I have to be honest and say that I really had never heard of this place before I planned for this trip. In fact, had my friend Lorenzo (from Rome) not suggested Tours, I would have missed out on something really wonderful! In fact, I had initially wanted to spend more time in Switzerland, but as he said, there is nothing but “cows, mountains and chocolates” – his words, not mine – I, in hindsight, quite wisely followed his advice.

What are the main attractions here? Well, lots and lots of medieval castles and chateaus! Most (mainly the ones belonging to the royal family directly), such as Chambord and Amboise, have been turned into museums, while some (mainly the properties of prominent officials in the French court) are still in private hands – but portions are open to the public, such as Cheverny with its large pack of hunting dogs. If you are a lover of history, this is definitely the place to be. The Loire Valley is the home to Leonardo da Vinci in the final days of his life; Catherine Medici of the Medici family in relation to the Renaissance movement was also active in this area. The end of the prominence of this region also marked the shift of royal power towards Paris. read more

Sunday 30 May

Went to Cambridge today, which was a relatively short 2-hour journey by train. I must say, thanks to Gong Yu (a former colleague) and his wife who showed me around, I had a wonderful day!

Waking on the ‘hallowed’ grounds of Cambridge (which, instead of being a conglomerate like the other universities all around the world, is more like a union of number of colleges) was quite an amazing experience. Considering that Issac Newton himself was once a master of the Trinity College here, you can literally feel the history enveloping you. read more

Saturday 29 May

The flight to London was smooth and, fortunately, uneventful!

After a break at the rather delipidated (but cheap!) hotel, I ventured into London on the subway. After coming out of the subway – and still sleepy I might add – I immediately went on those double decker bus tours around town. I think this is in fact a great introduction to London, just to get your bearings and see what are the interesting sights, from the outside, and if you plan to spend more than a few days in London. But bring a jacket if you plan to sit on the upper deck! :-) read more

Wednesday 26 May, train ride to Quebec City

Another long train ride. Time for some more reading…

Something else which I discovered on this second overnight ride to Quebec City. I was very curious as to how the train conductors remembered, for overnight trains, who to wake up and at which stop? They didn’t seem to be using any electronic gadgets nor a list of passenger particular and, plus, depending on availability of seats, they don’t seem to mind if passengers changed to a different seat.

Curiouser and curiouser…

Well, it turned out there was a very simple and low-tech solution. The conductors simply used a post-it note which they stick on the luggage compartment above each person! This was done immediately after they have verified that you have a valid ticket. May not be elegant but definitely straightforward and simple to implement!! read more

Saturday 22 May

The train journey from Montreal was reasonably pleasant, provided you can get used to sleeping in a normal upright seat. This is the cheapest option on the train by the way. Then you have the bunk bed options, and finally the private rooms.

As another bit of interesting but perhaps useless information, I also discovered how the stewards on the train remembered which passengers they needed to wake up before arriving at each station. Since this was an overnight train that stopped at various stations in the early hours of the morning, I should think it is imperative to get it right! :wink: Well, the system was very simple and I would say about 99% foolproof. It just involved a simple Post-It note stuck to the luggage compartment above each passenger. No computers, or messy notepad. Neat, isn’t it? read more