Day 21 of Romance Holiday

We are all safely home. I wondered yesterday when I said I would write a concluding post today whether I would have anything to write about given it would just be the flight but there was some action (as there always seems to be on flights). Michael and I were settled into our seats when the airhostess approached me to ask whether I would mind swapping seats. The reason was that my seat was the only one that could accommodate a bassinet for a baby. And there was one in the cabin with us. I first thought was one of annoyance because I was thinking why on earth do they even allow babies in First Class but then I remembered that Helen and I used to travel with our kids as babies in business class. My second thought was that the baby was more likely to sleep if I let them have a bassinet. So after some complicated rearrangement I ended up across the aisle from Michael and I vacated my seat.

I was expecting a young (good looking and grateful) mother to come with her baby to my seat. Boy was I surprised when it turned out to be a 60 something grey-haired male who pitched up with a 1.5 year old little girl. Hardly a baby (she was toddling already). Anyway, he was grateful and I hoped it meant less disruption for everyone. I was wrong. At 3am the ‘baby’ woke up and shrieked for about 5 minutes. She was clearly finished sleeping at that point and so the cabin crew came to dismantle the bassinet. That turned out to be harder than they thought and it seemed to take 30 minutes while they flashed a torch around, bashed and banged and then eventually it stopped. By this stage I was wide awake as even my noise cancelling headphones couldn’t keep all that noise out. I was awake for at least an hour before eventually drifting off to sleep again only to be woken up at 5:45am (UK time) when they turned on the cabin lights so that they could feed us breakfast before we landed.

The flight was relatively bumpy the whole night as well so it wasn’t a great night of sleep. Helen and co on the flight behind us also experienced a similarly bumpy flight so at least we knew it wasn’t our plane only (or the pilot having some fun at the controls overnight). We landed in CT to be met by rain which is fitting given that it rained 19 days out of 20 while we were away. It is much colder in CT than Europe though and boy does it get dark early here! We are used to the long evenings with the sun setting at 10pm. Not that we have to get used to the cold and short days for long. Not that I want to gloat or anything but Helen and I head back next Wednesday pm for London to watch a small event being held next Friday pm in London. I might be tempted to post a blog or two about the experience. If not then, my next blog will be in Sept/October when we go to get our annual fix of game viewing and birding.

Until then …

Day 20 of Romance Holiday

Not a very ‘Romantic’ day today. Males went to cricket together. That was by choice. Ladies went shopping (again). Sorry Bryan & Sharon – I don’t think Lara has any money left. I hope you weren’t expecting a present of any sort from her! Besides commenting on how much they spent, I can’t really tell you much (or anything) about the ladies day as I only overlapped with them for about 45 minutes at the flat while we packed up this afternoon.

However, I can tell you that the boys and I took the Tube to The Oval to watch the first day of the first Test Match between SA and England. Standing on the platform of the tube was Andrew Hudson (now convener of selectors of SA cricket and previously opening batsman for the SA team). I (of course) said hello to him and we had a brief chat about the cricket. He said he was really looking forward to the Test match and in fact the whole series. He could have simply ignored me but he chose to engage in a conversation. My impression of him being a nice guy was further strengthened.

Of course to get into the ground there was a massively long queue.  The English love a good queue and it is part of the event and excitement to be able to stand in a queue to get into the ground. Of course half the turnstiles were empty. We found our seats in the family section. Unfortunately they were the only tickets I could secure for the 3 of us. In the family section you cannot drink alcohol at all. No beer for the whole day while sitting in the sun watching cricket. Oh no – mistake – forgot, no sun to worry about and the icy cold wind blowing from behind us meant all I wanted was coffee. We had seats in the last row of the stand and it was open behind us which meant we were the windbreak for the whole stand. Upside was that we had seats at the top of the stairs so no one to block our view and plenty of legroom.

If you watched the cricket you would know that we got off the a great start by getting a wicket on the 4th ball but thereafter it was all England and so we were pleased to leave early so that we could get back to the flat, change and then get to the airport. Michael and I are now in Terminal 5 and Helen and the rest are in Terminal 1 as we are traveling on BA and the rest on SAA. Our flight leaves in just over an hour and the rest of them in about two and a half hours. That gives some more time for shopping (which I believe Lara is doing right now). I will send one last blog tomorrow with my final random musings.


Day 19 of Romance Holiday

The problem with writing a daily blog is that when I am too tired to write it because I have worked the whole day everyone asks “What happened to the blog”. Well that is why yesterday’s blog is coming this morning. The additional problem I have is that there is not much to say because I went to work and the rest of the bunch basically went shopping it seems.

The tubes are getting a touch full now. Yesterday morning I had to take a running leap onto the tube to get in and then I was plastered up again three other people looking up my nose hairs. Fortunately none of them had eaten garlic the previous night and they seemed to have just taken their weekly bath (or they were foreigners) and so smelled ok as well. Incredibly there was a lady putting her makeup on still even in that crush of people. The tube usually empties out after 2-3 stops but while it did reduce yesterday it was still pretty full by the time I got to my stop (which is Tower Hill).

Now that is one thing I will never get used to. Every day when I go to my office in London I get a view of the Tower. The picture is the view I get of the Tower each time I walk to and from work. And to think that is hundreds of years old. Famous people (like Henry XIII wives amongst others) were imprisoned there. It was built by William the Conqueror in 1078 (and obviously added to and updated over the years). It now houses the Crown Jewels. As you can also see from the photo, it was raining again yesterday. That makes it 18 days of rain, 1 day of non-rain out of the 19.

The family went shopping at Hamley’s (biggest toy store in London) and all they seemed to do was buy sweets and have the world’s most expensive Milk Shake. The milk shake place had some ridiculous number of flavours to choose from. They then came through to see my office and have lunch. Of course the people who had the gold milk shakes weren’t hungry but the rest of us ate at Eat anyway. They then split up – with half going to Harrod’s (Lara, Chloe and Stephen) and the other two going to meet friends (mother and daughter) who used to live in SA (we met them through the school).

And that leaves today as our last day. If time permits I will try to write the blog before I climb on the plane this evening.

Day 18 of Romance Holiday

This morning we headed to Cambridge for the day. Of course the best way to get to Cambridge cheaply and easily is to take the train. On route Michael made a few choice comments about one of our blog readers (no name will be mentioned Yvonne) who is definitely wrong about how good the public transport is. Now as you all know, teenagers know everything so that pretty much settles it. London does have a great public transport. We took the tube to Liverpool Street Station and then the train up to Cambridge. Slight delay on the train because of a problem with a freight train but otherwise very smooth and easy.

When we got to Cambridge we took another open top bus tour. Definitely the best way to get a feel for the town. Though we had Michael Schumacher as our bus driver. Either that or he was trying to complete his rounds quickly so he could get home quickly. There were some roads I was holding on for dear life as the trees whipped past us. I kept hoping I would not get blown off the back of the bus.

You do get some great views of the different Colleges at Cambridge University. The one in the picture is the most famous and that is ‘Trinity College’. Most of them are beautiful old buildings with a courtyard and grass covered quad. Some of them (like Jesus College; Trinity College; Queens College) have enormous grounds as well. Cambridge has about 110000 residents of which about 15000 are students at Cambridge University. No Cambridge University student (there is another university in Cambridge believe it or not) is allowed to drive a car within 5 miles of the Cambridge. So they all have bicycles. They reckon that there are 35000 bicycles in Cambridge. It is noticeable how many there are. Michael remarked ‘There are nine million bicycles in Beijing” though (you have to be intelligent to get that one – reference Katie Melua in case you didn’t get it).

A quick lunch and a stop at Cinnabon for desert. I told them we shouldn’t be eating from Cinnabon as it is an American company and we are in the UK but no one listened. I am sure the American readers will be happy. And they were American sized ‘bons’ at that as well. Back onto the wonderful train and back into London and then onto the tube back to the flat. You can see we are making good use of the public transport!

This evening we had tickets booked for the London Eye. We walked from the flat (about a 15-20 minute walk). We have done it before but in the day so this was a first for us to do it at night. Of course Lara only told us half way up that she was scared of heights. She wasn’t alone though. There were two Americans who little liked they were scared witless. The views over London are fantastic.  Unfortunately it started raining about 5 minutes into the trip which messed up any photo taking opportunities on the one side. It also restricted our view. I did get some shots though and it is hard to pick which ones to include. The two at the end of today’s post are the before and after shot of the Eye as we walked to and from it.

In London (like in Paris) we have done a lot of walking. Everyone is also keen to get their shoes off and relax when we get back. Nice to be able to just kick back at the end of the day and watch some TV. That seems to be the end of most of the days this holiday.


Day 17 of Romance Holiday

Today we closed the circle on a number of things. Firstly, the rainy weather returned. It rained quite hard this morning and was relatively cool again. I believe CT is freezing cold so I am not complaining even though I can’t believe it is meant to mid-summer here.

Secondly, we took the Duck Tour. These are amphibious vehicles. You might want to ask how they are part of my ‘closing of the circle’. Well they were actually used in the D-Day landing to transport equipment across the Channel. They weren’t painted yellow but were actually painted Green or Grey to blend into the sea/sky. They took 8 soldiers but were mainly used to transport equipment from the ships to the shore. They were also used to transport wounded from the beach back out to the hospital ships. They were called DUKW (you just need to to say it with a lisp and you get Duck). The 4 letters actually stand for ‘D’ – designed in 1942; ‘U’ – utility; ‘K’ – front wheel drive, ‘W’ – rear wheel drive. Try get your mind around those!

The ones used on the tour are the original army ones from WWII. The tour starts near the London Eye and heads around the famous London sights – Houses of Parliament; Westminster Cathedral; Buckingham Palace etc. There is a live tour guide and he was very humorous and entertaining. He had been to drama school. He told jokes, quoted famous people (like Churchill), gave some interesting facts and generally kept us entertained over the one hour and 15 minutes.

After about 30 minutes you head into the river. They have to swap drivers at this point (different licenses for different things). You enter the Thames right next to MI6. It is the most surveilled building in London (by themselves that is). You cannot believe how many exterior cameras they have. And what you see above ground in the photo is only half the building. There are another 6 floors below ground. You can see the slipway. The guy basically goes flat out down the slipway and into the Thames. You think it is going to sink but clearly you don’t. You are very low in the water though. You can put your hand out and touch the water it is so low. You then get a 30 minute cruise down the Thames and get to see Lambeth Palace and a different view of the Houses of Parliament. It was then back around and back out past MI6 and back to the place we started.

By this stage it was raining steadily and so we went to Waterloo station, bought some lunch and then split up. The boys took the tube and the rest took a taxi. This time the boys won by 5 minutes. The traffic was so heavy around Westminster (or as Michael says it Westminister) that it delayed us significantly. We were dry though.

After lunch everyone seemed to vanish off to their rooms. The only people to head out were Lara and Stephen. The other three all slept (such a hectic morning) and I caught up on emails/work. We had an early dinner this evening because we had tickets to Les Miserables which started at 7:30pm. We took the tube (great public transport .. dig, dig Yvonne). I have seen it once before (when I was about 18 or 19) and I remember it as being good. And it did not fail to live up to our expectations. It was 3 hours long but entertaining from start to finish. The music was great, the singing excellent and the acting superb. They even did two slow motion scenes. First time I have ever seen something like that done on stage. It was extremely well done. Either Stephen was trying to impress Lara (always possible) or he was genuine when he said as we exited “I could watch that again”. When it ends you sort of want them to at least sing the closing song again. They got a standing ovation. I wonder if that happens every night. So here’s another recommendation – if you’re in London – take the plunge and buy tickets for Les Miserables. You won’t regret it.

We used the wonderful public transport (dig, dig) back to the flat again and got home just before 11pm. Blog done. Bed calling. Until tomorrow!

Day 16 of Romance Holiday

We had a first today for the holiday. NO RAIN!!

We had to get up at 6:30am this morning in order to have breakfast and then take a taxi to Gare du Nord. We had booked a taxi that was big enough for all of us and our luggage. It was meant to arrive at 7:15 but by 7:25 there was no sign of it. It eventually pitched up just as we had flagged down two other taxi’s. They weren’t too happy when we ditched them and got into the booked one. We were taking the Eurostar to London. They said get there at least 30 minutes in advance. Couldn’t understand why until we got there. Only one way to get to the departure level and that was by lift and only one was working. The whole train of 18 coaches had to get onto the departure level with one lift! That probably sums up France. You have to clear both French and UK passport control and go through a security scan. We managed to get onto the train 8 minutes before it pulled out of the station.As we sat down Helen said “Well that was slightly stressful.” The train journey was uneventful and we arrived slightly early into London. It really is the best way to travel between Paris and London. It is quick and very convenient as it goes from the centre of Paris to the centre of London. If you ever have to do the trip, don’t hestitate – take the Eurostar.

Oh the joy of being back in a civilized country. All you have to do is raise your hand and a little black car pulls up, you tell them where you want to go (in English) and they drop you right outside the door. We were at the flat by 10am. Nothing opens in London before 11am on a Sunday (but at least the shops do open). We did some grocery shopping and after lunch those who don’t come regularly to London decided to go shopping down Oxford Street. It seemed to be a successful trip for all of them despite the crowds of people.

This evening we went to Covent Garden for dinner at Sophie’s Steakhouse. It was Stephen’s choice as it is his 16th birthday today. As we can’t all fit into a taxi (they only take 5), the boys very quickly volunteered to take the tube instead. We left 5 minutes after them and arrived 5 minutes before them. The taxi won this race. You have to love public transport in London though. We could also have taken a bus. And they would all roughly have taken the same amount of time. Spoilt for choice yet Londoners love to complain about it anyway. All they have to do is come to South Africa where we pretty much don’t have any public transport and they might appreciate it a little more.

We decided to walk back. That usually takes about 20 minutes. We thought we would walk down the Mall but little did we know it was totally closed off for construction of the Olympic Beach Volleyball stadium on Horseguards Parade. That meant we had to walk all the way around St James Park. It did mean that Lara got a good view of Buckingham Palace. Michael whistled for Lizzie (because we knew she was in as the flag was flying) but she either didn’t hear us or was already in bed. We figured if she knew it was us (and she was still up) she would have invited us in for a cuppa but we will forgive her because Michael’s whistle wasn’t very good. The walk back took us about 30 minutes instead of the 20 minutes it would usually but it was still a pleasant walk back after dinner.

Sorry there are no pics at all today. Just realised it now that we never took any today. And excuse any typo’s, missing words etc. I was watching “Have I Got News For You” while typing this and my attention was generally on that than what I was writing. If you have ever watched it you would know why.

Sleep tight.

Some thoughts on France and French People

We are now on the train out of France and I thought I would write an additional blog post on our thoughts about France and the French. We feel we are pretty experienced now that we have been here for 10 days.  So here are some random thoughts:

  1. The French are a nation of farmers. We drove around for 5 days through the countryside and there is hardly an open space. Everything is consumed by farmland. They seem to grow everything. They must be net-exporters of food.
  2. French waiters have ADD.  All of them. If you don’t get your order in with them at one go they lose interest. Don’t ever hesitate it is a fatal error as you will only get half your order and you won’t see them again.
  3. The rural French people are much less friendly than those in Paris. Parisians are generally quite friendly and helpful. We found that last time we were in Paris as well. Maybe it is because there are so many tourists. The restaurant and hotel staff are very friendly and they all switched into English even when we were trying in French. We didn’t have any bad experiences in Paris.
  4. Generally though the French have no manners. You hold open a door for one of the ladies and you can bet a French man will push ahead and walk through. They also drive like that and they are worse in Paris than in the countryside.
  5. The French road system is really excellent. They have motorways everywhere and it is really easy to get around. They do love traffic circles though!
  6. French cooking isn’t as good as they make it out to be.  We went to numerous restaurants and the Spur does a better steak than I had in France.
  7. You need to get an extra mortgage on your house to cover a trip to France. I never thought I would find a city more expensive than London but Paris definitely is. Everything is more expensive but especially the drinks. They are ridiculously overpriced. In London I could have a pint for half the price I paid in Paris.
  8. France is a beautiful country. The countryside, the villages and Paris itself. Words like charming, quaint, delightful, enchanting, picturesque, and captivating would all be apt descriptions.
  9. There are way too many tourists in Paris.  They should restrict how many tourists they allow in. I can think of a mechanism for doing this but then I will be told I am discriminatory.
  10. The French idea of a 4-star hotel is that you pay a lot of money for at best what would be rated 3-star in any other country.
  11. It rains as much in France as it does England.

This morning at breakfast Helen asked everyone what their best part of the French trip was and the consensus was Chartres. That was our first night in case you have forgotten. In a sense we fluked upon it but it was really worthwhile. I would recommend it to anyone coming to France. My other word of advice – don’t come in July if you are going to come to France.