Day 17: Milan – Geneva

We weren’t catching the train until 12.25pm today, so we luxuriated in our hotel room until about 11.30am, then went across to the train station for a snack before we boarded the train.

Has pack, will travel.
Has pack, will travel.

The first class carriage was rather nice on this Swiss train (the Italian first class carriage was a bit average). We journeyed in style and comfort from Milan to Geneva. The border crossing was very uneventful – not even a passport check!

It was quite nice having some time just to stare out the window at the countryside, and interesting to see it change from flat farmland to hilly then mountainous.

Nothing to do except admire the scenery
Nothing to do except admire the scenery

We arrived in Geneva about 4pm, and didn’t get to the hotel from the train station until about 6pm – it should have been a 15 minute journey. It was an adventure! First of all, it started POURING with rain just as we pulled into the Geneva station. Rather than taking the sensible option of going straight to the hotel, we opted to stick to Plan A: Do Laundry, and got very wet in the process. After getting to the laundromat and realising that we didn’t have any local currency, we aborted Plan A, and went with Plan B: WTF Are We Doing.

Somehow it escaped our attention that the Swiss have not adopted the Euro, so we had to get some Swiss Francs. We could not find an ATM anywhere in the train station (there are dozens of them, we just couldn’t find one!) so we abandoned Plan B and went with Plan C: Eat Pasta Until We Feel Better. That worked a treat, and so slightly less wet and a lot poorer ($80 for two plates of pasta, OMG!) we found an ATM, got some money, purchased a train ticket for the Airport (where our hotel is) and found our way to our home for the next three nights.

The hotel is lovely – super comfy room, fast internet, a great restaurant, and it’s a quick walk to the airport where the train takes us to town.

We still needed to do laundry, so after a brief regroup, we headed back into town to the laundromat. While sitting waiting for our washing to dry, it dawned on me that the girls sitting outside the laundromat were not in fact waiting for their washing to finish. There were about 10 working girls lined up on the street outside the laundromat, and we watched them come and go from the building beside us. Awesome, we found a laundromat in the red light district.

How to spend a glamorous Saturday night in the red light district
How to spend a glamorous Saturday night in the red light district

We eventually made it back to the hotel about 10pm, only to discover that the Swiss have different power plugs from the rest of Western Europe! First stop tomorrow will be the Relay store at the airport to buy a new adapter…

Day 16: Milan

We had a lazy morning this morning, and headed off to the Duomo at about 9am. It was getting warm even then, and eventually got to 28C! Such a lovely day for sightseeing.

The Milan Duomo is magnificent. It is massive, with something to look at everywhere you look. It’s bristling with decorations and statues and finery.

The Milano Duomo
The Milano Duomo

It took us about three hours to see everything, including climbing the stairs to the tippy top for a grand view of the city.

After this we stopped for lunch in the Piazza del Duomo, and then did a quick tour of the Duomo Museum. They have a LOT of expensive looking religious art in there. It’s a bit overwhelming…

For something different, we decided to spend the afternoon at the National Science Museum. It has some very cool displays – food science, space, telecommunications, computing, transport (including an actual submarine!), and a fabulous collection of Da Vinci models, constructed based on his drawings. Very cool.

Highlights from the Science Museum
Highlights from the Science Museum

It was so hot and we were so tired, we stopped at the supermarket on the way back to the hotel for snacks, and had a snacky dinner in our hotel room and an early night.

Fancy Italian snacks!
Fancy Italian snacks!

Day 15: Avignon – Milan

Avignon-Milan

We were catching the train at midday today, so that meant a lazy morning. We mooched and had breakfast, and were packed and gone by 11.30am. Most of the hotels have a 12pm check-out time, super-helpful! It was bucketing down most of the morning, and the clouds parted just as we were checking out – phew! We knew we’d be okay though, Stephen had already tested his rain poncho over his pack. Sexy as.

The journey today involved a local train from Avignon city station to Avignon TGV (fast train), then a change of carriage at Marseilles (whoops, that was our fault), this one took us through to Nice. Then a quick change at Nice for the Nice-Ventimiglia leg on a local train, then a TGV fast train from Ventimiglia to Milan. OMGosh! It was a bit stressful – with turnaround times of about 10 minutes each change, we needed to find the new platform and get on the train quickly. We didn’t really think about food until we were on the last train for the day – at around 4pm. The French trains have a buffet car, so we assumed the Italian ones did too. Nope. I ate all my snacks and was still feeling a bit hungry when we arrived in Milan at 9pm. Going 12 hours without proper food must be some kind of a record for me! By 10pm, once we’d purchased our Milan-Geneva train ticket and checked into our hotel, we were feeling rather hungry. The easiest option was McDonalds in the train station. Yuck, but it will tide me over until breakfast.

Day 14: Avignon

We had a late start this morning – didn’t get up for breakfast until 9am. After availing ourselves of the full buffet breakfast we set off for the Palais des Papes. This is the reason we came to Avignon, and we were not disappointed. It is HUGE. It housed nine popes in the 14th and 15th century, starting when Benedict XII, the first French pope, was elected. During its construction, it was the biggest building site in the Western world. The main building took 20 years – so fast for the size of it! It took us three hours to take in all of the Palais. So much to see! We even had a brief stop at a café right at the top of the tower at the top.

The Palais de Papas (Palace of the Popes) is magnificent
The Palais des Papas (Palace of the Popes) is magnificent

We followed this up with another visit to the Pont Saint-Bénézet  and then the Musee du Petite Palais – which houses a massive collection of religious artworks. Extremely impressive.

An 800-year-old bridge!
An 800-year-old bridge!

After about five solid hours of touristing, we were happy to sit down for a while. The high for the day was 28C, so just a bit warm. We selected one of the many cafes in the main street and had a delicious meal (as usual!). We went back to the hotel for some R&R after this. About 8pm we emerged again, in search of ice cream. It was nice to be out for a stroll at dusk, the temperature was a bit more manageable. We didn’t linger though, as we were sharing the streets with a lot of homeless people at this point.

We seem to have settled into an eating routine that suits us. We eat a big breakfast (I have cereal, fruit, yogurt and toast, Stephen has some variety of bacon, eggs, sausages and pastries). That sees us through until about midday when we have coffee and I have snacks. Then we are ready for lunch/dinner around 3pm, and that’s our main meal. Then sometimes there are more snacks later if needed. I try and have a ready supply of tasty treats and fruit that I carry around in a big ziplock bag.

Snacks yo!
Snacks yo!

Day 13: Paris – Avignon

Paris-AvignonWe had to be on the train at 7.30am, so we made sure we were there nice and early to validate our Eurail pass and ended up with plenty of time for breakfast and finding the right train. We had decided to get the Metro to the train station, challenging but much more fun than a boring taxi!

The trip from Paris to Avignon was quick, with not much to see – mostly just tunnels and embankments, with some countryside.

We arrived in Avginon around 11am, so dropped our bags at the hotel and went to explore. It was warm and sunny – a nice change from the Paris rain. We wandered through the city centre, stopped for something to eat, and then found our way to the Pont Saint-Bénézet. We had a lovely time just laying on the banks of the river watching the world go by (and Stephen had a nap). To wake us back up, we walked the rest of the way around the city wall back to the hotel. We found a supermarket on the way, so got dinner supplies.

Once we hit the hotel, we were in for the night. We are staying at the Novotel – it’s comfy, and very close to the city and the train station. Weirdly, it has exactly the same décor as the Novotel we stayed at in Stevenage. Nice décor though, so I’m not complaining!

Day 12: Paris III

We didn’t have to be at the Arc de Triomphe until 10am today, so we had a leisurely breakfast and hit the Metro about 9am. We encountered commuter traffic, so a very busy train and it wasn’t until we got off that Stephen noticed his wallet was missing out of his front jeans pocket. We immediately called the bank and cancelled the cards. Not much else to do except be a bit annoyed. They got no money, and the most inconvenient aspect will be having to replace the driver license.

We’ve tried to sort out our money in a way that makes it hard to get ripped off – all of our money is stored safely away in the bank where it can’t be accessed by card (not without a PIN) until we need it, then we transfer it to our two credit cards. Then we use the OneSmart card to draw out cash each day, so we never have more than 50-100 Euro cash each. I also keep my cards in different places in my bag – one in a zip pocket, one in my wallet and one in my phone cover. That way if any of the cards are stolen, there isn’t much money on them to use, and we can still access our money.

We managed to get to the top of the Arc de Triomphe in between rain showers for a great view of the city.

View of the Eiffel Tower from the Arc de Triomphe
View of the Eiffel Tower from the Arc de Triomphe

We had a wander along the Champs-Eyleeses and decided to go to the Sacre Coeur since the weather was improving. It’s a lovely Catholic basilica (no photography allowed inside!).

The beautiful Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) basilica
The beautiful Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) basilica

We were sitting at the Metro waiting for a train to Bastille when Todd messaged that they were finished at the Louvre and ready for lunch, so we went to meet them. The sun was shining and we sat in the Louvre park and had a baguette. Delightful! The rain clouds were looming so we went back indoors and to the Metro. Todd and Kylie went off to Notre Dame and we went on to Bastille (nothing much to see there!).

Day 11: Paris II

We were up and out early this morning, hoping to beat the queues and the rain at Notre Dame Cathedral. We did good too – there were zero people waiting at the Cathedral entrance when we arrived, and there was a mass on too, very nice. The Cathedral is stunning – I’ve been here a couple of times already, but always keen for another look. It’s one of the best examples of gothic architecture in the world. The stonework outside is just awesome – gargoyles, beautiful statues and carvings.

Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral
Angels and demons
Angels and demons

The queue to go up to the top towers was just getting started when we came out of the Cathedral, so we joined that and had about a 15 minute wait (google warned me that the wait can be hours during the day). We went all the way to the very top of the Cathedral for stunning views of Paris, and an up-close look at the carvings. The queue for the Cathedral was veeeeery long when we came down the tower. Winning!

It was starting to rain as we came down, so we decided to head to the Louvre shopping area to wait out the rain for a bit – there are some nice shops and a Starbucks there. After about an hour the rain showed no signs of stopping so we went back to the hotel. On the way we stopped at the fruit shop and pastry shop for some snacks.

Out of the rain at Starbucks
Out of the rain at Starbucks
Snacks!
Snacks!

At about 3pm the weather looked like it might be clearing, so we went off to find a laundromat and had a lovely hour with some locals and their clothes.

And then it was still fine, so we had dinner at our local restaurant before going off for some more adventuring – to the Eiffel Tower. There were a gazillion tourists there, and heaps of street vendors selling trinkets and selfie-sticks. We had a lovely walk through the park and then stopped for ice cream before heading home again.

Eiffel
Selfies at the Eiffel Tower
Ice cream, yum!
Ice cream, yum!

Day 10: Paris I

We had a bit of a lazy today – we didn’t set off out for the day until about 9.30am. It was still early for most people – not much traffic, not many people on the trains, and best of all, hardly any people at the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay.

Confession…we didn’t go into the Louvre. I’ve been their twice, and Stephen wasn’t overly fussed, so we skipped it in favour of the Musee d’Orsay – it has a great collection of impressionist art – including some of my all-time favourite painting.

Self-portrait
Self-portrait

It was pouring with rain at this point, so we made a dash for the train after attempting to get to Notre Dame, and headed straight back to the hotel for a bit to dry out. It stopped raining after a couple of hours, so we headed out again – this time to the Eiffel Tower. We made it all the way there and the heavens opened up again, so we scuttled back underground and to the hotel. It’s a bit disappointing that it’s raining so hard, but also quite nice to have a quiet day, just cruising on the trains and popping up here and there.

Lucky I came prepared for the rain! Rain capes are de rigueur in Paris (for tourists anyway)
Lucky I came prepared for the rain! Rain capes are de rigueur in Paris (for tourists anyway)
Doubles as a kite when it's windy...
Doubles as a kite when it’s windy…

We also braved a local restaurant and had a delicious lunch/dinner of Guinea fowl and pilaf rice. The staff spoke excellent English, which makes me feel relief and shame in about equal parts.

It stopped raining again about 7pm, but we decided to stay in for the evening – we’re just enjoying some reading / TV / blogging time.

Day 9: Dover – Calais – Paris

Dover-Calais

Calais-Paris

We were up with the bird this morning, eager to make an early start. The ferry left at 8.25am and we needed to get there by 7.30. We were there just after 7am, and sailing at 8.25 on the dot. The crossing was really fast – I barely had time to get my laptop out to settle in for some blogging before we were in France!

We walked the 2.2km into Calais Ville (fully laden I might add!) and found the train station easily. It took some time to sort out our tickets for Paris – we failed to notice the English flag (language selection) on the ticket machine and had trouble deciphering the French. The lovely ticket booth man spoke good English though (as do most French) so we were fine. We managed to negotiate a ham sandwich with the local cafe lady – she had no English, but we bumbled our way through.

The train trip to Paris also went by quickly – less than three hours. We were speeding along at about 250km p/h most of the time. Arriving in Paris was an experience – it’s such an assault on the senses – so many people, so much noise, so much going on! But we figured out how to get money, buy our ticket to Avignon, find a taxi. Our hotel is lovely – we really lucked out there. It’s small, but very comfy and the staff are very helpful. And also just by a Metro station, so easy to get around.

We took a bit of a rest and then went for a bit of a wander. We jumped on the Metro to Champs Elysees and walked down to the Arc de Triomphe. Again, very overwhelming – there were so many people and cars everywhere! And the queue to go up the Arc was way too long. We found a Pret café while trying to figure out where to eat so took the easy option and had a sandwich for tea and went back to the hotel for the night. Big day!

Day 8: Canterbury – Dover

Canterbury-Dover

We started the day by going into Canterbury to check out St Augustine’s Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral. Both were really good – such history! This is the place of the founding of Christianity in England. Mind-boggling really. St Augustine himself was buried at the Abbey (although I don’t think he’s still there).

Canterbury Cathedral was spectacular. Big, beautiful and bristling with important English history. St Thomas Beckett is entombed here – he was killed in the church in 1170 by King Henry II’s soldiers. Apparently Beckett was causing the King a bit of trouble. Beckett was canonised soon after his death, and the Cathedral has been a pilgrimage site since then.

Canterbury Cathedral - very grand
Canterbury Cathedral – very grand

King Henry IV is entombed here also, as is Prince Edward, the so-called Black Prince.

We got to Dover about midday, and spent a lovely afternoon exploring Dover Castle. It’s at the top of a hill overlooking the ocean, and has been a defensive fort for almost 1000 years. It was an important military based during WWII – with big anti-aircraft guns defending London against the Germans.

The castle has a massive intact keep (tower at the top of a motte), with some really good re-creations of what it would have been like in its day – wall hangings and furniture etc. We had a good poke around.

Dover Castle - it's huge, with history all over the place!
Dover Castle – it’s huge, with history all over the place!

We completed our mission of dropping of the rental car and went to our hotel for a bit of much needed R&R. It’s been a busy week!

Tomorrow we finish our stay in England, and head off for France.