A Travellerspoint blog

Sunday August 16th

A Walk around London

sunny 25 °C
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Today we are on our own. No Howard to get us up, tell us what we're doing, and give us a running commentary. No more Mario to do all the driving for us. No more fancy hotels at group booking prices. So the first thing we did this morning was to move to an affordable hotel. We had been warned about rogue taxi drivers in London, so we hopped into a black cab after giving the driver the third degree about estimated cost etc. But he was a charming fellow, and when after the journey we realised that he had accidently short-changed himself, we were seized with this desire to track him down and give him the remainder. But it was short-lived.
Anyway, our new hotel for the next 2 nights was in Marble Arch, within walking distance to all the sights. It was a squeezy room in a squeezy but charming hotel in a back street. We left our bags in the room, and started walking towards London. I had become the Tour Director, and I decided that we were so close to London, it was pointless taking buses everywhere because we would spend half our time catching them, then getting off. In the next 2 days we tramped more than 35 kms (verified by gps), and I am forgetting now which streets we crossed and criss-crossed, but this is basically how it went. We headed from Marble Arch along Oxford Street, then Regent Street to Picadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, down a few streets that pilfered their names from a Monopoly board (how unoriginal!), crossed the Thames, and walked along the south bank past various theatres, festival halls and columns, until we reached a park near the Millenium walking bridge. There we met Debra, a young relative of Margarets from Australia who is living and working in London for a while. She accompanied us for the next few hour or so. We had lunch, then continued our walk along the south bank, past Drake's ship the Golden Hind, past London Bridge (a new one - the old one had been sold to a Texan - yes the story really is true!), finally crossing over the Tower Bridge before reaching the Tower of London. Here we parted ways with Debre, before spending the next couple of hours in the Tower. From there, we followed the Thames Walk, along the north bank, past St Pauls church, past other sights too numerous to mention, down more monopoly streets, through Soho, and finally back to the hotel.

Posted by bryceb 13:10 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Saturday August 15th

Goodbye Trafalgar

overcast 24 °C
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We left Paris, dropped two of our party off at the airport, then headed through flat farming country, crossed over the River Somme, and through the area where the terrible battles of the first world war took place. We saw the Canadian War Memorial at Vimy Ridge (for 2 seconds, through a gap in the trees, as it flashed past). At Calais we caught the ferry back to Dover, then continued our way through the green fields of Kent, back to London. Until now we had been making good time, but football traffic slowed us down. We eventually arrived at the hotel at Kensington, where we farewelled most of our fellow travellers. That evening, we went to a local restaurant with other members of the tour who were staying at the hotel.
And that's the end of the first part of my story. My conclusions? 31 days is a long trip, but short in real terms. The trip was expensive, but I know of no other way to pack so much experience into so little time. I have roughly added up the individual costs of the tour (accomodation, food, transport, entrance fees etc) and I couldn't have done it cheaper by going it alone. We checked the costs of some of the hotel rooms, and they were around 400 - 500 euros ($700 - $800). Obviously the tour company only paid a fraction of that price but it was nice to experience hotels of that standard. The tour was only ever meant to be a "snapshot" of Europe, but what a snapshot it was. In this blog I was able to mention only the main points of interest; much of it now seems to be a blur, but I can now re-read my "Europe" book with a totally new perspective and meaning. And if I never see another palace again.......

TO BE CONTINUED

Posted by bryceb 21:41 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Friday 14th August

Around Paris

sunny 28 °C
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We toured a bit more of the city before going to our early appointment at the Eiffel Tower. Again we were able to walk past the long queues that were forming and go straight in, as we had an advance group booking. We ascended to the second level via an elevator that went up inside one of the legs. As you can imagine, the view over Paris was quite impressive. You could pay to go to the upper level but the queue was far too long, so I took a few photos, stayed a while, and then came down via the stairs (a long way!). In the afternoon we went to the Palace of Versailles, again a grand display of the wealth controlled by royalty at the time. I think by this time we were all palaced out, and it was taking more and more to impress us. We returned for a short time to the hotel, then went out for our farewell dinner. Following that, we went on a cruise up the River Sienne, followed by an illuminations tour, which included a close-up of the Eiffel Tower putting on an impressive display. So ended our last night in Paris, and the final night of the tour.

Posted by bryceb 22:39 Archived in France Comments (0)

Thursday August 13th

Switzerland to Paris

sunny 28 °C
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Today we drove from Switzerland, into France, and finally to Paris. After coming down from the Swiss Alps, the land was fairly flat. In Paris we did a brief city tour before booking in at the hotel. That evening, we went to a Caberet, within sight of the Moulin Rouge. The Caberet was mainly a dancing show, a little risque at times, interspersed with various acts done by comedians, jugglers and acrobats. Again it was a "choose someone from the audience" type evening, and fortunately I was not chosen this time, as the poor victim had to dance some ridiculous dance in front of a couple of hundred people - I would have died.

Posted by bryceb 22:30 Archived in France Comments (0)

Wednesday August 12th

Mt Pilatus

sunny 27 °C
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We took the bus back into Lucerne, and then to the base of Mt Pilatus. There we boarded the steepest cogwheel railway in the world (48% max incline)), and ascended from around 400m to over 2000m, first through lush meadows, then thick pine forests, through rock tunnels, up into the clouds. The trees thinned out and then disappeared as we continued upwards; huge boulders and cliffs took their place. Eventually we reached the top, and emerged in a weatherproof building, then out into the crisp alpine air. Visibility was variable due to the clouds. We did a short walk to a nearby peak (2134m), plus a circuit route through tunnels in the rock, with spectacular views down the mountain. After an hour or so it was time to come down, so for the first part of the descent we took a cable car (with 40 people standing). I'm not the best on heights, but there were some there that were far more apprehensive, so it was just as well that it was so foggy that we couldn't see the ground hundreds of metres below. It was also very steep initially. The cable car only went halfway down the mountain, so then we climbed into small gondolas, holding 4 each, and continued the descent. This too was quite hair-raising; at times we were close to the ground, but at other times, especially when a pylon was on the edge of a cliff, you would feel the gondola support go over the pulleys on the pylon, and then feel as if the gondola was launched into space. All the way down we could hear cowbells, so they are very effective. Overall, a very enjoyable experience, with just the right amount of "scare factor".
After that, we went to lunch and a show in Lucerne. The quartet played traditional instruments, including a saw and a broom. They yodelled, flag tossed and played the swiss horn. Again, they picked people out of the audience (why always me?) so I was made to yodel, and as a prize I was required to down a pint of beer onstage. On the upside, I was the last in a row of 8 people made to do it.
After that harrowing experience, I was subjected to yet another one - shopping. Today, as it was nearing the end of the trip, I had resolved to do the small amount of souvenier shopping I had allocated myself. In the meantime, the beer had caught up with me and I couldn't find a toilet in all the places you would expect, so I returned to the Lion park (see yesterday) where I knew I would find one. I spent the remainder of the afternoon wandering through the shops, eventually getting everything I needed. At 5pm we returned up the Valley to lovely Engelberg, where we had tea in the hotel, and then went for a walk around the town. The background was stunning; in the fading evening light you could see the snow capped rocky crags towering over the town, and the whole scene looked just as if it had been painted.

Posted by bryceb 16:08 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

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