For my Europe trip this year I decided to head off to southern France and bypass Paris altogether, and to finish off the trip with a couple of days relaxing in Amsterdam.
Overall the weather was pretty disappointing, most days were cloudy but not too much rain thankfully. Towards the end of May the weather started to get better with one day in Amsterdam being nice and warm (and I even got a bit of a tan!) but I think my next trip would need to be June (but need to avoid all the school holidays).
The trip started with a day flight from Melbourne to Hong Kong where I stayed for a day to break up the trip.
Given the short layover in Hong Kong I stayed pretty close to my hotel, the InterContinental Grand Stanford. I was at the hotel around 90 minutes after landing and I threw my bags on the bed, had a quick fresehen up and headed out for dinner. I ended up at the hotel bar, Tiffany’s, a little later on to make use of my drink coupons. Tiffany’s has a pretty decent selection of whiskies if that’s your poison.
As per my trip last year I headed to Yat Chui Pavilion Dim Sum, a couple of hundred metres up Mody Road, for a great meal of steamed pork buns, steamed BBQ pork rice rolls & fried shrimp rice rolls. A great feed for a really reasonable price.
Before checking out I headed to a new place called London House which is a Gordon Ramsey restaurant / bar. The lunch was nice but the beer selection was limited and I think the prices were over the odds.
The Cathay Pacific flight to Paris had us landing pretty much on time and while there was a little queue at immigration I still made it to the train station at CDG with plenty of time to spare for my TGV to Bordeaux.
While I was waiting for the train at the airport I decided to just observe what was happening, especially being on the lookout for pickpockets. Once you know what to look for it was so easy to identify them. They’re almost always a single male, doing laps around a certain area, their eyes are always darting around and drawn to people’s trouser pockets looking for wallets. They’ll invariably be speaking on the phone, or have an earpiece in, as their accomplace will be on a floor above looking down and directing them to their target. Thankfully, they were unsuccessful this morning and they scurried away like the spineless cowards they are when the group of heavily armed security guards and the army did their rounds.
Before jumping on the train I headed to the pâtisserie PAUL to grab a couple of pastries for the three and a half hour trip to Bordeaux augmented by a coffee, cake and chocolate bought on the train.
Just before 1pm the train pulled into Bordeaux St Jean station and I walked to my hotel, the Hotel ibis Bordeaux Centre Gare Saint Jean, around 300m from the station.
There’re about half a dozen ibis hotels in Bordeaux, make sure you know which one to go to. My ibis was a little off the beaten track, but it’s only a 10 minute walk from the train station and to the trams, so not too far away. The room was good, the bed was decent (given I hadn’t slept for something like 40 hours I would have slept anywhere) and I had a little bit of a view but I wasn’t able to see the Garonne River due to the trees. The buffet breakfast was simple but decent. Only thing that pissed me off a little was that there wasn’t a way to wash my clothes (it seems none of the ibis brands offer a laundry service grrrr) so my room ended up looking like a chinese laundry.
Food and drinkwise I came across a couple of gems in Bordeaux.
For beer I really liked The Frog & Rosbif. The Frog & Rosbif is, I would later find out, a chain – I’d also go to their Toulouse bar of the same name a couple of days later, and last year I went to the Frog XVI which is also part of the chain. Really good beers here.
But it was the food that really impressed me.
Le 1925, where I headed for lunch, was an absoluelty superb, traditional French restaurant with crisp, white tablecloths and napkins, and a seriously good menu – do yourself a favour, visit Le 1925.
In the evening I happened across La Tanière. I arrived around 7pm to find the staff having dinner but I was welcomed in and offered a seat and a beer to wait until service started around 7:30. And I’m glad I did as this was one of my best dinners this trip. The duck breast was cooked exquisitely and the sauce divine (my mouth is watering just thinking about it) and the crème brûlée for dessert was a really great way to finish the meal. Another must do restaurant.
Toulouse is on the Canal du Midi which was built between 1667 and 1681 and is an engineering marvel but I honestly wasn’t overly impressed with Toulouse as a city. Maybe I just went to the wrong bits and potentially stayed in the wrong area.
There were 2 standouts though.
First was The Frog & Rosbif which had a decent choice of beers and the burger was decent.
But I was most impressed by L’Ane Qui Tousse. All the courses were supurb. Great roasted camembert, excellent duck and a pretty good creme brulee.
I liked Monpellier much more that Toulouse. The small, windy streets and medievel architecture were really nice to wander around.
There are many great places to eat and drink. Top of the list was Café Latitude for decent coffee in a great location. For beers you can’t go wrong with Les BerThoM Montpellier and The Beehive.
But the most disappointing was probably La Crêperie de la Comédie, the food was uninspiring and the wait service could have been better.
Hotel ibis Styles Montpellier Centre Comedie was a good, modern hotel that’s in a central location. As with the ibis in Bordeaux, there’s no laundry service here either.
I could live in Montpellier!
Lyon grew on me but I definitely stayed in the wrong part of town. I’d decided to stay at Hôtel ibis Styles Lyon Centre – Gare Part Dieu next to the station and while the hotel was fine its a real shithole of a location. Apart from the station there’s really nothing to do and nowhere to eat closeby. You’ll need to tram or bus it to anywhere. That said, I did eat at the hotel restaurant one evening and the meal was pretty good.
Nomade MicroPub is a bar halfway between Gare Part Dieu and the Rhone River. They have around 8 taps which serve excellent beers. It’s gets busy and that shows you how good it is. Bar staff were great to chat to and knew the beers well.
Over in the Saint-Paul area is Le Cabaretier where I had a magnificent lunch. There was no English menu and there was little English spoken but you should be able to get the gist of the menu. The meal itself was great in a very nice medievel setting. Like many restaurants in France there was a 3 course special.
No day would be complete without beer and I found Les BerThoM Fousseret Lyon closeby so headed on in and had a number of very decent beers in a nice setting.
If I return to Lyon I’d stay over in the Saint-Paul area for the variety of food and drink options and a generally nicer area to stay.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I could live in Amsterdam – just need to win the lotto! Maybe I can split my time between Amsterdam and Montpellier.
So many great places to enjoy a beer. The Beer Tasting Room In The Wildeman has a huge selection of beers to choose from and it’s in a great central location with heaps of food options. I spent too little time here, but will fix that next time.
The Gollems (Amstelstraat & Raamsteeg) are two other places for a beer officianado and like The Wildeman have a HUGE selection of beers from all around the world. There’s also a third Gollem not too far away that’s on my list.
And of course, the view from Café de Sluyswacht was still worth it.
Foodwise I thought the Ribsfactory Amsterdam was pretty good, and my second visit to Frenzi was just as good as my first last year. Cafe Luxembourg, while in a great location and looked good, was probably a little overpriced for what was served.
Despite the stuff up with the laundry service the Eden Hotel Amsterdam is still a good hotel in a good central location.
To get between cities I chose to use trains. I’d booked early so I managed to get first class seats at some really good prices. All except one of the trains were right in time. The only train that left late was from Lyon to Brussels, where I needed to change to my train to Amsterdam, but they managed to make up the time by reducing the time spent at Lille Europe.
One thing that I did learn was when booking the train from Lyon to Amsterdam, which was 2 different trains with a change in Brussels, was to book this as two seperate trips. If you book 2 trips, one from Lyon to Brussels, and a second from Brussels to Amsterdam you will be ticketed with 2 etickets which you can store in the app and the conductor can scan.
However, if you book Lyon to Amsterdam in one transaction then, for some stupid reason, they can’t issue an eticket and will physically post (yep, post) the tickets to you! How retro. You then need to validate your ticket in the validator machine at the station before you board or you can be fined. Also, for some reason, when I booked my country dropped off the booking so I didn’t know if I’d get the tickets in the post, but they showed up in about 10 days so all was good. It was SNCF customer service who gave me the hint to book as two transactions next time to get etickets.
I was really impressed with the trains – they were clean and very comfortable.
My trip was winding up and I had an overnighter in Hong Kong to try to get back into the timezone a little. I stayed at the InterContinental Grand Stanford in East Tsim Sha Tsui again and got into the whisky at Tiffany’s again.
I did find a very decent coffee shop a short distance away called Black Sugar Coffee & Lifestyle which has some of the best coffee I’ve ever had!
The flight from Hong Kong back to Melbourne was uneventful. I didn’t manage to get an upgrade this time but had a bulkhead in economy that gave me a little room.
My ~3 week Europe adventure was over. Time to get back to work, make some money and plan the next trip, don’t know where to yet though but I have some ideas.