Saturday, July 18, 2009

About this blog

This blog is basically my journal of the Trafalgar tour our family took to Europe in 2009, we added on a couple of days in the UK on either end of the tour.

To read the blog day by day you will need to click on the appropriate day on the right (just below the map).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

In the morning Grant, Roxy and Paula did the London Eye.

Dad and I wandered around Bloomsbury for a while and we then went to Piccadilly Circus and walked down to the National Gallery, where I got to see the Van Gogh sunflowers - another item checked off my bucket list! Grant, Rox and Paula went to Abercrombie and Fitch – one of Rox’s “must dos”. We finally met up and popped into a Cinnabon for a snack, yum!

Finally it was back to the hotel to wait for our transfer to the airport. And do some last minute wiggling and jiggling to get our luggage to fit. (And yes, Rox did have to buy more luggage!)

When we got to Heathrow we weighed our luggage and then became those people you laugh at who are all red in the face, unpacking luggage and trying to make it all fit back in and somehow weigh less! Customs at Heathrow was hectic, they even made us take our shoes off!

Our flight back was okay, as flights go. It's strange this fear of flying that I have developed since I became middle-aged and matronly. Weirdly, I actually enjoy the experience of being on the plane. In some bizarre way, I even get a kick out of the airline food - all in it's separate little containers, cute. I love plotting the journey on the map and I even find the loo on the plane quite fascinating. What gets me down is the take off, the landing and any turbulence inbetween. Freaks me out badly!

Jo’burg was freezing, something ridiculous like -2 when we landed! We had Manchester City F.C on our flight so we got quite an awesome welcome, crowds of adoring fans, vuvuzelas and all ;-)

We nearly froze to death waiting for our flight to Durban, I can't remember ever being colder. I eventually went and bought Rox and I some socks, I was starting to fear frostbite! Paula, Rox and I managed to snooze for a bit before our flight was called. Well Paula and I snoozed, Rox fell fast asleep, dead to the world!

Our flight to Durban (which Paula and I had been dreading after the trauma that was our Dbn to Jhb trip) was completely uneventful, boring even. And this time around all our luggage landed with us. Thankfully!

We got home with such mixed feelings. It was lovely to see our pets and Mom and Dad and Eunice and Imps…. But I felt so sad!

The only solution has been to start planning the next trip. Egypt in 2010 and Ireland in 2011 is sounding good!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

We had the most hideous night, so much noise! Some drunken idiot downstairs in the courtyard bellowing his head off until the early hours. He was singing...... I reckon he would have had a lousy voice when sober, but drunk..... hideous!  Having seen the state us girls were in this morning, Grant arranged for us to move to another room, in a different section of the hotel.

The girls and I were too exhuasted to do the planned London Walk to see the Changing of the Guard. So Grant and Dad headed off to do that and we arranged to meet them later on at Hyde Park corner.

Grant and Dad thoroughly enjoyed the walk. I'm definitely going to do a couple of the walks next time.

We snoozed a bit and then took our time getting up and about. We left for Hyde Park a little early and while on the tube we decided that we’d quickly pop in at Harrods - you just can't keep us out of the shops! We went straight to the food hall and had a wander around there, buying a few bits and pieces. Then we went to the Sport floor – Paula was unimpressed because there was no hockey section!

We then went to the pet floor. Jeanne had suggested that we visit it and I am so glad that we did. Unbelievable! Four poster beds, 6 packs of “beer” for dogs, every kind of collar and leash imaginable (and unimaginable!) A whole section dedicated to cakes, cup cakes (pup cakes!) and cookies for pets – iced birthday cakes and all…. We walked around with our mouths hanging open. I was all for taking photos, but Rox restrained me.

Then we went to Hyde Park and took a little wander and watched the squirrels.

Once we had met the guys we went to the embankment area and walked across a bridge over the Thames. We had lunch in a restaurant and Paula and I found a lovely book stall and bought some books. Getting a bit concerned about the weight of our luggage!

Then we took a tube to Kensington and walked to Kensington Palace. We went into the palace and saw various displays, including Princess Diana’s dresses. We walked through the state apartments and saw all sorts of rooms, including the bedroom that Princess Victoria was sleeping in when she awoke to the news that she was queen. I just loved the formal garden at the palace, so beautiful.

Afterwards we sat in Kensington gardens, near the lake and watched the swans. Grant spent a lot of time trying to persuade a swan to pose for the camera.....

and eventually it co-operated.

We then had a drink at a pub and afterwards decided to go to the Indian restaurant near Paddington station that we had been to years ago for supper. Dad found it quite easily - he's got a good sense of direction that guy! Supper was lovely just as good as we remembered.

Then it was back to the hotel, to bed. No sooner had our heads hit the pillows and there were kids running amok, up and down the passages outside our rooms, banging on doors, yelling….. Rox, being more assertive and confrontational than I am, immediately phoned reception and complained. I phoned Grant and “dropped my load”, told him to get his well-rested ass over to our room to get some notion of what sleep-deprivation felt like! I'm nasty when my sleep is interferred with!! Grant and the unfortunate teacher in charge of the group of youngsters met in the passage and between them, sorted the problem out. Grant was all keen to head back to his peaceful bed, but I wouldn't let him, I had a feeling it was only a matter of time..... I gave Grant my bed and I climbed in with Paula and we again tried to sleep. It lasted all of 5 mins and the Spanish teenagers next door started performing, banging on the doors.... Grant was up and out of bed and banging on their door in a matter of seconds. They apologised profusely (I don't think they knew quite what had hit them, this large, irate South African, pretty much foaming at the mouth LOL!) After that it was relatively peaceful until about 5 am. Remind me never to stay in the Royal National hotel in London again….ever!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Okay, let's first get the moans out of the way: We didn't sleep well. The hotel is chock-a-block full of Contiki tours.  It is exceedingly noisy. Breakfast was grim. Okay, moving on!!

At this point the girls and I tried in vain to persuade the men to head off on their own. Today was a day set aside entirely for shopping – this was my promise to Rox when the trip was still in the planning stages. We were quite convinced that the men would be a whole lot happier doing something else, but they were adamant that they were coming with us…..(personally I think they were scared about exactly how much shopping we might do without their calming influence!)

We set off for Piccadilly Circus, clearly it was rush-hour, the tubes were packed. Seems like London wakes up a lot later than we do – we got to Oxford St and all the shops were still closed. So we popped into Starbucks for coffee. I, of course, had to have a pain-au-chocolat – clearly the inventor of these delicious morsels knew the makings of a good breakfast!

The we shopped, and shopped and shopped some more. It was of course the July sales in London and when they say “Sale” in the UK they really mean it. Frankly, I could have spent an hour or two in Debenhams and been done with it, but the girls had other ideas!

Rox in paradiseWithin half and hour the two men had long faces, but we used them as “beasts of burden” and we didn’t feel even slightly sorry for them – they knew what they were letting themselves in for when they chose to come with us…. By the time we were done we were fainting with hunger. We hopped on a tube to Covent Garden, where we had a really nice 2 course lunch in a little bistro and gave the men some beer to cheer them up.

After a half-hearted wander around Covent Garden we headed back to the hotel for a rest.

We met Charlie for a drink in the evening and then had a quiet dinner at a little Chinese restaurant before bed.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

10 July Friday – 12 July Sunday

By the time we got to Guildford we were pro's at hoisting luggage on and off tubes, trains and escalators (even me!).
We stayed at Lisa and Trev’s from Thursday evening to Sunday morning. It was lovely to spend time with them, just relaxing...

Lisa and I have been friends since we were six years old and I could not imagine a life without her in it. We may live on different continents now, but we stay in contact, pretty much daily. Still, it’s nice to see each other in the flesh every now and then. It’s been nearly 18 months since we last saw each other, so it was good to get together again.

Paulz and Lisaclowning around Smith style
We got to see their girls too, but only briefly. And we got to meet Harvey, Lisa's "baby" - he's an indoor bunny!

Rox, Cait and Paula
Rox, Cait and Paulzie
Paula with Harvey Paula with Harvey

In the short time we were together we: shopped up a storm at a shopping centre in Woking (much to the disgust of the men involved); we had a lovely lunch next to a lake, had a traditional English breakfast in a pub, wandered around Guildford, but mainly we just relaxed.

By Sunday our batteries were re-charged and we trundled off on the train to London again. We left our luggage at the hotel and set off for Little Venice where we had a fantastic roast lunch in a pub. We then caught a barge to Camden market. Enjoyed the barge trip, but Camden was busy, crowded and totally over-rated.
We had quite some difficulty checking into our hotel rooms. The woman at the desk clearly told us we were on the first floor, but our cards wouldn’t work in the respective doors. Grant went downstairs and got new cards, came back and still our doors would not open. Then a couple of South African boys on a Contiki tour arrived at “our” door stuck their card in and it opened first time. They were very sweet and quite happy to have Rox move in with them ;-) Eventually it transpired that we had the correct room, but on the wrong floor – we were meant to be on the 4th floor.

Once we had checked into our rooms and unpacked we were pretty tired and decided to supper locally. We found a little Chinese down the road and had a nice meal there.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tour round-up

Since we got back, almost every single person we have spoken to has asked what the best thing was about our tour. For me there was no single best thing. I can honestly say I enjoyed everything about it... except Lucerne, and even though it pains me to say it, I have to admit that there were things about Lucerne that I did quite enjoy too, just a little bit ;-)

If I had to choose a favourite city, it would be a tie between Rome and Paris. A place I wouldn't rush back to would be Cologne and heaven help me, Ludwigshafen!

I've also been asked if I would recommend this particular tour. Definitely. If you're looking to see an awful lot, in a really short space of time, this is the tour for you. BUT if you're looking for a leisurely ramble through Europe, don't pick this tour! If you want 5 star hotels, complete with room service....think again! If you don't know what it means to be punctual, for the sake of your fellow travellers, don't do this tour!

This tour whets your appetite. It gives you just enough to leave you wanting a whole lot more. I now know for sure that I will die if I don't get back to Italy in the next 24 months!

So many things on this tour surprised me: Amsterdam was lovely - I totally didn't expect that, I had this image in my head of a druggie-infested, sex-pit of a place. Not so! I loved Amsterdam. I had been to Paris before and disliked it intensely, this time round I fell in love. Can't wait to go back there. I knew I'd love Italy and I did. Love it, love it, love it. I had been told that the Italian drivers were maniacs and the traffic was a mess, quite frankly the South African drivers make the Italians look like senior citizens on a Sunday afternoon stroll. I'd been warned that Venice was smelly and disgusting, totally not the case at all. Everywhere we went there was something unexpected and surprising.

I have to admit that I wondered how Rox, Paula and I would cope sharing a room and spending such a lot of time together. Although we get along really well, we don't live in each other's pockets as a rule and we like to have our own space and privacy. As it turned out, I needn't have worried, we had such a fun time together, the three of us! I haven't laughed so much in years.

But I think what surprised me most of all was me! Truth be told, the whole family, myself included, wondered how I was going to cope with the tour experience. I am extremely anti-social, I don't do boats (I had to get off a booze cruise on the lake at Sun City in April because I was sea-sick!), I have a new, but intense, fear of flying, in fact I have a fear of any form of transport other than my own two feet, I detest public toilets and I have the smallest bladder on the planet. How the hell was I going to manage, for 12 days, on a bus, with a whole bunch of strangers, river cruises, gondolas, infrequent toilet stops.....?

I loved every minute of it, even though I was waaay outside of my comfort zone! I have to be honest and admit that I hated the flying part though, but I would get on that plane again tomorrow, quite willingly, if I could do it all over again.
We woke up at 6am with heavy hearts. I really don’t feel ready for this tour to end yet!

We set off for Calais, the drive went so quickly, just one loo stop and then we were at customs. We chatted to Gerry as we waited in the queue. Once through customs it all went very quickly and we said good-bye to Rudy our brilliant driver, and boarded the ferry.

The ferry ride was uneventful, we had sandwiches for lunch, did a bit of shopping and just sat about.

Once in Dover we boarded a different bus for our drive back to London. In what seemed like a very short time we were at the Trafalgar Reception Centre in Victoria which was where we had to say good-bye to our tour-mates and Gerry. Not nice! Rox got all teary and nearly got Paula and I going too.  She was teary eyed all the way to the train, such a softie!

We had to lug all our luggage onto the tube and in hefting my large and heavy suitcase onto the train, I bizarrely managed to drop my shoe between the tube and the platform. I failed to “Mind the Gap”!! Picture me - hopping around on one foot, clinging to the pole, like some kind of crazed and overweight pole-dancer. While Rox had to open her suitcase and sift through her dirty laundry on the floor of the tube to find me a shoe. Charming! The hill-billys come to town in glorious techni-colour….. A very weird and unfortunate end to our tour LOL!