Changes of plans and other diversions

Originally we had planned to come home directly from Paris, but Peter was asked to stop off in Dubai for work, and when they offered to put us up as well, it was an offer too good to refuse. A text to my work and an e-mail to Nicola’s school, and we managed to change our flights.

It was 3 degrees and pitch black when we headed out for the airport. Nicola couldn’t believe that we got on the train with the same three roller cases that we left Australia with. Expandable cases are a wonderful thing!

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It was 23 degrees, and pitch black again when we arrived at Abu Dhabi. We got a taxi to our hotel in Dubai, around a 45 minute drive. We had coincidentally arrived on the UAE’s national flag day, so there were lots of lights, banners and car decorations in the national colours of red, white, green and black.

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Of course, we had packed for a Paris winter, so first thing on the agenda in the morning was bathers shopping. Unfortunately, the area where our hotel was located is very high-end shopping, and we couldn’t find anything suitable for either of us. In the afternoon we went to the Dubai Mall, where we managed to pick up bathers and a few extras, and also checked out the incredible Burj Khalifa.

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Photos really can’t do the building justice. Everything is a bit over the top in the UAE, and there are clusters of skyscrapers in what might be described as the “suburbs” of Dubai. Our hotel was 27 floors high, and there were probably at least 30 buildings that tall or more within a half hour walk along the beach (think Gold Coast, but more squished together). Then there’s the Burj, which makes everything else look like Lego construction. Just unbelievable.

So the plans for our second (and final) day in Dubai were for beach and pool activities, but fate stepped in yet again… gastro hit around midnight: Nicola had it worst (and first), then me, and Peter got out of it fairly easily in comparison. Probably something we ate, but who knows? Just one of the hazards of travelling.

It was just as well Peter had already arranged a late checkout, as Nicola and I found it difficult enough to get our bags packed by 1 o’clock. Then we mainly sat by the pool until Peter came back to the hotel and we were picked up at 3. At least Nicola got to wear her new bathers and had a little dabble in the pool.

The other planned activity was a visit to the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. As it is quite close to the airport, we wanted to make the effort to see it, as Peter had raved about it from a previous visit.

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It certainly lives up to its reputation: stunningly beautiful, amazing craftsmanship, even the multicoloured chandeliers that must be at least 5 metres in diameter couldn’t be described as “glitzy”, they look right at home in the huge space.

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Although we were a bit too exhausted to take it in properly, it was a lovely way to finish off our trip. Such beauty.

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Last fandango in Paris

How do you spend your last day of a holiday full of the culture, history, cuisine and sophistication of France?

At Euro Disney, of course!

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It was bitterly cold, and misty rain on and off, but we managed to have a blast anyway. Peter avoided most of the rides because of his back, but he is undisputed king of Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast. Nicola was nervous to go on Big Thunder Mountain, but as soon as it was finished, she was nagging to go again!

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Nicola decided against the Indiana Jones ride, but I took a deep breath and ventured on, and was rewarded with my first ever loop-the loop!

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Overall assessment: not as good as Anaheim, but fun. Enough indoor rides to get away from the weather if it’s a bad day. Food and souvenirs terrifyingly expensive. Not as many photo opportunities with the characters. But you gotta do it for the kids, right?

Best rides: Indiana Jones, Big Thuner Mountain, Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, and the classic Teacups.

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Paris treats

Celebrating a special Paris birthday for my special 14 (yikes!) year old daughter was fabulous. After birthday phone calls, gifts and breakfast, first up was the never-ending quest for good coffee, this time (successfully) at Dose, 73 Rue Mouffetard.

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Then one of those discoveries you make on the way to somewhere else, in this case St. Étienne-du-Mont, which I had never heard of but is a stunning church, with a gorgeously decorated chapel to Saint Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris.

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Next it was on to the Pantheon, interesting and impressing, but I found it a bit severe after the church.

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So amazing to see all those famous names in one place: Hugo, Dumas (born in the same year, I’d never realised), Curie, Voltaire, Rousseau, Braille, and so many others, but almost all their tombs were identical, with no expression of their unique personalities or gifts.

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So many stories, so many amazing lives…

I had to run some errands ( secret Mum’s business), so Peter and Nicola went shopping, and after we met back at the apartment, we all went out for a flash meal at the wonderful Cafe de l’Alma, at 5 avenue Rapp. Not cheap, but a fittingly magnificent end to a wonderful day.

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Avignon, so wet

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We picked up a hire car this morning and headed off to Avignon. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t very kind to us, with pretty steady rain all the way there.

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Still, we made it in one piece, and headed off to the Palais des Papes (papal palace) for a tour around the amazing complex dating back to the 14th century.

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The buildings themselves are amazing, some with frescoes either restored or not, but the history was even more fascinating. Political intrigue, treaties made and broken, accumulation of treasures, and then there were the theological arguments…

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Just imagining being there for an audience with the Pope, or to celebrate a special mass, made your hair stand on end.

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We got absolutely drenched getting from the palace to a cafe to warm up, then again making our way back to the car. We were a bit disappointed not to be able to enjoy more of what is obviously a beautiful town, but who knows? We may get back there some day.

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French food

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I’ve realised I haven’t posted much about the food we’ve been eating here in France, so here goes…

I have to say that the first few days were a bit hit and miss in Paris. Peter had a dodgy dessert that gave him gastro, Nicola had a couple of meals that had way too much cheese and rich sauce for her, and never having eaten a croque monsieur before, I finally had one and was not very impressed.

Add to that the fact that you spend Euros like AUD, and the menu prices don’t include tax, and you start to resent the fact that you’re paying very high prices for sometimes very ordinary food.

OK, gripe over. We have actually had some cracker meals too, and I’ll try to include restaurant names and addresses for future reference, just in case…

First great meal is pictured above, sorry I can’t remember the name of the place (near the Eiffel Tower), but the chicken was cooked perfectly, so juicy, and the gravy was fabulous. Didn’t get to try Peter’s prawn risotto, but he polished it off before I had finished my meal, so that’s a good recommendation.

Next awesome meal I don’t have a photo of, but was at a place called Cafe l’Atome, 29 Boulevard de Grenelle, also near the Tour Eiffel. I had chicken and lemon risotto, full of cream and dressed with pesto, so rich and yummy, but topped with a mound of rocket that cut the richness just enough to gobble the lot down! I’ll definitely try this one when I get home.

Skip down to Aix-en-Provence, and we have Hue Cocotte, 9 place Ramus, where the meals were mini-casseroles, served in little pots. Mine was veal, Nicola’s lamb and Peter’s baby octopus, all top notch and very reasonably priced.

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But best of all so far has to be la Cerise sur le Gateau, coincidentally right next door at 7 place Ramus. Also coincidentally, we had beef, lamb and calamari, all cooked in completely different ways to next door, and all fantastic meals.

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This tiny restaurant is a one-man show, with your host, waiter, chef, sommelier and dishwasher looking after you delightfully, in full view as he prepares your meal at the back of the minuscule space.

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The restaurant only seats a maximum of 14, so make sure you book, and bring your cash; no cards. Not that you will need much: we had mains and dessert for 3, plus 2 glasses of wine for €72.

And the food! Absolutely divine, with my fussy daughter wanting to take the chef home with her, and all 3 of us waxing lyrical over the meal. Highly recommended if you ever find yourself in Aix.

Bienvenue à Provence!

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After the stress of yesterday, I woke with a cracking headache (the half a bottle of vin blanc last night probably didn’t help…) so a slow start to the day was in order. I was a bit disappointed, though, to find that we had missed the market of Place Richelme, but we enjoyed cruising the streets and hunting out the makings for lunch.

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The ham might have cost close to $40 per kilo, but it was worth every cent; yum! Plus great bread, cheese and salad, and we were in heaven! Now, the challenge remains to find great coffee; the best we’ve managed to get so far has been deemed “drinkable” by the coffee snob of the family.

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Did I mention our apartment? Right in the middle of the old town, on the first floor of the building between the menswear shop and the crepes place (access via the brown door.)

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On a busy street, but quiet inside, so we’re happy.

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Friday = Strike Day

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Well, I suppose it had to happen. After everything going so well, we neded a bit of a disaster to even things up a bit.

First, after thinking that we’d packed up and left in good time to make our train, navigating the train connections was a nightmare: tickets not working in the station entrance, a train delayed (and not understanding the announcement so didn’t know if it was a 2 minute delay or a 10 minute delay), getting on the right train heading in the wrong direction, and not being able to find a ticket office open to validate our tickets when we finally made it to Gare de Lyon, 3 minutes after our train to Provence was due to leave.

As it turned out, the closed ticket office was because of a strike, so everyone else was in a state of bedlam too. Eventually we got some advice that our tickets were still valid, and we should just head to the platform and get on the next train. (Not sure whether this was the standard drill, or whether they were in a “don’t care, do what you want” mood because of the strike.)

Anyway, as soon as the platform for the Marseilles train was announced, there was a rush of people for the train, and we scrambled to get seats, managing to find two together for Nicola and me, and one a few places away for Peter. Oops! These seats had been reserved; usually there are markers to show which seats were reserved, but there were none, maybe also because of the strike???

For a while it looked like we might have to stand in the aisle all the way, but then a very kind English woman offered us her seat, as she was going to go and sit next to her husband, and we found a seat nearby for Peter and one a bit further away for me. At least we were on our way!

The rest of the trip was (fortunately) uneventful, and we got our connection on the local bus, and found our way to the apartment. Phillipe, our Airbnb host, was very gracious about our lateness, and showed us around the flat.

After settling in, we found a nice place nearby for a lovely dinner, then picked up some groceries on the way home. A load of washing and then we collapsed into bed.

The Louvre

Today was The Louvre Day! Anyone who has been there knows what I mean. With 35,000 pieces of art, it’s pretty daunting, even if (as we did) you only plan to see a small section of the place. This is partly due to the “OMG look at that” factor, as on the way to the Da Vincis…

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… you get bowled over by a Botticelli:

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Add to that the fact that the building is a work of art in itself…

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and the need to pass through multiple amazing collections…

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… to get to another…

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… and pretty soon you get Art Overload — Big Time!

Our solution is to break up the visit with rest breaks, including picking one piece to sit and do a sketch of, just to calm your brain down from all the over-stimulation.

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Oh, and by the way, what do you think of our new Paris clothes?

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Walking my legs off

Today we had a walking tour through the 6th Arr., hosted by the delightful Perrine, and booked through Paris Greeters. We learned a lot about the local area, architecture and idiosyncrasies of the area, for example the Hermes shop built in a disused swimming pool!

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We also visited Le Bon Marche, a gorgeous department store with gorgeous prices to match. At the bookshop on the top floor, the ceiling was designed by M. Eiffel (of the Tower fame), and like everything else in the store, lovely.

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Specially for TDPM… And no, we didn’t get you one!

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Perrine left us to our own devices, and after some lunch Peter went off to a work meeting, and Nicola and I explored the Saint Sulpice church which, at the time it was built, was the second largest church in Paris, after Notre Dame.

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Then we walked from our apartment to a new shopping centre down the road (I would have taken the train but didn’t know what station to get off at.) Strange that, with all the uniquely French shops around, we end up back at Zara and Uniqlo! But we managed to get a few things for Nicola and myself, so that was great. I limped almost all the way home, though.