S: Sandy & Anna's Europe Adventure 2011
BC: Dubai | Norfolk | Paris | Amsterdam | Hanover | Copenhagen | Oslo | Reykjavik | St Petersberg | Lanchyn | Budapest | Athens | Rome | Portagalete | Cornwall | Dubai
FC: Sandy & Anna's Europe Adventure 2011
2: Dubai Delights Dubai is an amazing place. We arrived at 5.20am after a 14 hour long but reasonably comfortable overnight flight and it was already 32C. We checked our bags and walked through the Old Town to Dubai Creek. Roasting in our winter clothes it was a relief to swim in the hotel pool and change before heading off to Dubai Mall. I guess I expected a one dimensional "new city" feel. But there is a lot of diversity here. A very strong sense of Arabic culture juxtaposed with the many cultures of the army of immigrants who have helped build the place. Arab identity is incorporated into new buildings, which are often decorated with beautiful geometric designs. The highlight was traveling 124 floors up to the viewing deck of the world's tallest structure, the 828m Burj Khalifa. Looking down from the highest open air viewing level in the world the geometric patterns continued in the layout of parks, buildings roads and rooftops. Even the roundabout gardens are laid out in striking mandala forms. | We were only about 80% of the way up the 160 floors, and 452m up the whole structure. A 10 second time lapse movie depicting the 6 years it took to complete the building highlighted what a huge feat it was. The design is based on a motif derived from a desert flower so no wonder the result is a building of sheer wonder and beauty, billed as the worlds first vertical city. At the base of Burj Khalifa lies a huge pool with the Dubai dancing fountain which we returned to ground level in time to see operating. | We walked through the massive Dubai Mall for about 2 hours to get there. We became lost in The Gold Souk - a labyrithine mall within the mall lined with jewelery shops and many empty shops. Luckily we found dessert heaven as there are many Italian cafes and we were fortified by a delicious decadent morning tea overlooking the aquarium 8m deep and maybe 50m long with schools of fish, rays, small sharks, and scuba divers - you can pay to dive. Later we went to see Burj Al Arab -from the gate - and took a taxi out to the Palm, which is a series of off-shore islands in the shape of a palm tree 5 km across. | Burj Khalifa 828m | Dubai Mall | Dubai Creek -the old and the new
3: At the top is the huge Atlantis Hotel, a water theme park and an Atlantis-themed aquarium with 50 or more exhibits which we enjoyed. We took the monorail back to the mainland with a good view of the Palm. The station staff, who outnumbered the passengers hailed us a taxi which we took to the train and the driver-less train running above the roadway took us the 30km or so back to our hotel where we collapsed for a sleep before dinner. We dined at the hotel Indian restaurant where arriving at 8.30pm for dinner is early! and were treated to excellent seafood and an evening of live music performed by a local Indian band and accompanied by some Bollywood style dancers and singers. Wednesday morning was on the water exploring the local waterway Dubai Creek - and seeing the amazing contrasts of old, new, traditional, modern and innovative in architecture, transport and culture. We went to the Cultural Museum which we'd thought was very small and found vast galleries underground that we barely had time to rush through before we were picked up by our driver for our afternoon and evening "desert safari" with 4WD sand dune driving, (made Anna REALLY sick) sand boarding,(Sandy nailed it -Anna took pics) and a short bumpy camel ride then a BBQ dinner and dance performances- a whirling dervish, a fire juggler, and a belly dance, just a sample of the mix of local cultures. Then driving back to town with the skyline lit up - thankfully on the freeway NOT the sand dunes - gave us another spectacular view of the city. We packed up our things and got about 3 hours sleep before catchng an early flight to London exactly 48 hours after we arrived - without incident despite having set the alarm to Adelaide time! Luckily Anna woke up at the right time anyway. | Whirling Dervishes | dune boarding | desert camp | Burj Al Arab - 384m | Atlantis on The Palms Jumeirah | Week 1
4: London by Underground Great fun riding the Tube, but you can have too much of a good thing. I think we have seen more underground of London than above ground. Like when we were taking our luggage into Liverpool St Station to locker it, so we could go to the Tate Modern. Train breakdown 5 stations away meant lugging our gear up and down endless escalators, stairs and trains to work around the blockage by using a different route. But what a miracle it was to be able to have that option! Eventually took us 2 buses, 5 trains, 20 escalators, 2km of walking and 3 hours to get to the art gallery. Met Patch Lilley and Suz for a drink before spending 2-3 hours visiting Level 5. Oh well, will have to go back for the other 4 levels another trip as then we were off to catch the train to Diss. | Anna visits the Tate Modern!! | Lord Mayor of London's office | invisible man | The Globe where we saw Much Ado About Nothing | the wobbly bridge | Tower of London with "Towering Innuendo" in the background | We arrived in London in a thunderstorm dragging our cases from Heathrow to Kensington Gardens by train and further on foot than expected to find our tiny terrace hotel with our very tiny room -barely walking space around the bed, and 3 cupboards 1 for a kettle 1 for the shower and 1 for the toilet. Spent the afternoon locating the Ukraine embassy (closed and elsewhere) Met Patrick and Suz for Pizza on Portobello Rd, too wet for the market . Next morning we successfully lodged applications for our Ukraine visas, caught the underground into London arriving at Westminster to hear the famous clock chime 12. Went on a Themes river cruise and the London eye (twice - once with music) Went underground to Piccadilly Circus, walked to Leicester Square (closed for Olympic makeover) and then underground to the Globe theater replica of Shakespear's times. We got the last 2 tickets for Much Ado About Nothing and really enjoyed it. | 12 noon at Big Ben
5: Norfolk Diss is a small town in Norfolk, where we are staying for a few days with our friends Sandie and Michael. We arrived in time for daughter Emma’s wedding which was a beautiful ceremony, reception and party in rolling hills near Norwich. We spent a day exploring the area including the steam train ride from Sheringham to Holt, and a boat cruise on the Norfolk Broads. The Broads are an extensive system of rivers and maybe 200 lakes which are navigable for 30-40km inland. The lakes are formed from medieval peat mines near the rivers which have since been flooded. You can hire various types of boat for the hour, the day or the week. Luckily we are here before the peak season as it becomes so popular you cannot move according to the locals. We had a great alfresco pub lunch overlooking the Broads at Wroxton. The weather has been mild to warm right through the long days. It was fully light this morning when I woke up at 4.15am and it is still light at 9.30pm. | how did we end up with the Honeymoon Suite? - sweet!! | wedding cheesecake | with friends Sandie & Michael | Norfolk Broads | Week 1 | The happy couple Emma & Rob with kids Isabel and Finn
6: Au Revoir Paris Thoroughly enjoyed our 4 days in Paris, starting with the Eiffel tower on the first evening. Discovered the short queue means no lift so we climbed the 115m stairs up to the second level! The surprising thing was the large crowds gathered on the lawns for 400m either side to watch the hourly light show of 20,000 white lights sparkling all over the tower. | Dinner and show at The Moulin Rouge was excellent. A really good range of acts from the signature can-can and topless (mixed) dancing in elaborate costumes, to the 7-baton juggler, acrobats and a ventriloquist using 4 of the audience and a dog as his dummies. The queue was blocks long with no entry until showtime making for a long wait and everything an hour later than expected. Cest la vie. Paris. Spent much of the next day at the Louvre. (Lonely Planet tip on avoiding the queues made carrying it worthwhile) General themes of love, death and war it seems - but not much of the first really. The Roman statues were very interesting, particularly use of different stones to create clothing. So many famous paintings to see and even they are dwarfed by the ceilings and room decorations in some galleries. Despite medicinal brandy with crepes fro dinner came down with a cold, got an early night. Pleased to have learnt enough French to buy cough lollies - to find they sell strepsils too. | Boy its a struggle to get enough sleep on this trip - let alone keeping up with the blog! Train to Amsterdam on Sunday is our best bet to catch up. The penalty of our late nights is we never get up early enough to beat the queues at Musee D'Orsay, and its not even peak season yet. Gave up after 3 tries. life is too short for long queues, and Anna has seen the highlights in Canberra. We got a 2 day pass for the hop on hop off Open Top bus tour to see the sights above ground - great places interesting commentary, pity about the music. | fence wire art
7: Spent the next day at the Pompidou Centre of modern art. Looks very much like Sandy's interest is sculpture, not painting, He enjoyed a great exhibition by Francois Morellet using neon lights, black lines and timber and Anna was awed by the Indian artists exhibition. We took in a few more landmarks on the bus tour, abandoned it for a beer in Monparnasse - and found a bar dedicated to beers. Fortified we strolled along streets lined with cafes stopping to enjoy a Japanese shaslick-style meal alfresco. Reluctant to leave Paris we paid final regards to the Eiffel Tower where thunder and lightening put us off going up but rain did not dampen our festive mood. Bought an umbrella from a street vendor and caught the wonderful metro | so what's with the rubber tyres on the Paris Metro?? | the Pompidou Centre Anna's right in her element now!! | latest trend in scooters - two front wheels | Week 2
8: D'Amsterdam Minen Damen und Herren is the phrase that begins every announcement since we arrived in Amsterdam 2 days ago having been unable to resist the lure of this enchanting part of Europe. Every time we decided we were too short of time for Amsterdam we saw an article or had a first hand report on how charming it is and so we had to go. And well worth the trip it is. We had a bit of a turbulent introduction to rail travel in Europe getting to Amsterdam when our train broke down one stop out of Brussels. We eventually found a replacement, and then changed trains again as planned. However this one was so full it was standing room only even in first class and we found ourselves wedged into the luggage section of our carriage along with 8 other travelers and the drinks trolley. That was not going anywhere on this trip! The trolley operator told us if we got off at the next stop and waited for the second train going to Amsterdam from platform 16 we would have a more comfortable trip and also arrive before the current train. We decided to take her advice, spent an anxious 20 minutes stranded in the middle of I don't know where, until the predicted train arrived and we finished our trip in comfort. | With no reservations and no phone, we found a room through matching a Lonely Planet recommendation to an entry at the automated info booth in the station. The stair case was precipitous but the energetic staff hauled our bags up it, cheerfully informing us on the way that our exercise was included free of charge. 10min and a complimentary welcome drink later we had a charming room on the third floor with a stunning view of the canal and Westkirke. Our bedside clock was on a clock tower just out the window and we were treated to discordant chimes every 15 minutes and a lengthy melody every half hour. We could never figure if it was the same tune twice and I was relieved that it faded into the background at night and did not wake us once. A short walk to the city square we found beach volleyball and busker Lindsay Buckland a double surprise and profetjes a delight. Continuing to the station we got straight onto a canal boat tour achieving in half an hour what we failed to do in Paris in 4 days. We instantly loved Amsterdam. | Mural around the new underground | Long way from Rundle Mall: busker Lindsay Buckland with toilet collection bowl | ..and that's just the first storey.. | Week 2 | Nadia Hotel | houseboats line the canals
9: The Dutch desire for canal frontage property combined with the inability of most to afford very much of it resulted in rows of very narrow very tall houses which over the centuries have leaned this way and that to an alarming degree. This is the place where the crooked man built his crooked house. Somehow they manage to prop each other up and stay standing with the aid of some engineering – every house has metal bolts through the walls. Each house is equipped with a built in crane at the roof so furniture can be hauled up the outside and through the windows as no space was allowed between or within for such things. The stairs are also extremely steep and narrow to save space. These rows of tilting architectural wonders fringe a network of canals lined with numerous boats and house boats of infinite variety. Between the houses and the water are narrow streets lined with parked cars and bikes. Every block has a bridge over the next canal and every bridge railing is lined with bikes. We decided that more than half the bikes are abandoned since they had flat tires or rusting frames and there never seemed to be any fewer bikes parked anywhere no matter how many cyclists there were. The overall effect was of a ramshackle and easy going place. | The city was blessedly free of queues and crowds and despite having an incomprehensible tram system we really appreciated instant access to everything once we found it. Between the bikes, trams and buses there's not much traffic and the single lane roads seemed enough for easy driving. Plans to hire a bike thwarted by us having left passports at the hotel we found a "coffee shop" selling delicious chocolate space muffins. We got legally high and returned to our room for a pleasantly lazy afternoon and finished our day with Thai massages. Heavy rain next day again kept us off bikes. We went indoors to Rembrandt's house and studio, with excellent print gallery and etching demonstration. We finished our stay with a walk down the red light district - how could you not - which was rather bleak in the rain. | the great multi-storey bike park | Rembrant's Studio | there was a crooked man... | bike tours
10: Munich Interesting introduction to Munich, arriving at 7pm to find our first night’s hotel booking had gone awry and the town was full to overflowing with 75,000 visitors to the InterSolar Exhibition. It was complicated somewhat by leaving our booking confirmation in the information centre while we were looking for the hotel. When we went back for it, the next customer had taken it. The backup copy was meant to be on the website, but there was no sign of it. Eventually realised we were there a day early and the nearest available accommodation was 125km away for a 200 Euro taxi ride and their phone was not working. So we resigned ourselves to exploring the nightlife of Munich and raging all night. That included dinner at 10.30 while watching a local soccer match, a fruitless search for the cinema, a stiff drink in a nice hookah café at 1am and 3 hours of fun playing the roulette machine at an all night casino for a total investment of 10 Euros – with free coffees. We started with a winning streak turning our 10 euro investment into 50, which we spent the rest of the night losing on all the other games on offer, returning to roulette to win our original stake back before hitting the railway station cafe for breakfast at 6am. We dozed beside the homeless in the only 5 seats in the station before catching a train to Intersolar. | The InterSolar Exhibition was huge, with 15 halls about the size of the Adelaide convention centre and 2200 exhibitors. The larger ones had full bars and had built mezzanine floors with offices to do business in a relaxed way. At the close of the day, some hosted rock bands for the chosen to party on. Anna survived two halls before retiring to the coffee shop as her foot had had enough from being up all night and was glad of the English novel she'd bought at the station while Sandy continued for a while. We finally checked into our room for a wonderful shower and slept the afternoon away before tackling the local Bierhaus and some Bavarian food. For some reason pork does not sound quite so appetising when it is called schweinfleish, but we had a great meal including wurst and sauerkraut - and then slept for 12 hours. | Neue Pinkatheke | room for the night | Vaguely familiar from WWII newsreels imposing buildings around vast open spaces now broken up by rows of trees lined the route to the art galleries.
11: Next day Anna tackled the 3 Pinketheke –art galleries – the Alte /old, the neue/new, including Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, and the new modern, which includes galleries on design and architecture and is housed in an impressive vast building, while Sandy took on some more of the exhibition, looking at the latest solar technology. Some highlights were the off-grid and rural electrification companies, the combined solar PV and solar water heating modules, plastic film flexible solar modules, high temperature hot water panels to run chillers for cooling. He also talked to the various PV module testing and certification companies. We found another Bierhaus for dinner which was enormous, and staffed by old gentlemen carrying heavy trays of beer steins on their shoulders. Anna claims never to have seen Sandy drink so much beer. Honest, it was only one, but it was rather large - around a foot tall! Anna enjoyed the local Rose. We are still puzzling over the hotel bed, which was two singles put together, and fitted with individual bedding. When we asked for a double sheet the staff rolled their eyes and said it was not possible. Oh well! It was a hot room and too noisy to open windows | After 2 excellent German dinners we went in search of different fare and found that a Chinese menu in German held no appeal, while the Italian menu sounded delicious and so we enjoyed the best of many good meals so far in Ein Italienisches restaurant – which also solved for Anna the mystery of why the German language course teaches travellers to ask for an Italian restaurant in Germany. And so we are travelling today to Hanover on the ICE train past many large solar power systems in fields and on the steep roofs of houses barns and businesses – an interesting juxtaposition to the huge stacks of firewood alongside – a mix of old and new technologies. | Anna took off to the Alps to visit King Ludwig II’s fairytale Neuschswanstein castle which Disney based his Sleeping Beauty castle on, set on top of a relatively small mountain at the foot of the alps across the valley from the Royal summer castle. Unfortunately the Alps were shrouded in cloud all day but the foothills were very impressive as was the beautiful castle, although it is only a third finished inside as work halted after the King’s death in mysterious circumstances and it became a museum. It is a tribute to Wagner with each room based on one of his works It's visionary artistic expression without regard to constraints like budgets. | Week 3 | Neue Moderne Pinkatheke | Neuschswanstein Castle from the bridge and the bridge from the castle
12: Hanover Spent two great days in Hanover. A long weekend, so nothing to do but party. There were three festivals we know about, but the one we stumbled across was the Kulture Festival – a free multicultural fair with music, food and handcrafts at the Rathaus (no its actually the town hall). Reggae bands singing in German, with African drumming /dancing in the back stalls. | Did not spend too long at the Hannover Gay Pride festival – not much happening when we were there. Mind you, it probably livened up after we and the Bierbike guys left. | We also spent an excellent day at the Herrenhaus Gardens, which are a massive formal garden, formerly part of the royal summer residence of King George 1st, with fountains, mazes, statues, intricately sculptured garden beds, amphitheatres, waterfalls, hedged groves, glass-lined grottos - and a festival. Wherever we went there were musician’s chairs set up, but we did not catch any actual music, bar the overflow sound from a couple of other festivals nearby! Across the road is the botanic gardens where we toured the glasshouses of cacti and ferns. The orchid house was also home to a flock of zebra and diamond finches ;a lovely touch of Australia. | Anna joins the beer drinking set | The Grotto Nikki Saint Phalle | Plans to rebuild the palace with original exterior and conference center interior make a return visit to see the results really appealing.
13: What we thought was a Bavarian quirk, two single beds pushed together with separate bedding and called a double bed, appears to be more widespread. I can cope with the gap, as long as it does not get too large during the night, but we have only a bottom sheet and a thick quilt. With central heating, this means way too hot for a quilt, but too cold with none. How do people sleep, except with their clothes on? No sheet in the cupboard. The really funny thing is going to reception and asking for a sheet. Suddenly the excellent communications break down and we are met with puzzlement and incredulity – in two hotels. Nevertheless we did get treated to a trip to the linen room to select a quilt cover. Does not tuck in, so it does not stay on top for long, but it does allow us to sleep. I guess we'll get used to it. | Really sorry to miss our friend Andreas in Hamlyn nearby. Unfortunately he went away for the long weekend, and we could not wait till Monday night to see him. Anyway we did manage to post the chilli sauce to him from his mum, in Copenhagen without missing the plane. (just) Now on the train to Denmark. Couldn’t understand why the Eurail timetable did not include Copenhagen, especially as it was on our ticket. Finally found it -spelt Kobenhaven. Didn’t think of looking for it under K! | Another city, another transport system to conquer. This one had us fooled though. Looking for the tram we need and it is just not there. The other trams appear to be roughly where we expect. Nearly lost my faith in my map navigation skills. Forgot about 3D didn’t I. The tram stop eventually turned out to under our feet. Never really thought about underground trams before, but I guess it’s logical. Actually, there is a lot of this city underground. Long malls and interconnecting walkways throughout the city centre. It’s another world down there. | another Nikki Saint Phalle this city is crazy about her | Week 3 | MIND THE GAP!! | Old and new side by side around the town | at the botanic gardens | bought new clothes at the mall
14: Greetings from Copenhagen. We only managed 24 hours in Denmark. I did think we were going by train the whole way from Hanover and was very surprised when our high speed Intercity Express drove onto a ferry, right next to the semitrailers and cars for a 45 minute crossing to Denmark. Past many wind farms, both onshore and in the sea. | Enjoyed a cruise on the canal with trilingual guide – seems to be a must in Europe, past the very impressive opera house (gift from a corporate donor, but apparently with 1 billion kroner per year in public upkeep charges) and the even more impressive black glass squashed cube Royal Library with its beautiful water reflections. | Kobenhaven | Fell in love with the Ibsen Hotel, a little place recently renovated with spirit and energy, using materials from the businesses on their street – but done with such style and quality. Claims to be the world’s first carbon-neutral hotel chain with 4 hotels. Really friendly atmosphere with a guest library, and the restaurant was excellent. Tiny room but with a small study. Highly recommended. | Black Diamond - the Royal Library | More cute and beautifully decorated elephants on the street - a campaign to save their habitat by eventually auctioning them. | beautiful old statues; sadly graffiti all over them | in transit - train and ferry and the editor's desk
15: Spent the rest of our time going to the Viking Museum in Rathskilde. Great idea, but we did not realise it was not in Copenhagen but a town 50km or more away - I hate maps without scales! When we added the time to get to the rail station, and the 20-30mins walks at the either end we really should have turned right back once we got there and headed for the airport. But of course we didn’t. However we did get to see the remains of 5 ships which were discovered under the mud at the bottom of the harbour. They were sunk there with rocks around 1050AD to partially block the entrance as a defensive strategy. The museum run a workshop there building Viking replica boats by various traditional methods, and using traditional tools and have sailed to Ireland and back in them. | Discovered the bus only comes every hour so we had a long walk to the train and a mad dash back to get our bags and head for the airport, made even more interesting by the train stopping one station from our destination because of some problem. The taxi driver’s good work was almost undone by Anna’s need to find a letter box to post a parcel (of chilli sauce) which already had its Danish stamps. Unfortunately airports are reluctant to have post boxes around the place and when they do they're for letters only. Great hiding spots for bombs apparently. Anyway we did finally manage to leave it at left luggage and catch our plane with a fair bit of sweat. Treated to a look -flashing past in the taxi and then flying over - at a remarkable new hotel built near the airport. Twin 30 story buildings leaning away from each other – about 60 metres of combined lean. Pisa eat your heart out! | the danish royal yacht | giant pots at Rathskilde plaza | Bella Sky Hotel | replica viking ship | opera house | Week 4
16: We have spent longer in Norway than anywhere so far, and we have also seen more of the country than elsewhere. On our first day we took a train north from Oslo through Lillehammer, site of the Winter Olympics to Alesund. | Not long after leaving, we pulled into a station where it was announced that due to flooding we had to swap to buses. We took a trek out to the street, down and up stairs, and some people duly piled onto the only bus there. It had no facilities for luggage, so there was a fair bit of confusion. Turns out it was a local bus so the enthusiastic were obliged to disembark and everyone was directed back to the train - down the stairs and up the stairs and we headed off again, with a free cup of coffee from the dining car as compensation for the inconvenience. We got another 45 minutes on the train before we got to the real spot to offload to buses. The bus trip to Dombas took much longer than the schedule, so we missed the connecting train to Alesund which was to have been the highlight of the days travel. | The train trip is through a spectacular gorge, but the good news is that the replacement bus goes roughly the same route, and probably has bigger windows. It was a valley maybe 30-40 km long between spectacular mountains still capped with patches of snow and streaming with waterfalls or near-vertical creeks and following an ever-growing river – all the way to the fjord at Andalsnes. On the journey we passed the largest vertical rock face in Europe, Trollveggen (Troll Wall) which soared 1,100m above the bus and disappeared into the clouds that were cloaking the highest peaks. | Norway - Fjords and Tunnels | love this summer weather | What bus? | Norwegian Troll
17: After another long wait for a connecting bus, we eventually arrived at Alesud at 8pm, 4 hours late! No time for exploring but found a restaurant serving Mexican food, Norwegian style (with sweetcorn). Over the course of that day and the next we found that the Norwegians are rather fond of tunnels. Some go through the mountains, others go under the fjords, or to some of the 18,000 islands. There is not a lot of tedious hill climbing on the roads. Some tunnels are a few hundred meters and others are many kilometres. Most are narrow, but somehow manage to allow two buses to carefully manoeuvre past each other without loss of wing mirrors. There was only one single lane tunnel, it had a bend in the middle so had to be navigated with care in case the vehicles meet on the bend and one had to reverse 200m back. | The next day was travelling on a series of local buses and ferries through the mountains and fjords to Hellesylt at the far end of the Geiranger Fjord, one of the most beautiful stretches of steep-sided mountains plunging into the water on both sides. Snow-melt streams cascade down the mountains into the water. At one point, a group of seven adjacent waterfalls – The seven Sisters on one side counterbalanced by one large one – their would-be Groom - opposite. The real surprise is the old farms perched on minute patches of slightly less than vertical land, with or without ladder access. These were productive up to the early 1960s, and the buildings have since been preserved. In two days we managed a taxi, a tram, two trains, 6 buses, two ferries, and a ship – and 5 or 6km walking. Next day we flew to Trondheim in the middle of the country, and the closest point of our trip to the arctic circle. Very close to the summer solstice too, so we are getting around 23 hours of sun, and gorgeous weather too! | Week 4 | ...and waterfalls | Heidi at Hellesylt
18: In Trondheim, we boarded the coastal passenger and cargo ferry service, the Hurtigrueten line, which sails daily along the length of the western and northern coastline. Normally a 12 day round trip. But we travelled the last 2 days as it sailed south to Bergen, between the mainland and the myriad of islands, past many fijords and coastal towns, farms and industry. Magnificent scenery, and very calm waters. Somewhat glad however not to be sailing for 12 days. Could be too much of a good thing. | Much excitement in the whole of Norway as one of the other ships was carrying a full camera crew to show the entire journey live 24 hours coverage on Norwegian TV. We were TV stars for a while as our ship sat next to the TV ship in Trondheim harbour. Everywhere the ship went there were bands, crowds, singing, dancing and small boats. The TV was shown on the screens of our ship, so we could follow its passage. Actually the best footage we saw was when we turned on the TV about midnight in Bergen to see the ship passing through a breathtaking fjord up north, accompanied by 15-20 small boats in full daylight. I do not know when people sleep around here. | Norway - Trondheim, Bergen & Oslo | Trondheim is a fascinating city, Norway’s second largest, and the original capital, and home of the King Olav in the early eleventh century who was responsible for unification of much of Norway and establishing Christianity, exiled by the parliament, returned for an abortive coup, then made a Saint because he apparently laid down his weapons during the battle, but only after he was wounded, and just before he was killed. Apparently some people still liked him and a magnificent cathedral was built here to house his remains. It has taken the last 150 years to renovate it to its former glory. We were treated to an organ recital and a trip 40 metres up an extremely narrow spiral staircase to the base of the spire with wonderful views of the city. | Week 5 | buskers and kids performing in the streets and shops of Trondheim | Richard With in Trondheim Harbor | The ship's cafe
19: Spent an afternoon and night in Bergen, Norway's third largest city, and really enjoyed it. Saw the most exquisite and inspired silver jewelery here made by Regine Juhl living up in the arctic, We enjoyed a funicular ride to the summit of the local mountain to walk in the forest. Saw huge black slugs. A tipi hidden away in the bush is the only indication of the indigenous Sami population, though we have seen their tipis in other towns as well. | The train trip back to Oslo was also short-lived as the line was closed, meaning most of the trip by bus again. We were told by a fellow passenger that a train had caught fire in a tunnel entrance the previous week and was completely burnt, damaging the tunnel, but no casualties we heard about. A great trip nevertheless. | Two days in Oslo to catch breath, do some washing, watch road ski races and explore the KonTiki Museum, Viking museum, Flam Arctic exploration museum, and the city's medieval fort and castle. The most riveting was the Resistance Museum – a blow by blow display showing Norway's occupation and the development of the resistance over 6 years, with hundreds of displays on all aspects, not least of which was the close association with Britain, where the king and parliament were operating in exile. The Viking museum housed three brilliantly conserved and restored ships uncovered from the mud over the last 100 years. These date from the 900-1200 period, and ended their lives as burial ships, with ornately carved caskets, sleds, and all manner of tools, clothing, and weapons. | views from the Richard With | The old port of Bergen is sinking on its rotted wooden foundations and restoration is underway | silver broach | Bergen | The cloths were of silk, linen, & wool, and showed very fine threads and intricate weaving patterns. We finished up with a train trip into the hills to see the massive ski jump at Hollebokken. Closed at the time, but such an amazing structure. | anyone for tea?
20: Iceland | With the generous hospitality of Margret and Gudjon, we were treated to the highlight of the trip so far. After an afternoon at the Blue Lagoon hot springs, we went on a two day trip though the mountains, glaciers, hot springs, hydro stations, geysers, waterfalls, historic sites and plains of south-west Iceland. | Iceland was settled in the ninth century, and received a major boost from people unhappy with the unification efforts of a certain King Olav of Norway in the 10th century. The first few hundred years are very well documented, with a huge cast of historical characters in the many Sagas, which were mainly written down in the thirteenth century. They had a parliament system established by the 11th century with no head of state, which has continued for over a thousand years. We visited the site of the parliament at Thingvellir. This is also the site of the rift where the Pacific and the North American plates are separating. Remarkably little sign of recent movement, despite a 2cm per year plate divergence. The parliament met once a year with clans coming from around the county and setting up camp for one or two weeks. The clan leaders formed the parliament which met in the open, and also acted as a court of law. The country was under the control of Denmark for 300 years until WWII and the Ting continued to meet, with decisions having to be ratified by the King of Denmark. Towards the end of WWII the Icelanders seized the day and declared independence towards the end of the war while Denmark was still under occupation. | midnight in Seltjarnarnes | Anna with friends Margret & Gudjon | Blue Lagoon hot springs | Week 5 | Thingvellir - site of the mid-Atlantic ridge & first European parliament in 930 | volcanic crater | the joys of the summer-house | We got to stay at the beautiful summer house overnight. Absolutely awesome. | Rekjevik cultural center
21: We visited the site of the first dioscesan church in the middle of the countryside, far from any towns, which was the base of the Iceland diocese from its conversion in the eleventh century. A plaque lists all the Bishops from around 1050 to the present and their period in office. Such continuity for over 1000 years was quite staggering. Of course they were on their 10th church on the site, with previous ones regularly burning down. We were surprised to learn that Geyser is the site of the thermal vents from which all geysers get their name and there is one which erupts spectacularly every 10 minutes or so. | The waterfall Hvarnfoss, or Lava Falls has underground water cascading from halfway down a rock face to the river, along a distance of around 250 metres. We visited a hotsprings with around a dozen fountains of water boiling out of the rock, before going into a pumping station, piping it 74km to Arkranes for space heating. | The whole journey was in sight of one of the glaciers, and Mount Hekla, which is currently threatening to erupt. It has done so every 10 years last century, and is now 1.5 years overdue for an eruption. Being only 110km from Reykjevik, I would be worried, but the Icelanders, like the San Franciscans are philosophical. They have been living with volcanos for 1000 years. | The weekend was topped off by a glorious dinner at the Pearl, a revolving restaurant set on top of a ring of 5 massive tanks on a hilltop in Reykjevik, The tanks hold hot water for the district heating system for the city. | We visited the small town where the writer Snorri Sturlurson recorded many of the oral historical sagas of the Icelanders in the thirteenth century, relating mainly to the first 120 years of settlement from 930 to 1050. Gudjon very kindly bought us two books of Sagas which we have been very much enjoying. | Gullfoss Falls | Snorri Sturlurson | The Pearl
22: West Iceland we hired a car and did by ourselves, exploring the Snaefelness Peninsula, with another glacier-topped volcano at its tip. The area has many sites from the sagas, and a monument to the first European woman to give birth in North America, an Icelandic woman who travelled extensively with the Viking ships in the 11th century. Her various journeys to Newfoundland, Greenland and European mainland are shown. The mountain-top itself was covered all day in cloud, but we did drive up to the snowline and walked on the glacier. The singing cave was another highlight of this mountain. About 5 metres across and about the same high, but with a 1m high entrance, causes the wind to create notes. The wind was very strong when we were there, and the cave was pulsating, much like a doof-doof car sound system. One saga describes an early settler coming here and holding council with a group of dwarfs. He later disappeared on the glacier and became the spirit of the mountain. | Managed to find the café nearby reputed to serve the best fish soup on Iceland. A tiny building perched on the hillside above a rocky bay, and yes, the fish soup was absolutely beautiful. We learned how to make great fish soup at an earlier restaurant. The broth and the fish are cooked separately, each to their own perfection, and the broth is then poured over the fish pieces just before serving. Cannot wait to try it ourselves. | Week 6 | West Iceland | Snaefelness Glacier | spirit of the glacier | fish soup cafe | Icelandic Trolls turned to stone in the sun along the rugged coast | a bright house | view from our room in Grundarfjodur
23: Thank you so much to Margret and Gudjon, and all the family for bringing Iceland alive and making us feel so welcome, including the use of the exquisite summerhouse. | Did I mention the sculptures? Wow, what inspired sculptures everywhere here. I love it. And the boundless creativity of the church designs! | Gudridur Thorsjarnardottir C11th American explorer
24: In Stockholm, staying at the (thankfully ex-) Langholmen prison. This was a complete surprise as it said nothing in the accommodation booklet we chose it from at the airport. Sandy’s initial freakout was balanced by Anna’ thinking it was kind of cool! It is an interesting conversion- the room is 2 of the cells with the wall taken out, and the bathroom is half another cell. Unfortunately the windows are too high and small to see out of, except standing on a stool. The walls are two feet thick, and all the doors in the place clang shut very firmly. Interesting they provide a ladder, and instructions on what to do if you get trapped in your room. Mind you the ladder may be just for the bunk bed. | The prison has its own island across the water from the centre of town. One of the bridges to the city actually does a flyover the island. The old staff houses and some other old renovated buildings have beautiful gardens full of fruit and vegetables. It is now a parkland with a swimming beach and many people having picnics with the rabbits and squirrels. The day is warm and Anna has put away her warm Iceland clothes and is wearing her cotton dress and sandals for the first time. We had a good flight from Iceland with a fantastic view including all of the glaciers which was spectacular and made up for the other day when we failed to see more than the lower fringe of the Snaefell glacier we travelled two days to visit due to heavy cloud cover. It was the one used at the start of the journey to the centre of the earth film. We flew right over areas we had been very curious to see, along the southern edges of the three larger and one of the smaller glaciers. It was like having a scenic flight over Iceland included free. Over the sea and Norway was under thick cloud and then Sweden emerged between puffy white clouds all green and forested and nothing like Iceland which is mostly barren and the most unique place imaginable. Stockholm has an archipelago of around 30,000 islands, so many parts of the city are on the surrounding islands. The city is around 60km from the open sea, but with a harbour for large ships, and the big surprise came when we went swimming at the local beach to find that the water is fresh. | Stockholm | enjoying the sunshine at the city's freshwater beach | how did we get conned into staying in prison! | a 'what the..!!' moment | Week 6 | pretendiing to read Swedish | the mall's balls have some wee offspring
25: Many islands have specific uses, such as Langholmen for the prison, the old city on Gamla Stan, the garden island of Djurgarden, and the funky Sodermalm, site of much of the action in the Millennium Trilogy. In fact we did the Millennium walk to see the various locations used in the books, including the Millennium offices, Mikael Blomkvist’s apartment and Lisbeth Salander’s multi-million apartment overlooking the harbour. Took the ferry service to Vaxholm Island, with its old fortress, and where the locals go for a day out, if they do not have a summerhouse on their own island. The ride was remarkable for the number and diversity of islands, some barely more than a suburban block, and supporting a house, a landing, numerous trees and the Swedish flag, but also ones which were uninhabited. | We chose the ferry ticket including coffee and waffles, and after a hot sunny walk found ourselves at a historic café with the largest cake selection imaginable where we enjoyed our waffles with a beer in the garden and then meandered around the town discovering a sculpture park and local gallery with an exhibition opening of painted glass works in progress, and ended our circuit back at the harbour. We found the local swimming spot we’d been overlooking from the café and enjoyed a swim finishing a lovely day out with a return visit to the café for some of their cake and coffee. | On our last sightseeing day, the clouds came in and the weather turned cold and we had a long outing to find the Modern Museum of art, but when we finally arrived, we were not interested in the exhibitions, so we got on the ferry to Djurgarden island. Having misread the stops, we did two circuits of the 3-port journey around the harbour- the funniest thing about the experience being the sign on a ship at the harbour saying “Ship Happens” We finally got off at our stop and enjoyed walking in the gardens. Much of the public sculpture was small and uninteresting after the feast of Iceland, but we did find a couple of really enjoyable pieces. | Vaxholm Island | Lisbeth Salander's top floor pad! | Djurgarden Island | a piece of stray subway art | great blues outfit!
26: St Petersberg is quite an amazing place. Set on the delta of the Neva River where it flows into the top of the Gulf of Finland. It was established by Peter the Great in the early 18th century after a war with Sweden to gain sea access to the Baltic Sea. The whole top of the gulf is fresh water which freezes in winter, though apparently not sufficient to stop bigger shipping. | The city was laid out to be like Amsterdam or Venice, with canals forming over 100 islands. Much of the architecture and was by leading Italian designers at the time. The lattitude given the designers led to statues adorning the cathederal, despite not normally being allowed in Orthodox churches. A boat trip for two hours on the canals and out to the port was a treat, showing us quite a variety of landscapes, including parklands, palaces, the Peter and Paul fortress, the cruise ship terminal with 7 ships in port, and a glimpse of the high rise dormitory districts further out. | The main city is remarkably consistent in design, often with yellow or other bright paint colour, a 4-story building height restriction, and stone frontages, meaning long rows of buildings and almost no plate glass windows in the whole city centre. Makes finding shops of any description quite hard for a visitor. We did stumble across a string of cafes offering cafeteria-style self service meals, which saved many grey hairs trying to decipher the menu in Cyrillic. | We have had great fun deciphering the alphabet, prompted by the 90 minute queue for immigration at the airport, and some interesting advertising signs, plus a 90 minute car ride from the airport to our hotel. To our great surprise, a good percentage of signs became readable once the code was cracked, with a little help from google. Like other European languages, the words themselves often either have the same root, or have been imported, so our obsessive deciphering of the signage often revealed significant information. It also allowed us to navigate the Underground and the street signs with some degree of reliability. | St Petersberg | not quite the Rosetta Stone, but it helped! | The Hermitage | Week 7 | Kazan Cathedral - also below | Rostral Column & old Stock Exchange | The Hermitage
27: Two decades of painstaking restoration work on the churches, which were closed or used as museums or storerooms for over 60 years, has produced some remarkable results. The Peter and Paul Cathederal domes alone consume 12kg of gold leaf, which apparently needs to be redone every 10 years or so. The love affair with gilding also extends to the interiors, with widespread use on statues, icons and relief work. | The statue of Samson in the fountain at Peterhof garden apparently requires regilding every 3-4 years. I reckon there’s a lot of gold sitting in the bottom of that fountain. | Particularly impressive is the Church of the Spilled Blood, erected at the site of the fatal stabbing of Alexander II in 1881. Although used as a storehouse for theatre props during the Soviet period it has seen intense restoration. The interior is intricately decorated entirely in glass mosaic above the lower 2 metres. While a bit gaudy on the outside, it is still a beautiful piece of architecture. There is so much more to say about St Pete's, but alas I am out of space. | The tram line 36 was used to take troops to the front line during the 900 day siege, which brings home just how close the front line was. However, some of the rolling stock does look like it has not been replaced since. | Palaces are all the go here, with a claim to have around 500 of them in the city. This is the largest, the Hermitage. No wonder the peasants revolted. There were probably as many churches, but many were blown up during the Soviet times. In fact, as with many places in Europe, many public buildings are either replicas of what was there before, or replacements. Particularly so in St Petersburg, which was under siege for 900 days during WWII, damaging or destroying much of the city. | church of the spilled blood | Peterhof Garden | Peter & Paul cathederal | Peter the Great
28: Moscow | Hi from Sandy and Anna! Moscow is another amazing city. 10-12 million people, so we only see a tiny fraction of it, mainly the older or central parts. We stayed at the old 1980 Olympic Games Site. There is a complex of 5 hotels, which have since been renovated, near to the underground, giving easy access to the city. Breakfast, shower and a powernap after a very hot and cramped night on the train were a real treat. Then a subway trip to Red Square and the Kremlin. | The underground has a variety of artworks and lavish design work, from use of marble, gilding and chandeliers, to mosaics, relief carvings and statues. Over reliance on militaristic and worker solidarity themes and some is a bit too ornate, but there is also diversity, craftsmanship and excellent design. | The Kremlin was a bit of an eye opener. Always thought of it in terms of the Soviet regime, but it is actually a walled fort dating back to the 12th century, and full of churches and administration buildings. When Napoleon came to Russia in the 19th century, the Russians knew they were no match in a straight fight, so they stripped the Kremlin of all valuables, set fire to most of the city and left. When Napoleon arrived there were no food supplies or treasures. The Russians set siege to the Kremlin and Napoleon was forced to withdraw from the city within a month or so. I guess everyone who has read War and Peace knows all this, but for me it is all new! The joys of ignorance! | Inside is the 40 tonne Tsar Canon, the largest calibre cannon ever made, with a bore of 89cm or 35 inches and a length of 5.3 metres, and built in 1586. The carriage is from 1835 and the steel cannonballs are for show – it was designed to fire 800kg of stone shot - but there is no evidence it was ever fired in anger. Also the 200 tonne Tsar Bell, broken during cooling because when a fire threatened it, guards threw on cold water to protect it. | The Orthodox churches are interesting. While some are very large, they are often for ceremonial purposes, or glorified burial places for the elite. The regular churches may be very small area to allow intimacy with god. Paintings cover almost every surface. Including the ceiling and the dome. A significant portion of the space is reserved for the priest behind a full height high icon wall carrying rows of religious pictures. No statues are allowed. | section of original Kremlin wall | another What The!! moment... | Cathedral of the Annunciation
29: Red Square was also a surprise; not as big as I expected with the external wall of the Kremlin on one side and the Soviet-built Gym department store along the other. The massive cold war military parades were made possible by demolishing a couple of churches at one end. In characteristic Russian style, these have now been rebuilt. | St Basil’s church at the other end narrowly escaped demolition because it was built by Ivan the Terrible who apparently was a role model for Stalin. It consists of a central church surrounded by eight others dedicated to different saints and with their own tower, but all on a single foundation and exterior wall, with passageways and meeting rooms between. A really intriguing structure. Muscovites love Red Square. Red is associated with beauty, and even Lenin’s mausoleum and cemetery No 1, full of dead presidents plus Yuri Gagarin, placed in the middle of one side, has failed to dampen their enthusiasm... | The Moscow circus was a very traditional affair but in a permanent venue, with the high wire, trapeze, juggling, clowns and an array of animals including horses, chimps, big cats and camels. Felt a bit guilty going when they trotted all that lot out. | Went for an explore around the city by foot and metro. The metro has a circle line linking all routes, making it very easy to get around. Except the long walk we did down the pedestrian mall was meant to end with a metro stop. After half an hour searching every entrance way, we finally concluded the stop was closed, so we did the whole walk back again. Great street musicians though - bought some excellent guitarist’s work, though Anna balked at buying the pan flautist’s CD. | One of the highlights was a Moscow by Night minibus - travel on the streets seems only possible after hours because of congestion during the day. So we got to see much more of Moscow above ground in the beautifully long twilight. The seven sisters are a series of massive high-rise Stalinist buildings spaced around the capital, with spires added to ensure they did not look like western skyscrapers. Two are used as hotels, two are government, and one is the Moscow University. This one is the Ukrainian Hotel and scrubs up very nicely in the early evening opposite the (Russian) White House. | A very relaxed last evening while we waited for our 20:25 overnight train to Kiev. Unfortunately it had long gone by the time we arrived at the station thinking it was at 10.25pm. Whoops, another dyslexic moment! Luckily we managed to get tickets for the 23:15 fast train which arrived in Kiev an hour earlier than our scheduled train. As usually, Sandy slept like a baby while insomniac Anna spent the night keeping watch. Oh well!! | war mus-eum | Lenin's tomb | St Basil's | Week 7 | Novo- devichy Convent | Chapel of Iverskaya
30: Ukraine - Kiev | Arrived in Kiev on the overnight train from Moscow and spent most of the day sleeping – venturing out only for meals and a short walk down the main street- the ‘On The Go Tour’ of Russia lived up to its name and kept us on the go for six days! | Central Kiev is dominated by a short main street with a large square which is closed to traffic on the weekends. A beautiful independence monument rises over the square. A network of underground shops and metro tunnels lies underneath. Our first call was to the Chernobyl museum in Kiev. Although tours do run to Chernobyl 100 km north, there are suggestions it is still too radioactive for safety. | The museum is a combination of details about the accident, with experiences and fate of many key personnel involved, several of whom died in the days or months afterwards from the exposure they suffered heroically acting to minimise the damage, and during the cleanup. There are many artworks from local and overseas artists responding to the tragedy. The people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were particularly moved by the accident. The ongoing medical problems of the thousands of people exposed to radiation, particularly children, and the millions of displaced people unable to return to the 35 communities evacuated are covered with films and displays. Anyone who thinks nuclear power is a feasible option should come here. Some of the plant operators apparently spent up to 20 years in prison as a result of a Soviet inquiry finding the accident was caused by the operators, despite the later findings of the IAEA that the problems were inherent in the plant design, not operator error. It seems some adjacent nuclear plants continued operating until international pressure caused them to be shut down in 2000. It is not clear how the plant workers continued working at the centre of the 30km exclusion zone for 14 years. A 20m high wall and roof now forms a sarcophagus around the plant to fully enclose it. | Chernobyl museum | reminders of Dad's model of his home in the Ukrain Restaurant | Ukraine’s 46m population apparently continue to be pretty dependent on nuclear power. Natural gas is increasingly available for house heating. We saw the characteristic yellow pipework elevated 3m above the ground, and running though the centre of people’s front gardens in some towns and were a bit concerned by the rusty state of some of them. We also saw a place where the ground has been burning with a natural gas vent for the last 7 years. An untapped resource methinks. | We were greeted by thunder as we left the museum and rain soon followed making our afternoon sightseeing very soggy, obscuring the views and discouraging our planned walk down the scenic old town – We did enjoy funicular rides and managed to decode enough Cyrillic to navigate the metro, but we took a taxi out to dinner at the Ukrainian folk restaurant where we found ourselves surrounded by woven willow fences, sunflowers and rural farmyard settings, enjoyed traditional foods and were entertained by a trio of musicians, moving Anna to tears on a couple of occasions. We enjoyed complimentary Ukrainian vodka shots on arrival and on leaving (orange or horseradish flavoured) making us doubly grateful we were not driving on the chaotic rundown roads. | St Michael's Monastery
31: Week 8 | In Kiev, we were surprised to find that some of Anna’s family, the 2 daughters of Max’s sister Mariya, had heard of our visit, and wanted to see us. Daughter Marija was here on a visit from Spain and was flying out the next day while Ana had come in from Poltava 200km away. Along with a local couple, Ana’s son Vladimir and his wife Oxyana who speaks a small amount of high-school English, we spent a couple of hours swapping family trees and one or two photos, before squeezing into a small van to travel to the Museum of Architecture and Ukrainian Lifestyles to see examples of traditional houses and farms built on a hundred hectares just out of town. The section we visited had an example almost identical to the detailed scale model Max built of the house and yard in which he grew up. It was uncanny to walk through them. | About half an hour after we arrived we were joined by an English speaking guide who’d taken tours for 35 years and had a routine he insisted on sticking to even though we had already seen the first few sites, but it confirmed that we had understood everything our almost non English speaking family had shown us and added some helpful information. We enjoyed a late lunch on the way back and had such a wonderful unexpected day we were very grateful to have met them all and been so warmly welcomed. | kalina berries | Museum of Ukraianian Folk Architecture | Independence monument | Arch of Friendship with Russia aka the Yoke | Vladimir, Oxyana, Ana & Marija | our nearby "family" Italian restaurant
32: When we returned, we were met by a half dozen excited relatives, along with an interpreter Oxyana (coincidentally) who is a friend of one of the family, they hired for the 3 days of our visit. We were piled into cousin Vasilyi’s people mover and whisked straight off to the village of Lanchen 60km away, where Max grew up, collecting Vasilyi’s wife Svetlana and grandchildren Andrei (6) and Kristi (4) on the way. To say we were surprised and overwhelmed by the hospitality is an understatement. Until a few days ago, the only contact Anna has had with the family were emails with another cousin, Vitalyi who moved to Ohio USA with his mother Helena, Aunt Anna’s daughter, several years ago. She had written to Max a few years before he died and Anna and Lynda had begun corresponding with her son Vitalyi, who occasionally travels to Ukraine. His older sister Lena and her husband Vadim who speaks some English were our point of contact in Ukraine, through Vitalyi. That there is a wider network that’s been buzzing with the news became very obvious and everyone seems to have a mobile phone except Aunt Anna who is never very far from her land line. They were very excited to have Anna there, tinged with their disappointment that Max had never returned. | Another night train took us to Ivano-Frankivsk, in the west of the country, at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. We had a private cabin, but the beds seemed even narrower. We took a pre-booked two hour walking tour of the beautiful city centre with extensive pedestrian mall, churches, fountains and treed parks. An annual festival of blacksmiths gives the city a collaborative sculpture piece each year. | Ivano-Frankivsk & Lanchyn | "Lanchyn - 1241"
33: Week 8 | On arriving in Lanchyn, we saw Anna’s 90 year old Aunt Anna, after whom she was named. She and her daughter Mariya have adjacent houses on the block, with a large garden full of sweet corn, beans and much more which she insists on tending to herself, as well as apple and cherry trees. The favourite is the sweet cherry, a very small but extremely sweet variety. Branches full were pruned from the top of a large tree by Vadim for all of us to feast on. | Also there were another of Anna’s 7 cousins, Yura, who had driven all night from Odessa 600km away, with his son Vasilyi, grandson Dimitri (25) and son-in-law Vladimir. While Max’s sister Auntie Anna was the only one old enough to remember Max from 1941, a couple of her children- Vasilyi and Yura, had been young when he was taken away and there were lots of stories told of him as everyone grew up. Their Baba - Max’s mother had prayed for his return until her death in 1972 and all of them had felt the absence of this much loved son, brother, uncle or nephew they never saw again. A few old letters and photos that were sent from Australia in the early 1960’s were produced and some that had been lost were recalled as we sat under the trees. Many tears were shed as the story of how Max was taken by the Germans was recalled and how no news was heard for many years during the Soviet times as having relatives outside of the USSR was dangerous. | Tears of joy for the reunion now occurring and for recent photos of Max in his final years gave way to laughter as Anna gave Aunt Anna one of the wooden toys Maxim had made of rabbits playing drums. The great grandchildren – David Caroline Maxim (12,10 and 9, Lena and Vadim’s children) and Andrei and Kristi, gathered round for a turn, and recollections of how Max loved making things were shared. | There is a new house adjacent, but more than half of the original 150 year old house Max made his model of is still there, and used as a summer kitchen. It now has an asbestos roof rather than thatch and boasts a newish antenna pointed just above the horizon to a Russian satellite. Another antenna on the new house points in the other direction towards Europe. Vasilyi has been working the land for several years now after previously serving in the army and then working in the city for a while. We were very grateful to him for having renovated and maintained more than half of the old house while building his own house and building up the farm again. | Though Aunt Anna was a little grumpy with Max for not teaching Anna Ukrainian the occasion was celebratory and Oxyana was overworked as everyone tried to share their stories over afternoon tea. We were sorry we couldn’t communicate with everyone at once. We then all piled into three cars and drove to the property on the other side of the river where Mariya’s youngest son Vasilyi lives with his wife Bernada and sons Vladimir and Lubchek, and works the same land as Max and the next generation grew up on.
34: Ukraine - Lanchyn & Kolomiya | A devout Orthodox family, they were keen to show us the church Max went to and the grave of his sister Mariya who died in 2003. So after dinner served in the garden along with the traditional three vodka toasts enjoyed by all who were not drivers we waved the party from Odessa off as they were again driving home overnight to be back at work the next day (amazing yes) and we headed off to take Aunt Anna and Mariya home via the church. Many photos of our very historic day were taken by Vadim who is a professional photographer, and had the group shots well stage managed. Unfortunately it was too late in the day to visit the graves of Max’s parents Simon and Paruska, so that was left until our return on Saturday. We headed back to Ivano-Frankivsk talking through Oxyana all the way. | Our second day, Friday, we spent the afternoon in the local museum, housed in the old council building, with Lena and Oxana. Later we were met by Vasyliy, and travelled to the market cum recreation town of Yaremche in the mountains about 20 km from Lanchyn. A beautiful river flows through the gorge, with a hundred stalls on both sides. A very popular spot with locals and tourists alike, and one of the places frequented by Max. It was speculated that this is where he learnt to make the toys and carved boxes he produced for the grandkids. The no swimming signs above the rapids were ignored as people paddled and rock-hopped at the edges, and a few swam a little further upstream. We had a fine time shopping, which unfortunately will contribute more to the coffers of the postal service, than to the local artisans and stall holders. This was followed by some traditional food for dinner in the restaurant, with borsch and a polenta dish with pork, and a special serve of dill gherkins for Anna. The live music was so infectious that we all ended up dancing. | Week 8 | looking down on the old house (centre) | River Prut at Yaremche | Anna & Vasyliy
35: Saturday we retuned to Lanchyn, and were hosted by Vasilyi and Bernarda at the farm. A walk into the hills behind the house, and a walk to the local waterhole on the river Prut gave us a great sense of the area. We dived in an swam to the other side to what Vasyliy calls the Jaccuzzi, at the base of a small rapid. | Stayed the night in Kolomiya, which is a town about 20km away. In the morning, explored the local market, mall and museum, before taking a walk to the park and lake. The rest of Sunday was 6 hours driving to Uzgurod, via the geographical centre of Europe, so we could get a few hours sleep before catching the 5.40am train to Budapest in Hungary. | By the time we had finished with toasts, dinner, family trees, address swapping and stories, it was late. Even so, at 11.30pm we called in on 90 year-old Anna at her house on the way home. They obviously have no concerns about the state of her heart as they leaned on the doorbell until she woke and let us in for a chats, sweets and hugs. | Yarem-che | River Prut | Kolomiya | Lanchyn | geographical centre of Europe by Roumaian border | Vasyliy & Anna
36: Hungary - Budapest | Interesting border crossing at 6am. Endless passport checks and a train change. Unfortunately the final painstakingly slow and detailed check was carried out as our connecting train quietly slid out the station. Oh well, apparently only an hour or so to another train. Without any currency and no ATM or money change facilities, we were saved by Anna’s superior sign language and negotiating skills to convince one of the shops to change our Ukrainian money so we could get two coffees, some water and some salty dry crispbread. The expected cafeteria car for the intercity express did not eventuate, so this was breakfast. | Explored the city by foot, bus, boat, train and underground, including Europe’s first underground line, dating from the 1850s. The not-very-blue Danube was sporting a lot of very large river boats like this one here. After the last two weeks, Budapest did feel a bit like returning to the West, even though I presume it is technically the East. Modern infrastructure, diversity, shops with big windows, and English spoken by a significant minority. 80% of the city was damaged during WWII, but many of the traditional buildings have been restored. A pretty, friendly city, full of coffee shops and good restaurants and jazz clubs. Never made it to the jazz clubs – unfortunately will have to join the list of things which have to wait for the next visit. | first metro in Europe | cruise ship river style | the beautiful but not so blue Danube | Hero's Square | Opera House | Parlia-ment | our room view
37: Near the Victory Square, with its monuments, art gallery and museum, we stumbled on Art on Lake, an installation of a dozen or more sculptures in a large shallow lake. Hired a boat to look more closely. Ranged from the intriguing through the interesting to the bland, but all good fun. Particularly liked the set of four VWs, and the park bench and lampost sitting on the lake. | Finished up our visit with an afternoon at the thermal baths. Still wondering why it took 45 minutes to get a ticket when we were the only ones at the window. No problem, just the computer &/or operator was a little sluggish that day. Another 15 minutes to find a towel and a toilet, but eventually we got wet. Another half hour to find the actual hot pools, as opposed to the cold and warm pools, but we did have a very enjoyable three hours of massage, soaking and cold plunges. | Plenty of history, with more than 11 centuries of forts, churches and territorial wars and domination by a succession of empires and migrations. We did enjoy ourselves, taking it pretty easy and soaking up the ambience in the coffee shops. Mind you we did make a few too many trips to Maccas, for the first time in the trip. Apparently the late night lifestyle means that no one else serves breakfast before 9am. Coffee yes, bakery pastries yes, black forest cake yes, actual breakfast no. | Week 9 | we climbed a lot of steps for this! | Chain Bridge
38: Athens | Flew into Athens and met Tim & Robyn at the airport, who came in from Spain an hour or two later. Unfortunately Sandy took his eye off the ball and lost his wallet to a pick-pocket on the very crowded airport train, all the taxis being on strike for 3 days. We found our hostel near the Acropolis – unfortunately one bedroom with 4 bunk beds which was not quite what we were expecting. Sandy spent the evening trying to cancel credit cards, which involved every means of communication we could lay our hands on. Nothing seemed to work. Finally purchased an international phone card with its 27 or so digits, and got through on a very dark street corner phone booth. | Athens was pretty hot, 36+ degrees in the day dropping to probably 28-30 or so overnight. We joined a 3hr walking tour the next morning, with an excellent guide. A drama professor, he has worked with his fellow guides, an archaeologist and a historian to put together a brilliant tour of 7 or so historic sites around the city, including the Acropolis, the Greek and Roman market squares, Hadrian’s arch, the temple of Zeus, the huge Panathinaiko Stadium dug out and renovated for the 1895 and 2004 Olympics, and Hadrian’s Library, a 5 hectare site with 3-5 metre deep excavations in the heart of the city. We stood on the piece of polished marble hillside where Paul was reputed to have given his speech to the locals in the first century. It overlooks the site of the original Greek open-air forum, where participatory democracy was used for the first time. The guide is only allowed to talk about many places from outside, so going into them is left for later – one ticket to the Acropolis will get visitors into all sites except the new Museum which is there in readiness for the return of artefacts from the British museum they apply every year and are politely refused so no one is holding their breath but they remain prepared and hopeful. | The Acropolis is the most amazing sight. A huge structure of around 3 hectares occupying the most prominent hilltop in central Athens, it looks like a fortress, with sheer walls and only one gate. Not surprising it was used as such by the Turks in the 1687 war with Venice. Gunpowder stored in the Parthenon temple, built around 440BC, was ignited by a cannonball, blowing half of the structure to the ground. | The site is a giant Lego puzzle, with the pieces stacked in orderly and not so orderly piles of bits and restoration is underway so sections are shrouded in scaffolding apparently for years. Impressively the structure of the Parthenon is built with such precision and advanced geometry that many past attempts at restoration using modern methods have failed to last long. For example all those massive marble pillars lean slightly at an angle so a line drawn up from the centre of each will meet all the others at one point 5km above the structure creating incredible strength and durability. If not for the explosion it would still be standing. | Week 9 | Porch of the caryatids
39: The main city square near the parliament currently has a tent city which is home variety of groups protesting the austerity measures of the government and EU. It has apparently been very peaceful except for two days of clashes with police a few weeks ago. Outside parliament is the tomb of the unknown soldier, guarded by two of the elite guard. The extraordinary ritual dance at the hourly changing of the guard was explained by reference to the 400 year occupation by Turkey, where Greek men were not allowed to carry arms. Knives were attached to the front and heel of shoes, hidden by pompoms. The march/dance is essentially a ritualised form of slow motion martial art, I guess a bit like Tai Chi. I was surprised to find that Greece only became an independent country around 1902. | I believe central Athens is dangerously near to crossing Douglas Adams mythical Shoe Event Horizon, an economic feedback loop in which shoe shops proliferate until all shops sell shoes, thereby causing mass starvation and the collapse of the economy. 27 shoe shops in the space of 100 metres, all apparently selling identical women’s high-fashion sandals at “50-70% off! Pretty frustrating for someone like me trying to buy a simple pair of men’s sandals. | For dinner we found the restaurant described by our guide as the best authentic local food in the city without the tourist process. He could not tell us its name, just gave us general directions, and said to look out for the three carnations above the door. It was a very nice meal. However they did join the growing list of establishments who did not serve our favourite taramasalata. If it were not for the name, I would be forced to conclude it was not a Greek dish. Finished the night with a rather too protracted walk to find the open-air cinema showing Shirley McLaine’s 1960s film “How to Steal a Million” A fine thing to do on a hot summer night in Athens. | Next day as Tim and Robyn tackled the Metro to get to the Port, which was the only place to buy ferry tickets on a Sunday. Our efforts to get them in town on Saturday were in vain. We walked up to the Acropolis, then through the ancient Greek market to the Temple of Hephaestos, the lame but gifted blacksmith son of Hera and Zeus. In use until the nineteen thirties, this well-preserved building from around 450BC was closed, but without much sign of renovations. | We enjoyed Athens. Although it looks very hot, barren and built-up, it does have its share of open spaces and trees. It is just that most of the street trees are only half the height of the 5-8 story apartment buildings. The apartment balconies do carry a proliferation of vegetables, flowers and other plants, bringing life and some coolness to the environment. Many pedestrian precincts full of cafes and restaurants add to the ambience. | Odeon of Herodes Atticus | Reconstructed Stoa of Attalos | Temple of Hephaestos
40: Wow, where do we start with the Greek Islands. We squeezed in three islands in the space of a week or so, which was too rushed, but barely scratched the surface. Mykonos I will treasure for its beautiful brilliant white buildings, with flat roofs, rounded parapets, doors and windows in rich colours, rooftop living spaces, and often covered with Bougainvillea. We stayed at a really friendly family-run studio at Ornos Beach, about 10 minutes drive from the main township, and two minutes walk from the beach. They managed to accommodate us, even though the booking agency had stuffed our booking. | Greek Islands | It did seem that the beach was not so much for swimming as for sunbaking or lying under an umbrella. Apparently the next beach around the coast was topless, the following one a nudist beach, and the one after that a gay nude beach. Such was the rumour anyway. Trying to find 30+ sunscreen was a joke. It was mainly 6, with occasional forays to 12, and maybe an isolated tube of 20. I was getting desparate, while Anna was in heaven, finding all those you-beaut suntan products which have been banned in Australia for 30 years. Nice having all that ozone above our heads, though we did see plenty of beetroots still blithely walking around shirtless. | The town was something else. A maze of alleyways, around 2m wide, packed densely with 2 and 3 storey houses, many with shops below. The alleyways were constricted even further by the regular staircases. Occasional scooters and the odd pelican wandered the alleys with the locals and tourists. The seafront abounds with restaurants, coffee shops and bars. Apparently the place really gets going in full party swing after we are safely tucked up in bed. The only evidence is the dearth of people at breakfast before 10 or 11am, and the deitrus being cleaned from the streets in the early afternoon. The swimming pool was beautiful, deep and well maintained, and a sociable place to meet other travellers. We enjoyed a couple of relaxing breakfasts, and many cool-off dips at the pool. | Naxos was our third faulty booking in a row, with only one bedroom available rather than the two we had booked. They did kindly find us another apartment, recently renovated, and closer to the beach, under their upstairs apartment, which we greatly appreciated. We did find a very nice piece of beach which had not been invaded by beach umbrellas, and a bay in which many people were swimming. The water was only waist deep for the first hundred metres, but it was very pleasant. Naxos has a great many historical sites, having being the main centre of trade and culture in the islands for many centuries. With only one day, we did not tackle these, looking only at the Sanctuary of Delian Apollo near the harbour. Another one for next time!! | Week 10 | Naxos | Mykonos
41: We then took the ferry to Santorini, widely reported as one of the best islands. It certainly has character, being part of the rim of an active volcano. The prime real estate seems to be the actual rim of the caldera, which has many towns perched on the edge, and down the inside cliff. So many white houses you would swear that there was snow on the peaks. Given that the two ports are inside the flooded caldera, it does seem that the residents will have some difficulty getting out when she blows again. It is not just the lava spewing into the sea from the centre some 4km away, there is also lava being laid down underwater, raising the seabed, and earthquakes. The one in 1956 destroyed much of the housing, and so the island received a massive boost from the rebuilding, and modernisation of infrastructure. | Some of the lava dates from a 1950 eruption, while the previous major eruption was in the nineteenth century. The original eruption in 1650BC is regarded as one of the biggest eruptions of any volcano, destroying the advanced Minoan civilisation based there, landing rocks on Italy, and causing world-wide cooling and disruption of food production. We took a stroll on the top of the volcano centre, with its 6 or 7 craters, and areas of recolonisation. | Then there was the dip in the sulphur spring emerging into a bay of a neighbouring lava island, then across to another island forming part of the rim. Foolishly climbed the 300 metres to the top to see the view. It was reported to be the second hottest day of the summer, only 42 degrees, but I did not believe it. Just your average Aussie summer day really. Anyway the climb just happened. We were just going to the next bend in the switchback path, and kept going. Eventually I really wanted to see what was on the other side of this clifftop town. But what a great view it was, and little cafe with balcony at the top to enjoy it from. | The rest of Santorini is not so volcano-centric. We stayed on the other side of the island at Parissa where it is pretty flat, leading to a nice sandy black beach. Footwear is recommended on hot days. A great feel, with really nice restauants and bars on the esplanade which have adopted the Cyprus trees into their layout. Some sticking through the roof, while others featured in garden settings. Excellent hosts, with great facilities, a pool and bar a few doors from the beach. Anna had a wee bit of trouble sleeping, what with the beach bar music and the patrons raging on into the night. | Did not mind so much the next night when we went to the beach for a late night cocktail and listened to a great reggae band. Nice holiday!! 5.20am start the next morning, back down the switchback road to the port to get to the ferry back to Athens. Santorini was definitely worth the trip. | Santorini | living on the edge - inside the caulera
42: Rome | Very tired by the time we got into Rome Central Station from the airport. It was 11pm, and we had got up at 5am for the ferry. Emerged from the station and were met by an enthusiastic taxi driver who showed us his taxi photo ID. Had our bags into the car before we could think about it and drove us to our hotel Only trouble was he was not a proper taxi driver, he was an overcharging conjuror, who proceeded to make any money we gave him turn into notes of a lesser value. Assuming we had made a mistake in the orange street light, we gave him the correct money again – twice! He made off with a tidy profit from the exchange, while quick-thinking Anna grabbed the numberplate and wrote it down. We reported them to the police the next day, and put it down to being so tired, and worked out a few strategies to protect ourselves better in future. | Next morning we took a rather round-about route to the Colosseum, finding many streets which were not marked on our map. Sandy insists we were not lost, it’s just that the GPS, the map and the street signs all showed different street names! Anyway, eventually the magnificent Colosseum peeped through one of the narrow alleyways and we made a beeline for it - to be met with a 10m drop down to the monument, and an 800m walk to find the way down. Anna was by now getting just a wee bit pissed off with Sandy’s navigation but was very pleased to find a WC on the way down as they are few and far between. | As a blood-sports arena, it apparently was well used, with around 2000 people killed in the inauguration ceremonies, plus maybe 5 times as many wild animals according to meticulous records kept by scribes. The combatants and victims were mainly slaves, prisoners of war and criminals. An estimated total of 500,000 deaths have been attributed to the various gladiatorial venues in the Roman Empire. The few Romans who became gladiators did it for short periods, mainly to clear up debts with the money thrown into the ring from the crowd. | We then got a guided tour of the adjacent roman site containing the original Senate building, unbelievably still in use, the temple of the Vestal Virgins, and a dozen or so other temples, monasteries, palaces and administrative centres in various states of repair, ruin or excavation. Apparently Rome is having a lot of difficulty putting in their third underground line because they keep bumping into significant archaeological finds. The largest of the palaces was around 60 hectares, the remains of which underlie a significant portion of downtown Rome. | original Roman road | Domitian's Palace Palentine Hill | House of Vestal Virgins Palentine Hill | Fontaine de Trevi
43: Week 11 | Next day was an even slower start as we took time to catch up with ourselves,(clothes washing email booking ahead and fixing a suitcase handle mostly) before venturing to St Peters Basilica at the Vatican. Missed the climb to the top, but we were a bit overwhelmed by the violent crucifixion and martyrdom themes in Christianity as graphically portrayed in the catholic churches. However I was very taken with the marvelous marble design work on the floors and walls. | We took a long walk back to the Pantheon, a 2nd century Roman construction which still survives in the form of a very impressive Christian church, which unfortunately had just closed. On the way we marvelled at a series of spray-can artists producing finely detailed and realistic paintings in the space of around 4 minutes in front of an appreciative audience, and sold seconds later for 10 Euros. Working with amazing speed, precision, a gas mask, 20 colours and an armoury of at least a dozen specific techniques, they produced paintings on several different themes. Did not think they would travel well. We returned to the Pantheon next day to see the interior – well worth the visit –a massive dome with a hole to the sky for light, made of pumice stone so as not to be too heavy for the circular marble walls – a testament to the skill of roman architecture. | We also went to see an exhibition of recreations of Leonardo Da Vinci’s machines. It was significantly different to the one which travelled to Adelaide a few years ago, with one which was amazingly close to a current hang glider, except that the pilot was expected to flap the wings. His tank/armoured personnel carrier however, suffered the same limitations as the Daleks of Dr Who – works great if the ground is very flat. It became a race against time in the narrow and confusing alleyways of the old city, as we had an early afternoon train to catch to Pisa. Rescued by a taxi we collected our bags and made it onto the train with a good 2 minutes to spare, having almost missed it courtesy of the obscure prepayment system at the station café getting some lunch, and having to get to the furthest carriage of the long train. We were assisted at the last minute by a young man who grabbed our bags and hauled them up the steps and into the train unasked and then expected to be paid for his help. As our tour guide had said - in Italy they have German prices and Greek wages so not surprising that there are many trying to make money any way they can and probably a helpful service to those who actually want it. | Vatican | Pan-theon
44: Week 11 | Italy - Pisa | This shot is the fateful one which lost me my iPhone. Lying down on the grass, I think it slipped out of my pocket. Not really worth it huh! Unfortunately the fancy tracking system has not assisted its recovery. There has been a lot of tears and grieving over this loss, even if I have not had a functioning SIM for most of the trip. Anyway, we finished our visit with a great morning walk around the Botanic Gardens we discovered across the road from our hostel window. An ancient tree walk, plus some nice eucalypts, acacias and a couple of banyan trees to remind us of Aus. | The Baptistry is a massive domed building, over 55m high, and 30m across. Interesting considering it is mainly for babies. The size was however utilised during an impromptu performance by a contralto, demonstrating the most amazing acoustics of the building. The square is surrounded by a series of museums containing all the bits which have fallen off the buildings over the years, or have been removed as too precious to leave out in the open. A couple of hundred metres of frescos which were picked up after WWII bombing are being painstakingly conserved and restored, based on photos and etchings. | The lean was perhaps more pronounced than I expected, though frustratingly, my camera seems to annul the lean due to perspective. Will just have to see how they turn out. It is all sparkly new, having just been through a 5 year long renovation and stabilisation. We were surprised to find them using these octopus straps to hold it together. The three bells have been fitted with electric ringers, which they tested while we were up the top. Anna thinks it sounds loverly, but Sandy thinks they have a bit of work still to do on the synchronisation. | Little old Pisa. I only knew it for the leaning tower, but apparently it was a major force in its heyday, until they lost a couple of wars with the nearby Florentines. I had also never noticed inn the photos, the three other white marble buildings in the same square, all dating from around the 11th-13th centuries; the baptistery, the cathedral, the and the funerary. A sort of hatched, matched and despatched trifecta, with the leaning bell-tower ringing out the news. | historical origins of plumber's crack!
45: Our first afternoon stroll around Florence found us climbing to the top of another bell tower, an impressive structure probably designed to show that the Florentines can build a bigger and straighter tower than their Pisan rivals. All for show however, as there is no sign of the bell-rope or any electric ringers. What a magic view from the top though. The whole town laid out before us, surrounded by very picturesque hills in all directions. Found a great 3 hour walking tour of Florence for our first morning conducted by a pint-sized but enthusiastic young Florentine woman. The cathedral was surprisingly plain and austere inside. It did, however have a 24 hour clock showing Roman numerals and running anticlockwise, on the rear wall. The main square of the town was more or less as built by the Romans, and the leather and fabric industries for which Florence is famous were on display in abundance in shops and roadside stalls. Here for the first time since Iceland was an absence of Africans on every corner selling spatter balls, gaudy souvenirs and ugly handbags. Many actually had legal stalls selling possibly genuine Florentine products, including an impressive array of leather goods. | David stands proudly outside the entrance to City Hall, apparently deemed too good to be placed in its planned location atop the cathedral. He is flanked by a second sculpture by Bandinelli, nicknamed by the locals the 'melon pile’, perhaps due to the excess of muscles. The real David has been moved to the museum, so we were looking at a replica. We visited the original the next day, along with many unfinished sculptures by Michelangelo. He is very impressive. Interesting that it was Goliath who was meant to be the big one. Evidence of the various Guilds can be seen on their symbols, coats of arms, and on some of the statues around town. One such was the statue of St George slaying the dragon, effectively showing off the Armourer’s Guild chain mail, swords and lances. We heard the fascinating story of the grain market which turned into a dual-use grain market/church complete with hooks in the ceiling. A miracle was apparently involved. | Florence | what the...!! anti-clockwise 24 hour clock | Pont Vecchio
46: Week 12 | Venice | Venice is a city which is hard not to fall in love with. We had a great little room which was thankfully near the railway station, and right near the Grand Canal. The ferry system is as extensive and almost as frequent as an underground train network. Pity about the very long queues for a ticket. The weather was beautiful. The sight of buildings standing permanently in water, and salt water at that, is a bit alarming at first. Nearly all show signs of damp, and many show signs of having abandoned the lower floor. Structurally however they seem to be much better than the houses in Amsterdam, built well away from the canals. The front doors opening directly onto the water still make me look twice. Our main aim was to get to the Venice Biennale, a premier world art event which few people in Venice seem to know about. Certainly we saw very little information around the city, and had fair trouble finding where the event was held, even from the festival website. | The major venue was the Arsenal, an old shipbuilding facility dating from the Venice heyday in the 12th-14th centuries. At one time they built 500 ships in 6 months for a war against Turkey for control of the Mediterranean Sea. They are reputed to have built one ship during the course of a banquet to impress a visiting leader. The Australian pavilion was very disappointing featuring plastic replicas of common objects most likely found in the back of a school sports shed – old pin up boards and broken tables. The US was similarly underwhelming. The Greek exhibition on the other hand was the most dramatic and exquisite, with a timber walkway sitting above a still pool occupying the entire pavilion, lit only by the light of one window. Outside the whole pavilion was enclosed in wood like a packing crate. Israel and Poland were also striking though not really apparent that the work related to the theme of illumination. | Arsenale
47: The Romanian pavilion had a massive rant painted across the entire exterior walls presenting their reasons for and against exhibiting at the Biennale. Christian Boltanski in the French pavilion was another highlight. It consisted of a massive tubular frame structure set up like a news paper printing press with endless pictures of newborn babies passing around it. The room on either side had a large digital counter for the world births and the deaths. | The next day we took a ferry to the islands of Murano, the centre of art glass manufacturing in dozens or hundreds of workshops and displayed in just as many stores. Unfortunately the technical section of the glassmaking museum was closed, but we did find one factory doing glassblowing demonstrations. Some of the work was stunning in artistic quality and workmanship. Our return ferry took us on a circumnavigation of the main islands and back to Piazza San Marco. Our search for a toilet in the vicinity of this packed main square and premier tourist site of Venice was in vain signs pointing to the facilities leading towards each other from both directions – would have been funny in other circumstances – and we eventually found a little café several blocks from the square where we could use the WC and buy a stiff drink. | The Cathedral was closed due to water flooding, and we saw water gradually rising from the grates in the main square. Major infrastructure work is underway to prevent water ingress to the area. Personally I would have thought that raising the ground level by 6” would have been cheaper and easier. In the evening we went to a live performance dramatising the history of Venice which we very much enjoyed and filled in a few gaps in our vast lack of knowledge of the city. This was one very rich city-state in its time. This was followed by a shot of melon vodka on the Piazza listening to three live bands competing for airtime and dozens of people launching flashing spinners into the night air. | With a parting look from the bridge over the very busy grand canal the next morning we said our goodbyes to Venice. Then we had another view from the plane, when we realized that all the islands of Venice look very small, sitting within a very much bigger lagoon at the top of the Adriatic sea. I now understand how they intend to stop floods and high tides from drowning the city, by temporarily closing off the three entrances to the lagoon when necessary – the biggest infrastructure project in Italy’s history. | Murano | Venice Biennale | Piazza San Marco
48: Spain - Bilbao | After one night in Barcelona, we flew out to Bilbao on the northern coast facing the Atlantic. There we found the incredible Guggenheim Museum, a wonderful massive sculpture in titanium sheets, guarded by a cute flower puppy 12 metres high out the front. | The most outstanding exhibition was constructed of 50mm sheet steel, in panels 4m high by 12m long curved into various 3D shapes. These varied from cones to sphere segments to toroidal segments to rotated ellipses. Walking through these giant structures and the spaces they create is quite amazing. The Bilbao Museum of fine art is also excellent with some great sculpture and paintings, plus a exhibition of gold artifacts from before Columbus, and an exhibition of Matta, a surrealist and abstract painter.
49: Week 12 | Bilbao is such a pretty town, uncrowded and unhurried and very modern. Even the old town is pretty, with its narrow streets and multitude of tapas bars where we could even get a very acceptable breakfast, amongst the poker machines and the rows of spirits on the walls. Afterwards a visit to the Archaeological Museum, showing the history and pre-history of the area for the last 9000 years, based on excavations in the town and surrounding region. | Then we took a trip on the Metro out to Portugalete to see the oldest Transporter Bridge in the world, a wild cross between a ferry, a bridge and a flying fox. Built around 1890, it carries cars and passengers across the river on a hanging gondola. It is very impressive structure 165 metres long and over 50m high. We took the 30cent trip across, but the walk back across the top cost us 5 Euros each. I guess it was worth it for the views.
50: Barcelona | Back in Barcelona we took ourselves off to see Guel Park designed by Gaudi in the early 20th century. A quite fantastical place full of wild shapes and colourful mosaics, designed to be the gardens for a model community. | Continuing the theme we went to Gaudi Museum in La Pedera, a building created by him, with a very organic facade, and a beautiful lightwell with balconies. The rooftop sculpture was awesome, turning the various service vents and chimneys into art forms. The first floor has been an exhibition space for decades and currently showed and exhibition of black and white photos by Francesc Catal-Roca a brilliant photographer recording life in Spain over the last 60 years.
51: Week 12 | Our final day was at the beach. It was Saturday and everyone was there. The first beach not dominated by rented umbrellas and lounges. Great atmosphere, a bit of topless sunbathing, lots of swimming, but taking it in turns. Lots of offers of beer, soft drinks, sarongs and massages from the travelling sales men and women. We eventually rinsed off and took a bicycle rickshaw along the beach to an intriguing woven copper fish sculpture about 10metres high we could see in the distance. | Back in town, the Sagrada Familia is a massive gothic cathedral designed by Gaudi, but still under construction 140 years after it was started, complete with 4 cranes in operation. Unfortunately closed due to a big christian youth event, but extraordinary nonetheless, with a planned 18 towers of inverted catenary shape. We spent the evening at a brilliant concert by a Spanish guitar duet, performed in an intimate chapel of a former monastery. Needless to say we bought their CD which will be combined with our other musical acquisitions to form the soundtrack to our coming home party | We ended the evening looking for a reasonably priced meal, ending up at a tapas bar which turned out to be an Irish pub in disguise and gave us both a bout of food poisoning. The joys of the tourist drag. We cut our losses and we went somewhere else for a very tasty paella.
52: Left for a driving tour of SW England with our friends Sandie and Michael from Norfolk at the ungodly hour of 4.40am. This was a brave attempt to get past London before the morning peak starting at around 7am. More or less successful. The 8-lane motorway only stopped half a dozen times, and not for long, which is apparently very good for a Monday morning. | England - Wiltshire | Our first stop was the stone circle at Avebury, a circle of standing stones around 1km across, and surrounded by a 10-15m ditch with a higher outer mound. There is a second circle inside the first, and a third layout of stones near the middle. The village is located within the outer circle. The circle is thousands of years old, but many of the stones were broken up or buried in the 17th century, for a combination of religious and utilitarian reasons. The buried stones were not rediscovered until excavations and some re-instatement in the 1920s. It is located near Salisbury Hill, a 75m high artificial mound constructed in a number of stages over many hundreds of years. | Anna’s long desire to see a crop circle was realised soon after when we found not one, but four crop circles in the space of 3 or 4 kilometres. All had appeared in the last two or three days. They were very impressive. The first one we walked in was too hard to pick the pattern at ground level. We could only understand it’s structure from the aerial picture on the internet. The second was easier. It was maybe 150 metres across with large circles either end, and in the centre. Small circles are around 1.5m across and have a tuft in the centre. | The third we could view by climbing the adjacent hill with a chalk horse. It was a series of 4 circles of increasing diameter arranged in a series of 7 lines radiating from the central design. The fourth we could only see from a distance, and again, we could only see the intricacy of the design from an aerial photo. I think we were lucky that the cool summer in England had delayed the harvest until we arrived back in England. | Week 13
53: Laycock is a little 18th century time-warp town, a fully functioning film set of 4 main streets and maybe 150 houses where the residents may be invaded by film crews making historical dramas at any time of the day or night. All frontages are controlled to prevent anachronisms, like the antenna cable I saw snaking its way across the roof. What a life. We called in there for a very nice Devonshire Tea, called a Cream Tea in England, even if you are in Devonshire apparently. | It was late afternoon by the time we got to Stonehenge and the rain had just started. It is an awesome structure with stones up to 60 tonnes brought from hundreds of miles away. Around 4-5 thousand years old and the most advanced of a succession of henges built on the site. Unfortunately compared to Anna’s last visit, where you could walk amongst the stones, now we can get no nearer than 100m or so. The structure is more impressive as a third of each stone is set into the ground and the horizontal beams are locked in place by ball and socket, and mortise and tenon joints in the stone. | Next day we continued our magical mystery tour by visiting Old Sarum, the ruin of a hilltop fortress with two massive defensive ditches, near Salisbury and dating from the 11th century. Demolished in the 14th century after a dispute between church and state around 1220 led to the cathedral being moved to nearby Salisbury. The cathedral at Salisbury is huge, and was hosting an exhibition of sculptures like the one shown here. | The afternoon was spent in Bath, on the open top bus, and visiting the Roman Baths. The baths are fed from the only natural hot spring in Britain and supported saunas, steam rooms and a number of different pools. It was associated with a large temple complex. The archaeological dig extends under the city and there is apparently still lots left to excavate. The main bath is in reasonable condition, and full of water using the original lead lining. Unfortunately the water is murky green due to algae from the sunlight. Originally the baths were covered by a massive high-domed and richly decorated building which would have prevented algae growth.
54: We stayed the night at a really comfortable B&B in a renovated dairy. We got to climb the Glastonbury Tor, famous amongst other things for its role in “The Mists of Avalon”, before exploring the alternative culture of Glastonbury. Every second shop is a crystal healing centre or a temple to the godess or selling Celtic jewelery. Quite an amazing place. | We detoured to cross Dartmoor National Park, a wilderness of granite outcrops and heathland, with remnants of neolithic and bronze-age settlements. These include stone circles, round-houses and stone bridges, like this one using three 5m long stones. | We made our way along narrow winding single lane roads, bordered with 2-3m high stone wall and hedges to find our B&B for the night at Veryan on the south Cornwall coast. Our friends graciously let us have the beautifully renovated Roundhouse, with its mezzanine bedroom and downstairs lounge room, while they took the garage, lovingly redecorated as a beach hut. | The Eden Project at Bodelva the next morning. The Eden Project is designed to show the relationship between people and environment, and to look at sustainable living. It is set up in a disused clay quarry, with two massive biomes with tropical and Mediterranean climates. These show plant and human habitats from which much of our food and medicine are derived. We were very surprised to see a fully grown hemp crop, around 2m high, until we got to the other side and found they had a commercial hemp growers licence to grow the low THC variety for fibre. They do a nice line in hemp T-shirts! Finished the day at the old fishing village of Mevagissey with a double harbour and lots of pirate history. | Our final day was spent at St Ives on the northern Cornwall coast, one of the nicest places I have seen in England. An artists town, with a branch of the Tate Modern, and lots of studios and some brilliant beaches nearby with progressively less people the further around the bay you get. As with most of the other towns we visited, there is no room for cars or parking in the town, so it’s a park and ride arrangement. This time it was a local train to take us from the carpark about 10km out of town. We paid for our casual disregard of UK distances by having an eight hour, 660km drive back to Norfolk starting mid-afternoon, with only a few holdups in the Friday afternoon traffic. Thanks so much for a fantastic trip guys, we really loved it. | Devon & Cornwall | Aahh- English Summer on Dartmoor!! | St Ives
55: Week 13 | With a good sleep behind us we got a lift to the train to Cambridge (thanks Michael) to do a spot of punting on the river Cam. Boy those poles are long! Around 5 metres long, and quite heavy if made of wood as ours was. All very well until you hit mud on the bottom and come to a grinding halt as you try to pull it out. We got on as well as you can on the narrow river, in the rain, with a 30 second lesson and dozens of other punters of widely varying skill. We did cover a good bit of river through the backwaters of the university. By the time we were finished, Kings College had closed for visits, and we went looking for the market. Were met with a brilliant trio playing spanish music, and “Fernando’s Kitchen” CD is now gracing our music collection. They plan to be busking round Australia in our summer, though they had never heard of Adelaide till we put in a plug. | We spent the next day enjoying the sunshine and seeing the Tower of London. A bit more there than I expected. The Yeoman's tour was every bit as entertaining as the Youtube video. The amazing thing for me was that wild animals were kept at the castle for 600 years until London Zoo was established in the 19th century. Lions, tigers, elephants, even kangaroos. By the time we had finished with the crown jewels and the white tower full of arms and armour, and a walk around the top of the wall, the rest of London was closed for the day. | Cambridge & London | Back to London by train and we found a hostel in Paddington, close to the Tube. Pity the station was closed for three of the four lines, but we managed a roundabout route. A beautiful walk to St James Park with a view to Kensington Palace and our first Lebanese meal of the trip.
56: London gave us a good send-off with a thoroughly rainy day on Tuesday to visit the British Museum. Anna’s dream of buying more copies of the Royal Game of Ur, a board game which she bought on her previous visit to the museum 30 years ago, was dashed when we were eventually told the game stopped being made 6 months ago. The game was found in a tomb in Mesopotamia from 2500BC, with the rules invented by the museum staff, and is a much loved game in the Pulsford-Mycko household. It is not quite the same playing the online version with shockwave. The highlight of the visit was seeing the other half of the Parthenon which the British are steadfastly refusing to return to Greece. The panel explaining their reasons is looking a bit self-serving, and the excuses are wearing thin given that Athens has already built the museum to house the statues and reliefs in anticipation of their return. | London | We took a tube to Trafalgar Square to enjoy the ambience of the fountains and the countdown clock to the Olympics, (the few remaining pigeons looked very discouraged by the do not feed the birds signs) then worked our way down Whitehall, past the 10 Downing Street "fortress". The whole street is closed off at both ends with permanent high iron fences and car-bomb proof barricades and armed security forces -very different to 30 years ago when there were a couple of bobbies standing at the front door. At the end of the block we went through St James Park to Buckingham Palace which looked lovely in the sunset. Walked back to the tube through Green park and found The Ritz.... but went to nice Pub off Oxford Street for dinner. | Week 14 | Downing Street | Royal Game of Ur | old Roman wall | All Souls church
57: Beautiful! Hope you took the opportunity to dance with other couples on the Moulin Rouge dance floor. Well done for climbing up the Tour Eiffel steps! Don't worry about missing going into the Musee D'Orsay - if you've seen the Rodin pieces, then you've seen the highlights. The Louvre is magnificent, both inside and outside, isn't it? Even with the crowds, it's a trip being in there (especially as it's so immense!). Keep enjoying yourselves and know that there is at least one avid fan of your blogs who get as much enjoyment in reading about your adventures as knowing that you are both having a fantastic time exploring the world! - Maricel | Mind the gap! -Kalinya | I love that, from the top of Burj Khalifa, the city looks like a "Sim City" (PC game) model.. too cool! - Maricel | Loving the updates...I hope you manage to keep them up during the whole trip...and here's also hoping you managed to get a few well earned zzzzz's on the train to Amsterdam...x x x Janette | Am loving the blogs....so interesting and amusing, they will also be a good record for yourselves when you get back home and you find you have forgotten some of the "stuff" you did because you did so much of it...lol... Wishing you both all the best and hoping the rest of the trip is as interesting and as much fun...Take care and look after yourselves....Janette | What a great read! Thanks, Herr Sandy & Frau Anna. I was salivating when I read 'poffertjes' on this blog. Your train & accommodation adventure reminds me of this wonderful quote from Wilferd A. Peterson: “A man practices the art of adventure when he breaks the chain of routine and renews his life through reading new books, traveling to new places, making new friends, taking up new hobbies and adopting new viewpoints.” - Maricel | Venice Biennale candle version | our blog www.sandpulse.blogspot.com - your comments were very much appreciated | An awesome tour through 14 countries from May 23rd to August 25th. Sandy's first trip to Europe, and Anna's first trip beyond England and Paris 30 years ago. With the loving help and generosity of friends Sandie & Michael, and Margret & Gudjon, and the incredible hospitality of the Mycko clan in Ukraine, we were treated to a rich and rewarding experience. Our humble and sincere thanks and look forward to seeing you in Oz. Deep appreciation also for the time we spent with Tim & Robyn on our holiday within a holiday in Greece, and thanks to Patch and Suz for making us welcome in London. The time we spent with friends and family were the absolute highlights of the trip. Thank you. Hope you enjoyed our book. With love, Sandy & Anna