Wednesday, 6 September 2023

The Journey Home

After a late night last night, I woke at 5.15am this morning and began loading yesterday's photos to Flickr it is great to be right up to date with the photo record of the holiday, even if I'm quite a bit behind with the blog!

At 6am alarm went off and we did our ablutions and got to breakfast as it opened at 7am. We were the only ones there until 7.30am!!

We went back to the room and packed, preparing for the journey. 

We leave the room at 8.45am, check out takes a minute and we walk from the hotel the 10 minutes to Gare de Nord. I'll remember this hotel, its ease of access to Gare de L'Est where we came in from Germany, along with its short (only one turn) walk to Gard de Nord makes it perfect for anytime we are coming too or through Paris. 

We arrive at the Gard de Nord at 9.00am. 

We are through both passport controls and baggage check by 9.10am. Drew was convinced the British e-gate would reject my bruised right eye, but I went through without any problems. 

We waited in the passenger lounge until 9.30 and then boarded couch 3 on the Eurostar. 

We have, again, upgraded to Standard Premier which means a slightly larger seat on the train, access to power points at each seat and a snack on voyage.

The train has UK sockets on one side and European on the other, seemed strange to take the Euro one off after over three weeks.  

We have our second breakfast 

[Co-pilot's note: He nicked my grapes!]
[Pilot's note: In my defence we swapped, he had two chocolate croissants!!]

and the clock goes back an hour and we arrive in St. Pancras at 11.30 UK time. 

We walk to the Hammersmith and City line platform, arriving at 11.40am. The first train is in 2 minutes. We arrive in Paddington at 11.45am. 

Our only potential worry is the fact that there is a train strike in the UK today, meaning our booked train to Cardiff has been cancelled and replaced with one train an hour at a different time. So, we may be standing to Cardiff today like we did from Strasbourg to Paris on Thursday!

Still, the train isn't until 12.40am so we head to Starbucks and have a coffee each.

As the trains to Cardiff are running but not as timetabled, so there are no reserved seats on the one train an hour! Having past experience in Paddington to Cardiff trips (I remember one year when I was doing the journey every Wednesday afternoon-evening to teach an Open University tutorial) helped. Knowing that a train from Bristol had come in and that the last Cardiff train had gone back to Bristol, meant we moved towards the train before it was announced as going to Cardiff. This meant we were in the second row of the queue for the run to the train. 

The last passenger got out from the incoming train, the staff threw open the gates and people literally ran. We got on the first second class carriage, got seats together and were comfortable as we headed on our way at 12.46pm. 

We arrive at Cardiff at 2.55pm, 14 minutes late which isn't at all bad, given the rest of the problems there have been on the trains today.  

The Metro work continues and this means we have replacement buses instead of trains to Taffs Well today. 

There are 15 staff including 3 supervisors standing around while one young lady sorts which buses people get on. I'm not sure why there were so many people, but it would have been helpful if they had spoken to passengers not each other. 

At 3.15pm the bus departs, but instead of heading towards Llandaff, it travels, very slowly through the City Centre in Cardiff to pick people up at Queen Street station - there was only one person there and they didn't get on the bus as it wasn't calling at Treforest! It called at Llandaff but was going so slowly we decided to get off at Radyr and walk the mile and a half home rather than wait for it to get to Taffs Well and walk back the .8 of a mile. 

I don't know what the dog walkers and cyclists on the Taff Trail thought of two people with suitcases walking along, but the weather was fine, the sun was shining, so we didn't mind. The photo at the top of this post is me arriving in Tongwynlais just before the M4 bridge.

We arrived home at 4.20pm.


This has been an amazing holiday, the fun of planning a holiday as complex as this one is making sure all the parts fit together. So, I'm glad, looking back at the end of the holiday, that everything worked so well. There were some train delays but all the journeys worked out and all the hotel bookings worked perfectly. It is such a relief when it all works out so well. 


As I conclude this blog there is a lot to look back on. We travelled 3,927 miles between cities, 3,234 by train, 382 by coach and 311 by ferry. 

During the holiday I've walked 152.53 miles (348,123 steps), that's an average of 6.6 miles (15,136 steps) per day with 11.07 miles (26,718 steps) on the busiest day (Warsaw) and 1.64 miles (4,147 steps) on the quietest day when we were on the train from Berlin to Warsaw).

We also travelled 96 miles by subway or bus in the cities we were visiting. 

Yet, though we have been really busy, it was also really relaxing and I've seen so many new places and have some wonderful memories. 

On a positive note, I weighed 12 stone 10lb (80.7kg) when we left for the holiday and I return weighing 13 stone 2lb (83.5kg). Not a bad outcome after all the eating we have done, clearly the balance between exercise and eating wasn't too far out at all.

[Co-pilot's observation: You may have noticed, dear readers, a minor delay in the completion of this blog. One can't help but feel that one of the principal reasons for that is the sheer number of photographs 'someone' insisted on taking during this holiday and the commensurate amount of time it took to upload and catalogue them on Flickr. In total, dear readers, we took 6,035 photos on this holiday, despite someone being told he had a daily budget of 100 photographs. I have started to develop RSI in my right index finger, and we all know who is to blame!!!]


There are so many special memories from this holiday that it is hard to pick out highlights. 

Of all the towns we visited Stockholm was the one that had the biggest impact on me, but I loved the time in Brussels, Berlin and Vilnius too - indeed there wasn't a single place that I wouldn't revisit sometime in the future. We made sure there was more to see in Helsinki, Hamburg and Paris, so we have an excuse to go back to any of them. Indeed, the holiday worked out so well that picking one highlight seems futile, the whole thing was a big highlight, filled with lots of individual highlights.

The most unexpected event of the holiday was meeting Bobby and Rosina Metha in a restaurant in Brussels. So unlikely, but so lovely to catch-up with old friends.


We decided to take a 'belt and braces' approach to tickets and printed everything that we had on our mobiles - we didn't need to use them even once. I'd be tempted to abandon the paper version on future trips and trust the technology.


We ate so well that it is also hard to pick out favourite meals. The most memorable was the one we ate in the medieval setting of a dark, underground basement in Riga. The service and quality of food at Rutz and the Palace were exceptional, but for me the favourite meal was the one at Esens'all, less pomp than at the other two 'poncy' dinners, but simple yet exceptional food. 


Finally, a big thank you to all those who journeyed with us for all or part of this holiday. It is always a pleasure to share the experience and get input and insight from so many of you. While Facebook has been annoying in blocking access to the blog, many of you endeavoured to use other means to access the material and continue to journey with us.

Thanks especially to those who corrected my misspellings and other errors both on the blog and on Flickr - I know I've kept you very busy, thanks.

So, this trip is over, here's to many more. All being well we'll be headed to Australia in a year's time - I hope you'll join us again then.

Esens'All - A delightful return

We leave the hotel at 6.55pm and undertake a reverse route from this afternoon, catching the metro 4 and changing on to the M2 to the Roma station and walk to the restaurant.

We arrive at Esens'all at 7.25pm for our 7.30pm booking and we are the only clients for the first 50 minutes of our meal.

We first visited Esens'all in 2012 during our last European trip - Drew had read about it on TripAdvisor and it was a wondeful experience - we even blogged about it here.

The place is much lighter and brighter 11 years on, but apart from that Laurent is still doing his magic. When we were last here the place had not been open a year. One more change, the options are now five or seven courses, it was six and eight back then. One thing hadn't changed Laurent discusses your preference or dislikes in advance and then he creates the menu influenced by that. Having treated us so well 11 years ago we left him to his own choices. 

Lauret, doesn't only cook the food, he also serves it and gives detailed insight into its provenance and how it fits with his food philosophy. 

The Amuse Boche was Ravioli with mozzarella, basil and oregano and micro-flowers olive oil, the overall experience was light and zingy. 

Our first course was Goat's cheese and smoked salmon with fish roe offering a pop of salt, all in the shortest pastry I've ever tasted. It provided a real comfort and a feeling of delight and joy. Food should always be so amazing. Unfortunately, you are going to have to take our word for it, as I didn't stop eating long enough to take a photo!

The bread course was freshly cooked focaccia and pain de campagne, these were served with a soy butter. The butter had all the flavour of soy sauce but with a richer background notes as it is made into a butter. We were cheeky and asked for another set of breads so we could use up the butter.

Our next course was shrimp with four types of tomato in seasonal oil with roasted seemed seeds, linseeds and aniseed served with microflower and herbs. It seemed like a tomato would be very happy to be a part of this dish. 

I'm afraid with Lauret spending so much time with us, I've not been doing well on the photos. I missed the shrimp and tomoaroes dish, but at least you can see that the bowl and the cutlery was very pretty!! 

Next came a dish Lauret asked us to guess at. This is how it looks:

The powder tastes and acts like gel in the mouth, full bodied and rich. Yes, it is powder on the spoon, but the moment it goes into the mouth it gives a creamy mouth feel, nothing less than culinary magic. We identify the flavour of kaffir lime leaves in the dish, but (unlike the French couple who arrived and had it a little later than us) we didn't recognise the foie gras, it had been frozen and then crushed. The third taste is coco bean powder, a hint of chocolate. The combined flavour is such a delight I wish the dish would never end - wonderful.

Our next course was fresh peas, smoked eel, puffed rice, egg (lightly boiled), roe and verbena sauce. The lemonyness of the verbena works well with the eel, the pea has a savoury flavour and the puffed rice and a crispness, the just cooked egg could have been gloopy, but in this chef's hands it has become a sauce which draws out the flavour of the peas and meaty eel. 

Our fish course was a lightly steamed cod with Jerusalem artichoke, white peach, poppy seeds foam and microflowers and microherbs. Drew reminded me that my sister warned me off poppy seeds as they could come up on a drug test - but as I wasn't planning to have a drug test I was happy to eat the juicy flavour which enhanced the delicacy of the cod.

Our meat course was a breast of duck, black carrot cooked in cumin and sesame seeds, sweet potato mash and black garlic sauce - again a combination that I wouldn't have thought of putting together, but which when combined makes for glorious eating. I wonder if the chef has dreams where he makes up these dishes - when I ask, he says he has a book beside his bed and whiteboard in his kitchen, so he can catch the thoughts when they come through his mind. I'm so glad he does.  

The pre-dessert is a sesame and chia seed crisp with raspberries, strawberries, pomegranate, melon and blackberries served with mascarpone and an herb ice cream. The flavours are fresh and light, as intended the pre-dessert combines savoury flavours with a hint of sweetness.

Our dessert is a chocolate ganache with black peppers and paprika ice cream. Yes, read that again and allow the idea to enter your mind, the food was as unbelievable as it implies. All the flavours seemed to be the opposite of what you might expect in a dessert, the chocolate was spiky with black pepper, the ice cream did indeed taste exactly like paprika, not a flavour I've ever associated with ice cream and the caramel wasn't a sugar feast but a flavour of star anises and clove. 

There isn't a flavour I'd not tasted before, but in combinations that I can barely believe even after I've eaten them.

The world-famous chef, Escoffier said that what made French cuisine special is the ability to use simple ingredients and transform them by artful techniques, Lauret exemplifies this in everything he creates. It is great reminder, as this holiday comes to an end, that it is not the number of waiters or even meeting the chefs than make for good food, but creative ideas executed to perfection. We are so lucky we can expereince delights like this.

We finish with an espresso each

and leave at 10.15pm, arriving back at the Holiday Inn at 11pm.

Tuesday, 5 September 2023

A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life

It was Thomas Jefferson, who lived in Paris from 1784 to 1789, who said:

A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life

and 240 years later, I think he had it just right. But before describing our day in Paris, let's go back to the beginning of the day.


I woke up at 4.10am and was glad to see that apart from a black eye and a few scraps on my hands I'm still feeling great. The small cut on my eyebrow that did all the bleeding last night isn't visible with my lovely shiner. I use the time before Drew wakes up to complete the Riga to Tallinn blog post.

Drew wakes at 6am and I make a cup of tea for us both and do our ablutions. 


We go down to breakfast at 7.30am. I was right in my guess yesterday, there is no sign of herring in the Paris breakfast offer.

The selection of cheese, light fluffy omelette and cooked meats make up for the missing herring, though I am going to miss that sharp tang.


While I'm feeling well my glasses didn't come off so lightly, one of the arms is so out of kilter that the glasses sit at a strange angle. I spot that there is an Optician nearby, the Saint Martin Optical Centre. The person who serves me does a great job of straightening my glasses, they aren't perfect, but they are wearable, which is good as my spare pair are at home.

Paris Metro 

After having no problem with apps in any of the many and varied places we have visited, it is the Paris Metro app that only works with France registered phones, which defeats me. It is set up so that your metro travel is billed to the phone account. So, while I still buy a day ticket, it is a card one bought at one of the machines in Gare du Nord for 8.45 each.

As well as using a machine and having a card, you need to write on it to validate it. At home I always carry a pen but I've dropped out of this practice during this holiday as I was finding it hard to take my phone in and out of my pocket with my pen in the way. So, if you look back at the photos, you'll see I stopped carrying it from Vilnius onwards. Pity, as today it would have helped. Still, we managed to borrow one from the customer service assistant at the station and write on our names and the date.

Norte Dame

I'd not planned any details of the trip to Paris, other than booking a restaurant for a meal tonight. In a way I saw Paris as a relaxing day at the end of the holiday. Indeed, the original plan was to go from Hamburg to Amsterdam and catch the Eurostar from there, but Amsterdam is hosting the Formula One Grand Prix, so had no accommodation available, hence us ending the trip here.  

Though as we are in Paris, 11 years since we were last here, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss visiting some of the traditional sites. And given the events of 2019 it was at Notre Dame that we started.

Notre Dame had made such a big impact on me in previous visits to Paris, now it is a building site, but with lots of evidence of its renewal. The images around the building use photos from a National Geographic report on the reconstruction, so it seems best to link direct to that article.

Eiffel Tower

We walk from Notre Dame to the College De France 

where we pick up the Bus 86 which goes from here to Rapp-La Bourdonnais.

We arrive at the Eiffel Tower just before midday and decide that we are perfectly happy viewing from the bottom, having previously visited the top (well I did, Drew doesn't like heights!) [Co-pilot's note: It is not the heights that bother me, dear readers, it is the sudden stop at the bottom of the drop!!]

We walk down to the River Seine 

and walk along the bank until we come to the Olympic clock, which is counting down to July next year or 336 days.

Place de La Concorde

We left the tower area and caught the Bus 42 to Place de La Concorde at the end of the Champs-Elysées.

The 3,300 year-old Luxor Obelisk is always very impressive, but the two amazing fountains, the Fontaines des Mers et des Fleuves are closed for renovations.

From the Obelisk we walked down the Champs-Elysées to its junction with Avenue Winston Churchill where the Grand and Petit Palais are located. 

Like the tourists we are we took photos of Clemenceau, De Gaulle and Churchill, all who have statues in this area.

Musée de l’Armée

We continued our walk interested in the large dome we could see the other side of the Seine.

It turns out this is the Musée de l’Armée which is a location of the Tomb of the Emperor Napoleon. Perhaps it planned to give us an excuse for another visit to Paris, as the site is being renovated and won't open until just before the Olympics next year. Still, it is a very imposing building.

Sacré Coeur

We catch the Bus 92 and then the Metro 13 to Place de Clichy from which we change to Metro 2 to Anvers and then up the Funicular to Montmartre.

Sacré Coeur is as busy as always, but is such a prayerful place, even with the crowds all around.

Back to the Hotel 

We leave Montmartre and walk down the back of the hill, rather than the way we came up.

We catch the Metro 12 from Lamark, it is a very old station and, when we get to the bottom of the steps, we are warned there are 112 of them - I guess they were easier to walk down than they would have been up, but it would have been nice to know at the top. 

We change at Market Possineures and catch Metro 4 to Gard L'Est, arriving at the hotel at 3.30pm. It does make a good impression from this angle, which I'd not noticed on the day we arrived.


I snoozed for an hours after our walk in the heat of Paris. I complete another blog post and from 6pm onwards we shower and dress for dinner.

We headed out of the hotel at 7pm for our dinner at Esens'all, but more about that in the next post.