Monday, July 13, 2009

EU trip (Dubai - England - Paris), Days 1-4

EU Trip

DAY 1-3
When I was a child I read some travel books in which the writers roamed around Europe and camped at different lakes and at different mountain places, since that time  I always dreamed of such a trip for myself. Though in all these years I never got a chance to make it due to one reason or the other. 

This year I had planned to do it while my family was suppose to be away for vacations in Pakistan. But by the turn of the events they also tagged along and now we all were heading to UK from where our trip started. It was high time to have this dream trip coming true, the only difference was that it was going to be a family trip, a mixture of camping, excursion, disney, and luxury. I had to plan with all sorts of activities so that everybody could enjoy the trip. With kids between the ages of 3 and 11 a lot of varied activities were required to spend the 35 days trip.
The plan was to drive across a few countries of Western Europe including France, Switzerland (our main priority), Holland, Belgium and then back to England. We would finish with a week’s trip to Scotland and then back to Dubai via London.

Our luggage was quite a bit because we were carrying our camping gear with us. None of our friends in EU or England had any camping gear, as they are not into such activities. Therefore, when we landed at Gatwick we had 3 big suitcases filled only with camping stuff in addition to our other luggage. And whatever we couldn’t carry with us we had to buy that stuff from the UK.
My friend Tariq dropped us off at the airport with his loaded Pajero with our luggage. Kids were excited and they didn’t trouble us on getting up early morning at 5:30 and in no time they were all ready, I presume they didn’t even sleep properly out of this journeys excitement. It was our first time traveling through the new terminal 3 at Dubai Airport so we kept some time for exploring it. Boarding cards were already printed so we checked-in without any hassle and fairly quickly. After exploring the duty free for some time we stopped at Marhaba lounge to have some refreshments and ended up with a full breakfast buffet. We were all stuffed when we started more walk through the shops at the new duty free area. They have done it pretty nicely to say the least.
Flight was not bad with kids getting some goodies to play with and for us there was a good lunch. Children enjoyed the onboard entertainments provided by the airline and watched their favorite movies also. We landed at London Gatwick at 1400 Hrs, and after collecting our luggage from the belts came out in the lounge. Wasim was waiting for us at the door and he was also accompanying us for the first leg of our journey through EU. He was all excited and had kept his ride ready for the long haul trip. The drive back to his place was just over an hour from the airport but it took us about 3 hours due to some traffic at the famous M25 and then a stop at the Outlet Mall on the way. You really find some good deals on stuff from the outlet malls if you dig for them. Before reaching home we picked up some dinner from a Turkish Donner place as Wasim’s family was visiting Pakistan.
There were a couple of days before we start our EU travel, and these couple of days were kept deliberately to complete preparations and check the stuff bought in the UK. The main supplies that we bought from there were a butane gas Stove and a Heater with their extra cylinders, sleeping mats (self inflatable ones), sleeping bag for Wasim and an extra long sleeping mat, disposable plates etc., toiletries, groceries etc. We spent these couple of days going to different shops for these items and made sure to load our Chrysler Voyager’s central compartments with our kitchen related and cooking items. The days flew by while we finished preparations for the trip. The checklist had all tick marks in the required column. We were all set to leave for the fairy now.


We would be entering EU via France. For going to France we had booked a ferry from Dower to Calais starting at 7:45am so we had to leave very early in the morning as we were in Milton Keynes which is some couple of hours from the Dover port. So we left at 5:00am to be there in time, we comfortably made it to Dover city very much in time, however there was a huge traffic jam in Dover that made us late to catch our booked fairy. By the time we reached the check-in place it was 8:30am already so we had to board a later ferry at 9:15am. We had paid priority boarding so we became the first car to board the ship at 9:15. After parking our car in the ship we went up to the dinning room to get some breakfast and enjoy the morning aboard this fairy. It was our first time carrying our car in the ferry so kids were real excited with this new experience. We kept wondering how they could fit so many buses, rvs and cars into this ferry.
We had very few choices for the breakfast as most of the things were not Halal, therefore we ended up taking some eggs, toasts, butter, jam, coffee and some potato wedges though we couldn’t even finish everything we bought. The taste was just about ok so we gulped to fill up enough. After the breakfast we started to explored the ship, the deck was very cold so we couldn’t spend much time on it, but went through the rest of the ship a couple of times before the journey ended at Calais.

We were the first one to come out at Calais as we were the first one loaded into the ship. Surprisingly no one checked any documents while boarding and no one even checked our docs while getting into France. Wasim was driving at this time, our car was a right-hand drive vehicle, although in EU there are left-hand drive vehicles so he took some time to getting used to the change. Paris was a couple of hours drive from Calais.

We were six people and we were almost on a budget trip other than the Disney days, therefore we had booked a Formula 1 hotel and found it to be the best possible accommodation for us and for our budget. Best thing about this chain of hotels is that these could be booked online or one could just walk in to, to get a bed. These are non-serviced rooms as there is not much staff available to take orders; there were only one or two people on duty who would do everything. You just need to put your credit card into the slot to get your number to enter your room; it is as simple as that. Each room had a queen size bed and a bunk on top of it. Other then this there was just one television and a washbasin in the room. There was a small dining area and basic food available in the lobby through vending machines. Showers and WCs were shared for each floor but more then enough for one floor as during our whole trip which had a few nights at different Formula 1s we never had to wait for one to get vacant. A microwave in the dining room was a plus for us as we had a lot of cooked frozen food with us. We had cooked a number of dishes in our stay at Milton Keynes while we were preparing for the journey to avoid the Halal food problem for as many days as possible. This hotel suited our budget and also due to the fact that we could freely do what we wanted. France has about 300 of such hotels and a few in the rest of EU. Two rooms rent was just 80 and some odd Euros, which is a good price for six people to stay anywhere in EU, the plus was each time we got two rooms that was convenient for us. It took us some time to find our hotel primarily, but when we found it, it was more than our expectations.
We had a plan to visit a few places in Paris that afternoon. For doing that we left our car at the hotel and started our walk to the station to catch a metro that was supposed to be just 10 minutes away. But it turned out to be more than that due to not knowing the exact directions to the station. We had a disadvantage of having no knowledge of French though kids helped us in this department. A Bangladeshi gentleman became our guide from here and he was so courteous that he missed his station to take us to our first tourist attraction. Language barrier got resolved for some time at least.

We visited a number of places until late into the night which are listed below
A para missing here.............

We rode the double decker, subway etc. and enjoyed the night to the full. We had long walks in Paris famous streets and headed back to the hotel via subway. It was very late at night when we reached our station but while getting out of the station took the wrong staircase to reach the different side of the station. It suddenly looked different but we had only visited this place once so we were not sure about the directions. We walked for about 15 minutes and then found someone on the street, after asked about the directions he told us we were going entirely on the wrong side. He was a gentleman and walked with us to a near by place where a few other people were chatting. They discussed our situation and offered us to drop us off at our hotel. It was quite a tough decision for us to whether go with them or not. All the more they had to take two cars, as we were seven people. We contemplated this for some time and then our gut feel told us to go ahead as the people really looked decent. We divided ourselves into two groups and off we went. The guys we were riding with was a new Muslim, he was a roman catholic before converting and was French national. His story was very interesting. He told us once he converted to Islam his family almost disowned him and so did he to them. But as he grew closer to the religion and studied about it he understood that he was suppose to be taking care of his parents as it is one of the main principles of Islam. So he did go back to his parents and extended his help to take care of them. They happily accepted it and now he goes to see them every now and then and took good care of them. He was an awesome person and very kind at heart. Those gentlemen dropped us at the hotel soon after his story ended. It was about 3am when we entered our room. The main challenge we faced in this exercise was to communicate with them, as all they knew was French and a very little English. Anyhow an interesting and tiring day ended.

(In progress)

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