Time To Go Home… For A Visit

28 Jan

This week is mainly about getting ourselves back to Auckland.  It started with finishing some cleaning and tidying up at La Regalade and finally starting to put our belongings into the bags.  Most of what filled the bags was actually stuff that was making a one-way trip to Auckland – souvenirs, gifts and some items we didn’t need to have with us.  Tuesday was a procession of things we needed to close out before leaving our car at Jeremy and Jo’s and having Jeremy deliver us to ‘Hotel Sue’, a lovely private hotel in Le Thoronet!  Sue had so kindly volunteered to feed and shelter us before dropping us at the train station for our 08h44 TGV to Paris on Wednesday.  The weather in the morning was appalling, it had started raining during the night and it was throwing down on the drive to Les Arcs.  Sue really got a bad deal so we’ll have to make it up to her somehow.

The ride to Paris was uneventful  The closer we got the more snow there was coating the fields but the few photos I tried to take through the dirty train window were not worth uploading.  We got really lucky with Metro – we had one change to get to the hotel but for both the initial section and the change our wait was no more the a minute.  It couldn’t have been smoother.  We were in our room at the Eiffel Tower Mercure at 14h00.  An hour later we went out for a walk with plenty of warm clothing on – it was somewhere around zero Celsius.

Only 200m from our hotel the Eiffel Tower comes into view.

Only 200m from our hotel the Eiffel Tower comes into view.

There was construction work in progress on the first level so the area under the tower was cluttered with junk.  This shot just misses most of the clutter.

There was construction work in progress on the first level so the area under the tower was cluttered with junk. This shot just misses most of the clutter.

The Champs-de-Mars looked like it had been used for a rugby tournament.  It was well trampled and quite muddy.  Perhaps partly caused by the unusual amour of snow last week - 150mm according to the hotel concierge.

The Champs-de-Mars looked like it had been used for a rugby tournament. It was well trampled and quite muddy. Perhaps partly caused by the unusual amount of snow last week – 150mm according to the hotel concierge.

The man himself.

The man himself.

The seagulls had to walk on the fountain - it was frozen over.

The seagulls had to walk on the fountain – it was frozen over.

Definitely cold!

Definitely cold!

Another cliché type view on the walk back to the hotel.

Another cliché type view on the walk back to the hotel.

After some time at the room again and a light dinner we ventured out again…

We went out again at 8pm and the lights were on but just as we were about to leave the whole flashing light show started.  That was a bonus.

We went out again at 8pm and the lights were on but just as we were about to leave the whole flashing light show started. That was a bonus.

Thursday started cold, 1˚C but feels like -3˚C, not raining but very grey with a little bit of fog and some breeze.  We spent the entire morning resting in the room, the day was going to be a long one so we wanted to stay as fresh as possible.   We checked out right on noon, put the bags into storage and took the Metro to St Michel station and went to Notre Dame. Spent 45 minutes at least before walking across the river and ending up in a boulangerie for a coffee. The sign across the street said -3˚C and it did feel cold, especially in the breeze. Continued down to Pont Neuf then caught the Metro up to the Arc de Triomphe. Then walked down the Champs Élysées to Zara. It only took us 30 minutes from Zara back to the hotel, got there by 1700. Spent the time until 19h00 in the bar, charging our devices ready for the flight.

Taken from Petit Pont looking at Pont Saint-Michel.  Rather a grey day but still looking grand.

Taken from Petit Pont looking at Pont Saint-Michel. Rather a grey day but still looking grand.

Notre Dame of course but taken from the new temporary platform that is part of the 850th anniversary proceedings this year.

Notre Dame of course but taken from the new temporary platform that is part of the 850th anniversary proceedings this year.

Inside Notre Dame.  It is hard to convey in a photo just how big things are.  I am sure Google will tell you the key dimensions.

Inside Notre Dame. It is hard to convey in a photo just how big things are. I am sure Google will tell you the key dimensions.

Ice skating/hockey outside the Hotel de Ville.

Ice skating/hockey outside the Hotel de Ville.

Looking at the Pont au Change.

Looking at the Pont au Change.

Dude with a cool hat!

Dude with a cool hat!

Pont Neuf.

Pont Neuf.

Detail of some of the many figures decorating Pont Neuf.

Detail of some of the many figures decorating Pont Neuf.

L'Arc de Triomphe.

L’Arc de Triomphe.

Memorial to the Unknown Soldier at L'Arc de Triomphe.

Memorial to the Unknown Soldier at L’Arc de Triomphe.

Looking down the Champs Élysées.

Looking down the Champs Élysées.

How to get a parking ticket.

How to get a parking ticket.

Something we noticed on this visit to Paris was how clean and polished most monuments and structures looked and the lack of scaffolding.  In the past we had been slightly disappointed even with the state of many structures, either covered in scaffolding or looking like they should be.  This time it was as if a huge renovation project covering the majority of central Paris had at last been completed.  For example, look at the photos of Pont Neuf and the Arc de Triomphe.  In fact all of the photos above.  Beautiful!  It looked wonderful in spite of the grey weather.

The plan was to leave the hotel at 19h00 but we were ten minutes late because a big tour group had arrived and there were no staff to retrieve our bags from storage. Finally got away at 19h10 and by the time we got to the station we missed a train by less than two minutes. Next one was twelve minutes. Got the the St Michel station and found our way to the platform for the airport line. Just as we entered it there was a train nearly ready to leave so we ran to get on it.

Didn’t seem to be any other passengers with luggage which made us suspicious so we asked someone for confirmation that we were on the correct train. We weren’t!  The line splits five stops before CDG and we were on the wrong train. So we got off at the last station before the split and only had to wait ten minutes for the CDG train. Got to CDG at nearly 20h30 which was in plenty of time but 30 minutes later than I had planned for.

We used the self check on kiosks and it was a breeze. Then we went to border control and joined a queue of ~80 people at 21h25 that quickly became 200 people. BUT THERE WERE NO OFFICERS ON DUTY. And they kept everyone waiting in this queue. They finally turned up at 22h00, but only two of them. Thankfully they are pretty quick though and we were done by 22h15. Then we had to use the toilets. The nearest ones were closed – men and women. An unclear, hand modified sign directed us elsewhere. We got there and the women’s was open but he men’s was closed again. I managed to use the disabled one. Then we realised that it was time to put our compression stockings on so we needed the toilets again. Headed off to another set a bit of a walk away only to find the men’s closed again WTF?!  Talk about a balls up.

The aircraft left the gate at about 23h25 and then taxied without stopping for 30 minutes before finally stopping near the end of a runway. Some tankers with booms were milling about and they started spraying a wet foam over the entire aircraft. This was an anti-icing measure and took another 25 minutes. By the time we were in the air we were just over an hour late.  The entertainment systems on board the B777 were a disaster…

This was the welcome screen.  Fair enough, so let's take a look at what movies are available...

This was the welcome screen. Fair enough, so let’s take a look at what movies are available…

NONE!  Shortly after this the system would go into a hard reboot.  Even if nothing was touched, after 10 minutes it would progress to the first part of the automated entertainment system...

NONE! Shortly after this the system would go into a hard reboot. Even if nothing was touched, after 10 minutes it would progress to the first part of the automated entertainment system…

The first part of the inflight entertainment on Air France.

The first part of the inflight entertainment on Air France.

The second part of the inflight entertainment on Air France.

The second part of the inflight entertainment on Air France.

Heaps of legroom - sitting bolt upright and my knees are still jammed against the seat in front, and that was before they reclined!  Wonderful!

Heaps of legroom – sitting bolt upright and my knees are still jammed against the seat in front, and that was before they reclined! Wonderful!

The late departure meant that our 75 minute connection in Hong Kong to Air NZ was now down to about 30. There were 3 girls in heels and tight skirts looking for 8 of us as we got off the plane. They told us we had to run to the flight and we set off! They were stuffed in 100m and the whole distance was more like 2km! We made it, albeit sweaty.  I was certain our bags would not make it but when we got to Auckland they were amongst the first to come along the conveyor.  Miraculous indeed!

Steven and Darryn picked us up and took us directly home where Dad was waiting for us.  After a quick shower and a couple of minutes to open my new iPhone 5 that I had ordered two weeks ago, we were off to Orewa to Leanne’s Mum and Dad’s caravan for lunch with them (that grammar is a little complicated but I think it is correct?!).  In order to make the new phone useful I needed a nano-SIM rather than the micro-SIM used in the previous models, so Steven drove us via the Vodafone store in Orewa.  Changing SIM format is free!  Isn’t that amazing?

Back to the journey to lunch… we turned the wrong way out of the shopping area and headed north so now we knew there was a conspiracy afoot.  We ended up at Leanne’s brother’s beach house (bach in North Island Kiwi parlance) at Waiwera.  Her sister Sharon and her Mum and Dad and the kids were there waiting for us.  The weather was great and we had a splendid afternoon in the sun with excellent BBQ food and plenty of refreshments.

L-R: Dad, Darryn and Brian (i.e. Me!)

L-R: Dad, Darryn and Brian (i.e. Me!)

So, what is it like to be back home?  Well, it’s very odd.  Within hours we really didn’t feel like we had been away for more than just a few days.  My Dad and Judith as well as Leanne’s Mum and Dad are in great health and looking better than ever. Our boys and all the other family members as well as friends and neighbours all seem the same.  Was it really ten months?  It’s hard to believe.

That is a good place to stop for now.  My apologies for the lost productivity due to this not being published on time.  The next post is also at risk of being late but it will also be very short – I have taken only a handful of photos since I got home.  We have been very busy with catching up with friends and family and trying to get through the list of chores we set ourselves.  Until next time…

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