A Travellerspoint blog

The return

Journey home - 1

semi-overcast 18 °C

Well guys the odyssey is nearly over and we've taken the first steps of the home journey. I'm currently at the Emirates Lounge at Manchester Airport enjoying a whisky and relaxing and hoping to board in an hour or so.

Today has been almost a replica of our last day in Melbourne - but without the stress. We had planned to come into Manchester early and visit the Old Trafford/Manchester United museum. Luckily I rang this morning to check opening times and discovered that it's not open on match days. We then decided that low stress was what we needed and that we'd stay where we were. We arranged another night's accommodation so that we didn't have to vacate at noon and kill time and just relaxed. We read, watched old episodes of Top Gear, had a coffee with Lindsey and had a big excursion to the nearby Sainsburys to buy stocking socks ( I managed to lose one - can you believe it?) and some sandwiches for lunch, and reorganised the suitcases - four, count them, four! I may say that we were nearly 15kg under our luggage allowance but I'm not sure the car would have coped with a 5th bag.

We left Rhuddlan (near Rhyl) (on the North Wales coast) a bit before 1600 and hit the road. There were no major dramas with traffic and we were here with time to spare. The car rental drop off changes on every trip and is now offsite and we needed to get a bus to the terminal. We weren't happy with that with our five suitcases - sorry I forgot the small carry on one - but the bus driver was brilliant and helped us on and off and it wasn't a problem.

Love the red carpet at check in - for first class - and no dramas there. Security was painless and then a short stroll to the lounge and the welcoming arms of Emirates Airlines. I've had a shop at Duty Free - using up my Sterling and stocking up the dressing table. Have some gorgeous perfume from Chanel and Hermes - to match my bag and scarf - and make up from Dior, Yves St Laurent and Lancome - no excuse just lovely!

We really just want to go home now but will enjoy the journey as much as possible and keep you posted.

Posted by dawnandhugh 22.04.2013 11:24 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged airport Comments (1)

Winding down

Catching up with loved ones

sunny 18 °C

Things have been a little less frenetic over the past couple of days but no less special despite this. I can't report on a huge number of tourist sites - although we had a special visit on Friday morning of which more later - but we've had a gentle couple of days getting our breath back and catching up with some loved ones.

We had breakfast at the hotel on Friday morning and moved in a leisurely fashion, enjoying a sleep in, before packing up again and moving down the road. We didn't move very far. About 10 minutes up the road was Bletchley Park the home of code breaking operations during the Second World War. Hugh has been reading an interesting book about the secrets of Bletchley and the men and women that worked there and the fact that we were so close meant that it would be ridiculously dismissive not to visit there. There is no doubt that the cracking of the German Enigma code was one of the greatest achievements of the war and succeeded in shortening it at best and possibly even the outcome. The workers were recruited from all over Britain - from Universities, out of school, from factories and debutantes. What is even more amazing than the work done itself was the fact that so little was known about it until the mid 1970s.

The visit included a look at an amazing museum which includes a working "Bombe" - which was the machine created to assist in code-breaking - as well as some of the messages decoded. There was then a tour conducted by a charming volunteer who provided so much context and insight into the human element of the life at the centre and the work that was done. He described, for example, the efforts of the despatch riders who brought the original messages from radio stations all over Britain - some of them in the north of Scotland. These riders, who were often women, could ride up to 400 miles on a trip on rudimentary motorbikes with little protective clothing - heroic in itself. It was a lovely visit - a classic case of British understatement but a great tribute to some of the largely unsung heroes of the war.

Leaving Bletchley, it was on to the motorway for the trip up to Pulford (between Wrexham and Chester) and our family reunion. Google Maps said that it would be a 2 hour 40 minute journey. Because of an accident on the M6 and the consequent delays meant that the trip took over 4 hours and it's reasonable to say that things got a little terse and tense in the car before we got to the hotel. We'd fondly assumed that we'd be in Wales by mid afternoon with lots of time to relax and get ready for the evening. As it was, we got in about 5 o'clock and had time to have a shower and get ready but not the way that we'd hoped. Never mind, the reunion with the relatives was wonderful! It was fantastic to see everyone in good spirits - except poor cousin Lyn who had her own motorway horror and ended up being "rescued" - the food and service were great and it was a top night with lots of laughs all around.

We were a little dusty yesterday morning but had a good breakfast and hit the road at a respectable hour. We had a teeny sidetrack to pay homage at Pulford Castle - ancestral home of Daryl's family - and we reclaimed it in Daryl's name.

Since yesterday morning we've been in and around Abergele and have spent most of the time with Lindsey and Glyn - our very dear friends. We've spent a lot of time talking and laughing - not least over dinner last night at the fabulous Kinmel Arms where we stayed and which turned on an incredibly good dinner. We also had brilliant accommodation in an unusual room at the back of the pub. Even slightly dustier this morning, we went back to the Thomas' and then had a lovely trip to Llandudno and a walk along the pier. We all watched the Grand Prix this afternoon before enjoying a late lunch and more laughs.

I suppose this isn't exciting to other people but it has been to Hugh and I. We're now in our last hotel of the trip - we hope - at the Premier Inn in Rhuddlan - have a room full of suitcases and a comfortable looking bed. We've spent time with the people that we love and discovered it never gets any easier to say goodbye but it's kind of the price you pay for love isn't it? We're hoping to have a little sleep in tomorrow and after sorting out the cases will go to Manchester so that I can pay homage at Old Trafford. 2100 tomorrow will see us on our way home.........see you on the other side!

Posted by dawnandhugh 21.04.2013 14:59 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged people meals Comments (1)

You're (a) wizard Harry!

Goodbye to La Belle France and "hello" to Old Blighty!

semi-overcast 16 °C

We left Paris this morning. I can tell you dear friends and readers that this was not easy. We slept well and were wide awake and ready to get up when the alarm went off at 0500. It had been a warm night and the sky was turning blue from the grey of dawn and a gentle breeze promised a lovely day. We finished the last minute packing and got ourselves ready and were well and truly ready and waiting when the taxi arrived at seven o'clock. Why the early start I hear some of you ask. Or I would if I'd mentioned that our train left at 0915! Well, we're used to Melbourne morning traffic and the congestion around the city and the airport etc at that time of the morning and we didn't want to take any chances. You may hear a hollow laugh from me as there was virtually no traffic on the road and we could at times have fired a shotgun outside the Elysees Palace and not hit a soul - not something we're advocating by the way!

We had breakfast at the Gare du Nord and our departure was somewhat assisted by the fact that a) it rained just before we left (actually, it wasn't rain, it was the street cleaners cleaning up but it's easier to think of it as rain - easier to leave anyway!) and b) we had the worst coffee we've had in France! It's hard to wax lyrical when you're drinking dishwater. The process of going through Passport Control and security was not a problem and we boarded our carriage on the Eurostar with a minimum of fuss and were soon comfortable. The trip was very pleasant - my only teeny gripe was getting side by side seats with our back to the "engine" but it's a small matter. A second breakfast on board produced a nice roll, butter and jam and some yoghurt but some more ordinary coffee and the time in the tunnel itself passed without fuss - despite our jokes about fishes swimming by. We arrived in Ebbsfleet on time and were ready to disembark as it's a short stop and we had four cases - yes four - to get off. This happened without trouble and a porter helped us to the station level where we got a cab to the hire car.

We'd requested a mini-van (because we'd anticipated the four cases) and had hoped to get a VW Sharan (the name alone had sparked weeks of Ozzy Osborne impersonations) but we ended up with another (bloody)Peugeot - this time a larger 5008. It takes the cases - just - but isn't the most comfortable car around and I'm glad we're not driving big distances or having to keep it for too long.

First stop for the day was the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour - for me - and the car park of same for Hugh. We had a slight issue when I misread the pace notes and we ended up in a Bus Only road - as a gentleman (!) was happy to tell us we may be up for a fine there - so we used the Pulfords' GPS (thank you guys) and were soon on the right road. Once we found the motorway we were laughing - ho ho - and followed the signs to the studios. We were quite early - despite the issues - and had lunch in the cafeteria before Hugh headed back to the car for a read and a snooze and I joined the line.

I will post some photos but I can say that this was absolutely wonderful and that even if you're just a minor fan - or you've seen the films/read the books - you should make sure you go to the tour if you have the chance. It was - dare I say - absolutely magical and I loved every minute of it. I'd have liked it more with another enthusiast so, when I win tattslotto, I'm coming back with Keri or someone!! I did the whole broom riding experience - even if there are plenty of my former staff who think that this is my normal form of transportation - and I have the photos and DVD to prove it. There is so much to see and you could easily spend hours there. I don't think I was more than a couple of hours and, luckily, Hugh had a good sleep and read while he was waiting for me and didn't seem to have noticed my absence. I had a good wander through the gift shop and bought a few lovely things for others and for me. I resisted the temptation to buy a wand - might wish I hadn't - but bought a few other things.

We had no trouble from finding our way from the studio to our hotel in Milton Keynes. It's not the most salubrious place but it's clean, the bed is big and firm (but not as firm as Paris thank God) and the staff were nice - plus it's cheap. We had dinner in the pub which is attached and had fish and chips. Had a clear sign we're not in Kansas any more - when I asked for a bottle of wine there was a ten minute delay while they found the corkscrew - that wouldn't happen in France.

It's been a big day and tomorrow will be different again. Ready for an early night to prepare!

Posted by dawnandhugh 18.04.2013 13:07 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged trains harry potter Comments (1)

Saying goodbye to La France

Paris - Days 5 and 6

sunny 20 °C

It's so hard to believe but tomorrow we leave France after more than five weeks here. It seems incredible that our trip is nearly over and we have just a few nights in the UK before we head home and ..... gasp!... back to work.

Our last couple of days have been interesting and we think we're getting the feel of being Parisienne. It's been so different to the offhand, arrogant world that we imagined and were warned of. Instead we've found a really warm and friendly experience which has been best exemplified by our experience with Suffren - our loval Brasserie/Restaurant which we've just had dinner at for the third time since we got here. It's been as welcoming, if not more, than the cafes in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue or Brittany and tonight we were greeted and farewelled as long lost friends - being given champagne on arrival and a farewell from Madame le Patronne on our departure.

Apart from having dinner at the local, we've spent the last couple of days exploring other pockets of this fascinating city. Yesterday we visited the area between the Plas de la Concorde and the Opera district as well as the bottom reaches of the Champ d'Elysees! We saw the most iconic buildings and the crowds in action. We saw a large number of the gendamerie as the city is on alert after as a result of the attack in Boston - apparently as soon as they're any action anywhere, they're activated. It meant that the road along the Seine was blocked which gave us all a laugh! We had lunch at a restaurant near the Plas Vendome which was Italian. It was fantastic and meant that we got lots of vegetables which is unusual for over here. I had a salad of roasted peppers and mozarella and then tuna carpaccio - yum - and Hugh had a rocket and parmesan salad and spaghetti carbonara (sans creme - traditionelle!). It was lovely. We had hoped to get Hugh a shirt at a classic spot but apparently they would need to make one for him and he didn't feel the love!

Today we were really really slow getting moving what with packing and sorting and all. I was all for doing nothing but in the end we went to Montmarte and had a look at Sacre Couer. So glad that we did. The view itself from the basillica is magnificent and the church itself is incredible. You can't take photos inside which is unusual but perfectly reasonable and there are seats that are reserved for those who are praying - it's important to remember that these are places of worship and not just tourist spots. Dad's been saying that we shouldn't miss the spot and he's absolutely right - a great spot to visit.

We had a light lunch in a cafe a little away from the tourist hordes in the shade of a magnificent old vine. Our waiter was from Marseilles and was lovely - we had a great chat about things and this all adds to the experience.

As I said, we had dinner tonight in our "local". The biggest oysters that I've ever seen and some of the freshest and tastiest as well. Champagne on the house as an aperitif. For me salmon and for Hugh St Jacques with rice and asparagus. We had sorbet for desser - Hugh's was served with vodka and mine (apple) was with Calvados. We thanked Madame and came home. Most of our packing is done and the alarms is set for 0500 tomorrow. Car is booked for 0700 and train is at 0915. Tomorrow will be Harry Potter and England. I'm looking forward to it but how hard it will be to say au revoir to France! When will we return??

Posted by dawnandhugh 17.04.2013 13:06 Archived in France Tagged buildings food Comments (3)

Monday Blues

Even on Holiday! Paris - Day 4

semi-overcast 18 °C

Even on holidays, Mondays can be a real drag especially when you don't get to bed until midnight on the Sunday. We've tried really hard to get moving early most days but it's getting harder as the trip goes on and today was a real struggle. When we finally got moving about 8, Hugh went out to drop off some cleaning and to get croissants, only to discover that the boulangerie, presse and supermarket were all closed (bloody Mondays!) and we had to make do with biscuits and coffee for breakfast.

Once we'd got organised, we were a bit unsure what to do with the day but thought it might be fun to do the bus tour as it seemed sunny enough. Of course, by the time we got out, it had drizzled a bit so doubt set in and we decided to get a cab to the Arc de Triomph and go from there. Once there, the rain had stopped so we did a lap of the tour. Actually it wasn't bad at all and gave us an interesting perspective of the city and a whole different idea about where to go to visit. After a while the couple sitting across the isle found that they had been 'fouled' by a passing bird. Now this is an annoyance at home but over here the birds drop more stuff and bigger than a B 52. It is also olive green. I have seen cars that look as though the have been left at a paint ball range with a please shoot me sign. Some time passed and Hugh was then hit. He is planning to change his name to Eric Crapton.

We ended up having lunch at a very nice restaurant on the Champs Eleysees. Me my bird motif and some French film star. No kidding this old bloke in white pants, an electric blue jacket,white hair, and entourage of 8 plus a film crew arrived. He was interviewed on the street and then filmed making at least three different entrances - all staged managed by his PA. The film crew actually filmed the lunch and his departure. People in the street were fighting to get a photo of him and also his old Citroen. The waiter told us that he is a very famous jet setter. when he was driven away he was waving regally to all along the street. I think that I should have kissed the ground that he walked on or perhaps asked for his blessing.

After lunch we wandered along the Avenue George V, where at number 42 I spent an obscene amount of money on a scarf (further clues - the box is orange and there are well known horse motifs!). Well, when in Paris there are things that one must do. From there we went back to the Rue Cler for coffee and to buy another suitcase - because there are things that you must do and find homes for - and then I went off to have my nails repaired and Hugh came back to the Apartment.

Tonight we had dinner at Le Jules Verne restaurant on the second level of the Tour Eiffel. We had the benefit of a concierge service and private elevator and a table at the window with wonderful views from the Trocadero to the Arc d'Triomph and more. We also had the most amazing 6 course meal with matching wines. I cannot beging to tell you how good it was from the amuse bouche of pea mousse to the petit fours of macaroons, home made marshmallow and hand turned chocolates. In between we had so many good things that a couple of hours later I'm still letting it go down.

Someone just said to me that we're adopting the Parisienne life. It's really impossible to fight it and it's going to be hard to leave. Part of me is craving some toast and vegemite but the celebration of food and wine which is so typical of France and the service and love that food is given is going to be difficult to leave behind. Especially as I am now a confirmed foie gras addict! Do you think I can register as such at home?

PS - to cap off the night, we met four Aussies on the way home and had a good laugh with them. I must admit, I am missing home but I know I'm going to miss France so much!

Posted by dawnandhugh 15.04.2013 14:26 Archived in France Tagged food Comments (2)

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