Location: Bath, England
Mark here, after 5 days in London it was time to venture further afield. London was great so much to see and do, plus after almost 6 weeks where English was not the first language it was a relief to go into a shop and generally be understood, in my case without a flurry of broken English and hand gestures.
Being based in South Kensington (about 10 minutes by car from London Central) an area I had stayed in on 4 occasions before for work was also a benefit as it provided a level of familiararity in locating the Metro, restaurants, shops and sights. I must confess that one of my first visits while waiting on the washing/drying of our clothes was call in to a traditional English pub called the Handsome Cab and have a pint of bitter.....and yes the beer was warm but welcoming all the same.
So we head to Bath in south-west of England via Gatwick airport where we collected a hire car, unfortunately not the brand new volvo that we collected in France, rather a very scratched Ford that did the job. We loaded up with provisions: rolls, water, lollies etc and first stop is Stonehenge, an ancient grouping of large stones that resemble a place of worship/burial ground, and we take one of the few parking spots that are on offer. Even midweek the site attracts lage crowds of self drive or bus tourists. Set in a field with nothing but grazing land around Stonehenge is quite a mind-blowing sight considering scientists belief the first stones were erected in 2500 BC.
After the visit, hastened but rain that was increasing in its intensity, we are back on the road again heading for Bath. Ironically the previous time I visited Stonehenge back in 2004 it was also raining. Anyway we were happy to visit and had the photos to prove it. Bath was a couple of hours away and we put our faith in our GPS to once again get us where we were going and except for a few driver errors like getting in the wrong lane on a roundabout and then having to indicate back into the correct lane with lots of appologetic waving going on it was a good trip.
Our guest house Apsley House was a welcome sight and is was quintessentially'what you expect an English guest house to be, built in 1830 by the Duke of Wellington, decorated in 'old English' Geogian style, set in lovely gardens, our room was the 'Garden Room' and with a large bathroom not to forget the lounge area with a honesty bar...mumm, not what you where thinking, but it was a pleasant area to read a book by the fire - I chose Robert Parkers 1996 guide to the wines of Bordeaux - accompanied by an apperatif of my choice.........did I mention that Robert Parkers book was over 900 long - it was going to be a long session :-).
For some reason, probably related to our location in London, we had not been eating out at traditional English pubs so we decided to recitfy this during our 4 night stay in Bath and it really hightened our experience not sure our waste-line can say the same.....but fish and chips is a bit hard to pass up.
Bath is a classic old Roman town and we took the time to recharge our batteries and also take in some of its main attractions like the Roman Baths that were very well restored and interpreted. Did I mention the English pubs? Luke and I had lunch at The Raven which specialised in pies....yum yum!
All good things come to an end and it was time to head back towards London and we overnighted at Slough best know for being the location of the English television series The Office....enough said but it was next to Windsor which was one the Queen's palaces and the home of Eton College where Prince Harry and William were schooled. This was certainly we worth a visit en-route back to Gatwick Airport and ready for our flight back to Rome the following day.
Hi, Rita here. I have to add that St Emilion was a very welcome respite for all of us, after the crowds of Rome, Florence and Paris. Such a charming medieval village (WH listed): cobbled laneways & historic buildings, with lush green vineyards planted right up to the town. Kate found a patisserie with gelati so she was happy (gelati has been a feature throughout) and Luke had Internet so all was good. The two seprate day trips were a great way of seeing a bit more of southern France. Never made it to Spain as we simly ran out of time.
Pleased to report Mark returned the car in A1 condition - no scratches or dents! It was a brand new Volvo, only 12km when collected and returned with 14,000+
Wed 1 June
We departed St Emilion for Paris with no firm arrangements, other than we should break the drive half-way at Tours. So when we got there late in the afternoon we split up to check out some accommodation. Not as good as arriving to prebooked (& researched) accom. There was a major congress on and town was busy. Our 'medium' accom was a classic and we have the photo! Ladder up to the mezzanine double swung from the wall, otherwise there was no room for it!
Thur 2 June
Overnight at Best Western Charles De Gaulle, in readiness for our flight next morning, was more like the 3* standard we knew! (Comfortable and free internet, too.)
Fri 3 June
Just a 1 1/2 hour flight and we were in London, and with setting the clock back an hour we gained time! The experience with BA was so civilised compared to Easy Jet. And then to walk through customs & baggage collection to be met by a prebooked driver and car was the icing on the cake! (Straight to the hotel, unlike navigating Paris rail airport - city, then to leave through the wrong exit and add an extra long walk around the block to the hotel.)
We spent a leisurely afternoon settling in and walked to Harrods for an intro to this London institution.
Saturday 4 June
Open top bus tour again! Brilliant weather in both Paris and London, sunshine and low 20's. Great to see all the top sights, despite a few traffic diversions owing to a dress rehearsal for next weekend's military parade to mark the Queen's birthday.
Sunday 5 June
We hopped on the bus to the London Eye ride with the weather looking a bit dark, just beat the rain, calling in to the Hard Rock Cafe for a drink on the way back to the hotel. This was also the first day traveling the efficient London underground rail.
Mon 6 June
Took a trip to Westfield Shopping Centre, much bigger than Chadstone in Melbourne .. with mixed success by the shoppers.
In the evening it was off to the West End. Between the four of us we saw three musical productions in two nights - guess who saw what: We Will Rock You, Dirty Dancing and Jersey Boys? Great to see the buzz of the crowd and London Nightlife and felt quite safe traveling on the Underground at night.
Tuesday 7 June
Today was a marathon! Out at 9.30am to get tickets to Jersey Boys; Buckingham Palace for Changing of the Guards at 11.30; then the Tower of London (could have spent 2 or 3 times longer there). Luke & Kate wanted to do the London Dugeon attraction and because they were U/16 Mark had to accompany them. We have the photo to prove it, classic facial expressions all round!
Meanwhile I spent a relatively relaxing 1 1/2 hours at the Tate Modern art gallery .. to compare it to MONA, but of course it wasn't nearly enough time.
Wednesday 8 June
The next chapter is another episode with an Avis car and adventurous Mark taking on the motorway, this time to historic Bath and enroute Stonehenge. Coping with rain squalls, misunderstood TomTom directions and all of us trying to navigate! I'll leave it to someone else to continue the story. Cheers, Rita
Location: St Emillion, France
Mark here, sometimes you have a plan in your mind that for some reason you don't check for fear of the reality of the situation, so on arrival at Charles de Galle airport to collect the hire car to drive to Bordeaux, I was finally confronted with the reality that the two and a half hour drive that I had been speaking about was in fact six and a half hours (585km). Brave face required as we set off - first time driving in France on the right side of the road........but we did have the GPS that we had decided to follow dilligently, although our confidence was shaken early by its decision to take us back to Paris city (ignoring the exit to Bordeaux) for a final driveby farewell, so after an hour of driving we still had 585km to travel :-(.
So as we counted down the kms to travel: 500, 400, 300....and making statements like "it just like going from Hobart to Burnie and back to in the same day" some things started to go in our favour like the GPS had a built in speed camera detector so once on the Autobaan that has a speed limit of 130km whenever a speed camera was in the vicinity a beep would alert to review the speed and ensure no ticket was given. In the end the GPS came through and we arrived in the medieval village of St. Emillion in one piece, albeit a bit weary, where we would stay for the next 4 nights.
St. Emillion, one of Bordeaux's premier wine areas, was my indulgence and I would have to say that the family was very tolerent of my wandering in the village for hours at a time as I worked my way through the over 30 'Caves' (wine shops) predominently selling wines from the local area: a mix of Grand Cru and Grand Cru Classe made from 3 main grape varieties: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Most of these Caves were happy to provide a 'degustation' (wine tasting) which helped to define what was most suited to your palate.
This medieval town is steeped in history dating back to the 1200's, so we all enjoyed the ambience of the stone buildings and chose to eat locally although the menus written in French were a challenge at times. After 4 weeks of italian food it took us a couple of days in Paris to adjust to the local fare but by the time we got to St Emillion we were pretty well aclimatised and actually looking forward to our next meal.
While in Bordeaux, except for the first full day that was 35 degrees when will chilled out in St Emillion, we ventured out and about in the Bordeaux region including to a town on the Atlantic called Bassin de Arcachon which was a resort area and looked like it would be packed during summer. On another day we visited the Medoc wine growing area: Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominent wine grown in this area along with Merlot so the wines are quite different from St. Emillion........well that was my arguement. I had read an article on 'value for money' bordeaux wine and was able to find 4 wines in the article for between $14-$30 per bottle so I was quite happy with my efforts.
On the last evening it was time to make some wine selections from St. Emillion and as luck would have it the Cave that had the wine I preferred was having an impromtue wine degustation :-). Ironically by an Australian that worked in the region and I joined in for research purposes which REALLY did help with the final wine choices. On another positive the four bottles that I bought in Medoc were able to be shipped back to Australia with my 8 St Emillion wines for a reduced shipping charge due to this Cave having a large clietelle from Australia due to the Aussie influence.
This part of the trip certainly rates highly for me as you can imagine.......it is right up there with all the great times we had with Rita's relatives in Italy and the relaxation of the cruise.
Hi everyone, Rita here, writing from the charming medieval village of St Emilion (World Heritqge listed) in Bordeaux, southern France.
I'd have to say that at times I've imagined we're on the 'Amazing Race' (TV program): directions & timetables to work out, schedules to meet, trains/ferries/planes to catch! And not always to the orginal plan. Several instances come to mind:
Leaving the Vatican tour early to make our way across Rome, stopping to collect laundry and luggage on the way to catch the train (just in time) to Caserta.
Then spending an hour wandering in Naples to find the famous pizzeria, Da Michele's (recommended by our hotelier on Capri), which is "just near the train station". Yes, it was 15 minutes away if you knew where you were going! And then to get there, to find a queue spilling onto the street and deciding to make a beeline straight back to the train station to catch our Naples-Florence train! Macca's at the station was a welcome lunch stop that day!
Not to mention side-tracking to find a post office in Milan near the rail station (to off-load 12kg of stuff), only to find a waiting room FULL of people; who knew where in the ranking we fell with our A196 ticket? Oh, and there was full-on barny going on between a 'customer' and 'staff member' about the level/lack of service happening. A domestic followed because I didn't want to wait (still had to bus to the airport, an hour away, and not familiar with the torturous check-in procedure at the airport) but Mark wanted to wait - in the end it worked out and we were able to make the post. Meanwhile kids were waiting with luggage (and my TIM mobile phone number) at another trusty Macca's wondering where we were and why we were so long!
Tue 24 - Sat 28 May
So after the schedule, and the crowds, maybe that's why I enjoyed the comparative orderliness of Paris. I can understand why Australian-Italian Tina Arena has chosen to settle in France, it's so civilised! (I say that with only a tad of disloyalty.)
Or maybe I enjoyed Paris so much because we did it in comfort, taking a two-day ticket on the hop-on-and-off 'open bus' tour which provided four different routes/circuits. We had seen the lime green double-decker, open top buses in Rome, Naples and even the narrow lanes of Florence but only considered the benefits late in the piece. So when Luke suggested it should be our intro to Paris, we all agreed. And how great to get a bird's eye view of the streetscapes and all the famous landmarks, with ear-phone audio commentary in your choice of language and mood-setting French music in between highlights!
Thur 26 May
Day 2 in Paris and Luke, Kate and I hopped back on the open tour bus to go to the Eiffel Tower (climbed 200+ stairs to level 2, then lift to the top on a very grey, blowy day). Again, with too many school groups!
Meanwhile Mark was back at Notre Dame to photograph the gargoyles and enjoy the views from street level and the metro!
We met up in the afternoon (amazing that we connected, just) at the Louvre, to queue up yet again with everyone else to see the Mona Lisa et al. Oh, and there were more school groups, English and Italian.
Negotiating a French menu, written in only French, has been interesting. But we're still eating very well!
I'll leave it to Kate or Luke to comment on Parc Disneyland (another marathon; there at 8am opening till 7.30pm finish). And Mark can comment on the 5+ hour drive from Paris to Bordeaux, afterall he did it! Cheers for now, Rita
Fri 27 May
Dear all, it's Kate here. On Friday our family went to Parc Disneyland because it was one of the things I'd been looking forward to on our trip.
It was as good as I expected; it was VERY big and had lots of rides. Luke qnd I went on as many as we could and did some twice. We have a photo of the family on one of the last rides - the look on Dad's face is classic!
The day was very long as we left the hotel at 8.30am and left Disneyland at 7.30pm at night. Some of my favourite rides were Space Mission 2 and the Rock 'n Roll Coaster with Aerosmith.
Location: Trieste, Italy
Hi all, Mark here. Upon dis-embarkation from the MSC Magnifica in Venice we were met by Rita's cousin Luigi and travelled to the harbour city of Trieste (about 280,000 population) which borders Austria and Slovenia in northern Italy. The trip takes about 1.5 hours and we pass a number of motorhomes, touring motor bikes including Harley Davidsons which we had not seen elsewhere in Italy. Were surprised to see a van on fire at the side of the road being attended by firefighters, not sure how it happened. Passed countryside that is mainly for agricultural cultivation, primarily grapes and vegetables.
In Trieste we were greeted by Luigi's wife Christina and two daughters, Jessica (17) and Martina (12) and welcomed into their apartment located in the centre of Trieste. Saturday is taken up by getting to know each other and generally chilling out; Luigi finds some time to give us a city tour by foot and we finalise our arrangements for the next travel leg to Paris which involves train Trieste to Milano and then a flight to Paris. In the evening we eat out at a Serbian restaurant in the hills above the Trieste city and enroute take in the views of the harbour.
Sunday is washing day as we all have used up our clothes during the cruise and are in dire need.......certainly doing our bit for recycling. 8 washes down and we head out for a bit of culture visiting a palace built in the 1840's on the outskirts of Trieste that is surrounded by a botanical garden. We are given a guided tour of the main building by a friend of Christina's that gives a historical context to the building and highlights the influrence of Austria on the Trieste region that only came under Italian rule after World War 1 when Austria was defeated by Italy. We finish off with a city sights tour and order pizzas for dinner :-).
Our third and last day and we all sleep in and start making preparations for the next section of the trip including ironing and repacking our bags. Although not a major issue we are seriously considering sending back 10kg of luggage that is now considered excess .. a cost-benefit analysis is under way. Christina is working today and Luigi cooks up a Spaghetti Carbonara that gets the thumbs up by all; in fact it gets top marks among many Carbonaras we have enjoyed during our time in Italy.