Archive for September, 2010

04 Sep

Day 14 : Our full day in Paris

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / September 4, 2010 / 0 Comments

After a 9hr sleep in Paris, it was time to begin day 2 in this wonderful city. The weather was forecast to be 20º and sunny. After a predictable Parisian hotel breakfast of bread, ham, cheese, yoghurt and croissants we headed on our way. Our first stop was to the shopping mall, Galleries Lafayette. An increasingly sprawling network of old buildings linked together by overhead covered gangways. Each building catering for each requirement. There was the womens fashion, perfumery and fashion séduction (lingerie), mens fashion and ‘David Jones-esque’ food hall and so on. It is an amazing building inside with stain glass windows, vaulted dome ceiling and all the opulence by an bygone era. First stop was the fashion séduction level so Tory could browse for some new sexy undergarments. The selection was to the horizon. Every shape, colour, style and fabric was catered for. The change-rooms even catered for men, with each booth, a comfortable a pink ottoman awaited. Quite the ‘experience’. Some choice numbers were selected, paid for, tax free refund was collected and we made our way to the men’s building. After walking the several levels we were soon convinced that french men dressed like girls and besides that, the size XL did not exist.

Next mission was to find the food market area (Rue Montorgueil) as described in a book that Tory recently finished, ‘Almost French’ and also described in an article I read in the Weekend Australian before our departure. After some very good navigating via the map we found the district and it didn’t disappoint. We purchased a selection of cheese from a Frommagerié which included goat, sheep and cow milk variants. Some beautiful ham (Jambon) from little Italian Deli, a Tradtionalé Baguette and 2 punnets of raspberries. All that was left was the champagne. After some extra exploring we found a place that had all the best French in a fridge, chilling down. It seemed ‘right’ to get the Moét as we were in Paris. Lucky for us they sold glasses. We weaved our way around to the Louvre and found a lovely spot on the grass of the Jardin du Carosel (ohmigod – allowed on the grass in Paris?!?!?!!?!?) to sit and enjoy our lunch. A lightheaded champagne-y walk through the gardens, then to the d’Orsay for a look there. We got there just in time for a tour, and after our experience at the Orangerie yesterday where all signage was in french, we thought it would be a good option. The tour took us past only a dozen or so pictures and sculptures, but the basic art history lesson was very interesting.

We then walked through the back streets again, again marveling at just how French the buildings and streetscapes are, before getting to the Musee Rodin. We opted for just a wander around the garden, which this week is free as they are doing some building work in the garden, so it is not as peaceful as it could be.

We tossed up going to the catacombs, in the dying minutes of the day, but decided that after 26 km of walking so far today, our feet had had enough. We caught the metro back home, and rested up for dinner – an afternoon of texts home to Mike (armed with a computer and internet) and to Michelle (for her memory after Mike’s googling skills didn’t quite get where we want) and we asked our concierge to book a table for us at Chez Francoise – the restaurant in the old Air France terminal.

Chez Francoise was the locale for our wrap party over 2 years ago when we were shooting a travel doco. In between the haze of the night I remember it being a cozy, out of the way, French Restaurant. It is downstairs of the old Air France Terminal. Long before school dropouts with towels for hats decided to set light to their shoes and bring down planes, you could actually check-in to your flights in the city, hand over your luggage and then make your way to the airport. The old terminal still houses some car rental offices, but other than that it is mostly empty.

The restaurant was French the whole way, we guessed our menu items (Foie Gras was easy, aubergine with chevre was manageable, De Carnard – Duck and Grilé Bouefe – Grilled Steak), ordered a bottle of wine from Burgandy and enjoyed the atmosphere. We quietly poked fun at the rich upper middle class French types, tanned like buffalo leather and draped in gold and expensive glasses. Clearly several tables of clientele just arriving back from their mediterranean holidays, when in August 30% of French locals disappear on holidays. It was a great romantic 3 course meal and at just under $200 seemed like a perfect way to almost end our holiday of holidays.

04 Sep

Day 13 : Travel to Paris

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / September 4, 2010 / 0 Comments

An early start for the 5am taxi to the airport, and we get there just before the buses. A quick check in, and some breakfast in “Europe’s Favourite Airport” (still expensive food, rest assured) and we board our plane for Paris. Cannot believe how much carry on luggage people get away with – handbag plus hiking sized rucksack plus IKEA sized shopping bags, on you go, sure you can stow it overhead!

We arrive at CDG (probably Europes least favourite airport) and wait over an hour for the bags to come through. No customs check, no passport check, and no stamps for us from iceland nor france. Bit sad really – probably my next passport will just be a card rather than bothering with pages. And on to the trains.

Charlie was a bit horrified with my approach. I figure – I have to walk for a long way – with my dodgy shoulder I can’t carry much in my right hand for long so the handbag is slung across my body, the big pack is assembled for my back, and the little pack is across my front, koala style. Hands free for train tickets and maps. Perfect. Just not pretty. Chuck had to drag his bag – turns out not only do wheels suck going up or down stairs, they also suck on the footpath. Fearlessly navigating the metro and the streets, we change at Gare du Nord, then pop out at Galleries LaFayette for the walk to our hotel. Through the crowds at 3pm on a monday, trying to get orientated so I know which direction to go in. We get there, and lug our gear the remaining few hundred metres to St Augustin’s hotel.

We walked out towards Place de la Concorde, enjoying the Parisian streets and the glorious autumn weather – 18 degrees and sunny. Lots of places are closed on mondays – we need to remember that for next time 🙂 Jeu de Paume, a photography museum in the Jardin des Tuilleries isn’t open, nor the Orsay, but the Orangerie is – so we went in there to admire Monet’s waterlillies, commissioned especially for the building. They are huge. And beautiful. Our plan for the evening was to get to the Eiffel Tower, so we crossed the river and sat in a little bar, finding out first hand the price difference between not only the ‘terrace’ vs inside, but the tables vs the bar – twice the cost in some instances. Wandering the backstreets, as we get to the Invalides, Charlie spots the old Aerogard Air France – there used to be an Air France terminal, right in the middle of town, where you could check in for your flight, then travel out to the airport and board. Very civilized. He had enjoyed a dinner there on his last (work) visit to Paris, so we decided to try to eat there tomorrow.

According to my trusty Lonely Planet guide, there was a casual bistro on level 1 of the tower. We thought we’d try there. The girl at the information desk laughed at me after I enquired which Pillier to go up, and she asked if I had a booking. Oh well. Trusty guide book also suggested the new restaurant at the Musee de Quai Branly – the museum of the colonies, with the plants all over the outside wall. Not open mondays. We ended up at one of the tourist trap brasseries that are on most corners, in a room filled only with foreigners. Not quite the experience we were after, but the food was nice enough, and the service was good. We walked back to the Eiffle Tower. I had never been up it, so we wanted to do it at night. The line up was 45 mins or so, in the increasingly chill air,and as we made our way up, it got windier and colder. We were the only ones wearing t shirts (bloody Australians) and half the others had parkas on! The view was pretty cool, though.

We crossed the Pont d’Alma, took a pic at Diana’s flame (tomorrow is the 13 year anniversary of her death in this tunnel) and caught the metro home 3 stops.

04 Sep

Day 12 : Reykjavik

In Blog,Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / September 4, 2010 / 0 Comments

A nice quiet start to our last day in Reykjavik – a sunday morning, nothing would be open before 11 or 12, and we have already done 400km excess on the and are a little worried how much we will get penalised for that. Operation sort out the car is commenced, and the final packup done in the light rain (just like northern scotland, really). We try to follow the guidebook which directs us to the 5 star restaurant at the Hilton, only 2 blocks away, where there is meant to be an amazing sunday brunch. Nope, no longer. So we head into town, searching for a cafe. We settle down in a delightful cafe on the main street (very much like Rundle St with its high end fashion, many cafes and bars and a few tourist shops). The cafe was playing Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, the timber floors and white painted timber window seats and columns and waitresses in cute aprons. What drew us in, however, was the menu – Charlie opted for a taster plate with Minke Whale steak, garlic lobster, fish stew and dries fish. I opted for the chicken salad – it was promised to be served with lots of vegetables. The plates arrived – a palm sized hunk of whale meat, surprisingly dark in colour (liver coloured, practically) but tasting very much like beef steak, tasty lobster bits, a very fishy white fish stew and dried fish that tasted like fish flavoured coir matting. The chicken salad was a little scary with a mango curry sauce drenching the small chicken pieces on a salad with rockmelon (!)

We walked down to the Reykjavik Museum of Photography in the city library. The exhibition there today was one put on by a man around our age, with photos by his grandfather, up to 60 years ago.

After meeting Agust, our car man, to hand back the car and settle the account (he originally wanted to charge us 600 Euro excess, but we talked it down to 400 Euro – still almost $600) and checked into our hotel room. After freshening up, we spent the afternoon exploring a local sculpture garden (amazingly gothic bronzes by Einar Jonsson) up on the hill near the big big church (looking imposing against the white cloud today), then settled into a bookstore – one of the 12 best in Europe, having an enormous coffee in the cafe, and uploading all the while. Free wifi in nearly every cafe and bar in town.

Dinner was at one of the fancy restaurants in town, and on tonights menu – more local specialities. After seeing all those sheep, we had to try the lamb, and our cab driver on the first day had told us that young horse was the best local meat. SO – the lamb and the foal it was. And they were both excellent, washed down with a french wine.

My favourite bar in Iceland. Very Exceter-esque.

02 Sep

Day 11 : Thingvellir to Reykjavic

In Uncategorized by Charlie Lawrence / September 2, 2010 / 0 Comments

After a cold night at the Thingvellir camp ground we set out on a 8km hike through the fissures and lava fields of the area to explore Iceland’s most important historical region. Thingvellir was the site of Iceland’s first parliament in started in the year 930 AD. The original settlers would travel from all the reaches of Iceland, sometimes up to a 2 week journey to reach the site to discuss and enact new laws, serve justice upon criminals and outlaw people and lay the foundations of the new land. Only small foundations of the original budir (booths) remain. The small stone and turf huts served as shelters for the parliament goers and they acted like stalls at todays music festivals – selling food and drink. There were performers, food vendors and entertainers for the 2 week period each year the parliament sat. As we walked around the area we tried to imagine the original inhabitant viking types in this rugged land of ancient fissures, lava fields and waterfalls. The original amphitheatre was a 30ft high wall of basalt that, over time, had risen from the surrounding landscape at a rate of 2 inches a year.

After our history lesson we headed south towards Reykjavik with a slight detour to a geothermal power plant, Nesjavellir, that provides Reykjavik with hot water and green energy. It was an interesting walk along the gangway that let visitors view the operating plant. Many signboards later we pretty much knew everything there was to know about geothermal. Fact 1: The power plant releases the same amount of CO2 in one year as a coal fired station would in 7 days. Fact 2: The entire Icelandic fishing fleet release the same C02 in 10 days! Clearly a clean energy source that is abundant in Iceland.

After the power plant our mission was to try and capture (in digital film) the elusive Puffin. Our trusty Lonely Planet guide directed us to a rocky cliff outcrop in the south of the country, a nesting and breeding ground of this parrot faced penguin bird. After traveling the ‘white grade’ road for several km our memories of the midway point of our holiday came flooding back. We were in no mood to search too far for this bird, especially this late in the season when they have likely all headed south for the winter. After arriving at the coast, a cursory look for 5 mins produced no gold – only seagulls – so we hopped back in the camper and resumed our original mission, which was to visit the famous Blue Lagoon.

After our experience of the Myvatn Nature Baths our expectations were high. The Blue Lagoon represented the pinnacle of Icelandic Tourism marketing. It was mentioned everywhere – and it is said that 90% of all visitors to Iceland come to experience the soothing mineral laden waters of the lagoon. At $50 person that represents $20M a year for a lava rimmed lagoon, filled with waste water from the nearby power plant, clever and effective marketing. That does simplify the experience somewhat, the setup was second to none. Shower facilities, lockers activated by a bracelet that you wore while in the pool that even had $50 bar credit on it. The credit could be used at the lagoon bar for beers, krushies and even Blue Lagoon cocktails . . . nyuk nyuk.

The waterfall pummeled and massaged your shoulders (the guide book described this as feeling like being massaged by a troll – I laughed at how true this was when I was under it’s thundering flow), silicate mud was abundant and used to create a natural face mask to exfoliate and moisturise your skin. There were steam rooms, a steam cave ‘grotto’, Lagoon bar and café and a fumerole that vented hot steam whilst you floated along the mineral rich waters. For all it’s hype, it wasn’t as good as the cheaper version in the country. It wasn’t as deep or hot as before and the glare from the sunny day, strangely enough, took something from the experience. The rainy cold and misty experience last week was far more otherworldly.

We left at 5.30pm and made our way back to the Reykjavik Camp Ground. Driving on the right hand side of the road, negotiating roundabouts and tricky intersections is coming naturally to me now and I feel practically like a local.

After a rest we headed into the Reykjavik city centre for a sample of the night life. At 11.00pm we felt like we were too early what was reputed as a party town. Nevertheless, we had a couple of beers, ate a famous Icelandic hotdog as described in our guide (from a stall near the harbour where Bill Clinton bought one! It was very tasty, and again, cheap – $9 for 2 hotdogs and 2 drinks) and walked the return 7km journey back to the campsite.