Back home in Newcastle, seeing Granny, Grandad, Mapu (Uncle Paul), Auntie Tort, Uncle Ian, Nathan and Ganna. Nice to be part of the big family again, be in a lovely place surrounded by big, bouncy dogs. Also nice, to let kids wander off with various family members to catch a bit of peace and quiet! 6 weeks full on, 24/7... :-)) We even managed to get away for one night without kids - thank you, Manners family!
Had a trip up the coast to Bamburgh, Holy Island and Etal Castle - former home of the Manners family dating back to the Norman invasion. Surreal to see the name everywhere - and yes, related by blood somewhere along the line - though via 'natural' sons... ;-) Very interesting day.
We enjoyed day trips to an amazing little animal park with tonnes of animals we had never seen (bush dogs..? similar to Tasmanian devil), medieval pubs for ice cream and coffee. The kids helped Uncle Mapu get the combine ready for harvest and fed some lambs as well as going with Grandad sort out his cows and sheep.
We left on Saturday and returned Monday... a long trip back again. Nice to be home :-)
We arrived via Eurostar through numerous security checks. Have to say, I was getting used to lots of armed police and army visible in every city, train station, airport etc right through mainland Europe. Nada in London. Think I prefer seeing them...? Weird.
The Underground - still the same though lots of helpful staff in case you end up on the wrong train. Still easy to get lost, especially when the lines close for maintenance and you end up on four different trains versus one. At one such point, we ended up on a London bus, driving past Harry Potter and the Cursed Child theatre opening - red carpet and all! Sadly, no J.K. Rowling in sight :-(
London Eye, Thames boat cruise (I think we have a bit of a boat theme...?) which was a good way to stop off at places without a train maintenance stop... Tower of London, Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Circus (no circus, sadly - Latin circus = circle i.e. sort of a roundabout!), British Natural Museum, Big Ben, Westminster, Buckingham Palace... you get the idea. Shakespeare museum.
But the best part was catching up with Antony's childhood friend and his family - Terry, Liz and Joe. Wish you were here :-) Or us there. Next catchup is somewhere halfway and warm!
Next and last stop: Kings Cross station to Newcastle.
What can you say about Paris that hasn't already been said? Had a ball :-) We stayed in the Latin Quarter, right next to the University of Paris across from the Luxembourg Gardens. Fabulous area to stay in - 5 minutes walk to the Notre-Dame and the hop-on, hop-off Seine boat tour.
We visited Palace de Versailles, Champs Elysee, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame, Le Centre Pompidou, Place de la Concorde.... so much to see!
We caught up with my childhood friend, Soizick who has been living in Paris with her family for nearly two years (lucky her!) and had lovely dinners out in old and very french restaurants - also very authentic toilets from the 1800s! It has made it very special to visit family and friends on this trip - the icing on the cake :-)
I loved the Eiffel Tower - it was bigger than I expected! The boat tour was an easier way to see things than to walk everywhere but it took a while to get around. The buildings that we saw were amazing! The palace was humungous and the gardens were very nice. By Tess
Having made our way north in a relatively tiny rental car - thanks to Europcar who were completely incompetent - we arrived in a stunning little village called Azay-le-Rideau which had it's own little chateau but was unfortunately being renovated and covered in building paper.
We made our way around villages and chateaus to visit Leornado da Vinci's retirement home - Chateau du Clos Luce - where he lived inside a beautiful little chateau with a huge park dedicated to some of his many inventions. Bridges, armoury, flying machines, the first car... you name it - he probably invented it centuries before they were 'discovered'.
There are literally hundreds of chateaus in this area - we chose Chateau de Chenonceaux as our other main visit as it was close by and was an unusual build for its time. Built across a river and having an interesting history of royal french women with an extensive park and art gallery, it could easily be one of my favourites... but then, I have given up on favourites - they are all stunning! We also managed to go find a lake to try our hand at fishing... well, we saw the fish! Happy days :-)
Well, what can you say apart from the wine, the buildings and the huge river? The city was much bigger than anticipated and took quite a bit longer to navigate - especially as we always have a tendency to get lost and walk about twice as much as we plan to - though we have found this is the best way to see the 'real' city :-) We found lots of art, street art and beautiful food (& wine, of course!). The old cloister we stayed in was apparently over a 1,000 years old but it was far too nice inside to make you believe it. Pretty much all the places we have found have been amazing - can highly recommend the places in Italy, France and Spain. We had planned to visit Dune du Pilat (Europe's largest sand dune) but unfortunately, this coincided with all the northerners travelling south to the beaches and we ended up in an hour gridlock just trying to leave the city. So we headed north to Chateau country - or fairytale country :-)
Given this was my idea, I was apparently the captain. Having obtained a boat licence in NZ over 25 years ago – nevermind the fact, I’m a sailor not a canal boat driver – this was like driving a large bus on ice, steering from the rear, with the back end swinging about like a drunken sailor.
Thankfully, Antony was much better at swinging about (more drunken practice…??), so I could resume my usual post of navigator. After a driving lesson from our guide of all of 15 minutes, we headed off. Large amount of beautiful French wine consumed at end of first day to relieve huge stress load. Much better next couple of days when we moored off early morning to avoid the traffic. The kids got efficient at mooring, casting off and playing cards.
French villages, churches and chateaus just like a picture postcard. We would travel about 2-3 hours, moor up, have lunch, have a sleep and then drive for another hour to find a sleepy village for dinner. Some scary hairpin bends coupled with very, very small bridges in a rather large, long, flat bottomed-boat ended perfectly with finishing parked in front of the bar/restaurant right next to the dock.
Two train rides later, we arrived in the fairy tale township of Carcassonne. The area was settled 2,500 years ago and turned into the largest, still inhabited castle in the world. The kids celebrated this with a game of tag in the evening, getting lost in the castle and finding the best lolly shop ever. We also managed to buy the most expensive macaroons in the world – 12 Euro per packet and we mistakenly bought two! This was offset by a stunning dinner and managing with our school French in a place where they don’t really speak any anglaise. Just magical.
Stunning city and not just because of Gaudi (pronounced Gaudeee in Catalan). The city prides itself on having one tree per 17 people – large avenues of beautiful buildings very reminiscent of Venice with their ornate balconies that people used to parade themselves on. The more ornate the balcony, the richer the owner of the building – apparently. The shops in the city centre are definitely a stark contrast to the shanty town you see from the train.. Prada, YSL, Tiffany etc. Not as many armed police officers though Barcelona is apparently well known for pick pockets. We did mysteriously lose my cash card, which Antony was probably quite happy about!
Casa Battlo – one of Gaudi’s best known houses, tells the story of St George and his battle with the dragon – the roof shows the scales of the dragon and the tower with the cross handle is the sword handle.
Casa Mila – or La Pedrera (the quarry) is the other ‘domestic’ house that was built to provide an income as well as the most beautiful building for Barcelona. It is still rented out though the tenants have to put up with tonnes of tourists nosing about. Interestingly, both wives of Mr Battlo and Mr Mila were resentful of the large amounts of money spent on these buildings and Mrs Mila ripped out the interior of their apartment, the moment Gaudi was buried.
Gaudi died as he was hit by a tram on his way to La Sagrada Familia. Sagrada Familia - wow. Just wow. I’m not really a huge church fan (mostly due to the large riches of the church in stark contrast to the people they are supposed to protect as well as the corruption and power hungry clerics etc...!) – but this is just beautiful. The colours of the stained glass windows and the huge columns inside… will definitely come back to see it when it’s finished.
Manners family reunion! In Javea we meet Uncle Joe, Mapu, Josh, Ally, Auntie Tort, Nathan, Granny & Grandad. When we woke up in the morning, we found the pool! We dived in because we were sweaty and hot. We went on a bouncy, obstacle course inflatable in the sea by the hotel. The second time we went on the inflatable, there were lots of jellyfish and we had to get off. The boys got stung a little bit. One night, we had teppanyaki for dinner and the next we had Spanish. I especially like the seafood paella. We also went on a boat trip to a different town - when we got there, we had lunch and mostly we ate salad as it was so hot. Mum and I also discovered a jewellery shop and I got some love heart earrings. Javea was very, very hot and it finally rained on the last day we left for the train station. It was really nice to see all the family together.
Well, what can you say. One of the oldest civilisations in the world and we can see and feel the real physical remains of our politics, architecture, culture and society. Nothing else to add. Pictures say a thousand words :-)
However, ... they don't show the blisters and bleeding feet, the sweat drenched clothes and the smell of pizza and red wine... amazing city and amazing experience.