July 2017
  • Day88

    One Last Hop and We Are Home

    September 29, 2017 in the United Arab Emirates ⋅ ☀️ 36 °C

    Snapshot
    Where - Abu Dhabi
    Weather - hot

    We are just waiting for our flight back to Brisbane after spending 2 days in Abu Dhabi. We had booked an Etihad stopover deal - 2 for the price of 1 with breakfast and 24hr check in / check out - which was great because our flight doesn't leave until around 10pm. Very reasonably priced as well.

    Yesterday we went to Ferrari World - basically a theme park based around the Ferrari. It boasts the world's fastest roller coaster as well as the world's tallest loop on a roller coaster. We did the fastest one first and about 2 seconds into the ride I wondered what on earth was I doing here. Probably the scariest ride I've ever been on, followed by a close second by the highest loop coaster. Needless to say, we did not go back for seconds on any of those rides - we must be getting too old for all this now.

    So, no pictures this time and boarding is about to commence. Next stop, hopefully, Brisbane.
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  • Day84

    Paris - End of the Journey...almost!

    September 25, 2017 in France ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    Snapshot
    Where - Paris

    We finally made it back to Paris where we planned to only go to the Palace of Versailles and also the summit of the Eiffel Tower. As we have already been to Paris we have seen the major attractions such as the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur and the Eiffel Tower (from the second level).

    First, the Palace of Versailles. This place is opulence with a capital O! We visited here on a Saturday which is probably the busiest day and meant we had to queue. We enjoyed it so much that we queued twice because when we went through the first security gate we just joined the line but when we got to the head of the queue (after about an hour) we found out this was just for entering the palace - we were supposed to buy tickets from a side area which was not made obvious to us. Fortunately it was a nice day and we did not have anything else to do. It only took us another hour to queue up again and at least this time we chatted with another Australian family so the time went quickly. The palace is worthwhile seeing but I preferred the gardens.

    We visited the Eiffel Tower on Tuesday after we dropped off our car. We ended up driving almost 15,300km - not bad for 2 months. Brad was glad to get it back in one piece. Things have changed around the Eiffel Tower since we were last here (5 years ago). Everybody could wander freely all around the base of the tower but now it is all fenced off and you have to pass through security to enter the area. Sign of the times I guess. Also, the Trocodero area had lovely fountains etc. but it was being redeveloped with what looked like a large stage area. Not quite sure what they have in mind. Anyway, the views from the summit were great and we got some nice photos.

    We were staying in a small hotel quite close to the airport and apart from the visit to Versailles and the day spent at the Eiffel Tower we just relaxed and did nothing much except go for a couple of walks - packed and repacked our bags and got rid of all the unnecessary bits and pieces in an effort to lighten the load (we were dangerously close to exceeding our luggage allowance - you would think we would have it right by now)
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  • Day78

    An Interesting Day in Switzerland

    September 19, 2017 in Switzerland ⋅ 🌧 1 °C

    Snapshot
    Where - Still in the Swiss Alps
    Weather - some showers

    From Brienz we drove further east into Switzerland and out was an interesting drive to say the least. In one small village the traffic came to a standstill and nobody was going anywhere for about an hour or so. Being the end of summer, it was time bring the cows down for the winter. The ceremonies, known as Alpabzug, Alpabfahrt or the Desalpe (depending on what part of Switzerland you are in - French, German or perhaps Italian influenced) and the farmers and cowherders often dress up in traditional dress and the cows are decorated with flower garlands and a great big cowbell is strapped around their necks. The bigger the bell is a bit of a status symbol and would possibly indicate a wealthier farmer. They walk the cows down through the village and all traffic stops until it is done. It all seemed a bit strange but it was a spectacle. I think the huge bells are only for the ceremony and I would hope they are removed when they arrive at their winter home as these constantly clanging bells would be very annoying to the cows. In fact, many cows do wear bells while they are up in the mountains (so they can be found when it comes to herding?), because you could always hear cowbells wherever you went.

    After our encounter with the cow parade, we drove through a mountain pass called Furkerstrasse which had an incredible number of twists and turns and hairpin bends we have ever been on. Brad said he enjoyed driving along this road. (Check the photo)

    We stopped beside the road for a bite to eat and would you believe it - there was a Heilan Coo (Highland Cow) that we saw in Scotland but could not get a photo of. Here was one in Switzerland - sporting a large cowbell which I don't think the Scottish highland cows wear bells but we will pretend this is one from Scotland.

    Our Airbnb accommodation had fantastic views and lovely gardens complete with a large fish pond filled with Koi carp. They also had 3 boisterous Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs that would just about knock you over if you were not careful. From Switzerland we will make our way back to Paris.
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  • Day74

    Simply Spectacular Switzerland

    September 15, 2017 in Switzerland ⋅ ⛅ 10 °C

    Snapshot
    Where - Swiss Alps region
    Weather - cool and sometimes showers

    I know the photos won't do it justice, but Switzerland scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. We stayed at alittle self contained apartment in Brienz which was a good place to access some of the mountains you may have heard a about such as the Matterhorn and the Eiger.

    We had a really good day exploring a coup,e of areas that featured in some movies...mainly the James Bond movie - On Her Majesty's Secret Service (the George Lazenby one) where part of the movie was filmed at Piz Gloria. Even though the movie was about 50 years ago, they still have a whole exhibit there. We had to catch 4 cable cars to get to the top where you had views of the Eiger, Monck and Jungfrau mountain peaks. I also remember the Eiger mountain from the movie The Eiger Sanction (Clint Eastwood). We were lucky enough to go when we did because the clouds came rolling in and another hour later we would not have been able to see a thing.

    After this we drove to the little place called Grindelwald which has a gondola going up the mountain. (Cable car = 50+ people standing, gondola = max 4 people sitting; guess which one I preferred!) We thought the gondola was only taking us up to the top of the hill we could see but it turned out that was only the halfway point, there was a whole other mountain to climb up. At the top there was a trek (an easy 25 minute hike - they said - hah! NOT!) While the path was even enough, it was the equivalent of climbing 50 floors and while I took several rest stops, I did make it and we donned our paper crowns, took a photo to prove that we were King (or Queen) of the mountain.

    Overall, it was a very enjoyable day....the next day was raining so we cancelled any sightseeing and just relaxed . We are really winding down now and starting to feel ready to come home.
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  • Day72

    Geneva

    September 13, 2017 in Switzerland ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    Snapshot
    Where - Geneva, Switzerland
    Weather - mostly fine

    Our first day i Switzerland was spent in centre of the United Nations, Geneva. We parked the car on the outer suburbs of Geneva and caught a train in. We were fortunate to find someone at the bus stop who could speak English and was able to show us how to purchase bus tickets from the machine. Seemingly simple tasks become quite difficult when you cannot read / speak the language. Then an elderly gentleman spoke to us (in either French or German) but immediately switched to English. I think he was a bit lonely and just wanted someone to talk to. He let us know that 80% of people who live in Geneva are foreigners, not Swiss.

    So what is Geneva like? Much the same as many cities. Quite attractive as it has a large lake and is surrounded by mountains. There is a large water jet and there is also a floral clock which apparently has the largest second hand in the world. Of course there are larger clocks, they just don't have a second hand. Geneva is mainly known for being the seat of many organisations such as the United Nations, World Health Organisation, Red Cross and UNICEF (and probably others). We did a couple of bus tours and saw the main highlights.

    We shall spend almost a week in Switzerland, mainly around the Swiss Alps.
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  • Day69

    Pyrennes

    September 10, 2017 in France ⋅ ☁️ 14 °C

    Snapshot
    Where - The Pyrennes National Park
    Weather - overcast

    We spent a couple of days travelling through the Pyrennes - some narrow, winding roads as we travel up into the snow line, through mountain passes. It was all quite exciting really.

    We really didn't go anywhere in particular, just visited some of the little villages nestled high in the mountains. We stayed in one of these villages overnight where the church bells rang every hour (fortunately they stopped at about 9pm - starting again at 7am). You begin to wonder what the people do in these little villages?

    One mountain pass rose to around 2400m and near the top there was a man shouting instructions to his dog who was busy rounding up sheep. Look closely at one of the snow pictures. There were also crazy people riding pushbikes up. Indeed, this is one of the notorious mountain passes that frequently is used in the Tour de France. Not my idea of fun.

    After the Pyrennes our intention was to travel along the French Riviera (Monaco, Nice etc.) and then into Italy to Florence, Venice etc., however the thought of negotiating our way through city traffic is just too stressful that we have changed our minds and are now going to go through Switzerland. Besides, we figured the Italian cities and French Riviera could be picked up on a cruise ( now that sounds like a good excuse to go on another cruise, doesn't it)
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  • Day67

    Loire Valley

    September 8, 2017 in France ⋅ 🌬 17 °C

    Snapshot
    Where - Chateau de Chambord
    Weather - can't remember - not raining

    We stayed in a place in the Loire Valley, where all the Chateaux are. I mention this because the host had a genuine gypsy caravan in her front yard that they had restored. (She rents it out too if there was a third person in the group). Very colourful!

    There are many Chateaux in the Loire Valley but we decided we would only visit one - Chateau de Chambord - mainly because of you have seen one chateau, you have seen them all. We also had to get to the accommodation in the Bordeaux area by 6pm as the host had to go to work.

    The chateau, like most of these large old buildings, rely on being open to the public to help pay for the upkeep on the property. This one had beautiful manicured gardens, a central double helix staircase, and enormous rooms that would have been almost impossible to heat. It was nice, but I think one was enough.

    We are deciding to slow things down a bit now as we have been on the go for two months now and can't keep up the pace. I got a bit of a sore throat but didn't really eventuate into anything much, but Brad got more of a heavy head cold and sinus making him feel a miserable. On top of that he desperately needed a haircut so he managed to get that as well as the necessary medications to make him feel a bit better. For the next little while at least, we shall just be doing scenic drives as we head to the Pyrennes.
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  • Day66

    Tapestries and Monasteries

    September 7, 2017 in France ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    Snapshot
    Where - Bayeux and Mont Saint Michel
    Weather - fine

    Finally we have a day doing things that I am more interested in. One of them was to have a look at the Bayeux Tapestry (in Bayeux of course). I remember hearing about this tapestry when I was in school - two things stuck in my mind: 1/ It was really long - it is almost 70 metres long and about 50cm wide, and 2/ Part of the embroidery (it is technically not a tapastry), depicts Halley's comet. That was about the extent of my knowledge so when we visited we were given an audio tour which outlined what each scene of the tapestry was about. So the Bayeux Tapestry is about William the Conquerer and the Battle of Hastings 1066 - Halley's comet supposedly made an appearance in 1066 just prior to the Battle of Hastings and was seen as a sign of William 's success. Both Brad and I found the exhibit interesting - couldn't take any photos so I have included a stock photo.

    The other place we visited was Mont Saint Michel which is practically a carbon copy of St Michael's Mount in Penzance (England) but it was more impressive in my opinion. We joined a guided tour regarding the history of the monastery and abbey and parts of the complex are undergoing renovation. Unlike the one in England, this one is uninhabited but it certainly serves as a great tourist attraction.

    So, we leave the Normandy area and head for the Loire Valley - place that has many Chateaux.
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  • Day64

    D-day beaches

    September 5, 2017 in France ⋅ ☁️ 19 °C

    Snapshot
    Where - Pegasus Bridge and Normandy beaches
    Weather - fine

    This was Brad's day, visiting the war related sites he has read, and watched movies and documentaries about. First we visited Pegasus Bridge where British glider bourne troops were the first troops to see action on D-day and they had to capture the bridges crossing the Orne River and hold them intact so that the allies coming from the beaches could cross. It was an incredible feat of flying in WWII as troops landed pnly 50m from the bridge and captured in in a matter of minutes. A replacement bridge now crosses the river and the original forms part of the museum outlining the events that occurred in that area. The original was too narrow to cope with modern day traffic, but the replacement looks much the same.

    From there we headed to Point du Hoc which was an area overlooking Omaha and Utah beaches and was occupied by the Germans with large guns. The job of the American Rangers was to capture and disable the guns so that the American troops could land on the beaches without being fired upon (D-day, June 6, 1944). After heavy fighting and the Rangers had to scale the cliffs only to find the large guns they thought were there were actually tree trunks as the Germans had stored the guns as they were afraid they may have been destroyed by the shelling that was happening. As it turned out, the Rangers found the store of guns and managed to disable them by putting thermite grenades in that melted the firing breech. (See, look at how much I have learned about D-day)

    After some lunch overlooking Omaha beach, we went to the American War Cemetery - over 9000 graves of the American soldiers killed during the battle for Normandy. It is located above Omaha beach and all the headstones are arranged in perfectly straight lines , regardless of which direction you look at them. Beautifully maintained.

    We also visited the Airborne Museum which was to do with the 82nd and 101st airborne which landed inland of Utah and Omaha Beaches in the early hours of D-day. One of the paratroopers was entangled on the church tower and was lucky not to be killed by the Germans. They stll have an effigy of him hanging from the church tower in the town of Sainte-Marie-Eglise where the museum is. We did visit another museum, but frankly I have just about exhausted the amount of information I can take in about war and battles etc. that I cannot even remember what it was about.

    These activities were done over 2 days - next we move away from the battlefields and look at some things I am more interested in - next post.
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  • Day62

    Battlefields of France

    September 3, 2017 in France ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    Snapshot
    Where - Normandy Region of France
    Weather - mixture, some showers, some sun

    Leaving Belgium we headed to France and have spent the next few days in Brad's element - visiting the area where significant war time battles were held. It is not really high on my list of interests but I must admit I have a greater understanding of what happened here during WWII.

    Before we went to Normandy, we drove to Villers Bretonneux - a village in northern France that was totally devastated during WWI - and has special ties to Australia because Australian soldiers stopped a counter attack by the Germans (with significant loss of life.) Apparently, most of the soldiers came from Victoria and when the returned they asked all the schoolchildren to donate a penny to go towards rebuilding the school in Villers Bretonneux. They raised around £12,000 (a lot of money back then) and to this day the school is called The Victoria School and the sign above the school says " Never Forget Australia". There is a Franco-Australian Museum in the town (where the school is ) and just outside the town is the war memorial located on the site where the battle was fought. It is hard to believe that 100 years ago (next year, coincidentally on 25th April), the surrounding land was battle scarred when to look at it today it is peaceful farmland.

    We are staying for 3 nights in a little old fisherman's cottage in the town of Ouisterham (pronounced Wee Strum). We have the place to ourselves which is good for a change, even if it is a rather odd little place on three levels with narrow spiral stairs to the 2nd level and a kind of step ladder stair to the bedroom. Very quirky but it was fine for exploring the Normandy area.
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