Our Europe Trip in 2014
Out of the hotel by 9am and a taxi for the 130kms (saved the bus and taxi each end) down to our Jumeirah Hotel at the Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi. Arrived around 10.30 and reception were able to allocate us a room on the 34th floor immediately. The views east from our bedroom and west from the bathroom were quiet something.
Gae decided to rest in preparation for tomorrow’s flight home and I decided to do the hop-on hop-off Big Bus tour of the city. Etihad Towers is stop No. 2 and we left at 11.35 and headed north along the canal where many of the well-to-do locals live. Stop 3 was at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque which has only recently been completed at a cost of $2bn and is the highest ranking Mosque in Abu Dhabi with four minarets. The public are allowed to visit between 8.30 and 11.30 each day except Friday but my time schedule did not allow a stopover. The floor is covered by one single carpet which was woven on the spot and is the largest single carpet in the world. The chandelier is also the largest ever made and came from Switzerland.
I did not have time to do the extended tour to Yas Island with its newly developed GP1 circuit & Ferrari World indoor theme as that would have taken another three hours and I had arranged to take Gae to the 74th floor observatory for afternoon tea with a view.
We returned via the waterfront, business district and newly developed Marina Mall as well as the Emirates Palace Hotel reported to have cost $3bn and financed by the state and leased out to a management company to operate.
Darkness is now closing in and we will select from one of six restaurants at the hotel for our final meal before heading home.
The usual rigmarole of finding the right spot at Airports; however we were early, so there was no real problem. In the air by 10pm on an Air Alitalia flight of six hours plus a three hour time difference got us into Abu Dhabi just on daybreak at around 06.30. Through Customs and out the front for the Etihad courtesy bus to Dubai. A taxi ride from the Etihad depot and we were at the hotel by 09.30
We went to breakfast and were able to check in to our room by noon. A great view from our 7th floor window over the Old Fort (now a Museum), Dubai Creek, Spice & Gold Souk (Markets) and through to the sea.
A bit of a cat nap as we had only had three hours sleep on the plane and then I went for a walk down to the creek and through the Old Souk which is the merchant trade in silks. Would have been around 100 shopfronts with every type of silk you could think of and they all wanted to sell me something.
All types of watercraft along the creek bank and in particular the little passenger carrying craft that seat about 10 people down each side and putt across to the other side.
It is still the most efficient and traditional way to cross the 50m creek. The port on the other side is about 200mt upstream and the outgoing tide was making it difficult as it appeared the craft travelling downstream were four times faster than those travelling upstream.
There is a traditional English Pub on the mezzanine level so we watched a little cricket, enjoyed a beer and sampled their English pies while we researched the hop-on hop-off bus options for the next day.
Monday we opted for the Big Bus tour around the old district and up one side of the creek and back the other. There were many small craft in the creek with workers loading and unloading by hand all the goods being traded as far as India and North Africa. This was, and still is, the biggest silk trading port between East & West.
The riverbanks were lined with five star hotels as well as a golf course and Wonderland / Creekside Park. There was a dedicated health suburb with all the world’s major hospitals and health clinics being represented; all competing for the medical tourism dollar. The bus commentary gave us a good insight to the culture and history of this fast growing city. Oil was discovered in the early sixties and the Sheik decided to put the profits into infrastructure for the future. This has paid off with the tourist development and now oil only represent 7% of the GDP.
Back to the hotel for a cuppa and I went over to the museum while Gae rested. The old Fort / Museum gave me a good insight into the early existence / way of life of Dubai inheritance.
The way they used palm fronds to provide shelter and wind silos to bring in the breeze was interesting. The pearl industry was the main source of income until the Japanese discovered how to grow cultured pearls. Fishing remains an important livelihood. Life was difficult in the early part of the 19th century until oil was discovered and now development is everywhere.
At 3.30 we took a Taxi over to the other side of the creek to catch an Arabian Dhow Cruise which was an hour long journey down the creek with commentary on the landmarks etc. We utilised the RTA Water Bus (the putt-putt I spoke of earlier) to return to our side of the creek as night fell.
Back to the bus station this morning to take the second day of our hop-on hop-off sightseeing tour which was down the coastal strip of new development.
We followed the old coast road past the wind sail hotel that is so well known for its distinctive style design and on to the “Atlantis on the Palm”. A Palm tree made out of reclaimed sand and high cost unit development on each frond made up this so called island – you can buy a unit here, from $28m! A similar one but double the size is being developed further down the coast.
The return journey was via the newly developed six lane highway which is now the main road to Abu Dhabi.
A visit to the Dubai Mall gave Gae a look at many of the international brand shops while I took the elevator ride to the 124th floor of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa Observation Deck. The observation deck gave me the opportunity to look down on all the development, highways, race course and vacant land just waiting for development.
Returned to our hotel for a late cup of tea and make arrangements for our transfer to Abu Dhabi tomorrow.
Friday 5th December 2014
Our time away is drawing to a close; we have been in Rome since Monday and we leave tomorrow for a few days in the United Arab Emirates and home Friday.
Our hotel is just delightful – our window opens out onto the Pantheon Square; directly in front is a fountain that goes 24 hours a day and the Pantheon is to the right.
There are numerous restaurants around the perimeter and we have sampled the wares of a few (some really good, some less so); what more could you want for a Roman holiday?
Each evening (except when it is raining) we have been serenaded by various artists; an opera singer, a couple of different classical cellists and an older man playing a piano accordion; all with the accompanying tinkling sounds of the fountain. Spending time looking out our window has been a real pleasure.
Much wandering the streets has been accomplished; sometimes in directions we didn’t quite mean to go, but none-the-less a very pleasant occupation. Unfortunately the Trevi Fountain (about three short blocks from here) is under repair so it is covered in scaffolding. A walkway has been built across the fountain so you can walk up close to all the marble statues; there are numerous signs telling people not to throw coins, but not everyone is complying.
We have managed to visit about six churches all in close proximity; you have to marvel at the craftsmanship, many of the churches date from the first century and have been either renovated or rebuilt over the years. Each church has been completely different; the use of marble, artwork and sculptures being the major difference.
We spent a deal of time at the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica; I think it would take weeks to see everything, but we are happy with what we achieved. I cannot help but be amazed when I look at work of these master craftsmen and think about the period in history in which these works were created. Michelangelo’s Pieta as well as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel still look spectacular and we enjoyed seeing them again all these years later; albeit from greater distances this time. I am please we were here without the crowds.
(Today, Friday I walked back over to the Vatican with the intention of climbing the dome. The queue at 9.45 was about 100mts but with two security tables operating it did not take long to get through. Off to the right hand side ticket office for the tower with or without the lift. I took the stairs to keep some fitness which was 150 steps in the first section to view the interior of St Peter’s. Difficult to take photos as the mesh went well above head height, but I managed to get a couple of the nave and the dome.
Up the inner skin of the dome via a series of constructed metal staircases made it an easier experience. Once on top I was freely able to move around the exterior as I had beaten the crowd. Around the first time to take a series of photos, then the second time around to appreciate the view and seek out points of interest.
Trying to count domes around the city is near impossible and besides there are over 500 churches in Rome. Asked a guide if he could point out the Pantheon but he said it was not tall enough to rise above the six story buildings in that area.
I returned via a small door near the rear of the Basilica and I proceeded to walk around the altars again following yesterdays path.
Behind one of the statues the crowd were lining up and going down a staircase so I decided to follow. This led to the crypt where many of the Popes have been buried and also showed some of the former foundations before exiting where I had originally purchased the dome ticket. Twenty minute walk home, collecting a bread roll on the way and lunch with Gae.
Back over the river again after lunch to look at the 1900 year Castel Sant’ Angelo. Originally build by Hadrian in the year 130AD plus as his mausoleum (under Roman law you could not be buried in the town, so over the river qualified as out of town). It was not completed when he died in 138AD so the next Emperor completed the building and Hadrian’s ashes were transferred to the tomb.
In the 1500’s the ruling Pope took over the Castel and further fortified the structure as his place of residence. Extra rooms and a reception hall was added which still contain frescos on the ceiling and all walls. One end is dedicated to Sant’ Angelo and the other has a large fresco of Hadrian.
Further steps and rooms and you reach the top which has a commanding view across the river and over the city.
I was a little leg weary after three hours so fifteen minute walk home( went up & down around 600 steps and walked 6kms over cobbled stone streets today) and a little rest before selecting a restaurant in the courtyard outside our window for a beer & steak.
For our last day in Rome we took the Red Bus Tour around the city, taking in many of the sights already visited.
Our only stop was at the Colosseum for a walk around and another into the Roman history. it was not hard to imagine the epic battles fought here by those unfortunate enough to be victims for entertainment of the nobility.
Once back to the hotel, we collected our luggage and took another hair-raising taxi ride, this time to the airport there is nothing quite like an Italian taxi driver in a hurry!
1st December 2014
(Out of Mananello by 10am and headed back to the A1 to travel south towards Florence. As it was Sunday there was very little truck activity on the motorway. They usually take up the slow lane and use the centre lane for overtaking. I stay in the centre lane and only move over to the fast lane when trucks are overtaking, but I have to watch for the BMW etc. who want to travel at 140+kmh. As it was the motorway reduced to two lanes after Bologna, with more than enough traffic to keep me busy.
After a lunch stop we headed into Florence around mid-afternoon. Our hotel was right near the Ponte Vecchio (the famous old bridge full of little shops over the river) and I had elected to drive there and have the car garaged. The street traffic was light but the nearer we came to our destination we had to manoeuvrer amongst the Sunday afternoon pedestrians who were not interested in making way for vehicles and not prepared to give way to a car. With the trusty iPad and going around the block a few times we finally arrived and pleased to hand the car over to be garaged for a few days.
Settled in to the hotel with a corner room on the 3rd level overlooking the street, bridge & River Arno.
Off for a walk over the bridge to soak up some atmosphere; on the way back we popped in to a little church just off the main road to find the choir practicing under the guidance of the local priest. We realised that they were warming up for a performance scheduled for 5pm so we stayed on and enjoyed the next hour of entertainment; there is something wonderful about a choir in harmony with little musical accompaniment. You never know what you may come across when you just wander.
After the choir’s performance, we walked up the back lane and found a restaurant serving a T-bone for two; the chef had the uncut meat on the chopping block and when you ordered he would cut the required thickness, weigh it and cook it on the open flame. The meat was served with roast potatoes. The resulting meal was just wonderful; tender, juicy meat and perfectly roasted potatoes made a thoroughly enjoyable and we agree to a return visit.
The next morning we wandered up through the narrow lanes, amongst the many street vendors with their leather goods. When we arrived at the Cathedral (Campanile di Giotto) there was a bride having her photo taken in front of the large wooden doors. We entered and sat for some time soaking up the surrounds,
then we went downstairs to the excavations of former churches that had been built over.
The Baptistery in the forecourt was in the process of being renovated, however we were able to still go inside to soak in the frescos.
A little shower of rain on the way back to the hotel and of course, the street sellers with hands full of umbrellas were looking for sales. I decided to go back after lunch and climb the 400 odd steeps to the top of the dome.
A side entrance lead me to the first flight of circular staircase which brought us out on the inside of the dome to look down over the altar area & up at the frescos.
Into another cavity and another flight of stairs up over the dome until we gained access to the outside near the top. The photo opportunity was great and I took a number, although the sunshine detracted from the main view. There was terracotta everywhere; every surface covered in terracotta tiles; there were workman making repairs.
After some time I made my way down and walked around the back lanes to base, finding a suitable pasta restaurant for an evening meal.-John)
The following morning was spent at the Uffizi Gallery wandering the corridors of sculptures and paintings.
It is a challenge to comprehend the works and the artist; names that you have heard (Michelangelo, Reuben, Raphael, Donatello and Van Dyke to name a few) and works seen in books, there in front of you in all their glory; all I could do was keep wandering and looking in amazement.
(In the afternoon I walked down stream and over the next bridge in an effort to gain entry into another couple of churches, after walking around the block a couple of times I discovered that they were all closed so headed upstream again to look at the old palace gardens.
The gardens entailed a large number of steps up the steep hill to the old garden summer house where they now have china on display dating back to the 1500’s.
On the way down I turned left and followed a long column of tall trees which lead to another garden pool area before exiting on to a side street and returned over the bridge to attempt to climb the bell tower of the old palace near the Uffizi Gallery. I had missed the cut off time for entrance to the tower so studied some sketches and layouts of the palace in its earlier days.
Returned to the front of the building to take a photo of the statue of David which Michelangelo was so famous for and which was one of the few memories I had from our 1976 visit to Florence.
We headed into the Tuscan hills from Florence for a few days R&R; time to sit and relax as well as recharge the batteries before heading to Rome.
A few quite days in a villa among the vineyards of Tuscany near the village of Antaria and overlooking the 15th century village of Arezzo.
One day we drove the 5kms to the car park outside the walled village and strolled through the narrow cobbled stone streets and into the main square. Many churches again and one I entered was now also a museum for the many murals around the altar and down the sides of the church.
The last day of our stay in Tuscany I took a 40km drive over to Anghiari, another walled village on the side of the hill overlooking a large flat productive parcel of land.
Once again it was built around 1500 with many additions throughout the ages.
It is amazing to see the number of small cars (no bigger than the mini) parked around the tiny squares and hidden in little garages. The old cobbled streets and lanes hide the fact that these house have the full conveniences of running water, sewage, electricity, telephone and TV without having any appearance on the outside.
I went into an old museum that had a stone bowl, wooden carvings of the Madonna & Child and even some guns dating back to the 1600’s.
Truly amazing building also with a footprint no bigger than our 6 sq mt living room with half floors up to six stories high and including a couple of fire places.
So ends our five day stay in Tuscany and on the A1 to the outskirts of Rome to drop off our Europcar rental Volvo S60 and hop a taxi to the centre of the city.-John)
Gae’s comments on the taxi ride; I doubt we could have found our way through the maze of narrow lanes. The taxi ride was at lightening speed and dashing in and out of traffic, through narrow pedestrian filled streets. I spent my time either looking out the side window or with my eyes closed so I couldn’t see what was happening in front of us; if I wasn’t already grey, I would have been after that ride. I am amazed we arrived in one pieces; guess they are use to those activities and it does not seem slow them down at all. Even the pedestrians seem to have a death wish, they just step out and the traffic somehow avoids them.
Saturday 22 November
We left Dresden on an overcast morning and after a couple of wrong turns, managed to find the autobahn to take us out of the city and head off toward Stuttgart.
Having decided to take a few back roads to see some German countryside we spent most of the day meandering on lesser roads enjoying the rural scenery; the autumn colours are nearly finished with many of the trees quite bare. However, what colour remained certainly added those special tones to the scenery. Once again, we managed to take a number of wrong turns, think we ended up going in the opposite direction a couple of times (inability to read correctly or interpret the road signs, differences between the map and the town names we came across and John’s usual great sense of direction failing) added interest to what we explored and what we aimed at doing.
After a late lunch on the side of the road, with the rain and fog setting in, we went back onto the autobahn system to achieve a reasonable number of kms; we arrived at Suhl just on dark and decided that was far enough for the day.
Dinner in the hotel restaurant on the 16th floor and gave a great outlook over the lights of Suhl with lights stopping just above the valley floor in all directions. As we were leaving the restaurant after dinner, new diners arrived with their dog in tow (not a companion animal); as well as smoking being acceptable in food areas, it looks as though animals are as well!
Building codes in Germany appear to preclude building up the hills around the towns; in daylight we could see where the buildings ended in Suhl; this has been reflected in everywhere we have driven in the countryside, the towns and villages are not far apart but only along the floor of the valleys, never to the top.
Sunday was another rainy day with low cloud so we decided to just make the drive as direct as possible – it still took us until 2pm to reach the outskirts of Stuttgart and then nearly an hour to drive into the centre of the city and locate our hotel (another few wrong turns and city blocks closed off for a large shopping precinct). Our hotel was right in the city, next to the train terminal we would need to catch the train to Milan as well as leave our car with the rental firm. The hotel staff were wonderful, parked the car, took a copy of the rental agreement and then organised for the hire company to collect the vehicle for us – all part of the service. Being spoilt is most enjoyable!
Monday in Stuttgart was cool and cloudy so we went for a walk along the shopping plaza; every retail outlet was there, some more than once; whatever your budget, there was a shop just waiting for your business.
Numerous telephone companies were represented as well; you could have a smart phone or tablet with a plan. It is amazing how many people you see talking on their phones while walking, driving, dining, shopping; makes you wonder if they put them down! Lots of people out and about, walking around or in the shops, most were carrying packages of purchases.
Buskers were all along the plaza as well; some good, some not as pleasant to listen to. One pianist was brilliant; head down close to the keyboard and the music was just flowed, filling the area with very pleasant sounds of classical pieces for piano.
John spent the afternoon walking the entire length of the park, which he had been told was two km long; quite dark by the time he had returned.
Awakened early the next morning by AJ ringing his father for John’s birthday; time to be up to pack ready to catch the train to Milan. The train left just before 10am and arrived in Zurich at 1pm; we then had half an hour to change platforms and catch the next train. Neither train was very crowded so we had most of the carriages to ourselves.
The trip from Zurich was just delightful; along the shores of lakes and up through mountains with snow on the higher peaks.
Through lots of tunnels as well as along the floor of numerous valleys before climbing up over from Switzerland into Italy. Snow was right up to the train line and the road looked as though the snow plough had been through earlier in the day.
At least I had a chance to see some snow; I would have loved to spend time among these snow covered peaks, maybe next year? The sun shining off the snow covered peaks became golden as the afternoon lengthened. From here we are heading south so I guess the weather will now begin to warm up again.
We arrived in Milan a little after 5.30pm and it was quite dark; there were men with trolleys waiting on the station platform ready to help the passengers with luggage; they led the way to the taxi rank – it may have taken us a lot longer to find the way out because it was not well sign posted. A taxi ride to the address of our hotel and then tried to find the building; our helpful driver went and asked for information and we eventually found the right one.
We were staying just around the corner from the Milan Cathedral, surrounded by buildings which began life hundreds of years ago; marble and sandstone used in abundance. All the streets of the area were cobbled and very few wide enough for two-way traffic. Once again there were lots of bicycles and a proliferation of motor bikes / mopeds / smart cars and a new one – bikes enclosed like a car for one person only.
The Cathedral Square was covered with activity: tourists, sellers, pigeons, beggars and police at whatever hour of the day or night we were out and about. Many of the buildings are in the process of cleaning ready for the Milan Expo beginning in April 2015. The outside of the Cathedral has been cleaned and just gleams in the sunlight; workmen have begun the cleaning on the inside as well, but there is still a long way to go to completion. What an amazing structure! The statues, carvings and stained glass all magnificent and in profusion; rather than try to describe the grandeur of the Milan Cathedral I will let the pictures try and do it justice.
(In the afternoon I took a self-guided tour of the Cathedral roof structure, firstly about 80 steps up one of the corner towers, then around a walkway before ascending the front apex to the very top. None of this tin business on the roof, no they were slabs of marble about a metre by 800mm & 50mm thick laid like tiles.
I spent about 30 minutes admiring the carvings and taking photos from different angles and down into the square.
On a clear day they say you can see the snow on the mountains, however with the smog all I could see were the sky scrapers about three kilometres to the north. I doubt if you would see the mountains for the next six months.
After my decent I went around to the Cathedral entrance to go down under the forecourt structure and examine past church buildings that date back to around 400AD.
I then headed 300metres to the north-west to view the old fort (Castello Sforzesco) which had a moat around the main structure and would have been built around the 13th century and is now used for art galleries and concert venues. Behind these building lie a huge park (Parco Sempione) that was used for general recreation.-John)
Once again we have hired a car and now heading south; our current location is Maranello, between Modena and Bologna and John has gone to spend the day in all things Ferrari: the museum, the racetrack as well as a tour of the factory and I am having a day of R&R.
(I arrived at the museum car-park around 10.30 to be greeted by a guy in a Ferrari race suit and offering me a drive around town & out onto the highway for Euro 100 or up into the mountains for a couple of hours for Euro350. I declined as I was intent on looking through the museum and taking the 1.30pm bus tour of the factory & racetrack.
The museum ticket was only Euro22.00 which covered this site and Enso Ferrari Museum of his life at Modena. This glass building was split over three floor levels and six rooms. The current theme celebrates 60 years of Ferrari and they start with their 1957 Californian collection of models that they first sold into the USA. Around the corner they had another series of collectables and included two moto GP bikes, one of the Doctor and another of Stoner complete with cardboard cut outs of the two riders.
Up the stairs and into another room which showed Enzo seated in his original office, a Ferrari driven by Steve McQueen and a video playing clips from his movies. The room behind this was a showcase of eight red racing Ferrari mounted at 45 degree angle in a semicircle.
I was able to take stills, a movie & panorama as the crowd was small enough for me to wait my turn. On the back wall was the trophy cabinet with photos of their winning F1 drivers ending with Schumacher’s five year winning streak. 110 trophies of Ferrari’s 216 Grand Prix wins are on display. On this same level they had a theatrette showing film clips that had Ferrari cars in them.
The next level up had a series of street cars that had been produced over the last 20 years including one that had been specially modified for an American golfer. A couple of the latest models were also on show.
The last section showed the chassis with engine & tank prior to the body being fitted. Also a description of the tyre structure, a carbon brake disk, gearbox and engine.
Downstairs they had two simulators setup for visitors at a fee to try out their skills on the Monza track. The usual Café & mechandise shop with lots of goodies were the last to utilise.
I had a bite to eat and was ready for the bus tour of the factory & racetrack by 1.30. The bus was Ferrari red of course and about a 30 seater, suitable for the narrow streets around the factory. Our guide gave us the information in Italian & English. As we drove through the factory site she explained the various functions of each building, the design team & the wind tunnel, engine plant, assembly plant, Cafeteria for 3000 employees and showroom where you can chose the many options available.
The main street was named Enzo Ferrari 1898-1988 and each street leading off the main street is named after their winning F1 drivers, Alberto Ascari 1952-1953, Juan Manuel Fangio 1956, Mike Hawthorn 1958, Phil Hill 1961, John Surtees 1964, Niki Lauda 1975,1977 Jody Scheckter 1979 & Kimi Raikkonen 2007. A place near the racetrack accommodation is reserved for Michael Schumacher 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 & 2004.
As we drove to the track site we went past the new admin building due for completion by the end of the year. Because there was no activity at the track the bus driver took us for a lap and the guide explained how each of the corners was modelled after different tracks around the world. Water jets at the trackside could be used to provide wet track conditions. As it was a private track only Ferrari’s could use it and drivers had accommodation on track for test days. As we drove out we went past the eight semitrailer transporters used around Europe and the garages used for storage and training. They take about 100 personnel away on race days with 30 tonnes of equipment, the team was at Abu Dhabi this weekend and all would have been flown there.-John)
Monday 17 November
As we drove through the streets of Berlin from the airport to our hotel, we saw the white balloons that had been placed along the path of what was the Berlin Wall; 15km of large white balloons sitting on a thin metal pole about two metres high and about two metres apart.
All of the balloons lit up at night as a poignant sentinel; a stark symbol, a reminder of what had once been there and the life created for those caught on the other side.
The weather in Berlin was overcast most days, about a lovely 12C and dropping to about 8C overnight; not that I was complaining! Most of the people were quite rugged up; not sure how much more they can put on when the weather is really cold. Beautiful clothing on most of the people in the areas we visited as well as in the shops. After the prices in Turkey, these are rather higher.
John was out and about walking and exploring; he walked from Checkpoint Charlie to the Brandenburg Gate as well as along the area where the celebrations were planned for the Sunday night.
Sunday morning we caught the red bus tour and were driven around most the well-known sights of Berlin. It was difficult to hear the audio-guide because the guide on the bus (who supposedly explained everything in both German and English) spent most of his time just rabbiting on in German with the odd phrase in English, all very loudly.
We went back to the unit for a rest and then John decided to go and join the crowds for the Celebrations; I watched the whole thing on TV, listened to the speeches with a helpful translation as they progressed as well as the Berlin Orchestra playing. At 7pm the balloons were released, one by one; alternating between both ends and finished in the middle a couple of hours later. The balloons could be seen for some time in the night sky, not too sure how that worked with aircraft flight paths.
Wandering around the shops in Berlin is a different retail experience, many of the shops are underground; you enter through one store and then come up again in a different store.
Lots of people riding bikes, they weave in and out between the pedestrians at great speed; I guess they have all learned to avoid each other. There was a University around the corner from our hotel and the cyclists poured out of there as we walked past about 7pm. The buses all appeared to be crowded most of the day and I guess that applied to the trains as well.
We walked around the back of our hotel, past the Opera House to explore the Lutheran Church; it is easy to sit and wile away quite some time just looking at the detail in the structure, decorations and ornate carvings in many of the churches. While sitting there, some school children came and began practicing for an event; such beautiful voices on young adolescents, both male and female; I would have loved to stay and listen, but all the visitors were moved out of the building.
Our last night in Berlin we had dinner in a lovely restaurant across the road; the food was superb and the atmosphere conducive with sitting and enjoying. Not many diners, perhaps we were earlier than most.
Wednesday morning John collected our hire car and we headed off to Potsdam for a visit; once again some beautiful old buildings to be explored, history to read. We could have spent longer there, but we needed to continue our journey to Dresden.
We arrived in Dresden mid-afternoon and found our hotel right on the square in the old city and quickly set about exploring the area. Cobbled streets, lovely old buildings and restricted vehicle access made it easy to just meander through the streets.
The red bus tour took us around the old city and then further afield; past some beautiful parks in autumnal splendour, up into the hilly suburbs, past the VW factory and the miniature railway operated by children and back to the old city. Many places now on the list for a visit while here.
To enable us the see the Opera House in its grandeur, we went to see “Carmen” by the local opera company. Wonderful seats in the second row of the second balcony gave us an ideal view of the production. A modern interpretation of this work made for an enjoyable evening’s entertainment.
The Opera House was another of the many buildings destroyed during WWII and rebuilt to reflect its original magnificence; photos taken in February 1945 after the bombings showed the destruction that today has been replaced by these glorious structures.
We also spent quite some time exploring the Church of Our Lady in the square; a towering dome with amazingly detailed frescoes as well as an ornate pulpit. Another building that has been beautifully decorated by master craftsmen and so recently restored to its former glory; having been consecrated in 2006 at a cost of 1 Billion Euros.
While John went to tour the VW factory I explored the area around the old square, just a slow wander through buildings just to see what was there as well as dawdling through the Meissen outlet store; what beautiful china with so many lovely pieces. Oh well, it doesn’t hurt to look; I had thought I might like to tour their factory but probably safer not to.
(I walked about 10 minutes from the city to the VW factory in one corner of the old palace park which is about 2000mts long. The factory is a square glass structure about 6 stories high. The main function was the assembly of VW’s premier sedan the PHAETON which is sold in Europe and around 60% sales to China. Base price was 70,000 Euro and average price 120,000 Euro or about $180,000Aud. They were also assembling some of the Bentley range as England were not able to keep up with the demand from China. Chassis with engines, transmissions & diffs were brought in from another site, as were the shells. The function here was to fit the wiring harness which weighed around 70kg & 5kms long, dashboards, interior linings, seats, glass, door trims and the like. If you were to come to the factory you could choose from all the options available, including wood or leather steering wheel with option of what colour thread you required, type of leather and colour and 101 other items. You could even come to the factory to view the marriage of the drive train to the shell of the vehicle. On delivery the vehicle is placed on the ground floor with a curtain around it and released to you by drawing back the curtain and a photographer would be present to capture your very own expressions. You would then be instructed in its operation and handed the key to drive the car away.
Only 26 vehicles are produced each day with employees working one 8 hour shift 5 days a week. This compared with the production of Ford F150 pickups it saw in Detroit at 600 per day with 14 shifts per week.
The assembly chain is made up of 6 separate moving floor sections made from Canadian oak and parts would be delivered to each assembler on a driverless workbench which was moved by underfloor magnets. All assemblers are in white overalls and there is no dust or grease to be seen and all operated under a positive air pressure. Only three robots are used in the plant, one being used to supply and fit the four wheels and spare wheel. Vehicles are inspected for perfection and any defects corrected. They are also driven on the cobble stone streets of Dresden and 50kms on the Autobahn.-John)
The afternoon was spent in the Catholic Cathedral and then John went to look through the Motor Museum and the Palace gardens before it was too dark to see.
(I spent around two hours across the road at the transport museum with a display of around a dozen old German vehicles and one of the locally produced Praeton for comparison. Pushbikes, there was two examples of all wood bikes and another with coil springs on the outside of the wheel instead of rubber tyres.
A number of early motor bikes, and aircraft display and of course railway. There was a large section set aside for school children with interaction to experience transport including a helicopter with flight simulator.
I moved on to the palace just down the road, however it was near dark and I only had a few opportunities to take photos. I did not have a chance to view any of the objects on display inside.-John)
We both enjoyed Dresden; high on our list of favourite places.
Friday 7 November
I was really pleased to leave the rental car at Istanbul Airport and then walk or use the tram or the occasional taxi; the drivers in Turkey have been an education on some really interesting interpretations of driving and road rules! I take it that advisory speed signs are for the tourists, because no one else appears to notice them. In the taxis I hold on firmly and watch the back of the seat in front of me; watching the road is too scary. I thought NY cab drivers were nuts, but they are quite tame by comparison!
Istanbul has been an awe inspiring five days! Day One we went to the Blue Mosque which was virtually out our back door; we gained a guide in the Sultanahmet Square who accompanied us to the mosque, explaining the process of entering the building and answered all our questions about the building, Muslim, history, tradition and Istanbul in general. The beautiful domes and friezes were just amazing in their dimensions and quality of workmanship.
It is difficult to comprehend the construction given it was build in the early 1600s.
Ibrahim would not accept any money for being our guide, but if we wanted to buy any carpet his uncle owned the carpet shop just opposite our hotel.
Day Two we called into the carpet shop and I fell in love with just about all of the carpets we were shown; we were treated like royalty and Ibrahim joined us for the discussions; we decided to think about any purchase for a day or two.
When we mentioned our plans for the day, we were quickly advised to visit the Topakapi Palace rather than the Hagia Sophia as there were three tourist ships in the harbour and we were advised to stay away from their visit areas. Once more, Ibrahim became our guide for the day; he lead the way, demonstrating a wealth of knowledge and information, much better than an audio-guide. Ibrahim had a way of bringing the history to life with his descriptions and background information; we wandered for hour and I was astounded at the wealth on show! I guess I shouldn’t be; when you think about the Vatican, Buckingham Palace, Versailles and so on, their level of wealth is beyond my ability to think in those terms. Would not have minded some of the jewellery and just one of the emerald would have been sufficient. I sat and rested while John and Ibrahim visit the Harem, I doubted whether I could have taken another step by that time.
The call to prayer for the Muslims begins at 5.30am and then occurs another four times in the day; the call is via loud speakers mounted towards the top of each minaret, so you cannot miss it. The first morning was a bit of a shock even though we were aware of the process; by day five John was just about able to sleep through it all. We had a school just down the road, so their musical contribution (sounded like Mr Whippy) added to the cacophony of sounds that are part of everyday life around Sultanahmet Square. A rest for me before going out to dinner with Meg and Ray (tennis team members).
Day Three we met up with Meg and Ray and spent the day going to the Grand Bazaar; what an education! Hundreds of shops of jewellery, carpets, scarves and napery, all with someone outside trying to encourage you into their shop and hopefully spend some money.
I obliged in a couple; we had a very successful day, finding a number of special items for special people as well as find the replacement for the scarf John bought for me in Prague in 2011and I lost while in the US last year. After shopping, we walked back to the hotel; John’s usually perfect sense of direction took us slightly off course, so I was a little worn out by the time we arrived. Rested for a couple of hours before meeting Meg and Ray for dinner. As we walked back through the Square they were filming what looked like a new car commercial.
On Day Four, we again met up with Meg and Ray and went for a cruise on the Bosphorus; we took a taxi down to the wharf to catch the scheduled cruise, but they must have taken the day off; the ticket seller and one of the little ferry captains took pity on us and offered us a one hour cruise for the four of us for 150 Turkish lire, about $75.00.
We had our our private cruise, with the occasional commentary in broken English on a beautiful autumn day, what could be better. Quite astounding to see the shipping going in every direction; fishing boats, small and large ferries, cruise liners, laden cargo ships as well as those waiting for a load, I thought our captain did well to avoid them all!
Lunch in one of the seafood restaurants under the Galatea Bridge; we were offered the trolley of fresh seafood to chose our lunch, sea bass was prepared and served – a nice way to end our day together.
Meg and Ray were catching a flight home that evening, so we said our goodbyes. That night John and I went to see the Whirling Dervishes; I was enthralled by their ability to just be in one spot and spin in circles for three minutes at a time as well as circle the floor while keeping their eyes closed and their arms raised. I would have fallen during the first few seconds.
Our last day of sight-seeing in Istanbul was an early start at The Hagia Sophia (Greek phrase meaning “Holy Wisdom”) Museum; built in the 5th Century as a Greek Orthodox Church; it became a Mosque after the Ottomans captured Istanbul in 1432 and then a Museum in 1932. All the icons and friezes were covered with whitewash during its time as a mosque and uncovered again when converted to a museum.
Once again were were amazed by the workmanship as well as the dimensions of the building, particularly given the period of construction.
Next stop was the Mosaic Museum Which hosts the mosaics used to decorate the pavement of a peristyle court, dating possibly to the reign of Byzantine emperor Justinian (527 to 575); uncovered by Turkish archaeologists from the University of St Andrew in Scotland during extensive excavations at the Arasta Bazaar in Sultanahmet in 1935-1938 and 1951-1954. The area formed part of the south-western Great Palace, and the excavations discovered a large courtyard, with a surface of 1872 m², entirely decorated with thousands of coloured mosaic tiles. The University of Austria undertook to study and preserve the famous palace mosaic and to carry out additional archeological examinations (1983-1997) within the scope of a cooperative project with the Directorate General of Monuments and Museums in Turkey.
After a short rest, we headed to the Spice Markets for a wander; whatever spice you can think of was available as well as the usual carpets, scarves and jewellery.
From there we started to walk back up the hill; another vast shopping area, this time underwear by the mile! We walked for quite some time (uphill I might add) and all the shops were absolutely stacked with all types, shapes and sizes of underwear from baby size to adult, both female and male. By this time we back at the square and our hotel for our last sleep before heading to Berlin.
Sunday 2nd November
Gallipoli was such a moving experience; we went on an organised tour on Thursday over all the Australian and NZ sites.
The guide was excellent, a great depth of knowledge expressed with passion; he gave us such a level of understanding that you could almost envisage the scenes as he spoke. Lots of facts that I don’t remember reading in the history books gave new meaning to the whole disaster (from the Allied perspective) but a sad respect for the Turkish soldiers.
I admit to the odd tear as I was reading Ataturk’s words about the boys buried there were now all their sons (see below). We went back again Friday and drove down to the British sites and then back to Anzac sites to take photos of the local names for the Bega Library historian.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission as well as the Turkish people have recorded those lives and events so it will not be lost. I am not sure I would want to be there for the centenary celebrations; so many people that quiet reflection may not be possible and it is certainly a place you want to think your own thoughts.
Gallipoli – Memorial at Anzac Cove by Ataturk.
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives…
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours…
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace, after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
Saturday 25 October
Rain has interrupted play on Thursday & Friday but I managed to complete both doubles & mixed. Storms are expected today but most players are booking out and I went to the Antalya airport to collect a rental car. Heavy rain up near Side cut the highway and the bus took a detour around some subdivisions to get us to the airport by noon. I collected the car and the road had cleared by the time I returned, however the courts were awash but recovered for play by 4pm.
Gae & I set off next morning bound for Pamukkale with that trusty GPS in control. Well it directed me to turn off to the right just prior to Antalya and we followed a single road north for some time before I discovered we were not on the right track. Got to Isparta and turned left onto a duel carriage way to Pamukkale. All in all is cost us about 50km and an extra hour of travel. That’s that for the GPS, back in the glove box and out with the map & iPad. I purchased a Turkcel sim back in Istanbul airport so it works ever where.
Pamukkale is another Roman site on a hilltop with limestone cliffs and water flowing over pools down the hill. The Roman theatre is the most intact site in Turkey. We stayed at a family hotel in the back streets and they served a local meal for dinner.
In the afternoon we drove on to the town of Selcuk near Ephesus and stayed in a newly established family motel. The owner had been to a travel conference in Cairns last year and spent two days in Sydney and one in Melbourne. He had only opened in June and everything was faultless.
Another theatre at Ephesus and many trading areas that was linked to the port, by now filled with silt and the sea could not be seen.
Still lots of tourists around with about 20 buses in the carpark.
On the road next day north past Izmir of about 7million with large industrial and shipping port and onto the old Wooden Horse at Troy.
A brief stop here and on into Canakkale before dark after 400kms travelling. Canakkale is on the eastern shore of the Dardanelles and we booked a hotel right near the ferry terminal.
Wednesday 22 October
The individual events began on Sunday; John lost yesterday in the third round of the singles (he played his 2nd round match on Centre Court, so he can now say he has won on Centre Court! John is still in the doubles with Wayne and the mixed with Margaret Harris. Wayne lost his 2nd round singles; Neville, Ray and Meg are all now out of all their events. Rain, with a drop in temperature, is forecast from today until Sunday; will be interesting to see if weather forecasting in Turkey is any more accurate than at home.
The two weeks tennis are nearly finished but it has been raining overnight and another shower at lunchtime; however, the courts dry out remarkably quickly and they are back playing very soon after the rain stops. John is the only one of his team members who is still playing; hopefully they will be able to play most of the day including the next round of the mixed this afternoon as planned and not drag it out. Margaret (John’s mixed partner) is booked on a flight tomorrow afternoon and we are booked to go back to Antalya Airport on Saturday to collect a hire car to begin our road trip.
Apparently Turkish drivers are fatalists; tennis players who have been on day trips describe it as driving like kamikaze pilots; it is not unusual for 150 people to be killed on the road over a long weekend! I am hopeful that during the week, the pace will be a little more sedate and the roads are not as busy.
The weather is starting to cool a little – thank heavens, because the air conditioning has just about given up and there are too many mosquitos around to leave the door open for any breeze. There are fountains all around the accommodation area, the sound of water is very pleasant during the day, but they are turned off at night; I guess some people would complain about the noise if the fountains were cascading overnight.
Lots of fresh fruit available every meal time; the grapes and bananas are delicious, having consumed quite a few. The garden areas have many heavily laden citrus trees, but not yet ripe enough for eating; a few people have tried the mandarins but they are still quite sour.
Wednesday, John did not have doubles until 3pm so with the West’s & Rodwell’s they hired a taxi to take them back up the road to an old Roman Fort at Side. Another example of what the Romans did around 300AD. Enough of the old theatre still around to enable the local to hold open air concerts.
We also paid $5 to visit the local Museum which had many small objects of interest.
The town had taken advantage of the many tourists who visit and there are shops all the way to the harbour.
Saturday 18 October
The Team’s Event held the Opening Ceremony last Saturday evening with the tennis commencing Sunday; Australia has a team in every event.
The men’s 65 team is No1 Wayne Hassett; No2 JR, No3 Ray West (team captain) with Neville Rodwell No4; the team’s event has been one of mixed results; a win against Poland, but narrow losses to Netherlands and Austria put the team third in their pool; they then lost a tight match against the Norwegian team. Yesterday they defeated Belarus three / nil and today’s match against Turkey was three / nil as well.
Being in a pool of with 7th and 9th seeds made it a very strong made it really strong competition; being third pushed the team into the lower half of the rankings and the loss to Norway resulted in the top of the 17 – 22 pool.
The food here is amazing; anything and everything you can think of is on offer; everything is buffet style and all freshly cooked. The only shortfall is their tea is dreadful; but I brought plenty with me so I can cope. Twice we have had dinner down at the beach restaurant; sitting along the water’s edge while the sun goes down is rather spectacular.
There are two other restaurants as well for our meals, so our hardest decision for the day, is where to dine? Plenty of ice cream, beer, wine, water and soft brink are available all day at each of the pool areas as well as the beach.
You could also join all sorts of exercise groups or sporting activities; there is a day spa as an extra – might have to check that out before we leave. There is children’s play-group for the younger ones as well as a teenager’s club. Para-sailing is available at either end of the beach; looks spectacular, but not too sure about it yet – might think about that a little longer. It is no wonder there are so many family groups here. The resort has a security fence right around the property with security staff on all the gates; all gate are locked overnight.
Wednesday night was the Gala Dinner and all the tables were set up around one of the pools; each table had flowers and a beautiful candelabra as well as white linen tablecloths, serviettes and chair covers. The ladies were all presented with a long-stem red carnation as we arrived. It all looked rather grand and the food was prepared and presented to match; the vegetable carvings were the most unusual I have ever seen
There are three swimming pools as well as the Mediterranean for swimming; the weather has remained in the high 20s all week and the water is lovely; the beach is more rock than sand and apparently the water becomes deep very quickly which they tell me makes it quite difficult when coming out of the water; I haven’t ventured into the sea.
The resort closes for winter after the tennis finishes next week and apparently all the shops have half-price sales; might just have to have some retail therapy before I leave.
Wednesday 8 October
The plane from Merimbula was late leaving and we did not arrive in Sydney until 12.30pm; after some lunch, we caught a taxi to Peakhurst to visit the Stuarts. A very pleasant time chatting with them all and hearing about Ian’s birthday cruise to New Zealand.
Back to the airport; waited till the check-in opened and then into the lounge until it was time for the flight to be called. Dinner was fillet steak, wilted spinach and gratin potato followed by chocolate mousse – all most enjoyable.
Finally boarded and departed a little after 10pm; by this time I was ready for bed, John had dinner again, but I decided sleep would be more beneficial. Slept for a couple of hours and then just lay there waiting for morning. Everyone else seemed to be sleeping soundly; John contributed snoring to the noise of the aircraft.
A 14 hour flight to Abu Dhabi landing early morning their time; the walk from our plane to the passport checkpoint was really long – if I had realised how far, I might have asked for some transport. Finally through to the lounge; thankfully filling the hot water bottle and a hot cup of tea were both achievable.
Another long walk to the next departure area where we were loaded onto buses for transport to the plane; the step-up to the bus nearly required a step ladder to accomplish. Take-off was achieved only a few minutes after our scheduled departure time; the four hours of the flight were spent watching two movies so passed quickly.
Istanbul airport was chaos personified! People rushing everywhere; very little signage and building underway just to add to the confusion. John was able to buy a chip for the iPad, so that was a good start. When we eventually found the domestic terminal and walked there (never seen such long walkways at airports till this trip).
We located the Turkish Airlines terminal after some searching and managed to book in for our flight to Antalya – accomplished in spite the “interesting” manners of a number of other passengers who tried to push in and shout at the girl serving us. The gate we were directed to ended up being changed at the last minute; only knew that because John went looking to see what the delay was and ran into some other tennis players.
Once again, a bus to the plane that I needed assistance to climb. The flight finally left nearly half an hour after the scheduled time, but the flight quickly passed. We flew over fairly hilly terrain and saw lots of rivers that had large dams built across them interspersed with miles of irrigated paddocks with beautifully green crops (not too sure with what).
Landed in Antalya after 6pm local time; by the time our luggage was finally unloaded it was after 6.30pm so we missed that bus to the resort. John went looking for the bus terminal and couldn’t find anything and then couldn’t come back into the arrivals area; eventually a security person let him in to collect me. We looked around outside and met up with an American couple who were just as lost as we were; thankfully the American and Canadian women John had met earlier came looking for us to show us where to catch the bus. Another long walk and wait; finally leaving the airport after 9pm; the trip to Ali Bey was passed by dozing most of the way. By the time we checked in, unpacked enough for the night, has a cup of tea it was midnight – 48hrs since leaving home. Just to add insult to injury, our mattress is as hard as ……!