Day 12 of Romance Holiday

12 days, 12 days of rain. We woke up this morning and it was grey and England looking outside (dreary that is). But by the time we went for breakfast the sun was out and it was looking like a nice day. So back to Plan A which was to take the open top bus tour around Paris today. We eventually found the collection stop and made it onto a bus. It gave a good overview of Paris with sparse English commentary – most the “commentary” was just music as we spent a lot of time stuck in traffic especially driving up and down the ChampsÉlysées. When the sun was out it was bearable on the top but when it went behind the clouds it was freezing cold especially with the wind-chill factor.  We did get to see all the major sights of Paris in one go though including some really good views of the Eiffel Tower. 

The incredible thing about the Eiffel Tower is that they were going to tear it down. However, the height made it excellent to have a telegraph aerial on top of it and then the radio was invented and there was no better place to put the aerial for that and now it has a TV aerial on top of it. However, I suspect the tourism value alone is worth keeping it for Paris now. Imagine Paris without the Eiffel Tower – it would be like Cape Town without Table Mountain; Pretoria without the Voortrekker Monument or London without Big Ben.

They told us on the tour that 2.8 million people visit Paris each year. Helen leaned over and said “And 2 million of them are here today”. They have 1850 hotels in Paris and I bet they are all full or close to full at the moment. Who said anything about a recession in Europe? Having said that, most of the people in Paris, I don’t think, are from Paris. You hear more English being spoken on the streets than you do French. After the bus trip we set off looking for a sandwich (which we failed at bitterly and ended up eating hamburgers). The streets are teaming with people. But the worst part are the American & Asian tour groups who just stand on the pavement in a group talking. Parisian pavements aren’t large and you don’t want to step out into the road (Helen did it once and I almost had to fetch her from the hospital) to pass or get around people. Do people not realise that if 50 of you stand in a group on the pavement other people can’t get around you?! They need to introduce a course at schools – “manners while traveling” or maybe even better “common sense of traveling”.

The plan was also to go to the Louvre today. Walking to the bus stop we saw hardly anyone around so we thought maybe we should go rather in the morning. But when we walked past the Louvre the line was ridiculously long already and we went back to Plan A which was to go this afternoon (or early evening to be more precise). That gave everyone time to have some R&R this afternoon. And it seems that 5 people took that up by examining the insides of their eyelids. I (on the other hand) did the usual thing I do – some work and caught up on correspondence et al.

We headed to the Louvre at about 6pm after obtaining ‘Fast Track’ tickets (just like Disneyworld Paul) from the Concierge and we went in through the entrance in the underground Mall.  There was no queue at all – not even on the standard line. How ridiculous people are to queue (probably most of the morning) when you can just get right in later in the day. We decided to head directly for the most famous of all items in the Louvre – the Mona Lisa. In the process we passed sculptures which were 1000s of years old, other famous paintings but what’s the point when you’re heading to see the Mona Lisa.

We then started ambling through the other Renaissance works. What struck me was (a) they liked painting Biblical scenes (though in their own way – one painting showed David beating up Goliath) and (b) nudity was a must somewhere in the painting even if painting a Biblical scene.  Some of the sculptures in the African section I had to simply shield from the eyes of Chloe and Lara. Sorry Bryan and Sharon – I didn’t think a stroll around the Louvre would be so explicit.

At one point Lara looked really disturbed and so we all huddled around to hear what her problem was. It turned out she had just spotted a celebrity from one of Sharon’s recent ‘Hello’ magazines and couldn’t remember her name. I suggested taking a photo but was shot down (not sure why I thought it a good idea). The rest of the evening was then trying to figure out who she was and eventually the mystery was solved after Helen found her on the internet. Jeri Ryan was her name. Google her if you want to know what she looks like. She was there with her husband and children. I am reliably told that she acts in “Body of Proof” currently and before that in Shark, Boston Public and even Star Wars. I would have posted a photo if I had been allowed to take one by the family.

We did spend about an hour and a half wandering around the Louvre making distasteful comments about the art. Helen pointed out a Roman statue (the guy had his hand in the air holding something) and said “Look – he’s battling to get a cellphone signal”. Now that is the problem with our family – absolutely no idea of art whatsoever. But we went to the Louvre nonetheless as it is important to improve your knowledge and widen your thought. Not sure it worked though today. We got to one section and it contained pencil sketches. Some of them were so bad we wondered how on earth they made it into the Louvre to be on display. The picture on the right is one such example. It isn’t out of focus. That is what it looked like. There is a prize for anyone who can tell us (a) what it is and (b) why anyone sane would believe this should be hung in the Louvre.

It was quite late by the time we exited the Louvre and so we headed for dinner immediately which we enjoyed at a French Bistro. Nothing special. Drinks 50% of the bill as usual. That is partly because we have discovered that in France it is legal for children to drink alcohol so long as they are with their parents. But in fact the cooldrinks are the same price as the beers and cidres (not a spelling mistake or typo) and usually smaller in quantity. And then for desert we headed for HäagenDazs for desert. However, when I saw the price I limited everyone to one scoop only. They must import it from the USA and fly it in daily at that price! But it was a good way to end the day. Right now though I REALLY want coffee and Starbucks is closed and the hotel wants to charge €8 for a coffee. They must be kidding. My withdrawal symptoms will have to wait until the morning for their fix.

Day 11 of Romance Holiday

Just to keep up our perfect record it rained today for about 1 minute. Things seem to be improving slightly weather wise as we are down to 1 minute of rain from 24 hours when we were in Cornwall. It was overcast most of the day but generally quite pleasant weather.

We left Fontainebleau this morning and decided to go to Versailles on the way into Paris. It seemed like a good plan at the time but by the time we got to Versailles the millions of tourists to France had already beaten us there. The good thing was that the GPS directed us right to the front gates of the palace and I wondered why no one else was parking there. In fact, why did nobody drive up to the gates like we did? When we figured out that wasn’t the access to the parking area and sat in the queue for the parking for about 10 minutes we decided to ditch the plan and head into Paris.

My prayer was that the GPS would do nothing funny in directing us to the hotel. It had earlier in the day directed me off the motorway and through a picnic area (not kidding). Our faith is limited in the GPS. Driving in the French countryside on good quality motorways (their road system in the country is excellent) and an altogether different experience driving in Paris. Especially when you come off the motorway and straight past the famous Arc De Trimophe and around the famous traffic circle at the start of the Champs-Élysées. No lanes, cars and (more importantly) buses driving in every direction and the GPS tells you to the take the 5th exit (there are about 20 exits). I know the suspense is killing you but if you remember point 1 from 2 days ago, I am an excellent driver, unflappable under pressure. When in Paris, do as the Parisans. Change lanes frequently, ignore the guy behind you hooting and try not to turn left into the oncoming traffic (only did that once and the kids were already out of the car Sharon).

The GPS did lead us directly to the hotel but of course no parking in front of the hotel at all. Round the block and we luckily found a spot we could dump the luggage and kids out (they are trained at it now having done is a few times) and off Helen and I set to find the Hertz Car Rental return which was apparently very close by (in the same road as the hotel). After having driven past the place twice that the GPS directed us to we realised that it wasn’t there. We pretty much drove around for 20 minutes until I suggested phoning them. Helen did that and got a French pre-recorded message. Helpful! Then I had the brighter idea of calling Stephen and getting him to ask at the hotel. And they told us where to go. Of course it was the place Helen told me to go about 15 minutes earlier but who knew she would get so lucky. Seriously, the Hertz drop off was inside the Parkade – no signposts though until you enter the Parkade. COULD THEY NOT PUT UP ONE SIGN AT LEAST ON THE OUTSIDE?? And it was the weirdest drop-off ever. No office. Just drop the keys and contract in a box and off you go.

The hotel was close by and only about a minute walk. We are staying at the Saint James & Albany Hotel (www.saintjamesalbany.com). If you never click any other link, click this one. It really does look as good as the internet pictures. It is right across the road from the Tuileries’ Garden. You could not get a better location. Across the road and you’re at the Louvre, across the bridge and you’re at Musee d’Orsay. They allocated us rooms next to each other 218, 219 & 223. French have a strange idea of ‘next too’ – 220, 221 and 222 are between 219. As it turned out Helen and I opted for 223 and then I realised the aircon was not working and they installed a portable aircon which just blew the air around (we call them fans in SA). My staff say I am fussy and quick to complain. They may be right but given what I am paying per night I expect the aircon to be working. So I headed straight down and complained. And guess what – they upgraded Helen and I to a Junior Suite on the 6th floor. It is worth complaining.

  After settling in we headed off to find lunch and after that was secured 5 people went off shopping and I headed to the Apple store (to get an adaptor so I could connect to the internet in the room – the expensive hotel doesn’t have Wifi!). I love Apple more and more each day. Brilliant experience. Got the advice immediately and they guy who helped me also then turned to be the check out point and he didn’t bother to print my receipt – he just emailed it to. I am going back tomorrow to see what else I can buy from them (Bose headphones were half the price of what I can get them for in London even). The other bunch went clothes shopping. And I got constant updates about how cheap everything was (sales all over at the moment). And yes, Michael did buy himself a pair of green pants.

At dinner time we walked/wandered down the Seine on the left bank in the St Germaine area. Then we walked up to Notre Dame and found a bistro near Notre Dame and enjoyed dinner. Over dinner I asked Lara what she thought of Paris and she said ‘Beautiful but really busy’. And that it is. There are people everywhere. Even now at 12:05am I can hear people outside making a huge noise. I can only imagine what it will be like on Saturday – it is Bastille Day for those of you who didn’t know. But despite the millions of people, Paris is charming, lovely, clean and romantic. We’re here for the next 5 nights so you’re going to hear a lot more about Paris.

(More photos coming when I can figure out how to post vertical photos without them becoming horizontal!)

Day 10 of Romance Holiday

10 days down and 10 to go. Hard to believe we are 1/2 way through the holiday. And that would also make it 10 days of rain as well. Today was the best day i.t.o. weather though as it only rained for about 2-3 minutes this morning while driving (but it did still rain).

We left Amboise this morning at about 9:45am and planned to find a supermarket to buy some breakfast to avoid eating pastries for the 4th consecutive morning. I was longing for cereal and I never eat cereal even at home. We checked out and set out seeking the supermarket. What we discovered was that not only were all supermarkets closed on Sundays but also that someone came and stole all the supermarkets on Sunday night leaving none in France. We drove until about 11am along the Loire River until we eventually found a supermarket and bought what turned out to be brunch. We found a pull off place to eat alongside the Loire River though you couldn’t see the river and there was no table. We are good improvisers though (see our cheese board).

And yes that is a Brie.  That would be our second brie that we have eaten since we are here. They are ridiculously cheap (cheaper than SA) and really creamy and delicious. (And yes Bryan and Sharon – you can see Lara is wearing her own clothes for a change.)

After our brunch was consumed we headed for Chateau de Chambord. It is probably the most recognizable Chateau from France and is the largest in the Loire Valley (and Helen told me from her reading of the Frommers Guide that the Loire Valley is know for its Chateau’s). It was built in the 16th century (that is the 1500s for those of you like me that aren’t clever enough to figure that out). It was built by Francois I as a hunting lodge (supposedly) but who builds a hunting lodge like this (see pic). It was actually because he wanted to be closer to his mistress (like most Frenchmen) and for him to go somewhere outside of Paris in the summer. It is massive and has a unique feature in that it is a double staircase. It is possible to walk up (or down) and not see someone going in the opposite direction. We tried and we almost lost Lara (I did say almost Sharon). 

The Chateau has so many rooms that they cannot fill them with items from the correct period. They have two floors with the appropriate furnishings and paintings (including ones of Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI and Charles X). Then there were a whole lot of ugly paintings of the all the woman of the same period (I am amazed they managed to procreate). Either the artists were terrible or French woman have improved in looks over the centuries. Unfortunately, they don’t have sufficient items to fill the top floor so they have filled it with a modern art exhibition. Totally ridiculous. Out of place. What were they thinking?! They would have been better off leaving the top floor empty. I was of a mind to ask for our entrance fee back. Fortunately we hadn’t had to pay for anyone under 18 (and it didn’t even matter what nationality you were and I am pretty sure that it was the same for the Abbey – my guilt has been lifted).

Once we were ‘Chateau’d out’ we programmed the GPS for Fontainebleau. And immediately we ignored it as it tried to take us through all the back routes. We did the amazing thing of following signposts and knocked about 20 minutes off the projected time of arrival by doing that. I am hoping it will do a better job tomorrow of directing us into Paris as I think it could in handy then.

We came to Fontainebleau as it is the home of INSEAD. This is the business university I studied at in 2007 for a month and in fact when I started writing daily blogs of my trips away. It is therefore the birth place of today’s modern blog that you are reading right now. It has historical significance in the Temple family and therefore is a must visit when in France. We are staying right in the centre of the town at Hotel Napolean. Not surprisingly there is a painting of him in reception. I took the family down to see INSEAD. They complained all the way there (only a kilometer walk). They doubted I knew the way, they questioned whether I remembered where I was going, they asked if they should get a map (oh wait … those are all the same things …) I proved them all wrong and took them for a walk around the campus pointing out the important aspects, the canteen, recreation area, gym etc. And I showed them the hotel/residence I stayed in and even pointed out my room. They didn’t seem impressed. I will have to take them back again tomorrow morning to impress it upon them some more.

Helen and I then did the French thing and sat at a sidewalk cafe and had drinks and watched the passing people carrying their baguettes. Seriously everyone in France must carry a baguette. It is like an ID or drivers license which you must have with you at all times. Except in France it is a Baguette. You don’t want to get stopped by someone you know and they discover you don’t have a Baguette with you. That would be shameful. Helen and I felt quite naked without one. Our nervousness might have been from that or the fact that we seemed to be sitting next to the local drug pushers in town. They seemed to know everyone and kissed everyone (they were men and they kissed men) and were all carrying man bags (we reckon were the drugs were stashed). They were gone before we came back for dinner.

Tomorrow is our last day on the road. As from tomorrow we are in Paris for 5 nights so watch out for the daily update from Paris – the City of Romance!

Day 9 of Romance Holiday

Someone commented that all we seem to be doing is eating and walking in the rain. That isn’t entirely true, we also have done a lot of driving in the rain. And today that held true again as we set out from Mont Saint Michel to drive to Amboise in the Loire Valley.  It is a 4 hour 15 minute drive – or at least it is the way we went. The GPS was trying to direct us (constantly) off the main roads (who knows why) but we have learnt from our previous mistakes and we ignored it and followed the road signs instead. Remarkably the road signs work quite well.

The drive was pretty uneventful except that we could not find any shops open. Who would have thought that the whole of France closes on a Sunday. Since when were they a Christian nation? No supermarkets open at all (and believe me we tried a number today). Even stores which advertised ‘Open 24 hours’ (or whatever that is in French) were closed on Sunday. That meant the only place to get food on route was at a Services which aren’t really known for their quality. We managed to buy some sandwiches which could have been flown in from Cape Town a week ago the bread was so stale.

Up until now I have not written much about French roads and driving. I have a number of thoughts on the matter:

  1. I am a really good driver even if seated on the left hand side of the car and driving on the right. So far I have not stalled the car once (even when under pressure). I have not been flustered by the constant hooting on the first day (just put that right behind me). And when the GPS leads me down ridiculously small roads I simply reverse back down the hill and back onto the proper main road rather. I have so far only been tempted once or twice to go left around a traffic circle (see point 8 below). And I only once started driving on the left hand side but quickly corrected myself when faced with a car heading in my direction. And no one has hooted at me since the day we arrived.
  2. I am really courteous. I continually go to open the door for Helen to get into the passenger side. For some reason she finds this funny. I might stop soon because she is always laughing at me when I do it.  What is it with women?
  3. 1 & 2 didn’t really relate to French roads or drivers directly but I thought they were worthy of being in 1 & 2 spots anyway.
  4. French drivers are really aggressive and will never let you in even if you beg. They look straight ahead and close any small gap between themselves and the car in front of them.
  5. Most cars have some dents or scratches in the front, back or sides. No doubt that is the only way to get into traffic. Push you way in even if it means bumping another car.
  6. French love French cars.  At least 50% of the cars on the road are Peugeot; Citroen or Renault.
  7. They have a decent speed limit on the motorways – 130 km/h. And cleverly that reduces to 110 km/h when it is raining. And everyone sticks to it. The French only use speed limits that have a odd starting number (i.e. drop the zero). 50 km/h in town; 70 km/h on a rural single lane road running through farms/villages etc. I have never seen a 60 km/h or an 80 km/h.
  8. They love traffic circles. Even more than the British. Must have been through 1000 already.Even the motorways have traffic circles.
  9. The road numbering system is a mystery. It seems most ‘A’ roads are motorways but we have driven on some that were single lane. Then you get B, C, D and N roads. These are followed by a 1, 2 or 3 digit number. But that gives you no indication of the road size at all. We have driven today on D775 which was a motorway and then on D3 which was a single lane country type road. And we have done it vice versa as well. I reckon they just arbitrarily assign letters and numbers to roads as they feel led.
  10. They are very disciplined drivers. They overtake in the left hand lane and then immediately pull back into the right lane again. Imagine if everyone did that in SA (fantasy I know).

We are now in Amboise in the Loire Valley staying at Hotel Le Vince Loire Valley (http://www.vinciloirevalley.com).  It is an adequate hotel just outside the town centre. We are only here for 1 night.  The rooms are quite small but we all managed to fit in to watch a DVD this evening (French television isn’t my thing). We did go into the town (which is quite nice) for dinner and we walked around before and after dinner including walking along the Loire river.  The valley is very pretty. We haven’t really gotten much feel for the whole Valley and tomorrow we will drive a little more of it as we are quite close to our next stop before we hit Paris.

It is now 10:35pm and we sitting in our room with the window open. The sun has finally set but the last 6 or so hours have been rain free and it has been a really pleasant evening. We even sat outside to eat. If it stays like this then I might even be able to wear a pair of shorts tomorrow!

(Sorry about the lack of pictures today!)

Day 8 of Romance Holiday

When in Normandy, besides seeing Mont Saint Michel, there is one other major thing to do. And that is visit the beaches of Omaha, Gold, Juno, Sword and Utah. If that isn’t enough of a hint then add in 6 June 1944 and hopefully you have it by now. The D-Day beaches.

After having breakfast at a nearby Cafe and not being ripped off this time (see we are quick learners), we headed up north to the town of Arromanches. It was about an hour and half of driving and the GPS did take us down some scenic, small and winding roads. We arrived at the town at about 11:30am and went to the museum which is situated on the foreshore where the first Allied troops would have landed. This was ‘Gold’ beach where one of the British divisions landed and it was also the place where one of the Mulberry Harbours was built.  The remnants of the Harbour are still able to be seen today (as evidence by the photo). You will see that it was overcast today but not raining for much of the day. The same sort of weather that was experienced by the troops landing on the D-Day beaches on 6 June 1944.

The museum has photos, artifacts, notes, uniforms, weapons, a scale replica of the harbour etc in it.  It was a stirring experience. It was an emotional experience. The notes were often handwritten and showed something of the intensely personal nature of what was experienced that day and some of the following days in the liberation of Europe. To think, if that hadn’t happened we might all be speaking German and eating Bratwurst and Sauerkraut.

You cannot romanticize or trivialize what occurred that day. One of the quotes in the museum from Harry Parley, a 2nd class lieutenant from the British army was “As our boat touched sand and the ramp went down, I became a visitor to hell.” There was an account of another officer who on landing realised they were taking heavy losses because of a gun station above them. He single-handedly went and took the gun station, killing all the German soldiers manning it. He then noticed that there was another bunker causing the landing troops trouble and took that one by himself as well. Later in the day he rescued two men from his division who were about to be killed by Germans. An incredible day for him. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his efforts on 6 June 1944 alone. He saw the war to completion and returned home to England to die of old age. It was because of men like him that the world is as it is today. I have been reminded that the bravery of men 60, 100 and even 1000 or more years ago has resulted in the life we all enjoy today. Take a moment to be thankful for them. We did today.

Day 7 of Romance Holiday

As we went to bed so late last night we ended up only going out for breakfast at about 9:30 this morning. We didn’t want to eat in the hotel because it was R150 each for breakfast. We did find a small bakery/cafe and managed enough French to order coffee, orange juice, hot chocolate and pain au chocolat’s.  When it came to pay though, we ended up paying a lot more than was expected and it seemed they charged us for sitting down. Won’t make that mistake again.

We had a drive of 3:30 to get to Mont Saint Michel where we were headed for the next 2 nights. The weather was variable. It rained and then the sun would come out and then it would pour down and then it would be sunny again. At times it was raining so hard we could hardly see the road in front of us. We managed to figure out how to refuel the car. There is another thing that would never work in SA. Refueling the car for yourself and then going to pay in the shop afterwards. Everyone would do the refueling bit but would have limited appetite for the paying bit.

We decided to stop at a supermarket and buy lunch for ourselves. We did the French thing and got a baguette, cold meat and cheese. The cheese was very cheap even by SA standards. We stopped at a park and ate our lunch in the park. The Brie was fantastically good – very creamy. The French really do know how to make good cheese. It was a great lunch – much better and cheaper than if we had gone into another restaurant.

Our GPS then directed us to Mont Saint Michel via the smallest roads in France. What it was up to we have no idea. I became suspicious when it was directing us away from the way the road signs were pointing. We did get to see the French countryside and cut through agricultural land. It was definitely not the tourist and bus route into Mont Saint Michel. The GPS then directed us to a road blocked by a boom and yet our hotel was beyond that point. After much questioning whether we were in the right place we eventually pushed the ‘info’ button and they let us in and to the hotel. Our hotel is the Le Relais Saint Michel (http://www.relais-st-michel.fr/). It is as close to Mont Saint Michel that you could get without actually being on Mont Saint Michel. I had tried to book a hotel on it but they were all full. We were relieved actually we didn’t because being surrounded by tourists and water wouldn’t have been our thing.

The picture is the view from our hotel balcony. It really is a spectacular sight. And to think that the abbey was built hundreds of years ago when they would have had no large machinery and they would have had to wait for low tide to take anything across that they might have needed. As my weather app on my iPhone was predicting no rain from 4-6pm we decided to walk there after checking in. It looked closer than it was on foot. It took us about 30 minutes to get to the bottom and a whole lot of climbing (and dodging tourists) to get to the Abbey itself. They charge for going into the Abbey but under 18s pay nothing (if from EU country) and the adults pay €9. We weren’t going to enter the Abbey but Michael was insistent (it being his Mont at all). We were glad he did insist because it was impressive. When we bought the tickets I asked the guy what we had to pay and he said nothing for the under 18s. He issued the tickets and then asked ‘nationality’. I took the path of least resistance and said ‘English’ and have spent the rest of the day being branded a liar by the family. I am a permanent resident of England actually.

We wondered around the Abbey probably making too much noise but no one seemed to mind. Helen took 97 photos while we were inside the Abbey (not kidding). I went through them all and tried to select the best two for you so that you get a sense of the Abbey.  These were the two I thought were the best:

By the time we had finished in the Abbey and started to make our decent, it was raining again and at times quite hard. It was also quite slippery and I managed to skillful slip off a step and land on both feet still 1 step further down. Helen was about to ask to walk with me as she was afraid of slipping but when she saw that she said “You’re on your own” (nice wife!). Michael was squelching next to me. His shoes had holes in them and they were soaked right through. That concerned him greatly as he was a afraid of getting ‘Trench foot” (look it up on Google if you don’t know what that is). We stopped in for some crepes and drinks on the way down and were duly ripped off (€4 for a single espresso). It really is tourist central and the prices have risen to reflect that (like the Disneyworld of France). The coach tours pull in by their tens and hundreds. Everyone is here from the Japanese to the Americans to the British (including us) to Koreans. That does spoil it a little unfortunately. Made me want to go back to Chartres were we seemed to be the only tourists.

The rain had let up after our coffee break and so we walked back to the hotel again. There is an alternative of taking a bus but really who needs to take a bus for a 20 minute walk, Yes I know if took us 30 minutes there but we walked much faster back because we were walking into the wind and could see exactly what the wind was bringing with it – very black clouds and a sheet of rain. Michael being concerned about his ‘Trench feet” decided to run back and then Lara followed (keeping up her hockey fitness) which prompted Stephen and Chloe also to run after them. Helen and I walked at an even brisker pace and made it into the hotel just as the downpour began.

We had a late dinner at a restaurant across the road. Just after we had ordered a man who looked like he was part of the French Mob arrived. He wanted to talk to our waiter (who also seemed to be the owner or at least the manager). An argument then ensued between the two of them. We were speculating whether it was because he hadn’t paid his “rent”. Unfortunately our French was not good enough and we just picked up the occasional word and that made up what was going on. It did involve the chef. It got more animated and they got closer and closer together. Helen and Lara didn’t want to look at them in case they became witnesses and were also hunted down by the mob. The ‘discussion’ eventually ended with hand shakes and he went immediately to the kitchen and out came our food.

It was 9:30pm by the time we were finished eating and that gave Helen some more time to take a whole lot of additional pictures of Mont Saint Michel. So to give you an idea of how it changes in the light and time of day I have included 2 photos above and another 2 below. That’s all for today (as if that wasn’t enough!).

 

 

Day 6 of Romance Holiday

Today was the start of the real holiday. The last 5 days we have to write off on account of bad weather. Sort of like a washed out test match. We did enjoy the family time but the weather was really appalling (I have probably said that before). We had the morning at my parent’s house just packing up and getting ready to leave.  As there are so many of us and a reasonable amount of luggage, we needed two cars to get to the airport. My Dad and Mom were both going to drive but then my Dad’s gardener (Morris) offered to take us. Just imagine your SA gardener offering to take you to the airport!

We had a flight from Southampton Airport to Orly Paris. It is about a 30 minute drive to the Airport from my parents home. The airport is probably the size of George airport (maybe marginally bigger with probably double the number of flights).  Checking in our baggage was painfully slow. We already had reprinted the boarding passes so all that needed to happen was to print of bag tags. That took about 5 minutes. We did have some time to kill and as we hadn’t had lunch we had a quick bite at Costa Coffee. When we were finished an announcement was made to say that the flight was delayed for an hour. Then just when you are thinking how you can kill another hour of waiting they announced that they had switched out planes and we would be leaving in 30 minutes. And then about 10 minutes later than started boarding. We eventually left only 20 minutes late and we will all quite accepting and happy about leaving only 20 minutes late. I reckon that is very good PR at work. Tell everyone you are going to leave an hour late and then leave 20 minutes late and everyone is very happy.

Of course it was cloudy and raining in Paris as we started to descend. We did get a view of Paris central and the Eiffel Tower sticking out though. Everything was very efficient and we were through passport control, claimed our bags and gotten the car keys in about 15 minutes from landing. We then had to walk about 1/2 km to get to the rental car. Then we spent 10 minutes trying to figure out how we would fit everyone in and also the luggage. Once we had done that we all settled in and I asked Stephen if he had the printed instructions of how to get to the hotel and he said no – he fantastically had left them at my Dad’s house. Next time I will give them to Michael. We called my Dad to copy and send them to us (via Iphone or email – wonders of modern technology) and at the same time Michael tried (and succeeded) in getting a satellite signal for the GPS and we got the directions from my iPhone as well. All covered! Stephen then tried to put his seatbelt on and it was stuck. Whatever we tried it did not move. So I ran back the 1/2 km to the Hertz counter, got a new car assigned and ran back again. Helen asked whether my shirt was wet because of the rain or sweat. It was the latter. (Rick – I reckon I get to eat one of those chocolates you sent along tonight!)

We repacked the car and headed out into peak hour Paris traffic.  What a nightmare. It was raining, I am driving on the wrong side of the road, foreign place, 1000 turns in the first 5 minutes (or at least felt like it), almost drove through a red traffic light (I can hear Sharon panicking again … I did say almost), made my own lane (when in Paris do as the Parisians do – see photo) and then promptly took a wrong turn that resulted in a 45 minute U-turn. Not a great start especially since it was 7:30pm already and we didn’t feel like we had made any progress. We did eventually get out of the traffic and onto the motorway that was free flowing. Stopped for a quick pit at the Services and bought Bolognese chips to keep us going until dinner.

We arrived in Chartres (the town we are staying in) at just after 8pm. We found the hotel easily but no parking outside and we were on the other side of the road. We did managed to make a series of turns that got us back in the right direction and Helen ran in to ask what to do with the car and luggage. We quickly offloaded, left the kids with the luggage and found the car park a few blocks away.  Back to check in. We are staying at the Grand Monarque Hotel (http://www.bw-grand-monarque.com/uk/index.php).  It is very nice. Our rooms are pretty spread out though but it isn’t really a problem.

 

We decided to head into the centre of the town (aiming for the impressive Cathedral) and find a Brasserie for dinner. The rain was gone and it was a beautiful evening with the sun still very much up in the sky. We did find one relatively easily and the waiter could even understand our English. We sat outside because it was such a nice evening. Everyone pretty much ordered the same thing. The only problem came when we asked whether we wanted our meat ‘Bloody or not’. We knew what he was asking – we just didn’t know if he understood our answer (turned out he didn’t when the food came but it didn’t matter).

By the time we were finished it was 10pm and it was twilight. The town has an illuminated walk. They light up several buildings around the town. So we did about 60% of the walk and were stunned at how beautiful the village was. It is what you would consider a typical French village. Cobbled streets, shuttered houses on the road, window boxes. Just close your eyes and picture what you would consider a typical French village and you would have it. Helen said she just expected someone to cycle past with a Baguette sticking out of his carrier basket on his bicycle. I am sure we will see that tomorrow. Fortunately we have a working camera and a good internet connection so I don’t have to describe it – you can see for yourself.

We got back to the hotel at 11pm and all headed for our rooms. We will have a later breakfast tomorrow as there is no point in rushing out of this place!

Day 5 of Romance Holiday

What does one do in England (to be more precise, in Hampshire) when you know it is going to rain. You could either spend your days indoors at home or find amusement indoors elsewhere. We opted for the latter option and went Ten Pin Bowling. That would be us and all other 20 lanes occupied by groups of over 70s. It was obviously pensioners day and my parents hadn’t even come with us. And what made it even more scary is that they all came with their own bowling ball (or two in the case of the people next to us), ball spray (who knows what that does) and cloth to (I assume) keep the ball as smooth as possible. We just got our shoes, figured out how the computer worked and started bowling. What made it even stranger was that we easily outscored the regulars with their own bowling balls.

Lara told us she was a useless bowler and then proceeded to be ahead of me in score until the 8th frame (I would never have lived it down if she had beaten me). Daniel was throwing the ball with such vigor and from such a height that I thought he would dent the lane. I had to explain that he wasn’t trying to bounce the ball into the pins. Stephen took the first game and then fell for my oldest trick – a little wager on the 2nd game of £5. He has lived with me for almost 16 years now and he still hasn’t learnt his lesson. I started the 2nd game with two strikes and never looked back after that and finished a good 30 points clear of Stephen. Daniel and I also had a little wager going over the 3 games – he took the first (I was warming up), I took the second (he fell apart), Daniel took the 3rd (I fell apart).

We then went to do the only thing that we could do in Bournemouth and that is shop. Lunch at Sainsbury’s Cafe and then some shopping. Boys into HMV, who knows where the girls went but we are pretty sure it involved a clothes store. Boys (teenage ones) then went to H&M do some clothes shopping of their own which ended up with all 3 buying something and M & D both buying the same jacket (just as well they live on different continents). Michael immediately wore his. We then also found the girls in H&M and waited while they tried on and made their purchases. By this stage I was thoroughly bored and having cleared my Gen Re emails I decided we should head home (it was 3:30pm at that stage anyway).

The rain was pelting down again and it looked much like yesterday.  Misty and miserable. All that was left to do was loaf around my parents home (or in my case do some work and reply to some emails). The rest watched tennis, went into Burley to buy fudge (a local specialty) and in M & H’s case – slept. Just before dinner a miracle occurred – the sun came out, the clouds cleared away and we could see blue sky. That prompted Helen and I to go for an after-dinner walk in the New Forest (where my parents live). It was a beautiful evening and we managed to do a brisk 3.3km walk. It was extremely muddy and so we stuck (in more ways than one) to the gravel/mud roads. It was beautiful though and at last we got to see the sun. Evidence of the improving weather can be seen by the two photos to finish off today’s blog.  The one is of the New Forest; the other of my parents home. Tomorrow we leave England for France. We’re hoping for better weather.

Day 4 of Romance Holiday

My weather forecast was correct. We woke up to constant rain this morning. We never saw the sun. The only thing variable today was the speed of my windscreen wipers as we drove back from Cornwall. They went from standard speed to fast depending on how hard the rain was falling. I know I have gone on about the weather, but really you have no idea how bad it was (and is still). I have been coming to the UK for 3 years now every month and I have not seen weather like this in all that time. It is hard to describe even. Words like abysmal, appalling, atrocious, abnormal, arctic – and that is just using words starting with ”A” that come to my mind. I am sure I could get through the whole alphabet if you pushed me. I won’t try to describe it any further. Here is what it looked like on the way back to my parent’s home today:

I did promise some more photos once we had better internet connection (which we now have for 2 days at least). So here are two of the promised pictures, Tregenna Castle and St Ives. This was the last (and only time) we saw the sky and sun.

 

And then of course we need the photo Lara & Broccoli.

That is the closest she would get to it I think.

Well back to today. We left for the drive back and decided because of the poor weather that we would take the shortest route. Turned out to be a good decision (see opening paragraph and picture). We stopped on route at a ‘Services’. These UK ‘Services’ are world famous. They are meant to have everything you might need. What mattered most to us was working plumbing and lunch. The Devils Restaurant (as Paul calls it – the one with the big yellow M) was not to be found but they did have Burger King. Most of us (excluding G&G, C and H) went for that option and we all agreed that it is much better than MacDees. Stephen kindly pointed out that the hamburger did cost R90 though.

We got back to my parent’s home at 3pm and headed out almost immediately to stock up on food for the next two days (9 people of which 4 are teenagers do eat a lot of food). The supermarkets here allow you to self-weigh and self-checkout. Just imagine that in SA. Everyone would weigh their fruit & veg with only 1 or 2 pieces in the bag, get the sticker and then go and add in double or triple that. And self-checkout! At least half the items would never get scanned and would just go straight into a bag. Consumers would love it but the stores would be bankrupt in days. The store we went to (Waitrose) even has self-scanners that you take with you and the trolley and you scan as you go. Brilliant idea that also would never work in SA. My Dad used to do it (at least when I last went with him to Waitrose) but we understand they have now figured out he is South African and so they audit his cart every time so it pretty much defeats the purpose of self-scanning. They insist the system ‘randomly’ picks out people for audit but after the tenth or so straight audit and an argument with the manager he gave up. Quite stupid really because when I was with him he double scanned a couple of items by mistake.

We decided to have a braai for dinner. Why not? Pelting down with rain, about 15 degrees outside. But then it is mid-summer. So we got the umbrella up and fired up the gas grill and did what all good Englishmen do in summer – had a barbecue. It was a great family dinner and the leftovers were put out for the local friendly fox so that he too would be well fed. There was a hope to spot the fox but I doubt we could see him through the rain anyway.

Well that is it for today. Off to bed now. Tomorrow we will aim for indoor activities (for obvious reasons).  Until tomorrow …

Day 3 (Part 2) of Romance Holiday

Given the very poor weather (constant rain) we spent the afternoon inside watching tennis.  Late afternoon the sun tried to come out but that was short lived.  It is now pelting down with rain (11:10pm). It is raining so hard I can hear it on the roof. As Paul would say this is rubbish weather. I don’t think I have ever been on holiday and had such bad weather. You really can’t sightsee in this (though we did our best this morning!).

This evening we had booked at Seagrass restaurant in St Ives (www.seagrass-stives.com).  It is run by a Masterchef semi-finalist in 2010. It was recommended to me by one of our UK staff who comes to St Ives on holiday every year. The restaurant is quite small (probably seats 25-30 people) so we had about 1/3 of the restaurant. The service was good. The food mixed. I am so tired of everyone else in my family making poor choices at restaurants that I have taken to give free consulting advice on their choices. I was perfectly happy (as usual) with my choices of scallops for starter followed by Turbot (a fish that used to swim in the sea at St Ives). However, everyone else was only happy with their starters or their main course (not both). Helen had Herring for starters (I did agree with the choice) but she complained it was too salty. Dad, Stephen and me all had some (or most of it) and didn’t see what the problem was. If I wrote about all the complaints you wouldn’t believe me and you would think they are all spoilt brats so I will resist.  I can say I was happy with my choices and licked the plate the sauce was so good (and this for a person who doesn’t like sauces and is supposedly a fussy eater … I am starting to doubt that description now).

No one complained about the desert though – everyone seemed to be happy with those. Don’t worry Sharon – Lara does still fit into her own clothes even though you haven’t seen a photo of her wearing them. I suspect she is keeping the T-shirts back for when the temperature rises above 12 degrees. We did rush back after the meal to ensure we missed another downpour as it was only drizzling very lightly when we left the restaurant (a unique event).

The good news is that today Lara only broke two British laws. We are trying to reign her in a little. Hopefully tomorrow it will only be one. (Even though Sharon says she isn’t panicking, I know better than that and I can feel the panic swelling up again.) We did cleverly bring a set of DVDs with us and so we have been watching that in the evening after supper. No chance of doing anything else in this weather – even a walk is out. And after 3 days of trying to get Helen not to selfishly flush the loo after going I have given up and now I dash for it before she can get there. At least I can remember not to flush.

We leave tomorrow for the great trek back to my parents home. Of course the weather forecast is for rain, rain and more rain. As my Dad said this evening, the weather is predicted to be variable. Either there will be light rain or there could be heavy rain.  Right now it is heavy rain!