Europe Trip 2018

France – Rouen, Caen, Bayeux, the Normandy Beaches, Le Mont Saint Michel, Giverney

Rouen

Rouen is where Joan of Arc was executed and there is an unusual church on the site commemorating  her.

 

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We visited that church and the rest of the old town including the Cathedrale Notre Dame de Rouen, Eglise Saint-Maclou, Abbatiale Saint-Ouen and a statue of Napoleon.

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Later we had a walk along the Seine before dinner – fish and chips at Poppy’s near our hotel, Hotel Dandy.

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Caen

We got to the train station to find the midday train to Caen had been cancelled and we had an almost three-hour wait ahead of us. Spent most of the time forward-booking accommodation before getting a bus and checking into an Ibis hotel near Caen Station.

We went for a short walk before having a delicious boeuf bourguignon for dinner at a nearby hotel. There were a lot of youths loitering around the area which made us feel unsafe so we returned to our hotel.

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We booked a hire car to get us to Bayeux.

Bayeux

After breakfast the next morning we picked up the hire car and got them to set the GPS for us in English, then followed the directions to Bayeux. We meet the owner of the house we had hired for three days at the property, Le 4 holiday home. She was lovely and the home was gorgeous, with the most well-equipped kitchen I’ve ever found in our travels. On the outside it was an old building in a cobblestoned laneway behind the cathedral but the inside had been renovated into a modern, stylish, comfortable home.

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The 11th century Bayeux Tapestry is the town’s main attraction and first on our list of places to visit. The tapestry is actually nine embroidered linen bands stitched together stretching 70 metres long and 50 cm wide. It recounts the story of William the Conqueror’s accession to the English throne in 1066. Visitors are issued an audio device on entry which provides commentary in their selected language as they pass the tapestry.

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Bayeux also has a great selection of half-wooden buildings, manor houses and a beautiful cathedral.

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Bayeux is also home to the Battle of Normandy Museum and military cemetery.

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Normandy Beaches

We picked a miserable wet day to visit the Normandy Beaches.

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Le Mont Saint Michel

We had seen photos of Le Mont Saint Michel – the floating castle – and views of it during the television coverage of the Tour de France a few times so we had to visit since we were in the general area.

 

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Giverney

Fitting Giverney into our itinerary was a challenge but I was determined to see Claude Monet’s home and garden so we had to squeeze it in on the last afternoon the day before flying out of France.

Easier said than done! First we had to get the car back to Caen. We were supposed to return it with a full tank of fuel but we didn’t pass a single petrol station on our drive from Bayeux so had to let the car-hire firm do it and charge it to our card which they did and then some!

We got a train back to Rouen then another to Giverney. Our hotel was too far to walk to and there was no public transport so we got a taxi. We thought we would have been able to catch a bus from there to Monet’s house but we were told there was no bus service so we could either catch a taxi there, go back to the train station and get a shuttle or walk. We decided that by the time we walked back to the train station we would have covered half the distance to the house anyway so decided to walk.

We should have taken another taxi! The footpath was in a very bad state of repair. Half-way into the very long walk it started bucketing down. When we eventually reached Monet’s place the reception was as bleak as the weather. The staff were curt and officious and not a smile between them.

Whenever I had thought about visiting Monet’s garden I’d imagined entering a low-fenced garden in the centre of a small town and strolling through the flower gardens in the warmth of the Spring sunshine, then relaxing over afternoon tea on the terrace of a ground-level dwelling. Then in bursts reality – a five-kilometre trudge in the pouring rain out of town to a two-storey house without a terrace in a walled garden and not a drop of tea in sight!

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Inside the house was interesting. If it wasn’t for all the people traipsing through, you could easily imagine Monet living here having just popped out to the shop for more art supplies.

We caught the shuttle back to Giverney and had a walk around the town then back to our hotel along the riverbank.

 

We had intended going to an Indian restaurant we had passed earlier in the day for dinner but the riverbank walk bypassed it so we ended up buying some salads from the supermarket nextdoor instead.

So we settled in for the night. Brian found some footy to watch on the iPad while I wrote the postcards I’d bought earlier in the day. Before going to bed I checked the emails, only to find there was one from French Rail telling us that due to a rail strike the train we were booked on the next day to get us to the airport was cancelled!!!

The contact phone number French Rail provided went to a recording in French naturally, so there was nothing we could do until the morning except go to bed and try to get some sleep. That proved to be impossible. We knew were completely stranded. No trains were running in the region and the town we were in wasn’t on a bus route to the city. Another guest Brian talked to checked his iPhone and found that trains wouldn’t be running the next day either.

The knock-on effect if we couldn’t get to Charles de Gaulle airport by that afternoon meant we’d not only miss our flight back to Ireland but, by the time we rescheduled, we could miss our flight from there to Australia!

The weather deteriorated overnight with torrential rain causing road and highway closures and delays. It was so bad that when, after hours trying to get through and as a last resort, we tried to get a taxi to take us all the way to the airport, we were told they wouldn’t let their drivers attempt the drive.

Trying to book a hire car online proved to be impossible. There were two firms in the area so we left our luggage at the hotel and walked in the rain to the nearest one, due to open at 9.00 am. There were five other people in the tiny office when we got there just after opening, but no receptionist. The guy in charge came in from the garage, said something in French to the waiting group, then got on his mobile and after a lot of gesticulating drove out.

From what we could gather, the receptionist had been held up by the weather and we thought he’d gone to pick her up. Instead, an older lady arrived, possibly his mother, and she proceeded to get the office under way – slowly. Murphy’s Law was in full swing – everything that could go wrong did: the calculator ran out of batteries, the printer ran out of paper, the couple from America didn’t have their  passports with them. At this point we realised we didn’t have ours either. They were back at the hotel with our luggage. So, when it was eventually our turn and we got to that stage of the process, I pleaded in what I could remember of my best high-school French for her to continue processing our application while Brian walked back to our hotel. The garage guy overheard this and gesticulating again impatiently indicated that he’d drive Brian to the hotel. It seemed to take forever. Every possible catastrophe ran through my mind. Apparently it was worse for Brian. The guy drove like a rally driver and, in trying to avoid a traffic jam, took a shortcut and hit roadworks instead! Murphy’s Law continued to rule when they got back and we resumed the hire process. When we reached the last  stage in the process, payment, the system rejected our credit card even though it was the same one we used just hours earlier to pay the hotel bill. Fortunately we were able to use another one which the system did accept but it meant she had to go back and change the details in the system. All the time, precious minutes are ticking by! My nerves are stretched to breaking point. Finally, she hands over the keys. Then, before we could even get up from the desk, CRUNCH!!! A truck had backed into the entrance and was wedged in the doorway.

Luckily they managed to free the truck quite quickly and we were able to get underway using the GPS the garage guy had set up so we avoided the hold-ups caused by the overnight weather. We needed help to find fuel near the airport, but we eventually made it in plenty of time to catch our flight and subsequently made it home to Australia, with a brief stopover in Singapore on the way.

We stayed at Changi Village and had a day trip to the island of Pulau Ubin.

 

Well that was the end of our trip. Thanks for joining us. Hope you enjoyed the pictorial journey. Until next time …

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Europe Trip 2018

France – Amiens and Villers-Bretonneux

After Lille we travelled to Amiens by train.

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The hotel we’d booked seemed a lot further away from the station than it said on the website. When we finally got there we thought it was closed because there was a group of tradespeople having their lunch in what should have been Reception. Eventually we gained access through a sided-entrance. After checking in on Level 1 we tried to get to our room on Level 8 and found that the sensor lights from the elevator to our room didn’t engage until we were well into the completely dark corridor. Then there was the adjoining door between our room and the next which periodically rattled furiously and loudly and no amount of wedging could silence it. I got no joy when, torch in hand, I made my way back to Reception to report that and the fact that the wifi didn’t work in the room. Not a good start to our stay!

Our hotel overlooked the River Somme, so we started our afternoon walk along its banks towards the old town. We visited Notre Dam cathedral which commemorates the troops who fought there, including Australians, and is the home of the Crying Angel statue which became famous as a postcard sent home by the troops. We could see Jules Vernes’ Circus and house but couldn’t access it due to major roadworks between us and them. Later we walked through Hortillonnages  community floating gardens and park.

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Villers-Bretonneux

This is a long story about a short visit to a very important though remote place. Our reason for staying in Amiens was to get to Villers-Bretonneux to visit its Military Cemetery, the Australian National Memorial and the Sir John Monash Centre.

Getting there was a challenge. The first train was cancelled and there was a two-hour wait till the next one, so we bought our tickets, went away and came back to find that the train had been changed to a bus. The directions we were given to the bus station were that it was outside the train station on the right. It wasn’t! After panicking , separating, and running all over the place, Brian finally found it under the train station. We only just made it.  I even had to run – the first time since my accident!

The bus dropped us and another Australian couple off at Villers-Bretonneux train station which was closed. Julie and Jeff from Sydney were due at a meeting at the John Monash Centre. There were no taxis. We both tried the phone number on the station door but couldn’t get through, so we walked back up to the town and inquired at the ‘Melbourne’ shop we’d passed earlier. We were directed to the taxi ‘shop’ around the corner. This was unattended but displayed another phone number which we both tried again unsuccessfully, so we asked staff at a nearby pharmacy who sent us to the museum another street away. This was the Victoria School Museum. The receptionist rang the taxi firm but it would be 50 minutes before one arrived. A tour guide dropping off some clients to the museum very kindly saved the day and offered us a lift to the cemetery. We accepted her offer and took her advice to book a taxi to pick the four of us up from there at 5.30 pm.

Once there we split up, arranging to meet again at the entrance in time to catch the taxi.  We walked through the cemetery to the memorial which was familiar to us from all the Anzac Day ceremonies we had seen broadcast from there over the years. Brian climbed to the top of the tower but I didn’t want to risk it, my hip and leg having had more than enough of a workout earlier running for the bus!

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The new John Monash Centre was an outstanding interactive experience culminating in a 360 degree video, complete with special effects like surround sound, smoke etc.  It’s free to enter and you can use your own earphones or hire some from the gift shop. The staff are very helpful. It was through them that I found out about the taxi situation. When you order one it has to come from Amiens, not the local town, which is why it takes so long to get one and why it is so expensive!

 

When we had finished we went back to the entrance to eat a very late lunch and wait for the taxi. One did come while we were there but it was 45 minutes before ours was due, so we assumed it was for someone else. However, when ours didn’t show up… We waited until we reached the stage where we had to opt for the 40-minute walk or risk missing the train back to Amiens where Julie and Jeff had to catch a connecting train to Paris. We were cutting it fine and again, for the second time that day, I had to run, but we caught it and Julie and Jeff made their connection with at least two minutes to spare!

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Europe Trip 2018

Belgium – France

We crossed the border into Belgium on the train from Amsterdam to Brussels. It was pretty uneventful. A couple of officials checked our passports. That was it!

It wasn’t a long walk from the train station to our hotel but it was a bit tricky – cobblestones and luggage wheels do not make a good combination! But it was worth the effort, Hotel Mozart was just amazing!

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Getting to breakfast was an adventure in itself. It was served in the basement, which was accessed via spiral staircases from the ground floor. Our room was on the third floor and the lift only went down as far as Reception, but then only if Brian kicked the door in the right spot. Other times he would have to go down the stairs and send the lift up to me.

Brussels surprised me. It was vibrant with a holiday atmosphere. Not what I expected. It has a great selection of grand buildings, cathedrals, parks, Manneken Pis – the Peeing Boy – and a magnificent plaza with gilded buildings that shone in the sunlight and at night were illuminated with coloured lights. There’s a wide variety of eateries in the square, the streets and the laneways, all offering alfresco dining with entertainment provided by a band of street musicians. We enjoyed Lebanese at La Perle du Liban and Greek at Makonos in our street and at El Greco on the plaza; and sampled various beers along the way!

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Bruge

We had a day trip to Bruge by train.

The highlight was visiting Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child at the Church of Our Lady, Saint Salvadore’s Cathedral.

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It was Market Day so the square was quite crowded. We had lunch at Sintamandje on a quaint cobblestoned laneway before exploring the rest of the canal town including a statue of Jan Van Eyck, ‘Skyscraper’ the Bruges Whale made from plastic waste from the seas and oceans of the world and Beaterio with its swans and a nuns’ priory.

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Next morning we reluctantly handed in the key and trudged back up the cobblestones to catch the train to Ypres.

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Ypres

Ypres is also spelt Ieper and pronounced by our tour guide like the sound of a whisper ‘i-pe’ – the  i as in ‘it’ and the pe as in ‘pet’ .

It is the home of the Menin Gate which used to be guarded by two lion statues, since presented to Australia and relocated to the Australian War Memorial Canberra. The Last Post ceremony is held there nightly at 8.00 pm and on our first night there the Australian cricket team participated in the wreath laying.

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On our second day we visited In Flanders Fields Museum, an excellent interactive experience providing an insight to the realities of war and the people impacted by it.

 

We followed this with an Ypres Salient guided tour of nearby battlefields, cemeteries and places of interest such as Hill 60, Caterpillar Crater, Pool of Peace, Bayernwald German trenches, 1914 Christmas Truce Memorials and Hyde Park Memorial. André, our guide and driver from Over the Top Tours, provided insightful, knowledgeable commentary.

 

The drenching rain lent itself to the sombre nature of the day.

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As we walked back to the bus at one of the sites, our guide André picked up the shell of a bomb from the edge of a field we were passing, just by the side of the road. Farmers continue to find such items when they plough their fields. They just place them by the road and the authorities collect them. Its all part of their normal routine.

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We finished off our stay with a meal and a beer  in a local café before taking in the Last Post again.

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Farewell Flanders Fields, farewell Ieper!

Lille

We has a two-night weekend stay in Citadines Apart’ Hotel Lille.

We explored the old town on the Saturday. It was bustling – people everywhere!

 

The next day it was the complete opposite. No Sunday trading here! No crowds of  people! It made it easy for us to continue exploring though: Saint Maurice Church, Porte de Paris, Hotel de Ville, an Ola Cuba exhibition in an old railway station and the Citadel.

 

 

 

 

It was a lovely couple of days, especially considering it was a mistake. I was supposed to book us into Amiens, so that’s where were heading next.

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Adelaide to Sydney highlights continued

Bairnsdale to Eden 

After the very informative and enjoyable tour of St Mary’s Church and visiting the information centre nextdoor, we started our journey to Eden – as in the town, not the ‘Garden of …’.

This was one of the most enjoyable day’s drive. The misty mountain roads made driving enchanting without being too dangerous and the walk in the Drummer Rainforest after lunch was just magical.

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I love Eden. We stayed there once before. Again, the only accommodation the information centre  could find us was a motel. No kitchen facilities meant we had to eat out. First we checked out the views from a couple of lookouts before having dinner at a lovely Chinese restaurant, the Golden Ocean, where the food and service were excellent. The staff went out of their way to make us feel welcome and nothing was too much to ask. It even said on the menu that if there was something you wanted that wasn’t on there, they’d do their best to make it for you.

Eden to Batemans Bay

Before we left Eden. We drove down to the very popular Aslinn Beach, the beachfront of the local tourist park.


From Eden we went to Merimbula and the Blue Pool, though it wasn’t very blue due to an algae outbreak. From there we drove to the beautiful Bermagui where we stopped for lunch.


At Batemans Bay we checked into the tourist park, shopped for groceries, then went for a drive to the beautiful beaches nearby, before going for a walk along the seafront.DSC07366

On our second day at Batemans Bay we finally had the big breakfast we’d been carrying with us since Broken Hill!  We walked that off at Eurobodella Botanic Gardens on our way to Mogo, a picturesque little town we’d been to quite a few times, the main attraction for us being the cheese tasting, although many go for the fudge, ice cream and pies. Overall it’s a very tasty place.

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Community Building Mogo

We went back to the cabin for lunch, then drove across the bridge to Nelligen, another historic little township.

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Batemans Bay to Sydney

We started the last day of our Adelaide to Sydney roadtrip around 9.00 am, stopped for lunch and a visit to the craft shop at Berry, then at Bald Hill Lookout, before arriving at our destination around 4.15 pm.

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