Bonnie beautiful Scotland

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.

Chester Cathedral and garden

Typical buildings in Chester including our hotel

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.

Beatles Museum Liverpool

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.

The blooming heather!
Lake Windermere

Buildings around Lake Windermere

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.

Grassmere where William Wordsworth is buried at St Oswalds Church

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.

Gretna Green on a cold Scottish day!

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.

Hotel du Vin in Glasgow – five houses joined together taking up whole street

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!

The symbol of Scotland – the thistle

Typically Scottish – in every shop

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.

Loch Lomond but no sign of Nessie!

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!

The ruins of Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness

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.

Cawdor Castle and magnificent gardens

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.

Spreyside Cooperage – remaking of the casks that come from the US

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.

Glenfiddich Distillery and its beautiful buildings and grounds
Hard work today – you have to rate three whiskeys – no ice or water allowed!

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.

Falconry at Dunkeld Estate

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.

The magnificent Holyrood House in Edinburgh

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.

Interiors of the Britannia

P Class Yacht given to the Queen during the Royal visit to NZ in 1953 and built by David Marks

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!

The Castle decorated in NZ theme for the entry of the NZ Army Band
Mass bands at the Tattoo
NZ Army Band
Lochiel marching team from NZ
Dressed up like Teletubbies at the tattoo on a cold night in Edinburgh

London and on to Ireland

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.

Aaron, Anna, Alessia and Analie in Kensington Gardens

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!

The Roman Baths in Bath and the brew house opposite the hotel

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!

The beautiful green grounds of Blarney Castle

Vern found a toy to play on!

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!

A bar outside Bunratty Castle

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!

The narrow roads around the Ring of Kerry
The heather in bloom – Ring of Kerry

The pretty buildings in towns around the Ring of Kerry

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”!

Muckross House in Killarney

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 remarkable ruins of Clomnacmoise on the banks of the River Shannon

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.

The lovely Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin
The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin

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.

At dinner with David and Carol Coleman in 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!!

Bags, beers, budget, bathrooms, backpacks, bikes, boats, bank account and the blonde is bxxxxxxy exhausting!

Rothenburg to Amsterdam

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!

The picturesque buildings of Rothenburg

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.

Cable car in Rudesheim up to the monument on the hill

Yes – we keep up the fluid intake but there are no half sizes here!

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!

Scenic Jade berthed in Cologne

Millions of locks on the bridge in Cologne

Typical scenery as we glide quietly past beautiful villages on the Rhine

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!

The highway of long trading vessels on the Rhine
Sailing past vineyards on steep slopes and pretty villages on the Rhine
Sitting in the lock waiting for the water level to go down

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.

Cologne’s magnificent cathedral

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.

Walking around beautiful Amsterdam on a hot afternoon


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.

Tot ziens voor nu – farewell for now

The leaning houses in Amsterdam are sinking into the mud

Houseboats on the sides of all the canals – some for sale for 1.5m EUR!

How on earth do you find your bike? The train station has parks for 200,000 of them!

Melk to Bamberg

Guten Tag

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.

The picturesque half-timbered and tall houses in Nuremberg
Medieval part in Nuremberg

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.

The pretty little village of Engelhardtszell and beautiful church
Benedictine Abbey in Melk

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.

Saltzburg – the lovely shops in narrow lanes with the medieval signage and Mozart’s birthplace

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.

Resting in the shade in the rose garden in Bamberg on a very hot day
The one in charge of the B’s waiting for ze next beer!! He never co-operates for ze photo!

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