Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Day 73 Incheon

Arrived at Incheon on schedule mid-afternoon. Although not as flashy as some other Asian airports, Incheon is far better than CDG, almost the complete opposite in fact. Notably, it had free WiFi available everywhere. However it was far too warm for me - not sure if was just me or the actual temperature. We walked around a bit to stretch our legs and J & H then split off to investigate a shower/massage.

Later I made my way to the Rest Area with comfortable lounge chairs that we had discovered on our way through in March. B was there but departed soon after to exchange money. They girls woke me from my reverie to report that the foot and leg massage (for half an hour) had been fantastic - they felt like they were floating on air.

B had indicated his preference for sushi, but the girls and I had each spotted Korean fast food places and we agreed to eat at one of those. Mine was spicy pork and it was quite good.

The Apple iPad had just gone on sale in France, so this label on emergency equipment available in a case mounted on the wall at the airport was interesting. 

It's been a fabulous trip, but I am now very much looking forward to going home again. J is ready to go again for another long trip.

Day 72 Paris CDG

We spent the morning in the hotel, packing, updating spreadsheets and the blog, and relaxing. Our taxi arrived within five minutes and we were able to get all our bags into the boot. To spare the rest of us overcrowding, ever the iconoclast, B had volunteered to walk to St Charles station wheeling his bag. In line with J's fear about our previous short-distance taxi trip in Paris, where we were abused for not walking 600m, the driver merely expressed surprise that we were not going to the airport. Fortunately he took us to the station via the direct route, past the Arc de Triomph.

We waited for ages for our train's platform to show on the board, but when it did it was just outside the place where we had refreshed ourselves with sandwiches and beer. Being 1st class passengers, our wagon was at the far end of the platform - a long walk. We had four seats facing each other with a table - very convenient. We were almost alone in the carriage. Along the way we enjoyed the rest of our sandwiches and a nice 1.5L screwcap bottle of rosé that B had managed for find earlier for the princely sum of €2.89. 

All the while we enjoyed the Provence scenery flash by. B and I particularly had very much wanted the TGV experience, our first, and it lived up to expectations. According to the GPS data logger, the highest speed I saw was 307 Km/h, and mostly averaging around 280 to 295 Km/h. Strangely, your vision adapts to this high speed fairly quickly and it is not a blur. That might have been helped by the fact that I had a rearward facing seat.

The scenery after Lyon flattened out, and the cloud cover asserted itself so that it was like being in a different country compared to Provence. We rolled into Paris CDG pretty much on time, fully relaxed. After a short shuttle ride from T2 to T1 and a few escalators and lifts (no steps!!) we were in the check-in queue and after asking for and getting exit row seats, we proceeded to have a drink in the departure lounge.

The Paris airport was a real disappointment - dingy, not particularly clean, very few shops, nowhere decent to eat, poor bookstores, few toilets - the list goes on.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Day 71 Marseilles

We had intended to go on the hop-on / hop-off tourist bus, but by the time we had visited the tourist office to check other options, the top deck of the 10 am sailing was already full. My priority was to see the church on the hill, so we set off on foot - it didn't look that far away or that high. The walk up was steady uphill but not so steep as to require frequent stops. The view at the top is certainly worth the effort - you see the whole city and the surrounding mountains, as well as the offshore islands including the notorious Chateau D'If, which didn't look all that foreboding on a bright sunny day. It's quite close to shore - somewhere between Pinchgut in Sydney and Alcatraz in San Francisco.

The church, Notre Dame de Gard, dates from the latter half of the 19th century and uses two tones of stone in the structure, probably fashionable at the time. The interior was something else again - probably the most-decorated church we have seen. Although it was elaborate, it was tasteful. We spent quite a long time in there. We had suspected there would be a service in progress, but that was not the case. There was however a service in progress in the crypt. The antechamber was uninteresting but we could not (and would not have wanted to) enter the real crypt while a service was inprogress. A large burly man guarding the door
was presumably there to turn tactless tourists away. The thought never entered our minds.

We walked down again and were surprised to see a WW-II army tank, protected by a sturdy steel fence, pointing its cannon directly at the cathedral. We continued through a garden and checked out some of the restaurants on the east side of the harbour as candidates for a lunch venue. We proceeded to the other end of the harbour, to the fort and small church there, and then on to the much larger church we had seen from the hill top. This was another fabulous structure with extensive decoration inside. Services had been cancelled for this Sunday, so we were initially almost alone inside.

We had lunch not far away on a small square with a view of Notre Dame du Gard and then proceeded to walk the History Trail, but this was a dud,so we broke off and went back to the hotel for a rest. Resuming again we saw a roman-columned pavilion where a small group of young Arab men were kicking a football around. I took two shots and proceeded to walk on. One of the young men then walked up and spoke to us. In a mixture of English and French I understood that he had some issue with me taking photos. He wanted to see the photos, presumably to see if he or his friends were on them. I obliged and deleted the offending photos, whereupon they all stood aside while I took the unobstructed photo I had really wanted all along. We shook hands in friendship and parted company. His parting shot was that I should be careful of "bad boys" in the area who might try to steal my camera. We continued to walk through this Arab area and felt perfectly safe there. On reflection, we think he was trying to improve his profile among his friends.

The GPS said we walked 19 Km this day. Note sure if I believe this.

We walked up the "Arc de Triomph" look-alike and photographed that before returning to the hotel. Dinner was in the port area with a great view of the cathedral on the hill. Our dinner was very good so we had an excellent evening.

This is probably the end of the blog, but there will be some tidying up when we return home.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Day 70 Croix de Provence and Marseilles

The "early" start turned out to be 9:15, but that's not too bad considering all the cleaning up and packing that needed to be done. The journey was east along the A8 and naturally we took a wrong turn or two before getting on it. Relying on a GPS has certain drawbacks. Bruce was programmed to take us to La Croix de Provence outside Vauvenargues, east of Aix. As is his wont, he didn't direct us along the easy way to get there - around the mountain - but over it, a slow and not so pleasing way to go. A multi-waypoint capability would be helpful - not available on this Garmin 1390. Then we had trouble finding the start of the G9 track, but eventually saw H & B off at 11:45, agreeing to be back at 3pm. It looked a fairly challenging ascent, advertised as 3.5 hours return.

We pushed on to Aix en Provence only 7 Km down the same road. Bruce took us down the usual narrow lanes to get to the destination car park at the Palais de Justice, but guess what? There was a market day in progress so our progress was blocked. We did park successfully a little further out and walked down the main tourist route toward the centre, having a barely palatable focacce at the square opposite the cathedral. The old city is quite pleasant with lots of shops, many posh in certain areas, and a few good older public buildings. We walked along the wide tree-lined Cours Mirabeau, enjoying the openness and having smoothies and ice creams along the way to keep hydrated and cool.

Heading back, we stopped to visit the small tapestry museum in the old archbishop's palace. There were a good number of excellent pieces in very good condition, considering they were ca. 1680. We asked about this and were told that it was because they were cache. It took us a little while to understand that they had been stored away for a long period of time. Further along we also stopped in to see the cathedral, which had a few good colourful windows and a strange baptistry - a romanesque circular chapel with columns and separate dome.

We returned to the rendezvous point at 14:52 but the S's were not there yet, so after a short wait we repaired to the restaurant across the road for a coffee. The S's trickled in separately after we returned to the car at 15:30. We promptly returned to the café so they could have a beer. They were exhausted. Apparently it had been an unrelenting climb which also made the descent rather difficult. This news justified our prescience in declining this challenge.

Refreshed, we pushed on to Marseilles and eventually found our hotel in the Vieux Port area, and also managed to drop our car at the St Charles railway station Avis depot - no fuss, no bother, but we have to await the bill when it eventually comes.

After freshening up and finally updating the blog, we went out to dinner at a Tripadvisor-recommended seafood restaurant where we had the Sortie en Mer - seafood selection, with snails, prawns. mussels, clams, pippees, oysters, langustines and a crab, all for €43 for two people, along with a few pichets of rosé. After dinner we strolled down to the port and enjoyed the dramatic lighting on many buildings that emphasized their façades. The most impressive was at a roundabout at the end of our street, a hundred metres from our hotel. The whole area we walked through this evening has a strong Arabic flavour.