A Travellerspoint blog

Sete to Lourdes

Day 6 of French tour and Day 30 of OE

Wow, this was an amazing day guys! We went to the walled town/fortress of Carcassone where Des did the tour along the ramparts with Julien while I walked around awestruck through this old old village with its cobbled streets. It was similar to ones we saw in Italy but different with a castle in the middle and a beautiful catherdral. Normally, its only a catherdral in the middle of these towns. I took heaps and heaps of photos (I actually took over 5000 in total over our whole trip). Even though it was raining, I hardley noticed as it was so interesting and so were the wee shops. I shopped and shopped there with Des away on the Ramparts not constantly saying to me "Remember we have to carry all these things home you know!" God he said that a lot especially when I just had to buy 1 more thing for Jenna (our Grand daughter). I went into the church and inside there were 4 male singers standing near the alter singing archipella. OMG the accoustics in the high ceilinged wooden church was some thing to hear, to be believed. They were of course singing in French and harmonizing so beautifully. They had even made CDs so when Des went in, thank fully they were singing again after a break at which I had left to do more shopping before Des returned from the Ramparts, he loved them also and bought a CD. We have just listened to it again at home in NZ and it was such a great momento to bring home as it will always remind us of beautiful Carcassone. Des and I met up again for the best cappucinno and croissants we had ever had in this tiny little cafe with timber beams which looked like they had been there since the fortress was built in 43 - 30 BC. The huge towers were begun in the 3rd century so we are talking really really old aren't we readers.
As though that wasn't enough of a feast for us today, we then headed to Lourdes for the night's stay in a lovely hotel right on the river and in the town and close to the evening action so that was all good. We actually had no idea what to expect at Lourdes except that this was where we could join in with the pilgrims tonight for the torchlight procession. This to a Catholic, is pretty neat I have to tell you, so I was looking forward to this immensly. We were a bit worried that this may be such a tourist spot that it could be like Vatican City but praise the Lord, it wasn't at all. This little town is so incredibly humble and refects its humbleness in the story of the 14 year old Bernadette who was drawing water from the well in 1854, when she had a visitation from the Virgin Mary. This happened on several days. Since then this has become a sacred spot and put Lourdes on the map too. Being such a picturesque spot with the river running through it, lots of trees and the Pyranees behind it, it makes for a very pretty village with its cobble stoned streets as well. People flock there to be healed or just to venerate the site of this holy miracle. Not just Catholics, but all Christians come here and are humbled. Des and I felt very moved here at Lourdes. although there are thousands of people there for the torchlight procession, it is very peaceful. No one pushes you in the crowded street and we definitely felt the power of the love of God here. We felt this at St Francis of Assisi in Italy as well, but not at the Vatican or St Peters in Rome sadly.
Dinner was in the hotel and then we attended the procession and to see the Grotto where Bernadette had seen Our Lady. We bought our candles for the procession and headed to sacred place to join the thousands who were assembling as the light dimmed.The procession was actually saying the complete Rosary which took about 2 hours as we moved around the square in from of the church built to honour Mary. As we all sang "Ave Maria" at the end of each decate of the Rosary, we held our candles high and it was such a spectacular sight to watch as thousands of people sing in their own language and thousands of lights were held above our heads. Many people who were not partaking in the procession were watching from high above us on a hill or on walled areas leading to the church on the hill. They were mesmerised as much as we were by this spectacle. Even when it was over, everyone processed out and home very quietly and happily along the streets. Even the shopkeepers who were still open, remained very silent as everyone walked past them. I have to say though, I have never see so many Catholic souvenier shops with all the same wares in them as there was in Lourdes. We did not go into them but just took our weary bodies home to our really nice hotel along the river and at the end of the street. After such an amazing day it was a pity we had to get up at 6am to get back on that motorway again.

Posted by RitchieOE 00:47 Comments (0)

Day 29 Nice to Sete

Day 5 of French Tour

Hotel Busby turned on another very ordinary breakfast then we were off for another long bus trip but 2 lovely stops this time for a couple of hours in each without Julien yakking at us constantly and not even playing his awful French music loudly today. He even walked at an easier pace so someone's given him an earful we reckon. So the day was more comfortable all round.
First stop was Pont Du Gard, the Roman Aquaduct built in 50 AD to carry water to Nice. Nice is about 4 1/2 hours drive away, by motorway travelling at 130km (by bus 90 - 100km speed) Finally, we are getting to see what we have come to see and not be so rushed about it too. Pont du Gard is set in a very beautiful park with plenty of picnic spots and 2 areas where there are cafes. There are 3 olive trees which are said to be 1000 yrs old. They are so narly they certainly look like they have been standing for a very long time. This area is very restful and on a beautiful day like today, we could see why it is a very popular camping spot with the river meandering around and walks and lots of quiet open space. It could be a camping destination in the Coromandel really except for the actual Pont de Gard itself being slap bang in the middle of it. We enjoyed a lovely lunch there and off again on the bus to Nimes this time.
Here, the area built in about 50 AD and also by the Romans, was very like the Arena in Verona, Italy. Amazing how much roman influence there is in France as well. We also later, discovered it in England to of course. We are constantly reminded of the saying from Monty Python, "Yeah, what did the Romans ever to for us". Nimes is where the bull fights take place and the people of Nimes are really into that in a big way. Although a small town, it is really beautiful and of course, extremely old, which we are enjoying so much. The history we are seeing everywhere so far on our trip is so unbelievable. NZ is sooooo young but still just as beautiful.
Further on, we reached the fishing village of Sete - our next hotel for the night. We are yet to see the sea and even on our walk in the evening, we found no sign of water except what came suddenly out of the sky and we had to make a quick dash back to the Hotel, getting soaked to the skin as we were actually quite some distance away.
We were staying in the Mercure this time in Sete and we soon found that this hotel was in 2 parts. The restuarant was across an uncovered area (not really even a walkway) so once again we got wet going to dinner. Where the restuarant was, in the other part, people obviously paid more for their rooms as it was much more plush than where plebs like tour groups get put. We thought it was weird that this time, we didn't go to the reception desk, when we arrived, to get our keys. This time we were met at Plebsville, straight off the bus and given a code to go into our "block" which was was not even a very nice entrance to go into. Is it possible that Trafagar think, "Where can we put these cretons thats cheap and nasty?". Thought for today!!! NO MORE TRAFALGAR TOURS FOR US Lisa remember this for us eh.
Dinner in the restuarant tonight was really lovely, 3 courses with great company of 2 ozzie couples and 4 Americans at our table. Is it getting better? This group of people has been so different to the friendly people we had on our Italian trip. These people I think, feel as disgruntled as us, but they are not saying much and are definitely unable to let their hair down like the other tour group. Pity, its cost as much and its not as good a deal. Accommodation in Italy was much better we felt and Cosmos was definitely the better tour group in our eyes. Very interesting when you have 2 tours with 2 companies that can be so different.
I know our France tour sounds like me mouthing off but its actually a good part of coming to grips with it to be able to write about something you have looked forward to for 8 years and it is not what you were hoping for. Sorry everyone.

Posted by RitchieOE 17:27 Comments (0)

Day 28 Wed 16th May Day 4 of French tour

Nice and our FREE DAY

Yay another beautiful blue sky day and lovely and warm. A sleep in, in our very tiny single beds although they were actually quite comfortable, even though the walls were paper thin and there was lots of road noise below our 1st floor room. We were so tired, we slept well. Down to breakfast which wasn't much! Say no more - don't want to upset the owners you know. Yay there was a laundramat just in the next street and along a little, an internet cafe where the guy gave me an English keyboard Yay to both!!! We then had a great day sightseeing by ourselves in beautiful Nice. The sea has to be seen to be believed. It is azure blue and then suddenly, there is a line where it becomes dark blue out a little further. We have never seen water so exotic as this beach. Firstly, we took the little sightseeing train for our orientation of Nice. It took us through the old town and up the hill to the old ruins of the castle, high above the town. We later walked back up there to really enjoy the fabulous sight of the town below with its orange tiled rooves against the blue sky and the amazing colours of the sea making this a feast of gorgeous colours to behold. We decided we have been so lucky with our weather so far on our last 28 days, nearly always blue sky days. The emails we were getting from home painted a very dismal picture of winter and everyone with colds and lighting fires. We were feeling just a tiny bit SMUG :) HE HE.
We had the best day today on the Riviera - topless bathers on the beach for Des and wonderful atmosphere to soak up too. And no Julien.
In Italy, Switzerland and France at this time of year (spring) it is not getting dark until about 9.15pm so we strolled back down town for dinner and to see the lights coming on in the town. Thought a nice thing to do would be to go to the Casino. We took our passports and got through the door with those but then the guards told us we were too poorly dressed to come in. Des was is "sports pants" they said and then they looked at me in "jeans" uggggg! Oh well we saved our Euros didn't we. This is the second time we have tried to play on pokies while on our trip. Last time was in Switzerland and that time we didn't have our passports and it was going to cost us 10 swiss francs each to go in even if we had had our passports. We happily kept our Swiss Francs then too.
It was a lovely evening in town with no breeze and we headed back to Hotel Busby having enjoyed our day very very much.

Posted by RitchieOE 01:26 Comments (0)

Day 27 Tuesday 15th May

Day 3 of French Tour Lyon to Nice

Day 3 was a long drive to Nice. We never thought it would end 8am to 8pm with 2 stops and another 2 stops for "the happy room" (wees)
One of the stops was not a stop in the end. We drove through Cannes which we supposed to go to in 2 days time but as buses would not be allowed in then, as the Cannes Film Festival was to start, we had a quick drive by instead....bummer! It was a beautiful blue sky day and we had just spent 12 hours on motorways again in the bus. So we were at least looking forward to seeing Cannes and being able to get out at that beautiful beach amongst all the film stars and beautiful people. Nope... can't do that. We did see the film festival centre and the organization that was going on. The paparazzi sitting ready on the pavement waiting to snap anyone famous, who may show their face was worth a picture from the window of the bus as we moved steadily through Cannes. We saw the luxury yachts and cruiseships in the harbour and the beautiful people parading along the beach and through the town, not that we were able to see who they were from the bus. I suppose that was really all we needed anyway.
The first stop along the way was Avignon where Julien gave us a brief but not very informative tour of the medieval town. We were then on our own to eat lunch and walk around to see the sites. We discovered the very beautiful cathedral of Our Lady and a busy little village where we ate paninis in the square while we watched buskers singing in french and playing the piano accordion. It was very french of course but apparently, according to Julien, we needed to be "on radar" another one of his stupid sayings for "watch out for pick pockets". Everytime he said this we were all very nervous making for not as relaxed a time as we would have liked.
Back on the bus for the next long journey that day - through Cannes - through Nice- hey wasn't that where we were staying for 2 days? Not yet no. Julien had a special treat to take our minds off the long journey where the countryside is not anywhere near as pretty as Italy or Switzerland. In fact, all very similar most of the time with the occassional village in the distance, miles away from the motorway and too hard to even see. However, he then took us on to Monaco which was off the motoway and climbing high up on the cliffs to this beautiful principality .So different to anywhere else we had seen yet in France. High, high up with spectacular views of the sea and finally we were allowed to get out of the bus at the top and outside the Palace. Now that was wonderfully interesting even though we were only on the outside but we did see a guard on duty. The views over the walls down to the town below and the sea was fantastic. Here we suddenly met Debbie from Oz who had been on our Italian tour. We were very interested to hear she was doing a similar tour of France (with Cosmos though), and she was hating it with a passion. We told her how unimpressed we were with Julien and the lack of organization and that we felt Italy was sooooo much better. She was having the same sort of experience and she told us her room mate was a "Cow" Poor Debbie, she had such a cool room mate in Sue in Italy and they got along so well. Mind you so did we, with Sue. She even tried to steal my Husband. he he.
Well he is worth stealing isn't he! We came to the same conclusions. We missed Matia and Alexandro so much.
Next, we were back on the bus going back to Nice and Hotel Busby for 2 days. We were looking forward to tomorrow as it was a FREE DAY. Time to rest, do some washing and get on the internet and visit this very beautiful town with no noisy Julien. Yay!!!
Hotel Busby looked fabulous from the outside and downstairs in the lobby and then we all went up to our rooms with Julien warning us not to upset the owners of the hotel as they could get pretty upset with guests who complained. Up we went thinking great this is a hotel which is finally in the town and easy to get to the beach and the various sites by just walking.
To our horror, when we went to our room, it suddenly was reminiscent of "Faulty Towers" Definitely not been redecorated since the 1950's. So much like Faulty Towers, I climbed into the stand alone wardrobe, closed the door with my finger just on the outside holding it shut and asked Des to take a photo of that. Some of you will remember that episode where John Cleese was following the Ozzie girl into her room all the time and he quickly jumped into the wardrobe when Sybil his wife, stormed in to see where he was and what he was doing. OMG we couldn't believe it! 12 hours on the motorway for this for 2 whole days. What makes Trafalgar even think to put people up in a place like this!!!
Maybe I should send my French blogs to Trafalgar one thinks.......
Very late by this time but we still had to eat at one of Julien's favourite French restuarants. He, like I said before, has very long legs that walk too fast for any of us on the tour and we were all good walkers mostly. We think, he just wanted the day to be over, so he stormed ahead and we all tried to follow and remember where he took us so we could find our way back to dreadful Hotel Busby after dinner. The tour guides are not allowed to eat with their tour group so he disappeared of course as he often did (to our relief anyway). Here we all were squeezed in to this tiny restaurant and then the other 50 tour group members from the other bus arriving, to squish us up even more. Julien's phrase here was, eating like the French do - after 8.30pm We were all too tired to enjoy the French cuisine but it was nice and then we had to find our way back to the hotel in the dark though the maze of cobbled streets he had taken us, to get there. With Des in the lead, several of us set out. Des surprizingly went all the right ways until he got stuck quite close to the hotel. Luckily, one of the others knew that bit, so we got back safely without being mugged, lost or any thing else horrible so that was good.

Posted by RitchieOE 00:26 Comments (0)

France here we come

Day 25 Paris the start of the tour.

Highlights of France a Trafalgar tour with tour director Julien Haloni.
Flew to France this morning to start our French bus tour. Swiss air is pretty cool and yummy swiss chocolate to finish the flight, which was only 1 hour Zurich to Paris. Amazing, still fresh and ready to have a great time in France. This is a 13 day tour (2 days less than Italian tour) but just as exciting and full on. We are really glad we had time to ourselves in Switzerland even though we were actually meant to do this all with Trafalgar as well. They cancelled that tour 2 weeks before we were to go, even though we had booked, paid and been confirmed on that trip long before and Lisa even had all the documentation. Hence the quick organization done by Lisa to provide us with a similar tour but infact we saved $2,000.00 NZ and had 1st class train trips instead of 2nd class. Trafalgar you had better shape up with this French tour or we will be even more upset with you.
Our pick up at the airport took us to our hotel and then we had till late afternoon to check out our surroundings and have lunch in a nice little French Cafe a tad cheaper than Switzerland too. At 4.30pm we met our Tour Director Julien. We noticed there was not just one bus tour of us doing this trip, but 2. This tour, they had double booked so there were 2 guides, 2 buses, 2 drivers and each group had up to 50 people! Having had a great Tour guide in Matia in Italy, we hoped we would be in the group with Julien instead of the female tour guide. Yes we were happy when we were divided up (all 100 of us). However, the next morning at breakfast was utter chaos with 100 people all leaving at the same time and lots of other guests all trying to get breakfast at the same time. We had to wait ages for the lifts down to breakfast that eventually, we walked down and still made it to the lift door well before the lift ever came down. At the lift door, was where the queue for breakfast was! A queue so long with so many angry people waiting and knowing 100 of us were on a strict time limit, as were many others I'm sure. This was not a good start to what we hoped was going to get better.... We waited in line for 1/2 an hour and when we got into the dining room it was bedlam there was hardly anything to eat and kitchen staff on an absolute go slow - as only the French can do, when they are being pushed! Or so we found out anyway.
The night before, we had had an orientation of Paris by bus. This was actually really frustrating as the bus went by so fast and Julien would tell us to look at something that he could see, at the front of the bus, but those of us much further down the bus, didn't know where to look. Then taking pictures was damn near impossible as we really didn't know if that was what he had been talking about when our end of the bus rushed past the site. Now I love trees but I got sick in tired of all the damned trees in the way of all the "sites" in Paris so man was I grumpy to start off this tour!!!! :( We finally got out of the bloody bus to go to the Notre Dame which was wonderful. Of course it was sunday and they were in the middle of Mass - right at the consecreation part too, so we had to creep into the church and not say a word and that went for Julien too. We then crept out of this amazing place without actually learning about it so that was sad for us but nice to actually see the Mass happening in such a historic church. It is so beautiful there. We only wished we could have been able to be there for the whole mass and to actually take part, especially as it was sunday and we hadn't been able to go to church before that.
We then had a lovely, (but with about 500 other people all queing up for it), cruise up the Seine which began at sunset right by the Eiffel Tower. We arrived back to the same place in darkness to see the Eiffel Tower fully lit up with Gold lighting. Wow this was truely amazing and an unbelievable like pinch me I'm really here amazing sight. Night 1 was starting to get better....Back to our hotel and our room on the 8th floor ,where in the distance, there was the golden Eiffel Tower glistening out at us. Then of course, it all got spoilt with the next morning as I previously described.

Day 26 Paris to Lyon.
I've already discribed the bedlam that was breakfast and I am not writing anymore on that and you don't want to hear about that again anyway.
Needless to say, we got away late making us late all day and that appeared to be OUR FAULT. We were really going off Julien big time. Firstly, he's French! This makes him arrogant, loud, self possessed and talks constantly. When he took a break from talking and we all thought we may finally have some peace and quite to enjoy the countryside, he put on loud french music which just pissed everyone off even more. We could see by the looks on our fellow tour members faces, they were feeling they wanted to get off this tour fast (just like us). How can 2 tours be so different? Where is Matia? We want him to take us through France... and Alesandro the Italian bus driver too. He was so wonderful. This guy didn't even acknowledge his driver even though he was the one who actually spent about 8 hours most days driving us everywhere. We later heard from those who were sitting at the front, "you wouldn't want to sit there anyway because all the time Julien was telling the driver off". Bloody hell this sure was shaping up to be one shit of a trip so far. Our girls would tell you it takes a lot to get me swearing by the way!
We left Paris at rush hour on a Monday morning so it took forever to get out of the city, onto the motorway, heading to Lyon. I wrote up my whole of the day before diary and 3 postcards as well before I finally put my head up to see if there was anything interesting to look at yet. We drove from Paris to Beaune without stopping which was about 5 hours. Thank God there was a toilet on board the bus as he wasn't stopping for anyone. He had to make up lost time! No sorry - we had a "happy place" (wees) stop 3 1/2 hours on for 20 minutes only, in the middle of nowhere. Julien's expression "happy place". Other expressions he used were "family" for all of us (all the time) in fact he never got to know our names or who's partner belonged to who. "Viola" and OK were used all day and every day and when he wasn't saying that he cleared his throat loudly into the microphone before he spoke ALL THE TIME and it was absolutely disgusting. This was also a wakeup to those who had dosed off on the many boring motorway trips we were on. Infact, we decided we were on motorways about 80 - 90% of the time on this Highlights of France tour. Such a pity when France is very pretty when you are allowed to get off the motorway and travel through the little villages and countryside. We missed so much sitting in a bus on a motorway. I guess we were spoilt in Italy as we hardly ever were on the motorway.
France was surprizingly flat and not much to see until we got to Beaune where we had lunch and time on our lown for about 1 1/2 hours. Now that was sheer bliss in this lovely little French Village just what we had come to see. It was such a nice break from Julien rabbiting on about nothing and his dreadfully loud music and the bus being cold even though some of us had asked him to turn up the temperature as we were all freezing. We then continued for another 1 1/2 hours to Lyon. Our orientation of the town was " This is the old town and this is the new town" as we drove past the end of the streets rapidly with his waving briefly in their direction. He was still trying to make up time from the fiasco at breakfast in the morning. Who knows what the town was like? He actually wanted us to all go on the optional extra tour that night where the old town was included with the French dinner out somewhere. Those of us who had chosen to not do that optional tour, including us, missed out on seeing Lyon because of that. That tour was 68Euros each and he then told us it would cost us more than that to just get a taxi from our distant hotel let alone eating a meal out so we were the unlucky ones eh. Bit pissed off at that too. He certainly hadnt bother to mention that we would be a long way away from the town, so we couldn't just walk to see what we had wanted to see when we decided on on our optional extra tours. Matia, in Italy, was much more up front as to which tours would be worthwhile for us to do. Julien just wanted everyone to do all the extra tours and as it was, they cost us an exta 660 Euros. Admittedly, 300 Euros of that was for an evening at Moulon Rouge back in Paris just before the end of the tour. This was a real important one for us not to miss so we were a bit hesitant with other tours because of it. It all sounds as if we were penny pinching but we really weren't.
Off, those on that optional extra went so we found just next door, a delicious Thai Restuarant (our favourite food) for 40 Euros all up. As we had already had a long day and had to get up at 6am the next morning we decided to not even persue buses, taxis, trains to go to the old town of Lyon. Although pissed off with Julien we actually (in the end) sounded as though we had the better night anyway. Apparently, his way of being a guide was to walk fast and only the ones able to keep up with him heard what he said and the food wasn't worth the money either.
Thats enough rambling and MOANING for one blog. Sorry about the way this is written but I am sure you are now building up a picture of our French experience. Such a pity when you come so far from NZ and all the money you spend to not actually enjoy the experience which is mainly spoilt by the tour director. I have heard the saying "France is a lovely place but it's a pity about the French" I now am starting to understand what they mean by that.

Posted by RitchieOE 00:40 Comments (0)

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