Thursday, 29 November 2012

Europe ... we had a few days ...

Sorry for the HUGE post (and not even complete post)...

This is Europe - still Sweden & Spain to come ... as well as some photos (that should make it a tad more interesting).

Destination: BARCELONA
Transport:   Plane - Air Canada (B767-300 (763))
Luggage:   30kgs each
Pills:           2 jill 3 joe

Left Toronto with our luggage and one kidney stone (Joseph). Somehow managed to move us UP from row 48 to 3 during on-line checkin??  How?? (No bus. class just economy plus). The more comfortable seats helped Joseph survive the seven hour flight ... that and narcotics. Alas my new prescription (from the Toronto doctor (urgh!)) were a bust but being up front helped.

We met up with Cassia for day and a half and hit a few of the "hot spots":
Gaudi's La Segrada Famillia ...from the inside! Crazy/wonderful/beautiful,
 his park La Güell with great view of the city + more crazy/wonderful/beautiful
Picasso museum (where I left my sunglasses and returned 5 hrs later to retrieve them! )
La Rambla (of course), busy during the day - crazy busy at night but oh so much fun.

Found a great restaurant Orio that served "pinchos". Serve yourself then pay by the number of "toothpicks" on your plates. Avoided "pescado" (fish) & "atun" (tuna) for Joe and Jill's few dislikes and managed to find some great food. Pinchos (tapas) was to become our favourite meal while in Spain.

Cassia took the train back to Elche dragging our two huge suitcases, her own luggage and Joseph's panama. We set off for France with two small carry-ons.

Transport:   Plane - Vueling Airline/Train - TGV/ferry
Luggage:   10kgs ea
Pills:           1 jill (plane only),  4 joe

Julie was Cassia's exchange student from France in 2001. We wanted to see Julie again and also meet her parents to thank them for looking after Cassia with her broken collarbone.  Julie and her boyfriend were about to leave to live in Australia (!!) so there was only one day/night that worked for both schedules ... well that's OK!

We flew Barcelona to Lyon, walked 100 miles to catch the bus into town to the TGV station, then walked 100 miles in the station trying to figure out how to printout the tickets. A great train ride, even in economy, via Marseilles on the second level with outstanding views.  Julie and her dad Michel met us at the station in Toulon to explain that we would walk a "few kilometres" to catch the boat to S-M-S-M.  (Walking was to be a huge part of this trip ... but I knew that ... didn't I??). The weather was outstanding and such a great way to start a visit.

 Her parent's house that was on the Mediterranean ... er ... right ON the Mediterranean!!  It is the most spectacular house . Spectacular; setting, view, layout, furnishings, art and just a great house to enjoy. It was SO wonderful to be with Julie again and to finally meet her parents who were also preparing for a party that evening AND had invited us to stay with them.   With Julie & Mathias, his parents (the party was for his dad) and now us, all bedrooms were full so Francois (J's mum) and Michel slept outside - bien sûr!!  (Note to self; be better hosts in future!) 

Joseph's kidney stone was still lingering but figured we were OK because Michel & Francois are doctors and Julie is a nurse!  Michel agreed that drinking lots of beer couldn't hurt so we enjoyed the party and the view and the dancing and sleeping with the warm mediterranean breeze and the view and the croissants for breakfast … and the view… oh dear the view!!

We left next morning and enjoyed every minute of our 10hr. visit.  Thank you Julie, Michel, Francois and Mathias.

Destination: PARIS
Transport:   Train - TGV - first class - upstairs!
Luggage:   10kgs ea
Pills:           O jill, 2 joe

Years earlier we arranged to meet up with Carol (childhood friend) and husband Graeme to celebrate both Carol and I turning 60 this year. This, and visiting Cassia & Pablo, was the whole reason for this stop over en route to Adelaide.   The train trip unto Paris was wonderful.  Upstairs again and the views of the coast from Toulon to Marseille were breathtaking. Carol found the most amazing apartment for us to use for 5 days. One block from the Louvre, hundred + years old and recently renovated by the Montreal architect owner.  It was perfect.

For five days we walked and walked, then walked some more ... hardly using the subway pass... there is just so much to see  you daren't go underground. So many beautiful things, the museums, the people, the stores! Not the weather however.  It was mostly overcast and grey but that didn't matter.  We visited some old favourites and some places we missed on previous visits…

Pompidou Centre - first time - grey drizzly day didn't help the austere building. Were astounded to see a statue in front of the building of the headbutt from the World Cup when Zidane head-butted Materazzi. Who knew it would become an iconic statue? On the same outing we ate wonderful crepes at a little cafe in the Marais area and then to the Ile St. Louis for some (famous) Berthillon ice cream. It was closed (only open Wed-Sun?? who can afford to only open those days?) but we found some equally good where they layered the ice cream on the cone to look like flower petals. Anybody could do that?

Musée d'Orsay - we've been three times and each time we eat at the restaurant and each time we wallow in the grandeur and beauty of the room. Plus the food is always good (and not too $$s) and the building (old railway station) is enough even without the art.  Don't miss "the room" - it's where I want to have my next party.

Versailles - our first visit  - my second (first one in '73 with Kontiki!)… perhaps it would be more spectacular on a sunny day but for us it was anyway. The hall of mirrors has to be the best room in the whole world?  We bought our lunch from a small store in the village and intended to have a picnic. We ate it in a hurry, before the rain, on a concrete bench with the garden/lawn/lake before us and it was wonderful.

Musée Jacquemart-André - first time - was a private home and now a lovely museum and a fabulous special exhibit of Canaletto.  There's also a lovely café where we had the best dessert I have ever had - thank to Gwen for the suggestion!

Musée du Louvre - fourth time for me -third for Joe - we always go to see "La Joconde" and each time it's different - more removed, more insulated, more people… but I like the juxtaposition of the "Wedding Feast at Cana" on the opposite wall, the Louvre's largest painting, and the (relatively) small "Mona  Lisa" with the crowds. Napoleon III's dining room blows my mind as well as the statues, the Egyptian section and … well … we need to go back … there's more to see.

With the infamous kidney stone still lurking we took it easy one day while Carol and Graeme ventured on a cycling tour of Paris! Crossing the Place de la Concorde on a bicycle at 5.00 p.m. could be Carol's defining moment. They didn't need the exercise - we did - but I'm glad it was them who went!  

…AND our favourite thing to do in Paris; watch the traffic at the Arc du Triomphe. WE found a bench to watch - THEY (c&g) climbed the stairs inside. Again, it wasn't them who needed the exercise!

Then Carol & Graeme left for their Mediterranean cruise and we stayed one more day. The rain drove us indoors, indulging on the posh left bank at Le Bon Marché (designed by Gustave Eiffel). Oh dear, more beautiful things and a small movie theatre showing a short documentary of Catherine Deneuve's favourite places in la rîve gauche.  The movie was commissioned by Le Bon Marché to celebrate it's 160th anniversary. Such a lovely way to avoid the rain!

Six days was all we had so it was off to jolly old England ...

Destination: LONDON
Transport:   Train, Eurostar, economy :(
Luggage:   10kgs each (maybe more with the recent maple syrup purchase at Le Bon Marché)
Pills:           O Jill (gotta love those trains), 2+ joe (k.s. still there!)

Riding under the (English) channel was a breeze and a glass of champagne at the CHAMPAGNE BAR at St Pancras Station to celebrate the crossing.  Not far away was our teeny tiny apartment, with a door that opened onto a teeny tiny terrace worked well for the four days we spent sightseeing … in mostly grey and overcast weather and the odd shower.

Forty years ago when I first arrived in London and was overwhelmed by the experience I went to stay with Jim and Babs Jackson.  I was given their name before I left Adelaide, and even though these people had no idea who I was or that I was coming,d they took me into their house.  They made their daughter stay with a friend so I could have her bed and they looked after me for a few days until i felt comfortable enough to tackle the big city.  We stayed in touch through Christmas cards and they even visited us in Canada so I was very excited to take Joseph out to Hampton Court and down the road I used to walk from the train and astounded him by finding the house (no maps used at all in this story!) only to find out from the neighbour that Jim had died in May and Babs had moved out of the house just two weeks before.  So sad - I missed my chance to say thank you one last time.  The neighbour passed on the message to their daughter Lesley so at least now we can stay in touch.

Then it was HARRODS.  I worked there in 1973, on the elevator, in fruit & veg., in health drinks (I'm sure some people are still suffering from those drinks I made) and finally a receptionist in the administration office, where I was to be called "Miss Ingham" not Jill). Poor Joseph had heard so many stories, it was such a relief for him to finally see what all the fuss was about, and such a trip down memory lane for me; I felt as thin as I was way back then!

We "covered" a few of the major museums. (I realize "cover" isn't the word one should use when describing a museum visit - but it's how we do it!) Victoria & Albert Museum: -  It's mind boggling, both the contents and the building. I enjoyed finding some dishes from Finland in the same pattern as our soup tureen (again, not the usual highlight for a museum visit!).   Joseph "covered" the Natural History Museum and saw his hero - Charles Darwin and I had coffee and cake in the museum cafe that used the most inane system for ordering and serving that I have ever encountered - and I've been in a few cafes (and eaten a few cakes)! We did highlight tour of the British Museum that actually forced us see the whole museum and were impressed that this museum actually gave the top ten "must sees" for those short on time - brilliant!

Even though I lived in London for a while I never did see the Tower Bridge & Tower of London - so off we went and were suitably impressed as we were with the view from the 4th floor cafe at Tate Modern Museum and all of the other  "new" sites. We enjoyed watching the guests arrive at Buckingham Palace for an event hosted by the Queen for people who worked on her Jubilee. There seemed to be some posh people and some not quite so, but regardless they all had to have their cars searched before they could enter the gates. After this a ride home in a double-decker bus that took us along Oxford street that was seething with people!  There wasn't room for another car, bus, bike or shopper and it was eight o'clock on a Tuesday night in October! Did Oxford St (or London for that matter)  need an ONW we wondered? 

We enjoyed London and I found the food so much better than back in '73 and the prices not as bad as we had expected but four days was all the time we had.  

Destination: EDINBURGH
Transport:   Train - East Coast Rail, economy and NOT the quiet car :( 3.5 hrs
Luggage:   10kgs each (inc. the maple syrup purchased at Le Bon Marché)
Pills:           O Jill (yeah trains), 2+ joe (k.s. still there!)

We enjoyed the train ride and scenery but mostly watched the couple in front of us who managed to keep three children (I'm guessing all under five - maybe six but no more) occupied, fed and happy for the four and half our trip. The parents shared the duties until the batteries of the various hand-held devices ran out and then it was Edinburgh anyway.  Pretty sure I could never ever have done that!

And there on the station platform to meet us was Karen !  I worked with Karen at Nortel and (very) coincidentally, Joseph worked with Rob at IKEA.  It was good to catch up after such a long time AND it was VERY nice of them to invite us to stay with them for three nights and three days!  We managed to catch up with their daughter Sofie - a your girl last time we saw her; now a lovely young woman - son Josh was around to look after us and even join us on a sightseeing trip (such a champ). Ever the wonderful hosts, they showed us some of the beautiful sights around Edinburgh and dear Karen even took Joseph out so he could birdwatch (note to self: be better hosts in future).  

We spent a day downtown enjoying the beautiful/interesting new parliament building - interesting on so many levels, especially that Scotland is talking about separating from England!  Oh dear - we've been there/done that and wish everybody well.  It was grey and overcast for most of the trip with one lovely day to tease us, but it meant we didn't do the big climb up Arthur's seat that others seemed to do (phew!), but we climbed up and down to see the castle and lots (and lots) of old buildings and could totally understand why so many people like visiting Edinburgh… but four days was all the time we had...

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