MAGNIFICENT EUROPE AND THEN SOME!
It is a longhaul to Europe and it is a great idea time allowing to stopover on the way and break the trip. Singapore is a good option as it is safe and easy to get about even if you are travelling alone. English is the first language which makes a huge difference, as we will experience later in the trip travelling with a language barrier can be a challenge.
Our group is travelling to Europe with Singapore airlines, We depart Christchurch at 10.50am meaning you can get a good nights sleep and travel to the airport at a reasonable hour. There is little waiting and we are checked in pretty quickly and on to relax in the departure Hall. It is well equipped with powerpoints, loungers and plenty of space to stretch out.
On board it isn’t long before that service Singapores airlines is famed for is underway. I do like the comforts and distractions that a full service, top class airline offers. I so start with a glass of wine and those delicious nuts! I know the advice about alcohol inflight but I stick to the one and take a water bottle onboard which can be filled and make sure I take plenty of fluids. I make sure I pack all my items of comfort, earplugs, eye mask (a good one), Melatonin tablets, pillow (one of those c shaped ones filled with balls which are a pain to carry but I cant go with out it) and a scarf for extra warmth as flights can get cold. We are given a pillow, rug and socks onboard.
On arrival into Changi airport the first sign of the efficiency of this tourist mecca is the speed with which we are out of the terminal and on our way to the city for our overnight stay, This is giving us a break in the trip and a good nights sleep with a chance to explore Singapore for a day. I am little bit of a Singapore groupy. I love the warm weather, the food, culture and the scores of attractions. It leaves nothing to guess work which makes it so easy to navigate and a great place for a weary traveller.
The next day we venture out to Sentosa on the cable car. They have expanded the lines to each end of the Island which helps with moving about when you are on the island as it can be incredibly hot for walking. The views from the cable car of both the island and busy port are spectacular. After having a little look about the island (which is home to the only universal studios outside the US) we head over to Chinatown for lunch. It is hard to believe today that the old shop houses once housed the opium dens of the elderly Chinese and food market stalls selling all the weird and wonderful food items essential to the day to day living of the Chinese population.
One thing that hasnt changed is the taste of what is the best satay you'll ever taste washed down by a nice cold Tiger beer. Its a must visit at night when the food street comes alive and you can soak up the atmosphere and enjoy a great meal. I recommend trying the world famous specialty Chilli or Black Pepper Crab. Chilli crab is my favourite but that will have to wait for my return stopover as tonight it is Paris here we come!
PARIS IN THE SPRINGTIME
I am aware of the notorious strikes in France and the many tales of disruptions that cause havoc and can make getting about a little difficult for wary travellers. Now its my turn! Arriving into Paris there was a noticable absence of the usual traffic outside the Arrivals hall. Not to worry we had a transfer so I proceeded to call them to confirm our meeting point only to be told there had been a hold up and he would be delayed due to a city wide strike by the taxis. We could wait and he would be along as soon as possible. How hard could it be? We could make our own way by Metro as our hotel was conveniently located across the road from the train station AND only one simple train change. Sounds easy? Well it would be for someone well versed with the system but it had me flummoxed, however with some great instructions from the English speaking help desk off we go. First hurdle - all getting on the same train with our luggage between terminals. FAIL!! The first of the group get on and the rest are stuck waiving them goodbye, lesson...we must move quicker and for certain we did from then on , mostly out of panic. Lucky it was a interterminal 1 stop train so we all make it safely to the end.
Once you get the hang of the directional aspect of the rail system it is easier to get yourself about and the trains are cheap, frequent and relatively eventfree. Due to the taxi strike we are forced use the trains for the next couple of days and get alot better at it.
Paris is a beautiful place that is a bucket list item for many. 2 days is not really enough to even scratch the surface but 2 days is what we have so we make the most of it. We start the touring with an afternoon City tour ending at the Eiffel Tower from where we make our way back to the hotel, a short distance away. The comfort of our bus is the perfect way to get great views, great photos and the commentary that goes with it. Walking about it is difficult to take it all in as you have to be aware of the crowds, traffic and the dangers for the unsuspecting visitor. Which brings me to a subject I was in 2 minds as to whether to include, but it is a reality of travel and for that reason I will touch on it. After a wonderful trip to the top of the Arch de tromphe it was time to find a beer stop, we wandered down the Champs Elysees and found a nice little cafe to take a break. We sat inside and were very aware of our belongings as we had been throughout the trip. On getting ready to depart one of our group let go of her bag for no more than a minute and within that time it has disappeared. Thankfully it seemed they were only after the cash and dumped the bag around the corner with the remainder of its contents including passports! Later that evening we had an email from the Police confirming it had been handed in. Which is a relief as the following day we depart for the north of France.
We spend our last day with a morning visit to the palace of Versielles, the final residence of Marie Antoinette prior to her beheading in 1793. The palace is spectacular and a simple train ride from Paris it is the end of the line and everyone seems to be heading to the same place. I recommend to prepurchase your tickets and you can do so online and print them out to take with you. Go early and be there for the opening of the gates at 9.00am as the queues are doubling by the hour.
Please enjoy Paris but be extra aware in all large Europe cities that your best way to keep your belongings is in a bag you can keep close to your body and even better under your clothing.
On that note something like the bag below is a great option and I would avoid carrying too much as all you really need is your phone, passport and cash for the day. I can offer you a discount on this and you can purchase them by ordering through the travel products area of the website for $25.00
IN YOUR FOOTSTEPS - ARRAS AND THE BATTLEFIELDS OF NORTHERN FRANCE
We have a very special project to undertake on this trip as one of the passengers has an Uncle buried in the Estaires Community Cemetary 1 hour out of Arras, Northern France. Through the Dolores Cross project we have been asked to delivery 53 crosses to the graves of the New Zealand soldiers who are buried there. Each cemetary has a logbook that, along with our grave reference make them easy to find. Also many of the soldiers were removed from their resting places and grouped together so they lay side by side. We visit the battlefields of the front lines and are astounded to hear the soldiers were in these trenches for months on end. Here on places, if they had held the rifles extended over the top of the trenches they would have been able to touch those of the Germans. Its an incredibly sad place which brings home the reality of this war of attrition. A war that would be won by the side who managed to throw the greatest resources (in this case human ones) at the other side to wear them down. At the height of the conflict the allies were losing an average of 4000 soldiers a day. The only thing that makes this day a little easier is the knowledge that we have now visted the graves of 53 of these young soldiers and brought them a little piece of thier homeland they left so many years ago.
I urge anyone who is visting France and can spare half a day out of your trip to take part in the project which aims to have every New Zealand soldier buried in Europe visted and a cross laid. it is an incredibly rewarding experience. LEST WE FORGET.
More information on the project can be found on the website and we used the services of Mariam from Walkabout Digger Tours.
I AMSTERDAM - AND OUR FINAL TRAIN JOURNEY!
Our last day of trains to catch is a breeze as the TGV is fast and friendly. As soon as we leave Paris everyone speaks English which certainly makes getting about easier. in fact in Brussells we manage to make our train connection in just 10 mins! The countryside changes as we move into Holland and on arrival into Amsterdam station we are right in the centre of Amsterdam, easy walking to the precruise hotel. Here we can drop our bags which will be transported to the ship for us and we are free to enjoy the afternoon. The weather isnt great and we get a bit of rain which catches us out but we enjoy the flower market and a wee stop for the famous FRITES with mayonaise.
Amsterdam is a delightful place that seems so easy to get about with the only hazard being the cyclists, but we are all well warned about them and on high alert. I have been here a few times and never tire of it. it is a big city but oozes caracter and charm.
We make our way back to the pretour meeting hotel for a warm drink and the buses turn up at 3.30 to take us to the ship. You would think with all 130 passengers arriving at pretty much the same time it would be congested getting onto the ship, but in fact we wander straight on and our keys are ready for us. No paperwork at all and now I see the benefit of the preregistration that I sometimes curse as it can seems so difficult. On that note there is no need to reserve your onshore excursions as they are opened up on the first night and explained in depth with your welcome briefing.
CRUISING THE WATERWAYS OF EUROPE
All aboard and its great to unpack once and relax. The cabins are really well appointed and there is a well thoughtout space for everything. This is my second River Cruise and this time I decided to upgrade to a Panorama Suite and it was well worth the extra. I wasnt sure if this style is better than an actual balcony but I had a couple of weeks to decide. The Panorama Suites are pretty unique in the respect the have a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceilng window that opens to provide you a full view. Whilst it seems you miss out on a balcony, in reality you get a larger, better laid out cabin with a bed facing the view and a couch to relax on. As we cruised the days away passing many other River Cruise vessels it became evident to me that the balconys were very rately used. In fact the only one I saw with anyone on it was a passenger hanging out washing! (a big no-no) So to get a cabin layout that offers indoor outdoor opening is ideal.
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