The Plan

Starting off in Sydney we head over to the US for a few days in Los Angeles, then Las Vegas and finally over to the Big Apple. Then off again, down to Cuba for about 18 days for some old cars, cigars and Baccardi. After that we head north, this time to Toronto in Canada for a whistle stop before crossing the Atlantic to the UK. One of the highlights there will be a week down on the Isle of Wight. Jetting off again we will then spend approximately the next two months driving around Italy and France. After all that hard work we journey over to Greece where we will island hop using the local ferry systems, with 3 nights on Santorini, 3 nights of Mykonos and 3 nights on Paros. Yep, we love doing the tourist stuff! Finally we begin the long haul home stopping off on the way in Honkers for a little retail therapy.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Monday, 27 July 2015

3 countries in almost 3 days

We have been such busy little travellers.
First up we had a few days in the beautiful city of Lyon. Being the experienced little travellers that we are we conquered the local train system and very quickly on the first day found ourselves right in the heart of Lyon. It is a very graceful city, situated at the confluence of two rivers, the Rhone and the Saone and is Frances' third largest city.
It was a stinking hot day and being a wee bit weary from the hectic pace we have been keeping we decided to just take the day very slowly. So we really only managed to check out the cathedral (being renovated) before jumping onto the funicular which took us to the top of the hill to the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere. This is a magnificent cathedral with outstanding views of the city. Inside takes your breath away. It is stupendous. The walls and ceilings sparkle and glisten with the most intricate gold and blue mosaics. Magnificent.
And that was the last of our European cathedrals - we have done lots of them, each so different, but each equally stunning in it's beauty and architecture.
For entirely different architecture we visited the Musee des Confluences, a most incredible modern building that defies description. It's walls jut out at extreme angles and appear to be aluminium in colour. It sits at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone Rivers. It is modern architecture at it's extreme. Absolutely fabulous to look at from the outside and architecturally very interesting on the inside which is more than I can say for it's exhibits which were not overly interesting for a natural history museum. This building is similar to the Sydney Opera House in that it started out at one price and has now more than doubled in cost - but it has been worth it.
From Lyon we headed back to Italy, to firstly return the car (unscathed, phew) and to spend some time with the Piasco family and this time we had the pleasure of the company of Fabrizio and Sienna, who has now hit the grand old age of four. So we enjoyed two days of beautiful Italian hospitality and Giacominas wonderful cooking before leaving to fly to Greece.
Alitalia decided to have a strike on the day we were flying from Turin to Rome, so we cut our losses and hopped on a train. It was actually great on the train and at least we knew we would not miss our flight next day to Athens.
So Athens is where we can now be found. We have done the Acropolis and Parthenon and it was gridlock with tourists. Still Mike had never seen it before and I know he enjoyed it. We have just been wandering today and plan similar tomorrow. Then on Wednesday we take off for the islands, Santorini, Mykonos and Paros - so the islands are going to be our holiday. Just put the feet up, relax and veg out. Though we may take a photo or two!
Greece seemed so far away when we started this mega adventure, now we are here and in four weeks we will be home. Goodness.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Busy, busy, busy

Phew, we are exhausted.  There is just so much we have done over the last week.
We based ourselves in the town of St Lo - a small town over near the Atlantic coast in Normandy, that was almost blown of the face of the earth during WW11.  Needless to say St Lo is possibly one of the newest towns in France!!
Day one we hopped up the coast to one of my favourite towns in France, the beautiful fishing port of Honfleur. It is a tiny little harbour filled with yachts tied up to the seawall and surrounding the three sides of the seawall are of course the cafes, restaurants and tourist trap shops. It is an absolute delight of a place and so colourful, even when it rained. After wandering around the harbour we walked out to the mouth of the Seine, which is very wide at it's opening. On the opposite side of the river is Le Harve, the huge container terminal.
Day two we drove off in the opposite direction to another favourite - St Malo. We arrived early in the morning which enabled us to get a parking spot just near the city walls. Again this is a city that was almost blasted off the face of the earth in WW11, but was painstakingly restored to it's former glory. Again, lots of cobbled winding laneways, cafes, restaurants and shops, but it has so much character and personality. It faces the Atlantic Ocean and is subject to tremendous forces of nature, but all was calm when we were there so we actually managed to walk all the city ramparts. It was Bastille Day when we were there, but there was nothing happening, no-one in funny costumes or wearing the flag, nothing - so unlike Sydney. Maybe it all happens at night.
A trip to Normandy is not complete without visiting the Normandy landings, but before we got to the beaches we stopped off in Bayeaux to see the tapestry. Then on to the beaches. I think we visited them all and spent time at each one. The most interesting is Omaha which is where the US Cavalry arrived and sustained huge losses of life.  The town of Arromanches-Les-Bains the small village behind Omaha Beach was another village almost destroyed by mortar fire. We drove the 80 Km of beaches, finishing at the American Cemetery above Omaha. It is a beautiful graveyard, but so very sad to see a sea of white crosses that extend for as far as the eye can see. There are something like 9500 graves there and seen like that you get a great feel for the futility of war.
Our final visit in Normandy was to the magnificent Le Mont St Michel. Since my last visit they have put in a new bridge that is above the tide level, which means you can visit any time now, unlike the old causeway they had which made for a quick exit when the tide turned. New car parks have been built away from the abbey and special buses run backwards and forwards every 10 minutes. Backwards and forwards is the correct description for the buses, like the Manly Ferry these buses can be driven from either end.
Who can not be impressed by Le Mont St Michel. I think everyone is familiar with what it looks like, so it needs no description. Arriving early in the morning and once inside the entrance we took off as fast as our little legs would go to get to the top to visit the abbey without the hordes and masses that arrive mid morning. It is a long, long, steep climb to the top, but well worth the effort.  The views are glorious and the abbey defies description. How people built something so beautiful in such a precarious position one thousand years ago is incredible.
From St Lo we moved on to Chartres, firstly so we could visit the cathedral and also because of the proximity to Paris and Versailles.
The cathedral will one day be beautiful. At the moment is is almost all under wraps as over 1000 years of grime and pollution are being removed from its walls and beautiful blue windows. The parts that have been cleaned look magnificent, but unfortunately we were unable to see the cathedral in its full perspective.
Yesterday we headed in towards Versailles. We told the GPS where we wanted to go but it let us down, mega big time. Where it took us we have no idea, all I know was I was driving in Paris surrounded by mad french people who knew where they were going and who got very impatient when I spent too many seconds pondering where to go next.
Anyway we did get to Versailles eventually. The crowds were huge, we knew they would be, so we opted to do the gardens and then perhaps visit the palace in the afternoon. But the gardens were a disappointment, last time I was there it was a sea of colour, not so this time. We walked miles through the bottom gardens and saw a couple of brilliant water fountain displays to music, but decided that our legs were too sore so we gave the palace a miss, primed our collective psyches up for the drive out of Paris and headed back to the calm of Chartres.
Today we arrived in Lyon where we will be for the next three days. We hope to mainly veg out and collect our thoughts before heading back to Italy.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

The Loire Valley

We have had a wonderful 5 days based in Tours which has enabled us to visit some of the glorious chateaux here in the Loire Valley.
But first...Carcassonne.
Carcassonne was just a whistle stop for us on our way to the Loire Valley. Carcassonne is one of those rare, magical places that just happen. It rises up before you looking like some fairy tale castle and with its witches hat towers, you can just imagine Sleeping Beauty asleep in one of the towers and Harry Potter flying around on his broomstick.  We spent hours just wandering its cobbled streets looking at the shops that sell everything from nougat to nightwear and of course there are all the cafes and restaurants too.  Carcassonne today is just a pretty face but way back in medieval times it was an incredibly fortified castle. With a moat, two complete castle walls, two portcullis at each entry with drawbridge of course, this castle intended to defend itself against the Spaniards just down to the road and of course the nasty English. Time moved on, the castle was no longer required, a new city was built on the other side of the river and the castle fell into disrepair. Then in the mid 1800's one man decided to bring it back from the brink of ruin and thanks to him we have this amazing place.
Our first day in Tours was spent in the city itself.  They have a really nifty tram system here which got us into town in no time at all. We spent time in the medieval square, visited the Basilique St Martin, the Cathedrale St Gatien, an amazing cathedral with twin towers and flying buttresses and we did have time for a stroll along the banks of the Loire as well.
Next day we were up and out bright and early.  The Chateau de Chambord was to be the first of two we planned to visit that day but we ended up spending all day at the Chateau de Chambord. What an amazing place. Built by King Francois 1 as a hunting lodge (a weekender) this chateau can only be described as being perfection.  It is in your face beautiful, defies description.  Inside there are over 400 rooms, the centre piece though is a double helix staircase designed by none other than Leonardo da Vinci. We wandered inside for at least 3 hours, never entering the same room twice, did lunch, then spent another few hours out in the grounds. Just mind blowing.
Next day we visited Chateau de Cheverny.  This was a welcome revisit for me but first time for Mike. This chateau is graceful and elegant and spans the River Cher. It is not huge like Chambord and is set in beautiful gardens. We wandered around the chateau for quite some time then left at lunch time to go and visit Leonardos place at Le Clos Luce. It is called a chateau but really is just a big house. Leonardo lived here for the last three years of his life and it was in the gardens and environs here that he came up with many of his ideas of flight and movement in general and his continued study of human anatomy.
Today we visited Villandry. No visit to the Loire is complete without spending time in the beautiful gardens of Villandry, which are one of the top gardens in France. Ten gardeners are employed full time keeping the hedges trimmed, the vegies planted and the flowers pruned. Villandry is superb.
Tomorrow we choof off over to the Atlantic coast to spend time visiting Brittany and Normandy. St Malo, Mont St Michel, Honfleur and the Normandy beaches are on the itinerary for us.
Till next time.

Sunday, 5 July 2015


As always we managed to pack heaps of activities into the 3 full days we had in Aix en Provence. Our first day was rather laid back, we just wandered around the city, visited the many markets, wandered up back lanes, ate a bit and drank a bit.
The hardest thing was figuring out the bus system.  As we had no idea where our hotel was in relation to the city, we hopped on, what we were told was the correct bus, got to the city eventually but we went in the opposite direction, the long way. Thank heaven it was a circular route.
Next day we went to Marseille. Ranked as the third most dangerous city in the world, and second largest in France, we decided that those little statistics would not stop us, and were we glad we followed our instincts.
Marseille is just brilliant. Sure there are unsavoury types around, but they are everywhere, especially here in France and Italy.
The old harbour of Marseille has been transformed into a mega tourist place.  Lined with cafes, restaurants, the fishermen still sell their catch along the sea edge and there are yachts and boats anchored along the wharves and sea walls.  The whole place is just a riot of colour. We did do a little train ride (like the one at Darling Harbour) up to the Notre Dame de la Garde, which is a huge cathedral that sits atop the highest point in Marseille and from where you get 360 degree views of the city. It is too far to walk and also very steep to access the church, hence the train. Later in the day we did lunch in one of the cafes and just soaked up the atmosphere of the wonderful city.
Our final day was spent in the lovely old city of Avignon. We had anticipated a peaceful day wandering the streets and enjoying the ambiance, but instead we arrived to find the old city was positively jumping. It seems that in July Avignon hosts a month long festival of theatre. The streets were jam packed with people (tourists), theatre performers, musicians and locals. Every street and building was festooned with placards advertising the various performances that would be held throughout the month. This was not the sedate place we had thought we would find, but it was great fun.
We did get to the Palace of the Popes (Palais des Papes) though and were absolutely amazed at the size of the place, room upon room, passageways leading up and down and all over the place. A regular rabbit warren. The Popes actually did live in Avignon in the 1300's and it did not become part of France until 1791.  We did get down to the Rhone to see the Saint Benezet bridge (Pont d'Avignon). Originally this bridge was built with 22 arches. But it kept falling down so it was just left.
We left Aix en Provence this morning and are now in Carcasonne.  We plan to spend the best part of tomorrow in the old city so haven't rushed over there today to see it.  The entrance is only about 800 m from our hotel, we have sighted it but getting our washing done was the priority of the day.
It is very hot in France at the moment, it must be well over 37 today.
After our whistle stop tour of 2 night in Carcasonne we head off to Tours (I think).
Till then.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Cinque Terre

Our final fling in Italy was in the Cinque Terre region of Italy.  Staying in the small village of San Terenzo in Lerici we were but a boat ride away from the five villages that make up the renowned Cinque Terre.
The boat ride was a brilliant way to see the Italian Rivieria, so very relaxing and so incredibly scenic. All the villages are perched up high on what seem to be vertical cliffs. Painted in reds, oranges, yellows, pinks and blues these houses seem to defy gravity. These little fishing villages are very much tourist areas today and so there are lots of terrific cafes, bars and tourist shops in each village each trying to extract the tourist euro.
As the villages are built on such extreme terrain it means you also have to walk the extreme terrain, just getting off the ferry is quite an experience as there are no wharves or jetties. It all just adds to the fun.  But having hiked up the streets of a couple of the villages we certainly slept well that night.
We bid Italy farewell this morning and hit the road bound for France.  We arrived here in Aix en Provence late this afternoon and have not had time for exploration yet.
But tomorrow we will be out there bright and early to plan the mischief we can get up to over the next few days.