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Land Rovers & travel

Destination: Europe, Part 4

Thursday 5th September – Dresden to Treffen (Austria) via Salzburg

We made an early start as we planned to visit Salzburg, but we also wanted to get as close to Venice as possible before putting our heads down for the night. The car needed to be returned to the hire desk by 10am tomorrow so we didn’t want to travel too far in the morning. As with our journey north, we didn’t book a hotel preferring to pick a location when we had a better idea of how we were feeling at the end of the day.

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I was looking forward to revisiting Salzburg having last been there as a kid, way too many years ago. As with Dubrovnik I remembered how much I liked the city, but this time I didn’t recall very much other than the castle perched high on the hill above the city, and the river flowing through.

We had a long, but uneventful, journal arriving in an overcast Salzburg late afternoon. Unfortunately as we walked out of the car park it began to rain but that wasn’t going to stop us having a look around.

We stayed in the old town area at the foot of the castle cliff where the streets were pedestrianised, narrow, and full of shops worth having a quick look into. There were the usual high street names we are used to seeing, but also quiet a few unusual places to keep you interested. In one square there was a small market. It was beginning to close up for the day but there was still some stalls for us to wander round.

While strolling we happened to find the birth place of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. We guessed it was the right place by the number of people taking photographs of this otherwise very plain building.

IMG_7346It had been a long day and we were ready to eat, so found a small restaurant and enjoyed some authentic Austrian fair.

As we walked back to the car park, in the now pouring rain, we realised we had lost our bearings. Thankfully a very nice lady pointed us in the right direction and also showed us how to get there under cover.

Dresden to Treffen, via Salzburg : 826km

IMG_7348Before arriving in Salzburg, Katja had booked us into a hotel in Treffen about two and half hours south. There didn’t seem to be too many rooms available in the area which was explained when we were chatting to the owner of our hotel who told us that there was a Harley Davidson gathering nearby and that approximately 50,000 bikers were in the area for the next few days. He himself was a biker which explained the Harley on display out front of the hotel; all the bike pictures everywhere and even a bike headboard in our room.

Friday 6th September – Treffen to Venice

After yet another early start we were at the car hire return desk in plenty of time. With the formalities done Katja asked the girl serving what was the easiest way into Venice. This was when we found out that there was another way to go – water bus directly from Marco Polo Airport. This must be the only airport with such a service!

Treffen to Venice : 270km

We took the bus across the lagoon, through Murano and round to Venice, getting off at Arsenale. Our hotel, Albergo Al Nuovo Teson, was just a few minutes walk away.

HearseOn our way across the lagoon we passed another sight which may also be unique to Venice; a water hearse. Its when you see these unusual boats you begin to understand the complexities of living on an island which, criss crossed by canals, means there are no roads, cars or trucks. Even the rubbish is collected from houses and shops in hand carts before being loaded on to boats for transportation to the tip.

Unfortunately our hotel room wasn’t as shown on their website which was very disappointing. It was very small with no room to get around the bed! That said, we had stayed in a few hotels during our trip and this was the only one that had not been up to expectations.

Having dropped our bags it was time for lunch. Turning right out of hotel was a small square with several restaurants. For no obvious reason we picked Da Noi Osteria Pizzeria which proved to be an inspired choice. We had pizza for lunch which was just perfect. It was so good that we went back for dinner a couple more times.

For the rest of the afternoon we relaxed, had a little stroll and then found somewhere for dinner. No obvious sightseeing today as we were both a little tired from the journey, but we took the opportunity to enjoy being in such a beautiful city, away from the crowds.

Saturday 7th September – Venice

We woke to a blue sky and warm sunshine. Today was definitely for seeing the sights! A quick coffee and croissant for breakfast and we were off.

Everybody who has been to Venice will warn you about the crowds. Thousands of people visit the city everyday and they all want to see the Doge’s Palace, St Marks Square, the Bridge of Signs and Rialto Bridge, so the advise is definitely “Get There Early!”

IMG_7393(1)We were keen to tick all the boxes, at least as far as having seen the buildings concerned, even if we weren’t going to queue to go inside.

I had completely forgotten about the Bridge of Sighs until searching on-line for some additional blog material. I was actually annoyed with myself that I had forgotten all about it only to find that I had actually taken a photo of the bridge while we were out! As we walked along the bank of the Giudecca Canal towards St Marks Square, I just happened to look to the right down a side canal and took a picture of this lovely stone bridge between.

The view from the Bridge of Sighs was the last view of Venice that convicts saw before their imprisonment. The bridge’s English name was bequeathed by Lord Byron in the 19th century as a translation from the Italian “Ponte dei sospiri”, from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the window before being taken down to their cells. [Wikipedia]

We walked past the Doge’s Palace on our way to St Marks Square. This truly magnificent example of Venetian Gothic was initially constructed between the 10th and 11th centuries, although it has been expanded, renovated and modified many times over the years.

Piazza San Marco, known in English as St Marks Square, is the main square in Venice. It is generally known simply as “la Piazza” by Venetians, all other open spaces, with the exception of Piazza Roma, are known as “campi” or fields. The square is surrounded by the principle buildings of Venice from which the city was governed over the centuries.

When you see the square from above (Google Maps View) you realise just how large the space actually is, and how the surrounding buildings crowd in.

Like much of Venice, The Piazza San Marco is prone to flooding. Over the years the city has sunk into the mud leaving many areas very close to sea level. During the Acqua Alta, the “high water”, which is caused by extremely heavy rain or storm surges from the Adriatic, water can no longer drain away into the Grand Canal, in fact the drains have the opposite affect of pushing water up in to the square. It was noticeable that many buildings kept their ground floor area for storage or, as in the case of our hotel, had flood protection barriers to ensure the water was kept out.

IMG_7427From here, having taken a deep breath in preparation, we navigated the tourist filled streets in search of the Rialto Bridge. This is the oldest of the four bridges which cross the Grand Canal. It’s an amazing structure with shops lining both sides of the central roadway and then footpaths at the back of both lines of shops as can be seen clearly from above: Google Maps View.

We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling through the streets, looking in the shops and generally enjoying the sights.

Venice is a maze. While you may know that the place you want is only a few meters to your left, you have to take several right turns before you get there. There are also the dead ends and waterways with no bridge to frustrate your further. I think the trick is never to be in a hurry and give yourself plenty of time to get to where you want to go.

For dinner we decided to go back to Da Noi Osteria Pizzeria where we had lunch the previous day. This time we were welcomed back like old friends complete with a complementary champagne to start our meal and lemoncello to round it off. It was a very quiet night for them, apparently most tourists were in another part of town for the Venice File Festival, and so we had plenty of time to chat and joke. It was yet another great evening to add to our memories.

Sunday 8th September – Venice

IMG_7471IMG_7470Venice is an amazing, ancient city which just exudes mystery, intrigue and history . It feels like there is a story to tell behind every doorway. Houses standing down dark passageways, in squares with restaurants bars and hotels, and in some cases across their own private bridge. My words and pictures just cannot do it justice.

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When wondering through the streets its it very likely that at some point you will notice the house numbers painted above, or next to, every door way. One one occasion I saw a number above a window but it was obvious that the window was once a door, and having allocated a number then it has to stay for ever!

In Venice house numbers aren’t allocated in any organised way and it is known that you cannot use the number to find an address. Even Google Maps can’t cope – this was clear to us when looking for our hotel which based on the street address was no where near the actual location. This article in Luca’s Italy explains the history, why the numbers are painted the way there are and how to navigate the city : Venice house numbers

As the weather had been horrible most of the day we hadn’t been out much, so we took a stroll along the water front before dinner. As the time ticked past 6pm we saw a cruise ship start to move in the distance. As we waited and watched, it slowly sailed down through the Giudecca Canal on its way out to the Adriatic Sea. As the ship came fully in to view we saw that it was the Norwegian Star, the very ship that we were on just three weeks earlier! It was amazing to watch it manoeuvre between the ancient buildings of Venice.

We had a final dinner at our favourite restaurant where we were again welcomed back like old friends with a glass of champagne before we ate and several lemoncellos to finish our meal in true Italian style.

Monday 9th September – Venice to Sydney

IMG_7516Sadly our amazing European adventure has come to an end. One last breakfast looking out over the Venice canals then finish packing, check out of the hotel and catch the water bus back to Marco Polo airport.

Venice is magnificent. A destination we must return to soon so that we can see the rest of the city, I’m guessing that accounts for about 75% of it, the many other islands in the lagoon and also go into some of the incredible buildings that we only saw on the outside.

Venice to Sydney : 16,300km

And so to the long flight home, via Dubai.

And so to the next time …..

IMG_7424Our trip is done, and what a trip it was!

We have seen and experienced so many different countries; Italy, Greece, Croatia, Austria, German and the UK.

There are places to which we plan to return; Venice, Dubrovnik, Mykonos, Cinque Terre; and some that we may not.

We have flown (35,000 km), sailed (3,000 km) and driven (3,500 km).

And we have some magnificent memories.

Destination: Europe, Part 3

Friday 30th August – Dresden

IMG_7143Before arriving I knew very little about Dresden itself other than it had all but been destroyed by allied bombing during World War II and that it is known for its particularly fine, hand painted, porcelain. My mum was a collector of Dresden Porcelain having grown up with, and inherited, a dinning set from her mother. But more about this later.

Walking through the heart of the old town it is hard to believe that after the war many of the historic buildings you are looking at were burnt out shells, or in the case of the Dresden Frauenkirche, just a pile of rubble.

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We walked through the entrance to Dresden Castle (or Royal Palace), which is now a museum and home to many collections of fine artworks. During the renovations this central courtyard had been given a glass roof which really allowed the cleaned stone to shine. All though full of the treasures collected from around Saxony through out its rich history, not having a huge amount of time, we didn’t attempt to look at everything the castle had to offer, just enjoyed the formidable architecture of the place.

From here we wondered through the grounds of the Zwinger, which like so many of the buildings in the city and surrounding countryside, owes a debt to Augustus II, the Strong, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, who either had them built, or renovated, to create the spectacular palaces we see today.

Finally, after taking a stroll down by the river – which seems to have been very badly affected by the extended warm weather experienced across Europe this summer, we went to the Dresden Frauenkirche, Church of our Lady, IMG_7149which was all but destroyed by the applied bombing and had been left as a pile of rubble as a memorable. Only after German reunification was the money raised to recreate the church. In the picture to the right the darker stone is original, where as all the lighter stone is new. As you can see there wasn’t a great deal left after bombs had fallen and the firestorm had ripped through the city.

Dresden2This overlay picture shows the church before and after it was rebuilt which gives another indication of just how extensive the damage had been.

The new gilded orb and cross on top of the dome was forged by Grant Macdonald Silversmiths in London using the original 18th-century techniques as much as possible. It was constructed by Alan Smith, a British goldsmith from London whose father, Frank, was a member of one of the aircrews who took part in the bombing of Dresden.

IMG_7129IMG_7128While exploring through Dresden’s Altstadt, or old town, we came across this military band playing in one of the main squares. As the Saxony elections were being held we wondered if it had something to do with that as there were a number of dignitaries inspecting them while they were standing to attention. They also fired a salute which, while we were expecting it, was considerably louder than anticipated!


Bombing of Dresden

DresdenDuring World War II, Allied bombing raids on February 13–15, 1945, almost completely destroyed the city of Dresden. The raids became a symbol of the “terror bombing” campaign against Germany, which was one of the most controversial Allied actions of the war.

Before World War II, Dresden was called “Florence on the Elbe” and was considered one of the world’s most beautiful cities because of its architecture and art treasures. On the night of February 13, the British Bomber Command hit Dresden with an 800-bomber air raid, dropping some 2,700 tons of bombs, including large numbers of incendiaries. Aided by weather conditions, a firestorm developed, incinerating tens of thousands of people. The U.S. Eighth Air Force followed the next day with another 400 tons of bombs and carried out yet another raid by 210 bombers on February 15. It is thought that some 25,000–35,000 civilians died in Dresden in the air attacks, though some estimates are as high as 250,000, given the influx of undocumented refugees that had fled to Dresden from the Eastern Front. Most of the victims were women, children, and the elderly.

Dresden1After the war, German and Soviet authorities considered levelling the Dresden ruins to make way for new construction. But local leaders forced a compromise for rebuilding part of the city centre and placing the modern construction outside—in effect, encircling old Dresden with a newer city. After reunification in 1990, Germany undertook the extensive reconstruction of the inner city as a moral and political objective, unveiling new works at various stages with much fanfare in an effort still ongoing in the 21st century. Dresden has returned to much of its former grandeur as a centre for art and culture.

The bombing of Dresden was a historic benchmark that demonstrated the power of strategic bombing. Critics say that the military value of the bombing did not justify Dresden’s near destruction and that the city could have been spared, like Rome, Paris and Kyoto.

For the full article see Encyclopaedia Britannica

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Saturday 31st August – Dresden

When I was a kid there was a television series about a prisoner of war camp called Colditz. It was a castle perched high on a mountain top and said to be escape proof. As I enjoy visiting places that I have read about, or have memories of, and as it was only an hour outside Dresden, it seemed that we needed to go.

While the war time story of  Colditz Castle would be known to most British people, especially over a certain age, neither Katja or her parents had heard of it, even though they lived so close. It was only while visiting the museum did it become apparent that it is a very British legend.

The castle was principally used to house senior officers, and particularly those who had tried to escape before. It became known as the “Escape School” by both sides due to the number of escape attempts from the castle itself. If an escape was successful then the prisoners learnt what worked; when it failed they learnt what not to do and the guards what to look out for in future. Plans included tunnels, simply making a run for it during exercise in the adjoining park, and a glider (Colditz Cock) which was constructed in the attic space – this was only discovered after the camp was liberated!

Colditz DummyThere were even a couple of dummies made to mislead the German guards during daily roll calls. “Moritz” and “Max” were made of plaster and used during the successful escape attempt by Lieutenants Hans Larive and Franz Steinmetz, both of the Royal Netherlands Navy, on 15th August 1941.

Among the more notable inmates were British fighter ace Douglas Bader; Pat Reid, the man who brought Colditz to public attention with his post war books; Airey Neave, the first British officer to escape from Colditz and later a British Member of Parliament; New Zealand Army Captain Charles Upham, the only combat soldier ever to receive the Victoria Cross twice; and Sir David Stirling, founder of the wartime Special Air Service.

Before the war the castle was used as a sanatorium, generally reserved for the wealthy and nobility of Germany. During the later part of this time it became home to both psychiatric and tuberculosis patients, 912 of whom died of malnutrition. The authorities adopted a form of forced euthanasia keeping people heavily sedated until they died; often in the most horrendous conditions.

After the cold of the castle it was great to get back out into the sunshine, have lunch and then enjoy the rest of our day.

Sunday 1st September – UK

IMG_7180(1)Unfortunately, due to unexpected circumstances, Lauren was no longer able to join us in Venice at the end of our holiday as planned and so a quick trip back to the UK was arranged. Fortunately British Airways had a very special offer for their flights from Berlin to London Heathrow and so I booked myself on to the 07:05. Up at 03:30 and on the road for the two and a half hour drive from Dresden, I was in London with Lauren about 08:30 UK time. It was a long journey but well worth it.

We had breakfast at a cafe in Chalfont St Peter before heading back to her flat.

Having parked the the car at the doctors surgery where she works, we walked down into the village. On the way we passed a small cemetery which included six war graves created, and managed, by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. While I know the village reasonably well, it was where I went to school, I had no idea these graves existed.

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  • SAUNDERS, Archibald George Henry : Private, The Queen’s Royal Regiment
  • BATTLE, Donald Francis : Gunner, Royal Artillery
  • DRUMMOND, Geoffrey Heneage : Second Hand, Royal Naval Patrol Service
  • MANBEY, Basil Keble : Volunteer, Home Guard
  • BISGROVE, Charles : Pioneer, Royal Engineers
  • CRAFT, E : Rifleman, Rifle Brigade

VCGeoffrey Heneage Drummond, VC

The following details are given in the London Gazette of August 28th, 1918

On the night of May 9th-10th, 1918, Lieut. G. H. Drummond, in command of M.L. 254, although severely wounded by a shell which burst on board, remained on the bridge and navigated his badly damaged vessel into Ostend Harbour. He placed her alongside Vindictive and took off two officers and thirty-eight men, some of whom were killed and many wounded while embarking. Not until there was no one left alive on the Vindictive did he back his vessel clear of the piers before sinking exhausted from his wounds. It was due to the indomitable courage of this very gallant officer that the majority of the crew of the Vindictive were rescued.

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Click HERE to open/download a PDF of the “Second Supplement to The London Gazette of Tuesday, the 27th of August, 1918” in which the full citation and Kings approval for the award of the Victoria Cross were published.


IMG_7190No trip back to the UK can be complete without catching up with my wonderful Kip. I very much miss the old fella; it was lovely to see him looking so well.

IMG_7204Lauren and I rounded off our day together with a late lunch at the Jolly Woodman pub in Burnham, a lovely traditional pub out in the English countryside. I used to visit regularly when I was much younger and also more recently when I worked nearby, partly due to the magnificent pies they served up. Unfortunately the pies are no longer on the menu but the food was just as good. Being a lovely day we sat outside and enjoyed the sunshine.IMG_7193

And so, all too quickly, it was back to the airport to catch the last flight, 19:20, to Berlin.

Rather than head all the way back to Dresden I booked in to a hotel for the night not too far from the airport. My day ended about 23:30.

A very long day, but well worth it.

Monday 2nd September – Dresden

A much lazier day was in order having only got back to Dresden at about 11. Katja’s sister, Peggy, had arrived the previous day and joined us for lunch.

IMG_7212There were a number of places Katja had said about visiting and as Mortizburg Castle is only a short drive it seemed an ideal place to go for fresh air and to stretch our legs.

It’s also very important to visit a castle at every possible opportunity.

The current castle was created from 1723 when major works began to convert it from a Renaissance building into a Baroque hunting and pleasure palace. Here, the Elector Augustus the Strong wanted to celebrate his excessive feasts and hunts. He had further ponds and animal enclosures created; the pheasant-breeding area east of the castle is testimony to this fact. The best Saxon craftsmen and artists collaborated in providing the interior in the seven halls and more than 200 rooms. After the death of Augustus the Strong, the conversion remained unfinished.

During our visit there was an exhibition explaining how the leather wall covers were created. A long, elaborate and expensive process.

Tuesday 3rd September – Dresden

IMG_7232Today is Katja’s mums birthday – Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!

Lunch and dinner were being delivered from the local butchers later in the morning, but we had the job of going to get cake.

Apparently the only place to buy cake is Cafe Positano in Freital. It certainly had an amazing selection and everything we bought home tasted wonderful. Some cakes I knew, such as Black Forest Gateau, others I didn’t so I made certainty try them all!

Dresden PlateI mentioned earlier there were two things I knew about Dresden; the wartime bombing and porcelain. It turns out that not only does Freital have an excellent bakery, it is also home, since 1872, to Sächsische Porzellanmanufaktur Dresden (Saxon Porcelain Manufactory in Dresden), often known in English simply as Dresden Porcelain.

Freital was also where Katja grew up as a child. It is truly a small world!

IMG_7236Nearby in Cunnersdorf, Katja’s parents own a 1000sq.m. garden which was originally purchased by her grandad in 1946 for a couple of sacks of hops. It is surrounded by other parcels of land of the same size and while they have some buildings on them, you aren’t allowed to construct a house, which has ensured the area is a quite haven into which both humans and wildlife can escape. Katja has fond memories of camping and playing with her sister in the garden, accompanied by her grand parents. When we got home, her dad even sent us a couple of photo’s of her as a child playing in the water collection tank.

While in the past the garden was worked for fruit and vegetables, these days Frank keeps it more natural to attract birds – there are feeders and nesting boxes all over – so that he can take pictures; photography being a big hobby of his.

Wednesday 4th September – Dresden

It was our last full day in Dresden so we decided to take a short drive out to Saxon Switzerland National Park. There were a couple of places we wanted to see, but we were also keen to get back and spend the evening with Katja’s parents.

Pillnitz Palace and Park was another of the places either built, renovated or drastically improved by Augustus the Strong, this time as a venue for weddings and festivities, but also as the home for his mistress, Anna Constantia von Cosel, to whom he left the property upon his death.

In one corner of the grounds is the English Pavilion and ornamental lake. It was a lovely little building but with the design based on a similar structure in Rome I wasn’t too sure what made it “English”. (Reference: The Tempietto, San Pietro in Montorio)

We had lunch at the Pillnitzer Elbblick before heading into the national park to see the Bastei, its bridge and fortifications.

The Bastei is the rock formation into which Neurathen Castle was constructed, which was once the largest rock castle in the region. The bridge was constructed in 1851 to allow visitors into the rocks to see the remains of the castle which are little more than “rooms” linked by modern metal bridges.

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It was a fascinating and unique place to visit on our last full day in Germany.

Thursday 5th September – Dresden to Treffen (Austria) via Salzburg

It was sad to be leaving Dresden. I had really enjoyed meeting Katja’s family, who all made me feel so welcome, and seeing the sights of the old town and surrounding areas, as well as places from her childhood.

Now we are heading back south to a place I last visited as a kid…

Destination: Europe, Part 2

Sunday 25th August – Venice to Vernazza, Cinque Terre National Park

We disembarked the Norwegian Star for the last time and headed for the airport to collect our hire car which would be our principle mode of transport until we returned to Venice in a couple of weeks.

Again we took a taxi, but this time we shared it with a very nice family from Israel. We talked about the cruise, the good and the not so good, but we also talked about where we all came from. Jerusalem has long been on my bucket list of places to visit and so it was really interesting to hear more about it from an insiders point of view.

Finding the hire desk and collecting our keys was all very straight forward, everything having been booked and paid for in advance via a new website I’d discovered; EasyRentCars.

It was now time to remember how to drive on the wrong side of the road; a very narrow car park exit proved to be an early lesson.

Venice to Vernazza : 390km

While the majority of the journey was on major highways, the last 30km from La Spezia to our destination of Vernazza was along some extremely narrow and windy lanes. Some areas were barely wide enough for a single car, but still we met trucks and vans coming in the opposite direction.

As only authorised vehicles are allowed into the village, our property owner had booked us a parking space in the small car park just outside which included a shuttle transfer. Our minibus driver had clearly driven this journey many times as he didn’t even seem to slow down going through gaps which did not appear big enough for the van to fit.

IMG_7019We were met at the drop off point and led through the village to our accommodation. Down the cobbled streets, under the railway line and up a small alleyway to the green door! Inside we then had to contend with three very narrow, and steep, flights of stairs before entering the apartment itself. While simple, the room was bright, fresh and very comfortable. Definitely to be recommended.

IMG_6985IMG_7006The village is beautiful; exactly as you see in the magazines and holiday brochures. The Main Street runs up the center of the village, with the railway cutting through about half way. The shops and restaurants are all down the bottom by the small harbour with a little beach which seemed to have people swimming and kids playing football at all hours.

IMG_6989(1)That evening we had dinner at Hotel Gianni Franzi right in the square and were treated to a concert consisting of two opera singers accompanied by a pianist. It was an amazing experience!

Warm weather, wonderful food, a few drinks and the best company all contributed to a wonderful first evening in a location which just kept on giving throughout our stay.

Monday 26th August – Cinque Terre National Park

Cinque Terre (five towns) is a string of five fishing villages perched on the north-west coast of Italy. The coastline, villages and surrounding hillside are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The five villages are …..

Until recently they were only accessible via ancient mule tracks, rail or sea. These tracks are still considered by many to be the best way of visiting all the villages – but not us!

Having arrived in Vernazza the previous evening we decided to explore another one of the villages, Monterosso.

During our previous evenings stroll, we had seen that there was a ferry service running between all the villages; as you often get a very different view of places from the water we decided to give it a try.

IMG_7025While the weather was extremely hot, the breeze off the sea during the 15 minute ride around the coast offered a little rest bite as we enjoyed the magnificent coastal views both of where we were leaving as well as heading.

Monterosso is the largest of the villages, and it was clear as we approach the shore that it may well prove to be the busiest. The beach was completely covered by sunbeds and umbrellas. They were squashed together leaving the absolute minimum of space between them. Once we left the ferry and walked along the front it also “appeared” that you needed to pay a fee to access the beach, which I assumed then provided you with a sunbed. A sign near one of the entrances said the beach was full, which really wasn’t a problem for us as we had no intention of fighting the crowds.

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IMG_7042(1)We spent a few hours wandering the street, enjoying the shops and the different architecture. A couple of buildings caught my eye; one was just an apartment block or large house above some shops. It appeared to have magnificent stonework around each window until you looked a little closer and realised that it had been very skilfully painted. This was something I noticed a few more times in Italy, including when we got back to Venice at the end of our trip.

IMG_7038IMG_7046The other was the Church of San Giovanni Battista which stood out because of its light and dark stone stripes. There were a few similar buildings we noticed, with this one dating back to the 1300’s and said to be an example of the Genoese Gothic style.

In 1870 Italy was unified resulting in the building of many new railway lines. One of these, the new coastal line between Genoa and Rome, passed through Cinque Terre allowing the villages to be reach by train for the first time. The construction was hugely complex, consisting of a considerable number of bridges and tunnels. The stations built in each of the villages are so small that large parts of the modern trains have to stop in the tunnels either side of them to allow their passengers on and off. This was something we experienced when we boarded the train back to Vernazza. As a train approached you were aware of it long before you could see or hear it, due to the strong cool draft it pulled, or more correctly pushed, through the tunnel ahead of itself.

Our evening ended back on the quayside for dinner, enjoying the food, wine and warm weather. Although there were still people about it was no longer too busy, with so many of the days visitors leaving to go back to their accommodation elsewhere. It was lovely to be able to enjoy some wine, a lemomcello or two, knowing that your bed was just a very short walk away.

Tuesday 27th August – Cinque Terre National Park

While it was our intention to have a lazy afternoon in Vernazza we did also what to visit two more of the towns and so took the train first to Manarola and then back via Riomaggiore. Both villages were much smaller than either of those previously visited but they each had their own unique charm.

While all of them appeared the same as first glance, built on the steep hill sides and painted in their bright colours, they were also very different in their size, layouts, content and atmosphere. Without doubt we felt that Vernazza was the perfect choice for us, and staying in the heart of the village was just magical. While the number of bars and restaurants wasn’t huge, there were enough to ensure that we managed to get a table for dinner without having to wait. The food was great. The service was generally excellent, unfortunately one restaurant let the side down a little but never mind, and always with the backdrop of the village, the hills and the sea.

Cinque Terre really was everything we hoped it would be, and more!

Wednesday 28th August – Vernazza to Innsbruck

It was with a heavy heart that we packed our bags and left our accommodation.

We had a long journey ahead of us so took the opportunity for a last breakfast in Vernazza. Unfortunately our usual breakfast and afternoon drinks venue, The Blue Marlin Bar, wasn’t open this morning so we tried a different cafe. A quick call confirmed that the shuttle bus would be waiting for us so off we went to collect the car.

IMG_7094Looking at the SatNav as we drove through the national park heading towards La Spezia it appeared that somebody has dropped a piece of spaghetti on a map and then built the road along the route it created. It was full of hairpin bends and narrow lanes with the first 25km being driven very carefully and slowly. It felt so good when we finally reached the motorway and I could relax a little and let the car do its thing.

Vernazza, Cinque Terre National Park to Innsbruck : 545km

As my family and friends will know I am a sucker for a good castle; well any castle to be honest. It is a standing joke that I have visited three stones in the middle of a field because once it was a medieval stronghold with a history.

On the road between Verona and Trento I was rather spoilt to see a number of magnificent Italian castles positioned high up in the surrounding hills. The scenery through this area was already stunning with mountains on both sides of the road, but this just added to my enjoyment – castle spotting is a great way to pass the time on a long journey!

MAPThe first I saw was also one of the best. Perhaps not the biggest, or most complete, but impressive in itself. I took a note of its name so that I could have a better look on line when I got five minutes later; Avio Castle. When writing this section I had a look on Google Maps to check exactly where Avio was. A function that the App has is “find similar places”; when I clicked this there seemed to be a whole rash of castles in this area – perhaps I need to go back one day. (Katja mentioned that I would have to do this on my own. It appears not everybody shares my enthusiasm.)

Katja booked our hotel for the night as we drove. We hadn’t really planned this part of the journey, our intention being to go online and find somewhere suitable once we had decided where to stop. Our destination for the night was on the outskirts of Innsbruck; Cafe Pension Alpine. This proved to be a great choice. The accommodation was really good, as was the dinner we ate sitting outside enjoying the lovely evening.

Opposite the hotel was a cable car which took people high up into the surrounding mountains. In the distance you could just make out where it stopped at what looked like a Bond villain’s lair! Between dinner and desert – they had apple strudel and it would have been rude to say no – we went for a walk to stretch our legs and have a look at the view of Innsbruck spread out in the valley below. It didn’t disappoint. We also got to see the Hungerburgbahn, a funicular railway which carries people from the heart of the city up into the mountains where they can switch to the cable car and continue their journey. While obviously there was no snow at this time of year the route was busy with walkers and mountain bikers keen to enjoy the tracks.IMG_7121

 

While eating my strudel, which was really very good, we got to see a dog being carried home in his masters backpack. Clearly it had been a long day for all.

Thursday 29th August – Innsbrook to Dresden

We drove out of Innsbrook heading directly to Dresden. As we left the mountains behind us the land became very flat, more industrial, with the towns getting bigger as we approached.

Innsbruck to Dresden : 630km

Unfortunately the journey was a lot slower than we’d hoped as there seemed to be almost constant roadworks, with the lanes so narrow it was very difficult to pass some lorries. This was particularly unnerving when you’re sitting on the wrong side of the car!

That afternoon I was privileged to meet Katja’s parents for the first time.

Destination: Europe, Part 1

The planning for this trip has been underway since last year as we had a fixed date around which everything had to work – 3rd September – Katja’s Mum’s birthday.

Initially our thoughts were to head directly to Germany but then we kept thinking of places we wanted to visit while in Europe, and that’s how we ended up with a three week long adventure ……

Friday 16th August – Sydney to Venice

Whichever way you look at it, it’s a bloody long journal from Australia to Europe. 14 hours Sydney to Dubai, three hour stopover and then another 6 hours to Venice! There is no quick way or short cut. Which is why when you plan a trip to Europe you tend to make the most of it.

Sydney to Venice : 16,300km

Apart from the time the journey was no issue. We had an extra seat on the longer section so we could both stretch out a little and sleep. I think I only managed one movie, Darkest Hour starring Gary Oldman; sleeping or eating the rest of the journey.

Saturday 17th August – Venice

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Our first experience of Venice didn’t disappoint. From our very short time here, seeing only the smallest area, the city is everything you imagine and more.

We took the easy option for the transfer from airport to city jumping in a taxi, but in reality all transport heads to the Piazzale Roma just across the Ponte della Libertà from the mainland, the only place in Venice that has access for motor vehicles, and so any method would have worked just as well. Or so we thought; on our return to Venice we discovered an alternative airport transfer, but more about that later.

From Piazzale Roma you have to continue your journey either by water or foot. Katja had booked us into Hotel Santa Chiara for the night which was an easy five minute walk from where we were dropped off. We checked in and headed out to stretch our legs.

IMG_6714Just strolling down the Grand Canal you instantly get a feel for the centuries of history and intrigue through which Venice City developed and evolved. I am so looking forward to spending more time here when we return at the end of our holiday.

People watching is an art and true pleasure especially when sitting outside a little cafe in the warm afternoon sun, a drink in hand; so we took the opportunity for a few hours practice!

IMG_6768IMG_6747(1)Our drink of choice at this time was a Spritz (or Spritz Veneziano as it is correctly called). A Procsecco / Aperol cocktail served over ice with a slice of orange. An alternative replaces Aperol with Campari. Very refreshing and extremely easy to drink!

Afternoon drinks lead to dinner in another square (bArColo, Santa Croce, 191, 30135, Venice); followed by evening drinks. This time we tried our second choice, Lemoncello.

A perfect start to our European adventure.

Sunday 18th August – Venice to Sea

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Check in for the cruise was from early afternoon with, as we believed at the time, sailing at 6pm.

We were up early so took a walk along the Grand Canal and found a nice little cafe for breakfast.

Having checked out of our hotel at 10 we still had several hours before we needed to board the ship, so went for another walk, enjoyed a spritz in the same cafe as last night and then a stroll back to where we previously had dinner so that we could have lunch.

Yes I know, there is a pattern forming here and I can assure you it is not one we intend to break!

Often things seem confusing when you haven’t tried them before, and travelling in and out of Venice was very much like that. As we discovered there is only one place to be dropped off by bus, taxi or train and this was also the case for the cruise terminals.

Our taxi driver had said about the “People Mover” which was a 5 minute train ride from Piazzale Roma to the cruise ship terminals. From here it was then a short walk, albeit very hot, to baggage drop and check in.

Sorting the formalities was such a simple process and, when we arrived, no crowds, so we were through, on the ship and in our cabin in no time at all! Only a few minutes after which our bags were delivered to our door. We unpacked and went to explore our home for the next seven days.

Following a recent accident when a cruise ship suffered engine failure and crashed into a tourist boat and dock, rule changes at the Port of Venice meant that our 5pm departure was delayed until 9:30; this allowed us plenty of time to find the bar, have something to eat, and start relaxing.

IMG_6771We decided to try the Aqua restaurant for our first meal on board. While the food was okay the evening was most memorable for the extra loud American woman sitting at the next table. We couldn’t really hear the rest of the people she was with, however we couldn’t avoid her; and she did most of the talking. It did mean that Katja and I didn’t need to worry about having a conversation! Throughout the next week we came across the same woman a number of times and she was always loud.

Our day ended in the Sky High bar, cocktail in hand, watching Venice drift by as we slowly cruised out of port.

Monday 19th August – All at sea.

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Our first full day on board ship started by watching a beautiful sunrise through the porthole in our room. It was early, about 6am, but well worth it.

Today we were due to visit Kotor, Montenegro, but unfortunately yesterday’s late exit from Venice meant that this was cancelled. Instead we made a very short “technical stop” at Bar, Montenegro, instead. We never found out what a “technical stop” was but for us it simply meant that we had the whole day to rest, relax and enjoy the facilities.

Our ship, Norwegian Star, was fully refurbished in 2018 and I think it showed, especially in our room which was clean, fresh and bright. We chose a room with a porthole which was wonderful in the mornings when we generally woke to the sun shining through on to us. While small, the room was very well designed allowing us to put all our clothes away and suitcases under the bed.

With six complimentary restaurants there were plenty of options, from Versailles, the grand dining room, to Garden Cafe, a very relaxed buffet. In addition there were six speciality restaurants for which an additional charge was made.

IMG_6818When Katja booked our cruise she managed to find a special offer which included all of the complimentary dining plus three speciality meals; unfortunately we left it a little late to book tables so only ended up trying the Moderno Churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse) and the La Cucina (Italian). All the food was very good with plenty of options on offer.

We also had a full drinks package which meant that we could drink as much as we liked! The phase “an offer not a challenge” often comes to mind, although on some days I think we took it as more of a challenge. With 8 bars available, plus drinks in restaurants, there were plenty to choose from, but our favourite spot was the Sky High Bar which looked out over the pool and gave great views of the surrounding seas and coastlines.

IMG_6853(1)Drinks of choice, while on board ship, were generally Long Island Iced Tea for me and Mojito or Margarita for Katja. We were befriended by one of the waiters who seemed to work the majority of the time and kept the drinks flowing. Rarely while sitting in the bar did we not have a drink in front of us; as soon as one was nearly empty he was there with the next!

Tuesday 20th August – Corfu

The ship moored in port allowing us to walk into Corfu Town. While it was good to stretch our legs, it was extremely hot so we began to regret the decision! Having bought me a hat to keep the sun off my delicate head, we followed the signs straight to the old town for a gentle stroll around the shops.

We had both been looking forward to trying an authentic Greek Salad and so we found a lovely little restaurant in the back streets away from the bustle. Sitting outside in the shade we had the salad, souvlaki and the house wine. This was the first time on our holiday that the wine was served in a small jug, or unmarked bottle, but we became used to seeing it. Clearly house wine is purchased in much larger containers and decanted for serving. While every wine we tried in this way was different, they were all good; it generally proved to be a great option.IMG_6850

Corfu was so much more than we expected. In addition to a wonderful lunch, we had a great time drifting through the little lanes, looking in all the various shops. The streets were narrow and cobbled, with not too many people.

Wonderful, a great first stop.

While out it seemed to get even hotter and so we opted to jump on a bus for the short trip back to the port. The crew were offering cold, wet towels and cold drinks while we queued to get back on the ship, which were very well received by all.


Freestyle Card

F52CE1D9-420C-4372-8D94-2B650F0E37A3-2260-0000026738D35915During the cruise check in process our photos were taken along with a scanned image of our passports. We were then issued with our “Freestyle Card”. What we didn’t realise at the time was just how important this card is.

Your Freestyle card is your room key. It is also your “charge card” for all things on the ship. What ever you wanted was always accompanied by a swipe of the card which checked your eligibility for the drinks package, the speciality restaurants, or charged your account if you bought something in the shop.

It was also your identity card when leaving and returning to the ship. It would appear that the port authorities checked all the on-line documents, copies of passports, etc., and so when you left the ship a quick scan of your card confirmed your identity – the photo taken at check in – meaning that you never needed to carry your passport when ashore, or money when on board. A really simple, but great, system.


Wednesday 21st August – Santorini

When booking our cruise there were two “must see” places on our bucket list; Santorini being one of them! Many times we have seen pictures of it’s white buildings with their distinctive blue roofs and wanted to see the island for real.

IMG_6866(1)Our ship anchored off the coast near Fira, the capital city of Santorini, with tenders to take us ashore. There were five or six cruise ships in the bay this morning with the tenders, which appeared to be organised by the port authorities, going between the various ships like taxis. While the seas were a little choppy, the transfer was reasonably quick and a fun way to make land.

IMG_6865(1)As we stepped off the boat there seemed to be a million people all queuing. The town itself is high up on top of the cliff with only three ways up; walk (nope, not in that heat!), donkey ride (nope, not fair on the donkeys!) or cable car. With so many people milling around and no clear sign of how long the queue was, or even where to get on the end of it, we decided on an alternative plan.

IMG_6878(1)There were a number of “shops” advertising fast boat transfers to Oia. As this was the town we had been told we needed to visit, we took a chance, paid our money and jumped on the next boat which was due to leave in five minutes.

Now they advertised a “fast boat” transfer and I guess everything is relative. The boat was definitely faster than I could have swam, but that really doesn’t say very much!

When we finally got to the harbour at Oia it became obvious why the cruise ships don’t send passengers straight there – with only one docking point and a queue of five or six boats ahead of us, all taking their time to load and unload, it would be impossible to disembark an entire cruise ship!

Once ashore we discovered that the next part of our journey would be by bus, but only after we had walked 500m up the steepest hill imaginable. Eventually we made it and then sat on the bus for the 15 minute transfer to the town.

All in all, the “fast boat” transfer took nearly two hours!

Sadly our overriding memories of Santorini are chaos, queues and crowds! Nothing seemed to be organised it simply happened by way of loud voices and waving arms. There seemed to be people everywhere completely filling the narrow town streets and alleyways. The few traditional buildings could only be seen from limited view points, and unsurprisingly they were always crowded.

Feeling very hot, and rather disappointed, we boarded the bus for the 20 minute drive back to Fira. Again the town was crowded and the queue for the cable car back down to the waterfront seemed to be a mile long, so we went in search of somewhere to eat. In the first restaurant we came across we found a seat, were handed a menu, and then we waited to be served. And we waited. And we waited. And we left and found another restaurant just down the lane. Here both the food and service were excellent which lifted our moods a little.

Having eaten we headed back to the cable car queue which was now even longer! Thankfully the queue moved reasonably steadily and there were people around us who were all making light of the situation and so the time went by quick enough.

I’m not a great one for cable cars and this one appeared to be very steep so I was dreading the trip down, but there really wasn’t much choice. It was made much easier by the people we shared our gondola with and the rest of their family in the one before us who seemed to scream, then laugh, then scream again! In no time it was over and really wasn’t so bad.

Thursday 22nd August – Mykonos

What Santorini lacked Mykonos made up for. It was beautiful, clean, and much quieter, although we did have an earlier start here so maybe it was just too early for some. Again tenders were used to take us to land, but this time it was directly into port so as soon as we stepped on to solid ground the experience began.

Our early arrival did mean that not too many shops were open but the town was coming alive around us. Finding a coffee and breakfast proved difficult which made us think of opening a cafe and start serving early mornings! It would certainly be a fantastic place to live.

IMG_6901(1)It seemed to us that Mykonos was making a concerted effort to attract and welcome tourists. It felt safe, appeared very clean and well maintained and had a wide selection of shops from tourist tat to Louis Vuitton, which all made for a really enjoyable visit. When the cafes started to open the coffee was great as well.

Although not high on our preferred destinations list prior to the cruise, this was very much at the top now. Highly recommended.

Back on the boat we had dinner in the Versailles restaurant and then headed to the “5 O’clock Somewhere” bar to try somewhere different. We got talking to a couple from Australia and were joined by some people from Canada, which developed into a lot of drinking, laughing and a very late night. We even saw the tail end of the karaoke competition which, it is safe to say, didn’t reach a particularly high standard!

Friday 23rd August – Argostoli

IMG_6922There wasn’t a great deal to see in Argostoli, which was the only place we thought it would probably have paid us to have taken an organised trip.

The ship docked in the harbour which allowed us to walk into town. It was another very hot day but the walk wasn’t too long. We came to a large square which was clearly being developed. It looked like the town was making changes to encourage more tourism, but there was a lot still to be done. That said, there were a couple of cafes so we took the opportunity for a break. Not too far further along you come to the main shopping street which we strolled along but found little of interest. It was much like any other small town shopping area.IMG_6924

Once we reached the end of the street we headed back to the ship. Being back on board much earlier than expected, we took the opportunity for a sleep before dinner.

Saturday 24th August – Dubrovnik

Having spoken to the information desk a few days before, we were aware that the ship would be docking some distance from the old town of Dubrovnik and that a shuttle bus service would be available but needed to be pre-booked. So for once we were organised and left the ship with ticket in hand. It was an early start, having arrived in port at 7am.

I was very much looking forward to seeing if this ancient walled city was as I remembered. My previous visit was with school but it had left a lasting mark on my memory.

IMG_6934IMG_6933We were welcomed into King’s Landing by the rumble of thunder and lightning flashing across the sky.

For a time it looked like our day may be ruined by the weather, but after a short while it passed. The rain lasted just long enough for us to get some local currency from a convenient ATM, we were completely unaware that Euros would be no good here, and have a coffee.

IMG_6935As you walk through the archway in the great ancient city walls you go back hundreds of years to a different time and place. It is easy to let your imagination run away with you; seeing times gone by and history coming alive in front of your very eyes.

Just like all the places we visited this week, we had no time to explore all the buildings, museums and galleries on offer. It was very much about experiencing the town, watching the people going about their business and soaking up the atmosphere. We wondered along the main street to the small harbour and then back via the maze of side streets and alley ways. All the time aware that you are surrounded by those huge stone walls which guard the city. It is possible to walk the city walls, which is something we will do when we return.

Time had changed Dubrovnik since I was last there, possibly 30 years before. Speaking to the owner of a restaurant where we had breakfast the number of places to eat in that time had gone from a handful to hundreds, as had the number of gift shops. And while ordinary people used to live within the city walls most places are now for rent to tourists. Game of Thrones is mentioned everywhere and is clearly a good source of income.

The city suffered heavily through the Yugoslav war when on 1st October 1991 the Siege of Dubrovnik commenced and was to last for seven months. During this time it is estimated that 56% of the historic buildings were damaged in some way by the 650 artillery rounds which were aimed at them. Following the end of the war, repairs were performed in the original style adhering to UNESCO guidelines. Most of the reconstruction work was done between 1995 and 1999.

Dubrovnik is an amazing city! It may have changed but I don’t believe it has been spoilt. And while tourists fill the streets and sometime their numbers can be overwhelming, I think the city is coping well and appears to be using the income to maintain this place for future generations.

I hope it doesn’t take me another 30 years to come back, and next time I get to stay a night or two within those great walls.


Cruise Itinerary:

  • Sunday 18th August – Venice, Italy – (Depart 17:00 – Delayed to 21:30)
  • Monday 19th August – Kotor, Montenegro (Arrive 14:00, Depart 20:00 – CANCELLED, replaced by technical stop in Bar, Montenegro, no disembarkation)
  • Tuesday 20th August – Corfu, Greece (Arrive 10:00, Depart 16:00)
  • Wednesday 21st August – Santorini Island, Greece (Arrive 14:00, Depart 22:00)
  • Thursday 22nd August – Mykonos, Greece – (Arrive 08:00, Depart 15:00)
  • Friday 23rd August – Argostoli, Greece – (Arrive 09:00, Depart 15:00)
  • Saturday 24th August – Dubrovnik, Croatia – (Arrive 07:00, Depart 13:00)
  • Sunday 25th August – Venice, Italy – (Arrive 08:00)

Sunday 25th August – Venice

Our cruise was at an end.

IMG_6972We arrived back in Venice at 8am and were ready to disembark for the last time as soon as our slot was called over the tannoy. It had been a great experience. Very relaxing on ship and an ideal way of seeing a number of very different locations in a short period of time.

Some places we will go back to at some point in the future and others we may not. But we were very pleased that we had the opportunity to see them all.

Now on to the next part of our European adventure …….

Destination: Asia

This trip started with an invitation:IMG_5502

My friends Linh and Paul were getting married, as she is from Vietnam their wedding was to be in Ho Chi Minh City – and I was invited!

Having never traveled in Asia my plans grew a little bigger than originally intended, but let’s be honest, once the first flight is out the way why not make the most of it.

So Vietnam extended into Singapore, which extended into Bali.

I had been wondering when I would be able to meetup with Lauren during 2018, but Linh kindly invited her along as well, and so everything began to fall into place.

Lauren and I would meet up in Vietnam, spending a week there before traveling to Singapore for a few days. From there Lauren would return home while I extended my trip by meeting Katja in Bali.

Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City was everything I was expecting – and more. The traffic was truly crazy. Scooters everywhere, constantly weaving in and out of the other traffic and pedestrians. It was also non-stop, even through the night.

The wedding was magnificent; an amazing experience. As Paul, an Australian, only had limited friends and family present, we all had the privilege of being part of the proceedings themselves. The generosity, friendliness and welcome of Linh’s family, our hosts, as well as the wedding itself, will live on in my memory for a very long time.

One of the advantages of visiting a new country and meeting up with a local, is they can show you some of the places that only locals will know. During the day, Lauren and I enjoyed the many tourist sights, but in the evenings we visited various different restaurants and cafe’s. One in particular was a coffee shop which was located down a tiny alley and up a couple of poorly lit flights of stairs. We really weren’t sure where we were being taken!

IMG_5702One delicacy served for dinner … chicken salad including head and feet.

IMG_5662A number of the tourist sights we visited …..

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Ho Chi Minh City really was crowded, noisy, constantly on the move, but it was amazing to see, feel and experience. The contrasts between street markets and shopping centers; between different restaurants and hotels, were often extreme. But it was definitely a place I am better for having visited. And with the incredible, once in a lifetime experience of Linh and Paul’s wedding an incredible trip in every way.

Singapore

IMG_5787We left Vietnam on the 21st June heading for Singapore.

Lauren has a plan to visit 30 countries by the time she reaches 30 years of age and so we made a plan to tick off two while we were in Asia.

A short flight took us to the city state and what could have been a completely different world. Leaving behind the traffic chaos and noise, we arrived to a calm, quiet and extremely clean country.

IMG_5889The skyline from the roof of our hotel, Hotel Jen Orchardgateway, was incredible. OuIMG_5910r hotel in Vietnam was, I would say, very traditional with its service, decor and appearance. Hotel Jen was again the polar opposite; very modern in every aspect. The corridors were reminiscent of the Starship Enterprise and on the one occasion we had room service it was delivered by Jeno.

IMG_5881While the city isn’t huge the subway system is exceptional; a tourist travel card gave us unlimited trips which we made full use of in order to see all the sights. It is strange when you get on a train at the front and realise there isn’t a driver. It certainly gives you a better idea of what the tube drivers in London experience every day.

IMG_5895There are many sights in Singapore which are simply unique; the Marina Bay Sands Singapore is just one such place – a spectacular building which you can see across the water during the day and which really comes to life when lit up at night. It is possible to go up to the roof top bars and restaurants but by the time we found the entrance, and saw how much it would cost, we decided to give it a miss for now. What an excuse to go back!

Adjacent to this are the Gardens by the Bay, which again are a night time spectacle with their towering plants lit to perfection presenting a futuristic other worldly sight. The largest and tallest of these “plants” houses a restaurant in its canopy.

IMG_5852The Merlion is the official mascot of Singapore. It combines the fish body representing the city’s roots as a fishing village, and the lions head represents it’s original name – Singapura meaning “lion city”.

During many of our travels in Europe, and other parts of the world, Lauren and I have taken the opportunity to visit the Commonwealth War Graves Commission sites and so we ensured that we were able to do the same here in Singapore.

Kranji War Cemetery is the final resting place of over 4400 casualties of the Second World War, 850 of whom remain unidentified. The cemetery also contains 64 First World War burials and commemorations, including special memorials to three casualties known to have been buried in civil cemeteries in Saigon and Singapore, but whose graves could not be located.

IMG_5825 ThLong BarRaffles Hotele Singapore Sling was invented by Ngiam Tong Boon, a bartender working at the Long Bar in the famous Raffles Hotel, sometime before 1915. Unfortunately the hotel was under going extensive renovations so we couldn’t see the bar itself but we did try the cocktail in their “pop up” bar – and it was definitely worth it!

At the end of our short visit to Singapore Lauren and I said our goodbyes and headed off in different directions, to separate parts of the globe.

Bali

My final destination being the Ayodya Resort, Nusa Dua, Bali. Having never traveled to Asia I was now in my third country in just over a week.

While the first part of my holiday with Lauren was about seeing the sights and experiencing the culture, Bali was about relaxing and enjoying a slow pace and being looked after.

Katja arrived the day before me and checked in first. This had the unexpected benefit, from my point of view at least, that the hotel only recorded her name against the room and as such she had to sign for all the drinks!

During our wIMG_6036eek at Ayodya we made sure that we tried all the restaurants and bars; the swimming pool and sea; beanbags on the beach and day beds by the pool. We also enjoyed the dance theater dinner, the dancers by the beach and the spectacle of a couple of Indian weddings.

We ventured off resort only twice to a local shopping area, Bali Collection, just so we said we had, generally preferring to enjoy cocktails while relaxing in the sun.

One exception to all this laziness was a game of squash towards the end of our stay. We weren’t sure who was more surprised by this show of physical excess, us or the member of staff at the courts who clearly hadn’t seen any other idiots wishing to play that day!

All round this was a great trip, from Linh and Paul’s wedding in Ho Chi Minh City to lazing on the beach with a cocktail in Bali.

Three different countries; three different worlds; one amazing adventure!

Destination: Uluru, Part 4

Day 9 : Wednesday 21st December : Peterborough to Louth via Darling River Road

homewardThe trip was very much one of four clear sections and now we were into the fourth and final part; our route home.

From Peterborough we headed for the New South Wales border before going on into the outback town of Broken Hill.

broken-hill-streetThe town is as far west as you can travel from Sydney before leaving the state. It is known as a mining town and was where the worlds largest mining company, BHP Billiton started; the “BH” in their name actually stands for Broken Hill. Coffee and lunch were well received before heading on. There is much to see in this small town and so it is another place on the ever increasing list of “must return to” locations.

Our destination for the night was Louth on the banks of the Darling River. The bonus of this was another section of unsealed road. At Wilcania we refueled and took a left turn out in to the wilderness again.

tracks

louthA relatively short 223km brought us into Louth. Shindys Inn offered an ideal camping spot for the night within a small grass covered field to the side of the main building. I mention this primarily as grass had not been easy to come by at many of our previous stops, but here it was plentiful and soft, perfect for camping. A couple of beers also went down well in the bar before retiring for the night.

Distance covered; 703 km.

Day 10 : Thursday 22nd December : Louth to Mudgee

From Louth we drove to Bourke and breakfast. This small outback town is known for it’s historic architecture and it was certainly a lovely place to take a walk and explore a couple of the gift shops.

Our intention was to have a slightly easier day of driving, but as we still had a considerable distance to travel it was important to press on.

Again the scenery had changed and we weimg_3016re driving through fields and lanes not dissimilar to those in the UK, but for the variety of trees which lined the road.

We past through Dubbo with a short stop so that Maria could buy herself a proper Aussie outback hat from an outfitters that Phil knew near the end of the high street, and on to our overnight stop at a campsite in Mudgee.

img_3017As this was to be our last night under canvas a couple of bottles were opened to celebrate. After so many nights away setting up had become routine and so we were soon resting with out feet up enjoying some good food and great wine.

Distance covered; 595 km.

Day 11 : Friday 23rd December : Mudgee to Sydney

img_3021More treats and traditions were to be fulfilled along the route home today.

Packed and ready to go, I just needed to sort out the driver!

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wineFirst stop was Logan Wines. A nice bottle of white, cheese and biscuits made for a wonderful breakfast. We also tried a couple of their reds with both Phil and I buying some to take with us. It was interesting to taste two wines made from the same grape but different locations, Mudgee and Orange; the taste being very different.

img_3023Not normally one for spending so much on wine, they were exceptional, even to me, so that coupled with the incredible location and the very interesting back story to the name “Ridge of Tears“, saw me part with some cash! Just need that special occasion to open them.

img_3031From Logan’s we took a short detour to Windamere Dam. A good opportunity to stretch our legs before pushing on.

It seems that when ever we head out towards Lithgow for a day on the tracks our meeting point is McDonalds. It therefore seemed appropriate that we call in on our way back to grab a coffee.

As you drive out of Lithgow up into the Blue Mountains you pass through a point which would have been the highest of our trip. While I can’t recall the exact elevation I know when I check previously it is higher than the majority of the mountains in the UK, with the exception of those in Scotland.

Our second traditional stop in this area is for apple pie and ice cream in Bilpin; it would have been awful to have missed out. This area of the Blue Mountains is known for its apple production. Not only are pies in abundance there is also a well known cider producer located here.

And so finally at about 5pm we arrived back where we started; Cafe Geo, Lane Cove North.

Distance covered; 270 km.

img_2559After over 6500km the trip was done. Our destination, Uluru, had been reach and so many amazing places visited, both on the way and way back. We had traveled sealed roads and unsealed ones. Motorways and country lanes. Seen kangaroos, camels, dingos, emus and more. Viewed salt lakes and pink lakes. Driven through mountains and deserts. We had even taken our cars below sea level while in the middle of this great continent of Australia.

img_3033It was a whistle stop tour which provided magnificent views on every stretch of road we traveled, as well as a long list of places to revisit and dwell in a little longer.

And memories – so many wonderful memories.

We started at Cafe Geo and so it seemed only appropriate to finish there, 6673 km and 11 days later.

Now to choose the next destination and plan a whole new adventure.

TOTAL DISTANCE COVERED; 6673 km / 4146 miles

Destination: Uluru, Part 3

Day 7 : Monday 19th December : Erldunda Roadhouse to Williams Creek

It is safe to say I had no idea what to expect on this part of the trip. While I am well aware of the nature of the iconic Outback tracks, I am not one for studying them in detail and I certainly wouldn’t be able to name any beyond Birdsville. So when we decided to travel back via the Oodnadatta Track it didn’t mean a whole lot to me, other than dust. While today’s overall distance wasn’t as great as some others, the unsealed section was certainly going to slow us down and so an early start was needed.

img_3068First stop was Marla, a roadhouse on the edge of the Stuart Highway and the perfect place to grab some breakfast, a coffee and to contemplate the track to come. This was a 255km section of nice smooth tarmac, the last we would see for a couple of days.

From Marla we took a left turn and headed out into the unknown on the Oodnadatta Track.

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What an experience; what amazing views; hard to contemplate just how remote we were; how far from any form of civilisation or even other human beings.

Even with lowered air pressures traction was often hard to find sending the car sliding or snaking. Breaking and corners were contemplated with extreme care; you are always on the lookout for a cattle grid, floodway or pothole which could cause damage if taken at speed. When this remote you really don’t want any damage.

While we have UHF radios in both cars so can scan the airwaves and call for help, these only have limited range. No mobile signal or satellite phone and so extra care was taken to avoid any need to make an emergency call.

210km of gravel track took us through to the small town of Oodnadatta. The town grew around a water hole as a stop over for the Afghan cameleers as they worked their way from the south up through to Alice Springs and beyond. In 1890 it became the terminus for the Great Northern Railway and remained a stopping point when the railway was extended in 1929.

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After the railway was dismantled in the early 1980’s the town became a centre for the indigenous population.

Many remnants of the railway still exist as you drive the track. Stations, workers cottages, bridges and watering points, complete with desalination plants.

I love history and so was perhaps a little disappointed that time didn’t allow us to stop and explore all of the structures along the way. The heat was also a factor which simply emphasised the harsh, remote and extremely dangerous work the railway workers undertook.

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Afghan Express : Having returned home I have read up a little about the railway which was originally called the Great Northern Railway but become known as the Afghan Express and later, and even to this this day, simply as The Ghan. The story goes that one of the cameleers was in a hurry to get through to Oodnadatta and so the name “Afghan Express” was born.

On YouTube I found the following program which was recorded back in 1980 as the original Ghan railway was coming to its end. While dated in their appearance they do provide a fascinating incite into a bygone age of the railways and how the towns we traveled through looked back in their day: The Ghan is Going, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

I have read somewhere that Australia has the largest mob of wild camels anywhere in the world. These animals are not native to the continent but were imported from the middle east, along with their handlers, the cameleers, in order to move goods, assist with construction of the telegraph and then the railway. As mechanisation increased with the railways and then trucks the need for the camel reduced. With no work there was no money to feed them or to pay the licenses that government imposed. The Afghans named every camel as they were far more to them than simply an animal and so when they could no longer feed them they simply set them free to run wild and survive if nature allowed. It was from these beginnings that the wild camels of Australia grew.

track-and-fliesAt one point a long the track we thought it had begun to rain. You could hear the rain drops hitting the windscreen. Not rain but flies – millions of them pelting into the car as we drove!

We continued on the track to our overnight stop at Williams Creek. A remote roadhouse hotel and the permanent home, we were to discover that night in the bar, to just two people. The following day the owner was flying out on business and so the official population would be just 1! The town, settlement, hamlet – not really sure what to call it – is made up of the hotel, camp site, petrol station and air strip. They are very proud of the fact they have a sealed landing strip as well as a grass one and are part of the emergency search and rescue network. When an emergency beacon is triggered in this part of the world they would be dispatched to fly out and establish the nature of the incident.

williams-creek

While the food was interesting, we were warned by the cook that she wasn’t very good, the drinks were cold and the stories about the area and way of life fascinating to hear. A storm blew through as we were in the bar, the noise of the rain hitting the tin roof deafening, followed by the lose of the television picture and then failure of the generator. The owner reestablished the power within a few minutes but the isolation was compounded at that point.

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Post Script: Generally when I’m traveling I like to try and write the outlines of my posts at the end of each day. Sometimes this can just be notes, other times it’s complete bar the addition of pictures and links. The reason for this is the amount I forget as time goes by. So much can happen during the course of a day it’s too easy to miss a detail if I try and catch up later. Destination: Uluru was written after our return, several weeks later for some elements, and as such some small details were missed.

One such item was the story of the “Second Best Outback Pub“! For several days prior to visiting Williams Creek Phil kept telling us that he had read an article which listed the Williams Creek Hotel as the second best pub in the Outback. The second best! Not for us the best, but only the second best! This became a standing joke leading up to our visit, and continued as a source of amusement after, mainly at the expense of those on the rest of the list. if Williams Creek was the second best, just what are those on the rest of the list like!

Well it turns out that number three on the list is The Pink Roadhouse, Oodnadatta. We had tried to get a drink here as well but it was shut! Perhaps if it were open it may have been number two!

Update: 21 January 2017

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Flooding : During the week after Christmas heavy rains affected both Uluru and the Williams Creek areas. Pictures of waterfalls on the rock were posted by every media service, particularly here in Australia, but also around the world. During our drive along the track we commented many times about the size of the riverbeds and the rocks that were littered within them. They were dry and dusty as we pasted through. It was impossible to contemplate the amount of water needed to fill them.

The following pictures were posted on the Williams Creek Hotel facebook page and show clearly what happens when the rains come. Without doubt we would have been cut off if this had happened while we were there.

floods

Distance covered; 665 km.

Day 8 : Tuesday 20th December : Williams Creek to Peterborough

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img_2878We packed and headed out of Williams Creek reasonably early. There was a lot more gravel to drive today and it is essential on these surfaces to drive to the conditions.

tracks

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About 100km along the track from Williams Creek you get your first view of Lake Eyre, or the south lake to be more accurate.

The lake has a number of claims to fame – it is the lowest point in Australia at 15m below sea level (where we pulled over to have a better look we were 12m below sea level), when full, which doesn’t happen very often, it is the largest lack in Australia, and perhaps most interesting to an Englishman, it was the site of Donald Campbell’s 1964 land speed record,a YouTube video of which can be seen here. Note the series Land Rover doing its bit!

The view out over the lake was, like so many things we have seen, incredible. It simply went on as far as the eye could see. It is only when you look at a map you realise that what you can see at this point is only a small part of the lake as a whole.

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We pushed on.

Our time on the Oodnadatta Track was coming to an end. After 547km we were about to turn right on to Borefield Road, the name doesn’t seem appropriate for a track in the middle of no where, and head for Olympic Dam, one of the largest mines in Australia.

We had thought this to be an open cast mine, but chatting to a conservation ranger we found out that it was all underground, with tunnels big enough to drive the huge dump trucks down into the center of the earth. After doing our right turn we had noticed a large pipe running alongside the track. At one point what appeared to be a huge pumping station had been constructed. The ranger told us this was for taking the waste water away from the mine where it was pumped deep under Lake Eyre. You have to hope that this is done with the best possible precautions as Olympic Dam Mine has the largest deposit of uranium in the world!

Now back on tarmac we pushed on for our overnight stop in Peterborough, skirting the Mount Remarkable National park.

Distance covered; 665 km. (Amazingly the same as yesterday!)