Travel Jottings

We flew from to Paris via Abu Dhabi for a 10-day Tauck tour along the Rhone, starting and finishing at Lyon. It was our first European river cruise, and we enjoyed the leisurely pace and the fabulous scenery. It was our third visit to Paris in 18 months and we love it more and more. I know Paris has been getting bad publicity lately but, as we all know, the press always focuses on bad news. This is why we have heard so much about the “yellow vests” with their destruction and protests.

But there wasn’t much evidence of violence when we were there. The tour did include a dinner at the iconic Fouquet restaurant on the Champs-Élysées, which had been attacked by protesters before our visit … the outside was burned and cordoned off awaiting repairs, but we had dinner upstairs, which was fine.

When our ship was berthed at Lyon, the “yellow vests” were protesting at a bridge nearby, and I took the opportunity to wander among them. It was quite safe – there were over 100 heavily armed police encircling them – and my overall impression was they were just ordinary people. We were told the protest started when President Macron put up the price of fuel as an environmental measure, and when protests achieved some success in reducing that tax, the protesters moved to other issues.

We never did find out what those other issues are, but got the impression that tax on wages was one of them. Apparently, in France there is no PAYG system, and every September the hapless workers get a bill for a whole year’s tax. Given a worker on $70,000 a year may pay $15,000 a year in tax, you can imagine the problems when a bill for $15,000 arrives.

Each Saturday the yellow vests choose, without prior notice, an area somewhere in France to protest in, which means the police have to be on standby all weekend to go where they are needed. Imagine the cost.

Anyway, I am pleased to report that Paris is as magnificent as ever, although right now they are preparing for the 2024 Olympic Games, which makes the whole place one giant construction zone – this means traffic jams everywhere.

Next we spent five days in London, and as I looked out of the plane window on a perfect, sunny day I reflected that London is one of the world’s most beautiful cities. It’s as good as flying into Sydney. We got through Heathrow quickly, and I was delighted to find out that from next month Australians will no longer be treated as aliens at passport control. In any event, Heathrow is moving to 100% facial recognition in a couple of years. They claim this will result in a fast, seamless transition from plane to street.

Like Paris, London was awash with tourists, with streets and shops packed. It is such a great city – every day we simply wandered out of our hotel and ended up where the moment took us.

We flew from London direct to Los Angeles, and the contrast started as our plane descended. Instead of lush green England, we saw smoggy brown Los Angeles, and instead of mazes of streets and tiny lanes, we saw giant freeways clogged with motorcars.

Of course, when you travel, the costs are huge. In the UK there is a VAT 20% on most purchases and a service charge of 15% on all restaurant bills. In California there is sales tax plus tip. For starters, a cappuccino is $5, which becomes AU$7.40 when you convert. After you add a 20% tip, and around 10% sales tax,  a cup of coffee is getting close to AU$10.

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