Kehren kindly drove us to the airport and we took off for Paris in an Etiad Dreamliner at 3.55pm, stopping over in Abu Dhabi and arriving in Paris 24 hours later.
Day 2 Friday April 27
It was an easy walk all within the Charles de Gaulle airport to get to the embedded train station. Stephen had a few anxious conversations with the railway staff to ensure that the widespread train strikes had not interfered with our trip. After a delicious baguette, we caught the 11.19 train to St Pierre des Cors, changed trains successfully and travelled down to Nevers.
At Nevers Station, we needed our friends translation to extract our prepaid tickets from the automated ticket machines, and then understand the SIM card deal offered by the helpful, but French speaking Orange telecom assistant. At last we were in the car speeding(!) towards Champlemy. The spring has definitely sprung here in the France country side as we delighted in the beautiful fields of yellow rape, green wheat and brown fallow edged with lush forests with luxuriant undergrowth.
Inside our friend's charming and ancient farmhouse on the edge of Champlemy, we continued our French immersion with a glass of wine on the back terrace. Soon our friend came home from work and champagne was needed to celebrate the reunion of old friend from across world and across the decades of separation. Luckily, our friends have a very large cellar that he generously shares ! A beautiful meal of local duck with an apple and quince puree and a simple lettuce salad. We skipped the cheeses as we were tired and went straight to dessert - a yummy cold fruit crumble. More red wine and at about 11pm we were in bed exhausted and very contented.
Day 3 Saturday April 28
We both slept well and woke about 8.30am. Had a lovely breakfast of a fresh orange, jam on toasted seed and fruit bread with tea. Then the 4 of us drove off through Varzy to Clamecy - a beautiful old town with sloping narrow streets, no advertising and a market. Lib went to the market for the breads and cheeses and then the butcher. Our rendezvous was at La Taverne in Rue de la Monnaie where our company included some friends and their little granddaughter. We continued our French immersion with wine, breadsticks. The tavern was very popular with our friends necessitating frequent standing and kissing as they moved past our table. We drove home through fine drizzle, had a late lunch of pates and cheeses followed by a nap.
We walked through Champlemy revisiting places that we had seen in 1994 with the children - church, the old wash house, the cemetery, past lush fields where the local charolais cattle grazed contentedly.
Home for a cuppa and then a 35 minute drive to Corbigny to a beautiful restaurant called le cepage, in the Logis Hotel at 7 Grande Rue - a place at which our friend's family celebrate special occasions. After much deliberation (with Stephen even resorting to the Google translate app on his phone), we chose our 3 courses. We had another celebratory drink before we started our meal. We both started with the pate and red berries. Stephen’s order was got lost (not google's fault, the waitress got it wrong) and rather than his beef burgundy with mushroom, he received a duplicate of my order: chicken tenderloins on a lettuce salad, all resting on a a leek tart. Very nice. We chose a fig and quince compote for dessert which was served with a very aromatic, tangy sorbet. Followed by a strong black coffee … all so very French and very delicious. Home and straight to bed, tired and happy.
Day 4 Sunday April 29
After breakfast, the four of us toured the verdant french countryside singing along to the music of Bruce Springsteen. We drove through tiny villages with narrow streets with our friend attempting to find a garden whose name and location had temporarily escaped her ! In the forests, we passed huge piles of cut logs ready for transportation to mills and smaller piles from woodlots for personal consumption. Our friends kept pressing buttons on her phone with no result but much entertainment to us. We drove contentedly in an agreed general direction with gallic acceptance. Eventually the name Fontenille-Brosse came to mind and, added by Stephen to Google, we found the beautiful garden she was looking for - Jardin le Pontot (Les Parterres en Kit). The house was beside a running stream and had been built in the 1800’s, added onto and renovated and architecturally altered in 1923. It is presently owned by a dutch couple who run a gardening business. The garden was superb, very old apple trees and huge beds of flowering bulbs, mainly tulips, surrounded by drystone walls lined with deep beds of perennials. The front garden was a mass of plants all grown in clumps that they dig up and sell on demand. It was beautiful and the owner was very happy to chat and tell us the back story to their business.
We had lunch at "home" and then the rain set in so everyone napped, read and had a quiet afternoon. Our evening meal of white asparagus, meat loaf, hummus and salad was tasty, easy and relaxed.
Day 5 Monday April 30
It rained heavily overnight and in the morning, the 3 of us headed west in drizzle towards the Loire River. Although it was cold and dreary we felt sooo lucky to be chauffeured through the beautiful countryside, not being hindered by the weather.
We are in the department of Nievre (there are 101 depatrments), in the region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté (there are 18 regions). The area is famous for beef, snails (escargot ), mustard and the alcoholic drink kir (black current juice and white wine).
Our first stop was La Charite, where we walked around the magnificent La Cathedral Notre Dame and then down to the Loire River Bridge. Up to the steep streets to the ruins of the city "remparts" for a view over the city and the river.
Then the rain came down as we drove along the Loire to Sancerre, a medieval hilltop town overlooking the Loire River. It is famous for its wines (pinot noir) and goat cheeses. The view from the top of Sancerre was beautiful, vineyards, tiny villages, bridges etc and even a nuclear power station in the far distance! We ate lunch in a cosy café as the rain had started again. Lib had a croque chavignole, grilled goats cheese and ham sandwich with salad and coffee, Stephen a ham and cheese baguette and hot chocolate. We walked through the church Eglise Notre Dame de Sancerre on top of the town and then wandered around the narrow streets as Libby took lots of photos of shutters ! The beautiful view we had seen on arrival had totally disappeared under cloud as we departed and drove back home through La Charite to Champlemy.
In the afternoon we drove to the Forest Bredeau(?), about 10 minutes away. Our friend often walks from home and does a loop through this beautiful lush forest, glistening with new leaves and so very quiet and peaceful. We walked off track, all in gumboots and collected lily of the valley and laughed and talked. We visited a friend's place and saw his beautiful view of the distant Morvan.
When we got home, our friend whipped up one of her fruit crumbles using her preserved plums and a traditional crumble mix with dried shredded orange peel while Libby did her last walk around Champlemy, soaking in as much of the towns ambience as she could. At 7.45pm, the 3 of us set off for a weekender and vineyard in the area. The house was another ancient farmhouse renovated simply and tastefully. Downstairs was a single open space including kitchen, dining and lounge areas. We were warmed by the open fire and the endless secession of wine varieties that were pressed on us throughout the evening. Some were from his and his partners vines, others from friends and local vineyards. Each had a story. The champagnes were beautiful. The meal was simple tasty white asparagus and a vinaigrette for an entree, a slow cooked beef stew with potatoes, carrots and celeric for main, crumble for dessert. We both enjoyed the evening but Stephen felt embarrassed at our inability to speak French and the consequent pressure on others to speak english or translate for us. Despite blood alcohol levels, we survived the 45 minute drive home on narrow roads through the mist and drizzle.
Day 6 Tuesday May 1st
May 1st is a public holiday in France to celebrate International Workers Day. Most shops are closed and everywhere there are small stalls and children and adults selling posies of lily of the valley - a tradition dating back to 1561, when king Charles IX, aged 10, waiting for his accession to the throne, gave a lily of the valley to all ladies present.
Today we departed Champlemy. After breakfast. we drove us to Nevers and we caught the train to Paris. The train gradually filled with passengers confidently asking casuals to move from their pre-booked seat. We travelled north for 2 1/2 hours through small and large towns. Often the houses backed onto the railway line and gave us a great view into people’s back gardens !
Stephen booked an Uber to Gare du Nord and we enjoyed a ham and cheese sandwich (fresh crunchy baguette) and a glass of beaujolais opposite the magnificent station before boarding the train to Brussels.
The train was late leaving the station so we missed our connection to Bruges by about 40 seconds. We waited half an hour and caught the next train. The land was mostly flat and with small acreage farms surrounded by lots of trees in either ordered rows or random large copses. The housing appeared boxy and unimaginative and less substantial compared to France. Lots of solar panels on roofs.
Unfortunately at Bruges, the SIM card Stephen bought in France has failed in Belgium so we were unable to catch an Uber to our hotel. The 7 euro taxi fare was money well spent and in about 20 minutes we were at Hotel Acacia and settling into our modest but very comfortable room and having a cuppa tea ! Tired but happy we walked in search of dinner through this beautiful town full of ornate and grand buildings. Our first Google recommendation was closed and Lib was hungry so we got daring and entered based on a street side sandwich board. De Prediker offered the local speciality of "1x mosselen natuur i.e. boiled mussels and chips. We were a little surprised at the all Indian staff. Stephen went for the safety of fried chicken. The mussels were DELICIOUS ! Home for a cuppa and a glass of lovely Limoncello gifted to us as a farewell gift. Life is good.
Day 7 Wednesday May 2
Started our day with phone calls to one of our banks in Australia attempting to move money so we don’t lose the interest. Much waiting but on our second attempt they offered us a better deal so we took the easier option and put it into fixed deposit. We walked to the Markt, the plaza in the heart of the city. The old market square is lined with pavement cafes beneath step-gabled facades. It was market day and the whole space was filled with stalls selling fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses and flowers. It’s lovely to hearing church bells ringing every fifteen minutes around the town. We had a set breakfast in Meridian 3, one of the open air restaurants looking onto the Markt: a roll with ham and cheese and a croissant with jam and a coffee/tea. Stephen visited the Orange shop and was pleased to find out that there was not a problem with his SIM working in Belgium and Germany. Phew ! He thought he had been diddled in Nevers ! We bought a 3 day museum pass. Let the Museum tour begin …
* St. Salvator's Cathedral (Sint-Salvatorskathedraal): a mighty gothic tower rises from this 1300’s cathedral, with cavernous interior and noted Flemish art works
* Old St. John's Hospital Museum (Sint-Janshospitaal) is one of the oldest preserved hospital buildings in Europe. A hospital built in the 1000's with a medical museum. The hospital chapel is filled with Flemish Primitive art works. The most famous by Netherlander painter Hans Memling who lived and worked in Bruges and created his most famous masterpieces here including the Shrine to St Ursula.
* Meulenaere Hospice: A vestige of centuries of private philanthropy. Through the green door to a calm, green oasis surrounded on all sides by tiny white cottages for the sick.
* Church of our Lady: 115 metre tall brick tower. This gothic church showcases the craftsmanship of the Bruges artisans. It contains Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child as well as numerous paintings, 13 century painted sepulchres and tombs.
* Arentshuis museum is an 18th century building with a temporary exhibition of art works and the whole of the upstairs is devoted to the works of Frank Brangwyn, a Bruges born artist, paintings, lithographs, etchings, woodcuts and ceramics.
* Groeninge museum displayed works from six centuries of Flemish and Belgian painting and included a free audio tour. The first rooms were all about the Belgium book trade, focussing on Colard Mansion, a scribe, translator and author who was one of the first europeans to print manuscripts.
After the exhaustion of trying to absorbing so much history and beauty, not to mention the footwork, we enjoyed the relaxation of the 30 minute canal tour.
After a very late lunch in the Markt we went "home" for a rest. After a gin and tonic, we walked back to the Lebanese restaurant ‘Taboule’, that was closed on our first night and enjoyed a falafel wrap with tabouli. Home for more delicious limoncello and bed.
Day 8 Thursday May 3
We woke to a sunny and beautiful day - 20 degrees, lovely in the sun and cool in the shade. Breakfast repeat at the Markt square then onto the Bell Tower where we climbed 83 metres, 336 steps up into the belfry. Going up we saw a treasury, an impressive clockwork mechanism and a carillon with 47 bells. At the top we had a great view of Bruges and the surrounding area. Not too scary and it was fun to hear the bells ringing whilst we were inside the tower.
Another Bruge specialty, a Belgian waffle, was eagerly gobbled beside the canal at Restaurant Molenpoort … not impressed, just sweet fluff and icing sugar !
We then revisited the Groeninge Museum to see an overview of the history of Belgium visual art, the focal point being the world famous collection of Flemish Primitive paintings with masterpieces by Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, Hugo van der Goes and Gerard David.
Happened upon two galleries side by side with fabulous exhibitions. One of bronze sculptures by Jan Desmarets and the other had carved wooden sculptures that were rather Margritteish and great bear-like creatures dressed in aviator gear, very weird but wonderful.
Wandered into a beer museum, The Beer Wall, in a beautiful building with an outdoor beer garden overlooking the canal.
On to the Torture Museum. While the models teetered between ghoulish and comedic, the stories printed on the exhibits were terrifying.
*Provinciaal Court (Hof) is the regional government building and still in use. Inside we saw an exhibition called 1914-1918 de slag om de noordzee (the Battle of the North Sea) which effected Belgium enormously
*Stadhuis (City Hall) (1376) was the place of government for over 600 years. Absolutely stunning Gothic Hall with murals from the late 1800's.
*Basilica of the Holy Blood. This basilica built in the 100's is located in the Burg square and consists of a lower and upper chapel. The lower chapel dedicated to St. Basil the Great is a dark Romanesque structure.
Dinner at a Lonely Planet recommendation, ‘Gran kaffee de Passage’, an alternative, art deco styled bistro. We both enjoyed our meals: Lib with Flemish beef beer stew, salad and fries and Stephen with grand beef skewer, pepper sauce and stuffed potato. Yum !
Day 9 Friday May 4
Stop 1: Breakfast on the other side of the Markt at Le Grand Cafe Belfort as our previous restaurant had a big noisy truck beside it. Definitely not as good value, more expensive and no ham and cheese !
Stop 2: The ‘Laundrette by Marcel’ for one very big load of washing
Stop 3: The Friet Museum presenting the history of the potato, its spread around the world, uses etc and a very good historical display of machines used to wash, peel, cut, fry etc. Belgium is big on fries. They are served with many of their most popular dishes, eg mussels and stews.
After a lunch of grabbed baguettes the cultural tour continued.
* Bruges Vrije, the former law court of Bruges. The city archives are housed here. The renaissance hall was once the aldermans chamber . A monumental wood, marble and alabaster fireplace designed by Lancelot Blondeel in the 1500's dominates the room. A painting by Van Tilborough shows a session held in the alderman’s chambers. The wood carving above the fireplace is extraordinary.
* Jeruzalemkerk is a chapel built and maintained by a Bruges family. It is modelled on a crusader church in Jerusalem. Steps lead to an altar decorated with skulls and a crypt with a model of Christ after crucifixion. A museum documents celebrates their connection to the history of Bruges.
* Volkskundemuseum from the 1600's is an almhouse. It’s a very accessible museum with displays in each house, a classroom, a tailor’s, a pharmacy, etc. Each room contains authentic antique objects and decors.
* Sint-Janshuismolen, one of the only 4 remaining mills in Bruges. Built in 1770 , still on it’s original site and still grinding grain … only grinds for tourists, the wheat is ground for animals only. Scary climb but great seeing the internal workings and a view of the city.
Guido Gezelle museum, a lovely old house and garden where Gezelle’s father worked as a gardener and his family lived. Gezelle, a Flemish poet is thought to be one of the Dutch speaking peoples most famous poets .
Kruispoort Gate, one of the original gates to the city.
A drink at the Pomperlut looking out across the Queen Astride Park. Queen Astride was a Swedish Princess who married the heir to the Belgian Throne and was Queen of Belgium for 2 years in which her caring activities endeared her to the Belgian people. She died in a car crash two years after becoming queen.
Home for a gin and tonic and a lie down before dinner again at the Gran kaffee de Passage. Stephen will stick to his previous success with skewers and peppercorn sauce and Lib experiments with huge plate of beef ribs, salad and fries. YUM. Home to bed.
Day 10 Saturday May 5
A quiet morning starting with breakfast back at Meridian 3 in the Markt and then Stephen came home to rest and read while Libby perused the local shops looking for clothes or shoes that might take her fancy … No success !
At about midday, we walked to Sint-Janshuismolen, buying a baguette and coffee from Crumble and Co on the way. This was the starting point for our booked country bike ride. We lost 25 minutes to a bunch of disorganised and selfish Brits in the group who were 25 minutes late because they were trying to find a toilet … Libby NOT happy. The group of 12 set off with Jon, a confident rather cocky 50 year old who told too many jokes and was "all about me" ! We rode out along the canal, past very suburban housing and then into the countryside. The land is very flat. the fields are exposed earth ready to plant potatoes and grains. We stopped to admire Belgium Blue cows and talked about how their breeding for meat has compromised calving, need c sections for every birth, and the cows inability to stand up without great stress due to their very short front legs. Looked rather cruel. Avenues of planted Canadian poplar selected as they grow fast and are used for wind breaks. It’s often very windy in Bruges, flat land being so close to the North Sea.
Rode to the town of Damme where we looked around an Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk church and graveyard. Following the arch of poplars along a canal and out through flat farming land, we looped back into Damme, and we stopped at a corner bistro/ pub, Estaminet Soetkin, next to a canal where we were shouted a drink by the tour leader. After a 30 minute break, and us sitting separately in the shade to avoid the tour leaders boring putdowns of the French and lots of silly jokes, we rode on a bike path parallel to the the canal, along another beautiful avenue of poplars.
We stopped to take a photo and unfortunately Stephen fell into the grassy verge, grazing his wrist and leg and a spike of grass went up his nose which caused some bleeding. After a bit of a clean up, he rode on a bit shocked and cross with me for laughing nervously at the accident and himself for not lowering his seat which he felt was the main cause.
Arrived safely back in Bruges after our 4 hour ride, dropped the bikes of and headed home tout suit for a few gins and we both felt much better ! Instead of a quiet night at home, we remembered a series of concerts we had seen promoted at the Sint-Salvatorskathedraal so after a Chinese meal at De Lange Muur Bvba and a hot drink at home, we walked to the concert and heard soprano Irene Carpentier, tenor Roel Vansevenant and organist Ignace Michiels. It was a beautiful concert in a magnificent setting with works by Handel, Bach, Purcell, Haydn.
Day 11 Sunday May 6
A lovely sleep in after lots of fun filled energetic days. A late ‘small set’ breakfast at our ‘go to’ restaurant, Meridian 3 in the Markt. Home for a very leisurely morning of reading, diary writing and drinking cups of tea listening to classical music on Stephen’s bluetooth speaker.
And then a two hour church bell concert, from the Sint-Salvatorskathedraal, tunes throughout the morning as we read and rested !
After midday, we both had a waffle at The Gingerbread Tearoom, just around the corner. Lib had summer fruits and Stephen chose caramel sauce and ice cream. A mix of the two was perfect, so much better than the dry icing sugar one we trialed the other day. As Stephen remarked, they are only a vessel for toppings ! We walked to Minnewater Park, (named as ‘water of love’ believing that nymphs lived under bridges) remnant of the harbour that once brought the trade that made Bruges rich. We walked around the man-made lake and then home. The temperature was 26 but in the windless town streets it felt hotter. The streets are very crowded and all the restaurants busy. Long lines of people waiting to buy ice-creams and gelato. Lib went in and out of many shops by herself, always after the elusive nice clothes or shoes. Today she found a lovely, classic black handbag and bought it as a gift for Mothers Day for herself ! More resting we had a drink in the bar at out hotel using our ‘green’ vouchers earnt by opting out of having our room cleaned on alternate days. Walked to the De Prediker to repeat our first meal in Bruges - mosselen natuur 1x kipfile … mussels au naturale and fried chicken for Stephen, both served with fries, beers and a Chardonnay.
Home for an early night. Its lovely and quiet in our hotel. Sleep comes easy after such enjoyable, happy days.
Day 12 Monday May 7
Up and into the taxi to the train station to catch the 8.15 to Berlin. The Belgian countryside around Brussels is flat and fertile. Some is furrowed and piled ready for sewing potatoes. Elsewhere cropped lush pasture is ready to bale or supports a few cows. The train crosses numerous canals, small towns and a few wind turbines. Neat ordered houses on small allotments are separated by trees presumably for windbreaks and/or timber. Changed to the Cologne (Koeln) train at Brussels and the next 2 hours saw the countryside get more undulating and beautiful as we crossed the German border. Passing Aachen, a big city with lots of 4-5 storey apartments along the railway line, we travelled through flat fertile land with broad open acreage under crops. Frequent wind turbines and many solar panels on houses and beside the railway line showed the German commitment to "alternative" energy. What look like nuclear power stations, billowing white plumes, dot the countryside. The harsh Germanic accent has started to resound through the train. Through Hamm, Hannover at speeds up to 199 km per hour we at last reached Berlin Station.
A friend met us in the Berlin station and despite his language ability was completely unable to tame the German ticket dispensing machine for our local trip. General hilarity as past stereotypes were reinforced when Stephen worked it out. We laughed all the way to the Villenkolonie Grunewald, a very beautiful area of Berlin.
Bismarck saw the potential of the then undeveloped area in 1871 and wanted to create something impressive and exclusive, developed on his return to Berlin. 234 hectares of the Grunewald forest was cleared and large blocks of land were sold off to Berlin's wealthiest citizens, who built architecturally varied and beautiful homes. By 1933 many of the large Jewish population fled as the first signs of their persecution began. The area was bombed during World War II and in the post war division of Berlin, Grunewald fell within the British sector. Since then large plots have been sub-divided, and many apartments built. The area now contains many public institutions, embassies etc as well as the Institute of Advanced Studies. (Wissenschaftskolleg aka "Wiko" which translates to … a college for shaping wisdom. The Wiko provides offices, a library, conference rooms and a huge dining area where lunch is provided (and attendance mandatory) every week day. The invited "fellows" are paid salary maintenance for one year, and 50% discounted accommodation at Villa Walther, a few hundred meters away. They are also expected to complete a book during this time. Lucky for us, our friend felt relatively unburdened as he had just finished his book.
The accommodation, Villa Walther, is a beautiful 4 storey mansion built in 1912. In 1931, the German Reich took it over and used it as a base for the Ministry of Finance. The villa was badly damaged during the war and it became a semi ruin. In 1980, it was restored by the German Government and is now used by the Wiko.
Our friend's apartment was on the 4th level with outdoor eating area providing beautiful views through trees to the ornamental lake and overlooking a lush, unkempt garden.
They took us for a walk around the property and the around the block and then we ate together. Our entrée was the ever seasonally popular white asparagus with hollandaise sauce. Stephen ate the lot ! They had prepared a lovely fish/ cheese bake with prawns, served with baked potatoes and courgettes, fresh fruit salad and ice-cream. Chat and bed. Big day of train travel and it was just so lovely to end up with such welcoming friends.
Day 13 Tuesday May 8
Our favourite breakfast of orange juice, heavy bread toast, jam and tea/ coffee.
Our friends had their own plans so we set off for Berlin. Stephen navigated and on our friend's suggestion we started our day by catching a bus.
* Museum in the Kulturbrauerei - Alltag in der DDR was an exhibition of everyday life in the GDR during communist dictatorship of East Berlin.
.... and then a tram
* Berlin Wall Memorial (Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer) shows remains of the layered system of border fortifications that imprisoned the east Germans. The memorial extends 1.4 km along Bernauer Strasse. We visited the Chapel of Reconciliation which now stands on the site where the Church of Reconcilliation stood before it was torn down by the communists in 1985.
We visited the Visitors Centre and saw the exhibition “1961/1989 The Berlin Wall’ and then climbed up to the viewing deck to see the memorial site and saw the only intact section of the original wall with one remaining guard tower.
Then walked down to the adjoining park and saw the ‘Window of Remembrance’, photos and names of victims who had died making the crossing, remembered individually.
.... and then by taxi
* Alexanderplatz and had a roll for lunch before ascending the Berliner Fernsehturm. Berlin’s tallest building is this TV tower over 203 metres to the observation deck with a 360 degree view of Berlin.
Walking to Rotes Rathaus but was disappointed to find it surrounded by building barriers and closed for construction of a new railway station.
Into St Mary’s Church (Marienkirke), the oldest in Berlin, a reconstruction with white washed wall, clear glass pained windows, plain and serene with highly decorative religious adornments.
* DDR Museum, like the first one we visited, a museum depicting life under the communist regime, but was more interactive and enjoyable sporting a full size Trabant car so emblematic of East German primitive technology.
Had a coffee and a beer before catching a bus, supermarket shopping for some drinks, muesli and bread and then another bus. Home by 5.45, later than planned, tired but happy.
Had a lovely meal of ravioli and pesto, followed by pork medallions and carrots, and then fresh fruit salad.
After dinner we allwatched the start of a series called ’Berlin’, very topical and we will watch more when we get home . Big day
Observations from the day that stayed with us were the number and prominence of stark, cuboid, uninteresting buildings, and the frequency of big, tall often overweight men and women.
Day 14 Wednesday May 9
After breakfast, we walked to St.-Michaels-Heim Jugendgästehaus & Hotel, a beautiful historic building incorprating a hotel, hostel and restaurant and much more. We hired a bike and headed off for a ride into the Grunewald forest. Our first stop was the Grunewald Station including Platform 17 where Jews were assembles before being transported to concentration camps.
We rode into the forest on wide tracks to a small lake where lots of Germans like to swim nude and bask in the sun - a perfect day for both. We then attempted to reach Teufelsberg at the top of a very steep hill. Unfortunately, our sweat came to nothing as it was surrounded by high fences and locked gates. Teufelsberg is a man-made hill, created in the 20 years following the Second World War by moving approximately 75 million cubic metres of debris from Berlin. The CIA then placed a spy tower on the top whose domes are still visible.
Coming down the mountain, we got bogged in sandy tracks and lost following our friend's directions. Google eventually got back on track. Cleaned up and dressed in our best for lunch at Wiko. A delicious smorgasbord, followed by crumble, fresh fruit and coffee. We sat outside.
After a restful afternoon, we bicycled to the supermarket to buy a supplies for dinner: roast chicken, vegies and salad with apple slice for dessert. After dinner we watched a Jimmy Cagney movie.
Day 15 Thursday May 10
Woke about 7am and walked to the Grunewald Station, caught the train into Hackescher Markt Station and walked to Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom) where Stephen knew there was to be a special service. We listened to the practice, and then the full service. The Berlin Boys Choir, 3 soloists and orchestra were superb in sound and sight. The church is not strictly a cathedral. When the service ended the clergy got into a little horse drawn wagon, followed by the choir and the congregation holding balloons, singing hymns as they walked to St Mary's to continue the service. It was a very moving sight.
We bought a museum day pass that covered admission to all the museums on Museum Island and commenced a wonderful and exhausting inventory:
* Old Museum (Altes Museum)
* Old National Gallery (Alte Nationalgalerie) showing the Wanderlus exhibition
Lunch at A travola pizza and foccasia
* Pergamon Museum with audio guide
.... sore feet so Lib had coffee whilst Stephen ploughed on.....
* New Museum (Neues Museum)
..... Lib checked out the local market stalls and had an aperol spritz whilst Stephen ploughed on....
* German Historical Museum (Deutsches Historisches Museum)
Caught the train to Mohrenstraße and walked to the Peking Ente Chinese restaurant. The restaurant is within the building site of the huge Reich Chancellery which was completely demolished by the Russians (in part to build the Soviet War Memorial opposite Teirgarten). We had a lovely meal including two serves of duck.
Train and bus home in the rain. Did a load of washing and into bed exhausted and happy.
Day 16 Friday May 11
Breakfast and then a bus to Victory Column (Siegessäule), nicknamed ‘Goldelse’ (Golden Lizzy) by the locals. The tower celebrates the Prussian kings victories and stands 67 meters tall with a huge golden angel on top. We enjoyed the narrow circular steps to the sudden revelation of the 360 degree view of Berlin from the top. The Nazis relocated it away from the Reichstag to this site prior to the war as part of their Berlin redesign thus probably contributing to its survival.
We then walked through the Tiergarten (Deer Garden), a beautiful green space which had not a stick of wood on it after WW II due to bombing and scavenging by germans in search of wood and food. It is now a monument to resilience and beautifully wooded and containing lovely Rose Gardens and statues.
Walking up the 17th of June Street (Straße des 17. Juni refers to the refers to the 17 June 1953 uprising in East Germany) towards the Brandenburg Gate and saw the Soviet War Memorial, covered in flowers due to May 8 celebrations of VE day.
Walked around the bleak and strictly supervised Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. These concrete blocks invite hide and seek but the officials were persistent but ineffective in admonishing any signs of levity with the memorial. Children were jumping from stone to stone and playing chasey along the undulating walkways. Many adults were even standing on the blocks to take photos.
Stephen had pre booked entry into the Reichstag Building, home to the German Government. Security was tight and we needed passports and a security clearance before entering. Our group of about 15 were allocated a tour leader Frau Hildergard ! She was a political scientist, had very good english and was extremely knowledgeable but her accent and mannerisms were comical and it was hard not to laugh sometimes, especially when Stephen saw her polishing her shoes when she had a 1 minute break whilst we viewed an art installation ! The tour was excellent, 2 hours in the old building into the parliamentary chamber and then up to the walk on the roof and the new spiral walkway inside the dome. The audio headset used within the dome was very informative. Very space age design incorporating efficient heating and cooling mechanisms into the design. The parliamentary offices to the north of the old building were ultra modern sterile, industrial and cold.
The Berlin Story Bunker, the project of one man who has documented Hitlers life and Nazi Germany contained a huge display within a real bunker with over 50 sections including a reconstruction of Hitler's Bunker. Although fascinating, there was so much text and so many photos and artifacts that it was overwhelming. Overload !
Home by bus, supermarket shop, bus, dinner, chicken soup, beef stew, rice and fruit salad and then bed.
Day 17 Saturday May 12
Had a relaxing start to the day with breakfast together followed by a 9am take off for us to visit Charlottenburg Palace (Schloss Charlottenburg). The palace was built from 1695-1713 as a summer residence of the Prussian Queen, Sophie Charlotte and Frederick. It is the largest and most important Hohenzollern residence left in Berlin. Viewed the Royal apartments, the Porcelain collection and the palace chapel. Very ornate and opulent. We walked through the landscaped parkland around to the Baroque garden in-front of the palace.
A bus and train took us to Potsdam where we grabbed some lunch at the station and then joined the crowds on their way to Sanssouci (Without worry) Palace and garden complexes which Frederick the Great had built for him during the 1700's and were all expanded under Frederick William IV in the 1800's.
We were unable to get tickets to view inside the buildings so we naively decided upon a horse and carriage ride that we presumed would tour inside the park … WRONG …it spent 60min travelling along the park walls with pre recorded harsh german commentary and the occasional arm wave towards some historic feature. Back at Sansouci, we walked around the palace and down the enormous terraced orange orchard and vineyard to the Great Fountain surrounded by circular flower beds and sculptures. Stephen protected from the evil sun by his umbrella. The tiered levels were winged by grapevines. Fig trees were in recesses fitted with glass doors that could be closed in winter to protect them from the cold. We missed a few of the "not to be missed" sites like Fredrick and his dogs’ gravesite and the Chinese House with the porcelain collection. Stephen's tours preference grandeur and spectacle over plants and porcelain. We reached the superb New Palace (Neues Palais) which Frederick had built between 1763-69 to impress and intimidate visiting heads of state. Opposite it is the beautiful semicircular Communs occupied by the lucky workers of the University of Potsdam.
Bus and train home via the supermarket for some beer and snacks.After a quick drink, we set off on a walking tour of historic houses using a booklet prepared by the one wife of a past fellow of the Institute. We lasted about an hour before the navigation and and the discipline of listening to a historic reading at each location became too much. A dinner of tomato and buffalo cheese followed by sauerkraut and german pork sausages with salad !
Lib was sad to lose an old friend some time this day: her old faithful black Country Road fine woollen cardigan. Late tonight Stephen received a reassuring message from SCNF telling us that our train travel tomorrow will NOT be effected by the railway strikes in France.
Day 18 Sunday May 13
We were up at 6.15, shower, breakfast and farewells by 6.55. Our Uber arrived on time and after a very fast and long journey to avoid road closures (due to the Berlin Marathon) we arrived at the Berlin Station with 30 minutes to spare … happy tour guide ! The train took off for Mannheim at 8:07 ON THE DOT ! It’s a lovely sunny Mothers Day as we passed rolling fertile hills of rape, rye or wheat alternating with dense forests. Many large groups of wind turbines. The train is clean but the seats are VERY firm and every time we go through the tunnels the pressure pops our ears. All very pleasant except for the incessant loud talking of a young girl facing me three rows down. After 3 hours of annoyance, Lib gestured her to ssshhhhhh and she dropped her squawking to a more reasonable volume. Arrived at Mannheim 10 minutes late so we rushed to find and catch the 1.40 pm to Paris. Made it with a few minutes up our sleeve. It was packed and nearly all seats reserved. Many young people standing for the whole journey or finding stairwells and any other space between carriages they can find. The weather started to cloud and our fellow travellers looked better dressed for cold weather. Out the windows were potatoes, potatoes and more potatoes; the Flanders poppies growing wild; vineyards; tiny neat dwellings backing onto the railway line. Within 20 minutes, we were climbing up into mountains and the heavy cloud became mist and rain.
Arrived at Gare de l'Est station and caught an Uber to our new abode at the AirBnb at 1 Rue Ravignan in Montmartre. Jo Hughes stayed here and recommended it. Sebastian met us 10 minutes after our arrival and showed us through the apartment. 90 steps up to the 5th floor with a fabulous view of the Paris valley with the Eiffel Tower in plain sight ! Small bedroom with creaky sloping floorboards, small dining lounge, tiny bathroom and kitchen. It’s perfect for a short term stay. My only problem thus far is unlocking the front door. It’s soo hard to do that I’ve relinquished the keys to Stephen ! Went down stairs, found a very small supermarket for basic supplies and came home for a drink before venturing out for our first meal. Found a bistro very close, La Bascule and took advantage of their cocktail "happy hour" offer with 2 margaritas. Delicious casual meal of falafels as we watched the young of Paris socialise. Back at the apartment, the evening view from our bedroom was even more spectacular as the Eiffel Tower turned on its lights. Life is good.
Day 19 Monday May 14
Ah ! Regardless how much one loves one's friends there is a strain to being either a guest or a host. We felt that selfish relaxation of being our own masters with the delights of Paris stretched before us for many days ahead.
Slept in and woke to rain so we made a cup of tea and then went down to Jo’s favourite café on the corner, underneath our apartment block, Café Tabac. A big brekky today, scrambled eggs with very thin slices of cooked ham, ie bacon with heavy dark toast and much to Stephen’s horror, a big pile of dressed green salad … YUM. A supermarket visit was necessary to buy the basics and the treats, alcohol and nibbles ! "Home" up those 90 steps to unload and then as the rain had stopped, we decided to tour our local area first, Montmartre. Up the steep winding narrow roads to Saint-Pierre de Montmartre built in the 1100's and one of the oldest churches in Paris. Turning a few corners, we confronted the spectacle of Sacred Heart (Sacre Coeur). Built between 1875-1914 on the ‘hill of martyrs’, Montmartre, the basilica is immensely popular with tourists but still controversial to the French left as it was built to expiate the sins of the Paris Commune especially the execution of the Archbishop of Paris. The normally spectacular view was obscured by heavy mist so we didn’t climb the tower.
We dived down 180 steps into the bowels of Paris Metro underground railway and worked out how to catch the correct train at our local station, Abbesses. Emerging from Invalides Station, we walked up the Avenue du Maréchal Gallieni across Park Esplanade des Invalides to take the excellent audio tour through the Army Museum (Musee de l’Armee) inside the huge Les Invalides. The scale of service and reverence for soldiers that this complex displays is awesome - a "great" idea of Louis XIV ! Within Les Invalides complex, we visited the Cathedral of Saint-Louis des Invalides, the Dôme des Invalides with the Tomb of Napoleon at its base, then…how many guns and cannons can a girl take ? Lib took a Grenache Rosé break caught up on this daily journal whilst Stephen ploughed through the Museum of the Order of Liberation.
Walking towards the station and Stephen googled recommended dinner venues. Bingo ! L’Assemblee, very close. In we go, settle with a welcome wine and beer .... what !!! ... not serving dinners ! Shocked at Gallic unpredictability, we trained back to Abbesses dined at Le Saint Jean, just 2 minutes from our apartment: chicken, duck, salad and fries/garlic potatoes. Very happy. Home up our 90 steps for tea and coffee. Sooo foggy in the evening that we couldn’t even see the Eiffel Tower. 20 minutes later it sparkled with twinkling lights in the mist !
Day 20 Tuesday May 15
A cool foggy start to the day which was a bit disconcerting as we have a pre-booked tour of Notre-Dame. Took the Metro to the Place de la Concorde and saw the Obelisk and two beautiful fountains. Many public beheadings took place here in the 1400's. And Louis XVI was executed here too. We walked through the Tuileries Garden then along the Seine and crossed Pont Neuf one of the oldest bridges in Paris being built in the 1500’s onto Ile de la Citie, the island origin of Paris.
After a short coffee break, we met our guide, Diego, a young Spanish man who took us on a wonderful 45 minute tour of Notre-Dame. This Gothic catholic masterpiece was constructed between 1100's to 1300's on the remains of a Roman temple and was the first in the world to use the flying buttress construction to allow a huge increase in window area. The tour ticket gave us "jump the line" access to the tower. 480 steps later, we were at the top. From this viewpoint, the complexity and detail of the building is wonderfully evident as we pass so many gargoyles and towers - many invisible from the ground level. The mist had risen a bit so the view of Paris was good.
Back on the ground, we left the island via Pont d'Arcole and walked into Le Marais past the wonderfully ornate Hôtel de Ville and walked along Paris streets to the Place des Vosges on friend Joan’s recommendation. Once the site of jousting tournaments, it is now in the heart of the Marais area where young people sit and have lunch among the garden beds. Lunch was a Lonely Planet recommendation down Rue des Rosiers to La’s du Falafel. The Marias is a mix of Jews, former Algerian settlers, Asians and more recently the Parisian gay scene.
It was warm and sunny by 4pm when we got home via the Metro for a rest and a drink before going to the famous Moulin Rouge. A Thai meal meal at Soji Thaï was a taste of home and then on to the live show. Inside Moulin Rouge, many chose to eat at the venue so we were surprised our seats were touching the stage. Moulin Rouge is best known as the birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance. Originally introduced as a seductive dance by the prostitutes, the can-can dance revue evolved into a form of entertainment of its own and led to the introduction of cabarets across Europe. And then the show began, WOW … all mime with topless girls in the most over the top cabaret costumes, dancing, grinding and grinning ear to ear. Being within a couple of feet of the semi naked dancers in skin tight bizarre costumes was strange but in no way arousing. The experience was more akin to watching impressive gymnastics performance. Between the cabaret were several amazing solo acts: a couple on roller skates that freaked the living day lights out of us both as they rolled and spun at great danger to us as well as themselves; an incredible muscle man showed brute strength by balancing his whole body weight on a small glass; a woman swimming with huge snakes in a glass pool that ascended from the floor at the very edge of our table; a hilarious and charming man blowing and catching ping pong balls, drumming and juggling.
We felt almost like locals as we walked the 15min trip "home" in the late evening.
Day 21 Wednesday May 16
Stephen made tea and very cleverly managed to make toast in the microwave !
Masters of the Metro, we were at the Louvre by 8.30 for the 9 am opening. Lib hired an audio tour but found it very difficult to master. The Louvre is huge and both of us found the guide map totally unintelligible. The Lonely Planet guide was far more intelligible. Wonders of history and art are so numerous in this huge collection: Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa , the Virgin and Child, The Raft of the Medusa. After a coffee and apple short cake break, we wandered without a plan looking at what ever took our fancy … much more relaxing. Stephen searched for works where proximity to the artefact added power to an interesting history.
By 2.30, we were exhausted and walked to the Musee de L’Orangerie. Stephen stayed outside in the park reading more French history, while Lib went in and enjoyed herself immensely with Monet’s ‘Water Lillies’ and other works he donated inspired by his garden at Giverny. She had seen some of the works when they were exhibited at the NGV several years ago. A second level in Musee de L’Orangerie was devoted to the Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume Collection. Paul opened a very modest gallery in 1911 and soon became an art dealer and collector. He died in 1934, never fulfilling his dream of creating a museum of modern art, but his wife completed and modified the collection before donating it to France. Lib enjoyed the audioguide immensely as she viewed works by Soutine, Utrillo, Rousseau, Renoir, Matisse, Picasso. Cezanne and more.
Home on the Metro and up to our garrett for a very relaxing few hours of drinks, peanuts listening to Stephen's collection of french café music while Lib wrote this journal and Stephen continued researching the past and our future plans. Occasionally, we pause to gaze out our windows at the creamy building colours of Montmartre and Paris in the distance with the sun shining.
Living here has some similarities to St Kilda with lots of tourists, restaurants and tourist sites; noisy youth talking loudly; rubbish collection early in the mornings but far fewer homeless, loonies, mentally ill and druggies.
Day 22 Thursday May 17
A lovely but testing day !
getting the hang of our micro kitchen in the garret, Stephen cooked fried eggs and toast. A very cool morning necessitated coats, hats and scarves. We rode the Metro for a very relaxed walk around the Luxembourg Gardens. The gardens around the ornamental lake were beautiful in yellows, greens and silvers as many gardeners prepared beds for mass plantings. The palace was built for the mother of King Louis XIII but converted for use as the French parliament after the Revolution. It is now prominently guarded by Gendarmes with no public access.
An Uber took us to the Musée Rodin but, on entering a special exhibition called ‘Rodin and Dance’, Lib reached for her camera to realise that she had left it in the back seat of the Uber … OMG. Stephen with the help from a museum attendant was able to leave a message with the driver. We continued around the exhibition displaying many marble sculptures and then out into the 7 acres of gardens where there are about a dozen versions of Rodin’s principal monumental sculptures including The Thinker, The Gates of Hell and The Burghers of Calais. The museum is inside the Hotel Biron, a prestigious mansion where Rodin lived and rented 4 rooms on the ground floor for the last 9 years of his life. The Musee was created in 1916 on Rodin's initiative as he donated his works, personal collections and copyrights to French. Lib catalogued the holdings with Stephen’s iPhone but missed her own camera. At about 12 .30 we tried to contact the driver again and he replied and agreed to return it ASAP. Unfortunately, our pre-booked Eiffel Tower tour could not wait so Stephen caught an Uber and Lib waited for the camera to be delivered. With camera returned, Lib revisited the museum and gardens and took more photos and then waited in the café for Stephen to return from The Tower.
The Eiffel Tower story is a testament to the confidence of the late 1800's in positive power of technology - in this case steel and engineering. As Stephen ascended to each level in perfect weather, Paris was laid out like an impossibly detailed map at every side. Reaching the third level was truly spectacular and frightening. This fear demonstrates the true wonder of technology: It feels completely unnatural to stand on something so tall with what looks like a long thin flimsy support below. As animals we are continually doubting rational calculations where they do not agree with our "gut".
Stephen collected Lib from the museum with an Uber and we returned to the tower and walked down to the Seine for a river cruise with Vedettes de Paris. The cruise provides a new view of places best enjoyed after having been introduced to them on foot. The many bridges often have ornate decoration designed to be viewed from the water.
Metroed to the Latin Quarter, and enjoyed a "happy hour" margaritas with hundreds of others in the Rue de Buci before meeting friends at the Atlas restaurant. Metroed home tired and happy. Bed by midnight.
Day 23 Friday May 18
A beautiful day in Paris, warm and sunny. Metroed to Musee d’Orsay on the banks of the Seine. The building was originally a railway station that opened in 1900 for the World Fair. It incorporated a luxury hotel and a grand reception room. The station was abandoned with the modernisation of trains, taken over by the government in 1977 and opened as a museum in 1986.
As a museum, it's relatively small size and the quality of its exhibits made it as enjoyable as the Louvre. The works are mainly French dating from 1848 to 1914, including paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography. It houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world by painters including Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin, and Van Gogh.
During our well earned coffee break inside the building, we noticed signed and movement that lead us to a performance of the staff choir in the magnificent reception room … serendipitous !
Returning to art pilgrimage, one more level and we were done ! 5 hours at the d’Orsay and we were on our way home to rest. Quick supermarket shop, lettuces, half a roasted chicken and baguettes, and home for a very late lunch. Rest, read and diary writing.
In late afternoon we met our friend at the Abbesse station and enjoyed a drink and nibbles within our apartment. We then dined at an Italian restaurant, Del Mondo just 2 streets away. We chose 2 anti pasta plates with lots of buffalo cheese and roasted veggies. Lib had a pasta dish and couldn’t finish it and the boys had pizza. Not Stephen’s favourite food but we really enjoyed being together again. Fond farewells and home to bed.
Day 24 Saturday May 19
Another beautiful autumnal day in "gay Paree" ! Stephen has perfected our breakfast of a fried egg, toast with raspberry jam and tea. It’s a good start to the day.
Started our walking adventures today just next to our local Metro Station. There is a quaint little park beside the Place de Abbesses called Square Jehan-Rictus which contains with a lovely garden and a wall covered in messages of love, aptly called The Wall of Love.
Metroed to the Arc de Triomphe and we were the first in line to buy tickets. This iconic building is
one of the most famous monuments in Paris, standing at the western end of the Champs-Élysées at the center of Place Charles de Gaulle, formerly named Place de l'Étoile — the étoile or "star" of the juncture formed by its twelve radiating avenues. It honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. We walked up to the top of the arc and got a lovely but still rather hazy 360 view of Paris. The buildings that form the radiating star are truly beautiful.
We walked down the 1.9 kilometres of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées which is 70 metres wide. It is known for its theatres, cafés, and luxury shops, for the annual Bastille Day military parade, and as the finish of the Tour de France cycle race. The name is French for the Elysian Fields, the paradise for dead heroes in Greek mythology.
Metroed to Sainte-Chapelle, a royal chapel in the Gothic style, within the medieval Palais de la Cité, the residence of the Kings of France until the 14th century, on the Île de la Cité in the heart of Paris.
It was commissioned by King Louis IX of France to house his collection of Passion relics, including Christ's Crown of Thorns - one of the most important relics in medieval Christendom. Along with the Conciergerie, the Sainte-Chapelle is one of the earliest surviving buildings of the Capetian royal palace on the Île de la Cité. Although damaged during the French Revolution, and restored in the 19th century, it has one of the most extensive 13th-century stained glass collections anywhere in the world. The stained glass was magnificent, well worth the visit.
We walked past Notre-Dame so Stephen could buy a Nutella crepe at a café we had eaten at previously and then up the hill past the Sorbonne University, a public research university established by fusion in 2018 of Paris-Sorbonne University and Pierre and Marie Curie University. The date 1257 on its emblem refers to the historical University of Paris, whose Collège de Sorbonne was founded in 1257 by Robert de Sorbon, and whose faculty of humanities it is the main inheritor.
We reached the Pantheon, a building in the Latin Quarter originally built as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve but, after many changes, now functions as a secular mausoleum containing the remains of distinguished French citizens. The façade is modelled on the Pantheon in Rome, surmounted by a magnificent dome. Superb.
Home to rest, do some washing and then Lib went out and looked at a few shops around Montmartre whilst Stephen read. Lib spotted a tiny little restaurant for dinner Le Potager du Pere Thierry and she loved the duck breast with a cranberry sauce. Stephen had a delicious steak with a pepper sauce.
Day 25 Sunday May 20
Staying in Montmartre on Jo’s recommendation has just been wonderful. The view is exceptional and each day it seems to get a little less hazy. Today is Sunday and there is action all around us, piano accordions playing, church bells ringing and hundreds of people chatting as they walk the streets of Montmartre soaking in the vibe on a warm and sunny autumn day … our last in Paris.
We had a lovely sleep in, our tradition breakfast and then walked up the steep narrow stairs to Basilica Sacre Coeur, to go to an actual church service starting at 11am. The church filled quickly and as the organist started playing really loud, foreboding music. Unfortunately, a call of nature required a quick exit by Stephen ! Relieved, we walked around the Place du Tertre, a square where many artists set up their easels each day for tourists, a reminder of the time when Montmartre was the mecca of modern art. At the beginning of the 20th century, many painters including Picasso, Renoir and Utrillo were living there. It was fun to sit in a café eating crepes watching the artists at work and all the tourists milling around.
Walked slowly home past a quaint building and fenced vineyard, La Commanderie du Clos Montmartre (Hall of the Vineyard Managers). Probably the last vestige of thousands of years of Montmartre grapevines. Stephen came home to read and rest while Lib continued walking around the streets, visiting shops and just enjoying myself. We had a late lunch, more resting and then out to revisit Le Potager for our Last Supper ! The meal was as good but the vibe very different. It was a full house again, 26 but a different waitress who was slow and inattentive, she skimped on the wine and was just slack. Background radio did not please. Home for an early night before our 6am rise in the morning.
Day 26 Monday May 21
Up at 6am, Uber to Charles de Gaulle airport and a 10.35 am Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi arriving about 5.45 pm. The flight was only about 2/3 full so after one movie, The Post, Lib was able to get a few hours sleep stretched across 3 seats while Stephen continued his movie watching. 2.5 hr stop over then took off for our 13 hr leg to Melbourne. Best flight ever … lots of spare seats so after the woman next to Lib relocated we had a whole row of 4 to ourselves. Lib was able to sleep lots with the aid of 2 sleeping tablets and Stephen continued his movie watching. Landed after 27.5 hours to cold wet and windy Melbourne on Tuesday May 22.
- Loved the train travel between cities. So much more relaxing that flying. No driving to airport, security and waiting.
- Autumn has proved a much better time to travel than European summer which is peak season, hot and soo crowded. The weather has been varied, cold to very warm but always manageable.
- We have enjoyed staying in just 4 places over 27 days. Our days have been full but its wonderful not having to pack and move every day or so.
- Many Germans are big, tall and heavy, MUCH more so than the French or the Belgians.
- Helpful people everywhere we went, most had enough English to assist us when we needed it.
- Pre booking special excursions REALLY PAYS OFF ! Thanks Stephen xox
- Always take hat, gloves and coat ! We Bathers too
- Paris is a truly magnificent city … we will be back !
Map of Places mentioned: https://goo.gl/maps/ySDwK3fqGxBBtLHM9