Paris without my hat

Ah Paris. The city of lurve. It should have been magic, but a sadness hung over our visit. Well maybe just my visit. You see, I lost my hat. Well I didn’t lose my hat, my hat and I had to part ways. It was time. My hat was old and no longer enjoying life. It flopped over hopelessly on one side. The brim couldn’t muster the energy to keep itself out of my eyes. On the top threadbare strands finally gave way revealing gaping holes which like a hole in the ozone layer, could no longer hold back the suns UV rays.

The hat.

Paris was lovely. Paris, after all, will always be Paris just as Berlin will never be Berlin. We made our way from Gare de Lyon station through the Parisian metro heavily laden with packs and emerged to be greeted by the Moulin Rouge. A very Parisian site, even if not altogether family appropriate. Our Paris apartment in the 18th arrondissement was also a quintessential Parisian experience. Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur were on our doorstep with boulangers and baguettes on every corner.

Paris Metro with our gear

Oddly enough Emma and I stayed here years ago, when Emma was three months pregnant with Amy. It was like a trip down memory lane climbing the steps of the Sacre Coeur and tracking down spots where we stood nearly 11 years ago and recreating old photos – this time as a family of four. But it wasn’t the same without my hat.

A reenactment of a photo we have in our lounge room

Amy and Oliver were enthused by Paris. Emma found them a Lonely Planet ‘Mission Paris’ book which sent them on a treasure hunt at all the major sites. It meant we visited a bunch of places we never otherwise would have. They tracked down in-ground trampolines and a statues of Puss in Boots in the Tuileries Gardens, reflections of the Palais Royal in a spherical statue in the courtyard, the name of the cities visited by the P&O line on the facade of the Musee de Orsay and globes held by saints in the Sacre Coeur to name just a few. Their enthusiasm was infectious. But it wasn’t the same without my hat.

Full back flip!
Palais Royal – how did he get up there??
Reflections at Palais Royal
Amazing Amorino Gelato
The Lourve
Strike a pose
Our standard Paris lunch in a park

No one can declare they have been to Paris without visiting the Eiffel Tower and it was a must do for Amy in particular. We took in the view from the Trocadero one afternoon just as a storm passed overhead and totally drenched us. On the upside it scared everyone else away and for three minutes after the storm passed we had the place to ourselves and the uninterrupted opportunity to take silly photos. But it wasn’t the same without my hat.

The best silly photo (and he has a hat!)

The next day we went and climbed the Tower which was a much better experience than I thought it would be. We opted to climb the stairs. The queue for the lift involved a 45 minute to an hour wait. The queue for the stairs involved waiting for the one guy in front of us to buy a ticket. About thirty seconds. We thought this was brilliant and thanked everyone else for their laziness. But it wasn’t the same without my hat.

The lift that others took up the tower
The queue for the lifts
He wanted to really climb it!
Good views
A macaron tower!
Family selfie

The frame of the Eiffel tower is not as substantial looking up close as I had expected. Some tall things disappoint when you finally make the decision to fork out some cash and climb them, but not the Eiffel Tower. The views were fantastic as were displays showing all the different films the Eiffel tower has featured in and the crazy things people have gotten up to hanging from its frame over the years. It was worth every cent. But it wasn’t the same without my hat.

On our last day in Paris we took a bus away from the city centre and out to the Air and Space Museum which had an awesome display of flying machines, from rockets, to 747s to fighter jets, helicopters and the crazy contraptions people first came up with to try and take to the skies. They even had two Concordes, which for me were the highlight. It must have been amazing to take a flight on a Concorde, but to get up close and personal with them was a very happy second. But it wasn’t the same without my hat.

Huge rockets (replica)
Hanging out in the 747
One of the Concordes

My hat was a gift from Emma just before we first went travelling as a family back in 2011. It has circumnavigated Australia from North to South and East to West including 3 months in Tasmania. It has walked nearly as many kilometres sitting atop my head as I pushed a lawn mower around our yard in the years between trips. It was faded and grey at the last, a shadow of its former self, though I will always remember it when it stood firm and was rich in colour from newly applied dyes. All the best old friend. I’ll miss you.


BFF’s and le Tour

D…E…T…O…X… Belinda laid out the letters slowly. Almost as if she had no idea what impact it would have on the game. Triple word and triple letter for placement of the X. 135 points in a single move. It was a killer blow. ‘We’re all playing for second now’, Jase stated in a very matter-of-fact way as he passed over the leader’s yellow hat.

It was so good to see Belinda and Jase again. Maybe I miss home a little more than I thought, even if it did mean getting thrashed at Scrabble. From the moment we drove up and saw them waving down at us from the balcony of our alpine apartment in Megève in the French Alps we were back in a well-worn groove of weekends away. And, whether I like or not, being thrashed at Scrabble is nothing new for me. Emma’s been beating me since 1996. Not one win in 20 years…

Best not to dwell on it. The reason Belinda got the yellow hat was because it seemed in keeping with the Tour de France which had been going on just outside our front door all day. Jase even renamed us all after Tour riders. Emma was Froome (she was favourite to win), Belinda was Quintana, Jase was Vincenzo and I was Bling (Michael Mathew’s – Canberra rider). Quintana’s 135 point move was an unexpected upset. No one saw it coming, except maybe Belinda.

Of course that’s not what happened in the real tour. Chris Froome came streaking past us at just shy of 80km/hr as we lined the barriers on the road in front of our apartment for the individual time trial. As tour leader he was the last rider on the course and he extended his lead by winning that day’s stage.

The Froome ‘photo of the day’

‘That’s my BFF’ Abby told us all happily, once, or twice or perhaps even thrice. I was captivated. Abby has become a most endearing young lady, readily and happily holding court during proceedings each day. One got a sense Belinda, Jase and Zoe have seen it all before. I was amused. Them, maybe not quite so much.

Jase and Abby

We had three days of tour fun. The individual time trial was the best because it lasts all day, with the caravan coming through around 10.00 and then riders every two the three minutes from 11.00am ‘til nearly 5.30pm. We alternated lining the barriers and whipping our heads around so fast they almost fell off with hanging out in the living room of our apartment and watching on television that which was happening ten metres away.

Waiting for riders outside out apartment


Watching from our apartment
Watching in our apartment


Canberra’s Michael Matthews in the ITT

Watching the peloton come through on route from somewhere to somewhere else was also fun. Which is odd because we’re talking about all of 10 seconds entertainment. It’s that quick from when you spot the riders to when they’ve whizzed past and are gone. The excitement builds though for a couple of minutes before that as the buzz from the chopper following the group gets louder and louder.

The really interesting bit though is why is it fun waiting for the hour and half sitting on the side of the road before that? We all thought it was fun. None of the kids moaned or complained, in fact they were all eager and excited. The hundreds of other people lining the street must have felt the same. I guess the tour has become so big, so well-known with such a reputation that people are just happy to be part of it.

That, and you get free stuff! Everyone loves free stuff. No really they do. It’s almost comical watching people scramble to pick up the worthless advertising guff flung from the sponsors caravan which passes by about an hour before the riders themselves. That’s where we got the yellow leaders hat for the evening Scrabble match. It was one of a total of 14 which the eight of us collected in addition to a similar number of the green ‘Skoda’ bucket hats and one Cochanou salami hat which Emma took a real shine to.

Collecting the free stuff (Emma in the salami hat)
Enjoying the conversation and hats (Oliver got a rider to sign his)
New glasses!!
Waiting near the start – Stage 20
We even waited happily in the rain – Stage 19

It’s a triumph of the free market although I have a strong suspicion 90 per cent of it will end up in landfill within a matter of weeks. Listen to me being the tour grinch! It really is fun, especially dodging the free stuff thrown by inexperienced caravan flingers (I don’t know what else to call them?). Most of the stuff gets flung at your feet but enough comes straight at your head to make you feel like a ninja, and laugh a little at the misfortune of others, whom you don’t know, who don’t move quite so quick.

Flying free stuff!!
Watching the ITT in Megeve

Of course no weekend away with Belinda and Jase is complete without running. Which was good and bad given our lack of it over the last 6 months. Belinda dragged me out three mornings in a row somewhere between 7 and 8 am. It was almost like getting up to go to work! Only not really. Ok not at all…

Out the front door we went on the first morning and up and up we went after that. The thing about hanging out in a French ski village set up to rival Chamonix and St Moritz is the lack of flat terrain. Belinda was determined to follow a particular path she’d found on the internet but we only had a slightly dodgy map to help navigate us along. Long story short, we got lost somewhere past the golf course and ended up doing laps of the same set of streets in the pouring rain wondering why nothing looked the same each time we ran past.

Meanwhile, Jase who just ran out the front door and followed his nose managed to stumble across our intended path, so on the second morning we tried again. And failed again. The mist closed in after running uphill without respite for 30 minutes. Belinda and I parted ways. She was determined to find the route. I, on the other hand, was determined not to run uphill anymore and headed for home. Belinda showed up two hours later, but didn’t find the track.

On the third morning Belinda abdicated all responsibility for route finding and we ran up the other side of the valley for about 45 minutes. After clearing the forest, we turned around and to our great surprise and pleasure there was Mt Blanc, the tallest mountain in western Europe. Turns out we’d been staying right at its base but couldn’t see past the foothills! We stood and admired and then we ran home, which just goes to show sometimes it’s best not think too hard about where you’re going – metaphorically speaking of course.

I think Mt Blanc is up there somewhere…

It was back to the Scrabble board on our last evening in Megève. Like a sprint rider in Le Tour, I never had a chance in the General Classifications, but I did win a stage (a round) and managed to hold on to the yellow hat for three rounds after that. It was enough to avoid embarrassment, but Froome (Emma) got me before long. So did Quintana, and Vincenzo come to think of it.  It’s a good thing Froome is my BFF.

A patched up Froome at the start of Stage 20


‘Why did you even come here?’

You will have to forgive this blog entry. We’ve been moving fairly quickly of late and my head is too full to sit down and write a proper story. I feel like that kid in the Far Side comic that has his hand up in class and says, ‘Excuse me, can I go now, my head is full’. So here’s the ‘brain dump’ version of what happened after Bavaria.

After purchasing an Austrian driving vignette at a petrol station in Berchtesgaden we drove for about four hours through Austria (because we could) to get to Garmisch, back in Germany. We went to Garmisch because we wanted to visit the Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany.

On the drive through Austria

When we got to Garmisch I discovered my credit card was missing. Much turmoil and car searching ensued. The card wasn’t there despite my being sure that if I looked hard or often enough it would appear. I did however find a receipt from the last purchase I made with it which also had a phone number so we made a phone call and discovered the card was back in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria. Bugger.

The next morning, we decided to temporarily ignore the lost card and go up the Zugspitze. The summit was a complete whiteout which had Emma and I feeling moody. Amy and Oliver however were loving it because of all the snow and ice. It was cold. One degree, but no wind.

Check out the view beyond the sign!
That is the summit!
Hooray a pile of snow!
Snow soccer

After lingering as long as possible in vain hope that the weather would clear, we caught a cable car a short way down the other side of the mountain to a lower station and discovered free toboggans on offer. Hooray! We couldn’t see a thing, but had hours of fun sliding down the hill in the mist.

Great toboggans

The mist broke up after lunch and there were glorious views of the immediate amphitheatre of the Zugspitze though the summit itself was still heavily shrouded. More tobogganing ensued.

Lunch in the cloud
It started to lift
And look there was blue sky!!!
We could see where we were tobogganing!

By 2.30pm we were exhausted and caught the cog railway back to the base of the mountain where we took a free boat ride provided by the overpriced Garmisch campground we were staying at. Paddling on an alpine lake was just glorious. I went swimming in my undies. I couldn’t help myself and I didn’t want to get out but eventually had to.

Paddling on Lake Eibsee
What a lucky girl!

Emma and I woke up at 5.30 the next morning and I drove all the way back to Bavaria. Penance for stupidity, but considering that we have made 1264 financial transactions since leaving home (I’m a nerd so I record every single one), I eventually came to the view that forgetting to pick my card up once was forgivable. After successfully retrieving the all-important piece of plastic I drove back to Garmisch. It was 1pm by the time I arrived.

Where the rest of the family waited while Greg drove

We all piled in the car. Emma’s phone started playing Ed Sheeran’s ‘A-Team’ again because there is a setting that plays all her music in alphabetical order and we all cried ‘Nooo!’ in unison. This has been happening since Scotland and we were over it. We drove on to Liechtenstein, because it was more or less on route and we figured why not visit one more country on our way?

We camped for one night in lovely Liechtenstein and paid our respects to the Royal family by visiting their scenic castle on a hill the next morning. After that we all piled back into the car, cursed Ed Sheeran again, and drove on to Zermatt at the base of the Matterhorn in Switzerland, also on route.

Liechtenstein’s royal castle

The drive through Switzerland was glorious. Twisty roads, mountain passes, mountains everywhere and sunshine all the while. When we finally checked in to a campground near Zermatt the campground man got grumpy with me for only staying one night. ‘There is so much to do! Why did you even come here?’ he demanded. I apologised and slunk away to the tent to reflect on our foolishness and lack of ambition.

Swiss driving – spectacular!

The next morning, we decided to try and go up the Matterhorn before we drove on to France. This was perhaps because of the campground man and perhaps because there was not a cloud in the sky and perhaps because we figured it would be a while before we were at the base of the Matterhorn again. The cable car took 50 minutes to climb the 2,500 vertical meters. There were stunning views of the Matterhorn, glaciers and the Swiss Alps everywhere we looked.

The Matterhorn from the bottom
The Matterhorn behind us (from up the top)
Another peak – there are people climbing it
So many mountains

We rushed back down again because we still had to drive to Megève, two to three hours away, to meet up with our good friends from home, Belinda, Jase, Abbey and Zoe. The drive actually took much longer than that because our intended route was closed for the Tour de France and because we got stuck in a 40-kilometre-long traffic jam around Lausanne. I fought grumpiness and remarkably I won! For the most part anyway. I may have muttered the odd word of annoyance here and there. We made Megève by 8.30pm. Yay! We were very happy. Jase had beer and the beer was good.

Later that evening several large trucks rumbled past our little balcony at walking pace as we sat happily chatting. The barricades were going up for the Tour de France’s individual time trial which whizzed right past our front door the following morning. More on that to come.

The TDF barricades going up