Athens and Her Ancient Highlights in a Day.

After several connecting flights we finally arrived in Athens 35 minutes earlier than scheduled to land. Now that’s a very rare but welcome outcome to a long flight!! Our friends had already arrived ahead of us and had been at the Hotel Melia for a couple of hours.

For this trip I’ve named our friends Lord Lunchalot ( every fb entry seems to have Troy lunching some where) and Gorging Gonzo (has ability to eat his way through the days). Throughout this and other blogs on this trip either name or initial (LL or GG) may be used for them, depending on how I feel. For those familiar with my blogs LL is our friend who temporarily resides in Toronto and has accompanied us on our NY trip several years ago. At that time I described him as our Ninja. GG travelled with us 5 years ago to Greece for our wedding. So there you have the 2 extra characters who may feature in these next few travel tales.

Now that’s sorted let’s get back to Athens……that grand old lady of civilisation.

For this trip we chose to stay at the Melia Hotel, there had been good and bad reviews not for the hotel but the area it was situated in. However this was my 5th visit so I know Athens is old, a little on the decrepit side, dusty and dirty in some places….but it goes along with the character of the place. Athens IS OLD……the Parthenon was built in 447BC to replace an existing temple….the city was inhabited long before that so don’t come to Athens expecting an amazing new city. On the fringes you’ll find the newer sections with many resorts but for character and the real Athens come to the centre, to the Plaka and the streets around the Plaka. Wonder at the expertise of the early builders, plumbers and, of course, the law makers, doctors and mathematicians. Civilisation began in this area. The grand old lady says “take me as I am, no airs and graces, no massive skyscrapers big and better than anyone else, I don’t need that”. “I am central to the start of civilisation and the Olympics”.

I made a last minute decision to book a taxi to pick us up from the airport, the Company was Welcome PickUps and was a normal taxi but prearranged so we didn’t have to wait in line. Stepping into a cab at Athens airport to City was 35€ and the prearranged taxi was 38€ so not too much different but worth it not to have to stand in a taxi line. Our driver discussed the issues of the Greek economy the world has been hearing about…..putting some things into presepective for us. Mainly the facts around only being able to withdraw 60€ a day from the banks and ATMs. This is cash however they’re still able to pay all their bills and rent/mortgage via the Internet banking. The driver said unless you have to visit the doctor a couple of times a week 60€ a day is plenty.

The 40 minute drive to the hotel passed quickly and we were soon standing at the check in desk. The desk clerk gave us our room keys and a number of vouchers as well as our 2 companions room numbers. We dropped our bags in our room, had a quick shower, changed into our cosies and headed to the rooftop pool and bar area where we found Lord L reclining on a day bed with his book. GG was in his room resting! He met us at the pool area a short time later. We had a swim and sat by the pool till closing time – the pool closed at 6pm to allow time for it to be changed into a dining area from 8pm. We showered, changed and met back at the rooftop restaurant at 8pm for dinner. I had prebooked a couple of weeks before the trip thinking we may be jet lagged and not wanting to head out into the streets trying to decide on a restaurant for dinner. The food was good and the waiters were very pleasant. A very relaxing evening. Met a young English fellow from Essex who was with his partner, after a chat with us he decided he and his partner should join us so off he went to bring him over…..they never came back…we assume his partner didn’t fancy a chat with 4 Aussies and we were fine with that as we were contemplating heading to our rooms.

In bed before 10pm.

Up early the next morning, Saturday, for the whirlwind tour of Athens and it’s highlights primarily for Lord  Lunchalot as he is the only member of the party who hasn’t been to Athens before. We left the hotel at 8.15am heading through the outskirts of the Plaka for the Acropolis. A good walk and best done early. We spent about 90 minutes at the Acropolis before deciding it was time for morning tea and finding a spot in the Plaka for fresh fruit salad and ice cream. The fruit here is so tasty ….. all fresh not refrigerated. The frappe wasn’t too bad…..Greek coffee is way too strong for me so I added some ice cream…a little better and drinkable.

Ok, time to move on to the next highlight….Lycabettus Hill and St Georges Chapel. At night this landmark is lit up as much as the Acropolis. We would not be walking this one….this landmark is much higher than the Acropolis. Taxi was the only way up!! Unfortunately 3 men and a lady in a small taxi make for a squishy ride. I, of course, was seated in between 2 men in a Skoda sedan. Thank goodness the distance wasn’t too great nor did the driver speed. Seat belts are not mandatory which was just as well because there was no way I could’ve put a seatbelt on.

View of Lycabettus Hill from hotel roof top

View of Lycabettus Hill from hotel roof top

The taxis can only go so far up the hill then the is no choice but to walk the rest. The face was $6 euros – quite reasonable. We had asked at the hotel how far it was and the best way to go….he said “you could take the train to Omonia Square station then walk for 25 minutes but in this heat taxi is best”. We weren’t going to argue with that!! After the drive we all agreed 25 minutes was a gross exaggeration – more likely to be 1 hour and 25 minutes if I managed the first steep incline. As it was it took 15 minutes, from where the taxi dropped us, of climbing stairs and winding corners on this goat trail to the chapel so another 10 minutes back to Omonia Station would have had to be by helicopter. Oh, there was a sign that said cable car available from Kolonaki to the chapel return….we thought we might take the cable car down.

The chapel is perched on the very top of the mountain and leads to thoughts of how the materials were transported here for the build and why someone would even build a chapel up here. The scene below is well worth the visit and a leisurely lunch extends the time a visitor has to take in all the views.

We had lunch at the K Grill a few steps below the chapel, not sure it was a healthy lunch but the souvlaki was good, LL’s Greek Salad looked appetising too and I can’t list the items GG ate – as his name suggests every meal is a feast for him.  Whilst having lunch we noticed a man leaning over the small wall that surrounds the church and helps protect people from falling.  As I looked closer I realised he was having a partial body wash using a hose. One way to cool down I suppose….although the way he was leaning over he would  definitely had a blood rush to the head. That would have made me dizzy and over I’d go….all the way to the bottom!!

Church of St George. Look closely for man using hose to wash.

Church of St George. Look closely for man using hose to wash.

Lycabettus Hill is the highest point in Athens at 277 metres above Athens city centre. The Church of St George, built in 19th Century, stands at the very top. I mentioned the cable car earlier ……well, we couldn’t find it ….a few signs but no actual cable car. I assume everyone preferred to walk it so the cable car became obsolete lol….or it never existed.

After lunch we made the journey back to where the taxi had dropped us….we passed a number of people heading up the stairs that were a little heat distressed, we gave them words of encouragement to help then reach the top…words such as ‘not far now’ or ‘ just a few more sets of stairs’ and ‘ you’ll love the views once you recover from the climb’…..not sure our words were always welcome but we tried!!!

Hmm, no taxis at the bottom so we walked a little further along hoping one would be parked under a tree just waiting for us. No such luck… We sat for awhile then LL said ‘Oh, wonder if they have Uber here’. ..he uses Uber in Canada so he checks and, yes, they do. Lord L sent a text and our Uber taxi was on it’s way. I was hoping for something a little larger than a Skoda but, no, here I was squished in the middle again!!!

Next stop was the Panathenaic Stadium, the hosted the first modern Olympics in 1896. The cost of the taxi ride was €4.20….. but the savings in time and to our legs was enormous. It was time for taking photos of us on the dais…deciding who should be at 1st wasn’t too difficult …I stood there and refused to be moved whilst the others jostled for position on 2nd or 3rd. At one stage there was one with a foot on first and one on second. We asked other tourists to take our photos whilst we performed different actions for the photos. One young couple who we had already photographed on the dais a couple of times saw our antics and came back to do the same thing, then others also copied us. Next it was time for the 3 men to compete in track and field….well no point in a pic of someone standing stock still looking like a statue – may as well make the pic interesting! We wandered around the Stadium for an hour until the sun beating down on our heads forced us to consider heading to the nearest cafe for a cold drink. We were the only customers and the language barrier took a little time to sort out each coffee choice. Cold coffees, unless espresso or Greek, seem to be the easiest to get. Fortunately 3 of us chose cold and GG decided on a cappuccino which took almost 10 minutes longer than ours.

Panathenaic Stadium

Panathenaic Stadium

It was now after 4.30pm so time to head back to the Hotel for a swim, shower and get ready to head back to the Plaka for a wander round the markets and shops before dinner. The Plaka was a leisurely 15 minute walk from our hotel.

We decided to dine at Kapyatie Restaurant beside Ydria Cafe where we dined on our last visit. The food was good and the service wasn’t too bad either although the wine I thought I was choosing was positively awful. It was called a Moscato and those of you who know me well know any Moscato on the menu is for me. So we asked if it was a wine with a bit of spritz, ‘yes’ came the reply from the waiter. When the wine was poured and tasted it was a ‘sticky’ not a moscato as I knew it and was not to my liking at all. Needless to say I wouldn’t be falling over after one glass of wine this evening.

I must also say, dear readers, I did not succumb to temptation in the shopping district. I thought about it but I wasn’t interested in souvenirs ……had purchased enough during previous visits. Clothing and shoes are always of interest but thought I’d have a better look tomorrow.

Wandered back to the hotel around 10.3opm….again a leisurely stroll back window shopping as we went. Not a lot of people around once you move out of the Plaka district but felt quite safe.

We have a couple of hours tomorrow before we need to be at the airport for our flight to Santorini.

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Up a little later this morning, breakfast at 8am , had plans for going shopping, but forgot it’s Sunday and shops do not open in Europe on Sunday’s. Plaka stores are open but it was the ‘normal’ clothing stores I wanted. Missed my chance……so completed my packing, Lord Lunchalot came to our room for coffee. He didn’t have a coffee maker in his room which caused him some distress. Packing process done we moved to the pool bar for a decent coffee combined with some sunshine and Internet time. When ordering the coffee we were told the machine needed 10 minutes to heat up, ‘Ok, we have time’ said LL to the waitress. Twenty minutes later we cancelled the coffee – I had arranged a van to pick us up rather than a squishy taxi. Cost for a new, clean Mercedes van was 80€ …..well worth it between 4 of us.

Our flight to Santorini was leaving Athens at 1.20pm.

China Southern Flight Experience

This year is our fifth anniversary and so we’re heading back to Santorini…..how time flies and how life can change in a few short years…

So, as I do when we’re on a budget and I don’t want to scare Ty with holiday expenditure too early in the planning phase, I managed to find a relatively cheap business class flight from Sydney to Paris via Guangzhou with China Southern then onto Athens with Aegean. A long trip to Athens but for comfort and cost this was the best option at the time. So it’s a case of “suck it up princess” if we want to travel business class. The flights were booked in October the previous year and once flights are booked we worked on where we wanted to be and what we wanted to do. One of my friends, Lesley, had travelled with CS last year when we met for a few days in Paris and she was happy with the planes and the service, a few others had also flown with this airline.

We arrived at the airport with 15 minutes to wait till check in opened. We had tried to check in the night before, for no less than 45 minutes,and it just wouldn’t let us. We gave up and left it for the check in staff. The check in member had the same difficulty as we did which was good in one way …we knew the problem wasn’t with us! It took him around 25 minutes to get the system to accept us. We’ll accept Ty, it accepted me immediately of course!! We think it has something to do with his first name being consonants and appearing to be two initials T Y. We found this out on MSC Splendida last year when the Indonesian and Pilipino crew read his onboard card and name on the computer as T Y so they would call him T Y…. ‘Hello T Y ‘ ‘Have a good day T Y’. It was amusing.

Our seats this flight are 3 H&K and the second leg we are in 2A&C The flight left 55 minutes later than scheduled departure time. Many other reviews I had read mention the same thing. We received the usual toiletry bag containing toothpaste, toothbrush, comb and moisturisers but also a pair of scuffs for pottering around the plane a drawstring bag to put bits and pieces needed during the flight such as iPods, iPads, glasses etc. beats losing them under the seat when the seat is extended!!! Which is what happened to my book. and glasses😔 There is a little shelf beside the seat that holds the remote control plus has room for other items , thankfully the cabin crew managed to retrieve them for me…..left me a bit embarrassed. It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have some little mishap….now would it my readers?

Lunch was several courses: chicken soup, salmon and prawn entree and I chose lamb cutlets for main. Ty chose a rump steak for his main. Not sure what happened to my main but it ended up with pieces of pasta that looked like rice, Cabin person was apologetic but I couldn’t remember what was supposed to come with it. A little later she bought me a mini lemon meringue pie as a peace offering. A short time later a fruit platter arrived for each of us and Ty also opted for a cheese platter. I abstained.

Wine was offered with the meal – 2 whites and 2 reds although only one white was available. This one was a little dry for my taste but I still managed to have a glass! All drinks that should be icy cold were warm so a bit to learn there.

After lunch the attendants came around offering water, cup cakes and fruit.

Could hear a slapping sound behind me and thought it odd but maybe someone had dropped something and perhaps it had broken…..eventually, when the noise hadn’t stopped, I took a peak and the young woman behind me was reading a book and the passenger beside her was watching a movie but looking unimpressed. I could still hear the noise and as I went to turn back I saw what it was. The young woman reading the book and what looked like a spatula and she was reading whilst slapping herself with this object.

Not long into the flight an announcement broke the sound of the planes engines and buzz of conversation. ‘Is there a doctor on the flight?’ ‘ If so could you make yourself known to the crew please’. I thought to myself, there always seems to be a doctor on board which to my mind says either we have a large number of doctors per head of world population or all doctors travel more than the average individual.

Very soon a man was brought through into business class and seated in one of the spare seats in row 1. The female doctor was with him as were several crew members. I was very pleased there was a doctor on board because China Southern tend to run late regularly and I wasn’t keen on the plane making an emergency landing in some other country. Trip is long enough already and another delay would not be welcome.Fortunately for all of us the young man was given a little whiff of oxygen and only required one further check.

Second meal of the day, a light meal prior to landing in Guangzhou, was getting underway. We had preordered drinks earlier…no alcohol was offered on the second meal. Just water, juice or soft drink. Ty chose coke light and I an orange juice. His coke was flatter than flat…if that’s possible and the glass my juice was served in was not a clean crisp glass but rather murky and crusty on the outside. I abstained from drinking the juice and as the cabin crew didn’t understand a lot of English left it at that. Tea or coffee was not offered again, as wi the meals we were required to choose all meals and drinks in the first hour of the flight. I don’t mind ordering the meal but would prefer to have the option to choose my drink at the mealtime. I thought this a little strange.

The cabin crew are friendly and efficient and service good and polite but don’t expect exceptional service as they’re not there. CS is only a relatively new player in the market and there’s still some room for improvement if they want to attract a larger share of travellers outside Asian markets.

As our arrival into Guangzhou approached the crew gave us thank you cards. A very nice gesture.

The Sky-team Lounge was very hot, air conditioning only worked in one small section so at 30 Celsius with humidity at 90% it was very uncomfortable in the upstairs lounge area. Thank goodness for the ability to have a shower before boarding the next leg.

It was a long wait for the Paris leg but we chatted to a woman on her way back to Sydney after a 7 week holiday in Europe and, later, to a man from Birmingham who had been working in China.

We knew access to Facebook is banned in China but didn’t realise Google is also banned. We needed to print boarding passes sitting in our gmail account for the Paris to Athens leg but that was not possible. Very odd to think in this technological age that countries would stop their people and visitors from accessing websites!!

We wandered to our gate with plenty of time to find the gate had actually been changed. We turned and headed back in the direction from which we came….a little bit of extra exercise would do us good. The new gate number was downstairs…’I think this means we’re being bused to the plane’ I said to Ty. We stepped onto the escalator that took us to a smaller departure hall crowded with people. There were 6 gates down here and hardly any seats and definitely no air conditioning. It was stifling. We couldn’t find empty seats so we stood for about 10 minutes Ty decided to ask the young airline worker manning the our gate number for the boarding time but he spoke no English. No help there and it was so stuffy we decided to go back upstairs and find a seat.

About 15 minutes later Ty went to check the indicator board to see if the flight was boarding yet…it was so off we trundled back down to the hot dungeon below. The crowds were even worse as we made our way to the far end of the room and our check in counter. There was a small area for business class passengers to stand. After a few minutes we were checked through the gate to waiting buses. Economy class in one and us on another. We were then driven away from the main arrivals and departures area across the tarmac and down a couple of roads to another area where planes sat. We drove by a large number of planes and eventually pulled up at our plane….A330-200. One high set of steps at the back and all the economy passengers lined up at the stairs came into view We were told to wait on the bus for a minute. The airline staff member came back and ushered for us to leave the bus. The economy passengers were stood aside to allow us to head up the stairs onto the plane.

A family with a baby just under 12 months joined our bus and the child was already crying. At that point I wondered whether my ear plugs were up to the challenge of drowning out any screams throughout the 11 hour flight. I really needed to sleep on this leg! The business class cabin on this flight was in 2 sections, thankfully we were in the first section and the baby in second section…the galley and loo separated us. Unfortunately the man of Asian nationality opposite us made disgusting sniffling noises instead of blowing his nose….just disgusting. We did have a small reprieve when he slept for a few hours. There’s something to be said for the first class fully enclosed pods that some airlines have on the A380……unfortunately the cost is prohibitive for the budget conscious traveller and majority of travellers😕

This second left was also late by about 45 minutes.

Breakfast was not too bad this morning…orange juice, cereal (careful not to take in too much milk), French toast, brioche and toast more like a cruskit with strawberry jam and a cup of tea. Only strange thing is they serve the juice and cup of tea at same time. I like my cup of tea (when I drink tea) towards end of meal. As well as the Chinese cabin crew we had a French girl, who had excellent English…made the flight a little easier language wise. When they were clearing our breakfast plates away I hadn’t finished and the Chinese girl went to remove the food I was still eating, French crew member said you must leave it till passenger has finished!!! I know they gave a timeframe for completing all tasks but Even though Ai was enjoying a leisurely breakfast without the water views I wasn’t going to rush it!!

It was very foggy and 16 degrees as we descended into Paris Charles but I’m certain it won’t be at all foggy when we land in Athens later today, Our landing at CDG was very fast so braking was quite sudden – had to push back in our seats…amusing.

Would we travel with this airline again? Most certainly but would only fly with them if stopover was shorter, 6 hours is too long for me, if travelling on to Europe.

Breakfast french toast

Breakfast french toast

Seat/bed

Seat/bed

Monaco via St Tropez

The Splendida docked in Marseilles at 8am – it’s almost time to disembark. Last night we received notification of disembarkation times and were surprised to read a disembarkation time of 9.45am. “Assemble in the Aft Lounge and await further instructions” stared at me from the memo placed under our door.  Passengers would be disembarked at 15 minute intervals by coding….we were code Green. Given we docked at 8am we thought we’d be off the ship by 9am and on the road to Monaco by 10.00am so our plans to stop at St. Tropez and Cannes would now need to be revised.

We sat in the Aft Lounge for about 30 minutes and then decided to mingle with the code Red group being ushered to the allotted deck for disembarkation into the Baggage Hall. Ty had watched the luggage being unloaded onto the dock at 7am so we couldn’t see any other reason to keep us waiting. Group tours disembark from a different deck to ‘do your own thing’ passengers as do the passengers leaving the cruise ship. So it wasn’t an issue of crowding or causing excursions to run late.

Off the ship, luggage collected, we moved to the taxi rank. The line wasn’t too long but we expected a short wait. Suddenly the Japanese man behind us pushed between Ty and I, waving his hands excitedly then proceeded to aim his camera at something he found interesting on the other side of us. I looked to see what was so exciting given we were standing in the middle of a massive concrete quadrangle with nothing to view but a continuous stream of taxis. “Ahh, he’s very excited about the Mercedes taxi that had moved up beside us” I whispered to Ty and continued with “you’d think it was made of gold or something the way he’s bouncing around surely he’s seen a Merc before?” At the same moment the family of 7 that were next in line rushed for the Merc but the rank coordinator called them back and tried to get them to take the people mover behind the Mercedes. After much shaking of heads and hand waving the family squashed their luggage and themselves into the Mercedes. As they drove away the scene inside the taxi looked disturbing, the younger children of this middle eastern family were literally squashed between the back of the front seats and the back seat passengers, seat belts and keeping children firmly seated does not seem to be a priority here nor does there appear to be a maximum number of passengers rule. The kids would be sitting on the floor or standing. Guess the adults wanted to travel in a Mercedes and this must have been their one and only opportunity to do so!!!

Finally, our turn and we didn’t care what car turned up as long as it took us to the Hertz Depot, it was now almost 10.30am. Our driver seemed pleasant enough, spoke a little english but we didn’t really engage him in conversation, there was no overwhelming smell of stale cigarettes either. Ty told him our drop off point was the Hertz Depot behind Saint Charles railway station. “Oui” he said and we were off. Weaving in and out of traffic at a fast pace we made from the Port to the station in very good time….as we approached the station we reminded him that we needed to go to the rental car area in a street behind the station. “No, I only go to taxi rank” he stated. “We need to go to Hertz, that’s what we told you at the Port” Ty replied. “No, taxi rank Saint Charles only”. There was no point in arguing for whatever reason he wasn’t going to drop us at the place we needed. As we unloaded the bags Ty asked how we get to Hertz from here (we’d driven there a week before so we knew the general direction but not walking) the driver pointed towards the station and said “That way”. Funny and really annoying that he couldn’t take us to Hertz given a taxi happily picked us up from Hertz to take us to the Port without issue!! Sad to say we weren’t too fused on Marseilles the first time we ventured in and this driver only helped to heighten our dislike. Perhaps he got out of bed on the wrong side or just couldn’t be bothered with foreigners…who knows.

More time was now being wasted whilst we walked to Hertz….firstly we had to enter the station and find our way out the other side. The main station doors opened and we entered this large empty area, one end was being renovated so that was a no go area, to the left there were escalators so we took the escalators which took us to the main concourse area…trains and people everywhere. We stood and took in our surroundings, both of us becoming frustrated with the situation. Ty spied 2 men dressed in official uniforms leaning on a table chatting so he went over and asked for directions to the rental car companies. They looked at Ty quizzically but, thankfully, another man joined them and he understood what Ty was asking and gave directions. Out the back doors of the station down the road to the next street turn right at the next street turn left…it was another 10 minutes before we reached the Hertz office. By then we were very hot and tired of dragging our luggage up gutters, down gutters, between parked cars and drivers that wanted to park their car where we were walking (no footpaths here) as well as trying to dodge puddles of water that had formed in potholes; I was a little aggravated but when you’re on holidays in a foreign country these things happen….it’s all part of the experience…right??

The process to collect the car took a little more time than expected as the car they were offering had a 1.2 litre motor with a diesel engine and we had hills to climb….this poor thing wouldn’t have managed the first hill out of Marseilles. The car Ty accepted was a Ford CMax, manual and diesel. Luckily the Hertz assistant offered to go and bring the car up rather than explain where the car was parked….it could take us the rest of the day to find the car and load up the luggage and leave town. We were thankful for his offer and accepted graciously. Just as well, it was 10 minutes before he returned with the car!! I must say all the Hertz staff we dealt with in Avignon and both times in Marseilles were extremely helpful and very pleasant.

At 11.45 we drove off in the general direction of Monaco via St Tropez only 2 hours later than we’d hoped to be leaving Marseilles. The temperature was already in the high 20’s with blue skies all around….a great day for a drive around the French Riviera. We opted to take a couple of toll roads, to speed up the travel time, as well as the roads winding around the sea to get those fabulous views however we found that even those roads headed into the hills so no water view was clearly visible.

We knew we’d almost arrived at St Tropez by the slow traffic ahead of us, we inched our way into this coastal town placed on the map by the rich and famous many years ago and the St Tropez holiday tradition of the well known faces and bodies continues to this day. Unfortunately, I probably wouldn’t recognise one of them if they were sitting next to me, I’ll never be able to say “guess who I saw in St Tropez?” Nor take that spur of the moment pic magazines will pay a motza for….no, your writer missed out on a celebrity radar when they were handed out. Must have been shopping that day!!

After doing a lap around St Tropez, crawling in bumper to bumper traffic, looking for a parking space somewhere other than the marina car park we decided a car space at the marina with a short walk to the hub was better than this. This town was buzzing….the marina car park was bursting at the seams but we managed to find a space…

Alighting from the car we took in our surroundings so we would be able to find the car on our return. Nothing worse than losing your car in a crowded car park! Ty knows all about that and we don’t have 40 minutes spare today to look for a lost car!

We strolled along the edge of the marina looking at the cruisers moored beside old fishing trawlers and marvelled at the amount of money some of these luxury craft cost. As we turned the corner at the far end of the marina we stopped in out tracks….’oh my goodness’ I exclaimed ‘look at the people, it’s crazy’. The footpath from the marina to the main tourist area was lined with craft stalls and artists plying for trade either selling their paintings or offering to paint your portrait. As you can imagine there was not a lot of room for one or 2 pedestrians let alone large groups so we spilled out onto the road.

Before I left home one of my sisters had told me about a little wall clock she has seen in a shop in St Tropez and now wished she had purchased. Isn’t that always the way, we really like something we see on our travels, we can’t decide whether we should buy it or not, we walk away still indecisive, we come home…’damn, I wish I had bought that little item now’…. Given this is me on a regular basis why should my sister be any different. So we said, ‘ok, if we find the shop and the clock is still there we’ll buy it for you and send it home’. What a silly idea…first of all Lianne described where the shop was – ‘it was a little shop that sold teapots near a coffee shop on a corner in a quiet street off the main tourist street’. Any street name or address? Name of the shop? Well you would have asked those questions too! ‘No, I can’t remember, we could try and Google the streets’. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘we’ll see if we can find it – won’t promise anything though’.We decided to take a walk around the back streets away from the crowds and see if we could spot this little shop. We found a number of knick knack come homeware type shops and strolled in to explain what we were looking for….the shop owners were very pleasant, well most were very pleasant, as we explained the item and as they shook their head in the negative. Eventually gave up and wandered back to the crowded waterfront. Time to shop for souvenirs, have a Movenpick ice cream and make our way back to the car to continue the journey to Monaco. One thing about St Tropez that you probably already suspect is the souvenirs are very expensive.  I collect fridge magnets, amongst other items, from each place I visit…they don;t take up much room in your luggage! Generally the price ranges between 2.95 and 4.00 euro for your basic fridge magnet.  St Tropez magnets started at 4.00 euros, the humble shot glass was from 6 euros – a supersized increase on the base price of 1.95 euros that you normally find.  Yes, of course I bought a fridge magnet…

We were only in St Tropez for several hours, certainly not enough time to get a real feel for the town but first impressions for me – it had nothing more special than other coastal towns I’ve visited. It lacked the pizazz I expected. The stories of St Tropez just conjures up so many amazing pictures….I didn’t really see anything that amazed me – oh except for the crowds.  May need a revisit at some stage:)

St Tropez buildings ignoring the crowds

St Tropez buildings ignoring the crowds

We left St Tropez and followed the coast road around through St Maxime…which was a very pretty town, it appeared uncluttered, if you know what I mean, not choked with traffic and the beach front looked very inviting. This looked like a place where I would like to spend some time – sit on an apartment balcony overlooking the town square and out to sea writing my blog and adding another chapter or 2 to my book I’ve been trying to write for a number of years…

By now we were very late for our planned arrival on Monte Carlo so we by passed Nice. It will have to wait for another time. We did see a few interesting things on our drive. Two which deserve a mention was a Golf Polo with a motorbike tied to it’s roof and a little Fiat towing a mini caravan with a fully inflated rubber dingy tied to the roof of the caravan – both were bigger than the car.

We finally drove into Principality of Monaco around 5.30 pm which was very exciting for me as Monaco had been on my travel list since I was a young girl. Partly because of the romance of Grace Kelly and the Prince coupled with the Monaco Grand Prix. Yes, you’ve noted the Grand Prix is on in May and I’m here in August….so I still have to fulfil the rest of my dream of attending the race….God willing I’ll be able to do that one day as well. For now just to be driving into Monaco is a dream come true.

The views driving into Monaco didn’t disappoint, they’re spectacular with the horseshoe shape of the mountains enclosing the harbour.  No long queues of traffic for miles crawling into the town, as in St Tropez, just a quiet drive down and around the mountain.

Our hotel was easy to find…I had booked us into the Port Palace Hotel directly across from the Marina situated on a section of road that becomes part of the Grand Prix race track in May. Hotels in Monte Carlo are not cheap but I knew that would be the case and if you want to stay in Monte Carlo you have to be prepared to pay a higher price.
After much research the Port Palace was a standout for me for location and the middle of the road price, just over $600 Aussie dollars per night for a deluxe suite.

OK, moving away from the dream and back to reality – the driveway into the hotel was quite a tight turn. Now picture this, it’s Monte Carlo, a very expensive hotel, we’re driving a Ford c-max, the marina alongside us harbouring multi million dollar cruisers and yachts, a bright yellow Lamborghini parked under the hotel driveway awning and a Maserati parked in front of that..Ty has to manoeuvre the fabulous non luxurious c-max onto the driveway without connecting with the very large pots alongside the hotel entrance, the valet standing beside the entrance and guiding him in or the luxury cars in front of us. He completed the manoeuvre without any incidents and in one turn. The valet was impressed and asked if he wanted a job as they’re looking for people with extremely good parking skills. In those several seconds Ty dreamt about the Lamborghini’s, Maserati’s, Porsche’s and other amazing cars he’d get to drive before I stepped into his dream and reminded him being a valet may not pay enough so the lifestyle would suffer and things would be very expensive in Monte Carlo. No, he’ll just have to look and dream…it’s good to have dreams!

Time to stop dreaming, hand over the keys to our not so luxury car and head into reception so we can check into our very expensive room. As we walked away I wondered where they would hide our rental car…doubt it would sit proudly on display under the hotel awning. No, it would be whisked away as quickly as possible so as not to damage the reputation of the hotel….I was beginning to feel sorry for the car.

Our room was spacious with king bed, double wardrobes, lounge suite, dining table and still plenty of room for moving around and the bathroom was extremely large with a spa bath, separate shower room, double vanity area and separate loo. I would highly recommend this and would not hesitate to stay here again. Oh except for the Grand Prix, as much as it would be a great vantage point and you could almost touch the cars as they whiz by, the 8,000 euro for 2 nights price tag turns me off that idea. However if there’s anyone out there that would like to pay my accommodation for the 2 nights at Grand Prix time I’d happily accept the offer and write a report on it – my birthday is in May as well – just a couple of days before the race. Of course Ty would have to join me couldn’t go to the Grand Prix without my better half!!!!

The room had a great street view of the marina and the boats…I will enjoy staying here for the next couple of days. Tonight we’ll find a place for dinner, go for a walk to explore our surroundings. Tomorrow we start our tour of Monte Carlo in earnest!