Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Saturday, February 25, 2012
Piano lessons on a Yamaha upright for a mature age student
Just by looking at the piano a reasonable person would know that it wasn't 38 years old. She claimed that the pedals had 'rust' on them as well. Silly me for not getting some Brasso and a cloth to polish them before she arrived to inspect it. At least I did make an effort to polish it and dust the spider webs off before she arrived. As I expected, a brief polish with Brasso removed the 12 year old tarnish from the pedals. Good as bloody new!
Concerned by the woman's claim, I called the store where we bought the piano, quoted the invoice number from our original purchase, and explained what the woman said about it being older than I thought it was. The proprietor had been through this before and explained that Yamaha had two sets of serial numbers that overlapped, and that if our piano had been a Yamaha grand piano then it would have been manufactured in Japan about 38 years ago. But Yamaha made all the small uprights like ours in Indonesia and our serial number was for one made about 12 years ago. He invited me to contact Yamaha Australia's piano product manager for verification if I wanted.
So I did. A very helpful gentleman in Sydney copied the details of our piano and said that he would check with Yamaha in Japan for verification then get back to me. Just as the owner of the local piano store told me, Yamaha confirmed the age of our piano as being new when we bought it. I could have forwarded the email to the potential buyer but I felt too insulted to have anything further to do with her.
Then the question was what to do with the piano if we weren't going to sell it. eBay offered a re-listing to me but as the only people who responded to my ad was a guy who offered to tune and move it should it sell, and the woman who trusted dodgy websites for her info and made the insulting offer, there didn't seem any point in doing so.
A year or two ago we won a nice acoustic guitar (Yamaha also, coincidentally), yet no one in the household plays the guitar. My mother and grandmother both played Spanish guitar beautifully and as a teenager I plucked on one for a short while before giving up in frustration when I couldn't immediately play 'Stairway to Heaven' on it. Actually, I did ask for and receive for a teenaged birthday an inexpensive electric guitar and amp but the sounds that came from it even scared me.
In junior high school in boring Bellevue I badly played the double bass in the school orchestra, probably contributing noise more like an elephant with indigestion than anything resembling music. But the Hyak Junior High School orchestra didn't seem to mind. I can still feel a small dent or two in my skull from unintended collisions between the metal tuning pegs and my tender young mind holder.
It was while I was a junior high school student that I told myself I needed to make a choice - whether to continue with music, or visual arts. At the time the latter option won 'because you don't have to practice'. So my contribution to the music world saw me become an excellent hummer, however that is a claim completely disputed by my wife.
Back to last year and I'd been reading that learning a language or learning to play an instrument was a great way to keep the brain plastic and could potentially reduce the chances of suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. I eyed our piano, patiently silent until the potential buyer through eBay visited to inspect it (somehow not seeing the pristene 12 year old condition of it, except for the unpolished pedals) and filled our house with her beautiful playing on our quite out-of-tune Yamaha. I thought if I really wanted to challenge myself that I might learn to play the piano instead of the guitar. The family collectively snorted when I floated this idea.
Where does a mature age person start learning to play the piano? We had a new WEA catalogue and they did offer a 'Learn to Play the Piano' course but I read in the fine print that there was only one piano for the entire class. This option didn't inspire me as I wanted to learn to play the the piano, not pay to watch other people watching a teacher play the piano in a classroom. In school our youngest daughter studied percussion for several years and became a decent drummer before getting bored with it and giving-up. At least we could sell the drum kit - no crazy claims about it being 38 years old. I called the head of music at her school and he passed-on two names of teachers, one who lives and works only a fast walk away from where we live. And this teacher studied Jazz at the Adelaide Conservatory.
It's late February now and I've been banging away on our piano for about 3 months. We did get it tuned so that the cat doesn't run out of the room each time I start 'playing' it. The local Jazz master teacher agreed to take me on as as new student late last year but I had to pay weekly at first, probably in case he decided that I was a lost cause and wouldn't require additional and pointless lessons wasting his time and hurting his ears.
Because the girls had learned for a while we still had a few introductory piano music books in the seat, and I pretend that I'm a 'Young Piano Student' when I play from them.
When you start learning the music only has 5 notes and they correspond to where your fingers sit when starting at middle C. So what are the other 83 keys for? Then a finger or two on the left hand get called into action alternating with notes played with the right hand, and before you know it you have use both hands at the same time! And then you have to move your hands from that safe, friendly middle C position. As the kids would say, 'OMG!'
And they keep adding more and more complexity to the game. When we lived in Melbourne around 1994 I discovered the music of Philip Glass late one night, being played on ABC FM. His opera Satyagraha hypnotised me and I loved it. When another of his operas, 'Einstein on the Beach' was performed in Melbourne I sat through the entire 4+ hour long performance without squirming or leaving my seat. Fantastic! Glass' music features lots of very repetitive piano/keyboard play. And for years I've loved the brilliant, improvisational piano playing of Keith Jarrett.
Wonderful coincidence that before I discovered the music of Philip Glass the huge portrait of Glass by his friend the hyper-realist American painter Chuck Close was one of my favorites. Visual art and music intersection... for me.
I don't feel too frustrated that I can't play anything yet by either Glass or Jarrett, and am somewhat reasurred to learn that Jarrett has been playing since he was 5 years old, or something impressive like that. But I did find a beginner's arrangement of Ravel's Bolero and have been banging away with that. I mean, working away on that.
So far I'm enjoying learning to play the piano. There's a systematic approach to it - work-out the right hand, then work-out the left hand, and then try like hell to put both together at the same time. My family says I'm progressing, and my teacher continues to be happy to take my money although I'm not convinced the latter is any reliable indicator of my current achievement or future potential in playing the piano.
Reading music is a challenge - getting this old brain to learn what the notes are on the page is taking a while but I'm slowly winning. It didn't take me too long to learn what notes the piano keys play, but I found a secret - they repeat every 8 notes!
I'll let you know how I'm going.
25 February 2012 - Adelaide
Labels: Yamaha Music
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Update - 23 Movember 2011
Monday, February 21, 2011
Commonwealth Bank of Australia Travel Money Card
Before we left for Europe I organised a CBA Travel Money Card, which is a pre-paid ‘MasterCard'. It allows you to store money in several different currencies, can be used in ATM machines, and is widely accepted as a MasterCard credit card in shops. A big selling point is that it’s easily replaced if lost or stolen, and that if it is lost or stolen then your normal bank accounts can’t be cleaned-out by the thieves.
It was the first time we’ve used a card like this. On previous overseas trips we just used credit cards and our eftpos card.
Late last year the Australian Financial Review provided a useful review of many travel money card products including the American Express one, and the Travelex cashpassport. These two, and the CBA Travel Money Card made-up our short-list. From memory, the AMEX product was rated the best for our particular needs but I had concerns about whether the AMEX product would be as widely accepted as the CBA Travel Money Card product which is used as a MasterCard.
So we chose the CBA product for our trip.
Overall, the card worked as expected. There were a couple of stores in Italy where their card reader wouldn’t accept it so we had to revert to using a credit card for payment.
‘Recharging’ the card is straight-forward if you have a secure Internet access method as you have to log-on to your CBA Netbank account then do a bPay payment to the card. Or you can do it by telephone banking. Caution though: bPay can take up to 3 days for the funds to reach the Travel Money Card from your transaction account. Ah, the bank float: using your money for their profit!
At one point we worried that a bogus transaction might have been made on the card so I called the bank’s 24/7 international Customer Service Centre number back in Australia, using a pre-paid international calling card to do so.
You can also call the Customer Service Centre to check your balance, or go to the CBA website to check on-line what your card balance is. But you want to be careful that you are using a secure Internet connection in doing the latter as your user name, password and card number are required to check the balance.
It surprised me to find out that the pre-paid phone calling card starts charging for the international call as soon as the number starts ringing, not, as I’d expect, when the call is answered. This wouldn’t normally be a problem but when the ‘24/7’ customer service centre number isn’t answered for minutes, ringing, ringing, ringing, your pre-paid calling card balance quickly gets eroded.
This was quite frustrating that my call wasn’t answered within what I thought was a reasonable amount of time. I had to hang-up and call again after minutes waiting while the service centre number rang and rang and rang and rang-out. The costs incurred while listening to the phone ring and ring grew so much that I actually had to hang-up and recharge my calling card because of the length of time waiting for the Travel Money Card people to answer the phone.
Once my call was answered the service was fine. But I imagined how terrible it would have been if my card had been stolen and I didn’t have a way of enduring the unacceptably long delay in having my call answered as the phone card would probably also have been lost in my wallet.
It happened each time I called the service centre so it wasn’t just bad luck of calling at an exceptionally busy time.
The pre-paid international calling card I used was one from eKit, provided in the document pouch for escorted tours like the ones we did with Insight Tours in central Europe, then the Trafalgar tour in Italy. It’s easy to use, easy to recharge using a credit card, but probably not the least expensive option. My advice with the calling cards is to check the contract fine print to find when the charging starts – when you call is answered, or when your call starts to ring.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Paris, December 2010, long...
- Stayed at the Minerve Hotel in the Latin Quarter. Small room but everything else excellent.
- Returned to Paris CDG airport to retrieve Ms16's purse lost on our Melbourne-Hong Kong Cathay Pacific flight - impressive bureaucracy to overcome!
- Lunch at Restaurant le Jules Verne on the Eiffel Tower despite 'the monument is on strike'?
- Excellent Henry Moore retrospective at the Musée Rodin.
- Very disappointing show at The Lido.
- Exciting (for an artist) fine arts supply store in Paris called 'Adam'.
- Killing a few hours at Musée du Louvre while Beth shops.
- TGV train to Frankfurt breaks down, return to Paris...
Paris was the second stop in our 7 week long European holiday after depositing youngest daughter ('Ms16') with her French host family from Macon, where she attended school for the duration.
We've been there a few times before and love the city despite small annoyances like unwanted attention from pick-pockets on the RER trains and the Métro. In past visits we stayed at the Familia Hotel in the Latin Quarter. It's a clean, friendly family-run 2 star hotel in a great location but our rooms have always been tiny, which isn't unusual for an old Parisian 2 star hotel.
This time we thought we'd splurge a bit and try their sister hotel next door, the Minerve Hotel, a 3 star hotel, and booked on-line. It too is a clean, friendly, family-run hotel and despite everything else being excellent, the room too was very small. It was advertised as a 'double classic' room on the Internet booking form, and it turned-out to be one of the two smallest rooms on our floor. As the hotel wasn't very busy, and rooms were available, having a larger room would have been nice. We'd stay there again, but would ask for a room large enough to open two suitcases.
|Paris - Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle - with snow|
|There's a wife in here somewhere...|
In an earlier post I explained how Ms16 lost her purse on one of our flights to France. The Cathay Pacific ground staff found the purse and forwarded it to Paris CDG airport for us to collect later. I'll spare you the gory details but have to say that although I almost never get angry when dealing with a challenge, this was an exception. Usually it's my good wife who can turn-on indignation when required, usually resulting in resolution of the problem in her favour. This time she was consoling me!
It had nothing to do with the Cathay Pacific staff as they were great once they came on duty in the airport (if there are no flights in or out of the airport by a specific carrier then their staff aren't there until a few hours before travellers would normally be expected.) But trying to get assistance from an airport information desk woman was very frustrating as we walked here there and everywhere at her instruction trying to find a certain something. We could have been on an orienteering exercise! The Paris airport should acknowledge the perseverance that we had to demonstrate by awarding us merit badges, something like, 'I got my lost luggage back from Paris CDG!!!'
Continuing the tradition that we started in Lyon of eating well we had lunch 123m above the ground at restaurant Le Jules Verne in/on? the Eiffel Tower. I booked and paid a deposit via the Internet before leaving Adelaide. The deposit would be forfeited if we didn't show-up at our appointed time. The Métro got us close to the Tower, and as we walked the short distance to it, past all the Africans selling small metal Eiffel Towers, umbrellas, and tea towels, we saw signs outside the ticket windows saying the 'monument was on strike'.
|The Eiffel Tower 'on strike'? Hunh?|
I thought, 'great, our one day that we can do this and the darned thing is on strike. But how does a building or structure 'go on strike'? But it wasn't a problem as the restaurant has its own private lift which was running fine. As you'd expect, the dining experience was lovely, and quite memorable. Excellent food and wine, and Beth was very impressed with the place-holding plates set on the table then elegantly removed as our lunch-laden plates were delivered.
|Lunch at Le Jules Verne, Eiffel Tower. With lapel pin..|
After the meal we had to inspect our respective genders' toilets, on strong recommendation from friends who had been to the Jules Verne before us. Beth found them more impressive than I did, perhaps as there's only so much that an establishment can do in dressing-up the functional aspects of a loo. What impressed me, but not Beth, was seeing the structure of the Tower up close, including the pulleys and mechanisms of the lifts. Boys's stuff.
As we left the Eiffel Tower the French mounted police made a token raid on the Africans, sending the running everywhere, until two police cornered one of them and led him away to face the charge of selling really tacky crap in Paris. I expect the others were back at their spreads selling the little towers, umbrellas and other junk within 15 minutes of the police leaving.
Before we left Adelaide I bought a small lapel pin that showed both the French and Australian flags on it. Whenever I've been to France previously my American accent was immediately noticeable and sometimes resulted in others automatically assuming I possessed the worst characteristics of American tourists. I thought by wearing this lapel pin it would indicate that I was from Australia and positively predisposed to things French. Hah! That backfired! I first wore it when we had lunch at the restaurant Paul Bocuse in Lyon and later into the meal Monsieur Bocuse walked through the restaurant stopping at each table to meet and greet the guests. Except for our table where he looked at us then walked-onto the next table. Was it because we didn't down our utensils and rise to our feet to greet him quickly enough, or was it because his 86 year old eyesight misread my lapel pin as being British! Which could be worse than being American in France!
We don't know, and after politely requesting a chance to meet the great chef he did come to our table for a Kodak moment and handshaking. But that was back in Lyon.
I'm strongly leaning to the first explanation: that the lapel pin looks British rather than Australian, because of a separate experience at our next big lunch, at Le Jules Verne, where I also wore the pin as seen in the photo above. Once seated at our table a very proper English waiter in the restaurant came to our table and greeted us, saying something like 'Ah, very good to one wearing the colours!' apparently also mistaking the wee Aussie flag for the Union Jack. After all, it largely is the Union Jack. I think the now recurring public discussion in Australia about adopting a new flag is timely. And I have forever retired my misleading lapel pin.
One day in Paris we walked to some sights that we hadn't seen before like L'Hôtel national des Invalides where Napoleon's tomb is located. I'll certainly say that the French delight in 'monumenting' their heroes. But life goes-on despite famous tombs, and cold weather. It didn't stop these gentlemen from their regular boules meeting:
|Outside Les Invalides - boules|
The tombs inside are amazing.
|Tomb within Les Invalides|
|Napoleon Bonaparte's tomb - Les Invalides|
We weren't allowed to take photos of the Henry Moore retrospective at the Musée Rodin but it was a good visit. The Rodin bronzes in the gardens are great to walk through but we'd done that on a previous visit. The Moore retrospective included a recreation of his studio, showing works in progress. I'd never seen some of his very large plaster works from which the bronzes were taken. How he made the sculpts for the large, lovely bronzes never occurred to me. But having made 6 small cast bronze sculptures last year for an exhibition I've now got a better appreciation for the process.
Since our last Paris visit Beth really wanted to see one of the big dancing shows like The Lido, or The Moulin Rouge. So we booked a drinks/show package one night for The Lido on recommendations from Adelaide friends. They obviously saw a different performance than we did as ours was a major disappointment. I think it was their revue called 'Bonheur' that tried to show the best of all previous revues. Sadly, it was a 100 Euro per person flop, and we were sitting in the nose-bleed area seated perpendicular to the stage, sharing our table with (a lovely) couple from Vienna or Berlin.
The Lido show designer succeeded in creating a 'kitchen sink' production that just threw everything they had at the audience: 23 sets that included a 5 metre Indian temple, an 80,000 litre water pool, and even an ice skating rink! Add to that 600 costumes. The ice skater fell down, one of the female leads couldn't sing in tune, the dancers were out of step, and there was a guy who's speciality was juggling large bobbins on a string between two sticks - a little of that goes a long way!
As we sat side-on to the show our legs started cramping, and the two middle eastern guys sitting in the booth next to us wouldn't shut-up despite multiple glares from us. The only time they did stop talking was when the topless dancers came on stage. But, we can tick 'The Lido' off our bucket list. But there was a funny comedian who added some value to the experience.
Since making the small bronzes I developed an appreciation for using nice wax-working tools, which I haven't been able to find to buy in Adelaide. Maybe the larger cities sell them, but I wasn't able to find them on the web either in Australia. So while in Paris we visited a fine arts supply store and I asked about wax-working tools, which that store didn't handle. But the first store directed me to a wonderful store called 'Adam' near the Métro Jules Joffrin station, on rue Damremont. I was like a kid in a candy store - so many beautiful tools.
|Loved it! 'I saved us so much money!' (I'm learning...)|
|Cour Marly in The Louvre|
|Our sick TGV in Reims, sulking before returning to Paris.|
|Mystery food parcel on replacement TGV from Paris.|
Labels: Paris TGV Louvre Hotels Lido
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Lyon, France - December 2010, long...
- Lyon was the first stop on our holiday, where we 'delivered' our youngest daughter to her French host family for a 7 week school exchange in Macon.
- Learned our daughter's luggage was delayed at Paris airport on our arrival in Lyon.
- Enjoyed a lovely lunch with the host family at Brasserie Georges in Lyon - a gastronomic institution specializing in offal.
- Three Aussies dead tired after 36 hours of travel, but so impressed by such a lovely family hosting our daughter's visit.
- Food impressions from Brasserie Georges and lunch the next day at 3 star Michelin restaurant Paul Bocuse. Yum, and Yum!
- Hotel in Lyon - Grand Hotel des Terreaux in the Presqu'île, or 'peninsula' area - very comfortable; a nice stay. Later we stayed overnight at the NH Lyon Airport hotel, a modern, comfortable hotel, adjacent to the airport and the Lyon TGV train station.
- A trap for newbies - check which train station you are leaving from.
- How to get from one of Lyon's train stations to the other using the excellent Rhônexpress shuttle train - it has replaced the 'Navette' bus service between the two.
- Two major churches visited in Lyon; one took 300 years to build, the other took 4 years to build. Spot the differences.
- Beth locks herself in a restaurant toilet after sating herself on a Kebap, thrilled with her new boots Bought At A Sale!
- Unexpected delight! Stumbling across the Roman museum in Lyon. Wonderful!
- The Festival of Lights - oops, we missed it!
- Next stop Paris...
Our first stop in Europe during our 7 week holiday in December 2010 and January 2011 was in Lyon, while youngest daughter ('Ms16') participated in a French school exchange program for the 7 weeks in Macon, which is about 40 minutes away by train from Lyon.
Lyon, in the Rhône valley, is one of the gastronomic centres of France, with Macon is smack-dab in the middle of one of the country's major wine areas. That knowledge pleased me greatly! Beth and I were to stay in Lyon for three nights before traveling to Paris.
|Lyon from Fouviére|
We left Adelaide on 11 December, first stopping in Melbourne for additional passengers, then flying to Hong Kong where we changed Cathay Pacific planes for our flight to Paris. In Paris we collected our luggage, made our way to the Air France terminal and caught our one-hour ten-minute long flight to Lyon.
During our 36 hour long journey our daughter misplaced her purse containing all her important cards and cash that was to sustain her for the 7 weeks, but that's a separate story. Happily, it ended well. The Story of the Misplaced Purse.
In the days prior to us leaving Australia many parts of Europe were inundated by heavy snowfalls, which closed major airports for days. This resulted in a huge backlog of air travellers within Europe and people trying to get to Europe from overseas. We were lucky that the worst weather had moved-on before our arrival into Paris, so we faced no cancellations or flight delays along the way.
But there's always a challenge, isn't there? On arriving in Lyon we collected two of our three suitcases, but that of Ms16 didn't arrive. Have you had that sickening feeling caused by seeing the luggage carousel stop moving, you being the last person in that baggage claim area, and your suitcase has not appeared? Oh yeah.
We had some urgency in actually leaving the Lyon arrival hall as it's a sealed area that can't be seen into by people waiting to meet travellers. Ms16's host family was waiting for us outside the baggage claim area, so we worried that with no one else emerging from the closed baggage claim area they might think we missed the flight and leave the airport, with no easy way of us contacting them.
So Beth and Ms16 would leave the baggage area with the two bags that did arrive, and I would deal with the formalities of lodging a misplaced bag claim with Air France. Of the three of us traveling my French was probably marginally better than Ms16's at the time, but far short of Beth's linguistic skills. Seven weeks later Ms16 would leave me for dead with conversational French, as one would hope after spending that much time in a French school, where they speak French! My dear wife had studied French (and German) in university and for a while had considered a career as a translator. Don't you hate that? I do. As our French host family doesn't speak much English it made sense for Beth to meet with the host family and explain what was happening while I struggled by using my high school French that was modestly refined by working as a dishwasher in a French restaurant in Seattle. Go on, ask me to say 'cornichon'!
Being an over-prepared traveller I always, always, ALWAYS have a change of shirt, undies and socks in my carry-on bag just in case my luggage goes astray. This really annoys everyone else in the family. But I feel someone in the family has to think about what might go wrong and prepare for it. If I'd been on that plane in 'Lost' the series would have ended a lot quicker. Despite a very strong urge to say something to the effect of 'I told you so!' I had to bite my tongue and not gloat in this situation. Did Ms16 have a similar emergency change of clothes in her carry-on? In fact, did my wife? NOT!
The patient, multi-lingual Air France baggage manager explained that due to the huge backlog of air travellers, generated by the recent winter storms, many suitcases had not been sent with their owners and over time these bags were being on-shipped to their final destinations. Our flight from Paris to Lyon was supposed to carry 36 back-logged suitcases but only took 10. I wondered when I heard that how did we get lucky to own the only suitcase on the flight that didn't come with the passengers on that plane?
SIDE NOTE: We came across another example of the impact of being separated from your luggage while traveling later when Beth and I were on the TGV train from Paris to Vienna via Frankfurt. A young Aussie couple sitting in front of us, 'Sarah and Thomas,' asked to borrow a Nokia mobile phone charger as all of their luggage had been delayed in Heathrow and they were several days late for a friend's birthday in Austria. They didn't have a phone calling card and the battery on their mobile had long since died. Their Austrian friends who they were supposed to be meeting didn't know where they were or what was happening to them as they were out of contact.
You'd be proud of me; I was so good. Although I was tempted to say loudly, 'What, you packed your charger in your suitcase!? Are you serious!?' I did no such thing. They had probably heard if before, and yet another smug over-preparer saying it could have pushed them over the edge. I probably said something like, 'well, these things happen, don't they. But yes, we just happen to have a Nokia phone charger that you may borrow' [the one I always have in my CARRY-ON bag]. I TOLD YOU SO!
Once the formalities with the Air France baggage manager were done, and I left forwarding details of where my daughter would be for the next 7 weeks, I walked from the baggage area and met our daughter's host family. What absolutely lovely people; mum, two of their three daughters in-tow, dad, plus a very young daughter of a friend of theirs. Lots of very well educated French, but no English. Language. Even when I'm in perfect control of my faculties, rather than jet-lagged, brain dead and smelly from 36 hours of travelling, combined with the stress of dealing with a lost purse then a misplaced suitcase, I would have been proud in 2010 to say in French, 'This is a cat. I call myself Rick. I live in Adelaide.' Sadly, it doesn't get one very far in a foreign country with a vocabulary like that.
Before we left Adelaide we emailed our host family asking if they would be able to join us for a lunch in Lyon before we handed-over Ms16 to them. They booked lunch at the famous 'Brasserie Georges', a large, legendary restaurant in Lyon operating since 1836. Because of our delay caused by the misplaced suitcase we missed our 12:30 lunch reservation (the French would write 12H30, which I think is a very logical way of writing a time - it indicates unmistakably a time - half past noon in this case.) The maitre d' was proudly, supremely, busy and we were but mere diners come to bask in the culinary glow of this famous establishment; and the restaurant was full but turning-over quickly. So a beer at the bar killed some time until a table became free. I think maybe our French friends pleaded with him and might have said something like we were visiting Australian travel writers doing a piece on the best places to visit in Lyon, but as my French is not that good I can only guess.
There are certain dishes that Lyon is famous for and one of these is the tripe sausage, called the 'Andouillette'. It's a very big sausage, about the thickness of a cucumber or small watermelon, served at this restaurant covered with an aged mustard sauce. (This dish is serious business: read the Wikipedia entry - there is a committed club of French people who rate restaurants based entirely on the quality of their andouillette.)
|Andouillette in mustard sauce - I dare you to eat it!|
One of our group ordered the andouillette and politely offered small tastes to the Aussies who might not be familiar with Lyon specialty dishes. I tried it. I survived. Another of our group had what looked like a thick cut of a roast and again offered a taste to the Aussies, which I tried. I survived. I don't think I've ever had veal liver before. Probably won't again, despite it being the most tender meat that I've ever eaten. Go on, just call me boring and unadventurous when it comes to food. I will admit here for the record that I am not a keen offal eater. I've heard it before and I'll deal with it, I just don't care what I'm missing. So that's that. But I appreciated the offer to taste these Lyonnaise specialities
Lyon has a beautiful old part of the city, 'Vieux Lyon' where we stayed after fare-welling our dear jet-lagged but fed daughter. The old part is on a peninsula flanked by the Rhone river on one side, and the Saône river on the other. Both were running high from winter weather. And they very looked very cold.
Across the Saône river from the Presqu'île is the very old church, La Cathédrale Saint-Jean.
|La Cathédrale Saint-Jean, built from 1165-1480|
This Catholic church was built between 1165-1480. Can you imagine doing a ROI calculation today for a project like that? I'm guessing you'd almost need an act of God to get that past the investors. Sorry.
After visiting La Cathédrale Saint-Jean Beth found a boot shop With A Sale On! Stand-back.
Because our bodies were still on Adelaide time our stomachs weren't synchronized to the French dining hours, meaning that we missed the lunch hour (well, actually, 'we' shopped through the lunch hour ONLY OUT OF NECESSITY because Beth's old boots were hurting her feet. And There Was A Sale On!)
The only place in Vieux Lyon that was still serving food was a Kebap shop on Rue St Jean and that was good enough for me. The meal was inexpensive, filling, and tasty. Nothing special to report there. But my dear wife did succeed in locking herself into the toilet while I was paying the bill. I could hear a banging on a door and initially didn't think I had any personal investment in it. But it persisted, and my wife still hadn't returned. So Monsieur grudgingly went-off to rescue her. Apparently she made the mistake of turning the lock too far, or so she was told. And the French phrase book was useless - you'd think there would be an entry for 'Excuse me, sir, but my wife has locked herself in the toilet!' But no such luck.
Later we compared notes and wondered if it might be how they trap women before drugging them and selling them to an eastern European sex shop. But we moved-on quickly from that idea. Maybe there is a market for captured wives of middle-aged men. I don't know.
Atop the hill overlooking Vieux Lyon is the 'new' church, the Basilique Notre Dame de Fouviére. One wouldn't guess by looking at the two different interiors that the Basilique was built much later than the Cathédrale Saint-Jean. I'd like to joke that you can do wonderful jobs with enough paint and gold leaf, but that would be detracting from the wonderful workmanship in making the Basilique.
|Basilique Notre Dame de Fouviére, built from 1872 to 1876|
This 'modern' Catholic church has a lot of similarities to Sacré-Coeur in Paris. It is very impressive inside, but you'll have to go see for yourself.
Better ROI on this one.
When we came out of the Basilique Notre Dame de Fouviére it started snowing, and got very cold, which we weren't used to. A short walk 'down the hill' from the Basilique is the most amazing Museum of Roman artifacts, the Museé Gallo-Romain de Lyon-Fourvière. Quite a name, but what a treasure it was finding this place. I'll admit that we entered it mainly to escape the cold and snow, as neither one of us is especially interested in Roman ruins, but didn't this place delight us! Firstly the building architecture is stunningly powerful.
|Entrance of Museé Gallo-Romain de Lyon-Fourvière|
And what's inside the museum is impressive. We spent a couple hours there, more than enough time to thaw out. But a real treat was seeing the restored Roman amplitheatres outside the museum. Beth was easily talked into singing a powerful rendition of 'The Hills Are Alive' from the Sound of Music. You had to be there.
|Sing girl, sing!|
She sang to a most appreciative virtual audience! I thought, perhaps she just needs the right opportunity like this, after all, look what happened to fellow Scot Susan Boyle. This could be the break.
Friends recommended staying in the Presqu'île, or 'peninsula' area, between the Saône and Rhône rivers. It provides easy walking distance to Vieux Lyon (old Lyon), which is a must-see. We consulted several resources including our Rough Guide book, TripAdvisor on the web, and travel books borrowed from our local library and stolen from friends. We were very happy staying at the three star Grand Hotel des Terreaux in the Presqu'île. It's not far from the Hôtel de Ville (which was occupied. That's a joke...) We booked a larger room, a 'Corbeille', thinking that we might appreciate the extra space after a long trip from Australia. The hotel advertises sound-proofed rooms and they certainly were - because our room was so quiet I thought for sure that no one else was in the hotel yet it was actually quite busy. The only sound I heard was from our strange bathroom sink that insisted on gurgling loudly whenever water ran through it. It was a strange drain. The hotel's website calls the facility a 'hostel' but I think that's a typo in their English translation because it certainly is a 'hotel'. Three nights at this hotel was most enjoyable. Highly recommended.
Later in our trip we had a need to stay overnight near the Lyon-Saint Exupéry TGV station (adjacent to the LYS airport) after arriving late in the evening from Milan, and the NH Lyon Airport was highly recommended. It's very new, the room we were in was very modern and comfortable and we were very happy there. The room rate was good value but I wish I'd asked how much the full breakfast cost before we ate it - it was fine but at 24 Euros each the breakfast for two cost about half of what one night's accommodation there did. There are lots of less expensive places for breakfast in the LYS airport located just across the road. But the hotel was great.
We treated ourselves to lunch at the 3 star Michelin restaurant Paul Bocuse. Very expensive, very nice. Monsieur Bocuse greeted all the diners during the meal, stopping at each table to shake hands and have his photograph taken with the guests.
Planes and Trains
A trap for new train users in France is to be aware that in many French cities there are at least two train stations, the local station that is generally located very close to the heart of the city, and the TGV station that is some distance from the city. We were nearly caught-out by this while staying later in Aix-en-Provence when we arrived at the city train station for our travel to Nice, and only then read on the ticket the we were actually leaving from the TGV Aix-en-Provence station, some 17 km and 25 minutes away by taxi. And we had 45 minutes until our train left. We made it, but only just.
Another bit of advice, your TGV carriage is identified not by the number painted on the side of the car, but by the generally obscured small LED screen by the door. Check the train layout display on the TGV voie (platform) to save yourself a mad rush to the correct carriage.
In Lyon there are two main train stations, Lyon Part Dieu in the city, and Lyon-Saint Exupéry TGV station quite a way out of Lyon. Travel books like the Rough Guide say you can get between the two by taking a bus shuttle, a 'navette', between the two stations but the bus has been recently replaced with a great rail shuttle service called the Rhônexpress.
The Rhônexpress is a smart-looking red two-carriage train/tram departing every 15 minutes or so and taking a guaranteed 30 minutes or less to make the trip from the Lyon airport/Lyon-Saint Exupéry TGV station to Lyon Part Dieu, or vice versa. Before boarding you buy the tickets from a dedicated vending machine near where the Rhônexpress stops either at the airport TGV station or near the exit of the Lyon Part Dieu rail station. It cost about 13 Euros one way in January 2011. Students pay less (we found-out after buying all our tickets...)
Festival of lights
Sorry - we missed it by a day but did have a lovely view over Lyon from the illuminated ferris wheel. Maybe next year.
Onward to Paris...
Labels: France Lyon Rhonexpress
Monday, February 07, 2011
Kudos to Cathay Pacific!
During what turned-out to be a 36 hour long journey from Adelaide to meet her French host family from Macon, our sixteen year old daughter lost her purse somewhere on our 11 December 2010 flights from Adelaide to Melbourne then Melbourne to Hong Kong. After Hong Kong we flew to Paris then Lyon, where the host family met us. Ms16 was to be their guest for seven weeks while attending a French school in Macon as part of a international school exchange program. We were escorting her through the challenges of international travel to Lyon.
Losing her purse was heart-breaking as it had her cash in Euros for her stay in France, Australian cash, her travel money card, EFTPOS card, school ids and many other treasures. All but the older school IDs were replaceable but not without a hassle. Luckily, her passport was not with the lost purse.
We were at the Hong Kong International Airport when she saw that her purse was missing, while the three of us were waiting to board our next flight from Hong Kong to Paris. We thought the purse might have been lost at Melbourne Airport's international transit lounge so tried to report the loss to the Victoria Police, who turned-out to be uncontactable from an international phone at about midnight on a weekend. How does one dial '000' from Hong Kong to reach Victoria Police from an international call? It wasn't a life-threatening event so we didn't try calling 000, but neither did we have any luck contacting a 'real' Victoria Police phone number that we could call from an international phone, as it was only attended between 7:00 am and 7:00 pm. The lesson here is to plan any future losses or non-life threatening emergencies so that they fall within that 12 hour window.
Melbourne Airport had closed-down for the night and the phone number we found through Google for them was answered by their automatic call directory service but frustratingly passed repeatedly back to the initial message. I did hear, '... to speak with an assistant press 9...' so I pressed 9 and heard again after a short delay, 'Welcome to Melbourne International Airport. For xxx press 1, for yyy press 2, to speak with an assistant press 9.' It seemed that I was caught in endless loop pressing 9! No luck there.
I was able to telephone an actual person at the Australian Federal Police but she referred me back to Victoria Police because lost property wasn't within the AFP's jurisdiction.
And we weren't sure where the purse was last seen, whether it was in Melbourne Airport, or on the Cathay flight. I thought our chances were better if the purse had been lost on the plane rather than in the airport.
So Beth and our daughter reported the lost purse to the Cathay Pacific people in the First Class Lounge, which was the first official Cathay Pacific station that they could find in the huge HKIA. The Cathay person noted the details and said they would give us an update when we reached Paris. Which we thought would be that they didn't have any luck locating the purse.
We had 13 hours to worry about the lost purse as we flew from Hong Kong to Paris. Difficult to sleep under the circumstances.
At the Paris airport arrival gate the ground staff paged us and said that the purse had been found but that we had to see someone else for further information. This was unexpectedly good news! But we still didn't know if there was anything still in the purse.
After completing immigration formalities at Paris airport we found the correct baggage services counter and we were given an inventory of the contents of her purse. Amazingly, all the contents were still inside her purse. But while we were now in Paris, the purse wasn't - it would arrive on a later flight so we would have to come back to the airport to collect it. It wasn't expected until the next day. It would have been very helpful if the purse could have been forwarded to Lyon, but that wasn't possible. It would have to be collected from the Paris airport.
The baggage services people contracted by Cathay Pacific gave us a printed sheet with reference numbers to quote when we came to collect the purse. I was to learn later how important that specific piece of paper, not simply the reference number, was to be in reclaiming the purse.
When we told the baggage services people how surprised we were that first of all the purse had been found, and then that all the contents including the cash was still there, they said that it was very unusual for them not to return lost items completely intact to their owners. The airline obviously takes a lot of pride in being able to claim that, and with good reason.
So, much relieved, we collected our baggage from the Cathay Pacific arrivals hall to make our way to a different terminal where Air France would fly us to Lyon from Paris.
So, well done Cathay Pacific! Very impressive service! Thank you!
P.S. TRAVEL ESSENTIALS: a phone card to make international calls from a payphone.
P.P.S. I will write separately about the ordeal to actually retrieve the purse later, requiring us to deal with and overcome formidable French obstacles put-up by different Paris CDG airport personnel! Having dental fillings without anesthetic would have been more pleasant.