A Travellerspoint blog

Paris - the last stop of our European adventure 

Including the ultimate 11.12!

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Our first effort in Paris was to locate our apartment and drop off the enormous amount of luggage we had accumulated over the last three months. A tent, meditation cushions, clothes and other 'stuff' certainly added up to become a cumbersome load. We found our Montmarte apartment, bagged an illegal parking spot and took the keys. Then came our quest to drop off Penny the Peugeot to the dealers on the other side of town during peak Friday afternoon traffic. Hectic! It took us 25 minutes to get around a single roundabout. Dave almost shed a tear signing over Penny and was still waxing lyrical about how good it would have been to drive the eight lane roundabout at Arc de Triomphe. All I was thinking was hooray, no more parking angst!

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We then rode the super efficient metro home with some slight stress when we couldn't make it off the train at our stop as a crowd of students were piling on.  It was actually rather telling of French culture as, if we were in Australia, people would be shouting at the kids and telling them to move. However in Paris, the French were all evidently quite concerned for us as shown in their facial expressions, yet said nothing. It was quite the journey however and imagine our excitement when we arose from the station and the glowing red windmill of the Moulin Rouge was facing us. We strolled past the cafe where the film, Amelie, was set and settled in to Parisian life.  Croissants for breakfast and wine for lunch!

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Bodhi was super excited for Paris as it meant Disneyland. We had an awesome (and exhausting) day where Bodhi took charge of all decision making. His delight in the rides and sights and particularly in his final choice of a Space Wars star trooper gun was just beautiful. We have been so proud of Bodhi over the last three months. His patience, his sense of humor, his interest and resilience in facing all our foreign experiences has been incredible.  A day in Disneyland and a Star Wars gun was the least he deserved!

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We were also excited for Paris as it meant catching up with our great friends, Viv and Ruedi, who were enjoying a stop over on their way to Switzerland. Together we saw the sights of Paris from the heights of the Arc de Triomphe and the tippity top of the Eiffel Tower. We strolled the Champs Élysées all the way along the river Seine to the Louvre and beyond. Just divine! We were also lucky enough to catch up with Alex, an old friend of Dave's, and his family for a delicious dinner although I sadly found out the real reason that French homeless all own dogs. I imagined it was because of their love for canine companionship however it is actually because the police can not detain them if they have animals with them.

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Another favourite moment in Paris was placing our lock on the Pont des Arts or "Love Lock Bridge". Renee and Joel had told us about it and had done it themselves back in July so we made sure to add our own and throw away the key! As Bodhi didn't want to be left out, we added a special little Bodhi lock to ours and he threw away the key too. So now all our love is everlasting! We will return to Paris. There is so much we still have to explore - and besides, Bodhi  is desperate to return to Disneyland and go on the Buzz Lightyear ride again and again and again!

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INCLUDING THE ULTIMATE 11.12

Our final day in London with our big kids and Big Ben...
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Posted by TenniLanefamily 23.09.2012 04:51 Archived in France Comments (4)

Popes, Ponts and Pinot Noir

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As we are only two days from the end of our three month journey, it has become necessary to finish off the blog! So our French travels have been condensed in to two entries. This first one relates to our visit to Avignon in Provence and Dijon in Burgundy.

Avignon is known as the city of Popes. This was because in the 14th century, Avignon was the papal seat for the Roman Catholics.  There was a move from the Vatican to Avignon before its return although there was a period in which there was a pope plus an anti-pope in both places. Anyway, this is not a lesson in history but it is important to Avignon and its preservation of a gorgeous medieval old city that is surrounded by walls up to 8 metres thick in places, and fortified by 39 towers. 

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In Avignon we stayed within these old city walls in a lovely little apartment that was at least 300 years old.  On a very hot day we visited Pont du Gard, the very impressive and largest remaining Roman aqueduct that is 2000 years old. Another impressive piece of Roman architecture was the massive amphitheater in Orange. We also did the touristy stroll along Pont di Avignon (bridge) which is famous for being built and ruined a few times. However the favorite visit for all of us was to the circus. 

As the French are not; a) governed or b) concerned by laws and regulations concerning OH&S and animal welfare, circuses are very popular in France and can always be found playing in cities and towns. These are not low-budget affairs. We were gobsmacked by the quality of the acts. We laughed and screamed in excitement and fear during the performances. I wished we could have videoed both the performances and Bodhi's reactions. In fact he gave it the ultimate seal of approval when he declared that "it didn't even get boring." Obviously a lot more interesting than all those boring bridges!

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Mostly though, we did bugger all and continued this theme in to Dijon. We roamed the cobbled lane ways, checked out the markets and ate the local specialities. Dave ate snails, I ate coq au vin and Bodhi ate cordon blu. We also indulged in the obligatory mustard eating and wine drinking or should I say - wine spilling, as I became overexcited during a game of French monopoly and spilt an entire glass of red over the white lace and crocheted cushions and table cloth in our apartment. Talk about spring in to action, it was the quickest we had moved in three months.

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Our last day was spent driving through the Côte du Nuits wine region and visiting the town where the movie Chocolat was filmed. We then indulged ourselves by downloading the film on our iPad. We kicked ourselves that we hadn't thought of doing this weeks before as we love watching films and watching foreign TV shows was often an endurance. The exception to this rule was the French version of 'Farmer wants a Wife.' Hilarious!

Posted by TenniLanefamily 23.09.2012 04:03 Archived in France Comments (0)

France - fact or fiction?

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1. French people are rude - false! We thought the Italians were warm and friendly. Well, the French are certainly matching them.  They have been kind, generous and interested.  Our attempts at speaking French have been poor at best, yet despite this, the French people we have encountered have been patient, encouraging and laughed along with us, rather than at us.

2. French women do not get fat - false! There are as many ladies struggling with their weight in France as what there are everywhere else in the world. And trust me, when there is three aisles dedicated to cheese in a supermarket, you try staying wafer thin!

3. Dog poo reigns on the sidewalks - true! French people are definitely dog lovers. We have witnessed grown men pushing their dogs in a pram, carrying them in a basket and even in a handbag, a'la Paris Hilton! They do not however, consider picking up after their dogs as important, and instead it is a smelly obstacle on footpaths and lane ways.

4. French men are seducers - true! Last weekend I was (innocently) ordering drinks at a bar when a lovely looking French man whispered something hypnotically to me. I laughed in a daze of delight and then he went in for the pash. Surreal and quite flattering, although somewhat disturbing for the female bartender who went running out to Dave, screaming in panic. What a memory!

5. French drivers are crazy - false!  In fact all across Europe there is a sense of altruism on the roads that we probably miss in Australia. Driving seems to work well based on two simple rules: a) Get the hell out of the fast lane, and b) Be patient and flexible. At the end of the day medieval roads weren't designed with cars in mind so a bit of creative driving and calmness goes a long way.

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Posted by TenniLanefamily 09:06 Archived in France Comments (5)

Tuscany revisited...

With the riviera throw in for good measure.

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Dave: By now completely in love with Italy, and proud of myself for surviving Rome without scratching our car, our trip returned north to Tuscany. This time around we had pre-booked places to stay that turned out to be absolute gems.

First stop was a couple of nights at a B&B in Civitella Maratimma - a medieval village that sits, like many other Tuscan villages, on the top of a hill within the original castle walls. It was pretty much what you would expect to see on Tuscany post cards and was the opposite to a bustling metropolis. Civitella has a population of about 350 people of which we probably spotted only a dozen or so during our stay. Quiet is the key word here. So we just relaxed, strolled through the village, popped up to Siena (see below), and enjoyed sensational food cooked by Alessandro, the owner of the B&B/restaurant. In Bodhi's words "the most awesome spaghetti ever in the world."

Siena - if Civitella Maratimma was the thing of postcards, then Siena was like stepping back in time (albeit we hadn't been to Volterra yet).  Just a short drive away from Civitella, we spent the afternoon strolling through the streets of this sensational medieval city, one of the largest Tuscan towns, before returning for more fun squeezing the car through Civitella's cobblestone streets (I'm embracing my Italian heritage and driving like the locals).:)  Oh, and did I mention Alessandro's food?

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Volterra - now we really were stepping back in time. With a strong regional identity, many of the villages and towns throughout Italy hold annual fairs and it just so happened that Volterra's was on the weekend that we would be heading past, well with a bit of a detour we would be - so we did. Actually it wasn't far out of the way as the crow flies but eventually the slow, twisting Tuscany roads did become a bit wearing. That aside it was worth the drive! The Volterra 1348 festival saw the entire city's population dress up as if it was, yep, the year 1348! Various stalls and displays showed products, tools and techniques of that time along with lots of food (imagine whole pig) and vino. On the village green they shot arrows and spears at each other, had sword and axe fights, and flung big black balls with a mind bogglingly dangerous catapult. All in all a sensational afternoon - next stop Benabbio.

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Benabbio - well, what to say about Benabbio? Not a lot really - that's kind of the point. This is just a little hilltop Tuscan village that you reach via 7km of twisting, climbing roads up the mountain - reminded me a bit of riding through the Himalayas but with different trees. When we reached the village for the first time it was a tad nerve-wracking squeezing the car between buildings which appeared to be exactly one car width apart. I'm certain it was those italian genes kicking in once again as I soon got into the 'zone' where nothing could stop me - a whole lot of fun! :)

Apart from a few walks around the village, a couple of trips to the supermercato down the hill in Bagni de Lucca, and a walk up to the original Benabbio castle site where excavations were on the go, we pretty much spent the entire six days reading, meditating and playing board games with Bodhi. Our neighbours were the owners - San Francisco natives from Haight-Ashbury who moved with their Swiss mountain dog and parrot two years earlier, providing a fair amount of inspiration to follow your dreams. Pure relaxation in a beautiful part of the world. Leaving Benabbio, and Tuscany, it was now time to head towards France - and the Italian Riviera beckoned along the way...

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Rapallo - our first stop along the Riviera. We found a nice little hotel to stay at, probably over priced but with warm hospitality, and just hung out on the esplanade eating pizza, sipping a tasty beverage or four, and calling friends. Toni even found a power point next to our table which we sneakily plugged into to keep the phone charged. Just another beautiful place amongst beautiful friendly people. For what it's worth (Warning: sweeping generalisations to follow...), the Italian people have been absolutely wonderful, the service impeccable, and even on the roads no-one seems overly fussed or stressed. We will return!

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Driving to Nice we were obliged by traveller's etiquette to visit Monaco. Importantly we even managed to do this and still leave Monte Carlo with money in our account - albeit we only stopped for an American burger Father's day lunch and a wander around the harbor and old town. Probably one of the great joys of our trip has been visiting places and then, now having a context, getting on Wikipedia to learn a whole lot of history that we may otherwise never have got around to. The history of Monaco is certainly interesting and visiting this 'backyard of the rich' was certainly worthwhile. The only slight challenge was that getting out of Monaco requires one to navigate through a series of tunnels, with underground corners and roundabouts, and SatNav doesn't work underground. After several loops and mild frustration we were eventually on our way to Nice.

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Nice was nice. Okay, I had to say that. Nice was actually great. I wasn't completely sold before we went, particularly with some negative comments on Trip Advisor, but was pleasantly surprised once we were there. Even the onset of rain didn't dampen the joy of wandering the antiques market, checking out the beach and strolling through the old city. On the way home from dinner we stopped to watch a breakdance crew busking in the town square - skilled, funny and well rehearsed. Bodhi was mesmorised - they were a really talented group of guys. There's not a lot of 'must sees' in Nice but I can see why the Europeans would head down there for a holiday.

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Posted by TenniLanefamily 08.09.2012 06:54 Archived in Monaco Comments (1)

La dolce vita in Italia

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Bells, bells, bells. Ringing bells were the soundtrack to our Italian adventure. Our stay in Rome was punctuated by the ringing of bells from 7am every morning - on the half hour until late! Our apartment in Rome was an easy stroll to the Vatican City, so much so that we could see St Peters Basilica from our building's front steps. We were also blessed with a church beside our building, so oh how the bells rang!

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Rome was a sightseeing feast and we spent our days wandering around the Colosseum, Vatican City, Roman Forum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and more ancient ruins. It is absolutely in cities like Rome that you wish for a time machine. All around the city there are on-going excavations as more ruins, antiquities and ultimately history is uncovered.

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Further to the significant beauty of the historic sites of Rome, nearly every building around the centre was stunning and had some faded fresco or Virgin Mary with baby Jesus alcove built in to it.  Shuttered windows and wrought iron balustrades featured everyhere and you wondered about the safety of the crumbling balconies that are laden with terracotta pots or held together by ivy. Our apartment had a little terrace that was lovely to hang out on - except we had to make sure that Bodhi was fully protected from the mosquitoes who wreaked carnage on him. There are reasons for the Romans leaving in droves during the month of August - mosquitoes and heat probably being the main ones. Holidaying Romans however made it really easy for us travel. Dave was pleasantly surprised by the ease of driving as Rome was his main concern. Perhaps we'll even go okay in Paris now.

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To get around we mostly walked or went by bus. On the bus we noticed only a handful of people pay for their fares, and these were mostly tourists (and nuns). It seems no one is concerned with paying for travel. This might say something about the state of the Italian economy! Another reason for the state of the economy could well be the three to four hour siesta which every day seemed to take us by surprise. We would just start thinking about lunch and low and behold the restaurants would be closing their doors. We never quite got the hang of it as being in holiday mode means that we are always sleeping in. Serious retraining is in order for the three of us to be on time for school and work when we get home! Siestas are wonderful though and Perth does have a Mediterranean climate, so maybe it could fit...but I can't see people wanting to travel the Mitchell freeway four times a day. Instead I might try to convince my fiscally responsible husband of our 'need' for a Tuscan hideaway. Anyone want in? :)

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An aside... Bodhi is now demonstrating resilience towards smoking and no longer holds his breath when passing every smoker. For him to do so in Rome would probably cause him to turn blue as it most evident in Italy that the non-smoking message has not found its way to Europe - everybody smokes, everywhere! An elegant lady in a government office happily served me while smoking and flicking her ash on the floor! In fact, the only Italians I haven't seen smoking are the grand old Nonnas but I bet they did in their day (and looked damn sexy doing it as well!)

We love Italy, it definitely is the 'good life!'

Posted by TenniLanefamily 07.09.2012 09:00 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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