Turkish Delights…Sun, Surf, Sand…and History

I cannot tell a lie.

I broke a promise.

I promised that this holiday would be just that – a holiday. No ruins, no museums, no cultural sites or sights. But, a visit Turkey? How could I possibly resist their siren call?

Continue reading “Turkish Delights…Sun, Surf, Sand…and History”

The Mad Hatters Tea Cups at Disneyland Paris

M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E

I am going to apologise right up front for this blog post. It may turn out to be one long string of clichés or a saccharine wallow in childhood memories. Or it could identify for you a place you definitely do NOT want to visit. But for this 50-something year old big kid, it was a dream come true.

As a child growing up in the 1960s and 70s, the highlight of each week was the Wonderful World of Disney every Sunday night at 6p.m. I would be glued to the black and white (and eventually colour) TV and transported to every far flung corner of the world or my imagination. I don’t remember regularly watching the Mickey Mouse Club but man, I lusted after a pair of those perfect ears.

The Magic Castle.jpeg
Here at last. The Magic Castle, Disneyland Paris

A year living in England in 2003 placed all of Europe on our doorstep including, within spitting distance, Disneyland Paris. Of course we explained this trip as a birthday treat for the two much younger members of the household but, I admit to being just as excited as they were.

It was a challenge to temper the excitement as we trundled through the wintry streets of Byfleet at 5a.m. dragging our wheelie bags. Needless to say, the thousands of bleary-eyed commuters who joined our train trip into London were less than excited about their day. They had no choice but to put up with our jollity and two children bouncing off the walls of the train.

There are two very passionate train lovers in this family so the excitement levels threatened to go off the scale when we arrived at Waterloo station to board the Eurostar train to Lille and then onwards to Disneyland Paris. In reply to quizzical, and somewhat exasperated, looks from our fellow travellers, I would flash the cover of our Disneyland Resort Paris guidebook and they would nod knowingly, and redouble their efforts to ignore us.

Our short-break package included train travel, two nights’ accommodation, breakfast, and unlimited 3-day entry into Disneyland and Disney Studios. Does life get much better than that? As soon as we arrived at the resort park – yes, there is more to Disneyland than just Disneyland – we checked into our hotel, collected our admission tickets and ran squealing with glee towards the entrance turnstiles. We were there at last.

Mickey.jpeg
M-I-C-K-E-Y  M-O-U-S-E!!!

Before leaving England, the locals had tried to dampen our enthusiasm a little because (a) it was only Disneyland after all, and (b) it was Winter (usually preceded by ‘you idiot why are you going there now?’). Little did they understand the warped logic of we Disney-addicts and our assumption that the colder temperatures would reduce crowd numbers. Thankfully we lucked out on both points – cold but crystal clear blue sky days and a manageable number of other hardy souls running from ride to parade.

But our Disney passion was balanced by strategy and, before arriving in France, we had already identified our ‘must sees’ and importantly, how long we were prepared to wait for them. If the sign said ‘75 minutes to wait’ we would veer off and visit something else, and then circle back later optimistically hoping that the line would be shorter. Most times we were not disappointed.

Railroad.jpeg
All aboard for the Disneyland Railroad…

The first part of the strategy (and see previous comments about the resident train nuts) was to get the lie of the land. The Disneyland Railroad chugs around the edge of the theme park, stopping at stations in each of the ‘lands’, and takes around 20 minutes to complete the full loop. Armed with this information, we were ready to immerse ourselves in all things Disney.

Main Street USA is a recreation of historic small-town America. It is the perfect welcome to the park and fires up the imagination for the rest of Disneyland. In reality it is just a string of over-priced cafes and souvenir shops, but the gauntlet must be run to get into the park proper.

I am a roller coaster fan from way back so I took to them with gusto. Big Thunder Mountain is a runaway mine train through forests, collapsing mine shafts and eventually into a ‘flooding’ river – equal parts corny and hilarious. How old did I say I was? The kids were lapping it all up too although the 9-year old refused to open his eyes from go to whoa! I think it would have been scarier than having them open.

Adventureland.jpeg
Adventureland, Disneyland Paris

We rode riverboat and Mad Hatter’s Teacups. We enjoyed robot-like animatronics in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and a reverse-ride through Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril. Yes, more high-pitched squealing and tightly scrunched eyes.

Highlights included the ‘Honey, I shrunk the audience’ 3-D show. At last, an opportunity to sit and rest our tired legs. Based on the popular movies, the whole audience was ‘shrunk’ to matchbox-size and, crazily, it felt like it due to the highly convincing 3-D visual effects, surround sound and other sensations. The classic came at the end of the movie when a ‘giant’ dog on the screen turned towards the audience and sneezed all over us. Yes, we got sprayed with water at the same time. Gross but very funny!

Night Parade.jpeg
The Main Street Electrical Parade, Disneyland Paris

The Wonderful World of Disney Parade and the Main Street Electrical Parade at night were both worth plonking down on the street gutter and watching all the childhood favourites as they strolled or rolled by.

It was a truly fairy-tale experience and my only regret is that I came to my senses and did not buy my own set of mouse ears. I couldn’t quite justify the purchase in my adult-mind but I should have thrown caution to the wind and satisfied my every childhood whim.

We ran from joyride to roller coaster to parade for three days straight but soon it was all over, and it was a very happy but wearied family stumbling homewards from the Byfleet train station. It was 1130p.m., dark and cold, and I was mentally replaying the magic of the past days.

Imagine my surprise when the 9-year old called out, “Mel, what’s for dinner tomorrow night?” All the excitement and entertainment of this once in a lifetime experience, and he was thinking of his stomach?? Is youth wasted on the young?

February 2003

Sleeping Beauty Castle.jpeg
Sleeping Beauty Castle, Disneyland Paris

The Basics

What: Three day package tour from London to Disneyland Paris – train travel, two nights’ accommodation with breakfast at Sequoia Lodge, unlimited Park entry, a guide book and activity packs for both children.

Where: Disneyland Resort Paris – about 32 km east of Paris.

When: Late Winter 2003 – yes, it was cold and sometimes grey but that kept the crowds (and therefore our competition) under control.

Why: A birthday celebration for one of the children and a long-held dream for both of the adults.

How: Eurostar train from Waterloo Station, London with connections at Lille direct to Disneyland Paris.

Who: Myself, The Brave Man* and two out-of-control-with-excitement children.

Related Blogs: For more up-to-date information about a family day out at Disneyland Paris, then have a look at this great blog that specialises in traveling with children: http://www.wheressharon.com/europe-with-kids/disneyland-paris-review/

 

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!

canals in Venice

Dreaming of Venice

It’s summertime 2003, these Aussie expats were keen to escape the English definition of Summer (18°C and raining) to the more familiar version (32°C and crystal clear, blue skies). A 15-Italian-cities-in-10-days itinerary was planned, a cheap and cheerful airline booked and we were soon stepping out of the crisp air-conditioning of Marco Polo Airport near Venice, into a wall of heat. Welcome to Italy!

Growing up on a farm, in a small country town, in rural New South Wales, in a country at the bottom of the World, always made places like Venice feel slightly out of reach. Like a tantalising jewel on the edge of my imagination. Now, at last, it was a reality.

The delivery boat chugs along the canals
The delivery boat chugs along the canals

Hot, confusing and equal parts mesmerising, Venice turned all my previous concepts of a ‘city’ upside down. I know I am a simple soul, but I was transfixed by the garbage boat (not truck), the delivery boat (not van) and the various traghettos, gondolas and ferries that moved the population around the liquid streets. On foot, I was not struggling with stop lights and pedestrian crossings, no road rage or exhaust fumes. If this was an alternative to traditional city-living, then more power to it!

With ubiquitous Lonely Planet guide in hand, we had three days to tick off all the big name sites. We must have looked like your typical stunned tourists as we strolled alongside the canals. Just when we thought we had seen the most amazing canal/street/church, we would turn another corner and be astounded all over again. A particular highlight of the first day was the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. In hindsight, I am not sure whether it was a church or a Harry Potter spell! At the time I was equally impressed by its elongated name as I was by its Titian paintings. Little did I know how ‘common’ the Great Masters were in Italy. Ho hum, yet another priceless work of art.

St Mark's Basilica, Venice
St Mark’s Basilica, Venice

We had been given a tip to visit St Mark’s Basilica as early as possible in the day and tag onto the guided tour in English. While the tour didn’t cover the entire Basilica – that would take days and more information than we could ever possibly retain – it did cover a few select mosaic murals providing insight into some of the people and events that graced this floating city. Left to our own devices, we explored the rest of the building, climbing up to the Galleria for a birds-eye view of the Piazza. It confirmed our decision to start early in the day, as the square was now full-to-overflowing with both people and pigeons.

St Mark's Square, with pigeons
St Mark’s Square, with pigeons

Trying to orient ourselves around the Main Canal, we wandered the cobbled streets, absorbing the atmosphere of this unique city. A gondola poling along a quiet narrow canal, an elaborate iron balcony, or a quaint, arched bridge all combined to make us believe we were experiencing something extra special.

Before leaving England, some locals had warned us, rather inelegantly, that Venice stinks in Summer. However, we did not find that at all and spent the majority of our visit walking happily alongside the canals or floating about out on the sea proper, completely oblivious to any sickening odours.

Sorry to be so predictable but, it's a gondola!
Sorry to be so predictable but, it’s a gondola!

Taking a ferry ride out to the various islands surrounding Venice was a good way to understand the architectural feat that is Venice, as well as its relationship to the sea. There was a real vibrancy to the waterfront as buildings were progressively being restored and the hundreds of different water craft shuttled to and fro.

On our way out to the island of Lido, I was befriended by an aged Italian gentleman who graciously offered to spend the day with me, showing me around. When I said I would need to check that with my husband he cooled noticeably but, undeterred, he continued to enthusiastically promote the merits of his island home. After a brief stroll along the crowded beach, without my Italian escort, we cruised on to Burano – home of Burano lace – and the island of Murano, the centre of a spectacular glass industry.

The riot of colour on Burano.
The riot of colour on Burano.

I think the lace industry on Burano has seen better days and has mostly gone the way of Asian imports and knock-offs. I have never been a fan of the lace doily but the trip wasn’t wasted. Many of the homes and buildings in Burano are painted in a kaleidoscope of colours. It creates a happy and friendly atmosphere and an amusing shake-up for we residents of beige, bone and brown countries.

From Burano, we hopped on the next commuter ferry for the short trip to Murano. Another fascinating island and craft centre, but this time focusing on glass. We were lucky to stumble across a fornacé, or furnace, and were spellbound by the glass blowers in action. I truly admire the skill involved in working with such a fluid and fickle material, yet being able turn out such works of beauty and delicacy. I can only wonder how many times they burned themselves as they learned their trade! Sorry, it is just how my mind works!

Our Venetian experience was drawing to a golden close as we rode the twilight ferry back into Venice. The city appeared mystical as it materialised out of the dusky Summer haze – all ancient towers and lace-like balconies.

The Marguerita Pizza tour of Italy.
The Marguerita Pizza tour of Italy.

The last evening was spent walking the cool and shadowy footpaths beside serpentine canals, and jostling with the ever-present tourists. I doubt that we got even half-way through our Venice bucket list, but the places we experienced left a lasting and loving impression. We did not see all the churches, museums or canals but maybe that was on purpose.

The longing for Venice continues today.

 

The Basics

What: First stop on a 10 day trip to Italy. In Venice, we stayed in the tiny but centrally located – Antica Casa Carrettoni

Where: Venice, Italy.

When: Late July 2003, hence the non-digital photography. Apologies!

Why: A good opportunity to escape the English version of Summer and yet another opportunity to absorb European history and culture.

How: We flew from Gatwick airport aboard budget airline Volare. We caught the shuttle bus into Venice and left Venice on the train bound for La Spezia.

Who: Myself, The Brave Man* and two bored children.

Related Blogs: For some fantastic photos and background information have a look at the Venice Travel Blog – http://venicetravelblog.com

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!