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I'm an Aussie who likes wandering all over the world but keeps coming back home to paradise and my family. If you are reading this on one of my travel blogs, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed creating them. If you are reading the Diabetes and weight loss blog - I hope it helps in your battle with the beast. Cheers, Alan

Thursday, March 20, 2014

From Home to Hondarribia via Kuala Lumpur and Paris

On my way again. This is the most I pack on a trip. The carry-on is the backpack, with all my vital 'cannot lose' items in it including my net-book, travel bookings, chargers, medications and similar items. The other bag, which I check when I must, is mainly clothes and not a disaster if it gets lost.
Travel Date 16th-19th June 2013.
Click on any picture to see a larger version.

This post is all about 'getting there'. It includes some tips on what to do in preparation, and some hints on what not to do from my mistakes. If that part of travel bores you, skip to the next post :)

I initially wrote my trip reports of my visit to Europe and Morocco in 2013 on Facebook. Now that I have finally posted all my China trip reports I have decided to post the Europe trip here; that also lets me add more pictures. I wrote some first thoughts, exhausted because sleep escaped me, on the TGV train en-route from Paris to Hendaye. Which, I found when no-one at the Montparnasse information centre understood my fractured French, is pronounced On-day. 

The transport plan was:
  • Home to Tweed Heads bus (1hr)
  • Tweed heads to Varsity Lakes bus (1hr)
  • Varsity Lakes to Brisbane Airport train (1:45)
  • Brisbane to Kuala Lumpur air overnight (8 hours)
  • Transit KL 17 hours 6am-11pm  
  • KL to Paris CDG air overnight 12 hours
  • Transit Paris and bus to Montparnasse 6 hours
  • Montparnasse to Hendaye six hours.
  • Cab to Hondarribia.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, an experiment to save time and money. But I won't do this again. Next time I will do as I have in the past and plan overnight stays in transit cities. There are so many advantages to that practice, not the least being adequate sleep and reducing jet-lag.

I started the journey as I walked out the door to catch the 14:02 bus from the stop just five minutes' walk down the road in Pottsville. The intention was to connect with the 14:55 from Tweed Heads to Varsity Lakes rail station, connecting there to the Brisbane Airport train. The bus arrived ten minutes late. As a seasoned traveller I allow for things like that. Just as well, because the knock-on effect led to every connection being missed, but I still made the flight comfortably after two hour-long bus rides and just under two hours in the train. The flight departed on time at 11:20 pm.

Oh, to be wealthy and fly in business or first class. Only a dream. Instead I was back again in cattle class hoping for at least an empty seat beside me. Forlorn hope. Apparently I was not the only one taking advantage of Malaysia Airlines discounts to KL and Europe. There was not an empty seat on the long flight in the A330. Economy seat pitch is similar to most airlines – squashed for a six-footer – but at least the recline was better than Air Asia and full service was included, including beer, wines and spirits. The meal was nothing to write home about, effectively a pastry similar to a sausage roll filled with chicken and vegetables. Breakfast was more carbohydrates than anyone should eat at any time of day, but among the excess was a small sausage, some mushrooms and something that looked like scrambled eggs but lost any resemblance at that point. Still, better than no non-starchy choices at all.

I arrived in KLIA a little after 6 am. I passed swiftly through immigration, which was impressively well-staffed with no more than one or two people waiting at any one time. That was a dramatic improvement on my previous experiences in KL at both sides of the runway (KLIA and LCCT) and nice to see.
On the flight from Brisbane to KL I tried, but failed, to sleep. I felt grotty and jet-lagged; my main desire on arrival was a shower. The only option at KLIA was to spend $20 at the airport hotel for the privilege of using the bathroom. Pre-trip research on the web indicated better possibilities at KL Sentral, the main rail and bus terminus in town. There are cheaper options from the airport to the centre, 9MYR ($3) each way by bus, but the train is well worth the price of 35 MYR ($12) each way. Inside the KL Sentral complex I eventually found the showers. Look for the little blue 'Bilik Mandi' sign on the wall:

For 7MYR I was given a towel and the keys to a changing room. As the place is unisex I wore the towel from the room to the toilets (squat) and the showers.


If I appear to have a fixation with showers, believe me that can be priority one after a long, sleepless night and jet-lag. The facilities were basic, but well worth the visit. There is nothing like the feeling of refreshment from a shower after a long flight. Despite the lack of sleep I eventually felt capable of wandering Kuala Lumpur.

I spent a leisurely day re-visiting some places I had been before, especially the area around Bukit Bintang for its shops, cafes and restaurants. To fill in some time I bought a ticket on the KTM to Petaling to wander a locality away from tourists, have a snack in a street cafe, and get a feel for the area.

Finally I was back at the airport for dinner before departure on time at 11:40 pm. I had hoped for an empty seat beside me on the massive A380, but once again I was disappointed. Malaysian Air's marketing campaign was certainly filling the seats. I saw very few vacant seats and none near me. The midnight dinner was more generous than the previous flight. I chose braised beef which could have spent a little longer being cooked.

Sleep escaped me again. It didn't help that the Chinese lady immediately behind me appeared to have a sinus condition which required the loudest catarrhal clearing of the passages I've ever heard, without warning at hourly intervals. As I had the seat laid back and she leaned forward it was a startling experience each time.

The flight had a few small rough spots but was generally smooth, as was the touch-down. I would fly Malaysian again, but I may blow the budget on business class next time. Note that as I add this to my blog MH370 is still missing but I would happily fly Malaysian despite that.

We arrived in Paris CDG Terminal 1 about 6:30 am local time. By the time I had cleared immigration (quick) and waited for my bag at the carousel (slow) it was 7:30. Why is my bag always in the last bunch to arrive on the carousel? Another of life's great mysteries. 

My earlier web research helped me to quickly catch the internal train to terminal 2, grab some Euros from an ATM and connect with the LesCars bus to Montparnasse at 8:11. It was advertised as a 50 minute trip. That did not allow for Paris peak hour traffic. Two hours and twenty minutes later we arrived. I bought the TGV ticket on the web some months earlier when a discount of 40 appeared for a short time, probably an error but it was honoured. When I bought the ticket I deliberately chose the 12:27 departure to allow for late flights or similar contingencies. A wise move. I spent the waiting time consuming an all-liquid early lunch in a cafĂ© opposite the terminal: coffee followed by a glass of pleasant house red, a French onion soup and a beer. Despite my weariness it was a very pleasant interlude, including a chat over lunch with a couple travelling home from Venice to Rennes.

First class was pleasant. The train was comfortable but not as fast as my previous experiences of European high speed trains and also suffered from a delay for unspecified reasons.


I arrived in Hendaye at 7pm in pouring rain. The cab driver charged a set off-meter fare of €20 for the short 'international' trip to Hondarribia in Spain and then deposited me in the rain at the Paradores Hotel back door instead of the Palacete. Eventually, damp and weary (thank goodness I included a folding umbrella in the side pocket of my backpack) I found the Hotel Palacete. After re-discovering the bliss of true Spanish Tapas at the local restaurant I fell into bed weary but happy at 10 pm, a little over 2 1/2 days in real time after I left home. Miraculously the next morning I had no jet-lag, so I spent the day on a relaxed tour of Hondarribia.

Cheers, Alan

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