Saturday, 20th September

We had packed everything yesterday and it was a good thing we had. In our infinite wisdom we had celebrated our last night in Paris with one too many bottles of red wine. Sleeping in until the last minute, we met Julien at 10.30am to hand over the keys to the apartment and got in a taxi to Gare du Nord – the train station where we were boarding the Eurostar.

The train station was absolutely beautiful and busy! Approximately 190 million travellers per year pass through Gare du Nord making it the busiest in Europe!

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We had plenty of time to get some breakfast, check in, go through customs and board our train by 1.15pm. We were hoping that this Eurostar trip would be uneventful and on time – unlike our first experience.

The trip was perfect arriving back at the London St Pancras station at 2.30pm. We were well on track to pick up the hire car that we would have for the rest of our adventure through the UK. And well, that’s when the wheels almost fell off.

The person on the reservation desk at the hire car company was nervous that we were taking the car into Northern Ireland and on a couple of ferries. We went through the paperwork where we had made these arrangements clear, finally getting confirmation from ‘someone’ over the phone we thought everything would now be sorted. Unfortunately when the poor lady when to assign our car, it appeared it had been marked as not to be re-hired. The other piece of bad news, there were no more cars available for us… Ok at this point, Bec was thinking about plan B, messaging friends in London for emergency accommodation. Two hours later and we were given the keys to our upgraded car – a brand new Audi A4 – thanks 🙂

Leaving London three hours later than expected, we made our way to our next destination – Ely. It was a 2 hour drive, but we were well behind and arriving before sunset was now not going to happen.

It was strange being in a right hand drive vehicle and driving on the ‘other’ side of the road. Isn’t it funny how you quickly become accustomed to something that initially you’d think would always feel wrong.

Arriving in Ely in the dark, we checked into the hotel, walked across the road and had dinner, taking our time looking over our plans for the next day.

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Friday, 19th September

Today was a milestone in our trip as it was our last night in Mainland Europe before we went back to the UK.

It was also the day that we said goodbye to Penny. We had spent 74 days with Penny our Peugeot, she had taken us on the most amazing adventures, and had been patient and perfect (with the exception of that tyre issue in Arles that she could hardly be blamed for), for just over 17,000kms. It actually felt quite sad to be saying goodbye.

IMG_2903We had to drop the car off in La Défense – a major business district of the Paris Metropolitan Area just west of the city. It was a tense drive to the dealership, in Paris traffic just before peak hour wasn’t the best but we negotiated our way through the confusing streets and made it in one piece.

After dropping the car off and filling out the paperwork with relative ease, we set off on the 20 minute stroll to the metro. The business district was very surprising, there were very cool sculptures and buildings and it was interesting to see another side of Paris.

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Once we got back to the apartment we had to repack all our bags in readiness to get the Eurostar back to London in the morning. Whilst the morning had not been a lot of fun, lets face it packing is always the pits, we were both looking forward to the afternoon.

Before we left Melbourne to commence our adventure, Bec had done some research to find an English speaking hair salon. We had booked appointments via email. Style Pixie Salon is owned and run by an Aussie expat (from Melbourne), and it was a fabulous experience. It was completely out of the way – we had to change Metro lines three times, but I’m telling you it was well worth it. The service was fantastic, the staff were so friendly and the prices were very reasonable. We walked out of the salon feeling like a million dollars, with great hair!!

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After leaving the salon we decided that the perfect way to end our time in Paris, was to go back to the Un Zebre a Montmartre for dinner and some more of that fabulous Bordeaux wine 🙂  We stumbled back to the apartment and fell into bed wishing we could stay in Paris for ever.

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Thursday, 18th September

It’s fair to say that we absolutely fell in love with Paris yesterday. Today however, we had planned a day trip to nearby Versailles. A little further out, but worth the trip, was a chateau that is quite famous and the focal point of the small village of Dreux in the middle of rural France – the Chateau d’Anet.

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There may have been an ulterior motive to visit the chateau… yes, it was the setting of another Bond movie. This time it was Sean Connery who flew from the balcony of the chateau using a jet pack! Below is the photo from the movie, then the actual balcony itself.bondFrance2 IMG_2838

Versailles is a quaint village – not very large, but very old. We wondered around the streets and stopped for lunch in a small park, and coffee in a small cafe. The only thing that wasn’t small was the Palace of Versailles which had massive gardens and is the main reason that people visit this town.

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After our little outing we headed back to the apartment in Paris and had ourselves a little nanna nap 🙂 We had planned to go out later that night, as we just had to see the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe at night.

We decided to have dinner at a restaurant recommended by Julien – Un Zebre A Montmarte. It turned out that the restaurant was up the hill from the Moulin Rouge so we managed to tick that off the list as well.

The restaurant was a great recommendation because the food, wine and service were all outstanding. Due to the required walk up a hill, the restaurant managed to not be overcrowded with tourists or suffer from tourist prices. We enjoyed an amazing meal, drank wine from the Medoc region of Bordeaux (which we had been to!) and fell hopelessly in love with Paris all over again!!

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Wednesday, 17th September

Last night we put a rough itinerary together for the next few days and investigated the public transport available. The Paris Metro was fairly easy to navigate and it seemed to cover all the destinations we required, so we decided to buy a 3 day pass for 24 Euro or about $36 AUD each – not bad value at $12 AUD a day.

We strolled the 5 minute walk from the apartment to the Metro, stopping to buy some breakfast treats at the local boulangerie before buying our tickets and making our way to our first stop of the day – The Louvre.

Over the last few weeks we had struggled to get a clear idea of the best way to purchase our tickets to the Louvre. There was conflicting information regarding whether it was best to buy them online or at the Museum itself. We had two concerns, the first that even if we bought them online you can’t print them off, you have to pick them up from the shop – like a Ticketek situation. The second concern was that we didn’t have a lot of time to waste trying to find the store and then get back to the Museum.

So we made the decision to get to the Louvre early and try our luck. The Louvre opens at 9am and we were there at about 8am so had plenty of time to get in line and see the spectacular surrounds. The best thing is that as the sun rises, it bathes the centuries-old buildings in pure gold. The sight is amazing and worth standing in line, even just to see that.

And if you don’t believe me, here is some photographic proof. 😉

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Now, if you want the hot tip on how to see the Louvre, we highly recommend getting there early and lining up. Even if you have a ticket, you still want to be one of the first people through the gates.

The most famous work of art at the Louvre would have to be the Mona Lisa. Bec quickly cottoned on to what the couple in front of us were planning, as they discussed what they were each doing as soon as the gates opened. We followed the American couple as they went straight to the ticket office, bought our tickets and then followed closely on their heels as they walked swiftly to the Mona Lisa. We got a front row view of this amazing piece of art and with hardly any one about. This has to be the best way to see her as we walked past later and saw the room packed shoulder to shoulder where the best view you can get is obscured by selfie sticks.

So maybe the Mona Lisa is the most famous, but the sheer volume of outstanding works of art in the Louvre is bordering on insane. There is too much to see and you could spend a week wandering around the halls and still not see everything. Below are some photos of some examples – The Winged Victory, The Mona Lisa, Diana the Huntress, detail of the ceilings as you walk through and lastly the Venus de Milo.

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We stopped for a coffee at the cafe in the Louvre and even looking out over the Napoleon Courtyard is a work of art in itself.

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With our heads spinning and smiles on our faces, it was time to set out and do our Paris leg of sightseeing. The next stop on our itinerary was La Madeleine, which we decided to walk to. We stopped for lunch (which was average and overpriced) and saw amazing things on the way, including Our Lady of the Assumption Church.

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La Madeleine is a Roman Catholic Church, originally designed as a temple in the glory of Napoleon’s Army. It was absolutely spectacular inside, the ceiling art, sculptures and use of lighting in this huge building was breathtaking.

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From La Madeleine we walked down to the place d la Concorde. The first photo below is the view from the front steps of La Madeleine to the Obelisk. It was a very busy road and we saw some of the crazy Parisian driving we had been told about 🙂

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The Place de la Concorde is the largest square in Paris, the sheer size of it, the number of sculptures and history was spectacular. We again resembled the clowns at the circus with our mouths open in amazement. Below are pictures of the Fountain of River Commerce and Navigation and the Obelisk of Luxor.

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One of the most amazing elements of the Place de la Concorde is the view – we could see the beginning of the Champs de Elysees with Arc de Triomphe in the distance, the Louvre behind us and even more amazing buildings across the Seine. The Champs de Elysees is possibly the most famous street in Paris, if not in the world so we made our way down this iconic stretch.

Along the way,  we came across the Grand and Petit Palais and decided to detour briefly to have a better look at these unbelievable buildings. While exploring, we were surprised to see a statue of Winston Churchill and a magnificent bridge.

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The bridge was called the Pont Alexandre III.

It has gold statues atop massive pillars, views of the Eiffel Tower and even an Ice Cream Man! The Ice Cream Man sold cones out of the back of his specially modified car and loved having a chat even more than he loved being a third generation Ice Cream Man.

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Keith is a huge Star Wars fan and before we left on our trip he found the t-shirt in the picture below. We were both stupid with excitement about getting this picture!  IMG_2619

The Arc De Triomphe is also a famous monument in Paris and we could see it in the distance. The only thing that separated us from the giant arch way was hundreds of designer shops on the famous Champs de Elysees. Many other people had the same idea – the street was packed, but lots of fun to check out the shops.

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The Arc de Triomphe honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

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Next on our shortlist was the Eiffel Tower. It was quite a walk from where we were so we got back on the Metro. Making our way up from the (underground) Metro, the view from the Trocadero Gardens was superb! We walked around the Eiffel Tower to take more photos from different angles.IMG_2664IMG_2661 IMG_2672 IMG_2677 IMG_2684 IMG_2709

It had already been a huge day, but we still had a couple more famous landmarks to see. After a well deserved coffee break we again got on the Metro and headed towards the Pantheon.

After looking through the Pantheon we noticed the Saint-Étienne-du-Mont across the road, Paris is full of old historic buildings such as this, the history and amazing architecture was fantastic.

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After we left the Pantheon, we headed down hill through the Sorbonne to the Ile de la Cite, an island in the middle of the Seine river. This is a very special island that holds the famous Notre Dame Cathedral.  We crossed over one of the many beautiful bridges connecting the island with the rest of Paris and were just blown away by how impressive the cathedral was. Below are some photos of the Notre Dame Cathedral and some of the bridges that lead to it, for example the Pont de l’Archevêché and Pont Notre Dame.

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Since we had such a long day – it was now getting close to 12 hours of walking around Paris – unfortunately we were unable to actually see inside Notre Dame. We did see a short fellow with a stoop. We weren’t sure of his name, but his face rang a bell.

We continued on across the island and found ourselves in front of the Town Hall (Hotel de Ville). It was an amazing building with a huge plaza out the front of it. We also found a Metro station that promised to take us home to rest our weary feet.

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Once back at the apartment we decided to utilise the kitchen for a home cooked meal, it would be some time before we could cook for ourselves again, as once we left Paris and went back to the UK we were staying in hotels each night.

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Tuesday, 16th September

We had a long drive to get to our final destination in mainland Europe – Paris! Without considering stops it was a six hour trip. With this in mind we left Lyon very early. Stopping to get some supplies for the trip, we found the best cheese aisle in the supermarket – 12 fridges just of Camembert, not different types of cheese, just Camembert!!!

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It was a beautiful day and the drive through this part of France was amazing. The scenery was gorgeous and with so much to look at it really didn’t feel like we were driving for so long.

On the way, we came across the vehicle below. We couldn’t believe that one truck was towing so much. It was a camping truck that was towing a camper-van, that was towing a food stall on wheels with a motor bike attached to the back! Definitely not legal back home.

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We finally got to Maincy, specifically the Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte. The reason for this stop has a lot to do with the fact that we are big fans of James Bond movies. This particular Chateau was used as the Drax manor in Moonraker.

The Chateau itself is amazing and has spectacular gardens and surrounds. We had a good look at it from the outside and took lots of photos, but decided it wasn’t worth the $20 AUD each to look through on the inside. Of course, if we were going to spend the whole day here it would be worth it, but with still an hour before we got to Paris and daylight fading we were happy with an outside look.

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Near the car park, across from the entrance of the Chateau, we saw the forest that surrounds the estate. Keith instantly recognised the forest from the quail hunting, doberman chasing, high drama scene in Moonraker where poor Miss Dufour meets her end. On the left is the photo Keith took, on the right the scene from the movie.

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Whilst we’re comparing our photos and scenes from the movie, below is the photo we took on the left and the first glimpse of the Chateau in the movie, with Bond being flown in the helicopter. It hasn’t changed much since 1979, or 1641 for that matter.

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After leaving the Chateau we steeled ourselves for the drive into Paris itself.

We were staying in an Air BnB property for the next four nights – a small one bedroom apartment 15 minutes from the centre of Paris by Metro. We did have to navigate through Paris traffic to be able to get there, but once there everything was so close and convenient.

We had been warned not to drive in Paris, especially the centre, so we were lucky enough to be able to skirt the city itself and kept the car garaged for most of the four days.

After meeting up with Julien, the owner of the apartment, we got settled in and explored the local area on foot. It was a busy little area, with lots of restaurants as well as shops. We had some dinner, got some supplies for the next couple of days and made our way back to the apartment. We had a lot to see and do in the next three days, so we spent some time looking into public transport and sorting out our itinerary.

We went to bed excited about the next day, so many personal bucket list items were about to be ticked off for both of us. Bec could hardly sleep she was so excited to be in Paris!

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Monday, 15th September

Researching the public transport in Lyon, we had discovered that for 5.50 Euro ($8.15 AUD) each we could pretty much take any tram, train, bus and the funicular all day. To get our money’s worth, we tried to do as many of those as possible!

The Tram. We made our way to the tram stop Maryse Bastie not far from where we were staying and found a patisserie¹ where we bought some pastries for breakfast. Being excited to serve a couple of Aussies, the staff gave us extra stuff for free. 🙂

We took the pastries with us and walked the remaining two minutes to the tram stop. All the public transport stops appeared to have a ticket machine, it was easy to use and we had no problem obtaining the all day pass we were looking for.  We were taking the tram to meet up with the correct train line.

The Train. The Metro line then took us only a couple of stops to Place Bellacour which is a massive square in the middle of Lyon. Within the square is a huge fountain with a statue on top called Statue d’Antione de Sain-Exupery which is very white and easily seen.

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We then walked along the River Saone, being surprised by street markets where Bec was able to buy some ribbons for her hair.

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On our way to the Church of Saint-Nizie, we decided it was time for a coffee. There wasn’t anything that was open, so we stopped in at McDonalds. We were pleasantly surprised as the coffee was great. Over coffee we took the time to check the map to ensure we were heading in the right direction.

It turned out that the church was just around the corner. In fact, it was a very busy corner – one where Keith almost got run over taking the photos below.

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We made our way to Place des Terreaux which is basically a large plaza. The centre piece of the plaza is the Fontaine Bartholdi. The fountain has an interesting story – the city of Bordeaux held a competition for the design of a fountain in 1857 and the 23 year old Bartholdi won. They then decided at the time not to build it. However, years later after Bartholdi built the Statue of Liberty, the mayor of Bordeaux decided to actually go ahead with the fountain. Prior to completion it was deemed too expensive so they sold it to the city of Lyon where it remains to this day.

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The plaza also houses the Hotel de Ville or the Lyon City Hall. It is an amazingly beautiful building, the first photo below is the front and the second the view from the rear of the building.
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Our final destination in our sightseeing tour of Lyon was the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere. To save time we decided to catch the train back to Place Bellecour and walk across the Pont Bonaparte. The view on the bridge was lovely and perfect for our first selfie of the day 🙂

IMG_2105 IMG_2106 IMG_2107  IMG_2115After we crossed the bridge we had lunch in a tiny cafe in the Place Saint-Jean. After looking through the Lyon Cathedral, we made our way to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière.

The Funicular. The Basilica was located on top of a hill that overlooks all of Lyon. The most efficient and direct route was via funicular – by now Bec was not as scared of this method of transport, however, still cautious 🙂

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The view from the Basilica grounds was incredible, we could actually see the Place Bellecour.IMG_2145

The inside of the Basilica was absolutely incredible and far outshone the simple exterior. The artwork and architecture were very impressive and we both agreed that this was one of the most beautiful churches we had seen.

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The weather was beautiful and we had made good time on our list of ‘must see’ destinations, so we walked to the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière. Beside the obvious amazement of seeing these ancient ruins in such good condition, we were also surprised that there was no entry fee, no security and not many people around. In truth these ruins are just as amazing as anything we had seen in Pompeii or Rome. The Amphitheatre is still functional and used frequently for festivals.

The theatre was built in two steps: around 15 BC, a theatre with a 90m diameter was built next to the hill. At the beginning of the 2nd century, the final construction added a last place for the audience. The diameter is 108m, and there were seats for 10,000 people.

 

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What an awesome day! We both enjoyed so much about this amazing city, beside the key landmarks we have talked about, the entire city was full of beautiful buildings, gardens and had a lovely relaxed attitude. The public transport was easy to use and cheap!

We made our way back to our accommodation, had a home cooked meal and packed up ready for our next stop tomorrow – Paris!!!

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¹ It was this Patisserie that started a conversation – ‘What is the difference between a patisserie and a boulangerie in France?’ Later that night we consulted ‘The Google’, and found that to be known as a Patisserie one must have a licensed master pastry chef. To obtain this title the chef has to complete a lengthy training process and pass an exam.

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Sunday, 14th September

We spent the night just outside of Bourges, but since we got there in the dark, we were up at the crack of dawn to do some sight seeing.

We only had a couple of sites on our short list, the first being the Cathedrale St-Etienne (St Stephen’s Cathedral) is one of the largest most impressive gothic churches in France and is UNESCO listed.  The morning sunlight played on the outside of the cathedral and it was absolutely beautiful. The church gardens were incredible and overall the architecture was mind blowing.

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After consulting the map we determined we could walk a loop around the town without too much trouble. The town is rich in history, with many old buildings and cobbled stone roads however there are a number of new modern buildings here and there.

The town was really quite pretty, with lots of gardens and quaint ‘arty’ shops, it would have been easy to spend the entire day window shopping 🙂

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On our way through the town we came across the Palais Jacques-Coeur, an impressive residence built by a prominent and well known businessman in Bourges.

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Our next destination was Lyon, a four hour drive from Bourges not considering any breaks.We decided to break up the trip with a brief stop in Moulins. It was not a town we had done any research on, however we immediately stumbled across the Moulins Cathedral.

We decided to pop inside for a quick look and were really surprised. Whilst it was very statuesque from the outside we had not expected such a grand interior. The Cathedral has been well maintained, given that it was built in the 15th century.

IMG_1951 IMG_1976 IMG_1993IMG_1982We made the decision to keep driving through Moulins and head on to Lyon, however, we didn’t get very far, because the Cathedral was so big we hadn’t spotted markets that were taking place on the other side 🙂 Quickly finding another parking spot we continued to explore, giving in to temptation we grabbed a coffee and some scones and enjoyed people watching for a bit.

IMG_2004 IMG_2020 IMG_2033  Eventually we continued on our way and once in Lyon met up with our airbnb host. We had two nights in Lyon and decided to catch up on washing and have a relaxing evening by going out for dinner – Japanese in France 🙂

After reviewing our busy itinerary for the next day and familiarising ourselves with the public transport we called it a night.

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