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Trip Log

Europe 2018 Week 1

FRANCE | Wednesday, 10 October 2018 | Views [387]

The Plan

The plan was to spend 5 nights in Paris, hire a car and drive down France to Switzerland, Austria, Croatia, Italy and back to Paris via the south of France, then train to London for 3 nights. I had it all on a spreadsheet so nothing could go wrong. Right.

Day 1 - Tuesday 4th September

Melbourne to Singapore

I drove Linda’s car to the airport with Niko and Eric and Niko drove the car home. I had about 17 kg in one case & a backpack. Linda had 24kg in 2 cases plus 2 carry on bags, all essential of course. I did not have all that luggage on my spreadsheet.

In our seats on the Emirates A380-800 we could only see the plane’s wing and not much else. The captain, among other things, announced there were 18 different nationalities in the flight crew. Perhaps a good time to practice my Swahili. The eight hours spent watching Lara Croft, doco on solar systems with twin suns and muscle squeezing isometric exercises. The touch screens required an above normal amount of pressure which the person behind me seemed to use playing some game for an hour while I was pushed forward in my seat a couple of inches on each press.

Tried kayle in the meal .. horrible stuff. Linda’s phone has a barometer so I used an ap to measure the cabin pressure. 802hPa at 40,000ft .. about 80% of normal. Maybe there is more in first class. Hope the pilots have enough.

Dubai Airport

The Dubai airport is like a very long tube squashed down into an elliptical shape that seems to disappear over the horizon (almost) with planes parked all along its length, except for ours, which was parked at the end. We were special.

Linda photographed a large glitzy backlit advertising board for Camel cigarettes. Appropriate for a camel rich country even though there was a ‘smoking kills’ note below. Wonder if riding camels comes with a similar warning.

Day 2 - Wednesday 5th September


Waiting to collect our luggage at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, the Australian Women’s basketball team was doing the same. Most of them were taller than me and carrying duffle bags that I could have fitted into, lifting & carrying them like they were purses. Tall strong athletic women .. very impressive.

Focussing on our next task, we sought assistance from the information counter and he advised how to get to our accommodation. First to the railway station (100m walk), train RARB south to Les Halles (central Paris), train RARA to Porte maillot, bus 144 to a stop near our camp, walk a short way. That was the plan. Trains were OK but half way along the bus trip, my GPS showed we veered away from our destination. A quick (broken French) word to the driver and a few passengers who volunteered their knowledge and we hopped off and got a 244 bus. This one dropped us within 15 minutes walk, dragging our 3 suitcases and hand luggage along dirt footpaths to the Bois de Boulogne camp reception. Checking in was a breeze because it was booked and paid for. (Spreadsheet .. yes). After settling into our roulette (gypsy caravan like cabin with all facilities and wheels), we had pizzas in the on site café and hit the sack.

Day 3 - Thursday 6th September

Task for today – get SIM cards for our phones. Sounds easy .. if only we had known. The camp was beside the Seine but the SIM cards were on the other side but only 10 minutes walk across the conveniently located bridge. At the Bureau de Poste, a very helpful assistant provided us with said SMS cards with E10 value. Back at the camp, the small part of the instruction book in English said put the SMS card in the phone enter the PIN code provided and you are ready to make calls. No phone calls possible. Walk back la Poste. Apparently the phones should have received an SMS containing the new phone numbers  and a code, which they did not. Helpful assistant(s) after much investigation, got the phones to work. This took most of the morning. Stocked up on provisions from the Carrefour, then back to the roulotte.

After lunch, we meandered along the tree covered path beside the Seine, fascinated by hundreds on houseboats moored there. Each on seemed to be converted barges .. very long, narrow and renovated to varying degrees of luxury. Many had scooters on the bank beside them. There is also a dam on the Seine which uses a natural island in the middle of it. The drop in water level was about 4 metres. I think this dam sets the water level of the Seine as it passes through the centre of Paris upstream. We then turned inland to investigate the Bois de Boulogne. We found many recreation areas including extensive equestrian facilities (polo field, horse paths through the forest, performance arenas), ovals, paths through the forest, and the biggest prize goes to the Parc de Bagatelle. This is an extensive park (E2.5 0entry  each worth every centime) with several lakes, rocky grottos, waterfalls, lots of peacocks, a chateau with formal gardens and innumerable photo opportunities. We spent 2 hours here. We got home as it was getting dark, about 8:00pm.

To help with navigation for the rest of the trip, I used the Camp WiFi (I thought) to download offline maps for the GPS maps ap on  my phone in case I was in an area without mobile reception from the SFR network. Should have been 160Mb but somehow used all 500Mb of my allowance.

Day 4 - Friday 7th September

Back to La Poste for phone recharge, E30.00 this time, tried back at camp. Method was ring the free number and enter the code. The free number was in French. Needed assistance and a helpful camp receptionist tried 4 times for me without success. Back to La Poste. Two hours later, the very patient and persevering posties discovered that technical problems were preventing all recharge facilities .. try again later. Walking back to the camp, an SMS informed me I had E30.00 available. Yesss.

By this stage, we had learned that a shuttle goes from the front of the camp to the nearest Metro station. Wish we had known. Took the 12:30pm to Porte Maillot, then the metro to the Louvre. Very short line at the entry. Spent a couple of hours looking at the Greek and Roman statues and the paintings of the Spanish, French and Italians (including the Mona Lisa), the ceilings of the Louvre itself and lots other stuff. Linda only got lost once. Much less than I expected.

We left the Louvre about 4.30pm and walked along the Seine to the Notre Dame Cathedral. We joined a long line that moved quickly so we were inside after 5 minutes. After another 10 minutes, the organ started to play and a female soloist started to sing. We sat and listened to four or five songs.

We walked back towards the ‘Chatelet-les-Halles’ metro station, Linda buying souvenir presents for her family and friends along the Rue de Temple. After meandering many of the Paris streets looking for ‘Chatelet-les-Halles’ and not finding it, we decided to go from the ‘Hotel de Ville’ metro which also took us to Porte Maillot where we could get the shuttle bus to camp. We got back to camp about 8:00pm. Linda russled up some grilled chicken and veges for dinner.

Day 5 - Saturday 8th September

Missed the 9.30 shuttle bus by a minute but caught the next at 10:00. At Porte Maillot, we took the metro two stops to ‘Charles-de-Gaulle Etoile’ station which is at the Arc de Triomphe. Here we hopped on the hop on/hop off Big Bus and hopped off at the Eiffel Tower. Took lots of photos on the park in front of it, the Champs de Mars. The line for the tower was long so we took the Seine River cruise (part of the Big Bus 2 day package) which went up to Notre Dame and returned. (Planned to come back early tomorrow for the tower). After the cruise we had lunch at the riverside café next to the Eiffel Tower. After lunch, we hopped on the bus again. There are two routes the Big Buses take, the red route and the blue route. We hopped over to the Blue route which took us up past the Moulin Rouge but not long after, the bus was stopped by a police barricade and after 15 minutes it was for a ‘manifestation’. Traffic gives way to ghosts in Paris? After further moments of puzzlement, a passenger translated this for us to demonstration! Unable to tell us how long we would be stopped, the driver gave us directions to the next hopping point and we decided to walk the 2.5km. Shortly after, we found the manifestation. It was a huge protest march and the protest reason? It was ‘Save the Planet’! B…y greenies. After a while, we stopped for a hot chocolate. Bets hot chocolate I have ever had .. thick & rich, even though it was in a French size mug .. small. While we were seated we saw our bus go sailing past without us. No problem. We reached the next hopping point and waited about 15 minutes for the next one. The bus meandered its way back to the Arc de Triomphe, we hopped off and got back to camp. Linda made steak & veg for dinner, caught up on washing, wrote blog but lost it by not saving it within an hour, bed after 12am.

Day 6 - Sunday 9th September

Got early to get the early shuttle bus at 8.00am except the early bus was 8.30am. Tried to book Eiffel tickets on line before we went but no pre-book vacancies available. We will have to line up. Used the hop on bus again to get to the tower where we found much of the area around the tower was blocked off for’ La Parisienne’, a marathon race for women only! There were thousands of women dressed in all sorts of serious and funny attire. Groups were released from the start in many stages over a period of many hours.

We joined the very short Eiffel Tower queue and got in after about 10 minutes. Going through security, I was careful to pick up my wallet, phone and camera on the other side and we entered the lift. Exiting the lift, Linda said “Where is your backpack?” She was right. There was a conspicuous vacant space where my pack should be. While I was wondering how someone could have taken it, Linda asked “Did you pick it up after security?” Oh, yeah .. maybe not. Linda immediately wanted to descend to get it because the only thing of real value in it was her purse. Linda found some security women who confirmed for us that my errant pack was indeed at security below. I insisted on staying and getting the full experience and all the photos we wanted before going down. Linda begrudgingly acquiesced. I think it shows, though, in our photos. Down at security the guy with the kangaroos on his cap and the pack was duly returned. I apologised for all Australians. To diminish my culpability, there was also another pack in security waiting for someone else.

After that adventure, we walked to the Rodin Museum, photographed all the sculptures that appealed to us and had lunch in the garden café. Instead of walking all the way back to the Eiffel tower to the nearest hop on point, we flagged down a Big Bus with our pink tickets when it stopped at a red light. To our great relief of our tired legs, the obliging driver let us on.

Back at Porte Maillot, waiting for the shuttle to camp that we expected every half hour, after a few half hours we decided it was not coming, tried our old friend, the 244 which we saw coming past by the dozen. We explained our situation to confirm we would indeed reach our camp, the driver let us on for free, and called us when our stop was coming up and wished us a good journey, even though he could not speak much English. I responded with a “Vous etes  un bon homme”, which brought a smile to his face. 5 minutes walk, without luggage this time, and we were home.

The washing put outside last night on the rack had dried well during the warm day. I tried to recharge Linda’s phone using the La Poste website but it would not accept any of the 4 cards we had. Great! Still recharge problems.

Tomorrow we pick up a hire car and try to get out of Paris in one piece. Looking forward to that.

Day 7 - Monday 10th September

Paris to Luzy

We took the early shuttle bus with all our luggage again to try and get to Gare du Nord railway station before the hire car pick up window ran out. Pick up time was 9.00am and after 10.00am they might deem me as a no show and give my car to someone else. Buying the tickets, the kind ticket seller told us we could go into the centre of Paris, changed trains then got to Gare du Nord, OR take the short cut on a line that went directly to La Chapelle, where it was only “10 minutes” walk to Gare du Nord. We took the short cut .. not the best decision. Getting to La Chapelle was quick, walking with all our luggage along the Paris streets asking directions for 20 minutes was a bit stressful. We arrived, however, at the Europcar office at 9.45am, 15 minutes to spare. Yesss. We were served by a trainee with a supervisor looking over his shoulder. His lack of confidence in the process did not help my lack of confidence in what I was about to do. Process complete, we descended 4 levels underground to get the car. The car we hired from back in Australia was a manual Passat. The car we got was a Jeep Renegade, diesel. Close enough.

Spent some considerable time trying to start the car with the remote key, and other controls before driving up 5 levels out of the car park and onto the Paris streets. My GPS did not work underground and I was praying it would come to life in the sunshine. It was programmed with our destination and to our great relief, it started giving us directions. Phew. Linda held it so I could see it .. most of the time. Our Path was to go north first and get onto the ring road, head around Paris and exit south of Paris and then to our camp near Luzy 330 km away. Despite my nervousness and Linda’s extreme paranoia, we made it to Nemoir without incident and stopped for some lunch at McDonalds and for the perspiration to dissipate.

The Phone battery charge was being depleted rather quickly with GPS maintaining the screen on and bright so we plugged the spare phone battery into the phone. I think this caused the phone to get too hot and not work as a GPS anymore even though at the time all I could think of was I could really use a real map now. A desperate investigation of the cars’ multi-use screen revealed that it had a GPS .. that spoke in Italian. Not a bad start. We managed to get it to speak English, though, but the name of our camp was not recognised. From my phone, I found the nearest town was Luzy, which the cars’ GPS duly led us to, even though when we were winding through tiny back streets I had some serious doubts. From Luzy I used the map in my phone to reach our camp for the next 3 nights .. a huge relief.

We were welcomed by Fleur and Betty and settled into our van, showered and decided to eat in the on site café that night. We shared a table with two other couples. They were Dutch but the waitress offered us seats with them because they all spoke English. They were very pleasant company while we enjoyed a 3 course meal with duck and raspberry sauce and a glass of wine. The café, however, would not accept cards, only cash. Very curious, but they were very relaxed about it. Payment tomorrow would be fine. The E100 deposit for our stay was also asked for in cash even though the online booking was Visa.


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