Monday, May 31, 2010

Day 34 - Tuesday 25th May - Milan - Vienna - Bulgaria

Left early for Bulgaria where we were going to be staying with relatives of ours (Tonia and Georgina). And what an amazing experience it was! We loved everything we saw and did, and the people we met were so kind and caring. We all had an excellent time and will always remember our time here.
The relatives we stayed with live in a tiny country village in central Bulgaria in a region known as the Valley of the Roses and the Valley of the Thracian Kings. We stayed in Koprinka near Kazanlak and it was such a cultural experience for all of us. We had one relative - 20 year old Boryana - who spoke and understood English really well. She was terrific and a great help for us. Some of our other relatives had a little English and Tonia and I understand Bulgarian, we just can't speak it mainly due to lack of practice. We were able to make ourselves understood most of the time. Lynda had no Bulgarian but was able to understand most of the time what was happening. But it was well and truly a cultural experience for her.
Although we'd left Milan early, we'd had to fly via Vienna before flying on to Sofia so we didn't get in until 1:30pm. We were met at Sofia airport by many relatives before driving the 3 hours back to Koprinka. Fortunately they'd brought out 3 cars so they could take all of our luggage - we'd collected our stored luggage at Milan before we'd left. Once in Koprinka, by then it was 5pm, we met even more relatives and had a special dinner with most of them. Lots to eat and drink. It was great. We loved it when at dusk the local shepherd herded about ten or twelve sheep back home to their owners in the village. The owners stood out the front and whistled for their own sheep to come home. The sheep then made their own way back to their homes. It was amazing. Yordana did the same thing and then when her two sheep came in the back she showed us how she milked one of them. For our first night we stayed at Miktor and Yordana's house.

Day 33 - Monday 24th May - Como - Milan

Day 33 - Monday 24th May - Como - Milan
Had a lovely sleep in and then breakfast at our hotel in Como. We walked to the Como Duomo which was lovely before returning our luggage to our car and then going to catch the ferry around Lake Como. The weather was lovely - hot and sunny. We took the fast ferry to Menaggio stopping at a few of the towns along the lake as we went. Once in Menaggio we looked around before having lunch overlooking the lake and the near-by snow capped mountains. Beautiful, although lunch took forever to get to us.
Next we took the slow ferry to Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo. The slow ferry was great because we got to see so much more of the beautiful little towns around Lake Como. Villa Carlotta was amazing. We toured the huge villa and its lovely gardens all overlooking Lake Como. So pretty.
Too soon we had to leave. We took the slow ferry again back to Como. The journey was longer than if we'd taken the fast ferry but the views were worth it.
Once back in Como we had dinner in the shadows of Como Duomo as we'd had enough of the sun for one day. Then we had to face driving the car back to Milan. By then it was about 8:30pm and we were so lucky as there was very little traffic on the road!! We were so relieved. It wasn't too bad on the motorways and we only got lost a couple of times. Once at our hotel at the airport we returned the car. We were all really happy to return the car safely! It had certainly been an experience!

Day 32 - Sunday 23rd May - Lecco - Bellagio - Como

Today was easily the scariest day we have had on our European holiday! I never want to drive in Italy again!
We had a lovely breakfast at our hotel in Lecco overlooking Lake Como and then left to drive first to Bellagio and then on to Como, before driving on to Cinque Terre. Well that was our initial plan however that did change.
The drive along Lake Como from Lecco to Bellagio was along a narrow road - more like a lane way or footpath as Lynda referred to it - was a windy one. We had to drive along a cliff edge leading to the lake on our side and on the other side of the road was either a town or a cliff face. Then we also had to contend with cars driving towards us on a road that barely fit one car let alone two!!!! It was scary! I drove quickly when there were no cars around and slowly around corners where cars often seemed to come out from the corner! We had to stop on several occasions just to let other cars pass. Negotiating past and bus and then a caravan was an experience as well! I know why most of the vehicles on the road are motorcycles.
We finally made it to Bellagio and luckily found a parking spot that was easy to negotiate. Walked to where we thought the town was and instead ended up in the back cobbled stone lanes of an old part of the town! Finally got out of there and rested while having lunch in a lovely restaurant overlooking the lake.
After lunch we walked into the town and it was lovely. Narrow lanes filled with a variety of shops and cafes. We walked slowly through shopping and looking at all that was on display, before we made our way back to the car.
Now the drive to Bellagio had been difficult but this was not a patch on the drive from Bellagio to Como. The roads here seemed to go on forever winding their way along the lake's edge with many picturesque towns along the way. A bit of a pity the drive was so scary we didn't see everything, but we saw most of it. It seemed to take forever to get to Como and we were so grateful when we finally got there that we decided to change our plans and stay in Como - we didn't think our nerves would survive another drive that day! Besides Como looked just lovely. As for where to stay we called in to the tourist information place where we got a booklet about accommodation. We finally decided on a lovely old hotel we had seen when we'd got into Como right on the lake's edge called the Hotel Metropole Swisse. The guys at the desk took pity on us and we ended up with a room with a magnificent view of the lake. Not bad for short notice!
We parked the car and returned to our hotel, tired but very relieved we'd survived that drive!!!

Day 31 - Saturday 22nd May - Milan, Italy - Lecco, Italian Lakes District

Day 31 - Saturday 22nd May - Milan, Italy - Lecco, Italian Lakes District
Left Paris early to fly to Milan, Italy. Once at Milan's main airport we left our main suitcases at stored luggage and took only our small hand luggage cases with us. We caught the train to Milan city centre and here was our first clue that there was a major soccer game to be held when we saw so many fans in blue and black soccer outfits. We caught a cab to collect the car we would be driving for the next few days. It was a silver Nissan Micra. Small, compact and most importantly an automatic. Once again I (Georgina) drove but this time I had to drive on the wrong side of the road - remembering 'passenger to the kerb'. Parked the car nearby and walked to the Brera Art Gallery.
Walked to the Duomo and there were literally hundreds of people milling around outside this beautiful church. The art gallery was lovely then we made our way through the lovely old, cultured and fashionable Milan to the church where Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper" fresco is located. Fortunately Tonia had organised a booking for us as only 15 people are allowed in at a time for a 15 minute viewing and it is sold out months in advance. It was a bit surreal seeing this fabulous fresco painting.
Then we walked through Milan to the Duomo and there were now literally thousands of soccer fans in this square all chanting, letting off sirens or flares and singing. Amazing! There was a soccer grand final of some sort with Milan playing. We had to stick close together so we didn't lose each other.
Headed straight for the car to leave Milan. It was too difficult driving in Milan and on to the motorway. This time we had a GPS so it was easier to work out where to go. We were headed for Lecco on Lake Como. The motorways weren't too bad and despite being worried about driving on the wrong side of the road it was okay.
We arrived at our hotel called Hotel Bella Vista and it was lovely. Our room overlooked the lake towards the mountains across the lake. It was really beautiful. Had dinner at a nearby restaurant before returning to our room. All great!

Day 30 - Friday 21st May - Notre Dame, the Orangerie, Galleries La Fayette, dinner with Deanne and Shannon

Our next day last day in Paris was first spent reorganising our overflowing suitcases, posting a box home and organising our new overnight luggage to take on board the plane to use in Milan/Lake Como. Then off to meet Cathy & Lynne to see Notre Dame & then to the L'Orangerie where they house the large paintings of Monet's waterlily paintings plus more impressionism paintings. Never have we been to an art gallery where they "shushed" you as you had to be completely quiet whilst you viewed the enormous watelily paintings in the 2 rooms especially made for these magnificent paintings. So surreal. Other paintings there were really amazing too. After leaving we had a lovely coffee plus mini souffles with ice-cream (really yummy) with Cathy & Lynne at a really quaint French cafe just near the Concorde before saying our 'au revoirs' to them. We then went off to find the Colette store that Brenton wanted us to buy something from. We finally found it & did buy some things from this very interesting store that if you decided to buy something they would put it behind the counter for you straight away rather than you holding on to it-strange! Then we hit Galleries Lafayette - wow what a store. We bought a few nice things and even had to announce our own names over the microphone to the whole store - they liked our accents!!!
We then went to meet another friend, Deanne & her friend Shannon who were staying near the Galleries Lafayette (getting a little lost along the way). Whilst looking for a place to have dinner we stumbled across the same quaint french cafe where we went in and had a lovely french meal and talked of all of our many adventures we have had during our time away in Europe. Another lovely meal and fun night.
Going back home we had a final look at the Eiffel Tower with & without the light show (btw we found out that Deanne & Shannon were up the Tower the previous night at the time we were taking our photos!) We finished our packing all ready to leave early the next morning to catch our plane to Milan.

Day 29 - Thursday 20th May - Giverny

As we leaped out of our apartment and found the train to Vernon, we met up with Cathy & Lynne plus the Ashwood family from our European trip. Once on the train we met a lovely couple from Indiana, Jean & Steve which made the ride very interesting. Off at Vernon we had to wait for the local bus (to take us to Giverny) that seemed to take forever (actually it took longer to wait for this bus than the train trip to Vernon!). Beth, Georgina, Tonia, Cathy, Lynne and I waited whilst Kane & Ryan decided to hire bicycles to ride to Giverny - which they said was great & they even beat us to Giverny too!
Monet's house which is the colour of musk pink, was his wife's favourite colour. Inside the house it was filled with his paintings & lots of Japanese paintings which Monet was very interested in. As we looked out of the top storey window it was a sea of colour from all the flowers planted everywhere, from blue & white forget-me-nots to pink - yellow-purple tulips & irises, and we had not even walked to the Waterlily pond & Bridge! We were so glad when we did with the weeping willows, all colured bushes & Wisteria. It was quite mesmerising! We even sat and had our picnic lunch here at the edge of the pond, it was so beautiful we didn't want to leave. As an added bonus we took a short walk to view an impressionism Art works nearby Giverny. Everyone I think would agree it was a priceless experience to see Giverny & the waterlily pond.
Bus ride back was a little quicker and once back in Paris we said our goodbyes to the Ashwood family. We arranged for Cathy & Lynne to visit the apartment to have dinner nearby the apratment. As 8 o'clock approached, Cathy & Lynne arrived where we all enjoyed a Paris or french starter - an aparateif that we made of Rose wine, cheeses with biscuits & little toasts & fruit. Enjoying this so much we realised it was getting rather late so out to dinner we went and to see the Eiffel Tower lit up but as we got closer to the Eiffel Tower it was just getting on to 10pm and George told us it should light up and just as she said that it did! It was a laser light show for 5 minutes, so the camera & mobile phones all came out to take pictures. Then we finally went to a French cafe where we shared a Pizza (quickest thing to make and eat) and some crepes suzette that came out flaming!! We also met a lovely couple from Denmark on their honeymoon. All in all it was fun filled night.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Day 28 - Wednesday 19th May - Paris: apartment, Musee d' Orsay

Well we said 'au revoir' to our new friends which we had made on our Trafalgar European tour and decided to shop around at a local shopping centre for hand luggage and 'voila' we were very lucky to fin some for 10euro each - cheap & just what we needed! Got a shuttle taxi from the hotel to our 1900 century Paris apartment and 'wow' the apartment was just lovely, even better than the photo's on the internet. There was a very small elevator that could only fit 2 people! It was a bit 'squeazy' but we did it! Contacted Cathy & Lynne (2 friends from Melb) and organised to meet at the Musee D'Orsay where we went around looking at all the wonderful Impressionism works of art and Lynda had a mission to find one of Claude Monet's works of art - 'Ladies in the Garden' which was eventually found & pictures taken in front of it too (Michelle). We decided to stop for a coffee and had it in a delightful cafe in the Musee D'Orsay (please see the picture the place was beautiful).
After organising to meet Cathy & Lynne the next day for our trip to Giverny, we went back to the apartment and did some grocery shopping and finally stayed in for a dinner. We also discovered that we could see the Eiffel Tower from the centre of the living room window too! So nice and really feels we're in France.

Day 27 - Tuesday 18th May - Paris: Versailles Palace, Eiffel Tower

Day 27 - Tuesday 18th May - Paris: Versailles Palace, Eiffel Tower
This morning we had an orientation tour with our tour group of the many famous sights of Paris before travelling out to Versailles Palace. Here we had a tour of this huge palace and its magnificent gardens. It was lovely.
Too soon we had to return to Paris to rest before going to the 1st floor of the famous Eiffel Tower. The views from here were spectacular. We were really lucky it was such a lovely, clear evening. We then went to have a farewell dinner with our tour group as we said farewell to them tonight. Most of the group return to England tomorrow while we continue to stay on in Paris.

Day 26 - Monday 17th May - Paris - Louvre, Montmarte, Sacre Coeur

Left Lyon and drove directly to Paris arriving at 2pm where we had our tour of the Louvre. Saw the famous Mona Lisa painting, the Venus de Milo statue plus so much more. It was all great. Seeing the glass pyramids was also great. We left our tour group here. They returned to the hotel while we walked through the park to the Concorde, saw the Eiffel Tower in the distance and then took the Metro (Paris underground rail system) to Montmarte. Took the funicular up the steep hill to see the huge Sacre Coeur church. It was beautiful. We walked to the artist area behind where we also had dinner in a very old restaurant - the food was delicious!
Returned to the hotel using the Metro after going to see where the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret show is performed.