Tuesday, 31 July 2007

European Grand Tour 2007 Day 11

Day 11

2000 Miles Later, originally uploaded by xrrr.

I think this picture sums it all up.
Best holiday we have had in years.
Amazing places.
Want to do it all over again...

Day 1 - Travel south through France
Day 2 - Through Switzerland to Lake Como
Day 3 - Bellagio
Day 4 - Varenna
Day 5 - Como
Day 6 - Lake Como to Lake Garda
Day 7 - Lake Garda to the Dolomites
Day 8 - A day in the Dolomites
Day 9 - Five countries in a day!
Day 10 - Champagne region

[All Photos]

European Grand Tour 2007 Day 10

Day 10

Another long driving day on this day, up through France to Troyes.

Troyes, originally uploaded by xrrr.

After we got to the hotel we were told we could not check in yet so we went for a walk around the town. Troyes was an unusual place. 'Capital' of the Champagne Region. Gigantic cathedral. Lots of old buildings. But very run down in places, to the point of dereliction.

Troyes, originally uploaded by xrrr.

We decided that it would be criminal to go to the Champagne Region and not go to a Champagne house. We went to the Troyes tourist information office (next to Claire's Accessories of all things)

Troyes, originally uploaded by xrrr.

We found a leaflet for a local Champagne House called Chassenay d'Arce.
We had a great drive over there through the French countryside. Very flat and lots and lots of fields.

Big Sky, originally uploaded by xrrr.

We found the Champagne place and parked up.

Chassenay d'Arce, originally uploaded by xrrr.

The leaflet we had was all in French but we had assumed that there would be some sort of tour or something. We went inside and stood about in the foyer whilst the lady at the desk was seeing to someone. Eventually someone else turned up and asked if we were ok. Being multilingual to a point I went straight in with "parlez vous Anglais?". With that sorted we found out that the place offered a video, tour of the wine cellar and some tasting.

So we sat in a room with another couple (who I think were Dutch) and watched an English DVD about how champagne is made. Blimey, no wonder it is so expensive given the effort that goes into making it!

After the video we went for a quick spin round the cellar museum thing. Not much to see but worth a quick look.

From Huitieme to Primat, originally uploaded by xrrr.

After the museum Alison and I and the Dutch couple were sat at a nice table with some champagne flutes. The hostess gave us a menu and asked us what we would like to drink. Well Champagne obviously. I only had a glass or so as I was driving but I was sure we could have spent a lot longer there. Given that we had not paid for anything yet as the tour and tasting was free we felt we ought to buy some bubbly from them. I am sure the softly softly approach works very well as we bought six bottles!

Back to Troyes and to check in at the hotel. The Hotel Champ des Oiseaux was amazing. We had been recommended it by our friends Katie and Robin. The rooms were named after people rather than numbered. For some reason they also had valet parking. Not sure if it was for aesthetics, lack of parking or security.

Outside the Hotel, originally uploaded by xrrr.

After checking in we went for a quick spin round some other parts of the town. We followed a route in our tourist map from the hotel and it took us on a bizarre trip round some derelict buildings and closed down shops!

Boarded-up Boulangerie, originally uploaded by xrrr.

We also came across a few shops that only sold model cars. Not quite what we were expecting.

Minature Citroens, originally uploaded by xrrr.

Minature Ferraris, originally uploaded by xrrr.

The cathedral was very large, very gothic and very much in need of a clean. It looks like they had started cleaning but they had a loooong way to go.

Troyes Cathedral, originally uploaded by xrrr.

The town centre was a bit overly touristy and I got a bit grumpy because I had a rubbish meal in a tourist restaurant. When I came to pay I realised that I had lost my credit card. I rang Egg and determined that I must had left it at the Champagne place. Doh. Good job we were on the way home in the morning and had internet access at the hotel so that I could transfer some money into my current account!

We decided to go back to the hotel courtyard and have a drink. I did not check the price before ordering managed to spend €26 on 2 coffees and a cognac! Oh well it was a nice place to sit.

Champ des Oiseaux Courtyard, originally uploaded by xrrr.

[All Photos][Next Day]

Sunday, 29 July 2007

European Grand Tour 2007 Day 9

Day 9

We had a long drive ahead of us on this day so we got up early in order to head off and make good time. I opened the curtains to a view so amazing I had to get my camera:

A Sciliar Morning, originally uploaded by xrrr.

There was not much to report on the journey other than the new SG record of visiting FIVE foreign countries in a single day! I was very excited!

  1. Italy: A quick blast up the autostrada to the Austrian border

  2. Austria: We got a bit confused at the border and missed the place where we had to buy our toll vignette from but managed to buy one from a very grumpy petrol station man just over the border. As well as the vignette we were also stung for two €8 tolls for tunnels.

  3. Switzerland: lots and lots of tunnels

  4. Germany: We saw a sign saying "Germany 300 metres" so I had to take to opportunity as I had never been to Germany before. We drove over the border, got out of the car for 20 seconds and then headed back to Switzerland. It still counts!

  5. France: We stayed at the Hotel Cour du Roy in Saint Louis about 1km from the Swiss border.
Well I was impressed :-)

For dinner we decided to go into Basel. The hotel receptionist was very helpful and told us what bus to get and where to get the tram home.

Going over the French-Swiss border was strange. The checkpoint is basically a hut with (open) gates crossing the road. The road is dead straight and goes on for miles on either side of the border. The oddest thing was seeing French road names and billboard advertisements and then after going through this gate everything switched to German. Literally in the space of 20 feet. The part of Switzerland we went through to get to Italy was Italian speaking so the transition was not particularly noticeable that time. Whilst on the French side I saw this shop that I liked the look of:

Valentin SIMON, originally uploaded by xrrr.

Basel was quite nice, I don't think our one hour stroll around the centre did it justice. We got off the bus at the historic Marktplatz where there were a number of old buildings.

Basel Marketplace, originally uploaded by xrrr.

After strolling around aimlessly we stopped for a beer (I know that I mention beer in most of these blog posts but it was a long drive!) by the cathedral.

Mmmm beer, originally uploaded by xrrr.

As we were in Switzerland they have a different currency. Fortunately we had been told that everywhere takes the Euro but gives change in Swiss Francs. We consulted the Basel guide book we had picked up from the hotel and it suggested a visit to the 'Pfaltz' vantage point behind the cathedral. As we were right by the cathedral we took a look.
It offered a great view of the lake, the guide book had tipped us off about the popularity of swimming in the river on hot days so were not surprised to see people having a dip:

Swiming in the Rhine at Basel, originally uploaded by xrrr.

We were high above the river level and could see people below waiting for the ferry:

Waiting for the Ferry, originally uploaded by xrrr.

The ferry was unpowered and was kept in place by a rope looped around a bigger rope spanning the river. The driver(?) of the boat basically pointed the ferry in the right direction diagonally to the flow of the river and the current takes the ferry across the river.
As we were quite high up, I felt like Yann Arthus-Bertrand taking this shot:

Ferry Boat on the Rhine, originally uploaded by xrrr.

By now we were getting hungry so we headed into one of the squares for some food. After a long dinner and some nice wine we needed to get a tram back to the French border.

All Aboard, originally uploaded by xrrr.

The nice lady in the hotel had told us that there were Euro vending machines for the tram. Unfortunately we could not find them. We only had enough Francs for one ticket and did not fancy getting out more cash from a cash machine as it would have been a waste. As we were contemplating going for another drink to act as currency exchange I thought I would try something:
Me (to chap stood next to ticket machine): 'Entschuldigung sie bitte, sprechen sie English?'
Chap: 'Just a bit mate' (in a London accent)

We asked about the Euro situation and he started waffling on about 'never trust the French' because he was not aware of any Euro vending machines. Despite my protestations he bought us two tram tickets (CHF 3.00 each) and would not take any money for them at all.

Basel Centre, originally uploaded by xrrr.

Tickets in hand we backed away as he called after us 'Never trust the French'. I think he was a little drunk but he was good humoured and very kind to buy those tickets for us.
The tram stops at the Swiss-France border so we had to walk over the border (another first for me, walking over an international border - airports don't count). Once in France, we stopped off for a drink to break up the 15 minute journey back to the hotel. As we were enjoying our drink the sky started flashing up with lightening so we decided to head back to the hotel as we were umbrella-less. It started raining about 2 minutes from the hotel and started totally emptying it down about 30 seconds after we reached the hotel so we were very lucky not to get very wet!

[All Photos][Next Day]

European Grand Tour 2007 Day 8

Day 8

This was the day I was most looking forward to. An entire day driving through the mountains. After being waved off by the hotel staff we set the satnav for the car park at the top of the chair lift we had been on the day before.

Rosengarten 1743 Metres, originally uploaded by xrrr.

We got on the chairlift "Laurin 2" up to the top. The top was 2339 metres but it was still very warm even at that height. The view was phenomenal.

Rosengarten - looking down, originally uploaded by xrrr.

Laurin 2 Chairlift (2339 metres), originally uploaded by xrrr.

A number of people had got the chair lift up and were setting off walking back down the mountain. We were pressed for time and had not brought the right equipment (i.e. shoes, supplies) so decided to chair lift back down again.
The chair lift was great, it had great views and was surrounded by the sounds of cow bells from local cow herds:

Rosengarten Cows, originally uploaded by xrrr.

Back to the car and off on a drive of a lifetime on the most amazing roads through the most incredible scenery.

The absolute highlight was going over the Sella Pass on the SS242 between Canazei and Ortisei.

On the SS242 "Sella Pass", originally uploaded by xrrr.

The SS242 is by far the best road I have ever driven. The road was zigzagging up the mountain and the car performed brilliantly. There were a million and one bikers and cyclists (mad) to avoid.
We stopped at a picnic site for some lunch:

On the SS242, originally uploaded by xrrr.

Whilst eating we spotted some crazy people parachuting from the top of the nearby mountain.

Once at Ortisei we turned off the main road and headed across an amazing alpine meadow. No photos unfortunately because I thought that our hotel was in the meadow when it was not.

Hotel Waldsee, originally uploaded by xrrr.

We got to the Hotel Waldsee in good time, despite a slightly hairy overtaking of a hay tractor that I swear the driver must have been drunk as he was all over the place and kept almost crashing into the cars coming the other way!
The hotel was right on the edge of a country park and totally in the middle of nowhere. The room was nice but the bathroom looked a bit dated and in need of some minor repair. Everything worked that we needed to work so no big issues. We had the most stunning view from our bedroom window and balcony.

Sciliar Mountain, originally uploaded by xrrr.

As we had some spare time we went for an evening walk round the Parco Naturale dello Sciliar

Parco Naturale dello Scilliar, originally uploaded by xrrr.

The park was closing so it was very quiet and peaceful. And very beautiful too.

Parco Naturale dello Scilliar, originally uploaded by xrrr.

Dinner was a challenge. I had not pre-warned them that Alison is a veggie because I thought we were staying in the village and not in the wilds. I fact we were not entirely sure that we could eat at all because all the room literature was in German and Italian.
So after listening to Michel Thomas's basic Italian in the car on the way down through Switzerland I felt confident to string together: Posso mangiare qui sta sera?. 'Si' came the response along with some other stuff I did not follow but it was a good start. I was then really going to struggle to explain vegetarianism. Fortunately the one staff member who spoke English (thank you!) popped up and helped us out. She took Alison to meet the chef (and his dog - that was keeping him company in the kitchen) and they agreed on a bowl of pesto and pasta. I had some and it was very very good.
So we had a great meal, I managed to order some coffee and cake (which the nice lady gave us 2 pieces for the price of 1) and then rushed upstairs to take the following sunset photo of the Sciliar mountain.

Sciliar Mountain at Sunset, originally uploaded by xrrr.

Everyone seems to go to bed really early in South Tyrol so we had a relatively early night as we had a rather long journey back to France the next day.

[All Photos][Next Day]

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

European Grand Tour 2007 Day 7

Day 7

After a nice breakfast outside in the hotel courtyard we were off. On my hike up the hill the night before I had seen road signs for Via Panoramica so I thought we would have a drive up there to have a look. There were some hairy roads and great views so it was worth the trip. I managed to scrape the bottom of the car at one point but there does not seem to be any visible damage :-)

Via Panoramica, originally uploaded by xrrr.

Lake Garda is very pretty in the north, the water is very blue compared to the dark inky colour of Lake Como. Presumably Garda is much shallower than Como?

After the panoramic drive we checked the rubbish guide book and took a risk to go to one of the recommended stop offs, Varone Falls.

Varone Falls, originally uploaded by xrrr.

They turned out to be well worth the visit. The falls are 90 metres high and the visitor bit was split into two caves, one at the top and one at the bottom. Lots of water, lots of noise and lots of spray so no photos I am afraid.

After the falls we headed for nearby Arco where there is a castle on the hill. Hill. Repeat hill. By now it was getting on for around 30 degrees celsius and it was a big hill. Alison got a bit grumpy but we strove on to the top. I thought it was worth it for the views but I think I was in the minority :-)

Arco Castle, originally uploaded by xrrr.

View from Arco Castle, originally uploaded by xrrr.

After we got back to the cool of the car's air-conditioning we decided to press on. I stopped to take this photo by a lake:

Lago di Toblino, originally uploaded by xrrr.

The hotel we were staying in was a few hours drive up the motorway. On the motorway the temperature got to 37 degrees C. Fortunately the hotel was at a ski resort and so was a pleasant 25 degrees or so. The drive from the motorway was through the most amazing scenery and the Hotel Rosengarten was pretty much in the middle of nowhere at very far end of a road into the wilderness (well about 5 minutes from the village centre).

Hotel Rosengarten, originally uploaded by xrrr.

The hotel was right next to a chair lift so we bought a ticket and headed on to the top to see what was there.

Chairlift, originally uploaded by xrrr.

At the top there was a car park, a pub, another chair lift to higher up and some great views of the Rosengarten mountain range.

Up in the Dolomites, originally uploaded by xrrr.

We resolved to come back the next day, drive up to the car park and take the next chair lift up to the higher place. We had time for a beer before the chair lift closed and then headed back to the hotel.

Up in the Dolomites, originally uploaded by xrrr.

I went out and took a few more photos from the meadow/ski run by the hotel before dinner.

The Dolomites, originally uploaded by xrrr.

Up in the Dolomites, originally uploaded by xrrr.

The hotel staff were great, they all spoke perfect German which totally confused us and I ended up trying to communicate in a new pidgin language that I called Germitalglish. Fortunately I had emailed ahead that Alison is a veggie so that was not a problem - until she got a fish for her main course! Obviously something got lost in translation. But they were happy to exchange it for a plate of vegetables. My beef was nice :-)

[All Photos][Next Day]