Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Using a sat nav - we have a Tom Tom and it was brilliant ! - was an absolute godsend and took a lot of the worry of negotiating our way. Thankfully the British dive on the same side of the road as we do ( right hand drive ).

Picking a hire car up at Heathrow and heading out into the countryside has been surprisingly easy. We contacted the hire car company from the airport after we had collected our luggage and they picked us up in a shuttle bus and took us to their office nearby. When all the paperwork was completed we loaded up the car and we were on our way.

(We reversed the process when we returned the car. You can then travel into London to Paddington Station on the train if you are finishing your holiday with some time in the city.)

Driving on the big M roads there are speed limits and speed cameras. There is a slow lane largely occupied by big trucks, a the middle lane for faster vehicles and of course the fast lane where the speedsters travel, often faster than the speed limit!

Be wary of white vans , they generally are a menace and are often driven my madmen!

Once you have cleared the heavy traffic of the M25 ring road around London and have moved to the smaller A or B roads driving is fairly stress free and in our experience flows well.

 But be warned they become narrow very quickly!


there are lots of single lane roads throughout the UK and if you want to see the countryside you need to wind your way along these pretty roads.


There will be no way you can pass oncoming cars on these roads and you soon learn to keep a watch for small widened sections that are designed for you to pull into in order to allow the oncoming car to get by. The good thing is that the other drivers do the same and take their turn though this often means reversing back to the nearest spot.

All of this is quickly negotiated and on you go with a cheery wave to the other driver. ( Don't forget that, it's important to acknowledge a considerate act !)

Driving down these very narrow, hedgerow lined roads can be very scarey at times.


In places like Cornwall the hedgerow can tower above the road and often hide rock walls that are very unforgiving and the roads twist and turn so you have no clue about the oncoming traffic that can be hurling towards you at speed.
All you can do is cross your fingers and pray and stay alert.

In the country generally the traffic was sparse, especially during the week.
As soon as you venture into the bigger towns it is a different story and you need to park as soon as you are able and walk. Big cities are generally best avoided, use public transport.
You will quickly learn that if you park, you have to pay - even at some supermarket parking areas.
On the outskirts of popular tourist villages there are huge parking areas - a testament to the large volume of tourists that visit.( Cotswolds, Stratford-on-Avon).

Be wary of time limits and expiry times as parking wardens are often very active. ( especially in Windsor where luckily we were forewarned but other unlucky tourists weren't !)

There are many villages whose streets are too narrow to allow parking anyway so park and walk in is the only way to go.( especially in Cornwall )

Large busy towns like Oxford and Cambridge have a system Park and Ride areas set aside outside the towns where you park your car and catch a bus into the city as there is NO parking available anywhere.
The locals move around on hundreds of push bikes.

Friday, June 14, 2013

FRANCE - DRIVING ( left hand drive )

Using a sat nav - we have a Tom Tom and it was brilliant ! - was an absolute godsend and took a lot of the worry of negotiating  our way while driving on what, to us, is the wrong side of the road.

We picked up and returned our hire car at Charles De Gaulle airport so we were certainly thrown in at the deep end from  the beginning !

Our experience of driving in France was a positive one with a couple of exceptions.

French drivers are impatient and prone to using their horns at the slightest provocation.
If you come from a country where people seldom use their horns this can be unsettling and sometimes stressful as if you are unsure or hesitant French drivers will give you a blast.

On highways, although there are posted speed limits, they are often ignored.


We found that, on a three laned highway, the right hand lane is for trucks and slow vehicles,  the middle lane was used by vehicles traveling around the speed limit and the left hand lane was for the speedsters often traveling --very fast-- !

In our experience there was a huge difference in the amount of traffic we encountered in different areas.
In Normandy, the Loire Valley and Burgandy in May there were not many cars on the road. Perhaps in the busier Summer months this could be different especially in the wine areas of Burgandy.

However the South of France in May was another story with very heavy traffic on the Cote D'Azur and long delays at toll booths on the large toll roads servicing the area. I hate to think what it would be like at the height of the Summer season.

And of course traffic leaving and approaching Charles De Gaulle airport is heavy but clearly signposted.
Forget driving in Paris !!!

In general the roads were good and on the whole wide enough for two cars.

Of course in the centre of very old villages that were built in the days before cars were invented there is no way a car could pass and these places need to be explored on foot.


Parking areas, often free, were provided on the outskirts of all the pretty villages we visited in Provence. In larger towns like Grasse we were alert for parking signs and used the paid parking. In busy times when tourists are many this may not be easy.

Most tourist attractions like Mont St Michel, Aiguille du Midi ( Mt Blanc ) have large parking areas to cope with tourists and they are sometimes free.

Places like Cannes and Nice have paid parking and if you can cope with the traffic AND negotiate a place in them you'll be doing well. We managed in Cannes but caught a train to Nice to avoid problems.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

SWITZERLAND - DRIVING ( left hand drive )

Using a sat nav - we have a Tom Tom and it was brilliant ! - was an absolute godsend and took a lot of the worry of negotiating our way while driving on what, to us, is the wrong side of the road.
Our experience of driving in Switzerland was a very positive one.
The drivers obey the road rules and there is none of the impatience and tooting that you experience in France.
There are speed limits prominently displayed and in the main, drivers keep to them!

There is , however, one very important thing that you must have .
It's called a vignette.
Vignettes are compulsory in Switzerland on all national class 1 and 2 roads.
You can read about them and purchase one online here.

We purchased ours as we crossed the border at Geneva which was a little stressful as it can be busy and there are border guards directing you in French but we passed over 40 euro, quickly placed it in the correct position on the windscreen and to a chorus of "Allez, allez " were on our way.

The rules as to where the vignette is placed are very strict and enforced with penalties so you must be very careful to do the right thing. You cannot move them around as once they lose their stickiness you cannot use tape to keep them in place.
Using motorways and expressways without a valid vĂ­gnette properly affixed on the vehicle is an offence against the Public Highways Act and is punishable with cash fines of at least 200 Franks.
While we visited in May we found the volume of traffic to be moderate and it flowed well with no problems on the combination of local and highways that we used.
From our experience a visit to Geneva or other large towns like Zurich or Lausanne is impossible to do by car.
There is no parking in these cities and you are better to catch a train to the centre of the city and explore on foot.
Smaller towns like Interlaken or Thun have paid parking especially near their train stations and also in the form of multi-storey parking stations but be sure to check how long you can park there before you leave your car for the day.
We did not find any free parking areas.


On our recent holidays in France we've stayed in airport hotels on both occasions.
It was easy then to get up, have breakfast and head off for your flight.
We usually try to fly out around lunchtime so that we arrive home in the evening of the next day.
That way we can go to bed and hopefully get a good night's sleep.

Staying in a hotel at Roissy near Charles De Gaulle Airport is a good option.

The first time we stayed at the Hilton because we found a great deal on the internet (otherwise it is a bit expensive for us ).


The hotel was very nice and the breakfast there was lovely but expensive.
They also ran a free shuttle bus to the airport that (supposedly) ran every 15 minutes.
Although this is a good option, you have to vie with other patrons for a place on the bus and airline flight  crews staying at the hotel seem to get priority.

Recently,  we stayed in a Novotel which was very good too.

We dropped our hire car back at the airport the caught the free airport shuttle train to the hotel.
It was just two quick stops on the free train that travels between terminals and comes along at regular intervals of about 5 to 10 minutes. There is plenty of room on this train for your luggage and NO STAIRS to negotiate and no step onto the train pulling your suitcase on wheels, so easy all the way.

Then the entrance to the hotel is right there on the station!!
The rooms are very spatious with a large double bed AND a couch/sofa bed. We paid 19 euro each for a two course dinner that night and 14 euro for a fantastic breakfast before we checked out - all in all a fantastic deal and great accommodation.

The best part for us was, we were in control. When we were ready, we walked through the door and onto the platform rolling our suitcses along with us, caught the next shuttle train and arrived at the terminal with no stress.
It was so easy we will stay ther in the future when the opportunity arises.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


I guess the best place to begin a travel blog is with the mode of travel.
In my case this means choosing an airline.
On our first trip overseas we naturally chose our national airline QANTAS to fly from Australia to the UK.
This meant flying from Brisbane to Singapore with QANTAS then on from there with their partner airline BRITISH AIRWAYS.
My husband, like a lot of Aussie men, is very tall ( 6'4") and despite numerous requests for an exit aisle seat to accommodate his long legs we spent a major part of the very long flight from Singapore ( 13+ hours ) standing at the back of the aircraft as he could not get his legs into the space allowed.
Needless to say that was the last time we traveled with QANTAS!

On our next trip we tried SINGAPORE AIRLINES  who went out of their way to cater for his height and whose cabin crew work non stop to make your travel experience a happy one. They constantly monitor your comfort as well as ensure that the plane is reasonably tidy ( by collecting rubbish ) and the toilets immaculately clean for the WHOLE journey.
We know when we are on to a winner and have flown with them ever since with never a complaint.

Nowadays we willingly pay $50 extra on each leg of the flight for an exit aisle seat - a small price for the huge amount of extra comfort that delivers.