Jillian & Bob

European adventures 2017


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Homeward bound

05 October – Moscow was not in a particularly good mood weather wise and with both of us nursing colds we only ventured out in the cold and wet to get fed and did not do any more exploring of this great city.

06-10 October – Our taxi arrived right on time and our anticipated journey out to the airport was just a little over 30 minutes not the 90 that we were expecting.  We had plenty of time for breakfast before boarding our flight to Oslo arriving 2 1/2 hours later.  The Flytoget fast train whizzed us all the way to Drammen in under an hour (Oh to have this form of transport in NZ!!) where our friend Roald met us for the final leg back up the hill to his house.

We had a few days of R&R with Roald with a little local tripping around – including a great visit to the Kon Tiki and Viking ship museums.  The Viking Ship had on display three viking ships which had been retrieved from burial mounds along with all the possessions that had been buried along with them.  One of the ships in particular was extremely well-preserved.

The Oseberg ship could be both sailed and rowed. There are 15 oar holes on each side so fully manned, the ship would have had 30 oarsmen. In addition, there was a helmsman at the steering oar and a lookout who stood in the bow. The oars are made of pine, and some of them show traces of painted decorations. The oars show no signs of wear, so perhaps they were made especially for the burial. The ship was built in southwestern Norway around the year 820, and is made of oak. Each of the strakes overlaps the one below and they are fixed with iron rivets. The side of the ship consists of 12 strakes. Below the waterline, they are only 2‒ 3 cm thick, while the two upper strakes are a little thicker. The deck is made of loose pine planks. The mast is also pine and was between 10 and 13 metres high.

This cart is one of the artifacts buried in the boat, composed of parts made of different types of wood. It can be dismantled for transport, for example by ship. The frame of the cart is of oak and the cart has two shafts made of ash joined by a short iron chain. The cart has probably been pulled by two horses, one on each side of the shafts.

11/12 October – All too soon we said our farewells to Roald with the hope that he might come back to NZ for a visit.  The Flytoget had us back at the airport in good time for our flight to the USA – unfortunately via Munich which added about 4 unnecessary hours on to our flight time.  A nighttime arrival in Washington DC wasn’t the best for trying to find our way to the hotel, so we were rather tired by the time we got settled in.  The location was good though for our visit the following morning to the Smithsonian Air and Space museum.  Housed in a huge hangar was a nicely laid out selection of old and new planes as well including a the Enola Gay, a Blackbird,  and the space shuttle Discovery.

Enola Gay at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird Space Shuttle DiscoveryBoeing Aviation Hangar

A good few hours later we set off for Severna Park near Annapolis for our visit with friends Scott and Donna who kindly put us up in their lovely cottage apartment.

13 October – Scott and Donna had suggested prior our arrival that we might like to visit the Harley Davidson museum up in York, Pennsylvania and had pre-booked for us all the Steel Toe tour.  A pretty hour’s drive north to York and the HD factory – the tour was interesting as were taken right through the assembly process and able to get up close and personal with all that was happening.  We were very impressed with the quality testing that is performed throughout the process.

14 October – Scott and Donna took us for a visit to a property their son had recently bought which requires renovation.  Built in the 1950’s, it was never properly finished and despite being lived in, fell into disrepair, but on a beautiful waterfront site in a tidal inlet off Chesapeake Bay. Quite a project for them to get their teeth into, so must go back again in a couple of years to see the finished job!  We followed this with a visit to an Amish market and wow what a store – it was divided into different sections – bakery, meat, cheeses, preserves, prepared meals, fruit and vege and was so busy.  The market is only open 3 days a week – the Amish travel in from a few hours away – getting up in the wee small hours to bring in all the produce but the majority of the cooking was done on site – so the smells were very tempting.

In the afternoon Scott took us all in their boat for a trip up and down the Severn river right up to the Naval Academy in Annapolis.  The houses that back on to this river are magnificent – on large tracts of land with equally large houses.

15-28 october – On the road again we had a good drive up to Michigan over the next few days, getting to Harpers Ferry in an hour and half; enjoyed the historic ambience there and did some walking up the old C&O Canal towpath for a while after lunch.  Took the old National Pike Hwy 40 up to Uniontown, Pa. in just over a couple of hours for the night.

We put away the GPS and used the map book to follow scenic and interesting byways through some of small town America.  Surprised at the number of Amish in West Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio.  Stopped for lunch at the only cafe in a little place called Liberty Centre in Ohio and found the owner to be an ex P51 pilot active in the Korean War who said the Australian/NZ pilots there taught him so much about combat flying!!  What an interesting man, who was delighted with a couple of foreign banknotes we gave him to brag to his friend.  He responded by saying the lunch was on him and wouldn’t take any payment!!  It’s so much more fun on the back roads than always driving the interstate.  Finally made our way up to Stockbridge just north of Ann Arbor, MI for a visit to old friend Suzi who has been president of the US Norton Owners Club for many years, and for Bob to catch up with an old biker friend Joe in Lansing.

There was a big deceased estate motorcycle parts and books auction there last week, so Bob got to have a private viewing of the lots one day while I helped out Suzi at the local market.  That sounds like a fair division of opportunity doesn’t it?  Still haven’t heard what Bob bought at the auction after giving Joe his top prices!

Had an easy run on back roads from Stockbridge over to Plainwell to stay with Dave and Dixie in their luxurious RV, who we met three years ago in Arizona – very pleasant scenery and little traffic, without having to go through any large towns.  Visited the Gilmore motor museum at Hickory Corners with them the following day, we visited here last time we passed through but the displays are always changing so a lot of new vehicles were on display, plus a few more buildings had been built.  Lunch at the little diner on site kept us fortified for the rest of the day’s viewing.
Next we carried on south towards Lafayette, stopping at Auburn, Indiana to inspect the Auburn/Duesenburg Museum for a couple of hours; very interesting with good information and examples through the ages of Indiana built vehicles.  A surprise was several other museums all in the same town – auto/trucks, V8 Fords, airplanes, carriages, local history, etc.  You could stay a couple of days in Auburn to do them all justice!
Got to Lafayette in good time and went to the Speedway museum at Indianapolis with Judi and Colin who we met a couple of years ago at Mullins in LA.  The tour included a circuit of the track, by coach unfortunately, but did get to ‘kiss the bricks’.  The spectator stands at this complex seat over 370,000 people!
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Quite a good collection of past race winners in their museum, but not much on all the drivers except AJ Foyt for whom there was a special display.  It is clear that kiwi Scott Dixon is held in very high regard, one guide telling me that he thought Scott was the best driver around by far!  When you see film of the crash he had recently and survived almost uninjured, it is a credit to the current rules and safety measures.
Colin has built an eight cylinder engine from two Suzuki motors which he is putting into a 1935 Bugatti Type 35 kit-car!  An ambitious project which we need to go back and inspect once the first test run is organised!
The following day was quite a long drive to end at Maquoketa north of Davenport, Iowa, but it put us in a good position to reach the National Motorcycle Museum at Anamosa the next morning.  Rumour had it that after the recent death of the founder it was likely to close up, but we were assured that the benefactors were intending to keep it in operation for the foreseeable future.
This museum is really good, not as big as Barber or Maggie Valley but with lots of diversity of machines, memorabilia, mannequins in period gear, toys, models, posters, tools and workshop equipment from the post WW2 period.  Perhaps a little light on earlier models except for Harley-Davidson, Indian and Flying Merkel, but well laid out and we rate it overall one of the best in the country, if not in the world.
Then it was on to Madison in Wisconsin to put us in a good position to get to the Harley Museum in Milwaukee the following morning which was another great experience, although Bob isn’t yet convinced that he needs one, then on to O’Hare for our flight to Seattle Saturday.
Fortunately the traffic on the way out of town in the morning was a little more user friendly than that on the way there the previous afternoon.  We decided to drop off the rental that evening rather than having to mess around early the next morning.  It was a good move apart from having to wait in the really chilly evening air for the shuttle back to the hotel.
28 October – Very cold start to our day as we shuttled back to Chicago O’Hare which wasn’t too busy for our flight to Seattle – with our TSA precheck it meant that we didn’t have the tedium of queuing through security and divesting ourselves of shoes, belts etc.  American Airlines was on time leaving – a very full flight and very scenic as we neared Seattle going over the ranges with a slight dusting of snow and alongside Mt St Helens and Mt Rainer.  Arrived in Seattle to be greeted with a lovely clear sunny day, picked up our rental to head north to our friends Joan and Eric.

 

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Cossacks, Cruising and Caviar

23 Sept – Ian & Tiffany had duly arrived just after midnight from Paris so they were all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed come breakfast time at the hotel.  We had a few ideas of things that we could do together which were not going to be included on the boat tour – so first up a walk up to the streets alongside the Fontanka Canal for a visit to the Faberge Museum.  Who could have guessed that behind the rather plain façade of the building lay such a treasure trove of Faberge items.  The workmanship was outstanding – as well as a display of eggs there were all manner of little trinkets – cigarette cases, desk clocks, all in arranged in cases  according to the colour of stone or gem.  There was also an abundance of gold, silver and enamel worked treasures.

 

 

With our appetite for the exquisite and expensive sated, it was off to satisfy the craving for coffee in an amazing theatre deli/café for morning tea.  The shop had everything from dried meats, caviar, chocolates to vodka and all manner of alcohol, fantastic sweets  and pastries.

We then hopped on a canal boat for about 90 minutes.  It was a great way to see the city as the boat took us round a series of canals and out into the Neva river – an English commentary was provided.  It is called the Venice of the North because of all the canals, but the houses here do not sit straight on the canals here – they are all have a street between them and the water.

St Petersburg (4)

Lunch was in the USSR café – recommended to us by the taxi driver who picked us up at the airport. This café was furnished like a 50’s eras soviet apartment.  Somewhere on our journey I managed to lose my camera – fortunately I had downloaded all the pictures only the previous day so had only lost the current day’s photos.  Ian kindly loaned me his small camera to take us through the rest of the trip.

Mid afternoon it was time to catch a taxi to the Port area to get on board the MV Tolstoy our home away from home for the next 10 days.  Pleasantly surprised with our cabins– the pictures on the website had not been updated recently and did portray the rooms as being very dark and quite spartanly furnished – they had obviously been renovated and were now light and nicely furnished.  Our cabin was a junior suite with everything in the one room, whilst Ian and Tiffany had the full-blown suite with a separate lounge area.  First dinner of the trip – we got our permanent seating for the duration – Ian & Tiffany, Bob and I plus Ed and Zi-ZI an American-Cuban couple from Miami.

24 Sept – Today was the included city tour and visit to the Hermitage.  The bus tour gave us a different view of many of the places we had visited when doing our own thing plus a few more churches.  We were then all bussed to a big hotel for a buffet lunch before hitting the Hermitage for a guided tour of just a few of the one thousand rooms of art works that this magnificent palace houses.

Nearly two hours of very informative touring later we emerged with weary feet and blown minds after viewing so many precious art works.  Back on the boat at 5pm gave us a short break before we had to turn around and go out again for our pre-booked Folk Show.  What a brilliant show – Cossack dancers, woman folk dancing, singing – an extremely energetic performance – lovely costumes.

25 Sept – Last day in St Petersburg was just a quick trip into town via the shuttle bus and Metro to give Ian & Tiffany a taste of travelling in the underground.  Got up into daylight in the city centre for a bit of retail therapy and the obligatory coffee and cakes before doing the reverse trip back to the shuttle bus stop and a visit to the local supermarket to stock up on goodies for the days ahead to keep us nourished in between those times when we are not eating!!  Food has been impressive so far – we get to choose three courses each night but on top of that extra treats also seem to get served.  The food is a mix of traditional Russian fare (modified probably for our tastes) and normal stuff.  Each course in itself is not too large so we don’t feel too guilty having a taste of each one.  The boat set sail early evening and we were finally on our way!

26 Sept – Our first Russian lesson with our onboard guide Konstantin was a fun session as we tried to get our tongues around some of the unfamiliar sounds and come to grips with the Cyrillic alphabet.

Overnight we had sailed through the largest lake in Europe and into the Svir River towards our first embarkation point of Mandrogui – a small reconstructed village on the river bank.  The reconstruction is of a provincial Russian lifestyle with log cabins and other interesting wooden buildings.  Artisans were busy making local souvenirs – carving wood, painting matryoshkas (and this was fascinating – the detail on the dolls was so fine and the very best had up to 20 nested dolls with the smallest not much larger than a grain of rice), woolen felting, herbal concoctions and a musical instrument maker.

Of course a huge tourist trap but nevertheless was very interesting.  Lunch was a BBQ served in the village followed by another short walk around the surrounding forest area.  The two vodka connoisseurs in our party  took a tour of the Vodka Museum and were suitably impressed by the tasting session and came back with a few bottles of the local brew.

The weather turned to a very grim 8deg with no sign of sun or blue sky, so the walking needed to be brisk to keep the circulation going.  Back on board and sailing off again at 4pm – the river was quite narrow through this stretch – passing through forested areas and small settlements with the odd wood processing mill.

sailing on the volga (1)

No sign of birdlife at all on this part of the river – can only put it down to pollution as we were told that Lake Lodoga was a dead lake and I guess some of the adjoining rivers have suffered the same fate.  Experienced the first lock as we started to climb up towards Moscow.  The large lock took two of our boats with the process completed in about 30 minutes.

kizhi (11)

27 September –  Our trip up through the river and lake systems has taken us through a fairly sparsely populated region – lots of trees – pines and birch mainly.  Another Russian lesson got Bob and I through the first part of the morning whilst Tiffany managed to get along to the Matryoska doll painting lesson to experience the intricacies of decorating these little dolls, I was delayed by the Russian lesson so just got to sit in on the exercise.

Into Lake Onega and Kizhi for a visit to the open air museum – many of the structures had been imported in the park and reconstructed, but the wooden Transfiguration Church was built on site in 1714 and was one of the tallest structures of its kind in the world.  The whole area was a UNESCO Heritage site.

Our guide took us through several of the buildings so that we could get a feel for how life was like a couple of centuries earlier.

Back on board for a real treat –the Russian Vodka tasting session. Four good shots of different types of vodka each along with caviar and pancakes – the only problem was that we had another Russian lesson after that experience so poor Konstantin couldn’t get a lot of sense out of his students.  Meal times seem to come around very quickly – but a good brisk walk around the boat after dinner is a good countermeasure for all the food.

28 September – Another long period of cruising through to the White Lake and the tiny settlement of Goritsy, known for the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery – reportedly Europe’s largest monastery in it’s time during the 17th Century although now only populated by 10 monks with 6 nuns in the nearby convent.  Our tour guide took us through many  rooms full of icon paintings (admittedly after seeing one room that was more than enough to get the idea) and into the church.

The village itself is just tiny – only 600 people living there on fishing and farming. The dwellings all made of wood, some brightly painted –no higher than two stories but more often just single storied.

The path to and from the dock was lined with souvenir sellers – this time mainly furs – coats, hats, scarves and fortunately it was cold that I had to resort to buying one little reminder of the area – a fur head warmer.

Returned to the ship for a traditional Russian tea ceremony – all the restaurant staff were dressed in folk dress – and we were plied with a series of little cakes to go with our very nice black minted tea.   The cakes were stuffed with cabbage, grated apple and there was also a small apricot pastry.

29 September – Have hit civilization now as we join the Volga, much more residential development, shopping centres and factories.  Received our diploma from Konstantin pronouncing us fully fluent in the Russian language!! Grey skies seem to have followed us from the start of the cruise with the temperature dropping each day – so it is hats, scarves and coats whenever we venture out.

Docked around 3pm in Yaroslavl – still quite grey and cool as we got into our bus for a short city tour.  Yaroslavl was founded in 1010 and is one of the most ancient cities in Russia and also one of its greatest river ports. The city has had a chequered history over the intervening years – including the Time of Troubles (1589-1613) when they were occupied by Poland and later there were bloody battles between the Red and White Armies in the early 20th century.  The city these days is an important industrial centre with a population of 600,000.  We had a couple of treats on this tour – the usual Cathedrals but also a visit to a 19th century merchant’s house.  Here we were met by one of his ‘daughters’ and given the grand tour of her father’s house. The tour concluded with entertainment in the ballroom – a pianist, violinist and cellist playing us the dance music of the era.

 

It was nearly dark when we came out of the house and then on to another small church for a recital by 4 male choristers – what beautiful voices they had as they sang unaccompanied.  A walk around the park on the banks of the Volga finished off the tour.  By this time the buildings were beginning to be illuminated-a nice end to the city visit.

30 Sept – Early morning wakeup for breakfast as we were docked at Ugilich by 9am and off for another city tour.  This time on foot.   Our guide was the best we have had on the trip – very informative, with a great sense of humour.   We had to run the normal gauntlet of souvenir sellers as we got to the main street for, yes you guessed it, another visit to a Church and their iconostasis.

The only saving grace was another musical performance by 6 singers this time – what a joy to listen to.  We were also shown around a collection of hand-painted lacquered boxes which were so intricate and quite exquisite with prices to match!

Ugilich’s most well-known historical event was the mysterious death of Dmitiri, the youngest son of Ivan the Terrible who met a rather unpleasant end at the end of a knife at only 9 years of age.  Boris Godunov’s agents were accused of his death and these people were killed by enraged townspeople.  However, an official enquiry by Boris Gudunov deemed that Dmitri had died when he suffered an epileptic fit and fell on his own knife when he was playing.  The tribunal condemned and punished the people of Ugilich for killing Gudonov’s agents – executing some and exiling hundreds to Siberia.

We finally got to hear a little bit about life in Russia on this tour.  In the smaller cities – an average wage is about 15,000 roubles per month ($350NZ), a 1 brm apartment would cost $1m roubles ($24,000NZ) whereas in Moscow the wage is around 50,000 roubles ($1,200NZ) and  a similar apartment $5m roubles ($120,000NZ).  If they want a loan for a car they would be paying 15% interest and about 10% for an apartment.  Central heating is turned on, on 05 October each year (they have hot water piped into each house – the pipes go through the walls of the house), this heat can be supplemented by private means of heating (oil, electric etc.). The country has come a long way since the Soviet era – the shops have everything that we can get at home and by and large, supermarkets are well stocked and Vodka is very cheap!!

The weather really turned to custard by the time our tour was over, so it was just a little look around the few shops in the town and back through the alley of souvenirs (we didn’t quite make it out unscathed) and on to the ship to warm up –hot mulled wine served on arrival was most welcome (although I had to give this a miss as I had already had some on our coffee stop and would have been incapable of getting up the stairs!).  Ugilich was the last of our stops before Moscow. The Ugilich lock was negotiated just outside of the town as we started on the final leg of our journey to Moscow.  The houses on the banks of the river have got increasingly more prosperous as we got closer to Moscow.  They certainly wouldn’t be out of place in NZ.

01 October – Our session this morning was a Q&A about Russia with Konstantin where he attempted to answer questions we all put to him about life in Russia.  Russia today is certainly not what we are led to believe – they can and do talk freely about anything.  The views about Soviet era verses now are mixed depending on the age of the people you talk with.  Konstantin didn’t grow up in that era so couldn’t really comment, but our tour guide later on seemed to be very much in approval of the Soviet era. Life today is very much like any western country – unemployment is quite low at just over 1%; health care is provided by the State but they don’t think much of it and are prepared to pay for better care; schooling is free until you get to University where it costs 120,000 roubles for a 3 year course.  The state currently encourages couples to have more than one child with a 500,000 rouble gift for a second child and free land if you have a third.  Tax here is a flat 13.5% for everyone and VAT is 18%.  Travel outside of the country is possible for everyone but of course visas are just as a problem for them as they are for us entering Russia.  Private enterprise is active everywhere.

We docked in Moscow just after lunch to be taken on a city tour by bus. Wow what a beautiful city – brilliant buildings – very colourful, Red Square was immense with the walls of the Kremlin on one side and St Basils Cathedral on the other.  This square is where you see all the huge military parades on the TV.

The city has seven Stalin skyscrapers which dominate the inner city landscape – not skyscrapers in the sense that they reach the heavens like today’s ones, but just very imposing buildings very much in the style of the Empire State Building but not as high – built of course during Stalin’s time.

Image result for stalins skyscrapers

As we were taken around the major landmarks could not get over how clean the city is and fortunately it was Sunday so the reputed traffic jams were not in evidence.  The area around Red Square was very busy with locals out for their Sunday strolls.  Were let loose inside the old GUM store which used to be the Soviet State department store, but it has now been revamped into a very upmarket shopping centre with individual boutique very high-end shops – the interior is still magnificent with glass ceilings covering the three galleries.

With several more scenic stops on our tour we made it back to the boat in time for dinner.  Tiffany and Ian got offered the chance to go on the Moscow by night tour, so they set off again later in the evening.

02 October  – Another cold and very grey day for our tour to the Kremlin.  Our bus dropped us off at the Kremlin walls and then we proceeded to queue along with many other hundreds of tourists to get through security and into the inner workings.  Our guide, although very informative was a bit hard going after a while as she painstakingly took us through the history of each building.  With our tour we just got to visit the interior of a couple of cathedrals – one where all the Tsars were buried and another with a very elaborate interior.  The walls and ceilings of Orthodox Russian churches are always covered with frescoes and do look quite impressive.

Apart from the churches there are quite a few state buildings which you can’t enter and a couple of museums which we did not get to visit this time around.  What can we say about the Kremlin – it is enclosed by thick walls – 15m high, inside the fortress the tallest buildings are the church spires. The walls have several gate towers – the site occupies quite a good position overlooking the Moskva River.

With our tour finished inside the Kremlin, we opted to stay in the city to do a little more exploring – hitting an underground shopping mall for some warmth and a spot of lunch before heading off for Arbat street. On a nice day this pedestrian area would be really nice, on a cold windy day not so great but we did walk the length of it – antique shops, outside artists selling their wares and loads of souvenir shops.  Caught the Metro back towards Red Square and back to the Gum Store – a lot less crowded than on Sunday but still just as expensive. By 4pm we were all walked out so made our way back on the Metro out to the Port Area and to the boat. Metro travelling very simple once you establish which line you need and the stations are something else.   Ian & Tiff got to experience some of the stations on the night tour – we just did a couple on this excursion.  Super clean and the marble and artwork are fantastic.

03 October –  All packed and ready for the next escapade.  We have all thoroughly enjoyed the cruise – with only 170 people on the boat it is much more relaxed travelling than on a large cruise ship.  Our meals have been different but on the whole good.  Our guide Konstantin was great, the included tours went to a few too many churches for our liking but we did get to see a lot of both the big cities.  Although there is not much to see as you are cruising down the waterways it still made for an interesting trip.

Our taxi arrived to pick the 4 of us up at 10.30 to take us into the city – 3 nights for us and one for Ian and Tiffany.  The Moscow Point Red October Hotel is an experience – the hotel is situated in part of the old Chocolate Factory Plant – one the banks of the Moskva River with views across to an impressive gold domed Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

We had a while before we could get into our rooms so set off on a little exploration of the area – and managed to find some very luxurious supermarkets as well as drugs to dose Bob’s cold.  The temperature was down to a chilly 6C with an even chillier wind blowing.  While Bob enjoyed the warmth of the hotel room, we three went out later in the afternoon to have a look around Gorky Park which was not too far from our hotel.  The park was quite a surprise – all manner of statues were placed around the gardens – a lot based around the struggle against communism but also many modern works.  With the gloom descending we returned back for wine and chippies before heading out to dinner in a very trendy restaurant.

Moscow Point is not the place to be at the weekend as on all sides of the hotel are huge night clubs which would be pumping out very loud music all weekend long.  Moscow Point also has one of the most impressive statues we have seen to date – a monument to Peter the Great which stands over 90m high and weighs in at 1,000 tons.

Image result for peter the great statue moscow

04 October – Looked outside and for the first time in days, there was actually a bit of sun to take the edge of the chill.  Tiffany and Ian left us mid-morning to start out on their next adventure – 5 days in the Ukraine with a visit to Chernobyl.  They were the guinea pigs for the airport transfer as we have heard horror stories of the traffic jams – it took them 75mins to go the 35 kms with 20 minutes of that waiting to get out from the side road at the hotel.  The fine weather didn’t last too long with the sun giving way to rain. Nothing to do but stay inside so that Bob can try and shake his cold and use the time to catch up on blogs and bookings for the next part of our journey.  Russian TV stations not very useful for us except the sports channel where we were able to follow the World Rowing champs and watch some NZ victories.

Overall impressions of Russia – a great place to visit and would come again despite the hassles of obtaining visas.  The cities are so clean and vibrant – could be any western city really.  Using the public transport was easy and cheap.  The food was varied – lots of opportunites to sample the more local cuisine and the prices varied as well. In the trendy places you play top prices, but the more basic restaurants and cafes are quite reasonably priced.  The streets all felt quite safe to walk around even at night.  We were expecting to see loads of very drab Soviet era buildings – but what a surprise – the ones built in both St Petersburg and Moscow from that era were very stylish.  The only drawback has been the weather – a few weeks earlier it might have been a bit warmer but that is the luck of the draw.


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From Bangers and Mash to Blinis and Baboushkas

03-05 Sept – Arrived in Liverpool on time and after overnighting at a barely adequate hotel in Runcorn on Saturday, we headed back to Higham-on-the-Hill for a couple more days of R&R.  I got to go out once again with Margaret and her walking buddies for a pleasant amble alongside the canal by the Atherstone Locks and through the village, ending back at the local pub for a hot drink before heading back home, whilst Bob set off to visit the Birmingham National Motorcycle Museum to get his bike fix for the day.  Home catering and a nice meal out at a friendly pub in Market Bosworth one evening took care of the inner man over this time,  whilst our luggage was organised for the next stage of our journey.

06 Sept – Said our goodbyes to Margaret and Michael, then drove the Fosse Way south-west again, this time headed for Somerset and overnighting at the local pub in Sparkford, the village where Haynes motoring manuals are produced.

07 Sept – The Haynes motor museum at Sparkford was our first port of call – another great collection with which to spend a few hours.  They even had a special room for the red car collection and one for motor scooters over the years.

 

Motoring through the West Country to Witheridge past Tiverton in Devon occupied the afternoon and then we visited a Norton Owners home nearby where Bob was again able to indulge the Norton disease.  I have to blame Mark for arranging this, especially as it appeared to be aimed at letting me know how fortunate I was that we only have ten of them!  Our host Ian has seventy including some very rare models and it was an eye-watering display for the Boys.  Lovely evening meal at a local pub kindly shouted by our host, then back to our pub digs in Witheridge for the night.

08 Sept – Had arranged to meet the rest of the boys group at Sammy Miller’s museum at New Milton at lunch-time.  An awkward cross-country journey, but we got there in time for yet another indulgence of the motorcycling disease and a shared lunch before they headed off for their digs in Brighton.  Ours were with family friends Jan and Tim at Cheriton near Winchester.

9 Sept – Goodwood Revival Day.  We had a nice easy drive to get to the Goodwood Estate and luckily didn’t encounter any of the delays which people had told us to expect.  We were parked up on the paddocks a little over 30 minutes from setting off.  The rain which had been falling quite consistently over the last few days made the grass parking a little muddy but not too bad.  We had about a 10 min walk to get to the track and associated activities.  With our “cheap” basic tickets we didn’t have access to the grandstands or the interior pits but nevertheless were able to secure a good spot to watch the racing including Bob’s mates on the motorbikes.  We could view the flasher racecars from the outside of the paddock fences, whilst some of the race cars and all the bike pits were completely accessible so we could get up close and personal there.

The special feature this year was the Celebration of the Fiat 500 Bambina, and 150 of these lovely little cars paraded around the track in all their glory.  Bob was able to catch up with all his racing friends that were there, which was nice.  The little people were not forgotten here – a fully fledged race for pedal cars had a field of about 50 cars – all drivers kitted out with full racing overalls and their own pit area.

 

10 Sept – Spent a nice day with Jan & Tim with lunch at a nearby pub followed by a drive to a little local steam train museum to have a look at the restorations being done by the local railway enthusiasts and watch a couple of the restored trains pass through.

11 Sept – A quick blat up in the direction of Gatwick to historic Brooklands museum to meet up with Bob’s cousin Gareth for a catch up and a quick look around the historic exhibits, track and site.  A small part of the original banked track is still intact and able to be walked on.  The steep pitch at the top made it difficult to stand upright so you definitely wouldn’t want to stall a vehicle at that angle.  Had to leave Brooklands too soon really but an overnight at Ashford in Kent was awaiting, to be well placed for Folkstone the next day.

12 Sept – Cheerio to Old Blighty as we tried a different form of transportation over to France – this time on the Channel Tunnel.  Bit of a different sort of experience as we drove on to the car carrying carriage and sat in our car for the next 30 mins until we popped out over in France.  You could get out of the vehicles but not a lot of point as you would just be standing in the carriage and there is nothing to see.  A few hours later we drew up outside the home of international vintage motorcycling friends Harry and Nel de Boer in Grubbenvorst, Netherlands for a warm reunion.  Only heavy traffic around Antwerp prevented us from being there much earlier.

13 Sept – The boys went off to Dutch Lion in the morning for a look at what was on offer this time around and then I joined them for the visit to Yesterdays and another amazing collection of one of Harry’s connections with over 300 bikes.  Yesterdays had quite a few different bikes on display from the last time we visited and just as impressive.

14 Sept – The day started off nice and clear but as we set off for a tour of the canal docks, but it turned quite cold and windy so we were able to enjoy the drive but didn’t venture outside for too long.  Dinner was over the border in Germany to a Chinese restaurant that is a favourite with Harry and Nel, which made a pleasant end to an interesting day.

15 Sept – Nice relaxing day getting things sorted out for the next few weeks of travel topped off with a walk around Grubbenvorst town after dinner culminating in dessert at the local ice-cream shop – wow what a selection of mouth-watering delicacies we had to choose from.

16 Sept – Farewelled our fine hosts Harry and Nel (I fear we are a few kilos heavier after all the lovely food we have been eating), and set off on the road once again.  Through the green farmland of the Netherlands and into Belgium where the villages we passed through were very austere compared to their Dutch equivalent.  We were heading for the Passendaele Museum and the Tyne Cot Cemetery.  Came to the cemetery first up and what a stark reminder of how many lives were lost in just one battlefield.  Both of Bob’s grandfathers survived this dreadful period in history and returned home safely.  On to the museum which detailed the horrors of the battle complete with reconstructions of the trenches and the dugouts where the soldiers gained a little respite from the rigours above ground.

 

17 Sept – Chantilly was destined for our attention today and what a lovely spot.  The château, horse stables, hippodrome and huge gardens easily filled several hours of our time.  With our first stop at the stables which themselves were in a massive building, walked through the old stables with their fill of fancy horses as well as donkeys and mini Shetland ponies.

 

Out in the courtyard we watched a few of the horses being put through dressage training and then wandered through their museum devoted to the horse.  Opposite the stables was a very nice looking horse race track which was getting set up for a big upcoming race meeting.  Walked back down to the Chateau itself to join the hordes doing the tour of the Chateau (this weekend was a special event countrywide to promote French museums with special reduced rates – hence loads of visitors).

 

The château’s art gallery, the Musée Condé, houses one of the finest collections of paintings in France (after the Louvre). It specializes in French paintings and also many book illuminations of the 15th and 16th centuries were on display in the immense library.

 

We had time for a short walk around a little part of the gardens before the weather packed in and we returned to the car.  Getting out of the carpark was another issue as we could not get the automated machine to accept either our ticket nor our credit card so finally some kind local intervened and pressed the help button at the gate and got them to remotely open the barrier for us – problem solved!.  Our accommodation was just a few km’s away in a nice little rural B&B.

18 Sept – Left the peace of Chantilly behind en route for Paris.  A quick stop-off at local sporting store to get a few warm clothes for the next leg of our journey and then on to our hotel near the CDG airport.  Premiere Classe?  If that was correct then I would hate to see Deuxieme Classe. Rather overpriced but that is the price you have to pay for being close to the airport.  At least it was clean even if you couldn’t swing a cat in it.

19 Sept – Paris for lunch!!  Had arranged a few days prior that we would meet Ian and Tiffany on their first day in Paris, so off we trundled via airport shuttle, local train and les pieds to their rather spiffy hotel in downtown Paris.  We met a couple of rather jet-lagged wee kiwis who had not yet been able to get into their room despite arriving at 6am and were just lounging about in the lobby.  Having sussed out some interesting eateries during our walk down to the hotel – we made our way back to an interesting restaurant for a spot of lunch.  What a busy place Paris is at lunch time but by 1.30 the restaurant had thinned out and we could hear ourselves think.  Escorted the weary travellers back to their hotel by which time their room was ready and we were able to see how the other half live!!  and left them to recuperate from their long flight.  Out on to the streets of Paris we walked down to the Seine through the Louvre buildings (didn’t venture inside due to the queues) and over the bridge to catch a metro over to Le Tour Eiffel for a brief looksee before heading back to the airport by metro, train and shuttle.

20 Sept – Bade a fond farewell to our little Peugeot as she was dropped back to the Peugeot depot – the agent did a little double-take when told the mileage travelled was 18,700 kms.  No scratches, dents or anything untoward had occurred during our trip.  Shuttled to the airport for the usual palava that entails checking in and getting through the border control which only left us a few minutes to grab a Maccas then head off for boarding.  New experience for us – flying Aeroflot/Rossya Airlines.  Started off from the parking spot at the terminal to the runway, only to be returned and told they had some technical issues to sort out before we could take off – 2 hours later we finally got off the ground.  A very novel item in the online catalogue caught my attention – a meter to test your vegetables for nitrate and radiation levels (I guess that would be an essential item to have in this part of the world).

Uneventful flight so they must have solved their issues as we landed in St Petersburg just as dusk was falling.  Clearing passport control was easy – no questions asked and our visa obviously was satisfactory.  We did wonder if our pre booked taxi would still be there – but there was Andrey with our name on his sign board waiting to take us to the city.  Roadworks slowed the trip a little, but it was an interesting trip.  Only 5 million people live in the city and from the air it did look very large.  The main thoroughfare into the city – Moscovy Prospect is 9kms of straight road – lined with buildings either side and very flash looking shops and eating places.  Our hotel was duly found tucked away in a little side street in the heart of the old city.  Outward appearances were deceiving as the hotel occupies the 4th and 5th floors, but the entrance and first few floors looked a little grotty. Very nice room – the view not so good as we look out into a courtyard, but it has all the comforts of home – including about 80 channels on the TV all of them Russian, on which Mr Putin seems to be a regular sight.

21 September – Breakfast at the hotel was adequate but nothing flash – but hot porridge and croissants keeps you going for a good part of the morning.  Armed with street maps – it was off down the main street of Nevesky Prospect towards the Neva River, crossing over several small canals and through extremely clean streets with well-kept buildings.  Our first stop was to look at the Winter Palace – no chance of good photos as the whole of the square was taken up with over 600 winter street cleaning machines of all shapes and sizes on display for their annual review before winter sets in.

 

Down to the river bank to view the palace from the other side and then over several more bridges over the river to the Peter and Paul Fortress.

 

A walk around the interior of the fortress followed by our first genuine Borsch soup which sustained us for the return leg of the walking tour back past more magnificent buildings and home (up those 5 flights of stairs again!) for a cuppa and rest.

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This is sunbathing Russian style

In the old part of the city there are no high-rise buildings – the highest they reach is 5 stories – no shortage of high-end named stores, as well as all the fast food joints that inhabit the rest of the world.

 

Dinner was at a Russian Pub – nice grub with local beer and mulled wine went down well ($35 for dinner and drinks was not too bad for a very touristy area).  Winter is sure on it’s way – after dark the chill was very noticeable so the investment in a few more warm clothes paid off.  I can’t imagine what the locals wear when it gets properly cold as they are already decked out in warm jackets, hats and scarves and it is nowhere near the -10deg C that they get in the winter.  Nice walking out and about after dinner – plenty of activity in the streets – the buildings certainly come to life at night with their lighting.

A little bit of window shopping in the local souvenir shops to marvel at the incredible range (in artistic styles and prices) of Matroyshka dolls as well as many other types of interesting looking handicrafts.  The pavements either side of the main roads are lovely and wide, the only problem would be when it is raining as all the rainwater discharges out of huge pipes off the roofs right on to the footpath – no underground drains for them to disappear into.

 

22 Sept – A bit of rain overnight and a cooler start to the day.  First target today was the local market – it was not as large as I would have expected and there were not very many buyers but it had the full range of veges, meat and fish stalls.  It is always interesting to visit these places and see the different produce on sale.  The vege stalls had a decent selection of staples – spuds, carrots, greens, tomatoes and fruit – not as exotic as markets we have seen further south. The meat section had a lot of dried/processed meats and they were not cheap – salami was going for about $20 per kilo and basic luncheon looking stuff around $10.  Limited range of hard cheeses and these seemed to be mostly imported, but there was a separate area selling homemade soft cheeses.  Fresh meat looked reasonable – all sorts of different cuts- pork, beef and rabbit.  Sturgeon, salmon, herrings and other odd fresh fish as well as pickled herrings.  Was only conned into buying some grapes so got off lightly.  Outside the market were quite a few old ladies selling what looked like homegrown veges.

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Yes they still do have Lada’s here although they are fighting a losing battle with all the top European and Japanese marques

Had a good walk around the area surrounding the market – well away from the tourist areas so the streets a little narrower and the buildings not quite so grand.  The upside of this is that things are a lot cheaper – we had morning tea in a spotless little bakery – tea and coffee plus two pastries for $4.

Next target was to try out the Metro – the stations here are reputed to be very beautiful.  We didn’t get to the old line which has the best ones, but did manage to get ourselves across the city for the grand sum of $1 and the stations we saw were extremely clean, well lit – walls lined with marble and interesting artwork.  We got out of the Metro at the Admiralty station – the deepest underground in the world and yes it sure was deep – the escalator to get us up to ground level took 2 minutes and it wasn’t a slow one!   The Admirality building is back down on the banks of Neva, just a block away from the Hermitage (which was now clear of all the snow clearing machinery) and from there we walked along the river bank for a while before making what seemed a long trek  back home for a much-needed rest of weary feet.


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Isle of Motorcycling Man(ia)

24 August – Our introduction to Peter and Andrea’s island hospitality started off with an amazing breakfast to kick-start our day.  Orders were taken for anything from a very adequate continental to the ‘full IoM’.  The latter makes a ‘full English’ seem quite tame in comparison!

We were destined to share the home-stay accommodation with a group of motorcycling enthusiasts, Kiwis Mark and Paul, Germans Martin and Walo, and lone Englishman Neil, for all the common reason for being there being the Classic TT & Manx GP race series.  The first couple of days there was practicing each evening for riders to learn the lines of the 37 mile track on closed roads around the mountain circuit.  Bob watched the practice at Parliament Square in Ramsey.

25 August – Mark was not feeling too well on arrival in the Island and on visiting the Ramsey A&E was quickly whisked by helicopter to Nobles Hospital in Douglas where a blood clot on the lung was diagnosed, a consequence of dvt from flying from New Zealand to Germany ten days previously.  We made the trip into Douglas to visit Mark, taking the backroad route via Laxey as the roads were still closed for practice. One night in hospital, a CAT scan for confirmation and a few pills was sufficient to see him back on his bike to enjoy the rest of the tour – probably quite a lucky chappie.

Several of Bob’s racing friends from NZ were over to compete or sponsor a rider, with ambitious targets of their own.  We met up with all in the pits during the day before racing got underway next day on the Saturday.

26 August – Neville Wooderson had the ambition to see his BSA Gold Star complete the first 100 mph lap by one of these bikes and rider Chris Swallow did not disappoint him, with an excellent 10th place finish in the Senior Classic TT.  Three times he circulated above this speed and also achieved a total race time over the magic 100 mph average, so Neville goes home a happy man.  Dave Kenah’s rider got the Manx Norton around in this Senior race with impressive average speeds 0f 107 – 109 mph before losing a footrest, forcing his retirement.  The afternoon’s Lightweight race was won by kiwi Bruce Anstey in record lap and race times, apparently unreported in the kiwi press, unlike Grant Dalton’s fall in practice on his 750cc Kawasaki.  Uninjured in the fall, Grant did compete and finish in the Lightweight event.

This first day of race viewing was at Stella Maris – a spot just outside of Ramsey before a sharp hairpin.  We were able to set chairs on the grass outside a house being renovated right above the course, with good views as the riders came around a couple of right hand bends known as May Hill  before heading into the Ramsey Hairpin.  The unexpected arrival of a race bike up the house driveway, stopping just behind us was a novel moment!

27 August – Jurby display day today.  What a huge crowd.  The carpark was probably just as interesting as the displays inside the grounds – there must have been in the order of two thousand bikes parked.  It was really difficult to move around inside and view any of the trade displays but we did stop and watch some of the bikes doing demonstration laps on the circuit.  We probably didn’t stay for more than a couple of hours before giving up and returning back home, where Andrea and I prepared a meal for the boys.

28 August – Monday and the second day of racing.  Went went to view at the Gooseneck just outside Ramsey, but low cloud and mist on the mountain eventually forced a cancellation for the day.  After returning to Jurby, Bob went into the local motoring museums whilst I decided to walk back to our accommodation – must learn to read the map properly, as it took longer than expected!  With the pub kitchen out of action, our hosts’ family surprised everybody with a great and quite unexpected evening meal.

29 August – A reserve day for racing, so we returned to the Gooseneck for the first race, the Junior TT for under 350cc bikes from the Classic era, and seated just inches away from them as they entered this slower corner.  Cameron Donald on kiwi Ken McIntosh’s Manx Norton was right up there with the leaders until a misfire caused him to drop back out of the top ten by the finish.  For a change of pace, Bob then went along to the Grandstand via a dodgy little country lane to view the pit stops and I got him to drop me off on the esplanade at Douglas so that I could take the electric train back along the coast to Ramsey via Laxey.  Quite a novel and enjoyable experience which involved finding a bus for the rest of the journey back to Andreas.  Best kiwi performance in the afternoon’s Classic Superbike racing was again Bruce Anstey, who came away with second place.

30 August – Decided to view the first race from the Bungalow today on top of the highest part of the mountain circuit.  An expansive view of 2-3 kms of track.  The wind was bitterly cold, but some protection was found behind an old building.  For the second race of the day we took the scenic road down to Sulby and viewed from Ginger Hall.  It went from struggling to hear the loudspeaker commentary at the Bungalow to being almost deafened!  It seems that many found the pub on this corner to be as interesting as the racing.

Mark had organised a joint meal out with our hosts’ extended family at a Ramsey bistro, to thank them for their great hospitality far exceeding the call of duty.  A nice evening with a large table of new friends.

31 August – Free day for exploring a bit more of the Island.  We headed first to Kirk Michael to view the collection of bikes at the ARE private museum, then on down to Peel.  A quaint little harbour town with a castle overlooking the town and out to sea.

From Peel the drive down to the southern end of the island was very scenic and we timed it just right to arrive at Port Erin for me to hop on the steam train back to Douglas – leaving Bob to go and explore the town and view another little bike museum near Castletown before meeting up again at Douglas.  My little train journey was just over an hour – winding through green farmland before coming to the coast at Douglas.  A nice leisurely way to explore the island.  Back at Douglas I had time to walk around a bit more of Douglas.  The gardens on the foreshore in the town are just lovely – nicely maintained and so colourful.  One long pedestrian street runs parallel to the seafront promenade. Rendezvous with Bob was successful and we made our way back home – via Ramsey for fish and chips on the waterfront.

01 September – Last race day for the Senior Manx Grand Prix and our viewing site of choice was the Ballaugh Bridge.  Got a good spot on the stairs behind the hotel, which was an exciting place to be as the bikes did a very awkward angled leap into the air over the bridge.  The techniques were varied with some nailing it much better than others – fortunately no mishaps here or elsewhere on the course.

Our now tight little group of enthusiasts decided on a final meal out at a local Indian restaurant to end a great stay in a wonderful island full of charm and interesting things to do.  A return trip should involve much more walking and a proper exploration of the various attractions.

02 September – With fond farewells we headed off back once more to Douglas and with time to spare paid a quick visit to the Manx museum – they had a tribute to Mick Grant, one of the legends of the TT race track, as well as many other exhibits relating to the Island’s history.  From there it was down to the harbour to join the queue for the ferry – a little more efficient loading at this end – and off over the Irish Sea on very calm waters for the 2 1/2 hr run to Liverpool.


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Limericks and Leprechauns

09 August – Didn’t quite know what to make of the bright light in the sky today but assume that summer has finally arrived in Ireland.  Had a gorgeous drive today – this was much more of the Ireland scenery that I was expecting.  First popped up to the Charles Fort which was on the opposite side of the inlet to the James Fort – much more substantial and with even more impressive views.

Then we were off around the coast through magical sounding little towns and villages – Clothkilty, Rosscarbery, Skibbereen and Ballydehob leaving the coast to cross over the Caha “mountain” pass and down into Bonane and our lodgings at “The Ford” for the next couple of days.

The road up and over the pass had gorgeous views back over the coast going up and down into a verdant valley on the other side with little cottages and farms dotted around the hills.  On a sunny day like today it was so pretty.

Our lodgings were a little on the remote side – in that we had to go about 5km off the main road on one of the more interesting narrow country roads – where you can’t see around the next corner for the high banks and hedges and with only room for one car it means taking it easy.  That said it was a lovely setting – very reminiscent of home with the green paddocks all around us.

The nearest town of Kenmare was about 10km and what a busy little place – tourists galore with loads of shops selling Irish crafts – Aran knitwear, woven stuff and of course sheep soft toys not to mention a pub or ten.

We found one that had an Irish music night going on so were treated to some dancing, singing and beautiful harp and accordion melodies.  Thought it was about time to sample the local brew which I do quite like and seeing as Bob was designated driver it was OK to partake.

10 August – Two unrainy days in a row – not sure we can cope with that.  Just down the road from our lodgings we took a walk around the Bonane Heritage Park to view some of the archeological wonders of the region.  First up we came to the Ring Fort – The Ring Fort, was used as a fortified dwelling some 2000 years ago. The deep perimeter ditch and double earthen embankment (foss) were constructed manually with primitive tools.  Its circular construction is thought by archaeologists to be for defensive purposes but may have had a spiritual significance.

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In later centuries, many superstitions were associated with them and it was considered unlucky to cultivate or interfere with them. Ring forts are also known as Fairy forts from the long-held tradition that they are home to the fairies or “little people”!  These forts are small with room for one or two families.

Next was Ireland’s answer to the hangi – a fulacht fiadh the ancient cooking pit dating from the Bronze Age.  Fulacht fiadh is generally located beside a source of water, a pit or hole was constructed and filled with clean water. The water was heated by placing heated stones in it and fresh meat wrapped in straw was boiled in this manner.

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A Bullaun Stone is a large rock where a basin or bullaun has been carved out.  Normally, the bullauns face upward but this example was unusual in that the bullaun was on the side of the stone.  It is unclear as to the original purpose for bullaun stones but they may have been used to mark astrological alignments.

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Probably the highlight was the Stone Circle dating from the Bronze Age, was associated with druidical rituals or used as ceremonial site, as part of an ancient calendar based on the lunar and solar cycles.  This Stone Circle is one of the most significant examples of its kind in Ireland as it has eight solar and lunar alignments.  The most interesting alignment was with a cairn on the ridge of the hill a few kms away with the rising of the moon once every 18.6 years.  How on earth did these early peoples have such an intricate knowledge of these cycles?

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Back on the road and up and over the Caha range again to join up with the Ring of Beere road for an interesting drive around this peninsula.  The road took us through Castletownbere which is currently one of the 5 main fishing ports on the island of Ireland. It is the largest fishing port in the country and supposedly the 2nd-safest natural harbour in the world.  From here the road turned into a slightly more challenging drive as we went right down to Garnish Point –  a tiny cable car operates from here over to Dursey Island but with a capacity of six people or one large animal it was fully booked up by the time we got there so after a quick looksee we continued on around on the coastal road – slow going as it way fairly typical of the minor roads here – mostly single lane with the odd passing places.  The scenery was quite wild – rocky moss covered hills but a lot of colour from pink and crimson heathers, yellow ragwort and gorse and wild red fuchsias and the coastline very rugged.  Completed the full circle back at Kenmare and back home for a break before dinner.

11 August – The Irish “mist” descended on us again.  Nothing to do but soldier on.  We took the road via the Killarney National Park to Killarney.  Fine weather would have made this an impressive drive – but the low cloud spoiled it somewhat – it did lift a bit so that we could get views of the lakes – it felt a bit like being in Norway with the rocky lined shores.

Killarney was a buzzing town with gift shops galore and many jaunting cars (horse drawn carts) taking tourists for little rides.  We decided that we would give the Ring of Kerry road a miss and instead head around the next peninsula up out to Dingle.  Mixed scenery with farmland, coastal and little villages along the way.  From Dingle we took a road over the a small pass – going up the road was great – two lanes – easy bends but the mist really closed in on the top where the road down turned into a single lane road carved into the rocks for a few kms  – that was fun just a pity we couldn’t see any of the views.  Travelling via Tralee, Listelow we hit the coast again at Ballybunion our stop for the night.  This was a local seaside holiday town complete with fun fair and several mobile home holiday parks.

12 August – On to Foynes Flying Boat museum for the first visit of the day.    During the late 1930s and early 1940s, land-based planes lacked sufficient flying range for Atlantic crossings. Foynes was the last port of call on its eastern shore for seaplanes. As a result, Foynes would become one of the biggest civilian airports in Europe during World War II.

Surveying flights for flying boat operations were made by Charles Lindbergh in 1933 and a terminal was begun in 1935.  The first transatlantic proving flights were operated on July 5, 1937 with a Pan Am Sikorsky S-42 service from Botwood, Newfoundland and Labrador on the Bay of Exploits and a BOAC Short Empire service from Foynes with successful transits of twelve and fifteen-and-a-quarter hours respectively. Services to New York, Southampton, Montreal, Poole and Lisbon followed, the first non-stop New York service operating on June 22, 1942 in 25 hours 40 minutes. The museum provided a good insight to the importance of this little town.  In its heyday if you were to sit in the local cafe you could get to see the great movie stars, royalty and world leaders as they criss-crossed the Atlantic.

With Foynes done, we backtracked to Tarbert to catch a little car ferry across the Shannon Estuary to Killimer to continue around the coast through many little seaside towns and stopped off at the Cliffs of Moher.  They rise 120 metres above the Atlantic Ocean at Hag’s Head, and stretch eight kilometres to the north where they reach their maximum height of 214 metres   The cliffs rank amongst the most visited tourist sites in Ireland receiving approximately one million visitors a year and even late in the afternoon it was still buzzing with people.

 

Our stop for the night was inland at Ennis – the town was gearing up for its huge annual musical festival where they get 400,000 visitors over the week so was starting to close off streets and setting up outdoor stages.

13 August – Another hearty breakfast got us underway from Ennis to first explore the Bureen.  The Burren has around 560 square kilometers of exposed limestone hills and pavements, part of the Burren lies within a National Park but the majority lies outside the park and is farmed and settled.

Glaciers expanded and retreated over the region several times. Of the last two periods the first was the more pronounced, covering the whole of the Burren. The result is that The Burren is one of the finest examples of a glacio-karst landscape in the world.

It certainly is a very unique landscape and unlike anything we have seen in our travels.

We followed the Bureen to the coast at Ballyvauhan and around the coast for quite a while before headed inland and up to Gallway.  We had a brief look around the city – for a Sunday afternoon it was fair humming – loads of buskers in the streets.  The city centre was a maze of narrow streets lined with pubs, pubs and pubs and a few shops as well.

It was just a short hop from Galway to our stop for the night at Oughterard.  A little outside of Galway we were pulled over at a Customs and Excise checkpoint.  They were doing checks on diesel-powered vehicles – we were exempt being in a rental vehicle – but they obviously have a problem with illegal diesel production. It looked like a fairly crude sort of testing they were doing but must have been enough to find the illegal fuels.

14 August – Only slightly overcast beginning to the day.  A good breakfast got us started then it was off westwards to begin exploring the region.  We made a stop at Glengowla Mines for an informative tour of the underground lead and silver mine.  Buried beneath the Connermara Mountain we were taken down 40 metres through the caverns of marble studded with lead and silver where our guide lead us on a journey on the working conditions the miners worked under before the mines closed in 1865. The constant dripping of water, the ‘miners breath’ would have made life very unpleasant for the workers.  Up on the surface there is no real sign of what was lurking below.

Continuing on westwards we turned down towards the coast and circumnavigated the next two little peninsulas through Kilkieran , Glynsk, Roundstone, Ballyconeely before hitting the main road back at Clifden.  Just love this Connemara scenery through the boglands and rocky coastal areas – very colourful with the heather, gorse and green moss against the grey rocks.  Loads of little stone cottages dotted throughout the countryside, as well as little farms with drywall fences to keep livestock enclosed.  It would be nice to hire a little cottage in this region and stay for a couple of months.  At Ballyconeely we visited the spot where Alcock and Brown landed on the first trans atlantic flight as well as Marconi’s transmission station.   We have now been to both ends of that historic transmission and incidentally Wanda was again at the Nova Scotia end just a few days ago.

15 August – A bit of a bleak start to the day but the mist did lift so that we could enjoy reasonable weather and views for the rest of the day.  Decided to do a series of circular drives so that we could make the most of the Connemara National Park and its surrounds.  The first small road took us from Maum up through a natural bog between a couple of ranges of hills. Very desolate through this area with no habitation just the peat bogs with little streams and lakes with a thick reddish brown grass growing on it.  Plenty of evidence of turf cutting though – the peat turf still seems to be a fuel source – it is cut into “logs” which are about 30 x 2 cm each weighing about 500gms.  The peat is also used to fuel some power stations in Ireland instead of oil or coal. Once we came out of the bog area we were into cultivated farmland again- the farms here are very small (a herd of 50 cows seems to be enough to sustain a farmer because of the EU subsidies that they receive) mostly sheep farming in the region with the odd herd of cows. With all the stone around – the fields are divided by the dry stone walls and do make for a picturesque drive.

Bureen National Park (5)

We returned via another smaller road down the other side of the ranges – greener and a different type of bog, greener with grasses that are able to sustain sheep.  Some very pretty loughs (lakes) as well.  These smaller roads have little or no traffic on them and for the most part are double-lane so easy to drive on.  I must say that having a left hand drive car is quite useful here on the very narrow roads as it is so much easier to hug the left side of the road without having to judge how close you are to stone walls etc.

We joined the main road at Glynsk to do a little westward circle via Cliffden and Letterfrack where he had hoped to have a little look around the Connemara National Park Visitor centre but couldn’t get a park anywhere near – it was just so busy with visitors – we gave that a miss and made our way instead overland to Leenaun where the weather had cleared sufficiently for us to embark on a boat trip up the Killary Fjord.  The 90 minute ride was quite informative as it took us between the two totally different shorelines – the south shore was green and farmed whereas the north short was rocky and bleak.  The fjord had a lot of mussel farms in the lower part of the fjord and nearer the ocean a few salmon farms.

As it was still too early to arrive at our next stay in Westport we opted to take another minor road which took us around this northern shoreline for a short while before heading through the Doolough Valley – what a spectacular drive as we drove alongside the fjord and then entered into the valley proper up over the Doo Lough Pass between the Mweelrea Mountain and Sheeffry Hills.

We drove over heaths which were so much like the North of Scotland although we weren’t very high in altitude.  This area would be a fantastic place to have a small campervan with so many gorgeous spots to pull off and have an overnight stay in the wilderness.

We hit the coast again for the short drive into Westport and our next B&B experience.  On the whole the B&B’s here have been OK, some are more like guesthouses which are better than just a room in someone’s house but the breakfasts are always good – scrambled eggs with smoked salmon are my favourite.  The smoked salmon here has a very delicate flavour – not too salty.  The town of Westport was just a short 15 minute walk – what a neat little town – around it’s Octagon were streets lined with terraced buildings containing all manner of little boutique shops and of course pubs.

16 August –  Lovely brekkie to start the day although the weather didn’t quite match.  Margaret our hostess suggested that we go out to Archil Island so we did attempt that drive but got as far as the connecting bridge but the “Mist” was so low and dropping the wet stuff that there was not a lot of point in continuing. We headed instead to Castlebar for a visit to the National Heritage Museum which kept us occupied for a couple of hours as we viewed the exhibitions of early Irish life. Just a little further up the road there was a little local railway museum which we also had a quick flit around.  Back home in time for dinner – we went down to the Quays area for a nice feed at the local bistro.

17 August – Moving on again – we stopped off at Foxford to have a look around the local woollen mills which have been in continuous operation for 125 years.  The mills were started by a nun from the Sisters or Charity who was so distressed at the standard of living of the local people that she decided to create employment.  The mills had a fire in 1907 which destroyed most of the mill but they managed to recover and in the 80’s they went into liquidation but were bought by a local businessman who is still running the mill.  They make upholstery material, throws, scarves, and small blankets. We were able to have a look at the looms in action – fully mechanised but it still requires manual input when warp or weft threads break and they still have to thread the looms by hand – a task which takes two men anything from a few hours to all day.  Managed to escape their lovely showroom/shop with my wallet in tact although there were some beautiful pieces.  Up the main road to our next stop just a few kms out of Donegal town.

18 August – A little circular tour to get to Derry (Londonderry) via Killybegs, Ardara and Glenties before heading inland via Letterkenny.  Once away from the coast the landscape was much like home except for the style of the houses.  Found a park in the city centre but the weather was pretty bleak as we embarked on a little walk around the old city walls – managed about half of it before the rain decided to dump it down.  Can’t say that the city did anything for me.  The conflict which became known as the Troubles is widely regarded as having started in Derry with the Battle of the Bogside. The Civil Rights movement had also been very active in the city. In the early 1970s the city was heavily militarised and there was widespread civil unrest. Several districts in the city constructed barricades to control access and prevent the forces of the state from entering.  Violence eased towards the end of the Troubles in the late 1980s and early 1990s but it still seems to be raw in the memories here.

Made our way to home for the night which was a pleasant B&B in the countryside about 10 minutes outside of the city.

19 August – Another short travelling day so had a lazy start to the day as we made our way to Bushmills via the coastal route. Treat for the day was the tour of the Bushmills Whiskey distillery which has been making the amber liquid since 1608.  Can’t believe the amount that comes out of this distillery each year (8 million bottles).  We were given a little sample of their 12 year old vintage at the end of the tour plus a voucher for another of our choice – mine was a hot toddy, Bob chose the 15 yr old.  Not bad drops at all, at all.

Our stop for the night another very nice B&B with country views out our window.

20 August – Finally a reasonable day for us to have a little explore of the Bushmills area.  For Game of Thrones fans (of which we aren’t) there are apparently a lot of areas where scenes have been shot, we did go to one – the Dark Hedges which to be really appreciated you need to see them as dark is falling – they still look quite interesting in daylight but we did have to compete with loads of other touro’s.

Dark Hedges (1)

Did a couple of little scenic routes before stopping off at Ballycastle – a tiny little coastal town with quite a nice beach.  The weather had bought out all the motorbikes in the region – the coastal drive does make for good riding.  Returned back to Bushmills base for a cuppa and break before heading out for dinner.  Thought Portrush would be a good bet but the town was just nose to tail traffic with not a chance of finding a park so Plan B came into effect and it was up to the Giant’s Causeway Smugglers Inn for dinner instead.  Got a huge feed of mussels in a sweet chilli cream sauce (the mussels would be called very premature in NZ – the shells were only about an inch long and the mussels no larger than a broad bean) – consequently there were about 5 doz in my pot and they all got eaten!!  The Giants Causeway is the main tourist attraction here and our kind hostess told us to make that sure we arrive there after 7pm so we don’t have to pay the 20 pound entry fee – that was a good move as we also avoided most of the 5,000 visitors that they had during the day.   Nice walk down the coastal path to view and walk over these incredible formations –  40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption.

According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant. The story goes that the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool), from the Fenian Cycle of Gaelic mythology, was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Fionn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet. In one version of the story, Fionn defeats Benandonner. In another, Fionn hides from Benandonner when he realises that his foe is much bigger than he. Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, disguises Fionn as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the ‘baby’, he reckons that its father, Fionn, must be a giant among giants. He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Fionn could not follow.  Across the sea, there are identical basalt columns (a part of the same ancient lava flow) at Fingal’s Caveon the Scottish isle of Staffa, and it is possible that the story was influenced by this.

21 August – The worst day weatherwise we have had since leaving home, too wet to stop off and explore anything so just made our way down the coast road to Belfast to arrive in time to watch the two semifinal matches of the women’s RWC on the telly.

22 August – The overnight storms had somewhat blown away leaving just a murky sky but dry enough for us to go down and visit the Titanic Exhibition on the Quays.  What an absorbing museum – we we were there for over 4 hours taking in all the history of that tragic event.  Unfortunately it was really busy making it difficult at times to get a proper look at some of the exhibits.  Outside the museum are the original slipways where the Titantic and her sister ship the Oceanic were built – they were certainly sizeable ships for their day. Alongside the Titanic museum was also the Nomadic – a small tender that was originally used to ferry the White Star passengers to their ships in the Cherbourg harbour.  It was furnished in the same style as the Titanic to give their passengers a taste of what they were to expect as soon as they boarded the ship.   We didn’t feel the need to do anything else in the city so returned back to our hotel for the evening.

23 August – Time to farewell the Leprechauns and head off over the Irish Sea.  Can’t say that we were too impressed with the organisation or lack thereof of the Isle of Man Steampacket Co. ferry.  It took forever to just check in and it was quite a mission to get the vehicles on board the vessel – the number of bikes going over was astounding.   A lovely smooth crossing had us docking in Douglas 2 1/2 hours later to warmer sunny weather.  Our lodgings for the next 10 days at Andreas was about a half hour’s drive north, some of it over the mountain part of the actual racetrack.  A nice warm welcome awaited us from Peter and Andrea and we were soon settled in to our comfy abode.


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It’s a long way to Tipperary

16 July – Farewell to Switzerland as we headed down the mountains to Lake Geneva – what a gorgeous sight with the rocky mountains framing the blue lake.  Once down at lake level it was not quite so nice as we had to wend our way along the lakeside ribbon development, very crowded with summer holidaymakers.  We turned off at Thonon and  to head up the valley to St Jean D’Aulps and up a little higher to the little village where Shaun and Natasha had their chalet.  Great to meet up again with all the family including their newest addition 15month old little Neriah – a little blond curly bombshell.  First up a guided tour of their new holiday home followed by a walk up the road to see where the boys had built their little den by the river.

17 July – A nice summer’s day was spent at Lake Montriond – the boys got to try out their new inflatable kayaks while we enjoyed a relaxing time in the sun followed by a walk around the lake later in the afternoon before heading back home to play Monopoly and Destination London with Ben and Lucas.

18 July – Jacob and Lucas had tennis practice at Morzine so while they were getting their exercise for the day Ben took us on a tour of the town with a mandatory stop at the lovely patisserie to sample the local fare.  Every other shop in the town seemed to be mountain bike related – the region has been able to make the most of the summer season by utilising winter ski runs as well as creating a large number of tracks of various levels for the mountain bikers.

19 July – Les Gorges du pont du Diable beckoned today – we got there for the first guided tour of the day through this spectacular canyon giving an insight into the power of erosion where Morzine’s Dranse River dives into a deep fissure beneath an impressive archway.  The walkway through the narrow gorge on paths suspended off the side of the rocks was an interesting engineering feat.

20 July – Just a five minute walk from the chalet was the cable car station,  operating once a week in the summer up to the first level.  We all piled in for the short ride with great views as we were transported up the mountain.  Once out of the gondolas it was time for a trek further up the mountain to the point where the ski lifts stop and with views all the way over to Mt Blanc in the distance it was pretty magical.  We could have been in a scene from the Sound of Music as we came to the alpine meadows – we had all the ingredients to complete the picture – children, cow bells and endless mountains.  From the top it was a steep winding walk down into the neighbouring valley to Graydon for a spot of lunch before continuing on the path back to the village.  A great days walk in the lovely fresh alpine air.

21 July -A short trip back down the valley to the Abbey to have a look around the old ruined monastery and the small attached museum.

22 July – Our stay at chez Hayton had all too soon come to an end and it was time to hit the road once again.

23- 30 July – A  quick flit through to Calais to board the ferry to Dover for a smooth 90 minute float across the channel and onto British soil and the rain.  Destination for the first night was near Duxford but that entailed getting over the Thames via the infamous M25 and the Dartford tunnel.  What a painful exercise as we crawled along for miles until we finally cleared the tunnel.

The Imperial War Museum at Duxford took up the next day as we explored the hangars and displays all based at the old airforce base.  The centenary of the base was being celebrated this year with a special sound show transmitting narrative voices, signals and music representing memories from Duxford’s past.

The following day involved a visit to the Shuttleworth collection before heading up to Bob’s sister at Higham on the Hill for another relaxing few days and catch ups.

30 July-03 August – A short tour of Wales was in order as we had some time to spare before our ferry across to the Emerald Isles.

30 July  – First day’s journey took us from Higham down the Fosse Way (an ancient Roman road) down to Cirencester then southwards to join up with M4 to cross over the Severn river on quite an expensive toll bridge into Wales where our stop for the night was near Newport just a short drive from Cardiff in a nice small hotel.

31 July – First up we headed into Cardiff to have a quick look around.  Managed to find a parking building close to the city centre for a little explore.  The immediate thing that struck us was the large number of homeless people sleeping and begging in the streets.  Not too much of interest in the city for us so after a quick bite to eat we headed back to the car and on around the coast through Swansea – that was a real nightmare with nose to tail traffic for the best part of an hour so we flagged trying to stop and settled to go on to our stop for the night at Milford Haven.  We had a bit of a strange B&B there – a typical terrace house with three small rooms over two stories.  The host was a bit of an oddball and although generous was quite overpowering and couldn’t stop going on about how little money he was making from letting out his rooms.  Milford Haven itself was nothing much to write home about – we were just a short walk from the harbour and it’s marina with a local pub for dinner.

01 August – The weather has turned against us since leaving France – shorts are out – longs and jumpers are in and if the rain persists we might even have to resort to buying an umbrella!  We had set ourselves quite short mileages between stops to give us time to take to the minor roads and minor some of them were as we wove our way through little country lanes sunken down between hedgerows and squeezed through between drywall fences – not something you can do at and great speed as passing places for oncoming cars were limited.  Down on to the coast via St Brides and Little Haven, pretty little seaside villages but very busy with local holidaymakers.

Had to go inland a bit to Haverfordwest before we could get back on the next little peninsula and St Davids where we stopped off to have a look at their very historic cathedral.

 

St David's Cathedral and Bishop's Palace - geograph.org.uk - 774149.jpg

It is certainly hard to understand why such a huge cathedral was built in this region as there would have been such a small population at the time and even now it is fairly sparsely settled.  With our cultural experience done for the day it was off to our next stop which was a great improvement on our previous night.  Just a few km’s out of Cardigan our stay was a room in a pleasant family home with a much more amenable hostess.

 

02 August – Bleak and wet start to the day made up for with a nice cooked breakfast before setting off.  Made a couple of coastal stops along the way at seaside towns along Cardigan Bay – rocky beaches with the only attractions being the rock pools as they would not have been suitable for swimming.  Turned inland after Aberystwyth for a change of scenery into the Snowdonia National Park.

Very much like being in the highlands of Scotland – barren rocky hills, little meandering streams and misty due to the low cloud cover.  Nice B&B in the tiny village of Llanuwchllyn near Lake Bala.  There was a little narrow gauge railway running from there to Bala (about 25 minutes away) but we had missed the last train for they day.  The village was a bit of a family affair with our B&B and adjacent campground run by the children and the local pub and restaurant run by the parents.

03 August – The weather still not nice enough to take the little train so we headed off by car through more of the park and even tried to go for a visit to the local slate mine, but being summer holidays you needed to book in advance to get a place on one of the tours so had to flag that.  Down from the hills and back on to the coast we again did a little tiki tour around Angelsea and then on to Holyhead – our last night in Wales.  Holyhead was probably once quite a nice town, but now is quite run down with not much to recommend it apart from being where you have to catch the ferry.  B&B was another substandard operation.

04 August – Time to head over to the Emerald Isles on the Irish Ferries quick catamaran.  The sea had a little bit of movement for the first hour but then last half of the journey was calm.  The ferry docked in downtown Dublin and it was a bit of a journey to get out the other side of the city to our accommodation as roadworks and traffic accidents took us on detours.  We managed to find our B&B for the next couple of nights without too much trouble – in a very nice neighbourhood at the north end of Phoenix Park – at 707 hectares (1752 acres) is one of the largest enclosed recreational spaces within any European capital city.  The Phoenix Park was established in 1662 as a Royal deer park for Charles II.  About 30% of the Phoenix Park is covered by trees, which are mainly broadleaf parkland species such as oak, ash, lime, beech, sycamore and horsechestnut.  A herd of  Fallow Deer has lived in the Park since the 1660’s when they were introduced by the Duke of Ormond.  Dublin Zoo also resides within the Park’s boundaries.The residence of the President of Ireland, dates from 1750 is located in the centre of the park adjacent to the United States Ambassador’s residence, which was built in 1774.  It is a beautiful asset for a city to have and is certainly well used with cyclists, runners, walkers and families all able to enjoy the surroundings.

05 August – Left the car behind today and took the bus into Dublin’s centre.  Split in half by the River Liffey there was plenty for us to walk around and explore before the rains decided to come so ducked into the National Museum and spent an hour or so being enthralled by their exhibition of archeological findings from the bogs of Ireland. Going back over the last 4,000 years – the Irish have hid their treasures in the bogs and as the bogs have been drained over the ensuing centuries they have revealed incredible caches the most spectacular being the gold jewellery.

The rain was still persisting so a spot of lunch was in order and then it was on to the Natural History Museum to have a look at the display of Irish birds, fish and mammals – specimens collected in the late 1800’s and preserved in various manners.

The weather manged to improve enough for us to head back to the river so we could take a little diversion by way of a river cruise which gave us a different view of the city and docklands.  It was from these docks that the emigrants set sail in the “famine or coffin” ships in the hope of finding a better life in North America.  About 30% didn’t survive  the 6 week journey on these crowded disease ridden ships – but the risk must have outweighed staying put and starving to death.

We enjoyed a nice meal before heading back on the bus to our digs for the night.

06 August – Southward bound today via Bray, Arklow, Enniscorthy before turning inland to Cahir.  Our hotel took a bit of finding as we didn’t have GPS co-ords for it and it was out of the town a way. Eventually we came to it – a rather tired ex hunting lodge built in the 1900’s – quite a bit of poetic licence and Irish blarney on their website when regaling it’s attributes “exceptional en-suite bedrooms all with their own unique charm combining contemporary & period styles and charming antique furniture”.  It was in a picturesque setting however but the low mist spoilt it somewhat.

07 August – Cahir Castle was our first top for the day – what an interesting site.  The core structure of the castle dates to construction in the 13th century.  Granted to the powerful Butler family in late 14th century, the castle was enlarged and remodelled between the 15th and 17th centuries. It fell into ruin in the late 18th century and was partially restored in the 1840s. The Great Hall was partly rebuilt in 1840.  Full of narrow spiral stone staircases it must have been hell trying to negotiate around it when you needed to defend it.

On from Cahir, we moved on to Cashel  to visit the No 1. Trip Advisor attraction for the town – it’s museum.  All we can say to that is that there obviously wasn’t anything else of interest in the town as it was a really manky little affair but it did have a very enthusiastic curator/owner.

It’s a long way to Tipperary and what a disappointment it was – grimy main street lined with terraced shopfronts and grotty pubs with only one serving food so we had just a quick lunch stop before heading on to Kinsale.  It was the end of regatta bank holiday weekend so the place was humming when we got there.  Our B&B (sans Breakfast) was another overpriced outfit but within a few minutes walk to the town was at least well placed. Quite a tourist town renown for it’s foody outlets of which there were plenty.  We enjoyed a walk around the town and the harbour before settling on an Indian for dinner.

08 August – Weather still on the cool side with the odd bit of rain passing through.  We made the most of the dry spell to do one of the walks out to one of the two forts in the area. A nice stroll around the water front and up to the James Fort with nice views out over the outer harbour to the Atlantic in the distance.  Kinsale is the start of the  Wild Atlantic Way walk which follows the coast westwards for over 2,000 kms.


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Drum Bun Romania,Willkommen in Deutschland

30 June – Focsani served its purpose as a waypoint for our journey northwards but had nothing else of note to interest us.  The road today followed a river valley for ages with not very inviting looking towns until we finally climbed out into more rolling countryside.   We had a little trouble finding our accommodation with the address listed so resorted to the GPS co-ordinates and found it.  It was out of the town which sits at the foot of a huge dam we went up and over to find this “motel”. First appearances were not deceiving – it was grotty.  The complex had quite a few little cabins and a “motel” block – three floors with about 10 rooms one each floor.  Grotty from the outside and tacky on the inside.  Decided to go for a drive around the lake – what a horrible road – we bumped along for about 20kms before calling it a day and returning the same way. Did however find a gorgeous pensiune offering meals, so stopped off dinner and had we known about this place it would have been much much better than our ‘motel’.

 

01 July – Not such a great night in our grotty motel – awoken by screaming and what we thought was an argument but turned out to be a medical emergency as there were two ambulances outside when we ventured out.  We had decided the night before that we would ditch the second night we had booked  – it was just too cheap and not cheerful for comfort.  Back down into the outskirts of Bicaz before heading off through the Bicaz Gorge.  What a spectacular drive through the narrow canyon with high rocky outcrops – it was spoilt a bit by all the tourist shacks lined up along the sides of the road selling “souvenirs”.  We climbed up and out of the gorge over a couple of pretty passes and through various villages. The local handicraft in this region is wickerwork with loads of little stalls selling baskets, chairs, brooms and other odds and sods.

 

Made it into Sighisoara and breathed a sigh of relief to get have a “nice” place to stay – it was an old villa built in early 1900’s, renovated nicely within a short walk of the old city up on the hill.   We made the pilgrimage up to the top, little streets with quaint buildings and a nice square for refreshments to sit people watch.  Moved to another place for our dinner – that was a surprise – I ordered Transylvanian sour bean soup which came served inside a huge hollowed out loaf of bread – very tasty and oh so filling.

 

Back home to base in time to watch our own sound and light show going off in the way of a thunderstorm.

02 July – After a comfortable night in our pensiune, spent a little time before setting off trying to figure out the next leg of our journey through to Germany.  Leaving Sighisoara behind we got into some lovely countryside with rolling green hills dotted with little villages.  It is so much more pleasant driving than on the hot plains.  Turga Mures was our target for our first break.  This town was so similar in layout to Arad, the first town on our entry into Romania but poles apart in charm.  The buildings were clean and tidy, the pavements in good condition and a very pleasant area to walk around.  A nice little patisserie for our refreshment stop and then back on the road.

 

Stopped at little local restaurant in the countryside for lunch – nice vantage point to watch the horses and carts venturing out into the fields.  We then had a short hop on more scenic roads through to Bistrita and our hotel for the night just a short walk from the town centre.  Another pleasant town square – again with a large pedestrian street lined with outdoor tables and seating areas.  We walked around all the interesting old parts of the town before dining in a restaurant offering traditional food – sadly we didn’t have room for dessert but they sure looked inviting.

03 July – Heading north today towards the Ukrainian border.  About 200kms – the first half was on a typically bumpy road, so slow going but then it improved markedly as we headed up into lovely rolling hillsides and neat little towns.  Our destination – Sapanta – a fairly rural little village but renown for its “merry” cemetery to which tourists flock to. We had a lovely local pensiune right opposite the cemetery. Ileana the owner’s mother was a very gracious host.

The pensiune was in a typical house which had been converted into rooms for accommodation.  We had a nice clean room and if you overlooked the bright pink bath and toilet it was a neat little place.  Took the visit over to the cemetery – what an interesting place.  In the late 30’s a poet/writer decided that the people buried in the cemetery deserved something fitting to show for their lives so he started created these carved wooden grave markers, painted bright blue with a carved picture of the deceased person showing their profession or what they did in their life (eg. weaver, homemaker, miner, fireman etc.) then under the picture was a carved poem about their life and death.

 

Reading through the translations afterwards – some of them were not very kind about the deceased – ie. he was far too fond of the drink and it got the better of him; others detailed the hard life they had suffered and there were even a couple of curses attached to graves of children killed in car accidents directed to the drivers of the cars.  All in all a very illuminating visit.  Even more outstanding was the new church that was being built on the site (how a town which would be way smaller than Cambridge could afford such a building beats us) and this was not the only church being built in this small town – just down the road the Catholics were in the process of building a wooden church and then about 1km away the local monastery had also built a fantastic wooden church with a 75m spire along with new quarters for the monks.  Did a quick search on google and found that there were 400 monasteries in the country with about 3500 monks and nuns so it they must still be getting new recruits coming through the ranks.

04 July – Last full day in Romania. Ileana showed us her special heritage family room used for special events – weddings, funerals, Christmas etc.  Two of the walls were lined with brightly covered hand-woven rugs, the other two were hand painted with red flowers on a blue background.  She had a couple of display cabinets with old china and some very finely decorated eggs.  She then showed us her loom and demonstrated hand spinning.  Their sheep’s wool is very coarse and they don’t do too much in the way of carding out all the flotsam and jetsam.

The tourist buses had arrived bright an early to start their visit of the cemetery.  We set off first to have a look at the monastery with the wooden church – the workmanship required to construct these churches is amazing as it was stunning.

With that done it was one the last leg of our trip. We travelled within spitting distance of Ukraine for a while – we were on one side of the river and just on the other side was Ukraine.  Went though a bit of forest and then it was down onto the plains again – fortunately the temp has dropped a few degrees so a little more pleasant.

Saw our first gypsy caravans today – just two of them and very distinct – very grubby covered horse-drawn wagons (a bit like the pioneer wagons in the USA) with all manner of things hanging on the outside and crowded inside with grubby looking kids and adults, quite different from the few other Roma we have seen in the towns – the women wear very bright coloured long skirts, white blouse and an equally bright headscarf.

Stopped off at a supermarket to pick up some lunch supplies then it was on to Oradea our stop for the night.  Here was yet another lovely surprise – coming into the city it looked to be fairly typical, bland apartment blocks and boring buildings and even the street where our hotel was located was not particularly inspiring.   The hotel itself was in a new building, nicely furnished and a very comfortable room for our last night.  Went out to explore and just a couple of blocks away we came into the town centre and boy what a contrast – some gorgeous buildings, lovely pedestrian streets and a really nice feel.    Since joining the EU, Romania has received grants to assist with beautifying their cities and where they have  this grant they seem to be making real inroads into bringing these cities back to life.

Oradea (10)

Dined in the courtyard of one of the very old early hotels – this one still needed renovation but would have been very grand it its day. The biggest surprise was when we opened the menu – first thing we saw was Monteiths Summer Ale and Pilsener available as well as Old Mout Cider on the drinks list and then one very expensive cut of meat from New Zealand (it was in the grill section and when translated back at base – it came out as Cattle Muscles from New Zealand so have no real clue as to its cut).

05 July – Our attempt to find the nice patisserie we had seen in town the night before failed so it was just a tea and coffee instead before heading off in the direction of the border and a new country.  The border was only about 30 minutes away from Oradea – manned by both the Romanians and Hungarians – they checked our passports and made us open the boot to ensure we hadn’t got any stowaways and then we were waved off.  Flat going all the way through to Budapest – this part of the country a lot more prosperous than the little corner than we covered earlier on.  Managed to get to our accommodation right in the middle of the city with not too many hassles although finding parking was a bit difficult as we couldn’t get enough local coins to feed the parking machine.  It is a good thing we don’t easily get put off by outside appearances, as the apartments were in a very old and distressed looking building and up the first two flights of stairs was particularly dark and dingy, but once into the apartments themselves – bright, airy and very modern.  9 rooms most with their own en suite facilities and a very up to date kitchen area.

Within walking distance of the Danube they were certainly a good find.  We ate a quick dinner in before heading off to see Budapest come alive by night – this place seems to be a mecca for young tourists – bars were crowded with 20 somethings making the most of cheap booze.  Down on the river, had to wait a while for darkness to fall, but once it did the buildings and bridges all came to life with lights.

06 July – Quick blat on to Vienna.  Arrived mid afternoon to our nicely placed hotel which enabled us to just hop on the tram for the short ride into the centre.  Armed with the local map were able to cover all the interesting sights to see.  What  a lovely city – compact centre with elegant buildings and very clean.  To really appreciate this city you need to come for a week or so, armed to the teeth with a load of cash and take in all of the different theatres and museums.

We were happy though to just wander around and admire its beauty.  Of course we had to sample Weiner Schnitzel for our dinner.

07 July – Another day another capital.  Prague today – again arriving mid-afternoon.  Our easy to find hotel was again right next to a tram stop with a short ride into the centre.  The last time I had visited Prague – so many of the buildings were being restored and covered in scaffolding and there was hardly a soul around.  Fast forward 30 years, the buildings are visible and the tourists are there in throngs.

Very interesting areas on both sides of the Danube.  After a wander around the inner part of the city we crossed over the historic Charles Bridge for a break in a little bar to people watch for a while.  Nearby we chanced upon a really lovely walled garden before having to find refuge from a thunderstorm in a local restaurant.  When the skies cleared we were able to amble back to the centre and catch our flash tram straight back home.

8 July – Another day another country – Germany today and our stop for the next few days – Lake Wannsee just 20 minutes from Berlin.  We knew our hotel was going to be close to the railway station, just didn’t realise that it was just outside our window (all five lines of it).  Oh well, them’s the breaks.

09 July – The train into Berlin was a relaxing 20 minute trip. Berlin is not as compact as the other three capitals, so we made use of our day travel ticket and sampled trams, underground and buses.  Ticked off the big things Brandenburg Gate, remains of the wall and checkpoint Charlie.  At the remains of the wall there was a very moving timeline of Berlin’s history prior and post war and the fall of the wall.

10 July – Wet and miserable start to our day.  Spent our day visiting with Torsten, Lydia and two of their five children – their two sons Jonathan and Florian.  We had met Torsten when he was still a student in the late 80’s in Czechoslovakia when at that time he was living in the then DDR and over the years we have kept in touch, at our last get together Florian was just a toddler and now he is a bright and bubbly teenager and his brother Jonathan is about 16 and a very fine young man.  The family were staying in their caravan just about 30 mins from our hotel at Wansee at another lake – so we joined them there first before venturing out for lunch at Ferch and then on to Potsdam.

The first stop was at San Soucci Palace for a wander around their impressive gardens then into the old town for a delicious stop at a local ice-cream parlour.  We then spent an hour or so in the early evening enjoying the ambience of the old town before farewelling our friends.  How fortunate we are as we travel around the world to meet such lovely people and to be able to share joint experiences.

11 July – Monique led us a fine little dance this morning as we headed south and ended up going through the middle of Potsdam before finally getting us on the autobahn and a straight blat down to our destination – a tiny little village Eisenbuhl and a divine apartment to stay in.  Came prepared to cook our own dinner so it was a nice relaxing evening.

Eisenbuhl

12 July – Regensburg was today’s target – and with a diversion to Bamberg arrived at another of our friend’s place mid afternoon.  Tom and Gabi once again made us feel so welcome in their lovely home as we settled in and caught up on their news since seeing them 18 months ago.

13 July – Tom and Gabi had discovered a new museum for us to visit, so it was off to Neumarkt and the Maybach museum.  This was quite a new museum, very nicely laid out with a good display of Maybach cars and bikes – everything was explained in both German and English.  The company originally developed and manufactured diesel and petrol engines for Zeppelins, and then rail cars. Its Maybach Mb.IVa was used in aircraft and airships of World War I.  The company first built an experimental car in 1919, introduced as a production model two years later at the Berlin Motor Show. Between 1921 and 1940, the company produced a variety of opulent vehicles, now regarded as classics.

We had a short break out of the museum for lunch and returned to finish the last exhibits before returning home. Dinner in the local beer garden made a pleasant end to the day.

14 July – Said our farewells and it was on the road again down to Munich and the BMW museum situated in the Olympic park.  Very impressive museum with a very large temporary exhibition celebrating the centenary of the company and then their permanent display of their vehicles.  We managed to spend a good 3 hours before having to tackle Friday afternoon Munich traffic.

Fortunately we had only 90 odd kms to get to our next stay for the night but we did have quite a lot of very slow spots. We did feel for the folks in their cars travelling towards Munich as they had to deal with a large nose to tail pile-up accident which backed the traffic up for miles.  Mindelheim was the stop for the night – another pretty town with some very attractive old buildings in their town centre.  Our small hotel was a renovated water-mill used to mill flour in days gone by.  Quite a lot of the original woodwork still in existence and also the belts and pulleys were a feature of the restaurant.  The countryside in this region is so pretty – very green fields and forests interspersed with quaint little villages.

15 July – Another autobahn blitz – through the very green German countryside, followed by a short stint of about 10kms through Austria before finally hitting Switzerland.  They really do exploit the visitors using their roads.  We had to buy a vignette to use the motorways (all other countries have short tem ones – ie. 1 week or a month) but the Swiss make you buy a pass for a year and at 40 euro it makes it an expensive exercise for just a couple of days motoring.  We needed to break our journey through to France so it was a little town called Biberist that got the tick for our stay for the night.  Nice and orderly as you would expect from the Swiss – streets are clean and countryside very green.