En route with Emirates

So we have a huge amount of flying today! From Palmerston North to Auckland, Auckland to Melbourne, Melbourne to Dubai, Dubai to Copenhagen. About 25 hours in the air, and all the ground time. We must really want to travel! I must say, flying Emirates is an extremely good experience. From the check in (which is so easy because 48 hours before I received an email telling me that internet check in was open and it was so easy to follow the simple instructions. Check in done! No hold ups going through security, very efficient loading of passengers, and very helpful crew.

Off on our travels again!

Off on our travels again!

Melbourne was a different story! Inefficient, unhelpful, so last century. We disembarked & headed for transit – to find the entry door was locked! After quite a wait, one of the passengers used the service telephone to call the staff. More waiting, until at last, when the passenger was calling for a second time, the staff arrived. No apologies, just “Melbourne is a big airport, you know!” Through security – again – even though we had just walked off the plane, then into the transit area. Well, I CAN say it is not as bad as the barn of a room in which we used to be locked in Los Angeles, but it surely lacks a certain esprit. And then we come to the boarding procedure. I should have been alerted when I heard the ground staff discussing whether they were going to load by zones or not. Yes? No? Oh, all right then, yes. But was there a broadcast message to that effect? Oh no, just staff walking around holding signs & calling out “Zone C” “Only people seated in Zone C” – for goodness sake!

Actually a relief to get back on board and encounter another smiling efficient crew! A long leg this time, with plenty of time to sleep. Yes, I DO sleep – with a little help. And it’s truly worth it. Next stop Dubai, that glitzy beautiful airport with a great transit area. Even though it’s filled with people, restaurants, shops etc, it never seems too crowded, and is very quiet. The rest room facilities are spotlessly clean and although there were queues, it only entailed a few minutes wait. There are 3 Emirates Terminals, luckily we were using Terminal 1 which was also our arrival terminal. Other times we have had to change terminals, which can be a little confusing, especially if you have to take the inter-terminal train, but there is always a smiling person ready to help. Once the lovely man even accompanied us to the next terminal! Totally unnecessary, but a good advertisement for the airport.EmiratesA380

Apart from these good experiences, there are a couple of other reasons we like to travel with Emirates : 1) the seats are slightly bigger (I’m speaking of Economy, of course! Can’t advise you on Business Class!) with more leg room and a good seat recline 2) free wifi! Which means I can write this blog while flying over the Caspian Sea!
The screens are large touch screens, and there is a huge amount of information about the flight, complete with plane cams, as well as all the entertainment available. I feel really spoilt!

So that’s my take on long haul flying. When I first started flying to Europe, back in the early 1980s when we took our children away for 4 months, I was TERRIFIED of flying. My poor husband & family! But now, having flown long haul 22 times, well, it’s just like catching the bus! Except for the PACKING, of course. Oh, the packing … I do think we’ve got it down to a fine art, but 5 months is a loooong time. So a case each of approximately 17 kgs, a cabin bag of 7 kgs, a laptop bag & a small daypack. Not too bad, do you think? Time will tell …

Counting Down!

Five days to take off! Oh my goodness! How do I pack for 5 months? And with the same small case (though maybe 18 kgs instead of 17 kgs!)
First stop Copenhagen, with a couple of days to visit that beautiful city before boarding the Norwegian Star en route to Saint Petersburg. We’ve organised a private guided tour for 5 of us for 2 days there, it sounds really interesting. Also stops at Warnemunde, Tallin, Helsinki, and jumping ship at Stockholm. Flying to Norway in time for National Day and 5 days to spend on the beautiful Sognefjord before heading back to Amsterdam to pick up our van. And that’s just the start! Still a long time until the first tour, Stays in Germany & France first.

So I’ll keep you posted! Watch this space (as they say).

Time is running out!

Well, here we are, 2016 has arrived and our tours are ready to go!

champagne[1]

The bookings for our first tour, starting on June 18th and travelling through Champagne, the Loire Valley, and into the Perigord, will close late March, still places left, hurry up & book.

Welcome champagne in Epernay!We will be there at the villa near Lascaux Caves for a week – time to visit the chateaus involved in the Hundred Years War, the wonderful gardens, the pre-historic sites of Cro-Magnon man, the colourful markets, Josephine Baker’s fairy tale castle, the medieval town of Sarlat, with it’s honey-coloured stone buildings, or even take a canoe trip down the lazy Dordogne River. It is one of the most beautiful areas of France, which is why we visit nearly every year.

Canoeing on the Dordogne RiverOur second and third tours, starting August 20th and September 3rd, still have places available and there is still time to decide to join us.  We will be travelling through Normandy and Brittany, staying in some amazing places – a converted abbey, a B&B in the heart of Chartres, and a wonderful villa near Giverny, with an indoor swimming pool!  A visit to Versailles en route to Chartres, should start the tour off well for you!  Mont St Michel, that magic island, St Malo, the walled town destroyed in WWII and totally rebuilt, the Bayeux Tapestry, of course the Landing Beaches and the amazing artificial Mulberry Harbour, and lesser known places such as the family home of Christian Dior, perched on a cliff.  While at the Villa a visit to Giverny, Monet’s home & garden, is a must, as is a visit to the Cathedral town of Rouen.  So much to do!

Our tours are very competitively priced, as everything is included – all meals, land transport while on tour, all entry fees – even a mid-morning coffee! So have a look at our site www.touringfrance.biz and contact us straight away!

michel[1] beursaudiere[1]

2016 Tours

Right, everybody, decision time! The tours for next year are open for reservations – we already have some, which is exciting.

Our first tour starts on June 18th. We travel from Meaux (near Paris) to Epernay in the Champagne District; on to Nitry (Chablis area) for 2 nights, then to the Loire Valley, to stay for 2 nights in an impressive chateau near Amboise. Our last 2 nights are spent in a 15th century chateau between Aubusson (tapestries!) and Limoges (porcelain!). Finally, we have a week in a 5 star villa on the Domain du Cheyssignaguet in the Dordogne – gardens, markets, chateaus, pre-history (Lascaux Cave), food & wine. What more could one ask for?

The second & third tours (20th August and 3rd September) are in Normandy and Brittany – Mont St Michel, the Bayeux Tapestry, the Normandy Landing Beaches, Monet’s garden at Giverny … and lesser-known attractions such as Christian Dior’s childhood home on the Atlantic coast. One week in excellent accommodation en route, 1 week in a 5 star villa near Giverny.

If you hurry up & book, we are offering a 200 Euro discount per person – bookings to be made before December 31st!

Hope we see some of you joining us on our journey of discovery. read some of the testimonials on www.touringfrance.biz and you’ll find out what fun we have!!

Travelling to Provence

Edward Whymper, first man to climb the Barre des Ecrins in the French Alps,

Edward Whymper, first man to climb the Barre des Ecrins in the French Alps,

Typical steep narrow street in Briancon

Typical steep narrow street in Briancon

Bistrot on the Col des Leques

Bistrot on the Col des Leques

Well I’ve really fallen by the wayside with the blogs!  However, I discovered that when one is looking after guests 24/24, there really is very little time to do other things – like a blog. So now the tours are over, I can give you a brief outline of the fun we’ve had, and then maybe some in-depth descriptions of some of the awesome sights and experiences.

We left Beaune heading for the French Alps and had to change our route because we had heard that the Col de Lauteret (one of our favourite routes) was closed because of a rock fall in a tunnel. However we did manage to cross the Col d’Orlon, which gave our group a taste of the “high” life! We arrived at Chateau Picomtal, beside the Lac de Serre Poncon (the largest hydroelectric dam in Europe) where we were hosted by Sharon and Jacques Peurreux. They have done a marvellous job of restoring the chateau, and delight in showing people the video of the renovation.

Next day was a beautiful day, perfect for a boat trip with the Carline on the Lac de Serre Poncon. We spent the morning in Briancon, the highest walled town in France, and on the way back we stopped at the huge carved wooden statue of the British climber Edward Whymper, who was the first to climb the Barre des Ecrins 150 years ago. A lunch stop beside the small Lac de Rame before embarking on the Carline. Before we left the following day, Sharon took everyone on a tour of the chateau and gardens – very impressive.

Heading to the Cote d’Azur, we stopped at the Col des Leques for a delightful lunch of shared platters of meats & cheeses, with a very friendly owner. We arrived at Relais d’Agay, our hotel on Cote d’Esterel, in the afternoon, with time to relax before having drinks and dinner in a restaurant on the beach. Idyllic.

A free day followed, with time to relax on the beach, or – as some did – take a bus the few minutes to St Raphael, to explore the rather more glamorous town. We had an excellent dinner at Maobi Plage, always a superb place to eat, with excellent food and service.

On our final day of travelling we left the Esterel Coast and drove along the Cote d’Azur past St Raphael, Frejus, St Maxime, then got caught in the usual queue going to St Tropez market so headed off into the hills to the beautiful little village of Vieux Grimaud, and on to La Garde Freinet for lunch. After that it was Autoroute du Soleil all the way to Cavaillon and thence to Barbentane, where we had rented a villa on the outskirts. A lovely place which we have rented before, with 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, large patio & swimming pool – a very tranquil place.  Though in March it wasn’t so tranquil, the mistral blew down about 40 trees on the property, and the neighbour lost 100 trees!

Long distance travelling over for 2 weeks – time to relax and enjoy our “home”.

A Day in Beaune – WET!

Yes, a wet day, but it didn’t dampen our spirits, and after a superb breakfast of breads, pastries, a delicious cherry clafouti, soft boiled eggs etc, we made our way to the Hotel-Dieu. Also known as the Hospices of Beaune, it was founded in 1443 by Nicholas Rolin, Chancellor of Burgundy, as a hospital for the poor. The elderly, sick & destitute are offered treatment and refuge to this day. A fine example of Northern Renaissance architecture, it is famous for it’s roof of typical Burgundian coloured tiles.

Unfortunately, the Petit Train was booked out by tour groups – it’s usually good to take a Petit Train in various towns, in order to get an overview of the area and history. So after a lunch of onion soup (welcome on this wet day!) we went out of town to the Clos de Vougeot, a vineyard that was established in the 12th century by Cistercian monks. The Chateau itself dates from the Renaissance period. Clos Vougeot was for centuries considered the finest of all burgundies, but no wine is produced there now. The Clos de Vougeot is now the seat of the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin.

On the way back to our B&B we stopped for a wayside winetasting at Nuits-St-George and bought some excellent Pommard wine!IMG_20150616_085627

En Route to Beaune

First stop, Mondemont-Givroux, to see the Marne Memorial. An amazing structure, and a panoramic view over the Marne Valley. The small graveyard at the church is very interesting, commemorating both the French AND the Germans who fought and died here. The ceramic display board shows the shifting battle lines – it’s hard to believe that this peaceful valley is drenched in blood.

I had read on TripAdvisor such good reviews of the Relais de la Marne at Langres that I decided to book for lunch en route. I was disappointed when Monsieur Vincent told me he wouldn’t be open on the Sunday as he was preparing for a big event. However, in the morning he phoned me to say that he would finish his prep work early and would open for our group!  So kind of him … and when we arrived, we found the restaurant almost full!  Word had obviously spread that he would be open!  And the meal did not disappoint, it was inventive and delicious, and we had a most convivial time. Will definitely go back.

Our stop for the night was Le Clos de L’Aigue, a B&B in Beaune. Beautiful grounds, a peaceful atmosphere, and a warm welcome from Sandrine & Laurent. As is usual on a Sunday, there was no supermarket open, and as our group had eaten a large lunch we didn’t feel like another restaurant meal. So Sandrine very kindly offered us aperitifs and tapas, just what we wanted. We sat outside and enjoyed the food, wine (2 bottles!) and company … and so ended our second day of travelling.

Aperitifs with Sandrine & Laurent, Le Clos de l'Aigue

Aperitifs with Sandrine & Laurent, Le Clos de l’Aigue

Vincent & Filanie, Relais de la Marne

Vincent & Filanie, Relais de la Marne

IMG_20150708_141127

First tour 2015

Saturday : By the time we had met up with the others in the team and packed the bags in the van, we arrived in Reims in time for lunch. Such a lovely place to eat – Epicerie Au Bon Manger. Not much to look at from the outside, but a charming welcome from 2 smiling & helpful young women, champagne (of course! After all, we were in the Champagne area), and a shared platter of wonderful meats, cheeses, salad – all organic & with provenance. Just the right sort of meal to start the tour.

On to the Cathedral, where we organised audio guides for the others, then nursed a cold drink in the square in front of the Cathedral while they took in the magnificence & history. After years of public works, the area around the Cathedral is now alive with little restaurants and shops, and shaded with trees. A great place to people watch!

Next we headed off to our accommodation in Epernay, Parva Domus B&B. the only B&B on the Avenue de Champagne, in the old Moet et Chandon family home. It’s great to stroll past all the Champagne Houses, and on the way home after dinner to see their names cast on the footpath in lights. We had aa pleasant meal in the courtyard of La Banque Brasserie in the heart of Epernay.

Au Bon Manger, 7 rue Courmeaux, Reims. Tel. 03 26 03 45 29  www.aubonmanger.fr

La Banque Brasserie, 40 rue de General Leclerc, Epernay.Tel. 03 26 59 50 50  www.brasserie-labanque.fr

Parva Domus, 27 Ave de Champagne, Epernay  Tel 03 26 32 40 74  www.parvadomusrimaire.com

 

Ready to go!

Ready to go!

Cafe in the square in front of Reims Cathedral

Cafe in the square in front of Reims Cathedral

The Loooong Journey to Europe

We left home mid-morning, travelled one hour to Palmerston North Airport, one hour’s flight to Auckland, 4 hours 10 minutes to Melbourne (1 hour 45 minutes in the Transit Terminal), 14 hours 5 minutes to Dubai (3 hours in the Transit Terminal), 7 hours 10 minutes to Paris, half an hour into the city – et voila!  We had arrived! Ouf!

We travelled with Emirates and one thing I do love is the spaciousness of the seats.  It makes such a difference – especially as on both long legs we had a spare seat inbetween us!  That is most unusual these days.  The payoff is that I had chosen seats with a view unobscured by the wing, but obviously the last to be served meals!  And each time we missed out on our choice of meal, leaving at least one of us feeling disgruntled. So when we were handed our menus on the last leg, I politely mentioned that it would be good if we were not left until the last yet again – and hey presto!  Our meals of choice were delivered before ANYONE ELSE on the plane received theirs! With a nice little comment that as we had travelled so far and been so neglected, they thought we deserved better treatment!  Give that girl a medal!

The view from the bedroom looking over Boulevarde de Clichy

The view from the bedroom looking over Boulevarde de Clichy

Our chauffeur from a company called Navendis was waiting for us when we finally managed to collect our luggage, and took us to our lovely apartment we had rented in Montmartre.  We have stayed in this quartier before, just off Place Pigalle and in one of the oldest districts in Paris. The apartment is huge (110 sq.m.), twice the size of most other apartments for 2 to 4 people.  It is a Haussmann building, (Haussmann was the architect commissioned by Napoleon III to redesign Paris) with high ceilings, floor to ceiling windows & doors onto the balconies overlooking the Boulevarde de Clichy and polished wooden floors. The area is vibrant, with lots of restaurants, cafes, crazy little boutique shops, and of course the Moulin Rouge!

The elegant salon in our Pigalle apartment

The elegant salon in our Pigalle apartment

SO here we are, ensconced in “our” home – but sadly only for 3 nights as we start our first tour on Saturday. Then we will be off to Reims and Epernay – wait for it!

www.navendis.com  – a great business taxi company, pre-booked and paid for on line.

www.waytostay.com/parisapartments/ –  Some great apartments to suit all tastes!

Almost Departure Day!

Well, it’s that time again! departure day looms – tomorrow, in fact. Not looking forward to the loooong flight on Emirates, via Melbourne & Dubai, but on Wednesday 10th we will be in Paris. So it will all be worth it! PLEASE let it be warm! Big frost here this morning, must be time to leave.
We’ve rented a Haussman apartment near Place Pigalle, which is huge (110 sq.m) which we will share with a friend for 3 nights. It looks beautiful, wish we could be there for longer. But duty calls … will post a photo when we arrive there!