2011 Europe

Orange shows where we travelled, borders are in pink

Buckajo 7th November 2011

We arrived homed last Thursday after the long trip home; flew out of Zurich on Tuesday evening, landed in Hong Kong long enough to go from one end of the airport to the other and finally landed in Sydney morning just before 7am. Our darling Jil was there to meet us – bless her heart. It didn’t take long to head for home and were here by 3.30pm and it was wonderful to be back again.

The washing is all done – the ironing can wait another day or two; the majority of suitcase contents back where they belong and John is busy mowing lawns. Life is nearly back to normal (whatever that may be) and we have all those wonderful memories to share.

31st October

Here we are, nearly at the end of our 2011 European travels and it only seems just a few weeks since we started; now we are ready to head home.

The Kings Room

We spent our last day in Warsaw walking along the river to the Palace where we spent the next few hours wandering through this amazing palace; rebuilt following its destruction in 1944. Many of the original artworks and tapestries have been returned to their rightful place as well as some of the former panelling that was recovered by local people; pieces not destroyed by the explosions nor subsequent fires, have been incorporated into the new with great care. A beautiful building, filled with rich furniture and furnishings that is a testament to the will of Poland’s people and government to not allow adversity to rule them.

The Palace in 1770

Later that Saturday evening we caught the plane to Prague – reluctant to face the 10 hour train journey, particularly when the flight was just one hour. The taxi ride from the airport took about half an hour; it then took nearly half an hour to walk the last 20 metres into our hotel because of the crowds in the old square watching the light-show on the Astronomical Clock – we watched as well and then waited for the crowds to disperse before finally being able to check-in, find something to drink and go to bed.

Astronomical Clock & Tower

Sunday we started by watching the Astronomical Clock strike 9am, the trumpeter playing a fanfare and then waving to let the world know all is well.  Went looking for the shopping centre, took a wrong turn and went the long way but enjoyed the wandering. We went to a concert that night at Monument Hall with a lovely dinner beforehand in a French Restaurant that boasted being 150 years old.

The Trumpeter

The concert was performed by a 14 piece stringed orchestra with a visiting pianist and was a very pleasant way to spend the evening. As we walked home through the streets of the old city we were surprised at the number of people out and about as well as the number of shops still open (not sure whether they were conducting much business).

I am continually surprised at the indoor temperatures they insist on in Europe we have experienced; we turn off all the heating in the room but unable to really cool it down; at least we have been able to open a window (except in Warsaw) and at least sleep. Must admit, I do like heated bath towels.

Charles Bridge with Palace in the background

Monday we again watched the Astronomical Clock and trumpeter as well as wandering around the old square – everything is close here so not too far to walk; from the square, we walked down across Charles Bridge looking at all the merchandise available as well as walking the portrait artists at work. There was a variety of music playing – a jazz group who were worth a stop and listen, a lone guitar player who was well in his cups as well as young man plying the didgeridoo (Arthur sounds better).

A jazz group on the bridge

The town square from the clock tower

Tuesday was time to leave Prague; decided to hire a car for the last week to meander from Prague to Zurich via southern Germany and enjoy some of the autumn colours. There had not been much colour in the trees until this week; now it is the whole palette of yellow through reds to brown is just glorious to sit and gaze upon or admire as we drive through the country roads.

After collecting the car from Prague Airport we drove west of the city to visit a working Bohemia crystal factory to see to artists at work – unfortunately we arrived too late for that day’s tours. We kept heading south-west, over the German border – hard to tell where the borders are now, there are usually just some abandoned booths off to the side of the road. We spent Tuesday night at a little place called Cham, arriving close to dusk and leaving after breakfast the next day. The hotel was looking quite tired, but a lovely young couple had purchased it three years ago and were working hard to survive; it had great sporting facilities around it; apparently built as a resort in the days when there was sport of all kinds being played, now mostly unused and falling into disrepair.

View from our hotel

Wednesday we drove through the countryside, mainly on minor roads in misty rain. Large area farms with lots of buildings in close proximity; there are villages every five to ten km’s with at least one church steeple visible in themall. It is good to again drive through the countryside, seeing all the green fields, trees, and livestock. We arrived in the village of Tegernsee  on the lake and decided it looked like a good place to stay for a couple of days; chose the hotel overlooking the lake with views across to Bad Weisee as well as the hills all around in their autumnal splendour.  The weather is now cooler day and night (as long as I leave the window open); the locals are all rugged-up, so I’m not too sure what they wear when it is really cold. Thursday John went off exploring while I worked for a couple of hours; we then sat by the lake for our lunch before catching the ferry along and across the lake – a very pleasant way to spend a day.

Across the lake

The top of Germany

Friday we left Tegernsee and took the “scenic” roads to Fussen for a return visit; the direct distance was not that great, but the sight-seeing route took all day. The scenery alternated between colourful trees and lakes to rugged mountains. After driving alongside as well as over the Isar River we went through Wallgau and the Tageselaubnisschein Natural Park to Garmisch-Partenkirchen where we caught the cog railway and then the cable car to the top of Zugspitze Mountain.

Underground Cog Railway Station & Cable Car to the top

There was plenty of snow around the top, but not cold and the scenery on such a clear day was spectacular – watched some hang-gliders float off the mountain and again marvelled at their courage. It was close on dark when we arrived in Fussen after a beautiful day’s drive.

Saturday we spent the morning driving back across to Tegernsee to pick up possessions accidentally left behind; a wonderful drive through miles of prime farming country; the fields all looked amazing – lush green and newly mown with plenty of feed collected for winter feeding. Saw lots of wooden sheds in paddocks that I guess are for housing livestock;  every house (town or country) has tons of firewood stacked against every available wall – guess it will be needed.

Dairy Country with many solar panels

Germany also has a milk price war

Autumn colours at Fussen

We are now the owners of a Bavarian cuckoo clock – fond childhood memories are finally being revisited; will have to think of a spot for it at home, but really looking forward to hearing it in the house. It was bought on sound alone, the carving on the clock-face being secondary consideration.

Part of the journey over the Alps

Sunday was spent driving from Fussen to Konstanz via the scenic route. John keeps telling me the distance is not great, but it still takes all day to reach our destination. Again, a beautiful drive in brilliant sunshine with the trees in glorious colour and rich farmland – lots of traffic on the roads with amazing numbers of people out walking on the many paths that dissect the farmland.

Imperia watching over Lake Kontanz

Our hotel in Konstanz overlooks the lake, but has been shrouded in haze / fog since we arrived so I cannot describe the scenery. The colder weather continued and added to our walk in the old city – buildings dating from 1450’s surrounded the square where lots of people were out and about; also several buskers and beggars featured as well. The Cathedral, dated1680, quite different from any we had seen previously; the central altar was heavy with gilt and gleaming even in the minimal light of the dull day; the stained glass windows along both sides have clear detail and quite beautiful. Walked along the harbour to see the 9 metre stone statue of Imperia and then back to the hotel through the gardens full of deciduous trees in varying colours and stages of shedding leaves.

Murals on our Hotel walls a former Monastery

Tomorrow we leave via Zurich to return home Thursday – hope to catch up with you then.

20 October 2011

The train from Zagreb to Budapest was another adventure. The train was probably manufactured in 1954 and had received little refurbishment since; to add to the challenge, there was little correlation between the platform and the train, all of which necessitated a scramble up into a carriage and then trying to locate a seat and store your luggage in the overhead racks. Croatian / Hungarian trains are probably aiming to be egalitarian while remaining fairly basic – one class and no seat allocation. The first hour passed fairly quickly; we then had to transfer (luggage and all) to overcrowded buses for a 30 km journey around rail-line work and then onto the next train of similar standard.

We then stopped at the Hungarian border where some men in uniform checked passports with their machines which broke down as it was reading my passport so we then spent quite some time waiting while the guard went through it page by page and eventually stamped it; this then went on for the rest of the train passengers.

I have not mentioned the scenery along this journey because it was endless miles of uninteresting, flat terrain or along the lake with hundreds of neglected or shuttered houses that were now empty until next summer. Apparently a thriving holiday destination, but now looks desolate.

The rest of the journey was fairly uneventful, chatting with a young American who was teaching in Budapest who painted a fairly negative picture of the whole place. By the time the train eventually arrived in Budapest it was standing room only. The journey had taken eight hours and we were a little weary by the end of it; to add insult to injury, there were no lifts or escalators which meant negotiating two flights of steps down from the platform and back up to the main entrance with no signage to assist. A taxi to the hotel then cost what turned out to be about four times the normal price – there are no metres over here so we are at their mercy.

The Basilica

Our hotel in Budapest turned out to be fairly modern establishment behind an older façade; it was a welcome respite after the train trip. Situated near the parliament buildings as well as the embassy district, the hotel was within walking distance of most of the things we chose to do while there.

The print on the wall at the end of our bed

The weather has begun to cool – thank heavens; in Budapest we needed a jacket each day, but we were not rugged up as much as the locals – woollen coats, long boots, hats and gloves; makes me wonder what they wear when it is really cold.

Buda on the left Pest on the right – now a joined city

We caught the sight-seeing buses and ferry to cover most of the areas we wanted to see. John then walked for hours and miles to explore in detail. Went to a concert in St Stephen’s Basilica and once again was in awe of the size and detail of this church; the acoustics were amazing as the organ music rose and fell with the notes from Handel; a magnificent setting for the artists who performed.

Parliament house from the street

John took the guided tour of the Parliament building at 10am  and then we spent a great deal of time wandering along the streets just looking; I am still astounded at the cost of clothing and shoes – good quality and much lower prices than Australia (with none of it out of China); could have spent a lot of money, but resisted. John walked to the Buda side of the river to look at the old city and take a few last minute photos.

The bridge pylon

Parliament by night

The chain bridge

Thursday 13th we flew from Budapest to Warsaw – I couldn’t face the 14+ hours on the train. Eva and her cousin, Kashia, met us at the airport and drove us to our hotel, where Kashia left us. Needless to say, we spent an hour or three catching up; it was good to see she was OK again.

Our Warsaw accommodation was at Mamaison Hotel adjacent to the old city; a great hotel and the perfect spot to stay and experience the charm of both the old and “new” Warsaw. Shopping in Warsaw was an experience in retail planning – a beautiful centre, full of shops selling everything imaginable as well as plenty of people carrying parcels, so I guess there is still money in Poland; must admit I did succumb to the odd purchase myself.

Warsaw Square where we dined

Eating (or rather dining) in Poland is a gastronomic experience we seldom see. Food to be eaten for a meal is planned in detail, choices are considered for some time and then enjoyed at leisure with wine another component which is reflected on and discussed. A couple of hours after you start, you leave the table feeling as though you have dined royally.

Saturday to Tuesday the three of us spent in Krakow; a three hour train journey south from Warsaw, made much easier being with someone who knows the system and how to find their way through the system. We stayed in a great unit about 20 metres from the old city square – John and I agree, Eva can be our tour / accommodation guru anytime.

Krakow Square

Krakow was untouched during the WWII, so the buildings are showing signs of wear of their 3 – 4 hundred years. Renovations appear to be in progress continually. We spent quite a deal of time in the old square: looking at the beautiful buildings, wandering through the markets, dining and just watching the world go by. Our sight-seeing in Krakow was in a clear plastic, canopied vehicle (much like a golf cart with three rows of seats) and the driver took us to all the major areas we wished to go and then gave us time to explore as we chose. We had the taped commentary, the guide adding his information and Eva giving us her anecdotes to add to the experience. We also met up with Polish friends of Eva’s family for afternoon tea in an old tearoom that was like something you imagined from a bygone era when taking tea was a ritual – and it still is there. Our language skills may not have been compatible but communication was not too difficult (Eva makes a great interpreter).

Church cut out of the salt mine

Monday was a trip to the Salt Mines; what a fascinating day! John joined the English Tour Group; Eva and I were supposed to be taken down in the lift and then join the group (instead of walking down the 500+ steps). Through miscommunication (mainly a rather rude man not listening) we were taken to the wrong level; once sorted, with abject apologies we were provided with our own guide who spent nearly three hours conducting us through all the sites with easier access and showing us areas not normally seen by groups. We were also privileged to have some Bach played for us in the under-ground cathedral (Nadia our guide, told the supervisor we were very special visitors from Australia).

Eva’s birthday restaurant

Back in Warsaw on Tuesday evening ready for Eva’s birthday on Wednesday; to help her celebrate the occasion, we went to a renowned restaurant in the old square for dinner. We were joined by Eva’s Polish family to once again dine rather than have dinner. The nine of us had a wonderful meal in true Polish splendour; the food was among the best we have had all trip, the surroundings had an amazing story behind it all, the staff were excellent and the atmosphere made the whole evening memorable. Once again, we may not speak Polish, but between Eva and Marta as well as lots of laughter, communication was not an issue between the disparate members of the group.

The time to say our goodbyes came all too quickly; time for Eva to continue her visit to family, while John and spend the remainder of our time abroad exploring Prague and then the countryside to Zurich ready to fly home 1st November.

10th October 2011

To begin the next phase of our travels, we were met on the wharf by a representative from the tour company who drove us out to our resort hotel ; we were soon able to book-in and then John could start exploring the hotel and environs while I unpacked and rested. At 7pm we met Irene and the rest of the tour group who were joining at Dubrovnik; we all then had dinner together as well as met the rest of our tour group. The remainder of the group had been down to Montenegro before arriving here, making a total of 31 people for this trip.

The town & harbour from the west wall tower

Sunday we began at 9am with a drive to the Panoramic Lookout and then back to the walled Old City for a walking tour with a local guide, a Professor of Archaeology who has been in charge of the museum restoration as well as other rebuilding since the 1991 – 92 war damage caused by the shelling of the old city. After that tour we spent time wandering through the old city, having lunch and John walked all the way around the walls while I chose to watch a young jeweller making a necklace of Adriatic red coral, Broome pearls and delicate silver filigree.

The walled city from the cable car look-out

At sunset we took the cable car up the hill overlooking the old city; I cannot remember seeing such a deep red sunset and it took quite some time to dark. After the return cable car ride watching the city lights we walked back through the old city; we were surprised how many people were out and about at this time of night, particularly the numbers of young children.

Stopped at this village for lunch

Monday we began the road trip up the coast road to Split; the Adriatic is still blue and crystal clear, the rocks are all still there and I don’t think the trees have grown much since we drove through here in 1976.  As we saw in that journey 35 years ago, there are many unfinished buildings, not sure if shortages of resources or finances are the hold-up.

The column wall has been there since the Romans & the houses for the last 200 years

Arriving in Split at 2.30pm we were taken on a walking tour of the old city, beginning with the Roman Palace on the waterfront built in 2nd Century BC and then a wander through the markets while John climbed the steps of the cathedral tower for the view over the old city.  We stayed in Split overnight and once again too hot to sleep; so far, the hotel air conditioners have been set to minimums of 250C!

Brown Bear

Tuesday our first stop was in the tiny costal ancient settlement of Trojn; a walled village with some of the streets so narrow you had to walk in single file. In the town square there was a movie being filmed starring Penelope Cruz (she wasn’t there); many films are now being made in Croatia because it is a lot less expensive than the more popular areas of Budapest or Prague. From Trojn we drove to a roadhouse bistro in the middle of nowhere but they serve about 200 customers with typical Croatian fare every day for lunch. Mainly buses stop there on their way through; it was a bit like feeding time at the zoo again (could be reflective of the two brown bears and about 30 deer in pens out the back – hardly ideal conditions for the animals).

The Lake System

Later we stopped driving for the day at Plitvicka Lake National Park and Lakes; we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around to the opposite side of the lake; the water was so clear you could see hundreds of fish (mainly trout) but they cannot be disturbed, fed or caught.  We rode on the last ferry back to the tourist office and finished off with the climb up all the steps to the hotel. Needless to say the body was more than a little fatigued and in need of heat – but hot water was not working!

A waterfall in the system

Plant growth at another overflow

We had lunch here

Wednesday was a glorious autumn day, cooler and the leaves are beginning to change colour. Many have fallen without changing, but maybe now we will see more colour. Lunch was in a coastal town on the Peninsular opposite Rijeka; a charming area with lovely gardens and seaside walks where we spent a couple of hours relaxing, watching the world walk by as well as wandering.

After crossing the border into Slovenia we stopped at the Postojnska Jama Caves for a couple of hours underground; probably among the best ones we have seen anywhere. The train ride into the starting point was a bit frightening – fast, winding with close walls and low ceilings. Anyone silly enough to put their head up would have left their brains on the rock to mark the spot. We were taken through on a guided tour by a young chap who set a fairly rapid pace; he didn’t wait before beginning his information at each area, so it was keep up or miss out on what he had to say.

The Island

Thank heavens for two nights in one place! Both Wednesday and Thursday nights were in Bled; Thursday John joined the rest of the group for a trip up to the castle in the bus and then across the lake behind the hotel to the island to see the church and up to the second lake for another boat ride. I spent a much needed day of doing very little.

The Castle

Friday was raining when we left Bled for Ljubjana and it continued all day; absolutely poured while we were in the capital so most of the tour group were not that happy to spend the time wandering in the old city even though there was plenty to see that provided shelter and warmth in spite of the rain. It was probably unfortunate for our tour director that the evaluation forms were required to be completed that day – think their ire may have been vented in comments.

We drove back into Croatia and spent the next two nights in Zagreb where we had our farewell dinner at the hotel – up on the 17th floor which provided really good views out over the lights of the city. Dinner was quite pleasant but the local musicians, although they played beautiful music, were way too loud to be in the same room; needless to say, conversation was difficult. As not everyone was participating in the Saturday activities it was time to say goodbye.

Church with the coat of arms in coloured tiles

Saturday was the last day of the tour and we began with a bus tour around the city and then a walking tour of the old city (seems to be obligatory)  and then spent quite some time at the cathedral as well as wandering the markets.

The cathedral under restoration

Part of the spire showing wear & tear against its replacement

A bronze of Tito with the old corn shed in the background

In the afternoon we went on a bus trip out into the hills to Tito’s birthplace which has been converted to an open-air museum; this was followed by a Croatian dinner at a country farm – an extensive range of dishes, some really good while others did not need large helpings. We were back to Zagreb by 7pm, said our farewells again and then headed to the bar.

Our accommodation for the week was advertised as being 4-5 stars; all I can say is the Croatian rating system is different from ours. Even the Westin in Zagreb was lacking in many aspects and cleanliness is not high on the agenda and the concept of customer service mainly non-existent.

Sunday we caught the train to Budapest, but that is a saga for another time.

1st October 2011

I am finding it difficult to write the travelogue about our cruise; I do not want to be negative, but I am also finding that a challenge; let’s just say, this cruise company will not see us any time in the future and our travel agent has gone down another few rungs for not giving us a realistic expectation of what we might experience with this organisation. It began with my having quite a fall which resulted when the staff instead of supporting me to exit the water taxi safely at the ships’ dock, were too busy talking – the bruises certainly added colour and swelling to the right leg. Did not meet our cabin crew until day three ; their cleanliness of the room and shower were less than desirable but they had insufficient English to understand what I was asking them to do. Our table staff had interesting listening skills, not able to give you what you asked for, rather, told you what they would give you. Ann and David ordered wine the first night and the bottle was plonked on the table and they were left to pour it themselves, same with my can of coke (can’t have spirits in the dining room because of their dispute with the bar staff). The emergency drill took place 30 hours after sailing and was rather a token gesture; trust we don’t need it as I have very little confidence in their ability to ensure we are accounted for or how to see us safely to our lifeboat – wherever that happens to be. Breakfast and lunch at the buffet is rather like watching pigs at a trough; kept our participation to a minimum so as not to be subjected to the pushing and shoving.

However, in spite of the drawbacks, John and I have managed to derive pleasure from what we have seen and done.  We were seated with a delightful English couple for dinner and they have been very pleasant company most evenings.

Part of the original Gym

We did not leave the ship Monday at Bari, John went off at Katakolon for a trip to Olympia and the Archaeological Museum. I was unable to go because of the walking and the paths involved.

Recovered from the ruins

Bronze Solid Cast from the 5thCentury BC

The village of Ioa

We both went ashore at Santorini for a bus trip along the island to the village of Ioa for a short time to look at the ruins of the fort, a church and the cave houses; then to a winery for some tasting – John not impressed so no purchase made. Our tour concluded in Thira with a couple of hour to explore the area and have some morning tea overlooking the white and blue houses built off the cliff tops just like in the postcards.

Some took the donkeys, we walked

To make our way back to the ship, we chose to walk down the 588 steps to the tenders rather than stand in the queue for 45 minutes for the cable car; this walk turned into rather a challenge with the heat plus the donkeys as well as their excrement. We were pleased to be back on board. There were three liners in the bay that day which made the narrow street very crowded; we were told there are usually 10 liners per day, so were grateful for the smaller numbers.

The Pathenon

The next day was into the Port of Pireus for a bus trip into Athens to see the historic sites of the city, mainly the Acropolis including the Parthenon. Couldn’t climb all the way to the top but the view we had was rather awe inspiring. Our guide was excellent with her explanations of facts or myths as we saw each monument; her enthusiasm and detail certainly added to the experience. We saw many buildings that were either derelict or never finished; the city seems to have an aura of neglect and apathy that does not bode well for the short-term recovery. Tourism is their main source of income, but the attitude to tourists is not very welcoming or accommodating with some inhabitants.

Arrived in Corfu at lunchtime the following day on a hot, still day and slowly made our way into a smaller harbour that already had 4 cruise liners at anchor. It was very interesting watching two of them leave within minutes of each other later in the day. You have to wonder at their ability to manoeuver such large vessels in what appears to be very little space. A tug stood by in case it was needed, but it only chugged along behind and docked once they had cleared the area.

A view of Corfu

John spent the afternoon on a tour of Corfu as well as the Palace and Museum. The final evening aboard we again enjoyed dinner as well as the cabaret with Ann and David; they have been good company this week, both really interesting company – the time passed so quickly when we started chatting resulting in some late nights.

On the last night aboard our room cards were no longer active, so at midnight it was downstairs to have them reactivated. When we went into the room, there was an urgent message to take our passports to the office for validation – decided it could wait till morning if the staff couldn’t discuss it with us while we were there 10 minutes earlier. Turned out they didn’t need Australian passports validated after all.

MSC Musica leaving without us

Saturday we left the MSC Musica at Dubrovnik ready for our road trip through Split and Bled to Zagreb.

22 September 2011

The last couple of weeks have been spent travelling to Venice ready for our cruise.

Following the tennis tournament, we left Geneva on the Sunday and drove along the northern shore of Lac Lehman, past Lausanne, up to Lac de Neuchatel where we stopped for lunch and a stroll along the shore of the lake. Kept heading in a northerly direction toward the Rhine River where we crossed at Rheinfeld and then drove eastwards before turning north again and finally stopping at Schluchsee (that was far enough for one day). Schluchsee is a quaint little village on the side of a man-made lake and looked like a good place to rest for a couple of days.

Schluchsee from the boat ramp

We spent our time in Schluchsee walking around the village as well as taking a cruise on the lake to celebrate our anniversary. The hotel overlooked the lake and was in the centre of most of the things we wanted to do there; they also had a great dining room so we did not have to go far for meals. The weather was a little cooler than Geneva and a nice respite.

St Peter’s Church

Our journey continued northwest toward the Romantique Strabe (Romantic Road); the journey was through beautiful farming country and stopping to look at a couple of amazing churches, St Margen and St Peter (church as well as town names; no stained glass but beautiful painted ceilings and ornamentation. A lucky pick for a destination for our next stop was Nordlingen; arriving there after 7pm to find there was a special function on in town and I think we found the last bed available. Nordlingen is a sister city to Wagga Wagga our landlord was very pleased to tell us.

The Walled City

We spent three nights there in a lovely old hotel that had recently been refurbished and was right in the centre of town. The St George Cathedral was just across the square and the bells rang every quarter hour (all night as well), not that it mattered too much, they had a lovely sound; to add to the atmosphere, every half hour from 10pm till midnight, the town crier let us know “All’s well”. Our hotel must have been the local gathering place because each evening a group sat below our window and had a lovely chat till after 12; guess it all adds to the experience. We spent much of our time walking (John much more than I did) and discovering the history of this 15th century walled city.

The view from the 300 step bell tower

The most ornate church we have seen

The trip from Nordlingen to Fussen was along the lower half of the Romantic Road, a really scenic journey through charming villages and looking at another couple of churches this time probably the most ornate we have seen; there was hardly a square inch of the ceiling that wasn’t decorated.

It is fascinating to look at a range churches and see how different they are; some quite simple, others really ornate while some that I felt were forbidding rather than peaceful or welcoming; enough of churches, now on to the castles.

Hofen Schwangau

Even though we were in Fussen by 4pm we still had trouble finding a room; think we found the last one in town again; this time it was the Italians staying in town and travelling up to Munich for “Octoberfest”; apparently it goes on for weeks. We walked up to the old city for a browse and dinner in between the rain showers that turned into heavier rain and lasted all the following day. John spent the next day at the Hofen Schwangau as well as Neuschwanstein Castles; the former being the family home of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria while the latter is the “fairy tale castle” he had commissioned based on Wagner Operas and fairy tales that sees up to 6,000 visitors per day at the height of the summer tourist season.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Early snowfall closed our road to Italy

We left Fussen early the next day to continue our journey toward Venice this time via the Dolomites in Italy. However, Mother Nature intervened while we were taking the scenic route up through the Alps; an early snow fall that looked really enchanting on the lower slopes turned into deep snow further up and closed the road just before we reached the Italian border necessitating our return to Imst and then to detour through Innsbruck. When we left Innsbruck, travelling south, the snow was still quite heavy but the snowploughs were busy ensuring the autostrabe remained open. Based on the amount of snow around all the hills, we decided to forgo the Dolomites and drove on to Verona.

Snow ploughs were required to keep this motorway open

We didn’t arrive in Verona until after 6pm and found a hotel just along from the Arena; after such a long and somewhat challenging day of driving in the snow, that was far enough. The next day was spent on a “Red Bus Tour” of Verona and environs as well as wandering around some of the more well-known areas such as Juliette’s house, “that” balcony and the Arena.  Once again we are walking in the footsteps of others made over centuries – history and this time Shakespeare coming to life in so many charming ways.(Photo P1130732 The arena was being prepared for a production of CATS tomorrow night )

Juliette & the balcony

The arena was being prepared for a production of CATS tomorrow night

The next morning as we left town, we went looking for the DHL office to send another load home (this time tennis bag and gear); eventually became tired of driving around and gave it up as a lost cause. Drove on to Padova and after more driving from one side of the city to the other and back again we eventually managed to send the bag home (the accountant was not impressed with the cost but it saves dragging the extra bag around any longer). We had an overnight stay in Padova with thoughts of more exploring, but with the heat combined with smog, absolute lunatic drivers and poor (non-existent) signage we gave that away as well.

Rialto Bridge & Hotel

Thursday we were at the airport by 11am to return the hire-car; from there it was a water-bus to the Rialto Bridge in the centre of Venice and book into the hotel that had been organised by our tour. The walk to our room was an excursion in itself; the hotel has taken the next four buildings and kept adding rooms, with ours being the last one in the fourth building.

Venice with the Grand Canal

It is very difficult to orient yourself to Venice; there are no direct routes anywhere; while going to the Laundromat and trying to find San Marco Square, we walked for quite some time and if it was possible, we nearly walked around in circle but, never coming back to the same place and it took much longer than expected, but we were in no hurry. Pizza is the most common dish around here; that must be what sells and is quick to serve.

Our taxi to Morano

Friday we took the hotel’s recommendation of a trip to Morano to see the Venetian Master Blowers at work and then tour through their showroom; an art that has been around for 800 years and so many different forms from simple and elegant to really ornate, gold and enamelled traditional pieces, murals, etched glass, through to the really modern. I could have easily bought / lived with quite a few items but I have no room for anything else. We then caught the water-bus back to San Marco and walked and walked and walked…  I think I am now two inches shorter from all the walking on such hard, marble pavements.

Saturday was meant to be a walking tour San Marco Square as organised by the Tour Operators; but between poor written directions and information from the hotel concierge we didn’t meet up with the rest of them. Because we were already in the square, we stood in the queue for half an hour to enter the Basilica. Another amazing centre of worship totally unlike any other we have been in previously; this one was built in the 12th and early 13th centuries. The main type of decoration used in the church was mosaics – on the floors, walls and ceiling, much of the material used was a gold colour, and around the alter gold has been incorporated. The museum had an exhibition of the renovations carried out in 1836 when a lot of the interior needed repair; all the mosaic patterns were documented before work began so no detail would be lost. This is the first time any of the removed mosaics or artefacts have been put on display. Once again I am in awe of the imagination, skill, faith and dedication needed for the creation and then maintenance of this type of monument, let alone the cost involved!

John & Gae at St Mark’s Basilica

We didn’t manage to fit in a gondola ride; too many other things to do and see.

Tomorrow we head to the port to begin our cruise around the Greek Islands and then on to Croatia and Slovenia for a bus trip before we catch the train to Budapest.

10th September 2011

Might leave JR to write about  our happenings this week; the time has predominantly been spent between the unit and the tennis courts. My roles include meals, massage and presence at the courts when he is playing as well as hanging around waiting.

3rd September 2011

Have spent the last four days in Chamonix France, in the valley below Mont Blanc; the perfect spot to rest and recharge as well as try an absorb the magnificent vistas everyway you turn and explore as much of the surrounding area as possible.

From Montbrun we took the slow roads for a couple of days of meandering through the hills and off the tourist roads; the other occupiers were predominantly cyclist and bikers. The majority of cyclists were by no means young and I am not sure if I envied their drive and abilities or think them crazy; the bikers just go flying past on some fairly interesting places. Both sets of riders must have nerves of steel – their speed of descent just causes me to shake my head and hope we don’t have to pick them up further down – when we eventually reached them.

The mountains appear to be all shale and fractured rock (if flat on the shoreline, I’d call it tessellated, but don’t know the correct name for the side of a hill / mountain), how they hold together is a mystery to me, but the locals tells us they have been like this for 700 million years so I guess they’ll last a little longer. You have to admire the foresight, skills and determination of the inhabitants; reflecting on what has been achieved over these 5 -600 years of recorded history, the constructions we have seen is testament to finding ways to make it happen, much of it still in daily use.

This Church is old 383 AD

One of the walled cities we explored was Mont Dauphin, built early 17thC with armoury, garrison buildings and officer quarters. Every town appeared to have an older city / centre situated on a hill with a church and or castle at its top, surrounded by the “newer” buildings further down. One of the towns we stopped and walked around the little streets was Embron up to the cathedral, Notre Dame de Embron, dating back to 383, with the current structure from 15thC; such a dark building, that felt more menacing than sheltering, even the stained glass windows did not have any warmth emanating from them.   A person could take years to look through all the places that interest.

Complete stone ceilings

Yes I would want my photo taken if I had ridden up here

As time was available, we drove over as many Cols (Passes) and mountains as possible per day: Col d’Aulan (845m), Col de Perty  (1902m), Mt de Pierre Vesce  (1364m), Col du Reychasset (1052m), Col de Pallel (801m) Col de la Saulce (977m), Col du Vantaret (32091m), Col de Galibier (2610m), Col du Cenis 2084m), Col de l’Iseran (2764m), Col du St Bernard (2188m) at the Italian border and then through  the 12 km of the Frejus Tunnel back into France to Chamonix . With such spectacular scenery every way we turned, it was hard to keep going. The higher the mountain, the more riders we passed; many having their photos taken having completed the climb, others before descending.

And that’s what they rode up

Wooden horses

The first night in this section was in Gap, another old city that we walked into from the hotel. Not too many hills around here, so no hills to climb. Walked through the park on our way; it was late Sunday afternoon with family groups having a picnic among really old pines of many different varieties, bright flowers beds, a wrought iron rotunda and little “pony-traps” with small wooden horses for the children to be pulled around the pathways.

Boules in the park

Stopped and watched some games of boules, once again it appeared to be a very serious undertaking; there were several rinks, some with grandstands and watering systems – must become really serious when they are used.

Two walled villages in this photo

Monday night was spent at Briançon, another old city built around the biggest hill for miles around, fortresses across the top and most still in good repair; however, the whole place looked a dull grey and not very inviting, nor a lot on incentive to linger. John spent a few hours clambering around the walls of one of the towers before dinner.

Tuesday we had a short drive into Italy on our way to Chamonix; there was a marked difference in the roads between the two. We had commented on how well France maintains their roads, even the “back roads” we travelled were all bitumen with very few pot-holes. Italy was the opposite, roads in disrepair, even when we were on the major roads; some repair as well as construction happening, but a lot more to be done – not sorry when we drove back into France, arriving at our destination.

Chamonix, an alpine town of 10,000 people, is nestled at the foot of Mont Blanc; accommodation buildings are prolific. Can just imagine how busy it becomes during winter; this is the quiet time and there still has people streaming up and down the streets of an evening; mornings there are hikers and others catching the cable cars and cog-railway up into the mountains.

The mornings are also time for the hang-gliders to come from on high, floating around and down for quite some time – an amazing sight.

Gae in the Ice Cave

John walked only partway

Thursday we caught the cog railway up to Montenvers Mer de Glace which is 30 minute journey up from Chamonix to the station at 1913m. A little, old train with wooden bench seats carrying those who are sightseeing as well as those who have more vigorous pursuits planned, such as walk to the glacier or back down to the town. The train was reasonably full, but they dispersed rather rapidly when we reached the top. Quite a few were walking up as well, once again, I have to admire their fortitude for the such activities. Once we had looked over the glacier we walked down the steps to the Ice Cave (some 400 in total) and then had to walk back up them all.  In the afternoon John walked part-way up one of the hiking trails to the restaurant and back.

Mont Blanc in cloud

Friday was time to take the cable car up to Aiguille du Midi at 3842m which is the observation deck for Mont Blanc.  Even though there was light cloud moving in to cover the peak as we arrived, it could not lessen the grandeur of the location nor the thrill of being there. At Stage One, quite a few left to cable car to walk back to the floor of the valley; while others set out from the top station to walk to the summit.

Walking to the summit

There were lots of Japanese tourists making the trip that day and I had to be careful not to be knocked over in their rush to be first. The lift up the tower was not working, but that did not stop us exploring all the platforms before taking the ride back down.

A long trek over the glaciers

Saturday we headed to the opposite side of the valley for the ride in cable cars up Mt Brevents (2525m); just a few people around this area – some sight-seeing, a few hang-gliders to launch themselves out over the valley as well as a small group of hikers ready for a day in the mountains. These cable cars were for eight people seated; we were lucky enough to be the only ones in our car so we could sit or look whichever way we chose. At the first platform most of the hikers appear to begin their trip, either up or down and the hang-gliders were heading off to the side for their launching area. A short walk to the next cable car to take us to the Mont Blanc viewing area which appeared to be at a similar height to the viewing platform at Mt Aiguille du Midi where we had been the day before.

Mont Blanc with Midi to the left

There was still some cloud hanging around the peak on Mount Blanc, but clearer than earlier in the day and still a rather spectacular sight.

Several Glaciers from this lookout

John spent the afternoon  going up on the Lognan et des Grands Montels (3297m) for a good view of La Verte ( 4122m).  I think we have probably had our money’s worth out of the Chamonix Card.

Sunday it was time to pack up and leave Chamonix for Geneva and the next tennis tournament.

A fractured glacier

Map showing Train & Car travels in France

Saturday 28th August 2011

The trip from Nancy to Provence was 650kms down the highway and then some winding mountain roads. A stifling hot day of travel and the car air conditioner had difficulty coping as did we all.

Claude’s holiday cottage

Francoise had helped us locate a unit at Hameus des Sources in the village of Montbrun les Bains, approx. 80 km east of Avignon and similar distance north of Marseilles.  Francoise and Claude have a small cottage in the village of Sauvillon, about 7km west of here. The unit complex of 170 units – 1, 2 or 3 bedroom is adjacent to both the villages as well as the hot springs / spa / health complex. The village is on a hill, with the obligatory castle and tower on top, the castle is mostly in disrepair. The tower is stilled owned by the same family for whom it was built in 15th Century and is not open to the public; more stonework is being added to the fence to prevent people looking in.

Village from our balcony

From our balcony you look across onto the village built across the hill, down from the tower, dating from 15th Century. Just below the tower is the church with a bell that still rings on the hour from 7am until 10pm (just a little out, rings early for the hour and then again on the hour, sometimes with the correct number or with up to 14 peels – makes interesting listening). The fresh water fountains complete with several tubs and inward sloped front panel, which were used for water collection for the houses as well as washing, are still flowing at several points throughout the village. The village is closed for most trade on Sunday and quite a few businesses were closed Wednesday as well. Luckily we were able to buy some milk from the bar / café where we stopped for a drink before having dinner at the pizzeria.

Our unit was supplied with linen, but no provisions, not even a dish cloth. We had to wait till Monday to make purchases at the only supermarket – along with everyone else it seemed. The shutters on all the windows and doors proved there need repeatedly during the week – the days were stifling and the nights not much cooler. We were the only ones with shutters open at night. The units also have pool which was utilised by me, but John declined my invitation to enter.

Le Mont Ventoux from the south

John explored the area, particularly Le Mont Ventoux (1912m a.s.l.) on Tuesday; he wanted to see the hill the Tour de France riders ascended in 2009. There were lots of bike riders there that day as well. It is a cone-shaped hill of white shale with a sealed road snaking its way to the summit. From a distance it looks like permanent snow on the peak.

Down the other side

Km post showing road number, distance, grading & altitude

We spent quite a deal of time with Francoise and Claude during the week, either in town or at their cottage; very special people who have been so welcoming and generous to total strangers. Had dinner with them at their cottage on Thursday evening and then lunch at the castle on Friday.

There are so many little villages dotted around this rocky hilled area. Lots of trees have been planted all over the area by the forestry; apparently nothing but rock prior to their taking over. The villages all look similar, church or castle on top, then houses down the side of the hill; all constructed with the local rock with a terracotta tiled roof. Some in various stages of disrepair but mainly inhabited.

Open air concert

There was an open air concert in the village square (Place de Beffroi) on Wednesday evening as part of the Drôme summer festival, it cost a whole €8 per person; three musicians: one guitar, one violin and the lead singer who was also the percussionist. All in French, but lively music and song that the audience joined in with on several occasions; what was described as being an hours’ entertainment turned into nearly two and a half hours – midnight by the time we walked back to the unit.

Pont d’Avagnon

Up early Thursday for our trip to Avignon; only managed to make one wrong turn on the journey over; the signage changed focus for a while.  Our first stop was the Pont d’Avignon (17th Century) where we used the audio guides to add to our store of knowledge; fascinating listening to fact and folklore while walking where people have walked for hundreds of years out into the Rhone River as the bridge is no longer complete from bank to bank.

The next place on the list was at the Palais de Papes up in the old city centre (on top of the hill – naturally). Once again, crowds of people lined-up at the door, waiting to buy tickets, however, we had purchased both earlier. Another amazing building, a collection of rooms in both the old (13th Century) and the new Palaces (14th Century) with the original wall and ceiling frescos still well preserved in amazing colours and designs; the hand-painted tiles on the floor of the papal bed-chamber gave great warmth and decoration to this large room.

Place du Palais

We sat in the Place du Palais under umbrellas for a lunch of baguette and crêpe trying to remain cool as the temperature went past 40°C.  The last visit for the day, John walked up to the Cathedral of Avignon, Notre-Dame des Doms, Metropolitan Basilica with imposing gilded cast iron statue which was erected over the bell tower in 1859. On our return journey to Montbrun, we stopped a few times, the last being in Sault for wander around the streets and a citrus sorbet (have developed quite a liking for these on a hot day).

Friday John spent the morning with Francoise and Inge looking through the village of Vaison la Romaine, mainly to visit the roman ruins that form part of the village. The five of us enjoyed a wonderful Provencale dining experience at lunch time at the castle (18th Century) in what had been a casino until recent years and now a “traditional restaurant”. The afternoon and well into the evening were spent researching travel options for Inge for Saarbrucken as well as accommodation for the Geneva tennis tournament starting next weekend.

The local markets

Saturday morning was the weekly village market, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables from the local area hand-made jewellery by the local artisans as well as clothing and shoes imparted from Tunisia. Stalls were set up either side of the village main street from the bottom corner up to the Tourist Information Office – some 250 yds; the shopkeepers also put their merchandise outside their buildings to add to the colour and selection. Lots of people around by mid-morning, but not a lot of transactions other than fresh produce judging by the bags people were carrying. We briefly caught up with Francoise and Claude to say farewell and thank you for their hospitality.

Side Alter with frescos

The last part of our village exploration was from the lower end of the main street to reach the alley to take us up to the church. The first mention of a church on the site was 1308, with the current building dating from 1568; frescos added in the 17th Century are still visible around the side altar. A fairly simple, but profoundly beautiful village church made of rock and set on rock, it was difficult to see where one stopped and the other began.

We spent Saturday afternoon driving the loop from Montbrun up and around the hills, through Ferrassieres  to Sederon and back again; such harsh country that appears to grow lavender really well, plus the odd hay bale, some large solar farms and not a lot else. The buildings are all similar vintage, many clinging to steep rock with not a lot of indication of activity.

Steep Country

The streets in the French villages we have seen are all narrow but most of the cars are small and the drivers are predominantly courteous even if they drive really fast; however, they become impatient and blow their horn at the slower tourists.

We are leaving Montbrun tomorrow after a pleasant sojourn; heading in a northerly direction, we have a week to explore the country between here and Geneva.

20th August 2011

Wednesday was a train trip from Paris to Nancy (about 180km east), a pleasant journey on a fast train, thankfully without any dramas. The part of the country through which we travelled was mostly farming; fields of grain, some having been harvested, but beginning to look dry. There were lots of vehicles on the road that appeared to be travelling quite slowly as we flew past them.

This train journey only took one and a half hours and Francoise was there to meet us. Animated discussions and trying to fit our luggage into her small vehicle took some time, it was then agreed four adults and four large cases were not going to fit into Francoise’ car (little Nissan). I travelled with Francoise, plus the entire collection of luggage, while John and Inge caught the bus.

Francoise’s house typical of those in the street

Francoise and Claude live in a lovely, two storied home in a small, leafy village which is a suburb of Nancy; the “village” was build 30 years ago for middle class families and as Francoise described – everyone is now old; they have some beautiful old furniture that was handed down from Francoise’ great-grandmother.

Street Café with town entrance in the background

Later in the afternoon we drove into Stanislas Place, a part of the city built in the middle ages as a palace. Stanislas was created Duke of Lorraine and given the whole area in 1537. Many of the buildings are in use today as museums, hotels and restaurants.  The square in the centre has marble paving and there is quite a lot of gold used in the ornamentation. After wandering around the old city for a while we stopped for a drink at a café opposite a gothic church undergoing restoration that has been in progress for 3 years, but the work done looks wonderful.

Fountain & Gates in the Square

Thursday was Inge’s birthday and we celebrated the occasion at a small acre “retreat” owned by Francoise’ father Yves, south east of Nancy; a lovely area in an industrial estate that has a collection of ponds, 2 swans, 1 rooster and 89 ducks in residence as well as a silky terrier that is Yves’ constant companion. There are beautiful trees all around and lots of flowers growing in pots; an oasis in the middle of a busy sector of the town. There is a small shack that holds all the paraphernalia to support daytime activities; fridge, stove, sink, table and chairs – both indoor and outdoor, a couple of lounges for afternoon naps and lots of bread for feeding all the birds twice a day.

Swans on the Pond

Josephine, one of the swans, put on her “welcome” display; she would glide away from us with her wings feathers all puffed out, then glide back toward us with her head down creating a perfect reflection.  Must admit we stood and watched this until she tired of the display and gracefully sailed off up the pond among the weeping willows.

The birthday luncheon began with pike from one of the ponds, caught and cooked by Yves, served with mayonnaise made by Claude; this was accompanied by pink champagne. We then had cold meats with fresh potato and rice salads made by Francoise and Claude, a white wine served with this as the special red saved for the occasion had not passed the acceptable “nose” for Yves and Claude and was put aside for vinegar.

Inge’s Birthday

A rest was needed while we waited for Stefan to arrive before the birthday gateau; imagine the best chocolate cake you have ever eaten / dreamed of and then it might come close to the magnificence created by Francoise. It was a shame to destroy this work of art, but made wonderful eating, so it was justifiable. I am sure it will be hard to ever top that taste sensation.

On our way out of town we had to go via Yves’ house so he could prove he did have a real home as well as the shack; a charming cottage in the township that he has lived in for 50 years, complete with a double block for keeping his three goats. Yves speaks no English and our French is basic (and that’s praising it), but it did not stop the communication being effective; Francoise and Inge assisted as needed. A wonderful day even if Stefan and Inge managed to become lost on the way back to town.

Night lights on the Palace

The day was not over yet, after dinner, Francoise drove Stefan, John and myself into the old city to the Place Stanislas for the annual light show; about 20 minutes of computer generated imagery on the walls of the buildings around the square ( there is a link to the 2010 show through Google, so I am hoping 2011 is there soon so you can have look as well) (click on the links to go to Youtube to watch – jil).

Francoise, Inge and the next door neighbour organised with the local tennis coach for John and one of the local top players to have a hit Saturday morning. Both players enjoyed the tennis (one set each) and would have had a rematch if we had been there longer.

Renovated pavement in the Square

Collected a hire care in Nancy on the Saturday afternoon and had one last visit to Place Stanislas  before leaving Nancy and heading to Provence. We took a trolley-bus tour around the area and then went back to the square, fountains and the basilica – an amazing gothic style building undergoing restoration; has taken three years so far and that is only a small part of the exterior. The interior of the church is also in need of work. No wonder the cost of upkeep sometimes becomes too much.

We packed and left Nancy early for our trip to Provence; a wonderful few days with delightful hosts.

16 August 2011

Arrived at the Gare du Nord Paris early afternoon Friday after our trip under the English Channel; during the journey met up with Jenny and Colin, a couple from Rochester (Vic), who were on their first trip to Europe and very happy to find some more Aussies to chat with along the way.

Champs Elysees

Our hotel is a quaint little establishment; 6 floors with 5 – 6 rooms on each located between the Louvre and the Paris Opéra. After unpacking we walked along the street (Rue Richelieu) from our hotel, past the Louvre, right through the Tuillerie Gardens to the Place de la Concorde to meet Jenny and Colin; from there we just kept walking and talking and talking and walking till we were half way along the Champs Elysees!  By that time the body and I needed a break, as it was dinner time we dined in a lovely restaurant – John decided it was the best steak he had eaten in some time. An interesting visit to the ladies that had three toilets in one room – maybe it is a family affair. Jenny and I however decided that the one single cubicle was fine by us.

Students with their strings near the Louvre

Finished walking along to the Arc de Triomphe as well as visiting many of the shops along the way; could have spent heaps in many of the shops as the items were not very expensive for the quality, but I was strong and resisted the temptation – no room left in our luggage for extra clothes (might have to post some more things home so I can rectify that situation).  John was going to show Jenny and Colin how to catch the metro in Paris; however,  we couldn’t operate the ticket machine down in the station, to add insult to injury the escalators were not working so had to walk the 39 steps back up to the street. We then caught a taxi back to the hotel not that I objected because I was way past walking any further. When I looked at the map the next day, we had walked more than 4km.

The Louvre

Saturday John walked all over the area while I rested.   Saturday night we met up with Jenny and Colin again as well as Natalie and David (from Palm Beach USA) to have dinner and go on a cruise on the Seine. The cruise was wonderful even if packed, gliding past all the sights along the river either in the dusk glow or later with the lights shining; Notre Dame, Pont Neuf and the Eiffel Tower were spectacular enough to raise goose bumps, particularly the Notre Dame by moonlight and then the blinking lights on the Eiffel Tower every hour. By the time the cruise returned it was too late to go up the Tower (closes at midnight) as planned so agreed to leave it till the next night.

Eiffel Tower by night

A dinner cruise on the River Seine

Sunday we went to go shopping at Galleries Lafayette but it doesn’t open on a Sunday so we settled for a walk around the local area to the Royal Palace gardens – our window faces onto the side wall of the Royal Palace Theatre. We met Jenny and Colin for a dinner cruise on the River Seine – what a fantastic evening we had!  Seated next to the glass wall, below the glass ceiling on the boat where we had the perfect seating for viewing; even though we covered much of the same territory of the previous evening, this trip was special – excellent company, scenery and food (dessert was the best lemon tart I can ever remember eating!).  As soon as the cruise docked we caught a taxi to the Tower and joined the queue for tickets and then the lift. Unfortunately they closed the lift to the upper floor just as we reached the middle level; however, we spent nearly the next hour just looking all around at the various landmarks. One highlight was being first standing under and then on the tower when the lights sparkled at 11pm then 12mn.

After just a couple of hours sleep we were up to catch the train to meet Inge at Charles De Gaulle Airport to find her plane had arrived an hour early. Train back to the hotel for some breakfast  of fresh baguette and  tea – you just have to love this French bread. Tried to buy train tickets for Nancy for Wednesday but that needed to be done 10 days in advance here! On the train again, this time to Gare Paris l’Est to buy the tickets – luckily this was achieved without any problem. Took the train back to the Seine where we sat to have a drink and watch the world go by – when John went to pay the bill his beer & my Bacardi ended up being €17 so not really impressed. Met Jenny and Colin for dinner one last time before they leave for Amsterdam to begin their 15 day cruise down the Rhine to Budapest; we have really enjoyed their company over the last few days and they appreciated some travel tips.

Central dome of Lafayette

Tuesday we finally made it to the Galleries Lafayette for a day of wandering, looking and becoming more and more disenchanted with the “customer service manners” of the retail assistants. We had a late lunch before we headed back to the hotel where I rested while John went to climb the 283 steps of the Arc de Triomphe and Inge walked to the Sacré Coeur.

Arc de Triomphe

Tomorrow we are off to Nancy with Inge to help her celebrate her birthday as well as visit friends and family.

11 August 2011

Big Ben

London is as vibrant and beautiful as our recollections; driving into the city again was a great thrill. We returned the car to Heathrow on our way into London from Royal Tunbridge Wells and rang a hire car rather than a taxi or tube for the remainder of the journey; that turned out to be a good idea – roads were blocked all over the place because of the London Triathlon. Our driver was on his third trip in from the airport and he had the route all sorted; we took the scenic route past Harrods, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben as well as the London Eye, finished with a drive through the courtyard of the Savoy Hotel which is opposite our hotel. Spent the remainder of the day exploring the local area; there were lots of people around and plenty to see and do.

Being situated in the Strand adjacent to the Waterloo Bridge and just in front of Covent Garden has been a great place to stay; handy to so many attractions and restaurants as well as tube stations are not far in any direction.

Central London

Monday we took the London Big Bus tour because it was the only one that went to Knightsbridge and Portobello Road, Notting Hill as well as Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Royal Courts of Justice, Madame Tussaudes and everything in between.  That took the majority of the day, so a rest before spending the evening at the Adelphi Theatre watching “Love Never Dies”; musical theatre is still extra special in London and the production was brilliant. Not as lavish as “Phantom of the Opera” but still spectacular, especially from our seats – front row dress circle, nearly centre of the theatre, seats 16 & 17!

Hampton Court Gardens

Tuesday was clear and bright, following the showers while we were out and about yesterday; the temperatures are not that high (I am not complaining) and it was a perfect day for our trip to Hampton Court Palace. Caught the train from Waterloo Station to Hampton Court and then a walk over the bridge to the Palace. Took a while for the queue to reach the ticket office and walk to the garden shop – had an early lunch before we began the wander through the building and displays. Collected our audio guide and they also had velvet long coats for you to wear, if you wished to dress up for the occasion. We saw Henry VIII, accompanied by his knave and both beautifully attired, walking through the banqueting hall on his way to “marry” Catherine of Aragon. Henry VIII’s or the Tudor Castle was set up as though occupied in the period with all the displays giving further detail. All very impressive and it was interesting to read, see and hear about those times (rather pleased I live now though).

Houses of Parliament

John visited the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday afternoon for a tour through the chambers; he thoroughly enjoyed the insights into the British system and their traditions. They saw just about all the major areas including both houses, the Queen’s waiting room as well as her throne in the House.

Later in the evening we walked down along the embankment among well-kept gardens and were pleasantly surprised at how clean and tidy the whole area was considering the number of people around. Every bar / pub we walked past was packed with young people in business attire – guess they were on their way home – eventually.

Wimbledon

I made the obligatory visit to Harrods on Thursday while John went to Wimbledon for a tour and a look at the museum since its update.

Harrods

Harrods remains a wonderful “shopping” experience – not many purchases, but lots of looking and admiring.

The evening was spent at the Garrick Theatre watching “Pygmalion”; a great cast made this George Bernard Shaw classic come to life with all the staging, props and characteristics I’m sure were quite reflective of the life and times of those portrayed. Walked back to the hotel through Trafalgar square  and were quite surprised at how few people were on the streets at 10 o’clock on a Thursday night. The only places we saw any numbers was outside each of the theatres that were all coming out as we walked along the Strand.

Great Britain from top to bottom

Friday up and packed to catch a taxi to St Pancras Station to catch the Eurostar to Paris for the next chapter in our journey.

Monday 8th August 2011

From Skipton we kept heading south to Oxford; a long drive accomplished on the M6 and the other major roads to reach our destination as quickly as possible – still took us most of the day.

Golden Compass

Even though we were in Oxford for such a short time we still managed to achieve quite a lot in the available time. We started with a visit to some friends of Eva’s, Diana and Tony, with whom we spent a delightful couple of hours in their home in a charming suburb of Oxford. The time passed far too quickly chatting about just about everything under the sun as well as looking in Tony’s jewellery workshop and marvelling at his creations which included THE “Golden Compass”. I certainly admire people with artistic skills of any description.

A drink here on the walk home

Following this interlude, we caught the “Red Bus” and spent the next hour looking at and listening to information about the wonderful sites and sights. Lunch was a restful picnic sitting in the square watching the world go by. Following the rest, we walked through the grounds of St John’s College, down to the river, around to the “head of the River” pub for another rest (as well as a drink) before walking back to the hotel via the tow path beside the river; so ended a most enjoyable day in Oxford.

Gae & John at the castle gates

The next morning we were on the road before 9 o’clock, on our way to Windsor for a short stay. The journey was accomplished fairly quickly, but locating our accommodation proved quite a challenge. Finally found it (by John walking across the footbridge from the old town), turned out to be right across the road from the Castle! After booking in and unpacking (as well as the obligatory cup of tea) we set out for the Castle for our first visit; spent a pleasurable hour wandering around the grounds and then looking at Queen Mary’s Dolls House. It is amazing what can be achieved in miniature (that works) and has remained in working order all these years. I guess money to fund a dream has a lot to do with it. We followed this visit with a drink and dinner at the local pub and a stroll around the area in the lovely evening light.

Changing of the guards

Up early Saturday morning to be in the front of the queue in an attempt to miss the worst of the large crowds expected today. Even though the gates open at 9.30 the doors are closed until 10am; had the Gallery with the Duke’s 90th birthday exhibition just about to ourselves for some time, then the hordes arrived and flashed through like whirling dervishes. At 11am we headed outdoors to watch the changing of the guards at the foot of the hill which certainly keeps the stirring “pomp and circumstance” sounds alive. We watched and listened to the entire ceremony which included six members of the change-over team quick march up the hill to the family courtyard; one of the team was a shorter female and she was running to keep up with the other team members. After the ceremony we spent a couple of hours in St George’s Chapel and then left the crowds to it.

We had intended further exploration later in the day when the crowds had diminished, but when I returned at 4pm ready to meet John, the guards were closing the gate because they had an earlier finishing time today; so instead of the castle, we headed down to the town to look at the railway station that has been redesigned as a shopping and dining precinct – spent a pleasant time wandering, looking and watching the crowds.

Windsor Castle

Packed up ready to leave Windsor and then back to the castle for our final visit – one of the bonuses we discovered was that your entry ticket is good for 12 months and you can come back as often as you like.  Into the State Apartments as the doors opened and spent nearly two hours wandering, listening, looking and marvelling at the grandeur in front of us. We were sorry to leave, but time to move on to the next part of the adventure.

The trip to Royal Tunbridge Wells became a challenge on the M25 – the London Ring Road; some traffic flowing, some crawling and some stopped all together. The radio kept us up to date with the problems being experienced, particularly resulting from accidents. The whole week at Tunbridge tournament was littered with people being delayed by the M25, some missing matches all together.

White Cliffs on Beachy Head

John’s first match was not until Wednesday so Monday was spent catching up on housekeeping and paperwork and Tuesday travelling south to Hastings, then along the coast to Eastbourne and Beachy Head – the White Cliffs of southern England are rather spectacular along this stretch.   The seafront is still a novelty to look at and walk on – by no stretch of the imagination can it be called a beach; however, plenty of brave souls were gathering for the day sunning themselves and venturing into the water.  The water today was very calm and quite blue; quite different from the grey that was prevalent while we were at Frinton on sea.

Pebbles on the beach

Staying at the Ramada for the week at the tennis was a study of a facility in dire need of hospitality training; the list of poor skills we experienced grew longer each day; from the frontline staff in the dining room and accommodation area through to the senior person on duty for the shift. Hard to determine if staff are difficult to find / keep or they just don’t care – either way, I would be reluctant to ever use Ramada again (to add insult to injury, the cost was at the top end of the scale because it is so tight in the area).

John had a successful week playing tennis; you can read all about that on his tennis page.

Now it’s off to London till Friday; then Paris to meet Inge and help her celebrate her special birthday.

Tuesday 26 July 2011 – Cawder Hall Cottages Skipton

We left Dingwall early to travel to Fort William via the Isle of Skye.

Typical Scottish Country

The journey to and around the Isle of Skye was a long but great drive; after crossing the Skye Bridge and stopping at Kyle Lochalsh for a late morning tea we went on to Dunvegan Castle to look through the ancestral home of the McCleod Clan. The day was overcast with low cloud sitting on the top of most of the hills giving a soft hue to the scenery that seemed to be rather fitting

Castle on Loch Dulch

When we came back over the Skye Bridge it was time to finish the trip to Fort William via Loch Ness,  finally arriving after 7pm, the longer evenings make the driving worthwhile being able to still see and do things along the way. Found a room for two nights in Fort Williams so John could take the trip to Malliag on the Jacobite steam train; a journey he thoroughly relished – I think he is developing quite a liking for trains and sitting back enjoying the scenery – as well as chatting with other passengers.

Fishing village of Malliag

Our steam train passing over the Glenfinnan viaduct

Ben Nevis from the train

The morning in Fort Williams passed wandering along the High Street that has been turned into a Mall – cobbles and all. Majority of shops occupied, but not that many people buying a lot, mainly souvenirs. Also went for a drive around the town and environs including to Ben Nevis. There were campers and walkers everywhere around the mountains; with many more expected when the schools close for the summer break. According to the news, another 14 million cars are expected to be on the roads!

Sedbergh school cricket ground

Left Fort William early on Thursday to try and cover as much distance as possible on our way to Skipton in the southern Yorkshire Dales. After Loch Linnhi  we crossed over to the A85 beside Loch Lomond and then on to Glasgow. Around the ring roads and across to the M74 and turned south. Past Carlisle and Penrith and by 4pm decided we couldn’t make it all the way to Skipton so we turned east looking for a bed for the night; luckily the Bull Hotel in the village of Sedbergh had one available. We went for a walk around the town area, down to the cricket ground that looked perfect, there was even a cricket ball left lying in the outfield. Also looked through St Andrew’s Church; they have the most spectacular stained glass windows for such a small village. There were also embroidered panels created by the “Stitchers” a group of church ladies who meet regularly. These panels were such beautiful work and the finished article testament to the skills and care given.

Embroidered panel at St Andrews

Narrow Roads

We took the scenic route when we departed Sedbergh, travelling along country lanes, just wide enough for one vehicle at a time between the rock walls – this resulted in diving into small openings or backing to allow another vehicle to pass. We passed  farms and / or equipment for sale along the way indicative of what we had heard of the impact of changing farm ownership and large scale production in cheaper areas supplying goods.

Ribblehead Viaduct

Passed three railway viaducts all built more than 100 years ago, makes you stop and think about the scale of the construction and the gear available; what has been created and stood the test of time. Hope to take the trip from Skipton to Carlisle over these viaducts while we are here. We stopped for morning tea in Settle – another picturesque, old market town with cobblestone streets and narrow roads. The trip to Skipton was then completed fairly quickly even though the traffic had built up considerably – turned out to be market day when we arrived.

The view from our cottage

Located the Skipton Tourist Information office eventually – it was moved to its current location two weeks ago and a lot of the locals were unaware and still gave directions to the old office. The lovely staff helped us locate the present unit, with everything we need, on the edge of town looking out over green fields, stone walls and grazing livestock; if we look over the stone wall outside the unit, you can see the township, but the rest of the view is predominantly rural tranquility – just like home.

Heavy Horse Judging

John spent the first day at Penrith show checking out how they conduct the local show over here – I’m sure Bega Show Society will hear lots of ideas. Beside an amazing range of animals (rabbits, chooks, cattle & sheep of unknown breeds & shapes etc) on show / being judged, the dry stone wall competition was worth watching as well as chatting to one of the competitors. The show site was a field on the edge of town with tents for pavilions, and everything portable. The food was also a highlight described in detail upon his return.

The cattle pens

The show ground

Sunday at the river

We have covered many of the roads around the area; mostly smaller country lanes, single car width enclosed by stone walls and lots of cars about. The tourist numbers have grown considerably in the last couple of weeks or maybe it is because we are in such a beautiful part of the country. Sunday in particular there were people everywhere we went – all in their summer clothes and many hardy ones in whatever water was available to paddle. Must admit, I had a jacket on, but I guess their interpretation of summer and mine are somewhat different. Most outdoor eating areas were well patronised; both picnic areas as well as pubs. There were ice-cream vans at most sites being well utilised – not sure I care too much for the English version – rather watery and lacking in flavour.

Bolton Abbey

Bolton Abbey provided a lovely walk as well as places to sit and contemplate the beautiful structure, now largely in ruins. The grounds were immaculate right across the estate – Lord Devonshire being the landowner. John is continually amazed at the quality of the grassed areas, such good growth for such a short growing season.

Lady Ann Clifford planted this tree 400 years ago

We also spent a deal of time in the township; researching Stoney family information, looking through Skipton Castle, having a couple of rides on the canal and checking out the local markets – it’s market day four days a week here; some local produce that we purchased and lots of cheaper clothes and bric-a-brac.

Canal runs 128 miles from Leeds to Liverpool via Skipton

Our stay at Skipton has been all too short; there are so many more things to see and do; we will have to return another time and continue our explorations. We head now to Oxford and then Windsor before Royal Tunbridge Wells and the next tennis tournament.

Wednesday 13 July 2011

The Frinton Tournament resulted in John being the runner up in the singles and winner (with his singles opponent) in the doubles (6/3, 6/4); not bad results, but he would have preferred to win the singles – lost in three close sets.

We left Frinton on Sunday morning and began our journey to the highlands. Saw a lot of countryside looking good while other parts are quite dry – a couple of dry months and they think it is a drought!

As we drove through Lincoln, stopped at the cathedral for a visit; an amazing sandstone building that dates back to 1072. The stained glass windows all told a story and the messages were quite clear and easy to understand. As luck would have it, the youth orchestra were practicing ready for the celebrations being held in the church later in the afternoon. Just imagine the sound of a full orchestra playing some of the well-known hymns in this vaulted space – enough to bring a tear to the eyes and think beautiful thoughts. Elva would have enjoyed it.

Orchestra practicing in the Cathedral

We spent the night at Richmond, an old market town high on a hill; cobblestoned streets and town square surrounded by stone buildings in various states of repair / disrepair. Our accommodation was in the local pub – up three flights of stairs, also in various stages of soundness. The room would have fitted in well with Leila Dwyer at the Central – sloping floors, narrow, corridors one power point in the room and a bed that looks as though it has been there for many years and as hard as …

Richmond Market Square

Stopped at the Scotland border; quite a cool breeze, but could see for miles. There was a piper playing – but it was Beatles music emanating from his bagpipes, so that destroyed the illusion.

We spent Monday night at Pitlochry in the Atholl Palace Hotel; old, elegant and past its prime (the hotel as well as me), but a lovely night. The town area had narrow streets, some still cobbled stones, mainly grey stone buildings with bright flowers in profusion. We have seen many towns as well as houses with flowers in hanging baskets and window boxes; they make the most of the short growing periods they have.

Our room left on second floor with window open

Roads were good – particularly M’s and A’s; the lesser roads are a bit of a challenge, but they are all sealed. Saw our first set of traffic lights on a roundabout at Perth – according to our landlord, it was a nightmare are peak hour.

This is being written from Highland Holiday Cottages, Mountgerald– doesn’t that sound grand! We are spending a week on the shores of Cromarty Forth; just north of Inverness and east of Dingwall. An old barn and various other old farm buildings, a young couple have converted into holiday units “simple luxury” is their term for the renovation and furnishing and I could agree.

Highland cattle in the paddock next door

Our view from the windows is over the Cromarty Firth in the foreground to the green fields on the other side; there is a village off to the left with its collection of buildings and there are quite a few single building dotted across the countryside. The Cromarty Firth is probably a mile wide; during high tide it is large body of water, at low tide it is predominantly sand flats with a stream down the centre. The tides are quite evident right along the coast.

The view from our cottage

Daylight this far north is rather longer than we are use to – the last light doesn’t fade until midnight and by three am it is light enough to see detail outside; the birdlife begin their calling soon after this. The moonlight on the water last night was brilliant – a path of gold right across the water.

Since being here we have been out sightseeing in between resting ready to explore some more. Thursday was a trip through Wick to John O’Groats and then across the top of Scotland. We can now say we have been as far north, south, east and west as possible by road on the British mainland as well as Ireland. While some of our trip north was through rugged, fairly desolate scenery, there are lots of occupied dwellings as well as plenty of B&B’s dotted across the landscape. The roads for the trip across the top and back down the centre were single lane with passing places – even with those it was a tight squeeze at time and more than once we hit whatever potholes were available. UK drivers don’t back off their speed very often – guess they are used to judging width and missing the edges.

Saturday started with a journey to Balmoral Castle across the hills, over numerous stone bridges and finally arriving at the wrought iron gates beside the River Dee. We spent a lovely few hours walking in the gardens, listening to the history and background to the estates, looking at the exhibits in the ballroom and understanding why such a remote location has appeal for the royal family as a brief interlude away from their hectic life.

Balmoral Castle

The Drum Major

The afternoon was spent at Timintoul Highland Games. It was like the page out of a highlands travel guide – we watched a stage with contestants in the highland dancing competition, hammer throwing, tug-o-war, pipe bands marching, baton twirling, bagpipe music  floating across from several directions at once and joined  everyone cheering for the contestants. We certainly are in the Scottish highlands.

Wednesday 6th July 2011

Being given the No 1 seed for the singles, John didn’t have a match drawn, so we explored the local area for the day – into Colchester to organise phone and internet connections (and bought an iPad); after some lunch we drove to Clacton which is the larger shopping town for the people from Frinton, rather than going into Colchester for day-to-day resources.

John has played and won two singles matches and one doubles so far; rain delayed play earlier today, but they appear to be back on track. Hope the forecast clears a little, otherwise finishing Saturday could be a problem before the satellite tournament begins on Sunday.

Frinton Tennis Club

The tournament dinner was held in the Frinton Lawn Tennis Club ballroom tonight. A charming old building – white with a thatched roof, wooden beams inside and lots of smaller rooms opening off this large room; honour boards in the bar area date back to 1921. The meal was very good, services excellent and the entertainment enough to drive us out of the room then the building by 10pm. It was advertised as a Frank Sinatra Tribute; besides only one of Frank’s songs, it was too loud, he couldn’t sing and he fancied himself as an entertainer – must be local or related to someone in the club to be given the gig.

Saturday 2nd July 2011

Having spent four days in Brussels, I was not unhappy to leave there – nor is it high on my list of places to visit again. Beside the beautiful buildings and the quaint, well maintained cobblestone streets, the manners (or lack thereof from our perspective) of the majority of people we came in contact with as well as the overpriced services as well as food of questionable quality tended to colour our opinion. While we enjoyed the bus tour around Brussels, the city looks tired and dirty. Transport is a mess (according to the tour guide) with the narrow streets, vehicles becoming bigger and more plentiful, money being needed for restoration of buildings takes it away from upgrading infrastructure and graffiti is much more visible here than in the Austrian cities we visited.

We caught the Eurostar from Brussels to London at 7am (6am London time) this morning and enjoyed the whole experience; comfortable seats, a pot of tea (hot) with fresh milk helped restore my equilibrium. In London by 9am; it then took two hours to finally purchase tickets for the tube to Heathrow and finally locate the right platform – the information boards don’t quite give you all the directions required to access each separate area just the way needed to be successful.

Collected our hire car by 12.30pm and headed towards Frinton on Sea. The car is a brand new Mercedes station wagon, but the suspension is not much better than the Taurus we had in the US in 2006! After one wrong turn, that did not take long to correct we found the right road and headed east. Finding somewhere for lunch was a challenge, so settled for what we had with us in the car.

Our accommodation at Frinton is a B&B with the Tillets just through the laneway from the tennis courts where the tournament is being played. Delightful people who had half a dozen friends (plus assorted children) come back from a beach rugby tournament. We joined them for a BBQ and we had a lovely chat till I called it quits at 9pm – John chatted on for some time.

Wednesday 29th June 2011

Brussels 100 year Expo

What is it about Europe – if tea is served, it’s with tepid water and long-life milk – YUK. Hopefully the UK will restore my faith in ever finding a decent cup of tea.

Washing has become a necessity, so spent the time in the local Laundromat to ensure we didn’t run out of clean clothes totally. Lunch was the usual banana sandwich; however, this time we has a really nice baguette from the local bakery. Much to John’s delight, this hotel has BBC1 and Wimbledon was on – he was in heaven because it was the men’s quarter finals. Needless to say tennis featured until the end of the day’s play.

EEC Building Brussels

A walk later in the evening took us past the “Manneken Pis”; then on to the Grand Place where there are numerous shops selling: chocolates, tapestry, Belgian Lace and all kinds of souvenirs. What a stunning sight all these late 17th century buildings – some really ornate with lots of statues and gold detailing while others less decorated, but still striking.

At least the temperature is down a little on yesterday and sleeping was not such a problem.

Tuesday 28th June 2011

We had the right day, time and place and caught the train as planned! The first leg of the journey was spent (accidentally in the business class section) the staff were kind and allowed us to stay for the hour and a half journey; they also explained how to read our tickets to find the correct car and seat allocated as per our reservation. The first part of this journey was passed in very comfortable seating, well set out for maximum space – even provided with a complimentary drink of OJ as well as a chocolate.

In line with the way things went for the day, the train was five minutes late into Munich so we didn’t have as long as planned to go from one platform to the next (12 across to 22); of course we were on the furthest cars from the entry point as possible, so a quick walk right down one platform and up the other to find the next carriage.

Seating in the Munich to Koln car was fairly hard on the body; swollen ankles, numb (R) leg and back pain that was truly challenging resulted from this 5 hour segment. To add pressure, this train was delayed and arrived five minutes after the scheduled departure of the Brussels train. Even though the platforms were only one apart, it necessitated a trip down along under the train lines and up the other side. Thankfully this train was delayed also, so we made this one by the barest of margins – even if there was a person occupying both our seats (she did grudgingly move once I mentioned they were reserved).

This journey was also delayed by track work, we were diverted to an alternate track which put us into Brussels at 6.45 instead of 5.25pm. John tried to print our Eurostar tickets while at Midi, but that proved a fruitless exercise, being sent repeatedly from one counter to the next then back to the first on more than once – that was when he decided to try again another day.

The taxis driver turned out to be not a taxi driver, but we did end up in the right hotel (eventually) via the scenic route – he probably thought we wouldn’t know the difference. To add insult to injury to temperature has climbed to 35 degrees!

Our hotel is conveniently situated and a large facility, but it is looking tired and past its prime; it is well worn and probably hard to clean – but the cleanliness is not what you would expect from a “four star” establishment. Hate to be paying the advertised room rate of €256 per night.

Close to 8pm by the time we made it up to the dining room; to save the day from total disaster, the meal was wonderful – fillet steak for me and John duck breast.

Room damn hot, two fans going all night looking for relief.

Monday 27th June 2011

Up at 5.30 to pack and take a taxi to the station to catch our train to Brussels – only to realise were a day early; John wanted to know if that cancelled out the day we were late in 2001 to head to Ireland. Looks as though we need to check our itinerary / bookings more closely; found accommodation for the night close to the station and spent the day catching up on bookwork and rest for me.

We will try again tomorrow morning to see if we can make the journey to Brussels.

Sunday 26th June 2011

Tour to “Eagle’s Nest” was marred slightly with low cloud to interrupt the view on the drive up through the Bavarian Alps; however, the impact of the engineering feat was a marvel for its time and the location. The morning tea when had was worth the drive – five layers of sponge and chocolate mousse covered with chocolate icing and sprinkles! The calories are being balanced by walking and trying to be sensible most of the time.

Back to town for lunch accompanied by watching the F1 race from Valencia before the next walk to the old city; took the river cruise to see Salzburg from a different perspective and then found a café for a drink and dinner and walking home the looooong way.

Saturday 25th June 2011

Still high cloud, but the rain stopped for a while for our “Sound of Music” bus tour; caught the bus just down the road from our hotel. Firstly toured the city while the commentary covered history as well as pointing out and stopping at several locations used in the making of the film. We also heard quite a lot of detail of Maria Von Trapp, on whom the story was based. Then headed out of Salzburg up to the lakes district and the church where the original Maria and Captain were married; the same church that was used in the film and as luck would have it, a wedding was taking place while we were there –with a brass band to playing the music – a jazz version of “Amazing Grace” as well as “Nessun Dorma” = all rather moving and a delightful interlude in our day. A stroll through the streets of Nonnberg to buy the DVD and the book of Maria Von Trapp; the bus trip back to town was accompanied with a documentary by “Liselle” on the making of the movie as well as a sing-a-long.

Church where Sound of Music was filmed

Back to the city by 1.30 and another stroll through the Mirabell Gardens for more photos of the sites for scenes from the movie and then time for lunch – no baguette and banana, Saturday and both the relevant stores closed at lunchtime.

John managed to find the Assen bike race to watch (or snore through) before we headed out again for another walk. Our evening’s entertainment was at the “Sounds of Salzburg” dinner concert following a stroll through the shopping district of the old city and the useless search for a drink. The dinner commenced at 7.30 – soup, chicken or pork with vegetables followed by apple strudel and whipped cream. The show was predominantly songs from “The Sound of Music” underpinned by a documentary by Maria Von Trapp recounting her being sent to the Von Trapp family, the engagement orchestrated by the children to keep her in the family and their leaving Salzburg via Italy to the USA.

Friday 24th June 2011

Arrived in Salzburg mid-afternoon yesterday; it was raining fairly well and looks like it has been for some time. The station is undergoing major reconstruction; it took quite a while to find our way off the platform and out to the taxi stand. Apparently the iron roof is heritage listed and creating some challenges.

This morning was spent touring through the streets of Salzburg by bus and enjoying the views of historic buildings at every turn; buildings that have stood for hundreds of years and I guess are quite ordinary over here where you have history in centuries, but enthralling to strangers who do not. One of the buildings we drove past this morning had 1123 painted into the fresco across the front!

The first settlement described as Salzburg was 400BC with the first reference to the name of Salzburg 647AD when St Peters Church was established by the Prince Archbishop – the church derived their wealth from the salt mines (called white gold) and over the years built some 61 catholic churches all of which are still functioning.

At the end of the tour, we walked through the Mirabell Gardens (one of the locations used for Sound of Music) then bought a baguette and bananas for lunch which we ate in our room. After a rest, John went off to explore the Hohensalzburg Fortress while I chatted with Eva on Skype.

Old city from the Fortress

A heavy downpour during the afternoon was apparently typical of those experienced here. After the rain we dressed ready for the Mozart Dinner Concert and walked over to the old city for a look while we waited for the Glockenspiel to ring at 6pm – a unique sound of a range of bells ringing gently and playing a Mozart piece. From there we went to the St Peter Church; another ornate church (it could be described as opulent) with four different organs with one that took up the entire rear wall. The Archbishops over the years must have decided their wealth would be well utilised to glorify God in the elaborate constructions and the lavishness of the marble, stonework, gold, silver, brass, wood and artwork in intricate patterns and detailing.

The evening was spent at the Mozart Dinner Concert held in the beautiful surroundings of the St Peter Baroque Hall.  A three course dinner served between Mozart music and aria from “Don Giovanni”, “The Marriage of Figaro” as well as “A Little Night Music”; the string chamber orchestra as well as the tenor and soprano are all past students of the Salzburg Music University. The whole evening was spent in a charming setting, beautiful food, cultured ambience with ideal musical interludes. A brisk walk home through the old city back to our hotel ended a very pleasant night.

Thursday 23rd June 2011

A public holiday today – a festival to celebrate Corpus Christi.

Innsbruck celebrating 500 years of the Emperor

Innsbruck has been a delightful visit; so many wonderful things to see and do and then little surprises crop up to add to our experiences. Last night outside our window in the old city square, the local brass band set up and began playing – all in costume and their music was just perfect in the setting. We listened for some time and then strolled along to St Jakob Cathedral (circa 1500) for a look before dinner; it is difficult to describe the magnificence of the interior of this building. The outside is quite austere compared with some of the other churches we have seen, but the interior stops you in your tracks. Pink marble predominantly with lesser amounts of white, grey and some mottled with shades of brown; the stonework around all of the walls, the pipe organ, pulpit, altar as

Street parade

well as the stunning paintings on the ceiling all demonstrate the craftsmanship of the artisans who worked on creating this monument – it is hard to comprehend that most of the old city was built in the 1400 and 1500’s and is still structurally sound. Some of the stair treads show the wear of hundreds of years of wear – but there just as many to go to make any real impressions in any of it.

St Jakob Cathedral

Tuesday 21  and Wednesday 22 June 2011

John’s first two tennis tournament finished last Saturday – he lost the final of the singles to the No 2 in the world ; he and Denis lost their doubles to a strong German pair. Four finals in two weeks in consecutive tournaments out of a maximum of four events is not bad results for an old “f—t”.

Arrived in Innsbruck from Portschach on Sunday evening after spending a long day (some might say arduous) travelling by train through what you would expect from Alpine villages and mountains of the Tyrol Region of Austria – stunning! Can imagine winter is challenging, but the whole trip was through picturesque valleys and rugged, majestic mountains. We are looking forward to more of the same or even more spectacular scenery on our trip to Salzburg tomorrow.

Dinner on the sidewalk looking to our hotel just past the clock

The train presented its own set of issues for us – a climb up four, steep and deep steps to enter them and we needed to take three in total for the nearly six hour journey. Needless to say we were please to arrive at our hotel, find some dinner and a drink and then bed.

Our hotel is in the middle of the old city – some of the buildings dating from the 1400 and 1500’s – I think the “youngest” is 1700’s. Our hotel is dated 1475 and Mozart stayed here in 1769. History comes alive when you reflect on who has been here before us.

We have been on the Sightseeing Bus tour, the Tyrolean Museum, took the cable cars to the top of their run on the mountains to the west of Innsbruck – the ones we see from our bedroom window. Yesterday we visited the Swarovski Museum (and shop of course); what wonderful imaginations and fabulous craftsmanship.

Swarovski Museum

Still trying to come to terms with people who do not wait “their turn” as per our expectations, rather they will step in front of you if you hesitate for a second or wait until the person in front is finished – guess we will just take a little longer because I cannot see either of us becoming that “rude”.

Weather has still been warm without being too hot; a pleasant breeze comes

up most evenings so the nights.

7thJune 2011

Finally in Europe – it took quite some time to come to fruition, never-the-less, here we are. The trip was long although a couple of stops to be off and walking around. Think it will be a long time before I become a seasoned international traveller.

The days in Vienna were filled with walking (John much more than I did); it is hard to realise these were thriving cities hundreds of years ago.  Went to a concert at the Imperial Palace, a bus trip around the city and up to a lookout (hard to see too far because of the smog / haze); a ferry ride from the greater Danube, though the canal (with a lock to take the boat down 3 – 4 metres) as well as the Leipzig Horses.

Imperial Palace Vienna

The train ride from Vienna to Portschach was a lovely way to see the countryside; even John sat back and enjoyed it. Not often will he travel as an observer; might have to try a little more of it.

In Portschach since Saturday and finally have access to the internet; not allowed to use my phone for downloads – the accountant has spoken! Went into Klagenfurt Monday and organised a new data stick and now I am allowed to do as much as I want to on the internet.

John was supposed to have his first match yesterday afternoon, but the rain set in, so it was played today – unfortunately he lost in three.  Now playing the

consolation singles as well as the doubles with a chap from Toowoomba; they have a bye in the doubles and no match scheduled for Thursday.

Portschach is a beautiful little, holiday town, on the side of a lake with mountains all around; bus, train and ferry services to all the towns around the lake. As there is no tennis tomorrow, planning to take the ferry to all the ports around the lake – takes about 4 hours just for the trip.

Maria Worth Church Yr1151

Portschach from the other side of Lake Worthsee

Have been in Portschach am Worthsee for the past week; John just finishing the Austrian Seniors Titles and playing the European Seniors Titles next week. Lost the final of the 60 Men’s Doubles and plays the final of the Consolation Singles tomorrow.

It was a public holiday here Monday (Bank Holiday)and the tennis doesn’t start until Tuesday; will hire a car for the day to explore further around the area. Have covered most of the town area by foot and took a ferry ride down to Velden (western end of the lake) on Thursday and back to Maria Worth to have a look at the church there – the date on the pulpit was 1742 and the history sheet stated the first reference to a church on the site was 849. The friezes on the wall were still quite visible and also dated from the 1700’s – things were certainly built to last here.

Heading to Innsbruck from here, then Salzburg and Brussels; from Brussels across to the UK to Frinton on Sea by July 2 for the next tennis tournament; all of this being achieved by train travel. Fancy John sitting still for that long; he must be mellowing!

Weather has been warm but not too hot. Rained quite a few days here, but usually late in the day / overnight and the courts benefit from the watering. The area is quite dry, they are complaining of drought, but I’m not sure their definition and ours are quite the same.

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