It’s hard to believe we’ve been here almost 6 months already, how time flies! We knew at this point that we’d have to go to France to swap the car over, so we thought we’d make a vacation of it and do the Disneyland thing at the same time.
Our route to Paris took us through Northern Italy and Switzerland. Como seemed a logical place to stop on the first day, and I’ve always wanted to see where George Clooney lives! The highway coming in to Como gives a spectacular view of the town. Surrounding a central lake, there are gorgeous old buildings and magnificent mansions dotted amongst the hills that rise above the town. Once you descend and drive along the lake’s edge, you can see that the town is truly a playground for the wealthy. There is a marina with water planes taking off frequently and the town has many expensive designer boutiques. The restaurants and cafes are very fashionable and we even drove past a lovely old building which was just for personal banking. Nice. We parked and walked around the town for a while, admiring the architecture and the spectacular cathedral that dominates the piazza. We didn’t see George, but then again we hadn’t called ahead to announce our arrival 🙂
Upon leaving Como, you must go through the Swiss border. Nothing much happens there, except the signs all change to German and an official-looking Swiss man looks at you briefly and waves you through. The countryside through Switzerland is spectacular! Huge mountains rise up all around, some with waterfalls cascading down the sides. The grass is practically glowing with green and the trees and flowers are lush with Springtime colour. There are lakes and little Swiss villages surrounding them, the buildings looking like something out of a story book. It’s so interesting how the architecture changes in just a couple of kms from the Italian style villas to the little Swiss chalets. After a large amount of tunnels (and an equally large amount of flatulence from the back seat!), we arrived at the St.Gotthard Tunnel. Before entering, we were pulled over by the Swiss police who asked to see our “highway pass”. We did the dumb tourist routine (the guy spoke English though…dam!) and asked what it was and where to get it. Turns out its 40 swiss francs and you need to have one in order to drive on the roads there. They can be purchased from any service station. We drove on, giving an assurance that we’d get one*, and entered the 16km long tunnel. What a fantastic feat of engineering! The tunnel runs through the mountain, cutting much time off the journey if you had to go over it and is quite a smooth drive, even if you feel you’ll never see daylight again. We emerged on the other side, got the GPS signal back, and continued on to Lucerne. After finding our hotel (we only got lost once and had to ask a policeman), we went for a walk around the city. Lucerne is a very beautiful place, full of history and gorgeous architecture. It is situated around the Reuss River and has the inspiring backdrop of mountains that you’d expect from a Swiss city. There is a very cool covered bridge that spans the river diagonally: The Chapel Bridge. Built in 1333, the bridge is the oldest wooden bridge in Europe and you could spend hours just looking at the different paintings on each section. It’s a work of art! We crossed to the other side, the Old Town, and sat outside Starbucks where we met a nice Swiss man who told us a little about living there and answered all of Chris’ nosy questions. He was very nice and spoke such good English. The day was sunny and warm even in the late afternoon, and we strolled along the river listening to the bells, the buskers and the general bustle of a lazy Sunday. Lucerne is definitely somewhere we’d consider living and we plan on returning one day.
(*we never did get that pass! Ooops!)
After the best breakfast we’ve had so far in Europe (Swiss food is excellent!), we embarked on the loooooong drive to Paris/Disneyland. The roads were very good, but you travel at such high speeds and for such a long time that it becomes hard to concentrate. Chris did an amazing job at getting us there safely! Along the way there were many castles and Chateaus to be seen off the highway (after the French border) and the countryside was all rolling hills, little french villages and cows in the fields. Not a lot to do except listen to the songs on the USB stick, play DS and pay the numerous road tolls as they came up. Coming into Paris though, things start to get interesting. Such a lot of traffic and so many lanes of it going every which way! We were trying to skirt around Paris to get to Disneyland and I still can’t believe we managed it. Instead of the insane speed-freaks you get in Italy, the French are rude and cut you off at every opportunity. Nevertheless, we felt like the Griswalds when we finally arrived at
Wally World Disneyland and checked in to our Disney hotel. Our package allowed us to visit Disneyland and Walt Disney Studios whenever we wanted for the 5 days we were there, so we headed straight over to Disneyland for a couple of hours before closing time so we could get our bearings for the days ahead. We went on a few rides and walked around the park, the kids were very excited to be there. Afterwards, we walked back through Disney Village (just shops and restaurants) to our hotel. I have to give Disney credit, they do a very good theme park and the grounds are immaculate. There is no rubbish lying around and the gardens are perfect; almost fake looking. Beyond our hotel was an artificial lake which made for a lovely stroll on the way to the parks, then we were funneled through Disney Village and eventually to the park entrance. This is all good, except when you have been walking all day and your feet are like hamburger patties. You can hear them slapping on the pavement and every step is sharp agony. Wouldn’t it be great if there were some sort of shuttle? There is….but it’s not free (in fact 8 euros for the 4 of us one way). This is where the nickle and dime fest begins. Everything is extra! There is only Wi-Fi available on some floors of the hotel and then it’s 10 euros a day. The towels for the pool must be hired at 2 euros. Really? You can go swimming but drying off afterwards is not included? The breakfast is very basic and does not include anything cooked (eggs are an extra 7 euros each) and you are not allowed to take a croissant “to go” because of “hygiene reasons”. Yeah right! It’s because of “we want you to pay through the nose for a hotdog in the park” reasons. Bags are checked on entry to the parks, although nobody says why. I think they’re checking for outside food actually, but I never brought any in to check my theory. Of course I expected all of this going in, I have been to Disney in the US after all and it’s the same deal. We sucked it up and paid the big bucks anyway, but I must say I’m getting a little bit annoyed at the blatant money-grabbing philosophy of Disney. There is a fine line between giving your customers value for money and making a big profit. I believe that both are possible when the balance is right, but Disney are tipped too far towards the profit side and are only pissing people off in the process. Here’s an idea Disney: make the Hotel a little more expensive (it’s already outrageous…but hear me out), and then include EVERYTHING else for free. This would make people think they were getting value, yet you’re still looking after your bottom line. Happy customers, happy bank balance. Just a thought… All whinging aside (and the rash that Balin got from the bed linen), we had a good time at Disneyland. I preferred the rides at Disney studios which were a bit more “adult” and thrilling, but there’s something for everyone at both parks. I particularly liked the main street facades and would like to do something like that in the gardens of our property in Tassie. Sort of like a “fantasy village” to enjoy at home. I realize I’m eccentric, but it’s good to have a hobby!
There is a train station right in the Disney grounds, and you can get tickets to go into Paris for the day very easily. We got an early train and enjoyed an interesting ride into the city, complete with beggars (handing out business cards! They have cards now?) and annoying buskers ON the train. We emerged from the subway onto the Champs-Élysées with the Arc de Triomphe right in front of us! What a great first impression of beautiful Paris. It was such a lovely day, we decided to walk to the Eiffel Tower. We walked through the busy streets (it’s Mansard roof heaven!!) and met a nice American man who lives in Paris. He told us the “inside” information on Paris and showed us a shortcut to the tower. We ended up on the plaza of the Place du Trocadero and took the obligatory photos amongst the annoying street vendors selling little models of the Eiffel tower and all manner of other cheap souvenirs. The tower is much bigger than I thought it would be, and actually quite pretty. The kids called it “the black pole” from a distance, but it’s so nice up close. We sat under it and had a snack. We didn’t climb up as the crowds were too large and the kids wouldn’t have endured the wait, but we took photos and walked all around it. By the time we jumped on the “open tour” bus, we’d had enough of the tower and were happy to continue on around the city. The photos will show you some of what we saw, but most memorable was Notre Dame (I had a 10 euro cappuccino at the cafe across from it) and the Louvre. The Mona Lisa was much smaller than I imagined, and it was very hard to take in all of the famous art in that place. We walked through room after room of incredible pieces and it became like “oh, there’s a famous artwork. There’s another famous artwork. Look, more famous artworks”. Visual overload, but such a privilege to behold. Funny story: as we were crossing the Pont Neuf (right after I had yelled at a beggar….another funny story), I heard someone say “Rini?”. I looked up and it was Manuela! I mean what are the chances?? Manuela is a friend of ours who lives a couple of villages over in Virgoletta, she was in Paris interviewing some famous model for the magazine she works for, and we happened to be on the same bridge at the same time. In a city of 2.2 million people it was such a fluke! Our long and tiring day ended with dinner at a little outdoor cafe on the Champs-Élysées. I don’t remember the meal really, it was just so cool to be there!
On the last day in Paris, we took a trip out to see the Palace of Versailles. It’s was less than an hour there, and quite easy to find as you can see the enormous Palace from the highway! Once there though, it’s not so easy to get in (with a “no entry” sign on the carpark entrance can you blame us for missing it?). In fact, we found this particular tourist spot one of the most “user un-friendly”. Tickets are purchased in a different area to where the entrance is and not much English is spoken amongst the staff there. Making it inside is well worth it though, and once again we were awed by the visual overload of such opulence. There were some rooms where not a single centimetre was left unadorned with decoration. So many beautiful things to look at: tapestries, paintings, sculptures, wallpaper, furniture. I found Marie Antoinette’s bedroom to be the most interesting. The Hall of Mirrors was also quite dazzling, although full of tourists. The crowds were very annoying, but to be expected in such a place. After our tour, we went outside to explore the vast gardens and opted to take a tour on a golf buggy around the grounds. It was great fun driving around the little pathways past the fountains and manicured avenues. We met another Australian family driving a golf buggy too (Hi Sydneysiders!!) and it was kinda cool to hear an Australian accent after so many months here. We finished the day with dinner at a Restaurant in the gardens, again a wonderful setting to eat and memorable for the filet mignon (unfortunately not a good memory….as it caused some trouble for both Chris and I the next day in a gastric sense).
We left Paris and Disneyland early in the hopes of beating the weekend traffic out of the city. The roads were OK actually, and we made it to Lyon without any major hassles. The city of Lyon proved to be an unexpected pleasure. It’s a very nice city with lots of those lovely old french buildings and has TWO rivers running through it. Two rivers makes for lovely arched bridges and there were plenty of those. Our hotel was right in the action and we walked through the busy streets amongst people enjoying the warm day: shopping, eating and just hanging out. We went into the “old town” where there were shops and restaurants galore as well as tourist attractions such as a small version of Notre Dame and a pretty impressive Basilica up on the hill above the city. We had dinner at a cafe on the street there and people-watched for a while. The next morning, we were delighted to discover markets all along the rivers. We walked through an amazing food market full of cheese, vegetables, fruits, roasting meets, olives, wines, juices, pastries and breads. The quality of the produce was top notch and it was tempting to buy everything in sight. I would have liked to have gone through the other art markets too, but we were out of time and had a long drive ahead of us back home that day. We did have some trouble getting out of Lyon actually, as is the case with cities full of one way streets, but soon were on our way through France again heading back towards the Italian border. The tolls bled us dry all the way home, and in the end I was happy to see signs in Italian again and happy to arrive back in little ol’ Groppo!
It turns out, we have to go to France again (Nice) this Thursday to get our car, so there’ll be Nice pictures later in the weekend…..and they’ll be nice too 😉 I was determined to have Crêpe Suzette in France and didn’t get the chance last week, so maybe I’ll get to do that this time around. I will be sure to get a photo of it.
PS: Happy Birthday Ken and Andrew!! We miss you guys ♥