Dublin has been a lovely stay.
After finishing the convention, we hired a car (a teeny weeny 2-door Skoda that barely fit our luggage) and hightailed it out of the city to visit my great aunt J in Plymouth. It was certainly a different experience driving from the East End than last time driving from Gatwick airport, not least because the unhinged GPS decided on a route which took us straight through the middle of London at 4pm in the afternoon, instead of using the Ring Road, which might have saved us some time, and definitely would have saved me grey hairs!
We did end up doing a great sightseeing “tour” on the way the GPS took – past the V&A, around Trafalgar Square, along the Thames… eek!
My last day in Brussels was quiet as I was pretty exhausted from my big day in Amsterdam the day before! I wandered around the centre of town a bit more and found the Galeries Royales where there are heaps of amazing chocolate shops. Woah. I picked out a few choccies for people at home in one of them (they might get home) and meandered my way back to the hotel through the malls. The Flower Carpet was due to open the next day, but there wasn’t anything to see there yet.
Day 2 in Brussels wasn’t supposed to be a huge day – I wanted a bit of a sleep in, to do some laundry and have a bit of a wander and explore.
The laundry was easy thanks to Professor Google, which directed me to the Wash Club a 10 minute walk away. Easy, and even if all the instructions were in French and Flemish, I managed okay.
Next up was the exploring. I headed vaguely towards Grand Place, which sounded interesting, and wandered through a long shopping mall street to get there. As I got closer to Grand Place, the shops became less high street, more “traditional Belgian” places (beer, chocolate, waffles) and souvenirs. By the time I got to Grand Place I wasn’t really expecting much, but woah, this place is amazing! It apparently used to be the big marketplace before they had to kick it out to the burbs, so there’s streets around it called “Butter Street” etc. Fun!
With nothing on the agenda today until the train to Brussels just after midday, I had a nice sleep in and a leisurely breakfast before packing up. As I was packing, I found that my brand new Spender & Rutherford suitcase had started splitting all down one side, which was disappointing. I’ve emailed the company so let’s see what they can do.
Once packed up, I decided to not run the gauntlet of the metro to get to Gare du Nord, and took a taxi through the deserted streets. Only a few tourists around, so it looked like everyone else was either having a late sleepin or were already in the museums.
Up early today! To introduce me to Paris I had booked a walking tour with Urban Adventures (I’ve got a couple more in other places too) so I headed out in the drizzle to find the obelisk at Place Concorde.
Eventually our guide, Arthur, showed up, and met our group of seven, and we paused for a brief history lesson. Then we set off, around the streets nearby, wending our way through the “Paris end” of Paris, where all the prestigious shops were. The end of this section was making our way to Fauchon, the amazing gourmet food shop, where we stopped for a macaron.
My last day in Reims started like the previous – a long walk down to a champagne house! Today I was visiting Veuve Clicquot, one of my favourites, for their “Aromatiquement votre” tour.
Again, I was first there, but the other two people on this activity turned up pretty soon – an American couple. We warmed pretty quickly, especially when trading stories about champers and dogs! (not together…)
The tour started with a quick background on the champagne region and VC’s part in it. We looked at the three types of grape vines used to make bubbles (chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, so named because the new growth looks like it’s dusted with flour, as “meunier” apparently means “miller”).
Today was always going to be a full day, but it was very full!
I started out with breakfast at the hotel. Not too bad a buffet, but the pickings seemed a bit slim for the non-bread consumers, until I discovered a small bain marie hidden in a corner which had bacon, eggs and grilled tomatoes to add to my yoghurt, fruit salad, and of course, cheese! There was a nice selection of herbal teas, and I tried out the Verbena, which was light and refreshing.
After breakfast, I headed off to Ruinart, to do a tour and tasting. They charge 70E for the privilege, and take payment in advance, so it had a lot to live up to! The walk, 3km (well, more like 4km after I got “directionally challenged” a few times) from the hotel, was nice though, and took me out of the touristy centre. I was early, much to the consternation of the guard at the gate, who told me I couldn’t come in yet as nothing was open. Since they’re primarily a producer, not a marketer like Moet, they don’t have a lot of staff to look after early tourists!
This trip is really pushing the boundaries of my blog title – seven and a half weeks away, which is at the same time scary and exciting!
I’m in Reims, France right now, finishing off Day 1 of this trip. More on that later though, as I’ve been told in no uncertain terms I MUST blog about the trip over.
I’d booked the flights for this trip on Etihad, with Virgin points. Haven’t flown them before, but they just started flying from Perth a few weeks ago, and are cheaper than Singapore. One of the perks of business class with them, even on points, is that you get a chauffeur pickup, which is lovely, and makes sure you get to the airport nice and early!
One of the other perks of being there nice and early was that a staff member pulled me aside and asked me if I wanted to pay to upgrade to First, since they had a plane change and it had First on it, which this flight won’t be doing regularly. $720. I thought about it for about three seconds and whipped out the credit card. Woohoo!
Woke up this morning feeling much recovered from the flu-y bug I’d picked up — thank goodness! I’d hate to waste another day sleeping and feeling sorry for myself, and not seeing anything of Ho Chi Minh City!
We started the morning trying the incredible buffet breakfast at the Intercontinental, which had a spread of various joices, fresh fruit, cereals, hot breakfast items, sushi and some Vietnamese food. The staff were very attentive, and when I hadn’t touched my tea until after I’d eaten, were concerned that it wasn’t a good cup and wanted to replace it! They asked me to fill out a survey, including “what would you recommend us to add to the buffet”, and were very concerned when I wrote down “gluten free bread”. Did I want it right away, or would tomorrow be all right? I reassured her that tomorrow would be fine, so I think they will be scouring the city for gf bread now (or googling for recipes!)
Since we needed a Starbucks mug to add to our collection, we headed out in that direction first up, and found three Starbucks close to the hotel. Yup, the American conglomerates have begun to infiltrate! But at least I got a mug… ;)
One very cool thing we passed was an exercise park – a well-appointed public park with heaps of outdoor exercise equipment. R had a go on a couple of them…
We saw a shopping mall and decided to go in and see if it was any different (no, shopping malls are the same the world over). This one (lucky them) had a school across the road, which had just stopped for morning break, so hundreds of teenagers were racing around the mall. We found a bookshop in the basement which had a few English books, and even had some paranormal novels on remainder that I had to buy – can’t pass up $2.50 books!
While walking, we went past some kind of government building with various war machines out the front – a tank and a chopper at least. I hope there’s more than the tiny padlock on the door keeping this helicopter safe and sound!
Next up was a massage – we went to a lovely place called Temple Leaf, which was reasonably priced and gave a very good massage, including oil, hot stones and a brief Thai-style “throwing around” at the end to crack the back a bit!
A bit of an indulgent day all round, really – lunch was hanging around in the exec lounge for afternoon tea to start – they have teeny weeny macarons! And then after checking out the hotel pool (warm, but not too warm – the only downside is that you have to walk through the fitness room past all the people doing proper exercise) the hotel sent us a cake to celebrate our honeymoon! Awww…
After trying out more of the hotel amenities (lounge again, then gym and pool) we started packing for the trip home tomorrow.
And I’m already in the headspace of my next trip, and have been busily booking advance rail tickets for Europe in August! See you then! :)