Monday 7th September 2015
Our epic journey began with a walk across the road from the airport hotel to the International Terminal; luck was smiling and Cathay Pacific was the first airline inside the door. A most charming young man was able to book our luggage all the way through to Malaga as well as give us all three boarding passes. The lounge was crowded and the chairs uncomfortable, but that was OK because we were not there too long.
The plane trip was fine, long but quite comfortable. John managed to sleep as well as normal and I watched movies all the way to Hong Kong. The HK airport was a long walk from one of the branch wings to the main terminal, later we discovered that we could have caught the unmanned train on the next level down. The five hours between flights was passed in the lounge that once again did not rate highly. John once again slept well while I managed a couple of hours and then read for the remainder of the 12hour flight to Zurich. We arrived at Terminal D which is a new building on the other side of the runway from the main Terminals A, B & C. A special unmanned underground train took us to the main Terminal. The temperature was a lovely 3 degrees but that was soon overcome by being in a heated terminal; in the lounge we sat next to a wall of windows to keep the heat down a little.
The plane trip from Zurich to Malaga was over beautiful country, green valleys and lots of mountains. The differences between the landscapes of France and Spain were particularly noticeable. Spain seemed much drier in varying shades of brown compared with France’s verdant valleys and majestic mountains. Spain appeared to be intensely cultivated and productive; we flew over what appeared to be miles of freshly ploughed paddocks, orchards with thousands of trees, what looked to be large hothouses plus paddocks of solar panels
It did not take long to purchase a SimCard for the iPad at Malaga airport, which was followed by perfunctory Customs formalities that was a wave through the door without even glancing at passports. We must have honest faces or the previous security system checks had not raised alarms. The car was quickly located and then on the way to our hotel; a few wrong turns and we finally made it! A welcome shower and crawled into bed for a couple of hours, which lasted until 11pm when we made a cup of tea and slept again until 7am. At least that was what the clock said! Checking the weather site showed sunrise at 7.53am and sunset at 9.57pm; adjusting to these times will probably take us a while.
After a lovely 3 degrees in Zurich, Malaga was hot and dry but the air conditioning provided respite from the 30 degrees; similar temperatures are forecast for the remainder of the week.
Wednesday, we decided to take the coast road to Gibraltar rather than the motorway, but there were high-rise buildings right along the coast to Marbella with occasional glimpses through to see flat water with grey to brown sand (at least it looked like sand from that distance). At that stage we decided the motorway was a better option and that soon completed our trip.
Finding our hotel was not too difficult the difficulty arose in trying to find a parking spot near the hotel. Once we booked in and put the car in the underground garage the unpacking was soon completed. Our rooms overlooked the Rock,
an impressive sight of limestone cliffs with some vegetation. Too hot to venture out for a couple of hours so later we ventured out looking for a supermarket using the map – that took a while to achieve, but eventually we were able to purchase the few things we needed. Dinner was not served until 8pm and by that time I was passed being hungry, so I had a cup of tea while John went out for some take-away.
The later sunrise made it easy to sleep until 8am. The weather was fine and not too hot and we decided to go an explore Gibraltar; turned out to be their National Day which necessitated a slight change of plan. We spent hours driving around the Rock, stopping at several places to look at the scenery as well as read many of the commemorative plaques. There were hundreds of British as well as Gibraltar flags and bunting hanging from most of the buildings. Crowds of people were heading to the beaches or seaside areas, putting up their umbrellas and arranging their picnics. Not too many appeared to be going anywhere near the water; although later in the day a few were visible paddling on the edges.
Too hot most of the afternoon to go out; at 6pm we took the gondola ride to the top of the Rock; sunset provided the perfect time for our trip up, not too hot and fewer people around. There were apes roaming wild in the Reserve up there; lots of warning signs about being wild animals, fines for feeding them and they are likely to bite, but still people were trying to pat them or give them food! Spectacular views from up on top out over the coastline around the Rock as well as well up the coast either side.
There were dozens of cargo ships either at anchor or moving slowly to and from Africa plus numerous small craft in between. The Police / Customs launch that was patrolling the coastline earlier was still patrolling back and forth around the isthmus. Must cost them a small fortune to keep this operating.
Gibraltar had an interesting take on security; while the launch patrols day and night, we crossed the border several times each day and the checking of passports was thorough occasionally and for the remainder the Police / Customs people were not even interested. When we walked over, our passports were not recognised by the machine so the officer just waved us through the side door and didn’t even look at our identification. Guess we don’t really fit their profile of undesirables.
The airstrip is just inside the border of Gibraltar; it is both a commercial airport as well as a RAF Station; there were a number of flights day and night during our stay. A range of aircraft landed and / or took off; quite a number of what looked like private Lear Jets through to mid-sized passenger jets including planes with RAF insignia.
It is hard to grasp the importance of historical events as you learn about them over the years, but seeing what they are talking about, including the conditions in static displays while listening to the stories, certainly brings new understanding of the life and times. The Gibraltar National Day was an important event for the entire population; talking to people the following day highlighted their pride in their small State. Some mention of celebrating until 4am; the loud music (that we could hear from our hotel finished at 10pm, but the light show, music and partying apparently continued well into the night.
A tunnel was driven into the North face of the Rock during “The great Siege” of 1779-1783. As the work progressed, the fumes from the blasting almost suffocated the miners. Almost two months after the start of the work, it was decided to open a vent to allow air into the tunnel. It was then that the idea was hit upon of mounting a gun in the embrasure thus created. By the time the siege was raised, the tunnel was 370 feet long, had six embrasures and four guns mounted on it. The work did not stop with the ending of hostilities, and by June 1783, the Gallery was over 600 feet long and almost at “the Notch”. In the latter stages the tunnel was driven downwards and a large chamber was opened under “the Notch”, called St. George’s Hall. there, a battery of seven guns was installed.
Marvellous as this work is, it almost pales into insignificance when compared with the far more extensive network of galleries below them, known as the Middle and Lower Galleries, constructed between 1788 and 1797. Further additions to the system came during the Second World War when a great deal of tunnelling as done in other parts of the Rock. Today, there are over thirty miles of road inside the Rock as well as a potential underground city.
Time to leave Gibraltar and move on to Mijas. On the way we detoured through the Andalucía region to Ronda at the top of the range. I’m not sure what is so wonderful about the area; could be drought, or maybe this is their normal vista, but I had expected something special from what I have read of the region over the years.
Our hotel at Mijas was not overly impressive to begin with; I’m hoping it has hidden treasures awaiting discovery. There was a wedding in the garden at sunset Saturday night; we had a great view from the dining room. The bride looked stunning in an amazing gown; cream ruffled organza in layers flowing into a train. There were two bridesmaids plus six flower girls and four pageboys. The guests were resplendent in formal wear as well; not everyone looked particularly comfortable in their attire, but it all added to the scene.
Description of dinner is better left out of the notes, at least the pineapple was nice and the alcohol was ok for local white rum. Our breakfast on Sunday was the usual; it’s hard to muck up toast and tea.
John had a hit ready for the Tennis Tournament at Lew Hoad’s starting Monday 14th; so far the ankle appears to be ok. It took a fair bit of nagging for him to drink lots of water and cut down on the acid producing foods; ah well, guess that is my role at the moment if he wants to stay fit for three weeks of tennis.
Rather than have our Anniversary dinner at the hotel, we drove to the village of Mijas; up a really steep hill, down into the village car park and by catching a lift to the 10th floor of the Parking Station it brought us out at street level. We walked along for a short distance until we found a restaurant that had a menu that looked OK. A very pleasant meal sitting outdoors watching the world go by, only spoilt by smokers at the next table. We have become used to non-smoking eating areas.
John’s first match was today at 10.30; it was not too hot sitting and watching. John had a win in two sets 6-4, 6-1 and Claude (his opponent) would have preferred John to be in the 65s rather than the combined 70 / 75.singles He plays the next match tomorrow and the final has been moved to Thursday from Saturday just for him! Let’s hope it all works so we can leave here on Thursday afternoon, ready to fly out of Malaga at 6am Friday to Trieste and drive to Umag for the World Seniors Tennis Championships.
The Lew Hoad Tennis Camp has been in operation since the 1970s; picturesque grounds with a beautiful lily pond with gold fish swimming lazily up and down. There is a lovely dining area with wide verandahs over looking the first two courts. The venue is used for lots of weddings; Spain like the rest of the world is facing declining numbers of players and seeking alternative ways of attracting customers. The courts were all concrete with some interesting bounces, but I guess that makes it the same for everyone. The majority of players were from around the area; many have units here and come every year, other who have moved here permanently. Unfortunately the usual tennis is not well run here and the majority of players prefer to play at the club down the road with clay courts and better organised.
We met up with Ashley Compton-Dando, a British expat that Robert has known since he coached here in the 70s.
After lunch back at the hotel I spent the afternoon reading and catching up on emails while John went out for some fresh milk and went exploring in Mijas and was gone slightly longer than expected (not unusual); he came home very pleased with himself, as well as exploring he also found a new battery for his watch and a two-tone leather belt in addition to lots of photos taken on his excursion.
John spent the evening going to a Welcome Night at the Tennis Centre while I retired with another heat headache. I really don’t like hot weather!
Wednesday we noticed the sunrise was even later, still quite dark at 8am but it soon cleared to another hot day. John’s next match was on Court 1 so I was able to sit on the verandah in the shade to watch; he defeated his opponent 6-0, 6-4. The first set was more of a hit rather than playing too hard; second set John gave away two serves, one by losing concentration and the other by self-described “over-hitting”.
The afternoon was spent indoors; John loading photos into the computer and cursing the computer for not doing what he thought it should. I spent the afternoon with a headache.
Later when it was cooler, we drove up to Mijas to have a look at the chapel build into a rocky outcrop on the edge of the cliff, also constructed with the rocks from the cliff-face.
A beautiful little church, masses of fresh flowers adorned the Altar and a large area in front of the communion rail. Two young men were creating more ornate floral arrangements with pale pink Hydrangea, white Carnations and blue Delphiniums flowing from tall urns standing either side of the Altar.
From the church we spent some time on the walkway overlooking houses as well as our hotel that flowed in patches down the steep hillside to collide with the dense buildings along the coastline. Lots of smaller craft were out on the water with no large vessels visible to the horizon.
Another walk along the street looking at the various goods for sale; range of beautiful leather products, colourful ceramics of all shapes and sizes as well as souvenirs of all descriptions. We found some more fridge magnets for John plus some postcards just for Jake.
A drink before and with dinner did not improve the offering; rather pleased to be moving on from here. Completed most of the packing ready to move out in the morning before the finals.
Thursday a little cooler and cloudy, but by 10.30 the sun was shining although not quite as hot and humid today. The match was on Court 1 again, so the verandah soon had quite a crowd gathered watching them. John finally won 7-5, 6-1 not his best performance with some over-hitting. Boris, his opposition, is the Danish Indoor Champion and played a lovely game. Jenny Hoad made the presentation (a lovely white towel embroidered with the tournament title) to John seeing we could not be at the presentation dinner. Jenny told John to give Robert heaps because he never won anything in Spain. We watched tennis for a little longer and then drove to Malaga ready for our early flight tomorrow. (more tennis information on the tennis tab)
We had an early dinner, did some repacking and then had an early night.
Friday 18 September 2015
Up at 3am, out of the hotel before 4, car deposited and after following some dubious signage we arrived at the check-in area by 4.30am via some really long walks as well as up one floor, across the car park and back down again! Waited in a long queue, when it was finally our turn we found that the extra suitcase we paid for before leaving home, just so we could avoid this hold-up was not applied which necessitated another walk, pay the extra €55.00, walk back to the counter, deposit the extra case, collect our boarding passes and proceed to Customs, once again, dubious signage led us the long way! Just to ensure we were tired, there was a long walk to our boarding area, wait until the gate number was posted and then walk to the other end of the building to board our plane and finally left Spain – surprisingly on-time!
A two and a half hour flight to Rome, off the plane to the waiting busses, bussed to the terminal, walk upstairs to the transit area and guess what? Another long walk to the boarding gate to find our plane already boarding; down the walkway to another bus out to the plane and up another flight of stairs and try to access our seats through people pushing in from the opposite direction; you couldn’t complain about any of the manners we saw today, there weren’t any! I miss the courtesies we are used to at home.
After a 50-minute flight we landed in Trieste in the heat; waited quite some time for the luggage convey to begin moving and our cases were among the last to come through. Customs was a brief stop, “Where are you from?” “Australia.” “Off you go” without even a glance at our passports.
John completed the paperwork for our rental car and we followed the rental agent out to the vehicle; you got it, another long walk – this time in the heat! Temperature 360C with100% humidity; thank heavens for air-conditioning in the car. The rental agent told us the drive to Umag was about 1 hour; turned out to be closer to two. We drove through Slovenia without stopping until we reached the boarder with Croatia; Checkpoint 1 – waved through, Checkpoint 2 – stamp in our passport and we were nearly there.
On arrival in Umag we found the Tourist Office and collected some maps. A short drive to reach our hotel, book-in; thank heavens, the a/c was already going in our room so after some unpacking I succumbed to a foul headache and crawled into bed for a couple of hours. Have I mentioned I hate heat?
John joined his team members for a hit from 4 to 5pm and then we joined them for dinner. I must say, the food here is a vast improvement on the hotel at Mijas; John quickly found a range of meat and vegetables to keep his little heart happy and I settled for some vegetable soup. A pleasant meal with enjoyable dinner companions; looks as though this sojourn has the makings of a good couple of weeks. There is an indoor pool ready and waiting.
By the time we finished unpacking it was time for bed; even the bed is softer, not quite a good as Rydges, but better than Malaga, Gibraltar and Mijas.
The sun was up when we woke at 7am; breakfast was shared with Barbara and Terry; there was a good selection of hot and cold foods and included raspberry jam in their condiments. John and the team left at 10am to go and register and then practice for 2 hours, 11 till 1. Lunch of bread rolls and bananas arrived with John and that was enjoyed while watching tennis, reading, sewing, emails and resting until it was time for a walk to explore our surroundings and checkout the pools and facilities.
On the way into dinner we caught up with Margaret Harris who raised the possibility of a late entry to the mixed; Margaret said she would review the rules and check with officials tomorrow when at the courts to discuss their entry and then let John decide if he will play.
Once again dinner was shared with the other team members; I settled for some lovely Minestrone followed by fresh pineapple and was most enjoyable. Time passes quickly when chatting with like-minded people
John did some more work on loading photos into the Travelogue ready for posting on the web; he was pleasantly surprised by the Internet speed
Sunday 20th September 2015
Once again the team were off to early practice while I headed to the indoor pool. I had forgotten how good weightlessness could be; for the first hour I was alone in the pool so I spent the time swimming, floating or just standing up to my chin in water at 290degrees.
Later in the day we all gathered at the ATP Stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the 2015 Super Seniors World Team Championships. Unlike last year when all the team members from each country entered the centre court behind their National Flag, this year, there were only four representatives from each country who entered holding the corners of their country’s flag.
The four new team members for this year were Australia’s representatives. The remainder of the players and supporters sat in the western stand, opposite where the marchers entered, to watch the proceedings. Once the 29 teams from other countries had entered, walked around the outside of the court and collected on the southern side of the net, Croatia (the entire team) completed the competing countries and took up north of the net. Following several speeches from a range of dignitaries a Croatian Folk Dancing Troupe entertained us with four National Dances.
After the Opening Ceremony there was a Cocktail Party (consisting of white whine and some stodgy nibbles); rather than partaking of these offerings, the players had their team photos taken and then dispersed.
Dinner with the team members passed swiftly as we chatted and then said good night.
Monday, tennis competition was to commence at 10am with our guys have first practice at 8.30am. The teams meet just prior to commencement to exchange small gifts; from Zimbabwe they received dear little colourfully painted animals hand made from recycled drink cans. In addition to the Australian Seniors Tennis pin we added pennies for each member of the opposition team for them to use for the toss in their tennis matches – King George as the head and the kangaroo as the tail in the year of their birth.
If you would like to read all about the tennis please go to the tennis link; John has described it all in detail.
Our team’s bye today; Terry Barbara, John and I decided to drive south to Pula to view the Roman Coliseum; purported to be the best surviving one in the world.
Lonely Planet describes Pula as: The wealth of Roman architecture makes otherwise workaday Pula (ancient Polensium) a standout among Croatia’s larger cities. The star of the show is the remarkably well-preserved Roman amphitheatre, smack in the heart of the city, which dominates the streetscape and doubles as a venue for summer concerts and festivals.
Historical attractions aside, Pula is a busy commercial city on the sea that has managed to retain a friendly small-town appeal. Just a short bus ride away, a series of beaches awaits at the resorts that occupy the Verudela Peninsula to the south.
Although marred with residential and holiday developments, the coast is dotted with fragrant pine groves, seaside cafes and a clutch of good restaurants. Further south along the indented shoreline, the Premantura Peninsula hides a spectacular nature park, the protected cape of Kamenjak.
As we wandered around the old town, we stopped for lunch at one of the myriads of cafes, walked through another Hadrian’s Gate as well as reviewed the artifacts in Augustus’ Temple before returning to our car for the drive back to Umag and another team practice at 4pm. The rain that had been forecast decided to arrive so that was end of any tennis for the day.
The Championship Dinner was held at the Sol Gardens, scheduled for 8pm. Apparently the rain caused delays, so that became 8.30pm and then obligatory speeches became 9pm and then time for dinner. I would describe the meal if I had the words, but I don’t know sufficient negative terms to describe this food; a disappointment not to be repeated at the Individual Championships Dinner next week.
Another bye today so time for some work and then off to explore the old town. Not many people around and the town looked decidedly unloved; weeds, peeling paint, neglected and unloved. It is hard to see how Umag will fulfill their goal of being included as one of the top 20 tourist sites in the world.
Most tennis was delayed because of the rain but the majority of matches played to a result before the end of the day/night.
Saturday was still a little cloudy and cooler for their final for 5th or 6th position in the Division against France; Terry won in three, George lost in two followed by Alan and John winning the doubles in two sets – thank heavens. Celebratory drinks in the bar again, but not too many winners among the Australians this year. The dining room was very noisy tonight, must have been lots of excited people celebrating wins.
Sunday 27th September
The Individual matches began for John today at the ATP Stadium; once again, if you would like to read all about the tennis matches, please go to his tennis link.
John’s first match was against the No.2 70s man in Slovenia who just kept poking everything back (usually resulting in the ball just dropping over the net; the match took some time, however John won 6:1, 6:3.
Following the tennis we went into town looking for a suitable “Captain’s Gift” for Alan; being Sunday, most of the stores were closed, but John managed to find a white, collared tennis shirt with the Umag logo on it.
John’s next round of singles was 11am against Hugh Thompson, a former World No1; if we thought Buckajo could be windy at times, the conditions today were up there with the worst of them – I guess the only thing to be said at least it was the same for everyone. Thank heavens the wind had dropped considerably for John and Margaret to play their mixed at 4pm, which they won 6:3, 6:0; according to Margaret, “It should have been blot and blot, but we both went to sleep for awhile”.
No tennis for John today, Tuesday but we did manage to find a card for Alan that everyone signed and John made the presentation on behalf of the team when we met later for our usual drink before dinner.
Wednesday, spent packing ready to leave the following day and then being at the courts to watch the other players before the mixed at 4.30pm; the match was played in light rain for the last part, with a win in two sets.
Our last night in Croatia we shared dinner with the team as usual; it has been very pleasant spending time with them all.
Thursday 1st October
We were up early to leave by 8am for our trip back to Trieste; quite slow going through the boarder with Slovenia and then on to the airport. Many people told us it was an hour to the airport, but they must all drive like bats out of…! Not a lot of time between dropping off the car, purchasing the ticket for the extra luggage (€75 this time!), booking in, going through Customs, finding our Gate and leaving for Rome. Bus to terminal, walked though transit to find our flight to Paris; we ended up over an hour late leaving and arrived just after 5pm. By the time we waited for luggage, walked to Europcar and collected our car it was close to 7pm. Just as well persisted in asking for help to set-up the Navman, we would still be trying to find our hotel near the airport.
Monday 5th October
These few of days exploring some of the WWI Battlefields and cemeteries around the Somme Valley have been a memorable experience; trying to realise what people had to endure. Attempting to comprehend life for those who were invaded as well as struggling to imagine life on the battlefield and in the trenches, what those who served went through.
We visited the Great War 1914 – 1918 Museum at Peronne that housed a collection of uniforms, weapons and artifacts from the French, Allies and German Armies.
However, by being confronted by the sights and sounds of war displayed at the Underground Museum at Albert, gave us a chilling insight that makes it even more difficult to comprehend living through these experiences.
Albert Basilica prior to 1914, destroyed in WW1 and rebuilt aft WW11
Pozieres reduced to rubble, not even a spider could be found.
We emerged from this museum a little unnerved, but the beautiful garden with its glorious profusion of colour and plantings surrounding the exit helped to relieve our disquiet. This museum is situated under the Cathedral of the Golden Virgin, gleaming in the autumn sunlight, in tunnels that had been repeatedly in use since the middle Ages until after WWII.
We also visited the French / Australian World War I Cemetery at Villers-Brettoneux and attempted to find the names of several Bega Valley servicemen recorded there; unfortunately we didn’t have their battalion information and our search was unsuccessful. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is to be commended for the quality of the cemeteries and the maintenance programs we have seen during this time.
We achieved one of our prime reasons for visiting the area, placing poppies on Bernard’s grave at Prospect Hill Cemetery near Estrees October 3rd (coincidentally, 97th anniversary of his death); the ceramic poppy from the Bega Show & ANZAC day Centenary Services as well as one of the knitted poppies we contributed to Bega Valley Centenary Memorials and Services.
Bernard was killed near the Hindenburg Line, just outside the village of Estrees. The black & white photos were taken by Bernard’s brother Patrick in 1919. He also served on the western front and returned home safely.
Prospect Hill Cemetery located 6km west of the village of Gouy 20km north of Estrees.
Gae, Sharon & I first visited Bernard’s grave in 2001 and Gae & I returned to place the poppies at his headstone on the 97th anniversary of his death.
We stayed at Amiens on the last night and were lucky to have a view of the Cathedral from our hotel room window. It too was rebuilt after the war.
Tuesday 6th October
This week we spending four lovely days in Paris; John’s favorite city and it is very easy to spend time just being there – particularly when our accommodation was directly across the Petit Pont from the Notre Dame. Our window overlooked the church as well as the Seine River and along the left bank – perfect really.
The area around the hotel was busy nearly 24hrs a day, tourists, cafes, traffic, souvenir shops as well as police and emergency sirens constantly blaring. There were no problems finding a place to eat or have a drink.
Our first place to visit was the Notre Dame; John was going to join the queue to climb the tower but decided to come back earlier tomorrow (20 people being admitted every 10 minutes and the queue was more than 100m long). We spent nearly three hours (with the audio guide) just sitting and reflecting, wandering and gazing, just being there and learning more about this landmark.
Following the inside tour we walked around the outside of the church and back to the left bank by a different bridge; when we were here in 2011 the padlocks were fairly new with random ones seen. This time, bridges were thick with them; the weight must contribute significantly to the wear and tear on the bridges of Paris. An idle thought – I wonder how many of the people who put padlocks there are still couples?
Later that day we walked the couple of blokes to the Sainte-Chapelle, a medieval Gothic chapel for a concert “A Little Night Music” an enthralling hour our music in this glorious place. If we came during the day, the queue was even longer than the tower at Notre Dame, but John had booked tickets for this concert long before we left home. Three violins, one cello and a soprano presenting a range of music from Mozart to a piece written by the lead violin player. The soprano’s “Ave Maria” as well as “Hallelujah” was as good as I have heard; what more could you ask for from the evening?
Thursday, John was out early to queue for the tower only to return nearly two hours later to say there was “No access today, come back tomorrow” – no explanation given; the explanation the following day was there had been a strike on the Wednesday.
Next option, walk to the Pantheon that was the highest place in Paris when it was constructed. We then spent a couple of hours wandering and looking while listening to the audio-guide, at the same time trying to align the map with the words (all quite confusing). The crypt at the Pantheon was constructed to provide the final resting place of Louis 14th and the nobility; following the French Revolution it was re-designated for the “The sons of Paris”.
Following the tour of the Pantheon we had a late lunch of crepes – just superb. The bread, croissants, crepes, pastries and pancakes have a taste of their own in France so we made sure to try as many as possible.
Friday, John lined up early for the Notre Dame tower again, this time with success – much to his delight; the smog inhibited the distant views but he still managed to capture his photos for the collection.
We then caught the metro to Montmartre and climbed the steps to the Sacre Coeur made a challenge by the number of people sitting on the stairs. A beautiful autumn day had tourists out in droves here as well. Although we have been here previously, I had forgotten how beautiful the mosaics were in this church so it took us quite some time to stroll through while stopping to admire and reflect. Smog made it difficult to see into the distance but there was no difficulty picking out the Eiffel Tower as well as the Pantheon.
That was our last day in Paris before joining our cruise down the Seine River.
The Seine River Cruise
Saturday 9th October we joined our ship, TapestryII for our cruise to the mouth of the Seine and back to Paris; a week of pure indulgence enjoying a wonderful cruise that we would highly recommended. Our suite had the bed facing the window; three glass sliding doors that was the entire external wall of our cabin enabled watching the world glide by in really comfortable surroundings. The food all week was fresh and delicious; different everyday with a wide range of choices to suit all palates. Plenty of French wine was available with all meals (including breakfast!) as well as in the bar. Tea and coffee stations were situated on each deck as well as the main lounge and available 24 hours a day (biscuits, pastries and doughnuts were also available).
We set sail during dinner on the Saturday evening and fell asleep later with the lights of the darkened countryside visible as we glided silently by. The next morning we were up early to ensure I was ready for our excursion to Giverny and Monet’s Garden. Finding words to describe this experience seems inadequate; the profusion of flowers, the water lilies, the little bridges all the same as some of Monet’s most famous paintings – bringing them to life. The extent of the garden was a surprise, so many changing vistas framing the pond and the house. As well as inside the walls of Monet’s Garden, the village of Giverny was picture-perfect as well; quaint cottages, flowers in abundance, vines clinging to walls changing in magnificent autumnal hues. The photos can better bring it to life. If we do nothing else on this cruise, I am an extremely happy (and somewhat indulged) person.
To top off the visit to Giverny, a local chef was on board to prepare crepes for our enjoyment; of course we had to indulge. While I needed to rest, John went on the walk up to the ruins of one of Richard the Lionheart’s castles overlooking the river in both directions. We set sail again after everyone returned from their walks.
Monday morning we were docked at Caudebec-en-Caux, a charming little village, which was as far as the ship went down the Seine. There were two tours for the morning; John joined one to visit some local Abbeys and I stayed behind to rest ready for the afternoon.
After lunch we were bused to Honfleur at the mouth of the Seine for a walking tour of the medieval section of the city. Our local, knowledgeable guide was able to bring history to life as we walked with her for an hour and then explored on our own until it was time to return to the ship. Before dinner that evening, a local (ex Brit) presented a range of background information to help inform the tours to the WWII landing beaches the following morning.
Normandy Beaches WWII Landings, Thursday 12th
We remained docked at Caudebec while the tours to the Beaches as well as the Taste of Normandy were away for the full day; I chose to have a quieter day exploring the village of Caudebec-en-Caux. In a couple of hours I had visited the Gothic church – Notre Dame de Caudebec plus walked around and through the village; it was raining most of the time I was walking but that did not detract from my enjoyment of seeing masses of flowers in pots, hanging baskets as well as beds of all shapes and sizes throughout the village as well as along the little stream that dissects the village.
I elected to take the Normandy Beaches tour to the American landings and cemetery. Following the dinner presentation and our visit back in 2001 I was well informed on the D day landing however our bus guide brought the visit to life with his explanations of the various aspects of the landings. He explained how they created a complete harbor for the boats to dock and allow all the military vehicles from Jeeps to Trucks & Tanks to disembark and support the troops at the front line. We visited Omaha Beach and the outcrop which contained major guns and pill boxes that overlooked the beach and protected the guns from rear attack.
We then visited the Museum at Omaha Beach which contained a mock up of the Harbor & Wharf as well as a number of displays and photos and we were also shown a short film.
Our last stop was the American Cemetery where almost 10,000 soldiers are buried with a single white cross engraved with their name and rank. A ceremony was conducted with the American National Anthem and last post being played before a minutes silence. We were then given a single white rose to place on a grave, I chose Eugene Ovid Lambert from Massachusetts who died on D Day June 6th 1944.
We set sail when tour groups returned about 6.30pm; following dinner we were entertained by Bruno and Fabrice a talented keyboard player and a singer. We were given a great hour of music and some impromptu dancing by the Captain, Rudi, as well as several passengers.
Wednesday we spent the day at Rouen with a walking tour of the old section of the city; once again our local guide filled in a lot of detail ensuring we understood the history of the city as well as Joan of Arc. The photos from Rouen can tell the story more adequately than my words could convey.
As we sailed from Rouen we were given information on a change of plans; one of the river-lock gates failed just after we had passed through on Saturday night which meant slightly altering plans for Thursday as well as a delay in our return to Paris.
Thursday four busloads left for their tours while a small number of passengers stayed on board. The ship then set sail so we could meet the touring passengers in Conflans this evening after a day on the river. I spent quite sometime just watching as we passed through the locks; a mighty river tamed (or is that controlled) by steel gates and cement walls.
I chose the excursion to Auvers-sur-Oise, the quaint little town where Vincent Van Gogh lived and died. Once again the guide was very informative on Van Gogh’s life and explained his use of colour in the paintings placed around the village. We also visited the cemetery where Vincent & his brother were buried.
In the afternoon I chose the Optional Excursion to The Palace of Versailles. Although I had been there in 2001 I was interested to revisit this Palace which started as a hunting lodge and gentlemen’s chateau, the young Sun King XIV took over and transformed this Palace into the most splendid building it is today. Built around 1680 the hall of mirrors was the first use of mirrors in France at the time.
Friday the boat anchored at not far from the Eiffel Tower for the many excursions around Paris. We elected to have a quiet morning and get our packing organized for early disembarkation on Saturday. We did however join the tour of the Louvre Museum with another experienced guide. “Open to all since 1793” The Louvre has embodied the concept of a truly “universal” institution and was remodelled in 1993 with the Glass Pyramid and underground parking and shopping. In that year over 4 million people visited, and now there are in excess of 12 million visitors. Renovations are now underway to cope with the additional numbers around the entrance.
At 6.30 we joined the group heading to Moulin Rouge for our final night out. Being Friday night it took us an hour to be bussed through the streets of Paris and be seated for dinner. Around 900 seated in this “Theatre which is the epitome of French cabaret shows”. After our meal we were treated to two hours of pure entertainment, Paris style. The bus ride home was filled with total approval of the dancing and costumes. Our driver drove via the Arc de Triomphe & Eiffel Tower for a final view of Paris.