So….Cruise vs DIY?

So did we do it better than taking a cruise?

Well, if you take out having to lug our suitcases everywhere, on and off trains, to and from airports and up and down all the steps we ended up having to navigate, then we obviously would have had a better time of it on a cruise.

BUT, we were able to immerse ourselves a lot more in the cities we stayed in and this, to me, is invaluable.  We were under no time constraints when it came to most of the things we wanted to see and do (unless it was those imposed by ourselves when we chose to do guided tours).  It was particularly lovely in spots like Venice and Capri to enjoy the place once all the day trippers had left.  We ate what we wanted, where we wanted and when we wanted.  We could stop when and where we wanted.  We got to use all sorts of public transport and we got out of the cities too.  We saw so many more countries and sights on our itinerary than if we had been on a cruise.  And there’s nothing like staying in a place for a few nights to get into its groove.

I loved the fresh markets we came across – being able to buy and cook with fresh local produce was a great experience, not to mention being able to interact with the locals.

I’m not saying don’t go on a cruise, they definitely have their place and there are people who absolutely adore cruising, but for us and the way we travel, d.i.y is the way to go.  Maybe just with less luggage next time….

The main thing I learnt out of this trip was that while it was great to tick off some of the major icons of the world, I actually much prefer going to a place that is quieter and where you can appreciate it for being itself.  I much preferred Barcelona and Lisbon over Paris and Florence.  Those flag carrying big tour groups were so annoying and I got so sick of being harrassed by people trying to hawk me stuff whenever I came near a popular sight.  I hated having to line up for everything, although to be honest, we didn’t have to do very much of that, we just moved on if there was a huge queue.

Where would I go back to?  Lisbon and Barcelona.  For sure.

I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to my Laos trip in November.  Even more so, because I know it will be a much more intimate experience.

If you’re interested in any of the facts from our trip, here they are:

We stayed with:

Parkroyal on Pickering, Chinatown/CBD, Singapore

Citadines La Ramblas, La Ramblas, Barcelona

Hotel Convento do Salvador, Alfama, Lisbon

Villa Montmartre, Montmartre, Paris

Citadines Lyon Presquile, Lyon

Chateau de Trigance, Trigance

Private Residence (AirBNB), Vieille Ville, Nice

Locanda Ca’Amadi, Cannaregio,Venice

Villa Il Mosaico, Florence

B&B Antico Monastero di Anacapri, Anacapri, Capri

Casa Di Eddy, Termini Station, Rome

We flew with:

Singapore Airlines Perth to Barcelona and from Rome to Perth

TAP Airlines from Barcelona to Lisbon and from Lisbon to Paris

HOP Airlines from Nice to Venice

We took trains between all other cities, a waterbus in Venice and the high speed ferry between Naples and Capri

We drove with:

Sixt (between Aix en Provence and Nice)

We bought these city cards to help save us money – they included free public transport:

Lyon City Card

Lisboa Card

Roma Pass

We used these tour companies (everything else we did ourselves):

Urban Adventures in Barcelona (Tapas Walking Tour)

France Tourisme in Paris (Versailles)

Tour Azur in Nice (Monaco Evening Trip)

Florencetown in Florence (Pizza and Gelato Making)

Dark Rome in Rome (Vatican Tour)

Coop Culture in Rome (Domus Aurea)

If you have any questions about our trip though, please ask me!

Fourviere’s Treasures

With no particular agenda in store for today, a bus trip around the city is in order, and our first stop, was not really something I had an interest in seeing because I saw plenty of ruins in Europe on my last trip.  But we followed the other tourists who trudged off the bus and up the hill and we came to the ruins of a entertainment complex built by the Romans around 15BC and they were just incredible.

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The two complexes (a smaller and a larger ampitheatre) could hold 13,000 people all together and it was the heart of city life for almost three centuries.  From this point on Fourviere hill, you get an incredible view of the city of Lyon below.

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Once you reach the top of the ruins, you are a short walk away from the Fourviere Basilica.

When travelling in Europe, there are also a lot of churches.  You kind of get a bit blaise, thinking oh great, another church.  wow.  And, although it’s beautiful from the outside, like most other incredible churches, you could be forgiven for thinking this was yet another one of those churches, snap a photo and walk on by.

But then you make the choice to go inside…

…and it makes you so glad you didn’t dismiss it.  Fourviere was built between 1872 and 1884 on the site of what was once the Roman Forum of Trajan.  The church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary who is attributed to the salvation of the city from the plague that swept Europe in the 1600’s and sits on the hill keeping watch over the city of Lyon and her people to this day.

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Lyon – City of Food

From Gare de Lyon, Paris, we board a train to Lyon, only a couple of hours away.  We are travelling by TGV or ‘train a grande vitesse’, which simply means…very fast train.  And that it is, there’s barely any time to grab a coffee from the food cart before you arrive at Lyon Part Dieu Station.

Lyon is a lovely city with clean, cobble-stoned streets, wide squares and beautiful period buildings.  It’s a very different feel from Paris, and for us, a most welcome change.

We are staying at another Citadines in Lyon and we are looking forward to cooking with some great local produce.  Which is exactly what we do the morning after we arrive.  The Marche Quai Saint-Antoine (Saint-Antoine Quay Market) occupies the banks of the Saone every day of the week, except Mondays, from early in the morning until around midday.  There’s an array of great provincial goods – sausages, cheeses, fruits and vegetables, flowers, breads, olives – all sorts.  And it’s such a lovely way to start the morning and practice a bit of French!  We stocked up on chicken, potatoes, salad greens, tomatoes, eggs, the most beautiful strawberries, cheese, a fresh loaf of bread and a sausage (mushroom flavoured).

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With that crusty fresh bread, we just had a very simple breakfast of bread with butter, but for lunch, we made a gorgeous ploughman’s style meal and it tasted amazing!

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Lyon built on a narrow peninsula flanked by the Saone and Rhone Rivers and the point at which these two rivers meet is called La Confluence.  At this exact point a set of train tracks head into the water.    The rails were once used by the Mulatiere’s dam lock in the 1950’s.  There was a workshop at the tip of the peninsula where rolling stock and maintenance equipment were kept and the rails transported tip trucks from the workshop to the dam.

La Confluence has always been the seedy part of town – home to prisons, slaughterhouses and the city’s red light district.  Recent redevelopment has occurred and this area once considered to be a wasteland is starting to flourish.  New museums (Musee des Confluences), the green and orange cubes (orange is the headquarters of a real estate developer and contemporary furniture showroom), the green is home to Euronews).

We see all of this on our free Lyon City Cruise of both the Rhone and Saone Rivers (which was free thanks to our Lyon City Card).