Ventiane – it’s grandeur is slipping

“Like many French colonial cities, Vientiane is characterised by broad, often leafy boulevards, a riverside promenade, creaking colonial mansions painted in sun-bleached tropical hues and mod 1960’s era villas with large gardens dripping in bougainvillea. The city is dotted with rustic wats and traditional homes, coconut palms and tamarind trees, beer shacks and French cafes. Mix that with a sedentary pace of life and the allure of the place is understood.”(travelfish.org)

or:

“From its sleepy tuk-tuk drivers to its cafe society and affordable spas, this former French trading post is languid to say the least. Eminently walkable, the historic old quarter of Vientiane (ວຽງຈັນ) beguiles with glittering temples, lunging naga (river serpent) statues, wandering Buddhist monks, and boulevards lined with frangipani and tamarind.  Meanwhile, with most of its old French villas now stylishly reincarnated into restaurants and small hotels, Vientiane is achieving an unprecedented level of panache.” (Lonely Planet)

Sounds lovely and romantic, chic and oh so French.  The reality is different.  Very different. It’s chaotic and grungy – like any third world city – and the pavements are for cars to park on, not for foot traffic.  Makes walking a bit precarious as cars vie for space on the roads, coming perilously close to each other and to any humans who are walking by.  The Laos, no doubt are adept at negotiating the traffic and the pathway, for the visitor it’s a bit more unnerving.  It’s also less picturesque than the above description suggests.  The broad leafy boulevards are just wide roads with a hundred and one tiny shopfronts with rubbish piling around them.  They’re not shops in the Western sense (though there are an increasing number of ’boutiques’), some merely a space whose aluminium roller door is open; many look like garages.  But to be fair, you can find some wonderful little eateries – places that sell one or two food items – duck wonton noodle soup or baguette sandwiches – as well as many cafes selling a range of Lao and the entire gamut of international food: French (naturally), Italian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Mexican, Spanish and even Russian.   And then there are a surprising number of wine shops, full of wonderful (and very expensive) French wines.  In Vientiane the biggest decision of the day is what to eat.   Spoilt for choice, we try everything – or at least make a good attempt.  

There are no supermarkets or department stores.  There is now one mall/shopping centre but it only has the usual market tat.  The big brands have yet to come here.  Interestingly though there are ATMs and travel agencies everywhere, almost as though everyone wants to get the hell out of the place.

Strangely it has a very Chinese feel to it; I suspect that many of the hotels are Chinese owned, hence the Chinese aesthetic – tacky.  Service is not their strong point, though most of the Laos do smile and greet you and despite often not understanding what you’re saying, they do try and get you what you need.

It’s a funny place, with really not a lot to see or do. I’m over Wats and palaces and the National Museum is a travesty (mainly due to a lack of funds and a lack of conservation skills).  The upside is that with little  to do or see (there are only three main streets) there is time to just kick back and relax, to read a book and enjoy a glass of French Chablis or indulge in massages which are so plentiful and cheap.

Picturesque
The reality of Vientiane
A beautiful old grand house falling apart
Still inhabited apartment blocks
Not actually on Champs-Élysées
Outside Le Silapa – an excellent French restaurant

 

Bangkok traffic – an exercise in patience

Enduring a long slow taxi ride when you arrive in a foreign country can be frustrating, especially when it’s made longer due to traffic not moving. We once hit KL late at night and sped our way out of the airport only to have the taxi slow as though it was winding down. It always amazes me that there never seems to be any visible cause for the congestion – just too many cars – and then suddenly it all opens up and we speed away once more. This particular night we were finally within sight of our hotel but it took another 20 minutes to travel the few blocks to get there. Had it not been for our luggage I would have hopped out and walked. It was so frustrating. Especially at the end of a long flight. When flying into KL we now ensure that it’s not on Saturday: seems like everyone and their kid(s) are out and about in their cars crawling along at a snail’s pace. 

But nothing prepared me for Bangkok traffic. The roadways are blocked with cars; they have major works in place but I understand that this is generally the case and a friend of mine said that she used to leave home at 5am to beat the traffic and stay until after 8pm for the same reason.  

We were on our way to lunch at the Issaya Club and GoogleMaps informmed me it would take about 20 minutes. Our driver colleted us at 11.30. At 12.18 we were still sitting in traffic moving at less than 5kph. That’s when we were moving at all. Our trip took us over an hour. The thing that amazes me is that Thai people accept this as the norm. Perhaps they are a more serene people. There doesn’t seem to be any road rage (well not that I’ve seen). And they don’t seem to get frustrated either. As a passenger I feel like reaching for a Valium to still my frustration. Strange really; here I am on holiday with nothing to do nowhere to go (I called the restaurant and advised them of the delay so all was good on that front) yet I’m annoyed. Obviously it’s time to chill, take a breath and let go of trying to change the things I can not. So deep breath and focus on the glass of champagne awaiting me.  All will be well.

Eating our way around Bangkok

Our visit to Bangkok was primarily to eat:  at street stalls, markets and high end restaurants.  One of the joys of being in Bangkok is that there seems to be someone cooking something at even turn.  Down the little alleys and side streets, along the tiny canal walkways, at the many markets and along the main streets. And then there are all the food malls with their more up-market offerings – essentially the same but also more expansive and encompassing a greater range of international food.  These food malls seem to the place of choice for locals – clean, exotic and, importantly, air-conditioned.  We steared clear of these – they’re jut too busy – but we did find ourselves one day sitting at an oyster bar at the very up-scale Paragon food court, enjoying a glass of champagne with a section of very fine oysters from around the world.  This was a bit of  treat for us in lieu of my birthday non-dinner.  It felt very much like sitting at the oyster bar at David Jones in Sydney – a nice little interlude whilst shopping. The interesting thing at this place was the clientele, not just the well-to-do tourists eating lobster from Maine but also a group of young boys (they looked like students) who were were tucking into a range of dishes accompanied by glasses of coke.  We chatted a while with a nice Japanese couple – he had been living in Bangkok for 8 years and was showing his friend around.  He was stumped about the white wine selection and was about to agree to an Australian wine when I strongly suggested he choose something else (it was a very poor Australian wine at a very high price and there was a much better American Chardonnay and French Chablis on the menu).  He tasted the wine and was very grateful and hence the conversation began.

I tend to favour the little food places (to call them cafes is a bit of a stretch) that serve a limited range of dishes, with plastic chairs and formica topped tables, the kitchen right there in front of you, lots of noise, steam and generally no English.  It’s  a matter of pointing.  One of them around the corner from where were were staying became our local breakfast haunt – pork noodle soup and an iced coffee.  We then found a great little stall in a nearby side street that had a small selection of traditional Thai food.  We had no idea what they were but pointed to them and had them with rice.  They were excellent.  Then there was another stall that served a very fragrant spicy soup, usually full of offal (especially pork kidney) but I think the owner sized us up and just put in a small sample and gave us more duck. We were grateful.

We tried to sample all we could but could only eat so much (more’s the pity).  It was great fun going to markets and not knowing what/how to eat and having the locals help. At Or Tor Kor market (q fresh food and wholesale market where my of the restauranteurs go) we wandered the aisles marvelling at all the produce – so much beautifully fresh fish and seafood, the range of exotic fruits (which stall holders kindly allowed us to sample) and all the varied and many curry pastes and bases.  It was a bit like being in heaven for me and I discovered an exotic fruit that has become my favourite (although I’ve only seen it in Bangkok).  It’s called Bouea burmanica – Marian plum -and is the colour of an apricot and the shape of a  tamarillo (and about the same size) with bright green leaves similar to an orange.  The stall holders peel the skin away and deftly remove the inside stone stone so that you’re left with a whole peeled and stoned fruit. And it tastes like a cross between a mango and a mangosteen – two of my favourite fruits.  Mangosteens used to be what I considered the king of fruits but they’ve just been knocked off their perch by these wondrous fruits. They’re sublime. I am now (in Laos) constantly on the lookout for them.

Marian plums

 

Street food stall

But where’s the oil?

We’ve just come back from a reconnoitre in Noosa.  We’re embarking on a sea change and need to find somewhere to live – quickly.  Its very hard to get a sense of what properties are like on the web – photos that make places look bigger than they or a lack of photos (always a worry) and then that more nebulous  aspect of how a places feels:  is this a place I’d be comfortable in? So a visit is necessary.

We booked an apartment through Airbnb; we’ve been using this site for our overseas travels and have stayed in some wonderful places, including a lovely little  apartment on Rue de Rivoli that seemed to epitomise Parisian living (including the 6 flights of narrow circular stairs).  Got to feel very much the local.

I like to be able to self-cater, even if that’s just a matter of getting a nice platter of things for lunch or morning coffee/toast. I don’t always want to go out to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.  And these days, funds are a bit tight so an apartment where we could fend for ourselves was ideal.

The place we found in Noosa was ideally situated, just back from the main street (which backs on to the main beach), a quick walk to the shopping centre and – big tick – a good bottle shop across the road.  Plus it had a nice pool and gym (not that we got to use them this time). However what I discovered (too late) was there were absolutely no provisions for cooking – despite a great BBQ on the balcony.  This always astonishes me.  How can you expect people to bring their own essentials such as olive oil (any oil would have done) when they’re only staying for a  few days?  Or do you assume they’re not going to cook? So then why wouldn’t they just stay in a hotel?

Having spent the entire day driving from one side of the Sunshine Coast to the other (back and forth) looking at properties, we felt too exhausted to go out for a meal and instead decided to buy some things to eat in:  eye fillet to sear on the BBQ and a mixed green salad and ready made dressing (quelle horreur) plus salt and pepper (these we could either leave behind for the next guests or take with us).  But on returning to the apartment we discovered there was no oil – olive or otherwise – with which to sear our steaks.  Merde.  We improvised by smearing them in the balsamic salad dressing and all was well.  But it did strike me as weird that you would provide all these facilities but no essential provisions.

We had a similar experience in Yogyakarta when we rented a house for a week so we could self-cater.  I had envisioned trips to the fresh markets, exploring and experimenting with local produce. Ha!  Whilst the place had a (limited) range of utensils there were absolutely no provisions: no salt, pepper, sugar, oil.  In fact nothing.  So we needed to purchase everything, which makes it both impractical and uneconomic for short stays, and again made me wonder why this was so.

If I were to offer my place for travellers I would ensure that there was everything they could possibly need in the way of cooking  to make their stay and easy as possible. Again a big tick to the owner of the Paris apartment who not only provided all necessary condiments but also left cereal, porridge, dry and sweet biscuits and a fabulous sort of dried toast that was just perfect to have with our morning cafe au lait.  Perhaps it helps to be French.

Happy days – long weekends

It’s a bright sunny morning and we’re on the road to Canberra to see the James Turrell exhibition. The road stretches out in front of us: miles and miles of cars. I always  wonder where they’re all going? It’s a long weekend so perhaps to holiday places along the way: Bowral, Mittagong, Berrima?  Or maybe they’re all going to Canberra too.

We set off early(ish), later than anticipated but that was entirely my fault. For some reason I can’t just pack and go. There’s always something else I think of:  another jumper (just in case); my water bottle; another scarf; and at the last moment just before heading out the door I decided that I may as well do my nails along the journey which meant finding all the necessary bits and pieces: nail file, buffer, nail polish remover, cotton pads and the right shade of nail polish. See: takes some time. Please note that unless the driver is considerate of the effort of painting nails in transit rather than negotiating the traffic, this can be very tricky. 

So travelling along, iPod plugged in Kaya Project playing, blue sky, warm car and traffic moving along nicely. What could be better?  (Perhaps the expectation of a glass of nice regional wine on arrival).

Happy long weekend – God bless the Queen!

 

Camping holidays

I used to go camping a lot  – many years ago that was what you did either for long Easter breaks or in the summer holidays or sometimes just for a weekend.  My family used to go camping around Lake Eildon (in Victoria).  Back in those days you could just go bush, find a nice spot and set up camp.  We would generally camp near a river (stream actually) and my uncle would fish for trout.  He taught me how to fish.  Mostly I got the fly tangled in a tree but sometimes I caught fish.  I liked the solitariness of fishing in a stream, just walking along and casting.  Whether or not I caught a fish was beside the point, it was really just an activity. If I did catch a fish I would have to unhook it and then clean and scale it.  All part of the process. Even putting live worms onto the hook was OK.  But I was a kid then.  Not sure that I could do that now.

When we were young we used to travel all the way up from Melbourne to Hervey Bay in Qld (some 2,000+ miles) in the September school holidays. 5 of us (3 kids in the back) in a Holden station wagon fully laden with tent and camp beds and food and god only knows what else. We didn’t pay attention to the preparations, we were just keen to get on the road. It was a long, long journey and my dad would drive pretty much non-stop, fuelled up on coke (as in coca-cola) and ‘no-doze’.  He would stop by the roadside in the early hours of the morning for a couple of hours’ sleep and then would drive on again.  We’d usually stop in Brisbane overnight with some relatives and then be back on our way.  I remember how long and flat that journey was – nothing to see but the occasional billboard and lots of telegraph poles.  We’d count them (out of boredom) and we would play hangman and noughts and crosses and I spy.

In those days the tents were huge, heavy canvas things with wooden poles – usually one in the middle of the tent and eyelets that had to be threaded around the corner poles.  Our tent didn’t have a floor.  But we had those old camp beds.  I suspect they were really army cots. And no sleeping bags – mum always brought plenty of blankets and sheets.  We camped right on the foreshore: crowded with tents so close to each other that you could barely move between them; as kids we didn’t care. It was exciting to be able to wake up early to the sound of the pounding surf and go and swim – at 6am!  I think we lived in the water.  Evening times were magical too, with the ending of daylight and the descending quiet  – distant chatter and occasional raised voices of kids and adults – and the preparation of food and smell of sausages and chops cooking.  I don’t think I ever appreciated the effort that went into that exercise. Our main activity as kids was playing on the beach and reading.  We always sought out the local second hand bookstore  and spent many hours lying around reading.  It was simple but blissful.  Not a care in the world.

When we camped in the bush there were usually a group of adults and I remember fondly how at night, in our tent we would hear the adults talking and singing around the fire and playing cards. When you’re camping there’s really nothing to do – walks, cards, books, swimming. I don’t think we were ever bored.

As a young adult I once travelled all the way along the east coast of Australia from Warrnambool to Darwin, camping along the way. Sometimes just stopping at a beach for a night or two and other times in little campsites in a little tent with not many provisions or accessories.

More recently I’ve had camping trips to the Snowy River and a number of canoe trips, packing our canoe with everything we needed and finding a nice place to stop.  Sadly, now there are so many restrictions on where you can camp and you can no longer  just go bush.  You have to be in a designated camping ground.  These can be horrid and don’t appeal to me.  One time we canoed to a lovely little spot and set up our little tent only to find the next day a helicopter circling around and then the water police coming to tell us that we couldn’t camp there – too dangerous:  a branch might fall.  Despite our pleas that we were well aware of the risks, we were moved on.  And so we packed everything into our canoe (the water police watched to make sure we left) and paddled to another place.  Again the next day a ranger came and told us we couldn’t camp there.  We explained that the camp site was way too full and besides, we didn’t have much stuff with us and would take all our rubbish away with us, that we had already been moved on and were only there for another day.  The ranger relented and so we spent a gloriously quiet time by the water, doing very little – eating, drinking, reading, swimming.

But for a number of years now we haven’t camped.  Instead our holidays have become more exotic, travelling to various places in Asia – India, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bali – or to Europe, Morocco, and more recently to the UK.

This year for our anniversary we decided to go camping.  Our daughter and her girlfriend had been camping to Seal Rocks (Myall Lakes) and stayed at a place called Camp Treachery (!) with lovely vast camping spots and gorgeous beaches. A couple of other people I know said they’d also been there and thought the place was perfect.  So off we went.

My daughter had bought a big tent – large enough to stand up in which was a first for us – so we borrowed that and planned our meals, bought our provisions, packed the car and off we went. We took everything that we thought we needed (including some nice champagne and champagne glasses) and my daughter’s double blow up mattress, sheets and pillows, chairs, a hammock, our Weber as well as one of those little portable butane burners which used to be only in the Asian shops, but can now be found in the mainstream supermarkets. We even took coffee and a camping coffee plunger. Luxury.

But of course, despite making careful lists and pre-prepping dressings, marinades and rubs, there were things we forgot.  Main one being a salad bowl. How to make salad without a salad bowl.  The small cereal bowls we took were too small.  So my creative problem-solving skills came to the fore.  I mixed everything in a plastic bag, added the dressing and voila! Problem solved.

We arrived on Friday afternoon – although we meant to leave at 10am to get here by 2pm there were, inevitably, last minute things to take care of.  I decided I wanted to take our hammock, which necessitated the search for some extra ropes.  And then there were the last minute food purchases – some coriander, fresh fruit etc.  But finally we were on the road and arrived soon after 3pm.  All good; time for a swim once we’d found a good spot to set up the tent and camp site and then we could settle in and have a G&T before making dinner.  What we hadn’t factored in was the setting up of a tent we had never used.  Fraught, to say the least.  I think it took us nearly an hour to figure it out.  The instructions were vague (and I suspect translated from Chinese – never a good thing).  But at last we were done and the tent was up, the bed inflated and made up and our food stuffs and drinks packed in ice.  And so to dinner – seared salmon with a tomato, pomegranate and roasted lemon salad. I had roasted the lemons at home as well as the pomegranate dressing and the chilli-lime salt for the salmon.  Simple and perfect. And then there was nothing to do but sit around the fire and drink red wine. No wifi, no service = no phones, no iPads.  Blissfully relaxing.

Around the world in taxi cabs

We’ve caught taxis in most places around the world, an experience that is unique to each locale. In India the taxis are quaint old fashioned Ambassadors but you can also hire drivers with more ‘modern’ vehicles. Doesn’t really make a difference because the experience is hair-raising either way. And noisy. Indian drivers beep their horns all the time. I think its because no one really bothers to obey the road rules (if indeed there are any) so drivers are constantly making their presence known by way of their loud horn. But maybe its also a male macho thing (“my horn’s bigger/louder than yours”?). Similarly in Vietnam, but there it appears to be some logic to the madness and because people don’t drive fast, they seem to be able to cope with negotiating cross roads etc without lights and passing by. It still makes me incredibly anxious – I can’t bear to look out the windows, I have to occupy myself by reading or doing something. Either that or taking a chill pill (does help). In Malaysia its much more ‘civilised’ and organised but even so, drivers pay little attention to lanes: a 3 lane highway can easily become 5 and I’ve even seen drivers driving on the shoulder in order to bypass traffic. Still, I felt relatively safe in taxis in Malaysia. In London, one of the things I wanted to do (as well as riding on the top of a London bus) was take one of those traditional black cabs. They’re very different from our Aussie cabs: roomy in the back – enough room to put your suitcases in with you or to fit 6 people: 3 on the backseat and 3 on the pull down seat opposite. Plus they have individual settings for air con and music. Now that’s civilised. One of the things I noticed was the protocol of getting into a cab. You hail one, and then you talk to the driver about where you want to go through the front left side window, and only then do you get in. Here in Australia, you just jump in the cab and say where you want to go. I always sit in the back – I don’t think that in London people sit in the front. In Singapore we were amazed that you couldn’t just flag down a taxi. You have to wait at a designated taxi pick-up place. One time we saw a taxi stop at the lights and ran across 3 lanes of traffic and jumped in. The taxi driver was horrified. You just don’t do that there. He gabbled on and on about how we couldn’t just jump in. Finally I asked him if he didn’t want the fare and and should we get out? Eventually he clamed down and explained that it was illegal for him to pick up people in that manner and he could be fined. We found that very strange indeed. So regulated. But that’s Singapore. People queue and they never venture beyond that white line. Oh the freedom of being in Australia where you simply hail an empty cab and just hop in.

Eating well acrosss the continent

We’ve eaten rather well on our trip: from street food in Hong Kong to great London pub food and Scottish specialities. In London we would take a break from our walking and sightseeing to have a beer and a bite to eat. I’m not a beer drinker but the beers in the UK are very different to those back home. They’re full of flavour and as different in their complexity as wine. So, when in Rome…… However, one pint is my limit. Thereafter I need to revert to wine; most pubs had a good selection of wine by the glass. English pies are a British pub food specialty (as are fish and chips) and these are nothing like the pies back home, they’re hand made and sensational, particularly ones with ale and game (eg, ale and venison). And of course chips, hand made and crisp I couldn’t go past these. And because we walked so much each day I figured I could indulge.

In Scotland, haggis was the choice du jour. I love haggis. Its rich and flavousome, peppery and spicy and tastes very much like the Spanish morcia. I took every opportunity to order this. I just wish it wasn’t served with neeps and tatties (that’s turnips nad mashed potatoes) though I must admit that they do go very well together. My preference would be for haggis to be served with a rocket and tomato salad but I guess in the cold weather people want something filling and sustaining. And so to porridge. Another Scottish speciality. They cook it with salt but also serve it with whisky, brown sugar and cream. Its heavenly and a wonderful way to start your day. Especially when its only 3 degrees outside.

In Oban, home of the malt whisky of the same name, we indulged in local seafood – scallops from Mull, langoustines and huge oysters. Scottish hot and cold smoked salmon came in a variety of forms. And then there was game: pigeon, partridge, pheasant, grouse and venison. Grouse is very strong in flavour, much more so than pigeon or partridge or pheasant, due to the fact that it subsists on a diet of wild heather. Venison was similar to kangaroo – very lean so it could be cooked quite rare and a very mild gamey taste. In Oban I had a superbly cooked venison saddle with spiced red cabbage, pickled walnuts and a chive and truffle mash. It was sensational and the venison was so perfectly cooked that I wondered how this was done (it was a very thick cut). I thought it would have been seared in a pan and then finished off in the oven but turns out that it was all done in a pan because it was cooked rare. For medium rare it would be first seared then finished off in the oven. On the Isle of Skye I had a wonderful confit of duck leg served with julienned vegetables – beetroot, carrot, spring onion, coriander – with a thai style dressing. Inspired. And this from a bar menu. True, the bar food came from the same kitchen that serves the dining room which has won awards and a Michelin star. Venison shin with bone marrow jelly. Sounds weird but it was wonderful. The venison is slowly cooked until it falls apart (much like slow cooked lamb) and is then put into a mould (like a timbale) and the jelly on the outside.

Over the channel we wanted to experience good traditional French food: escargot, steak tartare, coquilles St Jacque, pot au feau, confit of duck, rabbit in mustard sauce and of course, pates and rillettes, cheese and baguettes. Generallly we just wondered until we found a bistro that appealed to us – spoilt for choice, there are bistros everywhere, mostly serving much the same. One day, walking through Montmartre we spotted a little Coriscan bistro. It was very small but they had a range of charcuteire plates and all we really wanted was a bite to eat, rather than a meal. The young woman who ran the place was friendly and welcoming and despite not speaking much English, but was very chatty. We had a fabulous white beer and then the house red wine (which was excellent) and a mixed cheese and charcuteire plate. And then we sat outside with our cofees and watched the world go by.

I’ve never eaten so much on a holiday (or at home for that matter). We generally only have breakfast and then dinner. But who could go past all these wonderful foods. We’ve come back slightly heavier but happier for the experience.

Parisian hospitality

So often I have heard people complain  that Parisians – more generally, French – are rude and inhospitable; up themselves. I’ve not encountered this. In fact I’ve been pleasantly surprised and delighted with how friendly and customer service savvy they are. You can’t enter a shop or department store or indeed any section of a store or a cafe, bar or bistro without people saying hello. Bonjour Madame. So nice. And they look you in the eye and are all too happy to engage with you no matter what your level of French or their English. And there’s always a friendly bonjour, merci, au revoir at the end. I love the French. They don’t make me feel like an outsider; they make we feel welcome. I only wish I could speak the language fluently. I would so love to be able to banter and converse with them. They have a sense of fun – a joie de vivre.

Back in London I found myself saying “Bonjour monsieur” etc only to realise I was in a different country now and nobody really greeted you or cared. Somehow saying bonjour/bonsoir monsieur/madame has a nice ring to it.  Its not just ‘hello’ its an acknowledgement.  But I can’t imagine anyone in Australia saying “good day madam”.  Just doesn’t have the same ring to it.  So vive la France!

The journey south

Our journey is coming to an end. We’re on our way back to London. We left Duffus (north east of Inverness on the Moray Firth) yesterday midday and drove down to Gattonside in the Scottish Borders. It was a long and slow five hour drive with the usual detour around Edinburgh (not knowing where we were going). This morning we got up early in order to get to London at a reasonable time – hopefully before dark (4pm) and the rush hour traffic. Yesterday the peaks of the mountains were covered in snow. This morning a layer of frost covered everything. It was zero degrees – freezing; even the cows were huddled together. The sheep were just barely visible, blending into the frost covered ground. Mist hung low as did the sun which was blindingly bright making it difficult to drive.

We had figured six hours would get us to London but we’ve been on the road for an hour and a half and have only just crossed the border into England. We’ve done 100 miles and still have over 300 to go. The journey is made slow due to queues of cars behind trucks and slow farmers on single lane roads. That and the visibility difficulties due to the blinding sun. But it’s a pretty journey with the road going through the centre of villages with narrow streets and lovely old buildings. The car has finally warmed up and the water in the windscreen wipers thawed. Our iPod is plugged in and we’ve resolved to simply enjoy the trip – the only pressing need is to get the car back before the hire place closes. Negotiating London traffic will be another matter but hopefully the lovely google map lady will assist. By the time we return our car we would have covered over 2000 miles. Quite a journey.

Tomorrow will be another early start – Eurostar to Paris at 7.55am. We have to be at St Pancras Station half an hour earlier which means leaving our digs in London at 6.45am. Yikes. Once upon a time I left home at 7.00am every weekday to go to work. These days I have to set an alarm to be out of bed before 9.30 in order to make it down for breakfast. I’m looking forward to being in our apartment in Paris where we can fend for ourselves and there are no schedules for breakfast. And a sleep in. Then again, there is so much to do and see that sleeping in would be a waste of holiday time. I’ll save that for when we’re back home.

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