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Greg & Ruth Europe 2014

Welcome to Greg & Ruth's Travel Page for Europe 2014 with Mal and Kerry. We go first to Spain and follow The Vuelta Espana then to Bordeaux and on to Paris

Diary Entries

Friday, 26 September 2014

Day 31 travel home
Getting out of Paris is chaotic. We organize a charter at a cost of 36€ ($54). A taxi would cost about $100aud. We have to pick up 5 others, 4 from the city and 1 from Montmartre. The driver takes us through narrow streets, some cobbled, and and hour later we are out on the ring road that goes around Paris, the perifique. The traffic is moving at about 2kph. Smog is becoming a real problem in Paris and recently they had some days when only certain cars were allowed into the city and public transport was free. Eventually we get out onto the main road to CDG and we are finally moving. Having left our hotel at 8 we get to the airport about 9.45. The airport is chaotic too with long queues at border control. We just have to be patient. At the departure lounge there are no seats available. We bump into Peter Hurrell and family as they are on the same flight to Singas. Finally we get onto the Singapore Airlines A380 and I sit next to a friendly Aussie girl and we talk for quite a while. The trip seems to go quite quickly especially as we don't get any sleep. We both watch the Robin Williams movie Dead Poets Society. It is a brilliant movie and he is a huge loss to the arts. Singapore Airlines has a special section in their entertainment package dedicated to Williams. Very smooth trip and we arrive in Singapore just after midnight, book into the transit hotel (given to us by the airline for changing our flights) and have 6 hours sleep. We wake fresh for the last leg to Adelaide but we still have 5 hours to kill. We buy some stuff (perfumes, scotch etc). Thinking back we had a lot of amazing highlights on this trip. Most were the sorts of things that most tourists on package tours would never experience and that's the advantage of doing it the way we have over the last 5 years we have gone to Europe. Highlights were 1. Cycling - doing 10 days on the bike with Mal and Kerry, the descents into Santiago de Compostela and Cudillero, the climbs of the Covadonga and Agliru ( the hardest ride ever and by a long way), talking with Neil Stephens and Cam Meyer from Orica Greenedge, riding with Allan Davis (winner of Tour Down Under in 2008), riding again with former Belgian pro Eric de Clerk, riding around the vineyards of St Emillion on a beautiful Sunday morning, rides around the centres of Barcelona and Madrid, the super steep descents of the hills around Sollares in Spain. 2 Food - to me the Spanish win hands down. The paella in Barcelona, the Italian in Oviedo, the Pinxtos in San Sebastian, tapas in Sevilla, the meal in the hotel in Santiago. (the  pinxtos bars in San Sebastian were amazing), the Creme Caramel in Biarritz, paella in Granada. The Spanish wine, especially Roija was also much better than the French wines in our view. And it is really quite cheap (food and wine) in Spain.  3 Music - this was a very special trip for music. The street procession in St Emillion to mark the start of harvest, the jazz club in Madrid (the Ignasi Terraza trio were absolute masters of their art), Mozart's Requiem in Notre Dam Cathedral Paris (the absolute highlight of the trio for me), the Chopin Museum in Paris (especially touching a piano he actually played and seeing the plaster cast of his hand), Yanael Quenel playing Mozart in a church in the Latin Quarter of Paris, 4 the Sights -the celebrations and fireworks prior to harvest in St Emillion, Ronda and it's history and high bridge, walking aimlessly around Paris (there are always new things to see), the Luxembourg gardens, the mountains of Spain, the views from the Agliru, the vineyards of Bordeaux, the stark hot rolling hills of southern Spain, the Pantheon in Paris and numerous others 5 Other - driving with Mal and Kerry through Southern Spain (mostly fun but a bit hairy at times) Kerry singing "if you're happy and you know it" in the back seat while Mal was driving, Mal's jokes, the ride through Bordeaux, the hotel in Ronda and the views from our room in Sanxenxo, the guided walking tours around Barcelona and Paris. We sure packed a lot into 4 weeks. The only low point is the increasing news of terrorism and the advance of ISIL and the very frightening prospect terrorist groups training fighters to go back to their home countries to carry out terrorist activities, especially western countries. Also the news that came out of the UN that Australia has, per unit of population, amongst the highest representation of fighters of any country in the world. One of the few things that we heard about Australia on French TV was that the Australian Government had joined with the US lead coalition and had committed to air strikes across Syria and Iraq. This now draws us onto the radar of the terrorists. They would have expected the retaliation from the west and it gives them even more reason to carry on with their atrocities. As we flew over Iraq and Afghanistan on our way back from Paris i did at times think of the Malaysian jet that got shot down and wondered what the next big thing might be. I felt a sense of relief that we had survived Paris, where terrorists are rumored to be targeting innocent people. The Obama led coalition of nations against terrorism is heartening but the fact remains that facist organizations like ISIL are growing and continuing to attract recruits from peaceful democracies. It's getting scary to travel and Europe is in the firing line. Will we come back again? It's a question that hasn't exercised my mind until recently. Things will have to improve before we go back again. I think tourism in Europe be quite adversely affected in future. There is no doubt that countries like France, Spain and Italy are hugely dependent on tourism. The feeling of relief is even greater as we start to fly over the Australian mainland. Up until recently it was our ambition to travel overseas at least every 2 years in retirement but we might need to rethink that. It is such a huge pity as Europeans are such welcoming people and have so much to offer. Time will tell. A positive to finish off- on the A380 from Paris to Singapore I successfully sent my first text message ( to Josh) from a plane. We were 34,000 ft up over Iraq. The flight home was smooth except the landing in Adelaide because of high cross winds. The pilot had to abort the first attempt but the second was successful. The trip to Lincoln was very bumpy when we came down low and the landing had the palms sweating!! home safe though. 

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Location: France

Day 30 Paris
Another day of walking. We didn't have any set plan for today and it was good to be able to amble around and just discover things. We walked to Bastille Place for breakfast and went through the market which is regarded as the best in Paris. We then came back to the Saint Louis Chapel (near Notre Dam). We had about a 20min wait in the queue to view the chapel. The feature is the huge 13th century stained glass windows which are being restored at a cost of €10million. We then walked to the magnificent Luxembourg gardens. This is about 25 hectares of gardens in the centre of Paris with all sorts of leisure facilities. Heaps of chess boards with mainly older men playing, petanque areas, hundreds of chairs, water areas and next to the Luxembourg Palace. Very French. After that we walked back into the heart of the Latin quarter and just looked around. It is a very interesting area. An amazing number of bookshops-almost as many of these as there are souvenir shops. Restaurants and bars everywhere. I'm glad we chose to stay here as it is so lively. There are a lot of beggars around but they seem quite high class!! I noticed one tonight talking on his mobile phone. I think there seem to be more than when we were here last. The news today that terrorists might be planning attacks on subways in Paris is disconcerting. I wonder how this is going to affect tourism. It is bound to have an impact  i think. Paris is very dependent on tourism I am sure. Its our last day in Paris and it's a it sad to leave but it will also be good to get home. It's been a great trip. Highlights for me were Agliru in Spain and the Mozart Requiem at Notre Dam. Spending the first 2 weeks with Mal and Kerry was great and I hope we can do it again.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Location: France

Day 29 Paris
A day of walking. Walking tour from Notre Dam to Eiffel Tower with a great guide. It is a really good tour and we learn a lot about the history of the monuments etc. It is about 6 km of walking there and another 6pm back. We walk back via the Military museum and view the tomb of Napolean Bonaparte. It is a pretty amazing museum with displays of weapons etc from the last 300 years. We get back to Notre Dam and walk a bit further on to Quai d'Orleans to the Chopin Museum. It is housed in the Musee de Poland. To me this is a sacred place. It is only one room as the main museums to Chopin are in Warsaw.  There is a plaster cast of his hand plus some original manuscripts and a Pleyel piano that he played back in the mid 1800s and still in pristine condition. After that it's back to St Ephrem church, just a block away from our hotel for a performance on a Yamaha grand piano by French pianist Yannael Quenel. He is fairly young and plays a selection of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Paulenc and his own compositions. He is a vituoso and about 50 people are present in this 500 year old church. After the concert I buy his CD and get a photo with him. A small kid about 8 yrs old sits in the front row, transfixed by the performance. Maybe he will be a virtuoso one day. After the concert we walk down the street a little and have a menu dinner at one of the many restaurants there. The French have these "menu" dinners where it is a set price for 3 courses and you have a choice of about 8 different items for each serve. I'm not sure they are better value than simply choosing from the a la carte menu though.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Location: France

Day 28 Bordeaux to Paris
Last look at Bordeaux with a coffee and croissant then got on the train for the 3.5 hour fast trip to Paris. Taxi at Montparnasse to Latin Qtr. Hotel is fine and in great location. We walk up the street to the Pantheon. Like so many other monuments in Paris it is gigantic and breathtaking. It is the greatest honor for the French to be buried in the pantheon. It contains the bodies of French heroes such as politicians and philosophers and others like the Curies. We then went to the first performance aver of Mozart's Requieim at Notre Dam cathedral. This was incredible. A 40 piece choir plus 20 piece orchestra from London. The acoustics are unbelievable. At the end of each sequence just die away slowly yet there is no reverberation of sound while the music is in progress. Hard to explain but it was an amazing experience. They received a long standing ovation from the audience of around 1000. It was musical perfection and a fitting tribute to the composer, especially as it was the last piece he wrote before he died. It demonstrated the genius of Mozart and the extraordinary talent of the singers and players. I don't think in took a breath in the second movement. An amazing experience. We sat next to an Austrian couple who see classical music at it's best in Vienna and Salzburg etc and they were stunned by it. Probably the best musical experience i have ever had. I think Ruth enjoyed it too! At 10.30 pm we walked back to the hotel (about 10 mins away) and stopped off at a creperie on the way. The Latin quarter is well and truly alive. All the restaurants and many shops are open. Paris is an amazing place

Monday, 22 September 2014

Day 27 St Emillion to Bordeaux 
We decided to be a bit adventurous today and find our own way back to Bordeaux as the ride per the guide book is 75km and winds it's way around in loops. We decide we will ride to the bike path and we have to find our way to it. We look at maps and have spoken to the tourist info centre. It's not a good start as we get onto a main road and end up riding 4 extra km to Branne than we would have if we had followed the guide book. After that though all is fine and we find the path 35km from Bordeaux. It's a very pleasant stress free ride back to Bordeax. We arrive at about 1.15 and have pizza before getting the bikes back to the hotel. Our bags are delayed and don't arrive until 5.15 and there is a a bit of concern as we contemplate what losing our bags might mean! At least we do have our passports as we have been taking them with us but our itineraries and tickets etc are all in the cases. They arrive so it's not a problem. We have Italian at a restaurant in the square just down from the hotel. I have veal parmy and it is very different to what we are used to at home but it is far better than I have had before. It is veal pieces cooked to perfection with pasta, slightly oiled. Ruth has penne with eggplant and basil which is also good.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Day 26 St Emillion 
We get up about 8 and have breakfast in the hotel. Breakfast in hotels varies greatly from place to place. No cereal at this one so we have croissants and buns. We set off on a loop around the vineyards about 9.30 and it is cool and overcast, perfect for riding. We see many of the sights we saw yesterday from the bus. We get lost a couple of times but we know we are not far from home so it's  not really a problem. It is frustrating though as the directions are unclear at times so the focus can be taken away from enjoyment of the sights. We pass many magnificent chateaux, most of which are not open but we find one that is (Chateau de Candale) and have a cafe grande and cafe crema. We are the only ones there and the views are spectacular over the hills and vineyards. The waiter is friendly and can't speak much English but he is heading for Aust in 3 weeks time so we have a good conversation with him. We arrive back in St Emillion about 12.30 having done about 23km. For a road cyclist this area would be heaven. Quiet roads, rolling hills and no wind. The area of St Emillion has 5400 hectares of vines with 860 winemakers. It is all red wine, mainly merlot 65%, Cabernet franc 25% and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. There are 2 main areas ("appellations")-St Emillion and St Emillion Grand Cru). The hotel changes our room so we have a room with a view of the Great Wall built in 13th century. It is incredible to think that this wall was built 800 years ago. It is outside the city walls and only the facade remains but it looks like it will stay intact for many years to come. Back in the town we have pizza for lunch and explore the monuments of the town. We try a few wines and meet the winegrower who owns the guest house that we are staying at. He is very friendly and speaks a little english but not much. I get a photo with him and Ruth. We buy a bottle of his merlot. We also buy a bottle of the local champagne. We have a look through some underground cellars that house thousands of bottles of red. Last walk through the streets and a few more photos then dinner at La Cadene in Place de Eglise Monolithique with the huge clock tower behind us. A magnificent setting for dinner. This is a really nice place with a very peaceful feel about it. It is no wonder it is a popular tourist destination but it is not overrun by tourists like a lot of other places. The restaurants are seemingly all well patronized but there always seems to be room for a few more people. The waiters are friendly as are the shop attendants. A place I would like to come back to one day. We are back at the hotel by 9. The French don't eat late like the Spanish so we are almost back to normal. 


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