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Trip Seven Weeks Around Western Europe Seven Weeks Around Western Europe 05/18/2009 - 06/04/2009   Seven weeks in Europe to catch up with family and visit new places. Julian Summers (AU)
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Seven Weeks Around Western Europe

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Seven weeks in Europe to catch up with family and visit new places.

Means of Transport
Bus / Truck Plane
  • 18May 2009

    1 Departure from Perth 05/18/2009 Australia —

    Perth, Australia

    Description

    Departure from Perth to London via Singapore with Qantas.

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  • 19May 2009

    2 Arrive in London, then off to Manchester 05/19/2009 United Kingdom —

    Oldham, United Kingdom

    Description

    We enjoyed a sparkling wine or two in Perth's Qantas Club then boarded our flight to Singapore. The flight was fine and we spent the time watching movies (Angela achieved something she had wanted for ages and saw "Frost/ Nixon" straight through. Really enjoyed it.)

    We had around 2 and a half hours in Changi Airport, so wandered around the shops for while (buying Angela some noise-cancelling earphones) then wandered up to Qantas Club for some supper; (Unfortunately this is our last Qantas flight for the trip, so we won't have this luxury again). Angela also took the opportunity for a shower - really impressive bathrooms and all towels etc supplied. Sadly cut short - we were called to our flight much earlier than expected, so wandered out to the far end of the airport. When we arrived there, we discovered that we had answered the call for QF319, which was departing from the gate next to our QF31 an hour earlier - hence the apparently early call! We decided to stay at our correct gate rather than walking all the way back; the advantage of being there early was that we were able to get a seat in the departure lounge.

    Tues 19th May
    Very comfortable trip in Premium Economy. Greeted with glass of Charles Heidsieck bubbly. Decided to have some of the supper, even though we weren't exactly hungry. J came to regret this - there must have been something wrong with the fish, because it came back a few hours later! It was a fish curry - Malaysian style. Angela really enjoyed hers - perhaps too much as it got on her (white) T-shirt. She could NOT clean it up in the loo, despite trying hard. Angela was a little disappointed at first about our seats - definitely MUCH more comfortable than cattle class, but the leg support was not nearly as good as she had hoped. Meant that very soon into the flight, her legs really began to swell and feel uncomfortable - they were throbbing badly enough that they stopped her sleeping - or so she thought. However, this must have been an illusion: she got at least 6 hours sleep overall, and deeply enough she had no idea that J was sick.) Angela also saw another film on her long term "want to see" list: "Milk" about the 70's gay San Fransisco politician, Harvey Milk. She really enjoyed it.

    We arrived in Heathrow (tired but not exhausted) about 20 minutes early, despite a few minutes spent circling around London, with glimpses of the Millennium Dome, the Thames Barrier, and Wembley Stadium. We were off the plane quite quickly (another advantage of Premium Economy - being nearer the front) and walked through a very tatty-looking Heathrow. Immigration was very quick and we arrived at the baggage carousel just as Angela's bag came out. Julian's was not far behind and we walked out the green channel amazed at the speed of it all. We were out in the arrival hall within half an hour of landing.

    We went down to the London Underground station and bought Oyster (stored-value) cards then caught the train in to Euston Station, navigating the change of line at Green Park. The train was quite busy but not as crowded as we'd expected. We were probably just ahead of the main rush hour.

    We checked with Virgin Trains whether it was feasible to travel to Manchester earlier but it was going to cost at least 50 pounds each to change, so we decided not to worry. We took our suitcases to the Left Luggage office then went out for a walk around the area, enjoying some unexpected sun. We found some lovely old buildings housing the University College London, and walked through Gordon Square, which reminded us of Russell Square where we'd stayed years earlier (though not quite as grand). It started to rain, so we sheltered under a large tree for a few minutes while it passed. We stopped along the road at the Bloomsbury Cafe in the foyer of the Bloomsbury Theatre. It looked like it was supposed to be for UCL students, but they were happy to sell us a cup of coffee. We also bought some sandwiches to take on the train.

    We had an hour to walk through the "Wellcome Museum": a medical history museum funded by the Wellcome (drug co) Trust. Lots of somewhat scary "medical" artifacts such as "anti masturbation tools", surgical tools for childbirth as well as other surgery including a large knitting needle for digging out bullets (literally), horrible prosthetic limbs developed during WW1, also a surprisingly large collection of "erotic scenes" built into (or hidden by) items that otherwise looked quite innocuous (eg easter egg sculpture). We were also amazed to find - with no fanfare - drawings by Rembrandt and a small painting by van Gogh. Adjacent to that was the "modern" section. Angela particularly liked
    1. "the minds' eye": a depiction (using something like a moebius strip - representing the mind - together with a mechanical model of an eye, which snapped open if you peered in to look at it (set off by a proximity sensor).
    2. We both tried out the biometrics item - it made up an artistic "image" from each of us, based on our pulse, height, fingerprint and retinal image. Not sure what meaning it ended up with!
    3. An inverted spine within a "normal" skeleton also really intrigued Angela. Deceptively normal then you realise the pelvis and head have been reversed. Something about "thinking below the belt".

    Finally it was time to make our way back to Euston Station to collect our cases and find our Virgin train to Manchester. We had a quick trip, surprised by the amount of greenery along the line. We noted a few canals, with quaint-looking canal boats, as well as some big yards full of motor homes & caravans.

    We were met by Julian's uncle, Bryan, and his cousin Jeremy in cool wet weather. They had kindly arranged to meet us since transport from Manchester to Oldham was disrupted currently. We drove to our hotel - the Oldham TravelLodge but were frustrated at first that they wouldn't let us in to our room. Check in was from 2.30 and we had got there at 2.00pm. That extra half hour was exhausting, but the staff on site tried to help by giving us a free cup of tea/ coffee. They explained it was "TravelLodge policy" to not allow us in early, unless we paid 10 Pounds extra.

    We finally got to the room and had a couple of hours sleep, after which we felt much better. The room was quite spartan, but we had everything we needed; although a chair each would have been nice (more policy - one chair per room!).

    It was too late to join Bryan & Yvonne for dinner, so we had a quick walk around the area, including visiting a local corner shop reminiscent of Open All Hours.

    We ate dinner at the Blue Ocean Indian restaurant. The "Five course special" for 10Pounds each was really good overall, but the main courses could not keep up the spectacular quality of the starters. It was interesting seeing the clear sunshine right up until after our meal finished around 9pm.

    Our long couple of days of trains, planes and automobiles was finished off with a really good nights sleep for all.

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  • 20May 2009

    3 Visit to Portland Basin 05/20/2009 United Kingdom —

    Oldham, United Kingdom

    Description

    We enjoyed a big breakfast at the hotel (cereal, yoghurt, bacon & eggs with sausages - 7 pounds 50). We were picked up by Bryan and taken to B&Y's house. Chatted until B&Y's grandson Lucas arrived after an exam, when we drove to Portland Basin Museum for lunch in the cafe with Bryan's cousin Ken and Ken's wife Barbara. It was a Fawlty Towers experience with the food and wine but enjoyable company. (The waiter appeared to really not want to be there - or for us to be there either! He could not get the idea it would be better to tell us what was not available in advance rather than after we ordered. We looked around the museum, which was built in an old warehouse. It gave a brief but very clear explanation of the development of the area, including the logic behind the development of the canals, which served as the transport hub for the local cotton mills including supply of coal.

    We then met another of Bryan's cousins, Keith, who is a volunteer with the canal boat society. Keith generously offered to take us for a trip on the canal and we had a fantastic cruise for about an hour. Impressions especially of brickwork and stonework along the banks of the canals, some VERY impressive houses in between run down factories and shanty houses as well as canal boats which were homes, rubbish dumped in the canals and lots of water birds (ducks and geese) with babies. The babies tried so hard to swim fast enough to stay in front of the canal boat.

    Finished around 5pm then drove back to B&Y's house for dinner. Yvonne baked us a dinner of lamb loin chops and potatoes, which was delicious. We took a taxi back to the hotel and almost caught up with sleep!

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  • 21May 2009

    4 Driving tour from Oldham 05/21/2009 United Kingdom —

    Holmfirth, United Kingdom

    Description

    We visited the local off-licence and convenience store for breakfast ingredients, then ate in our hotel room to save the 15 pounds! We were picked up by Bryan to go to B&Y's house. It was a cold, wet morning, so we decided not to go out for a trip but spent the morning on e-mails, bills, and (in Angela's case) repairing a backpack.

    The weather gradually improved so, after a delicious lunch of Bryan's seafood chowder, we headed off for a trip to the moors, visiting a number of lovely villages inclusing Holmfirth, home of TV's Last of the Summer Wine. We were amazed at the contrasts in such a short distance from Oldham, with the houses changing from brick to stone, and the accent changing markedly! The countryside around the moors was very barren and bleak, even on what was now quite a nice sunny afternoon.

    We were struck by the amount of water - in full reservoirs as well as little streams, such as through Holmfirth - after the dry countryside of Australia. We returned to B&Y's house in time to get changed and go out to the Three Crowns pub for dinner. It was excellent quality pub food, presented very well and served by friendly staff. Our group consisted of B&Y, J&A, B&Y's son Jeremy, and his sons Luke and Josh. Jeremy kindly drove us all home for our last night at the Travelodge.

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  • 22May 2009

    5 From England to Paris 05/22/2009 France —

    4th arrondissement, Paris, France

    Description

    We breakfasted in our room again, then packed up in time for B&Y to join us at 9:30 for a farewell cup of coffee. Jeremy collected us at 10am and drove us out to Manchester airport for our Flybe flight to Paris. It was another cold grey morning, with early showers gradually increasing. We had plenty of time before our flight, so wandered around the shops in the departure lounge and had a coffee.

    Our flight to Paris was on a Dash-8, quite a small plane but surprisingly comfortable and roomy. The weather gradually cleared as we flew south, such that we flew over the south coast of England and the channel in bright sunshine. We noted a big difference in the French countryside, with lots of small fields with diverse crops indicated by their different colours. An hour and a half after leaving cold grey Manchester we arrived in warm sunny Paris at the futuristic-looking Charles de Gaulle airport. It was more like a work of art than a purely functional building. We had another quick trip through Immigration and Customs then found our way on the free inter-terminal tram to Terminal 3 to pick up the RER train into Paris.

    We bought a Paris Visite ticket each, giving us free travel for 3 days on all the rail systems within the 6 zones (although only the airport was as far out as Zone 6). The Tube software on my phone guided us through the changes required to arrive at Sevres Lecourbe, the nearest Metro station to our hotel. As we walked out onto the street we saw a vendor with a range of fruit and vegetables and bought some cherries. We walked the short distance to our hotel, L'Hotel Lecourbe, past beautiful Parisian buildings. The hotel can best be described as compact - the lift holds three people (as long as they are small and don't wear backpacks) and the rooms are small. However, it is very comfortable and quiet.

    The best thing about it is the brilliant street on which it is located. There is a complete range of specialist shops - the fruit shop, the baker, the butcher, the wine merchant and so on - as well as three supermarkets, a laundry and many restaurants, all very close to the hotel. We had a lovely time wandering around near the hotel choosing where to have dinner, finally selecting the Au Roi cafe, where Julian had an entrecote (a rather fatty piece of steak) and Angela a duck dish. We had chosen the "plat du jour" menu, which gave us 3 courses for 18 euros each, so enjoyed desserts of a cheese platter and an apple tarte. The unpleasant surprise was that our 500mL carafe of house red cost 19 euros!

    Where I stayed: Hotel Lecourbe - 28 rue Lecourbe, Paris, France

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  • 23May 2009

    6 Visit to Versailles 05/23/2009 France —

    Versailles, France

    Description

    A WOW day! Details to follow...

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  • 24May 2009

    7 Paris Highlights - Arc de Triomphe, Musee D'Orsay 05/24/2009 France —

    4th arrondissement, Paris, France

    Description

    Morning visit to the Arc de Triomphe, including viewing a special ceremony to mark the US Remembrance Day.

    Afternoon trip to Musee D'Orsay, blown away by the building and the exhibits, including Rodin sculptures and priceless Impressionist paintings.

    Evening at Sacre Couer for organ concert, then dinner next door in the courtyard at Place du Tetre.

    Details to folllow.

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  • 25May 2009

    8 Paris to Epernay via Reims: A Frustrating Day! 05/25/2009 France —

    Épernay, France

    Description

    Sadly, time to leave Paris - but happily, time to visit Epernay, which we had wanted to do 24 years earlier. Firstly, we wanted to visit one of our favourites from our earlier trip, St Chappelle. Last time, we had been in the evening to see a mediocre concert in this superb venue. Now, we were delighted to be there in daylight to see the full glory of the stained-glass windows.

    We returned to the hotel and spent a few minutes walking along Rue Lecourbe looking for some items for lunch. Julian had also been disappointed that his near-new suitcase was failing rapidly, so we looked at a suitcase shop that was having a sale and ended up buying a replacement case. Angela continued buying supplies while Julian returned to the hotel to transfer belongings from the old case to the new. The hotel was happy for Julian to leave the old case in their left-luggage area - we weren't sure that they understood it was being left for good!

    We had asked at a couple of Metro stations to find out which station we needed to use to get to Reims, where we were to pick up our hire car. The consensus was that we should get the Metro to Gare du Nord. Having done so , we queued for about half an hour at the ticket office, only to be told that this was the queue for Metro tickets and that we had to go upstairs for the tickets we wanted. We found some ticket machines upstairs and tried to book, only to find that we were at the wrong station and that we had to return to Gare de L'Est. So, we traipsed back with our cases to the Metro and went back one stop to start again.

    We repeated our unsuccessful attempt to book using the ticket machines, then queued again to talk to a real person to make the booking. He was very helpful and confirmed the problem was that the machines did not accept overseas credit cards. However, we would have about an hour's wait for the next train to Reims - a TGV (Train Grand Vitesse). It would be cheaper to go an hourt later on a less fancy train, but the trip would also be longer, so we decided to take the fast train.

    We still hadn't had time to eat our picnic lunch, so did so at 3pm on the seats at the station.

    A few more problems arose once the train arrived. We hadn't realised that we had to punch our tickets as we entered the platform, so needed to go back to do so. Then we couldn't find our seats anywhere. It turned out that there were a few seats at the very front of the carriage (to the left as you entered), while the majority, which we were searching, were to the right. We finally found the correct seats and moved our cases to be nearby. It was very comfortable, and a quick trip of around an hour to Reims.

    On arrival at Reims (which the French pronounce like "rance") it was still very hot. We had assumed that the hire car depot would be near the station but we found out after a while that it was about 20 minutes walk away. We joined the taxi queue and waited ages for one to turn up. We were concerned that the car hire place closed at 6pm, so decided that we would walk if a taxi didn't turn up by 5:30. One did turn up just before our deadline (a very nice BMW station wagon) and took us on a winding route across town to avoid lots of roadworks.

    We arrived at Sixt at about 5:30 to pick up our hire car, only to be greeted by the lady with "I have a problem" (in French). It turned out that they had given our car to someone else, since they thought we were arriving AT 2pm whereas we had said we would arrive AFTER 2pm. She had a car for us the next day, just not for today when we needed it to drive to our accommodatiojn in Epernay. Fortunately the lady was extremely helpful and spent some time on the phone trying to solve the problem. Finally she said that she had found us a vehicle at Europcar and that we could book that one then get a refund from Sixt. (The problem was complicated by the fact that we wanted to collect the vehicle in France and drop it off in Germany.) We agreed to do this, so she rang back Europcar - and then found out that their car was no longer available!

    All this discussion was carried out in our limited French and her limited English, so we tried again with an idea that didn't seem possible before - that we should take any car available today and return tomorrow for the car she had available then. Suddenly this seemed to solve the problem and we were able to proceed with our plans with Sixt. The lady brought around a Toyota Avgo /Aygo (not sure of spelling), which was like a small Yaris (i.e. VERY small). The boot was full once we put our two backpacks in, so we squeezed the suitcases onto the back seat. Fortunately the route Epernay was well signposted, which reduced the trauma of driving a very small left-hand-drive-car on the right-hand-side of the road - all back to front for Julian! We had the route programmed into the CoPilot software on Julian's phone, and that did a good job of guiding us. It was still very hot, and we passed a number of cars on the way which had had broken down, maybe overheated?

    Having travelled 99.9% of the way with no problems (other than driving on the wrong side of the road from the wrong side of the car), we arrived at the Avenue de Champage in Epernay (in which our accommodation was located) to find it closed for roadworks. We spent quite a while driving around in circles trying to find a way in, but without success. Finally, we parked not too far away from our destination and walked there to get directions. Someone who we think was the son of the household was "volunteered" to help and walked back to the car with us to guide us in. It was fun trying trying to squeeze another person into the car along with the cases, but we managed. Finally, after a lot of "droit" and "gauche" (left and right) we arrived at Parve Domus. We had discovered it on the Internet a year earlier, and were delighted to find it was as charming as it had looked in the photos. It is in an amazing location, right on the Avenue de Champagne, squeezed in between the major champagne houses of Pol Roger, Moet and Chandon, and Perrier Jouet.

    We unpacked then walked down the road for dinner. Being a Monday night, our options were limited (lots of French shops and restaurants being closed on Monday and/or Tuesday) but at Monsieur Rimaire's suggestion we went to the Cave Au Champagne restaurant. We had a superb meal from the "Menu Sympa" for 17 euros each. Our starters were "chicken liver salad, winegrower style" and "leek and pine kernel tartlet"; main courses were "salmon lasagne in a champagne butter sauce" and Coq Au Vin "free range chicken cooked in red wine with bacon, mushroom and pearl onions"; desserts were a cheese platter and a sorbet of the day. This magnificent spread was accompanied by a Marizy brut rose champagne - the choice of the maitre d' since our first choice was unavailable. The champagne was sublime, and went perfectly with all our courses - which was just as well considering the cost; Julian had selected one that was towards the bottom of the price range and was "only" 35 euros - about $70 in Aussie dollars! Still, when in Champagne....

    We walked happily back up the hill to our hotel, admiring the lights displaying the names of the chanpagne houses on the footpath.

    Where I stayed: Parva Domus - Famille Rimaire - 27 avenue de Champagne, Épernay, France

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  • 26May 2009

    9 Day Return to Reims 05/26/2009 France —

    Reims, France

    Description

    We had planned to return to Reims to see the famous cathedral, so it didn't matter too much that we had to go back to change the car. There had been a violent change in the weather overnight, with a thunderstorm and heavy rain. It was a much cooler and greyer day, with some drizzle still. In a way, we were quite glad, since we were running out of hot weather clothes, so it was good to put long-sleeved shirts on again!

    We enjoyed a generous breakfast then headed back to Reims. We were pleased to find a car parking spot on the street quite close to the cathedral and walked about 200m, pleased (after Paris) that there were no queues to get in. It was an amazing cathedral and well worth the visit. Centuries of French kings had been crowned in the cathedral, and its grandeur reflected its importance. Many of the stained glass windows had been lost in the Second World War and replaced by modern versions. We especially enjoyed a set of blue-themed windows by Chagall.

    We returned to Sixt at about 12:30, only to discover that it was closed from 12pm to 2pm - typically French. Angela walked around the corner to buy some lunch and we ate while sheltering from the rain. Another couple turned up at 2pm and rang Sixt to find out where the lady was. The lady eventually turned up at 2:30pm and sorted out the other couple. I think this is because they were returning the car we were about to collect. We then picked up our replacement car, which was a Mercedes A180 diesel - very nice! The car had a GPS navigation system built in, so we used it (in French) as well as CoPilot (in English) to head back towards Epernay; fortunately they agreed on the route, although it was a fraught trip out of Reims since we started off with the car pointed in the opposite (wrong) direction and hence had to navigate a more complex route which was interrupted (quelle surprise!) by roadworks.

    We had planned to visit a couple of champagne houses on the way back but couldn't find them so headed back "home" to Parva Domus then walked down the road to Moet et Chandon to see if we could do a cellar tour. Although it was 4:30 by now, we had no problem joining a tour (in English) that was just starting; it was 14 euros each though! We had a very knowledgeable guide (with a name sounding like See You) who took us through the cellars and explained the process for making champagne. The statistics at Moet were amazing, starting with 120,000,000 bottles quietly ageing in the kilometres of "caves". We finished the tour with the standard tasting of a glass of the standard champagne (we had decided not to pay the extra for a second glass of the more expensive champagne) and thoroughly enjoyed it.

    We walked around the nearby restaurant area looking for somewhere to eat and settled on La Cloche, a restaurant associated with a hotel that looked like about a 2-star establishment with some 1-star clientele, including the man sitting at the next table in his slippers!

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  • 27May 2009

    10 Around Epernay - Shopping and Cellar Tours 05/27/2009 France —

    Épernay, France

    Description

    After another healthy breakfast (cereal, croissants, bread, cheese and ham, orange juice, tea, cofee), we walked down into Epernay town centre and found the covered market (Marche Couvert) to buy some supplies for a picnic lunch. The market was only about 2/3 occupied - apparently the rest of the stalls inside as well as some outside are full on Saturday morning. There was a good selection of lovely fresh produce and we bought some terrine, chorizo, and fruit and vegetables. We had seen the usual sight of people wandering along the street with a baguette clutched under their arm, so kept walking until we found the boulangerie and bought a "demi gross" - half a large-diameter baguette. We also passed a wine merchant so bought a bottle of vin du pays for only 3 euros.

    We took our goodies back to Parva Domus and decided to have lunch sitting on the back terrace. It had been a sunny morning but clouding over, and it looked quite threatening while we ate but stayed dry. We thoroughly enjoyed the terrine with the fresh bread, and even the cheap vin du pays was nice. We had poured it into our Tupperware (plastic) coffee mugs but Monsieur Rimaire offerred to bring out two glasses, which was much more appropriate. We finished off with some lovely fresh fruit. After our busy morning and big lunch, an afternoon snooze was next on the agenda. We set an alarm to give enough time for some more champagne visits though.

    We walked the opposite way on the Avenue de Champagne (away from town) to visit Mercier, which had been recommended by Mr Rimaire. We arrived in time to join an English-speaking tour, starting with the standard video presentation. This one was a little more interesting than usual, because it focussed more on the history of Mercier itself rather than champagne production. It talked about the huge vat in the foyer of the tasting area, which had been constructed by Mr Mercier and towed to Paris for the International Exhibition of 1889; unfortunately he only got second prize, because someone called Eiffel had come up with the idea of a big tower! Mercier sounds like quite an entrepreneur, because he also had a hot-air balloon in which he took people up for champagne tastings.

    We then entered lifts to go down to the cellars. We soon discovered that the lifts had glass backs, and we descended past illuminated scenes of wine growing and the construction of the cellars. It was also the first time we had been aware of the depth to which we were descending.

    The cellar tour itself was a bit disappointing, since we boarded a little laser-guided train which took us on the tour while our guide gave a presentation. As a result, it missed out on the spontaneity of other tours, where you could ask questions as you went along. We were also a little disappointed to discover that Mercier are part of the LVMH empire (Louis Vuitton, Moet et Chandon, and Hennessy). We went back up in the lifts for our tasting and exit through the shop. We didn't like the Mercier as much as yesterday's Moet et Chandon but that could have been a result of the wine at lunchtime.

    As we left Mercier, we took the opportunity to look at the vines, which were right next to the car park. This was the first time we had been able to get close to the vines. We were interested to see how much lower the trellises were than we were used to, especially in those places elsewhere where mechanical harvesting is used. This was very much set up for manual harvesting of the champagne grapes. There were tiny bunches of grapes just starting to grow - still a long way to go before their harvest in September.

    From Mercier, we continued around the corner to Castellane, which had a big tower above the main buildings. We asked about an English-language tour but were told it was not possible - the last tour for the day would be leaving soon and was in French. At that point a young man came forward and explained that he was the guide for that tour and that he would be happy to intersperse a brief English explanation as he gave the French tour. Of course, we were happy to agree.

    We ended up being very pleased to have gone to Castellane. They are a much smaller producer, with 80% of their production being sold in France, 15% in Belgium, and only 5% in other markets. The tour was much more "hands on" than the others, as we walked around the cellars and factory and saw them in operation. We had no problem understanding the explanation from the English summary plus our small understanding of French. Then another group of English-speaking people joined our tour, so it became an English and French tour combined, sometimes with the English explanation first and sometimes the French. The guide did an excellent job of switching languages.

    As usual the tour ended with a visiti to the tasting room and shop. We enjoyed the champagne and also were impressed by the advertising posters that used the X from their label in many clever ways. This time we bought something as well, a foldable ice bucket.

    We had heard from the tourist bureau about a puppet play on in the old theatre in town, so returned to Parva Domus to drop off our things and head into town at another of Mr Rimaire's recommended restaurants, La Coquille, a seafood restaurant. Madame Rimaire rang the restaurant as we walked down to explain that we had a time limit, but it turned out we had plenty of time. Angela had a Coquilles St Jacques, with lovely plump scallops and a healthy dose of garlic, while Julian had grilled bass, which also came with a scallop and prawn. We decided to have beer with our meal, partly to keep the cost down, but this caused some surprise to our waitress ("pas du vin?"). We decided we had time (and room) for a dessert, so both chose a creme brulee, which was superb. We had asked aboout a dish called "floating island", which an Englishman at the next table explained was a soft meringue in custard with caramel. We were pleasantly surprised when the waitress brought out a small serve for us to sample - but pleased we had chosen the creme brulee since the floating island was too sweet for us.

    We wandered around the corner to the theatre with a few minutes to spare before the 8:30 start. We had expected to pay 3 euros per ticket, but were told that tonight was free; we think it might have been a dress rehersal. We had time to admire the lovely old theatre, which looked as though had been well restored - for example, the seats were near new. We were surprised to see the number of people in the theatre with cameras, and even a video camcorder - definitely allowed in performances in Australia!

    It was a strange show, with three actors plus a piano accordian accompanist. Some of the action was performed by small paper puppets, but mostly it was by the actors carrying flat "costumes". The story had something to do with vampires and a young girl's search for her family, who may or may not have been vampires; and the whole thing might have been a dream anyway! We gathered this much from a brief note in the program - the show itself was spoken in Polish or Czech, with French surtitles. At one point, the actors moved two of the flats from the sides of the stage into the centre, with the result that the projected surtitles were now displayed illegibly on the flat rather than on the screen at the back of the stage. As a result, even the French speakers would have had trouble following the plot for several minutes!

    The other advantage of the show (apart from it being free) was that it was only an hour long, so we were able to walk back up the hill for a reasonably early night.

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  • 28May 2009

    11 Epernay to Strasbourg 05/28/2009 France —

    Strasbourg, France

    Description

    Another hearty breakfast, chatting to the other hotel guests including the Englishman from the restaurant last night and an Australian couple from Newcastle. It was a bit grey and drizzly again this morning but not too much to cause a problem. We packed up our cases and loaded them in the car, then asked if it was OK to leave it there while we went into town for some bread and cheese - "pas de probleme" so off we went.

    Our real intention was to fit in another cellar visit before we left, at Achille Princier at the end of the Avenue de Champagne as we walked into town. We got there just before 10 (having been told the day before that they would be open at 9) and were concerned to find the door locked. However, a very helpful lady explained that this was just because they were short-staffed, so she was out the back in her office. As usual, the tour started with a video, which was a very good general explanation of champagne making. We then went on a self-guided tour through the cellars, which understandably were much smaller than others such as Moet or Mercier but which contained some very good examples of historic champagne-making equipment.

    We returned to the entry and shop, where we had decided to pay for a standard tasting each and a shared tasting of their vintage champagne (Cuvee Grand Art), which is fermented in oak then bottle-aged for 10 years. We enjoyed both wines, and it was interesting to contrast the complexity of the vintage wine with the freshness of the young one. The lady explained that the champagne was produced by a "récoltant-manipulant", a grower who produces his own wine. Hence his bottles say "RM" on the lable. By contrast, houses such as Moet et Chandon are "négociant-manipulants", since they buy fruit, grape juice, or the base wine from other growers then produce the champagne. Apparently there are moves to expand the champagne-growing region by re-instating areas that were once in the AOC region but subsequently reverted to agriculture when grape prices were low.

    We decided to buy a bottle of the Achille Princier to consume somewhere on the trip while we could still carry it in the car. We then headed off to buy some more lunch supplies and returned to Parva Domus to say our goodbyes and head off to Strasbourg. We navigated our way around the roadworks at the end of the Avenue de Champagne and headed off towards Chalonnes. By now I had programmed the Mercedes GPS sytem to speak in English and it and CoPilot were doing well. Then we took a wrong turning (turning just before a roundabout instead of at it) and got lost in a small village. When I say lost - we knew exactly where we were and where we needed to go, but that road was closed for roadworks! After circling around a couple of times, with the two GPS systems on occasion giving conflicting directions, we stopped at the beginning of the roadworks to ask how to get to Chalonnes. They had just stopped work for lunch and perhaps because of this said that we should just drive through the roadworks! We did so and soon were on our way again.

    This was our first experience of driving on the freeway (autoroute) and the little Merc handled it very well. It was very easy driving at the 130km limit, but funny being overtaken by smaller Renaults and Citroens going flat out.

    We stopped at a petrol station along the way to use their toilets and have our picnic lunch - due to the lack of alternatives this was using a Mercedes A-class picnic table in the car park.

    It was quite a long drive (in terms of distance) - about 350km, but fairly easy due to the excellent quality of the road. The down side to this was the regular toll booths where we had to pay from 4 to 11 euros. The trip ended up costing us about 22 euros in total but this was pretty good value given the driving conditions. We were pleased that most of the toll booths accepted our Visa card, since we had left Epernay with not a lot of cash.

    Finally we arrived in Strasbourg and ran into problems with - you guessed it - more roadworks. After a couple of loops around the block we managed to find our way to the Hotel Grillon. Since there ws nowhere to park there, we went around the corner and parked in the Mercure carpark while we went back to talk to Hotel Grillon. We explained that our daughter Helen might be able to join us for our second night and they were happy to move us to a room with another bed and charge us extra for just the second night. They also had a deal with the carpark next to the station by which we could park for 8 euros per 24 hours, including leaving and returning if necessary. We put our cases in the room and found our way to the carpark a short distance away. We sent a text to Helen, who arranged to get a train the next morning.

    Having unpacked in our room, we went for a walk over to the station, which is an impressive sight. The old station building has a huge glass "wrapper" curving over the top of it. We found the tourist office but it was closed for the day, so we continued walking around. We came across some more roadworks - of course - that in this case were due to the construction of a concrete arched bridge. We spent about 5 minutes watching, during which time one more span of the bridge was added with amazing precision.

    We walked back to the hotel area (not far away) and found a cheap and cheerful restaurant where Angela had lamb chops and Julian a steak - both very nice with a carafe of rose.

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  • 29May 2009

    12 Around Strasbourg 05/29/2009 France —

    Strasbourg, France

    Description

    Breakfast in the hotel then over to the railway station to visit the tourist office and meet Helen at 9:35 - she had caught a train over from Freiburg. We walked the couple of minutes back to the hotel - but spent about 10 minutes doing it since we managed to get lost again. After a quick morning tea for Helen (since the hotel breakfast goes until 11am), we walked across town to catch the Batorama for a 1.5 hour tour of the city. We paused to watch an otter in the river, swimming strongly upstream for a while then drifting downstream chewing on a lump of wood.(Details to be added.)

    Back to the hotel for a late picnic lunch on the terrace at the hotel.

    Angela and Helen went for a sleep while Julian made use of the free WiFi in the hotel bar to catch up on TravelPod and backing up photos.

    We went for dinner to a Chinese restaurant (New China) we had seen near the station, figuring that Chinese would be a nice change for us all. We went for a fixed-price menu at 59 euros for 3 people - a bit pricey but we hoped it would be worth it. The entree of assorted fried items and salad was a bit disappointing, but the main courses of sizzling steak and roast duck with fried rice were very nice. We had a bottle of Alsace gewurttraminer (a wine from the local area and one of the area's famous varieties) which was very nice and a good accompaniment to the food. Overall we felt that the meal wasn't good value for money, which maybe explained why the restaurant was nearly empty.

    Where I stayed: Hotel Le Grillon - 2 rue Thiergarten, Strasbourg, France

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  • 30May 2009

    13 Strasbourg to Freiburg via Colmar (sort of) 05/30/2009 Germany —

    Stühlinger, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany

    Description

    Helen & Julian went across the road to get ingredients for breakfast (so we could save the 8 euros per person at the hotel) then we ate in the room as we packed up. We checked out and put our stuff in the car, then walked across town again to visit the Palais Rohan, which used to be a palace for the French kings and emperors and now houses three museums - a Fine Arts Museum, a Decorative Arts museum, and an Archeological Museum. We started with a special display at the Fine Arts museum - a great collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries.

    We visited the archaeological museum, which had quite an interesting special display of the evolution of burial practices in the region. The main section of the Archeological Museum was very detailed also - we only looked through a small section.

    Going upstairs, we went into the main area for the Fine Arts museum, and were amazed at what we found. There were a range of old masters such as Titian, Tintoretto, El Greco, Rubens; plus a range of famous artists through to the 19th century. It was like visiting a famous gallery such as the Louvre but without the crowds - it was practically empty other than us and the staff.
    We had wanted to visit just those 2 museums but had needed to buy a ticket for all 3, so we decided we might as well visit the last one - the Decorative Arts museum - as well. And were we pleased we did! This museum was a trip through the palace rooms, showing the original furniture and fittings, plus special rooms showing crockery, cutlery, books and so on from the time. It was nearly as ornate and grand as Versailles, and again was basically deserted.

    We wandered back across town, buying another lovely fresh loaf from a Pauls plus a salmon sandwich from MonoPrix. We had a trouble-free trip out of Strasbourg (no roadworks!) onto the road to Colmar - a short detour we had decided to make in order to see what is supposed to be an attractive historic town. We were soon zipping along at 130km/h again, but in much heavier trafffic than we'd had on the previous road trip. We had a mixture of freeway-style roads and smaller roads but none on which we had to pay a toll this time.

    We pulled off the main road to have lunch and found ourselves in a lovely little village. After following a winding road for a while, we found a nice green spot with a table for us to have our picnic lunch at. It was next to a narrow gravel road which was labelled as being for local traffic only; during lunch, the local traffic consisted of a man on a tractor and half a dozen people on bicycles, all of whom gave us a cheerful "bonjour" as they went past.

    We arrived in Colmar and navigated our way to the Old Town without too much difficulty. There was a lot of traffic and we soon discovered that there was nowhere to park. After a while we gave up and decided we had seen enough from the car, so headed off to Freiburg - which was listed as the next major destination on all the signs, making it quite easy.

    We weren't sure when we would reach the German border but it soon became obvious when we met the Rhine. We stopped to have a look at the river then realised that we were next to some huge locks which were busy with a range of vessels travelling upstream and down. There were a number of small motor boats and a passenger ferry going downstream, while in the adjacent lock there was a massive container-carrying ship going upstream. The ship rose up remarkably quickly as we watched, then after just a few minutes proceeded on its way upstream.

    We proceeded on our way to Freiburg, stopping briefly to buy some white asparagus from a raodside stall. This is supposed to be a local speciality and is in season currently. The man was surprised when we said we only wanted 3 pieces, but they were massive! (We later saw much smaller ones, more like the diameter of ordinary green asparagus.)

    Helen navigated us through Freiburg to her college (Studentdorm) and we unpacked into her room, which is quite spacious. We walked across to the local shops, where there are two supermarkets, Rewe and Aldi. We bought supplies from Rewe then went back and prepared roast lemon chicken and potatoes, which went down very well with a bottle of local wine.

    One of Helen's house-mates had offered to lend us a mattress to put on Helen's floor, so we were pleased when he turned up later and we set ourselves up for the night - having a surprisingly good sleep.

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  • 31May 2009

    14 Tour of Freiburg's Steps 05/31/2009 Germany —

    Stühlinger, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany

    Description

    We walked up the hill near Helen's student residence, along a winding path through grape vines and cherry trees, with an unfolding panoramic view of Freiburg and the countryside surrounding it. It was a sunny morning, so we were glad to have left early enough to beat the heat.

    We visited the Jesuitenschloss, which was used by the Jesuits from 1696 until quite recently. It is now a restaurant and reception centre. Helen asked a man in the car park if we could look around the courtyard and he said "come with me" or words to that effect and took us inside, pulling out a big bunch of keys as he went. He showed us around the reception centre, explaining that there had been a wedding reception there the previous night. In the garden, we looked at some lovely roses and old trees - our guide explained that the oldest one was 300 years old. He was very keen that Helen should find a rich local to marry so that Julian and Angela could fly back from Australia for the reception at his venue!

    In the front garden, he showed us their herb garden, saying that youngsters these days don't know what herbs look like if they're not in a jar - "they can only recognise garlic and leek"! Helen did very well speaking to him in German, translating the highlights for us.

    We continued our walk up the hill, along a very steep path through a field and into the forest. It was lovely and cool in the forest but we decided we had done enough walking for the present so chose not to continue the 3km to the top of the hill. We took another path down the hill, through the edge of the forest and returned to the shops next to Helen's college, from where we caught a tram into town.

    We got off at Johanneskirche to look at the church then walk into the centre of town. We went under one of the two old gates that marked the entry to the old city and looked for somehwere to eat local food. The restaurant Helen was aiming for was closed, but we found another cafe (Art Cafe) which had some of the specialities she was looking for. Helen and Julian had flammkuchen, sort of pizza-like with a soft crust and sour cream with various toppings- Julian had a Spezial which included fetta and leeks. Angela had a sausage salad, which consisted of shredded sausage and gerkhins. All very tasty and filling. The local beer went very well with it.

    After lunch we visited the nearby munster (cathedral), which had been built originally in 1200AD. After looking inside, we climbed the 209 narrow steps to the souvenir shop inside the tower, from where we bought a ticket (feeling sorry for the lady there who would have to climb the steps to and from work each day) and climbed another 33 steps to look at the bells. There were a number of them, ranging in size from 80kg to 7t. We were standing next to them as one of them rang twice to mark the quarter hour - very loud!

    After descending the 33 steps to the shop, we climbed another 56 steps to the lookout, which gave great views out over the city.

    After descending all the steps we walked around the corner so Helen could show us the university buildings where her lectures are held, buying some icecreams on the way.

    We then walked through the old town area to the Schlossberg, the highest hill adjacent to the town. The first part of the climb was easy - there was a lift going up to a restaurant. From there we climbed a fairly steep path around the hill (the Rundweg our going-round way) until we came to some very steep concrete steps and made our way up all 288 of them. This brought us to the foot of a lookout tower, so we had some more steps to climb! 186 steps later, we were at the top of the tower. The GPS said we were at 509.7m high - when I checked at the bottom of the hill later, ground level was 328.4m, so we had cimbed 181.3m. We were well above the top of the cathedral, so had fantastic views from the tower.

    We wearily made our way down the tower (at least gravity was helping this time) then followed the Rundweg rather than tackling the steep concrete steps again. It was an interesting route around the other side of the hill, which brought us out in the Stadtpark (city garden), which was a buzz of activity. There were people performing something that looked like a cross between dancing and martial arts (capoeira), others playing a game like petanque but played with wooden blocks, people walking tight-ropes tied between trees (slacklining), others playing volleyball, bicycle riding, or frisbee-throwing.

    We walked back towards the tram and came across a Mexican restaurant and bar that had half-price cocktails (a permanent happy hour!) - too good to miss! Helen enjoyed a kiwi-fruit margarita while Julian and Angela had a gin & tonic - good strength ones too!

    After catching the tram back to Helen's flat (which unfortunately is upstairs!), Julian continued to update TravelPod while Angela cooked sausages - good old bangers and mash. We finished off the remains of a bottle of Australian red that Helen had bought cheaply at Rewe supermarket - it was surprisingly good. One of Helen's house-mates came in and said "oh, real food, smells good!"

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  • 01Jun 2009

    15 Freiburg to Nurnberg 06/01/2009 Germany —

    Altstadt - St. Lorenz, Nord, Germany

    Description

    We left Freiburg around 10:30am for our drive to Nurnberg (Nuremberg). We were travelling on the German autobahns now, so the end of speed limit signs meant just that. We were quite happy travelling at around 140km/h (!) but occasionally wound up our little A180 to 160km/h. Even at that speed, you would see a car's headlights approaching rapidly behind and be overtaken at high(er) speed by a Porsche, BMW or Audi (especially one of the four wheel drives). There was a lot of traffic on the road, especially caravans and mobile homes, which may have been related to it being a public holiday today. However, it all flowed very well (unless we ran into roadworks!). We were especially impressed with the way everyone moved out to overtake and then moved quickly back into the centre or left lane to allow the next car to pass.

    We were wondering where we might stop for lunch, then the car started to warn we were running low on fuel (diesel). The GPS didn't show a stop with fuel for the next 15km or so, and we didn't know what reserve we had, so we took the next exit, which was to Heilbronn. We followed the road for what seemed like a long way (funny how distance expands when you are worried about grinding to a halt) until with great relief we found a service station and refuelled. Another benefit was that the diesel was the cheapest we had seen - 1.01 euro per litre, whereas elsewhere it had been at least 1.06.

    We had crossed the Neckar River on the way in and went a short distance to find a nice spot next to the river and a fountain to stop for a picnic. We had bought a couple of cans of weissbier (white beer) from the petrol station. Afterwards, we walked the short distance to the old town and looked around the town hall (Rathaus) and cathedral. We had a break of a couple of hours altogether, then drove on to Nurnberg. We were using only the GPS navigation from the car today and it did a good job of guiding us. We only took a couple of wrong turns and it soon sent us on the right way.

    We arrived at the Best Western in Nurnberg West at around 4pm and were very impressed by the quality of the entrance and indeed of our room. It was very spacious, even with the extra bed brought in for Helen. There were nice touches like a welcome chocolate on each pillow. Car parking behind the hotel was free (or so we were told - this was actually incorrect but we didn't have to pay), as was Internet access in the room (a LAN rather than WiFi).

    Where I stayed: BEST WESTERN Hotel Nuernberg City West - Regerstr. 6, Nuremberg, Germany

    The hotel has good facilities nearby - although it is located in a commercial area. There is a U-Bahn station at the end of the street (one minute's walk) together with a number of restaurants and a well-equipped shopping centre (supermarket, chemist, baker, butcher, clothes shops).

    We walked a short distance to the end of the road and caught the U-Bahn into town, buying day passes which would cover tomorrow as well. We checked out the Opera House, finding out that Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet ballet was on tonight but deciding not to go. We crossed the road to the Old Town and wandered around for a while, visiting some churches, before deciding on Lucas Cafe for dinner. We had a lovely meal (chicken with Asian vegetables, pork with mushrooms, and chicken wraps) accompanied by a Franken wine.

    After dinner we caught the U-Bahn back to the hotel and asked if we could get some more tea-bags for the room. To our delight, we were told that we could help ourselves from the table in the foyer and, even better, make teas and coffees there to accompany the free pastries.

    We ended up very pleased with the hotel which, by the time you add in the costs of breakfast and car parking, cost about the same as the hotel in Strasbourg which would warrant a couple of stars less.

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  • 02Jun 2009

    16 Around Nurnberg 06/02/2009 Germany —

    Altstadt - St. Lorenz, Nord, Germany

    Description

    We had a feast for breakfast - cereal, muesli, fruit, scrambled eggs, bacon, Nurnberger sausages, croissant, tea, coffee, fruit juice; there was even smoked salmon if you wanted.

    We caught the U-Bahn into Nurnberg to visit the other part of the Old Town and the Hauptmarkt (market). We had a picnic lunch on a bench in town then visited the German National Museum. We visited galleries that had many early religious paintings by artists such as Altdorfer and Durer (who was a Nurnberg local); a gallery of old house fittings, including amazing tiled ovens; a musical instrument gallery holding about 600 instruments of all types; a clothing gallery; and a toy museum in a separate building with dolls houses (some of which were huge), puppets (including stages for setting plays), and games such as chess sets with highly elaborate pieces.

    We caught the U-Bahn back to the hotel then walked around the local area; both Helen and Angela bought some clothes at the shopping centre. We then went to the Senefelder Haus cafe/restaurant for dinner - they advertised a range of specials for under 10 euros. Julian and Helen both ordered the XXL-Mega Schnitzel "Wiener Art" and received three huge pieces of schnitzel and chips; Angela had another schnitzel dish which was of slightly smaller proportions and had a tomato sauce. Julian and Angela had a Tucher pilsener to wash down our dinner. Helen and Julian struggled to finish their serves, so Helen went to ask if we could take away the rest; before she had finished asking, the lady offered "einpacken" and gave her a piece of aluminium foil she we could take it home. It ended up being a very good value meal.

    We walked back to the hotel and managed somehow to squeeze in a cup of coffee and cakes for dessert from the free supply in the hotel foyer.

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  • 03Jun 2009

    17 Drive from Nurnberg to Leipzig 06/03/2009 Germany —

    Zentrum, Leipzig, Germany

    Description

    Today we drove from Nurnberg to Leipzig. It was a typical day - sunny in the morning and clouding over during the afternoon, but with a very cold wind. There was heavy traffic on the autobahn but it was flowing fairly well, except for a couple of places where roadwork reduced the traffic from 3 lanes to 2 - or even 1. We managed to cruise along at 120km/h to 140km/h most of the time. We detoured to Bayreuth looking for a spot to stop for lunch, but no luck so returned to the autobahn and stopped at a conventional roadside bay, choosing the table most sheltered from the cold wind and finishing off our leftover wiener schnitzel with salad.

    We arrived at Leipzig at a reasonable hour and fund the road our apartment was on (Torgarstrasse) with no problems. However, with 400m to go, we were met with our now familiar problem - the road ahead was blocked by roadworks. We followed the GPS advice to find an alternate route, but of course it just took us on a loop back to the same spot. So, we guessed which road might be a way around the blockage and followed it until the GPS found us another way back past the blockage to our destination, Guesthouse Apartments Leipzig. We were concerned by the shabby appearance of the outside, and by the road being dug up to re-lay the tram lines. We parked across the street in the carpark of a hardware store and walked over to find out about checking in. We were very cold, even in our jumpers, and it didn't help that there was no response to the buzzer to call the office. We tried ringing them but no answer there either. After about half an hour, Helen tried buzzing one of the other apartments and someone answered and let us in. It turned out that the owner/caretaker/whatever had damaged his foot and tings were a bit chaotic while he limped around in the four-storey building. He was very friendly though, a spoke good English.

    After getting keys for our room, we went back across the road to get our things - and found that the keys would not let us back into the building! We buzzed the office again and this time he answered and opened the door for us.

    We were pleased to find that the apartments had been renovated recently and were quite nice inside. After unpacking, we went next door to the Lidl supermarket and bought some ingredients for dinner (having decided we were too tired to go into town).

    Where I stayed: Guesthouse Leipzig - Torgauer Str. 64, Leipzig, Germany

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  • 04Jun 2009

    18 Around Leipzig 06/04/2009 Germany —

    Zentrum, Leipzig, Germany

    Description

    We slept in until 9:30, with only a few disturbances overnight. We had been worried about noise from the trams outside the door and the railway line next door, but it wasn't bad enough to wake us. The renovation included double-glazed windows, which certainly cut out a lot of noise.
    We spent the morning pottering around in the apartment, and trying to arrange for a load of washing - but the man was off having his foot treated so we couldn't (or get onto the Internet).

    We caught the tram into town and visited the tourist bureau. Unfortunately it appears that there is not much on at the moment - the festival season starts the day after we leave!

    We explored the huge Hauptbahnhof (railway station) which includes a 3-level shopping centre. We had an enjoyable lunch at Pic Cin cafe (spelt that way!) - ham cheese and mushroom crepes for J & A.

    We looked at Nikolaikirche and Thomaskirche, both associated with JS Bach from the time he was cantor of Leipzig.

    We followed signs to Mendelssohn's house but never found it. Helen was amused by the sign for a coffee shop, which used the green man from pedestrian crossings to say "never go without a coffee" - so we went in and enjoyed coffee and cake, plus their free Internet.

    We caught a tram back to the apartment and bought some supplies for dinner. Having a kitchen certainly helps to cut down on the costs!

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  • 05Jun 2009

    19 Leipzig comes alive (at last) 06/05/2009 Germany —

    Zentrum, Leipzig, Germany

    Description

    Morning at the apartment, doing washing and diary plus trying to get a certificate for discount tickets to Blue Man Group in Berlin. There was seller on eBay but ultimately it was too hard trying to meet up with him.

    We drove to the 1813 memorial for the Battle Of Leipzig (which we remember from Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture). We didn't find our way there at first, but spent a surprisingly enjoyable time walking around the gardens of the Sudfriedhof, a large park and cemetary complex next to the memorial.

    We bought some hot dogs from a street stall to augment lunch, trying to warm up a little! Fortunately the sun came out for a few minutes while we had our picnic.

    After lunch, we drove back into town, parking at the underground carpark below the Hauptbahnhof - it is a 5 euro maximum charge, so cheaper than 3 of us on the tram. We walked through the old town (Mitte) to the Gewandhaus hall, disappointed to find that it is a modern building rather than the old one we had expected. We went to the Egyptian Museum, which was a very interesting but very small collection.

    Our next appointment was at Thomaskirche for a Motette at which the Ottawa Bach Choir were singing. We had some time to kill, so looked through the shops to get Helen some new jeans - with eventual success - and had a coffee.

    The Thomaskirche was nearly full for the performance, which was part church service and part concert. The first piece was played on the large organ at the back of the church, then the choir performed a number of pieces by Byrd, Bach, Buxtehude, and Monteverdi. Some were accompanied by a small organ, other by string players. It was beautiful singing, made more so by the environment.

    Leaving the church, we walked back through Mitte looking for somewhere to eat, but also enjoying the stalls and concert stages that had sprung up for the Leipzig festival. Leipzig has been such a grey and dull place that it was good to see it come to life.

    We finally found the Asia Bistro restaurant that had been recommended to us and enjoyed a tasty good-value meal.

    Our drive home was the first one in the dark, but it proved to be quite easy.

    It seems ironic that a day that we remembered as showing Leipzig come to life should have started in a cemetery!

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  • 06Jun 2009

    20 Short trip from Leipzig to Berlin, plus a Concert 06/06/2009 Germany —

    Mitte, Berlin, Germany

    Description

    Well, it was supposed to be a short drive...

    We packed up (pleased that our washing was dry) and left the apartments around 11am. We had a fairly short drive to Berlin and had planned a detour to a town called Coswig on the Elbe River for a lunch break. We programmed Coswig into the car's GPS and set off.

    After a while, we realised we were heading south instead of north and were on the way to Dresden! We discovered that there are TWO towns called Coswig in the area, one north-east of Leipzig, where we wanted to go, and one south-east of Leipzig, where we were now heading.

    We pulled off the autobahn and decided to do some minor-road driving across to the Elbe and then join the autobahn from Dresden to Berlin. It was good to see some of the countryside and small towns, but it was very slow - especially when we were stuck for a while behind a truck carrying Volvos. We met up with the Elbe at Riesa and had the planned picnic on the river bank after buying some fresh bread. It was a fairly quick picnic due to the strong cold wind.

    After lunch we continued cross-country until joining the autobahn, then resumed our high-speed travel. When we joined the autobahn, we still had about the same distance to Berlin as when we'd been in Leipzig, so we had wasted a lot of time going the wrong way! We had a problem with finding our hotel using the car GPS; the address appears in 3 suburbs, and we only had the postcode, not the suburb name. Fortunately Julian's phone's navigation software (CoPilot) allowed us to select the address by postcode and navigated us there easily (no roadworks!).

    We moved our gear into our family room at A&O Mitte then walked in light rain to the nearby office of the Chamber Orchestra to try to buy tickets for a concert tonight. The office turned out to be in a small commercial building and was closed. We decided to walk the couple of kilometres into town to the concert hall itself and found our way following CoPilot's directions.

    We were able to buy tickets and had about 1.5 hours left before the concert, so looked around for somewhere for a quick dinner. We went (via an ATM) to the nearby Cafe Mohring and enjoyed some pasta dishes and a beer.

    We returned to the Konzerthaus in good time for the concert, which featured cellist Heinrich Schiff as soloist in the Shostakovitch cello concerto No. 1 and conductor for Haydn's symphony No. 83 "La Poule", Lutoslavski's "Mourning Music for Orchestra", and Dvorak's "Golden Spinning Wheel". It was good to hear a performance of less well-known pieces, which also had a huge contrast in style and mood. In the Shostakovich, Schiff did a fantastic job of conducting from the cello, even though he was (of course) at the front of the stage facing the audience as he played the cello. I think the rest of the audience felt like we did about the Lutoslavski - the applause was muted and brief. However, everything else was very well received.

    A side benefit of the concert was that we were able to see the Grosser Saal (Great Hall), a magnificent ornate venue. Although our seats were in the second-last row of the stalls, we didn't feel like we were too far away and could hear and see very well.

    Where I stayed: A&O Berlin Mitte - Koepenicker Strasse 127-129, Berlin, Germany

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  • 07Jun 2009

    21 Berlin Walking Tour - Organised Plus Ours! 06/07/2009 Germany —

    Mitte, Berlin, Germany

    Description

    Our main priority today was to join the free walking tour of Berlin. Helen had done it before and she (and others) highly recommended it.

    We left the hotel in reasonable time (we thought) and caught the U-Bahn across town to the pick-up point near the Brandenburg Gate. Our trip on the U-Bahn required a change of lines, and we lost quarter of an hour waiting for the two trains. We decided to press on anyway and arrived at the pickup point around quarter of an hour late - but delighted to find there was an English-language tour still there. We had missed a little of the introductory stuff but nothing too significant.

    Our guide was Natasha, a young Scottish lady who had studied German in Scotland and come to Berlin to "sort out what I want to with my life". She said that Berlin was full of people who'd done the same thing, so it wasn't much help!

    The walking tour was as good as we had hoped. Natasha was an excellent guide; although she was probably just following the standard script, she made it sound like we were getting her personal impressions of the city. She started with a summary of 700 years of Berlin history in 10 minutes (!) then we walked through the Brandenburg Gate and crossed the row of bricks marking where the Berlin Wall used to be, thereby entering the old East Berlin (the gate used to be in no-man's land). The tour lasted nearly 4 hours (including a 20-minute break for lunch at Aroma cafe) and visited many Berlin highlights, including the Reischstag (parliament) building, the Holocaust Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, the book-burning memorial in Bebel Platz, and Museum Insel (island) to see the Berliner Dom. As an introductory tour, we saw the places briefly but did not go in (e.g. to the Dom).

    We were lucky with the weather, which had looked threatening all day but only produced some brief drizzle. We all had tired feet after the tour but there was still more to do!

    We went to the Reichstag building to walk up the glass dome but there was a long queue, so went back across town because the Konzerthaus was having an open day until 5pm. We were able to return to the Grosser Saal and enjoyed a conducting master-class being run by the orchestra's usual conductor Lothar Zagrosek (who is known on the orchestra's posters as "Zag"). It looked like the same orchestra as we had seen the night before, but now dressed in casual clothes. They were joined by two singers in performing extracts from Mozart's The Magic Flute opera. The conductors ranged a lot in age and ability. Zag did a great job of coaching them. We lost a lot of his comments (hard to hear) but Helen was able to translate some for us. To one, he pointed out that he should keep the baton still while the singers were performing a solo - "if you move the baton, the orchestra plays, that's their job!". To another: "if you keep going at that tempo, we won't go home for 2 days!".

    Unlike the night before, there were no restrictions on taking photos, so made the most of the opportunity. As the master-class was drawing to a close we went down to the Beethoven Saale for a performance of a Hummel trio for 2 violas and cello. There start was delayed until the master-class had actually finished, so we needn't have left it. Anyway, we enjoyed most of the trio before deciding we had to leave for Helen to get to the Ampelman shop.

    Ampelman is the figure in the East German pedestrian crossing lights and has become quite a tourist icon. There is now a large range of items featuring the figure and Helen bought a T-shirt while Angela bought some bookmarks.

    We made the long walk back to the Reichstag building (at least, it seemed long on top of the rest of the day's walking) and found that the queue was at least a little shorter. The other benefit was that the cloud was breaking up and we actually began to feel quite warm queuing on the steps in the sunshine. It took about an hour to get in, with the slow points being the security check and the wait for a lift to take us to the top of the building, where the glass dome starts.

    We were issued with free audio headsets which gave a very good guide to the buildings we could see as we wound our way up the spiral ramp. We were glad to be there later in the day, after the weather had cleared.

    On the way back to the hotel we stopped off at Asia Berlin restaurant, where very friendly staff served us a good (and good value) meal. They had only been open for a couple of months so were trying extra hard - although of course we weren't going to be repeat customers!

    We caught the U-Bahn back to the hotel for Helen to pack in preparation for her early start the next day and find out details of her connections using the Internet. It ended up being a much later night than we had planned, but we had enjoyed the day greatly.

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  • 08Jun 2009

    22 Farewell to Helen & the car, start of Chapter 3 06/08/2009 Germany —

    Mitte, Berlin, Germany

    Description

    Early start to drive Helen to the Hauptbahnhof for her 6:39am train back home. We had a smooth drive in, then got confused at the station and took the wrtong turn-off, going into a tunnel that took us 1km in the wrong direction! Fortunately we were able to do a U-turn at the end of the tunnel and the tunnel back led us straight into the carpark.

    Terrible trip back from the station and couldn't get past roadworks to the hotel, so turned around and took the hire car back to Sixt. Surprise, surprise, the road to their office was closed due to roadworks, but we were able to navigate our way around and find the carpark. The man checking the car in was very worried about a minor scratch on the back bumper, but when we went down to the office it turned out to be listed in the computer anyway (plus it was on our hire papers, but written in French).

    We walked to the Zoo station for an S-Bahn back to the hotel, passing the church which was damaged by bombing in WWII and has been left unrepaired as a memorial. It was our first experience with the S-Bahn and proved to be very efficient - more direct for our hotel than having to change lines on the U-Bahn.

    We got back to the hotel just in time for breakfast, then changed from our family room to a twin room (fortunately just 2 doors away) and had a sleep for a while. At least, we tried to sleep, but the housekeeping staff spent nearly all the time noisily cleaning all the rooms near to us, talking to each at the tops of their voices as they did so. Anyway, we managed to feel a little refreshed and went down to the hotel courtyard for a picnic lunch sitting at a table in the sun (which made a nice change - the sun that is).

    After lunch we went into town and into the Berliner Dom, the large cathedral on Museum Insel (museum island). After admiring the ornate interior, we climbed the steps to the top of the cathedral, at the base of the cupola roof. We were surprised to find later how many stairs we had climbed, so we must be getting fitter!

    More to follow...

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  • 09Jun 2009

    23 Last Berlin Day - Museum Day 06/09/2009 Germany —

    Mitte, Berlin, Germany

    Description

    We caught the S-Bahn into town to re-visit Museum Insel, but this time to go into the museums.

    Started at the Alte National Galerie for a huge display of German paintings and some international big names such as Rodin, Manet, Cezanne, Gaugin.

    Had (late) lunch at the cafe in the Alte Museum (OK food, bit overpriced as you'd expect in a museum cafe). Looked around the amazing Egyptian collection.

    Walked over to the Pergamon Museum - amazing display of ancient Greek, Assyrian, Roman.

    Caught S-Bahn back an extra stop to Ostbahnhof and looked at the East Side Gallery - a long stretch of Berlin Wall with a commissioned set of paintings which sadly have been defaced by graffiti over the years.

    Went back to A&O Mitte to pack, then out to Mittmann's, a pub serving authentic German food for dinner.

    More details to follow.

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  • 10Jun 2009

    24 Berlin to Prague by Train (and tram) 06/10/2009 Czech Republic —

    Prague 2, Prague, Czech Republic

    Description

    Up at 6:45 to finish packing, have an early breakfast, and walk to the S-Bahn at Jannowitzbrucke to go to the Hauptbahnhof for our train to Prague. We bought rolls at a delicatessen on the way - they looked very good and well-priced, much better than from the station. We had a very good connection on the S-Bahn and reached the Hauptbahnhof with plenty of time to spare. We wished we had worked out the S-Bahn system earlier in our trip - it was much better for us than the U-Bahn we had used for the first couple of days.

    We spent a little time in the supermarket and chemist at the station replenishing some toiletries then went down to the platform. The train had arrived but everyone was waiting for the doors to open. We later found out that there was a technical problem and the doors didn't open until some time after the train was supposed to have left. In the meantime, a huge group of schoolchildren had arrived, heading off on a camping holiday by the look of the tents and bed-rolls they were carrying. They were quite a menace, bumping into people everytime they turned around!

    Eventually a door near the back of the train opened and everyone walked down the platform to get on, then walk back again inside the train. This wasn't helped by the school kids marching up the corridor then down again, or else dumping all their gear in the corridor.

    We found an empty 6-seat compartment and made ourselves comfortable in the window seats. We were delighted when the compartment was still empty as the train left Berlin. The school kids were still marching up and down the corridor, with harassed train staff trying to sort out the confusion. Eventually it transpired that the school group had reserved seats in many of the 6-seat compartments, including ours, and we had to move to the unreserved seat section at the back of the train. This didn't actually matter, since we found a nearly empty carriage and made ourselves comfortable next to the window again.

    We had a very enjoyable and picturesque trip on the train, with the track taking a winding route from Berlin to Dresden to Prague along the rivers Elbe and then Volta (Vltava). We arrived at Holesovice railway station, which is not the main one but is further out of town (on the northern fringe of the city). We looked around the station and eventually found the information office where we purchased 3-day public transport passes and got directions to our apartment on the tram.

    The tram ride was interesting - we're sure it covered twice the straight-line distance as it meandered across town along cobbled streets. We got off at the nominated stop and CoPilot directed us the 400m to our apartment (up quite a steep hill). We had some problems finding anyone to check us in, but the lady at the hairdressers next door let us into the building's hall and we eventually found someone.

    Our apartment was on the top floor, so we had a short flight of stairs, a lift for 3 floors, then another short flight of stairs. But the trip was well worth it. The apartment was very large, with a well-equipped kitchen and a large tiled bathroom. Best of all, outside the kitchen/dining area was a large balcony/patio, with an expansive view over Prague.

    We unpacked our things then went for a walk looking for a laundromat which we had been told was about 15 minutes away. We had decided to investigate without our laundry, then go back later if it looked OK. We also needed to get some Czech crowns before much else. We found a small shop right across from the apartment from which we bought breakfast supplies, so took them back upstairs before heading off. It was up and over another very steep hill, and we took the long way through a park, so it was about 30 minutes until we found the laundry.

    We spoke to the very helpful staff who told us also where we could find an ATM (Bankomat), so we got some money then walked back to collect our washing. Taking a more direct route back now we knew the way, it was only just over 15 minutes. We re-traced our steps with the laundry and did the washing, making use of the time with the laundry's free WiFi access and enjoying a free cup of coffee and tea. Excellent service in a self-serve laundry. It was also quite nice to just sit down for an hour!

    After finishing our chores we took our clean clothes for a walk to Restaurace u Salviku for dinner, then back to the apartment. The restaurant was an up-market pub and we enjoyed a large trout with bacon (for Angela) and a chicken with 5 spices (for Julian) at a very reasonable price. We had seen lots of back-packer tourists in the area (and in the laundry!) so we think this made the area quite price-competitve.

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  • 11Jun 2009

    25 Wild Weather and an Introduction to Prague 06/11/2009 Czech Republic —

    Prague 2, Prague, Czech Republic

    Description

    Woken up at 6:30am by someone banging on the front door downstairs and ringing our apartment (presumably as well as others) trying to get in. It was grey and spitting with rain, and we'd decided to have an easy morning, so we went back to sleep.

    We got ready to go out by late morning, then a huge downpour started, complete with thunder and lightning and a very strong, cold wind. We decided our dry, comfortable apartment was the place to be, so delayed going out until the worst of the weather had blown through.

    The weather cleared up remarkably quickly, so we caught a number 9 tram into town – this route goes into the Old Town and through or near a lot of the "must see" areas. We saw some interesting statues in a square at the Jindrissa stop, so hopped off and went to look at them. One was a group of 4 Czech musicians, while the other (which particularly intrigued Angela) was of a young man standing on tip-toes on one foot, with a gold-coloured ribbon wrapped around his other foot and body.

    Walking around the corner to re-join the tram, we came across a sign to the Jewish Synagogue, so went to investigate.

    Consulting the map, we realised we were quite close to our intended destination, Wenceslas Square, so walked instead of returning to the tram. On the way we passed the Opera House and checked out prices for the performance (there was a different opera on each night). Standing tickets were quite cheap (about AU$7) but we decided the seats were a bit pricey for us to book straight away (before we’d found out what else was on).

    We passed the main train station then found the National Museum at the head of Wenceslas Square. Some showers had returned during our walk, so we spent a few minutes in the foyer of the Museum, asking about a concert that was to be held in the Museum that night and the next. It was 500 crowns (about AU$35) for a “bits and pieces concert” – a couple of movements from the Four Seasons, a movement from Bach, one from Tchaikovsky, and so on. Not quite the “wow” experience we were looking for.

    We wandered around Wenceslas Square with lots of other tourists (definitely in a tourist hot-spot now) and found an information centre selling tickets to concerts and shows (not at reduced prices, unfortunately!). We bought tickets for the next night’s performance by the Prague Black Light Theatre.

    Leaving the Square, we walked to the Old Town square, an amazing juxtaposition of buildings in a range of colours and styles. We were intrigued by a 5-seater bicycle, in which the riders sat in a circle to provide the power and one rider steered. It was being used to promote a pub crawl.

    A little more historical was the astronomical clock on the old town hall. We climbed the tower of the hall to get a good orientation of central Prague.

    From the square, we made our way to the Charles Bridge, also finding the Powder Tower when we mistakenly went the wrong way. The Charles Bridge was busy, but nowhere near as crowded as we had heard it could be – perhaps the intermittent showers were keeping the tourists away. We wandered across the bridge, marvelling at the size and beauty of the river.

    At the far end of the bridge, we found a mini-market where we bought some ingredients to cook dinner. Once we caught the trams back to the apartment, Angela conjured up a lovely meal of gnocchi with a tomato sauce flavoured by some spice sausage. We’d also found a dark chocolate block of Toblerone, so had a feast!

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  • 12Jun 2009

    26 Prague Castle and the Black Light Theatre 06/12/2009 Czech Republic —

    Prague 2, Prague, Czech Republic

    Description

    We were disturbed by rain on the skylight roof overnight, then woken up at 5:30am by what sounded like construction noise – someone chucking some bricks around then laying into a wall with a hammer and cold chisel. After some noisy exchanges in Czech, perhaps from one of the other residents, the noise stopped. We tried to get back to sleep but really only dozed for a while. Angela got up to catch up with the family on Skype. We are supposed to have WiFi in the apartment but it really only works on the ground floor, so Angela went down and sat in the corner of the office.

    The weather cleared up again during the morning and we headed off by our faithful #9 tram to visit Prague Castle. In town, we swapped to a #22 for a ride up the hill, up a zigzag climb passed a solid traffic jam. We arrived at the castle just before midday and bought entrance tickets then went back out to wait for the midday changing of the guards. We had just about given up waiting when we saw the new guards approaching, and had a fantastic close-up view of the ceremony right in front of us.

    We walked into the Palace grounds and had a look at the outside of St Vitus cathedral, which dominates the Palace and indeed the city skyline. There was a massive queue to get in (since entry is free), so we went off to see other attractions for which there was paid entry. We went through the Old Royal Palace, admiring the Gothic Vladislav Hall, which has hosted many important events such as the inauguration of Czech Presidents. The Palace has a number of displays of historic furniture, as well as magnificent views out over Prague city.

    We walked on to St George's Basilica, which is simply decorated but impressive nonetheless.

    The queue at St Vitus Cathedral was still massive, so we walked down Golden Lane and found a spot in the gardens to sit with our picnic lunch in the (temporary) sunshine. We were close to a restaurant perched on the side of the hill which offered a degustation menu for just 3,200 crowns (about AU$220) per head – fortunately we had just eaten our picnic so we were able to resist the temptation!

    We visited some of the other ticket-only locations, such as the Powder Tower with its museum dedicated to the Palace Guard and the Picture Gallery (briefly, since they were about to close), and returned to the Cathedral a little after 5:00pm. The queue was about a quarter of what it had been earlier in the day (with most tour groups having left the Palace by now), so we waited and were able to get into the Cathedral. It was certainly worth the visit, and the benefit of being there later in the day was that the light from the large rose window illuminated the columns beautifully.

    Our Palace ticket was valid for two days, but we decided we had been able to fit enough into one day that we wouldn’t need to return. We caught the tram back down the hill, this time seeing a traffic jam in the opposite direction. It looks like Prague would be a frustrating city in which to drive!

    We walked into the Old Town area to find the theatre for tonight’s performance and pay the balance of our tickets. We wandered back into the Old Town area to find somewhere for dinner, choosing against KFC in favour of a Greek-sounding restaurant (Kafe Kakos) where we had chicken schnitzel and goulash (not very Greek) – quite nice but small serves. The advertised price was quite reasonable but the beer was very expensive and it turned out that their prices were exclusive of a cover charge and 15% tax. Hence our meal ended up being about 50% more than expected and we left feeling ripped off for the first time in our trip so far. I guess that’s what you have to expect when you eat in the heart of tourist territory (which we normally try to avoid).

    Trying not to feel too upset about dinner, we retraced our steps to the Black Light Theatre to be there before their 7:30 opening for the 8:00pm show. We joined a small queue at 7:20 and were able to get good seats (central and only four rows back from the stage) when the doors opened. Before the show, one of the two clowns (wearing overalls, not a clown suit) came out and went through a very funny routine directing people to their seats and taking photos of the audience – as a prelude to saying that the audience was not allowed to take photos of the show!

    The show we had booked was called "Best of Image" and included the most popular black-light and comedy sketches from their shows under the Image title. All the sketches were fantastic. The black-light sketches were a mixture of dance and acrobatics and left us thinking “how did they do that?”. After each black-light sketch there was a comedy sketch featuring two comic characters (one of whom we had seen before the show). A big advantage of the show was that it was all non-verbal (so we didn’t need to understand Czech).

    We went back out into a rainy evening and caught the tram back to our apartment, satisfied with a good day out.

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  • 13Jun 2009

    27 Petrin Hill, Malo Strana and Kampa Island 06/13/2009 Czech Republic —

    Prague 2, Prague, Czech Republic

    Description

    An unusual morning – nothing woke us up early and it was a clear sunny morning. Our 3-day public transport ticket expired at 2:00pm, so we planned to go shopping in the morning then go out in the afternoon before the ticket expired and buy a single-trip ticket to get back. We had seen a Tesco supermarket next to the #9 tram route, so caught it back there to stock up.

    After shopping, we went back to the apartment and ate lunch on the balcony, pleased to enjoy some warmer weather again.

    We caught a tram into town then the funicular up Petrin Hill. We spent the afternoon walking around and down the hill, including climb up the "Eiffelova", a tower built soon after the Eiffel Tower and of similar shape but 1/5 the height. There were crowds of people out enjoying the warm sunny day (as long as you were out of the wind).

    We walked back through Kampa Island (home to many foreign embassies and elegant buildings) and across Legil bridge, seeing hundreds of people out on pedalo boats and rowing. We caught the tram back to the apartment where Angela cooked up a superb meal based on the pork steaks we had bought earlier, accompanied by our bottle of Achille Princier champagne carried from Epernay.

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  • 14Jun 2009

    28 Flight from Prague to Barcelona 06/14/2009 Spain —

    Ciutat Vella, Barcelona, Spain

    Description

    A gorgeous sunny morning so we had a leisurely breakfast on the balcony before packing to fly to Barcelona. Given the poor reputation of the Prague public transport system, we booked a taxi to be on the safe side. (We have found the trams and metro to be excellent, but the airport is a long way...).

    The taxi turned up right on time and we had a a quick trip to the airport (the taxi driver must race rally cars at the weekend!). It was a scenic route past the Vltova and up the hill past the Prague Castle.

    We were actually too early for the check-in but went to wait in the check-in queue for it to open, next to a sign that said that Clickair put punctuality first (or words to that effect). While we waited, a huge tour group arrived and lined up behind us, so we were glad we had gone to the desk straight away.

    After checking in, we finished off the last of our Prague food supplies (bananas and a can of Tesco beer!) before going through security. We had a look at the duty-free shops then went to our departure gate. It was already full, so we sat at the next one . There had been an announcement that our flight was delayed by an hour (so much for the punctuality mission statement!), so we had some time to kill. The gate at which we were sitting had a flight to Paris that was also delayed, so it seemed to be a common problem.

    A little while before we expected to board, we went to check at our gate, only to find it empty and to hear a call for us to go there - we hadn't heard a boarding call at all! Fortunately we joined the queue of people in the air-bridge, so we weren't holding anyone up.

    The Airbus A320 was set up for charter flights, with very little legroom. However, we were comfortable enough for our 2-hour flight. We had glimpses of snow-covered mountains on the way (Swiss Alps?), then flatter land and coastline before arriving at Barcelona and doing a long slow loop around, with a great view of the city.

    We followed the signs to baggage collection at Barcelona airport, only to find that we had come to the wrong carousel. We had to go back upstairs, through security again, then walk a long way through the airport to find the correct carousel. We were surprised when we got there to find that it hadn't started yet - we had had visions of our two cases circling around after everyone else had left. We picked up our bags, went to the tourist info for directions, then walked what seemed like miles further to catch the train into the city.

    We negotiated the transfer from the Renfe (train) to the Metro Line 5 and arrived at the station near our apartment. We followed the directions given to us by the tourist office, which ended up in us walking a lot further than we needed to. Anyway, we finally arrived at the apartment, which is looked after by the Everest Hotel (although not part of their operation). We were shown to our apartment, which turned out to have twin beds rather than the double bed we had booked. When we pointed out the problem, the lady from the hotel went off to ring the apartment people, but eventually returned to say that we couldn't do anything until tomorrow.

    We went out looking for dinner and found a decent looking cafe just around the corner with a 2-course daily menu for just 11 euros. We had a very nice tuna tapas dish and a not quite so nice beans with bacon, followed by a very good veal in lemon and cream sauce, including a beer each, for the advertised price. Much better value than we had found so far on the trip.

    We slept moderately well, despite our apartment being on the mezzanine floor, so only just above the noise from the busy street.

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  • 15Jun 2009

    29 Barcelona Orientation on the Bus Turistico 06/15/2009 Spain —

    Ciutat Vella, Barcelona, Spain

    Description

    We walked along "our" street, Traverso de Gracia, to meet up with the Bus Turistica, a hop-on hop-off bus service with three routes around Barcelona. Our nearest route was the Red route, which covered the inland parts of the city.

    Highlights:
    Funicular trip up Tibidado hill/mountain with views over Barcelona and the Sacred Heart Church (despite the cloud and poor visibility).
    Trip past a number of Gaudi buildings.
    Walk through the Royal Palace Gardens and the University grounds to see the Gaudi dragon gate.

    More to follow...

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  • 16Jun 2009

    30 Second day of the Bus Touristica 06/16/2009 Spain —

    Ciutat Vella, Barcelona, Spain

    Description

    We had bought a 2-day pass for the Bus Turistica and planned to follow the Blue Route today, down to the waterfront. However, our first stop was the tourist bureau to find out about flamenco performances for Wednesday night. Having made a booking, we hopped on the blue route bus to start seeing the other side of Barcelona.

    Highlights:
    Lunch at the National Museum, with expansive views out over the city.
    Port Vella and Barcelona yacht club.
    An hour at the beach, finding the waves gentle and the water surprisingly warm.
    "New" Barcelona, along the eastern shores of the city.

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  • 17Jun 2009

    31 Gaudi's Gardens & Buildings, and a Flamenco Night 06/17/2009 Spain —

    Ciutat Vella, Barcelona, Spain

    Description

    First stop was the main train station, Sants Estacio, to try to book tickets for our trip the next day. It turned out to be a wasted trip, since we could only buy the tickets on the day of travel (i.e. the next day). Anyway, it was a good rehearsal (without lugging suitcases) for the next day. It was also much more efficient travelling around by Metro; the service is very good, with usually a wait of less than two minutes between trains.

    Next we went to Park Guell, which we had heard about on the Bus Turistica. Count Guell had commissioned Gaudi to design the extensive gardens for what was intended to be a residential garden city. Only one house had been built and it now housed a Gaudi museum.

    We emerged from the Metro and what was supposed to be the nearest stop but couldn't quite work out the route. We were next to a university library and a kindly staff member explained the way, saying we would find some "mechanical stairs" which would take us a long way up the hill. Sure enough, we found a series of escalators which eased the trip up the steep hill. At the top of the hill, we again had great views out over Barcelona. We followed the path around towards the “Tres Creus”, a monument with three stone crosses at the top of the hill. On the way, we came across someone playing a hong, a musical instrument looking like a wok with its lid on but making a lovely gong-like sound.

    The climb to the top of the Tres Creus monument seemed a bit precarious, as did standing on the narrow top. However, the panoramic views over Barcelona made it worthwhile. It was a very clear day (for the first time) which helped the view as well.

    We walked on towards a large “amphitheatre” with tiled seats around the edge in colourful mosaics. Nearby we found a shady bench which was perfect for our picnic lunch.

    Further round the hill, we came across the Gaudi Museum and went in for a look. Most of the furniture is designed by Gaudi and there were also some models he had made in designing the Sagrada Familia.

    Leaving the museum we walked around under the “amphitheatre”, finding a large shady space with big columns holding up the structure above but with the outside columns at strange angles. Just down the hill from here was a series of fountains with the first one having a large mosaic-tiled lizard, which is the most famous part of the park judging by the number of people photographing it.

    The fountains marked the park exit and we had an easy stroll downhill for about 1.5km to the Metro station. Taking this different route, we found plenty of signposts to guide us back.

    We took the Metro back into town to visit La Pedrera, one of the landmark Gaudi buildings...

    We returned to the apartment for an hour’s rest, and then caught the Metro back into town for the flamenco show. There are lots of restaurants along La Rambla and we selected one next door to the venue for our show. We had a very enjoyable two-course dinner including paella, sangria and a beer, managing to finish in time for our 8:15 show.

    It had been explained that the seats were allocated on the basis of when you booked (and also, I suspect, giving preference to those who had paid for the dinner and show tickets, which we had thought far too expensive). Having booked the day before, we were quite pleased with the view from our seats.

    To be continued...

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  • 18Jun 2009

    32 Barcelona to the Beach but not a happy day 06/18/2009 Spain —

    Spain

    Description

    It was Angela's birthday today. We had a morning in Barcelona before catching our next train, so went to the Palau de la Musica Catalana, an art nouveau concert hall which, like a lot of Barcelona, has been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Tours run every half hour, but our timetable didn’t allow us to wait 40 minutes for the next English tour so we joined a Spanish one. We were able to work out some of the descriptions, and the main purpose was seeing the building anyway. The building is very ornate, with lots of mosaics and stained glass, but not - the guide wanted to make very clear – a Gaudi building.

    We skipped the last few minutes of the tour to retrace our steps on the Metro and pick up our suitcases, then re-join the Metro to head out to Sants Estacio for our train to L’Hospitalet de L’Infant. We were very pleased with all the connections and had plenty of time to buy our ticket and find the right platform. The train arrived and we hopped on but were amazed when it departed straight away instead of a few minutes later as we had expected. We soon realised we had caught the wrong train! All we could do was get off at the first stop and wait half an hour for the next train back to Sants. To add insult to injury, while we were waiting, we saw the train we should have been on go past!

    When we eventually got back to Sants, we explained the problem to the ticket office and they gave us another ticket for a train leaving 1.5 hours later (at no extra cost). We sat in the bookings hall and had the picnic lunch we’d planned to have on the train, then went down for the next train. We made quite sure it was the right one this time. There was quite a crowd wanting to get on, and quite a lot of pushing and shoving. Once everything settled down, Julian found a small pouch of Angela’s that contains tissues sitting on a seat. A short time later, he realised that his wallet had been stolen in the pushing – they had unzipped the bum-bag from under his polo shirt to get it. Obviously the same had happened to Angela, but they had only found the tissues and dumped them. We’d lost the 300 euros we’d just taken out at Sants, plus another 40 or so. Fortunately the credit cards were separate!

    We had booked something quite different for the next few days, a cabin in a caravan park on the ocean where we could just switch off for a few days and recharge the batteries. However, the first thing we had to do after getting off the train was find another bank to replace the stolen cash, then find a police station to report the theft. We had quite a long walk to the police station, towing our cases, but had quite an easy time in reporting the problem, since the policeman spoke good English and we had our phrasebooks handy with some Spanish as required.

    Armed with our copy of the police report, we got a taxi to the caravan park and unpacked into our cabin. It was a lot later than we had planned to be (for obvious reasons) so we went for a short walk down to the beach for a quick swim (which was lovely) then had a restaurant dinner. The food was only OK but it was nice to have someone else worry about the cooking and washing up!

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  • 19Jun 2009

    33 Odd Jobs and Relaxation 06/19/2009 Spain —

    Spain

    Description

    We awoke to grey skies and the odd shower – so much for the idea of sitting on the beach! However, it was a good opportunity to visit the camp laundry and put a couple of loads of washing through the machine. There was only one drier, which had a queue of people waiting, so we decided to just peg the clothes up outside the cabin. The weather had started to clear and in fact it turned into a lovely sunny afternoon and the clothes all dried easily – 3 euros saved!

    We spent the afternoon lazing around next to the swimming pool and reading – just what the doctor ordered. We had bought some fish from the park's supermarket (which was surprisingly extensive) so cooked our own dinner and enjoyed the long twilight sitting out next to the cabin.

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  • 20Jun 2009

    34 Beach & Pool - What more could you want? 06/20/2009 Spain —

    Spain

    Description

    Another "strenuous" day, with a walk down to the beach in the morning, lunch at the cabin, then the afternoon at the pool. Dinner of hamburgers in the cabin.

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  • 21Jun 2009

    35 Train, Train & Taxi to Valencia 06/21/2009 Spain —

    Ciutat Vella, Valencia, Spain

    Description

    We had to check out by 10am but our train wasn't until 2pm, so we packed up and left our bags at reception, then went down to the beach for an hour until the pool opened at 11am. It was a lovely sunny day but quite windy, so we were pleased we could go to the relative shelter of the pool. We had promised ourselves a tapas lunch from the pool cafe, and thoroughly enjoyed a good mix of seafood washed down by half a litre of sangria.

    Our booked taxi was there early, so we arrived at the railway station in plenty of time. We were both feeling a bit nervous about getting onto the train after our experience in Barcelona but there were very few people so it wasn't a problem.

    We had to double back to Tarragona on a local train to meet the inter-city train from Barcelona to Valencia.

    ...to be continued...

    Arrived on time a little after 5pm to find that the tourist office at the railway station was closed – it was only open from 10am to 2pm on Sundays! The railway information man suggested we should catch a bus to our apartment but wrote down 2 numbers and we weren’t sure whether they were alternatives or whether we were supposed to catch one then change to the other. We found a public phone and eventually found out how to get it to work (we hadn’t been putting in sufficient coins initially) and rang the people from the apartment we were going to. They suggested catching the metro, but the coins ran out before we were able to get detailed directions. We decided it was all too hard to cope with public transport, so went and found a taxi. It turned out to be 8 euros well spent, since we had a surprisingly long trip and would never have found our way otherwise.

    We had quite a wait outside the apartment but Paolo eventually turned up and took us to the apartment on the top floor. It turned out to be a large apartment with four bedrooms, of which we had booked the one which had a double bed and private bathroom. The other 3 had either twin or bunk beds and all shared the other bathroom. There was a well-equipped kitchen, but no pans or cooking utensils – it appears that previous customers had made too much of a mess, so use of the kitchen was now quite restricted. There was also a laundry with washing machine and drier but it was padlocked closed. It didn’t leave a good first impression!

    Paolo had given us some suggestions of places to go for dinner (options were a bit limited with it being Sunday) and we walked across to the Aqua shopping complex which has a cinema and quite a range of restaurants. We settled on an Italian restaurant and had an enjoyable meal which, however, ended up more expensive than we had planned – it must have been those lovely profiteroles filled with ice-cream!

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  • 22Jun 2009

    36 Echoes of the America's Cup 06/22/2009 Spain —

    Ciutat Vella, Valencia, Spain

    Description

    Our plan today was to investigate the port area, home of the 2007 America's Cup challenge. Paolo had given us directions to the metro station, which turned out to be about 15 minutes walk away (so we were glad we hadn’t lugged our suitcases from the metro the day before). We were able to find our way there with a little assistance from a lady at the local swimming baths which it turned out were situated over the top of the metro station.

    We caught the train to its terminus (Maritim Serrera) and swapped to a tram to take us down to the waterfront. We headed down towards the beach and walked around a large marina looking at the yachts and seeing if there was a reasonable option for going for a sail (we decided that there wasn’t). Leaving the marina, we walked around the corner to the beachfront and along a line of restaurants looking for some lunch. We picked one with a reasonably-priced menu of the day and had some delicious garlic prawns and a paella Valenciana, which included chicken and green beans. We felt that the restaurant should have given us a discount, since we were among the first customers in and the place was about half-full when we left, in contrast to those nearby which were all nearly empty!

    After lunch, we went to the nearby America’s Cup port area. It was good to see all the challenger bases and some of the yachts up on land, but everywhere was deserted and it was sad to see that the show had left town. The Prada headquarters was unusual, since it was covered in panels of old sails. We also enjoyed a statue outside the Iberdrola (Spanish) base, called the Navigator; it showed a large rough-hewn man helping a small boy steer a yacht. We thought of going to the House of the America’s Cup museum but being Monday it was closed.

    On the way back to the apartment we went to a supermarket in the basement of the Corte Ingles department store and bought some microwave-able food for dinner.

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  • 23Jun 2009

    37 A Day In Valencia 06/23/2009 Spain —

    Ciutat Vella, Valencia, Spain

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  • 24Jun 2009

    38 Valencia Beach and Shopping 06/24/2009 Spain —

    Ciutat Vella, Valencia, Spain

    Description

    We caught the Yellow Bus to El Saler, a beach on the southern outskirts of Valencia (we had intended to get off at Pinedo but missed the stop). It wasn't a particularly nice beach, but the weather was perfect and we enjoyed a couple of hours there, including having lunch. There were some permanent umbrellas on the beachfront but the kiosk hiring them out was closed so we, like many others, took advantage.

    The bus runs infrequently during the winter season (including June), so we left in sufficient time to catch the bus back that we wanted. We were pleased to see that there were already 4 people waiting, so we figured we’d got it about right. However, the group gradually grew as we waited about 40 minutes in the heat for the bus to turn up. A number of the people were quite upset that it was taking so long, so we think there was a problem with the buses today.

    When the bus eventually turned up it was packed, of course, but we managed to squeeze on and had a wild ride back into the city (past where we had got on in the morning). The terminus was next to the Valencia Nord train station, which we had rushed through with our cases when we arrived. We had a more leisurely look, admiring the ornate woodwork and mosaic tiles.

    Leaving the station, we had a quick look at the bull ring (Plaza de Toros) next door then continued on into the shopping areas. Angela wanted a new pair of sandals and found some at a good price. We walked north through the city looking for a glove shop that was described in the Lonely Planet guide, Guaves Clamps. It was a delightful old-fashioned store – the lady explained that she was the fourth generation of her family to work in the shop. Angela bought a very good pair of mesh driving gloves, which the lady skilfully stretched to fit.

    We looked at the Post Office, which has a very ornate ceiling, and at the town hall. We had walked away from the metro, so went into the tourist office to ask about buses and found out it was very convenient to get back to the apartment.

    We wanted to find an Internet kiosk, since the WiFi in the apartment still wasn’t working. After trying a couple of places which would not allow us to use our own laptop (which is much more convenient), we found one which was very helpful. We caught up with some e-mails and paid a few bills, then booked a "flight" on the London Eye for the next evening since the forecast suggested that the weather would be deteriorating after that.

    We had decided to have a “menu of the day” dinner rather than spend the time shopping and cooking. We went to a small restaurant near the Internet kiosk and enjoyed some Valencian paella, a huge leg of roasted chicken, and a lovely mackerel steak.

    Returning to the apartment, we spent quite a while going through all our things to ditch as much as possible, since we had a Ryanair flight the next day with a 15kg baggage limit. Angela was able to discard a couple of pairs of sandals now she had a new pair, and we culled as much tourist info as we could. We were expecting to do some more “put and take” between our suitcases and backpacks once we got to the airport but figured we were close enough.

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  • 25Jun 2009

    39 Flight from Valencia to London - plus a 2nd flight 06/25/2009 United Kingdom —

    London, United Kingdom

    Description

    We were woken up at 5:40am (again) by our fellow apartment-dwellers returning from the night club. This was about an hour earlier than we had planned to get up but we couldn't get back to sleep so decided we might as well get up anyway. We finished our packing and went to the cafe next door for our croissant and coffee breakfast (we had negotiated an earlier start).

    It was still nice and cool, so the walk across to the Metro wasn't too bad and we did it in record time, even though we were trundling our cases. The Metro took us straight to the airport terminal in about half an hour, and we were in good time to check the weight of our suitcases and backpacks at an empty baggage counter before taking on the strict rules at Ryanair. We were both amazed that our suitcases were just under the 15kg limit and that our backpacks were fine too; we didn't have to do any more juggling at all.

    After what seemed like a long wait, the Ryanair counters opened (only 10 minutes late) and we checked our bags through with no issues. We had chatted to another man in the queue who hadn't realised the weight limit was so low - he ended up paying 105 euros in excess baggage! We were both thoroughly put off by Ryanair's hostile attitude to their customers as shown by all the notices about their many rules. However, the flight itself was fine.

    After dropping off our bags, we went for our second flight of the day - on the London Eye. We arrived at the queue ahead of our booked time and were pleased to be able to go straight on. We had fantastic views of central London.

    Where I stayed: Days Hotel London- Waterloo - 54 Kennington Road, London, United Kingdom

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  • 26Jun 2009

    40 Dali and By Train to Bournemoth - Just! 06/26/2009 United Kingdom —

    Bournemouth, United Kingdom

    Description

    We had a dreadful night trying to sleep, the noise from the traffic plus sirens from police, fire service, and ambulances was non-stop. After a slow start we went across to the Dali Musuem next to the river and the London Eye and spent a couple of hours looking at the paintings, prints, and statues by Salvador Dali and by Picasso. It was an excellent collection, not as detailed as the one we had seen in Berlin but much wider scope - and of course it helped that we could read all the explanatory labels!

    Our suitcases were stored at the hotel and we had just our backpacks with a change of clothes as we returned to Waterloo station to catch a train down to Bournemouth to see Marjorie, cousin of Julian's mother. We allowed half an hour to find the ticket machines to get our (pre-paid) tickets, but this proved to be only just enough! We had booked through Virgin Trains, so went looking for one of their ticket machines such as we had found at Euston Station at the start of our holiday. However, we eventually discovered that we had booked a South West Trains trip using Virgin Trains as an agency, so there weren't any Virgin ticket machines! We duly went to a South West Trains machine and entered the trip details but for some reason it could not retrieve the trip details. This meant we had to go to the ticket booking office and queue for help. Once at the front of the queue, with about 6 minutes to spare, we were able to get the tickets issued. However, as they were being printed out, the machine ran out of blanks and the man sauntered off to get some new ones. He eventually came back and loaded up the machine and we got our tickets. We ran off to the platform and boarded with less than a minute before the train left!

    To be continued...

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  • 27Jun 2009

    41 Bournemouth Morning then back to a Wet London 06/27/2009 United Kingdom —

    London, United Kingdom

    Description

    We explored more of the area in a lovely sunny morning. On the coast, we had views across to the Isle of Wight and met up with more of the family - Ken (Marjorie's brother) and his wife Barbara.

    Where I stayed: Days Hotel London- Waterloo - 54 Kennington Road, London, United Kingdom

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  • 28Jun 2009

    42 Hyde Park, Harrods, and a Spectacular Concert 06/28/2009 United Kingdom —

    London, United Kingdom

    Description

    We walked to Hyde Park to see the new Australian War Memorial, and found the NZ one as well. We walked around Serpentine Lake in the park.

    Leaving the Park we headed across town to Harrods, which was holding the "Sale of the Year" - although we didn't find anything we wanted (at a price we could afford).

    That evening, we attended a concert by the Philharmonia Orchestra, celebrating Mendelssohn's bicentennial.

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  • 29Jun 2009

    43 A Private Walking Tour 06/29/2009 United Kingdom —

    London, United Kingdom

    Description

    We set an alarm to get up in time to join an advertised walking tower around central London (the City). However, we waited around at the appointed spot (the sundial at Tower Hill station) and no-one turned up. Perhaps it was too hot for the walking tour - it was forecast to be 30 degrees and humid. We decided we might as well do our own tour of the highlights listed in the tour and set off around the Tower of London and across Tower Bridge.

    Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

    Thames-side pub lunch

    Camden Markets

    Mornington Crescent station

    Picnic tea in our room getting ready for an early departure next day.

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  • 30Jun 2009

    44 Air Asia X from Stanstead to KL 06/30/2009 Malaysia —

    Perdana Botanical Gardens, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

    Description

    We had a very early start to walk from the hotel to Lambeth North tube station in time for the first train at 5:39am. We had realised that Lambeth North was much nearer than Waterloo to the hotel, even though the hotel was called Days Inn Waterloo. We had a good connection to go across to Liverpool Street to get the Stanstead Express. Getting a refund on our Oyster Cards took ages - the attendant had to write out masses of figures before givibg us back the money. As a result we missed the 6:10 Express but that was OK since there was another one at 6:25 which would get us to the airport in plenty of time.

    We were flying back with AirAsiaX - for two reasons, one a very cheap fare and secondly we wanted to spend a few days in KL. We had used AirAsia's Web check-in service and that worked very well - we walked around the long queue to a dedicated counter and put our bags through straight away.

    The flight was long but uneventful. We had booked seats behing a bulkhead and found out that it was also next to an exit, so we had a huge amount of space in front of us. We had also pre-purchased an International meal and were pleased that we actually received two meals during the flight. The only down-side was a couple of young Chinese children across the aisle who had nothing to entertain them and stayed awake the whole flight (until the last 15 minutes!) disturbing people around them, including us.

    We arrived in KL at around 6:00am, about 20 minutes late - which wasn't bad since we had left London 45 minutes late. We had booked the Skybus into KL from the KL-LCCT (low-cost carrier terminal) and had about a 1.5hour trip into town (a little more than scheduled). Based on previous experience, we caught a taxi from the KL Sentral Station (where the bus arrives) across town to the hotel (you can do it by the Metro but it is a lot of walking and stairs with your suitcase). It was around 9am when we arrived at the hotel and were delighted that our room was available already - and at no extra cost for an early check-in. We dumped our things in the room then went down to the buffet breakfast - an impressive spread as usual.

    Where I stayed: The Royale Bintang Kuala Lumpur, Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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  • 01Jul 2009

    45 Some sleep to prepare for shopping... 07/01/2009 Malaysia —

    Perdana Botanical Gardens, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

    Description

    Our day started with arriving in KL and getting to the airport as described in yesterday's post. With the 7-hour time difference, we had lost part of a day. After breakfast in the hotel we went up to our room for a few hour's sleep. The room had a pull-out clothes line above the bath, so we hand-washed a few clothes. Much cheaper then the hotel laundry service!

    Walking around the corner, we bought a stored-value card for the KL Monorail which runs from around the corner and went across to Sentral Station again to visit the tourist bureau and the AirAsia office to check on our seat allocation for the trip back home.

    From there we caught the KL Light rail (a different monorail service, which we discovered was not included on our stored value ticket) up to Chinatown to check out the street stalls. Our main aim was to see what was available this year, but we picked up a few presents.

    We went back to the hotel to drop off our purchases then walked across to Jalan Alor (the next street) which is one of our favourite areas to eat (see http://www.malaysiasite.nl/jalanaloreng.htm for an excellent description). As usual we had a lovely (and good-value) meal from one of the outdoor restaurants.

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  • 02Jul 2009

    46 Another day in shopper's paradise 07/02/2009 Malaysia —

    Perdana Botanical Gardens, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

    Description

    We had thought of catching a bus down to Melaka today but slept in until 10:15 - which meant we had a mad rush to get downstairs before breakfast finished at 10:30! Fortunately they hadn't cleared away much so we were able to have most of what we would have liked. However, by the time we had finished eating then gone back upstairs to shower, we decided it was too late for the outing to be worthwhile.

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  • 03Jul 2009

    47 Shopping and the Pool Before Departure 07/03/2009 Malaysia —

    Perdana Botanical Gardens, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

    Description

    Our flight out was at midnight and we had arranged a late check-out (6pm) so after the usual huge breakfast we went out to the local shopping centres in search of the elusive pearl pendant. We eventually found a lovely 2-pearl drop pendant but one of the pearls was gold and we wanted two white pearls. The jeweller said that he had some loose pearls (which was quite unusual, since most shops only sold pearl jewellery they had imported from Hong Kong). He was able to find a suitable pearl and said he could change it over in an hour, so we went off for some lunch and also continued our search for our other elusive item, a backpack for son Tim. We eventually were successful with that too, so went back and picked up the pendant (after a bit of a run-around finding the shop a second time!).

    We had used very little of the stored value on our monorail cards - basically we had used up the free RM4 each then just a couple more ringgits - so we went to the local Bukit Bintang monorail station to get the balance back. This took a while since they couldn't find the correct forms for us to fill out but we were able to get our refunds eventually. This was very important, since we were budgetting carefully to make sure we had enough ringgits left to get some duty-free gin on the plane on the way home!

    We had also seen a very good special on face cream at the nearby chemist, so went there and bought a couple of packs.

    Laden up with our last-minute shopping, we went back to the hotel to pack and shower, then spent a while next to the pool before checking out. Our suitcases were certainly a lot fuller now than when we had arrived in KL! Fortunately we had paid for extra weight for our cases flying home.

    As usual we walked across to Jalan Alor for dinner.

    Back at the hotel, we picked up our suitcases and hopped in a taxi to go across town to the airport bus. The taxi driver was quite pessimistic about us getting there in time because of the peak-hour traffic, but in fact we had plenty of time. The issue for us was that the bus only ran each hour during the evening, so it was important we caught the 9pm one, even though that was a bit early, since the 10pm one would be cutting it too fine.

    We had a little difficulty finding our way through the airport, starting off in domestic departures by mistake, then having a confusing route through security and baggage check-in. Eventually we got sorted out and had a while in the departure lounge using their free WiFi access to chat to Helen on Skype and work on the blog.

    We got away on time, a little after midnight, for our flight back to Perth. We had booked seats at the front of economy (i.e. just behind the premium economy seats) but found we didn't have much legroom behind a bulkhead. Fortunately the cabin crew said we could move to other seats reserved for people who had paid extra for the legroom, so we were much more comfortable. When it came time to buy our duty-free, we got out the money we'd carefully put aside in KL, only to find that the price of the gin had gone up at midnight! We didn't have sufficient Malaysian money and if we'd paid in Australian dollars we would have got change in ringgits, which we weren't happy about. Eventually, the cabin crew decided we could forget about the RM4 shortfall - I think he was going to make up the difference himself!

    We didn't manage to sleep much on the trip home but arrived safely and on time. After a very quick trip through immigration and quarantine, we were outside the airport in freezing cold weather just half an hour later.

    Tim came to pick us up - and found he couldn't leave because he had a flat battery! Since he was stopped in the pick-up only zone, we quickly had a team of airport staff and a policeman giving us a push start so we could leave.

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  • 04Jul 2009

    48 Back Home 07/04/2009 Australia —

    Perth, Australia

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