Here is a recap of our European HeritageTour with Trafalgar Tours.  This Tour was by escorted motorcoach with an experienced Tour Director and Driver.  Ours was a CostSaver Tour,  not Trafalgar’s renowned First Class Tour, meaning our hotels were not “first class” but at least “superior tourist class”.  Anita and I had previously toured with Trafalgar in September 1997 when we toured Britain, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

 

Our Tour originated and ended in London and we arrived 5 days prior to commencing the tour and visited with Anita’s sister, Lily who lives near Bristol.  We spent one day in London being tourists and purchased a city sightseeing tour allowing us to visit again all the main attractions London has to offer.  We found England to be very expensive!

 

Our bus, a 2001 MAN, made in Germany carried 53 passengers.  It was owned by the Company in Portugal  our driver, Alberto worked for and was contracted out for use by Trafalgar Tours.  The Tour operated on a seat rotation system … one moved one row each morning in a clockwise direction.

 

Our tour group consisted of 6 Americans, 1 New Zealander, 39 Australians and 6 Canadians – 52 in total.  The Americans came from Portland, Oregon, Boulder City, Nevada and Hawaii.  All 6 Canadians were from British Columbia … Ladysmith, New Westminster and Vernon.  Our Tour Director, Barry, was British [I believe] and lived in Amsterdam and or Driver, Alberto was from Portugal.

 

We were provided a list of Optional Excursions to experience during our tour of Europe.  Not knowing if and when we would again return, Anita and I chose to purchase all 22 of them as they provided transportation to and from the events, included meals and drinks we would otherwise have to buy on our own and, in the end, provided us with many unforgettable memories!

 

During our daily drives, be it between cities or visiting places of interest, Barry provided an historic commentary for each site and always played music appropriate to the occasion … especially when returning to the Hotel following an Optional Excursion dinner!

 

The Web Sites I have provided are to enhance the attractions we enjoyed and provide more background for you … enjoy!

 

Staying in a different Hotel almost every night on Tour, Anita and I chose to spend as little time in our Hotel room as possible while on vacation.  Most times we would be early for scheduled events and sit in the Hotel lobby “people watching” as we called it.  Other times we would visit the bar for a drink prior to our “included” evening dinner.

 

Tuesday, September 21:  London  - Amsterdam

 

Our first early morning of many to come!  Left our London Hotel at 6:30 a.m. driving to Dover to board the ferry for the sea crossing to Calais in France.  Ferry crossing was smooth and sunny skies accompanied us as we viewed the “White Cliffs” en route.  We drove through Belgium on our way to Amsterdam, our first overnight stop.  As we got closer to Amsterdam our sunny skies departed and cloud and light rain became the order of the day.  Dinner followed at the Hotel.

 

In his opening remarks to us, Barry, our Tour Operator, offered very specific means for the safeguarding of one’s valuables [money, passports, etc.] and spoke strongly of things we should not do [i.e. putting valuables under the mattress in our Hotel room].  He further warned us to be aware of pick pockets.  This latter message was repeated almost daily.

 

Wednesday – September 22:  Amsterdam at leisure

 

A cool and windy day with continuous showers.

The day began with a visit to a cheese farm that had a clog workshop as part of their operations.  Staff provided an introduction to cheese production and gave a demo of clog carving.  We next toured Volendam, a picturesque fishing village and then onto a diamond-polishing factory.  As the walk from the bus to the factory was lengthy in the heavy rain, Anita and I chose to remain onboard the bus.  The bus parking lot was full of cars so we had a tour of the immediate area while waiting for the others to return.  Free time allowed us to enjoy a walk to visit the Royal Palace and Dam Square.  The city is comprised of numerous canals and bicycles are a major means of transportation.  We even drove by a free Parkade exclusively for bicycles!  Traffic throughout Amsterdam was unusually heavy all day.

 

Tour No. 1 – Old World Dinner, Cruise & Red Light Tour

Enjoyed a canal cruise and a traditional Dutch dinner in the early evening.  While the rains continued we got wet walking to and from the boat from our bus and again when visiting the restaurant.  After dinner the rain stopped during our leisurely walk thorough the infamous “Red Light” District of Amsterdam before returning to our Hotel.

 

Web Sites of Interest

 

The Royal Palace of Amsterdam        http://www.channels.nl/amsterdam/paleis.html

The Dam Square – Amsterdam                                              http://www.hiptravelguide.com/amsterdam/php/article-4.html

 

Thursday – September 23:  Amsterdam – Rhine Cruise – Rhineland (Hockenheim)

 

Rain all day … at times very hard and blowing!

All of us got wet at lunch walking from bus to restaurant and return and again to and from our boat used for the Rhine Cruise.  Our drive took us to German Cologne then to Boppard for our Rhine Cruise past castles and vineyards, vertical on steep hillsides … most enjoyable despite the inclement weather.  We did not make our scheduled visit to Heidleberg [rain delays] and continued on to our Hotel in Hockenheim where we enjoyed an included dinner.

 

Early into our drive today the American male from Hawaii advised Barry that he had left his money, passport and all under the pillow in his Amsterdam Hotel room!!!  Needless to say, Barry was upset to say the least.  With a phone call back to the Hotel the lost was found and eventually returned to the owner.

 

Friday – September 24:  Hockenheim – Strasbourg – Lake Lucerne

 

Rain again greeted us as we boarded our bus this morning but gave way to sunshine upon our arrival in Lucerne.

Only 45 minutes into our drive we were pulled over at a roadside stop by the German police.  Alberto, our driver, was given the “third degree” by the police asking him to produce any and all papers relative to our European Tour.  This as well as his own passport and drivers’ license.  Barry later told us this was most unusual and normally does not happen.

Our free time in Strasbourg allowed us a visit to the Strasbourg Cathedral … very old but elegant!

We then drove the Alps and arrived in Lucerne, Switzerland!

 

Tour No. 2 – Twilight “Happy Hour” Lake Lucerne Cruise

Sunshine was enjoyed as we enjoyed our Lake cruise past many ancient buildings.  Commentary by the boat captain helped us identify landmarks and complimentary drinks were enjoyed by all.

 

Arriving at our Hotel later we were surprised to learn there were no phones in our rooms!

 

Web Sites of Interest

 

Strasbourg Cathedral             http://www.strasbourg.com/cathedral/

 

Saturday – September 25:  Lucerne at Leisure

 

Today was again cloudy with intermittent showers.

 

Tour No. 3 – Mount Pilatus & Alpine Show with Fondue

Rode the World’s Steepest Cogwheel Railway to Pilatus Kulm, elevation approximately 7,000 feet [2,132 metres] above sea level.  Spectacular views - steep grade [up to 48 %] and snow at the summit!  Exterior paths and walkways were very slippery. 

Just prior to our descent, Jenny [Australian] slipped and badly injured her ankle!  Once down the mountain she was taken to Hospital and treated.  Ended up being on crutches and mega medications.  She remained on Tour with a great attitude although her injury caused her to miss a number of scheduled events.

Our descent was by a combination of cable car and gondola and the view spectacular!

We then had a traditional Swiss luncheon, including cheese fondue.  While eating a live band entertained us [yodeling, singing, playing special instruments] and audience participation added to the atmosphere.

 

Free time that afternoon gave us time to shop, visit the nearby Churches and take in the downtown sites of Lucerne.

 

Web Sites of Interest

 

Pilatus – World’s Steepest Cogwheel Railway           http://www.pilatus.ch/

 

Sunday – September 26:  Lake Lucerne – Liechtenstein – Innsbruck

 

Rain and drizzle until noon today and cloudy in the afternoon.

A glorious, scenic drive through the mountains passing through many tunnels made for an exiting drive.  The high countryside was adorned with numerous houses and villages …post card heaven!  I have noticed on the bus that most folks sleep during the days’ journey …how much they have missed!  Myself, I came on this vacation to enjoy all the sites and so did not sleep on the bus.

Free time for shopping was enjoyed in both Liechtenstein and Innsbruck, home of the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics.

 

Tour No. 4 – Tyrolean Alpine Villages Summer Sleigh Ride / Farm Visit

Rain again greeted us as we boarded our bus for our evening excursion.  Our summer sleigh ride was cold and damp even though schnapps was available to those desiring same!  Afterwards we warmed up inside at his farm while enjoying drinks and the local entertainment.  Had it not been so cold and wet I’m sure the experience would have been better enjoyed by all!

 

The following morning coughs and sniffles resounded throughout the bus.  A condition that endured for the remainder of our Tour!

 

Monday – September 27:  Innsbruck – Salzburg – Vienna

 

Our first day with no rain since Amsterdam!

Driving via Germany we arrive in Salzburg, home to Mozart and later the setting of “The Sound of Music”. 

 

Tour No. 5 – Salzburg Guided City Tour, St. Peters & Castle Top Lunch

Here our orientation was enhanced with the assistance of a local guide.  Somewhat disappointing to learn that only parts of the movie were actually filmed here while others were done in Hollywood.

Next we took a funicular ride to the heights of Hohensalzburg for spectacular views of the city and to enjoy a light lunch in the castle.

 

We arrived late in Vienna that evening thanks to an accident causing traffic delays on the highway.

 

Tour No. 6 – Dinner in an Historical Country Mansion

This fine restaurant was located on the outskirts of Vienna.  Country flags autographed by visitors world wide adorned our tables.  Anita & I were fortunate to have the Canadian flag at our table!  Walls throughout the restaurant were covered with photos of famous people who at one time had diner there … Liz Taylor, Clark Gable, etc.

 

Web Sites of Interest

 

Salzburg          http://europeforvisitors.com/switzaustria/planner/blp_at_salzburg_city.htm

 

Tuesday – September 28:  Vienna at Leisure

 

Cloudy and cool – another day without rain.

 

Tour No. 7 – Schonbrunn Palace

Touring with Trafalgar Tours gives groups preferred admission most times!  We had a guided tour of the Palace before it opened to the general public.  Visitors average some 8,000 daily.  Palace is huge and spectacular.  It took a long time to construct and has fabulous art work within the rooms. 

 

We next enjoyed a guided bus and walking tour of the old city … historic to say the least!  Visited Heros Square, Imperial Vaults, City Hall and Churches … one built in 1147, to name a few.  Crossed the Danube River and saw statues commemorating poets and musicians special to Vienna.

 

Tour No. 8 – Palace Concert and Hungarian Gipsy Dinner

Attended a classical concert that evening featuring music by Mozart and Strauss, ballet and opera singers.  Had front row seats.  Excellent!

Evening meal was of Hungarian origin … different and tasteful!

 

Web Sites of Interest

 

Schonbrunn Palace                http://www.aboutvienna.org/sights/schoenbrunn_palace.htm

Imperial Vaults            http://www.findagrave.com/php/famous.php?page=cem&FScemeteryid=639510

 

Wednesday – September 29:  Vienna – Venice

 

Our first day of true sunshine since leaving London!  What a difference in attitude on the bus – spirits higher as if all had a new lease on life.

Driving south the scenic countryside is dotted with farms in remote locations where you would think no one would live.  Our journey also takes us through numerous and sometimes lengthy tunnels prior to crossing the border into Italy.  Shortly after entering Italy the familiar landscape of Austria and Switzerland was replaced with vast farms on both sides of the highway – a most fertile and productive farming area, according to our Tour Director.

 

Tour No. 9 – Gondola Serenade Thru’ The Canals

A cruise along the Grand Canal!  We were one of three gondolas in procession and in one, along with the tourists, was a singer and accordion player.  The serenade offered by these two greatly enhanced the atmosphere as we gently glided through the many arches and past the ancient homes bordering the Canal.

 

An included dinner at our Hotel ended our first day in Italy.

 

Thursday – September 30:  Venice at Leisure

 

A beautiful, sunny and warm day today although the sun shone through a haze which apparently is common in Venice.  Also very humid.

Driving to the harbor we encountered another car/truck accident and got us there a half hour later than scheduled.  At the harbor we boarded a motor launch for the half hour ride to St. Mark’s Square.  First we attended a glass blowing demo at the Murano Glass Factory following which we visited their shops where they attempted to sell us their merchandise, laced with gold and most expensive!  Even offered to ship our purchases home for us … all for a hefty fee.

Toured St. Mark’s Square but the line up to see St. Mark’s Basilica was over 2 hours long so passed on that one.  In the Square, the movie “Casanova”, starring Jeremy Irons, among other was being shot.  This movie “remake” is due for release in April / May 2005.  Near the Square we saw the Bridge of Sighs.

Flooding of the Square is a common problem … some 250 days per year … it was flooded just the week before we were there.  The Canal Project currently in progress hopes to alleviate this problem when complete in 5 years time.  Also there are numerous reconstruction projects underway to improve and preserve the buildings subject to water damage and old age.

 

Tour No. 10 – Fabulous Lagoon Cruise and Lunch

A 45 minute motor launch ride to an adjoining island via the lagoon and after a short stroll we arrived at our restaurant for lunch.  And what a lunch it was!  Menu had all fish dishes of every description and our meal lasted over 2 hours.  Then a walk around the village and sightseeing.  Houses all are brightly colored and have laundry hanging from the windows to dry.  Houses all have different colors so the men, after fishing, then drinking in the local pub, will know which house is theirs when returning home after having consumed one too many!

 

I ate so much that afternoon and passed on the included meal that evening, opting instead to have a drink in the bar and watch soccer with Italian commentary!

 

Web Sites of Interest

 

St. Mark’s Square       http://europeforvisitors.com/venice/articles/piazza_san_marco.htm

Bridge of Sighs            http://europeforvisitors.com/venice/articles/bridge_of_sighs.htm

 

Friday – October 1:  Venice – Rome

 

Another gorgeous day of sunshine mixed with a few clouds.

Leaving Venice on our way to Rome it took some 2 hours before the sun could penetrate the haze and truly shine.  Fertile, large farms adjoined the highway until we began our journey over the Apennine Mountains, encountering fog and a slight rain near the summit.  Leaving the mountains we again returned to sunshine and a change of scenery as farms and villages adorn the tops of the adjacent hills and mountains.

During our lunch stop en route to Rome one Australian [Danny] had the misfortune to have the zipper opened on the pouch around his waist by a pick pocket.  He lost his passport, credit cards and a small amount of cash!  Upon arrival at our Hotel he cancelled his credit cards and arranged for a new passport when we arrived in Paris.

Our Hotel in Rome had been upgraded to first class as our scheduled Hotel had been overbooked.  Turned out not to be much of an upgrade as it was noisy and not all that clean.  Only advantage I saw was that the location was closer to the downtown core.

 

Tour No. 11 – Evening Tour, Borghese Gardens, Spanish Steps & Dinner

Dinner was just so-so … not as good as others on Tour have been.  Also, our guided walking tour was a bust!  Walking down narrow streets all 38 of us were unable to see all that was pointed out as she talked to us through head sets we wore.  Apparently we did walk on one street where movie stars of the 40s and 50s sat at outside cafes waiting to be noticed.  We later walked the Spanish Steps.  Only highlight of the evening was our first viewing of the Forum and the majestic architecture of 3 nearby buildings designed by Michelangelo … superb and awesome!  He apparently built one of the three we viewed.  We later drove by St. Peter’s Square where the Pope’s residence was pointed out to us.

 

Car drivers in Rome are something else!  They pay little or no attention to street lights and or pedestrians.  Cars are parked in any and all locations, sometimes 3 deep or abreast or blocking motorcycles.  Alberto,our driver, was superb, maneuvering our bus through the congested and sometimes narrow streets in Rome!

 

That evening another misfortune occurred.  Edna, the eldest member of our group, slipped and fell in the bath, bruising her face.

 

Saturday – October 2:  Rome at Leisure

 

Sunshine with temperatures to 25 C and warm all day.

 

Tour No. 12 – Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peters Visit, Pantheon

Due to a special Mass today in the Sistine Chapel our ‘’preferred” entrance to the Museum and Chapel was not to be!  The attractions did not open until 10 a.m. and so we had to stand in line for some 2 hours awaiting entry.  Most tiring standing still in one spot before we could begin our slow walk to the entrance! 

Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Church and Square visit – tremendous, outstanding!  Words fail me here in extolling the beauty of them all.  Afterwards we all wished we were allowed more time to enjoy these attractions.  We later visited the Roman Colosseum, Forum and finally, the Pantheon!  Throughout all this I must commend our local Tour Guide – she was fantastic.  I was awestruck by the old ruins we visited during the day … thinking back to my early school days when we studied all this and now seeing them in person!

The excursions today involved much walking, most on uneven surfaces, making the majority of us sore and tired when at 5 p.m. we returned to our Hotel.

 

Tour No. 13 – “Arrevederci Roma” – Dinner, Trevi Fountain Visit

That evening we enjoyed a most delicious 4-course Italian dinner.  Restaurant staff added to the atmosphere with their antics while still doing a superb job of serving us.  Anita and I did not visit the Trevi Fountain afterwards as her ankle would not support any more walking after what we had done earlier.  Comments overheard on the bus while returning to our Hotel indicated seeing the Fountain was a great experience.

 

Web Sites of Interest

 

Vatican Museums                   http://www.roma2000.it/zmusvat.html

Sistine Chapel                         http://mv.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/CSN/CSN_Main.html

St. Peter’s of Rome                 http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/St_Peters_of_Rome.html

Roman Colosseum                 http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Roman_Colosseum.html

Roman Forum                         http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/The_Roman_Forum.html

Pantheon                                 http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Pantheon.html

Trevi Fountain                         http://www.aviewoncities.com/rome/trevi.htm

Michelangelo Website             http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/michelangelo/

 

 

 

 

Sunday – October 3:  Rome – Florence

 

A mixture of sun and cloud today – pleasant but not as warm as Saturday.

We retraced our driving route back to Florence [the only duplication of our Tour].  The group photo was first on the agenda upon arrival in Florence.  Anita and I chose not to participate in the “walk about” in Florence, taking a “time out” to rest up after overdoing it in Rome on Saturday.  Reports filtering back tell us we did not miss anything.  Most talked of how dirty Florence was in comparison to other cities visited on the tour.  We both felt rested come Monday morning.

 

Web Sites of Interest

 

Michelangelo’s David              http://vlsi.colorado.edu/~rbloem/david.html

 

Monday – October 4:  Florence – Pisa – Nice

 

Weather continues to hold for us with sunshine after morning cloud today.

First stop was a visit to the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.  A unique structure to say the least! 

We enjoyed spectacular scenery on our drive from Pisa along the Ligurian Coast, past historic Genoa to the French Riviera and Monaco.  Houses and villages adorn the mountainsides and we cross extremely high bridges as we drive across – not through – the valleys below.  From Pisa to the French border [before Monaco] we journeyed through 167.5 tunnels, some short and others extremely lengthy!  Those on Tour – remember “Count the Tunnels” trivia?  Leonne, I hope, as the winner, the bottle of wine you won was enjoyable!

Spent some enjoyable time visiting in Monaco.  Went inside the Monte Carlo Casino but did not pay the 10 Euro price requested just to watch the gambling.  Enjoyed a visit to a nearby park before again boarding our bus for the short ride to Nice and our Hotel there.

 

Tour No. 14 – “Riviera Special”, Scenic Drive & Dinner

Our drive to our restaurant for dinner took us high above Nice.  Made 2 photo stops en route – to view the harbor and city below and then to view Monaco from afar.  The highway area where Princess Grace of Monaco was killed was pointed out to us as we continued our upwards climb as was the new mansion Bill Gates recently purchased.  Walking from the parking lot on uneven ground, Anita fell and suffered a bruised right wrist!  Ice was applied while we enjoyed our meal to help reduce the swelling.  Following a most enjoyable meal returning to our Hotel we enjoyed the wonderful lights and beauty of Nice as we ascended to our Hotel.

 

Web Sites of Interest

 

Leaning Tower of Pisa            http://www.endex.com/gf/buildings/ltpisa/ltpinfo.htm

Monte Carlo Casino                http://www.visitmonaco.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.viewPage&pageID=194

 

Tuesday – October 5:  Nice at Leisure

 

A gentle breeze and sunshine kept the temperature comfortable today.

 

 

Tour No. 15 – Cobbled Villages Tour & Perfumery Visit

Today, with a local guide, a combination of bus and walking tours.  A bus ride around the port area then next to an older village outside of Nice was first on our agenda.  In the village we had time to stroll the markets and enjoy the views in and around the village.  Next, we drove to another older village where we walked the narrow cobbled streets to the top for a gorgeous view of the surrounding countryside.  Time then to stroll through the many side streets and enjoy the numerous shops along the way.  Returning to the bus we got lost for a short time!

On the road again we drove outside Nice to a Perfumery for yet another tour.  The 3 of us Canadian men did not go and instead visited with Alberto, our driver, as he again washed our bus.  Anita also stayed onboard the bus and enjoyed a nap.

Returning to Nice and our Hotel we again had a terrific view of the harbor, includiding 3 cruise ships in port, as we descended to sea level.  Also passed by the residence of Tina Turner.

 

Others not participating in the Tour did their own sightseeing and some even went swimming in the Mediterranean.

Tonight we had drinks in a local bar with 7 others then went out to dinner at a restaurant overlooking the harbor, enjoying the lights of the boats coming and going.

Our hotel room in Nice was extremely small and our particular room had rounded shower doors that kept coming off their track when being moved, making having a shower most difficult!

 

Wednesday – October 6:  Nice – Barcelona

 

Cool, cloudy and at times, foggy on our drive to the border of Spain today.  The sun filtered through a haze as we crossed the border into Spain.

The first time our drive was not at all scenic.  Landscape was void of life … only trees and vineyards were visible.  We passed no villages, only cities which were few in number.

 

This morning, Barry, our Tour Director, was the recipient of rude and disruptive behavior from Larry [American].  Others had earlier talked of his rude manners when seated near him, the same one who had left money and passports under the pillow in Amsterdam!  At the first rest stop, Barry “adjusted” the seat rotation and sent Larry and his wife to the rear of the bus.  Future seat rotations became “hit and miss” as others also refused to move and sit next to or near this individual.

 

The rest of our journey to Barcelona was without incident.

 

Tour No. 16 – Flamenco Show and Buffet Dinner

A most tasteful buffet this evening which seemed to be the theme for almost all the Optional Excursions!

The Flamenco show that followed was outstanding … dancers and the accompanying music!

 

Thursday – October 7:  Barcelona at Leisure

 

Another pleasant day of sunshine, not too hot but humid once again.

This morning a guided tour, by bus and on foot, of both the old and modern city.  The old included seeing a statue of Christopher Columbus, two buildings designed and built by architect, Antoni Gaudi plus the “unfinished” Church and a drive along the Ramblas, the main street of Barcelona.  The city has 5 universities to its’ credit.

New was the legacy left from the 1992 Olympics … what previously had been slum areas have now been reclaimed and are both modern and prosperous parts of the city.

The Olympic Village became high rise apartments that were sold as residences.

 

Tour No. 17 – Guided Tour to Montserrat

A most beautiful and scenic drive outside the city on a mountain highway climbing for some 10 km. to the Monastery complex [2,400 feet above sea level].  Once past all the shops and restaurants we arrived at the the Sanctuary where, at 1:00 p.m. each day the Choir [oldest boy’s choir in Europe] sings – but only for 10 minutes duration!  The Church was packed and we greatly enjoyed the Choir!

Our time only allowed us a break for lunch so did not tour the Monastery but did enjoy the spectacular views offered us as we walked.

We descended from the mountain via a different route allowing us more views of the mountains and valley below.

 

Our Hotel in Barcelona was the best one we have stayed in to date … even better than the “upgraded” one given us in Rome!

 

Web Sites of Interest

 

Antoni Gaudi – Unfinished Church     http://www.op.net/~jmeltzer/Gaudi/eltemple.html

Montserrat                  http://www.virtourist.com/europe/montserrat/index.html

 

Friday – October 8:  Barcelona – Madrid

 

A mixture of sun and cloud today, making for a pleasant drive.

Driving from Barcelona and heading inland, we begin to climb on our way to Madrid, some 646 meters [2,120 feet] above sea level.  Landscape remains bleak, drab and desolate with no indication of life near the highway.  Some 50 km outside our destination we again see farmlands adjacent to our highway.

During the drive we were requested to choose our dinner menu for that evening as restaurant staff needed adequate time to prepare the lamb entrée, one of the selections offered.  I did choose lamb.

 

Tour No. 18 – Illuminations, Fountains & Plazas + Dinner

Visited Plaza Mayor Square and then ventured under the Square to Rincon De La Cava where a complimentary drink was served! 

At dinner those of us who chose lamb from the menu were in for a surprise as we received an entire leg of lamb!  A most generous serving, not too many of which, I believe, “ate the whole thing”. 

A driving tour of the old city followed dinner before returning to our hotel for the evening.

 

Saturday – October 9:  Madrid at Leisure

 

Windy and cool this morning with the occasional shower.  A mixture of sun and cloud for the afternoon.

This morning a guided bus and walking tour of the old Madrid seeing attractions such as the monument to Miguel de Cervantes, writer of the world famous story of Don Quixote, Royal Palace, Puerta del Sol, and Plaza de Espana to name a few.  Our drive took us past the Train Station that had suffered terrorist bombing last March and also the Plaza de Toros Stadium that seats some 30,000 and is home to the bull fights.

 

Tour No. 19 – Excursion to Ancient Moorish Capital of Toledo

Leaving Madrid we drove some 70 km to reach Toledo, a tourist attraction point of first order.  The bus took us to a point high above the city to give us a panoramic view of Toledo with the Tagus River and one of its bridges surrounding the city.  Our guide walked with us down the narrow, cobbled and uneven roads [steps included] back to our bus.  Along the way we visited Saint Tome Church that houses a painting by El Greco done in 1588.  Another stop of interest was an ancient Jewish Synagogue.

We found the walk difficult and tiring … a close second to our experience in Rome.

 

Web Sites of Interest

 

Plaza Mayor Square               http://www.aviewoncities.com/madrid/plazamayor.htm

Plaza de Espana                     http://www.aviewoncities.com/madrid/plazadeespana.htm

Palacio Real (Royal Palace)   http://www.aviewoncities.com/madrid/royalpalace.htm

Plaza Puerta del Sol                http://www.aviewoncities.com/madrid/puertadelsol.htm

Toledo                         http://www.cyberspain.com/ciudades-patrimonio/itoledo.htm

 

Sunday – October 10:   Madrid – Lourdes

 

Cloudy, cool and windy for most of the day with a few brief sunny breaks [8 a.m. and 3 p.m.].

More bleak, desolate landscape again as we left Madrid for Lourdes.  Entering the Basque country just before crossing the border into France we again are greeted to hills alive with farms and civilization. 

At our morning rest stop a bus load of Sisters [nurses in training] and their patients arrived the same time as did our bus.  Once inside the restaurant ALL the Sisters began smoking!  What a poor example these young people exhibited towards good Healthcare!  Needless to say, most of us spent little time inside. 

At 2:05 p.m. we entered France for the fourth time on the Tour.  Countryside turned once again to supporting large farms together with homes and outbuildings and remained so until we reached Lourdes.

That evening some members participated in the torchlight procession.

We found Lourdes to be very commercial during our short visit, boasting numerous souvenir shops and hospitals.

 

Web Sites of Interest

 

Lourdes          

http://www.lourdes-france.com/index.php?page=menu&texte=1&old=&langage=en

 

Monday – October 11:  Lourdes – Bordeaux

 

A mixture of sun and cloud until early afternoon turning cool with rain, heavy at times, to  broken overcast skies upon arrival at our Hotel in the late afternoon.

Our journey this morning took us to Biarritz and the Atlantic Ocean where we had time for lunch overlooking the Ocean and the pounding surf.  Again, a few brave souls went swimming.  Time spent here was peaceful and relaxing by the water.

Continuing on, trees lined the highway and there was evidence of logging.  Among the trees the occasional large farm was evident.  An air of excitement amongst all of us this afternoon as tomorrow we would be in Paris!

 

Tuesday – October 12:  Bordeaux – Paris

 

An early departure this morning [7:15 a.m.] saw us driving in the rain for the first 3 hours after which we encountered a mixture of cloud and sun for the rest of the day, turning cool that evening.

Vineyards dotted both sides of the highway leaving Bordeaux turning once again to vast, fertile farmlands with the houses and outbuildings set far back on the tracts of land.

After our first morning rest stop Barry conducted a quiz on our journey to date.  Of the 40 questions posed, 4 people scored an amazing 32 … well done!

Our late afternoon arrival in Paris gave us our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower and many gasps of awe from within our group.

 

Tour No. 20 – Seine Cruise, Eiffel Tower & Illuminations Tour

Our peaceful cruise on the Seine allowed us to view numerous old buildings adjacent to the water as well as other historic sites in the distance.

My first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower up close did not impress me as it was not much to look at from the ground.  However, upon arriving at the second stage by elevator what spectacular views we enjoyed from all 4 corners!  Memories I will cherish for many a day.  We again bypassed huge lineups for entry by being part of our Tour.  Back on the ground waiting for others to return I noticed a high military presence.  Army personnel, complete with machine guns, patrolled the grounds!  This high security because the Tower is still a communications centre.

Following a quick stop for supper the bus tour included sites such as Arc de Triumph, Champs-Elysees, Concorde Square and Les Invalides, the gold-dome building and final burial site of Napoleon.  Returned to a viewing spot near the Eiffel Tower at 9:00 p.m. to enjoy the spectacular 10 minute daily lighting of the Tower that first began in year 2000.  We also drove by the tunnel [underpass] where in 1997 Princess Diana was killed and other historic buildings arriving finally at 9:45 p.m. at our Hotel and bed!

 

Wednesday – October 13:  Paris at Leisure

 

Cloudy, cool and breezy all day … not very pleasant to be “out and about”.

Our morning began with a guided bus tour of the history and architecture of Paris featuring Notre Dame Cathedral, Universities, Churches, exclusive residential apartments and the high price shopping district.  In daylight we viewed Arc de Triumph, Champs-Elysees, Concorde Square and the Eiffel Tower.

 

Tour No. 21 – Louvre Museum [Mona Lisa] & Versailles

A guided tour of the Louvre, the highlight of which was seeing the Mona Lisa!  Again, our time here was not long enough to enjoy all the wonders the Museum contains.

That afternoon a drive outside of Paris to Versailles.  On the way we drove through the tunnel [underpass] where Princess Diana lost her life.  The tunnel sure is small … media reports in 1997 portrayed it as being larger than it actually is.

In Versailles a guided tour of The Palace of Versailles, Royal Residence of King Louis XIV.  We were the benefactor of being on Tour, avoiding long lineups for entry, both here and previously at the Louvre.  Classes of school children were in attendance at both of these venues.

Danny was successful in obtaining a temporary replacement passport.  As well, Jenny visited an American Hospital and received medical clearance to fly home on condition that she upgrade to business class and allow for the comfort of her injured ankle.

The rains had returned by the time we departed our Hotel for our evening out.  Tonight we found that Paris traffic is something else … drivers appear to ignore traffic lights, clog the intersections while motorcycles zip in and out and ride on the sidewalks!  Alberto again displayed his remarkable driving skills for us and both he and Barry said Paris was the worst European city to drive in.

 

Tour No. 22 – Cabaret Spectacular [Can-Can] & Dinner

Our final night in Paris and last on Tour it was only fitting to celebrate by going “all out” for one last time!  This was the most expensive of all the Options we purchased but worth every cent in the end!

Dinner was good but not exceptional as previous ones, or “extras” had been.

However, the live show that followed more than made up for it!  The show lasted some 2 hours and was far superior to those in 1999 we last saw while in Reno or Las Vegas, as attested to by Art & Norma who live in Boulder City near Vegas.  Along with the dancing, comedy and pantomime added to the performance and audience participation was hilarious, to say the least!  An evening to remember!

 

Web Sites of Interest

 

Eiffel Tower                 http://www.tour-eiffel.fr/teiffel/uk/

Arc de Triumph           http://www.paris.org/Monuments/Arc/

Camps-Elysees          http://www.aviewoncities.com/paris/champselysees.htm

Concorde Square       http://www.aviewoncities.com/paris/placedelaconcorde.htm

Notre Dame Cathedral            http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Notre_Dame_Cathedral.html

Les Invalides [Napoleon’s Burial Site] http://www.napoleonguide.com/tours_lesinv.htm

Louvre Museum          http://www.louvre.fr/louvrea.htm

Chateau of Versailles  http://www.chateauversailles.fr/en/

           

Thursday – October 14:  Paris - London

 

This morning we said our first “good bye” to 2 families as they had made other travel arrangements and would be departing Paris on their journey home.

Cloudy and cool as we left Paris and we were met with gusty winds as we made our way to Calais, past the Battlefields of the Somme [WW I].  Heavy rains greeted us closer to Calais and abated, thankfully, as at Calais we had to leave our bus, unload luggage, and visit Passport Control prior to boarding the ferry as foot passengers.  A fond farewell to Alberto, our driver, as he was off to his home in Portugal with the bus for a well-deserved vacation with his family.  Our ferry crossing to Dover was fine with only a few minor bumps on the seas.  Earlier that morning gales had caused major sailing delays resulting in our vessel having to wait out in the harbor at Dover over an hour for a berth.  I was honoured that Ted presented me with his Australian flag he had been displaying with each seat rotation on our bus.  Thanks, Ted!

A new bus and driver from Dover to London … what a treat to again read road signs in English!  More farewells as we made 2 stops before our Hotel for folks going elsewhere.  At our Hotel, more hugs and good byes as Friday most of us are homeward bound.  Total distance traveled on our Tour was 8,400 kilometers.

Friday – October 15:  London

 

At our last “included” breakfast that morning we had a last visit, more hugs and good byes said to those who still had not left for the airport.

Anita and I took a taxi out to Heathrow Airport to await our flight back to Canada.  Our flight was uneventful and the 9 hours seemed long as both of us were tired.

 

Europe – Lasting Impressions