Vern has got the B’s down to a fine art including packing up the bags like he has written a computer program to sort it (even though you may think “packing” is in my job description it isn’t!) I am not allowed near the cases when he is in packing mode – he has a system and it works so my job is to stay away!! All good by me because we may be in a pickle getting everything in the blimmin cases if it came under my job description.
From Edinburgh we got the fast train to York which meant we did not have a 5-hour bus journey. Our Irish gem of a coachdriver, Ryan, went on with all the baggage and it was sitting waiting in our rooms when we arrived in York – now that is where the Grand Old Duke marched 10,000 men to the top of the hill wasn’t it? And what happened to Dick Turpin? Nana used to talk about Dick Turpin’s ride to York and it turns out he was hanged here! We were staying at the Grand York Hotel which was the HQ of the Railways here. In fact everything in York is about horse racing and the railways and after our orientation tour with a local guide we walked to the Train Museum which was remarkable.
After departing York we drove on to Stratford on Avon through Nottingham, Leicester and Coventry and visited the absolutely stunning Chatsworth House – a stately home and estate in Derbyshire and occupied by the Duke and Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. We spent a few hours here going through the house with its amazing collection of artwork, ornaments, china, ceiling frescos and furniture. We then did a walk around the magnificent gardens and had lunch and, of course, Devonshire teas are a feature as are delicious Cornish pasties. This estate and house was where “Pride and Prejudice” was filmed and some parts of “The Crown.”
We arrive in Stratford-on-Avon on a very hot afternoon and have time for a walk to Shakespeare’s birthplace and around the busy little village. A nice farewell dinner rounded off the tour with just one day to go and we travelled on to Oxford where we had some time to explore this university town with its lovely buildings and, sadly, the largest number of people living on the street that we have seen in any village around the UK. On it was to London to end this tour and quickly farewell our travelling mates.
So it was on to Greenwich to have a few days rest and to catch up with Richard Burgess, Kirsty and the boys before leaving for home. Greenwich has given us the opportunity to do some walks around the lovely parks and along the Thames as well as walking the tunnel under the Thames to get to the island on the other side, and to do a boat trip up to the Thames Barrier – the flood protection system, visit the wonderful Maritime Museum, The Painted Hall and the Cutty Sark and a visit to Wimbledon and The Borough Market.
We have had a quiet dinner sitting on a terrace beside the Thames at a local Tavern with Kirsty and Richard on a rare still, warm evening and a dinner at their local pub with the family. Then it was off to a 20/20 cricket game at The Oval with them all to round off the two months away and meeting up with Kirsty and the boys on the last day.
So we are almost homeward bound and have had a few minutes to reflect on the past two amazing months – and the grand totals for the last two months are:
We have travelled on five riverboats, two ferries, a coach and the London tube – squashed like sardines and off-loaded at a busy tube station; stayed at 20 hotels; visited 11 countries; travelled 5800 km on land and 1400 km on rivers; gone through 72 lochs on riverboats; eaten too many 3-course meals and drowned in wine and beer; seen the most beautiful scenery and visited unforgettable places; managed (mostly) to work out the most complicated shower systems in Europe; walked hundreds of kms on cobbles and climbed literally thousands of stairs; had fun and made the most of every single day and have golden memories galore.
We are thankful we got here (good doctors!) and blessed to have shared new experiences. My job of looking after the P’s – people, paperwork, passports, Pinot Grigio, payments, pens, iPads, pressing and washing, pills, photos, pillows, purses, purchasing, presents, plugs, problems, phone calls will now be rearranged so we share it! We go home to the family having missed everyone immensely but so thankful we have had this absolutely wonderful adventure. We also will appreciate the washing machine, the car, nice wide concrete footpaths, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, one course meals, sleeping in the same bed with the same pillows and showers we can operate with great ease!
And so this amazing two months comes to a close with a little tourist’s prayer:
Oh Heavenly Father look down on us, your humble obedient servants doomed to travel this earth taking photographs, writing blogs and walking around in quick dry clothing.
We pray oh Jesus to see that our plane is not delayed, our luggage not lost and our overweight baggage goes unnoticed.
Protect us from crooked taxi drivers, porters, and unlicensed tour guides.
Give us this day divine guidance in the selections of our hotels, where we may find our reservation honoured, our rooms made up and showers that work.
We pray that the iPhone works and Vodafone doesn’t rob us when we return and that there is no mail waiting for us from loved ones needing money.
Lead us oh God to nice inexpensive restaurants where the food is good, the waiters are friendly and the wine is included in the price.
Give us wisdom to tip correctly in currencies we don’t understand and forgive us for under tipping out of ignorance and overtipping out of fear.
Give us strength to visit museums, cathedrals, temples and palaces listed as a must by the tour guide. And if, perchance, we take a nap after lunch or skip an historic monument, have mercy on us for our flesh is week.
Please God, keep our wives from spending sprees and protect them from bargains they do not need nor can afford. Lead them not into temptation for they know not what they do.
Almighty Father, keep our husbands from looking at foreign women and comparing them to us. Save them from making a fool of themselves in cafes and nightclubs. Above all do not forgive them their trespasses for they know exactly what they do.
And when our travels are over and we return to our loved ones, grant us the favour that someone will look at our videos and listen to our stories so that our lives as tourists will not have been in vain.
Heaven is where the cooks are French, the mechanics are German, the police are British, the lovers are Italian and it is all organised by the Swiss.
Hell is where the mechanics are French, the police are German, the British are the cooks, the Swiss are the lovers and it is all organised by the Italians.
Oh almighty please make sure we go to heaven.
I wonder where to next? Meanwhile, it is back to Pauanui after a wonderful welcome home from the family. It’s great to be back after nine weeks away.
After the wonderful week in Ireland we arrived in the lovely city of Chester on a very rainy evening. Unfortunately the rain did persist the following day so we decided to have a quieter day and just a few walks and visit the truly magnificent cathedral established in 1093 as a Benedictine Abbey and in 1541 becoming the Anglican Mother Church of the Diocese of Chester. It was a huge complex of splendid monastic buildings set out around a courtyard garden.
The following morning we set off from Chester for a 30 minute drive to Liverpool, where unbelievably the Main Street is called Scotland Road. Our first impressions were of modern buildings around the rim of the cultural quarter where neoclassical civic buildings include the museum, university, theatre, civic hall – all built by benefactors of this city. Of course the Beatles music was playing loudly on the bus with the one beside me thinking he is Paul McCartney (minus the guitar!) A visit to the Beatles museum is a must in this city of course.
On to Lancaster which was where the industrial revolution took place here in the North and also the Midlands where wool for textiles and coal for energy helped the economy and the labour force with a proliferation of factories.
On we drive through Cumbria and the Lakes District to Lake Windermere and a scenic cruise on the lake. This district was where Beatrix Potter spent her holidays when she was growing up and she bought fifteen farms and bred Herdwick sheep. Upon her death the farms were passed on to the National Trust on condition they were still farmed and the Herdwick sheep remain. She is credited with preserving the area and much of the land that constitutes the Lake District National Park. It is stunningly beautiful and a national treasure.
This area gets its fair share of rain so on we go on a rainy morning making our way a short distance to the little village of Grasmere situated in a valley surrounded by mountains. It is here that William Wordsworth is buried with his family in the grounds of St Oswalds Church, so a walk to his gravesite and around this quaint village with the stream of crystal clear water running through it is a must even if it is pouring! There is a daffodil walk you can do beside the church but none flowering at present.
We drive on to Keswick in the heart of the Lakes District passing many paddocks of black sheep on the farms and arrive in this busy little place with a population of 5000. This is a market town still holding twice weekly markets. It was originally a cheesemaking and coal mining town.
We are approaching the Scottish border so the tour director comes around the coach with the plastic shot glasses and a bottle of whiskey – blimmin heck! The Scottish pipes are playing on the coach and the next minute we are all raising the glasses “slainte mhath” pronounced Slan-ge-var. OM goodness – this will cure all your ailments and ensure you live the long life! We are hoping it will cure the coughing on this bus which resembles a symphony of hacking at times! “Drink up” we are thinking!! We are travelling with a medical family from Melbourne who, wisely, are not advertising the fact!
The next visit was to Gretna Green driving through this hilly countryside of farms and forests. Our friendly Irish coach driver, Ryan, has not managed to make the rain stop despite his Irish promise he would do so and we are now beginning to understand why every second shop is an outdoor clothing shop with racks and racks of raincoats! I am sure you will have noticed in the photos, that though I am dressed in woolly sox, leggings, a thermal, jacket, raincoat etc etc, the boss is always in shorts! I digress – Gretna Green – where people elope and flock to get married and the boss and I have a meeting about whether to duck in to renew the vows but we arrive in this hugely busy and tiny place and the first thing he notices is the ice cream shop so we decide that is more of a priority than pushing past the lone piper and the archway of flowers to get married again! Besides, a bride does indeed arrive with her entourage and the place is teaming with people.
We are now in Scotland, the flag of Scotland is fluttering and Scotland the Brave and the bagpipes are playing on this coach and I forgot to get the boss to put on the kilt – not that it seems to matter as he is almost doing the Highland Fling in the seat beside me without the kilt – but in the shorts! The whiskey has absolutely gone to his head! So here we are in Bonnie Scotland and very good it is. The architecture changes immediately to the Baronial style of rough cast concrete buildings and lovely sandstone and stone houses. We are in the land of kilts, bagpipes, haggis (heaven forbid!), thistles, unicorns, whiskey, tam o’ shanters, shortbread, lovely lochs, crystal clear rivers and the blooming heather. This is a country with its own identity although united to the UK. It has its own laws, banking and education system.
We eventually arrive in Glasgow passing large wind farms (hardly any of those in England by the way because, we are told, there are areas where the councils will not allow the landscape to be blighted with them and, can you believe it, they are still building nuclear power stations when other countries are decommissioning them) and new housing estates being developed. There are many high-rise apartment blocks for its population of 600,000 in the city area but 2.5 million including surrounding areas. The main commodity of this city in years gone by was tobacco trading from the River Clyde. Billy Connolly, Annie Lennox, Susan Boyle and Joseph Lister, the famous surgeon, all called Glasgow their home. There are large universities where no fees are charged (this is the case all over Scotland but you must reside within Scotland’s border). Some of the buildings look depressingly dark from the coal burning fires of the past and the wet climate.
Just when we were praising the UK for designing showers that we can use without the need for the manual I struck a minor problem. Having been a little cold and then warmed up holding the hand-held shower rose and was thinking how lovely it was I simply turned it off (I thought). But the dinner plate on the ceiling sprang to life and showered a torrent of freezing cold water down on my head. Well, I could be the first person to visit Scotland and do the highland fling in the shower while shrieking at the same time. Heaven forbid!
We depart Glasgow and make our way up the Great Glen and lochs – 31,000 of them in Scotland. We pass desolate highland hamlets set amongst magnificent scenery. The Tour Director sends around the map for us to see the journey from Glasgow to Inverness. I am busy looking at the scenery and the boss in intently studying the map but when I look over his shoulder I notice the blimmin map is upside down and he is telling me he is having trouble finding Inverness! This is why I am in charge of the P’s and paperwork I tell him but at least he isn’t the one driving this coach!
Anyway, we are heading to Loch Lomond and the Scottish music is once again playing as we pass large hunting estates between 5,000 and 8,000 acres in size. We stop on the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond amid the lush green hills with torrents of water cascading down from the many waterfalls. The land at the side of the road is a bog, the many different species of trees stand straight and tall with a carpet of ferns and moss underneath and the heather is flowering on the sides of craggy rock walls.
The mountains in these highlands are big and the snow markers along the side of the road indicate this gets a lot of snow in winter. The mist is veiling the mountain tops but beside us along the road the fields of heather are cutting a purple swathe in the fields.
We pass through Glencoe, known as the Valley of Tears so called because of its rainfall and the waterfalls cascading down the green mountains. We visited the ruins of Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness and the boss searched there for Nessie – no luck!
Well, today was my birthday and what better way to spend the day than to do the Whiskey Trail (no I am not tasting!) This is a ring of beautiful countryside out of Inverness and resembles the Ring of Kerry in Ireland in its own way (with the exception that it is drowning in whiskey!) So off we go on the narrowest of country roads with many stops so the locals coming at us can pass. It is lovely countryside and the sun is shining down on the horses and sheep in the paddocks. We stopped at Cawdor Castle, a stately home occupied by the Dowager Duchess. We have been to many castles and this was one of the best – still occupied which made it homely and inviting rather than just a museum. The gardens were truly breathtaking and the whole estate cared for magnificently. We were given a statistic that was interesting – England’s 36,000 aristocrats own one third of all the land and in Scotland there are 340 large shooting stations and 500 people own half of the land. Controversially, these estates pay no business tax.
Anyway, we are on this whiskey trail and on we go. There are 100 distilleries in Scotland. Scottish whiskey has to have a 40% alcohol content (can be up to 50% heaven forbid!) and has to be matured at least three years in oak.
The first stop was at the Spreyside Cooperage to watch the men repairing the second hand oak barrels shipped from the US ready for the whiskey. They do piece work and are paid per cask and was fascinating to watch the speed they work at and how hard the work is and how young some of the apprentices are.
Then it was on to Glenfiddich where we learn that the casks used there also come from the US and were originally used for sherry and bourbon. Glenfiddich whiskey has to age at least 12 years and our interesting tour takes us through the distillery and into the store houses.
Well, I thought I had got away without anyone knowing about my birthday other than the one in charge of the B’s but we got onto the coach the next morning and the tour director has an important announcement to make – oh no! So my worry is that I have had two birthdays in two days and does that make me two years older? But on we go towards Edinburgh once again past large sheep farms and the purple heather and the sun is trying to break through this grey sky. This stunning environment must surely inspire painters and artists – it is like viewing a beautiful landscape painting at every turn – crystal clear streams meandering through the valleys, cascading waterfalls, mountains shrouded in mist, lush green trees with brightly coloured mosses and ferns underneath, heather, fireweed, stones tracks and walls. This is a visual feast of nature in its purest form and it is magnificent. They talk about Scotland the brave but we think it is Scotland the beautiful.
We stop for morning tea at Dunkeld Estate – the former hunting estate of the Duke of Athlone and now owned by the Hilton Hotels. Here we are given a falconry display with a hawk, an owl and a falcon and it is most interesting.
We arrive in Edinburgh with its city population of 500,000 and there are mixed views of this city with its white concrete houses and the Victorian houses of sandstone which has blackened over the hundreds of years to make parts of the city look very dark. The stone buildings have aged much better and are quite beautiful. The Fringe Festival is on and the city is pure madness with hundreds of thousands of visitors present. The Military Tattoo is on too and we are going. Our first visit is to the very special Palace of Holyroodhouse at the end of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile where we are privileged to get a private tour at the end of the day through the Staterooms and Great Hall and to see where the Queen greets and eats when she visits. Another highlight here was the exhibition of the wedding garments of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex which are on display here for just a short period.
Today’s visits in this city were to the Royal Yacht Britannia which is moored permanently here. It was a wonderful tour around absolutely every part of this amazing ship. I remember going to the waterfront in 1963 when it sailed into Auckland Harbour with the Queen onboard and how spectacular the boat looked. Then it was on to Edinburgh Castle with thousands of others because of the number of visitors in this city for the Fringe Festival and the Tattoo.
We set off on the short walk back to the Castle at 8 pm and the Tattoo commenced at 9 pm after the sunset. It was a dream to see this with the Castle in the background. We were dressed warmly (actually we looked like two Teletubbies) on this chilly evening and there were a few light showers but our seating sheltered us very well. We were extremely proud when the NZ Champion marching team Lochiel came on dressed in white blazers and tartan skirts and performed a wonderful display to the music from the Scottish pipe band. The crowd gave them rapturous applause and our travelling mates thought they stole the entire show. The NZ Army band also played a brilliant medley which ended with the Haka also very much appreciated by the audience of 9000 in this rather small arena. Australia was not represented so we were one up on our travelling mates! The tattoo finished with the mass bands and it was an unforgettable experience. So there ended our time in this beautiful bonnie Scotland and we have loved it.
On now to finish this tour before having a few days downtime in Greenwich and back home so just one more instalment to go!
Well, here we are in the land where Brexit is the absolute topic of conversation – on the TV, in the papers and on the newsstands. Boris has moved into No 10 causing a stir because his lady has quietly moved in the back door and we see that Queenie was in residence when we passed Buck House! It is actually good to be in a country where we speak the language “kind of”.
Being in London was a highlight because we got to catch up with Aaron, Anna, Alessia and Analie in Kensington Gardens. It was wonderful to spend time with family after travelling with strangers for over six weeks and the few hours went all too quickly.
We made our way from London yesterday to Salisbury stopping at the remarkable Stonehenge on the way. We now have some understanding about how this remarkable Neolithic structure was built and had never realised that the land around it, stretching for a few miles, has so many other structures and earth mounds forming part of the history of the time.
We drove through lovely open countryside of farmland seeing cattle but very few crops. We were surprised to hear that 93% of the UK is considered green area including parks, farmland etc. We drove south west towards the county of Somerset on the edge of the Cotswolds to Bath – this lovely limestone city built on a grid system in a nice orderly fashion and a UNESCO World Heritage site. This morning’s visit was to the Roman Baths dating back hundreds of years. It is incredible to think that the temple was constructed between 60-70 AD and the bathing complex was built up over the next 300 years. We investigated this pretty city’s parks and circular apartment buildings and busy shopping centre.
We walked our little legs off and came across the postman wheeling his rather large cart on the tiny street where we were walking. The health and safety officer I am travelling with grabbed me and pulled me aside to avoid me being spreadeagled by the cart but the postman announced “dorn’t wurry luv – I ‘aven’t knocked anyone orva for a few days – its me lucky week!” Mine too – thank goodness for that because I am running out of the stress remedy!
On we went through Cardiff in Wales where we notice a whole lot more sheep in this part of the country famous for St David, daffodils, King Arthur, the Jones’s (including Tom) and more castles per kilometre than any country in the world. On to Pembroke where we got on the ferry to cross the Irish Sea to Rossclare. Well, that was an experience in pretty rough seas on the edge of a storm with a large ferry boat of cars, coaches, trucks and hundreds of people. This boat was lurching in a large swell with bottles, glasses and china crashing and smashing in the bars and dining rooms, children crying and people feeling very unwell. The only good thing about the ferry ride was the welcome onto the boat – Cead Mile Failte – a thousand welcomes. The crossing took five hours because of a diversion and the Captain slowing the boat down to try and make the crossing a little more comfortable – all to no avail. We eventually reached Waterford at 11 pm and sat down to a late dinner at the hotel. After a good sleep we investigated Waterford and did a very interesting tour of the crystal factory watching these amazing craftsmen marking, cutting and engraving the crystal. Then it was on to Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone – now we kissed the Blarney Stone in 2008 (by the way kissing the Blarney Stone is supposed to give you the gift of eloquence – still waiting!) In 2019 we are 11 years older and, as you know, you get down in front of the stone, you roll onto your back and you are bent over backwards to kiss the stone – all this is done with the help of a strong Irishman who helps you get down, roll back, roll over and get up again! Now we just didn’t have time on this tour to make an appointment with the Physio to recover from kissing the stone and the queue was half a mile long so we did the beautiful walks around the castle in the lush green gardens and pastures and relived our visit here with Brendan, Victoria and one year old Oliver in 2008 when we nearly all kissed the stone (the safety officer doesn’t like heights so he volunteered to take on the role of minder for Oliver)! We found the boardwalk through the fern garden we did back then and enjoyed being outside on a pleasant Irish day!
On we travelled past Irish farms – average size 125 acres and were told in 2017 the average farmer in Ireland earned 32,000 Euros. Some grow crops to supplement the income but a lot of Ireland’s soil is peat which is difficult to farm and grow crops on. In fact this peat is everywhere making roads uneven and poor land for farming.
The Irish music is playing on the bus and we sing along to tunes like “It’s a long way to Tipperary; Danny Boy; Wild Colonial Boy and I’ll take you home again Kathleen”. My goodness – this bus is fair dancing it’s way to Blarney Castle past the green hills and fields on a grey day – perhaps a normal day! The one in charge of the B’s knows all the words to all these songs and is enjoying the music, tapping the feet and I am worried he is going to jump up and do a jig! Now I must tell you – we met Paddy the other day and asked him about his family and Paddy explained to us ‘e was worried about ‘is family so ‘e was because ‘is sister ‘ad t’ree brothers but ‘e ‘ad only two! Poor Paddy!
Yesterday we drove the Ring of Kerry – driving past the peat and bog lands of this Irish countryside and passing more pubs along de way all painted in de bright colours so they stand out on this lovely landscape. As ye will all know, in this land of Irish leprechauns there are more pubs than dairies or anything else for that matter. We left the hotel at 8 am to do this adventure but by 9 am we are stopping for an Irish coffee – oh yes – only in Ireland do you get a warm welcome in the coffee shop with the coffee laced with de Bayley’s at 9 am!!! Now the road of the Ring is narrow – Irish “narrow” meaning really meant for one car so all the coaches have to drive around anticlockwise because two coaches cannot pass – haven’t a hope of passing even if they are racing to get to the next pub – which is only up the road anyway! But the camper vans don’t seem to know about this Irish rule and they are coming at us as if there is no tomorrow – in fact we wondered if we would see tomorrow such was the squeeze at times between the stone walls on the side of the road and the passing vehicles! The heather is in bloom on the rocky hillsides, the little stone houses are tucked into the landscape, the stone walls are dividing up paddocks and farms and the cows look so laid back that perhaps they drink the Guinness too. The Irish people just love people and they welcome you and chat to you and nothing is too much trouble. We met an Irish lady who had been to NZ and “had a feckin wonderful time and loved every feckin part of it!” So she did!
A recently found relative here in Ireland by the name of John Culhane travelled an hour from his home to Killarney to meet up with us with his wife Helen and 16 year old daughter Rosheen. In true Irish fashion he arranged to meet us at the hotel at 6.45 pm so we waited in the foyer looking at every strange man who came through the door but not finding one called John. At 7.15 a guy wandered out of the bar down the corridor looking like he just might be looking for someone and it turned out to be John – we should have known an Irishman would be waiting in the bar!!
When we were here in 2008 with Brendan, Victoria and Oliver we asked directions to get to a place called New Grange out of Dublin. The man I asked took a very long time to explain to me that “ya knaw if I ‘ad a choice ma’am I wouldn’t be startin from ‘ere!” But we were starting from there so we were and then got the most convoluted directions that even Paddy ‘imself would not have been able to follow them past the first pub! They are hilarious lovely people.
Tonight we are in Athlone right beside the River Shannon – oh yes — it is here I flow at a rapid pace and the largest river in Ireland. There are signs with my name everywhere and the Gaelic spelling of Shannon is Sionainn – very pretty but can you imagine Kiwis trying to pronounce that – no – it wouldn’t come out right at all! Our visit to Bunratty Castle was cut short by heavy rain but you can always fill in time having a good Irish cuppa and scones or soup and Soda bread! The safety officer just loves the scones and the soda bread which is no help to the shrinking clothes! The Irish do not do small portions of anyt’ing at all whether it be food or Guinness – no – they are all into “upsizing”!
On the way to Dublin we visited the ancient reunions of Clonacnoise which is an early Christian site founded by St Ciaran in the mid-6th century and is on the eastern bank of the River Shannon. We arrived there at 9 am on a clear, crisp morning and it was almost eerie to see the remarkable remains of a cathedral, seven churches, two round towers, three high crosses and the largest collection of early Christian graveslabs in Western Europe.
The past few days have been in Dublin – this bustling city with a population of 1.5 million and its low rise Georgian brick buildings. We were fortunate enough to be staying at one of the city’s most historic hotels called The Shelbourne. There is a lot of history in this hotel so the Concierge treated us to a session last night about its past. Actually, the tradition here is that the Irish Rugby Team always leave from this hotel before playing a test at Lansdowne Road. We then set off about 40 minutes out of Dublin to an Irish Pub which was set up 25 years ago by a group of Irish musicians and there we were treated to wonderful Irish hospitality with the drinks flowing, the music pumping, the dancers kicking up their heels and tapping their feet and enough food to feed half of Ireland. The Irish are lovely people – they just love people, they love telling stories and they especially love having their pint of Guinness at any time of the day! Today Vern went on a tour to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells and I went and did a tour of the Guinness Storehouse – as part of our entry we were given two tickets to get a pint of Guinness – at 10 am! No – it didn’t happen – I had half a shot glass to do a tasting but honestly, I have to say it isn’t my cup of tea but I am full of admiration for the Guinness family who have been a very philanthropic family with a great social conscience and have done some very good things in this city and for other places in Ireland too.
Our final night in Dublin was a treat because we met up with David and Carol Coleman. David is a paediatric cardiologist here and they have lived here since 2003 but are currently packing up to come back to NZ and to live in Devonport – in our neighbourhood! Once again it was special to see family because we have been travelling with our Aussie neighbours for seven weeks now and we love meeting up with the ones we know. So, after a drink in the No 27 bar at The Shelbourne and a lovely dinner at an Irish restaurant up the road we said farewell to David and Carol and farewell to Dublin.
Right now we are crossing the Irish Sea – today we had breakfast in Ireland, have just had morning tea on the Irish Sea, we have lunch in Wales and dinner in England at Chester! It is just another day on this wonderful adventure. We now travel through Scotland so I will press the kilt for the one in charge of the B’s – but what does he wear under the kilt I wonder? I should have bought him some tartan nickers perhaps! No – he wouldn’t allow it. And what about the haggis? Oh dear – watch this space. So it is farewell from the Irish Sea from the one in charge of the P’s and the one in charge of the B’s. I have a few Euros in the bag which I must now go and see if I can get rid of!
The one in charge of the B’s just wants you to know the work he has to do and how exhausting it is BUT I tell him that is what he signed up for so just get on with it!!
Our excursion to magical Rothenburg on Wednesday was truly a highlight. Our guide told us we would be travelling the “romantic road” to Rothenburg and what goes on in ze bus stays on ze bus! Well, the one in charge of the B’s obviously got stressed about this and I wondered if he was going to jump into a spare seat for the journey! On we travelled on this romantic journey, which was the trading route in Medieval times, passing vast agricultural areas growing sugarbeets (which are refined into molasses and sugar), and fruit trees which are mainly apple for the cider and all the large and tasty German cakes and pies. Not a lot of livestock was to be seen in this flat and fertile part of the country.
Now I must tell you – we pass signs for Einfahrt and Ausfahrt – we have seen hundreds of these in our travels over the years and have worked out they are the Ins and Outs of German autobahns and buildings! The boss’s translation was quite inaccurate!
We pass vineyards on very steep slopes and large privately owned solar farms where the power is sold back to the grid – all coal plants in Germany will cease to operate here from 2032 and nuclear power plants will close in 2023. On this romantic road we also pass half timbered houses in picture postcard villages along the way. The tour guide gives us a voucher to get a discount off a cuckoo clock – I mention this to the boss who is less than interested and tells me he already has a cuckoo clot or two that he is travelling with so we dispense with the idea of bringing home ze cuckoo clock!!
Rothenburg, in the Franconia area of Bavaria, is truly one of Germany’s most spectacular historical gems dating back to the 1200’s. Everything has been impressively preserved and safeguarded and there is a colourful mixture of Baroque and Renaissance buildings – and, of course, you travel ze romantic road to get to zis quaint treasure.
By the way – the petrol in Germany is between 1.40 and 1.60 EUR a litre which seems to equate with what we pay at home. No need for petrol today as we glide about 200 km down the Main Canal to meet up with the Rhine early tomorrow morning so a lovely relaxing day onboard and a visit to the small but extremely efficient galley to see how they prepare 600 meals a day – 3 each for 150 passengers and 50 crew (not to mention the four courses at dinner!) The very interesting explanations of preparation, service and hygiene were given by the Head Chef on zis boat who works for 7 months with just 14 days off. Tonight we dine at Table la Rive for another degustation and if we don’t stop having these multiple tastings I can tell you this boat may become grounded by the weight!! We sail along the Main Canal all night through many many locks and berth in Rudesheim by breakfast time. We spend some time in this quaint German town at the side of the Rhine famous for its Riesling wines and travel up the cable car to the Niederwald monument at the top of the hill which gives magnificent views of the area.
We have only three days left on this lovely riverboat and arrive in Cologne tomorrow and Amsterdam on Sunday. Meanwhile, the crew are obviously worried we are underfed so a special Medieval Feast has been arranged for us tonight at Marksburg Castle. I can tell you for sure that this country is absolutely drowning in ze beer as would we if we took up the offer of having one 20 times a day! We don’t – the one in charge of the B’s won’t allow it!
We are currently sailing on the Rhine towards the Lorelei which is a 433 ft steep slate rock above the Rhine Gorge. The rock and the murmur it creates have inspired various tales and legends.
The Rhine is an important shipping route for commodities including, grains, minerals, chemicals, coal and oil products including heating oil. Suddenly we are seeing a highway of vessels sailing up and down this very busy river. This is also the section of the ABC – another b…………..eautiful castle or church and there is absolutely an abundance of them!
On Saturday we arrived in Cologne and parked this riverboat just behind the massive cathedral. Our walking tour took us to the bridge with all the padlocks – there must be millions of them here adding to the weight of this structure. The magnificent cathedral hovers over the city and took over 600 years to build including stops and starts. Since 1950 it has been in a continuous state of restoration because the sandstone is deteriorating and vast areas are having to be replaced. The spires stand 157 m tall and the detail on the exterior is truly impressive. Sadly the blackened sandstone hides some of the true beauty as you need to look carefully to see the intricacies of the design. The interior is 8000 sq ft in size and has capacity for 20,000 people. The many huge stained glass windows are spectacular and the treasures inside are breathtaking. It is nothing short of a miracle that this cathedral survived the Second World War (although it was badly damaged) when the city of Cologne was almost destroyed.
Tonight, because ze Captain obviously is worried about the online appraisal we have to complete on our trip, he is putting on a farewell cocktail and dinner so the chefs in that very small galley are at it again all for us! We are currently sailing the 260 km to get to Amsterdam by tomorrow morning where this cruise ends.
Today our journey of 1000 km on these rivers from Budapest ended in the city of Amsterdam – a city of 850,000 residents but over 1 million bikes. The only way to see this charming city is by doing a canal cruise which we did and then walking around to view the quaint houses (many of which are leaning as they sink into the mud). The city is a mess this morning after a monstrous gay parade last night and the aroma of the wacky baccy lingers in this city which is so tolerant of diversity. It has been an adventurous journey with changing water levels, changing boats, changing countries and cultures and so very interesting. Now we fly to London to continue our journey.
Well, interesting things happen on these long rivers. This journey takes us on the Danube which travels from Budapest in Hungary, through to Vienna, Saltzburg and Melk in Austria, then on the Main Canal from Regensburg in Bavaria and Nuremberg, Bamberg, Wurzburg in Germany where we join the Rhine and go through Rudesheim and Cologne in Germany and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The Main Canal was opened in 1992 to connect the Danube and the Rhine and to give a passage connecting the North Sea and the Black Sea. River cruising started on this route in 1995 – it was never envisaged that passengers would travel this route – it was designed for trade but now 43% is passengers, ie river cruising and 49% is cargo. From Budapest to Amsterdam you travel through 68 locks controlling the levels. Now between Regensburg and Passau there is a stretch of the Danube known as the “wild part”. Two locks are required there to control water levels and permits have been issued, money is available but the Green Party here has prevented these being built. These locks would solve the problems of the high and low water levels encountered almost every year on this journey. It hasn’t happened and we encountered a problem and it seems that it is now worrying the cruise companies as the season progresses because water levels are getting very low in parts – particularly at the Budapest end of the the journey. We ran out of water in the “wild part” so we have had a minor disruption which has been handled extremely well. We had to park the boat at Engelhardtszell for a couple of days – apparently a lot of boats were rushing to get to places to prevent them getting stuck. That meant bus trips a little longer than normal to do our excursions and see what was on the programme.
On Monday morning we went to Nuremberg – a 3.5 hour journey through the countryside passing flourishing crops, pretty villages, large industries producing cars and farming equipment and also HQ for Red Bull and Porsche, colourful wildflowers at the roadsides, long tunnels and large solar energy farms. Whilst we were doing all of this all our luggage was transferred to ze boat waiting for us in Nuremberg – identical boat, identical stateroom etc etc so all vunderful.
Well it is always interesting when you have to get 143 passengers off a boat at a particular time to go on a journey. We have a German Tour Director and he sticks to German timing, ie ON time!! No – it doesn’t work for a small percentage of the passengers. We all get on the coaches and he comes and does his German count – eins, zwei, drei, vier etc – there are three coaches. Then some people hop off one coach because ze friends are on ze other one so they go jump aboard another bus which puts the count in a pickle! The Mongolian lady who is our transfer chaperone goes and counts in Mongolian and then again in German and one person is missing – so we can’t go anywhere because maybe they have jumped onto another bus or maybe they are sound asleep because the alarm didn’t work or maybe they are cleaning up the leftover croissants at the breakfast buffet! Who knows but it takes a blimmin long time to find this lost person – or maybe the count was wrong in the beginning or lost in translation or some zumzing else! OO knowz? This is a daily occurrence – I can tell you for sure that sometimes the teacher in me is desperate to jump up and give zem a lecture!
Prior to the change of boats we visited the beautiful little village of Durnstein and then on to Melk where we visited the Benedictine Abbey high above the Danube and over 900 years old. This was truly magnificent in so many ways with its overwhelming Italian-style Baroque architecture and stunning library with over 16,000 volumes on show.
It was then onto charming Salzburg, the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the gorgeous yellow house where he was born. We were treated to lunch and a musical show in the hills above the city.
The boat was “parked” in the pretty but tiny village of Engelhardtszell. We opted not to go on a 2.5 hour bus journey to Regensburg and 2.5 hours back to the boat but rather to explore the little village. It was a good decision because the journey back took the buses four hours because of a problem on ze autobahn! Also, that evening we were invited to the special restaurant onboard for a degustation of an Italian feast – of course we needed that after the two hour walk. The restaurant manager from India called himself the Godfather and introduced his “brothers” – Panna Cotta from Serbia and Tiramisu from Hungary!! So, as you can guess, an hilarious night was had by all!
Nuremberg seemed at first to be a rather colourless and depressing city but our guide took us behind the scenes to discover some gorgeous buildings. Vern also went on a WWII tour – it was here that Hitler gathered his followers in The Zeppelin Fields during the Third Reich – a darker side of this city’s past. Today we have been in Bamberg – a picturesque, predominantly university town.
We are relieved that the Lime have disappeared over the past few days. However, I can tell you for sure that they have been completely taken over by thousands of cyclists. Every German is on a bike or in a very smart European car. There are old bikes, new bikes, electric bikes, fold up bikes, cranky bikes, rusty bikes and young people and little old ladies like me on them all. Some have baskets back and front for all the purchases – no helmets but they are zipping around at the greatest of speeds and ringing their bells to warn us they are coming! The one in charge of the B’s (also bikes it appears) has become the safety officer and is constantly pulling me back to prevent me being spread eagled across the cobblestones by ze bikes. His head sometimes looks like it has come loose because he is turning left, right, behind and in front to check the passage of ze bikes to keep me safe! I think he gets dizzy taking on this role but, as I tell ‘im – this is what he signed up for! So the Rescue Remedy is back out of the case and I am thinking I may need to administer it to ze safety officer! He is also grizzling a little that his list of responsibilities is getting longer by the day. Can you belieeeeeve it?
Now here we are sailing quietly on the Main Canal from Bamberg where we spent the morning in this beautiful city and on to Wurzburg and through 14 locks. The locks are taking us down many metres and every day is a new experience as we move through different countries. Honestly, the captains on zese boats are quite incredible the way they can manoeuvre these long boats into the locks where they only just fit – and oh dear, the minute I say zat ze boat has a little bump on ze side! Per’aps ze captain took ‘is eye off ze ball!! I will go and check in case he needs help! The other evening when were were eating the four courses and sipping the wine at dinner a boat arrived in front of us and nek minit he reversed to get into the berth and nudged owa boat! Luckily we had a good hold of ze wine and ze stein! Now our journey proceeds as normal after the little blip which lasted a few days and we are assured the Rhine has enough water for us.
Glucklicher Tag from the happy travellers – every day is a blessing
We arrived in Budapest, capital of Hungary, around lunchtime on Sunday and checked into our hotel on a hot 35 degree day. The Marriott hotel was lovely with a view of the Danube from our room and, at first glance, the bathroom looked very simple and manageable. But…….. on checking it a little more thoroughly we discovered the lowest toilet you have seen in all your life. Honestly, it was about 30 cm off the floor – now I am not going to go into detail about this but just picture yourself getting off that and you will understand that attending a gym class is entirely necessary!
Our first glimpse of Budapest on our trip from the airport was of many apartment buildings in need of maintenance and we have since heard from our tour guide that these buildings are remnants of the Communist Regime which ended in 1989. There are some beautiful buildings too and it appears that a lot of work has started on repairing and refurbishing those along with monuments, parks and city squares. Perhaps the EU is assisting in bringing this city back to life. Our boat, the Scenic Jewel, is on the Buda side of the Danube and we were fortunate to have our cabin looking out to the Danube and directly over to the beautiful Parliament Buildings on the Pest side of the city. As night falls, these buildings and bridges are lit up spectacularly and they are truly a sight to see.
Our city tour from the boat was interesting taking us to both sides of this city, firstly up the hill to the Citadel monument giving magnificent views to all parts of the city, Liberty Bridge, Elizabeth Bridge, past the Opera House which is being refurbished and on to City Park – a lovely park with a Church, Agricultural Museum, playground, lake and the Escritor Anonymus Statue where, legend has it, if you rub the pen you have good luck. The one in charge of the B’s tells me “go rub that pen” so I did – top, bottom, back, front – I got it all covered! Good luck coming our way!
All this sightseeing was followed by a visit to a small concert hall in a lovely building which is part of a school for visually impaired students. The treat was a short piano and organ recital by one of Budapest’s famous pianists, a Professor of Music called Csaba Kiraly and a pure genius on the piano and organ. It was wonderful.
This afternoon we have had a safety drill – we knew it was happening. It just entails climbing the stairs up to the top deck, putting on a life jacket (properly) and lining up where you are supposed to so that your cabin number can be checked. Interesting! Some people must have thought we were going to get a cocktail up there whilst clipping up the jacket and checking the whistle so they came dressed for it – very high heels, handbags, long dresses and jewellery that glimmered in the sun – then it seemed that photos were more important than safety training so they had to strike a pose and the ones taking the photo took 10 to be sure, to be sure! Heaven forbid – I thought the boss was going to burst a foofoo valve in frustration!
On Tuesday evening we were invited to dine with four other guests, ze Captain, Hotel Manager and Tour Director and a five-course dinner was served with wines especially chosen by ze Captain who was also proud to tell us that the main course was NZ lamb and delicious it was! As you can imagine, we desperately needed the five courses but it would definitely help the problem of the shrinking clothes if they were all bowls of lettuce! I have made myself feel a tincy bit better but doing ten laps of the upper deck this morning in the sunshine which equates to 1.5 km. The trouble is I need to add about another 50 laps to soak up the calories. The boss decided it was more important to read the world news to keep up-to-date with what Boris and Donald have tweeted in the past 24 hours! By the way – all the Australians we have met absolutely love Jacinda and want her cloned so she can run Australia too!
Now as I write this we have a free day as we sail up the Danube (which isn’t blue!) towards Vienna. We have this morning gone through Bratislava in Slovakia and we are now in Austria and arrive in Vienna at 4 pm – 272 km from Budapest which takes this boat 22 hours at 14 km/ph. We will also go through 68 locks during this two-week cruise up the Danube and joining the Rhine at Wiesbaden. The one in charge of the B’s (also boats) is on the verandah enjoying the view as we pass some very long barges being pushed up the river. It is a beautiful scene as we pass people fishing from little inlets, children playing on small beaches, pretty bushlands, little villages and other riverboats with people waving at us and we at them. Then we came to an area near Vienna where there are tiny cottages – maybe little fishing huts or baches and then I report to the boss, who is quietly reading, that I am sure some of these people are wandering around without the clothes. Now maybe I need to go to Specsavers, but I am sure this is the case so I am thinking that maybe their clothes may have shrunk like ours have and they have abandoned them! The boss announces that we won’t be following this example. Then, just as I was recovering from seeing these naked men on the sideline the Austrian Military sent about ten small boats in a line up the river at great speed past our boat – what is this about? There is never a dull moment sitting on this verandah! Around 4 pm this lovely boat glides into Vienna and we have an early dinner because the treat tonight is a classical concert at the Palais Lichtenstein and we all set off at 7.15 pm to this beautiful venue and are greeted in the magnificent foyer with a glass of champagne. The concert was an absolute treat not to be missed with nine wonderful musicians from the Vienna Imperial Orchestra and a soprano, a tenor and a ballet duo. We sat in the most breathtaking concert hall in the Palais to listen to this musical feast and it was amazing.
This morning there was no sleep in because we had to depart at 8.15 am for a city tour of Vienna followed by a special visit to the Spanish Riding School here – a very famous riding school dating back to 1735 and featuring the famous Lippizaner white horses. The principal horses are away on holiday but the baby horses were on show along with some others and they were wonderful to see. It was a hot day here in Vienna at 35 degrees and the one in charge of the B’s (seems that means the blonde as well!) was looking after me – hat, umbrella, cold Kathmandu necktie etc etc. All good and that is ‘ow we cope with ze temperature at present which global warming seems to have thrust upon uz just when ve don’t need it! My minder looks after me which is good because the Lime are here as well and every so often he grabs my arm to stop me being flattened by ze German Lime! I tell you – these things have invaded the entire world. I thought it was Phil’s problem to solve in Auckland but all his mates in every city are trying to solve the same problem.
By the way – you will all be extremely relieved to know zat ze bathroom on zis boat is like a Kiwi bathroom and no “Bathroom for Dummies” manual required and we can work everyzing without calling the engineer on zis boat! Oh what relief. I can put the Rescue Remedy back in the suitcase!
And so we sail on up the Danube hoping that global warming will deliver rain so that this boat can carry on!
We awoke this morning tied up beside the little village of Durnstein, Austria and, as our departure was 10 am we got up for an early breakfast and took a walk to discover this beautiful but tiny village where the apricot trees flourish and the vineyards are planted on steep slopes reminding us of the Cinque Terre in Italy. Now we are back onboard and sailing up the river past campers enjoying the sunshine and very long barges being pushed upstream.
Before we left Rouen we walked with a group to see a light show projected onto the exterior of the 12th century cathedral. It started at 11 pm because it doesn’t get dark here until around 10.30 pm and was the most spectacular light display we have ever seen.
Monday morning saw us arrive in the medieval town of Honfleur at the end of the Seine where the river flows into the English Channel. This long boat had to come through the entrance of the tiny harbour which was 110 feet wide. Having got through the entrance the 110 m long boat had to turn around to reverse further down the tiny pier to get to its berth – this was rather a tight manoeuvre. We went up onto the top deck to watch all of this and to my surprise no one was on the bridge! Holy Moly! Then we noticed ze Captain and First Officer were actually driving the boat from a little station on the edge of the port side – the local Pilot was also onboard so all was well – they didn’t need my help! As you can imagine, the one in charge of the B’s (not ze boat) was very intrigued with all this manoeuvring and also all the yachts in the harbour.
Eventually we were alongside our berth at 9.30 am and we set off for the walking tour in beautiful Honfleur which dates back to Renaissance times with quaint tiny lanes and an ancient wooden Church of St Catherine. Many artists resided here, and still do, and there are galleries everywhere. It is beautiful and after our walk we came back to the boat to eat again (because zat is what you do – several times a day!)
Then a short rest to prepare to go off the boat to a local residence for Sundowners and then back for dinner. Heaven forbid – we thought we might need to do a short marathon before afternoon tea time so we can fit into the clothes for this little adventure. We all set off in three buses for a short ride out of Honfleur to visit this cider Manoir which had a very large orchard of apple trees for the cider, cherry trees and a paddock where there was a little family of charolais cows. They also produced Calvados – now if you have tried Calvados you will know that it has a reputation for killing anything inside of you. The boss enjoyed the cider, enjoyed the calvados and then was chosen to assist a very good magician do a trick by tying a rope around this guy and then to tie knots before holding a black booth around him to escape. It was quite hilarious as the French guy ended up calling the boss “Vin” and he wanted Vin to do various ties and knots wiz ze rope and Vin was getting the translation a little mixed up (perhaps not helped by the Calvados he had just enjoyed!) I had the cider and thought I just had to taste a tincy bit of the Calvados whereupon I almost choked and if anyone had lit a match I would have been breathing fire! It took me about 10 minutes to cool down after that little episode but it didn’t seem to have any effect on Vin!
The good news is every tap, lever, button, disco light and faucet is working in the bathroom department and that in itself is cause for celebration!
After the sombreness of the battlefields in northern Normandy last night we were invited to dine at the small restaurant on this Scenic Gem called l’Amour with a group of guests. It was a really great night with a special chef explaining what he had spent the day cooking for uz (and we hoped he had chosen everything with zero calories but it didn’t appear to work out zat way!) It all started with a lovely champagne mixed with a little limoncello and lavender followed by hors d’ouevres, white asparagus soup, duck breast with a lovely jus and vegetables and several desserts plus a lot of laughs and entertainment by the waiters. Following dinner we went onto the top deck to watch the Captain sail this very long boat out of Honfleur’s tiny harbour and this morning we awoke in Caudebec en Caux. This morning’s excursion was to Fecamp, about a 40-minute drive passing small farms with the pale charolais cows and the Normandy cows with the distinctive brown circles around their eyes, just like sun glasses. We drove on past areas of pretty bushlands on windy roads up into the highlands crossing the Pay de Caux. The countryside is picturesque, the sun is shining, the farmers are tending their crops and the houses are a mix of new and very old and colourful flowers are blooming everywhere. Magnifique and on we go to Fecamp and the Benedictine Monastery where the monks are making ze cider in readiness for owa visit! Of course we need this because it is 10 am! Heaven forbid!
We pass the oldest tree in France dating back to 911 in the village of Allouville. Personally, I can hardly believe this when we are trying to keep alive the olive trees at Pauanui and it will be a miracle if they last 11 years let alone over 900! This area is primarily agricultural (as is much of Normandy and it gets quite a lot of rain). The soil is rich and there are large areas growing flax for linen. In fact 50% of the linen production comes from Normandy and the area has been known for its textiles for centuries. The crop of flax can only be planted in the same place every two years because it drains the soil of minerals so other crops are planted in alternate years. They are developing new materials to replace some plastics from the flax being harvested now. After it is cut, dried and baled it is sent to Italy and China to make into linen. In this windy and wet area the apple trees for the cider grow well and it is also known for its cider. In Normandy you don’t see the sunflowers and lavender of Provence or the vineyards of the Loire or Burgundy, Bordeaux or Chateneuf du Pape so the scenery is different from our other visits here. We get to the beautiful Benedictine Monastery and have the tour, view the magnificent artefacts and artworks and go to the distillery to watch the just three employees (not monks!) distilling the special Benedictine liqueur from its 27 plants and spices and taking up to 2 years to make. Brandy is added during the final blending. Then it is onto the tasting – not as strong as the calvados (which they say kills everything but ensures you live ze long life) but quite strong just the same! Oh the things you do in France at 10 am! Then we set off in ze bus which just fits down some of these little cobbled streets – sometimes we all need to breathe in so it can fit! We are on our way back to the boat because it is time to eat again and we leave Caudebec-en-Caux for Vernon so the Vernon is very ‘appy sitting on ze bed watching the Tour de France before it will be time for ze ‘appy hour and to eat yet again – tonight’s invite is at the Table la Rive and another special degustation put together by another chef for a selected ten of us! C’est la vie!
We pulled alongside the pier in Vernon around 1 am and voila – this morning there are three boats tied up together but luckily the Gem arrived first so our neighbours have to climb through our boat to get to shore! This morning our tour director organised for the group to travel just 5 km up the road to Giverny and to be the first group allowed into Monet’s beautiful garden. We were here six years ago with the zillions that arrive later in the day so it was very special and rare to be the only ones here and to walk peacefully through the entire garden before the hoards are allowed in. The display of thousands of beautiful flowers was just magnificent at every turn and we popped into the Monet house before the queues and then walked up the road to Monet’s gravesite. Giverny is a very small place with just 400 inhabitants – it is pretty and the houses have lovely gardens but the rest of the world arrives on their doorstep every day! It was then back to ze boat for ze lunch and then the other boats untied themselves from our boat and slipped aside so that we could drift out peacefully down the river to La Roche Guyon where tonight we go to a classical concert at Chateau de la Roche Guyon, the grounds of which are adjacent to where this long boat will be tied up for a few hours and then we leave for Conflans. Vunderful!
The concert was truly magical with four musicians playing in a room in the Chateau which had been the dining room and where the acoustics were excellent.
We are currently sailing quietly back up the Seine towards Paris having left Conflans-Sainte-Honorine just after lunch. The one in charge of the B’s went on an excursion to Chantilly Castle which was a mini Versailles and he enjoyed that. He had expected to visit the well known Chantilly horse racing track, stables and museum next to the Castle but time was too short on the day. But he did come home with all the money he went with so that is good!!! I had a walk across the road to the tiny village. It is a warm sunny day and we are expected to arrive in Paris around 9 pm. It is the Captain’s Gala Dinner tonight and we are all wearing our No 1s for the first time. Our berth is quite near the Eiffel Tower. Tomorrow morning a group of us are going shopping with the chef from ze boat to a market to buy products to come back and make a picnic lunch with – magnifique!
We depart Paris on Sunday morning to fly to Budapest where we board the Scenic Jewel to sail from Budapest to Amsterdam over the following two weeks. Our time in beautiful France is coming to an end but there are more adventures to come. We should have done research on the bathrooms in Hungary and the Netherlands but we simply have not had time so it is slightly possible more challenges await us.
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.
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 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.
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”
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!!
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 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!
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!
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!
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!
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!