A Travellerspoint blog


Mont Saint Michel

Reporting from Düsseldorf

overcast 22 °C
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We left Bordeaux, not too early, but with a decent drive ahead of us, and a pin dropped on the GPS to take us to Mont Saint Michel. Our GPS has taken us on some magical mystery tours every now and again, with some odd route choices, and today, despite being a fairly significant landmark on the French coast, our search only came up with Rue de Mont Saint Michel, and delivered us about 40 km away from the actual site. Nevertheless, once we arrived there, we knew we were on the right track, and so continued on our way, following the signs to the Abbey, and finally we spotted it in the distance.


The parking lot for this busy tourist attraction is about 3 km from the causeway, but they do offer a free shuttle bus there and back. We had a moment worrying about what the tide might be doing, and whether that would affect us from visiting, but fortunately it was out, and they are also constructing a bridge to make sure it is always accessible.

I was impressed. The Abbey on the island seems to rise up from nowhere, and the walkways inside are steep, and closely packed with shops and people. You can just walk into the town, through the gates at the base of the island and wend your way up to the Abbey. There are a huge number of steps, and they are uneven and worn down through the effects of time and volume of use. The structure of the church is unusual, to compensate for being built on the top of a peak. The crypts were constructed first with the support of the church above to consider. The stained glass windows, the arches, altar, buttresses and the cloister were all beautiful, and looking through the windows over the beach, I felt the power in its isolation and unapproachability, could imagine that it was an ideal place for reflection.


I was not very impressed at the price of ice cream though!

Posted by aboo10 02:13 Archived in France Tagged mountains beaches churches buildings children family_travel Comments (0)


Reporting from Caen

sunny 25 °C

After a ‘French Breakfast’ of coffee and pastries, we headed into Bordeaux to have a look around. Our hotel is out near the university and is very basic, and seems to cater more to a long term business visits than tourists, so lacks things like a rack of brochures and maps. We are right on the tram line, and bought an all day ticket. Our first stop was at the Hotel de Ville.

The first thing that caught our eye, was the most amazing roof of the St Andre de Bordeaux cathedral. We went inside and a sweet young English university student offered us a tour of the Cathedral - just for the four of us, and pointed out a lot of the features! Including the one original wall from when it was first consecrated in 1096. The rest of the church was from the 13th and 14th centuries, and it is interesting to the changes in style throughout the church. A lot of the cathedral was destroyed during the French Revolution, and so over the last 30 years, a lot of restoration has been done, and some of it has been done to look like it would have in different periods throughout history. This was where Eleanor of Aquitaine married the future Louis VII, and also Joan of Arc has a connection here too.

We then wandered down to the Musée d'Aquitaine (archeological and history museum), and saw lots of Roman artifacts, and this big round window which had been removed from a church. Interestingly, I discussed what it could be with the kids. They kept suggesting that it was probably a wheel, bearing in mind that this was at person level, compared to in a church when it is usually high up in the rafters, and we talked about giants, and machines, but they took ages to decide that it could be a window.


After making our way around, without really knowing where we were going, we decided it would be prudent to visit the tourist information office, and also to find out if it were possible to join a bus tour to a winery, so that when there we could both enjoy the wine tasting offerings. Bus tours were outrageously expensive, as there was no significant discount for the kids... I suppose they take up a full seat on the bus... so we decided to drive ourselves the following day.

Dad had recommended the Pomerol area, and so we headed out that way. We got to the town about 1pm, and there was nothing going on. All the wineries were desolate, and there was nobody there. We headed over to St Emilion, only to find out that all the wineries close for lunch between 12-2pm. I had been expecting fancy little cafes associated with each winery, a lot like those in the Yarra or Hunter Valleys back home. No food. We found one that showed some sign of life about 1.30 - and people were arriving there carrying baguettes and cheese, and setting up their own picnics (clearly in the know). I interrupted the staff having their lunch (which looked amazing), and they asked if we would like to join the tour at 2pm. Sounded fine. We went back to the car to see what we could scrounge up to eat - was not very appetising, trust me. The tour was terrific, it’s been a long time since I have been on a winery tour, so I really enjoyed hearing about the process. Didi and Jie Jie decided to document it all with their iPods, and are planning preparing a flow chart. They were particularly impressed seeing the grapes (which are not yet quite ripe for this vintage) hanging on the vines. I learned that in the Bordeaux region one of the regulations, is that there is no irrigation allowed, there is a clay soil on a limestone base, which retains enough water for the crop.

We then wandered around the medieval town of St Emilion, which was really charming, and had loads of little wine shops, some homeware stores and lots of restaurants and cafes.

One more sleep, then next stop Normandy...

(PS : more photos in my album!)

Posted by aboo10 00:53 Archived in France Tagged churches buildings children winery family_travel Comments (3)

One Day in Lyon

Reporting from Lyon

overcast 14 °C
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Doesn't quite have the same ring to it as "One night in Bangkok", but we had a glorious day today... albeit continuing with our not brilliant weather patterns, fortunately today was just cold and overcast, but no actual rain. Our break between camping destinations meant that we had 2 nights booked into a hotel, and a city to explore. Lyon did not disappoint.

We packed into one day a visit to Place Bellecour - apparently the largest unobstructed public square in Europe (no trees, greenery or structures in the middle), just one statue of a guy on a horse (OK it's King Louis XIV). Had a lovely wander around, and loved looking at the beautiful buildings surrounding the square. The surface is a red clay, like en tous cas on tennis courts used to be, and has little coffee stands around the edge.

From there we walked over to the Old Town (Vieux Lyon) and were heading to the Funiculaire station, where we were heading up to the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere. The Old Town is gorgeously quaint with cobbled streets, and lots of little shops. We had a 'quick' look in St Jean Cathedral, which was beautiful, but under renovation, so only about half of the church was accessible, and the whole altar section was screened off.

We headed up on the funiculaire to the Basilica, and it was truly stunning. The walls are covered with mosaics, which from a distance are the most amazing pictures ever and up close you can see each individual tile in the mosaic. Interestingly the Basilica is not that old, being completed in 1884. Underneath the Basilica is the Crypt of St Joseph, and it has gracious high vaulted ceilings, and stained glass windows, which when you are outside the building, can see the stained glass windows at street level. The main Basilica has gold everywhere, highlights in the mosaics, and catches the light from every angle. The stained glass windows and the floor tiles are gorgeous. It is built on a high point overlooking all of Lyon, and the views are stunning.

Afterwards, we got the funiculaire down again, and caught another one up to explore the Roman Amphitheatres. Built into the side of a hill, it provides natural elevation for the audience. I loved that it is still being used as a theatre spot, and at the moment there is a stage set up, and a festival occurring each night. The ruins are stunning, and free to enter and roam around!

Our plan had been to visit a Natural History Museum, however our guide was old, and as much as the kids wanted to see some dinosaurs, unfortunately it wasn't to be as the museum had relocated from the address provided in 2007!! Oops. We had a lovely walk back along the Rhone River, and found a playground for the kids to unleash some energy. Then we looked for an early dinner, easier said than done, as most restaurants were not even opening before 7, but quite a few were open for drinks... luckily we found one which was prepared to accept us for dinner at 6.30. Kids... humph.

Photos are in my album...

Better soak up the luxury in a real bed tonight... will be back on the air mattress tomorrow... heading down to a beach in Spain!!

Posted by aboo10 14:51 Archived in France Tagged churches children family_travel Comments (2)

Paris is fantastic, really

Reporting from Pontypool

overcast 18 °C
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Four days in Paris, what could be more lovely? We had checked the weather forecast and seen that it was supposed to be four days of rain, but the Eurostar was booked and the hotel was booked... Paris in the rain couldn't be all bad. So to trick the weather forecast the day before we were due to leave we went and bought new raincoats, knowing that being prepared meant it wouldn't rain! Right?

Well it worked for our first full day! We roamed around Paris, enjoying the lack of precipitation, and enjoyed refamiliarising ourselves with Paris, after all it is 6 months short of a decade since we were last here, sans kids of course! Our hotel was in Rue d'Aboukir in the 2nd Arrondissement, and surprisingly (to me) quite well located, and walking distance (and pram pushing of course) to the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Seine. Our first destination was Notre Dame, and we were keen to look at the statue of Charles of Allamagne next to the entrance, as apparently the man standing beside Charles who is on the horse is one of Mike's distant ancestors.

Feeding the pigeons in Paris doesn't not seem to be discouraged, and Didi found a Chinese family whose Mum carried a bag of bread, to give to the son who was doing just that, and went over to the Mum, and put his hand out then clear as a bell, said 'Mianbao' which is the same as 'le pain' or 'bread'.

While he was doing that, Jie Jie had managed to snatch a nap in the pram, and so because of the queue to enter the cathedral, Mike and Jie Jie waited while Didi and I played with the filthy pigeons, only joining them as they approached the roped off queue section. Notre Dame was as breathtaking as I remembered, dimly lit with many prayer candles and the light coming through the stained glass windows. Of course the most beautiful main window, even took Didi's breath away.

We were incredibly lucky as well, as we noticed through an open window just after we'd entered the cathedral that it had started pouring outside! When we left there was still a light drizzle, so lucky we had our new raincoats... and then bought each of the kids an overpriced nutella crepe from just across the road.

We then headed back over the Pont du Neuf, and around the Louvre. The children loved playing in the Tuileries, and we enjoyed strolling through the well maintained gardens. We sat for a while overlooking the boating pond, but none were sailing today, but we enjoyed the sun on our faces.

Day 2 we were not so lucky. It rained, and rained, and rained. We had delayed leaving our hotel, hoping for a break in the weather. We'd gone out for breakfast, and dashed back, again hoping the day would clear. And then eventually we just had to load the children into the pram, with rain cover, and make the most of being in Paris. So we walked down to the Galeries Lafayette to see the stunning roof, and enjoy whatever else we could. Unfortunately every other wet tourist in Paris had the same idea, so trying to manoeuvre our pram through the department store was a little tricky. The kids loved the toy department, but then it was tricky to take them away without buying a 'Mermaid Barbie' and a 'Train' - I mean we managed, but suffered from endless whining about how somebody doesn't have a mermaid Barbie, and really needs one - Yeah, right.

Then we thought, well let's go to the Louvre after all. We'd originally not intended to go there, as we thought the kids would enjoy it more when they were a bit older, but we thought, well, there won't be much of a queue to get in in this weather! We were right. And wrong. Tuesdays all museums in Paris are closed. Left through the Tuileries which were a very different sight to yesterday, and headed down to the Orangerie - alas also closed.
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Went back, and had a warming Onion Soup and a glass of wine in a cafe which wasn't very busy because of its location in the park and the rain, and then headed back to the hotel, agreed that the kids could watch a movie on the iPod, and then we would go out for dinner.

Our dinner plans came highly recommended by my parents, and seconded by my sister, and we'd worked out that we could make it there on the Metro, and travel without a pram! We were going to Le Relais de l'Entrecote, in St Germaine. It is a famous restaurant, that has no menu for entree and main, you are only asked how you like your steak cooked, and a quite brief wine list. Entree is a Frisee salad with walnuts and walnut oil dressing, and main is steak and chips, served with an amazing secret sauce. They bring it out on trays, and then serve at a serving table, and then deliver to your table. Oh wow, it was truly delicious. Then when you think you have finished, or just about finished, they ask if you want MORE! Oh, please sir, can I have some MORE! It is really up Jie Jie's alley... no vegetables!! In fact, we thought it was so good, that we went a second time the following night. The dessert list is quite extensive, and we enjoyed that too! Profiteroles, Meringues, Ice Cream, fabulous!! On our second visit, Jie Jie wanted her own dinner, and she ate the WHOLE FIRST PORTION!!!! And an enormous quantity of chips!!
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Day 3 dawned overcast, but not raining. So we set out early to fulfil the whole purpose of our trip to Paris: to take Jie Jie up the Eiffel Tower. It was a no pram day, and we negotiated the Metro to get there, and then the kids walked and walked until we could finally see the Tower. Except they got distracted by a giant ice cream on the way to the tower, and were over excited by that! IMG_9084.jpg We got closer and closer, and then finally found the end of the queue to go up the elevator... I think if the kids were a bit older we might have been able to attack the stairs only entrance, but neither of us wanted to carry either of them! So in the queue we waited. Fortunately due to their running around efforts, Didi was quite tired, so we put him into the baby carrier on my back, and I walked him around for about 20 mins until he dropped off to sleep, while Jie Jie and Mike held the place in the queue. Once he was asleep I returned, and sent Mike and Jie Jie off on an explore for half an hour. Didi ended up sleeping for about 45 mins, so for him the time in the queue wasn't too bad. We queued for about 2 hours before buying our tickets, and then actually entering the elevator.

But once we got up there, the wait was so worth it. The view of Paris was spectacular, the clouds were high enough to not interfere with the views. And that was only to the second level. We queued again to go up to the top level, where we enjoyed a glass of champagne, took loads of photos, before heading back to earth. IMG_9142.jpg We were at the Eiffel Tower for about 5 hours all up, so it really was the whole day swallowed up. Other photos from our day at the Eiffel Tower are in my photos page, so check them out there!

We then walked from there back to St Germain for another delicious steak dinner... reflecting on our successful day!

Our last day, we went for breakfast, then packed everything up and checked out. We walked through Les Halles and just went for a general wander around, pushing the kids in the pram. Enjoyed looking at an outdoor photo exhibition opposite the Louvre, of photos in areas facing environmental peril. It was amazing, and really eye opening. Then bought a tasty baguette for lunch, and headed back to the hotel to collect our stuff and begin our hike back to Gare du Nord.

What a wonderful few days in Paris!!

Our train was back to London on time, but an hour after, I'd told my sister that it would be there, so she had been waiting and waiting for us to arrive, thinking we'd have time for dinner before our bus back to Wales... unfortunately not to be... and we rushed to catch our 7pm bus from Victoria Coach Station, only just making it by the hair of our chinny chinny chin.

Posted by aboo10 01:00 Archived in France Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

4, 3, 2, 1

Reporting from Paris

sunny 20 °C
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Modes of transport- car from New Inn to Newport, coach from Newport to London, tube from Victoria to Kings Cross St Pancras and Eurostar from London to Paris!

Countries- Wales, England and France

2nd Arrondissement, 2 double beds in our family room, 2nd floor in the hotel, 2 parents and 2 kids!

Very long day, we woke up at 5:15, and left home at 7am, and arrived at our hotel at 5:30, then crashed into bed around 9, after going out for dinner!

Posted by aboo10 11:39 Archived in France Comments (0)

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