Looking up towards Arthur's Seat (in the rain), Edinburgh, Scotland
Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh, Scotland (in the rain!)
"Mum, what are we going to do today?"
If you are a mum, then you will have heard this many times before during the holidays. So.. what to do? Let's take the dog for a walk... in Edinburgh for the day!
So the next day saw the four of us, including Stella the dog, on the 0615 East Coast train from Doncaster to Edinburgh. Three hours later, after breakfast and several cups of tea, we arrived to find a cold, wet Edinburgh. We went straight down the Royal Mile, past the Scottish Parliament Building and into Holyrood Park. Before us was our objective ... Arthur's Seat, a 'mountain' right in the middle of Edinburgh.
We started up the path towards the summit and luckily for us, the rain stopped. It was a pleasant walk, not too steep and you could be forgiven for the thinking you were out in the countryside, not in a park in the city.
The summit of Arthur's Seat (251m) was very cold and windy and a little overcast. This mean't that the views were not as good as in previous walks up. On a good day, the views over the city can be spectacular and you can even see the Forth bridges.
After our 'expedition' up the mountain, we went to find a sheltered spot for our picnic lunch. By the time that we got back to the Scottish Parliament Building, it was raining quite heavily. We found a dry spot around the side of the Dynamic Earth Centre, but could not go inside as we had a dog. However, the lady that we spoke to at the door let us borrow some chairs so that we could sit outside.
We quickly ate our lunch as it was quite cold and then headed back towards the New Town. We thought that we might try to find a pub that would take the dog. Having Stella with us limited the things that we could do and with the rain, there were even less options. Luckily, again, the rain stopped and we found a farmer's market on Castle Street (between Rose Street and Princes Street).
We just had enough time to take a leisurely stroll through Princes Street Gardens before heading back to Waverley Station for our train back to Doncaster. Everyone had a great time and were thoroughly tired by the time we arrived back home for a well deserved tea!
Les Chalets de Superdevoluy
We had about five hours until we could get into our apartment, so we went for a walk around Superdevoluy to get our bearings. It didn't take very long to discover all there was to see in the resort. It is a purpose built resort, with the main apartment block, Bois d'Aurouze, started in the 60's, and because of this, there is no typical alpine village centre. It is however, very quiet as the main bars and restaurants are in the main apartment block facing the ski slopes.
Main road around Superdevoluy
There was one main road that swept round in a large loop down the front of Bois d'Aurouze, round the back of the Chalets du Superdevoluy and then back to where it entered the village.
This loop in the road formed a relatively flat area that was free from any buildings, where the snow was quite deep. Here we found a couple of igloos that previous people had built.
Igloo near Les Chalets du Superdevoluy
Down near the nursery slopes, there was a children's playground with some benches. Here, the children were surprised by how deep the snow was - the snow was right up to the bench, so that you felt like you were sat on the floor!
Sitting on a bench in the park
We found we still had plenty of time before checking in, so we went bumboarding. [2009: boards bought locally were about 4€] There were some nice small slopes just in front of Bois d'Aurouze, at the base of the pistes where the ski lifts start, which proved ideal for the children. That kept them happy for a short while.
Eventually they tired of the bumboarding, so we made our way to the Skimium shop to collect the skis that we had prebooked for the children. The staff spoke excellent english and even had little post-it notes with the childrens names on, on the equipment that they had set out ready for our arrival. Their customer service was excellent!
Trying out the skis in Devoluy
Of course, now the children wanted to try out their new skis straight away (where do they get the energy from??).
We did not have ski passes booked for the first day, but that did not stop them. They just had a play on the lower nursery slopes, whilst us oldies relaxed in the glorious sunshine with a drink!
By lunchtime, everyone was feeling hungry and tired, so we went for something to eat from one of the small apres ski cafes, before walking over to the office for our apartment block. We had about half an hour to wait until the office opened and we were able to check in. The staff spoke excellent english and we had no problems checking in and finding our apartment. Time for a quick siesta, before heading off to the food shopping at the only supermarket in town.
I would like to state again that there is only one supermarket , and therefore the prices are astronomical! Be warned! There are a couple of patisseries and a small stall selling cooked food, but for general groceries you do not have any choice. If you can, try and shop at a supermarket outside of the resort, like Carrefours or bring supplies with you to reduce your costs. Self catering in Superdevoluy is possibly as expensive as eating out at home! This probably the biggest drawback for the resort. We did not eat out, so I cannot comment on the restaurant prices. Neither can I comment on the prices in la Joue du Loup as we did not eat their either. Maybe someone could let me know what the prices are like?
Sunset over Le Pic du Bure
We had ski passes included with our accommodation and were able to pick these up from the main ski lift office later in the afternoon, so that we would be ready for our first full day of skiing the next day (Sunday). We did not need a photograph or need to pay a deposit. They were the hands free type so you could put it in your sleeve pocket and just swipe your arm past the sensor to open the gates. It makes it so much easier than having the old style card attached to your coat on a retractable cord!
Needless to say, we had a quiet evening and an early night, so that we would be ready for a good days skiing in the morning.
Veynes-Devoluy Railway Station
The service that we were on did not terminate in Veynes-Devoluy, but carried onto Briançon. Knowing this, we set our alarm to wake us up about 45 minutes before we were due to arrive in Veynes so that we would have plenty of time to get ready. We were not sure it there was going to be a wake up call, or how long the train was going to stay in the station. Ours was the first stop and we did not want to be carried onto the next stop at Gap! Sunrise over Superdevoluy
We need not have worried because there was an announcement telling us that Veynes was the next stop in 20 minutes. There was a final one about 5 minutes from the station. We were already packed with all of our bags by the door by this time!
Although it was still dark outside (it was only 6am!) we could see there was some snow on the ground and were all very excited! The train pulled into quite a small station, and we got all of the bags off quickly and followed the dozen or so passengers that got off with us to the station front.
We were not sure which was our bus to Superdevoluy, but a lady that we had met in Paris Austerlitz station who spoke a little english, showed us which one it was. We had pre-booked the bus over the internet, so at least we had the name of the company and knew what we should looking for. However at 6am, and still half asleep, with two children in tow, the brain wasn't working so good! The company was called Devoluy Voyages and we had downloaded the timetable from the internet and had their telephone number and a contact name in case of difficulties.
All the bags were loaded into the bus and off we went. I was a little concerned, and so were the other passengers, when, about 5 minutes down the road, the driver pulled into a supermarket car park and just left us! I'm sure he said what he was doing, but my french was too limited for me to understand what he had said. He did return after a few minutes (phew!) and we carried on our journey.
The bus made one stop on the way to Superdevoluy, at the neighbouring resort of La Joue du Loup. It did look pretty with its little wooden chalets. We would hopefull be skiing back to visit this resort later in the week.
After dropping off a couple of people, we continued on to Superdevoluy.
During the drive round to the other side of the mountain, the sun rose, and gave us our first glimpse of what would become, over the next week, very familiar mountains. The views that we saw were quite spectacular and we were all very excited. Bois d'Aurouze (right), Superdevoluy
We finally arrived in Devoluy, where the bus dropped us off outside the main building, Bois d'Aurouze. We got our luggage out of the boot of the bus and got ourselves organised, only to discover that everyone that had travelled with us had suddenly disappeared! There was not a soul to be seen anywhere - it was like a scene out of the Twilight Zone!
My husband and I are quite seasoned travllers, but we were still not quite ready for our arrival into Devoluy! It's 8 o'clock in the morning and we know that we cannot get into the apartment until 2pm. We weren't even sure where we had to go to check in. It's below zero and we have two young children under 12, neither of which were dressed for the snow. Now what?
One of the problems that we had found whilst booking the holiday was the fact that there was very little information about the resort on the internet as none of the big english tour operators at that time used Superdevoluy. I didn't even know where the shops and cafes were as we had not even found a map showing the layout of the town. From first glance, there didn't even seem to be any obvious 'centre' to the resort. We needed a plan of action!
Where is the first place that you go to in a strange place to find out what is available - tourist information! According to the map in the bus shelter where the bus had dropped us off, the Tourist Information office was at the bottom of the hill at the opposite end of town. So we headed in that direction.
The footpath that we were walking on was level with the first floor of Bois d'Aurouze and at intervals there were steps down to entrance doors at ground level. Being a curious sort of person, I popped down to one of the entrances, and found another map that showed the Tourist Office back the way we had just come!. Information Board in Bois d'Aurouze
I spotted some benches by a window, that just happened to be infront of a patisserie that was just in the process of opening. At least it was somewhere warm and dry with a view out towards the nursery slopes.
We all trooped inside, along with all of our luggage and settled the children down on the benches with something to eat and drink. I then went looking for information.
I soon discovered that the two large apartment blocks were linked together with corridors that also formed the shopping centre. I soon found the supermarket, clothing stores, cafes, ski hire shops, ski lockers and toilets - basically everything that you would find in a typical ski resort, but under the apartments! We have seen this design before in Pamporovo, where all of the major hotels had been linked together by underground shopping areas. This was quite a good design as it mean't that even if its snowing heavily outside, you don't have to get all your outdoor gear on, just to go shopping or have a drink in one of the other resort bars. Bois d'Aurouze, Superdevoluy
Although this shopping area appeared underground on one side, on the opposite side, facing the slopes, it was at ground level. This mean't that you had easy access to all the resort faciities straight from the ski slopes. The Superdevoluy nursery slopes
I eventually found the Tourist Information Office at the bottom of the hill, just where that first map said it would be. It was a new building that had just opened and it appeared that the signs inside Bois d'Aurouze and not yet been altered to show the new location. Unfortunately it was closed!
Walking back to where I had left everyone else, I found a letting agency that was open and the lovely lady inside spoke english! She was able to show me on a map where to find the office for the apartment block we were staying in and also where to find a left luggage office so that we could store our bags until our apartment was ready. It turned out that it was next to the patisserie, right in front of where the rest of the family were waiting!
By now the sun was shinging, the kids were fed and we felt a lot more confident about our decision to come as independent travellers! There were a lot more people around and the resort was coming alive. We changed into our outdoor clothes, checked in the bags, which wasn't too expensive, and went off to explore our resort!
The roof of St Pancras
The train departed on time, as expected and was quite comfortable. We booked in November and had managed to secure one of the only two tables available in our coach. There was one couple that was quite vocal about this fact! They were very unhappy about not having a table - where were they supposed to put their champagne! Oh dear! Map of Paris Metro
One thing to note if you are taking skis onboard a regular Eurostar service (not the ski train) - there is no separate space to store your luggage. However, we did find that the ski bags (and even a snowboard bag) will fit quite nicely in the overhead racks. This had its drawbacks though for your fellow passengers who wer struggling to find luggage space themselves.
We arrived into Gare du Paris Nord ontime and had about two hours to get across to Gare d'Austerlitz for our next train to Veynes-Devoluy. The cheapest way across was to use the Paris Metro.
It didn't turn out to be that bad. We had a straight run to Austerlitz without having to change trains and arrived with plenty of time to spare. Our couchette compartment
We bought single tickets for the journey and wondered afterwards if it would have been cheaper to buy the carnet of tickets? They were selling them in St Pancras for about £11 for 10 tickets (2009). Something to look at for future trips perhaps.
Paris Austerlitz was not a large station. It had one large hall with nowhere to sit. You had the choice of the floor or your luggage! At the end where the platforms are, is a large electronic board listing all the trains. The platforms were not displayed until the trains were ready for boarding which was about 30 minutes before departure. Once the platform was displayed, there was a mad rush forward, only to find around the corner, out of sight of the main hall, that you were joining a rather long queue!
We were travelling with Corail Lunea in couchettes overnight to Veynes-Devoluy and our coach was number 12. I was a little worried that we would have a long walk to reach it but I need not have worried - the first coach on the train was number 9, so ours was only another three coaches further down. Not sure what happened to coaches 1 - 8 though!
Most of the couchette coaches have 6 berth compartments, but because we had children under 12, we were able to get a 4 berth compartment to ourselves. Normally a 4 berth compartment is reserved for 1st Class travel, but I believe this whole service was standard class.
The compartment was very comfortable, you might even say 'cosy' with all of our skis and luggage in as well! We settled down in our little quilted sleeping bags and were soon leaving Paris.
I found it quite soothing, listening to the train going along and we were soon fast asleep. When we woke up next, we would be in the Alps!
Here you can see us in our 4 berth couchette. The blue and green packet in the bottom left is the thin quilted sleeping bag and pillow that is issued along with a bottle of water and a care box, containing a pair of ear plugs, some tissues, a small bag for rubbish and a 'baby wipe'.
This is a write up of our family ski trip to Devoluy, France in January '09. It was a trip of many 'firsts' for us - our first skiing trip to France; our first long distance holiday without flying; the first time that we had planned a skiing trip as an independant!
The whole journey was researched extensively on the internet and most of it was booked on the internet as well. Only the train journeys were booked over the telephone. If you are prepared to spend the time, then there are significant savings to be made travelling as an independant - just remember to make sure that your travel insurance covers you for independant travel. This is usually an optional extra but doesn't cost much more and gives you peace of mind!
The Departure Clock in St Pancras Station, London
We started out journey on Friday 16th January and travelled by train from Doncaster to London Kings Cross. Currently, the train company that we used is called East Coast (since Nov 2009). The lounge at London St Pancras Station
From London Kings Cross, we crossed the street to London St Pancras International Station, where we were to catch the Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord.
We had a couple of hours to spend at London St Pancras and decided to get something to eat before boarding the train. We could find no suitable placed to sit and eat our KFC (from opposite the station) [note: as of 2012 this no longer exists] Our Eurostar train
Our train was due to depart at 1620 and we were able to start boarding half an hour beforehand. This mean't there was no rushing, with plenty of time to find your seat and get settled, take a couple of photographs and generally enjoy the experience. Platforms at St Pancras
Once thing to consider if you are travelling as a group or a family though - there were only two tables in the whole of our standard coach. All of the other seats were of the 'airline' style (with a fold up table).
Have you ever considered upgrading to first class? If booked in advance, some of the prices and be quite competitive. In the first class coach, all the seats are table seats and a meal is included. There is also alot more legroom, and generally, it is a much quieter coach and therefore a much more pleasurable experience! Something to think about?
The platforms at London St Pancras International station are above the concourse and you have the impression that you are the only people around. It is quiet and totally different from other mainline station that we have been to before. It was quite surprising! All the hussle and bustle of the station, the shops, ticket office and Eurostar check-in are all downstairs.
If you visited St Pancras before it's refurbishment, you would not recognise it now. It is light, airy and clean.