Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Nice to Toulouse

Nice to Toulouse

Last Thursday James and I drove from Nice to Toulouse. James got a bargain with the hire car - half price, brand new, full insurance but small and yes it was tiny. It was a little Renault twingo and just fitted us and our bags. We had decided that we would drive up into Provence and across and headed up into the hills. It ended up being a very slow journey and was going to take a very long time so after a drive through Grasse and a stop at the McDonalds for a coffee we decided to head back to the motorway. We wanted to still see some sights on the way so thought that instead decided to head back to the coast to St-Tropeze.

It was very windy and our little car got buffeted by the wind on the motorway and it had traction control so kept on making a funny noise which was a bit disconcerting. By the time we got to St Tropeze we were ready for lunch and after a wander past the beautiful shops we found our way down to the marina. The port was gorgeous with lots of very expensive yachts moored with the crews busy cleaning them - how the other half lives I guess.

We found a creperie and had a delicious lunch of galletes and cider. We wove our way down a lovely country road before hitting the busy, fast, windy motorway. We eventually made it to Toulouse 10 hours after leaving Nice, very happy that we had made it in one piece!

The next day James had work and my plan was to catch up on a bit of shopping at Blagnac mall. At midday I was picked up by my dear friend Christine and then we went to another friends house for lunch with a lovely group of women from IST. We had such a lovely lunch and it was great to reconnect. James picked me up and we met a friend for a drink then drove back into Toulouse. We then met up for dinner with the Air NZ guys and their wives who had replaced James at a great restaurant called 'The winter garden'. It was nice to see them again and hear about all the things they have been doing.

On Saturday we slept in and then headed out into the Gers to have lunch at a work colleague of James. His son is coming to NZ on work experience at Air NZ and is going to board with us so it was really great to meet him and his family. We had a traditional French lunch which included five courses and wine to match each course. We left there feeling very full and popped in to visit other friends before heading out to dinner at another friends place. We had yet another wonderful meal and more beautiful wine as well as a great laugh. It was so lovely to reconnect with great people and be in good company.

On Sunday we decided we needed to walk off some of the food we had eaten the day before so after breakfast walked through Toulouse down to the canal in the sunshine. It was a beautiful Easter Sunday and there were lots of people out and about enjoying the sunshine. We then headed to the great French indoor market at Victor Hugo and took in all the sights and sounds. We bought some canned cassoulet so we will see if we are able to get it through NZ customs or not - we really wanted to buy some cheese and meats but knew we couldn't get those into NZ. We met up with a work colleague of James' and his partner and had a great lunch at a seafood restaurant in the upstairs part of the market. We then walked back to the hotel before heading out to our lovely Church friends Annie and Ian. They had organised an Easter dinner for us with a lovely group of friends and it was a very special evening with a bit of a Kiwi theme including onion dip, NZ lamb, pavlova and marshmallow Easter eggs. It was a really lovely evening and there was even a blood moon.

James and I had a free day on Monday and after all of our socialising and wining and dining over the previous few days decided we needed to do a bit of exercise. Our friend Sylvie had recommended the St-Antonnie-de-Noble area for walking.

Following behind some cyclists

There were beautiful villages on the way and once arriving in St-Antonnie we went to the information office and had a wander around before heading off on our walk.
Found the square for a coffee

We found our way to the walkway even though it wasn't signposted very well and had a lovely walk for a couple of hours.

On the drive home we went up to a viewing platform where we watched skydivers flying around and having a great time due to the thermal winds.

We then drove on to the village of Banqueria which is a medieval town on a hill.

The amount of stunning villages in France still astounds me and there seems to be another beautiful town around every corner to explore and visit. We then headed to our kiwi friends Mark and Deb to deliver some birthday presents and kiwi goodies and had a lovely catch up. Final quick visit to Maia, Penelope's dear friend to deliver a card and then back into Toulouse to pack. Mark and Deb had very kindly invited us to dinner but we decided to take the opportunity to have dinner out in Toulouse just the two of us. We went to one of our favourite restaurants Monsieur George and decided to just have a main each rather then doing the typical French thing of entree, plat, dessert. We both finished our French holiday by having traditional French food. James had duck and I had beef tartare (which is a raw beef patty with a raw egg on top).

James headed off on Tuesday morning and I stayed in Toulouse in the morning to do a bit of shopping. I had been having problems with my shoulders being quite sore and they got really sore and made me feel quite nauseous so when my friend Jackie picked me up from the metro I was sick. She took me to IKEA and after a bit of lunch and shopping I felt much better!! We also managed to squeeze in visits to Casa and decathlon in between school pick up, swim drop off and a lovely walk around Lake Ramee.

It was lovely to be back in a family home again and great to be able to stay at the Alcocks the night and enjoy their hospitality. I had a very early flight today so Jackie very kindly took me to the airport at 6am. Unfortunately there is an air traffic controllers strike on today and our flight is stuck on the Tarmac. We were suppose to leave at 7.20 and they are now hoping to get away at 9am. I am very thankful that I don't have an international connecting flight today and decided to stay in London overnight, although I am really hoping and praying that we do get out of Toulouse soon. I am glad James left yesterday as it would have been quite stressful for him as he had an international connection from London. The flight is very full and there is a large group of French school children who are very excited and chatty. There is also a couple behind me who are very stressed about the fact that the flight is so delayed and they don't seem to really understand what is happening. Anyway all going well I should make it to London soon and hope to go to a show and have a walk around Hyde park as it is meant to be a beautiful spring day in London.

Made it to London two hours late although feeling thankful to get away as I think there will be lots of flights cancelled and the strike is for 3 days!! On arrival in London I got stuck in immigration as a long haul flight from Canada had just arrived and I was at the back. The rest of my flight apart from me and two others were all on UK or EU passports so whizzed through but it took me an hour. When I came in to collect my bag there was no carsouel number for the toulouse flight and then I saw 3 bags all by themselves so I collected my bag and off I went. I did well getting a Gatwick express ticket though and avoided the lines as went to a ticket counter with no line just by the arrival gate meanwhile there was a huge line by the train station. Am now on the Gatwick express heading to Victoria station. I feel like I need a rest and a cup of tea now.

At the hotel now. Lots of stairs in the underground getting from Victoria to Piccadily have been very blessed by the kindness of strangers helping me with my heavy bags.

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Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Bus success

We both slept a bit better probably due to our late night. We went down for our yummy buffet breakfast and outside the window in the fountain were large plastic balls full of balloons. This has provided great entertainment to tourists and locals all day especially when kids have gone up for a closer look and then the water fountains start!!

James went off to his conference and I decided to give the hotel reception one last chance to redeem themselves after giving me two lots of bad advise. I wanted to go to the Matisse art gallery so went and asked which bus to catch. I was directed to a bus stop not far away and waited only a minute before it came. There were lots of other tourists on the bus which is always a good sign and it wasn't long before we got to the Matisse stop. I got off and found my way to the gallery which was housed in a lovely old red villa. I really enjoyed the exhibition and have decided that Matisse is more my thing then the art I saw yesterday in the modern art gallery. I really enjoyed his story as an artist and the way he used light and colour. I had a lovely look around then went and found a little cafe in the gardens and had a coffee before getting back on the bus.

I then headed into the old city to the flower market. It was lovely just wandering around and looking at all the different market stalls and as well as flowers there was art, soaps and souvenirs.

I found a little bakery and got a panini and went and sat down on the beach and had my lunch. I then went and wandered around the alleyways of the old city looking at all the interesting little shops and boutiques - a very pleasant way to spend part of the afternoon.

We are very fortunate that our hotel is right in the middle of the city so I was able to come back and drop off my purchases and have a little nap before heading back out to the main shopping street. By this time I was feeling like I needed another coffee so found a chocolaterie and had a very expensive but nice coffee and a yummy macaroon. I had a nice wander around the shops and did lots of people watching. The French all dress so beautifully and seem to all be very stylish.

James has had a very long day at the conference but hopefully will be back soon so we can go out for dinner and enjoy the evening.

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on my own in Nice

James and I headed down to breakfast nice and early and then we went off to his conference and I was free to explore on my own. I had asked at the hotel reception about catching a bus to the walled village of Eze and so set off to the bus stop to catch the 82. I was early and so waited and waited and other buses came and went. After about 45 minutes a nice French lady came and told me that I was waiting in the wrong place and directed me to a different stop around the corner. I waited another 15 minutes and still no bus so I gave up and went to the modern art gallery instead.

The gallery is in a very cool building and has an amazing terrace on the top floor with views over Nice. Some of the art was quite unusual, but was a nice quiet place to sit and relax.

I tried to catch the bus again but to no avail so I went and had a coffee and a pain aux raisin and walked to the port. I asked at the band which bus to catch and they told me to catch the 100. I had seen lots of tourists getting on the 100 bus to Monaco and Eze is on the way to Monaco. It was a stunning ride along the coast line. I don't think a wander around the streets of Eze was on the cards today as I missed the stop and instead got off at another little village. I wandered down the narrow streets to the plage, past beautiful homes. I was half expecting to see Angelina Jolie walking the other way as it is the sort of place where I am sure celebrities would live. I thought I would have a coffee or glass of wine at the little restaurant on the beach, but I think at 22 euros for a glass of wine I don't think I was there target market!!!

I caught the bus back to Nice and spent the rest of the afternoon doing a bit of shopping. James came back and we went and did some shopping for him before going back to the conference to go out for dinner.

We were all loaded onto buses and taken to the Antibes aquarium where we had champagne, and then were treated to a marine show by their 6 orcas. They are beautiful creatures and seem well cared for although not sure about keeping such majestic creatures in captivity.

Mummy Polar bear with her very playful baby!

We then had a lovely dinner and in typical French style it was 4 courses, so felt very full. It was a late night and didn't get into bed until 1am so messed with my body clock a bit, although did sleep till 7am this morning which was good.

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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Exploring Nice

We slept ok but woke quite early so decided to go explore Nice a bit. When we came two years ago with the kids and James parents we had a lovely explore of the old city but didn't get much further due to limited time. So this time we decided to walk up to the gardens and castle ruins for a few over the city. It was a nice walk up and there was a gorgeous waterway at the top and lovely gardens to walk around. It was beautiful view overlooking the port on one side and the Nice promenade on the other.

We walked down through the old city and the beautiful Monday antique market to the waterfront. We decided to hire some city bikes and go for a bike ride. The help clerk at the hotel had told us that we couldn't hire the bikes as they were for residents only and instead gave us the number for a bike hire place. He told us to tell them that he had recommended them. It was quite expensive and we were sure that we could hire them if they were like the Toulouse ones so decided to give it a go and it worked. The system works that if you hire it would less than half an hour it is free. We stopped along the way and returned our bikes, took some photos and then rehired them and it was free for mine and 1 euro for James.

The cycleway was great and we felt very safe cycling along past the airport and beside lots of busy roads - without helmets of course. We stopped at the next town of Cagnes-sur-mer and returned our bikes, again costing us just one euro. We found a great little cafe for lunch where the service was very French as he chatted to every customer and took ages to get to us but then once we had him we had his undivided attention. Our tummies were still adjusting to the time zone so I had a salad and James had a good ole French steak hache, frites and salad and of course rose wine.

We jumped back on our bikes and cycled back to Nice. James had a meeting and then conference registration so I was free to explore. I had a nice look around the shops and bought a few presents for the kids. I found a little supermarket and bought some cheese and crackers for dinner and then went back to the hotel. I was a bit overcome by jetlag so ended up in bed asleep before James came home.

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Sunday, 29 March 2015

Long haul to London

Our trip started the way it was going to continue in that there was a difficult but it was overcome thankfully! First hurdle was in Christchurch due to fog. There had been flight cancellations in and out of both Christchurch and Auckland in the morning which led to flight delays all day. The lady that did our tickets was very doubtful I would get onto the 5.55 flight and then the next flights were all full. I was seriously thinking that I would have to go home and then try again on Saturday. James was confirmed so he got on the flight and then I had to wait with about ten other standby passengers and wait for my name to be called. My flight must have been looking after me as only four of us got on and I was one of them!!

We got to Auckland with about four hours to spare but ended up needing that much time as the link between LA and London was down and so no boarding passes could be printed. Thank fully they got it sorted and we got our boarding passes after about an hour. I had paid for an upgrade on my staff travel ticket but unfortunately the flights were almost full so I didn't get to be in business class with James. Luckily I had an empty seat beside me so had a bit of space. The flight went well and James and I met up on the airbridge. In LA even though we were just in transit we still had to through immigration. I also needed to get issued with a proper boarding pass as only had a standby ticket. We got to immigration security and my fingerprints were scanned and unfortunately they didn't match my passport. I had to be taken into the immigration secured office escorted by a big burly security guard. Luckily as I was in Transit I was priority and got seen quite quickly and was cleared. It was a bit scary though and I did worry at one point that I might get sent back to NZ - I must not look like much of a threat. James was waiting for me outside the door and lovely lady from AIr NZ (who was called Lovely) came to check on me and helped to hurry things along.

We made it to the gate with plenty of time to get my boarding card issued and unfortunately still no upgrade, even James didn't get into business class as it was full. He did get a premier economy seat though and he very kindly let me sit in it and he had my economy seat. It was nice to be in the nice seats with yummy food and a bit more space to spread out and the ability to have a better sleep.

I had a good flight although James didn't fair so well with not much leg room and the flight was much more crowded so no spare seat beside him. We arrived in London on Saturday morning which was a bit odd as we had been travelling for 30 hours and had left Christchurch on Friday evening.

We had a lovely taxi drive through London to our hotel and it felt surreal seeing Daffodils and blossom. Our hotel was right by St Paul's cathedral so after we checked in we had a coffee and then went and explored the beautiful St Paul's. James struggled with the no photo policy so just and to embrace the ambience. He was able to take photos from the top of the dome though as it was outside. I had been up there last time and so didn't go with him as the staircase is very steep narrow. The staircase winds up through the cone and is metal and open so you can see right down so not great for my fear of heights. James enjoyed it though and got some good photos.

After St Paul's we walked across to the millennium bridge and along the South Bank to the London eye. We decided to not go on it though and instead walked over to Big Ben and Westminster Abby. We were starting to get tired so decided to catch the tube home. The queue was really long for tickets so we decided to just jump on the bus. The buses no longer take cash and we didn't fancy having to go queue up again so tried to use our credit card to pay. It only worked for one ticket but the conductor let me on anyway.

So nice to get back to the hotel and then had dinner at the English pub down the road it.

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