Friday, May 20, 2011

European Vacation 2011

R&F’s European Vacation (Not to be confused with the Chevy Chase’s version)
The Flight (B777-300 from Brisbane to Dubai & A380’s on to LHR)
In one word NO-Sleep – back pain. The 777 was new, one week old and the storks of the screens were broken and had to be taped in place. We were lucky to have a bulkhead in front and enjoyed the extra leg room and chatted to a pregnant English couple returning from their honeymoon. They also let us adopt them so we wouldn’t be moved when another irate passenger wanted different seats. The food was excellent on the Emirates flights. We tracked over Darwin, Banda Ace, Nikobar Islands, Chenni, Mumbai to Dubai, arriving after breakfast at 0530hrs. Then it was on to London but our A380 had a malfunction after leaving the gate and it was four hours changing planes. At Heathrow we queued for Immigration and walked through Customs without any check of our luggage – a bit concerning. Next was the ATM for 400 quid and an express train to @@@@ and then the tube to Piccadilly and we emerged into the daylight with the statue of Eros in front of us. We caught a cab to our Travelodge in Drury Lane, Covent Garden. There was a dance competition at Albert Hall on the Saturday and the hotel was bedlam with dozens of excited British girls with old style rag twists in their hair and the hairdressers (mums and grandmas) going flat out in the lounge and dining room. We got our room and went for a two block walk around to get our bearings. The British Museum was just closing and we took some photos of the streetscapes and pubs.
On Saturday David arrived and we hugged, not having seen each other for nearly ten years. We all went off to the British Museum and then down Drury Lane to the markets for a cuppa. We then left David as we boarded our double-decker tourist bus for an excellent 3 hour tour of London followed by a boat ride on the Thames finishing near Westminster Cathedral, Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Took hundreds of photos and got our bearings really well with this tour. Dinner was in Soho with David guiding us as we walked through the maze of alleys and narrow streets.
Sunday morning we again went to the BM to look at the Parthenon marbles, Greek and Roman history sections and the covered courtyard – beautiful building. We then went walking to Covent Garden and I went to the Transport Museum as F looked in the shops and stalls. Dinner was again in Soho with a walk around Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square.
Monday was window shopping down Oxford Street for F. She walked back along the Thames, around Trafalgar, Fleet Street and the Courts area – walked about 8 kms. David and I went off to do boy’s things – The Imperial War Museum and HMS Belfast. Riding pillion on his motor scooter was a hoot as I was taking photos with one hand and hanging on with the other. Dinner was Indonesian and then on to the show - We will Rock You (Queen).
Tuesday we walked to Trafalgar Square for two hours in the British Gallery – saw beautiful Monets Van Gogh’s and Pissarro – stunning building. Lunch at the Crypt under St Martin’s in the Field. Then it was F’s turn to go pillion – Court’s of Justice, Canary Wharf, Greenwich and the Meridian, The Mall and Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park. I struck out to Somerset House to the Coultard Institute for more art. Dinner was at Dum Sim with a marathon walk to the Mall, Admiralty Arch, the Crypt, Eros and finally back to our room and our goodbyes.
Photo count is at 3581 with some duplicates of RAW and Jpeg from our new Sony NEX5 (Wish we both had one). We think we have documented our whirlwind visit. David’s knowledge precluded our constantly referring to maps and getting lost. It was a real boon to our trip, we walked everywhere – the tube is expensive, our central accommodation was excellent. We were on the 13th floor and got some great shots. Travelodge was basic but with a hearty hot breakfast, and we only needed a top-up snack lunch.
Wednesday we had a Continental breakfast before cabbing to St Pancras for the 0653hrs Eurotrain to Paris, the last of the day’s cheap trains. It was a security check and Immigration before boarding, then a 2hour 20 minutes ride to Garde Nord. We bought 3 day (3 zone) Metro tickets at St Pancras with the last of the GBP while waiting to board our 0653hrs train. We are speeding across the flat plains of France with Buzz Lightyear dangling from my backpack above my head. It’s France today and a train to Amsterdam on Friday. The train trip was excellent – smooth and fast with a look at the French country side – lots of little villages – all buildings are red brick and red tiled and every village has a church spire. Lots of open green fields – greener here than England which needed rain (even the birds couldn’t build mud nests because of the lack of water and the TV was asking people to hose the ground to make mud puddles).
PARIS – the city of love
At Garde du Nord we first got some Euro and then the Metro to near our hotel and finally a taxi. Our hotel was in the Latin Quarter – 3 blocks from Notre Dame – 1 block to Boulevard St Germain - 2 blocks to the Left Bank of the Seine and 10 minutes to Pont de Neuf. A beautiful position.
Within 10 minutes of arrival we were off for the short walk from the Home Latin Hotel to Notre Dame. Absolutely stunning and breath taking building inside and out. The sun was out and Paris in springtime was at its best. We walked around inside (Free) even during Mass. You need some two Euro coins to exchange for the medallions. Then it was up the Left Bank to the Musee d’Orsey. We paid the extra for the Manet exhibition. There is a beautiful Café upstairs where we had lunch. The room was like a palace with huge chandeliers and ceiling frescoes – gorgeous. F’s favourites were the Monet waterlilies, bridge and garden, while mine were the Van Gogh’s and Manet’s boat scenes.
Then it was the Open Bus, Green (there are four, 29Euro for 2 days) tour up the Champs Elysee to L’Arc de Triomph round past the Eiffel Tower and back to our hotel – magnificent day and beautiful Paris. We ate banana crepes made in the local creperie in our room for dinner.
Breakfast was croissants and tea at a footpath café and then the buses all day (Orange & Green). Our tours included the Rodin Museum (10Euro) – where we walked through the gardens to see the main sculptures – Thinker etc. Then we had tea and more food at the little outdoor café in the beautiful gardens. It also had two Van Gogh’s and a Monet and they allow cameras, but no flash – stunning. Back on the bus we parked in the square with the Louvre on one whole side and magnificent buildings all around the 360 degrees – never seen anything like it – panoramas.
We then rode the busses again to L’Arc de Triomphe (Roof 10Euro) for magnificent panoramas with the NEX5. You can see the 12 avenues fanning out with beautiful greenery and the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Couer in the distance. Back to the Champs Elysees for late lunch sitting on the avenue at the upmarket hamburger joint – drinking in the atmosphere. Lovely sunny weather and about 22 degrees.
Then to the Eiffel Tower where we just walked around and took many photos of the stunning Tower which really is huge, and the colourful children’s carousel . The buses took us back to the Seine and we walked to the hotel, via some Roman baths. On the way we walked along the left bank and bought some prints of Paris from the little cart sellers. Dinner was at footpath restaurant with the English name of Twickenham. The day was finalised with a walk to Notre Dame, the reflections on the waters of the Seine, and the evening light .
Impressions of Paris – a stunningly laid out city with broad avenues lined by green trees and broad pavements. Easy to navigate with lots of signs. Buildings are all stunning in the French style – tall thin houses between the avenues with huge elaborate and well maintained public buildings – no high rise at all in the main historical and tourist areas. The Seine area is beautiful because of the stone banks and beautiful trees, parks and gardens are everywhere – lots of boats (tours mainly) on the River.
Things that have worked so far – 1 litre thermos for a green tea in the park or on the train – melamine plastic mugs - washing powder for hand washing clothes – pegs and plastic coat hangers for drying – backpack that takes a 1.25 litre water bottle (3Euro) – small notebook and two hard-drives for downloading digital images every evening (we each carry HD when travelling). The daily image tally is around 450, so there is going to be a lot of sorting out the best sometime in the future. The double decker buses in both Paris and London are excellent value and show you most things easily with good commentaries. Hop on and off to suit. The Metro has mostly stairs and is not suitcase friendly.
Friday morning was breakfast in the hotel, a taxi to Gard du Nord (15E) for the Thalys First Class train to Amsterdam (113E). The train is excellent and they fed us all the way – lovely views of the French and Belgian country side and then a short stop at Brussels.
And now on to Amsterdam – Francis is feeling a little like she is coming home.
Amstedam -
We caught a tram to the Resistance Museum and looked at a photo of F mother taken at the end of the war with parachuted food parcels. Little bit emotional for F. Then walked back along the canals, dinner and walked the RED light district where we are staying with the noise and crowds. Definately an ear plug night. Finally got a net connection. Will post some pics later.

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