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We're baaack... Yep we've done it, six months in Europe visiting Greece, Italy, England, Wales, Scotland, Spain, Portugal and France!
Both of us would like to thank everyone who helped us along our way, Mark and Nicole the house sitters, our families, Nessie, Ciaran and Tracy, Gina and Mimi, Stephano and Lucia, Paula and Dominic, Enzo and Felicia, Bob and Ruth, Bobby and Liz, Russell and Laura. It was wonderful to meet up with you (most for the first time) and if you're ever over this way...
Mark and Nicole did a wonderful job looking after the house, and dealing with the break in, and Mum (Jennifer) and Angelo provided much needed back-up in colaboration with Ian and Bronwyn. Thanks!
I must make a special mention of thanks to our bosses who let us take six months off to do this too, it makes it much easier to deal with the bills we have now knowing that we still have jobs (we hope).
We're just about up to speed, having got through six months of mail, fixing and getting cars registered, checking insurance, fixing gates etc. Surprisingly I think the jet lag is over, I recommend anyone doing the trip to stop over in Singapore a night to catch up.
Well until the next adventure this will be the last of the travel blogs from us. We'll be revamping the website for the whole lot of the family to use so we can keep up with each other, but I'll let you know of the changes as we go.
We're in Singapore, following is a blog I wrote before we left Paris...
Wow Disneyland is like, um, Disneyland! Rather corny, but sort of fun if you're not expecting any culture, 'cept 'merican. Ah we just wanted to ride the roller coasters anyway. We tried to get a beer while we were there, but found we beer nazis insisted we buy a sandwich per beer which we did. Unfortunately the sandwich I had made me feel rather sick after the next rollercoater ride, cool.. Never eat a soggy oldish tuna sanger before a rollercoaster.
It was quite wet at Euro Disndey but we had fun on the Rockin' Roller Coaster, Big Thunder Mountain, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril (a backwards roller), and the Space Mountain. We avoided any encounters with Mickeys and Goofies.
Luckily we returned to some culture today and yesterday. We couldn't get into the Louvre yesterday after having lunch with Ciaran before he let for London via the chunnel. so we enjoyed the sunshine and visited the Notre Dame, which is quite an impressive gothic cathedral with famous flying butresses. Actually the first time I heard about Flying Butresses was in relation to the Notre Dame, and wow what flying butresses they are. One really nice thing was stumbling across the Wedding Band busking behind the Notre Dame on a foot bridge playing a nice mix of Jazz and blues.
Today (Saturday) we managed to get into the Louvre nice and early and got to see the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and other stuff. We took it fairly easy, going out and having some lunch then returning in the afternoon. Unlike the Prado in Barcelona my brain was't making a dull farting noise, but our feet definately wanted out-of there when it closed around 5.30pm (we got in there at 9.30am!). You can't possibly see everything in a day at the Louvre
Tomorrow we're off to another hotel (this one was booked out) and then to Versallies. Then it's off home via Singapore! It shold be fun catching up with all we have to do before back to work on Monday week.
We got into Paris late Sunday night having just spent a week in Bordeaux. The week in Bordeaux started with a horrid overnight train trip from Porto where Tracey lost her new mobile phone. Bordeaux is nice and relaxed and quite lovely on a sunny day. Tracey and I managed to get to St Emilion on a tour and visit a nice winery there. We can't say the wine was worth anything near the 20 euro they were asking, but was pleasant enough.
St Emilion is a little town out of Bordeaux itself, and is a fairly well preserved old town based around a monestry which is famous for having been dug or carved out of the rock (see photo). The town is the centre of the St Emilion wine area. In fact around Bordeaux there are apparently some 12 thousand wine makers and 8000 Chateaus. It turns out there are a lot of rather small winemakers, basically it is a family per vineyard, which limits each ones output, but lets them sell at a much higher price .
Now it is debatable (to me at least) that French wine is the best, but the French are definately the best at wanking on about wine (as was evidenced by the bus tour). Does anyone else find this following description as funny as I do? " Terras Atlas has an earthy, wet root aroma followed by a soft and round body."
Our hotel in Bordeuax was unfortunately not in the middle of town, it was about 3.5km out. The Tram tracks were being layed right outside the door of the Hotel, but not yet finished and there weren't any buses near by so we did a lot of walking. Taxis... ah don't get me started... why not. Taxis in France and Italy are a complete rip off, to the point where we would rather walk several k's with luggage! In Spain and Portugal the taxi drivers made you fear for your life, but they were pleasant, used the meter, and didn't charge like wounded bulls! Hmm perhaps there is a link to cigarettes. Italy and France have come a long way in cutting down on smoking, you can almost breath here, no smoking on public transport or in offices etc. and as a result there are a lot less smokers. In Spain and Portugal kids are born with a ciggy in their mouth, you can't find a non smokey place there, in fact I developed a smoker cough there.
Ah Paris, overcast, cold and windy, but it does have a very good Metro. We could only get a late train to Paris from Bordeaux so we got in at quarter to twelve at night, not sure where our hotel was, but we knew it was near a Metro stop. It was rather simple, we found a map with the Metro lines on the wall, it showed the street our hotel is on and we only had to take a single train to get here, cool!
Yesterday we went up the Eiffel tower, it's a lot taller than I thought at around 300 odd metres (something like 75 stories) and far more decorative especially near the first platform. Paris is very flat apart from an area of skyscrapers to the North West and a single monolithic looking building at Montparnasse (to the South East). Most cities are fairly flat really except for the CBD.
The Arc De Triomphe is quite impressive as far as arc's go, but not as pretty as some we've seen. There was some nice scaffolding around it . The thing that makes the Triomphe stand out amoungst the crowd is the 12 avenues that radiate away from it and the traffic chaos of the "round about" formed at it's base. I put round about in quotes there because as far as traffice rules are concerned it's not a round about it's just a bit of a mess really. From where we sat there was a near miss every 20 seconds or so, which means the drivers here are quite skilled at missing.
Well we were going to the Louvre today, but Tracey has the flu thing I had last week, so we're taking it easy. Ciaran is coming over from London to go to Euro Disney tomorrow for my birthday which should be fun.
We're in Paris. I did a blog but stupid internet explorer managed to stuff it up and loose it, so I'm just going to see the sights. ciao
Porto, the home of port. Porto is so different to Lisboa (Lisbon) to start with it's not a hole and doesn't have the drug pushers. In fact Porto is really very nice and quite good value. We couldn't find a hotel that was a cheap as Lisbon, but that may be because people actually want to come here.
Porto doesn't have a huge number of historical monuments, but we're pretty much over that now (unless it's pretty special), but it does have Port houses (caves) where port is left to mature in casks. What makes this so special? Free port tasting and tours! We had a great time the other day for very little money just walking around the port houses, and got some exercise too. Porto is built around the Rio Duoro with steep hills on either side with six bridges crossing the river within a couple of Kilometres. It's the climbing up and down the hill sides that are good exercise. Although we've taken the Funicular (a train thing pulled by wire rope) a couple of times to save the legs after a couple of ports.
There are cats everywhere in Europe, but here in Porto the density is much higher. You see them everywhere and they look pretty healthy too. We think we like our pets, here in Europe it seems massive, but that's probably because of the high density living. People have pets in there apartments, they take them on the trains and buses, on long or short trips, everywhere. In a few places, Rome and Barcelona spring to mind, you look into a supermarket and mistake it for a pet supplies shop. The down side in most places (Spain wasn't too bad) is poo on the streets. It's a pain because looking down you miss a lot of what there is to see around you.
Gum trees are everywhere in Portugal. There were quite a few in Spain, but in Portugal they're almost dominant. There are heaps of Eucalypt plantations here. It's strange seeing Gum trees all in rows growing straight up. I've heard that gum trees are one of the fastest growing plantation trees and that in managed forests (read mono-cultures) they make a good usable wood. It just makes such sense that Portugese grow Gum trees while we grow Pine don't you think?
Hmm, I missed telling you guys about a few things in Lisbon, well actually near Lisbon. We went for a short trip to Sintra, 30-50K out of Lisbon. Sintra is a nice touristy place with some pretty cool Castles and Palaces. We went to the two main ones Castello Mouro and the Pena Palace. Both these places are built high on a hill which has a great view of the surrounding territory as fortified castles did in those days. These days of course with aeroplanes they stick out like a sore thumb, but back then the armys had to climb the bloody hill first, then get over the walls, all the while being pummeled by rocks, arrows, spears, poo and insults.
The Castello Mouro is basically just a wall now, a king, whom I can't recall, decided to have it restored in the 1900's (I think, too much port you know) but there wasn't much left to restore so he made it "a romantic ruin". The cool thing about this castle is the foresty feel, lots of big trees, vines, bushes. It kind of reminds you of Robin Hood stories. The walls are great, they follow the rocks and ground and of course have great views. One of the views is the Pena Palace further up the hill.
Pena Palace is a higgledy piggledy place with a mixture of turrets, tiles, colours, statues etc. This is because the place was built onto quite a few times, left to go to ruin then refurbished in the 1920's for the then king. The place now is a museum that resembles an antique fair. Some of the rooms are nicely decorated in the style of the 20's which means there is no spare space, but the ball room for example just looks like the antique fair as it looked in the Old Parliament house in Canberra. Certainly they have a much better view than the Royals in Buckingham Palace.
Now, back to Porto. Yesterday we went for a two hour train ride to Regau (threre's a little twiddle thing on the "a" and "e" in Regau making is sound like Rey-gow I think). Regau is one of the places where the Port from Porto is actually made. Port is fermented then the fermentation is arrested by putting brandy in it and then, if it is a Tawny, it is matured in oak barrels. The Port from the barrels is then blended to make a port that tastes the same as the last one. The age of port is the average of the ages of the port wines in the mix, unlike Scotch where the age is of the youngest. So a 10 year old Port will have three year old port wine in it, but may also have 50 year old port wine too, interesting huh?
We've seen some of the most amazing scaffolding here by the way, yes we are becoming scaffolding conniseurs. The old bridge, ponte Luis is completely covered in scaffolding, looks like they're putting another road deck on the top of it, check the pictures. We also heard a news report today saying that the scaffolding on all the old monumental buildings we saw wasn't for the restoration itself but for the advertising that pays for the restoration, now it makes sense.
We're off to Bordeuax on Sunday, should get there Monday (yeah an overnight train) so we get to check out wines in Bordeaux. Then Paris, then home.
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Well I've been looking after the kids for three weeks now... and survived! Many thanks go to Mum for helping out looking after them on Wednesdays :-)
Ray and Betty have dropped in on their way home from up North where they stayed with Nicki. Going out for Chinese, so better dash.
Peter and Tracey