France and Australia - October to November 2021

After having a wonderful time exploring the Beaujolais region, we travelled just an hour or so south to Lyon. This is the third largest city in France, although the Lyonnais people will always tell you that it’s the second largest, economically speaking. We stayed in a camping ground in the southern suburbs, just 30 minutes from the door of our camper to the city centre, so it was very convenient.

We arrived quite early on a Saturday, so decided to head into town, to the Office de Tourisme to make plans and bookings for the rest of the week and to have a brief wander around to get our bearings. The ‘Run de Lyon’ marathon was being held the next day and there were lots of people around. The town was humming, and we had fun walking a lot further than we intended. When we returned to the bus stop to come home, we were simply informed by a member of the transit security that there would be no bus from there, as the roads were closed to set up for the race. ‘Go to Perrache’, he said. We’re sure that would have been useful, if we knew what he was talking about! Luckily a young couple took pity on us and said they were walking that way and would show us. They walked with us for over 2km and delivered us right to the bus we would need. How kind!

We decided to stay out of Lyon on Sunday because the Tourisme Office said it would be crazy, so we had a rest day. On Monday we again travelled into the city and took a Hop-on Bus tour to get an overview of the city. Lyon is an interesting place, that was developed across more than two thousand years and from East to West. It’s at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone rivers, which gave it important transport corridors, even before the Romans came here in 43BC and built their road networks. So, the city started on Fourviere hilltop with the Roman city of Lugdunum. Then, in medieval times a settlement sprang up below, between the hill and the Soave River. It was a major centre of publishing at that time. After that, the silk weavers who became the mainstay of the economy moved their ateliers across the Soane to the other hill – the Croix Rousse. The city continued to grow and spread to the peninsular between the Soane and the Rhone. In Napoleonic times it then crossed the Rhone and in the modern era continued to spread west. Presently, it is looking to the future and developing the area called The Confluence, at the base of the peninsula where the rivers meet. The modern, ecological buildings there are quite striking.

So, Lyon has some very distinct neighbourhoods, which we fully explored on foot over our week there. Lyon is famous for its ‘traboules’ or passageways between streets, that were originally used by silk weavers to transport their cloths. They were also a way of letting light into the houses lining the tiny streets.

Lyon has some lovely buildings, many in the Renaissance style and some interesting street art, too. The people, called the Lyonnais, are very proud of their history and of two important murals. One depicts their literary history and the other, famous citizens of Lyon such as chef Paul Bocuse, the Lumiere Bros who started cinema and many others.

On one day when we had nothing else booked, we walked for miles. We explored the Croix Rousse neighbourhood, which has lots of artist’s workshops and design studios in the lower, grittier quartier and expensive real estate on the top of the hill. In fact, we were struck by the number of artisans we stumbled across throughout the city of Lyon, including the making and repair of brass instruments, a guitar maker, jewelry designers and of course, silk weavers.

We walked across the Rhone to the newer area with its stylish boulevards and found Les Halles de Paul Bocuse. This famous chef is idolized in Lyon, which is renowned as the gastronomic heart of France. The market named in his honor mainly consists of small restaurants and stalls with take-home delicacies. Of course, this stop was planned for lunch! Still on the trail of Paul Bocuse, we visited the Citi Internationale de Gastronomie inside the stunning Grand Hotel Dieu on the river. An amazingly beautiful building, inside and out!

 

Sue paid a visit to the Musee des Beaux-Arts, where there was a fabulous sculpture collection, with her favourite being the statue of Heracles killing the birds. There was also an extensive collection of luminous religious art from 1500s in Northern Europe and some interesting still life.

A highlight of our stay in Lyon was a food tour we booked through the Office du Tourisme. It was centered in the Vieux Lyon (medieval old town) and our guide shared lots about the history of Lyon, as well as about its food history. We started the day with a cheese tasting, of course! After tasting five or six cheeses accompanied by the appropriate wine, we discovered that we loved the Beaujolais Bleu and the Saint Marcellin cheese in all its gooey glory, as it is eaten in Lyon. We also found out about the change in cheese colour when the animals move from pasture to barn-fed at the start of winter. Next on the agenda was charcuterie, with a taste of the famous Rosette de Lyon, the large, cured pork saucisson. Tasting visits were interspersed with walks around the old town and a visit to a silk weaver’s workshop, one of the few who is still weaving silk in the traditional way. We stopped for a small lunch at a traditional Lyonnais ‘bouchon’ where we had an egg poached in red wine, as well as some delicious terrine. Bouchons were places where the bosses and workers came to discuss business in a less formal setting and they are very much about the ethos of small, friendly and cosy, with lots of banter.

Then it was on to chocolate, beer and tea tastings.

After the food tour finished some five hours later, we still had a little bit of time and energy, so decided to catch the funicular up to the top of Fouvier Hill to the beautiful 19th Century Basilica Notre Dame, with its interior filled with mosaics. The views from the top of the hill over the city are superb. We also walked to the nearby Roman Theatre, built in 15BC and which can seat 10,000.

 

We enjoyed our visit to Lyon and think we covered it quite thoroughly by foot, bus, metro and funicular during our week of exploration!

We left Lyon very early one Saturday morning and made out way south, on tiny little roads through very pretty rural countryside to the town of Hauterives, to the Palais Ideal. This ‘palace’ made of river stones and mortar was the work of one man, Ferdinand Cheval, the local postman. It took him 33 years to complete from 1879 to 1912 and is his work alone. It is quite unique, not linked to any artistic or architectural style or movement but arising totally from his own imagination. It is a palace populated by animals, giants, fairies etc.

It has been classified as a National Monument now and people come from everywhere to view it. Although he suffered from ridicule in his time, Ferdinand left a wonderful and lucrative legacy to his village.

We had intended to spend the night near Avignon, but the drive was so comfortable - light traffic and the trucks well-behaved, so we kept going to Nice, to our favoured campsite at Villeneueve-Loubet, between Nice and Antibes. We were last here two years ago before our 2019 trip back to Adelaide, but the owners at the campsite still remembered us.

It was wonderful to be back to warmth and blue skies! It was warm everyday for the first two weeks in Nice and we even spent a couple of afternoons on the beach. We quickly slipped back into the lifestyle we led two years ago, with a morning exercise regime of walking the promenade followed by rides on the bicycle path to Nice, Antibes or the huge shopping complex CAP 3000. The whole coast is dotted with marinas, with every sort of craft from tiny wooden boats to huge private yachts.

The Promenade is an entertainment in itself. It’s always busy with buskers, roller skaters, skateboarders, cyclists and pedestrians of all ages. It gets a bit chaotic on the bicycle path on weekends, as parents try to each their youngsters to ride and rollerblade – and they’re all over the place! The other thing to watch out for is the electric scooters, which pass by at incredible speed. The promenade has lots of sculptures to look at, as well as the beautiful view.

Of course, the main reason we were in Nice early was to get organized for our trip home to Australia. So, we didn’t waste any time! We’d soon organized the trade-in of our camping car on a new Adria, which we hope to pick up when we return from Australia in March. We also organized for a storage unit for our bikes and all our gear while we’re away. We researched all the rules about the correct Covid test to return to Australia and booked an appointment for our test. And finally, we booked a few nights at an AirBnB in Nice, to stay for a few days before we leave. It had to be in a street suitable for a car to pick us (and all our bags) up to go to the airport.

A big undertaking this month resulted from our decision to buy new phones, iPad and a new laptop from the Apple store in Cap3000. This saved us heaps because we can claim back the 20% tax when we leave in November. But you know what technology is like now – change devices and it takes hours and trips back to the store for help (if you’re lucky) to reinstall all your programs. Everything came down from the cloud ok but required us to re-login in, synchronise everything etc. etc. Oh for the days of service, when they used to do it all for you and send you off with devices that were ready to go! The sales service was good but after sales service was non-existent! They give you a number and tell you to call the support line. Try doing it all by phone in French! One thing they didn’t count on was Michael’s persistence, so it was eventually all sorted.

Once all these jobs were out of the way it was just a matter of enjoying ourselves until it was time to start packing up and cleaning out the camping car.

One highlight of our stay was Michael’s traditional birthday lunch, this time at Le Frog restaurant in Nice. This is the second birthday he’s celebrated there since we’ve been in Europe, with the others being in the Camargue in France, and Peniscola and Torre del Mar in Spain. This year our friend Patrice was able to join us for Michael’s special 65th birthday lunch and it was lovely to have a chance to chat with such a fascinating Frenchman about business, families, holidays and his past experiences in Australia.

Michael started his birthday celebrations with ‘un coupe de champagne,’ sitting in the sunshine near the old town market. He is a big believer in the theory that if something’s good, you should stick with it. So, of course he again had the escargot, which they do so brilliantly at Le Frog. He did lash out and have a cheese plate for dessert. We’ve been really good at limiting our cheese intake, but it’s so hard in France!

A big part of our enjoyment of travel is the people we meet and the friends we make.

Once again our friends Sam and Andy drove to meet us, this time coming from Croatia. We again enjoyed cooking for each other and swapping travel stories.

Meeting new people is easy with Michael, as a lack of the language doesn’t stop him at all. Every time we meet new people, we find new places we simply must visit - although they all say to visit there in July or August!

We met an interesting trio of fellows from Poland. They were in their 30s, all married with kids, and this was their annual boys’ holiday that they’ve been doing for years. They live between Auschwitz and Krakow in southern Poland and have convinced us that we should visit there.

We also met a lovely Italian man who got out the map of his travels to talk about where we should go in Italy, Greece and Turkey and how to make the most of the ferries.

 

Another highlight of our time in the French Riviera was a Food & Wine festival in Antibes. Sue saw an advertisement for it, so we jumped online and booked two free tickets. It was held near the old Forte Carre and had a line-up when we got there. You had to show your Pass Sante (vaccination certificate), buy a tasting glass and then wander the aisles of stalls tasting and buying if you liked. Wine regions from all over France were represented including the big ones like Champagne, Chablis, Chateauneuf du Pape, Beaujolais and of course Bordeaux. The winemakers were there for you to chat with, and the tasting measures were very generous.

There were the usual charcuterie, cheese and macaron stalls but also some nice surprises. We tasted and bought a brilliant square sausage with lots of added mushrooms. It was strong but utterly delicious! We found the escargot in little pastry shells that we like so much and had them the next day for lunch. Superb! We especially liked the Black Jewel caviar and vodka stall of a company based near Marseilles. The prices were eye-watering – 97 euro for 125g of their basic caviar, but all three we tasted were delicious and went especially well with the little accompanying glasses of vodka.

What a lovely thing to do on a Friday afternoon!

This time while at Villeneuve-Loubet we explored the next-door neighbourhood of Cagnes sur Mer in more depth. We had always loved the Oliviers or ‘clock-tower’ area because although it was only a block back from the Promenade, the drink and food prices were a third cheaper and it was full of locals. This year we also discovered their wonderful fruit & veg shop, fishmonger and butcher. And the weekly Tuesday & Thursday market was huge, with very varied stalls.

One sunny Saturday we caught the train to Villefranche sur Mer, on the other side of Nice. This is a beautiful bay and the hangout of the very wealthy. The real estate prices are incredible, but the views are superb. Our first task was to check out the restaurants and book a table for lunch. Then we wandered around the town, admiring the architecture and the old lanes similar to the traboules of Lyon. Finally we settled down at our table right next to the water, watching the expensive and often-rare cars drive past and enjoying marvelous food, simply but perfectly cooked. The sun shone; the water was that beautiful Mediterranean blue – life is pretty good near Nice!

 

It must have been ‘gourmand season’ because the next Sunday there was another Food & Wine Festival, this time in Villeneuve-Loubet. It was held at the racecourse, and it was enormous! Thousands of people were there, all showing vaccine certificates and wearing masks except for when tasting. We went along at lunchtime and the raclette line-up had to been seen to be believed – hundreds waiting for their baguette filled with melted smelly cheese. There were lots of producers from all the main wine regions. Michael tried a fabulous Saint-Emilion red but unfortunately it was sold out.

 

It was quite a to-do to pack-up and clean out our camping car, a lot like moving house. Cleaning the oven, defrosting and cleaning the fridge and wiping down the walls and ceiling. We couldn’t believe how much stuff we had accumulated, nearly filling the 5 sq. metre storage space we hired. Luckily it didn’t rain while we were packing and we could dry out and clean all the outdoor mats, furniture etc. We hope everything will be in tip-top shape when we unpack it all in March.

 

We enjoyed our few days in Nice, where we stayed in a typical Nice apartment building with the big double doors and the wrought iron balconies. It was right in the city centre near Avenue Jean Medecin. We wandered around, enjoying exploring a different part of Nice, well away from the Promenade. We did a little shopping and enjoyed the city. We had our first Covid PCR test.

And suddenly it was off to the airport! We were picked up by a beautiful Mercedes that, along with the lack of queues and the waiting lounges, made it worth flying Business Class. We had plenty of time to claim our tax rebates and get a second PCR test, so it would still be current when we reached Australia. The requirements for travelling and for entry into Australia were quite complex, made worse because we were travelling right at a time of changing rules, as South Australia moved from a regime of Covid elimination to that of suppression. We needed to fill out an online Australian Travel Declaration and then for South Australia we first of all had to set up a mySAgov account, then apply for entry using an Entrycheck SA online form. Then we had to set up a HealthcheckSA account, which we were to use once we had arrived.

Michael joked that to travel now you need a doctor, an IT technician and a filing clerk and he’s not far off the mark.

We flew again with Emirates and as usual the service was exceptional, although the plane was a Boing 777 instead of an A340.

We were ‘bumped off’ our first flight from Nice to Dubai and then it didn’t link to our second flight to Australia, so we had to stay overnight in Dubai before continuing. Emirates put us up in a lovely hotel with a pool and a signature restaurant called Yalumba and even included a meal. We had a good sleep, then it was off to the airport again!

 

Our second and longer flight to Melbourne was again on a 777, and an old one. The staff were embarrassed and apologetic, but that didn’t make it as comfortable as the A380. The staff were also had to pear full PPE gear on the leg to Australia – the only country in the world where they need to.

Sue had another good sleep and Michael talked to the staff. We got into Melbourne late at night after outgoing flights were closed and were rushed through Customs and Immigration, before walking across to the Parkroyal for another lay-over. We had to pay for this ourselves and it was very average, even after we were upgraded.

 After a good sleep it was off to the airport – again! Would this flight never end?  After the short hop to Adelaide, it meant we’d been travelling 4 days! Of course, after all that sleep, we didn’t have any jetlag, but we were so pleased to finally arrive! 

We showed all our entry permits to the police (who had a huge presence at the airport) and after checking off the three different ‘unique codes’ we were given, we were given a long and thorough explanation of home isolation and how to comply with it. It was all very strict, but when we then asked how we should get to the home isolation we were told ‘get a taxi’, which we did. The lack of logic is amazing! So, too for the three Covid tests we must do at days one, six and thirteen. Most of the testing stations are drive-through only, so we had to walk an 8km round trip to get tested at a place that would accept walk-ins. When we asked the Covid Hotline how to get a test they suggested ‘get someone to drive you’. Hardly isolating if we do that! Still more whacky logic at the airports, where there are all sorts of rules about social distancing and dots on the ground where you must stand. But when you get on the plane you’re all packed in right next to each other!

It was wonderful to see Sue’s sister Lindy and her husband JB again! It has seemed a very long two years since we were last together. It was very generous of them to allow us to isolate in their AirBnB that had a separate entrance and a lovely courtyard with a spa pool. We would have gone crazy without this access to the outdoors. Lindy also needed to shop for us and Thomas Hardy chipped in with a delivery of wine.

Although we were originally approved to spend only 7 days in home isolation, the emergence of the Omicron variant and the uncertainty about it, meant that our isolation was extended to 14 days. It was much stricter than the lockdowns we had experienced in Europe and we weren’t allowed out of the home at all, even to go for a walk or get necessary food. We were only allowed out on days 1, 6 and 13 to get a test. South Australia uses an online system where you need to register your symptoms, or lack of, daily. It uses location data and face recognition so that you can prove, several times a day that you are at your isolating address. Apparently some sort of alarm goes off if you and your phone leave the house, a little like the ankle bracelets they use on criminals! We were also visited by a Health SA compliance officer to check up on us and give us a sign for the door.

It was really sad that the extension to our isolation meant that we didn’t get to see Michael’s mother Phyl for her 90th birthday, as had been planned and eagerly anticipated.

Eventually, on December 10th after 5 negative tests, being double vaccinated and 14 days in quarantine, we were deemed to be safe to release into the community. Fantastic!

Look for our next blog for stories of our adventures in Australia.