130412 Dubai

The flight from Paris is about 7 hours and we arrive at 6:30 in the morning.  We are welcomed in the arrivals hall before commencing immigration and customs procedures, by the agency Arabian Adventures who have arranged our time while in Dubai.  A driver is assigned to us and we are very pleased – plush leather and full comforts of an Audi A7.  With ease, we drift along the freeway towards our hotel in the Audi at 140kph.  Most other vehicles are doing the same speed but we feel safe. In the 7 lanes, smooth and level – no bumps.

Our hotel, the Bonnington JLT, is fairly new and the first skyscraper to contain both residential accommodation and a hotel.  The hotel is just 10 levels with a swimming pool/bar taking up the 11 level and then another 15 or so levels above that.  It is a 10-minute walk to the metro and a further 10 minutes or so to the beach.

In the afternoon, we catch the Metro to the Emirates Shopping Mall.  What a mall!   This is the mall that contains a ski slope with a 400 meter run.  Lots of up market shops.  We purchase some ‘stuff’ and have an Indian meal for a late lunch – the best we can remember for a long time.  The mall closes at 12 midnight but we don’t stay that long.  On the way home, we get in a carriage and a guy comes up to me and tells me to move to another carriage as the one we are in is for mothers and children only.  We had a lapse of what is expected in this culture.

After another broken sleep, we have breakfast and then make our way to the beach for a couple of hours of tanning before Australia’s winter sets in.  There are a lot of expatriates on the beach and tourists.  The watercraft are towing tourists all over the bay in or on, rather interesting tow behinds.

80% of the 1.88 million residents of Dubai are expatriates; there lots of Indians, Pakistanis, Filipino.  They do all the ‘menial’ tasks around the area such as cleaners, building laborers, drivers etc.

We get back to the hotel for our 3:30 Arabian Adventure Tour.  Not knowing what is going to happen, we are a little apprehensive, as we haven’t read the notes on what the tour includes.  Our vehicle, a leather upholstered Toyota Landcruiser, with all the extras and internal roll bars, turns out to be one of over 50 that do the adventure at a time, each with 6 passengers.  Somehow, we all turn up at the same point at approximately the same time to reduce tyre pressure to 15psi.

From here, we move to an outside theatre to witness a demonstration of a falcon attacking its prey.  They can swoop at up to 300kmph. From here, we move into 4WD and the drivers have time to show off their driving skills in the sand hills, and they surely do; slides sideways down a dune, flat out up a sand hill to a sharp peak and over.

After 15 minutes of Lyn screaming, we stop for photos and a breather.  I notice that all passengers have smiles on their faces as they get out of the vehicles.  We take the desert pictures and hop back in the Landcruiser for another 10 minutes and a stop to watch the sunset in the desert.  Then head to an area set up to provide us with dinner in tent like structures. Photos can be taken riding camels or holding falcons.  A belly dancer entertains us for 25 minutes.  One couple in our car is from near Yass are on their honeymoon with the next stops to be South Africa and the Mauritius – wow, how lucky!  The second couple is from Colombia and are on a holiday.  They may come to Australia to visit some day.

What a great night we have had – like little boys and girls enjoying rides at the show.  Amazing, really!  What a great way to end a trip away!

We get back to our room at 10:00pm to pack for the last time before our 6:55am pick-up in the morning for our transfer to the airport. Our flight is delayed but we pick up lost time by joining the Jetstream over near Bunbury to head into Melbourne.

I hope this trip has educated you in some part of the world where you would want to travel to.  Thanks for your interest and comments where they have been made.  Lyn is always ready for you to join us in a trip sometime soon.  We have a full group doing Africa in August and have made a group booking for Scandinavia with a cruise in the Baltic Sea in June 2014.  If you are interested in these or any other destination, please contact Lyn.

130411 Paris

I was going to include the rest of the trip in the one post, but what is to be told about our stay in Dubai is enough to have its own post alone.

After a 4-hour coach transfer into Paris from ” Scenic Emerald”, we arrive at the Radisson Blu Hotel where we stay for the next 2 nights.  I don’t know why, but I don’t feel like doing lots in Paris apart from what we had planned back in Australia.  We have been in Paris in 2010 prior to the cruise up the Rhine River from Amsterdam to Budapest, and the weather isn’t too encouraging to get out and about.  We wander around the renowned La Fayette Department Store.  Lyn prices some lovely jackets – at such a lovely price, they are still in the store.  While Lyn takes a look at the floor of shoes, I take time-out on a bench and on Lyn’s return, I get a sharp prod to wake; I had fallen asleep.

We return to our hotel for an early night.  In the morning after breakfast, we take a tour through ‘The Opera’, a well-known Paris landmark.  With over 20,000 visitors a day, it rivals the numbers going through the Vatican but at a cheaper price.  We find a nice ‘self serve’ restaurant for lunch with some warming soup and French bread.

For this evening, we have booked a dinner at the Eiffel Tower, followed by a 1-hour cruise on the Seine River that winds through Paris.  After the cruise, it is off to see the world’s longest running show “Moulin Rouge”.

If ever you want to go up Eiffel Tower, make a dinner booking and you will get preferential treatment in getting into the Tower lift for the ascent.  There would have been 50 individuals in the lift that made it up to the restaurant and then on up to the second of 3 viewing levels of the tower. Sitting at our table were 2 other couples, 1 from the USA and the other from Australia.  The couple from Australia works for Telstra in Canberra and were having their first trip to Europe and the UK.  The meal was a set menu and definitely NOT to Scenic Standard.  The cruise started at 8:00pm.  This enabled us to get some good photos of the light show on the Eiffel Tower on the hour with our iPhones.  The commentary was in 8 different languages and the one girl translated each one fluently.

Now the next part of the evening was what one might call a great routine in ‘eye-ball gymnastics’.  The Moulin Rouge is a fantastic show of outfits and talent.  We will never forget seeing one girl dive into a giant pool that came up through the stage with 6 or 8 giant snakes swimming with her – spine chilling.  Apparently, half the dancers are Australian so we felt relaxed about that.  The show went through to 1:00am and we have another tour leaving at 9:00am in the morning to the Palace of Versaille where French Royalty used as their residence years ago.  In season, the gardens would look something special.  We get back to the hotel, pack and wait for our transfer to Charles de Gaulle Airport for our flight to Dubai.

130407 Macon to Chalon-sur-Saone

Macon is in the ‘Golden Stone’ region of Beaujolais where we tour the vineyard of the area.  Quaint little farms, that have lovely little farmhouses, are everywhere – all of them the same yellow color. We visit a local wine vintner in the village of Oignt; They show us the very old cellar.  There are 21 barrels each containing 5,000 litres of wine.  In the tasting room, two wines are available and to make the wine that much ‘better’, we are offered snail to sample.  Lyn and I don’t drink wine, nor would we even try snails, but the visit is interesting anyway.

We re-board the ship for another 4-course lunch while we sail to Tournus.  Here Lyn and I use the electric bikes to look around the region for an hour.  They are really great and without too much effort, we can get up to 30kph on them.

Back to the ship for our Farewell Dinner, we sit with 6 Canadians who seem to have had a lot of fun on the cruise and it turns into a hilarious night.  Two of the ladies are travel agents who work together so a lot of swapping of notes takes place.

Will we pack up at 10:00pm or wait until the early hours of the morning?  The second choice wins and we get up around 6:00am to pack our suitcases and get ready to leave for a 4-hour coach trip to Paris.  Farewell hugs are made with new friends and the long trip to Paris is underway.

This is the last post before we arrive back home so we hope you have enjoyed our trip up the Rhone River of Southern France.

Famous French People- Napoleon

Many described Napoleon as a madman for his dreams and ambitions, but he looked at them as goals within his reach that only required ambition and strength of character to achieve.  Napoleon Bonaparte was an exceptional military and political leader who had a considerable impact on European history.  He was a general during the French Revolution, the ruler of France as First Consul of the French Republic and Emperor of the First French Empire.  Napoleon’s ruse was one of the most influential periods in all history; moreover his code of laws became the basis for the French law.

130406 Lyon

Lyon is the second largest city in France with 500,000 inhabitants but including the suburbs in the outlying areas, they say there are 1.2 million.  Lyon is between two hills, the Fourvier and Croix-Rousse and between two rivers: the turbulent Rhone and the tranquil Saone.  Lyon is a very industrial city; textile manufacturing is one of the most important here.  But not only that, this city is known, as the capital of gastronomy, like Paris, this city has the largest number of Michelin-star restaurants.  The most famous chef, Paul Bocuse, has his restaurant in Lyon

Lyon has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since December 1998, specifically the Saint-Jean and the Croix-Rousse areas.  This is a very beautiful part of the city with its architectural renaissance buildings and monuments.

At 9:00am we leave for a guided tour of Lyon by coach with some easy walking.  We visit a very new Cathedral on the top of a hill.  By new, it was completed in the mid 1800’s.  There was a striking set of mosaics on the walls and all the outside was ‘like new’, in other words the color was not dull grey.

In the old town, we stop to view some buildings that have been painted depicting famous people and points of history.  Quite striking indeed.  Then we follow through some of the streets and into some of the 50 trauboules, which exist in the old city.  A trauboule is made up a of a hallway at street level that leads to a small courtyard which has staircases up to the apartments in the various parts of the buildings.

After yet another sumptuous lunch, we take a 50-minute coach ride to the medieval village of Perouges.  It, of course, is built on the top of a hill in case of the inhabitants needing to defend it in case of an invasion.  You can see the walls are made of river rocks and mortar, but are reasonably built.  The streets are also made of river rocks either laid flat in mortar or on end to assist the vehicles or coach wheels if they need additional traction.  On the way, we pass the town of Phillips.  This is the region that produces Phillips lights and the town is named after the company.

Tonight is the crew concert so after the oversized meal – again.  The crew entertain us with skits and ‘stuff’, while the ship leaves the wharf, and does a few circles between a couple of bridges before heading upstream on the Saone River.

Famous French People – Claude Monet

Claude Oscar Monet was born in Paris in 1840 and died in Giverny in 1926.  He was a famous French painter, one of the founders, and of the most relevant and pure figures of Impressionism. The term impressionism comes from the title of one of his paintings, “Impression, Soleil levant” (Impresssion, Sunrise).  He’s best known for his predilection for plein-air landscape painting.

130405 Vienne to Lyon

After cruising the rest of the night, we arrive at Vienne at daybreak, have breakfast and start out on a city hiking tour.  They have called it a hiking tour because there is a steep hill that we climb to the top of instead of catching the little train.  The guide chats about the structural methods and styles of the buildings on the way to the top of the hill behind the city.

Vienne is a town of 30,000 people and sits on the left bank, when facing downstream, of the Rhone River about 30 miles south of Lyon.  Vienne’s recorded history dates back to the third century AD when a Gaulish tribe, the Allogroges lived where Vienne now stands.  After the Gallic wars Vienne became a Roman colony and after the fall of Rome, Vienne became part of the Kingdom of Burgundy.  During this time, Christianity flourished and a number of churches and monasteries on both sides of the Rhone River were built.

There is a Roman Theatre, the second biggest in France, today home to a yearly Jazz Festival; a temple dedicated to the Rome cult Augustus, the ruins at Cybele Garden once a Roman neighborhood.  Just across the Rhone River is one of the largest Gallo-Roman archaeological sites in France at Saint-Romain-en-Gal.

Our ship sets sail from Vienne at 1:00pm bound for Lyon just 3 hours upstream.  The scenery in between is hardly noticed as we get chatting to some folk for the 3 hours of the trip and then some more.  “Scenic Emerald” ties up beside the rival APT river cruise ship and the wharf has 6 ships berthed of similar shape and design.  Lyon (LeeYong) is a town of around 500,000 people but today it is not a very nice town as it is very overcast and showing signs of drizzle.   Lyn and I walk into the city center and wander around the shopping precinct staying close to the shops in case it starts to rain heavily.  On our return, it is time for our Port Talk and then yes, another meal.

Tonight, we choose a table with guests we have not dined with before and end up with 4 Americans and 2 Canadians.  They, of course are well learned about everything in the world, except Australia and what it is all about.  One of the guys has been in Melbourne as a guest speaker at a Breast Cancer Convention.  The ladies are expert shoppers so that goes down well with Lyn.

Famous French Persons – Brigitte Bardot

The legendary French actress former fashion model, singer and animal welfare rights activist, caused quite a sensation worldwide!  She is one of the best examples of female sensuality in the 1960s and was named in 2007 among Empire’s 100 Sexiest Film Stars.

Louis Vuitton

One of the world’s best-known French brands, Louis Vuitton, is often associated with the birth of modern luxury.  The fashion house Vuitton has been creating stylish luggage, handbags, and accessories for more that 150 years.  Louis Vuitton was born in Jura, France 1821 and died in 1892.  He began manufacturing suitcases in Paris in 1854, and the started company went on to become one of the world’s most famous fashion houses of luxury goods, known especially for its designer luggage pattern; a beige-on-chestnut monogram “L.V.” Vuitton is the finest radiant artistic expression of the commitment and joint ambition to establish new standards in worldwide fashion.

130404 Viviers

I know we spent a lot of time in lochs last night; I was awake too often. Ducking out on the balcony to check on ‘what was happening’ was always an exhilarating experience in the cold night air.

We arrive in the small town of Viviers during breakfast and start the visit through the town with a stroll through this interesting medieval town. Most of the houses have a similar design with a narrow frontage, a larger door where the animals slept during the night and a smaller door, the entryway for the residents to the upper floors of one or two small rooms as living quarters. The third level was also living quarters. Today, they are worth only 50,000 Euros and the owners predominantly use them as summer holiday homes.

We make our way up through the narrow cobble stoned streets, which are laid with stones aligned in one direction for tracks for horse hooves to grip and the stones for the horse buggies tracks in the other direction. Arriving at the cathedral on the hill, we enter a magnificent place of worship in such a small village. The pipe organ recital is well worth experiencing. There are tapestries on the wall, each worth 700,000 euros to a million euros. They depict various ministries and moments in the life of Christ. The marble inlay on the altar is perfect and colorful.

At 11:15am, our ship departs Viviers and heads upstream during the afternoon, while we eat, rest, eat ice cream, drink tea; before taking a tour of the galley. Now we know where our circumference increase is coming from. Here’s a new saying, “I’ll see more of you at the end of the cruise.” The tour of the galley is interesting in that ten chefs/kitchen hands produce over 450 meals each day from a kitchen that is very small and confined. All the breads are baked fresh each morning. The food is purchased each day from the shops in each port so that the meat and vegetables is always fresh.

For those who want to know more about the Scenic Emerald, here are some details. Registration – Malta, Fuel – Gasoil, Weight – 2523.6 Tonns, Length – 134.68m, Width 11.38m, Max Capacity of guests – 167, Max Crew – 60.

We pass through a number of lochs today; each one is just wide enough for the river cruise boats. We have seen 3 others travelling downstream towards Arles. Tonight on arrival into Tournan, we are entertained as guests in a local home. Fortunately, the husband speaks very good English, however, his wife knows only French. Their house is not too far from the ship and the eight of us are able to walk through some of the town with the host giving us a guided tour, chatting along the way about the various reasons why some buildings differ in style to others. We chat for a while the lounge hearing stories of the area and their family and also about ourselves, a little.

For the meal, we have a zucchini pate with mayonnaise as a starter. The main course was a chicken and onion casserole on rice. Now, the dessert was a ‘hit’; homemade chocolate and I managed to score the one left over after the first serve. The wife is an artist and together, he has made coat of arms shields and on them the wife has painted the coat of arms for each of the towns where they have lived, where their children were born, the countries their parents came from, etc. These were all lined around the dining room against the ceiling. He shared with us a couple of photos of the barge that brought the “Scenic Emerald” around to the Rhone. And to top it all off, the travel show “Get-a-way” filmed in their house doing a guest/host evening to be used in a coming show on Australian TV. So we had a very pleasant evening with them prior to walking back to the ship together.

Famous French Person – Armand Peugeot

Born in Herimoncourt, Montbelieard, France in 1849, he was a French industrialist and pioneer of the automobile industry who created the famous car manufacturing company Peugeot. In 1913, when Peugeot was the largest car manufacturer in France, he left his work at the firm. He died in Paris in 1915.

130403 Avignon

What a beautiful day we have chosen to visit the Pont du Gard.  Here’s some info on Pont du Gard from Wikipedia.

“The Pont du Gard (English: Bridge of the Gard) is an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge that crosses the Gardon River[4] in Vers-Pont-du-Gard near Remoulins, in the Gard département of southern France. It is part of the Nîmes aqueduct, a 50 km-long (31 mi) structure built by the Romans to carry water from a spring at Uzès to the Roman colony of Nemausus (Nîmes). Because the terrain between the two points is hilly, the aqueduct – built mostly underground – took a long, winding route that crossed the gorge of the Gardon, requiring the construction of an aqueduct bridge. Built in the 1st century AD, the Pont du Gard is the highest of all Roman aqueduct bridges and is the best preserved after the Aqueduct of Segovia. It was added to UNESCO‘s list of World Heritage Sites in 1985 because of its historical importance.

“The bridge has three tiers of arches, standing 48.8 m (160 ft) high. The whole aqueduct descends in height by only 17 m (56 ft) over its entire length, while the bridge descends by a mere 2.5 cm (0.98 in) – a gradient of only 1 in 3,000 – which is indicative of the great precision that Roman engineers were able to achieve using only simple technology. The aqueduct formerly carried an estimated 200,000 m3 (44,000,000 imp gal) of water a day to the fountains, baths and homes of the citizens of Nîmes. It continued to be used possibly until the 6th century, with some parts used for significantly longer, but lack of maintenance after the 4th century meant that it became increasingly clogged by mineral deposits and debris that eventually choked off the flow of water.”

This bridge is awesome when you realize how and when it was built.  We have the feeling that this location is going to be the highlight of our trip, apart from the Moulin Rouge evening in Paris (of course).

We move across to Uzè which is a town with a skyline that marks the region from afar…and from within holds treasures for the eyes, ears, and taste buds.  There are only 8,300 residents, but there are still narrow streets with stone houses on either side. We visit on a Wednesday, a market day. The locals line the square with their products.  It is time to try out a café, one of many that surround the market.  Hot chocolate is good but a little on the low side.

We return to our Scenic ‘spaceship’ for another lunch and it becomes ridiculous to be offered 4 courses when you are used to a sandwich late in the day. Avignon is just across from our berthing point and the new electric bikes that Scenic has obtained are waiting for us.  Many reading this will agree that riding a bicycle that does all the hard work is something they would enjoy.  You do half a pedal and the electronic assistance system starts to assist you in the ride.  Top speed we got up to was 28kph.  We ride about 8 km along the bank of the Rhone River, not seeing much of the scenery, but enjoying the ‘wind in the hair’ experience on a bicycle.

Avignon is a quaint little town where years ago, the Popes fled when leaving the corruption of Rome in the 14th century.  The palace they built, ‘Le Palais des Papes’, or the palace of popes, is the world’s largest Gothic edifice.  It was largely emptied over the centuries, and its vast stone rooms are full with little more than old frescos, but it is still an imposing building.  There are about 200,000 inhabitants in Avignon.  We wander its streets and up to a viewing point on the top of a hill just nearby the city square.

We return to the ship when the town starts to ‘close down’ for the day for another 4-course meal.  Oh, too much!!!

We depart at 11:00pm and travel through a few major lochs along the Rhone River.

130402 Tarascon

Although our ship is docked at Tarascon, we are not given a tour through the town.  Perhaps it is not ready to take an influx of tourists as this port is new to berthing river cruise ships that are as long as this ship.

After breakfast, we board buses and take a short 30-minute ‘grab a bit of sleep’ trip to an olive farm.  It is down a narrow laneway but is said to be a very famous grove.  There are over 5,000 trees bearing olives, which have become the winner of worldwide competitions.  The old grandfather was not happy moving his processing plant into the world of automation, but had to agree that there was no effect on the quality of the olives his farm produced.  Now, as there are no sons, one of his two daughters runs the farm and processing plant.

From here, we take another short drive to the village of Les Baux. This village is in a spectacular position atop a rocky outcrop crowned with a ruined castle overlooking the plains to the south.  After an interesting history of both feuds and the mining of bauxite, Les Baux is driven entirely by the tourist trade, relying on a reputation as one of the most picturesque villages in France.  Its population of 22 in the old village is a fraction of its peak population of over 4,000, and many of its buildings are picturesque ruins.  We are too early for demonstrations of huge catapults which are given every day as the demonstrations are only shown from later on in April through to September, the height of the tourist season.

We come back to the ship for a Scenic standard lunch.  The town of Arles is not far away and we are given free time in this busy town until 5pm.

The evening meal is a special Captain’s Dinner and the dress code has to change.  I get away with not wearing a tie but Lyn says I look smart anyway.  Our table is made up of 3 other couples born in China but living in Vancouver most of their lives.  They have done many trips together in the past and it was interesting that they were not aware that Scenic Tours is Australian.

Lyn has just reminded me that we had a little problem with the wardrobe hanging space.  We each had the same amount of space and hangers when we moved into the room.  I thought of some shirts that needed to hang.  When I looked for a spare hanger, there was none left in my cupboard.  I have used two and the 6 spares that I had are now in Lyn’s cupboard.

Our ship starts moving at 7:00pm for the short journey to Avignon through the first loch.  The lights of the town and the Popes Palace create a splendid photo.  We moor beside a number of other River Cruise ships.

130401 Transfer Nice to “Scenic Emerald”

Today is taken up packing and turning up at the meeting point with the Scenic Tours Nice Representative.  We have a 4-hour coach transfer to the ship, which is docked at Tarascon.  The weather is overcast with a little drizzle now and then.  About 10km out from the town of Tarascon, we travel a country road with plain trees lining the road on both sides all the way into town.  If you go off the road, you are bound to hit a tree.  As this is the first ever departure for Scenic from this port, the driver does a couple of ‘U-turns” before getting us to ship-side, but we are able to have a ‘free-tour’ in the mean time.

We were on the “Scenic Emerald” in 2010 from Amsterdam to Budapest and it is a bit like returning home.  The cabin decor has been refurbished and the public areas modified a little, but generally, things happen the same.  All passengers have a butler now.  Drinks are included and the room mini-bar is restocked each day for free.  One of the dining room staff remembered us from the previous cruise.  After a short interview with the Dining room supervisor, the crew in the kitchen and dining room are ready for my ‘low salt’ diet so should be fine in the meals area.

The Meniere’s is a problem but it doesn’t stop me from doing what I want to do, usually.  I don’t have any hesitation to let others know the ‘silent fear’ we all go through 24/7, not looking for sympathy but to educate others about this ‘silent sickness’ that for many is debilitating and life changing.  I recognize that I have been one of the lucky ones when I read stories of others’ plights and adjusted lifestyles.

After the normal registration procedures, we have a buffet dinner, followed by the emergency briefing and procedures.  The make up of the passengers is not just Australian this time.  There are Scottish, Canadians, New Zealanders, English, Americans – Scenic must have been marketing in many countries lately.  Some of them don’t know to be quiet when announcements are being made so ‘Meniere’s me’ has been missing some of those important announcements.  On our return to the cabin, our baggage is waiting to be unpacked.  Lyn is ‘not happy Lyn’, as a hair ‘tonic’ bottle has leaked in her new suitcase.  Tut tut!!

Scenic Tours now have a technology edge over its competitors.  Each of us has been given a new device called the Scenic Tailormade.  The device is so new; the developer is on board to help us if some gremlin shows up in the operation of it in real life testing.  This is GPS technology and the limit of use is boundless.  The device enables us to hear commentary along the waterways about ‘anything’ that we pass by. If we are having ‘free-time’ somewhere in a town, it will direct us back to the ship.  There are guided tours which we can use the device for in any town.  No doubt, the ship can send the passenger a message to say ‘return to the ship – or we will leave without you”.

We are looking forward to this river cruise in the south of France – the only trouble is it is only seven nights.  Enjoy the daily posts that we plan to make each day.