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Trip Report - Family of 4 - 1 month in Italy, Switzerland, Paris & London

Trip Report - Family of 4 - 1 month in Italy, Switzerland, Paris & London

Old Nov 2nd, 2006, 05:37 PM
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Trip Report - Family of 4 - 1 month in Italy, Switzerland, Paris & London

ENGLISH COUNTRYSIDE
Following is our trip report - a family of 4 Australians (Mum, Dad and daughters aged 12 and 14) in Europe for 4 weeks in June/July 2006. We spent many months planning, and each of us chose one destination. Father chose Lake Como in Italy, elder daughter chose Switzerland (Lauterbrunnen), second daughter chose Paris, and Mum chose London. Overall a fantastic trip - and a unanimous vote that Switzerland was the highlight!
We arrived at London’s Heathrow airport at about 8 am Saturday morning (24th June) after a 27 hour trip from Australia! After long immigration queues and queues at the hire car outlet, we were soon on our way to Salisbury. The adults were not too exhausted but the girls kept dozing off in the car. As chief navigator I had meticulously printed our route out from www.mappy.com before leaving Australia. It proved to be quite useful until I found we had entered the correct freeway but were headed in the wrong direction! It seemed like a very long way before we could exit the freeway, and we then headed off through the countryside without the directions of Mappy. I put the error down to jetlag rather than bad navigation! All’s well that ends well though, as we found the trip down country roads much more charming than on the freeways.
Salisbury was a highlight for us, especially our daughters. We managed to go on an organised visit of the Cathedral which was fantastic. The guide was very knowledgeable and really kept the children’s interest. The girls were disappointed that they could not go up the steeple but all tours were fully booked for several hours ahead and we had limited time in Salisbury. We were fortunate however to see the bishop’s son being married. A quick peek at the Magna Carta before leaving the church was worthwhile. By this stage we were running late for our limited parking in the council car park, and then jetlag really took effect. We couldn’t remember the way back to the car! Four of us had four different opinions as to where we had left the car. Fortunately a kindly English family escorted us back to the car park and we were on our way once again.
We stopped briefly at Stonehenge, but I must confess to being disappointed. I last visited Stonehenge 26 years ago on a cold, dark winter’s afternoon. Somehow Stonehenge on a sunny day with not a cloud in sight and temperatures of 26C didn’t have the same magic as I remembered! The girls were pleased to have seen it, although we didn’t bother to go inside the wire fence.
Our first night was spent at Bodkin House (www.bodkin-house-hotel.co.uk) in the tiny hamlet of Petty France some 15 miles north of Bath. The building was ancient and none of the walls and floors seemed straight. We had two bedrooms and bathroom right up under the roof of the building. It was nicely furnished, the beds were comfortable, and as long as my husband remembered to duck his head when going through the doorway into the bathroom, everything was perfect. It felt like we were staying in a piece of history!
Sunday was another perfect day weather-wise and we spent most of the day exploring Bath. Bath was just as charming and interesting as I remember it being 26 years ago. We travelled around the city on one of the hop-on-hop-off busses which travel around the city. It was a very efficient way to see the city in limited time and the audio guide was very informative. Visiting the ancient baths was interesting but the audio commentary was a bit much. I could sense our history loving children were becoming tired by too many words (or perhaps jetlag)! While pre-recorded audio commentary is an efficient way to communicate information, it is just not as interesting as a real live guide who can gauge the interest of the audience.
After leaving Bath we headed to Avebury to see the henge there. Unfortunately it had started to rain by then, and once again we had limited time. The children liked the fact that they could wander among the stones, and we would all have liked to explore further. Certainly it is something we would like to return and do in greater depth in the future.
Windsor was only on our itinerary because we were meeting a friend there for dinner. However, our daughters list it as one of their highlights. They saw their first castle (from the outside), and were fascinated at seeing the Eton boys down town on a Sunday evening in their tails! Certainly exclusive private school life in England is very different to that in Australia. A magnificent meal at a delightful restaurant on the river finished off the day perfectly.
Our whirlwind two day trip into the English countryside was at an end and we all agreed it is somewhere we would love to explore in depth. Weeks rather than days would be delightful in the area we had simply had a taste of.

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Old Nov 2nd, 2006, 08:21 PM
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A great report so far.
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Old Nov 2nd, 2006, 08:46 PM
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Looking forward to reading more about your trip...
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Old Nov 3rd, 2006, 01:49 PM
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Part 2 - Lake Como, ITALY
Monday morning we battled the immense traffic around Heathrow (having stayed the night at one of the Heathrow hotels), and then headed off on a “bmibaby” flight to Nice. Collected a rental car in Nice, followed the www.mappy.com directions and headed off to Lake Como in Italy. We had decided on flying into Nice rather than Milan as we needed to return the hire car in Paris and this avoided the excessive one way fees charged when returning a car in a different country to where you hired it.
The scenery along the coast was magnificent but the drive was hair-raising to say the least! The car we were given was smaller than we had hired but the queues so long and service so poor we decided to take it and get going. We found the lanes on the freeway rather narrow, especially given the roads were quite twisty, and nobody seemed to obey the speed limit. Each time a large transport passed us we thought we were going to be blown right off the road. I was extremely glad when we finally left the freeway …… but not for long! The lakeside road around lake Como was very narrow, with blind bends wide enough only for a single car, even though it was a two way road. Now we were ever so glad we had accepted the smaller car!
Finally we arrived at our apartment in Sala Comacina on Lake Como – our home for the next 5 days. The apartment was fantastic (www.ownersdirect.co.uk/italy/IT439.htm) – very comfortably furnished, a fabulous view, and a swimming pool which given the very warm weather was well used. The road to the garage was definitely not for the faint hearted – we only used the garage on one day. After that we parked in the public car park down below and hiked up some serious steps to the apartment. We certainly left fitter than we arrived! While we loved the apartment, we would not stay there again as we found it a little remote. To reach the village of Sala Comacina one had to walk along the very narrow lake road, and there was no curb for pedestrians. As houses are built right along the edge of the road there was nowhere to move to get out of the way of a bus or truck. A walk anywhere was a serious business – single file with Dad at the front, Mum at the back and kids in the middle. While there was a ferry stop in Sala, very few boats stopped there – one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
We used the bus that runs along the Lake Road quite often – bus stop just below the apartment. That way we enjoyed the view while the bus driver worried about what was coming from the opposite direction. Tickets could not be purchased on the bus, so we had to get them at the newsagent before boarding – if they were not on siesta (some days that was from 11am to 3pm!) We finally found we could buy several trips tickets in Menaggio – further up the lake. This was a much more touristy town with shorter siesta hours; more English spoken and generally much more going on.
Our days were spent visiting various places along the lake, getting from place to place by ferry. We loved Villa Melzi and Vila Carlotta and would have liked to have visited a few more villa’s had time permitted. Our favourite village was Bellagio. Touristy yes, but wonderful to wander around. The girls had fun stocking up on silk ties for father’s day and some leather bags and jewellery for themselves. Had some delicious pizza there for lunch one day! We also went into the city of Como one day. Caught the bus in and ferry back. We loved wandering around seeing the sights and browsing in the shops. We finished off with a trip up the funicular to Brunate – great views of Como and the lake from up there!
The weather in late June was decidedly warm – over 30C every day and quite humid! Given that we did a lot of walking we found we were often quite tired in the early afternoon. We usually returned to the apartment for some quiet time – a bit of reading or some traditional Italian siesta. Afterwards we wondered out to the pool for a swim and we were once again refreshed, ready for more!
Lake Como was a great start to the holiday! We had all been very busy before the holiday, and after a HUGE flight to Europe, it was a perfect, slow start to the holiday. Very relaxing and simply beautiful!
Part 3 – Swizerland coming next.
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Old Nov 4th, 2006, 10:42 PM
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Part 3 - SWITZERLAND
On Saturday, 1st July we left Lake Como and headed for Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland. We were surprised at how simple the border check into Switzerland was. Since we were leaving the EU we expected the full “show us your passport” bit, but someone poked their head into the car and simply waved us on. We stopped immediately inside Switzerland to get some money (Swiss Francs not Euros) and also to pay the annual freeway toll. Driving along the Swiss Freeways was more sedate than in Italy – slower speed limits which seemed to be adhered to as well. We soon got the impression, which stayed with us throughout our stay in Switzerland, that the Swiss see every mountain as a challenge – they always dig tunnels through them – road tunnels, train tunnels and even tunnels to look at waterfalls inside mountains! The engineering was amazing!
Our home for the next 7 days was the delightful “Breithorn” apartment in Chalet Barli just outside Lauterbrunnen (http://www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/ind...operty/19719_1). The English owners, Wilf and Wendy Hume are a charming couple, always ready for a chat. The apartment only had one bedroom, but a sofabed and fold down bed in the living room worked really well for us. The kitchen was compact (one person in there at a time) but functional and very well equipped – right down to the fondue set complete with burner, instructions, recipes and where to buy the ingredients in the village! The apartment is set in the Lauterbrunnen valley in a tradtional Swiss Chalet. Looking out of the side windows one looks at the towering cliffs that form the valley – a wonderful view and amazing feeling. The view from the front windows shows the snow capped mountains – perfect! People had recommended we stay in the car free villages higher up but we found the valley to be a magical place. Car parking right beside the chalet made using the car very easy too. It was an ideal base to visit the Junfrau region and we would not hesitate to stay there again! On a couple of occasions we returned from a long day sightseeing to find a bowl of freshly picked strawberries left for us by Wilf and Wendy – they grow their own and were happy to share. The girls also loved going with Wendy to feed or play with their kid goats – a real Heidi experience!
Knowing we were going to travel up and down mountains and through tunnels on anything that moved, we bought Swiss travel passes. For the adults we bought the Half Fare Card, and children’s passes which allowed them free travel throughout! The staff at the Lauterbrunnen Station were fantastic - they were extremely helpful and friendly and had a good command of English which made everything very easy.
Not knowing how variable the weather might be we decided that the first clear day would be a trip to the Jungfraujoch. As it turned out every day except the last was perfect weather – warm and humid – often around 30C, and beautifully clear. First thing each morning we would turn the TV on to see the weather cameras transmitting from all the favourite tourist destinations, and then decide on the day’s activities.
A trip up the Jungfraujoch was definitely one of the highlights for us. We caught the first train out of Lauterbrunnen in the morning. We loved the scenery on the way up, and it was great to be up the top before the crowds arrived. We followed the advice we had picked up from the Fodors website and headed straight for the Sphinx observation area. Only about three other people headed the same direction as us so we really felt like we were on top of the world and totally at peace – a wonderful experience! We then headed for the walk out to the mountain hut. We did not have special footwear (just runners), but managed fine with that. Interestingly our two fit daughters were quite out of breath on the walk, which at first I thought strange but then realised they were affected by the altitude! I on the other hand felt no effects at all. We wondered whether it could have been anything to do with the fact that I spent 24 years living at 6000ft above sea level (some 20 years earlier however), or whether it was just how different bodies cope with altitude changes!? Once we reached the mountain hut, we settled down for about an hour to enjoy the view, a good drink and a chance to catch our breath. On the return journey we detoured so the girls could go tobogganing. The girls loved the experience (especially as we live so far from any snow), but eventually they were quite pale and clearly once again experiencing the effects of high altitude. The children also enjoyed the Ice Palace with its ice tunnels and ice sculptures.
The next day we opted for a change from mountain experiences. We drove to Lauterbrunnen station, caught the train to Interlaken Ost and then a ferry to Brienz. We had no fixed plans for the day but just went exploring. On the ferry we chatted to a delightful American lady who recommended the Ballenberg Open Air Museum. Out came the travel book, found out how to get there, caught the bus, and spent a large part of the day wandering through the 160 acre property looking at some of the 100 rural building on the site from all over Switzerland. It was fascinating to see the different styles of architecture, and to understand what would in the past have been the home of a wealthy farmer versus someone less well off. We also saw some traditional crafts like hat making and curing sausages in the smoke house. A beautifully played Alpenhorn by a local was certainly a highlight! We only saw a fraction of the museum due it size and the very warm day!
The following day was back to the mountains. We took the cable car to the Schilthorn early in the day. Loved the views but the girls were a little disappointed that there was not as much snow up there. On our return journey we explored the car-free village of Murren and then walked down to Gimmelwald. The walk was delightful but the extremely hot and humid weather was challenging. From Gimmelwald we took the cable car back to Stechelberg. In the late afternoon we visited the Trummelbach falls – these were within walking distance of our apartment and were well worth the visit!
Wednesday we decided to do something totally different yet again. We took the car and drove via Gruyers to Montreaux, stopping at little villages along the way. The medieval town of Gruyers with its castle was a definite highlight for us! I found the town delightful and could easily visualise what it might have been like in the past. From Gruyers we travelled to Montreaux for a wander along the lake, and then on to Chateaux de Chillon. Once again another great castle to explore. Given that daughter number one had studied castles of this period last year, and daughter number two will be studying them next year, it was better than any school excursion – lots of informed conversation and plenty of photos!
Thursday we decided on another day trip – this time by train to Lucerne. While we had covered some of this distance driving in from Italy, it was great to do it by train as we could all focus on the views and not have to worry about traffic or navigating. Loved the old wooden bridge in Lucerne, but somehow forgot to take its photo. Spent the day simply exploring – saw some of the old town and the famous lion statue, did some shopping and enjoyed coffee and ice creams at the Manor restaurant with great views of the town!
Friday we woke to find it overcast and drizzling – the first less than perfect day all trip. We wondered whether to spend this last day in Switzerland or whether to head towards Paris and perhaps stop somewhere along the way. After packing it had cleared a little and as we all loved Switzerland so much we decided to stay, and were really pleased we did. We donned our raincoats and went to Grindlewald by train. A cable car trip from there to Mannlichen and then to Wengen through the mist and clouds was spectacular. It is a particularly long cable car trip and probably due to weather was devoid of tourists. The views from the cable car of the green hills through the mist will always stay with me. So glad we had that extra day in Switzerland! In the evening we headed into Lauterbrunnen for some traditional entertainment by the locals – cowbell ringing, flag throwing, yodelling and traditional folk dancing. As Wendy, our landlady, was in the dance troupe, it was just that little bit more special!
We thoroughly enjoyed our Swiss experience and despite being told how expensive Switzerland is, we did not find it overly expensive. Self catering in an apartment meant we did not eat out at all, and we had great fun making a Swiss Cheese Fondue one evening! Switzerland is definitely a destination we will return to in future!
Part 4 – Paris coming next.
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Old Nov 5th, 2006, 12:54 AM
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PRLCH

Great report so far!

I have a couple of questionsbr />
1) The long queue you experienced at the rental car agency in Nice, was it Europcar? I had the same experience in May this year, I found out it was because Europcar was the cheapest amongst the other agencies such as Hertz, Avis etc. However the gentleman who served me was very helpful and accommodating;

2) How long was your drive from Nice to Lake Como? I drove from Nice to Santa Margherita in May this year. It was freeway all the way and took approx 3.5hrs. We happened to travel the day after the Monaco Grand Prix and hence saw a lot of Ferraris heading back to Italy, they were all doing 200+kmh!!;

3) I noticed you booked your accommodation through Owners Direct and holiday-rentals.co.uk, both UK sites. How was your experience dealing through these sites? Did you have to wire payments overseas or did you just use credit card?

S
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Old Nov 5th, 2006, 04:37 AM
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Your report about Lauterbrunnen and that area brought back wonderful memories of my 5 days there this past summer with my kids. We debated on taking that cable car from Mannlichen to Grindlewald, but the clouds were rolling in and we wanted to get in the hike to Kleine Scheidigg. We also went to Paris after Switzerland so I'll be waiting for more!

Could you tell me what a "hob" is - listed under the Lake Como apartment's amenities?
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Old Nov 5th, 2006, 04:41 AM
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Excellent report so far! Thanks for sharing. Our family of 4 (2 boys, 12 and 15) was in Wengen and Northern Italy at the end of June. We loved it and agree it was quite warm.

Can't wait to read more.
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Old Nov 5th, 2006, 01:09 PM
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Swagman, to answer your questions:
(1) We hired the car through Alimo (who I think may be connected with Europe Car). They were definately having a bad day when we saw them. Our flight was a couple of hours late and they did not have our car. When we sat down to wait, we got chatting to others having exactly the same problem - cars not available and the wait for a car to be made ready was for some people over an hour.
(2) Cannot remember how long it took us to get to Lake Como from Nice. Mappy says it is a 4 hour trip, but I know it took us longer. I am sure we were supposed to bypass Nice but we ended up going right through the middle of Nice at around midday. Quite a lot of road works and that took a long time!! Definately poor navigating on my part. Once out of Nice it was a freeway run up to Como.(3)We found booking our accommodationn through the two UK sites very easy. We payed the deposit and balance for Italy and Paris with telegraphic tranfer. Problem is you ask the bank to wire a certain amount, and pay $30 for the service, and every time the recipient lets you know that less than the required amount (about $15 each time) was received. It seems every bank who touches the transfer takes their share. Not a problem though - sorted it out when we got there. Next time I think I will post a bank draft - believe that is cheaper and you know how much you are posting. In Paris we had the option of using credit card on something called "paypal" - never having heard of paypal we didn't go that route. In Switzerland we posted an Aussie Dollar cheque for the deposit to the owners. They returned this cheque to us when we arrived and we paid them in Swiss Franks upon arrival - very easy. We booked our London Accommodationn through NYHABITAT and while payment was easy accommodation was very disappointing. More on that when we get to London.

KWREN - you ask about the hob. I think that is what we call a "cook top" or hot plates and the cooker is what we call an oven.

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Old Nov 5th, 2006, 01:24 PM
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Part 4 - PARIS
Bright and early on Saturday 8th July we left Lauterbrunnen for Paris. The drive was interesting with definite changes in scenery and housing noticeable. Saw several chateaux along the way and beautiful fields of sunflowers. We made very good time getting to Paris and as we were not expected at our apartment until late in the day, we had time for an unscheduled stop for a quick visit of Fontainebleau. So glad we did – it is a magnificent place! Our later, planned trip to Versailles was extremely disappointing (more about that later), so we cherish those memories of an hour or two at Fontainebleau. After returning our hire car at Orly airport we made our way into Paris by bus and then metro.
Our Paris apartment was yet another good find and a great base for 6 days in Paris (http://www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/Fra...ity/p50628.htm. The apartment is located in the Marais-Bastille area with views of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine. The apartment was spacious and well equipped with washing machine/dryer and dishwasher, but no oven (combo microwave oven). The owner had a file of useful information and local map, including the nearest shops for stocking up on supplies, and how to use the metro. The station was very close by and we found it a great location for getting around easily. I had only two complaints about the apartment. Firstly, the apartment was on the 6th floor and the lift was so tiny it was a “one man at a time” lift. It took us 4 trips to get the 4 of us and our bags up. Not enjoying confined spaces, I spent my stay in Paris using the tradesmen’s stairs. (The wide main stairs seemed to go to the 6th floor but a locked door at the top prevented us from using them). Secondly, the apartment is very “full” – it seems to be full of the owners excess “stuff”. All is neatly stored away in drawers and cupboards BUT we were asked to sign a list of contents of EVERYTHING in the apartment – every glass (and there were many more than 6), utensil, spare bed and bathroom linen, multiple irons, bedside lamps etc etc etc. I never even found half the stuff listed – pages and pages and pages. It would have taken half a day to check that it was all there as suggested, and then another half a day at the end of the lease to check again. I felt that this was unreasonable – not required at any of our other rental properties, and unreasonable given the volume of stuff. If there had been one set of bedding and towels, and 6 of each plate, knife, fork etc, then it would have been acceptable. When we signed the lease we had also been told we had to have contents insurance to cover any breakages in the apartment. The landlady eventually waved this clause when we explained that it was unlikely our travel insurance would cover this and our own contents insurance in Australia certainly would not cover us in an apartment in Paris.
On our first night in Paris we were all very tired from an early start in Switzerland that morning and the long car trip, BUT the girls were determined to stay up and see the Eiffel Tower twinkle after dark. Being the middle of summer this meant staying up for the 11pm twinkle – hard to achieve but one only has one first night in Paris!
Our first full day in Paris was a clear, hot and humid Sunday. We started with a Paris Walks guided walk of Montmartre. We loved the walk – fascinating neighbourhood to start in and a guide who knew so much and was very engaging! Thoroughly recommend it. The walk started outside the station and finished outside Sacre Coure. It was a great morning and we ended up at one of those delightful patisseries that had been recommended on the walk for lunch.
In the afternoon we visited the Museum d”Orsay. We had been debating whether or not the museum pass was worth buying but one look at the queues and we decided it was. We were ushered into a very short queue, bought the pass and spent a most enjoyable couple of hours discussing art. Not being hugely keen on art, but having a daughter still doing it at school we had decided it was something not to be missed. We certainly did not try to see it all, but thoroughly enjoyed what we did see. It was interesting also to see that we all had very different opinions about what was “good” art!
After a home cooked dinner we headed off for a cruise along the Seine - great commentary and a lovely way to see the city. When we alighted at the foot of the Eiffel Tower (not yet dusk) we were surprised to see that the queues to go up the Tower were not too long at all. Knowing we would not get any peace from our youngest until we had been up the Eiffel Tower we headed up. The girls would have liked to have walked, but we done a fair amount of walking already that day so we took the easy way up – the elevator! We spent quite a long time up the Eiffel Tower wondering around, taking photos and watching the city of Paris turn from daylight to night time. We even were up there while it was sparkling!
Monday was another very hot day. Father and daughters popped to the local shop for fresh baguettes which we turned into a delicious breakfast and packed lunch. Took the train to Ile de la Cite and saw St Chapelle before joining a Paris Walks tour of Ile de la Cite and Notre Dame - once again a fascinating guide and a great way to see an area. Several people on the walk had been on the walk with us the previous morning and agreed it was a great way to explore. The girls then enjoyed a visit to La Concierge, before we headed to the Champs Elysee. Found some green space for lunch and then wandered around for some Parisian retail therapy. Girls particularly enjoyed shopping at Naf Naf. I inadvertently thought we could wander from Naf Naf on the Champs Elysee to Printemps as everyone needed a drink and sit down for a reviver. I somewhat miscalculated – we walked and we walked and we walked! I know we could have taken the metro but I didn’t realise how far it was. We eventually made it to Printemps for a drink at the top with its view over Paris. Needless to say we were so exhausted by the end of the day dinner was at the local Italian restaurant and we collapsed from exhaustion!
Tuesday morning was spent exploring Les Invalides. It is a beautiful building and fascinating place for history buffs. Father and elder daughter spent hours discussing a huge range of history and had an absolutely wonderful time. In the afternoon we decided to climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. While we had the museum pass for the adults, we still had to join the very long queue to get free tickets for the kids – very frustrating. Some poor 17 year old student was in the queue ahead of us, and when he finally got to the front of the queue they would not let him up as he was alone and not under supervision of an adult. Fortunately a kindly group quickly added him to their party so he would not miss out! Poor fellow was probably seeing Paris alone and suddenly he was too young! What a lot of steps up the Arc de Triomphe – but a great view from up there!
Wednesday was the day our daughters had especially been looking forward to – a day trip to Versailles! Their first impressions were of disappointment as the outside was covered in scaffolding – Versailles was undergoing a cleanup. We found the queues rather confusing – queue to get in for free with museum pass, and then another very long queue to get an audio guide – a vote and we thought we would go without the audio guide. Big mistake as very little signage was in English and only one daughter had any clue of French. The Hall of Mirrors was closed due to renovations – yet another disappointment, and large areas inside were very dark as the scaffolding outside had all the windows covered with drop sheets. Finally we decided to walk to the Grand Trianon – very hot weather seemed to make it a long walk, and when we got there we found we could not actually go inside – just look from the outside. By this time we were all feeling very let down – the girls felt it was the biggest disappointment they had had, and were feeling decidedly “blue”. Such a disappointment all around we were back in Paris outside L’Orangerie by lunchtime!
Wednesday afternoon turned out to be one of our best afternoons in Paris. We did a whirlwind look inside L’Orangerie and two of us LOVED the huge Monet paintings!! The third thought they were okay and the fourth heathen amongst us thought it was all so very ho-hum! Then on the spur of the moment we decided to go to the Louvre. By 2:30pm we were on a guided tour (a real live guide!) – once again someone who was passionate about her place of work and she just made the Louvre come alive to us. We could not believe the crowds however – our guide said it was the busiest summer she had ever seen the Louvre and she had been working there for many, many years! The crowds did not however diminish our enjoyment! After our tour my husband decided he wanted to see some of the Dutch Masters. We got lost trying to find them and stumbled across the furnished chambers of Napolean III (I think). We all found this fascinating and the girls pronounced it was much, much better than anything they had seen at Versailles that morning! I had not realised that the Louvre is so much more than “just an art gallery”. What started as a very disappointing day turned out to be one of our best days in Paris!
Thursday was to be our last day in Paris and we had already managed to see everything that we had planned to see. On Wednesday evening we took out the guide books and asked the children what they would like to do on their last day in Paris – we offered them Euro Disney (we have never been to anything like that before) or Parc Asterix (the French equivalent) amongst other choices. After much deliberating they chose the Grevin Waxworks Museum. They had never seen waxworks dummies before so were fascinated by how lifelike they were, and were even caught when a dummy turned out to be a real live person offering them a kiss! While they did not know the French celebrities, they particularly enjoyed the section depicting the French Revolution! It nicely brought together so much of what they had seen and learned in Paris.
In the afternoon we went on a Paris Walk of the Marais district. Maybe it was one walk too many, maybe it was just too hot, or maybe the guide was not so engaging, but it was a little disappointing.
Alas, our time in Paris was over! We thoroughly enjoyed our stay, but were surprised by some of our lasting impressions of Paris. We were surprised by the amount of homelessness in Paris – there were people living on the streets and under bridges along the Seine in surprising numbers. We saw many dogs who lived in apartments (no back gardens for them to run in), and were surprised by the lack of cleaning up after their dogs when they fouled in the streets. Our daughters generally found the French to be grumpy, and were disappointed that any efforts to use their schoolgirl French seemed unappreciated. They also hated the fact that many French people like to smoke over a meal and thus those around them had to participate in passive smoking. Despite these seemingly “unfavourable” impressions, our elder daughter in still very keen to pursue an educational exchange to France in 12 months time. This time she will go without her rose coloured glasses and I am sure she will have a wonderful time!
Part 5 – London, to be written next.
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Old Nov 5th, 2006, 02:20 PM
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Hi PRLCH -

Enjoying your trip report.

I looked up Chalet Barli per your suggestion on another thread - can you tell me if it's walking distance to Lauterbrunnen? We're traveling by train.

Thanks!
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Old Nov 5th, 2006, 03:14 PM
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It is walkable - we never did it though - think it may be 20 - 30 minutes away - maybe more - SORRY not too helpful. There is a bus literally at the door, but not too sure how frequently it runs. Wilf and Wendy don't have a car at all, so they rely totally on public transport to get around. I suggest you contact them through the website and ask - I feel sure they will be able to tell you more acurately than I could.
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Old Nov 6th, 2006, 02:10 AM
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PRLCH

Thanks for answering my questions.

I am in the course of planning an extended trip to Europe in 12 months' time, mainly to France. We'll be travelling with a toddler so in lieu of staying in hotels/motels for overnight stays, we'll be taking the slow travel option and therefore plan to stay in Gites for at least a week at a time.

I am also from the land downunder and coming across various 'property rental by owners direct' sites, mainly UK based, admittedly I question the accuracy of some of the descriptions and therefore reliability of some properties. There is certainly a risk factor given we have to prepay before we depart from Australia and what if we don't get what was promised or led to believe. I therefore am relying on personal recommendation through this forum for that extra comfort factor.

S
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Old Nov 6th, 2006, 01:19 PM
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Swagman,
Lucky you - how long is the extended trip going to be?! Enjoy the planning - it is half the fun as the trip can be over in the blink of an eye. We had such a good time last year we are planning another trip in June/July 2007, and we will use the internet again for booking apartments.(unfortunately daughters in Years 8 and 10 means we are limited to how long we can get them away from school). As you say, you need to use some common sense in using these sites, but I figure with the amount of pictures one gets to see it is as good a bet as picking a hotel out of a brochure. Certainly, ask people is they have stayed in a place of you choosing - we too are doing that this year. I guess one can have a bad experience, but I think the people are also mindful that just as the net is a powerful marketing tool, sites like this can quickly dry up their business if they don't deliver the goods. We have LOVED the flexibility of having apartments - space at the end of a long day's activities for everyone to relax, and savings on not eating out each night are huge! We certainly would have been struggling to have one trip, let alone two, if we were eating out for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day!

On a specifically "down under" matter - have you booked airfares for next year yet? Last year the best deals we could get were was about $8500 for the 4 of us (including taxes), and then we stumbled upon a travel expo - one day specials only - pay on the day - we got to Europe for about $5500 for the 4 of us! The expo is on again on the Sunday 19th November, so we have the chequebook ready and hoping to find a good offer!
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Old Nov 6th, 2006, 01:26 PM
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And finally ....
Last Part - LONDON
Having reached week 4 of the trip, I now find our diaries have become almost non-existent, so I am writing the rest of the trip from memory.
Friday, 14th July we left Paris at 9am for London on the Eurostar. I am sure the train did not go nearly as fast as I had read it travels, but some 3 hours later we were in central London.
Now, our luck ran out! We had once again booked an apartment in London on the internet, but what a dump! We selected an apartment through NY Habitat in pretty Queens Gate Mews in South Kensington, and from the outside it was great. Inside, however, it was dirty, very run down and very poorly furnished – terrible beds! One night in the place and we found it backed onto a local restaurant which had a sensor light outside which went on and off shining into our apartment until the wee hours, and after the restaurant shut it went into renovation mode with hammering and sawing for the rest of the night! One night there and we decided we were not going to spoil an otherwise fantastic holiday by remaining in this dump. Easier said than done! We went down to the Tourist Bureau who have an accommodation service. We had a VERY helpful fellow who made umpteen phone calls to find us a family room in a hotel in London somewhere. BUT, it was peak season and London seemed to be booked out! Eventually our patient helper found us a room at the Blandford Hotel near Baker Street Station. It was a double room and the girls shared the sofa bed. Breakfast was included, and it had air-conditioning! Given that temperatures soared to 38C in London over the next few days, we were very grateful for that! While it was very small for 4 of us (would be fine for 2) , it was a very comfortable room, breakfast was great, and location perfect. We found a lovely park close by, and many evenings took a picnic dinner made up from Marks and Spencer’s take away range, and a great patisserie nearby.
The lesson we learned is that London is expensive and you obviously need to spend more in London for a decent apartment than say in a city like Paris. Without a doubt London was the most expensive destination of the entire trip – something I don’t think we fully appreciated when booking our accommodation.
By the time we reached London I was tired of travelling on trains underground the city, so while we did use London’s tube, we also used the bus system extensively. We found the buses to be a great way to get around Monday to Friday when the city congestion tax applied, but a nightmare on weekends when the buses get stuck in huge traffic jams.
The Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London was definitely a highlight. First heard about it on the Fodors website, wrote away and got tickets. It was lovely to be in the Tower of London with such few people, and the Ceremony surrounding the keys, while totally out of date when you think about it, was lovely to observe. It was like living history. The Beefeater who took the tour had a great sense of humour, was very informative, and yet maintained the formality of the event. We visited the Tower of London on another occasion too when we were able to see everything - great to see, but very busy.
Another highlight in London was a visit to the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms – it certainly brought WWII to life, and would be something I would do again if I were to return to London.
One day we followed a self guided walking tour in London, with the main aim being to at least see Buckingham Palace from the outside. As we passed the Royal Mews we made a spur of the moment decision to go in. Got put straight on a tour – our family and the guide! We really enjoyed the visit. The guide was very informative and gave interesting insights into the Queen’s transport, horses, and internal mail delivery. We were also interested to see the lovely Australian Coach which we gave the Queen at the time of the bicentenary celebrations. Nice to know it is one of her most comfortable carriages!
Our visit to St Paul’s Cathedral was just after opening time one morning. It was lovely to see the Church without the crowds – the last time I saw St Paul’s I hated it – it felt like a market full of people, yet this time I loved it - it felt like a church – quiet and peaceful. On the other hand, I loved Westminster Abbey 26 years ago, and on this trip I hated it for its crowds. We did a London Walks guided visit to the Abbey which was certainly interesting and informative, but it just came across as a museum rather than a place of worship.
A trip to Hampton Court was thoroughly enjoyed by the girls and my husband. I think I was tiring of castles and palaces by now, so while I cannot fault it in any way, it just does not stick in my mind as a memorable event.
An interesting day was when we went on a boat trip from Little Venice to Camden Lock. We saw some lovely suburban areas of London, and ended up at the Camden Markets. Being in our forties, my husband and I were by far the oldest people milling around, and probably the only ones not wearing black with extensive tattoos and body piercings. Our daughters were definitely outside their comfort zones and could not believe what they saw. The eldest was particularly keen to leave quickly – it was certainly a different side of life!
Another interesting day trip, although very hot and humid, was the day we went to Greenwich by light rail and returned along the Thames River. The Royal Observatory and Prime Meridian of the World were interesting, and seeing London from the River was fascinating.
One evening we saw the musical Whistle Down the Wind. We thoroughly enjoyed it, and given there were several child actors in it, it really appealed the children. We seriously thought about seeing another show in London but we thought the tickets to those that appealed to us were rather expensive even at the discount ticket booth (multiply everything by 4 and it soon becomes expensive).
Perhaps with hindsight we could have spent one day less in Paris and one more in London as we did not get to see everything we had hoped to see in London. In part this was probably because finding new accommodation and moving took a good half a day out of our precious sightseeing time. Also, the extreme heat in London certainly slowed us down – we had a greater need to stop for drinks than would normally be the case. I would have loved to have attended a church service at Westminster Abbey and seen the British Museum. Our daughters also wanted to see the Imperial War Museum, but there was just not enough time.
On our last evening in London, and really the last evening of our trip before the long flight home, we gave the girls the option of what they would like to do – nice restaurant perhaps? After much deliberation they chose a picnic in the local park around the corner from the hotel. My husband and one daughter set off to find a bottle of wine and fish and chips (very good!) and I set off with the other to get some soft drinks and a beautiful French Apple Tart. We had eaten in the park on several nights - the first evening we had been the only family picnicking. By our last evening in London we found ourselves surrounded by local families escaping their hot homes for a cool(er) picnic in the park. It was lovely to sit outdoors, relive the trip, and watch London at leisure around us!
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Old Nov 6th, 2006, 08:22 PM
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PRLCH

Your trip report has been a great read! Thank you for sharing your experience on this board.

I was in London earlier this year for a few days. I was fortunate enough to stay with my brother who booked his hotel room through work and therefore benefited from corporate rate. Nevertheless I find London extremely expensive, bascially you spend 1 pound for 1 $A - I paid GBP2.50 to GBP3.00 for a cappuccino, we pay A$2.50-3.00 here (more if you ask for soy!) and the former is not as good!! Restaurants are the same, I met up for dinner with a friend of mine who now lives in London, she took me to a trendy place and we spent GBP150 for two with a bottle of wine, 2 courses each, that's A$375!!!
Unless you are earning Pounds, you really can't stay for long. And now that I've done money in the Melbourne Cup, I certainly cannot afford to go there!

The Travel Expo you mentioned earlier, is it in Sydney? Darling Harbour? The savings you gained last year was certainly substantial, especially given a family of 4.

In my case, I won't be able to book as yet as I haven't firmed up the dates. I am intending to be in Europe for a minimum period of 6 months, it's part of my long service leave and part sabbatical.

I have been researching on and off since the beginning of this year. There are still answers to many questions I need to find, eg. if I need to lease a car for over 6 months, could I enter into 2 contracts through one of the agents here; medical issues given we will be travelling with a toddler; do I book all the accommodation prior or do I do that for a few places I earmarked? So plenty to do but as you say, the planning is half the fun, so many more late nights on the PC for me!

You mentioned you are planning another trip for June/July 2007, do you know where you want to go? Let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Hoo-roo!

S

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Old Nov 8th, 2006, 01:09 PM
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Wow - 6 months - sounds like a dream come true! Can understand given the length of the trip, and travelling with a toddler, that you have a lot of planning ahead of you - have fun! Careful - this travel thing is addictive! (Our daughters now have the travel bug and as long as Dad is paying they have many and varied opinions about where they want to go)!
We are planning to visit Austria and Southern Germany next year with a quick couple of days into Prague and a night in Cesky Krumov. Have already put several other posts on this site to get some info - nothing like fellow travellers for some help.
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Old Nov 8th, 2006, 02:30 PM
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Travelling is certainly addictive. My wife and I love it and therefore pour almost all our hard earned cash into it without reservation! The knowledge and experience one gain from travelling is not measureable and last for a life time. We spent 4 weeks in France in 2004 and we are still talking about it, sometimes in great detail too.

Austria and southern Germany are also on my radar. Would love to do the romantic drive and also through black forest. Halstadt in Austria is another must see place. Let me know what you come up with.

We did a day trip to Cesky Krumlov from Prague in the winter of 2003, it is a beautiful town. It was after the flood they had in 2002 and a lot of low lying houses were damaged and were undergoing restoration. We saw most of it in our day trip (approx 3 hours road trip one-way). But I guess staying overnight there will give you the chance to experience the real CK when the day trippers are gone.

btw you havent told me where the Travel Expo is held on 19 Nov.
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Old Nov 8th, 2006, 03:19 PM
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Swagman if I may butt in, I live in Perth and we are having the same Expo here on the 19th. It is run by Flight Centre so maybe you can ring them in your area and find out where it will be held.

We are planning our 1st trip to Europe going in April - I am thoroughly enjoying all the planning and the info I have received from here has been amazing.

Our kids have the travel bug too through numerous Asian trips we have had in the past. Our daughter has just received her certificate as a fully qualified travel agent. Our son is off the the US/Canada again for 2 months of snowboarding.

Best wishes and happy travels.
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Old Nov 8th, 2006, 08:08 PM
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Thanks Maudie. I rang up and found out details. Its at the Convention Centre at Darling Harbour here in Sydney, same dates.

Incidentally, could you tell me when is the best time to visit WA, specifically Perth and Margaret River?

S

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