Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Day 1 and 2

This is actually day 18: we're in Oban: this is our second day here, and tomorrow we go to Glasgow.

But let me back up, and start at the beginning.  On April 18th we flew to Paris, via Hong Kong.  Arriving at Paris CDG we retrieved our luggage and completed the (trivial) entry procedures.  I wish it was this painless every time I have to enter the USA.  Our itinerary included a complimentary limousine transfer, and the driver was waiting in arrivals.  He took charge of some of the luggage (we have a lot), and led us to his car.  By putting one large case in the front seat, everything was loaded, and he drive us to the hotel, telling us a bit about Paris on the way.

We arrived at the Mandarin Oriental in the Rue Saint-Honore early on the morning of the 19th, and of course our room was not ready, and not likely to be ready before 3PM.  The hotel kindly gave us breakfast, and we left our bags with the concierge and went out for a walk.  First we walked to the Place Vendome, which is near the hotel, and then we walked through what seemed to be a small temporary street market, with fruit and fish stalls, just in a side street.  We made our way to the Tuileries Gardens, and walked nearly to the Louvre, and then around to the Seine, where we could see the Musee Orsay on the other bank.  After that, we walked to the Passage du Grand Cerf, one of the old covered arcades of Paris.  From there we walked back towards the hotel, and wandered into the Rue Montorgueil, which is an open air market: the produce looked fantastic, great counters full of cheeses, beautiful fruit, meat, patisseries, chocolate and just about any other food substance you can name.

After this we found a cafe and got some lunch, and then since it was about 2PM we went back to the hotel.  Our room was ready, so we checked in, got cleaned up and had a rest.  We had dinner in the hotel and slept the sleep of the jet lagged.

Feeling much better the next morning (Sunday), we went to the Louvre.  I had ordered Paris Combo passes, which I would recommend to anyone.  The passes allowed us to jump the queue of people waiting to buy tickets, and to walk straight in.  We used these passes all over the place, and while they probably did not save us money they saved us an enormous amount of time: what would you rather do on holiday - stand in a queue or have fun?  The passes included metro tickets and various other benefits, and were delivered to our hotel.

Back to the Louvre: it is enormous, and you cannot see it all.  I'll bet there are people working there who have not seen it all.  It is a beautiful building, steeped in history, quite apart from the amazing collections that it houses.  We saw the "History of the Louvre" exhibits, and then concentrated on the Egyptian and Greek exhibits.

After a couple of hours we felt that we had seen all that we could absorb for one morning, so we walked to Place de L'Opera and got lunch in a convenient cafe.  From there we went to the Grand Palais, which is a beautiful building and walked around in the sun for a while.  Then we went back to the hotel and got ready for dinner, which I had booked at Atelier Joel Robuchon Saint Germain.  I must admit to being a little disappointed in this meal.  Steve and I have been to Le Chateau de Joel Robuchon Tokyo in the past, and we hoped for something similar in Paris.  What we got was a restaurant attached to a hotel, very crowded, with people allowing their children to play games at the table and considerable noise.  The food was good, but the ambiance was rather awful.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Around the World in 43 Days: The Grand Tour

It used be common practice for well-to-do young men to undertake a cultural tour of Europe as part of their education - this was commonly known as a "Grand Tour".  And I know many people who have taken a gap year (or two) and travelled before starting tertiary education.  Steve and I both went straight from high school to university, and from there almost immediately into the work force.  We've both travelled a bit, but not as much as we would like, and far too often the travel we have done has been for work.  This year we plan to do some travel for us: the trip starts on April 18th, and ends (if things go according to plan) on May 30th.

Now in Jules Verne's classic novel, 'Around the World in 80 Days', Phileas Fogg makes a bet, during a card game at the Reform Club, that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days.  He then finishes his game of whist and walks home, where he tells his servant to pack a few garments.  Then he gets some money from his safe, and starts his journey at 8:45PM the same night.  So his planning time is, at best, a hour or so.

Steve and I are going to circumnavigate the globe in 43 days, and the planning has taken over a year.  I would like to thank Melissa Louison, Meagan Patmore and Tahn Lee, all of the American Express Travel and Lifestyle service team, for their assistance in the organisation of the whole thing: we couldn't have done it with out you.

We are now less than 5 days from the start of the trip, and I have lists of things that must be done, acquired or packed before we leave.  The dining room table is covered in photographic equipment, as we try to decide what to take and what to leave. Steve is practicing his high school Italian and I am trying to recall any of my high school French (not my best subject).  There is a stack of guide books in the lounge, and a mountain of kitty litter in the garage: our cats' nanny will come in to care for The Hoard while we are away, and I have to leave plenty of supplies on hand.

The itinerary, in rough outline, is:

  • Fly from Sydney to Paris (via Hong Kong).  5 nights in Paris.
  • Travel from Paris to Venice on the Venice-Simplon Orient Express.
  • Stay in Venice for three nights and then go to Udine (Oooh-din-ay), probably by train.
  • One night in Udine, then back to Venice for one more night.
  • Fly from Venice to Newcastle, where we collect a hire car.
  • One night in Newcastle, then drive to Brampton in Cumbria.
  • One night in Cumbria, and then drive  to Inverness.
  • Two nights in Inverness and then drive to Oban.
  • Two nights in Oban and then drive to Glasgow.
  • Two nights in Glasgow and then fly to Belfast.
  • Two nights in Belfast  and then drive to Ballymena.
  • Three nights in Ballymena and then drive to Enniskillen.
  • One night in Enniskillen and then drive to Dublin.
  • Four nights in Dublin and then fly to New York.
  • Five nights in New York and then fly to Los Angeles.
  • Four nights in Los Angeles and then fly home to Sydney.
We don't intend to travel as Phileas Fogg did, oblivious to the countries through which we pass and focused solely on the completion of the journey.  Our journey will be interspersed with visits to museums, art galleries, monuments, ruins and anything else that looks interesting.  None of it is being done "on the cheap".  Some of it is being done on the "quite astonishingly expensive".  Reservations have been made at some world-renowned restaurants along the way, and none of the hotels have been selected because they are economical.  I like nice hotels rooms, and consider them an integral part of a good holiday.

There will be lots of photos, some of which will be posted to Flickr, and I shall try to update this blog from time to time.  Stay tuned for further updates.


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