Posted in Photography

Day #9: Paris – Basel

Vendredi 29 Decembre 2017

It’s with great reluctance we say au revoir to our Bastille loft this morning. It really has been a great place to come back to each evening – so spacious and warm and comfortable.

But we’re heading east to see yet another city in yet another country and so saying au revoir is inevitable. We can certainly see ourselves coming back though!

We decide to walk to Gare Lyon – it isn’t far and it’s an opportunity to see a different part of the city. There’s no passport and security checks here as there was when going to the UK and that certainly makes the beginning of our next train trip much more pleasant and stress free.

Without any fuss we’re heading off through the suburbs. Ludovico Einaudi provides the soundscape once more – the exquisite delicacy of the piano in Run is a fine counterpoint to the industrial nature of the cityscape flashing past outside. The trains are so comfortable and roomy and the leisurely nature of train travel (despite hitting a top speed of 320kms per hour) makes moving from one place (city or country) to another a seamless experience that has a certain rhythm and flow – an experience I particularly enjoy.

We are heading to Venice but have decided to stay overnight in Basel, a city sitting almost at the juncture of Switzerland, Germany, and France. If we’d had more time we’d have stood on that spot of confluence, but our time was short and the helpful man at the tourist centre gave us loads of ideas for things to see in Basel itself.

We had designed it as a stop over only, but found it a lovely place to visit. The old town is gorgeous – and that’s where we were when it snowed a little (amazingly exciting experience – so amazing I made a video). We wandered through the old town, watched large groups of young Swiss people dance outside the Cathedral with some nuns, were carried over the Rhine on a boat connected to a wire (which stops it floating off in the current), wandered through the Christmas market, were amazed by the redness of the Rathaus, came across a food van selling spinat borek so had to try one (delicious), bought some Swiss chocolate for a colleague of Tim’s (which he ate, so he had to buy some more!), and miraculously found our way back to the hotel (well, when I say miraculously I really mean ‘thanks Google maps’) where we drank tea like the posh people around us and listened to the piano player, trying not to doze as that would have seemed rude.

I sat there thinking how fortunate we are to have this experience – to spend even small amounts of time in other cities, to see different cultures, to experience different ways of life. And to know that I can handle the cold – and not whinge about it! Not even once 😜.

<<
yone would think I hadn't seen snow before! Well, I haven't had it fall on me beforeand certainly not in a town!!

Posted in Life, Travel

Day #8: Mont Saint Michel

Jeudi 28 Decembre 2017

A guest post by Tim Moss

Much of the trip had seemed a little impossible at the planning stage. Convince Sharon to trek half way around the world, at a time when maximum temperatures were likely to only just edge into positive numbers? Impossible. Travel through so many countries, in such a short space of time, and still feel like we had a sense of each place? Impossible. Get up at 5am, make our way across an unknown city (Paris), find a completely new train station and navigate to our early train, just to journey for several hours at high speeds, to see a lump of land in the middle of the ocean? Yep, you guessed it; impossible.

And yet there we were, rugged up (as usual), Sharon with more layers than your average filo pastry, boarding the train to Mont-Saint-Michel. I didn’t have a strong idea about what to expect, but I was enjoying the adventure. And the first-class train carriage. My early advice about travelling in Europe is to always travel by trains if you have the time, and to always travel first-class if you have the money. It’s the only way to go…

The train pulled away smoothly from the station right on time, and the first half hour was spent zipping through a series of tunnels (I think? It was pretty dark outside, but these were definitely darker), each more ear-popping than the last. And then, whoosh, out into the countryside, past green-edged paddocks, tiny barns and houses with earthy coloured thatched roofs, a rather exorbitant number of powerlines, and so on, all punctuated regularly by a new ear-popping sound, that of the similarly svelte bullet trains going in the other direction. Sharon jumped a little each time, through the whole trip. At one point I looked at the speed indicator – 317 kilometres per hour. Yep, impossible, but there we were, in a smooth, air-conditioned bubble.

I’m a little hazy on the rest of this part of the trip, mostly because I might have napped a little to make up for the early start I suspect! But the hours passed impossibly quickly, and with just a short hop on a shuttle bus, there we were, at Le Mont.

When you get to Mont-Saint-Michel, you have a choice – you can hop on a shuttle bus (which is somewhat convincingly panelled to look like a wooden carriage, except for the diesel fumes and lack of a horse at the front end), you can ride a horse-drawn carriage (although the horses appeared to have slept in on the day we visited), or you can walk the 45 minutes to the island. Despite Sharon’s ongoing knee pain, we decided to act like pilgrims and make the journey on foot. I’m so glad we did. You walk along a nondescript gravel path for about 15 minutes, with very informative (I assume) panels about grasslands and birds and stuff, and then the path opens up, and there in front of you is the most impossible thing of all, Le Mont-Saint-Michel.

Frankly it’s a little hard to describe it, but just imagine your average tidal wetland. It’s flat, there’s some water but because the tide is out there’s not much of it, and a few small rocks creating something of a border or boundary for that puddly water residue, and then some muddy flatland that seems to go on forever. And then, rising out of this completely ordinary landscape (believe me, I’ve tried for several minutes here to make it interesting), is a rock. And on that rock is a wall. And behind the wall there are turrets, ramparts, buildings, flags, lights, seagulls, people, and rising above it all, seemingly perched on just a tiny triangle of land, impossibly small, is the abbey, which is everything except tiny and impossibly small. It’s quite an impression, and easy to forget where and when you are.

Once we’d picked ourselves up from the ground after being bowled over by this incredible view, we finished our pilgrimage and made our way in… Somehow we managed to find the back way to the abbey, past groups of people washing their feet after exploring the wetlands outside the walls as people have done for centuries, past armed men entrusted with keeping order as armed men have done on Le Mont for centuries (hopefully we didn’t look too rowdy), past dozens of tiny doors that seemed to lead to sheer cliff faces, or to tiny rooms with no clear purpose, up stone steps worn to smiles by generation after generation of tired feet, and miraculously to the front door of the abbey.

At this point, I’ll just share some general impressions, as the overall experience was quite profound and worth experiencing first-hand… There are still monks in the abbey. They live, work, and share their modest lives there, surrounded by swarms of tourists but somehow still able to live lives of peace, tranquility, and worship. And they have extraordinary singing voices, if (like us) you should happen to find yourself wandering through the main chapel as mass is taking place. Those voices and the whistling winds have been finding harmonies for an impossibly long time, and I feel extraordinarily fortunate that we arrived there at that moment so purely by chance. The abbey itself is almost impossibly complex, to the point where those trying to interpret the layout now are simply unable to describe why some rooms exist; there are chapels, refectories, crypts, a scriptorium, rooms with great wheels turned by the feet of prisoners held in the abbey when it was a prison, cloisters, gardens, great halls for receiving dignitaries and kings, and then there are other rooms, spaces that link these purposeful rooms, spaces with fireplaces large enough to hold entire trees, and spaces that… well, do something. It’s like a home improvement reality show has been running for centuries – “I reckon we could add another well here to really spice things up a bit”, and somewhere along the way, the reasons for that work were lost.

But this is perhaps an injustice, as the spaces that we can explain are extraordinary, and the design shows a level of sophistication and insight into not only the engineering required to build a remarkable space, but also the ways space can be shaped to create an emotional response (like the tall, slender windows in the refectory, that bathed the room in light but are invisible as you enter the room). This is an abbey of drama, prestige, intrigue, history, story, and time. And it is still unfolding, still being told…

As our shuttle bus groaned away from the kerb on our return journey, rain had started falling in earnest. A kind of light mist began to curl around Mont-Saint-Michel, softening the lines, reducing clarity, wrapping it up again, ready for tomorrow’s pilgrims, tomorrow’s tiny marks in the impossible pages of its time.

Posted in Life, Travel

Day #7 – Paris

Mercredi 27 Decembre 2017

A slow morning as we pretend we live in an amazing Parisian loft. Tim had found a supermarket nearby last night and we started the day with a home cooked breakfast.

We found a laverie around the corner, in the cobbled laneway we’d walked through last night, and despite the instructions being in French we worked out pretty quickly how it worked. We were so adapt we were able to help a young French man who didn’t speak any English, and a young couple who didn’t speak English or French who were so appreciative of our help they bought us a Nutella crepe! I wanted to sit there for the rest of the day helping people, but once our clothes were washed and dried Tim insisted there were more interesting things to do in Paris than hang around a laverie hoping for Nutella crepes!

We were booked to go on a photo tour of the canals around the Bastille area (where we were staying) but the weather wasn’t good and just after lunch it was cancelled. We decided to head out in the rain anyway and made our way to Notre Dame, a wander through the Latin Quarter, an hour or so in Shakespeare and Company and a cruise on the Seine where the rain on the windows made for a great impressionistic shot of the Eiffel Tower.

It felt much colder today than when we were here before Christmas – it got to 4C (felt like 1.4C) but I still didn’t complain. I was actually warm, probably because I had so many layers on – only my nose and eyes were exposed to the elements, and walking back from the cruise I pulled my buff over my nose so not even that was cold. Weirdly, my hands stayed warm even when I wasn’t wearing my gloves!

The rain didn’t appear to be stopping, so we headed back to our apartment where it was cozy, warm and amazingly comfortable.

Mel wrote to say it was snowing in Cheddar! It feels cold enough to snow here … wouldn’t that be good?!

Posted in Photography

Day #6 – Cheddar – Bristol – London – Paris

Tuesday 26 December 2017

Our whistlestop trip to Cheddar was over and we headed back to Bristol via Cheddar Gorge. It had rained overnight – hailed even if the ice on Melanie’s car was anything to go by – and there was plenty of water lying about. Mel had just finished saying that the particular road we were on sometimes floods, when we crested the hill and saw the flooded road ahead of us.

The Gorge is wild and rugged and we’ve decided we need to come back in the warmer month to explore it more fully.

What a treat it was to spend a few days with family when we’re so far away from home – a real shame we couldn’t spend more time in England to catch up with Aunty Carol. Next time!

We arrived at the bus terminal with plenty of time to spare, and were fortunate enough to catch the earlier bus, meaning we weren’t so squeezed for time in London getting from Victoria Cross to St Pancras. Our Uber driver took us past Buckingham Palace but we didn’t have enough time to pop in.

Buckingham Palace from the back of the Uber

Why don’t we have trains like the Eurostar in Australia? It’s fast, it’s clean, it’s comfortable … we hurtled across the English countryside and then the French countryside in comfort and before we knew it were back in Paris.

Adrian, our AirBnB host for this part of our stay in Paris, had given us detailed instructions for getting to his place from Gare du Nord and despite it being dark by the time we arrived we found our way through cobbled laneways and the early dinner crowd with ease.

Djidji – Adrian’s assistant – was there to welcome us and show us all the features of the apartment. She spoke enthusiastic, but broken English, which was still much better than our French, and we eventually worked things out.

The apartment was amazing, with the world’s comfiest bed – if you’re heading to Paris in the near future and looking for a fabulous place to stay let me know and I’ll give you the details.

 

Posted in Life, Travel

Day #5 – A Cheddar Christmas

Monday 25 December 2017

People have been doing this for years (celebrating Christmas in very different time zones than their families) but for Tim and I it was a first. A very different day from this time last year when Rochelle hosted a family Christmas with all the noise and excitement you’d expect with more than 11 children under 10 in the same house!

Phone/FaceTime calls punctuated the morning: Hunter and Lily excitedly showing me all the gifts they’d received; Felicity sleeping peacefully in her cot after a relatively quiet day; Emma getting all the kids bathed and into bed; Daniel’s relief that Ziggy was recovered; Mum’s delight that Dad had recognised her; Deb’s cool-ish day at the beach (though still warmer than the 4C we were expecting); Ben’s day spent with friends in far-off WA (too far away when we’re home, let alone now) …

We were keen to explore Cheddar but given the weather decided a walk up/through the Gorge was out of the question. A bacon sandwich fortified us for a stroll through the village and, once we’d added another three layers of clothing, we headed off.

What an interesting place. Tiny laneways, houses whose front doors open straight onto the street, stone cottages, old old pubs, and above all the Gorge looming overhead. I can see its appeal.

 

Craig spent hours in the kitchen and around 4 in the afternoon produced a Christmas meal unrivalled in my many years of Christmas meals! It was a Christmas meal that made sense. It was hot and hot makes sense when it’s 4C outside. Honey roasted parsnips, the most deliciously crunchy roasted potatoes, Yorkshire puddings (who knew they were so good!), rosemary and sage stuffing, pigs in blankets, turkey (beautifully moist) and more … much, much more.

We ate and ate … such good food … and then snoozed away the rest of the day in the warmth inside. It was raining outside and so spending a quiet evening in was just what the doctors needed!

Posted in Photography, Travel

Day #4 – Paris – London – Bristol – Cheddar

Dimanche 24 Decembre 2017

Christmas Eve.

To be completely honest I was expecting Paris to be more Christmas-y than it was. Maybe we don’t go into those areas that were Christmas-y, and maybe the sex shops of Montmartre didn’t need Christmas baubles to lure customers in, but still it was a touch disappointing. I’d heard so much about Paris at Christmas and how pretty it was.

And there was no snow.

Yes, I know. I hate the cold, but snow is pretty and that would have made up for it. Wouldn’t it?

Spending Christmas on the other side of the world is all well and good, but I’ve not had a non-family Christmas before and so, when we were planning our trip, I asked my niece Melanie and her partner Craig if we could barge into their Christmas celebrations.

‘Yes, absolutely’ was the quick response, and so we added one more country to our itinerary.

Melanie and Craig live in Cheddar, a small village in the south-west of England. The closest big city is Bristol, so we made our way there (Eurostar – Uber – National Express bus – Melanie in her blue Ford) … I’m not sure what was faster, the Eurostar or Melanie, but we made it safely, although I have to admit to having my eyes shut most of the way so I didn’t get to see much of the countryside between Bristol and Cheddar.

I can’t remember if this was taken on the Eurostar or in Mel’s car!

I’d not been to Cheddar before so was keen to see it, but as it gets dark at 4pm, that wasn’t going to be today.

Mel’s place was Christmas-y … a giant tree, baubles galore (including the one from New Zealand my sister Debbie had entrusted into my keeping), and if it’s possible, more presents than baubles.

Bruce, the rabbit, had made a start on opening some of the presents, but he only likes the paper … and the tags.

Another early night for us – a combination of jet lag and the fact it’s dark so early (4pm – that’s the time it gets dark, not the time we went to bed!!) … this time in a bed that wasn’t made of concrete!

 

Posted in Life, Photography, Travel

Day #3 – Paris

Samedi 23 Decembre 2017

When Tim mentioned he’d like to go to Paris for Christmas, I have to admit that my response was not one of enthusiasm or excitement.

Christmas in Paris means winter.
Winter means cold.
I hate the cold.

No, you don’t understand.
I really hate it!

But I said yes anyway – who could say no to Tim’s obvious enthusiasm and excitement, and I made a promise to myself to limit my whingeing about the cold to a bare minimum.

Luckily for Tim, it hasn’t been too cold so far. 10C each day – which I’ve been able to live with quite comfortably. It helps that we stocked up on merino tops, merino thermals, merino socks, merino buffs … and, for me, fur-lined boots. Sharon, a colleague from work, lent me her duck down, knee-length puffy jacket and matching beanie … so with multiple layers, and thus, nowhere for the cold to touch my skin, I’ve actually remained surprisingly warm.

Luckily.

For both of us!

The l’Orangerie was on the agenda for today – a Christmas gift from Daniel and Cathy – and sitting (calmly – as the sign asked us to) taking in Monet’s waterlillies was a fabulous way to spend the morning. One of the things I love about Paris is the ready access to artworks we often don’t get to see in Australia – except for travelling exhibitions. Downstairs from Monet’s waterlillies were works by Picasso, Modigliani, Renoir and others … a visual treat!

We find our way to No Glu – a gluten free cafe (thanks Michelle) – for lunch (our first meal for the day) and do a lot of Google translating to work out the menu before the waiter brings us the English version.

It’s started to rain but we are warm and dry inside our layers as we make our way to the Louvre – ready to laugh our way around it. Cedrik is our guide – a historian and stand up comedian. It’s an entertaining way to see key works in the world’s (second?) largest museum – apparently, if you were to spend two minutes looking at each of the art works, you’d be there for 150 days!

It’s an overwhelming place – so much history, so much art, so many people and selfie sticks and pushing to get a photo with the Mona Lisa. We didn’t push, but we also didn’t get selfies with her. Her smile was enough thanks.

On our way to and from the Louvre, we make some of our own art works – works of a photographic nature. Here’s a small sample of mine. As you can see, it’s a very wintery day!

From Pont Neuf looking towards Tour Eiffel

 

Looking from Richelieu Passage into the Musee du Louvre

 

The French Institute – home to the Immortals
Posted in Travel

Day #2 – Paris

Vendredi 22 Decembre 2017

Not an early start, it has to be said despite the hotel bed being as soft as concrete. It was a delight to stop lying on it, truth be told, and to get out and about.

I opt for a breakfast of oeufs brouilles, which came with salad, while Tim couldn’t go past the American breakfast (a breakfast he said he’d never find in America).

No plans for the morning, just wherever we find ourselves is fine.

We find ourselves at Republique Metro Station, buy a billet from the machine (once we work out where to find the “English” option), mix up the 1 & 2 euro coins because the 2s are bigger than the 1s, up stairs, down stairs, through white tiled tunnels, to the platform. It feels like an adventure – which is weird, given we catch trains almost every day at home.

Squish onto the train, head to Montmartre. Off at Pigalle, turn right, wander past the Moulin Rouge and about a thousand sex shops, into Starbucks (!) for a chaud the, then another wander through what to me feels like a familiar area as we head up towards the Sacre Coeur (I’d stayed in this area in 2011 when I came over with Mum, Dad, Deb, Grant, Mel, Sarah and Ben). I ate at that restaurant, bought shoes from that shop, dresses for Sakye and Lily from that one and lollies for the other kids from that shop over there.

We meet Paulette, our photo tour guide, and Nida and Yannick – two youngsters from Berlin – at 2 and spend the next few hours taking photos around Montmartre, revisiting some of the places Deb, Grant and I had visited on a walking tour with tour guide William six years before. Paulette’s stories are gentler and have less of a political edge than William’s, but are no less interesting.

Paulette

 

 

It gets dark here at 5pm and our body clocks were still slightly off, so we head back to our hotel, via a cafe for dinner, and are asleep by 8.

And yes, that meant being awake at 2 … but sleep crept over me again about 6. It doesn’t get light here till almost 9, so another three hours was more than enough!

Posted in Travel

Melbourne-Paris Day #1

Wednesday 20-Thursday 21 December 2017

The hours between 7 & 9pm dragged. We’d made lists, checked them twice, decided who was naughty or … no, wait … that’s the old fat dude in the red suit!

We’d made lists, put together an itinerary, forgot to send it to Mum, got caught in a whirl of activity at 9pm as it hit us that this was really going to happen.

We showered, found backpacks, packed them with those things we’d need in the next 30 hours – passports, entertainment of all kinds (movies, TV shows, music, books all downloaded), snacks, toothpaste – and then it was time to go.

Our Uber driver was non-communicative, the car was rattly and old, and the traffic was at a standstill miles before the airport, but we made it, checked in, felt the thrill of excitement walking through the yellow doors to international departures, passed through security without being explosives tested or body scanned, slid my passport into the scanner then looked into the camera (how it ever matched my face with my hideous passport photo I’ll never know- although that suggests I actually look as bad as my passport photo and that’s not a good thought), and we were into the world of duty free.

We passed through that world unscathed and make our way to the gate. I sat and tried my best not to fall asleep.

12:30am – we boarded and before too long were on our way!

Nine uneventful hours flew by – literally. I slept intermittently, and watched the sun come up over the South China Sea.

The number of boats in that sea surprised me, although when I think about it, it makes sense. China makes a lot of stuff to send out into the world.

The number of islands also surprised me – Hong Kong is like a fishtail jutting out of the water, a thin slice of mountain poking up from the ocean. It has a dystopian feel – the height of the mountains, the number of them, and then the concrete tower blocks on the mountain side of the airport. Strange. And strange to think that many (many) years ago people made their way here without the help of social media and mass communication. How did they find it and how (and why) was a massive shopping island constructed here?

Three hours later and we’re in the air again – this time for 13 hours. We fly over China, Kazakhstan, Russia … I fall asleep and wake up moments out of Paris. The clouds are low, and we’re just out of them before we land. The Australian pilot says a cheery ‘welcome to Paris’, we collect our things, and before we know it we’re on the shuttle and heading into the city. Almost two hours later we’re at our hotel, which as we’re soon to discover is not far from Republique Square.

It didn’t mean much to us either at first, but we were quick to find out it meant lots of restaurants – and a metro station. We ate, then caught the metro to the Trocadero, watched the Eiffel Tower twinkle, then desperately tried to stay awake on the train so we didn’t miss our stop on the way back.

F7311330-A873-4E89-ADB1-99F114440EAF

I was asleep within nano seconds and 10 hours later woke up feeling refreshed and ready for our first proper day in Paris.

Posted in Life, Travel

It’s finally happened …

Just over five years ago – on September 28, 2012 – I packed my bags (well, ‘bag’ actually because I only took one) and headed to Paris and from there caught a train through France and Italy to Germany, stopping off at various places along the way. I went on my own – Tim had something else on – although I did meet up with my niece Sarah and her (now) husband Ben in Venice for a few days.

The year before – on September 28, 2011 – I had also packed my bag and headed to Paris to spend some time with various members of my family before the majority of them headed on a bike and barge tour to Bruges. I was fat and unfit in those days and decided to spend my time wandering around Paris on my own and visiting Elke in Germany, rather than jumping on a bike and riding for days and days.

In that year – 2011 – my granddaughter Lily was born (on the day I left), so the date remains in my memory long after other details have seeped out. What did I wear on the plane? How and when did I get European money? Useful stuff like that, that would come in handy right about now.

I vowed and declared I would return in 2013 and my hope was, every year thereafter.

I didn’t.

Fast forward to today. 20 December, 2017.

Our (yes, Tim is coming with me this time) bags are packed and we’re ready to go. Almost. We have time for dinner and a shower before we head to the airport – and one final check to ensure we haven’t left some small detail unattended to – like grabbing my passport from the drawer where I shoved it last month, hoping it would never see the light of a security check because the photo is THE worst passport photo. EVER. No, it truly is.

I can tell already that this is going to be a different sort of adventure.

For one thing, it’s winter in Paris and I’m not a big fan of the cold. My challenge will be to not whinge about it. It’s going to be a really (really) big challenge. Except I keep hearing how beautiful it will be, so a tiny part of me is thinking that it won’t be as much of a challenge not to whinge as I think. One challenge has been to pack for the cold when it’s 36C outside – trying clothes and my fur-lined boots on has been a sweat-filled task of epic proportions!

We’re going to France and Italy and the Czech Republic. Neither of us speak French, Italian or Czech and that wouldn’t usually matter because English is quite widely spoken, except that Tim has particular food intolerances (he doesn’t tolerate onion and garlic, for instance) and neither of us thought to learn to say ‘no onion; no garlic’ in any of those languages. We also neglected to learn the word for bathroom. Luckily for us we live in the 21st century, not the ones before, and that means we can use technology when our attempts at miming fails. We might even bypass miming ‘I need the loo’ and go straight to the technology.

 

We’ve booked photo tours in each major city we’re visiting – sometimes more than one – plus a ‘laugh your way around the Louvre’ tour with Cedrik – a clown. And yes, I checked, and no, he doesn’t dress up like a clown. He’s just a funny and entertaining man who makes the Louvre all kinds of fun. Daniel and Cathy gave us tickets to the Musee de l’orangerie so we’ll have fun exploring that as well.

We’re catching trains – my favourite form of transport – from Paris to London and from Paris to Mont Saint Michel and from Paris to Venice (via Basel and Milan). And then we’re catching a plane from Venice to Prague.

It’s going to be all kinds of interesting.

In a few hours we’ll be on our way. The excitement is building!

Who knows, we might even get some snow … although we possibly should have gone to Tassie for that!!

Ready … set … almost time to go!