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Thursday, October 28, 2010


Well, after all the wonderful tripping around France, I've now been back at work three weeks and the year is flying. I've culled 1700 photos down to about 1100 and still working on the DVD, then comes the ibook for the coffee table.Two quilts to the quilter and other patchwork on the go. Life is great

Life is great, the sun is shining today and I have five lovely days off to look forward to - just like another holiday really.

It's never too late... to have the best years of your life

You're writing your own story,
You're in charge of the plot.
Make each chapter better than the last.
You're only limited by your imagination.
And your will.
You may not hit every target.
But you won't hit any if you don't shoot.

'It's never too late to be what you might have been'                 George Eliot

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Paris part 1 Palace of Versailles

Gates to the Palace of Versailles

Paris in a Day

Sunday in Paris

Bright blue skies and sun -Wow! Paris here we come.

We set off on a self-walking tour of Montmarte but missed the first turn and ended up at Moulin Rouge before following the path through the cemetery and up to Place du Tertre. This very busy area is full of artists, all wanting to draw portraits, some were painting and all very keen to sell their work at highly inflated prices. Right around the square, people were having brunch and there was a sea of people meandering everywhere. The weather was perfect for walking and we continued around the corner to Sacré Coeur. This beautiful Cathedral had very long queues of tourists. Time for a few photos and a cuppa before heading off again. I managed to buy a couple of bags (not sure how I’ll get them home – but I will) There are guys selling of bags, very cheap models of Eiffel Towers in all sizes and many other souvenirs lining the steps and were very happy to barter a good price – I ended up with two bags for €23.

We returned to the hotel to drop off the bags and thermos and cups and then headed out again. This time to the Metro and on to Monceau. We walked through the beautiful gardens at Monceau before arriving at the Musee Nissim de Camondo. This wonderful museum was left to the French government by its owner, Moise de Camondo. This was a living mansion that Moise de Camondo inherited from his patents in 1910. Moise married and had two children but divorced after 5 years and had total custody of his two children, a daughter Beatrice and son Nissim (whom the museum is names after). This wonderful museum is just as it had been when Moise had lived there. He was obviously a very successful banker, very rich and in the end very lonely. He was a collector of 18th century objects d’art and furniture and the mansion is a testament to his collection. His son Nissim died in air combat in the First World War and his daughter Beatrice, son in law and two grandchildren died in 1943-44 in Auschwitz. Moise died in 1935 and left the mansion complete with collections to the Union Centrale des Arts Decoratifs. In his will he stipulated that the new museum should be named after his son. The museum was inaugurated in December 1936. This is the most amazing museum – wall tapestries and paintings adorn the walls in every room along with exquisite furnishings and grand clocks. The crockery collection alone would be worth thousands of dollars. Sadly, Moise was quite lonely and although his daughter, son in law and two grandchildren lived with him in the mansion for a few years, he never really recovered from the loss of his son Nissim. Moise died in 1935 at the age of 75.
This has been the most impressive museum we have seen so far for its beautiful collections and sense of reality. Thanks Geof for telling us about it because it is not in the tourist books nor in the books on Paris and things to do.
A short stop for lunch at 2.45pm then on the metro again, this time headed for the Arc de Triomphe. For the price of €9 each we had the pleasure of walking to the top of this grand monument – 290 stairs in a spiral staircase each way. I found this to be a challenging cardio – respiratory exercise, however once at the top, the views were spectacular all over Paris. We again experienced the excitement of the roundabout ‘free for all’ with traffic going in all directions. A grand view of the Champs Elysses and the Louve in the far distance down one direction and our first glimpse at the Eiffel Tower in another.

Back to the Metro and on to the Ile De La Cité and Notre Dame. What a magnificent sight and the forecourt was teaming with tourists and queues to get inside quite long. After a few photos we continued on over the bridge to Ile St Louis. We’d heard about the ice creams on this island but never dreamed there would be long queues just for ice cream. Neither of us like to queue for much so we decided no ice creams but the curiosity soon gave in and we joined the queue for 20 minutes at Berthillon Glacier. I have to confess that it probably wasn’t worth the wait nor the money – certainly not the best ice-cream I’ve ever had. We crossed the bridge and walked along the left bank and then back to the metro and off to Trocadero where we had a fabulous view of the Eiffel Tower. We had planned to go late in the day and waited until dark to see the tower lit up and in fact for about 10 minutes it even had flashing lights. A very spectacular sight and worth the extra effort.
We had left the hotel at 9am and returned 12 hours later, foot sore and very weary but pleased to have seen so much on day 1 in Paris. We’d made the most of the beautiful day.
There have been very few escalators on the lines we have been on and I think that we have travelled on about 6 different lines today. We would have climbed at least 1000 steps and that is not all the other steps we paced.

Monet's Home

Giverney - Monet's Garden

Friday 1st October - We awoke to beautiful, blue skies and were convinced that the weather was on the improve, so we dressed accordingly, Graham in shorts and myself in ¾ pants and short sleeve top. By the time we arrived at Giverny, the skies were very threatening and it was about 15° with a decent wind. So the coats went on again. We toured Monet’s House and garden and then the paintings in the museum by Maximilien Luce (a neo-Impressionist painter) This style shows many dot type paintings with colours not being mixed on the palate. A very interesting style of painting and Luce was a prolific painter.

Monet’s garden is obviously different all year round depending on the season and whilst it was very colourful, we both thought it would be a very different scene in springtime. The water garden is very beautiful and a great spot to relax and contemplate. I can understand why Monet painted so much in the water garden, lily pond area. It was very beautiful. Of course as all tours they end in the shop and there were many lovely things to buy, including paintings, mugs, calendars and much, much more. By the time we’d seen through the museum it was lunchtime and it was then it rained, very lightly, but wet just the same.

Photos of the very beautiful Monet's Garden in Autumn

SUnday 3rd October

On Saturday our first stop was the Palace of Versailles. This amazing building exudes opulence from the initial sights at the front gate. We waited in the queue for tickets for about an hour and couldn’t believe the number of visitors to the palace. We were later told that it was a quiet day. Sometimes the wait for tickets is 4 hours. As you can imagine, it is very difficult to see much and the crowds moved through each room shoulder to shoulder. We did get the story on the audio guide and surprisingly were able to take a few photos. Such opulence was evident and one can only imagine what the peasants outside the gates thought of it all. Once we were outside in the garden and courtyard, the crowds spread out a bit. We walked around a large part of the gardens but by no means did we do it all. Gardens were beautifully kept and the many water fountains were complete with statues. There was still evidence of recent rain with puddles all over the foor paths.

As we were about to leave after about 3 hours, the ticket queues seemed even bigger than they were at 10am. Glad we weren’t there at the height of the summer tourist season. Bus loads of people gathered together in the forecourt and guides did the best they could with the huge crowds.

We set the GPS for the airport as we needed to return the car. As there was no street address, it was very difficult to find our way but eventually we did manage to return the car around 4pm. The shuttle bus took us over to the train station, and then the fun began all over again! Due to work on the train line, no trains were running to Gare de Nord for the weekend. Instead we were taken by bus to another station, where we then headed to Gare de Nord- Paris. With three bags and two people, the challenge was huge especially with many sets of steps to climb. We were very fortunate to enlist the help of people passing who were willing to help with our luggage. Graham did a fabulous job with the luggage – it wasn’t an easy task by any means. Eventually we found our way to the metro station and walked through crowded streets, looking for our hotel. We booked in around 6pm and we were very relieved to find that we were expected as I’d made the booking in April. We’d heard stories on our travels that sometimes bookings were unknown when some were booking in! We were handed the key to our room 52 at Comfort Inn – Saint Pierre, 10 Rue de Clignancourt in Montmarte. Relieved of our luggage at last, and coffee for revival we were soon ready to hit the streets again. We quickly found a familiar street and walked up to the Sacre Coeur area. There were shops everywhere all selling the same souvenirs and numerous cafes and restaurants, large and small. After a quick dinner at an Italian restaurant, we headed back to the hotel and made plans for Sunday. Quite exhausted but ready for the last few days in Paris.

Friday, October 1, 2010

More Photos -last few days

Canal in Brugge

Canal in Brugge

St Johns' Hospital on teh right - the oldest in the world

Some lace making

Just a small selection of the hundreds of bikes we saw in Leurvan

Graham and Belinda

A sleeping child parked with the bicycles!!

Amazing National Tapestry museum at Beauvais

Another beautiful tapestry

Thursday 30th September

Well  here we are on the last day of September and much has happened since my last blog. We left Reims with little help from the GPS.Thank goodness for google maps and internet access. My netbook has paid for itself many times over. We haven't seen internet cafes and most hotels whilst they provide free WiFi  don't seem to have computers available for use in hotel lobbies.

The weekend weather was very cold with chilling winds and we felt that we'd been very lucky to have had two weeks of fabulous weather. We headed north to Valenciennes - where I bought a coat! Grey skies and very cold winds persisting. Top temperatures have been around 11 degrees so very different from our 29 a few days before.

From Valenciennes to Brugge in Belgium. Brugge is a very beautiful place and whilst there are people everywhere, we could have spent much more time there. It is known for its chocolate and lace. Needless to say that every second shop in the touristy areas is well stocked with lace products or chocolate. They do have other shops as well as a few Cathedrals and very old buildings. We found a car park almost in the centre of the city and were soon pointed in the right direction for the tourism office. The GPS died as we arrived in Brugge so I think we were very fortunate to find our way right into the centre of the city. With map in hand we were then able to see the main sights in the few hours we had there. This even included a canal ride of 40 minutes as well as a visit to the lace museum and we were in time to see a class of lace making in progress. Sad to say that most of the women were well into their very senior years. I suppose this is another art that will slowly die- such a shame but great patience and excellent eye sight is required. I think I'll stick with patchwork!

With some basic intructions of how to leave Brugge and get on the right road to Brussels, we departed and prayed that our GPS would kick in so that we would find our way to Chris and Belinda. I had their address and email address only so you can imagine it was a fairly stressful time. We drove at least 20 kms at 120 kms/hour before there was a peep out of the machine. It soon peetered out before making a last attempt at pointing us in the right direction. The skies were grey, it was cold and there was so much traffic and we realized that we couldn't be entering the capital city at a worse time. I can tell you we were both very relieved to arrive in Trevuren and see the name Edwards above the door bell. Chris & Belinda welcomed us very warmly and looked after us very well for a couple of days. We met Tim aged 16 and Nicole too which was a bonus. Nicole and her husband were married in July and Markus is working as a Youth Pastor in an Anglican church and Nicole is a lab assistant at the local high school in Lowestoft in the UK. Nicole had returned to Brussels to revoke her citizenship which is required within 90 days of leaving the country.

The roads here are amazing and in France on the Autoroutes the speed limit is 130 and many people fly past  when you are sitting on the speed limit. Belgium was tops at 120 but I don't think the roads were in as good condition. The French certainly know how to look after the motorists and there are many rest/ petrol and food stops along the way. We have found that the drivers are very courteous and they certainly don't sit out in the centre lanes - they very quickly get back into the other lanes.

We experienced the tram and underground metro of Brussels as Nicole was booked on the midday Eurostar back to England. Also a treat was to experience real Belgian Waffles.. Wow! Whilst we have been in Europe there have been strikes and demonstrations across many countries. We saw it first in Beaune and then in Brussels, they were expecting to gridlock the city between 1-5pm. We were not keen to get involved in the action but saw hundreds of demonstrators gathering at the Gare Midi whilst we were there. We left Nicole and the city and headed back to Trevuren where we walked past the palace, lakes and gardens into the main village where we met Chris and went for lunch at a very beautiful Italian Restaurant.

In the afternoon Belinda took us to Leurven, a University City where we saw more bicycles than we've ever seen before - they are everywhere. Dedicated bicycle lanes are there too, so pedestrians need to get out of the way. We were amazed to see young girls in short miniskirts  and high heeled shoes riding their bicycles- no helmets to be seen.

First stop this morning before leaving Belgium was a trip to Krefel, where we purchased a new GPS, a Tomtom and we were on our way. This lifesaver was timely as I don't think we'd have made it out of Brussels, let alone on to Beauvais where we are tonight. Off to Monet's Garden at Giverny tomorrow, then Palace of Versailles Saturday morning before returning the car.

Journey to be continued....