Puy du Fou

by CameronM Thu, June 27 2013 08:09

After a reasonably late night last night, it appears that we are finally getting out body clocks adjusted and we slept in until 7am. We ate a filling breakfast buffet at the hotel and headed off the Puy du Fou.  It was overcast and we stopped at the local Decathlon store to buy rain jackets.

We had learned about Puy du Fou from Celine, our French Au Pair, and were not expecting it to be as large as we discovered. The park presents a multitude of shows with live actors, covering everything from the Viking era, through the middle-ages and to the 1900’s. We arrived in time to have lunch at one of the themed meal and entertainment venues. Although the show was exclusively in French, it was easy enough to follow the story and great fun. We had enough time to see a few other shows, each very professional and grand.

After spending the afternoon rushing from show to show, we understood why people opt for one of the multi-day passes. We left the park at 7pm and headed off for our accommodation.

Moulin Du Chapitre was a surprise last minute find. We had booked it when we were unable to find any accommodation close to Puy du Fou. The converted mill dating, according to our host, from the 1200’s, contained a number of rooms and common areas. The location is both peaceful and tranquil, with a slow flowing creek and lots of open space. We enjoyed to early evening strolling around the grounds and exploring the mill before heading to bed.

Tags:

France

D-Day Beaches

by CameronM Wed, June 26 2013 08:19

One of the problems you face arriving in a new country is getting in tune with the local daily rhythm of life. This seems especially difficult when your body clock is also a little out of whack due to long days and international flights. Today we woke up at 4am, well before anything was open and eventually left the hotel at about 7am in an effort to find something to eat.

We were headed to Merville, home of a German Battery attacked by British paratroopers in the early hours of D-Day. En-route we crossed Pegasus Bridge, an important crossing that was also an important target of British airborne troops (this time glider-borne). The original bridge has been replaced, but has been moved to the museum located across the road. The early morning fog added to the atmosphere as we walked across the bridge to look at the tank located on the Benouville side of the bridge.

We eventually found an open café in Franceville, an exceptionally quaint seaside village and had a coffee/hot chocolate. While we waited for the Merville Battery Memorial to open, we walked along the beach and Zane played in the playground. Shortly before 9am I noticed a strange shape in the fog off the beach. As I watched, a fisherman immerged from the slowly lifting fog. As I continued looking, more shapes materialized, including several groups of fisherman and two horses trotting. It was strange to think that all the time we’d been on the beach apparently alone there was a crowd of folks out in the fog.

After checking out the Merville battery, we headed back across Pegasus Bridge towards Arromanches. We took the road closest to the water whenever possible, much to the chagrin of our GPS , but were rewarded with numerous picturesque villages. At one such village, Luc-sur-Mer, we stopped and did some shopping at the local street market.

We ate lunch on the hill above Arromanches. Where for some reason I still can’t understand, we had to pay for parking. The hill did offer a great view of the remains of the artificial harbor built by the allies as part of the Battle of Normandy. We enjoyed our bread, cheese and sausage, while admiring the enormity of the task facing the allies and the amazing landscape.

 

A little further down the road we stopped at the German battery at Longues-sur-Mer, which is home to four large gun casements, some with the rusted remains of their giant guns. Most of the casements are in great condition, considering they were the target of tons of bombs and barrages from numerous warships on D-Day.

Tags:

France

Paris to Normandy

by CameronM Tue, June 25 2013 00:12

We arrived in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport at 6:30am and were immediate aware that it was going to be colder than we had expected. The pilot had advised that it was only 9°, which was evident the moment you entered the airport and saw the ground crews rugged up in their winter woolies. We arrived at terminal 1, which is small and old. There was a massive live to go through immigration, but that at least made me feel better about the lines that you encounter entering Australia. Even with that delay, the bags took forever to arrive, no doubt owing in part to the sheer number of passengers an A380-800 carries. Eventually we got our bags and called the car leasing center for details about the shuttle. This would be Melita’s first use of French on the trip and she was quite nervous. Thankfully they spoke English, so we were soon on our way to pick up the car.

I have rented many cars before and the experience ranges from fairly easy, to downright frustrating. There isn’t much I hate more about travelling than arguing with a car rental company that the all-inclusive price you got online should include “compulsory” insurance and fees. Picking up our brand new Citroën was insanely easy. We walked in, signed a piece of paper, were handed the keys, rego and paperwork and that was it. We were ushered outside where an assistant gave us a quick overview of the car’s features, such as the GPS and told about a few regulations that we’d need to know and we were on our way.

I haven’t owned a manual car for nearly 20-years and the last time I drove one was probably three years ago and was only down to the local shop. I was, as you could understand, apprehensive about driving a manual, especially on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.  With Melita tasked with reminding me to keep her side of the car closest to the gutter and to yell if I was getting it too close, we gingerly headed off to Normandy.

Both Google Maps and our in-car GPS routed us from the airport in towards Paris before heading back out towards Normandy. I had found an alternative that I preferred that would keep us on D roads while we got used to driving, but I couldn’t find a way to get the GPS to use that route and eventually decided to trust its wisdom. This turned out to be a mistake, as we spent the next hour stuck in peak-hour traffic and barely travelled 25km.

We eventually made our way into the French countryside and all we could say was WOW. It was as impressive as the coverage of the Tour de France portrays. Amazing vistas greet you in every direction. Postcard perfect villages dot the landscape. It truly is a wonderful part of the world.

Of course what the Tour coverage doesn’t capture is how hard it is to drive down the quaint village roads that were built in a time before cars! We had a few hair-raising moments trying to squeeze down streets barely wide enough for two cars and certainly not wide enough to cater for the cars parked on the side. Thankfully no one appears in too great a hurry, so we just took our time, stopped and waited if we felt the road was too narrow and except for brushing mirrors with a parked car, we survived the day.

We stopped for lunch at one the many road-side restaurants that offer a set menu for very reasonable price. The restaurant was crowded even though there weren’t any houses nearby, so I guess lots of travelers have the same idea. The meal was basic, but filling consisting of a buffet of entrée salads, meat and chips for mains, and a desert. Including a soft drink and juice it came to under €40 for the three of us, which was good value.

We arrived in Bayeux at 3pm and checked into our hotel via an automatic key vending machine. The hotel only has a real person on reception for limited hours and not until 5pm in the evening. After a short walk through the streets around the hotel, we all fell asleep and didn’t wake up until the next morning.

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France

Kuala Lumpur Lake Park

by CameronM Mon, June 24 2013 12:22

I’ve never been able to face rice or noodles for breakfast, so we headed to KFC for pancakes – yes KFC sells breakfast in KL. We wanted to see a few sights around KL, so decided that the hop-on-hop-off bus would be a good way to get around. Our first destination was the botanical gardens, or more specifically the Lake Park, which we had read contained a large playground that would be fun for Zane. After a lengthy bus ride, we got off at the botanical gardens and walked to the playground. We hadn’t factored in the heat and he was pretty well exhausted after a short play and we headed back up to meet the next bus.

One of the problems with the bus was that at a number of stops it made a five or ten minute photo break, which meant it was an extremely slow trip. We had planned to get off near the Petronas Towers, but by that time we were all weary and the smoke made photography difficult.

We had dinner at a restaurant on Jalan Alor, a street that is home to myriad restaurants and street vendors selling satay skewers, steamed delicacies and fresh fruit. We had a delicious meal, very much like the Thai food we’d cooked in Chiang Mai.

We headed off to the airport for our late night flight and we were glad to leave the smoke haze behind. KL had been an experience, but not my first choice of Asian stop overs.

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Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur Times Square

by CameronM Sun, June 23 2013 00:16

Shortly before landing at Kuala Lumpur International Airport we noticed a familiar, but unrecognizable smell. As we looked out the window we soon found the source of the smell. It was smoke, thankfully not the kind billowing from an engine, but bushfire smoke. Malaysia was covered in smoke that originated from fire in Indonesia, and although arguments raged as to whose fault it was, it was clearly a massive problem.

We arrived well before dawn and quickly made our way via train from the Satellite Terminal to the Main Terminal, which was equally deserted. We cleared immigration, collected our bags and strolled through custom, literally. Just outside customs we purchased our voucher for the taxi ride to our hotel.  We has toyed with the idea of catching the express train, but seeing as we would still have to catch a taxi from KL Sentral station and that traffic would not be a problem at 6am Sunday morning, we opted for a taxi.

There were few vehicles on the expressways leading to the city and our driver took the opportunity to catch up on a few phone calls while speeding along. Apparently speed limits and lane markings are both suggestions only!

We followed expressways almost exclusively until the last few minutes of the journey, which added to the fact that the sun was only just starting to light the sky, meant that we didn’t get much of an opportunity to see the surrounding areas. What we did see was a mix of housing development and high-rise apartment buildings, which seemed to rise out of the suburbs at random locations.

Once in Bukit Bintang we finally got our first real look at KL and it was surprising. Much like cities in other parts of Asia, KL is a city of dramatic contrasts. Hotels with marble foyers sit beside ramshackle apartment buildings with washing hanging over the street. Large expressways that rival any in world give way to alleyways of broken asphalt and busted kerb.

Our hotel was a clear example of this contrast. The relatively impressive and well maintained foyer was a stark contrast to the poorly maintained, basic, window-less rooms.  Sheets that were clean, but had that off-white colour that suggests they did the bare minimum. Woolen blankets that were well past there used-by date, covered the beds where quilts or bedspreads should have been. Hot water for showers eventually came, after running the water many minutes.

After showing we decided to go for a walk around the local area. Our hotel, in the Jamal area would be in a good location was it not for the massive tunneling construction project being carried out at the end of the street. The construction site made getting around a little more difficult, but the future underground train line will be great.

We ended up at Times Square shopping mall, hoping to while away a fee hours at the theme park, but an hour before the mall opened. We had Crispy Crème donuts (I still don’t know why people think these are so special) and an awful American-style coffee while we waited for the mall to open.

Sadly, when we finally got inside at 10am, we found out the theme park opened at 11am. Not wanting to kill any more time, we headed back to the hotel for a nap.

We had lunch at a restaurant across the road from the hotel which offered a range of Asian dishes, such as sweet and sour pork and noodles.

We spent the afternoon at the theme park, where level 7 contains a lot of rides suitable for smaller kids. Admission isn’t super-cheap, especially when the adults only really get to watch the children, but it was fun and certainly beats being stuck outside in the heat and smoke. Re-entry is permitted, so you can head out for something to eat, or some shopping before heading back in. Zane’s favourite ride was the pirate ship, but he went on every ride a couple of times, so they must all be pretty good.

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Malaysia

Using your smartphone in Thailand

by CameronM Tue, April 03 2012 23:24

 

Getting a SIM card for your smartphone in Thailand is very easy, plus it gives you the freedom to surf the net as well as reasonably cheap local and international calls.

Internet access at our hotel is charged at a ridiculous rate (about 80THB for 30-minutes) so as soon as we got th Chiang Mai we went to the mall, attached to the hotel and bought a DTAC ‘Happy Tourist’ SIM card. Having researched on the Happy website, this looked like a good match for our needs as it had an option to get a full week of 3G internet for 199THB. The SIM comes in two varieties, 49THB or 99THB, the later with more included calls. The only problem was that the retailer sold us the 49THB SIM for 99THB, which I didn’t realise until we got back to the room and activated the card.

I put the SIM card into my HTC Mozart, almost instantly got messages from Happy that our service was active and tried to connect to the internet. Although the phone had service, I couldn’t get on the internet so I called the service number and finally spoke to a customer service rep who advised me that I needed to restart the phone - damn why didn’t I think of that (maybe because I have never needed to restart the phone for anything else).

The Happy Tourist SIM gives you the first days internet free, so we tested sharing the connection between my phone and laptop and it was working smoothly. We then milked our free internet for all that it was worth. Connection speeds here in Chiang Mai, even sharing the connection over Wi-Fi seem good. From the laptop tethered to my HTC speedtest.net said I was getting 1.52 Mbps down/.79Mbps up when connecting to Thailand-based servers. Connecting to servers in the USA, adslthailand.com showed I was getting .78Mbps down/ .51Mbps up.

One disappointment is that you can’t top-up your account on the web using a credit card, so you need to purchase a top-up card from one of the retailers, such as 7-11.

Apart from saving money compared to the prices of Wi-Fi at the hotel, having your own SIM means that you can use all the features from your smarphone, including accessing you email and social network links, while you're out and about.

 

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Thailand

San Francisco

by Melita Sun, December 19 2010 17:32

San Francisco, the 4th largest city in California was founded by the Spanish in 1776. The Baldwin Hotel located at 321 Grant Ave San Francisco was our choice this time around.

It is amazing how the weather can affect your opinion of a place, either for the good or bad. Whether it was the lousy weather, the tiny postage stamp of a hotel room, the fact that parking cost between $30 and $50 a day, the horrendous driving conditions within the city, the fact we were getting a little tired of travelling (or just tired) or the difficulty of finding anywhere to eat near our hotel room that made me dislike the place I don’t know, but I can tell you I don’t like this San Francisco.

Even with the GPS, we had difficulty getting around the city. Every street is a one way, either in one direction or the other. Some streets just end. The street where the hotel was located was two ways for most of the street, but for some strange reason it changed to one way right outside our hotel, so on arrival we had to do a loop covering several blocks before we could get back to the hotel. There was nowhere to pull up outside our hotel as it fronted the street and the hotel reception staff were next to useless. We had to park illegally part-way up the street and then juggle all our bags, as well as carry Zane, into the hotel lobby and up a very small, very slow elevator to our very small room. We had a delightful view of the alley and the non-stop noise of a ventilation shaft all night.

On the positive side, the hotel is located right near the gates of Chinatown and only a few blocks away from Union Square, which is a vibrant shopping area with a massive Westfield, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Old Navy and countless other stores all vying to separate you from your hard-earned cash.

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USA

Monteray

by Melita Sat, December 18 2010 19:17

The weather is awful. It is raining and a bit windy and quite miserable. We opted to drive north on the faster inland highway 101 as we decided it was not really the sort of weather that suited a lovely long drive along the coastal route 1. The drive though was not without its own beauty and we drove through some quite nice rolling hills that would have been lovely and green during most of the year. As it is December, I’m not really surprised that things are a little brown and frostbitten, but it is all surprisingly lovely. What we couldn’t get over was the acres and acres of vineyards. Hundreds of acres of vines (all bare of course), but still impressive.

We got to Monterey just after lunch, so after a bagel with cream cheese and a banana in the car, (I know, we are the last of the big spenders) we put on our wet weather gear and walked down to the aquarium. Thankfully, it was all inside. We spent around 3 hours just wandering around the many exhibits. It was a very impressive set-up, but I must say I am over fish and everything to do with fish, or penguins, or octopus, or jellyfish, or sea horses.

Even on a wet and miserable Sunday parking around the Aquarium was packed. The limited street parking is rare and public carparks charge $15. As we couldn’t be bothered circling the streets waiting for someone to leave, we paid the $15 and parked in the open-air local government run carpark.

We drove out of Monterey and stayed the night at Salinas, as the weather hadn’t improved at all. We didn’t think it was worth trying to see the bay, especially when in the rain we actually couldn’t see the bay. Salinas has absolutely nothing to recommend itself and hotel prices seemed overly inflated. Our GPS told us the telephone number of a Holiday Inn Express but when we arrived we found that it was now a Howard Johnson and no longer offered any of the features we had enjoyed at the HI Express, so all in all it was a rather disappointing decision.

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USA

Five Cities Shopping

by Melita Fri, December 17 2010 19:09

This morning we woke to dreary weather and the forecast of a storm front bringing bad weather to the coast and lots of snow to the inland area (where we want it later in the month). Not a good day for the beach, unfortunately! We decided to go and find some shops that sold Lego, and buy some for Zane, both as a wet weather day activity and as Christmas presents. Lego is cheap here. A small box for $11.95 – at home the same box would be around $25-30. After buying up big at both Walmart and Kmart, we headed home for lunch and Zane’s nap.

Then I went out and found some more shops. I bought Zane a couple of other pairs of Nike shoes in a few larger sizes so he should be set for the next year or so. Cameron also got another pair of Levi’s. I tried on some more Levi’s, but I don’t really like the fit. I found a shop called Anne Klein that was going out of business. They had the best blouses for $20. I am sooooo sold on shopping here. The only problem with outlet shopping is that you don’t always get the sizes you like. I found a lovely shirt at Anne Klein, but they only had Large and I needed Medium. I found a pair of black heels but needed an 8 ½ - only 8 and 9 available.

While shopping for Lego, we found a Woody figurine that was very cool. It had the pull cord and said 25 sayings, and when you took its hat off, it said things like “the wind took my hat”. It was only $30. Zane is absolutely enthralled. After we unpacked it, he sat in the car pulling the cord and putting the hat on and off and laughing. It was so cute. He’s even taken him to bed (just like the movie – how gorgeous!). Unfortunately the Lego has taken a back seat (thankfully most of it is hidden away for Christmas).

Tomorrow we are off to Monterey for the night and we will see the apparently famous Monterey Aquarium.

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USA

Pismo Beach

by Melita Thu, December 16 2010 18:53

We’ve been run a little ragged from running too and fro to see as much as we possibly can. In order to attempt to combat this, we planned to stay in one place for 3 nights, just to give ourselves a bit of a break. So, Cameron found us a 2 bedroom suite at Pismo Beach and we are currently coming into night number two. It is such a relief not to have to pack up the car for a couple of days. We’ve had our complimentary breakfast, done the laundry, wandered down to the beach, eaten in our little kitchenette, had naps and just relaxed a little. We have had a fair bit of catch-up to do on our blog and our sleep and I am very pleased to say it is reviving us a lot. I am very pleasantly typing, sipping my $1.97 bottle of Californian wine and deciding when to go and do some more outlet shopping. Zane is asleep in his own room and Cameron and I are free to watch TV or research our dune buggy ride or whatever. I feel so relaxed (wait up…. that's my third glass)…..

Pismo Beach is located on the Central Coast of California just south of San Louis Obispo. It forms part of a popular vacation area locally known as the Five Cities area, which consists of Pismo Beach, Avila Beach, Shell Beach, Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande. The coastline is an interesting mix of long stretches of sandy beaches, rugged cliffs and picturesque piers.

Just a note on the furnishings here at Pismo Beach… everything is nautical. It’s really quite fun. The lamps are 1930’s style figurines of people in bathing costume with an umbrella behind them holding up the lamp. The decorations are all lighthouse themes and the curtains were blue and white stripes. I want a beach house now.

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USA