Holiday

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I feel I needed something written down to act as the bare bones to help me remember. It’s only been a few days since I got back and already I’m forgetting aspects.

Day 1 – October 18th

We started at 09:40, with a bus to the train station where we caught the 11:00 to London Liverpool Street. From here we made our way via the underground to St Pancras where we were to catch the 14:22 Eurostar to Paris.

I’d never been on the Eurostar before so I was curious how different it would be to a normal train. It was a bit odd going through security twice in such a short distance – once for leaving the UK and the other for entering France – but it was very efficient and so smooth. The train itself was so fast, but incredibly smooth and I barely noticed the tunnel itself (I’m not good with tunnels).

We arrived at Gare du Nord at 17:47, and with a quick transfer to Gare de Lyon via the RER, we were on our way to Venice on the night train at 19:15.

The night train was interesting. We had a cabin all to ourselves which contained a shower/toilet, a small table, a sofa, 2 fold down beds and 2 more beds over the cabin. We had a welcome pack with snacks and Prosseco, and a couple of tokens for breakfast. Dinner was available to buy from a dining car, but we’d read that the food options available usually ran out quickly, so we had brought sandwiches.

The beds were hard but comfortable and the linen was soft. We woke up a few times in the night, but I think this was from unfamiliar surroundings rather than any noise or movement from the train tracks which was fairly constant.

Day 2 – 19th October

Had all gone well, we would have woken up in Venice, but a delay outside Milan meant we were delayed by three hours. We arrived at Venezia Santa Lucia station just after midday.

We made our way to the Ai Mori d’Oriente where we were lucky enough to be able to check in early. We’d been upgraded to a suite too, which was lovely, and we were given a fruit basket and a bottle of Prosecco to help us settle in.

We were so tired that stopping would have resulted in falling asleep, losing us the rest of the day, so we headed out to explore the area as soon as we had unpacked and freshened up a little.

Our day-time exploration

Most of the activities I had looked at were to the south-east of the city, so we headed south-west, crossing over the Scalzi bridge and trying to find the Leonardo Da’Vinci museum which we planned on visiting later in the trip.

It was really striking how the streets would be so very noisy and full of people on the main routes, but you could turn off into a side street and it was almost like you were in a different city – total silence and no-one else around.

Expensive roses

We did manage to get “got” by one of the street sellers. Lesson number one learned – don’t accept anything a stranger hands to you. They were the most expensive roses I’ve been bought as Tom didn’t have any small notes or change…

After about an hour, we returned to the hotel for a small break (which did result in Tom falling asleep) before taking a boat tour around the city. It was a great way to see Venice just as the sun was going down.

The boat tour took us back to our hotel but we went looking for somewhere to eat, coming across a cosy-looking restaurant not far from where we were staying – Trattoria Pizzeria Le Campane. We both had pasta and it was just what we needed – hearty and delicious. My linguini nero was particularly tasty.

Our night-time wander

After dinner we took another walk, exploring Venice by night. We stopped by the Grand Canal just as the church bells were ringing in the distance. It was so relaxing. No-one else was around, and with the water just lapping against the walls of the canal, we felt so peaceful and calm.

Venice by night

We picked up a bottle of wine and some snacks on our way back to the hotel, where we settled in for a well-earned movie, tucked up in bed.

Both the bottle and the snacks were finished. A great end to a fantastic day, and something we were keen to repeat.

Day 3 – October 20th

Meander down to Piazza San Marco

Day 3 started early. We had planned to see 3 museums and wanted to get going. We’d bought a ticket that covered all of the museums in the plaza (I believe there are 4 in total) but we figured 3 was plenty for one day.

Heading down to breakfast, we were greeted by friendly staff and lots of choice of what to eat- there was even cake! I think Tom struggled a bit, he likes to eat healthily but his choices were limited due to his lactose intolerance. I don’t think he really minded the bacon, eggs and fried tomatoes though.

Loaded up with food we walked over to Piazza San Marco. It was a bit of a walk but it was nice to see the winding streets again. If we got a bit lost it was never for very long as there were signs on the buildings at most of the junctions.

The piazza was intense, so many people and animals in one place from tourists to street vendors, pigeons to gulls. We wandered around and took it all in, getting our bearings before we decided to go for the first item on our itinerary.

We wanted to visit the Basilica di San Marco but the queue to go inside was huge, and we didn’t feel comfortable leaving Tom’s bag behind so that we could go inside. Turns out there was also a Mass being held so we wouldn’t be able to look around until later. We figured this was life telling us to move on so we headed to Museo Correr on the other side of the plaza.

We wandered around looking at all the beautiful paintings and the rooms themselves which were beautifully decorated.

It turns out that you get two museums for the price of one with the Museo Correr as it linked up with another which was more based around artefacts such as armour, weapons and wooden models.

We probably spent a good hour there before heading over to the Palais Des Doges. This building was magnificent. Every room was decorated beautifully and the architecture was so detailed. The images below can’t show just how amazing it is. We even got to cross over the canal through the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs).

Our afternoon amble

After some lunch in the cafe on site, we decided that we were definitely museum-ed out. So, instead of returning to the Basilica di San Marco, we went for a walk along the canal towards the Arsenal de Venecia.

We stopped for a sit down here, just soaking in the sun and dangling our feet over the side of the canal, before continuing on to the Giardini Della Biennale and the Parco delle Rimembranze.

The walk was so nice. We got to see all the boats zooming past, and some sort of Navy battle ship that was docked up (and I assume turned into a museum as the queue for it was huge).

Walking back on ourselves

When we got to the park, I realised that I’d gotten my directions a little wrong. I’d pictured us looping north and back to the hotel but we were in a different place to what I’d thought so we ended up walking back on ourselves. A shame as we were so tired at this point, but it made space for dinner!

Dinner was at Trattoria Della Maddalena which was another cute-looking restaurant off the main street. I had a four-cheese pizza and Tom had the seafood tagliatelle.

The day finished with another bottle of wine and some snacks in bed.

I could get used to this.

Day 4 – October 21st

Off to see the Ponte di Rialto

Our final day in Venice started with a nice hearty breakfast before we dropped our bags off at a locker near the train station.

Tom wanted to see the Ponte di Rialto so we went there first. We’d been passed it before, but hadn’t actually walked on it. The bridge was packed full of people, all trying to get that perfect selfie, so of course we had to get involved and get that “full tourist experience”.

From here we walked back on ourselves for a bit and had lunch before visiting the Lenardo Da’Vinci museum. It was a small place, but it was very interactive – lots of interactive models of his designs and even a Virtual Reality headset where you could watch how some of his ballistic weapons worked.

Heading to the Basilica

We then took a walk over to the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute.

It was a lovely day, a little more cloudy perhaps than previous days but the sun was still warm. The breeze was a little cool along this part of the walk though – perhaps because we were walking through more open areas.

We passed over several bridges, through a little marketplace filled with all kinds of fruit and vegetable stalls and went through a building that used to house a fish market before reaching the Basilica.

It was a lot less crowded here than other tourist hot-spots, but there were still a few people trying to get the best angle for a shot of the Basilica.

After a small break sat beside the canal, listening to the waters lapping against the side, we took ourselves on our final walk around the city.

Our final walk through Venice

We took a slightly longer route, going around the back of the Basilica, but eventually we returned to the path we’d taken before – over the Ponte della Paglia and back up to the station.

We stopped for dinner Osteria Leone Alato but had timed it badly and the staff were on a well-deserved break so service was a little slow. I had crab gnocchi and Tom had pesto penne.

After dinner we picked up our bags, grabbed some snacks, and returned to the station for the night train to Paris.

Turns out the train was heavily under booked and we had a whole carriage to ourselves! Not that we took advantage of that by running up and down the carriage or playing loud music, but it did mean that we didn’t have to whisper through fear of waking up the people in the next room.

We didn’t sleep well on the train this time, but that did mean we got to see the most magnificent storm at about 3am. There was no rain for the longest time, just huge flashes of lightning that went across the entire sky. It was breath-taking. When the train did go through the rain it was lashing against the windows.

We eventually got to sleep but it wasn’t for long… we had a rude awakening by the border police asking to see our documents. Not fun, but necessary.

Day 5 – October 22nd

Killing time before the Hotel check in opened

We pulled into Gare de Lyon a little late – the train having been delayed overnight again.

We had time to kill before check in opened at our hotel so we took the Metro over to Gare du Nord (which was closer to our hotel) and dropped our bags off at a locker there.

We then went on a walk up to the Basilica du Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre via Square Louise-Michel.

It was a lovely walk but the incline was very steep and I think our lack of sleep meant we probably didn’t enjoy it as much as we would normally have done.

We enjoyed the views from the top for a few minutes, seeing which landmarks we could spot in the distance and getting our bearings, before we made a fatal mistake that lead to holiday lesson number 2, and walked down the steps in front of us.

Lesson number 2 was if you see a gang of street sellers harassing passers-by: head back the way you came!

We got grabbed by a group of men who made friendship bracelets on our wrists. They were friendly but very forceful, grabbing our wrists so that we couldn’t get away and separating us so that we couldn’t see one another while the bracelets were being made.

Once again Tom’s pocket got lighter by more than was acceptable for such small items. It put a real dampener on things at first, but we tried not to let it spoil the mood.

Hôtel Westminster

After grabbing our bags, we walked to the Hôtel Westminster. It was a beautiful place, very close to the Place Vendôme, and our room was spacious and comfortable. Unfortunately, as our suite in Venice had been so amazing, it was hard to not feel a little disappointed. The room was perfectly lovely, it was just the comparison that affected our view.

First exploration of the nearby area

After checking in we went exploring down through Place Vendôme and the Jardin des Tuileries, across the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor and along the Seine.

We crossed back along Pont Alexandre III, followed the banks of the Seine again until we reached Place de la Concorde where we did our best not to get run over crossing the street so that we could see the fountain and the obelisk in the centre.

We then returned to the hotel.

Dinner was in the hotel’s onsite restaurant – Le Céladon – and my God was the food exquisite. I had venison pie which just melted in my mouth and was seasoned to perfection. It must have been pretty funny to watch me eat, making all sorts of “mmm” noises with literally every mouthful.

After dinner we returned to our room for a well-deserved early night.

Day 6 – October 23rd

We got up early for breakfast in the hotel restaurant. There was plenty to choose from, including fried options, cereals, fruit, pastries and honey still on the comb.

It turns out we’d forgotten to book a room with it included, so we made a note to stop in a shop later to get some items we could eat in our room for future breakfasts.

We’d planned on going to the Château de Versailles so we wanted to get an early start as it was a fair distance by Metro and Train.

I’m glad that we had bought tickets in advance because the queue was immense! It looped around and doubled back on itself across the whole courtyard and this was the queue for those with tickets. Those without had a separate queue and then joined ours once they had tickets.

The insane queue to get into Versailles

I was very grumpy by the time we got inside, but I think that was mostly hunger and it was a little cold too.

We looked around the palace for a little bit, but didn’t stay for long. I was enjoying all of the galleries and beautiful paintings, but it was so crowded that I just needed to be outside so we slacked off the rest of the building and headed to the gardens.

We walked through some of the gardens and groves, stopping for a sandwich at one of the food stalls near the Saturn fountain before making our way around pretty much the entirety of the Grand Canal.

We made a quick visit to the Estate of Trianon too where we stopped for a snack and a cup of tea before heading back to the entrance.

It’s a shame that Google Fit didn’t track the whole route for this day, it would have been nice to see the route we took.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped off at a supermarket to grab dinner and items for breakfast. We didn’t have time to go to a restaurant for dinner as we were off to the Eiffel Tower!

We took the Metro then walked a small distance to get to the tower itself. There were so many street sellers lining the pavements on the way there and outside any exits/entrances to the tower. It was intense but luckily not as forceful as the chaps we encountered on our first day. The tower was all lit up and I managed to get a blurry video of the sparkles.

Tour Eiffel

Tickets to the top had sold out so we went to the first floor via the elevator. The views from there were more than enough – I’m not sure I would have needed to go higher. You could see all over Paris and it was so beautiful in the dark with all the different coloured lights. It’s hard to get a good picture of the view, but I think I managed at least one.

After we had our fill of the views, we walked down a winding staircase which allowed us to see all the criss-crossed metalwork that the tower was built from. There were signs on most of the floors telling people facts about the tower, and how far up they’d walked so far.

We decided to walk back to the hotel along the Seine instead of getting the Metro, enjoying Paris at night just a little bit more.

Day 7 – October 24th

We got up at a more leisurely pace as our tickets to the Louvre would not let us in until closer to lunch time. We had breakfast in our room before taking a slow walk through the Jardin des Tuileries to the museum.

We had been warned that there was too much to see in one day, but you just can’t grasp the enormity of the place until you get there. Different wings of the museum house different exhibits and as you can’t see them all in one day, we decided to just pick a few areas to focus on.

The rooms were spacious and even though some areas where quite crowded (mostly where any particularly famous pieces were) I didn’t get overwhelmed at any point. There were places to sit and rest too if all the walking was getting too much. Particularly on level 1, the walls and ceilings were so beautifully decorated that I often found myself looking more at them than the items stored within them.

We started with the Denon rooms on level -1, taking in the various sculptures and items in the touch gallery (something for blind or hard-of-sight people to interact with) before moving up to level 0 for the Roman and European statues.

I think it was at this point that we got hungry and headed back to the atrium of level -1 to get some sandwiches for lunch.

We’re both fans of Egyptian works so we visited the Sully rooms on floor 0 after lunch, finishing this section on floor 1. We then moved on to the Greek antiquities section in the Denon rooms, followed by the paintings on that floor. We couldn’t get very close to it, but I think what stood out when we saw the Mona Lisa was just how small was.

Moving back down a floor into the Richelieu rooms for the Near Eastern antiquities. The Islamic art in particular was amazing, so many beautiful mosaics in that area (you could see the floor below from this area too, so we didn’t have to go down a floor).

After this we stayed on floor 0 of the Richelieu rooms and moved onto the French sculptures where we’d finally had our fill. We made our way out of the museum via an exit that went through a shopping area.

We made our way back to the hotel for a small rest, before heading out for dinner.

Dinner was at La Pascade which served all their meals in pascade – a kind of pancake crossed with a Yorkshire pudding. They were so delicious, even though we were both full after our starter and main, we still crammed in desert.

We practically rolled back to the hotel (though it was only a few minutes walk) and waited for our food to settle before heading out on another walk.

Walking to the Arc de Triomphe

This time it was a walk with purpose – we were going to the Arc de Triomphe.

We took a direct route, walking along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. It was pretty busy for night-time, lots of food vendors and people out for the night.

In front of the Arc de Triomphe

We got to people watch as we walked, and talked about what we’d seen so far both in Paris and Venice.

We also talked what we were going to do about the next leg of our journey. We had planned to go to Barcelona, but there had been rioting the few weeks prior to our trip, and it looked like it was still going on. We had to decide if we wanted to continue and risk something going wrong, or call it quits and head home early.

We decided on the latter.

When we got back to the hotel, I cancelled our room in Barcelona, and Tom booked Eurostar tickets for the following day. We were both pretty bummed out about our decision, but knew it was for the best. We packed up our bags and snuggled up in bed with a movie to enjoy our last night in Paris and on holiday.

Summary

We had such a fantastic time on this holiday. Neither of us had been away properly in such a long time, and to do our first holiday just the two of us was really fun. I’d made so many plans in advance that there was never any stress in getting to a new place or thinking of things to do, we just picked from a list and off we went!

My plans were pretty detailed, but also not fixed. I think the only one where we really stuck to the planned itinerary was the day we went to Versaille and even then we got different trains and went to the Eiffel Tower later in the day.

Screenshot of my holiday planner for October 24th 2019

Planning everything out just helped us to pick what we*actually* wanted to do, if we didn’t feel like a particular activity one day, we could swap it with another or even ignore it altogether.

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