After 21 hours of travel and a day and night in Dubai, we were finally and happily ensconced in our Paris apartment eating hand made orange chocolate from the local chocolate shop, sipping wine and buzzing with excitement that we are actually here! You really remeber how far Australia is from the northern part of this planet when it takes so many hours to get there.
Dubai was fascinating, damned hot, over 41oC and quite a shock after the wet and wild weather we left in Sydney, it gave us an interesting insight into the middle east and we are keen to visit other areas after this brief taste, next trip Petra perhaps? The gold , spice, fabric and antique souks were overwhelming in their colour, brillance and range, so much so that we couldn't decide on anything! What, not consume, what's wrong with us? Oh, except for the persian shoes that is LOL!
The evening we arrived in Paris we walked our local streets, strolled by the Louvre and cruised down the Seine viewing all the famous Parisian icons, Eiffel Tower, Conciergerie, Notre Dame and other sites on Ille de la Cite. The most fabulous thing though is the buzz of the place, on a Sunday early evening locals are out and about enjoying their city with people on bikes everywhere- Veleibs especially.
Paris is such an interesting and vibrant city, I probably wouldn't want to live there permanently, but for 10 days it was great. We stayed in a great apartment in Les Halles in the 1st arondisement (sp) an excellent central location, just minutes from the Louvre Museum, Seine River and the Ile de la Cite Island. Our street, Rue Montmartre, had morning markets on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursdays each week and we were close to one of the Parisian foodie streets Rue Montorgueil where we could enjoy excellent boulangeries, traditional cafés, wine and cheese shops and plenty of local bistro restaurants. We met up with English friends, Scarlett and Kenneth, for the first four days and because the weather was so good we just walked the fascinating Parisian streets and tried to stay outdoors as much as possible. We still managed tons of sight seeing though and went to al the 'must do' things such as Notre-Dame, Monmartre, the Marais, Ill de la City, Eiffel Tower, the Seine, the Louvre et al. From Thursday Anka joined us from Germany and we travelled further afield to Versailles with Fat Tire bike tours, plus did Parisian rag trade markets and department stores. At the Paris flea markets we successfully shopped :D, I bought the quintessential 'little black dress', a Channel scarf and some lovely hall marked silver ear rings with pink 'diamonds' and J-L found a silver nibbed pen from the 19th century and a Tin Tin watch. So we were well satisfied with our expedition. Oh to have such retro clothing shops at home, not to mention antique stores *sigh*.
The highlights - the Louvre at night, all lit up and full of Parisians, the Unicorn Tapestries, cycling the streets using the Velieb system, in peak hour with no helmets, what a rush! Attending the opening of the Paris symphony season with a Messiaen and Mahler concert, a trip to Versailles by bike and it was great to ride around the extensive gardens but the inside was too crowded, hot and OTT, 18th century isn't our style at all - give us renaissance or gothic please. Not to mention the Jeff Koons 'sculptures' in every room - whose silly idea was that I wonder, it didn't work at all and I like his work.
Then we headed off to Gouarec in Central Brittany for two weeks of neolithic sites, Celtic music and Breton food and culture and best of all cycling! After all the cakes and pastries of Paris we really needed some serious exercise so we could eat even more :D! Central Brittany is a walkers and cyclists paradise, we went riding everyday in perfect autumn weather, sun shinning, cool breezes, leaves changing colour, along Breton canals and the fabulous VTT rail trai bike paths and the local winding roads, its kind of like the Cotswalds but with French food - blissful! We had a fabulous two weeks in Gouarec with Breton Bikes and it was hard to leave, we loved Brittany, it felt like Ireland or Scotland but the weather was far better, as was the food and cider- we miss the pizza from the village, the local pub, the organic cidre, the cafe at Bon Repos, the two village bakers and the galletes and crepes at St Bridget. We loved the Fest Noz's folk music and dance nights, like a bush dance in Australia, local musicians playing Breton celtic music and local folk dancing to it and drinking home brewed ciders, fabulous fun, the locals were friendly and amused by two Australians who wanted to sing, drink cidre and dance and we *loved* it! The gite was extremely comfortable and very homey. The bike tours were just the right length and had fabulous diversity in scenery and things to do and see. The BB Special bikes were fabulous, we loved the gearing and the Brooks seats were superb. We'd also like to thank David and Marion at the camp ground, they ntroduced us to worker's cafes for lunch - we went to them where ever we could find them from then on! We hope we can keep in contact with them by email now that we are home.
In the second week in Brittany we were joined by Rebecca and Margaret who had travelled from the Shetlands, down through Scotland, Wales and England and caught the ferry across to Brittany and we picked them up at Roscoff on the coast, about 2 hours from us. We then started investigating neolithic and Celtic Brittany and visited Carnac and its neolithic alignements and neolithic sites. What strange and amazing places they are, no one knows why they were built, what for or how they did it, the menhirs and henges are huge granite blocks, how did they position them, are they religious, scientific, there are many theories but no expert agrees on anything so who knows, but they are awe inspiring.
We then travelled down to the Dordogne via Poitiers for our overnight stop. We had leased a small car from Citron and had picked it up from Paris airport to go to Brittany and it had a GPS that had a very interesting view on the way it would take us, it had a habit of taking us either on goat tracks or on huge toll roads that took us 100 kms out of our way, never a dull moment with 'Ms Bossy Boo' as we nick named her. We stayed right in the centre of the city and had a fine dinner in a cafe recommended by the Lonely Planet and the next morning saw as much as was possible, particularly the romanesque cathedral which has recently been cleaned and restored and it is beautiful.
From there we headed to our final destination, Paleyrac in the Black Perigord region of Dordogne to meet with 29 other friends to celebrate Andrews 40th birthday in fine style.
Our two weeks in the Dordogne were absolutely fabulous - though we felt a bit like the goldfish in the bowl for most of it, constantly exclaiming 'oh what a lovely castle'! Highlights, staying in such a fabulous location, a 15th century manor house overlooking the Dordogne valley,canoeing down the Dordogne sliding past castles, manor houses and medieval towns, the caves of the Vezere valley (where the Lacaux, Font de Gaume and other caves are) being stunned by the drawings, carvings and paintings of our pre-historic ancestors, cycling into the village of Cadouin as the late afternoon sun flooded the stones with golden light, watching a pair of swans glide towards us, wings spread, begging for food, traveling along the roman roads, in the ways of Richard Coeur de Lion and Compestella pilgrims, discovering the strange and mysterious ways that our GPS chose to take us, celebrating Andrew's birthday in a 2 star Michelin restaurant - what glorious food that was, not to mention the markets in all the local towns and villages that have been held there for thousands of years, the produce, the handmade sausages, cheeses, breads and the final treat, a balloon trip over the valley - bliss!
After the Dordogne we returned to Paris for our final three days, our flat had no wifi this time and the internet cafes eluded us once again - by this time I was getting very strong 'withdrawal' symptoms I can tell you. Highlights, the Louvre collection, being back in the 'old' haunts of four weeks ago, the gothic chapel of Sainte Chappel on the Isle de City, Berthillon icecream
on the Isle de Louis, walking our feet off and trying to take in as much as we could.
Then a return trip that was less than perfect, with five and a half hours extension on the plane on the runway at Dubai while the pilot and Emirates maintenance crew tried to get it to fly, failed and then after long discussions with UAE administration finally organised us into us a new plane and on our way again.
We are now home, recovering from at least 48 hours of travel time and adjusting to a new time zone and life without France - we are a tad blue as you can imagine. Photos now need to be downloaded, the best selected, put onto Webshots and then forwarded to you all, so you can see what we saw, though they are never as good as the real thing sadly!
We had a blissful time, now onto planning the next adventure!