mirabell Gardens quite by accident. I had heard about them, but hadn't made it part of the plans as we only had the one day. I'm glad we did come across it as it is a very pleasant formal type garden, with views to the castle above on the hill.
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Dec 1st, 2007, 06:19 AM
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Beer Steins, Neo-Nazis and Dogs in McDonalds
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Beer steins, Neo-Nazis and dogs in McDonalds kinda sums up our brief one day visit to Munich. Throw in cobblestones, 30 degree C heat and sore feet and the day is complete.

As we alighted the train in Munich's main train station, one of the first things we saw were a group of Neo-Nazis being followed closely by a group of police officers equal in number. We thought maybe they were being lead out of the train station for causing a commotion, but that wasn't the case. When we left our hotel and headed for the city centre we saw police everywhere, some with riot gear, many sitting around in vans waiting in case they were needed. Seems it was a rally of Neo-Nazis, to do with an anniversary for something. They stayed in a square, surrounded by police and held a relatively peaceful rally for such people. We took a different route to avoid the group and made our way through the city centre.

My mum was rather scared by the whole thing, but the police were everywhere. I also had noticed quite a few Middle Eastern people, including a number of women in full burkas. I told mum that if the Neo-Nazis were going to cause a problem with anyone it is not likely to be two caucasian women when there are so many people around who are quite obviously from other cultures.

In the mall, we saw buskers, but they were much classier than those in Adelaide. We came across at least 3 groups of them all playing classical music for passers by. A much nicer touch than the crappy selection of mostly untalented beggers we get here in Rundle Mall.

Beer steins are available for sale everywhere in Munich and some are up to 1.2m tall! Not sure how one would drink out of those! But we're in Germany and the Germans pride themselves on their beer, especially in Munich.

Something else we've noticed a lot of all over Europe is that dogs are allowed almost everywhere. Hotels allow them to stay so we have seen many dogs on holidays with their owners, even in crowded Venice. Dogs are also allowed in most shops and we even saw one in McDonalds here in Munich. It was the first time we went into Maccas, and only because we needed somewhere to sit and rest our weary feet from the cobblestones. There is little, if any, public seating in the European towns and the main option is to go to sidewalk cafes and pay a fortune for a drink or meal, which we have so far refused to do.

We've noticed in general that food hygiene standards are somewhat lower than in Australia. Food uncovered and / or out in the open being preyed upon by flies or wasps; open air markets for fish and fruit & veg in Venice where stall holders happily puff away on their cigarettes while serving customers and handling food.

We're off to the smaller Bavarian Alpine town of Fussen today, which will hopefully be far less crowded than here in the heart of Munich.
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Dec 1st, 2007, 07:05 AM
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Castles, Medieval Towns and a Bloody Great Big Church!
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After leaving the Neo-Nazis behind in Munich we headed off for Fuessen in the Bavarian Alps. Fuessen is a small town, with old buildings and sits at the end of the rail line. The Bavarian Alps form its backdrop. When we first arrived in Fuessen it was raining, so our luggage got soaked on the short walk to the hotel in the same street as the train station. The hotel staff were friendly and helpful, the room was fine and internet use was free, but the bathroom you couldn't swing a cat in. The toilet was too close to the wall AND there was a heating element on the same wall, forcing one to sit somewhat sideways. I wasn't impressed with this.

We went for a walk up the main mall and soon the coulds disappeared and the sun came out again. It was like a completely different day. We walked down to the river to take in the views of the old monastry.
Back in the mall I conned mum into having a HUGE ice cream sundae. She had Baileys and I had strawberry.

The next day we went to see Neuschwanstein castle which sits above Hohenschwangau village 10 minutes from Fuessen. We caught a bus to the top of the hill rather than a 40 minute uphill walk. They packed us in like sardines for the steep, windy, but short ride to the hilltop. The walk to the castle from there was through green woodland and was very nice. The castle was built in the late 1800s by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, often referred to as Mad King Ludwig. As a teenager he dreamt of a medieval fairytale castle, which he commissioned to be built. The castle took years and cost a fortune, which the people weren't happy about. Only some of the rooms were complete when Ludwig died mysteriously in his early 30s. We saw the completed rooms and the extravagence was apparent. Several woodcarvers took 4 years to complete the King's bedroom and the furniture within it. His bed had a canopy which had intricately carved church steeples on it.

The next day we headed for Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a quaint village which still has its medieval city walls intact and anyone who buys property within the walls must comply to certain heritage orders, to ensure the city's heritage (and associated tourist dollar, no doubt) remains. The village has a nice little garden area which looked out over a very green and wooded Tauber Valley.

While in Rothenburg we visited a museum which is actually a house built in 1270 for a tradesman. The house was lived in until about 50 years ago, but not much was ever done to it. It had no running water or electricity even then, so it has been kept as original from the 13th century. It was interesting to see. The ceilings were lower as the people of the time were only about 5 foot tall back then. The stairs were narrow and steep, the outside walls curved and buckled. A tradesman's family lived in the house over the years, including many children, grandparents and an apprentice.

From Rothenburg we travelled to Cologne, a larger German city with a bloody great big Cathedral. Today I climbed the tower, which has 509 steps to the top and feels like many, many more. 80% of the steps are up a small round, stone staircase and you have to be careful when people pass you going in the other direction. Mum didn't think she would be up to doing this so she went and had her hair done at the hairdresser while I huffed and puffed my (long) way to the top.

Unfortunately, graffiti covers anywhere and everywhere up the top where tourists can reach. They have caged some of it off since I was up there last (in 1989) to stop some of the graffiti and so no one can throw things over the sides. Boy are my legs gonna ache tomorrow. We've just spent a bit of time wandering around the mall, but then it started to bucket down with rain and so we took refuge in this little dodgy-looking internet cafe.
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Dec 1st, 2007, 07:08 AM
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"We've noticed in general that food hygiene standards are somewhat lower than in Australia. Food uncovered and / or out in the open being preyed upon by flies or wasps; open air markets for fish and fruit & veg in Venice where stall holders happily puff away on their cigarettes while serving customers and handling food. "

Maybe that's why the food tastes so much better than it does down under.

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Dec 1st, 2007, 07:12 AM
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Bonjour from Paree
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Last Saturday, while staying in Cologne, mum and I went to a German town called Hagen. This is where I stayed for 9 weeks when I was an exchange student in Germany in 1989. We went to see the family I lived with. We met Anja, my exchange partner, at the train station. She had her 4 year old son with her. He wasn't born last time I saw her in London 5 years earlier.

Unfortunately, one of the first things she told us was that her father passed away unexpectedly a few months ago. I had mixed emotions of sadness for his passing and disappointment that I would never see him again.

Never the less, we caught up with Anja (who had lived with us in 1989) and her husband, sister and mother. It was good to catch up after 16 years and to show mum the house I had stayed in while in Germany. It was also good for our two mothers to meet in person after having looked after the other's daughter. The family fed us with way too much food and we went back to Cologne by train in the evening.

The next morning we were up early to board an 8.15am train to Paris (I made it with time to spare for those of you who know my habit for lateness and sleeping in). We spent Sunday afternoon looking at a black & white photographic exhibition and wandering around the Marais and Ile St Louis parts of Paris. I was most disappointed that Berthillon, the ice cream shop with 35 flavours, was closed for summer holidays until after we leave Paris. I knew from that moment on it would all be downhill from there!

You would never see an ice cream shop closed in Australia in the heart of summer and the tourist season. I still find it hard to understand that some summer and/or tourist related shops close in Italy and France in the middle of summer when business should be at its peak.
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Dec 1st, 2007, 07:23 AM
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Hey, I wasn't having a go at the Pomms, flanner. Although you Brits are not exactly known for your culinary delights.. pork pies, black pudding and whatnot..
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Dec 1st, 2007, 07:30 AM
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Paris continued..

The sky was overcast but didn't rain. Later that night we went on an open-top bus tour of the lights of Paris. It was nice to see, but not quite slow enough to take decent photos in the dark of night.

It was raining Monday morning when we headed to the Louvre art gallery. The place is huge and we got lost once. Mostly we saw the Egyptian areas as mum likes that era and there is too much to see in just a few hours. After we went to a department store called BHV. It's full of homewares, including a basement full of hardware.

The rain finally stopped by early evening and we went on a pre-booked boat cruise of the Seine river followed by the late show at the Moulin Rouge. We were one of the last buses to arrive and got stuck at a table in the top corner of the room. They cram 900 people in to each show like sardines. Parts of the show were good and what I expected and some were more like circus acts and not what I was expecting to see. There were also 3 acts with animals involved which I didn't think was good for the animals.

After getting to bed at 2.50 am, we slept in a bit this morning. It was raining and we went to the Eiffel Tower. The positive thing about the rain is that it only took 20 minutes in the queue for the lift. Unfortunqtely the rain dulled the experience, but we went all the way to the top floor. I forgot to take a jumper and froze when we were up the top. There were a lot of young women begging at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower.

So far we haven't encountered the infamous Parisian arrogance that others have mentioned. Everyone has been helpful and generally polite - better than a couple of hoteliers we encountered in another country. We also haven't seen the infamous dog poo on the pavement that we've been warned about. However, the Parisians drive fast and park anywhere. They don't seem to care if their car is touching the one in front.
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Dec 1st, 2007, 07:35 AM
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more from Paris..

So far no problems with the Parisians. Even managed to buy and post a parcel from the post office and the lady didn't speak english and we don't speak French.

Went to a public toilet near Sacre Couer today and it was a non-gender-specific toilet block. It had an office in it where an African couple sat and had African music playing - quite atmospheric for a toilet!

Not only has mum dropped a bottle of water over a high town wall, she has now dropped boiled egg from her sandwich down her top while we were walking around eating lunch in Rothenburg and I had to stand there while she tried to pick it out!

I'm also over people smoking everywhere. In Cologne a guy sat behind us at breakfast (in a near empty room) and proceeded to smoke his pipe - FFS! The Europeans seem to be more liberal with their smoking laws than in Australia.
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Dec 1st, 2007, 07:40 AM
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They drive on the wrong side of the road...
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Well, we left gay Paree yesterday having not seen as much as the schedule specified, for a number of reasons: late nights leading to late mornings; pouring down with rain one day; me having a cold; a technical ATM problem for mum etc.

I liked Paris and could easily spend a lot more time there doing the many things Paris has to offer. I didn't find the people rude in the least. In fact they were generally most helpful and polite. I was also able to buy Metro train tickets from an automatic machine without a problem and no English translation - must have been those 2 lessons of French I had earlier this year! [I signed up for a French class, but dropped out after two lessons as it was 6 hours a week on top of working full-time]

So far mum and I haven't fought - just a few little snips here and there, but today we had the hire car and it was tension the whole day. Mum kept telling me I was driving in the gutter and I kept telling her I was driving just about on the centre line - it didn't stop all day! But we survived - only got lost twice, drove on the wrong side of the road once (no oncoming traffic), had dozens of locals pass me, including 2 large trucks who honked their horns (and I was doing the speed limit!), drove over the curb once and side-swiped the passenger side mirror against a stationary car's side mirror once in a small village where cars were parked both sides of the road and I had a large oncoming vehicle. It was fun, believe me!

We're in the Loire Valley which is known for its numerous chateaux along the Loire river. Today we drove to Chambord about 1.5 hours from the city of Tours we are staying in. Chambord is one of the largest chateaux, but the grounds were rathering uninteresting to look at in contrast to many of the others. It was just huge lawned areas with a few trees in the distance. It was originally built as a hunting lodge for the king and sits on the edge of a forest. It was sparsely decorated inside too and had huge medieval tapestries covering whole walls.

In the afternoon we visited Chenonceaux Chateau, which was on our way back to Tours. This chateau was created to be looked at. It had huge trees lining the walkway to the chateau. There was a moat around the building which itself straddled the river. The rooms were decorated with period furniture and the views from the windows looked out over formal, manicured gardens or along the river. This was certainly much nicer to visit, but we had less time there as it was getting late by then and I wanted to drive in the daylight.
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Dec 1st, 2007, 07:49 AM
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From countryside to countryside
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We're currently in Bath, UK and it's great to have a "normal" keyboard again after using the French one for 8 days.

We spent our last day in the Loire Valley, France visiting a town, abbey and chateau. After turning onto the A10 autoroute which I didn't want to do, but mum insisted it wasn't going to be the autoroute, I then forgot to follow the directions the hotelier gave me, so I missed the turnoff. Eventually, we got off the autoroute through a manned toll (it cost €1.50 for the pleasure of using it), we pulled over to check our directions when a nice local Frenchman interupted his chat with his mates to lead us with his car through the next town and in the direction of a decent road which would take us to our alternate destination (since we had passed the first one). It really was very nice of him to go out of his way to help us like that.

We headed to a small town called Chinon, stradled across a large river. Being a sunday only the restaurants and 2 or 3 bakeries were open. The town had a real quiet, sleepy feeling to it. We sat in one of the typical French squares and ate goodies from the bakery for lunch. It was relaxing and pleasant.

We then headed off to Fontevraud Abbey. It was built in the 1100s and is still in fine shape. We had a stroll through the partially manicured gardens and a few buildings, which were empty inside. Even though there was not much to see inside the buildings, the place was calm and peaceful and the buildings pleasant to look at.

Our final stop was at Chateau Villandry, not far from the city we were staying in. It has huge gardens which are laid out as they were in medieval times when the chateau was built. Hundreds of lime trees line the paths and gardens. All of the chateau's vegetables and fruit are grown in the garden. Laid out in pretty patterns and bordered by low hedges and espailered (spelling?) apple trees. Each room in the chateau had a beautiful outlook over a different part of the garden and the higher up you went inside, the more you could see the formal patterns in the gardens. Mum really enjoyed this chateau as did I.

On Monday we travelled from the Loire Valley in regional France to Bath in regional England. Our journey took us back to Paris where we had to cross the city to change trains. We took a taxi and neither of us can believe that we are still alive! The Parisian drivers are terrible and the taxi drivers even worse. He sped the whole way; didn't use an indicator; weaved in and out of the designated bus/taxi lanes; almost had one crash (mum says almost 3 crashes on her side of the car) and had dozens of near misses. Luckily, we made it to the train station safely, if not a little stressed out and luckily neither of us were wearing white pants!! If you're into adventure sports and taking great risks, forget skydiving or rockclimbing, just take a taxi ride across Paris!

When we arrived in London there were a lot of police in the train station and several trains had been cancelled in one direction due to a security issue. We then took a cab ride across London from Waterloo station to Paddington to change trains. We had a real Cockney cabbie who talked the whole way and even pointed out some places of interest as we went by. In contrast to the Paris cab ride, this one was tame. We took a train to Bath in the west of England.

On arriving in Bath I had my first celebrity sighting. I saw the "Prime Minister" from the tv show "Little Britain" waiting for a train on the platform in Bath. Walked past him a second time - yep, definitely him. We then had a short cab ride with a guy who looked and sounded like he had walked straight out of the set of the old British tv show "Steptoe & Son".

Bath is an architecturally beautiful city and I would recommend coming here if you can. Our hotel room has a view over the cricket oval and last night we could see the oldies out playing twightlight bowls on the Bath Bowling green next door.
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Dec 1st, 2007, 07:55 AM
  #18  
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The Old Country
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Well, we're down Cornwall way now, where the locals have a broader accent.
We're staying in a nice bed and breakfast, which seems more like a small family run hotel [the Truro Townhouse, which I thoroughly recommend]. Everyone has been very friendly and helpful, it really is a hospitible area.

As the train wove its way through the county of Devon and into Cornwall, the scenery changed to rolling green pastures with grazing cattle and sheep. We wandered around Truro, the town we're staying in, for a short time yesterday.

Today we're in Redruth where my great-great grandmother was born. We spent some time in the library trying to find a house number to go with the street address we had, but without success. After a Cornish pasty for lunch (what else?) we headed over to the street where our ancestors once lived. Not seeing any street signs I asked a man who had just stepped out of his house if we were in the right street. Turns out we were and when mum explained her ancestors had lived in the street and run a grocery store in the 1800s he went and got his wife who had a whole history on their house which had formally been a store. After inviting us in, the lady, Daphne, surmised from some information I had that our ancestors quite possibly lived at number 17. So she very kindly took us down there and introduced us to the owners. The husband Ken was quite interested in his family history and that of the buidlings he owned. His house now consists of the old numbers 17 & 18 tucked away down a narrow alley way. We spent probably an hour talking with them about the town, the house and Cornish miners. They took us into the living room which still has part of the old kitchen fire area remaining.

They also gave us some local advice on what to see and what not to bother with for our next two days travelling around Cornwall. It was interesting to think we may well have been standing in the former house of our ancestors. But then again, we may just have been standing in the living room of some unknown, but friendly Cornish people.
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Dec 1st, 2007, 08:08 AM
  #19  
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Where the bloody hell are ya??
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[Not sure if non-Australians and non-British will be familiar with the title to this post. It is a famous (or infamous) slogan from an Australian tourism campaign shown in the UK. It was reputedly pulled from the air due to its use of the word "bloody", which Australians use a lot.]

We're in London. The last leg on our Race Around the World.

[in strong Cornish accent] We was down Port Isaac the other day (setting for the mythical village of Port Wenn in the British tv show "Doc Martin"), but the Doc weren't in.

They film the show in the old part of the town, which has the small traditional houses and narrow streets. It's a quiet looking town, even with the extra tourists the tv show brings. As you can imagine, the locals aren't too thrilled with having their town taken over by a tv cast and crew who take up the rental accommodation that tourists would otherwise stay in, but don't spend the money that tourists do, including suppling their own catering. The roads leading into the village are narrower than we're used to and lined with stone walls covered in bramble hedges. The nearby coastline is very picturesque.

Now we're in London. Today we walked through St James Garden to the Mall. We wanted to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony, but it is only on every second day and today wasn't it. So after taking a few snaps of Liz's house, we walked back up the Mall, stopping only at Clarance House as Charlie and Camilla drove out. We think she waved to us. Mum was madly snapping photos in the hope the paparazzi might want to buy one! So, that has been our only celebrity sighting since seeing the Little Britain Prime Minister at Bath railway station. No Kylie in sight!

After the royal wave we headed into a surprisingly pigeon-free Trafalgar Square for a few more snaps of the heart of London. We bought our tickets for the Tower of London at the tube station to avoid the queues, but seems we didn't need to. Since I was in London 5 years ago they've added a string of shops outside the Tower selling tickets from machines and tourist tatt. We saw the crown jewels and had a general wander around the Tower grounds.

We visited the Royal Mews and took the tour through Buckingham Palace, which is only offered for 6 weeks each year while the Queen is at Balmoral. It is obviously the pick for senior-citizens bus tours as we were some of the youngest there. It made the tour slow going, especially in the room where they had Elizabeth's dresses on show for her 80th birthday.

While in London we also visited Covent Garden (the Doc Marten shop is no longer there), the V&A Museum, Oxford Street and Harrods.

Well, that is the end of my trip report. If you've managed to read this far, thankyou for your time - I know it was a long one, but it was a 6 week trip.
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