Sunday, August 30, 2009

lazy, aren't we!

ok, so it's been so much fun we haven't blogged for almost a week, and we're not even sorry!
After leaving Avignon we continued cruising up the Rhone to Viviers, with more gorgeous scenery, beautiful old buildings and farmlands rolling past the boat. Viviers has quaint winding narrow streets that snake their way up the hill through the fortified city walls to a magnficent old church. People live in the old buildings built inside the walls of the city, and although renovated inside with the help of a local guide we were able to imagine life in the 13th century as we wandered up Goat Lane, avoiding the open drainage ditch in the centre and ducking under low door lintels.
By now we have fallen into ship-board routine, waking to a sumptous breakfast served by the charming restaurant staff, then a morning walking tour of the town. We return to the ship for lunch (perfect roast beef today, with so many other choices it's hard to stop) then out again in the afternoon for a tour or perhaps stay on board and soak up some sun or catch up on sleep before another extravagant gourmet meal in the evening and occasionally live music or a walk before bed. So exhausting I don't know if we can take much more................
Lyon followed Viviers, a much bigger city, perhaps the size of Mandurah. After a tour of the city and historical sites we decided to forego lunch on board in favour of a visit to the local restaurant of Paul Bocuse. I have to say this was the only disappointment of the trip, a very ordinary lunch (although an extraordinary bill!)
Chalon sur Saone is the last stop on the cruise, where we spend almost 2 days. The first day is spent in Beaune, famous Burgundy winemaking region, with a visit to a medieval hospital and local street market. The historical sights are fascinating, and the street market full of fresh produce was just enchanting. A small shopping opportunity yielded a couple of spectacular wines to accompany today's meals on board. The afternoon was spent touring a local Chateau dating to the 12th Century, where the guided tour was provided by the Baroness, a charming woman with a theatrical delivery who's excitment lead to a mix of French and English (and I was able to indulge my passion for cookbooks with her family edition).
Today we leave the River Royale after a last gourmandising breakfast and a sad farewell to the dlightful staff who have loked after us so well. Vi & I took a quick walk around the town of Chalon whilst waiting for the train to Paris via Lyon for the next exciting adventure............

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

During last night's dinner we cruised slowly up the Rhone to Avignon, where we docked for the night. This morning another equally well-informed guide took us on a walking tour of this walled city. Avignon has the most complete and well preserved city wall in the region, dating back to medieval times, but the first settlement has been dated at 600BC. In the 14th century, Avignon was home to the Papal See, and we toured the Popes' Palace from that time. For Western Australians, with a history of 200 years, it's mind-blowing to walk around a city where the buildings began more than 2000 years ago, and even the most recent seem to be around 500 years old.
This afternoon we indulged in a tour of - guess what - a WINERY! Now I know we can do that at home, but who could resist a tour of Chateauneuf Du Pape. Tasted 3 wines, all very pleasant, the third a standout - but at the risk of sounding parochial, we do have at least their equal in Australia, and at far more reasonable prices.
Also walked around the aqueduct build to take water from Nimes to Avignon, another mind-boggling engineering feat of it's day.
I have to say all this activity has taken place in temperatures of more than 30C, and we might even come home with a tan.
Arles is the first stop on our Epicurean Delights cruise of Burgundy & Provence - it's also home to a 2000 year old amphitheatre that has been restored and hosts regular bullfights! (unfortunately no fights whilst we were there, but the amphitheatre was truly imposing and one has no difficulty imagining a Roman Circus taking place). There are many historical sites, from Roman times through to the Middle Ages. We strolled around cobbled streets looking at the local sights on a very informative guided tour before returning to the boat for the Captain's Welcome cocktail party and dinner, complete with live music and dancing (good thing I packed the little black dress). Hopefully all the walking will compensate for at least some of the eating - and dancing is good exercise too.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

hello friends
sorry, no photos as we are using communal computers here on the River Royale as we cruise our way down the Rhone and up the cholesterol count!
We were sad to leave Singapore, and the 12 hour flight to Nice via Zurich was comfortable but very long. Hadn't expected the South of France to be quite so hot, but the temperature at Nice was 30+ at 10.00am and continued climbing as we found a taxi to the train station (found out later we were overcharged by almost 100%), struggled up and down stairs with baggage (no lift/escalator) to find the train had broken down and had to be replaced - at another platform! Up & down stairs again to the next platform, where the (un-airconditioned) train finally left, almost 1.5 hours late. Another (overcharged) taxi to the hotel and complete collapse. The hotel was quite lovely - not on the luxurious scale of the PanPac but quaint and comfortable, clean and staffed by charming & helpful people. Marseille was a very mixed experience, exotic to our Australian eyes, old buildings and ultramodern boats in the marina. Our package included tours of the city by mini-train, a boat trip and tour of Chateau D'If (home to the Man in the Iron Mask) and the most delicious Boulliabase dinner that we couldn't finish. Seafood fans, this was a true delight.
An early start on Sunday took us to meet Vi & Robert and join the cruise ship River Royale in Arles for our next adventure - stay tuned...................

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wow, what a party! The champagne was flowing, the satay was heavenly and then the music started. A real party in the old fashioned sense, where David’s friend Mario played piano whilst his wife Michelle sang, and the whole company danced and sang along. Amongst the first numbers of the evening was ‘Yvonne’, the tune written for our hostess by her father with words by husband David.
Michael and Perline were there with new baby Elijah, who is so beautiful. Pat’s son Anton, newly arrived from France, is as impossible tall and good looking as his mother, and all four children danced all night with the energy of youth. The rest of us didn’t do too badly in the carousing department – Richard danced with me (twice!) and sang (wouldn’t let me do that though!), I couldn’t resist the Rhumba rhythms and danced with everyone, even Edward took a turn as a solo vocalist and David, die-hard Man U supporter, finished the evening with ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.

Singapore is so beautiful, it’s not called the garden city for nothing. As Richard has seen it all so many times, I decided to play the tourist and go exploring alone. The HiPPO hop-on hop-off double decker buses provided a fabulous view and commentary of the city sites. Little India, Chinatown, the riverfront and a 63 hectare botanic garden from the perfect vantage point, as well as info on everything from Stamford Raffles to land prices. I can’t begin to describe the variety in architecture, from Neo-classical to ultra-modern, but never boring. It’s hard to believe a city of high-rise buildings could be so varied and so pleasing to the eye. I think Perth’s architects should be shipped here for compulsory re-education. And I probably need some myself – no hat, no sunscreen + 4 hours outside = guess what?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rich's blog

Aug 15 continued. Roeland, the food at Samy's was really wonderful. You would have eaten yourself sick as I nearly did. On Monday, we rose late (surprise!) and after a huge breakfast at the hotel that was very expensive, David and his very, very beautiful grandaughter, Aurea, aged 17, picked us up; off to Thompson Plaza, near where Dad and Mum used to live (Windsor Park) wher we had a truly tasy dim sum lunch. The beautiful, slim, tall Pat (think "The Girl from Ipanema") eats like the proverbial horse and still manages to keep her gorgeous model's figure. The three eggs soup, the pork/prawn dumplings, steamed peanuts, carrot cake,portugese tarts, chicken's feet, and all ten other dishes varied from good to wonderful. I paid not realising that it would seriously incur David's real wrath. He wouldn't speak to me for half an hour. Pat's daughters are all lovely. The little ones, April and Ashley are very well behaved children and I think Pat is quite a strict mother. April is adorable because she could be a sister to my twin grandsons, physical beauty allied to a lovely loving personality.
After the lovely lunch, back to the hotel, me for a nap and Sue down to the pool for 20 laps of the 25 mwtre pool and finishing her book. At dusk we took the MRT to the shuttle bus pick up in Coleman Rd and off to the Singapore Flyer. This is a 565 metre tall Ferris wheel at Marina City which provides a breathtaking view of Singapore by night. When we post some pics you will see what I mean. I forgot the universal cable and Sue is off now buying one for the rest of the trip. I am supposed to be the one frightened of heights but oddly Sue was the one who felt very uncomfortable on the rotation which took forty minutes. I enjoyed it very much and very selfishly, I am glad that Sue mentioned her fear only after the trip had finished or else I would have had my own enjoyment curtailed. Still, she said the experience and the views were worth the money and the discomfort.
After that we went to see the world's biggest fountain at Suntech City. The laser light display was very disappointing after the wonderful show that was put on for the year 2000 celebration but it was still worth a look. Wewnt to the food court afterwards (what else) and had a tasty bowl of Hokkien Mee soup, only $3.80, and not really as good as the last time but it had he authentic flavour if a little weak, soup not rich enough.
Tuesday August 18, David picked us and drove us to Little India to a real labourers' tosai breakfast shop for an Indian breakfast. It was so late in he morning that Yvonne elcted to have the briani lunch, curried chicken and yeallow rice, again on banana leaf, while David ordered all of the rest of us tosai breakfast. This is a huge very thin "pancake" fried crisp and brown on one side and only about 1mm thick but soft on the other.....miraculous...and with this you eat with fingers to pick up the gourd curry, coconut curry and dahl curry, as well a separate small bowl of fishcurry gravy and ditto chicken. The "roti" was so large that even rolled up and folded it was nearly a foot long and neither Suse nor I could quite finish our portion although all the delicious sauces and vegetarian curries were well and truly finished. The Indian sweets were a mixed bag, one delicious and the other two a bit ordinary.
Again, David was kind enough to drop us off at the shoppers' Mecca, the Indian departmen store, Mustafa's. This shop is truly an Aladdin's cave of goods......everything from a giant pharmacy, through clothing, electrical goods etc to watches, gold and jewellery. It has to be seen to be believed, not just for the variety of goods, but the volumes and the way that they are displayed, piled up in great heaps with narrow aisles. As I said, a real Aladdin's cave. Sue spent a bit of money here, mostly on my birthday present, a lovely Tissot chronograph. She also got herself a Miss Dior for about AUD 84.00 versus 120 at a discount shop in Perth and even duty free a bottle costs about AUD110. Good shopping.
Tuesday August 18. We had a big night out. Sue was very good and went for another swim, this time 30 laps. I was napping as usual after finishing my own book when the doorbell service with a pina colada. I guessed that it was for Sue down by the pool and sent it down to her but it gave me a surprise when woken from a lovely sleep. When I went down to join her and told her about the mistake, she told me that she had said three times that she was at the pool!!! Cultural differences especially when English is not the first language.
The big night out lived up to expectations. First, a visit to the Singapore Cricket Club, where David's life long friend Ed de Sousa is a member. It is on the historic padang and has been a cricket club since 1862. It is a wonderful colonial building and even though it is now air-conditioned it still has the ceiling fans turning and wonderful attentive staff. Ed is well known there and we got terrific service and surprise, surprise, terrific food.....a sort a Singapore tapas meal, with everything from chilli/garlic prawns, green chilli pakora, samosas, ikan bilis, etc and corned beef sandwiches (amazingly delicious). The SCC has the only two grass tennis courts in the city and the only turf cricket wicket. There were two men playing singles in the very humid and warm evening conditions and they were seriously at it and quite good. I don't know where they got their energy from in that energy sapping heat and humidity. One thing I have noticed about Singaporeans is that there are not many fat ones. They are mostly lean and fit looking and it has made me quite ashamed of my beer belly even though it was not beer caused but wine and food. As if that makes a difference! Anyhow, big resolution to reduce it in size. After the SCC, it was off to the Jazz at Southbridge club on foot. David made a little presentation of a first edition music score of the club's owner's first hit record. The owner's name was Lee Chang who was a successful architect and gave that up to be a jazz club proprietor and jazz muso playing the vibraphone. His club combo, piano, bass, drums and vibes were quite good and the Bulgarian singer who followed their set (the beautiful Maya, all 4'11" in four inch heels) was also accomplished and certainly easy on the eye. Afer two bottles of Perrier Jouet, it was on to Harry's Bar where thankfully, David allowed us to drink ordinary drinks like G & T. Two members of the house band here were old friends of David's.....the bass player, now an African American Singaporean, Christie, and Andrew, the piano player. Christie played at David's house in 2000 and I remembered him well, him and his great love of 12 year old Chivas. He is a very, very good bassist and the band really swung along, irresistibly toe-tapping and finger-snapping stuff. I really wisjed I could have taken William, Toby and Jacob to see them make music live but I'm afraid that the law says I shall have to wait until they are 18 years old. The guest featured singer was a huge AfAmerican from Chicago and he belted out some great standards.
Fittingly, it was home by taxi after midnight, exhausted and slightly drunk. Tonight is the big satay night at David's house where all the family will be gathered as well as some of D's old friends. His French grandson, Anton, arrived yesterday morning and I look forward to meeting him. He will be hard-pressed to match his beautiful sisters. We'll of course let you know how the evening went. David sends his love and best wishes to all but especially to Suzanne. My love to all and kisses to those who know who they are! Rich

Sunday, August 16, 2009

August 15 – the big day finally arrived! Rich woke at 4.00am like an excited schoolboy, I only managed a little longer. A last look around the house and a final check of the suitcases (yes, I had to sit on mine to close it) before the lovely Suzanne arrived to take us to the airport. We are so grateful to her for avoiding the hassle of a taxi.
Then a pleasant flight – new cabin was a mystery, had to ask the cabin steward how all the gadgets worked. We watched Disgrace, John Malkovich as brilliant as always. An immaculate landing brought us to the Changi terminal, where we whisked through in record time and 45 minutes later pulled up at the Pan Pacific Orchard Hotel to find David Kraal waiting at the entrance. “Meet me in the bar, I’ve organized some drinks” says he. Dom Perignon certainly starts the holiday in style, and took the wind out of our sails a little as we had brought him a bottle to wet his new grandson’s head!
We have also met some of David’s family; lovely wife Yvonne, beautiful daughters Carol and Pat, Pat’s even more beautiful daughters Auria, April and Ashley, and extended family ‘K’, Sharon, Steven and Edward.
I don’t think we have stopped eating since, the food is wonderful, but I’m getting worried that we will be overweight when we fly out, never mind the suitcases. Samy's Indian restaurant, so authentic we ate off banana leaves with our fingers, fish head curry to die for. And the hotel restaurant Chap Chye equally heavenly. PROMISE to take photos soon............

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

OK friends - this is it - the big trip begins!
In just a few days we will be on our way and we hope you will use this blog to keep in touch whilst we are gone.
We promise to load photos and read your posts, and we'll see you in 3 MONTHS!!!!!!