Joined June 2017 Message
  • Day5

    The biggest sand dune in Europe!

    August 7, 2020 in France ⋅ ☀️ 33 °C

    Today was my last full day in France but, as my plane wasn’t due to leave until 10pm, I decided to take another wee train trip, this time to the seaside resort of Arcachon. The journey took an hour and, as usual, I checked at the ticket office if there were any special reductions or offers for seniors, rather than book at one of the ticket machines. This paid off as I got a 50% summer fare discount. Result!

    The main attraction at Arcachon is the Grande Dune du Pilat - the tallest sand dune apparently in Europe! It involved taking a bus from Arcachon station for 20 minutes (and one euro), but was well worth the trip. A pleasant shaded walk, lined with the usual refreshment stands, lead on to an increasingly sandy path. From there, a flight of steps took you up this amazingly high sand dune, and from the top there were fantastic views over the forest on one side, and the ocean on the other. Quite breathtaking! Although it was 38 degrees today, there was a very welcome breeze at the top, and it was nice to sit and enjoy the warm sand and the lovely views. The steps apparently are only for ascending the dune, and one had to walk, run or stagger down through the hot sand to descend.

    Back in town, I discovered that Arcachon was a delightful resort town. Very clean, with plenty of pavement cafés and restaurants, and a pristine beach with lovely sand, and lifeguards keeping a watch on bathers. I couldn’t wait to get into the sea, and enjoyed cooling off for the best part of an hour, before heading in for a late lunch - mussels, beefsteak and Basque gateaux - delicious. The train heading back to Bordeaux was packed - just like the Ayr train heading back to Central on a scorching hot day. The SNCF transport police were inspecting all the tickets (I did actually remember to stamp it on the platform before boarding), and policed the train during the journey, telling off folk who were not wearing the obligatory masks.

    Back to the hotel for a quick change and freshen up before catching the No. 1 bus to the airport. Not bad at 1.70 euros for a 50 minute ride. Next year hopefully the new tram line will be open.

    Well thanks, Bordeaux, it’s been great. I will be back as it’s such a good base for exploring this part of La Belle France 🇫🇷.
    Read more

  • Explore, what other travelers do in:
  • Day4

    Saint Émilion

    August 6, 2020 in France ⋅ ☀️ 32 °C

    Went on another wee train trip today to the well preserved medieval town of St Émilion, famous for its red wine. Like many French towns, the station was a bit out of the centre and involved a 25 minute walk into the town. However this was very pleasant as it passed alongside the vineyards. Did a recommended walking tour around various churches and monuments which were lovely. However, it got too hot (35 degrees!) so I sat in a lovely wee shaded restaurant balcony and had a very leisurely lunch. The service was painfully slow, but the young waitress was smiling and friendly and doing her best, and I was in no rush. The food was delicious - a very tasty gazpacho, complete with a dollop of refreshing sorbet on top, followed by a lovely roast pork, all washed down with local wine and a much needed litre of sparkling water.

    The train back to Bordeaux failed to appear until 45 minutes after its scheduled time, by which time us passengers were melting in the searing heat at an old closed, unmanned station with no facilities. I tell you it was straight to the on board toilet when the train did arrive after that litre of water!
    Read more

  • Day3

    Where ya bound for this year, Eliza?...

    August 5, 2020 in France ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    Took a trip on the fast SNCF TGV train to Biarritz, a place I had always wanted to visit since uttering the line ‘where ya going this year, Eliza? Biarritz?’ in My Fair Lady, just before ‘Wouldn’t It Be Luverly’.

    And luverly it was. Followed the suggested walking tour up past the Casino to the Lighthouse with fabulous views along the Atlantic coastline. Some magnificent villas on the way, although Empress Eugenie’s palace (turned hotel) is closed till next year for renovations. Had lunch of mussels and frites (and a half a litre of red wine) at Fisherman’s Port, before walking across to the Rock of the Virgin. Had a lovely swim in the sea which was warm and inviting - the warmest Atlantic swim I’ve had.
    Read more

  • Day2

    Exploring Bordeaux

    August 4, 2020 in France ⋅ ☀️ 20 °C

    Although the Ibis Styles does have fairly small rooms, it has big beds, so it was nice to stretch out and enjoy a good night’s sleep. Breakfast was included and was the usual continental fare of bread rolls, cold meat, cheese, yoghurt and coffee. I did however indulge in a portion of Nutella. It was a lovely sunny morning which developed into a lovelier hot day. I bought an all day public transport ticket which gave me unlimited travel on the excellent modern trams, on buses and included the local ferry. Great value at 5 euros 💶 , and I certainly made good use of it.

    First stop was a visit to probably the most photographed spot in Bordeaux - the Place de la Bourse and the Water Mirror. The water was just coming on at 9.30am when I visited, so I got some good shots before it got busy with pesky kids splashing about and ruining the mirror reflection. I then took a trip on the free BAT ferry up the River Garrone and got a good view of the city from the water. The Garonne is a mighty river, as wide as the Thames, but is a chocolate brown colour, like molten Dairy Milk. Next stop, the magnificent Grand Theatre (no shows on at the moment sadly), and the mighty Saint André cathedral, adjacent to the Hôtel de Ville. This huge cathedral was regrettably closed - and I did so want to see where Eleanor of Aquitaine was married. So many references to Eleanor here - even the local sports centre was named after her - and having only recently watched The Lion in Winter, there was no sign of Katharine Hepburn having a go on the dumbbells!

    I realised this morning that in my efforts to economise and travel with a carry-on bag only, I had forgotten to pack any socks! I headed therefore to my favourite French department store - the Galeries Lafayette. I won a watch as they were having the last of their 70% off sale, and got 4 pairs of nice white ‘chausettes’ for 5 euros!

    Back to sightseeing, and I took in the flamboyant gothic style Basilica Saint Michel with its beautiful stained glass. Had to walk back quite a bit to get the whole of its huge separate bell tower in the photo! By contrast, the catholic Sainte-Croix church looked diminutive, but lovely in sunshine.

    A highlight was the famous Cailhau Gate, in the Saint- Pierre district which I climbed up via a tight staircase reminiscent of the Scott Monument in Edinburgh, and was rewarded with a lovely view of the river. And not too far, the Saint-Paul district had its famous gate too: the Grosse Cloche, another jewel of Bordeaux. What an impressive city for monuments!

    After a visit to see the ‘lion’ at Stalingrad (yes, that’s the name of the area), had a rest at the hotel before going out for dinner. In spite of the coronavirus, all the restaurants and pavement cafés were busy, so I took a tram to the quieter area of the Bacalan, where I treated myself to a nice French meal of pâte de fois gras, and tartare de boeuf (I had forgotten it was raw, minced steak!) All washed down with a nice glass of Bordeaux 🍷 - well, when in Rome...
    Read more

  • Day1

    And we’re off!

    August 3, 2020 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☀️ 15 °C

    After almost five months in lockdown, I was beginning to really miss my trips abroad and developed a bad case of the travelling bug 🐜 . Our planned trips to Gdańsk and Porto were cancelled, but with France still being on the list of countries from which you didn’t have to quarantine on return (at the moment), I decided to take the plunge. At £20 each way, a trip to Bordeaux with easyJet seemed too good to miss, and with a few clicks the deed was done!

    I’d never seen Glasgow Airport so quiet - quite eerie in fact. Security was empty and I sailed through quickly. I had time for a meal in one of the few open eating places, and was pleased to discover I got 50% off my pizza and Irn Bru meal due to the Chancellor’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme which began today . So far so good.

    Arrived in Bordeaux in good time (1 hour 45 minutes flight). Took the local bus No. 1 to Gare St Jean where I was staying at the Ibis Styles Hotel. Although there were no problems travelling, it felt strange seeing everyone going about in masks. Look forward to exploring tomorrow.
    Read more

  • Day27

    Home Sweet Home

    February 16, 2020 in the United Kingdom ⋅ 🌬 4 °C

    Thanks to Mags and Christine for their warm welcome home and some great Scottish cooking - mince and tatties with dumplings, followed by rice pudding and gingerbread, and a lovely cuddle from our two favourites. Now off to bed after our 40 hour journey home. 💤Read more

  • Day26

    Robert's Round Up

    February 15, 2020 in Singapore ⋅ ☀️ 31 °C

    After a smooth 10 hour flight from Auckland we have arrived in Singapore, only to find our next plane - the 14 hour flight to London has been delayed by two hours due to the bad weather (Storm Dennis) in the UK. While we are waiting I thought I would reflect on our holiday experience over the past 4 weeks.

    In terms of the flights, Singapore Airlines was excellent, with good meals and refreshments on demand. On check-in at Auckland today, a very helpful SA staff member assisted us, and changed our allocated seats to give us extra legroom seats for the first leg of our journey. Great!

    The hotels booked on our behalf by Cruise Nation were all of a very good standard. We were pleasantly surprised at how much we liked both Australia and New Zealand - everywhere was so clean, and the people were exceptionally helpful and friendly. A great sense of humour was evident throughout. The smaller places we visited all seem to have utilised local volunteers (often retirees), who gave us a beaming smile and warm welcome, along with free maps of the area and helpful suggestions about local attractions. We were surprised to discover that tipping is not expected (compared with USA where it is virtually compulsory). The standard of living seems high, and workers seem to earn a good wage, without needing to depend on tips. We also loved the beautiful plants and vegetation, as well as the huge variety of colourful birds.

    Another interesting thing we noted in Australia was the extensive referencing to the country’s Aboriginal past - statements were read out before the opera, museum tours, TV programmes etc to the effect that it was important to recognise Australia’s indigenous people and culture. Australia Day coverage on TV highlighted the division in the country in as much as many people do not share the celebration of the arrival of British sovereignty with the first British ships on 26 January 1788. They instead refer to it as Invasion Day, mourning what is seen as the invasion of the land by the British and the start of colonisation. In New Zealand the indigenous Maori culture now seems to be part of everyday life for most New Zealanders, with the Maori language being taught in schools and spoken in the country’s parliament.

    In terms of the cruise, we were very impressed with our first experience of the Holland America Line. The food and service were excellent and all the staff and crew (mostly Indonesian) were cheery, well mannered and helpful. The entertainment was perhaps more sedate than that on some of the larger Royal Caribbean ships we have been on, but the production shows were very good and the ship did have franchises with the Lincoln Center Stage and BB Kings Blues Club. As we have cruised with a variety of different lines, we noticed a number of ‘extras’ not normally included unless an upgraded stateroom is purchased eg we had included: bathrobes, Elemis toiletries; daily fresh fruit in the cabin; complimentary room service 24 hours a day (no cover charge); good quality real napkins at all meals (including at the Lido buffet); real hand towels in all the bathrooms on the ship; free ice cream; and delicious free Five Guys-type burgers, hot dogs and tacos. Our cruise was the last for our Captain John Scott, and there was an emotional ceremony on deck as he rang the bell before entering his home port of Auckland for the last time.

    We picked up a few useful local words and phrases in Australia - Bonzer (good), Bogan (ned), Strewth! (It’s the truth) Yabber (to talk a lot).
    And in New Zealand - The Dairy (convenience store), Kia Ora (hello), Yeah-nah (yes, but I don’t agree with you), Sweet As (wonderful).

    All in all a wonderful holiday with many happy memories to treasure.
    Read more

  • Day26

    Awesome Auckland

    February 15, 2020 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Sadly disembarked the ship after a wonderful cruise to spend our last two days in Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city where a third of the country’s population reside. Campbell’s Über app is coming in handy - very quick to arrive and half the price of the usual taxis. Like elsewhere in NZ (and indeed Australia), everyone has been very friendly and helpful - even the local bus drivers - it’s just like being back on the No. 57 😋.

    We were booked into the pleasant Quality Hotel in the residential suburb of Parnell. It is a lovely area, with a rose garden nearby and lovely Victorian villas. First stop was a trip up the Sky Tower - the tallest building in Southern Hemisphere. Great views over the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. This is Pride week with lots of events, so we attended a play called Provocation, based on true stories of murderers who had their sentence reduced because their victim was gay. Great acting and thought provoking.

    Next day we took a hop-on hop-off bus tour which which gave us a good overview of the city. Visited the lovely Auckland Zoo which was beautifully laid out, and seems to do a lot of work with endangered species. Our favourites were the cheeky meerkats. We then had a short ferry trip to the seaside resort of Devonport - a welcome relief from the busy city. At night we attended another Pride event - a stand-up comedy night with 8 top NZ comedians - hilarious!

    Today, on our last morning in Auckland, we arranged to meet up with my cousin David and his partner Brigitte, who had just flown over for Valentines from Australia. We enjoyed a long leisurely breakfast in their hotel and had a great catch up. Soon it was time to leave for the airport and face a long journey home 😕.
    Read more

  • Day23

    Halcyon Hobbiton

    February 12, 2020 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 25 °C

    We arrived at our penultimate (meaning ‘beyond the ultimate’ according to the real Jean) port of Tauranga very early this morning. Another beautiful sunny day - the weather has been warmer in the North Island of New Zealand. Once ashore we decided to go on a tour to Hobbiton, where the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies were filmed. (Again this trip was half the cost of the ship’s version).

    Again we had a lovely, friendly and knowledgeable local guide - Garry - who stopped off at a couple of interesting spots: a local viewpoint; a Manuka Honey shop (with free honey flavoured ice cream), and a kiwi orchard 🥝.

    It was great to visit Hobbiton and see the familiar Hobbit holes. Everything was well organised and we had our own young guide, Caleb, on our 2 hour tour, who amused us with anecdotes from the movies, and pointed out where key scenes were filmed. We had one LOTR nerd in our group who kept interrupting and correcting the guide: ‘You see I was actually in the movies’ he explained. It turned out he was one of several hundred Orc extras. I took great pleasure in telling him that I was friends with Billy Boyd who played Pippin, one of the main Hobbits. As Jean would say, ‘ten up ye!’. The nerd’s Goth daughter and boyfriend subsequently took the opportunity to get engaged outside Sam Gamgee’s cottage, much to everyone’s delight. Our tour ended up at the Green Dragon pub where we were refreshed with complimentary Hobbit sized ‘pints’ of cider. Ah, just the job! 🍺

    Hobbiton is a great place to visit and highly recommended if you are in the area.
    Read more

  • Day22

    Notable Napier

    February 11, 2020 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    A lovely morning visit to the town of Napier - almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 and rebuilt in the modernist style of the day - Art Deco. We took a small tour with one of the town’s Art Deco experts who gave us an interesting history of the town both pre and post earthquake. It seems the ground was raised by 2 metres, and a huge area of new land was created from a shallow lagoon and swamp area. Some fabulous buildings including the Daily Telegraph and National Tobacco Company.

    On our return we joined a Q&A session with the singers and dancers and had a backstage tour of the theatre. Question from an audience member to the cast: ‘Can you tell us the topics Holland America does not allow you to discuss with the passengers?’ Duh...

    It was very hot today and we were glad to get back on board to the AC. Jean was asked by a helpful crew member if she was going to the dining room for a late lunch and was heard to reply: ‘No, I’m dining on my balcony!’ Hopefully there was no forced laughter! (Ken and Bill - you’ll recognise that).
    Read more

Join us:

FindPenguins for iOSFindPenguins for Android