Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Days 18 - 21 - Nottingham!

Ironically, given the travel we have done, one of our favourites locally is the Morrison’s supermarket, but not just for the shopping, but for their cafeteria.  Having put up with a continental breakfast for a couple of weeks, it was time for a real cooked breakfast - £4.45 (about $9.00 NZ) with egg, bacon, sausage, tomatoes, beans and hash browns. Delicious!  People still deride the English for their food, but when it comes to breakfast, they take some beating.
My hit list for this trip local food-wise is:
1)      Genuine local pork pies
2)      Fresh battered fish and mushy peas
3)      Cider
4)      Dandelion and burdock (soft drink)
5)      Red cherry yoghurt
6)      Eccles cakes
7)      Curry
8)      Clotted cream
By the time we’d left the supermarket, I was already clutching a pack of mini pork pies, so 1 down, 7 to go.
We had accepted an invitation to babysit Noah for the afternoon, so day one (Friday) was a family day and the temperature was decidedly cool at about 6 degrees but it was bright and sunny. Noah was as good as gold and had no problem adapting to his ‘new’ babysitters.  We went on to Dave and Sue’s and Noah was happy enough with great uncle Dave feeding him.  As a real Green, Noah is happy enough as long as someone feeds him - and feeds him plenty.
For some strange reason, the second night was one that the family won’t let me forget in a hurry, as I woke the household screaming during  a nasty nightmare!!!
Night 3 was much better – much to the relief of the rest of the household, but still coughing.
Dave and Sue had booked us into a 3 course Sunday lunch carvery at 2:15pm and I over ate! To be fair, I was doing OK, but the caramel apple pie came with about a quarter pint of cream – and I couldn’t leave it now, could I?
We called round on Manu & Stewart as it was Manu’s birthday the day before.  Noah was full on as he had his mate Rico to play with.
Monday and another coughing disturbed night and a lazy day, but tomorrow, we head off for a couple of days to visit friends and do a bit of touring.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Day 17 - Paris to Nottingham - May 17th

Up and about before the alarm and a very light breakfast of juice, yoghurt and coffee. The coach arrived 8:30 and only then did we find out it was a public holiday, as the traffic was very light for the short journey to the railway station and the Eurostar to London.
We hung around for a while at the station, watching the rather dubious characters hanging around outside.  We knew that this was one of the worst places of the whole trip for pickpockets and muggers and so were all extra careful.
Our train wasn’t until 11:15, though we were there early enough for the 10:15, which was very frustrating, as we had planned on a 10:30 train, as per our itinerary and it appears that the travel agent had assumed that he would allow time for stragglers.  Once again. Not very impressed, as it would mean that by the time we hit Nottingham, it would probably be rush hour.
We wasted the hour by just sitting around, drinking coffee and generally just twiddling our thumbs and dumping Euro coins.  Immigration for both France and UK was completed at the station without any problems and as a large group, we were allowed onto the platform before everyone else (which miffed one or two others in the queue...) and loaded all our luggage into a specific locked compartment, before heading for our allocated seats in coach 14.
The run to St Pancras was easy enough and the tunnel didn’t freak out Paula at all – much to her surprise.
We unloaded the luggage and said our farewells to a great group, before heading for the underground.  Queuing for a ticket was a pain and took about half an hour and the wind was whistling through! £10.60 lighter, we soon hit the train and Paula waited patiently for the daylight as she is not a fan of the London underground.  Once above ground, she visibly relaxed.
First impressions of London Underground stations though – NO GRAFFITI!  This was such a pleasant change from France and Italy and it begs the question that if the London Underground can eliminate it, then anyone can.
We arrived at Hatton Cross (the last stop before Heathrow Airport) and lugged the cases up the stairs.  A very kind gentleman carried Paula’s case up the stairs for her, saying that as he was too fat to run away with it, she was perfectly safe!
Right across the road is our usual car hire place – SixT, and we simply wheeled our cases across and picked up the Vauxhall Corsa hire car.  On checking the paperwork, it was supposed to have a full tank of fuel, but it was only 7/8th full. So we pointed it out and the staff simply asked us to drive to the petrol station next door where they put in 8 litres – almost 2 gallons!
With the TomTom set to Jeremy Clarkson’s guidance, we headed off and within minutes, were distracted by him and a small fender bender accident, ending up heading South instead of North on the notorious M25!  Unlike NZ motorways, it isn’t a case of a couple of hundred yards and turnaround.  Here is it is usually several miles!
Once heading in the right direction, all was good though the traffic was a bit slow in places on the M1 and fine until we got to the Nottingham ring road.  Totally ignoring Clarkson, we ducked and dived through the back streets missing out the traffic and finally arrived at Sue & Dave’s.  I nipped out to see Stewart, Manu and young Noah who was quite funny. It didn’t take long for him to accept “Ga-Ga” again.
The weather is still cool, but no rain.
Well, from now on, you may get condensed rather than daily snippets, but as the only readers are now likely to be friends in NZ, not too much of major interest in terms of travel info, but who knows, maybe we will do some interesting local travel after all? Pics are as likely to be of family...

Day 16 - The real Paris on foot - May 16th

Smokers had moved into the room next door and as there is no smoking inside the rooms, needless to say, they smoked on the balcony.  No escape it seems, so more coughing for me and a more disturbed night for Paula, who is rapidly coming to the conclusion that I am not the best of travelling companions!
After a light breakfast, we met in the lobby, a small group this time, to head for the cathedral “Sacre Coeur”. It was still cool and long trouser weather, but bright sunshine thank goodness.
I find it most odd that most cathedrals, magnificent old buildings, have succumbed to cheap and nasty money raising slot machines for commemorative medallions, and/or glass and concrete souvenir shops. It does rather grate, although we all know it costs a fortune to maintain them and they have to raise money somehow.
The steps up to the cathedral were littered with literally hundreds of cigarette ends, Heineken bottle tops and a fair bit of broken glass. It appeared not to have been swept for several days.  Whilst the younger or fitter ones opted to climb the tower, Paula and I sat with Greta Hulme and she told us about her very early days with Denny, NZ’s only F1 World Champion.
We then walked round the corner to Montmartre, part of the real Paris we hear so much about.  Heidi and Rod had their portraits drawn by street artists, whilst the rest of us headed for a coffee stop.  They soon joined us, a few Euro’s lighter.

Self portraits?

The square at Montmartre was a hive of activity, with quite a few artists not only selling their works, but also actively painting them.  Styles varied as did the techniques, but a place that you could well spend a fair bit of time just observing.  Of course, there were many commercialised Eiffel tower pics but also one artist seemed obsessed with doing a load of what looked like self portraits!  They were beautifully done.  With his unkempt log grey hair and with a cigarette permanently in his lips, with one or two pics depicting a pipe smoker, I was even more convinced that they were a type of self portrait.
We all walked towards the hotel and just around the corner from the hotel, the others found a small cafe serving hot soup and ciabatta rolls. We carried on and used the facilities in the hotel, before doubling back to join them.  The small cafe was doing a roaring trade and we managed to squeeze in (just).  Nice enough, but the soup could have been a lot warmer.
The others of our small morning group (5 of them) were going to try and meet up at the Eiffel tower at 3pm with several others, but after due consideration and the chance of an afternoon lie down, we opted to stay at the hotel.  Probably not a bad choice as it happens, as the others never really made it in time and were very late back at the hotel. Traffic was slower than normal.
Once again, we ate in the hotel (table of six of us), but opted for just two courses of that small menu.  We settled our bill to save time in the morning and finally crashed at about 11pm – far closer to our normal time than of late.
Well, tomorrow we head for the UK and say farewell to the group and start a new phase of the trip, catching up with family. Much as we have enjoyed the trip so far, family are still an important part of it and seeing young Noah’s growing up is pretty special.  Very little else has been planned for the next two weeks, so it may well be that I can catch up with this blog by condensing the days.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Day 15 - Paris in the spring time - Brrrrr! - May 15th

There are times when computers baffle me.  Yesterday's blog was uploaded OK, but there is absolutely no trace of it at all on my computer!  Weird. Three years ago, also when in the UK, I lost a whole folder of pics, never to be seen again.
Anyway, we rose OK in Paris after sleeping with the door to the balcony slightly open. Breakfast wasn't quite as good as the previous stays but passable. A small group of us met in the lobby ready to walk to the HOHO bus, and with a slight chill in the air, most donned jackets and log trousers (except Ernie, who was happy in shorts and shorts).
We found "Le Tour" open topped bus stop and paid the driver €34 each for a two day pass.  It was a bit slow moving, as everyone getting on had to pay the driver. It wasn't long before the top deck was full – then it got noticeably cooler and overcast. Even Ernie had to don a jacket. The bus driver was either a little inexperienced or unlucky, as I think we hit one road sign and scraped two high kerbs!
By the time we were past the Arc, the roads were being closed off ready for the President's inauguration. The weather got considerably worse.  It was very cold and umbrellas soon popped up as the rain came down and so we elected to dive off and grab a coffee and a bite to eat.
A cosy cafe was ideal and we opted for a famous French item, the Croque Monsieur.  A ham sandwich and with cheese on the top, toasted.  I opted for the Croque Madame – the same thing but with a fried egg on the top.  Very welcome indeed. The rain stopped but it was still rather cold, so we returned to the bus (lower deck!) but headed back to the hotel for warmer gear.  My thin rally jacket and a polo shirt just wasn't warm enough, so out came the sweat shirt and a sleeveless jacket from the bottom of my case.
We returned to the yellow bus route (one of four for Paris) and hopped off near the Moulin Rouge, where several of the group were heading for the night's dinner show.  As the cost was somewhat on the high side, we decided that two weeks UK car hire was a better way to spend that much cash!  Just across the street from the hotel was a stunning patisserie, so we gave that a try. The cakes in the display case really looked a picture.
We ate in the hotel with Rod & Heidi.  A very limited menu but very friendly service and nice enough food, with an option of a fixed price, one, two or three course menu. 
No free Wi-Fi here so I opted to wait until we moved on before uploading the blog to date.  (Not up to date you'll note.)
One more day in Paris, then the trip to England and family. We are not culture vultures so many of the delights of Paris are not really our cup of tea but for many, it is a great City.  Like much of Italy, graffiti is a permanent reminder that many of the residents just do not appreciate the fine buildings.  Spraying a glass and concrete monstrosity is bad enough, but it saddens me greatly that buildings constructed by true craftsmen out of local materials, by hand, are so often defaced.  Neither France nor Italy have embraced the no-smoking in public buildings policy, so escaping the ever present, foul cigarette smoke is almost impossible.    

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Day 14 - Beaulieu to Paris by train - May 14th

Are you sure this is the right platform?

Somehow or other, we were split into two groups for the trip to Paris, with one group down for a 10:30am and the others down for an 11:30am train ride to Paris, with the first group having to either stop or change at Lyon, with both trains arriving in Paris within about ten minutes of each other.  We were in group 2 and after a leisurely breakfast, made our way to Nice, forming  a protective ring around Chrissie to save her being a repeat victim of the gang of train pickpockets.
All was good and with Dave & Jo, we settled for a coffee, after a fire alarm had the station evacuated for a few minutes.  Somehow, the others didn’t arrive at the buffet or even the same platform.  We had witnessed an earlier Paris train leaving from our platform, so were confident we were still OK, until about ten minutes before departure, a feeling of unease settled in.  Jo shot off to check and returned with wildly waving arms, that we were on the wrong platform, so we dragged our luggage up to the correct platform to find the rest of our group sitting comfortably in their allocated seats, not at all concerned that we hadn’t shown up!
We had an hilarious ride though, especially after receiving a text message from the other train that they were delayed 30 mins and then had another message to say they had broken down altogether.  There was much joking that we’d wave at them as we passed, until we stopped (Antibes?) and saw them waiting on the platform!
Many of them piled into the upper deck of our carriage and they all got in OK, hence many questions being asked as to why we had been split up in the first place and also why we had to pay a substantial surcharge for the rail journey.  
Someone in this pic has been eating too much pasta
 by the looks of things.

Once in Paris, we somehow lost a group of five before we’d left the station, as we found out when we got to the coach. They eventually turned up and we had a pleasant ride to the Hotel Cardinale, where once again, we couldn’t park the bus outside, as it was a tiny dead end street.
We had to hand over our passports for photocopying before they would issue room keys.  Our room was street side and rather on the small side but with small balcony.  Several others complained that their rooms were exceptionally small.  Once again, the a/c wasn’t working but there was an in room fridge and a decent TV, but fewer channels than some of the other hotels - and nothing in English this time, not even CNN news.
We ate across the main street in the “Theatre Bar” and it was a pleasant enough meal, but nothing spectacular. Considering most foreigners berate the English food, or to be more precise, food available in England, of all our meals to date, only the Maranello steak stood out as being anything out of the very, very ordinary.  Of the three or 4 pasta carbonaras I have eaten so far, none were particularly memorable, including tonight's.
Bed was a respectable 11pm, but we are not expecting good weather for the day of the inauguration of the new French President tomorrow, but we have decided we’ll do the HOHO bus along with several others anyway, fully expecting a degree of disruption with police and soldiers everywhere.      

Friday, 25 May 2012

Day 13 - Monaco Historic GP - May 13th

Well, this was supposed to be the day we’d come for – and we overslept! By the time we got to the track, ex-pat Kiwi Roger Wills was already on the podium having won race 1 with his Cooper.

Never mind.  For me, it was more about seeing cars I hadn’t seen before than the actual racing, so it wasn’t too upsetting and the day ahead was a long one if we were to be around all day.  With neither Paula nor I wanting to be out in the sun all day, the slightly overcast day was just perfect.  We had expected a large crowd on the Sunday so assumed that we would have to sit in row ‘A’, but once again they keener ones of our group were at the track early and had commandeered a spot at the top again.

Muscling in between them, I was then able to take a load of start-line pics!  Needless to say, the proceedings were slow again but the racing was good and the variety of cars tremendous.

Tour leader John lent me wife Judith’s pit pass, as he was going through to the media centre to arrange a track tour between races, for himself and his ex-wife, Jan McLaren, so I managed to watch the 1961-1966 F1 race from a spot between the F1 pits and the track, as they came around the swimming pool.  That at least gave me a set of pics from a different angle.

There was only one race group I hadn’t seen on the track Friday or Saturday, the 1966-73 F1 cars, so once they were out for their warm up lap, I was happy.  I even witnessed the start line accident that took out Nottingham BMW dealer, Frank Sytner, as the car on pole position partially jumped the start and a McLaren from behind Sytner, came through early and took rear wheels off both cars.   The marshals with their trolley jacks, managed to clear them away without the need of a safety car.

We didn’t stay until the bitter end of course as the weather took a turn for the worse and we headed for the railway station before the rain set in.  Many stayed until the bitter end and I believe there were a few incidents on track.

The group had decided, or rather, it had been decided for us, that we’d eat together at the “African Queen” restaurant as our last night at Monaco as people from the group started dissipating.

Nice enough location down at the sea front area, but not a meal that was moderately priced.

Well, that was one item ticked off my bucket list – a visit to Monaco for the racing.  There is no doubt it is a spectacular setting and probably seeing older race cars and sports racing cars was ideal, as I have no wish whatever to see the current F1 cars there.  I have no wish to go back though as the restricted access takes away part of the joy of being a spectator, the ability to roam around and to watch (and photograph) from different vantage points. Given the choice between the Historic Monaco meeting or the Goodwood Revival, Goodwood wins hands down.

Paris tomorrow (for the ladies...) now the boy part of our trip is over.  The weather outlook doesn’t look too promising though.         

Pics only of the older cars.


The Tec Mec, formerly in the Donington Museum

Cooper Monaco

Shame.  The Ferrari 246 Dino spun on some oil

The Parnell MG


Just for the car enthusiasts.  For those with access to my Facebook page, there will be more posted in a specific album just for Monaco.