Posts Tagged 'Europe'

Six Months of Travel: Final Trip Stats and Costs

Here we go! The final trip stats post along with information on costs. All costs are in Australian dollars.

– Number of countries visited: 10 (counting the hour in Myanmar and half an hour in Luxembourg!)
– Days traveling: 184
– Days in Asia: 130
– Days in UK/Europe: 54

Accommodation Stats and Costs
– Places stayed overnight: 35
– Average number of nights in each place: 5.2
– Longest in one place: 32 nights (Homestay and volunteering in Sisaket)
– Nights in UK/Europe with free accommodation (thanks to friends and family): 27

– Total cost of accommodation for the whole trip: $10,331
– Total cost of accommodation in Asia: $6,833
– Total cost of accommodation in UK/Europe: $3,498
– Average cost of accommodation per night overall: $56
– Average cost of accommodation in Asia per night: $53
– Average cost of accommodation in UK/Europe per night (minus free nights): $125

Our Amsterdam apartment

Our most expensive accommodation

– Most expensive accommodation: Amsterdam apartment at $191/night
– Least expensive accommodation: Little Home Guesthouse in Mae Salong at $20/night

Little Home Bungalow

Our least expensive accommodation

Transport Stats and Costs
– Total hours actually travelling between places: 142
– Hours on planes: 45.5
– Number of plane trips: 8
– Total cost of flights: $9,621

looking out on Afghanistan

Flying over Afghanistan

– Hours on trains: 33.5
– Number of (intercity) train trips: 10
– Hours on buses: 27
– Number of (intercity) bus trips: 11
– Hours on minibuses: 11.5
– Number of minibus trips: 3
– Hours on boats: 21
– Number of ferry trips: 4
– Hours on sangthaew: 3.5
– Number of (inter-town) sangthaew trips: 3

coming into Bangkok

Train to Bangkok

– Longest single journey: Koh Samui to Bangkok.
– Longest on one mode of transport: Overnight ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam at 14 hours.

Miscellaneous Stats and Costs
– Visits from the tooth fairy: 3
– Mail received at home (thanks Dad!): 2.3kg
– Photos taken: 4,771 or 32.9GB
– Total cost of trip: $36,000. Minus accommodation and flights as above leaves about $16,000 spent on pre-trip costs (passports, vaccinations, luggage, computer etc.), food, all other transport, activities, entry fees and spending.

Paris Part 3: Winter Fun

This was our third visit to Paris but our first in the winter and our first with kids. We were lucky that it only rained a little while we were there and we had some really glorious winter days too. The temperatures were about 6-9 degrees celsius each day.

The first official tourist attraction we visited was the Notre Dame Cathedral. Although we’ve been there twice before we had never been inside. The lines were always so long. This time we just walked right on in! That’s the big advantage of European travel in winter – very few queues. It was the same with the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Anyway, the cathedral is free to visit unless you want to climb the towers which has a fee. We were considering doing that but there was a (fairly short) line and we didn’t feel like waiting.

lights

Inside Notre Dame

Another good thing about visiting Europe in winter is the Christmas markets. From little craft markets (I went to one in The Marais run by Lions Club) to big food and drink extravaganzas, like the one near the Eiffel Tower.

a Christmas market

A little Christmas craft market

Near Notre Dame was this little market (above) with a Santa handing out balloons for the kids.

balloons

Balloons in Paris

Paris is full of parks and playgrounds and it was not too cold to hang out in them. Luxembourg Gardens has a big playground that costs 2.50 euros to enter. To be honest, I don’t think it was worth the fee but it is huge and the kids enjoyed it. I watched from the fence while Dave went in with them to save a little money! There’s a kiosk there selling snacks and coffee too, and a little carousel (costing extra.) I think the playground in the park across from the Eiffel Tower is just as good and is free.

carousel!

Carousel in Luxembourg Gardens

Luxembourg Gardens themselves are beautiful and well worth a wander through.

Luxembourg Gardens

Luxembourg Gardens

When we arrived at our third apartment in Paris we discovered that the Cirque d’hiver (Winter Circus) was right at the end of the street. The circus is in a beautiful permanent building and has been operating since 1861 during the winter months. We decided to go there on our last night and used it as incentive for good bedtimes from the kids in the lead up. We bought the tickets directly from the box office which was a little cheaper than anywhere I could find online and they cost 24 euro each. The show went for about two hours with an intermission and the kids were riveted for most of that time. Ed got a bit fidgety and tired towards the end but perked up when the clowns came out. The show was obviously all in French but it didn’t matter. There was a live band, dancing girls, acrobatics, aerial performers, and (sadly, I think) tigers. Afterwards Lillian said, “That circus was so good I’ll never forget it.”

cirque d'hiver

Cirque d’hiver

I would highly recommend visiting Paris in the winter. There is so much to do, we didn’t even get to ice-skating or even any of the museums (except for Dave’s solo visit to the Sewer Museum – which he recommends if you like that sort of thing.) We’ll just have to go back.

Video: Six Months of Family Travel

I made this video montage of our trip and I can’t stop watching it! This song is perfect. It’s Go Do by Jónsi and it’s just so happy and uplifting and I love the lyrics.

Go sing, too loud
Make your voice break- Sing it out
Go scream, do shout
Make an earthquake…

You wish fire would die and turn colder
You wish your love could see you grow older
We should always know that we can do anything new

Go drum, too proud
Make your hands ache – Play it out
Go march through crowds
Make your day break…

You wish silence released massive tremors
You wish, I know it, surrender to summer
We should always know that we can do everything

Go do, you’ll know how to
Just let yourself, fall into landslide

Go do, you’ll know how to
Just let yourself, give into low tide

Go do!

Tie strings to clouds
Make your own lake – Let it flow
Throw seeds to sprout
Make your own break – Let them grow

Let them grow (Endless summers)
Let them grow (Endless summers)

(Go do endless summers)

You wish surprise, will never stop wonder
You wish sunrise, will never fall under

You wish surprise, will never stop wonder
You wish sunrise, will never fall under

We should always know that we can do anything

Go do!

Here’s the video! Enjoy!

Paris Part 2 – My Favourite Day

My favourite day in Paris was a Friday. Unlike the day before when the weather had been rainy on and off, this day was clear blue skies and sunshine. We didn’t get out of the apartment until about midday and I was feeling a bit frustrated that it had taken us so long to get moving. In the end this turned out for the best.

The plan was to head to the Eiffel Tower and eat lunch and from there see what we felt like. We caught a metro to Invalides station and when we emerged from underground we could see the tower.

heading to the Eiffel Tower

There it is!

We started heading that way, stopping off along the way to buy a few supplies for a picnic lunch.

just down here

Heading to the tower

We found a bench with a good view and sat and ate a yummy lunch of quiche, croissants, baguette, and cheese.

lunch spot

Lunch view

After lunch we walked back a little way to a playground we’d seen and the kids had a play while Dave and I sat in the sunshine. When the sun dipped behind the buildings it was time to move on. We wandered back towards the tower and posed for some photos.

Ed says no photo

Ed says no photo

And then we walked right underneath it. There were no queues for climbing the stairs and the queue for the lifts did not look too terrible but we decided to skip actually going up and just enjoyed looking up instead.

up

Up

under

Under

Nearby was a carousel and the kids had a go. I got to ride too because Ed was little. In the spirit of full disclosure I will say that I spent most of the ride exasperated with Lillian who spent the whole ride complaining that she should have chosen something else to sit on. You’re riding a carousel at the Eiffel Tower! Just enjoy it!! My face shows it.

exasperated face

Are we having fun?!

We continued on our way and walked through a Christmas market and up some stairs to where a small ice-rink was set up. We stood for a while and watched some kids have a lesson. Lil decided it looked easy.

watching an ice skating lesson

Skating with a view

We sat on the stairs in the sun and ate a snack and watched a busking drummer and some rollerbladers perform. At the top of the stairs we posed for more photos with the tower and a kind person offered to take a family photo for us.

and again

Ta da!

After a toilet break we had a decision to make. It was now about 3pm and the sun was getting low. Should we jump on another metro and go home that way or carry on walking. We decided to walk for a bit along the river in the direction of home and see how we went.

So off we went, stopping along the way to look at boats…

looking at boats

Boats

To jump in leaves…

jump!

Jump!

And to admire the most magnificent sunset behind the tower.

jetstreams and tower

Jetstreams and tower

orange sunset

Beautiful

We walked by a bridge covered in padlocks of love (and later a second lock bridge) and stopped to look at them.

locks

Locks

lock bridge

On the lock bridge

We detoured via the Louvre to see the glass pyramid and then back to the river to walk some more.

Louvre pyramid

Louvre pyramid

night lights

Night lights

Along the way Ed fell asleep in the stroller, despite our best efforts to keep him awake by offering chocolate. Lil was a trooper and walked and walked with minimal complaint. We ended up walking all the way back to our apartment in The Marais, stopping on the way for dinner supplies. The streets were crowded with Friday evening pre-Christmas action. Lots of shoppers and people in the cafes and bars. The whole walk felt kind of magical with the amazing sunset and then Christmas lights everywhere. For me, this day was one of the highlights of the whole trip.

More to come about the other things we got up to in Paris!

Paris Part 1: The Apartment Drama

We got off to a bit of a rocky start in Paris. I had booked an apartment through a company called Apartments Paris. They had a bit of an annoying check-in process where you have to go to an office to pick up the keys but only after 5pm. We managed that okay by leaving Nancy in the afternoon and filling in time at a cafe once we were in Paris.

Once we had the keys we walked to our apartment which was on Rue Montorgueil. I chose this apartment because our friends used to live in this area and as it was our third visit to Paris we knew we liked it there. On arrival there were a few little things different from the photos online (eg. shower screen totally missing) but overall the apartment looked great. It was set within a building with an internal courtyard so we had no street noise. The apartment had a big bedroom, and a living room, kitchen and bathroom. We were happy and quickly got settled in while Dave went out to buy groceries for dinner. The location was excellent with a supermarket right next door and a boulangerie just across the (mostly pedestrian) street.

Paris apartment number 1

Paris Apartment Number 1

Dave arrived back with frozen quiche for dinner and we started to cook it in the microwave/convection oven thingy. Poof! The lights went out. We flipped the fuse and tried again and the same thing kept happening. Hmmm. No quiche for us. Dave went out again and got sushi. After dinner we noticed there was no hot water. No showers for us. I sent Apartments Paris an email telling them about these issues and asking them to contact me in the morning.

Next morning we hadn’t heard anything so I called them and was told someone would come around to look at things. We were told we could go out and they would let themselves in. So we went out for the morning and came back around 2pm for lunch. There was no sign anyone had been so I called them again. They told me someone would come before 6pm. At 6pm I called again and was told someone would come the next morning. At this point I got a little stern and told them that wasn’t good enough, we had two young kids, we could not use anything in the kitchen (the stove and dishwasher also tripped the fuse) and we could not shower. They sent someone within twenty minutes.

The repair person managed to get the hot water working but the electrical issue could not be fixed. I spoke with the person in the office again and requested to move apartments the next morning. I had looked at their website to see which other apartments were available and requested one nearby that looked suitable for us. They agreed and said that someone would bring us the keys the next day.

Next day I called again to ask when the keys would be brought. The person I spoke to knew nothing about our situation and I had to wait until the person from the night before arrived. She told us someone would bring us the keys and again we could go out, they would leave them on the table and we could leave the apartment when ready. So we went out and returned for lunch and the keys were there. Just the keys, no address or details for the new place. We worked out the address using google streetview and the online photos and we made our way to our second apartment.

The second apartment was not quite as nice as the first but looked fine. The first thing we did was test the hot water and once again it was not working! I called the office again and they were totally surprised we were in the apartment. How did you get the keys? How did you know the address? etc. but they immediately sent three people to investigate and they brought us a bottle of champagne. They told us we would be best off to move to a third apartment and they would help us with our luggage. So they took the bags, we walked, and we met up at apartment number three.

view from Paris apartment number 3

View from Paris apartment number 3

The third apartment was smaller but actually very nice and in a lovely building. It was in the Marais area, close to several metro stops, and we finally had hot water and working appliances!

dining table

Dining corner

Basically we lost two days of our time in Paris chasing the apartment company and moving. As compensation they gave us the bottle of champagne and refunded one night’s accommodation. In six months of travel this was our only major accommodation issue and luckily we had planned to spend a full week in Paris. I would hate to have only been there for two or three nights and for this to have happened.

I believe Apartments Paris could have handled everything much more efficiently, especially their internal communication, but in the end we were happy with the compensation and the apartment provided. I would suggest however, that they change their recorded answering music from a song that says “making every possible mistake“. I had to listen to it every time I called and although fitting it was not really encouraging!

living room

Living room

We paid 104 euros a night for the apartment ($AUD157) which, when everything works, is great value for the centre of Paris. This included wifi, a washing machine, and a dishwasher. In Paris, as in the other European cities we visited, we ate in every night to save money and also self catered breakfast (croissants! mmmmm!) and most lunches.

Next up, what we got up to in Paris when we weren’t phoning apartment companies.

Nancy – does not rhyme with fancy but is quite

When we began our trip I had no idea where Nancy was, but while we were traveling friends from home announced they were moving there and after a little googling and map reading it was decided we should visit!

In case you don’t know where Nancy is either, here’s a map showing our route through Europe (except this shows the roads not the train lines.)

Our route through Europe

Our route through Europe

We hadn’t pre-booked any of our trains in Europe except for the Eurostar from Paris back to London. To get to Nancy we bought tickets on the day at Brussels Central station for 130 euros total. The trip involved first catching a train to Luxembourg (2nd class no reserved seats) which took about 3 hours and then changing to another train for the leg to Nancy (about 2 hours also no reserved seats.) You can also get to Nancy slightly faster on fast trains via Paris but our way was cheaper and not that much longer.

The trains were quite comfortable and we had no trouble getting seats as a group of four with a table in the middle. We passed the journey with stories, crochet, drawing, naps and food.

Moonshine in Nancy

Moonshine in Nancy

In Nancy we took a taxi from the train station to our friends’ house. The taxi driver’s English was better than our French and he was a friendly guy. He even pulled out an Australian one dollar coin that he carried for good luck after a passenger gave it to him. He warned us not to expect much from the weather in Nancy while we were there and indeed it was freezing cold and foggy when we arrived.

I first met Tory at playgroup a few years ago and her oldest daughter is only a few months younger than Edward. The kids soon made themselves at home and were having fun playing.

Nancy is fancy.

Christmas lights

The next day, as warned, the weather had not improved. We decided that the kids would all enjoy an easy day at home playing. Tory and I ventured out to track down a market she had heard about and buy provisions for lunch. She impressed me with her growing French skills and we came back with some yummy roast chickens, bread and radishes. We were introduced to the French way of eating long lunches with multiple courses, cheese and wine, and we liked this very much.

That evening Tory’s husband took us and the bigger kids into Nancy city centre by tram and we watched the countdown to the Christmas tree lights being switched on for the first time. It’s been great traveling in Europe just before Christmas with trees and decorations and markets everywhere we go.

sunny church

Blue sky!

On our final day in Nancy the weather came good and we all went into the town again for the afternoon. We wandered through the old town and into a fantastic park. The park has a permanent selection of rides for 1 euro a go, a little free zoo with monkeys and goats, and a great playground. When the sun started to dip and get a bit chilly Tory and I left the men in charge and took the baby off to a bar to wait in the warmth for the others while they had one more go on the rides.

rides

1 euro rides!

I knew nothing of Nancy before we went but now I know it is a lovely little city with a beautiful old town area that we would be happy to visit again! We had a wonderful weekend and thank you Tory, Vince and girls.

Beautiful Brussels

From The Hague we hopped on a train to Brussels which only took a couple of hours. Our first task was to find our way from the train station to the apartment rental office where we had to pick up our keys. This involved finding the right tram, working out the tickets and getting us all on and off again at the right stops. Mission accomplished!

We booked our apartment for three nights through Apartments Apart and stayed in Juste-A-Côté 1. We got a great low season deal and payed only 220 euros for the whole three nights. The apartment was enormous, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and was right in the centre of town between the Grand Place and the Maneken Pis statue.

climber

Maneken Pis dressed up in one of his many costumes.

We were able to walk to the apartment from the office, through the Grand Place. It was late afternoon on a beautiful clear day and the old buildings looked amazing in the afternoon light. Everywhere we looked there was a chocolate shop or  waffle place and Lil was in heaven. She loudly exclaimed, “I love this city! There’s so much to see and do!!” much to the amusement of other nearby tourists.

enormous apartment

Our huge apartment living room

enormous kitchen

Huge kitchen

Once we had dumped our stuff in the apartment we headed straight out again to get a waffle and buy some groceries. Yum!

waffles are good

One euro waffle!

We timed the shopping so we were back in the Grand Place at 5pm when the nightly sound and light show started. It was just beautiful. The show goes for 15 minutes and tells the history of the Grand Place through music and lights.

dark blue sky

Sound and light show in the Grand Place

The next two days the great weather continued and we spent most of our time walking around the city. We’d leave the apartment in the morning and not get back until dinner time (with Ed falling asleep in the stroller at some point each day.)

one slept

Stroller nap

We visited the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate and learned about the process of harvesting cocoa and turning it into chocolate, and then got to sample some too.

We happened to walk by the Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula so popped in there for a visit and found an exhibition of nativity scenes from all different countries.

Brussels Cathedral

Brussels Cathedral

We visited the fabulous Musical Instrument Museum which has over 7000 instruments on display. An audio tour is included in the entrance fee and the audio plays automatically when you stand near an instrument and is music featuring that instrument. Great fun, but unfortunately our visit was a little rushed as Ed went on museum strike.

Musical Instrument Museum

Musical Instrument Museum

We ended up searching out food instead and found a nice cosy cafe serving Belgian beer (of course), burgers and frites.

good beer and burgers

Good beer and burgers

The next day we set off on the long walk to the Museum of Natural Sciences. The weather was freezing that day but still clear and the walk took us past the palace. The museum has the largest display of dinosaurs in Europe and was entertaining for all of us. Lots of interactive exhibits and things to touch. There was also a temporary exhibition there about Baby Animals which was specifically designed for kids aged 3 to 8. Perfect! They didn’t want to leave.

natural science museum

Natural Sciences Museum

On our way back into the city Ed fell asleep (see photo further up) and we came across a playground so stopped for a quick play while Dave walked laps with Ed.

we found a playground

Playground!

Our three nights in Brussels flew by and we all really enjoyed the city. I had been there once before, in 2005, with my cousin and a friend, but I think we did more eating/drinking and less site seeing back then!

Many more photos from Brussels here. We went a little photo crazy because it was all so lovely.