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Venice to Paris

From Nicole and David

David and I are back in N.Z now, slowly settling back into Kiwiland and trying not to be wussy about the lower temperatures here! Although it already seems like a long time ago, we'll attempt to re-cap our final journey leg between Venice and Paris....

 
VENICE
We said 'ciao' to Bruce, Linda and Callum in Umbria, and headed north to Venice. Wow, what a magical place! As soon as you step foot in this city you know you're in a very unique and special site. Built on a lagoon, Venice is the only pedestrian city in the world. It's so nice walking around and not having to worry about cars! We really enjoyed watching locals use boats as if they were cars - it seems like every family owns one. Obviously gondolas are all over the place, along with water taxis and ferries which take you out to the islands where Venetian glass and lace are made. Each of the islands near Venice are beautiful in their own right, so were well worth the visit.
 
As our luck turned out, we ended up being in Venice for a special event in their religious calendar called La Festa del Redentore (Feast of the Redeemer) which has been celebrated since 1577 when Venice was freed from the plague. The highlight of the celebration is a massive fireworks display late in the evening which goes for nearly an hour. The main canals are decorated with glowing lanterns and a temporary bridge is built connecting Venice to an island where the Church of the Redeemer is located. The feasting part of the celebration is held all over the city, with people setting up tables in courtyards, on the canal's edge, or on boats bobbing around in the canal. The streets were packed with people so it was really cool to be there for such a festive occasion and see so many people feasting and celebrating together.
 
LAKE GARDA
From the searing temperatures of Venice we ventured into a more mild climate by visiting the Northern Lakes region of Italy. First stop was Lake Garda where we met up again with David's family. As David's birthday was just around the corner, we had a lovely pre-birthday dinner at one of Lake Garda's lakefront restaurants. The scenery was absolutely beautiful, and reminded us a lot of home with drastic mountains dropping down into the stone-blue lake.
 
LAKE COMO
Bidding farewell to the family, David and I carried on to Lake Como which is reputed as being the most beautiful of the Northern Lakes. Surrounded by snow capped mountains and dotted with various villages and Mediterranean villas along the shoreline, you can understand why the rich and famous have holiday homes there. We made a half-hearted attempt to find George Clooney's house, but the closest we got to seeing him was on a takeaway pizza box where they'd transposed his face onto the body of a pizzeria chef! The drive to Lake Como itself was amazing too - we drove through the Rhaetian Alps which share territory with Italy, Switzerland and Austria. The wooden chalets and ski lodges we saw along the way definitely reflected what we imagine Switzerland and Austria to be like.
 
HIGHLIGHTS

- Against everyone's advice, managing to find affordable accommodation in Venice, overlooking the canal, without pre-booking

- Eating Tiramisu in it's region of origin - Veneto
- Visiting the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua - Giotto's frescoes are absolutely incredible, and the controlled climate they've created to preserve them is really fascinating

- Driving through the Lagarina Valley en-route to Lake Garda - very pretty scenery

- Lunch stop in Rovereto, the town where Mozart first wowed an Italian audience

- Driving through a mountain pass in the alps - the GPS went crazy but the view was incredible!

- The ridiculous buffet breakfast we were served at a B&B in Lake Como: the spread included the usual cereals, bread, cheese, ham and tomatoes, PLUS pancakes, bacon, tarts, cakes, pastries, crème caramel, fruit, yoghurt and... cheesecake! The host's response to the wide-eyed look on our face was simply "Italians like cake for breakfast"

- Ferrying around Lake Como and visiting beautiful villages such as Varenna and Bellagio

- Chats with a lovely Italian couple over breakfast - we loved hearing the local's perspective on their country, and particularly their passion and patriotism towards their food!

 

NOT SO HIGHTLIGHTS

- Ticket dispensing machines which eat your money and fail to issue tickets

- Hotel heaters in Venice on full-blast - the temperatures outside were in the 40's, so maybe they were replicating the same temperature indoors??


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BACK TO FRANCE WE GO!

After two nights at the crazy-huge-breakfast B&B we thought we'd better move on, so with our bellies we hit the road again and made a beeline for France. Little did we know that this drive was going to be the longest of our whole trip, but ignorance is bliss right?... Our final stop in Italy was Courmayeur, a ski town nestled in the shadow of Mont Blanc - or Monte Bianco in Italian - the tallest mountain in the Alps. After paying a ridiculous fee to drive through a tunnel into Chamonix, France, we were excited to see the French countryside again - and this time the alpine version of it. Unsure of where exactly we wanted to stay that night, we decided to check out places near Lake Geneva (on the French side of the lake.) We ate at a Swiss restaurant run by two Swiss men who tried their very best to help us find accommodation. However there was absolutely nothing available apart from pricey  accommodation over the border in Geneva, so we decided to jump in the car and continue driving. "Well at least it's not raining" were the parting words from the kind Swiss waiter, but as soon as we hopped in the car, the heavens opened up, lightning flashed across the sky, and we set off into a very black, wet night.

 

JURA REGION

The next place we wanted to visit was the mountainous Jura region, so we headed in that direction and didn't stop driving until 2.30am (told you it was our longest drive!) Exhausted, we parked up in a random village outside someone's home. We slept surprisingly well, and were excited when we awoke to a beautiful sunrise - a perfect way to start David's birthday! After picking up fresh, hot croissants we drove to Chateau-Chalon, a picture-perfect village famous for vin jaune - golden wine, which is essentially the reason why we wanted to check out the Jura region in the first place.

Vin jaune was discovered when a winemaker accidentally left a barrel of wine untouched for over 6 years. The long fermentation process left the wine an intense golden colour, and today they make the wine with the same 'method' by leaving it to ferment for at least 6 years and 3 months. Prime vintages will easily keep for more than a century! David shared some of the legendary wine with the eccentric host we stayed with in Chateau-Chalon. It was entirely different to any wine he's tried before - its flavour is similar to white sherry. Overall we found the Jura region an interesting place to visit (yet it's one of the least-visited regions in France,) as the landscape is really diverse and the people we met there were very friendly.

 
BURGUNDY - BEAUNE

Our next stop was a town in the region of Burgundy (yup, another famous wine place!) where David enjoyed a wine tasting session with a difference. The crypt of an old church had been converted into a wine cellar, and David was given a tasting glass and the freedom to wander solo through the cobwebbed, candle-lit cellar, complete with dusty old barrels and bottles, and sample 15 Burgundy wines - a good birthday treat for someone who appreciates wine! However the highlight of Beaune is the Hotel-Dieu des Hospices de Beaune, which was a hospital set up for the poor waaay back in 1443 when most of Beaune was destitute. The hospital remained in operation until the 1970's, and the building itself is an amazing example of 15th Century architecture. We were blown away by the beauty of the hospital's set up, but also the spirit of the place and its function as a haven for the poorest of the poor who were looked after by nuns. Today, a wine auction is held annually in the grand hall of the hospital, with proceeds going towards charity.
 
BEAUJOLAIS VILLAGES

. Next stop was the gorgeous, laid-back, Beaujolais region. We stayed in Vaux-en-Beaujolais and had one of our most random experiences on our trip when we went exploring to find a homely restaurant to dine in. We came across a pub restaurant in a tiny village and quickly discovered that the owner Pascal was ever-so-slightly obsessed with rugby.The walls of his restaurant were covered floor to ceiling in rugby memorabilia, including framed photos of the All Blacks and ticket stubs from matches between France and New Zealand. When Pascal found out we were kiwis he was just over the moon! The restaurant's background music was quickly replaced with recordings of the haka and Pokarekare Ana, and David and I were privy to 'Pascal's Special' (a volatile mixture of beer, wine and liqueur) on the house. To top it all off, David performed the haka for the rapt and slightly tipsy Frenchman, which earned David another Pascal Special! It was an absolutely hilarious evening, not to mention quite entertaining for the other diners.
 
LYON

Time to be in the city again! We spent a few days in Lyon, one of France's larger cities, enjoying the luxury of a washing machine (yay) and having an apartment to kick back in after being on the road for some time. Lyon has a completely different vibe to Paris - it's a lot more laid-back with a lot less tourist traffic. We enjoyed exploring the quirks of the city and staying in the Croix-Rousse, the 19th Century silk-weavers district which is pretty arty and funky, and handy to the centre of Lyon.
 
VIENNE

A mere half an hour south of Lyon is the city of Vienne, another riverfront city where we explored old Roman ruins and went to a show in an ancient Roman theatre - what an experience! Again we stumbled on a structure David studied at school - the Temple d'Auguste et de Livie - quite stunning, with its huge corinthian columns still largely intact.

 

ORANGE

Carrying on with the ancient Roman theme, we stopped over in Orange which is home to one of just three roman theatres worldwide which remain entirely intact. And guess who we met up with there?? By this stage David's parents were in France, so we caught up with them for lunch, and then toured the Théâtre Antique together.
 
GORGES DU TARN - FLORAC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout the trip I'd been keen to do some kayaking/canoeing, and what better place than the Gorges du Tarn! The gorges are part of a deep canyon carved out by the River Tarn. We spent a good few hours canoeing along the narrow river looking up at the amazing limestone cliffs, and were stoked to see eagles circling up on the ledges! The place we stayed in along the riverside was called Florac, which is handy to lots of the canoeing start points and other outdoorsy tourist sites in the gorge.

 
DORDOGNE - GROLEJAC
Having thoroughly enjoyed the canoeing experience along the Tarn, we were keen for more, so we stayed in a place called Grolejac and spent a day canoeing along the Dordogne River. Quite a different backdrop this time - the Dordogne is a much wider and deeper river, and there are lots of chateaux and villages lining the riversides. As you know, we visited Dordogne earlier in our trip, but it was really neat to view it from a completely different angle.


TOUZAC

As promised, we back-tracked to south west France to re-visit our friends Jean-Pierre and Sian. The home we'd stayed in during our workaway stint was now occupied by summer guests, so we slept in the old restaurant next door. Never before had we slept on the floor of a restaurant, but there you go, now we can say we have! It was cool to go back again and was really satisfying to see the fruits of our labour as guests enjoyed the pool and gardens we'd helped tidy up.

 

Saying goodbye to a couple with whom we'd made such a good friendship with was a bit emotional, but was also made amusing by the contrast of Sian quietly sobbing as we drove out the drive, whilst Jean-Pierre was grinning and waving his arms around, giving us a double thumbs up!
 
PARIS

Coming full circle, we ended our trip where we'd started out in the first place: Paris. Having clocked nearly 10,000 km on our lease vehicle, we bid a fond farewell to the little Citroën, so greatful that it had carried us so far! It was so nice to return to Paris and not have the pressure of packing in loads of touristy stuff. We were happy to amble the streets and casually check out different shops and places which locals we'd met on our roadtrip had told us about. The best way to end our visit was by going up the Montparnasse Tower late in the evening and soak up the city lights. It's the arguably the best view of Paris, as the Eiffel tower and all the famous monuments are all right there in front of you. If you're keen, there's even someone at the top of the tower selling glasses of champagne. Au revoir Paris! Au revoir France!

 

HIGHLIGHTS

- Turning up bleary-eyed at a B&B first thing in the morning to be asked 'Do you want a room for last night, or tonight?'

- David's birthday lunch at a restaurant overlooking lake Vouglans - smoked trout, yum!

- Staying in a homely hotel in Beaune which was like a grandma's house - the hostess looked at least 100 years old

- Tour of the Maison des Canuts (Silk-Weaver's House) in Lyon

- Seeing one of our favourite French actors, Gad Elmaleh (who we've since learnt is actually a Morrocan Jew!) perform a one-man show in Vienne. With around 4000 people in the audience it was such a cool atmosphere

- Demonstrating slightly groupie-type behaviour - we waited until Gad left the theatre so we could see him up close!

- Befriending a young French couple in Vaux-en-Beaujolais who will visit N.Z next year

- Trying nougat at one of many stores in the nougat-capital Montelimar

- Doing the Bateaux-Mouche (boat ride) along the River Seine

- Visiting Paris Plage (Paris beach) - fake beaches set up along the banks of the River Seine. Slightly odd, but kind of cool

 

NOT SO HIGHLIGHTS

- Giving the car back - we'd grown so attached

- Gross hotel room in Paris - we made sure we spent as little time there as possible!

- Saying goodbye to the cheese aisle at the supermarket

 

So there you have it, that was our trip. Thank you for being patient readers, and thank you to those who offered feedback along the way. By all means, if you or people you know are heading over to France or to the top half of Italy, we can certainly offer some advice!

Now, time to get on to sorting our photos.....

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