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France 2011

The Beginning : Travelling to Europe

AUSTRALIA | Monday, 14 March 2011 | Views [4873] | Comments [7]



14 March 2011 : Melbourne, Australia

Finally we have booked our tickets. We fly to Singapore on 12 August leaving Jacinta in residence to keep Bella, our watchdog, company. Watchdogs still get lonely. We spend three nights there. Have not booked anywhere there yet. Then on 15 August we fly to Helsinki and stay there one night. If we like it there we may stay longer next year when we expect to return. Then on 17th we fly to Paris for 1 week before picking up our motorhome in Charroux. That is all for now.

It is July now. Things have changed a bit. Our 11 weeks of freeform travel have reduced to 6. We now visit Paris at the end rather than the beginning. And our expectation to spend most of out time in France has now become 3 weeks in France if we are lucky... Why is that? You probably don't care but we may like to remember why in years to come. The change came about because we saw a cruise available down the Croatian coast through a chance viewing of an article in a magazine. So we decided to move our Paris stay to the end and instead drive in our little motorhome to Croatia. We have 8 days tgo get there which means a (hopefully) leisurely 250 km drive each day.

Now, this is a leisurely drive in Oz but may or may not prove to be leisurely in Europe. We travel from CDG by TGV the day after we arrive then stay in Charroux for two nights when we hope to fix a couple of minor faults in the motorhome. And fit a reversing camera. And fit an alarm system. Then we drive to Clarmont-Ferrand where we stay the night in a nearby camping site. Next night Geneva. The question is... how much sight seeing can we do and still cover the 250k? That remains to be seen. Maybe we just note where we want to revisit. After Geneva we stay one night at Zurich. We have some friends in Cairns who fortuitously will be visiting friends there when we pass through. So we intend to have coffee with them in Zurich. They also visit their family in Melbourne but we will catch up with them in Switzerland. Maybe that is what the carbon tax is for. If the embedded carbon is taxed on the coffee, we may skip the drinks. After Zurich, we drive to Innsbruck then next day to Villach, both in Austria. Brings new meaning to the quip "if today is Wednesday, this must be Austria". Then down to Slovenia to stay at Lublijana before continuing to Rovinj, Croatia prior to our departure from Opatija.

We spend 7 nights on a 10 cabin boat exploring the Croatian coast before returning early September. We are meeting Felix, who was an exchange student with us 15 years ago, in Bonn in early October so we have our first unplanned 3 weeks to fill in around Italy and Germany.

After a few days with Felix in Germany, we have our second 3 free weeks to return to France and maybe venture down to Spain. Then Paris and home.

So next addition will probably be from Singapore.

Friday 12 August 2011 : Tullamarine (Melbourne Airport), Australia

Well, here it is the 12the August and I said I would write again from Singapore, but there are a few interesting things which happen on the way......

We arrive at the airport about 1 pm for our Qantas flight at 3.30 pm, thanks to the generosity of Scot. He was going to pick up the trailer anyway which was handy as we had not actually realised that a trailer was nearly necessary for our two oversized bags. The irony is, we bought them because they squash flat for storage in our van, without realising that the van could nearly fit inside either one anyway. The wheels on the bags may come in handy if we get a flat in the van. We arrive at the airport and opt not to use any escort vehicle as we tow our bags to our very first queue at checkin. As we stand there, Judy, my sister joins us and we enjoy 20 minutes of idle chat. Well idle apart from shuffling backwards periodically down the queue. We finally arrive at the head of the queue and are ushered to a checkin bloke. As I suffer from  borderline techno nerd syndrome, I had stuffed my bag  with wires, a multimeter, smoke detector, burglar alarm, inverter, a reversing camera and all the other regular stuff one takes on a holiday (did I mention tooth brush as well... oh no I forgot that...and clothes....but that's another story)  Just in case security does not view that as quite the regular stuff I do, I mention to the checkin bloke that I have a few electronic things in my bag and would that be OK. It may  be my nervous eye twitch, but he asks a few questions. Is it a standard packaged burglar alarm? I explain that it is not wrapped because I have coupled the sinusoidal output of the piezo buzzer to a bridge rectifier and run that into an optocoupler which opeates a relay controlling a 12volt piezo buzzer. I am just about to explain how I  used a capacitor to....... when Scot digs me in the ribs and suggests I shut up. But I think I should mention the smoke detector which, in answer to the checkin bloke's question, does not contain any mercury but does contain a small amount of  radioactive Americonium (I don't even know how to pronounce it, let alone how to spell it). Maybe it is my mumbling of the fissionable material's name, but the checkin bloke feels he should call downstairs to check. Meanwhile we have created our own true European Queue and we are savouring being at the head of it!!

The guys downstairs do not answer so our checkin bloke goes for a wander to get someone. Back comes a security chick and we open the bag.  I venture into the abyss (with a safety line for security in case I get lost). A moment or two later I return with the two offending items. After a look of admiration that I have emerged unscathed, she inspects the alarm and notes it has a battery. I point out  that it is a capacitor and not a battery, and in that instant I see my chance to explain the difficulties I had in determining the appropriate current limiting resistor. My explanation is cut short by a dig in the ribs by Scot and I shut up again. Now we get  to the smoke detector. Despite Scot and I having discussed whether it emitted alpha, beta or gamma rays, it very quickly transpires that the security people are happy to xray our stuff with gay abandon but don't like being x-rayed back. A case of double standards if ever I heard one. So Scot takes the smoke detector, we rezip the bag and complete check in, the checkin guy ignoring the fact that the bag is 1.5 kg over, presumably in the interests of not having to erect more barricades for the lengthening queue.

Off we go to have some lunch, having burned an hour in the checkin queue. During lunch,Scot does some role playing with me on how to answer security questions. This involves him using a vaguely Indian accent (to simulate accents I may find worldwide) to ask questions to which I have to answer one word or be failed in the test.
After lunch we proceed to the landside/airside doors and take a few pics. We take one with Judy, Ro and I and one with Scot Ro and I. The second is our first Judy free transaction for our trip. We wave goodbuy, Ro has the obligatory tear (but only one) and after a quick discussion as to the psychological reasons that one cries at such events  we proceed to immigration. But not before I am checked for explosives. Something about me attracts these guys. It is supposed to be a random search. Well I can only assume I look pretty random because they always choose me. Still we have an interesting chat about how the checker's mother is in Birmingham and how she is having a riotous  time during the  unrest in London. We part with a cheery "See you next time...." which may  be a clue.

We trundle to the gate lounge, pleased to be free of our gargantuan bags. Ro is even happier as I am lugging both our pieces of hand luggage which combined are pretty weighty themselves.

We are travelling on an A380, which is a BIG plane.With all our fiddling about, we do not have a long wait until the aircraft is lumbering down the tarmac before gracefully launching into the air.

Entertainment is wonderful. I have driven to Sydney and back with Abba or Katie Melour (can't spell her name either and she is not an element) so I am pleased to find Nora Jones, another favourite, on the play list. The 8 hours flew by (a good thing, really). There are heaps of movies and we watch two or three. Between movies, we  walk up and down aisles and spent many a pleasant half hour in the queue for the toilet. As we listen to the flush of the previous  client we lament the fact that they don't supply ear plugs for use during the flush. Nor do they insist passengers standing before flushing, resulting in our mild surprise that on every occasion  someone emerges without having been sucked into the storage tanks. Mind  you, very few small people disembarked and I did not monitor how many embarked.

For exercise, the designers of the A380 very thoughtfully provided a spiral staircase at the rear of the plane. We use that to good advantage for a little aerobic exercise. We frequently walk to the rear of the plane to get this exercise. Maybe too frequently as passengers start to ask us for drinks and snacks. Next time remind me not to dress like a steward.

We have the obligatory pair of Singaporean gay stewards, one of whom we seem to disenfranchise by asking for a cup of hot chocolate. We learned recently that holding eye contact for more than 3 second with a gay is a come hither signal, so I limit glances to 1.3 seconds to allow a safety factor. We suspect they are disenfranchised because on two or three occasions, goodies are brought tantalisingly close only to have the providers disappear when they reach our row. On one such occasion, the treat was apples. We attracted our steward's attention but he just tipped the bowl upside down to indicate it was empty. This was somewhat redundant as the bowl was clear plastic. As he skips away we thought we would take matters into our own hands. We had noticed near our spiral staircase  there was a Snack Bar for passenger use which included apples. So I sprint (with respect to the ground, not the aisle) to the rear of the plane (actually those astute readers will note that I sprinted back with respect to the ground but didn't even get there wrt the ground) and grab two apples then returned to  my seat. Our gay steward returns with two apples and observes our apples. He says in an admonishing tone "Oh, you have got some apples", stamps his foot and takes off, resisting my attempts to grab his half-proffered apples.

But our wrestling results in my getting one of the two. On landing, an apple dropped by the same attendant rolls down the aisle, not unlike a Jaffa in theatres of old. Presumable dropped during a scuffle with another strong willed passenger.

We land, negotiate a queue or two at immigration and find a taxi, but not before lugging our bags back and forth to try to find the appropriate means of transport. This is eventually a taxi, the boot of which is too small to take both bags.....there seems to be a theme running here. However, Ro and one bag are very comfortable in the back seat.

The taxi takes us to our hotel for an absurdly low price (S$20 ((A$18)))  where  a porter grabs our bags before letting me load them onto his trolley...one  on top of the other so the trolley will fit in the lift. We take the next lift with me carrying the hand luggage so as not to destroy the trolley or overload the lift. The porter manoeuvers our bags into the room and between pants gratefully accepts the S$2 tip I give him (the "Cheap bastard" mutter barely audible).  Now, after a good night's sleep, here we are........ The journey continues.

Saturday 13th August 2011 : Singapore

We awake the next day to oppressive heat (outside the building fortunately) and go for a swim after fiddling on the internet to get our comms (tekkie talk) working. We are supposed to have a USB internet connection purchased from Austria, but having been lost in the German postal system then having been nearly sent back to Austria in France, it is supposedly waiting for us at Charroux. Instead the 'otel (practicing my French) stings us to use theirs.

The swim is lovely; the water warm and the sun wonderful.  It is about lunch time by now so we think we better get going. We go to the lobby and ask directions to Orchard Rd, too far to walk from the hotel (enough of this French stuff for the time being). A bus number 123 will do the trick. But we do not allow for dissuading eager taxi drivers. As we walk down the front drive a taxi pulls in and asks us "Where to..." or the equivalent in Indian obsequious-speak. Thankyou, no is our reply....we want to take the bus. We proceed to the bus stop but the taxi, undeterred cruises the drive and bus shelter, stopping to offer increasingly lower fares to Orchard Rd. We explain we want to soak up the culture on the bus (well known as a cultural experience by us street people) and after offering a fare of S$3 he finally goes to look for another victim...er customer.

We wait for a bus or two....or three and no 123 bus. But along comes an open top double decker hop on hop off bus, the conductor type person of which has an eye for a tourist. Despite our careful disguises of camera, thightly clasped wallets and bags  shorts teashirts etc, she see through it and the bus pulls in with her hanging out the door extolling the virtues of this wonderous bus......which still looks just like a tourist bus to us. But no...it is the best tourist bus in Singapore and can be used for the whole day for only S$19.90. No matter that there is less than half the day left. But it looks like just what we want so we climb aboard. And it is just what we want. How could we compare S$3 to get to Orchid Rd with $S40(S$19.90 + S$19.90 = S$40 in Singapore)  and not be thrilled. We climb onto the open top bus and the breeze of the bus provides some sensible cooling against the heat and humidity. We are informed that Singapore has two types of weather: hot ..... and very hot. But interestingly, the frequent showers are extremely localised and clouds form and dissipate with remarkable rapidity. There can also be some remarkable cool patches between hot spots.

First trip is a circuit of the city. Sky scrapers abound, with quite eclectic and interesting architecture. A blend of new and old is evident, with old ranging from the iconic Raffles Hotel to quintessentially Singaporean shuttered tropical climate buildings in the Chinatown area.  The older areas  have a lot more character as opposed to the new buildings, which, except for the population ethnicity and density, could be any Australian city.

We stop at the terminus and supp of the local cuisine in a quintessentially global Subway..... that’s 'cos the bus is leaving soon! The terminus is at the Singapore Flyer which is the largest observation wheel in the world. It is 165 metres in diameter. The London Eye is the second highest.

We choose to stay on the bus for a full circuit sitting outside in the hot humid air. The view is excellent and we marvel at the Singapore skyline and incredible infrastructure, with its efficient roads, public transport and amazing sky scrapers. Unfortunately, not only are offices sky scrapers, but apartments are also and one sees building after building with boxes, presumably of varying size and luxury (or otherwise). Some show signs of ageing but most look presentable from the outside. Singapore is renowned as being clean and safe and that is our observation. After returning to the terminus, we complete another circuit but stop at the Singapore Botanical Gardens where we spend a few delightful hours, including time in the National Orchid Garden. Once again, nothing is out of place. Even some palm fronds which have died and fallen off the trees are tied up in pink string to keep them neat until they are picked up by one of the park vehicles.

There seems to be a  national pride in keeping everything neat and tidy. A joy to experience. It is also an interesting  juxtaposition to see the man made city minimally embellished with nature against the gardens where nature is minimally embellished with man's creation. Within the gardens, the city seems far away.

After leaving the gardens we get the last bus back to the terminal where we eat at a traditional food hall popular with the locals. That is more like it! For the princely sum of S$8 we have chicken with rice, chicken soup and a side serving of bok choy which a delicious dressing. Followed up by 4 scoops of ice cream for S$3!!

Fortunately there is a late last bus at 7.30pm which takes us to the stop outside our hotel door. We speak with one of the bus conductors about tickets for the Singapore Flyer and she says  if we got on "her bus" tomorrow she will get us discount tickets for S$22 for a half hour ride on the wheel.

So off to bed with the idea of waking up at 7.00 am for a swim.

Sunday 14th August 2011 : Singapore


And that we do. The pool is beautifully warm, however I think I will try the spa before another swim. Big mistake. The spa is much colder than the pool. Maybe their plumbing is back to front. Once again the pool and surrounds are immaculate. There is one leaf which should not be there but I am sure it will be removed within a short period of time.
We catch the 9.15 bus to Orchard Rd to find a light breakfast. Having asked at a TGI Fridays outlet  what breakfasts they have, we look further, including calling into a camera outlet to get a power converter plug for S$8. However I also ask about mobile handsets as mine had died in Melbourne. We are shown an LG handset which starts at S$240 which supposedly was 60% off and gradually reduces to S$160. We decide to go back to TGI and think about it over breakfast. The girl had told us that there was fruit available for S$4 + +, the + + meaning "plus taxes" and two eggs for S$4.90 + + plus S$1 (+ +) for coffee or tea and juice. So that seems OK. We sit at a table and speak with another waiter who says they no longer offer fruit but would we like juice? So we get the juice (including a large amount of ice thereby minimizing the juice). We  comment that we have been told fruit is available for S$4. The waiter disappears, returning after going up stairs to say fruit is available for S$5.90 ++. Annoyed at the changing story and price we say skip the fruit and we will have the eggs and coffee or tea. By this time, the original girl is seen walking away. After a confused discussion as to what is included, the waiter asks what juice do we want with the eggs. We pointed out we had just had juice. Oh no sir, that juice was S$5.90 + + not the small juice which comes with the eggs. That is ridiculous says I to the waiter. The eggs, coffee and juice is S$5.90 (++) but the teaspoon of juice with ice is also S$5.90 + +? Things are expensive in Singapore , sir , says the waiter. I had a complete dinner and soup for S$5.00 without a plus in sight last night says I, uncharacteristically starting to lose my cool. I will go and check says the waiter disappearing up the stairs again. Five minutes passes. I enquire of another waiter where his colleagues may have gone. He shruggs. Our waiter returns offering us fruit free of charge. Unfortunately, by then we are unhappy customers and wanted our bill. Our waiter disappears up the stairs again later to be replaced by the girl with a bill for S$13.90 for 2 juices. Not a significant amount of money but very aggravating so we pay and leave instead getting eggs, toast and coffee for S$6.50 including taxes etc elsewhere!

We  walk around a bit and ask  about LG handsets, which no one else seems to have. This includes looking through one shopping mall full of wall to wall locals spread over six levels of hole-in-the-wall shops with inanimate attendants waiting to pounce on anyone looking in any way interested in their merchandise.

Finally we decide to return to buy the phone. I offer S$140 and the attendant offered S$150 which I accept. Ah, I thought, a fool and his money are soon parted. Portentious but wrongly directed! Not being a " babe in the woods", I proceed to perform "Due Diligence" before handing over the money. I recall I performed "Due Diligence" in Fiji many years ago when buying a hair dryer. I had required the proprietor then to run the dryer on high and low heat to show its operation. He ran it for 5 seconds on each, satisfying my test. Unfortunately in Australia I determined the dryer was 110v on high could only be   run for 8 seconds before burning out. Having learnt from that experience, I thought this little black duck won't get caught again!! Due diligence on a phone with no SIM fitted, inadequate instruction book, no packaging and no documentation can't be too hard. It later proved to be neither hard nor diligent.

We continue on our way with Ro looking for clothing shops, confident in our ability to spot a fake.  In the ongoing saga with our bags, Ro had the brilliant idea to insert blow up bags to prevent clothes moving about in our cavernous vessels. So it is indeed fortuitous that I see a "Mr Condom" shop. There should be some blowup something there. However, after some examination of the shop's wares, I determine that their blowup products are either too big or too small to serve the required purpose. Besides,  if we have  to open our bags at customs, there might be some embarrassment afforded. In Ro's clothing searches, she decides against the genuine Eves St Laurent shorts for S$3.50.
We hop on the bus again, running back from the stop where the bus was not going to stop to the one where it is just closing its doors. We and returned to the terminus where we discover there was another  bus route included in our all day hop on hop off. However, by now Ro is starting to melt in the heat so hopping on and staying there in the air conditioned interior of the bus is appealing while I ride on the top open deck as I am more of a hot weather lover than is Ro.

Our hop on hop off deal includes a "bum boat" ride along Singapore River so we alight the bus at the Merlion, which is a monument in the shape of a lion head on a mermaid torso. Singapur is Sandskrit for lion mermaid and this monument celebrates this. The bumboat is a beautiful boat with polished timber and glass and electric drives so very quiet. It was historically used  in early 1900s to ferry people along the river. The view  is most worthwhile and we enjoy the half hour cruise with a commentary which is clear and  understandable, unlike the commentary on our HOHO bus which includes commentary such as "Orchard Road is a main road in Singapore called Orchard Road". We are enlightened by many such comments.

After our river cruise, we return to the terminus and discover yet another bus route which takes us to Sentosa island where there is a casino and Universal Studios theme park. The trip takes us by the Singapore container handling area. If the city is amazing in infrastructure, the container handling area is equally so.  Container  after container crane is lined up with trucks constantly moving in and out. And today is Sunday. This was another observation: people work on infrastructure night times, weekends and presumably any other time also.  I understand the container wharf is the busiest world wide with many ships anchored in the harbour waiting to be unloaded.

We continue past  Universal Studios observing the cable cars hanging high above the harbour as they pass from the main island to Sentosa,  and down into the casino car park built under the main complex. It seemingly goes for kilometers. The main bus route passes through the car park and  seemed to go on and on. Most of the car places are empty. This may partially be due to the fact locals must pay S$100 per day to use the casino whereas foreigners are free. This is the system the government uses to control gambling as a social problem.

The bus returns us to the terminus where we  intend to wait until dark which is when we have booked a Singapore Flyer ride. We have a couple of hours to kill until it gets dark so find an airconditioned area and enjoy a few scoops of icecream, returning to the Flyer complex some time later to enter an exhibition celebrating the building of the Flyer, completed in 2008. There are interactive displays which unfortunately do not seem to interact with us. It is more like using a Ouija board. But we do learn some interesting things, such as the fact that the catching net under the load area of the wheel can arrest the fall of 2 elephants dropped from two storeys. The trialling of this aspect is missing from the interactive videos.

The ride takes about 30 minutes. Each pod holds up to 20 people and there are 30 pods. At $30/person,a  full revolution of the wheel would return S$18,000  or S$36000 per hour if full. That would help pay for it. The views are spectacular. Likewise the engineering which created it.

After the ride we decide to go to a better spot to catch a taxi back as the HOHO buses have stopped at 7.30. We walk over the river toward the  Marina Bay Sands complex, which includes the massive triple tower hotel with the huge boat like structure on top. The structure on top is called Sky Park and may be accessed for S$20 for non house guests.. There is also a  magnificent swimming pool which is only for guests. Rooms start at S$450 per night. We do not have time to visit the Sky Park but the view is said to be spectacular. Viewing it from the top of the Singapore Flyer shows that the Sky Park is probably  1/3 again higher.

We walk around the complex which is associated with the hotel, marvelling at the size of everything. The open spaces are absolutely huge. The carbon footprint of the building construction and power usage must be at least that of a yetti. We had asked a few locals how electricity is generated in Singapore and, after strange looks and shruggs of shoulders, determined that a significant amount is imported from Malaysia as is water.

Tired and foot sore, we return to our hotel by taxi and sleep well after our 12 hours of sightseeing.

Monday 15th August 2011 : Singapore

The day dawns overcast but still hot, hot, hot. We have a swim then go down  for a continental breakfast, which is pleasant.

Next on the agenda is a trip back to the phone shop(why are you not surprised to read that?). Overnight, the display indicated "Charging" but that was not actually the case.  As our HOHO bus is no longer amused by our out of date tickets ( as Red Symons would say "Oh sides do not split") we decide to take the bus back to Orchard Rd. Having tripped around Singapore for a day or two, we are now confident we can navigate without problem. We wait for 10 minutes for a bus and climb aboard confidently offering our S$3 for the trip to Orchard Rd. Wrong way we are told. Bus stop other side. So we alight,  cross the road and wait another 10 minutes for a bus in the right direction.  The bus actually drops us near Orchard Rd so we walk about finding our bearings. Perhaps next visit we will get it right. At the shop the attendant diagnoses the problem as a bad battery and gives us a Nokia battery to replace it. All is fine again. So we go to find a WiFi area to perform more "Due Diligence" and have a cup of coffee. The trick is, to use free WiFi, we needed a Singapore telephone number for them to SMS us a password. Ho Hum. Eventually we get free WiFi at Starbucks (number 2 as Starbucks Number 1 also needs a Singapore number) But we are pleased to have to find Starbucks as it requires exploring some of the kilometers of underground malls etc. They really are extraordinary and most impressive. But hiking boots are essential.  Don't actually get the phone to whistle "Dixi" but the coffee is nice.

We walk down Orchard Rd to get the underground from Dhoby Ghaut station to Chinatown. As with everything else, the  MRT system is remarkable and efficient. We go subterrain from Orchard Rd to the station to negotiate with the ticket machine for a ticket. A helpful local ( all locals we encountered are polite and helpful) who is waiting to buy a ticket behind us guides us through the system. Select a Single ticket on the touch screen. Press the station to which you wish to travel on the new display, insert coins or notes or credit card, remove magnetically coded card. S$1 will be refunded when the card is returned at the destination. Naturally, local users can recharge magnetic cards there also. It looks like the system Melbourne should have had. Enter the turnstyles by presenting the card. Take the escalator to the platform and wait a minute or two for the train. However, the platform is not an open platform. It is a space enclosed by walls either side with electronic doors which open when the train is present and close before the train moves off. Highly organised, highly efficient, clean,  cheap and electronic signage is excellent. We alight at Chinatown where we swipe our card to exit and retrieve our deposit. 

After walking around the area and visiting a Chinese department store, we take a taxi to the Sands Marina Bay. The number of taxis is astounding. For S$4.80 we are delivered to the hotel where we walk around the three towers with our jaws rubbing along the floor. Naturally there is an attendant following with a broom to polish any footprints (or jawprints) we might leave (just kidding... it was probably an army of attendants just after we were out of sight).

We  take a taxi to the iconic Raffles Hotel and spend an hour looking about. It is far more extensive than I realised and is a reminder of those gracious times. However, just as we marvel at the size and engineering in the Sands Marina Bay, probably others marvelled at the size and engineering involved in Raffles in its heyday. 

About 6.00 pm we return to Miramar with the intention of using their Guest Suite facilities. However despite one saying Male and one Female, the two rooms seemed to be occupied by other couples or families. So we seek other change areas. Eventallly, having rejected the idea of using the lift and going up and down for five minutes while changing, I opt for one of the few male toilets which was not being cleaned at that moment.
We take a taxi driven by a friendly, if rather repetitive, local to the airport to wait for our 11.30 pm flight to Helsinki. After numerous screenings (I didn't declare any bag contents this time since I thought my explanation to a non-English speaker may have been even more disasterous than my Melbourne departure) we board our flight and spent a delightful 12 hours in a cramped box hurtling through the air to arrive at 6.20 am local time refreshed and ready to spend another 12 hours sightseeing. Yeah....right.

Tuesday 16th August 2011 : Helsinki , Finland

We take a taxi to arrive at our hotel where we intend leaving  our bags until our room is ready, which we find out will be 3 pm. There may be something ready by lunchtime we are informed.

Fortuitously there is a tram outside the hotel which can take us to the Market Place, a must see in Helsinki. We board the tram and approach the driver with 10 euro ready. I ask for two tickets to the market place. Without a trace of an accent, in perfect English, he says  "I don't speak English". Being overwhelmed by his lingual excellence, I start to ask him if he can indicate where to get off. His expression tells me he had said as much English as he is going to. But he does relieve us of 5 euro for two tickets. But two tickets exactly to where?

So we take off at great pace into the unknown. We note our tickets were purchased a t 8:19am and had  a designation   of todays date and 9:19 . Presumably means we can use the ticket within the next hour. However, one tram stop has 9:20 painted on it so we wonder if that means route 9 stop 20 and that stop 9:19 is comming up.  Not so. So to avoid a fine for an incorrect ticket, we hop off.

We look at our tourist map, try to fathom some unpronouncible Finnish street names (dozens of double letters and umlauts but very few clues) throw the map away and followed the tram line. We reach the water and, seeing some stalls starting to appear, assume we are at the market place. We call into a refurbished building a bit like the Meat Market in North Melbourne (no not that sort of meat market) and enjoy the atmosphere created by two long aisles of stalls either side. We stop at one for coffee and speak with the attendant who speaks English due to having spent 4 years in Sydney. She says most younger people speak English with varying degrees of proficiency, so next time we will only take trams driven by young people.

After coffee, as our tram trip had been quite short, and it is too misty and damp to continue sightseeing,  we decide to walk back to the hotel to try for early checkin. We retrace our steps and arrive back within about 15 mins at about 10am. As a backstop, we consider ourselves fortunate to have  a Garmin GPS with us. Unfortunately it knows less about where we were than we do. To check it, l let it find the satallites then put in a GoTo our hotel in pedestrian mode. Despite the fact we can see the hotel, Garmin can't calculate how to get there. I could  throw the GPS to the hotel........ and probably should. It is always a bad sign when your GPS comes up with a screen message "Excuse me, can you direct me to my hotel?". Maybe I inadvertently picked up a translator instead of the GPS.

At the hotel, the attendant confirms that a room will be available between 12 and 3 so we decide to wait a while. At 12.15 we tire of waiting so put our bags back in the storeroom and venture back to the market place where we had made enquiries earlier about a boat trip to the island fortress nearby. This is aslo a must see we have read.

The  6.5 euro  trip takes about 15 minutes. There is a group of small islands, a few of which have had forts etc added to them from mid 1700 onward. The buildings and implacements are very extensive and in 1991 received world heritage listing. One could spend a day easily exploring the various buildings. Once again, in their time, the engineering would have been impressive. Pity man puts so much effort into items which are designed to destroy other men's efforts. Twas ever thus. By now, the mistiness had abated and the afternoon, though cloudy, is pleasant.

We return about 6, walked back to the hotel and eat in the hotel restaurant. After a lovely meal we get an early night.

Wednesday 17th August 2011 : Helsinki , Finland

We wake up early on Wednesday morning intending to have a swim. But there is no swimming pool. A major impediment. But there is a sauna which is always hot. As there are two segragated saunas, we part for our separate saunas. A little later we emerge simultaneously and change to go for breakfast, a veritable feast.

We have to get our flight to Paris by 4pm and need to vacate our room by 12 so we spend a leisurely morning resting and blogging (don't miss the 'l'.... the feast was partaken of judiciously).

We have a c ouple of hours available so, having discovered the 1 hour ticket, we hop on a tram with the idea of doing a circuit. The driver this time does speak English, although he says his Swedish is better. Pity,  since neither my Finnish nor Swedish is much chop, and I only know the English version of ABBA songs ("Can you hear the tram Fernando?"). We purchase two tickets and start our Mystery Tour. After a few km, it occurrs to me that a circuit may be rather long. I checked with the driver and he says it is two hours. Oops! So we alight and walk through a nearby park. We also negotiate a subway to compare train stations, but Helsinki is more like Melbourne in that platforms are still open.  We return to the tram route and look for a number 6 to take us back to the hotel before our 1 hour runs out. Problem is, which direction to the hotel? Fortunately we have a map and with just a little pointing and gesticulating, we determine that, just like in Singapore, we are about to go in the wrong direction. But we also discover what yesterday's 9:18 meant!! Each tram route has an electronic sign which shows the time for the next tram:And the one after that. 9:18 means next tram is in 9 minutes and the following is in 18 minutes. Now all we need to work out is why the 9:18 we saw yesterday we remember as having been painted!!!

Back to the hotel where we empty the storeroom of our baggage, in the process causing other guests to wonder if the hotel is closing down. We get a taxi outside and are ferried to the airport for 41 euros by a very friendly, English speaking cabbie.

Now for Paris.........

We checkin our baggage, go through security  with innumerable trays of goods and make our way to the gate lounge. We have about an hour to boarding. Eventually the queue forms to board the plane and Ro decides she might visit the toilet. She does so as the queue shortens as passengers board the plane. We pick up our hand (foot and neck) luggage and prepare to board. " Where are our coats?" asks Ro. We look at one another trying to remember where we had them last. At security! What to do?  Nothing for it but to retrace  400 metres back to security. Running as fast as conditions permit, weaving through crowded corridores, jumping sideways to avoid collisions and holding the legs of my shorts to arrest the wild swinging of the useless Garmin still sulking in my pocket, I charge James Bondesque back to security. I expect any moment for that well known theme to boom over the speaker system. Either that or "Terrorist Allert". Fortunately the first security guy speaks English and directs me to our coats, still in the gray tray we left them in.  Sprinting back, now holding coats and stopping the wildly gyrating Garmin, I understood why big breasted women don't like running.

It is an uncomfortable feeling, wondering if the plane doors will still be open, but I get  back with a few minutes to spare and, as it happens, it must  be a bad day for coats because it is a further 10 minutes before they actually close the doors.
The three hour trip to Paris passed without incident. You can't get into a lot of trouble sitting in a cramped seat in a tube hurtling through the air. Well, at least not trouble due to  our actions.      

Paris, here we come....










Hope you didn't lose your cool in Singapore. Loss of face is not cool in Asia!

  #1Son Aug 18, 2011 9:45 PM


Often the most memorable experiences are the ones that go not the way you expect. Here's wishing you a memorable trip in Europe!
Hint for the blog. Add some headings to easily separate entries so it is not necessary to read through from the start each time to find the new entry.

  Tim Aug 20, 2011 11:08 PM


Hmmmmmm Can you bold font the key points for us? Don't know if we can find the time to read a whole novel each time. We wouldn't have found the time on our trip to write so much. You're certainly having an exciting time esp with Garmins that are more like varmins (and you might remember that we did say maps are reliable and easy to use!)
Hope the cruise is more relaxing. perhaps on your way back you'll keep off the toll roads and take your time to enjoy seeing all the wonderful places along the way.
Relax and enjoy!!!!!!!!!!!! The whole trip that is.

  Katya and Alex Aug 24, 2011 9:59 PM


Hey, that cruise sounded fantastic, taking you to places the average land lubber would miss. i bet you have some great photos. Apart from some overhead scars, your now reconditioned escargot should be a nice reliable mode of transport for its next owner. Its a pity that the previous owner didn't have an engineering background, but on second thoughts, with nothing to tinker with, you might have become bored.

  Nud Sep 14, 2011 10:10 PM


I've been following your travel path in my trusty old Oxford Consise Atlas (with your excellent and most self effacing descriptive dialogue) and noted that you guys have notched up some serious Ks in old Europe. You have referred on occasion to returning when you perhaps have more time. We all say that, and I think that of all people, you two have the energy, sense of adventure and youthful spirit to actually return and do it! "Salute" Your blog has indicated to us back in OZ that you guys are a great team. Everyone knows that travel places stresses (the uncertainty of the location of the next campsite and whether the escargot will conk out etc) on relationships and your entertaining blog has an element of team (partnership) co-operation that will not be lost on the reader. "Hail to the Kings"
p.s. Could Eildon in Autumn 2012 hope to match the magic of "Modat" or "Zadah"???

  Nud Oct 4, 2011 9:23 PM


The great adventures continue. Europe is certainly a place of magic sites, is it not?

I wish that i had given you the name and address of the Venetian business from which I bought our glassware in '78. It was only just around the corner from the Square. It was like a useum -the wonderful glassware on display - the likes of jackie Kennedy have bought from there as can be seen in their guest book. And in the basement is a beautiful and old gondola.

The feature that I remember most from Cologne Cathedral is the massive broken bell on the floor - fell down in WW2. (or have I got the wrong cathedral in mind.

It's worthwhile holding up the correct number of fingers when buying a number of items like the bread rolls (but of course don't say the word hundred accidentally on doing so.

Plenty of very cool weather (fires at night and even in the day!) here still and we're hoping for some warmer weather at the end of the month when we expect some friends from Vic to turn up here. Perhaps, if we are extremely lucky, the pool may be warm enough for a dip.

Safe travelling and avoid the parking tickets!
Love from us both,

K & A

  Katya and Alex Oct 9, 2011 10:38 AM


You guys have now proved that you are truly seasoned travellers, have taken on the best Europe can hurl at you and still seem indefatigable. Be warned about pickpockets, in Lyon my brother bristled when a shady character ogled his wife's cleavage and then a minute later realised he had been cleaved of his wallet during his indignation! The Gendarmes were not at all sympathetic, suggesting all three behaviours were typical of men, particularly in France.

  Nud Oct 17, 2011 11:18 PM

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