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July 23, 2014

Swiss Itinerary

Someone asked me the other day where we were going in Switzerland and it occurred to me I never posted the most updated version of the plan!

So here it is!

Now that all the hotels are done, I doubt it will change very much – at this point, any changes or updates will be because we were rained out of Plan A.

Swiss Plan

July 15, 2014

Another Flash!

Arles!!

Van Gogh’s Terrace at Night painting is my favourite of his collection:

TAN

What a kick it would be to have lunch there!!! …  I would just LOVE it! 

Arles is only 20 minutes by train from Avignon, less than 40km away – really this is a no brainer!

And so, the revised plan:

PLan

This is shaping up to be yet another great vacation!

July 13, 2014

I Just Realized Something!!

I had a flash of inspiration!!!  Really, why didn’t this occur to me sooner?

In 2010, when we visited the south of France we missed out on visiting the Pont du Gard

Pont

We had every intention of going, but it got really complicated and we gave up. 

To get there, you must take a bus from Avignon but it wasn’t so straight forward. I think we missed something crazy obvious because the Pont du Gard is one of France’s top tourist attractions… therefore you’d think somewhat easy to get to - or at least there’d be tons of relevant signage!  But there was nothing. We MUST have missed something.

After about an hour of trying to figure it out, I considered going to the Tourist Office for help but by then we were too fed up of wasting time so we abandoned the project. (My husband didn’t care either way “It’s just a bridge, why do I gotta see it” MEN!!!)

The South of France is tempting us as a vacation destination again for next spring, and I would hate to see a second opportunity missed!  This time, I will plan ahead!

My idea (previous post) was to fly into Lyon and out of Nice.  I thought of a stop in either Avignon or Aix en Provence on the way from one city to the other, so why not incorporate the Bridge!… and my husband likes the idea this time too! Bonus.

Years ago I swore off one-night-stops, so the trip now looks like this… but I think I now would want an extra day in Nice for another day trip and come home on Sunday instead of Saturday.

PLan

We’ll see in November (when it’s time to pick our 2015 vacations weeks)  if this comes too pass!

July 1, 2014

I’ve Been At It Again…

… 2015 vacation planning!

In February I planned out my trips for 2015 and while I am still up for all of them (London is done and booked) I’ve scrambled them around a bit.  Are you surprised?

I am thinking of France instead of Passau Vienna Prague for spring 2015.

If I can’t get the weeks I need in September for Norway, then we do “PVP” then. Plan B if I didn’t get the weeks for Norway was going to be Sicily, but we can move that to Spring 2016 (cooler weather!)

Are you still with me?

So why France again so soon?

  • Had a greeeeeeeeeeeat time in Paris
  • I love love love French Food & Cafés & Resto-Vibes
  • Disappointed that I missed out on Lyon
  • Some friends of ours are visiting Nice in September and it brought back nice memories of our trip
  • Just read “A Year in Provence” and it brought back nice memories of our trip

France is so damned big! and compared to ALL MY EXPERIENCES SO FAR (and that’s a lot) the trains are really expensive!! What gives? It’s already altering my fantasy plans!  I just need to come to terms with the cost; it is what it is and I am not going to rent a car… so suck it up sister!!

In 2010 we did the Riviera and Côte D'Azur, 2 home bases in Nice and Marseille and saw 8 cities in 8 days…  LOVED IT!  Well, didn’t care much for Nimes or Marseille but the rest of it was GREAT!

 Picture from Provence / Pictures from Côte D'Azur

nice

Marseille

As is the case with all good trips, we want to relive the good parts and mix it in with some new adventures… and so the fantasizing begins!!!

Transat (albeit insanely uncomfortable) is cheap! AND they fly to Lyon and Nice so I am thinking we could:

  • Fly into Lyon, use that as a home base for 3 nights, explore the city and have a day trip to Grenoble (all new)
  • From Lyon take the train south to Nice, with a stop in either Avignon or Aix on the way (repeat- but these 2 cities were highlights for us last time)
  • Stay in Nice for the rest of the time (repeat- but best home base) visit Monaco (repeat- but another highlight) then that leaves us 2 full days for more day trips around Nice…  I insist these places must be new.  Grasse? Menton?
  • Fly home from Nice

Lots of time to decide Smile

PLan

How many times will this plan change??

PLan

June 17, 2014

Next thing I knew, it was booked!

London is done!

Just like that.

I was not planning on booking anything until Switzerland was all paid off (still have the last night in Basel and the train pass to pay off), but I was keeping an eye out for good deals… and found one!

In April 2013 including a discount we paid 1128 for a direct flight to London. This time: 968!!! (both times with Air Canada). Anything under 1000 to cross the Atlantic is a good price so it was hard to resist.  Could I have waited and gotten a better price? Perhaps, but I feel I am knowledgeable enough to know a good deal when I see one! 

The hotel was easy: what’s dirt cheap, clean, and close to the Tube? Answer: Comfort Inn! Sometimes low prices imply low quality but the fact that it’s a “known chain” is reassuring, and for under 100$ a night I am SO IN!

The pictures on line imply it’s clean and modern…  yes, yes, I know this is a publicity shot, but you know I’ve seen it all.

Comfort Inn

For that price in London, you must have already concluded we aren’t really staying in the city… or even close to the city! We’re not. We’re staying in the town of Harrow, about 20km away.

Harrow

It’s still accessible with the Tube, on the Bakerloo line in zone 5. Barring delays, it should take us a little over 30 minutes to get to London. I can totally live with that commute… the price is so worth it! 

From what I see online it’s 35 minutes from Kenton to Oxford Circus – not bad at all!

Tube Map

How easy was that?

June 1, 2014

Willis Tower Floor Cracks!

Willis Tower 8 - Simone in line for tickets to 103rd Floor

Willis Tower 25 - Skydeck Ledge - Frank Simone Barb Larry

Willis Tower 23 - Skydeck Ledge - Simone's Feet

I think I would have shit my pants; pardon the brutal honesty…

Stepping out there was scary enough, I can’t imagine what it would have been like to FEEL it crack under my feet.

 

0

May 30, 2014

300 Sleeps to go!

Whoop Whoop! London 2015 is a go! Party smile

I won’t start getting serious about hotels and flights and excursions until Switzerland is all paid off (let’s see what’s leftover in the budget!!), but I’m excited to get another countdown underway.

We wanted to see our Chicago friends again and they mentioned that London was on their list; since we are anxious for a warmer re-do compared to when we went in 2013, it all works out perfectly!

London, April 2013

Highgate Cemetery 16 - Simone

Hampton Court Palace Gardens 4 - Simone

Wurzburg Germany, April 2013

Alte Mainbrücke 11 - Simone Frank Barb Larry

Looking forward to it already!

May 24, 2014

The Final Stop

After Samedan, we’ll be staying with family for a night in Aadorf…  the site of the Bugs versus Simone’s Leg Carnage back in 2011

IMG_3547IMG_3581

From there, it’s off to Basel for the final night. We fly in and out of the Euro Airport which is actually in France near the borders or Switzerland and Germany.

Euro Airport

I like to be in the final city for the last night of any trip, I’m not interested in a long train ride from a city far away on flight-day. I’m too paranoid that things will go horribly wrong and we miss the flight home.

Besides, the day we leave is Day 16 and our train pass (which includes passage on boats, busses and trams too) is a 15-day pass so all we need to pay for on this last day is transportation to the airport and that is just 1 bus stop away (a 5 minute ride) from our hotel:  Airport Hotel Basel.  Perfect set up.

Bus Stop

We’ll be bussing right passed it on the day we arrive, as we will be taking the same airport bus from the airport to get to the train station to go to Bern… curious to see if we’ll notice it. In theory we should as it’s right at the bus stop and it’s tallest building around!

Basel Hotel

May 13, 2014

Fun Things to Track on Google Earth

Love this!

I should make this my desktop picture at work so that when I’m having a bad day I can remind myself what it’s all for!

Hotel Map

Out Of Town

Our next stop is St Moritz but we won’t actually be staying there – we’ll be sleeping one town over in Samedan.  St Moritz is just impossibly out of the budget.

It’s not so bad, Samedan is only 6km from St Moritz – under 15 minutes by train and there’s one about every 20 minutes.

Samedan

I nixed St Moritz from our 2011 itinerary, so I am looking forward to it this time. I’ve only been once for a few hours in May 2000 and it was so cold the lake was still frozen:

St-Moritz 06

St-Moritz 13

Still it was very nice and it’ll be nice to spend more time exploring the place in more detail (and hopefully in better weather!) My mom recommends walking around the lake, good idea and it only takes an hour… no other plans for St Moritz other than lunch and wandering!

Our hotel in Samedan (Bernina) looks CRAZY nice!! This must be the effect of retouched and embellished glamour shots… wow!

Bernina

Bernina 2

I am extra curious about seeing this one in real life!!!

May 11, 2014

Don’t Be So Cheap!

The third pit stop of our Switzerland vacation will be Lugano in the Italian Canton of Ticino.

Lugano

Lugano (really, like pretty much all of Switzerland) is gorgeous; we stayed here in 2006 and loved it. We skipped it in 2011 but for this trip it was a no-brainer! We’re looking forward to going back.

In 2006, we stayed in an incredible place right on the water – so picturesque! But this time since we have more day trips planned from Lugano (Belinzona & Locarno – and also a possibly family reunion 3 hours away) we were happy to get a hotel closer to the train station.

Hotel Acquarello

The location is ideal. Close to the train station AND the town centre AND the lake (ok, well, given the size of the place just about all hotels meet this criteria).

Lugano 1

So what’s with not being too cheap? Well, to get to the train station in Lugano, you must take a funicular and it actually  goes THROUGH the hotel!!!

Here’s a picture of the funicular that we took in 2006 unaware that were also photographing (a small sliver to the left) the hotel where we’d stay 8 years later.  Frankly, I don’t recall if we even realized there was a hotel RIGHT THERE… we must have at the time…

Funicular to the Train 01

Here’s a neat picture I found on line:

Funi

The hotel warns you that rooms may not be quiet if they are too close to the funicular, and so offers (for a higher price naturally) rooms that are further from it and therefore quieter.

The difference in price for our stay would be about 80$…  I considered the cheaper / louder room because:

  • I am into the idea of saving 80$
  • The funicular does not run between about midnight and 5:30AM

But then, I remembered how much I came to regret the outcome when I tried to save a few bucks in Interlaken in 2011.

My husband could not believe I was even considering the cheaper room. He said to me: “80$!! TOTAL???? are you serious? you probably spent that much out with your friends for diner tonight! 80$ = less than 15$ each per night.”

Hard to argue with that logic. He’s right.

May 9, 2014

Over My Dead Body!

Change in plans for Interlaken.  Seems the price I was quoted for the hotel in Interlaken included “shared facilities”. NEVER.  Fahgettaboudit!

The price for a private bath is WAY above what I am willing to pay, so dooooown the cozy-cuteness scale we go to Hotel Crystal.

Interlaken 1

It’s closer to the train station which is vey convenient, but superficially it looks WAY LESS charming than the other place! Still, I don’t care – there is no way I am doing the shared facilities thing!

Crystal

Crystal 2

May 5, 2014

Switching Gears… Bring on the Cow Bells!

Time to look ahead and stop pining over my EXCELLENT vacation in Paris.

SWITZERLAND AWAITS!

2 of the 5 hotels are done, and I am happy. The hotel prices are higher than our average European Holiday, but I knew that Switzerland would not be cheap so I have been extra extra penny pinching in order to pour more money into the travel account.  (So I have holes in my socks… so what! you can’t see them in my shoes!)

Socks

I also did not buy ANY new clothes for this past fall / winter / spring and I don’t plan to buy any for the summer. Considering the fact I HATE shopping this was an easy “sacrifice” but I do admit that I am down to the bare bones.

Little things add up! For example, I now bring my own mug to work and save 1$ on my morning coffee, I walk to work and therefore don’t need a bus pass… A dollar here a dollar there,  next thing you know it’s real money!

Our airfare was a great deal because we are not traveling direct, and our arrival / departure times suck…  but we saved 700$ doing it that way.

Now, I don’t want you thinking I am splurging on 5 start luxury - no. FAR from it! I just want to strike SOME SORT of balance between getting a good deal, being comfortable, and accepting that it’s Switzerland. So now, time to allocate those savings and get the hotel picking done!


BERN

Hotel Metropole

The location is great, we are quite familiar with it as it is a mere 300 feet from where we stayed in 2006! 

Bern

We passed on Bern in 2011 so I am looking forward to going back! 8 years is a long stretch. This hotel was on the 2006 list and the 2011 list of possibilities, so it’s about time we give it a shot.

Wanna laugh at a bad picture of me? Here I am in Bern in May 2000!

Bern - Simone and Cosimo

Being familiar with the area, Google Street View of the hotel shows me pretty much what I expected to see… the hotel is on the left and down the street on the right, just above the truck, you can see the green sign of our 2006 hotel.

Bern Street View


INTERLAKEN

In 2011 I made a mistake, I was so focused on saving a few bucks that I fell on the other side of “a nice place at a good price” to “a dump”.

ok ok, it was not THAT bad… but overall we were unsatisfied and considering that this time we are spending the longest stretch of our vacation here, we wanted to make sure we’d have at least one notch better.

We picked Hotel Beausite

Contrary to what I just finished telling you, I like staying in different areas when I repeat destinations so I am please with the location of this hotel.

Interlaken

Ok, new neighbourhood is a slight exaggeration – the walk between the 2 locations is roughly 10 minutes!

Google Street View looks promising!!

Beausite

And get a look at the view from the front door! Here’s hoping it will be ours…  the holes in my socks are totally worth it! (even the flag doesn’t bother me!)

View

April 30, 2014

A Less Lazy Version of Paris Day 6

I am unsatisfied with my Field Reports. Years from now, when I look back and want to recall my adventures, they will not do the job… so here I go again using maps, our pictures (including the ones I posted on Facebook), and my memories before they fade!

Today was the last day and the rainiest, but it was the kind of day where it always seemed like it was about to rain, and when it finally did the sky was so bright you thought it would stop any minute. It was not the kind of rain that slowed us down at all.

Rain = Museums and I had 2 on my list that I wanted to see. A temporary exposition at the Petit Palais called “Paris 1900” and then the Paris History Museum (Musée Carnavalet).

We planned to walk to the Petit Palais since the rain was so light. We had a nice walk passed the National Archives, Hôtel de Ville and Théâtre de la Ville…

Map

Archives Nationales 2

Hôtel de Ville 5

Théâtre de la Ville 1

… but time got away from us, so we eventually just jumped in the metro. The exposition opened at 10 but based on the line-up we noticed on previous days we aimed to arrive early! We go there little after 9:30.

Map 2

Paris 1900 picstitch

The exposition was nice, but I would have like more photographs. It took us about an hour (we skipped some sections) and then it was time for a coffee (and something a little stronger) to shake off the Museum Fatigue!

Map 3

Le Grand Palais picstitch

We tried to think of a nice place to have our last lunch. I wanted something like we had on Wednesday at Terminus Nord (but I have a no restaurant repeat rule therefore we could not go there), so we headed out to Montparnasse. There is a kind of “Brasserie Row” there with a few biggies side by side.  The plan was to check them all out and pick a winner. I knew I wanted foie gras de canard as a starter again and my husband wanted calf liver.

Although there was no calf liver on the menu, we picked La Rotonde.

Map 4

Day 6. 4. Lunch on Friday - La Rotonde 1

Great meal – really nice… although not as fantastic as Terminus Nord! That would have been hard to beat.

We were seated in the interior terrace section as opposed to the “proper inside restaurant”. Nice, but I was not impressed with the paper table liners! Once we placed our order however, they quickly changed our table setting – crisp table cloth included. I guess we ordered enough food to qualify for a “nice” table? We were the only ones in that section.

I got my foie gras and it was the prettiest one so far, but Chartier’s was still the most delicious. I didn’t like the layer of duck fat along the bottom – even if it was pretty!

For my main I had steak. I asked for it well done because in my experience steaks usually arrived a little undercooked. In this case (as I should have known) they gave me exactly what I asked for, so it was a little TOO cooked!

Desert was the best! cheese! ever! It kicked my ass it was so generous and delicious… believe me I ate every last morsel! (It was Saint Marcellin, I have to check if I can get it at the grocery store)

La Rotonde Picstitch

My husband had oysters to start and in a happy surprise: calf liver for his main course! It was not on the menu, but was the daily special!

We left around 2ish and the idea was to hit the 2nd museum on our list: The Paris History Museum (Musée Carnavalet) but it was not raining anymore so I was less eager to spend time indoors.

We took the metro back from Vavin (right next to the Restaurant) back up to Châtelet and continued with our wander of that area.  I liked the look of the Vavin metro station, it reminded me of London! “Mind the Gap!”

Boulevard du Montparnasse - Metro Vavin

Metro 5

Map 5

We strolled along this path:

Map 6

Taking in the Pont Neuf, Conciergerie, Pont au Change, Boulevard du Palais, Pont Notre Dame, Pont d'Arcole, Quai des Gesvres, Hôtel de Ville, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, Église St-Gervais-et-St-Protais, Mairie du 4e Arrondissement, Rue Saint-Antoine and finally the Église Saint-Paul Saint-Louis… there was a lot to see along that path!!

Conciergerie 1

Boulevard du Palais

Quai des Gesvres

Hôtel de Ville 6

Rue Saint-Antoine

Église Saint-Paul Saint-Louis 4

By then it was about 3:30 and we said if we don’t make it to our goal soon (Paris History Museum) we’d miss it.

Map 7

Honestly in hindsight, we could have skipped it. It was not that bad but it felt like an extension of what we had already seen at the exposition that morning – therefore redundant – and I felt it was badly organized.  Many things were unlabelled, there was no clear path to follow, the leaflet was no help… we stayed less than an hour and didn’t take any pictures. Thankfully it was free.

I did however enjoy the section covering old signs, that was really neat! We should have taken pictures of some of those.

Being so close to Place des Voges, we decided to stop there for a drink – taking advantage of what looked the last chance we’d have to sit outside before the sky opened up!

Place des Voges Picstitch

La Place Royale picstitch

Here I discovered a new favourite drink: Peach Kir. I never knew there was any other way to have it than with Crème de Cassis…  I love discovering new things; Crème de Pêches is awesome!  (17.90€ for a 700ml bottle at duty free!)

Creme de Peches

Lucky for us, it only rained for about 10 minutes so we were able to walk around town some more before meeting up with Lou in front of Notre Dame to have a our Farewell Dinner.

While wandering, we stumbled upon the Orient Express in front of the Institut du Monde Arabe (which incidentally: is a gorgeous building!) So cool! unfortunately, the line up was crazy-long and it did not strike me as a good deal: over 10€ to walk through 3 cars?? Forget it.

Map 8

Orient Express 4

Orient Express 2

Orient Express 5

Supper was a casual affair, in fact I had to force myself to eat because I was still full from lunch!  We went to the Départ St Michel, pretty touristy… but good.

Map 9

Depart St Michel Picstich

And so that was it! After dinner, a final walk to say good bye to Paris, then back to the room to pack our bags. It was a FANTASTIFABULOUS week.

Map 10

Here was my final vision of Paris… appropriate don’t you think?

Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris 23