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.