Wales & Paris - 2001

Welcome to our trip description of Wales and Paris.  This was our first trip to Wales (northern Wales) and our second trip to Paris.  I updated our European Trip Advice page to encompass a little more of what we discovered on this vacation, so be sure and check it out if you want to determine what worked best (and worst) for us and the things that can save you a lot of time for your trip to Europe.

We began our trip by flying from Denver, Colorado to London Gatwick non-stop on my favorite airline - British Airways.  We are definitely getting better at this since we followed our tried and true method for avoiding jet lag as described in my European Trip Advice page.  We took the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station and then a taxi to our Hotel (the Bonnington).  We spent our first night in Bloomsbury (outside of London) and walked about one block to the Hertz car rental center to pick up our medium sized car for the drive to Betws-y-Coed in Northern Wales for our week long stay.  The drive was long in the sense that it took us four hours to get there, but it was a nice drive on nice roads.  After our stay in Wales we came back to the same hotel, dropped off our car and then the next day left for Paris via London Heathrow where we stayed for another week.  We returned from Paris to London Gatwick and took a taxi from Victoria Station to the same Hotel, stayed two days and returned to the U.S.  Our airfare was about $800 total for the roundtrip to London and the roundtrip to Paris from London.  One of the kids got a 20% discount for being under 12 years old.  Not bad airfare price since it included two trips.  Quite a nice visit to Wales and Paris with no real problems and look forward to another visit.  Check out the info below to read more about our trip and to see some of the nearly 800 pictures I took using my digital camera.

 

Castle Information - Check out this site to find info on various Castles in Wales.
Paris Info - This site includes advertisements but can point you to quite a bit of info.

Wales 2001 - Covers some of our adventures while in Wales.
Wales 2001 Pictures - Some of the many pictures we took while on vacation.

Paris 2001 - A description of our second time in Paris.
Paris 2001 Pictures - Yet a few more pictures of Paris (see Paris Pictures - 1999 for more).

 

 

Wales - 2001

What a beautiful place Wales turned out to be!  Not that I would be that surprised given all the comments I had read on the Internet, but it turned out to be much more than I imagined.  We chose to focus on northern Wales this time, and will try southern Wales the next time (probably two years from now).  Northern Wales is a very lush, green area with lots of trees and the Snowdonia mountain area nearby.  There are many things to see while in Wales and you can also take a day trip up to Chester, England and see another medieval city much like York, England.

Driving To Wales From London
The weather was nice and cool which is fine by me, and we got to Betws-y-Coed by driving from London (from the Bloomsbury Hertz rental car place near the Bonnington Hotel) as follows: 

  • London to Birmingham - A40->M40->M42->M5->M6. This was a rather easy drive and was not slow at all.

  • Continue the other side of Birmingham on M6, then M6->M54->A41 to Chester then via the A55, A470 to Betws-y-Coed.


This drive was easy on large roads, and although the roads were busy, we never felt in danger due to traffic nor were we slowed down at all.  I got this route from someone that traveled the roads often and said that 25 years of driving experience made it the best route to travel.  There is a southern route you could travel but the roads were narrow and winding around a little too much for me.

 

Betws-y-Coed
We decided to make Betws-y-Coed our base for travel as it is somewhat inland from the sea (about 30 minutes) and got us close to the center of all we planned to see.  We stayed at a charming B&B named Aberconwy House with delightful hosts (Dianne and Kevin Jones) and made day trips to see castles, slate mines, and the mountainous area in Snowdonia.  The price for the B&B was quite reasonable (a total of 130 dollars U.S. per night for two rooms each night - two of us to each room), and the full English breakfasts were very good.  I can't say enough good things about this B&B and the proprietors and would highly recommend that you stay there if possible.  We booked all of our reservations via the Internet and had absolutely no problems.  We walked to the main part of the city (about a 10 minute walk) and ate at the various restaurants (they have 16 restaurants in the nearby area) that all served very good food.  Ty Gwyn was probably our favorite restaurant.

Castles In Wales
While in Betws-y-Coed we visited castles such as Gwydir, Caernarfon, Conwy, Dolbadarn, and Dolwyddelan.  Some of these comprise the "Iron Ring" of castles built by Edward I in the 1200s as a way to control the Welsh who he seemed to always have trouble with ruling.  Caernarfon is a very picturesque castle where he offered up his son as the Prince of Wales.  It sits right beside the sea and you can't miss it. 

Slate Mines And Train Travel
For the slate mines we decided to visit Blaenau Festiniog and the Llechwedd slate mines.  If you want to get a feel for Welsh, ask someone for a place to visit Slate mines.  They have a strange way of pronouncing Llechwedd that sounds like they are going to spit on you.  We got quite good at pronouncing the double-L sound that only the Welsh can say with ease. 

We also took a narrow gauge train to Blaenau Festiniog that was quite fun.  Be sure and get the first class tickets since it isn't much more of a price and you will often have a railroad car to yourself.  If you forget to buy the ticket, relax - you can upgrade the ticket there on the train when the guy asks to see your ticket.  One thing to watch out for though is the favorite past-time I have - drinking a pint of beer in a local pub.  This train ride is rather long and you might have to use the bathroom if you leave the pub and get on the train.  It doesn't have a bathroom in the private first class cars (not sure any of the cars had bathrooms) and the ride is long.

In closing, this area of Wales is beautiful and rich with history.  The Welsh are proud people and you get the feeling that you are in a distinctively different country based on the language, the signs (never saw so many consonants in names), and the history associated with Llywelyn ap Iorwerth the great Welsh statesman.  I think you will find the visit to northern Wales a journey you will always treasure.  I could write much more, but do yourself a favor and go to Northern Wales since verbiage will do it no justice.

 

Paris - 2001

This was our second visit to Paris as a family (the last visit was two years ago) and this time we decided to stay closer to the heart of downtown.  We stayed at a nice Hotel (Bersoly's) that had a very good air conditioned rooms (very important in late June since it can be quite hot and humid that time of year), and were near most of the sites you would want to see such as D'Orsay, the Louvre, the Seine, and many other areas.  It was also within easy walking distance of bus lines (you can use your Metro pass to ride the buses) and a nice people-watching cafe - Les Deux Magots (where Hemingway used to hang out).  Quite a few good restaurants were within easy walking distance as well.  We found our Hotel to be nice and quiet since the road outside was narrow and had little traffic.  The proprietor was a nice lady and the staff couldn't have been better.  The Hotel was a step up from most hotels and is rated a three star hotel.  Since there were four of us we required two rooms - two people per room.  The rate was 800 FF per night per room, so that's 1600 FF per night at about $217 U.S.  That may seem like a lot, but considering the quality of the rooms, the location (location matters), and the friendly staff it was well worth the money.  The Hotel is on the Left Bank not too far from D'Orsay on Rue de Lille.  By the way, it's called the Left Bank because it's on the South side of the river which would be on your left side as you travel down the Seine river which flows towards the west. 

Bersoly's Hotel
The Bersoly's Hotel's info can be found at http://www.bersolys-paris-hotel.com/. We stay at Bersoly's because of the proximity to many sites of interest, especially Musee D'Orsay and the Louvre.

Sites We Visited
We got to see many things on this trip including Versailles (just not all of it due to crowds), the Louvre (went there twice), D'Orsay, Montmartre, Sacre Coeur, Arc de Triomphe, Invalides, etc. and must have walked ten miles per day.  We also got to see my friend Ed's Mom and ate at a famous Ice Cream place where we had a nice visit with Momma Srenger.  I hadn't seen her in about ten years so she looked wonderful and I swear that unlike me, she had not aged one day.  I can only hope that I'm in as good a shape as her when I'm her age.

We had seen many of the other sites on our last trip two years ago and added Invalides and Montmartre that we had not seen.  Montmartre has a small museum and once we visited the museum we sat down for a drink of Leffe beer.  One big mistake we made was that we let one guy come up and start sketching one of us.  He really wasn't that good but his work attracted two other "artists."  Before we knew it each was demanding quite a bit of money and wouldn't take no for an answer.  They were pleading with us to pay them and kept dropping the price until I said OK.  We finally left with some cheesy "renderings" that we will probably put away so that years later we can laugh about how the "artists" took advantage of us.  I wish I would have had my buddy Ed with me since he would know how to blow them off.

Pick Pockets In Paris
The only troublesome thing was near the end of our journey when I was riding on a busy Metro car.  Three pick-pockets got on the subway and targeted me as their source for easy money.  I caught one of them bumping me from the front and another from the side and suddenly realized that they were planning to get my wallet.  I kept my wallet in my front pocket thinking it would be safer than my back pocket and the guy across from me was using his open vest to mask his far hand as he was sliding my wallet up my front pants pocket from the outside.  Their tactic was to slide my wallet up, the guy beside me would grab it just as the doors were opening on the Metro, and if I tried to go for them the guy behind me would most likely push me down in to the crowd of people in the Metro car.  They were timing this just before we got to a Metro stop.  I'm a pretty cautious guy and suddenly realized that something seemed strange so as I reached for my wallet, the guy in front of me let it fall back down in to my pocket, the Metro door opened and all three of them got off turned and looked at me and then the doors shut and we were gone.  Whew! Came really close on that one.  If I had my money in a money belt this probably would not have happened.  Another thing I was constantly warned about was never hold my digital camera by its strap and never set it on a table in front of me.  Given that I paid about 800 bucks for my camera, I tightly carried the camera by wrapping the strap several times in my fingers and wrapping the strap around my hand tightly.  I also kept the strap tightly wrapped around my fingers and hand while standing and taking pictures. You can also check out my Pinball buddy Pete's Paris pages as well.

All in all this was a very nice visit with nice weather although they said it was "unusually hot" for that time of year (late June).  I always hear these statements about the local weather so it doesn't surprise me all that much.  The kids really appreciated the Louvre and D'Orsay this time and I look forward to going back and seeing even more the next time we travel to Paris.

Go here to see some Paris pictures.

Remember to check out my page on European trip advice to align expectations that you may have about traveling to Europe as well as ways to make your travel experience a little simpler.

   

 

All Graphics & Text Steve Corley

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