Paris Final Day – back home

Writing this in Hong Kong during our layover while sitting in an airport cafe waiting for our final flight back to Brisbane (another 10+hrs on a plane).

Our final day in Paris had a bit of a slow start with us having a leisurely Parisian breakfast and packing up as we needed to leave the apartment around 5PM to head out to Charles De Gaul Airport to start the long trek back home.

In the morning we planned to head out to the Rodin museum as it was closed on Monday when we were in the area visiting Napoleons tomb.  We got there pretty directly on the great Paris Metro with just one change of line and after waiting in line for about half an hour we got into the museum.  There is a lot of restoration of the building going on (the old hotel Biron where Rodin worked in his final years).  There is a temporary exhibition of his marble works including the famous “The Kiss” just near the entrance, then most of the bigger bronze works are out in the gardens.  The first piece that you come to is “The Thinker” brooding in the gardens.  We spent a couple of hours wandering around the gardens and museum before heading back to have some lunch and finish packing.

We were really sorry to leave the great little apartment in Bastille, not only because our holiday was coming to an end, but also it was easily the best Airbnb apartment we stayed in the entire trip and Michel the host was great, even coming along to say goodbye and see us off.  We got a really good feel for Paris life in the apartment, using the Metro to get around and eating in the local (great) restaurants.   Really enjoyed it, could very easily get used to that life and spend a lot more time in Paris.  One thing for certain, is we will be back.  We both loved Paris, and there is just so much more to do and see that we didn’t get to.  We just got a taste – and want more now!

We took the Metro and the RER regional train out to the airport which was very crowded with rush hour commuters for the first couple of stops, but after that was fine to the airport.  My suitcase with the broken wheel also (just) survived the trip after succumbing to the cobbled streets of Venice and Florence.

Now we are looking forward to getting back home (& Brad picking us up at the Brisbane Airport) after a great holiday.  Just looking back on the blog now, I can see we really got to see and a do a lot – we had a great time, a wonderful holiday!  Well worth the wait.

Paris

Busy couple of days in Paris.  The weather has been great, and we have managed to take in all the major sights in the city.   The apartment is fantastic, the best Airbnb apartment yet.  Michel the host even took the time to show us around the area to get the feel for the place.  Great.

Today we spent about three hours in the Louvre – it is huge, we could definitely spend days there and still not cover it all.  We headed for the Mona Lisa first, like everyone else!  Huge crowds there.  Also got to see the Venus De Milo and the Ancient Egyptian antiquities which was really impressive. We also went to Hospital Invalides and Napoleons Tomb then took the Metro back home.

Yesterday we managed to go up the Arc De Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower in the same day to get great Paris views.  We also went to the Museum D’Orsay with all the great impressionist painters.  Busy days.

Lyon – France

No pictures from Lyon – pretty dull day.  Well we are now on our final train leg of our journey from Lyon to Paris on the speedy TGV “bullet train” feels like it is going as fast as a bullet too.  The whole journey takes just under two hours so we will be in Paris before we know it.  Train travel in Europe has been so easy and the high-speed trains have been really great.

We arrived in Lyon yesterday afternoon from Nice after travelling for about four hours by train.  By the time we found the apartment it was already about 5PM so we headed out to explore a considerably cooler Lyon.  We didn’t do a repeat of Nice – so not too much walking – just into the central city and back to have something to eat.  The rain clouds looked a little threatening so after a very ordinary dinner (something that was supposed to be rump steak – not sure what it was – horrible) we headed back to the apartment stopping off to buy some milk and OJ for the morning from a local grocery store.

The Airbnb booked apartment in Nice was up on the 4th floor again with a lift thank goodness.  The apartment was quite a nice even though the building was over 100 years old.  It had everything we needed including a kitchen and Nespresso coffee machine, which was good.

This morning we had a good breakfast of scrambled eggs with tomatoes and baguette rolls before heading off to the station to catch the train.  It was still a lot cooler in Lyon and raining / drizzling on and off.  Still we cant complain the weather for the whole trip has been pretty awesome – not really expecting too much in the way of good weather in Paris, but Sunday (update) is a lovely day, blue skies and sunny 23 degrees! Lovely.

Nice France

We only really had an overnight stop in Nice to catch the TGV fast train to Lyon, which is where we are up to now.  It was a real pity because the weather in Nice was fantastic (again) and Nice turned out to be a really pretty little city worth more of a look.  The beach is beautiful and the city also boasts an old city (pedestrian only), which is full of fantastic looking and crowded restaurants.

We had a slight hitch with our Airbnb host not being available on the phone initially but we got into the apartment and then he rang and sorted it all out.  It was a little apartment up on the 6 Floor luckily with a lift to Floor 5.  Only a small loft bedroom with a bathroom – but it had everything we needed even WiFi.

As we only had the one night and it was still light at about 8:00PM, we walked down to the beach and headed for one of the recommended restaurants near the port area.  The walked proved to be a bit of a hike, as we included a bit of a wander around the old city, so it was getting late when we eventually ate at about 9:45PM.  Pauline not happy, hungry and tired!

Anyway we had the best Cheeseburgers & Chips we have ever had at this place so it was (almost) worth the walk!  Not really your typical French food, but cooked beautifully with a great sauce!  We ended up walking back as well, so we got be bed a little late.  Really needed to spend more time in Nice.

After a good (French) breakfast of croissant and coffee and a walk down to the beach we headed back to the station to catch the TGV to Lyon.  Getting closer to Paris and the end of the holiday and back to reality.

 

La Spezia Italy – Cinque Terre

Writing this as we speed along in relative luxury at 300KPH on the TGV in France from Nice to Lyon. A few days back when we arrived in La Spezia from Naples we were met at La Spezia station by Marco, the father of the owner of the B&B we were staying at for the next three nights.

Rail travel in both Italy and France on their high speed trains has been pretty good on the whole, probably the only part where it was a bit long and crowded was the Genoa to Nice leg, where we couldn’t reserve seats and had to crowd in to the train with our bags squeezed in between seats.

The day after we arrived in La Spezia we caught the train to Cinque Terre the 5 picturesque towns along the coast of the Italian Riveria, which are Unesco listed as world heritage sites.  The towns originated along the coast after an extensive network of terraces were constructed for cultivating crops and vines.

The train ticket gave us the option of 2 days to hop on and off the train between the towns and La Spezia for about 16 Euro each – which was pretty good.  We started with Riomaggiore the first town, which was really very pretty and we had a good look and walk around taking pictures.  Still quite a few tourists around even though the hiking tracks were mostly closed except between two of the towns further up (Corniglia and Vernazza).  The area is famous for the hiking tracks and spectacular views between the towns but recent earthquakes and land slips in the area had closed most of the tracks.  You can see the evidence from most of the towns, where the racks have been cut.

Still it was very pretty and we had another great day with the weather, we really have been extremely lucky all holiday with really great sunny weather.  We had lunch in the second town Manarola in a very pretty spot overlooking the harbour and ocean.  The third town, Corniglia is the only one without a natural harbour and it sits on top of a hill which involves a climb up 488 steps to the top, quite a hike in itself.  We had a glass of the local white wine in a great little wine bar in Corniglia, which was a nice break.  Then it was on to Vernazza the town that was devastated by a flood in 2011.  We ended up in the final town Monterosso and had a lovely Italian dinner at one of the local restaurants again with the local Cinque Terre white wine.  Lovely.

Originally we were going to go through the 5 towns over 2 days, but managed to finish them all in one long exhausting day!  That left us free the next day to catch the ferry from La Spezia to Portovenere that is just west of La Spezia.  This town is also heritage listed but not quite as touristy as the Cinque Terre towns, so it was a very relaxing day we had a quiet stroll around the town, went up to the old church situated on the point and then had a great lunch in the old town.  Again it is one of the towns where the houses were all built next to each other to form a wall to keep invaders out.  The houses have been retained and painted in the lovely pastel colours similar to Cinque Terre.  Pontovenere turned out to be just as pretty as the Cinque Terre towns, but without the tourists everywhere.

We took the ferry back to La Spezia and had a great dinner at a local La Spezia restaurant.  I must say I have really enjoyed the Italian food.

Positano – Colle dell’ara

We took a taxi to the Rome Termini station in the morning, which turned out to be a really expensive taxi ride! As I was rushing to get out of the cab I took what I thought was a 10 Euro note from my wallet and got a 1 Euro coin from Pauline to pay for the 11 Euro fare. The driver came around with what looked like change and when I looked confused made some noises about the 1 Euro coin and rushed off.

I only twigged after he had driven off that both the 10 and 50 Euro notes are similar colours and I had given him 51 instead of 11 Euro! I am sure it made his day – Dumb Touriste! Anyway expensive lesson in the currency! We were pleased to leave Rome after that and the crowds and traffic and rush.

The train took us to Naples where I had hired a car to get to Positano and 3 days rest at a BnB up on the hill. Pauline who remembered the drivers and roads from this area from 30 years ago was by this stage in a state of panic. It didn’t help that we immediately got lost trying to get out of Naples onto the A3 highway. Luckily I had an Italian SIM with data in my iPhone and we could use the Apple Maps and turn-by-turn GPS navigation to find our way out. All this in a manual Left Hand Drive car driving on the wrong side of the road – first time driving a manual Left Hand Drive by the way. Nice little car though –small Volvo diesel manual (hardly used any fuel).

We eventually got to the freeway and managed to drive through the wrong lane (eTag) at the tollbooth, but other than that made it to Positano. Once we got to Positano, if we thought the roads were narrow and twisting before from Sorrento, here they really got scary! They were really only built for one car and they were two way, but also had cars and scooters parked along the side. We managed to meet a truck coming the other way and had to get right off the road to let it get past.

Eventually we arrived at what the GPS thought was the destination and we had no idea where the place was, so I call Giacomo the AirBnB host. He managed to work out from the bus stop nearby that we were only about 100M from the BnB intercom and sign which is the only indication of Colle dell’ara on the road – the actual BnB is some 200 steps up the hill from the road. We drove up a bit further and were met by Marco, Giacomo’s brother who loaded up our bags on a bag lift on a wire pulley system that was winched up the hill by the father. We parked the car and walked up the steps to Colle dell’ara with Marco.

The view from the BnB is really breathtaking! It is the highest accommodation at Positano and really beautiful. The brothers Marco and Pasquale, are really proud of the place and their gardens on the hill where they grow all their own produce for the BnB and to sell to local restaurants. We went down the hill with the local bus that afternoon and had dinner in Positano and Chez Black right on the beach – lovely. Positano turned out to be a great place and the BnB even better. The second night we had a home cooked Italian meal, cooked by the father served with local wine and local rocket fuel lemon liquor (brewed onsite). We met a group of three young Aussies who were great company (Jody, Liz and Todd) and there was also a French Canadian and his wife from Quebec.

The next night we were there we had dinner just down the road from the Colle dell’ara at the La Tagliata restaurant which also had stunning views of the sunset over the Positano bay and had a great Italian family meal cooked by Mama which was huge (no menu – they just feed you – Lots!). Started with antipasto, then pasta, then meat, then dessert each of which would have made a meal in itself.

Overall Positano ended up being one of our favourite places so far on the trip. Quite restful after the full-on days in Rome, Florence and Venice.

The trip back was fairly uneventful aside from clipping wing mirrors on the road down from the BnB in Positano we found our way back to the Naples station with no drama to hand the car back and even paid the toll on the way! One of the enduring images of Positano was the number of cars with wing mirrors dangling off the side or missing altogether!

 

Rome

We didn’t start out too well in Rome, our train was delayed by over two hours from Florence so we ended up getting into Rome after 8:30PM and caught a taxi to the apartment after letting our BnB Rome host Serena know of the delay.

Once we had got into the apartment and had a shower it was about 10:00 before we went out looking for some dinner.  We had a lovely meal though at a place recommended by Serena that was just down the road.

Next day, our only day for sight seeing in Rome, again didn’t start well.  The apartment was just a short walk from the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill, so we were down early (just after 8:30) to make an early start as I had pre-booked tickets, only to find that the so-called “guardians” of the Colosseum had taken a half day strike and the Colosseum and Palatine Hill (Forum, etc) was closed until 12:30.  I had also booked a tour of the Vatican Museum for the afternoon so that rather spoiled the start of the day.

We walked a little further into Rome and caught a Hop on Hop Off bus that took us to the Vatican (the idea being that we would try and get back to the Colosseum at the end of the day on the bus).

It was a really hot day, Rome was really crowded and the Vatican was worse, hotter and more crowded.  We waited in a queue to go through security for St Peters Basilica for about 45 mins to an hour with thousands of people.  When we finally got into the Basilica it was pretty crowded.  Still it was worth the wait to see Michelangelo’s Pieta – quite beautiful!  The Basilica itself was enormous – huge! Even filled with tourists you got a real impression of the size and grandeur of its design – very impressive.

We spent about an hour in the Basilica and then went closer to the Vatican Museum to grab a bite to eat for lunch and get ready for our tour that started at 1:30PM.  The Vatican Museum is really impressive and worth taking a guided tour as there is just so much to see – it is huge.  We spent well over 2 and a half hours in the museum and the Sistine Chapel before getting out again just next to St Peters.  The museum is really interesting with a huge amount of treasures from ancient Greek and Roman statues and artworks (including wonderful mosaics and tapestries).  The Raphael fresco’s in the Papal apartments were particularly impressive.  Obviously the Sistine Chapel with its beautiful painted ceiling of the Creation and fresco of the Last Judgement by Michelangelo were the real highlight and definitely worth seeing.  The only downside is that you are crammed into the Sistine Chapel (which is relatively small –being the Pope’s private chapel) with thousands of other tourists – but still it was awe-inspiring to see the fresco’s for real the first time.  Beautiful!

We snuck back into St Peters to have one last look at the Pieta before heading back through St Peters square to catch the Hop On / Off bus again back to the Colosseum, only to arrive at the gate at about 6:45 to find that it had closed 30 minutes earlier (an hour before the official closing time) and we couldn’t get in.

Anyway at that stage we were tired and over the crowds in Rome and wanted to get back to our apartment and get something to eat for dinner.  Next day we were due to catch the train for Naples and 3 days at Positano to recover.  We needed a break by then, totally over the crowds of people, museums and churches!  Looking forward to the beauty, peace and (relative) serenity of Positano and Cinque Terre.

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