Posted by: 124days | October 5, 2010

One day to go…

Paul has been reminding me of this all day, even though I refuse to be drawn in and count the days. That probably means it is time to strap on a healthy dose of reality and get ready for a landing back at base in WL. But it is hard to believe that we started at 124 days and here we are at one. Even Bart has commented that the time has gone quickly.

The boys are very excited and have been talking about being reunited with their pets and friends very soon. They would love to get their hands on a couple of hamsters from here and bring them back but I think WA quarantine may have a few things to say about this. I would like the hamsters just so I could buy and hamster lead and harness. I find it quite baffling to contemplate walking the little critters without causing messy crime scenes.

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Posted by: 124days | October 3, 2010

Living it Up in Dubai

What a brilliant way to end a holiday – a luxury hotel stay, beach, sun, sand, fab food and lots of shops for me to cruise, including the world’s largest mall, and a ride to the observation deck of the world’s tallest building – in the unreal fantasyland that is Dubai.

We have thoroughly enjoyed the amazing hospitality and service at Jumeriah Beach Hotel and from our room the boys have loved watching the helicopters taking off from the skyhigh pad of the Burgh Al Arab (the 7 star “sail” hotel next door).

As well as the pools and beach, 15 restaurants, a range of watersports activities, substantial leisure centre and small marina, there is the opportunity for lots of interaction with the loveliest of staff – the person walking around handing out ice blocks from a esky, the photographers who surface in the most unlikely places, popping up to take photos in the pool (even underwater!) and in the gentle waves at the beach, the fruit man who delivered a bowl of fruit to our room everyday and the turndown service man aka “the chocolate man” as christened by the boys, who would lavish them with loads of delicious chocs every night.

Next stop Singapore and it’s going to be hard to come back to earth after this.

I stopped counting the days we had left of our adventure when there were still 20 to go. I did not want to have to contemplate that the good times on the road were coming to an end.

Now we find ourselves here, in Dubai, with one stop to go. Having started with 124 days we now have only four remaining.

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Posted by: 124days | September 29, 2010

Birthday boy blows out the candles in the UK

Ed’s 7th birthday celebration, part 2, with our friends in Morestead, near Hampshire.

Posted by: 124days | September 29, 2010

Legoland

We HAD to do it, even though it was a bitterly cold, showery 9 degree autumn day, but the boys thought it was fab!

Look carefully at the Lego family tableau – can you spot the non-Lego character?

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Posted by: 124days | September 29, 2010

You know your time away is nearing an end when…

you have cooked pizza in more places than you can count on all your fingers

you have almost finished making the project you started to help pass the time (in my case a knitted tunic that only needs making up before I can wear it, hopefully in Singapore)

you are already dreading having to make school lunches again

you want to buy some more books to read but are worried about exceeding your baggage allowance (in my case the third Shardlake novel called Sovereign by CJ Sansom, just finished the second book last night after a marathon reading session)

you have started to throw away some clothes that you are sick to death of seeing

you are having such a good time you don’t want it to stop but at the same time you want to be home

you want to be reunited with your furry four-legged friends, Mittens, Toby and Tris

you want to start making electronic books about your travels categorised according to countries, experiences etc

and the one failsafe sign that it is DEFINITELY time to go home…

you have already started planning your next holiday

Posted by: 124days | September 28, 2010

Tres chic in Paris

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What a wonderful time we had in beautiful Paris. As well as celebrating with the birthday boy we caught up with old friends, sampled the chocolate masterpieces including tiny edible delicacies – Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty -strolled around the boulvevards, sat in cafes and enjoyed “living” in the sophisticated 7th for a few days.

Paris also treated us to the most idyllic autumn weather with blue skies, sunshine and low 20 degree days, just perfect for t-shirts and having the French doors open and the curtains billowing.

Bart, in particular, fitted easily into the cafe lifestyle, but was not so impressed with having to tread lightly and curtail the Pokemon battles whilst inside our apartment. He and his brother were hankering for the wide open spaces that we had enjoyed in rural France.

Posted by: 124days | September 20, 2010

Canvas country

We stumbled upon the Glamping website while trying to make plans for our 10 days of free time between Amsterdam and Paris and hit on the idea of a camping adventure (as well as a trip to Nurburgring, see an earlier post).

The next step was to find a destination that had a camp still in operation after the long summer hols. We finally arrived at booking into Simply Canvas, near Bergerac, quite a new business that was having only its second season.

Our accommodation was a large safari tent perched on a south facing facing rise that overlooked fields, hills, vineyards and far off villages. In total, this business had six four-person tents and a gite.

Inside the tent were four beds, a wicker table and chairs and a screen that divided the room into two sleeping spaces. The trusty mosquito nets, which proved to be quite a hassle to arrange at night, had one very positive effect, which was to keep both boys in their own beds (we may have to invest in some of these at home to prevent overnight visitors to our bed!)

We arrived right at the beginning of the grape harvest and the end of the sunflower harvest, so on the third morning we were greeted by the strain of machinery at 6am. But the other benefits – daily morning yoga, two cats and two kittens (which adopted the boys), chickens and ducks, a large swimming pool, badminton, foozball, very friendly owners and helpers, access to a kitchen and masses of beautiful villages and towns to visit nearby, far outweighed any inconvenience caused by the harvest.

It also meant that Ed was treated to a never-ending parade of farm machinery to watch. France (and Wales) have provided some of the best John Deere viewing moments for our boy and this stay in southern France did not disappoint.

Once again, we fell into the relaxed way of life of rural France which we have come to love, and visits to markets at Issigeac and Eymet were, as always, most rewarding. Bart and I especially enjoyed the Canalles (little cakes).

This part of the country is home to many English who have retired in the little villages, so the markets had many more English speaking stallholders than we have been used to and even English books for sale.

We also discovered a fab organic and biodynamic winery run by an Irish/South African and wished that we could take home a case or ten.

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Posted by: 124days | September 20, 2010

7 today

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Happy birthday Edmond

We celebrated Ed’s birthday with a trip up the Eiffel Tower this morning. Out ascent to the top was thrilling for the birthday boy and a bit of a worry for his elder brother but once there we all marvelled at the bird’s eye view of this beautiful city.

I believe that matter how many times you have been up the Tower it is always a thrill to do it again! And we couldn’t have asked for more perfect conditions – clear blue skies and a few artistic clouds.

This afternoon we are off to a nearby chocolate shop where we spied choc Eiffel Towers and Arc De Triomphes yesterday. Our birthday boy wants to see what eating the Eiffel Tower will be like and he might follow it up with a choc postcard or two!

Posted by: 124days | September 20, 2010

To Paris we go

Having spent a week relaxing in the south of France in a luxury tented camp (more about that in a separate post) we packed up Shiny (the Citroen) for the very last time, sob!, sob!! (from Mumma) a gleeful “hurrah” from Paul and headed to Bordeaux.

This southern city was a fabulous surprise and only recently regenerated, it has some of the most authentic and fully preserved neoclassical buildings in France. Apparently, five years ago, you could not walk safely in the centre of the city and now there are beautiful boulevards along the Dordogne River an efficient tram network, magnificent city squares and some very friendly, laid-back French business people gladly welcoming tourists. As well as that, there are some of the best red wines in the world.

After an overnight stay and having safely  escorted Shiny to his custodians we boarded the TGV with two very excited boys, for the 3-hour journey to Paris. Sitting in the club four seats around our table and sampling items from the dining car was a thrill.

Unfortunately the journey from Gare Montparnasse to our apartment was not so relaxing or easy and Paul did a mighty job hauling our two largest (of three) suitcases up and down stairs, along walkways and onto various metro and RER platforms and in to and out of trains. The boys too did their bit, carrying their backpacks and Bart, ever worried about his Dad, was offering to pull along one of the suitcases at various stages.

But the full length view of the Eiffel Tower as we turned into our street made it all worthwhile and our apartment was a welcome sight.

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Posted by: 124days | September 19, 2010

The Ring

Before our adventure started, Germany was seen as bit of a “less than exciting place”. But this as it turned out, was perhaps somewhat unfair, as Germany, in the short time we were there, has provided two of the highlights of our trip. There was Miniatur Wunderland (see previous post by my dear wife), Hamburg harbour, some of the friendliest people, and then, perhaps the pinnacle, “The Ring”!

The Ring or Nurburgring to be more accurate is considered by many to be the greatest road race track ever conceived. By the way, this may be a good time for the less octane interested folk to bow out of the post or fall asleep.

The Nurburgring is in the Eifel Mountains and in particular, I am referring to the historic Nordschleife, the Northern Loop section of track. Built in 1925, it is 20.8km long, has 73 bends and more than 300 metres of elevation change. It was taken off the Formula 1 calendar in the mid-1970s as it was deemed too dangerous after Niki Lauda had a near fatal accident, yet for about 20 or so Euro a lap, you can take your car around at any speed you want, if you are silly enough. Enter yours truly.

Now when the track is not open to the public you can see a variety of cars zooming around being tested by manufacturers. The morning we left we saw an array of Mercedes and something that looked like a Kia soft-roader being tortured around the track.

Most insurance companies will not cover you on The Ring, so there was no chance of taking the Citroen MPV around. Yippee! Yes it may have a DVD player but truly it handles like a wet sponge. So off to see the friendly Ron Simons at RSR (Ron Simons Racing we assume, MA worked this out, too complex for me).

Cars on offer for a small fee, starting from the top were the Lamborghini LP-560, Porsche GT3, BMW M3, then a Lotus Exige, or perhaps a Renault Megane. But being the coward I am and in need of a 4-seater (yes, we decided this was a family affair) we went for a Renault Clio Cup.

Now I should say at this point I did have serious concerns after a German friend of friend told me some months ago I was mad to drive around their unless I had some serious experience. Thus I had given up early in the trip of trying to organise this. But due to a string of coincidences and last minute travel plan changes, here I was looking at a bright green Hot Hatch (nicknamed the Frog), a terrifying race track and some rather dark clouds.

It would be fair to say at this point that my confidence was a bit shaky and was now being further tested by a steady shower that was getting heavier. The track would be open to the public from 6.00pm to 7.30pm and we were to be in France the next day, so it was now or never. I asked Ron if there were many accidents there (as I watched them load a bent Lotus on a trailer) and he said yes, but mainly with the faster cars being driven in the wet by silly people. He also said “there are no dangerous tracks just dangerous drivers”.

To help ease the nerves I arranged to have someone experienced sit with me and prepare me for the trickier parts of the track. As I was waiting to be given a briefing and the keys to “The Frog”, I spoke to a nice American who had done more than 150 laps here and he had decided to downgrade from the GT3 to a Clio, because of the rain. He told me to be careful here and be careful there and be careful pretty much everywhere and make sure to keep an eye on the mirror for fast approaching Porsches.

It was about 5.30pm now and it was raining quite heavily when I raised my eyes to the sky once again and took a proactive stance by willing things to work out perfectly. About now I heard Ron mutter something about the track perhaps being closed due to the rain. So at 6.00pm, with John my guide by my side, we headed to the track for the first of my allotted four laps. No queue, just a wave of a card and the boom gate opened with 21km of wild road before me.

The track was wider than I thought it would be and the rain had stopped, which was nice. Things started slowly and I suspect never got much above very dull, as judged by the advice coming from my escort. I don’t think I really went fast enough to make the dangerous parts dangerous because when I asked when would we see the slippery bits John said “you have just been through them”.  I was spending a lot of time looking in the mirrors for that inevitable Porsche to come past. There was lots of “use more of the road”, “use more revs”, hit the corner harder and generally just go faster from my guide, but I didn’t care I was having a ball.

The curves were amazing and the rise and falls incredible. After 15 or so minutes the lap was over and I ran John back to base, feeling more comfortable and ready to take the family around.

With wife by my side and boys strapped in we headed off but this time I was going a bit faster with the boys super excited and requesting some G-Force. Yet still my faster had a Volvo station wagon and a nondescript van pass me. How embarrassing!

Lap 3 was better, the track was drying, I liked the Clio and I was using more road and more revs. Then it happened, I actually passed a car and then another. Of course I was getting passed but only by Porsches now. The last and final lap was looking good when Ed wanted to halt proceedings as he was just a little car sick. So the pace was slowed and lap 4 ended on a cooler but content note.

All I can say is The Ring is an amazing track and at no point did I think I was in any danger. In the end conditions were perfect, as many people and all bikers (bar one insane man) were turned off by the early rain, making for an empty and by the end a dry track. That said, I can see that at the limit this is a place that must be respected.

This must surely rank 100 on the fun meter!!!

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