Sunday, April 12, 2015

Home again, home again...

Apart from the expensive taxi/lost camera incident on our first day, the rest of our travel plans had gone like clockwork, so we were probably due for a hiccup on our  homeward trip.

After much deliberation (based on a warning from one of the workers at the station and later by a couple of shop holders, that the train was not a very safe option for travelers) we still intended to take the RER train from Gare du Nord to Charles de Gaulle. Certainly the atmosphere at Gare du Nord was ‘dodgier’ than at Gare de Lyon but with confidence inspire by the Fodor’s forum and our experience on the Metro we thought we’d be OK. On Thursday morning however, I discovered via Twitter that there had been an accident on the B line and the trains were out until 11 am. This created a slight panic and forced us to reassess.  I found a shuttle service on Google and was able to book one for 10am. Given that my computer was reading 8.45am, this seemed like an easy fix until Geoff looked at his watch and realized the computer hadn’t updated the time change from London to Paris and that it was, in fact, 5 to 10 and the shuttle was about to arrive! At this stage we were very grateful that our dreadful little hotel room had been too small to allow any unpacking. We threw on the clothes we’d been wearing the day before and fled down the labyrinth of a staircase and out onto the urine spattered pavement to await our ride.

The shuttle was a great way to get from door to door and pre paid so there could be no expensive surprises. The airport was quiet because unbeknown to us there was a strike on. Several Emirates flights had been cancelled, thankfully not ours although the board was indicating a slight delay.

Farewell France
The slight delay turned into quite a lengthy one and by the time we landed in Dubai we had just 17 minutes to get to our next flight. Although we expressed our concern about this to the flight attendant, we were given no information about how to get to the next gate or whether it was worth us trying. Thanks to our front of the plane seats, we were first off and decided to try an ‘Amazing Race’ type dash to the next gate.  Unfortunately this involved running the length of terminal D and transiting on the airport train to terminal A. In the process I ran smack bang into a metal bollard, rendering me speechless with pain. We tagged on behind a wheel chair assisted passenger who was making the same dash from her delayed plane, figuring that the airline assistant knew where he was going.

As we hit the top of the escalator we heard the final call for our flight and we were through the desk by the time the announcement finished. With hearts pounding and sweat dripping off us but with a certain sense of smug success, we presented our boarding passes. These were accepted but then as we started to walk through the doors we were told the plane was not able to accept us because our luggage hadn’t been transferred. Along with a dozen other disappointed passengers we were given some very vague instructions about talking to the transfer desk. We followed the wheel chair again because we had no idea.

The transfer desk was a disaster of disorganisation  and rudeness. It took 2 whole hours for them to reassign the 20 displaced passengers to new flights. We were given new boarding passes for a flight the following day and a hotel voucher. We waited another 30 minutes for a shuttle to the hotel where we were given a room with 2 king single beds for the 3 of us. By this stage it was 4am local time and we had to be back at the airport by 7.30 am. With some creative top and tailing we were just nodding off when someone knocked on the door to deliver us some towels!

Grump, tired hotel selfie. 

Needless to say, by the time we boarded our flight to Melbourne, we were tired , grumpy campers. It was a shame because until this point our experience with Emirates has always been positive but the lack of communication throughout this situation will take some time to forget. In hindsight it would have been obvious to the airline that we wouldn’t make the next flight when we left Paris   and they should have told us that. At the very least, an apology for the inconvenience would have helped smooth our feathers.

We arrived back in Melbourne at 5.30 am on Saturday, determined to stay awake till bedtime local time so we could avoid too much jet lag. With only 4 hours sleep in the past 48, this was a big challenge. We stopped in Geelong to catch up with Sophie and stayed to watch her play netball. On the drive back to Mortlake serious sleep deprivation kicked in so we played some holiday reflection voting games to keep us focused. Some of the results of these might be useful to anyone else contemplating the same sort of trip.

Favourite Stops
1.     Switzerland – Switzerland was a last minute addition to our itinerary and I’m so glad we made it. The warmth and generosity of our hosts had a lot to do with this country being our number 1 but so did the cleanliness, ease of transport, delicious food and magnificent scenery.
2.     The Scottish Highlands – This may have been the best time of the year to visit the Highlands. Lots of attractions are still closed but that means there are hardly any tourists about and you get to enjoy the natural beauty and remoteness of this area without waiting in queues.
3.     London – 6 days didn't touch the surface of this fabulous city.

Best Views
1.     Mt Titlis, Switzerland – Being on top of the Swiss Alps took our breath away.
2.     The top of the Eiffel Tower/ Arc de Triomphe- both give spectacular views of Paris, a city that is (in my opinion)much prettier from birds eye level than street level.
3.     The back side of the Isle of Skye- this is a land that time has forgotten.

Best Free stuff
1.     The Clava Cairns in Inverness– They’re fascinating and the tourist buses don’t go there so you can spend time in this special place all by yourself.
2.     The British Museum – hours of history at no cost.
3.      The Luxemburg Gardens – although you do have to pay to get into the playground.

Best value for money
1.     Breakfasts at Premier and Novotel- we didn’t have to eat lunch
2.      The Info centre at Culloden
3.     A ‘skip the queue’ tour at the Eiffel Tower. Great guide, interesting tour behind the scenes of the tower and instant access to the elevator.
4.      The 3 day Paris Metro card and 7 day London Oyster got us everywhere we needed to go and both subway systems are simple to use.

Biggest Rip offs
1.     The Loch Ness Centre – just don’t even go there.
2.      Europcar – Talked us into ‘added extras’, lied to us about insurance cover and over charged for fuel. Ended up costing us more than double the quoted price.
3.     The Tower at York.
4.      Pay and display parking in a paddock near Hadrian’s Wall.

1.     The Tobler’s house in Wettingen– staying with locals is always the best option.
2.      Ardmore Cottage in Balmacara – I found this on It was a lovely traditional setting with contemporary benefits like a washer/dryer and good wifi.
3.      Premier Inns – we stayed 6 nights at Premier St Pancras and it cost us about $AU 200 including a full breakfast each morning. This was a great price in a great location (100 metres from  King’s Cross station). The service was excellent, the room was large and the wifi was free.
4.      The Novotel Gare de Lyon in Paris – spectacular breakfasts and right beside the Metro.
5.      Duck Cottage in Thirsk – another well presented cottage in a lovely, friendly town.

1.     The filthiness of Paris- especially the cigarette butts and stale urine
2.     The scammers in Paris, particularly at Sacre Couer.
3.      The beauty of Yorkshire, particularly the east coast.
4.     How good the fish and chips are in the UK. The haddock and chips we ate in Whitby was amazing.
5.     How many steps there are in Europe. If you want to admire medieval architecture  (not to mention travel on the underground) you have to be able to manage the steps. I am now a stair master!
6.     The friendliness of the English. I don’t know why this surprised me but I felt incredibly welcome everywhere in the UK.

And now our wonderful journey is over. 4 weeks went by in a flash and it feels a bit surreal to think of all the things we did and saw. I’m looking forward to reading back on the blog so I can remember it all.

As always, one of the great benefits of traveling is the appreciation of coming home. It’s lovely to see our big girls and our little grandsons again. Our house and our animals have been wonderfully looked after in our absence and I’m ever so grateful for my own bed, a choice of clean clothes and my own bathroom ( oh, the joy of knowing the last bottom on the toilet seat was your own!)

Welcome home Pa :-)
I’ve been reminded that for all the terrible things we hear on the news, most of the world’s population are friendly, helpful people with fascinating stories to tell. We are just tiny cogs in a giant wheel of humanity.

Travel is not as difficult or as expensive as we think it to be. I wish I’d started earlier.

Thanks to everyone who has followed this trip on Facebook or Fodors. Your suggestions and support have been very helpful and it’s been fun to know other people were traveling ‘with ‘ us.

I’ve been looking at airfares to Canada today.

See you there.


  1. Really enjoyed your blog. Reminded me of our past trips to Paris and London. Never saw any dirt in Paris though, although I have always travelled late October into January so not so many people.
    Haven't been to Yorkshire yet, but definitely on the agenda.
    Great blog!

  2. Hey Deborah, thanks for reading and commenting :-)
    You must go to Yorkshire, the people are so lovely and they have the best bakeries!

  3. I have just finished reading about parts of your trip - thanks for your details! we are heading from Sydney to Uk/France in August. So excited!

  4. Hey Guys, just finished reading your excellent blog. We are about to do four weeks in England Scotland, Ireland and another four weeks in Europe. Mainly France and a trip to Paris for our 25th Wedding anniversary. We have our UK tour organised by Adeo travel and includes the car hire and all accommodation in B&B,s. Flying from Edinburgh to Dublin on Aer Lingus and CIE bus tour around Ireland for 8 days. Any suggestions would be appreciated....Leaving from Brisbane Australia