Monday, August 6, 2007

Our Last Day in Moscow

We headed off this morning to the Novodevichy Convent only to discover that when we got there after a long train ride, that it closes on the first Monday of the month. We did however look at the exterior and visited the Novodevichy Necropolis that since 1932 has become the place of burial for outstanding figures in Russian history. We visited the graves of Yelstzin, Kruschev (all in black and white), Gorbachev, Ulanova, Tolstoy and Prokoffiev and lots of others.

We returned by train to Red Square and walked past Lenin's mausoleum to St Basil's Cathredral. It is absolutely dazzling on the outside but very basic on the inside.

We also visited the State History Museum. This has a huge collection covering the Russsian Empire from the Stone Age to the present day. On our way back we had a brief stop at the Resurrection Gate to visit the chapel of the Iverain Virgin that houses this icon.

After a 4 pm lunch, we rested, packed, went out for late afternoon shopping, happy hour and dinner. We are now almost ready for our early morning departure for Singapore.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Moscow Treasures

Today we toured the treasures of the Armoury, Russia's oldest museum. They have very limited entries and this was the only day we had been successful in gaining tickets. There are nine rooms full of wonderful objects. The gold was simply stunning. This museum has the largest collection of European silver in the world. There are bibles studded with precious gems inserted into gold filigree.

The Faberge eggs were exquisite. They were traditional Easter gifts between the Tsar and the Tsarina and put our chocolate eggs to shame. Many contained precious objects, one a gold train with ruby headlights to commemorate the completion of the Trans Siberian railway. Others had a gold ship, a gold horse, miniature portraits and lots more.

We also saw the royal regalia with thrones and crowns from the Tsars. The Monomakh crown had lots of gold filigree and gems with a sable trim.

The carriage room containes coaches and sleighs all lavishly decorated. Included was the large sleigh that Empress Elizabeth rode in from St Petersburg to Moscow pulled by 23 horses at a time.

Later we walked to the Pushkin Fine Arts Museums. We visited two of them. One had magnificent objects from Ancient Egypt, beautiful sculptures and paintings. Then we went next door to the 19 and 20 century European art that had possible the largest collection of Impressionist paintings in the world. There were full rooms devoted to each Impressionist artist.

We visited the nearby cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The original church was built from 1839 - 1883 to commemorate the Napoleonic victory. It was demolished by Stalin in 1931 who planned to build the 300 metre "palace of soviets" including a 100 metre statue of Lenin. This did not eventuate and for 50 years the site housed the world's largest swimming pool. This new church was built in 2 years to celebrate Moscow's 850th birthday opening in 1997 at a cost of about $350 million.

We returned via the statue of Peter the Great on the banks of the Muscova River. After a subway ride, we walked up through beautiful arcades and classy department stores on the way back to our apartment. An exhausting but exhilarating day!

Queueing in Russia

Russian skills in queueing developed during the Soviet era. It is said that if they saw a queue they would join it and find out what it was for when they reached the head. Perhaps they would be able to buy a cabbage and then cook shchi soup.

We have seen the Russian skills of queue jumping but mostly have been able to hold our own. We were tested when queueing for ferry tickets in the pouring rain in St Petersburg and the morning rush for tickets at the Hermitage Museum.

Today we felt our skills proven. We managed to get the very last tickets for the day to visit the Armoury in the Kremlin. We saw the wonderful treasures and managed to get a front row view of the wonderful Faberge eggs. One Russian guide tried to elbow us aside but was no match for our skills.

Some of the guides are fine but most must have had previous careers working with the KGB. Their only match are the museum officials and the train guards. They have been lucky to avoid being sent to the salt mines.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Day at the Markets

Today we ventured out to the Izmaylovo markets which are located next to Gorky Park. The weather was still very overcast with some heavy showers so we only had a brief look at the park before going into the markets.

We had considered Moscow a lot less tourist oriented than St Petersburg but the markets had things for all tastes. There was clothing for the locals, matryoshky dolls, khokhloma ware ( sounds like a title for a musical ) and old uniforms and odds from the Soviet era along with Cossack hats and lots more.

We travelled by underground which is quite a challenge when you can't read the script for the station names. The train stations are unbelievable , many being works of art in their own right. More marble than the Marble Palace and more sculptures than the Summer Garden. We came back via a different route and tried to visit the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall but it was closed for renovations. We added this to the Bolshoi Theatre which we visited yesterday afternoon which was closed till 2008. We walked back past the famous Pushkin statue on the way to our apartment.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Day at the Kremlin

We walked down to the Kremlin via Alexandrovsky Gardens.We were able to get tickets but not to the Armoury with its display of Faberge eggs.

The Kremlin is huge with 17 towers and dozens of major buildings. We visited the Assumption Cathedral where the Tzars were crowned, The Archangel Cathedral where Ivan the Great/Terrible and his son are entombed and the small Church of the Deposition of the Robe.We also saw the worlds largest has never rung, the worlds largest cannon...was never fired and the display of Cartier diamonds in Ivans Bell Tower. This included a ring owned by Barbara Hutton and several items owned by the Duchess of Windsor.

We were soaked on our return and had a very late lunch. Late in the afternoon we headed out again and saw the Bolshoi Theatre hidden behind is closed till 2008, and the adjacent fountains and sculpture of Karl Marx

On the way home we were drenched again so needed more dry clothes before dinner preparations.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Churches in St Petersburg

Earlier in our reports we told of a church that doubled as a lighthouse. In St Petersburg we visited many many magnificent churches. Most were closed during the Soviet era and it is interesting to learn of the use they were put to at this time. Some of these are..

* St Catherine of Alexandrine Church - a small church near where we stayed which was used as a vegetable store
* The famous Kazan Cathredral had the courtyards converted to vegetable fields
* The Vladimirskaya Church was used as an underwear factory
* The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood with its colourful onion domes was used as a warehouse
* The Temple of the Assumption was turned into an indoor skating rink - restored as a church, it now sells fresh cakes and choral music.
* The Church of Mother of God the Merciful was converted into a training base for submariners. The Russian Byzantine exterior is intact but the interior has a 26 metre tube for diving exercises.

The churches we have visited are full of worshippers although many operate only as museums and do not have services.

Red Square Parade

Our apartment is centrally located on Tverslayn St leading down to the Kremlin. As we walked down this morning, we passed the statue of Yury Dolgoruky, considered to be the founder of Moscow. The buildings are from a grand era and set the scene for what was to come.

When we reached Manezhnaya Place, the Kremlin and St Basil's was an incredible sight.

First we went into the Kazan Cathredral. It is only tiny and located at the entrance to Red Square. The original was demolished as it impeded the flow of celebratory workers in May Day parades. We saw the 1993 replica.

Red Square is massive. It was closed off for a celebration for the Special Air Borne Forces (Commandoes). We managed to find a retired general (only one star) to talk to. The backdrop was St Basil's Church with its multi coloured "onion" domes. This is the best known landmark in Moscow. The Kremlin is closed each Thursday so we plan to return tomorrow.

When you think of the GUM store, images of queueing workers waiting to buy the scarce products, come to mind. This may have been true once but today it has fashionable shops selling the latest in designer goods. Our purchases? A pistachio ice cream each.

We walked down to the Moscow River and back before returning to the apartment for a very late lunch. We have heavy rain this afternoon so are taking it easy for a few hours.

Explosion in St Petersburg

Almost forgot to tell you this.

All day we had seen the buildup of troops. On the way back past The Hermitage, the main road was closed. We were forced to take a long detour and passed several checkpoints.

Then, in the evening, it came. We were settling down when the explosion occurred. No. not the apartment hit by mortar. Once the metal bands from the Shampanskoye - Russian champagne - were released, it exploded, hitting the ceiling.

We took it as a sign to start on the pre dinner drinks.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Safe in Moscow

We managed to avoid the tourist police who lurk at the railway station to catch tourists and impose an on the spot fine and have arrived in Moscow.
It was a pleasant trip of 8 hours and they even provide lunch and tea/coffee. As we came into Moscow you cannot help noticing the massive power stations on the outskirts of town along with the industry.

Our apartment is 5 minutes walk from the Kremlin in the centre of the city. It has all mod cons and we have on line internet.We are looking forward to our visit

Places we didn't visit in St. Petersburg

These are a few of the places we did not visit.
  • Sigmund Freud's Museum of Dreams. It aims to stimulate your subconscious as you struggle to read the display symbolising what Freud himself would dream of.
  • The Russian Vodka Museum.(How would any become old enough to put in a museum?)
  • The Museum of Erotica
  • The Chocolate Museum..Well we did have a quick peep. ( Sounds like a comment on the Erotica Museum )
  • McLenins Hamburger Museum

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Spectacular St Petersburg

We have had a wonderful visit to St Petersburg visiting most of the key sights in the city.

One highlight is the magnificent St Isaac's Cathredral. We marvelled at its grandeur. The Kazan Cathredral was beautiful and we heard choral singing resonating through the whole place. We walked up next to Catherine's Canal to the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood where Alexander 11 was assassinated. We were fascinated by the multi coloured onion domes on the roof and its mosaic interior.

St Pete's is a magical place for art lovers. We spent the entire day yesterday at the Hermitage Museum. It incorporates the Winter Palace and is arguably the best art collection in the world. On Monday we visited the State (art ) Museum with its extensive collection.

We have been to many wonderful places but a few were not up to expectation including the Marble Palace with its 36 different coloured marble. Many of the floors are covered over and some of the marble walls are painted.

We visited the famous Summer Gardens. This will close next year for refurbishment. It needs it.

We spent 2 days beyond St P., the first at Peterhof built by Peter the Great. We went by boat around the Gulf of Finland 29 km to the west. This is known as the Russian Versailles. We loved the Grand palace which contrasted with the much more modest Mon Plaisir, his first abode. The gardens and fountains were amazing. The following we visited the palaces around Pushkin. Catherine's Palace and Park were magnificent including one room lined entirely with amber. This contrasted with Alexdander palace, home of the last Tsar and his family. It was a real family home.

We leave in a few hours on the train for Moscow.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Need to Go?

Walking back over the Neva River in St Petersburg, we passed a bank of toilets. These are set up at various places round the city for which you must pay for the privilege to use them. They were overflowing, ripe and not the place you would visit even if they paid you.

With our family fixation on toilets, I thought you might like this report on a toilet in Turku, the beautiful old city in Finland.

The pub - restaurant Puntorin Vessa, is located in a building that served as a public convenience for over 50 years.

It is tastefully decorated including a collection of potties and an imaginative artwork by Eila Puumalainen, with a theme on this most basic human need. The menu also has a special focus on toilet humour. Not much different to dinner at Conjola!

Report from Russia

Since we arrived in St Petersburg on Wednesday afternoon, we have not stopped exploring this wonderful city. Our apartment is right in the centre of the city on Nevsky Prospect so we are close to everything.

We have admired the huge bronze statue of Catherine the Great - with her statesmen and lovers at her feet, explored the baroque Stoganov Palace and there was no beef in sight and examined the gilt windvane on the top of the steeple on the Admiralty Building. This ship shaped vane is a symbol of St Petersburg.

Yesterday afternoon we visited St Peter and Paul Fortress built in 1703 by Peter the Great. In the centre is the stunning cathredral where nearly all the Tsars are interred - including the whole family of the last Tsar only placed here in 1998 after their remains were located. Several other museums were located in the fortress including the History of St Petersburg inside the very large former Commandent's house. Looking for one of the other museums, we accidentally wandered into the office of the Secret Police but were promptly removed. We also visited the Museum of Space Exploration which includes the descent capsule from the joint mission with Apollo in December 1974.

Jeanie rejoins us this afternoon flying up from Prague.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ecstatic Over Estonia

Tallinn was terrific. We had a wonderful day but started with checking in the car and then rushing for the ferry. Ferries to Tallinn take between on and a half hours and three and a half hours. We went on the superfast one and was it a rough ride! It was drizzling rain and windy and the waves were up. The jetcat found every pothole.

On arrival in Tallinn the sun was out. We walked up to the old town and spent the day looking at the castle, the city walls, churches and cathredrals, and souvenir shops and antique dealers.

The highlights included the city hall dating from the 14th century, the Raeapteek - the old pharmacy operating in the same spot since 1422; the Kick in de Kok (no rude comments please - it was an interesting and challenging place to visit); several of the churches and the city walls and gate. It wasn't just one or two interesting things. It was the total picture of a beautiful old city wthout a McDonalds in sight.

We returned on a much calmer sea and are almost finished packing as we catch the early train to St Petersburg in the morning.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Back to Helsinki

With our final day in the car, we continued back to Helsinki. Before leaving Vaasa, we drove over to an adjoining island where Tropiclandia (a water park) and Wasalandia (a scaled down Disneyland) are located.

We stopped off at Rauma on the west coast and walked around the old town which has 400 to 600 timber buildings that date from the 1600s. Many are now full of tourist souvenirs but regrettably our bags are fully laden.

Turku, Finland's second and oldest city was our next stop. We walked the waterfront, strolled the market and possibly set a record by visiting 6 churches in the one town. The castle was huge and took ages to walk around the many corridors and up and down the stairs. It was not nearly as impressive as many others that we have seen as the restoration was too "perfect".

Finally back to Helsinki and managed to find our hotel. The car is parked outside the nearby car rental outlet as we have to finalise this first thing in the morning before we head off to Tallinn.

Drive into Finland, Slice into Sweden

We headed south after our visit to Santa with a detour on the way to Tornio. It is located at the top of the Gulf of Bothnia, a northern extension of the Baltic Sea. The town sits on the border with Sweden and we drove across to its twin town of Haparanda. The 2 items of interest are the church that looks like a grain silo and the golf course. In the normal course of a round, you cross the border 4 times, but with a few slices or hooks, you could easily add an extra border crossing or two.

Other stops included Oulu with its interesting old timber buildings around the harbour and Pietarsaari with more old buildings dating from the Swedish period. We stayed overnight at Vaasa where we had an interesting time checking into our hotel.

To save on labour costs, lots of things in Finland operate without a person in sight. Many petrol stations are fully automated. You put in a credit card or bank note, indicate your bowser and pump away - then drive off. The hotel was without reception. We booked in on a touch screen, paid on line, were given a room number and a door code with not a human in sight. When we walked into our room, the tv screen had a personalised message to welcome us. Any contact was via the screen - order up a security guard or report a faulty toilet. Fortunately we did not need either service.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

More Things We Won't Be Doing in Finland

As we walked back to the hotel from dinner, several sights reminded us of some more things we won't be doing in Finland. These are all Finnish activities.
  • Eating at the world's most northern McDonalds . The Rovaniemi McDonalds has this dubious honour. Perhaps it should suffer the same fate as Starbucks in Beijing. We are not in a very strong moral position to comment on this as we did eat Chinese tonight. We did consider the stir fried reindeer but just could not quite bring ourselves to it.
  • Playing in the Swamp Soccer World Championship. We will have to admit to watching this on Finnish tv and we will certainly not be competing. The only "sport" that could match it would be the world bog snorkelling championship held in Wales. Bog Man would be a natural for this!
  • Competing in the mobile phone throwing championship. Again I will have to admit that my Finnish Nokia has nearly driven me to it a few times.
  • Enter the world championship in crowbar walking
  • Suffer the world sauna championship
  • Attend the Festival of Twangy Guitar Music
  • Participate in the Aqua Jogging World Championship
  • Attend the Kurikka Matchmaking Festival
  • and finally visit the Lordi Rockaurant that we saw on our way home tonight.

The Dash to the Pole

We fueled the polar vehicle and took on a full load of provisions as we set off north on the dash to the Pole. Actually it was a sunny day and we were wearing t shirts!

We had several stops for reindeer on the road but a major encounter with the widlife was at Ranua. Yes we went to the zoo. We saw the feeding of the polar and brown bears, saw moose, elk, reindeer, mink, lynx, wolverine and lots more.

We rested the huskies while we had a picnic lunch. We finally selected a base camp, the City Hotel at Rovaniemi. We then made the dash up to the Arctic Circle and Santa's Village. The Arctic Circle is clearly marked and you can go through the same antics as you do at the Meridian of Greenwich.

Yes we had our photo taken with Santa and gave him up to date information on who has been good. We also visited about twenty of the souvenir shops! It was very commercial but after all it was Christmas in July.

The Bog Man Beats the Woolly Mammoth

On our way north, we made a detour to Kerimaki to visit the world's largest wooden church. It was built in 1845 to seat 3,300 people. It was impressive as was the Bell Tower that we climbed. This is the third or fourth wooden church that we have visited over the past few years that claims to be the world's largest. Just where is the world's largest? I guess it depends on your criteria. We think this one was on seating capacity.

We continued to Kuopio, visiting the Museum of Natural History to see the woolly mammoth. It was good...... but not a match for the Bog Man!!! We also visited the market before going to the lakefront. This area was once totally dependent on water transport and this has left a great legacy of lake steamers, now mainly used for sightseeing.

Kajaani was our overnight destination. We stayed at the Karoline Berg Manor House, described in our guide as the most romantic place to stay in northern Finland. Wevisited the castle ruins, an excellent Lutheran church and the tar barge canal and loch system. All impressive and some even romantic.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Finnish Rally Driving

We have our set of wheels and are rallying in the Finnish Lakes District. We actually have a very sedate Honda Jazz automatic and given the number of speed cameras that we have seen, we won't be exceeding the speed limits. We drove along the border with Russia and at one point were only 200 km from St Petersburg.

We picked up the car this morning and headed for the Savo Lakes Region. We drove past beautiful lakes, some covered with water lilies with white and yellow flowers the size of twenty cent coins. We enjoyed a picnic lunch by a lake and managed to avoid the showers.

Savonlinna, the main town in the area, was a hub of activity. It is the height of the Opera Festival season so everything was packed including the hotels. There was not a seat available for the opera tonight - and there were 2,200 seats. We are staying at a hotel in Punkaharju which is about 25 minutes drive from Savonlinna. The hotel is set between a number of beautiful lakes but it is rather ordinary and expensive! At least it has a 25 metre heated swimming pool, a spa and a sauna.

We enjoyed looking at the Olavinlinna Castle, reputed to be the best mediaeval castle in Scandinavia. It is excellent and marked the eastern edge of Sweden and the border with Russia when it was built in 1425. At the moment, it is the setting for the Opera Festival.

We also visited the museum, including a few ships that once plied the lakes. We were able to go aboard and inspect them. The lakeside is packed with old steam ships and market stalls. Savonlinna is a picturesque but touristy spot.

We head for Koupio in the morning.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Day on Suomenlinna Sea Fortress

We spent today visiting this wonderful UNESCO World Heritage listed site. It is especially fascinating as it has been a fortress for Sweden, Russia and Finland at various times.

We went by ferry for the 20 minute trip to the island just off Helsinki. When we arrived, we visited the Suomenlinna Museum. By the time we left, we almost had the picture of who was fighting who over the last 300 years.

We visited the fortifications, tunnels, terraces etc. We also saw the old dry dock dating from the 1700s. We also saw possibly the only building in the world that combines a church and a lighthouse. It started life as a Russian Orthodox church and later the Lutherans converted it by pulling off the onion domes. I do not know who added the lighthouse.

On our return, we listened to a jazz concert in a park and visited the Ateneumin Art Museum. Yesterday we visited the Orthodox and Lutheran cathredrals with their contrasting architecture, the market square and the old market hall - Helsinki's answer to Harrod's Food Hall as well as lots of parks and squares with unusual outdoor sculptures.

Things We Don't Plan to Do in Finland

  • Attend a Lordi concert. Finland is the home of this heavy metal band that won Eurovision last year with an act featuring meat and exploding dolls as stage props.
  • Visit Sonkajarvi for the Wife Carrying World Championships. This is conducted over a 253 metre course with obstacles and a 15 second penalty if you drop your wife. First prize is your wife's weight in beer.
  • Visit Oulu for the Air Guitar World Championships.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

To Sleep or Party?

We made a last minute booking on a super ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki. We boarded for our overnight trip without a cabin being available. Should we try to sleep or should we party?

We selected a quiet bank of chairs around a table at the very back of the ship. The sun was bright and sparkling on the water. We spent hours watching an almost endless string of islands. We dozed in the sun. It was still bright and we were wearing our sunglasses at 10.30 pm.

We enjoyed drinks from the bar and later adjourned to dine. The ship was obviously packed and so were the restaurants. We settled for a tapas bar with interesting snacks and good wine. (It could not have been Spanish).

Near where we were sitting was a stage. Early in the afternoon we glided on silver seas past islands scattered like pearls in the sea. We dozed. Then suddenly the children's entertainment began. We no longer dozed. We endured for an hour.

After dinner just as we were thinking of dozing off, the karioke began. If you are at a pub, you can always walk out the door. What do you do on a ferry? Actually they were of a good standard even if there were a lot of Tom Jones soundalikes.

After dinner just as we were leaving the last of the Swedish islands behind, they opened an extra bar. Sleep was looking less of an option. The professional performers hit the stage. We found ourselves applauding as we sat in the evening sun, still wearing our sunglasses. Just as well there were a few good jazz numbers. We fitted into the scene.

Just as the pink horizon showed the last traces of light and the reflections of the night club were lighting up the ocean behind us, the magician came on the stage. He lacked the necessary magic for a top act.

We arrived at the Aland Islands and stopped at Mariehamn. We were in Finland and our watches went forward one hour. Now it was really night club hours but there were still no cabins available.

The drinks kept flowing... Lapin Kulta beer with Jagermeister, cocktails and shots. The poker machines rattled, the roulette wheels spun and the blackjack cards were slapped onto the table.

We gave up and searched for somewhere quieter. We found a conference room and crawled amongst about 30 others to take the last two floor spaces. We are too old to be true party animals. Sleep had won.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Royal Party

When visiting Copenhagen, we were a little disappointed that Mary was not there to greet us. After all when we we visited Oslo, Queen Sonia had a birthday to mark our visit.

Mary did leave the key under a flowerpot and we were able to look round the palace. We found the Royal Copenhagen tea set but no scones, jam or cream.

In Stockholm, things were much better. We visited the royal palace on Crown Princess Vistoria's 30th birthday. There was all the pomp and ceremony that you would expect. Cannons firing a royal salute, soldiers marching, bands playing. It was a spectacular occasion.

Later we were able to visit the royal apartments, the guest apartment (we did not stay as we had booked a hotel), the royal crowns and other regalia.

We also visited museums including the spectacular Vasa, a royal warship that was launched in 1628 and sank 20 minutes later. It was raised in 1961 and now is a wonderful museum. We have also walked the narrow streets of the old town and taken in all the sights.

We are off to Helsinki this afternoon and arrive tomorrow as we are travelling by ship. Next posting from Finland.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Wonderful Wonderful Copenhagen

We have just spent a couple of days here and yes it is wonderful. We travelled up the canals by boat and revelled in sights such as Andersen's Little Mermaid, several palaces, a new Opera House right on the harbour (not as good as ours though) and outdoor restaurants with tall ships floating gently on the water in front of them. We arrived in the middle of a jazz festival so when our canal trip finished we listened to some great jazz while Rob tried the local beer and I tried some wine.

Yesterday we visited several museums with amazing sculpture, paintings and artefacts from the ancient world. Today we continued our cultural education by visiting a beautiful marble church, several palaces, the Royal Library (where we are now) and the Museum of Design. Copenhagen is a beautiful city and we are staying in an apartment a few minutes walk from the Little Mermaid. It has been raining but this has not deterred us in our quest to admire, absorb and delight in all the sights. We keep wanting to act like Danny Kaye and burst into song.

Tomorrow we will catch a train to Stockholm so will be up early as the train leaves at 8:30 am. The trip is about 5 hours and we hope the sun will decide to show its face again.

The Bogman Versus Hamlet

As the Danish train travelled from Aalborg to Arhus, we grew excited. We saw definite evidence of bogs.

We reacherd our destination and found a great apartment that looked a bit like an ad for Ikea (except that is Swedish). We had a quick cuppa and off on the bus to Moesgard Manor, the address for the Bogman.

As we entered the Museum, we made our way through the Iron Age Exhibits then rounded a corner. The sign said Grauballe Man and we rushed for our first sighting. It was confirmed. The Bogman had beaten Hamlet.

Grauballe Man is the world's best preserved bog man. He was found in 1952, 55 km west of Arhus. He was so well preserved that his hair, his beard stubble, fingernails, fingerprints and even his skin pores were clearly visible. They carried out a post mortem and it confirmed that he was dead - for at least 2000 years, had been 34 years old had a tooth ache and had cereal gruel for his last meal. he died a brutal death with his throat cut ear to ear - and thrown into the bog as a ritual sacrifice.

It was outstanding. We might have missed out on Hamlet's castle but we had seen one of the most remarkable sights - as impressive as the Egyptian mummies.

We made our way back to Arhus, Denmark's second largest city and they think it is the oldest, felling very contented.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Viking Valhalla

We left our hotel in Goteborg in Sweden and caught the ferry across the Denmark and then the train down to Aalborg. The scenery through Jutland was rich grazing and cereal crops. We were surprised just how flat the area is.

Our purpose for visiting Aalborg was to go to Lindholm Hoje. After checking in to our hotel, we caught a bus back over the Limfiord, the massive waterway that dissects the entire Jutland peninsular and up to Lindholm Hoje. This is a massive Viking burial ground with over 700 graves. Most were laid out in the shape of viking boats although there were some pre viking graves in a circular pattern. This was a unique experience and we thought it was better than dropping in on Hamlet.

The museum nearby had lots of artefacts from the graves along with wall murals depicting viking life.

Tomorrow we will continue down the peninsula and hope to meet up with the Bog Man at Arhus.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

It's Sunday. It Must Be Denmark.

We have just realised that with our ferry trip tomorrow to Fredrikshavn, it means that we will be in 3 different countries in 3 days. This is something we said that we would never do - but it is not as bad as it sounds.

On Friday we farewelled Norway and travelled by train to Goteborg in Sweden which only took 4 hours. We had planned to travel south in Sweden to Helsinborg before the half hour ferry trip to Helsingor in Denmark. Instead, tomorrow we take a 3 and a half hour ferry trip to Fredrikshavn in Denmark and will travel by train through the Jutland peninsula to Copenhagen.

We decided to trade Hamlet's castle in Helsingor for Aalborg's Lindholm Hoje, Denmark's largest Viking burial ground with 700 graves from the Iron Age and Viking era along with Arhus' 2000 year old Grauballe man more commonly known as the Peat Bog Man.

For those of you who think that the Prince of Denmark should have won over the Bog Man, I can demonstrate that I have retained my knowledge of the classics with the following extract from Polonius' speech.

Give every man thine ear but few thy voice,
Take each man's censure but reserve thy judgement.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not expressed in fancy
Rich not gaudy
For the apparel oft proclaims the man.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be
For loan oft loses both itself and a friend
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all
To thine ownself be true
And it shall follow as the light the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Thank you to Mrs Nay, my grade 5 teacher who taught me that more than 50 years ago.

Why can I remember this but not remember where I packed the corkscrew yesterday?

Day Out in Goteborg

We decided to stay an extra day in Goteborg as there is a lot to see in the city. First we went down and booked a ferry for tomorrow morning to Frederishavn in Denmark. Then we started on the museums.

The first was the Art Gallery. As you would expect, we liked the Impressionists but we saw lots of works by well known painters from Rembrandt to Picasso.

Then we moved on to Sweden's Museum of Design and Decorative Arts. This was particularly interesting with exhibits ranging from a special exhibition on colours, a display of 13 dresses actually made from floral printed paper in the styles from 1800 to the present day. We saw furniture, design and glassware as well as exhibits from Japan and China and lots more.

We moved on to a nautical theme starting with the Maritiman, the world's largest floating museum of historic ships. We were up and down ladders, through narrow passages, you name it, we did it. We crawled through a submarine, explored a destroyer, investigated a fire fighting boat and lots more.

After that we caught the ferry across to Alvsborgs Fastning, the fortress at the entrance to the river. This fortress dated from 1700 but there has been one there since 1300. It was a most interesting ferry trip.

Our final museum was the City Museum, housed in the old Swedish East Indies building. We explored it chronologically starting with the Stone Age and a fascinating 4,500 year old skeleton. There was an interesting display on the Vikings including the remains of a boat. We then went on to Mediaeval times and up to the present day. The vacuum cleaner that we recently threw out from Conjola was on display.

Despite the light drizzle, we decided to do the paddan boat trip on a canal boat and explored the canals that give the city its name as the Amsterdam of Sweden along with the harbour. We saw lots of places including the Fish Church which is actually the fish market but it loooks like a church. One couple even got married there. Fancy getting married amongst that smell.

Off to Denmark tomorrow but we will return to Sweden in a week.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Soaked in Sweden

The sun was out in Oslo - back to t shirt weather. We travelled by train across the border into Sweden and stopped at Goteborg. Just before we arrived the heavens opened.

Just to make matters worse, we had extreme difficulty finding anywhere to stay. Goteborg is Sweden's 2nd largest city and home to Liseborg, Scandinavia's largest amusement park. School is out and everyone is here. There were lots of kids with beach gear getting off the train along the way. Perhaps they did not notice the floating ice we thought we saw.

Perhaps we can't afford to stay here but we can afford to eat and drink here - unlike Norway.

Wherever in the world we have travelled, we have found good Italian restaurants. Whilst we did not find one in Norway, we found a great one here in Goteborg - frequented by locals with the pasta served in bowls big enough to take a bath in.

Tomorrow we will visit some of the local museums but plan to avoid the amusement park.

We are thinking of changing our plans and catching a ferry tomorrow afternoon to Frederikshavn in Denmark and then making our way down Jutland to Copenhagen.

Outstanding Oslo

We arrived in Oslo via train from Bergen - described as one of the great train journeys of the world - and it is. Wonderful mountain scenery, frozen lakes and fast rushing rivers.

We stayed in a modern apartment just out of the city centre. We have eaten cherries from the laden trees in our street and red currants from a garden at the Folk Museum. This has helped defray the cost on food in Norway... it must be the most expensive place to live.

What a city of museums! Among the great museums we have visited have been
* The Viking Ship Museum with its 3 fabulous traditional viking ships.
*The Flam Museum with the "Flam" in which Amundsen beat Scott to the South Pole; the "Gjoa" in which he discovered the North West Passage
* The Kontiki Museum with Thor Heyerdahl's "Kontiki" and "Ra 11"
* The National Maritime Museum with Norway's oldest boat from the Stone Age and an entire hall with great old boats
*Norsk Folk Museum with 140 old buildings including a stave church from 1200
* National Gallery including Munch's "The Scream"
* Akershus Castle and lots of associated museums
* Nobel Peace Centre
* Royal Palace - we were there on Queen Sonia's birthday
* Historical Museum - great display on vikings
* City Hall - excellent with the main hall as the venue for the awarding of the Nobel peace prize
* Vigeland Park with its great sculptures
* Oslo Harbour - a living museum of shipping on Oslo Fiord

This afternoon we catch the train to Goteborg in Sweden. We have had an outstanding visit to Norway and have enjoyed every minute.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Beyond the Arctic Circle

Cruising has been very pleasant and on flat seas as we follow the Norwegian coast northwards. At no time have we been out of sight of land and at most times we have been sailing inside the chain of islands along the coast.

Passed over the Arctic Circle as we had breakfast - could hardly feel the bump. At Bodo we donned our survival suits and goggles and boarded a zodiac powered by 250 hp outboard. Saw sea eagles nests with chicks and survived the wild rapids of the Saltstraumen.

Sailed the Strait of Raftsundet with 1000 metre high cliffs dropping straight into the water. After midnight we travelled up the Trollfiord - exceptionally narrow and beautiful. We even managed to see a few trolls.

We are in the land where the sun does not set and it is total daylight every 24 hours.

Travelled up to North Cape from Honigsvag. On the way we stopped at a Sami (lapp) camp and trading post complete with reindeer herd. We had the mandatory photos at the globe marking the most northern point of Europe.

The turn around point for the trip was at Kirkenes located on the Russian border. On the return trip to Tromso we passed the beautiful mountains with fingers of snow reaching right down to the water's edge.

We have spent last night in a hotel in Tromso and today we fly back along the coast to Bergen. Tomorrow we take the train to Oslo, described as one of the great journeys of the world.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cruising the Fiords

Our cruise ship is the MS Richard With. it has 691 passengers. We seem to be the only Aussies on board. Our cabin is on the 2nd top deck with a lovely picture window where we can sit and watch the passing scenery. The meals are excellent and we do not know if our clothes will fit when we get off!

The boat makes frequent stops along the coast of 15 - 45 minutes. At the moment we are in Trondheim, Norway's 3rd largest city and former capital. We are here for about 3 hours.

The highlight yesterday was travelling inland along the fiords for 100 km with the last 20 km up the beautiful Geiranger Fiord with its sheer cliffs dropping straight down into the water, numerous high waterfalls including 7 in a row called the Seven Sisters and snow topped mountains.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Spending a Penny

One of the best indicators of the cost of living in a city is the cost or otherwise of public toilets. traditionally we speak about "spending a penny". This may have been true when I was a boy well for the girls anyway.... we went behind a tree. It is certainly not true in Europe.

In Harrod's London store, they have a super loo..... I am sure they do not call it that. You receive a handtowel and soap from a uniformed assistant, toiletries, they brush down your clothes etc. The cost ... 5 pounds sterling! This is at the upper end of the London market. For the bottom end (pun intended), or cultured end of the market, it is free at the museums and galleries.

In Bergen, it is 5 kroner. This is the bottom price you can find. You pay at the railway station, library etc. it is rather ironic that you can use the Internet free but have to pay for the toilet.

Wherever Aussie travellers gather, it can be free. You simply hold the door open after use and the next person enters but only the first person gets use of the hand dryer. Not that your 5 kroner will buy you very much in Norway.

Railroads, Fiords and Hairpins

Yesterday we headed off by train to Myrdal. This was wonderful scenery past fiords, grass roofed houses and snow covered mountains. reaching the snowline, we boarded the famouos Flam railway for the incredible steep journey down to the fiord. Flam is a picturesque little village at the very end of the fiord. What a surprise for us to see the Queen Mary 2 docked next to the train station. We were miles inland and we think the captain would have to reverse it out.

We travelled on a much smaller craft through the magical fiord past hundreds of waterfalls and small villages some accessibke only by water. Finally we went up the narrowest fiord in Norway to Gudvangen. This time no luxury liner but a bus to take us up the incredible road with over 30 hairpin bends to Voss where we changed to a train for Bergen.

Wait till you see the photos!

Today we had a lazy start to the day taking in a midday concert at the old Kosskirken (church). The program featured Vivaldi, Bach and Buxtehude. The instruments were organ, harpsichord, cello and flute and it was just delightful.

Tomorrow we have a full day in Bergen and board the ship at 6 pm for our cruise to the most northerly point in Europe far beyond the Arctic Circle.

We will be back on 2 July and are not sure about Internet access till then.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Odd tales 1

As one travels you cant help but notice the many quirky tales and oddities. Sometimes they reflect on the sense of national identity of the people. This is a collection of a few.

1. Portaferry Ireland
Sign on the Seal Aquarium "Sorry we have no seals"
Could this only happen in Ireland?

2. Gairloch Scotland
Graffiti on wall..... A rare sight in this part of the world.
"Wee Dave is sexist"
One could only wonder what Wee Dave has done to warrant this public outing. No offence to our family and friends called Dave.

3. Kirkwall Orkney
Road sign
"Beware. Otters cross here."
Well we have kangaroos, koals and crocodiles.

4. Lerwick Shetland
Editorial in "Shetland Life" on "Da Voar Redd up" (cf Clean up Australia Day)
"...the vast majority of shoes we find washed up are left feet. The difference in shape, and the effect this has on the way they move in the water, means that all the right footed shoes end up on the other side of the Atlantic"
Has anyone visited this spot on the other side of the Atlantic? Do you know of any other similar theories?

More About Bergen

We are overawed at how beautiful Bergen is.

Toda we have visited museums. We visited the hanseatic museum located in an old timber building in the old medieval quarter near the harbour. We also called in at the Schotstuene which was the original communal meeting place of the merchants. We also looked at the "Mary Church" that dates from the 12 th century.

We again wandered the cobblestoned streets, marvelling at the timber buildings and the great old ships. At the moment there are 7 cruise ships in the port so we also had to contend with a few rich Americans puffing cigars.

Tomorrow we are off to ride the Flam Railway and visit the nearby fiords.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Beautiful Bergen

>This is certainly a beautiful city. The only city surrounded by 7 mountains and 7 fiords.

We have finalised our plans

21 - 23 June in bergen
24 - 2 july Norway coastal cruise to Kirkeness and fly back to bergen

3 July train to Oslo

Dramas on the High Seas

As we sailed on Sunday afternoon for our long ferry crossing to Norway arriving on Tuwsday night, thoughts of the sub arctic conditions, icebergs etc came to mind. We were further north than the tip of Greenland and i was reading a book set on its icecap. it was so cold it could "freeze a 1 inch pork chop like a plank of wood in 30 seconds".

The seas were calm and the sun was shining! The dramas came on our circuitous route. Smyril Lines had cancelled the direct ferry from lerwick in Shetland to begen in Norway. We found out about it a week before we left Sydney. So we sailed from lerwick to Torshavn (Faroe Islands). We had a stop in the world's smallest capital city (town). It was a lovely port with a great harbour full of Viking style fishing boats and buildings with grass covered roofs. Some had tv antennas sticking out of them. Then we sailed to Srabster (Orkneys). We were almost back to mainland Scotland! This was the first time that such a large ferry had docked at Scrabster. The "Norrona" is a large ship. it has restaurants (you need an overdraft), cafeterias and even a swimming pool and sauna (free). This we located down in the bilges and the water slopped around with the motion of the ship so it is like being in a spa.

The drama came as we were to depart for Norway. They had obviously made a new loading ramp complete with fancy hydraulics. Something went wrong. It did not fit! We ended up with the ship's captain and officers down with a dozen crew on the ship's aft and the 20 wharf staff a few metres away on dry land and with the ramp between them. An hour passed, then another. Eventually they had one end on the ferry and the other on the wharf. The cars started to inch across. I applauded and the small crowd joined in. The captain snarled. Finally a car with a caravan . They stopped. The crew measured. They looked under the ramp. A decision was made. They uncoupled the car and van. The car crossed. The crew - some in front and some at the back, manhandled the van across and then recoupled it on the wharf. Again we applauded. Fortunately there were no semitrailors. Eventually the unloading was completed and the loading commenced. We departed rather late!

Some engineer will have his bum kicked. A lot of work will be done before they return in a week. perhaps they will recommend the direct line to Norway from Shetland will be restored. Maybe not drama on the high seas but it was certainly drama at the wharf.

We sailed to Norway in a ship with just a few passengers. More crew than passengers. Was it to be a ghost ship? We sat at our picture window watching the glimmering sea - just the odd oil platform and boats. We finally arrived in picturesque Bergen.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

More Puffin Magic

We are back on the mainland of Shetland having travelled from Unst via Fetlar and Yell. We have seen many amazing sights expecially the incredible coastline and the barren countryside especially in the sub arctic desert.

Today we have been down to the south and had an amazing sighting of puffins where they were sitting only a metre from us. They are beautiful birds and it was a magical experience. We can't wait to show you the photos. Sorry we can't post any of them.

Later this afternoon, we sail to the Faroe Islands. This will be the most remote spot we have been to. We have our seasick tablets at hand.

Next blog will be from Scandinavia.

Most Northerly

We visited the island of Unst on the Shetlands, the most northerly part of Britain. We have had a string of most northerly experiences. We saw the most northerly church and cemetery, purchased supplies in the country's most northerly shop (at some of the highest prices), saw the most northerly house in Britain, the most northerly beach, headland and lighthouse. We posted a letter from the most northerly post office, drank a beer from the most northerly bar, and at various times were the most northerly people. We are staying at the most northerly accommodation in Britain.

The prize however went to the most northerly bus stop. It was amazing. A regular council supplied bus shelter but with a sofa, a tv and computer, microwave, plate of lollies, books, plants real and artificial and even a Van Gogh (not sure if it was real). We all lined for photos and signed the visitors' book.

The other most northerly experiences are too personal to mention. Can you suggest some we could have tried?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Lasr Day in Orkney

We travel across to the Shetlands tonight so have spent our last day exploring all around Kirkwall.

This morning we visited the Earl's Palace and the Bishop's Palace. This earl was Earl Patrick, son of Earl Robert. He did not sound very nice either and actually annexed the Bishop's Palace for himself at one stage. He did come to a nasty end though and so did his son. I think they were a violent lot in those days.

The palace was a lovely ruin and looked very picturesque. The Banquet Hall looked very regal and would have made a great place for a festival.

We climbed to the top of the Bishop's Palace and admired the view over the cathredral. Then we climbed down, crossed the road and visited the cathredral, parts of which date back to the 10th century. Around the inside walls were many old tombstones which were decorated with skulls.

Afterwards we visited the museum and renewed our acquaintance with the neolithic world as we looked at all the artefacts, many of which had come from places we had visited over the last few days.

We also enjoyed eating Orkney ice cream which we were advised not to eat until it softened a little. It took a long time as it was a sunny day but rather cold. It was worth the wait.

We have really enjoyed our visit to Orkney - the historical sites, the scenery and especially the puffins.

Celebration Local Festivals

When travelling, one should immerse oneself in the culture and practices of the local people. One special way is to join in local celebrations and festivals. This can be most informative and provide an excellent insight into another culture. One can be a true intercultural explorer.

That brings me to the point. Next Sunday in this part of the world is a special day - a day of celebrating, feasting and giving of gifts to the respective male elders of the clan. Yes it is Fathers' Day.

Please send gifts to Robert, care of Shetland Islands.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Further Orkney Adventures

Today was another trip through history. We started at the Rennibister Earth House. This was an underground home that we accessed by climbing down a ladder into a small chamber. it is similar to the souterrains that we visited earlier. We followed this by a visit to Cuween Hill Cairn. We entered this by crawling along a low narrow passageway into the centre of the cairn where it opened up into a high domed chamber. Unfortunately the torch that was left at the gate had a flat battery and we had not taken ours. When this was discovered, there were dog skulls as well as human remains. They think the dog must have been the tribal totem.

Next visit was Broch of Gurness, a Pictish village that was most impressive with a stone tower in the middle. We were able to walk around and see the stone furniture, the stone beds, the cooking areas. It was amazing. We then went on to the Brough of Birsay where we saw the puffins and also an old Viking settlement that had been built over the Pictish settlement.

We had lunch sitting on the wall of the brew house in Earl Robert's Palace. Earl Robert was a nasty type and made life difficult for the local Orcadians. The current Robert is much better.

We also stopped off at several old churches, the Earl's Bu (drinking hall), the Orkneyinga Saga Centre where the main saga was the video did not work and lots of other scenic spots.


Today was the day of the puffin. We finally sighted puffins on the extreme northern tip of the mainland...... the name given to the main island of the Orkneys. They were on high cliffs just beyond the lighthouse nesting in a small gap in the rocks. They are a fairly small bird with very fast wing movements. The colours are most interesting - black body with pure white front but with orange and red beak and bright orange feet.

The other puffin was from the three of us climbing up the hill to get there. It was worth the effort.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Orkney Odyssey

We travelled across from Gills Bay on a car ferry, landing on South Ronaldsay. We were able to drive up to Kirkwall across the Churchill Barriers constructed during World War 2 to close off the eastern side of Scapa Flow.

We had an interesting stop at the Tomb of the Eagles, a neolithic burial site and also at the Italian Chapel built by prisoners of war during World War 2.

If you want to learn about how stone age people lived, then this is the place to visit.

We have been to Skara Brae, a 5000 year old village. The houses still have the stone dressers, stone seats and stone beds intact. They have not been recreated.

We have been inside the 5000 year old tomb of Maeshowe, also aligned to the setting sun of the winter solstice. We saw the grafitti left there by the Vikings. When it was translated for us, some of it sounded a bit like modern toilet grafitti.

We have walked around the Ring of Brogar with its standing stones and the Standing Stones of Stennis.

This is an amazing place with beautiful scenery and fascinating history.

Highland Fling

As we left Skye, we stopped at Talisker Whisky Distillery but with our usual bad timing, it was still too early to taste. Jeanie and Robert made do with a sniff test of 3 single malts.

Back on the mainland we visited Eilean Donan Castle. It was furnished in the style of the 1930s and was complete with figures dressed like the butler, the cook and the lady of the house. Food (not real) for the evening dinner party was ready to serve. Fortunately after our big Scottish breakfast, we were not hungry.

We continued up the west coast along beside the beautiful Loch Torridon and ate a picnic lunch on the shore of Loch Maree. We stayed at Gairloch, a pretty little town with a lovely sandy beach.

The next morning we visited Inverewe Garden where a barren, windswept landscape had been transformed into a beautiful garden. There were even gum trees growing. This is possible due to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. The water was warm enough for a swim...... but we didn't.

On Saturday morning, we visited the Farmers' Market at Ullapool. THere were only about 6 stall but we were offered cheese and salmon to taste, bought shortbread cooked that morning and admired other local produce.

We made it to John o' Groats on Sunday and also to Dunnet Head which is really further north. We visited the Castle of Mey which had belonged to the Queen Mum. We heard some delightful anecdotes about her including being shown a handwritten message sent to the Queen on the Brittania via the coastguard asking her to bring more lemons for the drinks. Last night we had a G and T but we also had a 'grave shortage of lemons'.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Places We Have Visited

We have visited many places during our travels including a few we did not intend to.

All travellers take a few wrong turns but we have developed it into an art form.

The secret is to turn it into an advantage and enjoy the new places that you visit..... including those that no other tourist has ever found and most locals do not know about.

Amongst our experiences have been major highways that have terminated in the parking lot of supermarkets, roads that only lead to someone's farmhouse and attractive looking paths that end in a toilet.

The ultimate was in the quiet Scottish west coast port of Oban. We needed to drop in a form to the car hire company and were told it was next to the Tesco supermarket. What could be easier ? After all everyone in Oban calls into Tesco at least 3 or 4 times a week.

We could see it but there was a train line between us so we manouvred to the other side via the intricate system of one way streets only to find it protected by a cliff. There were one way roads out but none in. Surely they would have to close this store for lack of custom but the car parks were full and people were packing the cars with groceries from their trolleys.

We have seen castles that have not been as well protected.

Oh, yes we did find it but only after crossing an old Roman viaduct (we have been told the Romans did not settle in West Scotland) and having talked to many of the Oban locals.

Aboard the Hogwarts Express

Yes we have ridden on the Hogwarts Express.

For our young readers and the young at heart, the train we travelled on to Mallaig called the Jacobite Express was the Hogwarts Express in all the Harry Potter movies.

Our driver, Frank, was the driver for each of the movies.

The most spectacular part of the trip was across the Glenfinnan Culvert that was a famous scene in the movie.

Now We Are Three

We picked up our cousin Jean at Glasgow airport but only after a delay due to a missed plane. The flight landed at 11 pm so there was no celebratory belated birthday dinner but off to bed for the sleep you need after crossing that many time zones.

We left Glasgow on Monday in the rain and headed up the west coast of Scotland to Oban where we stayed in a great little place overlooking the loch. This was picture postcard perfect with the B and B located right on the loch and given the full reflection treatment.

On Tuesday we caught the Jacobite Express from Fort William to Mallaig, a very scenic journey in an old steam train. Of course we had to catch the train back to pick up the car!

We have just spent 2 sunny days on the Isle of Skye. Lovely scenery, lovely weather and lovely accommodation. We are staying at a farmstay B and B located right on the loch on the opposite side of the town directly across from Dunvegan Castle which we can see through our bedroom window.

The Skye air is so clear, we can see the islands of the Outer Hebrides and the Cuillin Mountains. We have driven around the coastline and up in to the mountainous interior. The castle and its gardens were a highlight and we enjoyed a visit to the Museum of Skye Life.

Tomorrow we continue up the coast heading for Gairloch.

Friday, June 1, 2007

In the Steps of St Patrick

Each way you turn in Ireland you are reminded of St Patrick. |From Shamrocks to the lack of snakes, St Patrick is responsible.

We climbed the Hill of Slane, famous as the place where St Patrick lit the Easter fire before the Druids could light there's on the Hill of Tara. This started the conversion of the Celts to Christianity. There is a ruined abbey there where Christianity began in Ireland. There is also a fabulous view over the surrounding countryside.

We continued the trail yesterday as we made our way back to Belfast. We stayed overnight at the historic village of Carlingford and then travelled up the Ards peninsula past Downpatrick and eventually up to Belfast.

In a few hours we depart by ferry for Scotland.

Bru na Boinne

What is 500 years older than the pyramids and 1000 years older than Stonehenge?

We spent a wonderful day visiting Ireland's ancient neolithic civilizations. THese huge burial chambers predate the pyramids of Egypt, have blocks of decorated stone just as big and are aligned with the sun and seasons in a similar way.

Knowth's burial chamber and satellite tombs boast the richest and largest collection of megolithic art in Europe. We were unable to explore the 2 burial chambers except for 1 small section but marvelled at the size and complexity of this structure from this supposedly primitive civilization.

Close by is Newgrange, the best known of the 3 burial mounds. Whilst a little smaller than Knowth, you can go right inside the famous chamber which is lit by the rays of the rising sun for 17 minutes at the winter solstice.

To visit at this time is so popular that places are decided by ballot. We have entered the lottery.

The 3rd site Dowth is totally undeveloped and exceptionally hard to find. We were the only visitors and we walked around the outside of the mound.

While we were in the Boyne Valley, we visited a much later historic site, that of the famous Battle of the Boyne when William 3rd defeated James 2nd for the English crown.

One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato More

Hot potatoes, hot potatoes.

How many types of potatoes can you be served at a meal? How many in a day?

Pub meal: Roast pork with baked potato, chips, mashed potato, mashed potato swede and other unidentified vegetables, jacket potatoes oh and peas. Add to that the potato bread with eggs, bacon, sausage, white pudding and soda bread.

This forms my claim to a record. Can you beat that?

PS They do not serve potato salad.

Monday, May 28, 2007

More Irish Travels

Yesterday we travelled up to the Ulster American Folk Village - a great collection of old houses and then on to Belleek where there is a beautiful pottery.

In the afternoon we drove on to Killybeggs and after finding accommodatin, drove out to the highest sea cliffs in Europe. The scenery was absolutely spectacular. On the drive back we passed turf cutting for fuel and wonderful country scenery.

Bushmills, Giants Causeway and Rope Bridges

After the beauty of the Antrim coast and the glens of Antrim we continued along the north coast of Ireland. AMong the highlights was the Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge out to a windswept island and the famous Giants Causewaydestroyed by the Scottish giant Finn running back steps to Scotland when he saw the Irish giant dressed as a baby in a cradle.

We visited the distillery at Bushmills...only with our organisation we arrived at 9.30 am just after a full Irish breakfast - not the time to be tasting whiskey. We bought supplies for a cold night on the sea near Iceland.

The Dunluce Castle was hauntingly beautiful. Then on to Londonderry with its famous walled city where we visited the cathedral and the Tower Museum. We finished with a walk around the town walls.

Irish Modern Art

In Belfast we visited the Lagan waterfront near where the Titanic was built. We found an exhibition 'Eye of the Docks' so decided to take in another exhibition.

The art was displayed in a dank passageway and chambers under the Lagan Weir. Real bottom of the harbour stuff. We climbed downstairs into the eerie cavern below the river to view the 'spectacular multimedia installation'........ actually weird changing images displayed in spaces inferior to a torture chamber.

The prize went to a large musty chamber with a vast series of 'donkey coats' suspended from the ceiling. For th unitiated. donkey coats are the felt and leather jackets worn by Irish waterside workers unloading the ships.

We re emerged into the Belfast sun not having seen another soul but pleased to have escaped being sold into slavery.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Beautiful Belfast

We spent yesterday exploring Belfast, visiting a number of beautiful old churches, especially St George and St Anne's Cathedral. We visited the Crowne Pub with its wonderful individual booths where you can order a pint of Guinness and a dozen oysters with a silent message.

In the afternoon we went out to Belfast Castle and Cave Hill Country Park. The castle was morelike an old mansion and was being prepared for a wedding that night.

Back at Carrickfergus, we visited the old Norman Castle dating from the 10th century. This was wonderful as it is located right on the coast and is still in its original condition.

We continue our trip up the Antrim coast.

Belfast Sex research

Irish researchers, based in Queens University in Belfast have made a major breakthrough in parthenogenesis. They discovered that female sharks can reproduce without having sex.

Who else but an Irishman would research the ability of the female of the species to reproduce without mating?

Police Escort Out of Belfast

Yes we were escorted out of Belfast by the police!

We travelled up from Dublin by train, an interesting trip mainly along the coast. When we arrive, we dropped off our luggage at the car hire and spent the afternoon walking round Belfast.

The City Hall was most impressive with its beautiful dome and its wonderful marble staircase. We went on a conducted tour and walked on the beautiful silk and wool carpets and even sat in the mayoral chair.

Then it was time to drive up to Carrickfergus for the night. In the first 5 minutes we were lost! After another 10 minutes had to resort to police assistance. The officer looked us over and decided we were a priority case and escorted us out of town. No he did not say don't come back.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Vote Costello for Labor

We have arrived in Dublin at election time. The election poster that really impressed us was "Vote Costello for Labor". We escaped the Australian frenzy only to hit the UK with Blair's departure and the campaign for deputy PM. Now elections in Ireland.

The wild Irish Sea was like a mill pond. We travelled in the "Ulysses" the world's largest car carrying ferry but we could have made it on a surf ski.

Today we took a local light rail to visit the National Museum of Ireland. A wonderful display of decorative art and history in a 17 century building. After lunch we visited Dublin Castle, the City Hall and Christchurch Cathedral.

One of the quirky things on display in the cathedral is a mummified cat and a rat. Apparently the cat chased the rat into an organ pipe in the 1860s and neither made it back out!

Also on display is the tomb of Strongbow. Some of you will think of Strongbow as cider but indeed he was an Anglo Norman knight who died in 1076.

Tomorrow we are off by train to Belfast.

To Be Sure to be Sean

I've been Sean, I've been shorn.

I left Australia in need of a haircut..... but life was just too hectic. So, where should I have a haircut?

I considered London but would have to have taken out a bank loan. Should I go for the Nordic look? I might have ended up like Vic the Viking. My Aussie Russian friend, Michael, advised me to keep away from Russian clip joints and my short Aussie arms would not reach the bottom of my Scottish pockets.

So Ireland it was. The deed has been done. Now you will have to wait until somewhere we can download a photograph so you can see which Irish pop star I resemble. You may speculate in advance!!!

I may never return to Fred the Barber. The Irish barber was a female with long red hair and a stunning figure. She did a good job for a very modest 5 euros.

It is a shame it is a 24 hour flight to get another haircut.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Monopoly Trail

After a week exploring London, it feels a bit like we have been on a life size Monopoly Board.

From the Strand to Trafalgar Square, Pall Mall to Regent St, Bond St to Oxford St, Mayfair to Park Lane - we have walked down them all.

We have caught trains at Kings Cross and tomorrow will leave London from Euston Station. We have passed Go several times but never collected the 200 pounds and unfortunately we have not been sent to gaol.

Tomorrow we head for Dublin.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Foot in Both Worlds

Yesterday was a red letter day. The sun was shining - lucky for us as we planned to go to Greenwich. We went by boat, a fabulous 60 minute trip. Most of the reconisable London landmarks can be seen from the river - Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, St Pauls Cathredral and the Tower Bridge which we sailed under.

As it had been raining all week it did not occur to us to pack sunglasses, hats or sunscreen. We had packed spray jackets and umbrellas. We sat on the top deck and revelled in the warm sunshine but wished we were better prepared.

Greenwich is quite compact so we spent the day walking round the sights. We visited the Royal Observatory and posed standing on the Prime Meridian, one foot in the eastern hemishpere and one foot in the western hemisphere.

We visited the National Maritime Museum with its emphasis on Lord Nelson and the days when Britain ruled the waves as well as the Queens House built in the time of James 1 and buildings from the old Royal Naval College.

The Cutty Sark is closed for renovations till 2009 so we did not wait.

We returned by boat for a second look at all the sights.

Make a Joyful Noise

45 minutes by superfast train from Kings Cross station and we were in Cambridge, home of the famous Kings College choir.

Cambridge is the complete university town where we happily spent the afternoon exploring.

We visited the Fitzwilliam Museum, an imptessive gallery with works by well known artists along with furniture, pottery and antiquities.

We walked down to the Cam River, famous for its punting but we couldn't work out how to punt and hold an umbrella at the same time.

Our main goal was to hear the choir sing in their own chapel. it is one of the most beautiful churches we have ever visited with soaring stained glass windows and magnificent ceilings.

The singing at the choral service was superb - all unaccompanied and perfectly in pitch.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Is it Art or Renovation?

Many times during our visit to the Tate Modern Art Gallery we found ourselves pondering the difference between Art and Rubble. The 160 bricks stacked in 2 layers could have been placed there ready for maintenance but the rope around it indicated art..... or had Workcover cordoned it off? Rob felt he could have a new career as an artist because he is good at stacking bricks! Hanging above us was a square fibreglass mould and there were metal bars arranged artistically.

May is Museum and Galleries month in London. We have taken thisto heart and visited lots. Highlights include the Turner collection at the Tate Britain, the Impressionists at the National Gallery, the glass gallery at the Victoria and Albert and the Egyptian artefacts at the British Museum.

The Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum with its quirky teapots and odd exhibits is not a major tourist attraction but it was fun.

We have fallen into a routine of sightseeing each morning and afternoon with lunch and dinner back at our apartment in a beautiful old building in Westminster.

It has rained every day but we take it in our stride.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Recovering in Singapore

After a few hectic days, our trip has finally commenced.

As soon as we were in the plane, it was a different feel. We celebrated with a Singapore Sling and a Gin Fizz, followed by a Brandy and Dry/ Gin and Tonic.

Robert watched "The Good Shepherd" while I slept and after lunch we both watched "Music and Lyrics". It was a great flight with wonderful service from the cabin crew.

We were in the hotel by 6 pm and in the pool by 6.30 pm. The hotel is in a great position overlooking the Singapore River at Robinson Quay and just a short stroll away from Clarke Quay with its outdoor restaurants.

We spent Saturday shopping and sightseeing. We walked around Chinatown and hit the shops and arcades of Orchard Rd. I am sorry to admit that I bought 2 pairs of shoes. I did however bring 1 less pair than I intended in anticipation.

Arrived back to the hotel exhausted but our feet felt better after a swim.

At the moment we are in the departure lounge at Singapore airport on Sunday morning en route to London. We did achieve our objective in Singapore - to feel relaxed and ready for a great holiday.

Happy birthday Amanda for yesterday and happy mothers day to all the mums out there.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Leaving tomorrow - itinerary

The 24 hour countdown has begun. The bags are almost packed and the frig is almost empty. We fly out in the morning.

Itinerary Outline

Much of our itinerary is flexible but a rough outline is as follows:

11 - 12 May Singapore
13 May Fly to London
13 - 20 May London
21 May Train and ferry to Dublin
23 May Train to Belfast
24 - 31 May Travel around Northern Ireland by car
1 June Ferry and train to Glasgow
2 - 10 June Northern Scotland by car
11 June Ferry to the Orkneys
11 - 14 June In the Orkneys
14 June Ferry to the Shetlands
15 June Car to the islands of Yell and Unst
16 - 17 June Shetlands / Lerwick
17 June Ferry to the Faroe Islands
18 June Ferry to Bergen, Norway
19 - 25 June Norway
26 June Train to Oslo
27 June - 2 July Sweden
3 - 8 July Denmark
9 - 13 July Sweden
14 - 23 July Finland
24 - 25 July Estonia
26 - 31 July St Petersburg, Russia
1 August Train to Moscow
2 - 6 August Moscow
7 August Fly to Singapore
8 August Singapore
9 August Fly Singapore to Sydney

We will post the highlights of our trip when we get the opportunity so watch this space.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Last Few Weeks of Planning

It is less than a month before we set off for Europe, Scandinavia and Russia.

How lightly can you travel when you are away for 3 months? I think you will be tired of seeing all the photos of us wearing the same clothes but that is so much better than looking glamorous and having to carry all that stuff!

Some accommodation is booked, the itinerary is in draft form and there is a list of essential items. I wonder how many books I can fit in and how many I will be able to swap as I go.