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

Holland

Whenever we go back to Ireland we take advantage of being on that side of the world to make a side-trip to Europe. This time we visited Holland, Belgium and France.

Amsterdam: bicycles, crooked buildings, canals, flower market, cheese, Ann Frank’s house

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We tried to visit the Van Gogh Museum but after a bus, train, then tram-ride to get there, we found that the only way to get tickets was online and I had left my iPad at the hotel so had no means of accessing the Internet and the museum didn’t provide any. Seems to be a very strange form of crowd control!

We had the same sort of luck with the tulips. Family in Liverpool had shown us their photos of field after field of tulips, each a different vibrant colour. But when we asked at the tourist office for directions to the tulip fields and windmills, we were told the tulip  season was over and the farmers had pulled any remaining tulips out of the ground.

Fortunately in the Zaan Region there’s a dedicated windmill village that can’t go out of season so we went there instead!

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We used 1-day Amsterdam and Region travel tickets to get a bus to the windmills at Zaanse Schans Village; trains to Zaandam where we ate lunch and to Edam where we had a beer across from a cheese shop; then a bus via Volendam and Julianaweg – one of my middle names is Julianna – back to Amsterdam Central.

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Zaandam

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Edam

We had dinner at the waterfront before taking the free ferry over to Buiksloterweg, then back again after a short walk. Its a very popular ferry with pedestrians and cyclists.

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Den Haag and Delft day trip

We caught the Sprinter train from Schipol to Den Haag.

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After exploring  Den Haag also known as Le Haag, The Hague and Le Hague, we caught  a tram to Delft.

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Next stop Belgium!

 

Back to Ireland – 5 April 18 June 2018 cont

A last taste of Ireland

During our last days in Ireland we concentrated on places around or close to Dublin.

We discovered a lovely walk along the banks of the River Liffey from Chapelizod to the Memorial Gardens in the shadow of the Phoenix Park.

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Nature’s flowers from the heart!

It wouldn’t be a trip to Ireland without a visit to the Hill of Tara.

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Dowth and Newgrange are other ancient burial mounds.

 

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Newgrange

 

The whole area is steeped in history.

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Slane Castle and Brewery

Slane Abbey

 

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Trim Castle

Closer to Dublin, we also explored Portmarnock, Malahide and Skerries  and a little further as far as Drogheda.

From a photo displayed in reception, I think we might be related to the original owner of Skerries Mills, Richard Flynn. I had an uncle Dick/Richard Flynn, and though not the same person, probably a relation as my Dad’s family came from around that area.

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Skerries Mills – We didn’t need to go to Holland to find windmills.

 

Malahide Abbey

 

Defensive forts called Martello Towers are dotted along the coast north and south of Dublin. The name comes from the tower they were modelled on at Mortella Point on the western side of the Gulf of San Fiorenzo, Corsica.
Read more at – History of Martello Tower

 

Drogheda was a good base to explore from.

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I’ll leave you with this idyllic Irish scene.

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Next stop Amsterdam!

Back to Ireland – 5 April 18 June 2018 cont – England and Scotland

 

Scotland

Wallace statue

Wallace statue, Stirling Castle

After a Full English Breakfast we got back on the road and drove to Stirling Castle.

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Wallace Monument

We could see the Wallace Monument in the distance but drove around in circles for ages trying unsuccessfully to find the turn-off to it. We gave up and continued on to the Falkirk Wheel, an enormous structure that moves boats between the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal.

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Here’s a slideshow of the wheel in motion:

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From the Wheel we drove to Falkirk town and negotiated our way through a very complex one-way system to our hotel, probably the worst place we stayed in throughout our overseas trip. The website had warned that the lift didn’t service all floors, in fact it didn’t service any. It was out of order due to a brawl the night before! That will give you some insight as to the class of hotel I’d booked us into. Our room was up several flights of stairs, interspersed with long corridors, badly lit with sensor lights not all of which worked. The white towels were grey and threadbare, the heating was temperamental and the bathroom flooded in the middle of the night. When reception wasn’t staffed you had to go into the bar for service. It stank! Fortunately we only had to spend one night there.

We had a walk around the town and found somewhere to have dinner, the Orchard Hotel, where the food was tasty and the staff were friendly and renewed our faith in Scottish hospitality.

After that we went to Helix Park to see the Kelpies. These are amazing, giant, metal horse-head structures that are illuminated at night. Normally you can do a tour to see the structures from the inside, but there was a crew recording a TV show when we were there so the tours weren’t operating.

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Helix Park is a vast community-use space incorporating wetlands, canals, the Kelpies and the Wheel.

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We drove to Edinburgh the next day. We parked in the city and walked up to the castle, then down through the gardens. I looked for the floral clock I’d seen there about 40 years ago but it was too early in the season so it hadn’t been planted yet.

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Next, back to England.

Mary River Weekend

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Just had a three-night stay at Mary River Wilderness Retreat courtesy of daughter’s Christmas present. She and grandson joined us for the Friday and Saturday nights but then had to return home for work and school, leaving us to our own devices for the Sunday night.

The Retreat is about 120 km from our house in Darwin. It took us an hour and thirty-five minutes to get there, a bit longer than normal due to a huge thunderstorm that reduced visibility and speed to a minimum.

Activities were severely curtailed because of the weather and the presence of crocs. It’s the Wet Season, so all of the walks and points of interest were inaccessible because: they were under water; the resident saltwater crocodile was on the move; and, a decent-sized freshwater croc had been spotted close by. We still managed to enjoy ourselves though.

At night we played board games and watched movies on a DVD player hooked up to a TV screen we brought with us – there was no TV in the room – and on the last night the clouds cleared for long enough to allow us to sit on the verandah under the stars and even make a wish on a shooting one.

In the daytime we went for a 100 km-plus drive around nearby locations, all of which were inaccessible due to flooding. The pool was a welcome relief from the heat when there was a break in the storms and no lightening. Otherwise we just walked around the grounds and enjoyed the wildlife.

While we self-catered on Friday, we dined at the Gecko Restaurant on the other two nights. The food was delicious, reasonably priced and beautifully presented, the service was excellent, the staff  friendly and informative and we appreciated the complimentary glass of wine with each main meal. The menu included vegetarian options and the children’s menu included dessert.

Alternatively, there was a camp kitchen equipped with microwave, toaster, jug, cooking rings, bbq, washing-up gear including a sink with a plug, but no utensils, crockery, cutlery or pans.
We enjoyed seeing the wallabies, kangaroos and kingfishers. The massive thunderstorm we drove through on the way down was an experience! We loved the variety of birds we saw at Fogg Dam on the way home. All in all it was a great weekend!

About this site

 

My daughter set up this site so I could write about the road trips my husband and I were going to do in our retirement. For one reason or another we haven’t done a lot of trips so I haven’t written anything for more than a year.

Rather than let the site go to waste, I’m going to use it to post photos of birds in my garden, the Darwin foreshore and surrounds; the orchids and other things I grow or grow by themselves; and anything else I think people might be interested in.

I also hope to use this site to help me get into the habit of writing, although I have no idea what I’ll write about yet.

About me

I’m Joyce, retired, in my sixties, born in Ireland, lived in England for five years before coming to Australia, married with two daughters and two grandchildren.