Paris, London, Singapore and Home
Our train trip from Lyon to Paris was fast. We again passed through the French countryside which flattened out into lots of pastures and crop fields. There were also some old brick farmhouses beside the railway tracks, along with sprinklings of bright red poppies.
After we checked into our first French hotel, Austins, we went for a wander to look for the Moulin Rouge, as we were going there in the evening for dinner and the show. We found it easily, and as we had plenty of time, we took a tour of the Montmartre area on a little road train. The train took us high up to the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, and through interesting marketplaces full of tourists and locals on this lovely warm Sunday afternoon. Back at the hotel, we then rested before a change of clothes and the trip back to the Moulin Rouge. Everyone was really packed in tight and we had front row seats. This was not a good thing because we did not see the show to best effect. Nevertheless, after a slow start, the show got better as it went along. The dancing was very basic, but it would be hard to have complicated choreography with 20-30 dancers on the stage at one time. Being so close, we could see the make-up caked on the faces of both the male and female dancers, so much so that they all looked like store dummies to us. I could not keep a straight face when watching the male dancers because they all moved a bit like Bob Downe. Quite a few of the girls danced topless, but none of them were in danger of putting anyone’s eye out with their boobs – they we all quite small – and after a while it did not seem strange seeing half-naked women prancing around on the stage. As well as the (sometimes lame) dancing and song miming, there were contortionists, a lady who swam with live snakes in a see-though pool that came up from out of the floor, a juggler, and my favourite, a ventriloquist. It was a fun experience, the auditorium is lovely and we are both glad we went.
The next morning we left the Austin Hotel, and moved our big bags to the Ampere Hotel, where we will be staying from 24-27 May. They have generously agreed to keep our bags while we spend the night in Giverney. Before leaving for Giverney, we had time to do a bus tour of some of Paris. We boarded at the Arc de Triomphe and travelled around for 2 hours, seeing some of the highlights Paris has to offer. As well as the Arc, we saw the Eiffel Tower, Concorde Place, Notre-Dame, the Opera House, the Bastille area and much more. After this we had lunch then made our way via the Metro to the train we needed to catch to get to Vernon, the closest railway station to Giverney. All went smoothly, and we arrived at our Giverney hotel around 5.30pm. We rested for a while, and then explored the area. It was very pretty there, with lots of roses in bloom, as well as hollyhocks, lavender, geraniums and poppies. We had dinner at the Ancien Baudy Restaurant in an outside area under some plane trees. It was a beautiful setting and a lovely meal, the sun was still shining and there was just a slight breeze to keep us cool.
The next morning we joined the long line of people to enter Monet’s Garden. After about 15 minutes we entered and began our exploration. The garden is beautiful and has lots of different plants, trees and flowers. They stagger the blooming of the flowers, so we saw some plants past their prime, some in bloom now and some due to bloom over the next few weeks. We saw Monet’s water garden with its water lilies and little green bridges. There were some water lilies in bloom, but I expect that there will be a lot more in the summer. The garden was fairly crowded with people from bus tours, school groups and individuals like us, but it was still easy to get around and it was lovely to wander down all the different pathways in sunshine and shade. We also got to go into Monet’s beautiful old house and saw his art studio, bedrooms, dining room, sewing room and kitchen. After a couple of hours at the gardens, we went back to our hotel for lunch and collected our bags before making our way to the bus stop to get back to the train station to get back to Paris.
Once back in Paris we noticed that there was a hairdresser’s salon just a couple of doors up from our hotel. As we were both in need of a haircut, we booked in. I was a bit scared as the hairdresser did not speak much English, but fortunately there was a customer in the salon who could translate for us. Ian had his hair washed before his haircut, which is not a service he gets at the Panania barber shop, and then she cut it very nicely and blow dried it, another service Ian is not used to. I was pleased with my haircut too, but the real test is whether I can manage it or not – I’ll just have to wait and see. With our new fancy hairdo’s we went to a very nice Chinese restaurant for dinner, then home to the hotel for the night.
The next day we walked and walked and walked again! Ian is the Paris Metro aficionado and got us to the middle of the city and we wandered our way to the Louvre. What an amazing building and what amazing exhibits they have. We had a wonderful time seeing the sculptures, antiquities and paintings. We found the most famous exhibits – the sculpture of Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa painting – and a lot of the other artworks on show took our breath away. If anyone goes to Paris they must visit the Louvre, and if we find our way back here, we certainly will and allow more time for it. After this we made our way to a restaurant in the nearby park and had a lovely lunch, then walked up the steep hill to the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, which overlooks Paris. It was a hot day, and it nearly killed us, but we made it. It is a fantastic cathedral, and the area around it is littered with markets, souvenir shops and restaurants, and there is a great buzz about the place. We were pretty exhausted after this, so made our way home for a rest before dinner. Later in the evening after dinner, we arranged to be picked up at our hotel by a tuk-tuk for a tour of Paris by night. The traffic in Paris is chaotic, so our trip in the tiny open vehicle was daunting, especially on the round-abouts, particularly the Arc de Triomphe round-about. Fortunately, our driver Sebastian was very experienced, and we survived the experience. Sebastian was born in Zimbabwe, has been living in Paris for 30 years, and is fluent in both French and English. He gave us a commentary as we drove along, and was able to answer any questions we had. He took us to all the Paris tourist landmarks where we took great photos. He also took us to the Eiffel Tower in time for the 11pm light show, which was beautiful. At night the tower looks like a big golden Christmas tree, and when the light show commences, it looks like a Christmas tree with twinkling lights.
After our late night, we had a sleep-in the next morning then made our way via Metro to an area of Paris we had not yet explored. We wandered around taking in the sights, and walked through the Luxembourg Gardens, which were lovely and full of joggers, tennis players, bocce players, nannies/mothers with prams, and students from the nearby University accommodation. We found a nice café for lunch, and then roamed around a nearby Parisian shopping mall, where we did some shopping. We then caught the Metro back to our accommodation to rest and start packing again for our early departure to London in the morning.
Our train trip to St Pancras was quick and easy, and we met up with Danni at the train station. She delivered my Chelsea Flower Show ticket to me and her camera to Ian, to take photos at Lords Cricket Ground. After we checked into our Chelsea accommodation, Ian negotiated the London train network and made his way to Tottenham to buy some soccer stuff from their shop, and then back to Lords Cricket Ground for a tour. His tour group leader, a volunteer, was 90 years old, and very eager to talk about England’s defeat of Australia for the Ashes. The tour was a bit slow, and not as in-depth as Ian would have liked, but he was glad to have seen the ground and taken some photos, and to have seen the real Ashes of course. My day was spent at the Chelsea Flower Show, which is like the annual Gardening Australia Show on steroids. It covered 11 acres of ground and was full of product booths, exhibition gardens and displays of superb plants and flowers. I had a great time strolling through all the exhibitions despite the crowds of people, and unlike the day before, there was no rain although it was overcast. Many of the displays were stunningly beautiful and I was very pleased to have attended one Chelsea Flower Show in my lifetime.
Later in the evening we met up with Todd and Danni for dinner, and then drinks back at our accommodation. It was a nice relaxing evening and we swapped travel stories for a few hours before they left for their train trip home.
After a sleep-in, we made our way to Piccadilly Circus to meet up with Danni and Todd. There were lots of lively, vocal football fans in the streets that day for the football final to be played at Wembley Stadium that night. We spent quite a bit of time in a shop called Lily White, where Ian bought two pairs of shoes and some shorts and Danni and Todd also made some purchases. It is the biggest sports shop I have ever seen. We then purchased some discount tickets to the matinee session of the musical “Million Dollar Quartet”, wandered the shops, watched some buskers then found a place for lunch. After lunch Todd left us to go home to rest before dinner and his 12 hour shift commencing at midnight. Ian, Danni and I then went to the Noel Coward Theatre for the show. The show was about the only day that Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis were in the recording studio together, and it was very entertaining, the music and singing were great and the audience were on their feet dancing by the end. It was a fun show. We then made our way to the Dickens pub in Paddington and got a great table in preparation to watch TV coverage of the football final between Manchester United and Barcelona being played at Wembley Stadium. We had a few drinks, and then Todd joined us again for dinner and the football. The pub crowd were very vocal, singing team songs etc. and the pub erupted in cheers and boos when one of the teams scored. Barcelona won, and once the crowds cleared, we left for our train home. We separated again from Todd who made his way to work, and Danni came back to our apartment to stay with us. Todd’s job was at Wembley Stadium as part of the crew dismantling stages and other constructions that were especially installed for the final, and he worked until 12 noon the next day.
After a sleep-in the next morning, and a nice breakfast, Danni, Ian and I made our way to the Tower of London where we did a tour. It is a very interesting place, with a sometimes bloody history. After our tour, we had some lunch at a riverside restaurant, and then went to Ripley’s Believe it or Not for a bit of fun. We also visited Harrods Food Hall, which is amazing, then bought some food for dinner at Sainsburys and made our way home. Todd was not with us because he was catching up on sleep after his night shift last night, but he met us back at our place for dinner. After a nice relaxing meal and chat, Danni and Todd left for home and we retired for the night.
In the morning, we took our luggage to Danni and Todd’s place, and then we all set out for the city for another look around. We first had lunch at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant, and then wandered over to St Paul’s Cathedral. It is a lovely cathedral where Charles and Diana were married, and other royal and state ceremonies take place. We then wandered some more before returning to Willesden Junction to collect our bags for our trip to the airport for our flight to Singapore, the first leg of our trip home. We were both getting a bit tired of suitcase-living and were looking forward to getting home to our own bed, family and puppies.
At the airport, we had a problem at check-in. Our bags were overweight, and it would cost us nearly $1000 in excess baggage fees, so we had to jettison one bag and stuff we could do without. After a tearful farewell to Danni and Todd, we had a good flight. I slept for about 5 hours and Ian slept for about 1 hour, and we really enjoyed our exit seat extra leg room. After check-in at our Singapore hotel, we had a wander around the area near our hotel and had dinner, then returned to our nice hotel room for the night. We both had a terrible night’s sleep, for two reasons. Firstly, our bed was hard as a board and we could not get comfortable, and secondly, we had a bit of jetlag. I could not keep my eyes open by 10.30pm, but then woke up at 12.30pm and was wide awake for about 4 hours and restless for another couple of hours, and Ian was similarly affected. We were both sore and tired this morning, and spoke to the concierge about improving our bed. They arranged to have some mattress protectors added to our mattress for that night, so we hoped for a better night’s sleep. We did a hop-on hop-off bus tour, and got off on Orchard Road for lunch. We visited a shopping mall for a stickybeak at the prices, and found most items to be quite expensive. We then made it back to our hotel just as a tropical storm was breaking and managed to make it inside just as the rain started to fall. There is a lot of heavy rain, thunder and lightening with these storms, and they last about an hour. We had a rest for the remainder of the afternoon, catching up on lost sleep, then had a nice dinner at a restaurant near the Singapore Flyer, which is like the London Eye, only bigger. After dinner we took a turn on the Flyer which gave us a great view of the city at night. They have some wonderful buildings over there, and everything is clean and tidy.
We slept in the next morning, and the bed was only marginally better. We made our way to the Singapore Botanic Garden and found it to be a lovely place to spend some time, especially the orchid gardens. We found shade where we could because it was very hot and very humid – we both had red, sweaty faces. After this, we visited Sentosa, the resort fun park area of Singapore. This area has a Universal Studios lot with rides, a cable car to a lookout, a toboggan ride, an indoor skydiving centre, Imax theatre, artificial wave machine at a beach and lots of other attractions. We decided that the cable car ride would do us, and while it was nice to view everything from above, it was an expensive way to spend a ½ hr ($60). In fact everything in this area costs a lot of money and we wondered how families could afford a day out here. We then made our way home to escape the heat for a while, and then went to Singapore’s China Town for dinner. From my travels, all China Towns seem to look the same, only this one was the biggest I’ve seen. There were lots of restaurants and market stalls, all with spruikers out front. We found an air conditioned restaurant, and our meal was very nice. This was the last dinner of our holiday, so we didn’t tally too long because we needed to finalise our packing for our very early departure the next morning.
After a sleepless night, we left our hotel at 6am in the morning for the airport to catch our last flight of this trip – home to Sydney. Our flight left late but was otherwise uneventful and we landed close to the right time. Leisa met us at the airport and drove us home for our welcome dinner prepared by Liz and Rod. We caught up with home news and told them of our travel exploits, followed by a great night’s sleep in our own bed – bliss.
We had a wonderful time visiting some of the most beautiful places in the world, although we are very aware of how much of the world we have not yet seen. I enjoyed visiting America with Lynne, Karen, Cathy, Neil, Jenna, Peta, Mel, Kathy and Kate. We were a happy group and had a great time together exploring San Francisco, Hollywood, Las Vegas and New York. There is probably no other place quite like America! Lynne, Ian and I loved our travels through England, South Scotland, Ireland and Wales where the people were lovely, the scenery was so green and beautiful, and we visited many ancient buildings with fascinating histories attached to them. Of course, the best thing about London for us was seeing Danni and Todd again after 18 months, and spending lots of time with them. We can’t wait until we see them again in October. Ian and I adored our river cruise from Amsterdam to Vienna. We saw many wonderful sights, were pampered by the great crew on the ship and learned a lot of European history along the way. We also enjoyed our train adventures through Austria, Switzerland and France where the scenery was breath-taking, the people were helpful and friendly and we learned a lot about European history and the European way of life.
From all our travels, we found that, while people might live a little differently to us, we are basically all the same (except maybe the old man who peed in the wheelbarrow – he’s special!).