The Battlefields of Normandy

The Somme

On Saturday we travelled two hours north west of Rouen passing vast agricultural and farming areas producing large crops of canola, sugar beets, potatoes and wheat. We drove on through the village of Neufchâtel en Bray which is famous for the heart shaped cheeses it makes and past big wind farms eventually arriving at the area of France where the Battle of the Somme took place between the French and British Empire against the Germans. In the four months from July to November 1916 1.2 million men lost their lives. There were thousands of Australian soldiers who fought here and in the town of Peronne, which suffered heavy shelling and was almost completely razed to the ground during this battle, the town was rebuilt with the help of the Australian soldiers. The people of Melbourne also assisted in building a school here and in the playground of that school there is a large sign “Remember Australia”. The school hall has photos and memorabilia of the Australians and all around the town there are references to Australia – street names, business names, kangaroo signs etc. We visited the John Monash Memorial and magnificent museum honouring the Australian soldiers and then drove on to the Thiepval Memorial – a huge monument where the names of the thousands of soldiers whose bodies were never found are engraved on the sides of the monument. Beyond that is a cemetery with French graves on one side and the graves of the British Empire soldiers on the other. It was here that we found two Kiwi graves and several Coleman names on the lists of the missing.

Kiwi graves in a military cemetery near the town of Villeurs-Bretonneux

All around this vast area of Normandy there are cemeteries honouring the brave men who fought and lost their lives in the First World War. It is sobering and sad to walk among the graves and think of these young men who left their homes and families to go and fight for freedom, hoping to return but never doing so. So many empty chairs. Because this part of Normandy, like so many other places in the area, is an agricultural and farming area they are still finding remains of some of the missing soldiers as ground is dug and things that can be identified are brought to the surface so occasionally a name is removed from the list of the missing and another white cross takes it place in these cemeteries.

The empty chair symbolises the void left in so many homes after the immeasurable loss of life
Thiepval Memorial in Possieres

The little red poppies grow wildly here at the sides of the road, among the wheat in the fields and remind us of why we wear them on Anzac Day – “They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old, age shall not weary them nor the years condemn, at the going down of the sun and in the morning we shall remember them.” The heartening thing we see here in Normandy is that everyone does indeed remember them.

D-Day Landing and Omaha Beach

6 June 1944

Yesterday we made a trip from beautiful Honfleur travelling west about 120 km arriving at Arromanches where the first-ever prefabricated harbour was created by the British. It was Churchill’s brainchild and was named Port Winston – seventeen old ships crossed the English Channel and were sunk by their crew to create a first shelter. This was followed by 115 football sized cement blocks which were towed across the English Channel and sunk. The result was a four mile long breakwater 1.5 miles offshore. Then seven floating steel pier heads were set up and linked to the shore by long floating roads made of concrete pontoons so that 54,000 vehicles, 326,000 troops and 110,000 tons of goods could be delivered securing an Allied toehold on Normandy. Eleven months later Hitler was dead and the war was over. You have probably seen this in various recent movies. You actually wonder how they ever kept this whole operation under wraps because it took a couple of years to prepare all of this. We watched a short movie at the Museum and explored the little village where the lampposts are decorated with banners of some of the war heroes. Our bus hardly fits down some of these little narrow cobbled streets. We then went on to Omaha Beach to visit the Memorial set on the beach there, just one of four of the D-Day Landing beaches with the others being Utah, Sword, Gold and Juno. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and told us stories so that we could picture every scene.

We walked up to the top of the hill to look over the beach at Arromanches

The remains of some of the prefabrications close to shore and further out at “Port Winston”

The Memorials on Omaha Beach

Our final stop was to the American Military Cemetery where there is a beautiful garden surrounded by a long wall recording names of more than 100,000 missing soldiers and further on 9000 graves in the most beautiful setting with surrounding memorials and gardens and a little Chapel above Omaha Beach. The thousands of white crosses leave you almost speechless and a tissue or two is required as people walk quietly reflecting on the immense loss of life and praying that these terrible wars never ever happen again. There is a fitting quotation on a large wall “Think not only of their passing but remember the glory of their spirit”

Omaha Beach from the American War Memorial and Cemetery

Paris to Rouen


We arrived in Paris on a lovely day and were collected for our transfer to the hotel in the centre of this magnificent city – BUT it was pure madness on the roads – unbelieeeevable actually and we inched our way (in contrast to our trip to Berlin with ze lady taxi driver) to the hotel with the driver selecting Jazz for us to listen to and the first tune was “Georgia on my mind!” Perfect because all the grandkids are on our minds and we miss them. The one in charge of the B’s was very ‘appy because he found the Tour de France on the TV in our beautiful ‘Otel room so we decided on a cuppa to recover from the traffic and watch the last 40 km of the tour while we rested. Today the Tour is riding the mountain Ballon d’Alsace and finishing in Belfort which is the exact same course Vern rode when he competed in the Age Group Triathlon World Champs in Belfort in 2013 and got 10th in his age group so it brings back special memories.

There is a major problem with the bathroom though which is causing a little stress – I see there are some scales in there and I am praying to all the saints and the angels that they are broken or that they are so complicated to use that we simply cannot figure it out! Now there actually is another problem with ze bathroom and I tried to sort it and called for help from the one in charge of the B’s (which, when all said and done, should also be ze bathroom shouldn’t it?) and he spent 10 minutes also turning all levers – four of them if you please – in all directions and the result was we had a river of water coming from the dinner plate on the ceiling, the handheld shower AND the tap filling the bath – none of which was warm. Eventually, we gave up and I had a lukewarm shower with water spouting from absolutely everywhere – unbelieeeeevable! This ‘Otel needs to write a manual pronto before the next Kiwis arrive ‘ere! The boss is recovering from this ordeal by watching all TV channels in all languages so clearly he is now multi-lingual which, if he had told me this, would have been very handy to know at ze hospital in Wittenberg last Saturday!

We also had another minor issue when we were going out to find dinner tonight. We noticed that there was an elevator just outside our room which we hadn’t arrived in. Very handy we thought so we pressed the button, got in and the numbers were all a bit different but we thought we had pressed the lobby – no such luck – we ended up in the kitchen in the bowels of the hotel and then, in trying to escape in a big hurry before we were caught we opened a door into a private function where people were enjoying cocktails and, seeing a sign for Exit very quickly made our way through the group trying desperately not to be noticed! And we have only been here about 3 hours!!

Relaxing on the balcony as we sail down the Seine

Well, we are now on board the Scenic Gem – you can Google the boat and it is really beautiful. We have unpacked and checked the water level and all is well. I have had a problem with ze water though – in the bathroom which will not surprise you but honestly, if you look at this photo would you be able to work this out. I did a little washing and put it in the shower to rinse it. I bent over and turned the little handle at the bottom which looked simple – but the problem was that there are three shower roses on this blimmin thing. One is at the top, one is on the flexible hose and you hold it and I had not seen the one in the middle which sprays your nether regions I suspect. Well, you can guess the problem – I bent over into the shower and got that one right in the face because I had not even seen it. So our Serbian cabin attendant came to visit just after this episode and just after I had soaked up the water all over the bathroom. I asked him for a lesson – he and I went into the shower and he was all confident about the workings of this thing. However, he had not seen the shower rose for the nether regions either and when he turned it on he got it in the side of the head and was soaked! Then he tried all the other buttons and there was water coming from everywhere. So the lesson ended with me making notes – you push these for that and that for this and God only knows how you get the water spraying at you from the centre but ve don’t vant zat! I am thinking I will write to President Macron and perhaps Bridget might have some spare time to write a manual! And now we have discovered that you can get coloured lights as you shower – Fire, Ice etc – a discotheque ze shower! Is this a new French thing?

The cryptic shower – water from everywhere and fire and ice too!
Houseboats along the Seine
The beautiful Scenic Gem – our cabin on top deck about half way along the left side

The Lime scooters are here in Gay Paree and they are trying to mingle with a zillion bicycles, two zillion vehicles and many zillion pedestrians, sirens, horns and impatient people and I can tell you for sure it is crazy and I don’t know even one swear word in French.

The riverboat left Paris as we were enjoying the dinner – what was three courses on Viking has gone to five on the Gem! (The scales worked by the way but the news was not so bad!) We were ecstatic that this beautiful boat is actually moving so we came back from dinner and sat on our verandah as the boat glided peacefully out of Paris. People were enjoying friendly gatherings on lots of houseboats tied up along the Seine and they were all waving at us and we at them. We passed under bridges and through locks and arrived in Les Andelys at noon. Merveilleux!

The magnificent buildings in Lyons la Foret dating back to the 12th Century

Our sightseeing was a lovely drive passing wheat, sugar beet and potato fields, and plantations of rye, barley, canola and flax to Lyons la Foret, a little town dating back to the 12th Century and surrounded by the largest beech forest in Europe. After spending some time walking around this quaint little village in Normandy we visited Chateau Fleury la Foret and tasted some cider made on the property.

We sailed again around dinner time to arrive in Rouen, the capital of Normandy, where we are staying for two nights. This morning we have done a little walking tour of Rouen made famous by Joan of Arc who was executed here in 1431 and where, at the site of her execution a modern church has been built to honour her. We visited the very large Cathedral of Our Lady which dates back to 1250 and is a mix of Gothic and Renaissance architecture – there are over 800 classified historic buildings here including the oldest restaurant in France. This afternoon we rest on our little verandah and watch the cyclists passing by and the French ladies returning from the market – including ze Otel Manager on ze boat who has just ridden by with a case of peaches on the back of ‘is bike! The boss is happy because the Tour de France is on and yay – today it is in English! Tomorrow may well be a sombre day as we visit the battlefields. It is also Bastille Day here so we are thinking there may well be fireworks going off as we sip the champagne!

The place where Joan of Arc was executed – the Memorial and the Church dedicated to her memory
The oldest restaurant in France here in Rouen

The beautiful little carousel – this is a common sight all around France
The quaint buildings of Rouen in a mix of Renaissance and Gothic architecture

We finished our walking tour of Rouen by dropping into a few little French shops – as you do and I just happened upon a few things I liked (and the one in charge of the B’s liked them too and even picked one out for me) – and they had a sale at this little shop called Un Jour Ailleurs (which translates “Another Day”) so here on another day in France the bank manager spent a few Euros but only a few because there was a sale and if you bought two items you got another 20% on top of the 40% in ze sale! Voila!

Au Revoir – we are back onboard and it is time to eat – again!

Torgau – Berlin

Guten Tag

Today was our last day in Wittenberg (which is the town where Martin Luther built the first Lutheran Church) and we made a trip to Torgau – a little town on the banks of the Elbe River in Saxony north western Germany. This little town is known as the place where on 25 April 1945, at the end of the Second World War, Russian and USA forces first met. It is Sunday here and we got to the town square at 10 am and not one single soul was there. There were no cars on the roads, no people to be seen, no shops open and only the Church bells ringing in the distance. This is unusual – even in Pauanui in winter there are people buzzing around on a Sunday morning but in this sleepy little town no one is awake! It is cold today – 21 degrees but a cold wind is blowing and the Americans are huddled together – the two Kiwis aren’t!

To our great relief we have had no dramas today – no need to try to explain ze problems to ze people in white coats who speak no English. We leave this boat that went nowhere tomorrow morning so the one in charge of the B’s has just packed up the cases for early departure. All good until he found some of my clothes still in ze wardrobe which did not make ‘im too ‘appy! Well, I can’t remember everyzing because I am trying to work out ze papervork for ze next few days and complete ze Viking appraisal form which is asking everything from what we thought of the Maître D to what we thought of the guide four days ago and I am having trouble remembering what we did yesterday! Heaven forbid!

It is lovely being on this boat that has gone nowhere and there is a wonderful chef who gives a little dissertation each evening on what is going to be on the menu. The trouble is you get three courses and if you decide you only want one or two they look at you as if you have gone completely mad! I can tell you for sure if they don’t start offering three courses of carrot sticks we will have the same trouble we have had on every other trip with the clothes shrinking so much that we need to buy a whole new wardrobe!

So we made our way to Berlin by car actually because we had to check out the hospital system here – say no more other than we can report from the research we did that it is excellent when they can speak your language – unlike in Wittenberg on Saturday when a guy in the queue for the ED jumped out to interpret ze problem to ze nurse for me because no one – and I mean no one spoke English! Anyway – enough said on that subject. Our journey was interesting – especially when the lady driver was going at 140 km/h on the autobahn whilst driving with one hand and using her phone to Google the right word in English for something she wanted to tell Vern (whom, I might add, she insisted sit next to her in ze front!) At times she also grabbed a little piece of paper to write something on it like the year that something happened here in Germany whilst we raced on at lightning speed past wheat fields (which are not growing because there has been a drought here for 18 months) and villages. I was sitting in the back thinking my heart my also need to be checked in ze hospital when we get there!

Some of the magnificent buildings in Berlin

At Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin
The one in charge of the P’s “posing” in front of the Brandenburg Gate

Today we went out on a four hour sightseeing tour around Berlin which was madness in itself because we had to constantly dodge the e-scooters (which just landed here about two weeks ago and are causing almost the entire population to scream loudly in protest) and also the bikes which are zooming around at a great rate of knots. I am thinking if we make it through this day without needing another visit to ze ‘ospital it will be a cause for celebration! What a great cultural and vibrant city with such an interesting history with a population of 3.2m. The reunification of east and west is evident in the number of new and architecturally different buildings from apartments to performing arts centres to office buildings. Of course we went to what remains of the Wall which is the East Side Gallery built by the Russians to keep their own people on their side. In 1990 this was painted by 118 artists from all over the world, Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, the seat of Parliament, the Palaces, Opera House, Memorial to the Holocaust victims and saw where Angela works etc. Then in the afternoon we did a taste of Berlin with a local guide where we caught two buses and two trains to get to and from little chocolate shops, a brewery where we had the largest sausage I have seen in all my life, beer, coffee and cake, mustards, vinegars, oils, honeys and a shop selling “sweet mice” – an entire little shop just selling bags of lollies shaped like mice. The guide kept announcing “now ve vill just float over here to zis little shop and if you all just float in zis vay it should verk vell” so we just kept on floating! Vunderful! The day was rounded off wonderfully with our new American friends who were meeting another friend from their hometown of Muncie in Indianna for a meal at the Orange Katz and it was a very special farewell meal with them all. So now it is on to Gay Paree which is my favourite city and……. I am in charge of the P’s BUT the one in charge of the B’s is also in charge of ze bank so ‘e tells me so ve will see ‘ow zis goes! To my great stress he wants to write an instalment so I am guessing ‘e will tell you! Heaven forbid!

In front of section of Berlin Wall decorated by artists in 1990
The one in charge of the B’s listening intently to the guide on his quiet box!

Walking tour in some of the beautifully little alleyways and courtyards in Berlin

Prague to Wittenberg via Dresden

Well, the good news is that, for the first time in a long time, we are feeling positively youthful. The reason for this is that our group of mainly Americans are using enough walking sticks to build a Mai Mai and we have been told by many of them how long it is since they had their last knee or hip replacement or how long they are having to wait for one. The one thing we are not wanting to talk about on this holiday is health issues but we can see that many in the group have them but they are making the most of every day – like us!

There is so much history about Prague and the Czech Republic that we have found out about over recent days not least of which is that the Czechs consume more beer than anyone else in the world – 44 gallons per person per year! Now that is rather a lot of beer and it costs about $8 per half litre for Pilsner or 120 Czech Koruna. There is a zero alcohol tolerance here for drivers although there are bars on every corner but – now this is unbelievable – there is a “Beer Ambulance” which will deliver beer to you at your home or wherever you are partying or drinking if you are running out and this is to encourage you not to drive. Maybe you just collapse on the floor where you are and wake up the next morning and drive home! For goodness sakes – taking the beer to you! I forgot to tell you that you can’t get away from the Lime scooters and I can also report that there appears to be no speed limit on them here, no people limits, no helmets required, and they are zipping around at great speed all over the roads between the trams, buses and cars and people! The boss has, a few times, offered to double me on the Lime when I am wilting but honestly, can you imagine that sight! It would resemble Mickey Mouse and Minnie trying to skateboard! Most definitely will not happen and the travel insurance would not handle it. The other thing I need to report is that the shower cap over the big dinner plate in the shower did fill with cold water – that is all I will say!

The population of Prague is 1.2 million and it was interesting to find out that Czechoslovakia was under Communist Rule from 1948 when a Communist Coup overthrew the Government. The Soviets ruled here until 1989 (that coincidentally was when the Berlin Wall came down). At that time this Republic was known as Czechoslovakia but in 1993 it broke up into Slovakia and the Czech Republic each having their own Government, currency and language. The Czech Republic has been a member of the EU since 2004 but still predominantly uses its own currency – the Czech Koruna. They have not made the transition to the Euro although a few places will accept it. The economy is driven by car manufacture (Skoda), tourism, some manufacturing and agriculture (although the Govt has made the farmers replace some crops with Canola for biofuel so from the air all you can see are vast areas of Canola growing). They say they have a problem in Prague with Russians purchasing a lot of real estate and hence the prices have risen for locals to rent or buy in the city – does that sound familiar?

After visiting the Jewish Quarter we left Prague yesterday to travel to Dresden crossing the border into northern Germany. We visited two synagogues and the oldest Jewish Town Hall in Europe. We then travelled to the Bastai which is a rock formation towering 194 metres absolutely vertically above the Elbe River in the Saxon Switzerland National Park. The lady in charge of the “P”s did a walk along many bridges to view the river and the rock formations (and Pappy went to the bar to sample the local lager!!!!). We then drove on to Dresden passing many wheat, sunflower, corn, canola and flower fields on the way to reach the land where the house roofs are extremely steep, the traditional lace net curtains decorate all the windows and the beautiful window boxes have colourful displays of geraniums.

So here we are now comfortably ensconced on the riverboat docked in Dresden and going nowhere – but very comfortable it is. Actuallly, it has become a houseboat!! We were greeted warmly by the crew who were lined up to welcome us aboard and very soon the glass of champagne was in the hand and we were introduced to ze captain, ze first officer and Uncle Tom Cobbly and all! As has to be ze case, you ‘ave to do ze safety briefing and be shown ‘ow to use ze life jacket – really! So as we sip the champagne and eat the nibbles we are told to blow on ze whistle if necessary BUT we are going nowhere because we have also found out that if we need to jump overboard we will likely injure ourselves badly because ze water is about 80 cm deep! Heaven forbid! Then they demonstrate the “Abandon Ship” siren but we are told if this does sound then take your time, finish your drink and go ashore! If we have to, we will be able to walk right across the river, Right – we have taken note of all the safety measures which gives us a great deal of comfort as you can imagine and will ensure we sleep well tonight. The ‘Otel Manager also gave a presentation telling us that the front desk is manned all the time 24/7 to take care of our problems except when no one is there! Our lovely cabin has a balcony and the little water there is in this Elbe River is flowing past very quickly this morning as are hundreds of people cycling to work on the other side of the river while the sun shines brightly and we prepare to go and explore Dresden, then have a little cruise on a paddle steamer and then a classical concert at the Zwinger Palace tonight. It’s a tough life as you can imagine and the one in charge of the B’s is coping well as long as the one in charge of the P’s does not ruffle his feathers! We have just returned from a morning’s sightseeing in Dresden including a visit to the Staatliche Museum which has a huge collection of the most magnificent and remarkable treasures including the Dresden Green Diamond – a 41 carat green diamond dating back to 1768. We have become experts at visiting International Museums, but this truly is the very best museum we have ever seen (and its pretty tough to beat the Smithsonian in Washington).

A little raft has just come by playing loud music – it is a beer raft and the few people on it are having a BBQ, beers and music and they are all waving madly to me as ze aroma of ze German sausage is wafting from ze BBQ! Tomorrow we move to Wittenberg to board another boat for three nights so although we aren’t sailing anywhere we are staying on ze boat which is very comfortable and ve are still seeing everything ve came to see so life can’t be bad!

Well – we ‘av arrived on ze new boat on the Elbe in Wittenberg, Germany – which thankfully is absolutely identical to the other boat and we have the same stateroom number and all is well and……. so far we can work the bathroom out which is a miracle in itself and absolutely cause for celebration as those who have followed our bathroom dramas over the years would understand! Why didn’t some clever inventor come up with a way to standardise bathrooms – or write a “Bathrooms for Dummies” manual to get us out of all the fixes we have encountered in our travels? The good news is, we didn’t have to have the safety briefing again because, as you know, zis boat is going nowhere!

We travelled via Meissen passing vineyards on the sides of very steep hills rich in minerals giving the wine special properties and visited the porcelain china factory where we did the most interesting tour to see how this magnificent china – known as Dresden china is made. Their famous trademark is the two blue crossed swords. It is the largest porcelain china factory in Europe and dates back to 1710. It was then onto Wittenberg via Leipzig. So now we are in the land of ze schnitzel and sauerkraut and ze BIG beer steins! Vunderful! We are onboard this boat for three days and then it is on to Berlin. It was the last day of the school year here yesterday and much celebration for the children. Vern went up to the Square and saw dozens of children carrying colourful balloons which they all let go of to rise into the sky. Apparently the biggest tradition here for the last day of school is that the children are given a sweet cone which is full of lollies – and then the teachers send them home to their folks!

It is Saturday here and I had cause to catch a taxi – an experience in itself. Taxi man spoke not one word of English – I spoke not one word of ze German and he drove like an absolute madman to ze destination, which luckily for me ze ‘Otel Manager here on ze boat explained to him! I don’t know what the urgency was but I think he thought he was in the Monaco Grand Prix – unbelievable!

Auf Wiedersehen till next time

Beautiful Prague

We landed in this beautiful city on Friday afternoon and, after recovering from a long trip, did a quick walk along the river close to the hotel to admire the picturesque buildings either side of the river and the many bridges crossing it. Saturday saw us trying to get a little more organised after studying what we must see here. The day started with a minor problem for me in the bathroom, or, to be more specific, the shower. You are not surprised I know! The thing is, I told the boss that the night before, when I eventually figured out the options in the shower, that I had stood in front of the shower rose on the pole but got constantly dripped on by very cold water from the dinner plate rose on the ceiling! So, this morning I was all set for a quick shower before breakfast. The one in charge of the B’s (which I can tell you for certain does not include “bathrooms”) told me to pull the top silver gadget out hard and all would be well – well it wasn’t! I got drowned on top by a voracious current of water coming from that blimmin dinner plate on the ceiling giving me such a fright I spun around which made things even worse. The boss has since told me there was only one “drip” in the shower!!

With the list of sightseeing all prepared and the map in the bag the boss decides that the bag I am carrying is much too heavy which leads him to dismantle the contents and choose some things to go in the pockets of the cargo shorts he is wearing. By the time we get in the lift the shorts are looking like they are slipping a bit with the weight of the extra contents and I have visions of him standing in his underwear in front of St Nicholas on the Charles Bridge with the shorts down around the ankles!

On the agenda was the famous Charles Bridge which was built between 1357 and the beginning of the 15th Century under the auspices of Charles IV and crosses the Vltava River. We joined half the population of Prague plus many tourists to do the walk along the famous bridge to admire the magnificent buildings either side of the river, the castle on the hill and the saints whose statues are set out along the bridge. It really is quite a magnificent site and we were all set to visit St Nicholas. However, St Nicholas is getting a makeover (and he needs it – they all do but luckily for him he has been chosen to go first!) Therefore, there is scaffolding and netting protecting him while the work is being done so we could only acknowledge him in passing. Then it was down to the John Lennon Wall under the bridge which is just a normal wall but since the 1980’s it has become a graffiti tribute to John Lennon with lyrics from some of his songs.

We then decided that it would be good to go and visit the Infant Jesus at the little Carmelite Church of St Victorious. The Infant Jesus is a small wooden waxed statue dressed in a cloak. We had heard about this and wanted to see it so we sat on a seat on a very hot day under the plane trees to study the map and then set off with me in charge of the map (but not the map reading). We got a little way into the short walk and saw a group of nuns making their way hurriedly over a crossing so I told the boss that we must be on the right track for the Church where the Infant Jesus is waiting for our visit. He, on the other hand, is convinced the nuns are making their way on this extremely hot day to the pub just by the crossing and you know, I think he was right because they disappeared completely! Once again we stopped to study the map and the glasses came out of the bag and all would have been well had I not been holding that map upside down. Luckily the boss, who I must admit is better than I at mapreading and doing all these GPS things, realised quite quickly and averted a possible falling out before we even reached the Infant! We eventually made it to the beautiful little Church which resembles a miniature cathedral with magnificent artwork and gold decorated altar and side altars.

Sunday saw us doing a little cruise on the river to see Prague from a different perspective and it was beautiful – the buildings span a myriad of architectural styles and include castles and palaces in Romanesque and Gothic styles – there are arches, colonnades and towers everywhere – some capped in gold that shines brightly in the sun. You also need to constantly look up at these buildings because there are statues and sculptures sitting high on many of them. We then went to the National Museum to view two interesting exhibitions. One was called “The Knights of the Heaven” and is a tribute to more than 2000 Czechoslovak pilots who left here in 1939 and found their way to Britain where they joined the newly created Czech Squadron of the RAF. It was a wonderful and moving exhibition dedicated to fighter and bomber pilots, technicians and other aviation personnel in the RAF and the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. It left a lump in my throat seeing all the photos of these pilots and reading some of their logs. The second exhibition was about the Celts.

It was 38 degrees here yesterday but we managed ourselves by walking on the shady sides of the streets and coming back here to the bar where I had a traditional Czech drink – puréed raspberries in homemade lemonade and the boss had a Pilsener – and they were large because, obviously we needed hydration and I can tell you I had a large straw in mine.

I have to report I had a brilliant idea to fix the drip in the shower – I have put a shower cap over the offending dinner plate shower rose. I just have to watch it doesn’t fill up with cold drips and collapse! Deary me!

Today has been another hot day and we did a walk down the river, over a bridge and back on the other side – all the while absolutely melting in the 35 degree heat but the good news is that this heat is dissipating we are told so it will cool down a little. The other good news is that we absolutely must be shedding kilos walking kilometres in this heat!! But then perhaps the thirst and the pastries are not helping that little problem! We are just off to a traditional folklore dinner – guess that won’t help the waistline either but when in Rome……

A few little issues before liftoff!

Our trouble started before liftoff on Thursday. Heaven forbid – we hadn’t even got ourselves to the airport when we decided, after the haircuts, to pop into St Joseph’s to midday Mass before we left because we needed to remind God that the two of us really need to be looked after on this 2-month journey and to thank Him for getting us well enough to go! So into the Church we went only to be confronted with a guy coming in from the other end of the Church and flapping his arms around and yelling at us to get out. Now this gave me quite a shock – what on earth was going on? After recent events in NZ we needed a quick explanation as to his panic but I can tell you we got ourselves out smartly! The problem turned out to be a fire in a cupboard somewhere so within 10 minutes two appliances arrived and we took off! Next step was to get the Lotto ticket with my numbers I have taken for about 20 years (with little luck I might add!) But for some crazy reason the lady gave me back the 10 week ticket and I ripped it in half and put it in the bin! I suddenly realised that I had left the brain somewhere else that morning and had to take the lid off the bin and search for my ripped ticket which the lady at the shop then cellotaped back together for me whilst laughing at the stupid lady who ripped the ticket in half 10 seconds after paying for it!

The next thing was to call up an Uber to take us back to Remuera – why was this stupid App telling me there were no cars available – what? After trying this for 10 minutes or so we decided to walk to the bus station and use the Gold Cards and Hop Cards to get to the city. All fine until we get to the bus and the boss finds that his Hop Card is in Pauanui which is totally unhelpful because we don’t have any cash in the wallets and the bus driver can’t take a card – well he could take the Hop Card if the blimmin thing wasn’t sitting in Pauanui! We are meeting Dene at the hospital for a quick coffee before we go so I give him a call to tell him of our predicament – “Oh dear” says he “well let me know if you are stuck”. “We are stuck!” I tell him to no avail because the problems at ADHB are more concerning than his folks being in a pickle in Takapuna! The boss then decides to call a Co-Op cab at my suggestion so he calls up the cab company and orders the cab. After 15 minutes the cab is nowhere to be seen when my brain suddenly has a reboot and I am wondering if by turning the phone off and back on might work – it does and within 3 minutes the Uber is here and the cab man is probably still circling Takapuna trying to find us because we couldn’t cancel. Then, we were heading over the bridge to Auckland Hospital when we check the emails on this phone which has come back to life and there is an email from Viking River Cruises saying “due to low water levels on the Elbe River it is unlikely your boat will sail, however ………”. “Well, I say to the boss – we will just go with the flow” whereupon he tells me that clearly there is no flow to go with!

Well I can tell you that by the time we were collected for the airport we couldn’t have cared less about any flow because at least we were on our way and I can also report that when we got aboard that Emirates flight and were offered the glass of champagne I felt like putting a straw in the bottle to recover from the afternoon’s events!

So now we look forward to the riverboat not sailing but according to the Viking man here in the ‘Otel all will be well and we will have a vunderful time – guaranteed!

Liftoff to Prague

Well, almost exactly one year ago we had to abandon our China-Japan trip which was so long in the planning and which we were looking forward to so much. With all the clothes out ready to pack we only got as far as the local hospital so the chopsticks had to go back in the drawer! BUT, after many consultations, two holidays in North Shore Hospital and more medications, here we are – ready for takeoff! So Prague, here we come and we are excited to see your beauty and learn your history which means, dear friends and relatives, we will keep you updated on our journey from Prague to Berlin, then to Paris and Normandy, then to Budapest and on to Amsterdam all the while sailing peacefully on beautiful river boats amongst magnificent scenery. When we have completed the journeys on the rivers we are off to London to travel through the Lake District and Wales, Scotland and Ireland. We love sharing our journeys with you so come along for the ride where there are sure to be more bathroom hiccups and tons of laughs along the way. I am thinking that we are experienced in the use of some of the more unusual bathrooms of France and Germany but what about Prague and those little villages down the river? I am wondering what challenges might be awaiting us. The Guide Books and Wikipedia don’t give us any help at all with this! The one in charge of the B’s – the boss! (Budget, baggage) is ready to go (but the bags will get a thorough going over before we reach the airport and I am thinking that some of the things I have slipped in might not make the cut!! In fact I am thinking, based on previous experience, that I will likely only make the cut if I can fit it all into a backpack!) Once again I am in charge of the P’s (paperwork, people, passports) but with all this new technology actually there isn’t too much paper but we will be in a pickle if I lose the iPhone or the iPad. I have loaded all the Apps and have about 48 hours to learn how to use them! Heaven forbid! So bye bye to our GP, our ophthalmologist, our gastroenterologist, our cardiologist, our Trinity radiologists, our hospital consultants, doctors and nurses, and our family – thank you to you all for getting us at least onto the plane albeit with a caseload of meds!! We are blessed. We really hope that we wont need your excellent support whilst we are away but we have all your phone numbers and emails loaded!!!

Lift-off Cancelled

We have learned over the past year or so that little blips can raise their head at the most inappropriate times and the past few weeks has done just that. So……… lift-off had to be cancelled and this amazing trip we have looked forward to for the past 12 months has gone up in a puff of smoke. BUT we must not dwell on that and rather be very grateful that this little medical event happened here at home instead of in Beijing this week or next. After a week in hospital the clothes had to be packed away for another day, another time and, for now, we are both content with that because this is where we need to be for monitoring over the next few months.
It certainly isn’t a time to be sad – how can you be when you get the most wonderful medical care here at home? How can you be when you have grandchildren who provide joy and have all sorts of things planned for us to attend – soccer, netball, hockey, band concerts, holidays in Pauanui and visits from the older ones for lunch when they can squeeze it in? We are lucky.
In the meantime, if we do anything exciting and it is worth reporting I will post something to make you smile.
Our travel books will come out again to plan the next adventure in a wee while. Meanwhile – stay well, take care, make the most of every day and…….. keep smiling.

We are preparing for takeoff!

Well here we are getting ready to depart for our holiday in China and Japan. So much has happened since the one who looks after the “B’s” dragged me down to House of Travel last June – who would have thought that the lead-up to takeoff would produce a few rocky bumps but they were negotiated successfully so here we are – currently surrounded by enough clothes to cover off everything from a heatwave to a snowstorm! I can see a few negotiations coming my way because the one in charge of the “B’s” can be stubborn at times. You would never have guessed that would you!*@#??

We leave for Beijing at midnight on Monday 7 May and, because we have come to realise that we are not 21 anymore, we have given ourselves two days to recover from that rather long trip. That’s good actually because we haven’t done much training on using the chopsticks – I have never been able to fathom how to eat rice with those sticks but I am planning on doing some YouTube tutorials to help us out with all that because on our last visit to Madam Woo I had trouble negotiating the lettuce salad!
We are pretty excited about going to the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors, the Three Gorges Dam Project on the Yangtze cruise, Tiananmen Square, Xian, Shanghai and I see we are even going to have to dress in our finest Chinese gear to attend a gala dinner – guess that means I need to drag the boss to a market with the millions to choose an outfit!! I am thinking that by the time we leave here we will be certified chopstick users – or the rice will be all over the floor! We have started watching Nobu’s Japan and Taste of Hong Kong because we got sick of waiting for Rick Stein to have a long weekend in Shanghai!

We fly to Tokyo after 16 days in China and begin our Japanese experience going to Five Lakes, Hakone, Mt Fuji, Himeji, Hiroshima, Miyajima Island, Kyoto and Osaka. Then Aidan and Jenny join us in Osaka and we go out of the cities and into the mountains for a week to Takayama and Kamikochi to the more relaxed pace of walks, bike rides, fishing and a cooking class. I need to check if we need to practise walking in platform wooden jandals with our sox on. I am just hoping the boss doesn’t make me put that white foundation all over my face and do up that big bow at the back of my dress! He wouldn’t would he?

You won’t be getting any more boring stuff to read until we arrive in Beijing and have had our first chopstick dinner because I know you will be excitedly waiting to hear how it went! Just remember – good things take time!

Last Stop – Disneyland

Last stop – Disneyland. Can you belieeeeve it? This was at my request and the boss agreed (although he is probably regretting it!) We arrive back in LA on a hot afternoon and straight to Howard Johnsons just down the road from where Mickey and Goofy and friends live and, by the look of the temperature gauge, it is just as well we put the shorts and t-shirts on the top of the case! It is a warm 33 degrees as we set off after breakfast to be kids for 2 days in the land of fantasy. The littlies have emailed us to tell us what their favourite rides were last year and I can see that every bone in our bodies is going to be rattled as we hold on for dear life on rides which scream around in the dark and in the light and where Star Wars Chewbaccas are using every tool in their armery to awaken us!! We ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain (where we were more than splashed), the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Pirates of the Caribbean, the tameness of Finding Nemo Submarine and It’s a Small World, Hyperspace Mountain, Star Tours, Astro Orbitor, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and then it’s over to California Adventure Park to do Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, Luigi’s Rollicking Roadsters, Radiator Springs Racers, the Grizzly River Run on rafts and the amazing Soarin Around the World which we line up for twice. The first day we managed to do 10 hours of all this excitement staying to watch the Paint the World light parade and fireworks before hobbling back to the hotel and fallin’ into bed and sleeping like babies!! Next morning we were back there to finish off the list the kids had sent us. We then hobbled back again to have a swim and shower and even fell asleep on the loungers at the pool before the shuttle came to collect us. We are just hopin now that we don’t need to go to the physiotherapist next week to sort out our bones that have probably come out of alignment with all this shaking and turning (and screamin!!). So the journey is over and what an amazing one it was.

Highlights?  There are too many to mention; too many contrasts of wonderful scenery, experiences and monuments from the big cities like Washington, Montreal, Quebec, Toronto and Ottawa to the madness of New York and Las Vegas; the heat of the deserts and canyons in Arizona and Nevada; the pretty and beautiful places like Victoria and Yosemite; the sheer magnificence of the Rockies with the huge mountains, the blue lakes, the never-ending Christmas tree forests; the interesting and unusual life of the Amish; the quaint places of Maine and Nova Scotia like Peggy’s Cove; the black bears, moose, caribou and other amazing wildlife of Canada and Alaska; the glaciers of the Inside Passage; the wilderness of Alaska with its mushers, log cabins and the salmon running to get upstream; the incredible flight over the Arctic Circle to Coldfoot and Wiseman to get an insight into this very different life – all of it a feast for the eyes and an experience we never thought we would be fortunate enough to get. We are blessed. We are completely over Trump and Hillary and glad we have left them behind and we are over queuing at the bathrooms and looking under doors to see if there are feet there!!!  

We have travelled in excess of 12,500 miles on land sitting beside each other on a coach (and we are still talking!!)  We have slept in 36 beds, enjoyed wonderful food, and had too many wonderful experiences to recall (the blog was written partly for us!)  It was mainly written for family and friends to travel along with us and we hope you have enjoyed it.  We have just loved writing it.

So we are home – we managed to get to the right place for breakfast at the right time and we didn’t need to put our cases outside the room for collection. We had a love affair with the washing machine on the first day back and the car was quite nice too!! This adventure has ended but make no mistake – there will be another sometime, somewhere. It might not be as far away or for as long as this one but we already have some ideas! Heaven forbid! Just need to buy the Lotto ticket!    Golden will remain and we may even write about other holidays.  We are off to Melbourne in October for a special wedding; to Pauanui for a few months over summer and Martinborough for another special wedding in March so we will post photos and a short commentary of our continuing adventures.  Now we look forward to catching up with y’all here at home!