18 November 2008

Paris Trip Week 3

The final instalment for our overseas trip takes us to Paris. There was a little bit of mayhem and frustration in departing London after missing the two ideal trains to connect to Kings Cross, and then a further two possible trains because they were too full in the peak hour, it was easy enough to recognise we'd miss our original Eurostar. Thank God there was another one running which we were able to get aboard.

The Eurostar trip was worth it, and after cooling down and a bit of a nap we had crossed the English Channel (via the 'Chunnel') and were speeding towards Gare Du Nord in Paris. We spent a lot of time trying to adjust to the new country, and I quickly learnt not to reply too anxiously to foreigners who ask if you can speak English - I was quickly presented with a piece of paper basically asking for money...

Eleonor was able to work out how to purchase 5 day unlimited train and bus tickets to get us around Paris and then we were off to our first hotel which was a nice enough place. We decided to write-off the rest of the day, unfortunately though Eleonor would get sick from a pizza we cooked up later that evening.

The next day the weather had come in so it was wet and dreary in Paris, but we had a ticket on an open-top tour bus to take today so we went. It wasn't too bad in the undercover section of the bus (once we found where to board the damned thing!). We were treated to an audio commentary as we drove around Paris seeing all of the sights, albeit sometimes in questionnable weather. We earmarked all the good places to go to for tomorrow...

As we had a two-day pass on the sightseeing bus, we ventured back to all of the main places we wanted to visit from the previous day. The weather had improved substantially so our first stop was George V along the Champs Elysées. We looked at Louis Vuitton, Colors of Benetton, Peugeot, Mercedes Benz and other exclusive shops along this famous avenue before heading to the Arc De Triomphe for a look.

We took the bus up to Trocadéro which offers wonderful views of the Eiffel Tower and went to look at a market setup down the road. But it must be a morning market as they were all closing up by the time we got there. So we went back to Trocadéro and caught the bus to the foot of the Eiffel Tower where we snapped some photos and walked down the Champs de Mars.

Our evening's entertainment brought us back to the Eiffel Tower for dinner at the Altitude 95 restaurant which is on the first elevation of the tower. We then embarked on a cruise along the River Siene and learnt about Paris and it's many bridges. Following the cruise our group went to the Moulin Rouge to see the stage show Feerie (Fairy) which finished at a modest 1:15am!!!

The next day we ventured out to La Defense. We were intrigued by seeing the Grand Arch which is a huge building with a hollow centre which can be seen from the Arc de Triomphe. The entire area of La Defense is filled with modern architecture which was quite amazing to be amongst. We then headed back via foot and metro to a small tucked away place along the Siene where a small replica of the Statue of Liberty stands. We then continued back into Paris to see Museé D'Orsay. We picked the right day as it was open late for us to take all of it in.

Our final day in Paris we decided to hit the souvenir shops for those final purchases before spending the rest of the time in the Louvre. I think Eleonor would have needed a week to have covered everything in that museum! I saw the real Mona Lisa and was happy with that, but time got the better of us before we had to head back to our hotel, get our bags and head to Charles De Gaulle Intl for our flight back home.

What a holiday! It's hard to sum it all up here concisely without going into too much detail, but on the same note I know I'm missing a lot of the detail as well. We definitely visited some great places which we'd recommend anyone go see if you get the chance.

Even three weeks after getting back, my head's still over there in holiday mode :)
For more photos from Paris, check here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=68813&l=2aa35&id=574363344

I'll return you to your normal programming from here, thanks for reading!

13 November 2008

UK Trip Week 2

Continuing from the previous week, Eleonor and I got some time to relax a little as we moved in with Eleonor's brother Henry in Dalston, not too far from the centre of London.

On our first day, Henry guided us through to London's South Bank from Waterloo station and we took a 'flight' on the London Eye giving us amazing views over London and the Thames. Back down on Earth we walked along the river towards London Bridge taking in the sights.

The following day we visited Maddam Tussauds where we were freaked out by the many figures there and took the opportunity to 'hang out' with famous people on display. We decided (over ambitiously) to walk to Buckingham Palace, so we took in the wonderful colours of Regents Park, and the hustle and bustle through Oxford Circus taking stops at clothing stores and Hamley's toy shop. We worked our way to Piccadilly Circus as the sun was setting and realised Buckingham Palace was out of reach. Henry met up with us and we had a look through Leicester Square nearby.

Another big day beckoned as we head off for Cambridge to catch up with some of Eleonor's travel friends and to check out the Imperial War Museum at Duxford. We were frustrated with a somewhat confusing bus system at Cambridge railway station but we made it to Duxford and had just enough time to check out the two main hangars I was interested in. We stepped aboard the pre-production prototype Concorde, stood beneath a Vulcan bomber's bomb bay, boarded a BOAC VC10 and checked out the US Air Force Museum as well. From there we headed back into Cambridge where our friends Colette and Julia met us and gave us an in-depth tour of the many colleges in the city. We stayed overnight thanks to their wonderful hospitality, and began the following day retracing their steps.

Once we got back to London, Henry had booked us tickets to see a stage show in Leicester Square. We watched 'Avenue Q' which can only be described as Sesame Street for adults. It was a hilarious show though.

We could slow the pace down the following day as we were set to meet up with some family friends of ours in my old stomping grounds when I was a kid. Ted & Teresa (my godparents) caught up with us for lunch and we got a nice look at the English countryside on the River Crouch. Colin & Yvonne met up with us for dinner that same evening. It was great to be amongst friends after about 11 years since the last time we all caught up!

The week was quickly flying past, and we had a very early start on the Friday to head to Victoria Bus Station and catch a 2.5 hour bus ride to Bristol. I had been so excited about this day but had not realised how difficult (or how expensive) getting to Bristol could have been. We were able to take a quick look through the city before catching a bus to Filton where Airbus Industries are located, but, even more importantly we were here to look at a preserved British Airways Concorde. The last one to enter service, and the last one to fly a commercial flight from New York to London. The tour was excellent, and we were able to experience a mock-flight onboard, take a tour of the cockpit and explore every aspect of the exterior before I splurged my wallet into the souvenir shop!

On our return to London we caught up with Colette, Julia and their friends who had made a trip into London to catch up with us again for dinner, and give us a proper goodbye.

We had one more day to spend with Henry so we ventured back into the city and toured Tower Bridge and took a look at other places along the Thames including the Tower of London and St Paul's Cathedral later in the day.

The last full day in London we headed back out to the suburbs to catch up with the English side of my family, most of whom made the event at my grandparents place where we had a great catchup. We were treated to a wonderful roast and dessert. More importantly, it was great to see everyone was happy and healthy :)

For more photos, see the following link: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=67888&l=aa3b3&id=574363344

Week 3, where we head off to Paris will be coming soon.

Until then...

09 November 2008

October Update and the UK Trip

Hi All,

Been a while since I last blogged, but when you're on holiday I guess the priorities change. I'm not sure how other people actually get around to blogging whilst they are on holiday, but I can only guess they have enough time and energy leftover in the day to be able to do so!

Anyway, this is the long awaited UK Trip blog with photos. But first, I realised I didn't tie up the loose ends from before I left... which was attending the Pink Floyd Experience concert with Dad at the end of September.
'The Pink Floyd Experience' are a band from New Zealand and they put on an excellent show and tribute to one of the best bands of all time.

It was great to hear all the favourites such as Wish You Were Here, Shine on Your Crazy Diamonds, Another Brick in the Wall and a stunning finale in Comfortably Numb, but I also liked their renditions of Dogs of War and Learning to Fly which I had never heard performed live before.

Needless to say, both Dad and myself enjoyed the show immensely!

The UK Trip - Week 1...

So here we go! This will cover the first week of the trip (or thereabouts) which was the 8 day tour conducted by Trafalgar. We'd explore England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales in our travels, but we had no idea just how much could be crammed into such a short time period.

We gotta admit. It was a damn long flight to London! Etihad Airways did a good job and they were definitely comfortable in Economy Class. We were quite impressed by the seats and room available. Too bad the Aussie flights were so full so we didn't score the benefit of a window seat, but we thought the in-flight entertainment would make up for it. Too bad then that I had a dodgy unit. So for 14.5 hours I somehow survived on other things, but I did manage to scab off of Eleonor's unit to watch Kung Fu Panda on her screen!

Abu Dhabi Intl Airport has to have one of the smallest terminals in the world! Thank God they're expanding because it was crazy! Our flight to London was improved, we had a window seat this time (Etihad use a 2-4-2 seating layout) and working IFE! I gave Eleonor the window seat, but she started feeling nauseus so she didn't enjoy (or even look at) the view of London as we arrived in the morning :(

Her brother Henry met us at Heathrow and inducted us to the London Underground (Tube). He scooted off to work and we found our way to our hotel at Islington, on Pentonville Rd (Monopoly anyone?). We spent the first day walking around Angel and doing some shopping etc before crashing in our hotel and getting ready for the trip ahead.

The first day of our trip would take us to Stratford-Upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare and onto York before arriving at our next hotel in Leeds. We had a look at the house where Shakespeare lived and many shops along the streets of Stratford-Upon-Avon. We even stumbled across a small collectors fair just before we had to get back on our bus and found a number of goodies. York's Minster was amazing to behold both inside and outside and we also looked at The Shambles and other places around the town.

Our next day would take us further north through the Lakes District and a cruise on Lake Windermere. England's largest lake. Our guide sounded a bit like Ringo Starr, but he had a good sense of humour. The weather looked beautiful but it actually was quite cold outside. Nevermind that, the 'Windermere Warmer' was sure to keep you lively, thanks to the alcoholic element more than anything else! From Windermere we continued onto Scotland, passing towns and power stations in the landscape we got to Gretna Green, a famous town just inside the Scottish border, famous for marrying British couples due to differences in laws between the two countries. We pushed onto Glasgow where we would be staying the next couple of nights, but our night's entertainment would be in Bannockburn where we were treated to Haggis, bagpipes and a display of Scottish dancing.

Edinburgh was our next stop the following day where we were given an introduction to both the new and old cities, and then let loose to do as we pleased. We climbed the Scott Monument as our first priority and though it was hard due to the narrow staircases and the shear height, we were well impressed with the views at the top. We then walked along the 'Royal Mile' in the old city to Edinburgh Castle (via a nice lunchstop!) The castle was awesome, and you could easily spend a lot more time in there what with the Crown Jewels on display (recommended 25 mins, we did it in less than 5!), and the Scottish War Museum etc...

We were back in Glasgow for dinner before heading off the following day for the Stenaline ferry over to Belfast. We got a bit of gloomy weather in this section but the ferry trip was short and smooth, while Belfast was interesting to take a look at. We had lunch at the Europa Hotel, which is famous for being the most bombed hotel in all of Europe. Nice statistic hey?

From Belfast we continued onto Dublin. Entering the Republic of Ireland we were now seeing speed limits in km/h and realised our Pounds won't help us anymore with currency... eeek! It was no problem anyway as we toured Dublin and found an ATM.

We had a good look around Dublin, seeing all the parks both inside and outside the city, the grand Post Office and the Millennium Spire, otherwise known as the 'Erection at the Intersection'. Eleonor was even lucky enough to find a Leprechaun, but she didn't find his gold.

That evening we went out to an Irish pub for some entertainment of the dancing kind and from an Irish Comedian. No trip to Ireland would be complete without either of those two!

Our next stop was Waterford, a city south of Dublin. We had a look at the Waterford Crystal factory with 5-digit Chandeliers for sale, and other beautiful crystal accessories. In the evening we were off to another Irish pub for some more entertainment provided by a nice Irish family.

The next day we were off early again for a ferry to Wales. We made Cardiff by the afternoon and taken on a tour of Cardiff Castle before heading to our hotel nearby. Eleonor and I ventured into the city to checkout the waterfront area.

Our last tour day we left Cardiff headed back for England and checked into Bath. The Bath Cathedral and Roman Baths were standouts in the city centre, but we also looked at Royal Crescent where the tour group were amazed to see their first squirrel! I roamed the city and its shops while Eleonor went off to checkout a fashion exhibition at the other side of town.

From Bath we headed to Stonehenge and we were able to take a good look around the site before our bus returned us to London and we reunited with Henry at his place in Dalston.

We had covered so much, it's so hard to fit it concisely into a blog post, or even include enough photos for you to see what we did! There are more available at the following link: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=67241&l=5a8ce&id=574363344

I'll get onto Week 2 shortly :)

Until then...