A Travellerspoint blog

Day 7

Chamonix

Day 7 Tuesday 28th September 2010
Done Deeds:-

Drive to Chamonix, take Aiguille Midi cablecar to Mont Blanc, Take lots of photos, descend to halfway station, walk 2.5hrs to Mer de Glas (glacier) (Grand Balcon Nord track) and catch the Montenvers train back to Chamonix. Stay at La Thuille.

Chatter – he says
Left Annecy early in the morning as our plan was to get to Chamonix and take the cable car to view Mont Blanc. The drive was spectacular – it’s a huge alpine area and the size of the mountains around us is overwhelming – even though I had been in this environment before in the middle of winter – it still has this incredible effect on me.
The weather was OK – not the best – but sufficiently well behaved to allow us to take in what the mountain has to offer. We took the cable car to the viewing area of Mont Blanc. For the first time in my life I experienced the effort of moving around at altitude (at only 4000m or thereabouts). Its not easy, and the pounding in the head as you negotiate the steps gives some idea of what climbers experience at much higher altitudes. I take my hat off to them. After many photos of the various climbers in precarious positions on the sides of vertical or overhanging cliffs, snow and glaciers and peaks and other points of interest, we descended by cable car down through the cloud to the midway station where we alighted. We took the grand balcon Nord track to the rack rail station (2.5hrs) through the snow, glacial debris and broken cloud. We took the higher track via signal so we could look down on the glacier as we approached the rack rail station. The cloud parted and we were able to photograph it. We were too late to catch the short ride on the gondola to the face of the glacier – but weren’t disappointed as the higher view of the sheer size of the beast was something only tramping tourists will get to appreciate.
The rack rail ride down to Chamonix is very steep and its engineering feat is certainly appreciated by those with that sort of bent.
From Chamonix, we made our way with the help of Paul to la Thuille, where Jenny had booked our accommodation for the evening. One our most successful and rewarding days so far.

Chatter – she will say

Posted by k-jturner 01:46 Comments (0)

Day 6

Annecy

Day 6 Monday 27th September 2010
Done Deeds:-

Sightsee Annecy.

Chatter – he says
After breakfast, we headed into town for real sightseeing. Every corner and turn in the old town is worthy of a photo. We took plenty of these. Our initial cellphone simcard prepaid had run out, and try as we might we could not find a lebara prepaid top-up shop. Not to worry, we can do it on the internet we thought. Ha ha.!
We visited a pharmacia and over the counter managed to buy Sudafed and Panadol for the princely sum of 3euros. This we found amazing – not only over the counter Sudafed which is now banned in NZ because of the P trade, but also the level of subsidy. We should have stocked up big time.
That evening we went out for a restaurant meal. Most of the menu was fish, so I went for a steak. Not a good choice, though the meat was marginally better than the previous experience. Took a liking to the beers though. Went home where Jenny spent some time on the internet and found accommodation for us in La Thuille a village just outside Chamonix. She booked 2 nights in case the weather at Chamonix was not good, or I was not up to a visit to Mont Blanc.

Chatter – she will say

Posted by k-jturner 01:38 Comments (0)

Day 5

Macon to Annecy

Day 5 Sunday 26th September 2010
Done Deeds:-

Drive to Annecy, Stay at La Grange de Julie, Nurse a cold.

Chatter – he says
The drive to Annecy was very pleasant, especially as we were entering the mountainous areas, and we were becoming accustomed to RH driving, Paul and the behaviour of other traffic around us.
The old part of Annecy lived up to its expectations. Annecy is popular with Europeans, and is relatively free of the usual other international tourists. It sits on a beautiful lake surrounded by snowcapped peaks not unlike Queenstown's Remarkables, and is pleasantly quiet. Our private accommodation in an architecturally revitalised and professionally rebuilt old barn, was perfect. Unfortunately I found the bed attractive and crashed into it to try and recover somewhat knowing that we planned to do some high altitude tourism in the next few days. Jenny went out and touristed while I slept.

Chatter – she says
Hey I’m back! I am actually writing this at our villa in Lucca on 13/10 as I have discovered that writing blogs seriously cuts into the time you would rather spend touristing, eating and talking with your friends or researching the next day’s activities. It has begun to feel a little like a university assignment that I have to finish before the cut off date i.e our return to New Zealand. Also “He says” usually has the computer to do his blog (the swot) or the computer needs charging, or some one else is using the computer to book things or check their e-mails, or the computer is going flat and our one adaptor plug is being used to charge another of our many electrical appliances. Any way this morning I have a window, as we are all blobbing out in the villa whilst half the party is off on a food gathering sortie to the ‘supermercato’, so I will attempt to catch up with “He says”.
We left Macon and drove to Annecy, pronounced “Ancy” (to rhyme with Nancy) No wonder every French person who asked us where we were going next, looked blankly back at us when we said we were going to “Arnessy”.
Rolled into Annecy just before the boulangerie’s (bakeries), supermercatos, and even tourist information shops shut up shop for the 3hr lunch time recess (the rest of the shops were mostly shut as it was Sunday) so we managed to grab a picnic lunch to have by lake Annecy. This was wonderfully tranquil lying back on the grass with the peace only being disturbed slightly by the sound of the children near us who were engaged with long sticks in knocking chestnuts off some trees along from us, which was all rather rustic. Lake Annecy is very beautiful and a bit like Queenstown as it is surrounded by snow covered peaks, except that Queenstown lacks Annecy’s geranium festooned chalets and abundance of chateaux on the surrounding lower hills. The lake has crystal clear water as it was once heavily polluted and so a big effort was made to reverse it‘s pollution problems and now it is said to be the cleanest lake in Europe.
We drove on to our B&B which turned out to be the most fabulous barn conversion worthy of “Grand Designs” It was absolutely stunning and when we opened our bedroom window we had a gorgeous view of the lake with hang gliders riding the thermals above it after they launched themselves off the lower ridges of the mountains opposite. La Thiule, the little village outside Annecy where the B&B is, is a small rural town, beautifully decorated with flowers and fruit trees and gorgeous vegetable gardens everywhere. The little roundabout by the church had to be seen to be believed-(see photo). Having seen how the French decorate their round abouts I now feel Makara could make a little more effort and have taken photos to inspire the Makara Garden Club. I have never seen so many well kept houses, bristling with flowers and old world charm.
The B & B ( La Grange de Julie) was run by Sylvie and Francoise. Sylvie had had an American mother and spoke perfect American. Francoise, who only spoke French tended to lurk in the back ground, smiling but looking like he hoped we didn't try to converse with him in our appalling school french.
The best thing about La Grange de Julie was that they had just picked up that day two gorgeous birman kittens, so I had great fun playing with them.

Posted by k-jturner 01:32 Comments (0)

Day 4

Heading Out of Paris

Day 4 Saturday 25th September 2010
Done Deeds:-

Collect Rental at Montparnasse, drive Southeast to Macon, Stay at Novotel.

Chatter – he says
Day 4 started early as we had to pick up a rental car and drive down towards Annecy, a town in France on a lake near the Swiss border. After another home made breakfast, we headed to Gard Montpanasse to collect the car. Within the station, we found the sign to the rental cars. We followed it carefully, then at the great hall, all rental car signs disappeared. We asked several people, then finally a young guy manning a Swatch stand gave us detailed directions that included going up 3 stories, negotiating to the far side of the station (several football fields wide) beyond line 24, walking to the far end of platform 24, (several more football fields long) climbing to a fourth level, then following the recommenced signage to the car hire counters. Only the French would leave directions out of the most complex part of wayfinding signage.
This fourth level was at street level. After all paper work was done, instead of the car being brought up to daylight, we were directed down to the basement 4 floors below us, where we were told we would be met – which we weren’t. We found the person’s office eventually, he gave us a key, and said go over in that direction, use the remote key lock and your car will identify itself. This worked, and I could not help wondering why we weren’t given a tour of the car to make sure we could drive it. Such an expensive item, and all trust! Our car proved to be a small manual Renault. The basement where it was parked was very dark. It was hard to work out how to open the boot, read the gearstick and other essentials, so we decided to drive up to street level and sort things out. After trial and error, we got the car going in the right direction, tried to consciously manoeuvre to the right side, and get into the light. We parked in a taxi stand, mounted the GPS (named Paul – but should have been called Kim or Mary after 2 Radio NZ broadcasters, as it always butts in whenever males are talking) which we had programmed the previous day to take us out of Paris, and got underway.
I take my hat off to saloon racing car drivers who switch from left to right hand drive from week to week. They don’t have the luxury of the time I had to deselect the driver’s door handle when changing gear, or deselecting the wipers when using their blinkers. (Paris roads are a racetrack, so there is some similarity there with said drivers) even on a Saturday morning.
Paul worked a treat. We had no trouble following directions and getting out of Paris into the open countryside. Despite the GPS, there was no room for complacency when driving. It takes constant concentration to drive a RHS manual car after a lifetime of driving on the left. Compounding this, I was getting a cold, which 10days later would still be with me.
It was a delight driving southeast through the French countryside. Paris was behind us and its bogey was fading. About 100km short of where we wanted to be that evening, exhaustion set in. As we passed through the nondescript city of Macon, we decided to find accommodation and rest. Not much accommodation was available, because something was on in town– not sure what – but we did find a room in the Novotel – a building that looked as though it was purchased in a Soviet auction of the Kremlin. It did the job. Before going to bed, I checked emails through the wi-fi (pronounced wee-fee). Somehow the connection stuffed up my email settings, and my settings for entourage (Microsoft outlook equivalent for the Apple Mac) were changed so that I can now only download emails, not upload them. (I use webmail now for sending). Jenny searched on the internet and found some accommodation for us at our next stop – Annecy, and booked it.
My cold set in that night just for an added bit of a challenge.

Chatter – She Says
Stuffed with more home made croissants and jam filled pastries, we said goodbye to Michelene, and managed to leave on time for Montparnasse station as she was occupied explaining the exhausting routine of a running a French B&B to a new set of Australian guests. The Australians had explained to us earlier that the strike we had encountered on our first day was because the workers of France were at odds with the govt. that wanted to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62yrs. For the average French person, who already works a 35hr week , this was being seen as an extremely harsh request!
As “He says“ has explained, despite French efficiency, we managed to pick up our hire car (an ugly little Renault that we have called ‘Victor’ as it has VC on the number plate) and drove it out off the car park into the middle of a very busy Parisienne street. Quickly Kevin pulled it over to the side off the street and a little rattled we “reconfigured” (GPS language). We then turned on Paul, our GPS, and once his calm authoritative voice rang out, telling us to “turn around, drive 150 metres and take the second exit at the roundabout” we felt more confident and set of on our journey out of Paris. As we drove along obeying Paul’s instructions to the tee, Kevin stopped opening his car door every time he went to change gears, and I started to lose that sense of anxiety that I had not felt since I had been going out in a car with Nick and Claire when they were learning to drive. It did take me a long time to stop saying nervously “stay on the right” every time we negotiated an intersection, which must have been a little annoying for Kevin.

Posted by k-jturner 00:20 Comments (0)

Day 3

Paris

Done Deeds:-
Paris, Eiffel Tower, book Eurostar to London, purchase Sim Card, checkout car rental at Gare Mont Parnasse, Louvre visit, evening meal, Back to Michelene’s.
Chatter – he says
We knew that if we wanted to see the Eiffel Tower before the crowds, we needed to get there early. After an 8am breakfast of home made croissants and coffee, we headed to the Metro, used one of the 5 surplus ticket we had mistakenly purchased the day before and were metroed across Paris to the Tower. There were no queues at the self climb ticket office, so after negotiating the security where we had a long conversation with the guard on the prowess of Johah Lomu vs Cheval, we climbed the first 2 stories, then took the lift to the top. Brilliant views, even though a little cloud hanging around. Used the GPS to confirm we were actually on the Tower, and were not let down regarding its accuracy.
After negotiating the Nigerian hawkers at the exit of the tower trying to sell us everything from mini Eiffel towers to wind-up flappy wing doves that do fly (for a short time), we headed for the main railway station Gard du Nord to purchase Eurostar tickets to London in a month’s time, and check out where we will eventually drop off the rental car. Gard du Nord is a huge station with interconnecting metro, provincial and surburban lines. Signage was good and those we talked to were helpful with directions. Some French was very beneficial. Outside the station we spotted a “lebara” agent and went in to purchase a Sim Card for the phone. The guy was helpful, sold us a card, installed it for us, then I asked if I could ring his cellphone to check it worked – which it did. When I went to pay him, my money and credit card fell out on to the ground. The guy took pity on us thinking we were pathetic tourists who don’t deserve to be done over by pick pockets. He came around the counter gave us a good lecture on security and suggested we get out of Gard du Nord as quickly as possible because it is not a safe place for idiots like us. He forgot to tell us how to top up the sim card, and that we needed to register it on the internet - in France - with lebara so that we could top it up on line in any country. As it was a French sim card, all the menus on the phone became French so we needed to work our way through these with our limited French to change the language to English. It is not a phone I am very familiar with so it took some time but we did accomplish it. We received a number of SMS from lebara, - in French - which I did not take seriously enough, but their significance became important once we left France.
By the time we had sorted these things out fed ourselves etc and gone back to our accommodation, we had only about an hour’s rest, before heading back into Paris for our evening’s guided tour of the Louvre.
This trip was amazing. We arrived at 6:15 at the Louvre tour start point. We were given head phone receivers for our tour, the guide talked us through the use of these, asked everyone if their headphones were working, kicked out those who had joined the wrong tour, and off we headed to the Louvre, as a bunch. All the way the guide talked to us. Before entering the Louvre, 4 of the group (Americans) complained they could not hear the guide at all. It turned out they had not listened to anything they had been told. The guide was very patient, phoned the guide of the group they should have been with, left a message on her phone, and waited for a response. While she was talking on the phone, one of the Americans was clowning around talking into his receiver unit saying “can you hear me now?” and other such nonsense. At this point I thought that the American border control had it all wrong. The world would be a better place if they spent time preventing such Americans from leaving, rather than preventing foreigners from entering. After standing around for an hour, we finally got into the Louvre. The guide had unlimited, unparralled, knowledge of the place and its contents. It was fascinating listening to her on the storyline behind various paintings, and observing how she handled complex historical questions, and the like. She had 4 main items to show us – Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, the winged victory, and the David portrait of Napolean’s coronation. She whisked us around in the allotted 2hrs, and fitted in whatever else she could. The Louvre is a place that deserves much more time than 2hrs, but that is about as much as can be absorbed in one session.
After the Louvre, which took its toll on us physically, (3hrs or more on our feet at the end of a busy day), we found a restaurant that had reasonably priced mains. I ordered a steak at my peril. On my previous trip to Paris about 30yrs ago, I recall that the French had developed the fine art of ruining a perfectly good steak. After digging into my steak for the first time, I concluded the French in the intervening years had perfected that art. A word of advice. If offered a steak knife by the waiter, ask for a drop saw. After cutting the meat with the drop saw, the blade will most likely be blunt. If still hungry, don’t eat the meat, eat the blade as it will be more tender than the meat it cut. (Did the French invent the original blade steak?).
We had one more surprise at this restaurant. Two coffees cost us the equivalent of NZ$30, one beer NZ$15, and one gin and tonic NZ$30. Many lessons learnt here. I better stop there because at some point I have to go back through France, and I don’t wish to be lynched – at least not by them.
Thank goodness for the Metro – it’s a pleasure to experience, trains every 2 minutes even at 11pm, and it took us home without issues.

Chatter – she says
As we only had one day in Paris I had researched it heavily and was determined to get to the Eiffel Tower the moment it was open so to avoid the queues. Michelene, who ran our B&B, didn’t seem to to pick up on our tourist urgency, and kept us talking til 9am, with each sentence ending with “ but I must get on, I ‘av so much to do , it eez all so much ‘ard work. I am up cooking the coissants from 5 in ze morning every day !” At which we’d inch towards the door with a “well we won’t keep you then” but we had to listen to how hard she worked for another 15mins before we escaped out the door and hot footed it for the metro.
Eiffel Tower was fantastic and as I had not had the money to go up it when I was last in Paris 30 yrs before ( having felt it was more urgent then to spend my money on a lovely pair of Italian boots), I was determined this time to get up “the giant asparagus” ( as the French knew it when it was first built). There was no queue at that hour and to burn off all Michelene’s coissants and pain au chocolate we walked up to the second level. From here you could really appreciate the beauty of Paris laid out below all around you . I pointed out to Kevin that the tree lined avenue of the Trocadero gardens running to wards the magnificent façade of the Palais de Chaillot, was just the look I was trying to achieve in my garden with the recently laid path to the gate into the pigs paddock. He pointed out that Fraser’s house glimpsed through the hedge at the end of said path hardly equated with the Palais de Chaillot.
We took the lift to the top of the tower from the second level and you have to really wonder at the engineering feat that is the Eiffel tower considering that it was constructed in the 1800s. After this we descended to first floor where we had a coffee (tasted like Nescafe) in the café by a window with one of the most famous views in the world and wrote a couple of post cards.
Travelled then to Gare de Nord station to buy our Eurostar tickets to London for when we returned to Paris at end of Oct. This was followed by some sorting out of the cell phone which Kevin has gone into in “He says”. Kevin is in charge of the back pack which carries our electrical necessities of life- The cell phone, the lap top, the camera, the GPS (Paul) and all the various individual charger units and electrical adapter plugs for 3 continents. At present our most treasured possessions are our passports and our European adaptor plug. All the electrical equipment queues to be charged by this one adapter ( along with of course, my hair dryer and heated curlers) If I had to give a tip for future travellers it would be to take at least two of these plugs or even a small multi-board with you.
We returned then to our B&B at about 3pm. We would have loved a cup of tea but no jug in our room . (This we found was usual for Europe and we only came across a kettle in our room, twice in any where we stayed) So we lay on our beds for a couple of hours letting our jet lag just wash over us and Kevin began to harbour the suspicon that his Jet lag was actually a cold developing. Then we were up and off again to the metro to head into town for our evening tour of the Louvre ( my plan to see it at night and thus avoid the crowds again).

Posted by k-jturner 23:55 Comments (0)

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