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.
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.
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.