MARCH – JUNE 2004
INDEPENDENT TRAVEL BY SENIORS DRIVING EUROPE
To read our further travel diaries of USA, Canada, Egypt, Jordan, Vietnam etc and more photos Click Here.
This is a diary of a 92-day independent trip of 2 Seniors from Adelaide, Australia, self-driving through UK and Europe. The diary was composed from emails which we sent to family and friends every week to keep them up to date, and then expanded from my travel diary which I kept daily. It was written mainly for ourselves and is very detailed so that we can recall what we did. If you find the detail irritating then don’t read it, just look at the photos.
We planned this trip for over 12 months on the Internet and booked all the accommodation (37 hotels and pensions plus stage shows, visits to museums and historical sites and boat trips) on-line. Denise and I worked out the itinerary and sights to see using various guide books and the Internet. We followed the itinerary closely and saw 95% of the sights we planned.
We believe that we got more value than on a similar guided tour. The trip was tiring and there was stress being together for 3 months, and navigating and driving on strange roads in different countries is not easy. However we did it by ourselves, we enjoyed it tremendously and are proud of every moment!
To read Part 2 of the Diary Click Part 2 page.
Keukenhof Flower Garden, Lisse (Netherlands) - 22 Apr
Louvre Art Gallery, Paris (France) - 17 Apr
Michelangelo's Statue of David, Florence (Italy) - 22 May
St Peter's Basilica, Rome (Italy) - 25 May
Sistine Chapel, Rome (Italy) - 25 May
Grossglockner Strasse, Lienz to Zell am Zee, (Austria) - 5 Jun
Cinque Terre coast, Monterosso del Mare (Italy) - 19 May
Bell tower (Camponile), Florence (Italy) - 21 May
Vilandry and Chenonceau Chateaus, Loire Valley (France) - 9-10 May
Neuschwanstein Schloss, Schwangau (Germany) - 8 Jun
Roman Amphitheatre, Nimes (France) - 15 May
Oradour Sur Glane Memorial Village (France) - 11 May
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We finish packing this morning at our home in Adelaide, Australia, and at 12 noon we’re off to the airport. Our Singapore airline flight leaves Adelaide at 2.30pm for Singapore and London.
It’s 32C degrees here in Adelaide today but when we arrive in London at 5am on 25 March the forecast is for 3 degrees and rain. We have our coats and umbrellas ready.
Check in is smooth (except one of our cabin cases is too heavy, and we have to put some things in a plastic carrybag), and we have the seats which we wanted – a double seat near the back of the plane.
We have these similar seats for all 4 segments of the flights – to Europe and return. We had a 4 hour stop over at Singapore Changi Airport – what a fabulously large airport. Then onto another plane for the second leg to London.
We arrived in Heathrow airport (London) at 4.45am Thursday after travelling 24 hours - it takes lots of forbearance to sit in the plane with 400 people for so long! We didn’t get much sleep on the plane.
Immigration and customs were quick and at 5.45am we go to the Underground to catch the first morning train to London dragging our 4 suitcases. There are many other tourists there also going to London but the train is not full and we have room for our suitcases.
Temp in London is zero degrees Celsius and raining. Booked into the Regent Palace hotel which is right outside the Piccadilly station. Luckily there was a vacant room available at 6.30am! and we went sightseeing. Leicester square for a quick coffee and croissant, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, St James Park and the Horseguards parade. In the afternoon the British Museum. In the evening had dinner at an Italian restaurant near the hotel. The hotel room was very small with a plastic moulded en-suite bathroom.
The weather has been very cold, minus 3C in the night. We took a London sightseeing bus (Big Bus) in the morning, sat on the top deck without a roof. Absolutely freezing for 2 hours; then went to Westminster Cathedral. Took the underground to Brixton (the underground is absolutely fabulous, we use it all the time) where there is a large local market – bought woollen gloves and scarves. Back in London it had warmed up slightly and we went on the Thames river cruise from Westminster pier to the Tower of London. Did the Tower of London for about 2 hours and saw the Crown Jewels. Then went to dinner and in the evening we had pre-booked “All’s well that ends well” with Dame Judith Dench – excellent show.
Went shopping and more walking in the morning, about 4C. Selfridges, Mark and Spencer, John Lewis and others. Then met with my niece Danielle and her boyfriend and visited St Paul’s Cathedral - 430 steps to the top which we did - fabulous views. You have to be fit to visit London! For dinner had takeaway sandwiches.
Morning Mass at Westminster Cathedral, then to Hyde Park, Serpentine Fountain and Speakers’ corner. Then Musuem of Natural History. In the evening went to Royal Albert Hall for a Classical Spectacular Concert with fireworks. Loved it and bought the CD.
In the afternoon I tried to upload photos to the web but unable to do so at the Internet Cafe in Burger King. I will have to devise another strategy. Later at a small Internet place the guy let me connect my camera and upload the photos. Most of the large Internet chains won't let you connect cameras to the computer.
Still about 3C in the morning, but did lots of walking. First to Buckingham Palace and Pall Mall and Green Park, then a local market to buy books and postcards. Also a phone card to ring home. Went to the National Gallery, then St Martin in the Fields church for lunch, The Banqueting Hall, the War Cabinet Room (excellent), then up in the London Eye (spectacular). Bought food at Tesco Supermarket. In the evening went to see Jailhouse Rock The Musical – fabulous show!
This ends our main London visit, and at 9am we drag our heavy cases on the Underground back to Heathrow. Our Hertz Ford Fiesta is waiting and we cruise onto the London Ring Route – in the wrong direction! Not to worry – the Ring Route goes around so eventually we get to the exit we want and in no time we’re at Canterbury Cathedral. We park in a covered parking lot which is 'pay and display' but unusually requires the last 3 digits of the number plate to be entered into the parking meter as well as the time you want to park for. This is a bit confusing so someone helps me. This is the only parking area we found like that on the whole trip. After visting the Cathedral we drop into a coffee shop for some lunch.
Then onto Leeds castle which is wonderful with large grounds and lakes. Then to Sissinghurst Garden and wander around for 2 hours – but it’s too early in the year to see many flowers. Then on to the Travelodge at Hellingly which is waiting for us – easily found on the roundabout near Eastbourne. After booking in we go to the Eastbourne Pier to look at the sea and nearby find a Fish ‘n’ chips shop for dinner (about 8pm and not much is open). This guy cooks fresh cod for us and it is magnificent! One of the best meals we had all trip. (Travelled 205 miles).
The weather is warming up with 4C in the morning and 16C in the afternoon with some sun! We travel to Brighton and this is where we meet the most unusual parking system of the trip. You have to buy parking vouchers (which are like scratch lottery tickets) at a newsagent in the next street. Each voucher is for 30 minutes so for 2 hours we needed 4 of them. Then you have to scratch the time and date and year off the ticket. So we had to do this 4 times, and finally suspend them all in the side window of the car by folding them and hanging them from the glass and then carefully winding the window up.
We walked to see the Brighton Pier with lots of amusements and rides. We then went to the Brighton Pavilion, a magnificent building. Then drove to Portsmouth to see the display of historic sailing ships, HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and the Mary Rose, a boat that was rescued from the bottom of the ocean. Then to Salisbury Cathedral which is in the middle of the town. After that we do some shopping in the town and get early dinner. Then on to Stonehenge and it is precisely 6pm as we pull up and the gates are being closed! So we look from outside in and Denise takes some photos from the fence. We travel back to Hellingly but we had strayed a long way from there and we arrive back at 10pm, something we don’t usually do. (270 miles).
Leave Hellingly and travel to Avebury to see the Avebury Stones – similar to Stonehenge but set in a circle all the way around the village. About a mile to walk all the way around. Had lunch there in a nice cafe and on to Cardiff in Wales across the toll bridge. Had some trouble finding the Campanile Hotel (not sure which exit to take from the highway) but found it. Started raining about 5pm but before lights out we went for a quick walk to the Supermarket. (229 miles).
Had a great day sightseeing villages and countryside. From Cardiff travelled to Tintern Abbey, Forest of Dean, Lower Slaughter, Upper Slaughter, Bourton on Water, Stow on Wold and Chedworth Roman Villa. Took great photos of all these places. Saw many rock walls alongside the roads. Then back to Campanile Hotel. We had dinner in the hotel dining room which was good – btw all the staff at Campanile Hotel are French. (210 miles).
Left Cardiff and travelled north to Raglan castle (very good), Symonds Yat Rock (excellent walking trails and lookout). Then went to Goodrich Castle where there were a few showers and a mob of noisy schoolkids. Then drove to Swindon to the Ibis Hotel. (207 miles).
Early in the morning went to Castle Combe village (the prettiest village in England). No other tourists around this early, walked around and took photos at leisure. Then to Bath and found a good parking spot. Did a tour of the Roman Baths, walked the Royal Crescent and saw Pulteney Bridge. Drove to East Lambrook Manor to see the garden but it poured with rain there. Then a visit to Glastonbury Abbey and back to Swindon. (225 miles).
Drove to Uffington and searched for the White horse drawing on the hillside. Parked the car and walked to it. But the photos were at the wrong angle so can’t see much of the white horse. Then to Oxford and found a nice parking spot (Denise is great at finding parks). Saw the Bodlean Library, Oxford Camera and Christ Church. It was rainy on and off all day. Drove to Blenheim Palace and walked the palace and grounds – excellent. Then to Chipping Campden, and Hidcote Manor Garden. Then to Stratford Upon Avon, saw the Swan Theatre and Shakespeare’s Birth House. Drove to Chesterfield to the Sandpiper Hotel. (206 miles).
For the last few days the weather has been getting colder and today was about 2C. Drove to Chester and met hail on the way at Macclesfield.
Walked the Chester city walls, saw the Shambles, visited Chester Cathedral. Had nice lunch in a café. Driving back to Chesterfield we had a flat tyre in the pouring rain at Knutsford at 4pm. I put on the spare tyre with Denise holding the umbrella. Luckily found a garage which could put on a new tyre – the spare was one of those thin tyres which cannot be used on the highways, so we had to get a new tyre. Then back to Chesterfield which has a church with a crooked spire and we had some trouble finding the right road for the hotel. (210 miles).
Today we go to Scotland but first drive to Durham to see the Cathedral, then Melrose Abbey, Roman ruins at Corbridge, Hadrian’s Wall and Homestead Fort. Then to the Travelodge at Edinburgh, easy to find the hotel, unloaded the car at the hotel and then had to park it at a nearby parking station. The driving in Edinburgh was good, no traffic jams. Walked around Edinburgh for a few hours before bed. (280 miles),
Temperature 4C in the morning, walked the Royal Mile, then to Edinburgh Castle (interesting), Palace of Hollyrood House, Hollyrood Abbey, New Scottish Parliament and saw Arthur’s Seat. Then along the river walked the Waters of Leith. In the evening did the Mary King Close Walk, which is a tour of underground Edinburgh – excellent outing. (no driving today!).
Weather is getting milder, 12C at midday. Driving to Kirkcaldy, then St Andrews Cathedral and St Andrews Castle. Then Glamis Castle which was excellent – impressive – and Crathes Castle and Garden. Booked in at Travel Inn Elgin and had dinner at a nice restaurant complex next to the motel. (228 miles).
Went to visit Elgin Cathedral in 4C weather, then to Culloden Fields and walked where the Scots were killed. Then drove to Inverness, along Loch Ness, then missed a turnoff and drove 50 miles the wrong way. When we realised this we had to drive back again. The scenery and mountains were spectacular here in Scotland!
Driving south the weather was sunny and 7C and we saw Eileen Donal Castle from a distance since it's in a lake, and Five sisters mountains, Soldiers Memorial. Then to our hotel, Bank Street Lodge, in Fort Wiliam. (275 miles).
Drove to Glencoe, saw Castle Stalker which is in a Lake, Castle Doune (very good solid castle), Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument. Left Scotland and made for the Travel Inn at Kendal. This is right on the highway and convenient. Temp 10C and sunny. Then drove around Lake Windemere, through Grassmere and Keswick, and back to the motel. Quite a lot of traffic here being Easter and a popular area for tourists. (410 miles).
Woke to 3C and fog. In the morning visited Bolton Village and Bolton Priory on the way to Whitby. It's Easter Monday we had planned to go to Whitby at the seaside and we did. Bad Mistake!! Everybody in England decided to go there also, and also to Scarborough which is nearby. So we were in traffic jams for 4 hours. Went through tiny villages without bypass roads at snail’s pace: Skipton, Thirsk, Pickering – turned off to visit Fountains Abbey nearby. Then back into the traffic. We finally got to within 2km of Whitby and parked the car in a sidestreet and walked. As we were getting into Whitby itself traffic was chaotic. We did see the beach and walked on it and it was great although cloudy and 11C. Also had Fish ‘n’ chips for tea and sat on a roadside bench eating and watching the milling crowds. We then went to Wakefield by another route! Longer but faster using the M1 motorway. Booked into the Campanile Hotel at Wakefield. (175 miles).
Warming up again and sunny 13C at midday. Drove to York today and found a good park in a parking area (pay and display). Visited York Minster, walked on the Roman walls, visited Clifford Tower, saw the Shambles. Then drove to Lincoln, parked in the street opposite a Laundromat (Denise did the laundry), and visited Lincoln Castle where an original Magna Carta is on display,and Lincoln Cathedral. Then drove to Peterborough for the Formule 1 Hotel, circled around the Industrial Estate for 20 minutes and finally found a sign to it.
This hotel is the worst of our trip – the bathroom is down the hall and the place stinks, but it is cheap and popular. (235 miles).
Another lovely sunny day and drove to Cambridge to see Kings College, then to Colchester and Beth Chatto Gardens. We spend a few wonderful hours there, then find our way back to Heathrow Airport along the Ring Route. We fill up the petrol tank at a service station close to Heathrow and ask where the hire car drop-off is. They give us directions and also there are signs to the drop off zone. (215 miles).
Altogether we have done 3580 miles and a burst tyre – Hertz reimburses me for the cost of the tyre - and we depart happily on the Hertz courtesy bus to the Underground at Heathrow again .
We take the Underground to Piccadilly station and book into the Regent Palace again, a quick shower and sandwich and we’re off to the theatre “We Will Rock You” The Queen tribute musical – excellent show. The room at the Regent Palace however is very small and noisy (above the disco).
Left hotel at 8.30am dragging our 3 cases (we left one behind at the hotel – since we don’t have car now.) Took the Underground to Waterloo Station, then walked from the Underground to the Eurostar Waterloo station. Had some breakfast there, went through security, then departed at 10.39am. Great smooth trip across English countryside, then the Channel tunnel, then the French countryside. We are very excited to be in France.
At 2.17pm arrived at Gare du Nord. Trundled across from the railway station to the Paris Metro and bought tickets (I had bought lots of Euros in Australia). Took the Underground to Bastille Station, found our way to the street, and walked to the hotel, hard work with our suitcases and cobbled streets and 15C temperature. We get to the Hotel Jeanne D’Arc and book in. The room is on the 4th floor and only a lift big enough for 1 person and 1 suitcase. The room is small and cooking odours pervade the room in the evening but it’s a wonderful location in the Marais District, near Place Les Vosges and 20 steps from Rue de Rivoli where the restaurants are. We then walk to Notre Dame Cathedral and Palace of Justice. It’s great to be in Paris in spring. Had a Chinese dinner on Rue de Rivoli.
Warm weather (16C)just right for a walk around Paris. We visit St Chapelle upper room, Conciergerie, Notre Dame Cathedral again, Monument to Deportation, took the Batobus boat trip on the Seine to Champs-Elysees, the Arc de Triumph (286 steps to the top), Eiffel Tower (didn’t go up it). There are lots of people selling tacky souvenirs and also some beggars but not as bad as some other cities later. Then took the Metro to Montmartre to see Sacre Coeur Basilica. On the way up the hill had a light lunch at a café. Took photos from the top of Montmartre and wandered the street markets selling lots of arts and crafts. On the way back had some drinks at a hotel and popped into an internet café.
Today is the day for the Louvre – inclement weather and 8C in the morning. We went in by a special entrance to bypass the queues since we had a Paris Musuem Pass – very useful. Spent about 5 wonderful hours there while it rained outside. Saw magnificent paintings and sculptures, had lunch (very busy and had trouble finding a seat! But we did find 2). Then outside again where the rain had stopped and visited Hotel des Invalides (Boneparte's Tomb) and St Louise church. Had dinner in a bistro on Rue de Rivoli (5pm a bit early for Parisiens). Then went to 6pm Mass (in French) across the road in St Paul’s church, very historic but not well known – has a huge dome which can be seen from inside the church.
Today is the day for Versailles Chateau and Garden. It is 7C and rainy. We take the RER train to Versailles, pop into McDonalds for coffee, then walk to Versailles and queue up. Very expensive to get in but we have to go. Inside is the biggest crush of people of the whole trip. We try to avoid the many tourist groups with their guides holding their umbrellas in the air but it’s impossible. After we get to the end of looking at about 40 rooms, we go outside to look at the fabulous garden. There is a howling gale and the ground is soaked with rain. We slosh about in the rain for about 2 hours (at 11am the fountains are turned on) and visit the palace buildings (Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon) in the garden. Then luckily there was a small tourist train which does round trips through the garden and took us back to the start. We were cold and wet and took the RER train back to Paris. Then visited Musuem d’Orsay and walked to visit the Tuileries. Bought some sandwiches and cakes to eat for dinner. Exhausted!
In the morning it is still showery, but we take the Metro to Arch de la Defense, which is a ‘mirror’ of the Arc de Triumph. It is a huge building shaped like an arch with offices etc. From there you can see the Arc de Triumph in a straight line. The lift to the top is not open today. We walk to the Parc de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulonge (nearly get lost) and spend an hour there. Then take the Metro to Montparnasse Tower, huge office building. I take the lift to the top (fast 38 seconds) and take some photos. We then take a tour of the Sewers of Paris (interesting), visit the Place de Vosges, do the laundry and go to the internet café.
At 8.30am we take a taxi to the Renault Paris depot to meet our new Renault Scenic 1.9 litre manual diesel. It is waiting for us and we get all the ownership papers and insurance. The French scheme for lease and buy back Renaults and Peugeots is terrific and cheaper than rental but must be booked and paid for from outside the European Union. Because we booked the Early Bird special we have 7 free days and also no relocation fee from Frankfurt (where we will finish the trip). The Scenic is brand new and Denise drives out of the showroom onto the right side of the road (of course for us coming from Australia this is the wrong side!). I am navigating because I am scared of driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road with the gear shift reversed and sitting on the other side of the car. The Paris Peripethique (Ring Route) `is 200 metres away and to get on it we navigate the roundabout and I direct Denise into the wrong exit! That set the tone for the trip as we went the wrong way at least once every day (except one day) of the trip. After negotiating a U-turn we go back to the roundabout and get onto the Peripethique.
We follow the Peripethique for about 12 kms and then turn off the exit to go to Vernon and Monet’s Garden. We get to Vernon ok and follow the signs to Giverny and we are there! We spend a wonderful 2 hours in the garden with hundreds of tourists and take glorious photos. At 12 noon we leave and get onto various toll roads past Rouen, then Lille, Gent just following the signs and paying when we asked to pay. At one booth you take a ticket and at the next you pay for the distance travelled (credit cards are accepted at some exit lanes). Except at some you pay a fixed price at the start.
So we get to the Netherlands about 5pm near Terneuzen. The Dutch border guards stop the car but then look at our kindly faces and wave us on. We drive through the Westerschelde Tunnel (6.6 kms long under the sea) through Middelburg to Westkapelle and stop to look at the seadijke and WW2 war memorial and display of defensive guns. There is a fish stall there and I have a raw herring on bread – my first taste of the Netherlands after 49 years being away!
We continue to Oostkapelle to the Moerbei Hotel and book in – absolutely fantastic immaculate room. My friend Hein is staying nearby in his caravan and he comes over with his wife Janny for a drink about 7pm and we then go to his caravan and walk on the beach and have a coffee (the first of many in Netherlands). (Denise drove 590kms that first day in a strange country on the wrong side of the road!)
We leave Oostkapelle and drive to the Delta Plan dijke nearby and walk around it, then visit Neeltje Jans which is a sea amusement park but also has the history of water (floods) in the Netherlands. I came to see the display of the 1953 floods – when I was still living in Netherlands. We leave the park and find the highway to Rotterdam. We want to see the Kinderdijk where there are 17 windmills collected together. However we leave the highway where we think is right but there are no signs to Kinderdijk anywhere. We are obviously going in the wrong direction again. I finally ask someone and get good directions. We then start to see the signs and traverse very narrow streets and finally get there. We see the windmills and visit one that is open and take photos. It’s sunny and 13C.
Then back to the highway to Rotterdam to visit Erick and Gonnie in Bergschenhoek. Erick has given us turn by turn description of the highway, the exit to take, and the minor roads to follow to his village. This works excellently and we arrive about 4pm. After coffee and chat they take us to a Pancake Restaurant – only the Dutch can cook pancakes like these! One pancake as large as a pizza and topped with ham and bacon and cheese and anything else you want. A huge meal, I couldn’t have dessert after it.
After dinner they show us where the highway starts to get to Ijmuiden where we have booked a hotel. However we take a wrong exit and end up lost in Scheveningen about 9pm. We retrace our steps back onto the highway and this time all is ok. We take the exit for Ijmuiden and follow the instructions from the web site but by now it’s dark and we can’t recognise the street. We stop and ring the Hotel Prinsenhof and they talk us in with me on the mobile phone and Denise driving. We were only 500 metres away! We pull up and park right outside the hotel – we’re lucky sometimes. The hotel room is excellent here also. (I didn’t record the distances in Netherlands as they are not great and we didn’t use the car every day, but probably did about 60kms today).
Today is the highlight of the trip as far as we are concerned – we planned to see Keukenhof with Erick and Gonnie. The hotel has a great breakfast and they give us a map to get to Keukenhof. We drive off and use the minor roads in peak hour traffic (8.30am) but it’s not too bad. There are signs as we get near Lisse and we pull into the carpark at Keukenhof at 9 am. We go into the garden and ring Erick – he is stuck in a traffic jam (files) near Rotterdam and will be about an hour late. Denise and I start taking photos while it is relatively empty – only about 20 tourist busses have arrived so far but many, many more are on the way.
We take some good photos with hardly any people in them – later it is impossible when 10000 people are there. Then Erick and Gonnie arrive and we wander about looking at the magnificent displays of tulips and other flowers – it’s impossible to describe how beautiful it all is – just takes your breath away. We stay about 6 hours and have lunch and coffee there. It is sunny and 14C - can’t be better. This is the prime time to see Keukenhof (early April- early May).
About 4pm we leave Keukenhof and go to Katwijk aan Zee to walk on the beach, then dinner at the Noord Holland Hotel. After dinner Erick shows us the road to take and Denise then drives back to Ijmuiden without problem.
After another nice breakfast with good coffee (this is the life!) we walk around Ijmuiden for an hour. Then catch the 10.30am fast ferry to Amsterdam through the Noord Holland Kanaal. In 30 minutes we are in Amsterdam and walk around to familiarise ourselves (we are coming back here next week). We see the Oude Kerk, Damrak, Palace, Nieuwe Kerk and McDonalds (everywhere). Also the red light district, various kanaals and shopping streets. Very busy, noisy, bicycles everywhere, much traffic - that's Amsterdam. At 3pm we are back at the Central Train Station to catch the train to Heemskerk to meet my cousin Huib and his wife Annie. They are at the station to meet us – just standing there but we recognise each other since we are all looking for ‘strangers’. They take us to their house which is in Haarlem and have a long discussion about my family tree which Huib is researching. It’s such a nice feeling to be ‘home’ as it were with people who are of the same family. We then go to meet Huib’s son who lives nearby and where my daughter stayed a few nights 3 years ago. After dinner Huib drives us to the hotel at Ijmuiden.
To read Part 2 of the Diary and more photos Click Part 2 page.
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