A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: judesbucketlist

Intro

I'll try to give you a good overview of what I've done and seen without boring you too much!

I leave Auckland on 9 May, returning 15 June (with layovers in Singapore both ways) and my itinerary looks generally like this:

France 10-21 May
Paris - Vezelay/Avallon - Chambord - Sarrazac - Carcassonne - The Camargue - Provence - Nice

Italy 21 May-5 June
Venice - Umbria - Florence - Tuscany - Rome

Greece 5-13 June
Athens - Santorini - Athens

Hopefully this will work well so I can keep y'all up to date. I should have internet access in most places (here's hoping) & may get to Skype on occasion.

See you soon!

Posted by judesbucketlist 01:15 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Paris at last

semi-overcast 27 °C
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How is a person supposed to feel when you're on a plane for the biggest trip of your life, taxiing down the runway, and the kid in the seat behind you starts praying out loud?!!

It must have worked though, because the flights to Singapore & Paris were uneventful, though after spending some 25 hours in the air, I felt as though I had spent half my life there! I was lucky enough to have an empty seat next to me on both legs, so was able to stretch (!) out a bit though even 2 seats isn't enough for comfort. Had about 3 or 4 hours sleep at most so arrived a bit jaded of course.

I was disappointed that my taxi driver spoke very little English (& I speak un petit peu du Francais!), which made for a very quiet drive to the hotel - took about 1-1/2 hours in morning rush hour. What really struck me is that the autoroute looks pretty much exactly the same as the Auckland motorways, except that you drive on the other side, and the tagging is horrendous over here - there's very little clear space on the concrete sidings. I couldn't check into my hotel (Hotel Saint Christophe in St Germain) for about 4 hours, so I left my bags there & took a walk, beginning with a cafe au lait & croissant (woohoo!).

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My hotel

To be honest, the coffee wasn't as good as Auckland's, but after Singapore Airlines' brown ink it tasted damned good. After that I went to the Jardin des Plantes (botanic gardens), which is only about 3 blocks from my hotel & also has a zoo on site which is really well set out & has a lot more different animals than Auckland Zoo. It was a really good way to get back into the swing of things & getting a bit lost on the way back to my hotel meant I saw a few places I probably would have missed!

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Promenade, Jardin des Plantes

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The most gorgeous, bright orange flamingos at the Menagerie

It was really hot & humid, and being a little buggered, at 3pm I decided to have a nap for maybe an hour. The problem is that I woke up at 10pm - so much for seeing some more of the local area before nightfall! Just as well Parisians have dinner late, and I headed up to a small square on Rue Mouffetard called Place de la Contrescarpe for dinner at 11pm. It's a cool little spot with busy bars & cafes dotted around a small roundabout. I ate at a place called Dalmas, had chicken breast with creamy risotto & garlic cream sauce & my first glass of French wine - a cheeky little viognier LOL.

Now it's 1:40am so time for some shut eye to catch up with the timezone. I think you should be able to see the photos but you will need to look on the navigation bar & click on judesbucketlist under the title "Authors" to see them. The pics that are there were taken with my phone but will have other pics once I get a new data lead for my camera (left it at home). Bonsoir mes amis ;-)

Posted by judesbucketlist 17:31 Archived in France Comments (0)

Paris, day 2

I would walk 500 miles, & I would walk 500 more...

sunny 25 °C
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Today was lovely & sunny, and very hot again (not that I'm complaining). I needed to pick up my Paris Pass which I ordered online before I left, so I took the Metro to Le Peletier station. It was a bit of a mission working out how to get a ticket, but figured it out eventually. The Metro is something anyone visiting Paris should try once - then don't bother again unless you have to. It's just a train, but since it's all underground there's no entertainment value in it, just a quick way to get from A to B. Something to be aware of once you change hemispheres - you'll probably do what I did & turn the wrong way once or twice. Found it really hard to get my bearings & have worked out that I need to go in the opposite direction to my natural instincts. Once I turned the correct way, I picked up my pass, which means I can now get into a huge number of museums and other attractions without queuing or paying to get in. So I headed towards the Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe, a good hour & a half walk away. Thank God for comfy shoes!

What an amazing sight the first glimpse of the Arc is as you turn onto the Champs Elysees! To get to it, you go under the road at the roundabout and come up next to the arch.

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My pass got me in the door and I climbed up the 284, mostly spiral, steps to the top, where I got my first view of the Eiffel Tower.

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Then I knew I had really arrived in Paris!!

One of the other things the Paris Pass gets you is a hop on hop off tour of major attractions on an open-topped bus. I took one from the Arc de Triomphe up the Champs Elysees past the Grand Palace & the Trocadero and got off at the Museum of Man, across from the Eiffel Tower.

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I think I took about a million photos of the tower today, from all sorts of angles, up close & far away! It's an incredibly beautiful thing up close as well, with the intricate engineering it seems there's something artistic about the placement of each piece of steel.

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Close ups!

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My fave pic of the Eiffel Tower

I queued for a really, really, really long time (the Eiffel Tower isn't included in the Paris Pass, dammit) just to get a ticket, then queued again for the lift to the 2nd level, then again for the lift to the 3rd (top) level. It was so worth it though - the view's astounding!

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The longest wait was in the queue to go back down. Apparently going at night is a better idea as it's not as busy. Wish I had taken Lonely Planet's advice & done that!

Left there at about 4:30 and took a cruise up (or is that down?) the Seine for an hour which was a lovely way to see some of the city, and really nice to get off my feet for a while.

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Pont Neuf

Then I caught up with one of those tour buses again and we drove past the Champ de Mars, and the Louvre then I got off at Notre Dame. By this time it was about 7:30 and the cathedral was closed so I'll go and see it properly tomorrow. I took the 45 minute walk to my hotel from there, and fell on my bed, really happy to kick off my shoes & have a shower. It would usually take a couple of days for my feet to recover but I'm not sure they'll get the chance!

Had dinner close to the hotel, crispy skin sea bream on veges - really tasty. Dessert was an experience though. I ordered the profiteroles, which turned out to be one... but really huge, about 7" diameter & 4" high. I had wondered why the waiter smiled when I ordered it. It wasn't very nice anyway, hard pastry & filled with ordinary ice cream and whipped cream from a can. Not exactly what I expected, to say the least.

I'll be glad to hit the sack tonight, which I'll be doing very soon. Such a fantastic day, and exhausting but totally worth it. Getting camera lead tomorrow.

Posted by judesbucketlist 15:59 Archived in France Comments (0)

Paris, Day 3

Life, death & lecherousness...

sunny 24 °C
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Another beautiful day in paradise, sunny most of the time with a nice cool wind to keep things comfortable. I started the day with the most delicious croissant and pain au chocolat - flaky & buttery, the best ever! And I even found an almost decent coffee - definitely the best I've had here so far. Went to go to one place & their coffees were 5.10 euros - $10 give or take a few cents so I didn't get it from there!! Most are around 3.80 or 4.00, which is still pricey when you convert it.

Intended to go to Notre Dame first, but turned the wrong way so decided to see the Pantheon which I hadn't intended doing. So glad I did, it's an incredible building (I think I'm going to run out of superlatives for this trip, so expect a few repetitions of words like amazing & incredible!) with amazing sculptures & paintings inside. And if you stand at the top of the steps facing away from the building you look straight across to the Eiffel Tower in the distance - awesome! There's also a crypt under it where people like Victor Hugo and Voltaire and war heroes from a couple of centuries ago are interred in sepulchres.

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Inside the Pantheon

Had lunch at an English pub then headed to Notre Dame, where the queue was so long so I took a look in the archeological crypt under it first. It's OK, but I'm glad I didn't have to pay to get in (thanks Paris Pass!) or I would have been disappointed. Then I went to Sainte Chapelle which is a royal chapel and has the most stunningly beautiful stained glass windows. The lower level is lovely (have a look at the photo), but the top level is exceptional, with some 26 windows, including a gorgeous rose window (also in the pics). The photos I took don't do justice to the colours, which are so vibrant. I was following 2 ladies up the spiral steps to the top level, and I heard one of them gasp out loud when she reached the top - when I got there I could see why! The time it must have taken to create them defies belief. Twelve of the windows are to be restored, at a cost of 5 million euros, half the 10 million that has been put aside for the chapel.

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Sainte-Chapelle shares a courtyard with the Palace of Justice, where the Ministry of Justice is housed. Just to get in, any bags are put through a scanner like at the airport and you have to walk through a scanner - also like the airport - and the security guy passes a wand all over to make sure you're not carrying any bombs or the like. My bag was also checked at the Eiffel Tower and the Pantheon.

Notre Dame is so gothic, I found it quite dreary despite the stupendous architecture and lovely stained glass. It just didn't feel like a positive space to me and I was quite pleased to get out into the sunshine. Most disappointed there wasn't a hunchback - maybe I should complain!

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When I was at the archeological crypt, I picked up a leaflet for the Catacombs so I decided to head over there. The best way was to take the RER rail, which is pretty much the same as the Metro but some of the track is above ground & it does different routes. Arrived just before 4pm, which is when they stop letting people in but I managed to squeak through. I wish I hadn't. There are 500m of tunnel to walk through after descending 20m on spiral steps. It's dug out of rock - was originally a quarry. Then you come to the ossuary, where the bones of 6 million people are stacked neatly (some in patterns!) for what seems like miles. The bones were transferred from cemeteries in the 17-1800s because of the health risk they posed to the living. For the first 5 minutes or so it was pretty amazing - then it quickly became depressing and creepy, really chilling (and not just because it was cold), and I was so happy to get out of there 45 minutes after walking in. Try to imagine walking between walls of tightly stacked bones about 5 feet high, skulls staring at you, for some 40 minutes. The sunshine and bustle in the streets never felt so good and it took me a good half hour to feel warmed up again. Won't be rushing to do that again! When we came out, the guy searched our bags again to make sure we hadn't taken anything. He had 4 skulls & a few bones next to him that he had taken off people today. Grave robbers!

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Shudder!

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Artistic arrangement?

Took the train back to the hotel to rest my weary tootsies for a while. Had dinner along the road - onion soup, salmon & creme caramel. Was OK, a good price - with a lecherous (ugly, fat, middle aged) waiter thrown in (I've definitely arrived in France!). He was all over me like a rash after about 20mins - kissing my hand & touching my shoulder. Said I was beautiful and offered to give me a "souvenir of Paris" - what a charmer (my second shudder of the day!!). Couldn't get out of there fast enough!

Will go to the Louvre tomorrow, and if I have time, the Musee d'Orsay. Only one more full day here in Paris. If I lived here I'd never leave!

Posted by judesbucketlist 17:19 Archived in France Comments (1)

Paris, Day 4

Lots of good, a little not so good.

sunny 25 °C
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Today was the day for the Louvre, and as it's open late on Friday nights, I decided to go to the Musee d'Orsay first, just across the river. It's much smaller than the Louvre and more modern inside. Among others, I was thrilled to see Monet's Blue Waterlillies - a real stand out which blew my mind (I even had tears in my eyes!), the colours are so true and vibrant and it's bigger than I thought it would be. It's such a shame they don't allow photos to be taken there, though probably for the best considering what happened to me later (read on to find out). I spent about an hour and a half there, but was itching to get to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa in particular.

The Louvre is E-NOR-MOUS!!! The largest museum in the world, and obviously so.

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After being sent in the wrong direction for the special entrance for Paris Pass holders, I found where to get in and headed downstairs, under the glass pyramid. It was really hot & I felt like a hothouse tomato, but it's pretty spectacular. I was disappointed that there isn't a flat area like in the Da Vinci Code where you can stand on the glass & look down. Perhaps it is there, but I couldn't see where it could be. I headed straight for the Grand Gallery, where the Italian paintings are displayed, including La Jaconde (the Mona Lisa).

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The Grand Gallery

I had read that she (I can't bring myself to call this painting "it") is hard to find, in a side room off the gallery - she is in the side room, but (this sounds a bit nutty, I know) it was like I knew exactly which room she was in. There were a lot of people gathered round her, taking photos (no flashes allowed) & jostling for the front so they could see her up close. Of course you can't get closer than a few metres, with a rope in front, and wooden railing, and she's behind glass, and there are 2 or 3 security people there. Not a snowball's chance of running off with her unfortunately. The painting isn't large, as you can see from the photo, but there's something special about her. Perhaps it's that we've learned so much about her over the years.

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Of course there were so many other recognisable and beautiful paintings, too many to mention. I took ages to see all those in that part of the gallery, and headed for the antiquities section. Then realised I didn't have my camera with me!!! It seems I put it down when I sat down for a rest and walked off without it. I ran around looking for it & checked with the information desk 3 times, to no avail. Southern Cross Travel Insurance won't pay out because I didn't take "due care" & they need a police report anyway. The French police won't take the complaint because it was my negligence, so I'm out one camera. Bugger. At least I had downloaded everything from previous days, and had only taken a few today - most of which I re-took with my iPhone. It did put a dampener on my day and I left earlier than I had intended.

Heading for Orly Airport tomorrow morning to pick up the rental car, so will have a look at the duty free cameras there. It's not exactly in my budget, but...

It's time to start packing for the morning & I will try for an early night tonight so I'm ready for the drive to Avallon/Vezelay.

Posted by judesbucketlist 10:26 Archived in France Comments (0)

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