Monday, December 1, 2008

Three Days at Sea

Our trip from Dunedin was to call in at Dusky and Doubtful Sounds but the high seas made this impossible. We did however manage to get in to Milford Sound and sail the 8 miles to the beginning of the sound. The sheer walls , waterfalls and wonderful vistas were truly magnificent.

Our trip across to Tasmania has been very rough. The winds were 1 level below hurricane and the seas were over 5 metres swell. One night we could barely stay in our state room as it was so rough. Things bounced off cupboards and we bounced off the bed! Eventually the seas abated to be just rough.

We have spent the morning in Burnie and have looked at the Pioneer Village and wandered round the town.

Tonight we sail for Melbourne.

Tongue Twister from Dunedin/Burnie

How much wood chip could a wood chip ship ship, if a wood chip ship could ship wood chip?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Dunedin, the Scottish Capital of the Southern Hemisphere

The ship docked at 8 am this morning in Port Chalmers, the port for Dunedin. This is our last port in New Zealand although we will be spending tomorrow cruising in Fiordland National Park and specifically visiting Milford Sound.

As we had visited the fabulous places out of Dunedin especially in the Banks Peninsula only two years ago, we have spent this visit in the city. So far, we have visited the Knox Church, a number of shops (2 pairs of shoes) and the Otago Museum.

The museum has a number of excellent displays, including a focus on marine life. Of special interest was the display on the Union Steamship Company. There was an extensive section on the early settlement of NZ and other Pacific countries. There were lots of moas and various other fauna. We saw one shark fossil from an extinct 48 tonne (16 metres long) species that used to eat whales.

Lots of other exhibitions including some special overseas touring displays..... Shanghai Dragons and Charles Darwin.

Soon we will be back on board and spend the next 3 days at sea. Next port is Burnie in Tasmania.

Like Ships in the Night

As we travelled, we have come across a number of happy and sad stories. Here is a happy one that we stumbled across yesterday.

Most of the young men working on our ship come from Indonesia, many from very remote villages. Two brothers signed up with different shipping companies and yesterday, both ships were in Christchurch so they were able to rendezvous for the first time in well over a year. It must be a very lonely life for them separated from their families so you can imagine their joy when they met up with each other.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

From Gothic Punk to Mavis and Fred's Paua Shell House

We arrived in Christchurch this morning and started with a visit to an exhibition at the old city council chambers featuring Gothic Punk. Got quite a few wardrobe ideas before moving on to the Canterbury Museum.

The best display was Mavis and Fred's paua shell house that has been moved from its site in Bluff on the far south coast. It is the best display of kitsch that we have ever seen. When Mavis complained about the shells getting in the way of the vacuum cleaner, Fred started sticking them to the walls and the rest is history!

We also visited the Botanic Gardens, the Glass Exhibition and the City Art Gallery. The Art Gallery was less impressive than the Gothic Punk!

Off to Dunedin tonight.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Across the Strait

We set sail this morning before we were awake to cross Cook Strait to Picton. We went up for early breakfast and as we entered Queen Charlotte Sound, we had finished our omelette and eggs benedict. We adjourned to the Crows Nest Lounge with its huge picture windows to enjoy the great scenery.

Picton is a small town of 5,000 people year round and 15,000 in summer. We strolled round admiring the harbour, several museums and a few old boats. One claims to be the 9th oldest in the world but as it was built in the 1850s, we don't think they are counting the Viking burial boats etc.

The weather was bitterly cold this morning but at least the frightful winds from Wellington have abated. We are now back for our 2nd trip to town and the sun has come out so we have peeled off several layers of clothing.

We sail for Christchurch at 5.30 pm.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Napier and Wellington

Yesterday we visited the city of Napier. the city of the world with the most Art Deco buildings. After the earthquake in 1931, the city was rebuilt using the Art Deco style that was the current architectural fad. We had a pleasant visit, including the waterfront, city parks and even a few shops!

We travelled overnight to Wellington, docking as we ate our rather substantial breakfast. It is only 2 years since we spent a few days in Wellington so we did not need to rush to visit everything.

So far we have visited the Parliament and joined a tour which was most informative. We also visited the Anglican Cathedral and took lots of photos. We walked to the cable car which took us up to the Botanical Gardens. It was so windy, we nearly blew off the top. We followed one of the self guided walks and visited lots of the historic observatories.

We sail in the early hours of tomorrow morning for the South Island and dock at Picton.

Yes we are eating lots but also doing lots of laps around the deck and have visited the gym.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cruising New Zealand

We flew to Auckland on Tuesday 18 November and spent 4 days checking the sights and enjoying our wonderful waterfront apartment. We stayed at a 2 storey penthouse apartment on Prince's Wharf with superb views of Auckland Harbour.

We hired a car and travelled across to the Coromandel Peninsular with its magnificent coastal scenery on both the protected western side and rugged east coast. Cook stayed here for 12 days in 1769 to observe the passage of Mercury across the sun. Cooks Beach is a beautiful stretch of sand.

When we finally left Auckland on Friday to join the cruise, all we had to do was to walk across to the other side of the pier.

The ship is the MS Volendam, part of the Holland America line. It is very luxurious with the only problem being how to avoid putting on weight with all the wonderful food. It is 3 1/2 laps of the boat to 1 mile and we completed 7 laps this morning before breakfast. May need to do a few more laps later!

We spent the 1st day at sea and passed the Mercury Islands that we had visited on our car trip. We then sailed on to White Island, about 50 km off the coast. This is NZ most active volcano and it was spewing forth lots of smoke. A very barren and inhospitable place.

Last night was a formal dinner and we all looked very spiffy. We even managed 2 free glasses of champagne courtesy of the captain.

This is our first port of call at Tauranga with the town being about 10 minutes drive from the port. As it is Sunday, lots of places are shut but a few have opened especially for the cruise ship.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Last Day

We have been staying in the top suite of the President Hotel - ask us the story about the upgrade. So after a relaxed breakfast in our dining room, we wandered through the living areas and our king size bedroom and our 2 bathrooms and headed off for the Gyeongbokgung Palace.

The Palace is immense. We cannot remember any larger. We visited numerous throne rooms, halls, gates - which are like rooms themselves and many more. It is set against the picturesque mountains that surround Seoul making it a photographer's paradise.

At the moment we are in the Korean Folk Museum where we have been able to use the Internet facilities. Still to tour most of the museum.

We will soon be returning to the hotel to depart for our early evening flight. We arrive Tuesday morning just before 6 am. Hope we can cope with the change in the weather.

The Sounds of Seoul

No not the music style but the sound of insects singing in the Deoksung Palace. This is a peaceful retreat in the centre of the noisy city and a fascinating place to visit. During the late afternoon and evening, we visited to the sounds of riot police and protesters playing their war games and this was a welcome change.

The National Museum, 6th largest in the world, had a wonderful collection. Our favourite was a ritual ewer from the Goryeo period. It had fine inlays of silver thread in the pattern of willows, a fishermen and wild ducks. We visited the entire collection.

Arrividerci Roma

Rome was a most enjoyable part of our trip. We visited the Basilica of San Giovanni (John the Baptist) followed by the Catacombs. When we were down in the lower levels of the Catacombs, we escaped the heat (high 30s). Later in the afternoon, we went to the Vatican and visited the Basilica of San Pietro and walked through St Peter's Square. The Pope was not around - recovering from his visit to Australlia no doubt!

The next day we went to the 3rd of the Basilicas in Rome - San Paulo where the Apostle Paul is buried. We also visited the Rome Pyramid and the Museum in the City Wall.

Our final stop was to the Trevi Fountain to throw in some coins...... our last wish had come true!

Delay in posting.... Internet closed on Sunday.

Now in Seoul.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Roma

We have arrived in Rome following our six and half hour train trip from Reggio Calabria. We are revisiting some of the best and seeing many new places.

Today we saw several churches including St Bernardo with paintings and sculptures by Bernini, the President's Palace and a new museum - Mercati di Traiano located next to the Forum that provides an overview of the Forum. It includes many objects that were discovered as late as 2006 in the Forum area. It incorporates Trajan's Market, a 3 storey supermarket built by the ancient Romans.

We have also revisited the Roman Forum with its wonderful sequence of ruins but some of the buildings that we visited last time, are no longer open. We went to the Colosseum and whilst it is the biggest ever constructed, we still have a soft spot for El Jem in Tunisia.

We were thinking of you today Helen...... Happy birthday. We have a bottle of bubbly to toast you very soon. Pity you are not here to share it.

Bronzi d' Riace

If asked what are the best marble sculptures in the world, you might answer David or Venus de Milo. What about the best bronze sculptures? We would suggest they are Bronzi d' Riace A & B.

These 2 bronze warriors were found on the seabed in 1972 and are Greek sculptures from the 5th century BC. They are amazing. Worth the trip to Reggio Calabria and the wait for the museum to open just to see them. The rest of the museum was also interesting.

Reggio Calabria has a great location on the coast opposite Sicily but has little else going for it except for the beach and A and B.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Seven Golden Pearls in an Azure Sea

The Aeolian Islands have been wonderful and a great change of pace. We have visited the main five islands from our base on Lipari. Each has its own special charm and we have swum in the beautiful bays and coves of all five.

Lipari has a great coastline and the largest town. We have also visited the historic section including museums and the Norman cathedral. We have been round ther island by boat and swum at the pumice quarries.

Vulcano is just that! An active volcano with the smell of sulphur and thermal springs. The other great volcano is Stromboli that has lava flows. We left in the early afternoon and saw a red sunset and as day turned to night, we could see the red glow of the lava. All this from the comfort of our boat without the three hour climb each way. On the way, we visited the beautiful island of Panarea with its overhanging cliffs that we swum under.

Salina was especially interesting as the birthplace of our brother in laws father. We enjoyed a special local dish for lunch and swam in several beautiful coves.

We depart tomorrow by ferry to Reggio Calabria back on the Italian boot. From there it is Rome and home via Seoul.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Aeolian Islands

We are now on the island of Lipari in the Aeolian Islands. This morning, we walked to the train station and 2 trains, a bus and a hydrofoil later, we had arrived.

We settled in to our apartment for about 4 days so will be exploring from this base. Lipari is very picturesque and we have another bottle of prosecco cooling. It is hard work.

Taormina _ Giardini Naxos

Yes more Greek stuff! Taormina is a delightful city divided into 2 sections. The upper level is the old Greek section and the lower area on the coast dating from 735 BC was the 1st Greek colony in Sicily. We are staying in the coastal strip called Giardina Naxos. We can swim and it is near the train so we did not need to lug our things up the hill.

The bus trip to the top was just like a few others we have described, only in a large bus. The area is as scenic as the Amalfi coast. There were dozens of hairpin bends to negotiate and on almost everyone, we met a bus or truck going the other way........ Someone had to back up. There were views both sides over the amazing coast.

The archaeological zone centres around the Greek theatre. it was built in the 3rd century BC but was later almost totally rebuilt by the Romans. it has views over the coast and also across to Mt Etna, the highest volcano in Europe. Amazing!

Unfortunately it is another Greek ...... or Roman ruin, ruined! Seats for a performance and staging and lights just do not fit in with the scenic ideal. We also saw the Odeon and other historic monuments.

The swimming was a pleasant break and the water much cooler than in Tunisia. Also enjoyable was the Sicilian prosecco and the frizzante rose.

More Old Greek Stuff

Siracusa is the location for one of the great cities of the ancient Greeks and much remains today. We travelled by bus arriving at Catania three quarters of an hour late, leaving us 3 minutes to find the Siracusa bus, buy the tickets etc. In 3 minutes, the bus pulled out and we were aboard.

On our first day, we walked out to Ortigia, an island linked by several bridges. We saw the remains of the Temple of Apollo and walked down to the cathedral. It had a beautiful Baroque facade but incorporated the 5th century BC Temple of Athena with all the columns intact. We also saw the old defence walls, a castle and a great little harbour, the Porto Piccolo.

The next day , we ventured to the Parco Archaeologico. This was outstanding with a great Roman amphitheatre as well as the famous Greek theatre. We also saw Archimedes tomb. He was killed by the Carthaginians when they destroyed old Siracusa. He did not drown in his bath.

The Archaeological Museum is full of old Greek stuff, much dating from the 5th and 6th century BC along with great pottery and sculpture from the latter period. We saw the beautiful Anidyomone of Venus and lots more.

Siracusa is another wonderful place to visit. Despite its later Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Swabian, Angevin and Spanish rule, its Greek heritage remains in this delightful Sicilian town.

Apologies in delay in posting but couldnt find any old Greek computers.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Valley of the Temples

From Palermo, we went by train to Agrigento to visit the Valley of the Temples. This involved going from the north coast to the south via the mountainous interior. A wonderful trip!

Our destination was the ancient Greek city of Akragas, founded according to legend by Daedulus, the one who added wings and flew to the sun. The city fell to the Carthaginians in 406 BC and was sacked and burnt.

The Valley of the Temples extends along Via Sacra and we saw The Temple of Concordia, built in 430 BC. This is the largest remaining intact temple. it was most impressive with huge Doric columns. We also visited the Temple of Juno dating from 450 BC with many columns still standing. Nearby was a line of Byzantine rock dwellings, a Roman tomb and the Temple of Heracles, the oldest dating from the 6th century BC. Still impressive if showing its age!

The second section of the valley included the temple of Olympian Zeus, the largest Doric temple ever built, although unfinished at the time of the Carthaginian attack. It incorporated giant figures known as Telamone. We also saw the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twins, quite controversial as it was partially reconstructed using parts from various buildings.

This place is magical, one of the best!

We have now travelled down to Siracusa to explore more Greek ruins.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

If the Duke is Getting Married, Dont Stay at the Hotel

For our final night in Tunisia, we returned to our hotel in Carthage as we had left 2 bags there. We spent the morning sightseeing at nearby beaches and returned to the hotel for a late checkout prior to our ferry for Sicily sailing at 9 pm.

As the afternoon passed, the hotel became very chaotic as the new owner of the hotel was getting married that night. At 4 pm they finished assembling the walkway from the boatlanding to the wedding chapel that they had constructed. They then started painting it but stopped at 4.45 for a swim. All the hotel patrons were evicted from the pool and when we ordered lunch, they were more interested in taking deliveries of the wedding breakfast food than serving us. By the time we left at about 5.30, the painting was finished, new tables had been put up for the reception, the grand piano had been put in place on the boat landing and 100s metres of tulle decorated the building. The wedding was scheduled for 9 pm so perhaps it was all ready.

Our sailing was delayed and instead of watching the wedding in progress as we sailed out of the harbour, we had finished dinner and went to sleep at midnight before we had sailed.

We have arrived safely in Palermo if a few hours late and have spent 2 days looking at the beautiful churches, the old palace that is now the Sicilian Parliament and today went to Monreale to look at the brilliant Duomo and the associated buildings. While we were at the cathedral, we saw a wedding taking place.

Monday, July 14, 2008

In the Footsteps of Ulysses

We travelled by louage and the ferry Ulysses to the island of Djerba........ that faraway atmosphere and gentle landscape bathed in light, that fascinating island where, it is said, Ulysses companions, intoxicated by the mysterious lotus fruit, lost all desire to leave.........

It is the Tunisian Gold Coast with luxury hotels full of Europeans who fly in and never leave the hotel until they fly out again. We have swum in the balmy sea but having found no lotus fruit in the market place, we leave again tomorrow.

Star Wars in Tunisia

We headed inland to visit the troglodyte village of Matmata via a taxi and 2 louages through the hot, dry, desolate region. It was so hot that even the sheep and goats only spend a few hours out each morning before being placed in an underground room.

Among the places we visited was the dwelling that featured in the Star Wars movie. Even some of the props remain. We had a drink in the Star Wars bar and it all seemed like it was from another planet.

We stopped at one house and had mint tea and bread after checking out the house. We visited another that was set up like a mini museum complete with wedding outfits etc.

A fascinating place to visit but so hot it took us the afternoon of sleeping and swimming to recover.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Day At Monastir

We set off today for Monastir, again travelling by luage. We visited the mausoleum of Habib Bourguiba, the first leader of the Republic of Tunisia. He was a visionary and introduced change and modernisation. He separated religion and state and gave women new freedoms. As a result of his reforms, Tunisia is today one of the most liberal thinking Muslim countries.

The Ribat is located right on the coast and we had wonderful views of the city and beaches from its tower. It had very interesting walls and gates. The Great Mosque dates from the 9th century but as we were visiting on a Friday, we couldnt enter. We then spent some time in the Medina and mada a few purchases despite the small bag we have with us.

We were back in Sousse in time for a late lunch abd an afternoon visit to a fascinating musuem. it was an old home of a wealthy noble complete with furnishings as if they had just gone out for the day.

We also fitted in afternoon drinks and a swim.

We are off to Gabes tomorrow.

A Roman Gem

El Jem is a wonderful place to visit. It is halfway between Sousse and Sfax and in this small town is the 3rd largest Roman Colosseum of the Roman era. It simply dominates the town.

The Colosseum, 148 m. X 122 m. is one of the last built and dates from the 2nd century. We walked around and climbed to where people had watched the gladiators, lions and Christians die a terrible death. We also explored the underground rooms including the holding places for the various combatants.

We visited 2 small amphitheatres and the El Jem Museum. it had an outstanding collection. If the Bardo in Tunis has the worlds best mosaics, this must have the second best! Many showed scenes form the Colosseum and they also had the marble statues all minus their heads. many of the mosaics came from nobles houses and we saw an extensive group of Roman villas.

Wow! What a place!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sousse and Kairouan

We selected a beachfront hotel with magical views over a beach that never sleeps. People are swimming when we go to bed, when we get up during the night and at first light. The room is very modern and comfortable, complete with a frig and a nearby supermarket that has a good selection of Tunisian rose. We have had several swims each day.

We visited the Sousse Medina and strolled through the souks. We went into the Ribat, a fortress that dates from the 8th century. Sousse actually predates Carthage! The Ribat has wonderful walls and a tower that has great views over the city and the Great Mosque. The sea breeze was refreshing as we had visited later in the day.

The port has about 6 replica Carthaginian galleons that you can go out on day trips. They anchor just off our beach.

Today we caught a bus to Kairouan,one of the 7 holy cities of Islam and the most important in Africa. It was the former capital of theAghlabid Emirs, situated 57 km west of Sousse. The temperature was a pleasant 48 degrees!

We walked through the Medina and visited an 18th century residence of a governor. It is now a carpet shop..... surprise, surprise. We also visited the Berbarouta, a well where the water is drawn by a camel and they believe the water flows directly from Mecca. Also went to the mausoleum of Sidi Abid el Gloriani and also the Great Mosque. This is the oldest mosque in Africa and actually incorporates Roman columns. It is a most interesting building and worth the hot trip to Kairouan.

The city has 1,300 mosques but we did not quite get to them all. We caught a luage or shared taxi that was actually a mini bus back to Sousse and a petit taxi to the hotel. In no time we were swimming in the Mediterranean.

We stay in Sousse for 2 more days and will visit El Jem and Monastir.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Carthage, Home of Hannibal

We are literally staying in Carthage on the coast but the remains of the city are spread over a very large area. It is very hot today but we have visited most of the famous landmarks.

Amongst the places was the Carthage Museum ...... good but not as good as the Bardo, the amphitheatre that is the 3rd largest in the Roman world, the cisterns that were very extensive; the Roman theatre and odeon and several villas. Along the coast itself the Roman baths, the Punic ports and Tophet where child sacrifices were made. This a most extensive remains of an ancient civilization and we spent over 6 hours walking round the sites.

We have extended our stay in Tunisia by a few days in addition to the 3 days that we are currently behind schedule. We hope to sail to Sicily on 17 July instead of 12 but have allowed lots of time for our final leg.

Dont Ask the Pilot for Directions

We arrived in Tunisia on Friday and settled into a hotel in the city centre. We were walking down the main street, when we bumped into the copilot from our flight. he was very pleased to meet us and insisted that he help us on our way. Dont ever ask the pilot for directions.

We visited the Bardo Museum. This was magnificent and is one of the worlds great museums of Roman antiquities. There were 100s of mosaics but also pottery, jewellery etc. from Carthage, El Jem and Sousse. We will visit all these places. There were also items from a ship that sunk in the 1st century and has been recently salvaged. Another interesting item was the oldest known burial mound, over 40000 years old. This is a must see museum.

We have also checked the cathedral and a village to the north called Sidi Bou Said. This is blue and white Greek island style village. We went to the Carthage coast and have selected a hotel where we are now in residence that combines proximity to the Carthage site and is right on a beautiful stretch of beach and the cooling Mediterranean Sea.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Casablanca, Mosque and Beaches

This morning we visited the Grand Mosque of Hassan II. It is on the coastline and extends out into the Atlantic. We joined a tour to see this large and impressive building. It is the 3rd largest mosque in the world with the highest minaret 200 m.

It is magnificent with beautiful marble floors covering the huge hall that can accommodate 25000 worshippers. It even has a roof that opens. It incorporates cedar from the High Atlas and marble from south Morocco. The chandeliers are of murano glass from Venice and lower electronically. The doors are impressive covered in titanium to resist the salt and the external walls are mainly beautiful tiles.

We visited the ablution hall with 41 marble fountains and the hammam. All this was built in 6 years from 1987 to 1993 by 2500 workers and 10000 craftsmen.

Later we caught a taxi and took in Paradise, Eden, Tahiti, Sun Beach and Ain Diabs Beach with Sidi Abderrahmans mausoleul built on rocks off the coast. Despite the idealistic names we were not inspired to swim. Most people use the private pools rather than the ocean. The waves break 100s of metres off the shore and the sand looks grotty. We did stop off at one of the drinks places prior to our return.

Tomorrow we fly to Tunis.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Climbing the High Atlas Mountains

For our final day in Marrakesh we hired a car and driver and headed off for the High Atlas Mountains. The Atlas rise to over 4000 metres and Morocco has ski fields adjacent to the Sahara. In winter you can see the snow capped mountains from Marrakesh

Only the highest peaks have snow in summer. We drove up the beautiful Ourika valley stopping to visit Berber houses and checking Berber jewellery. We also looked at Berber carpets but despite their efforts we did not buy any.

From the end of the road we started climbing. Over several hours we laboured in the heat until we reached the waterfall. It was one of the most difficult climbs we have made. Sir Edmund would have been proud of us. We made it up to the top after crossing VERY flimsy bridges without handrails and crossing the creek many times. We climbed up water worn slopes and a full on rock scramble. Getting down was just as difficult.

We had a cold drink on the drive up after crossing a suspension bridge and after our climb we had lunch after crossing another bridge to get to the restaurant.

By the time we got back to the hotel we had just enough energy to dive into the pool.

Back to Casablanca tomorrow.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Marrekesh A Hot Destination

It is hot, hot, hot in Marrekesh. When we arrived from Casablanca it was in the mid 50s, temperatures like we had never experienced before. We found a hotel with AC and a pool.

The famous Jamaal el Fna square has 24 hour activities which range from snake charmers, acrobats, musicians, storytellers, henna artists, mystics, healers and fortune tellers. You can buy almost anything including ostrich eggs (makes a large omelet), carpets, traditional medicines, tagines, Moroccan slippers and all domestic goods. The sights, sounds and smells were incredible.

We have also visited the El Badi Palace and the Saadian tombs. The palace was as famous and beautiful as the Alhambra but today is in ruins. We explored the below ground passages by torchlight. The tombs were rediscovered by a French pilot in the 1930s. They are incredible and give us an idea of what the palace must have been like.

We have made frequent visits to the hotel pool and have yet to turn off the AC. We have a great balcony but can only use it for cooking eggs. 1 minute for fried but 4 minutes for ostrich.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Casablanca

At last we are in Casablanca. So far we have seen no sign of Humphrey Bogart.

We have stopped on the way to Marrakesh to organise our flight to Tunis and have decided to extend our time in Morocco by a few days. We travel down to Marrakesh tomorrow then return to Casablanca for a few days before our flight to Tunis on Friday 4 July.

Casablanca is a city of over 3 million people and we met most of them when we walked through the medina this afternoon.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

More Roman Ruins

Morocco is certainly the place to see Roman ruins. Today we visited the ancient Roman city of Sala Colonia at Chellah just on the outskirts of Rabat. It was a compact but very impressive Roman city. There was no restoration and you made your own way around the site.

We saw the ruins of the Jupiter temple; the triple arched entrance; the forum and pools.

Behind this was the ruined Islamic site with a minaret; medersa and tombs. There was even a special pool where infertile women fed eggs to the eels. There were also dozens of cats who were certainly not infertile.

A fascinating aspect of the visit is that the surrounding area is overrun with storks and ibis. There were storks nests everywhere. It was like the setting for an Indiana Jones movie.

We also visited the Hassan Tower built in 1195 and the mausoleum of Mohammed V. This was an impressive place to visit and there were soldiers in traditional uniform around the mausoleum. We arrived just at the changing of the horse guard.

In the afternoon we visited the Archaeological Museum and saw marble statues; bronze artefacts and jewellery and pottery from various sites including Chellah and Volubilis. There were also skulls of homo erectus and other oldies.

A wonderful day. We are off to Casablanca tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Come With Me to the Kasbah

Off again _ this time to Rabat, the national capital of Morocco. Rabat is 3 hours by train from Fez and is located on the Atlantic coast.

So far we have walked through the Medina, past the now familiar souks, only this time we ended up in a square that was formerly a slave market. We then walked up to the Kasbah and wandered through the narrow, winding streets of this walled city.

We ended up at a large terrace overlooking the Atlantic. There were lots of people swimming, mainly male but we did see a few ladies in traditional dress, paddling up to their ankles.

We went back via the Medina and even made a few small purchases, but as our bags are at a maximum, we cant buy much.

We are enjoying our time in Morocco and will spend another day tomorrow in Rabat before heading off to Casablanca.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hot Time in Fez

We have continued on to Few the old imperial city and symbolic heart of Morocco. It was less than an hour in the train from Meknes.

The weather has been very hot in Meknes and in Fez with temperatures in the mid forties. We went out for dinner the other night and remarked how beautifully cool it was.... the temperature had fallen to 39.

The old Medina in Fez was even more extensive than the one in Meknes. We spent hours walking down narrow lanes even moving aside for donkeys. We looked into many spectacular souks including henna; leatherworkers; tanners and dyers; brass and bronze; carpets; shoes and many more.

We had a stop at the Medersa Bou Inania built in the 1300s with incredibly fine work in the walls. It is very similar to parts of the Alhambra and is considered to be the perfect Medersa. A medersa is a place for studying the Koran and most were built in the 13th century. We stopped at mosques and climbed to the top of an old house to take photos.

We saw the royal palace and the old walls and buildings of the northern medina.

These were interesting places especially when the temperature finally fell below 40. We caught a petit taxi back to our hotel.

Our next stop will be Rabat the capital of Morocco.


PS. In case you have not worked it out there is no comma on this keyboard.

Exuberant Over Volubilis

From Meknes we went out to the ruins of the Roman city of Volubilis. This is the largest and best preserved Roman ruin in Morocco and the best we have seen with the exception of the Forum in Rome.

We went via shared taxi .... seven per vehicle. The first to Moulay Idriss an important religious city. It was an amazing place with whitewashed houses on a hillside with an incredible market that was in full swing when we arrived. Then we went on to Volubilis.

This is an immense place with large Roman buildings; arches; temples; columns etc still standing. You could walk amongst the fallen columns and into the houses with little restriction.

The mosaic floors were wonderful. You will have to see the photos. Great mosaics of Diana; Venus; dolphins; fish etc. They are all still in their original locations. We walked down the Decumanus Maximus the ceremonial road and through the triumphal arch. We walked round the Forum and temple buldings. We loved that the storks had built a nest on top of one of the columns.

We nearly couldnt get back but finally made it to Moulay Idriss and then to Meknes. This is a must see place.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Just Like Websters Dictionary.......

At last we are Morocco bound.

We opted for a fast ferry from Tarifa so caught a bus around the coast and then the ferry for the 35 minute trip. Even before we departed, we could see the African coast.

We arrived in Tangier that has a worst reputation than Algecires so we decided to catch a train that morning. We went for the 11 am train to Meknes and arrived with 10 minutes to spare. The ticket seller told us it left in 1 hour and 10 minutes and then we realised the time zone change.

Meknes was a 4 hour trip and by the time we arrived, we had met a Berber gent, a French Moroccan lady and a young woman from Fez who has invited us to her wedding in 1 month. We may meet up with her in Fez in a few days.

Sorry for the delay in posting. We are still in Meknes and a report on Volubilis will follow.

We catch the morning train to Fez tomorrow.

Summer Solstice in Spain

Last year, we were in Norway for the summer solstice and had 24 hours of daylight. This year we celebrated at a street parade in Algecires.

Algecires has a reputation as a place to avoid. We spent 2 nights here so we could have a trip to Gibralter and had seen nothing to counter this reputation until we happened on the parade on our last night.

We stood amongst the crowd as the floats, bands, dancers etc passed by. It lasted for over 2 hours. Among the notable items were huge floats including inflated elephants and other African animals; floats with beautifully dressed women and others with children; marching bands of every type _ salsa, traditional Muslim etc; dancing girls _ Brazilian beauties and other South American dancers, drum majorettes etc; horses and riders with beautifully groomed horses and great looking men and women in national costume and lots more.

At last we solved the mystery of why you see dozens of dentists in each neighbour hood. Every float had people throwing lollies _ lots of lollies. Most people gathered up 5 to 10 kg each. We took home to our hotel a pocketful. It is just as well we are booked in for a dental check on our return.

Going Ape in Gibralter

We caught a local bus to La Linea then walked across the border to this little bit of Britain.

How many countries have you simply walked in to? We remember a few. Laos _ had to wake up the border guard then bribe him to open the crossing, Vietnam _ caught the bus from Cambodia to their border then we walked into Vietnam.

We saw all the Gibralter sights _ up to the top to see St Michaels cave, the Siege Tunnels, lots of Barbary macacques etc. The monkeys were mostly cute and some had babies. We also saw the cathedrals, museums and town centre.

A main lasting memory is on a narrow section land only metres wide, where you could stand and see the Atlantic on one side and the Mediterranean on the other. Standing in Europe we could clearly see Africa. It was an absolutely wonderful view, complete with local monkeys.

We had lunch in a British pub, prior to our return to Spain.

Bus to Albaicin

Being in need of a bus 37 type outing, we decided on the no 31 to Albaicin.

Albaicin is directly across a valley from the Alhambra and when we walked from the bus up to the square of St Nicolas, we had a magical view. We took heaps of photos of the Alhambra and the Alcazaba and even the snow covered Sierra Nevada mountains beyond.

The ride up on the no 31 was steep. The bus had the wing mirrors removed - there simply wasnt room for them between the buildings. We were fortunate in having a driver who wasnt mad like the one down from the Alhambra.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bus to the Top

We caught Bus 32 to the Alhambra. As soon as we saw that it was a tiny bus (seating for 8 and standing for lots) we knew we were in for a Bus 37 type trip.

It climbed up and around but negotiated the tight corners only using half the footpath. The trip down was a different matter. We had a mad Spanish driver who either hated tourists or would have preferred to have been enjoying a siesta.

The cobblestones were negotiated at over 80 km ph. It was like spending time on a body vibrator. With some final abuse, we were ejected before we really wanted to get off but the few minutes walk gave our bottoms time to return to 'normal' shape.

Alhambra

Alhambra lived up to our expectations. We caught the bus to the top and collected our prebooked tickets by the time they opened at 8.30 am. Six hours later, we returned to our hotel for a Spanish siesta.

The highlight was the Palacios Nazaries. It is absolutely stunning with its intricate carvings, columns, beautiful rooms and courtyards. The pools, fountains and gardens were delightful. We felt it was impossible to capture the majesty of the place on film but we certainly tried. We visited lots of rooms and chambers including the Queen's bedroom, baths, halls and pavilions.

One of the most famous monuments, the Fountain of the 12 Lions, was under wraps with the lions away for restoration. Perhaps we will return.

We also loved the Alcazaba and the stunning views over the city. We spent lots of times climbing the towers and recovering on the patios. We could clearly see the snow on the Sierra Nevada mountains above us while the temperature where we were standing was in the mid thirties. This is one of those places where you can ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon.

We visited the 2 museums in the Palace of Carlos V and even managed to see a few of the famous lions. We walked through the gardens and around to the Generalife, the gardens for the architect, with its great views back to the Alhambra and of course wonderful gardens and pools.

This was a magical day and we understand why it is the most visited place in Europe.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Siesta Time in Granada

We had an easy one and a half hour bus trip to Granada from Malaga. In no time we were in our hotel in the historic part of the city.

We set out to visit some of the great buildings but were caught by the afternoon siesta. Everywhere was shut. What we should have done is join the locals but we sat in a beautiful square and drank coffee and later looked through the shops of the old bazaar.

Finally everywhere was open again. We visited the Capilla Real - the Royal Chapel. This is the resing place of Ferdinand and Isabella who restored Christianity to Spain after defeating the Moors. We also visited the Granada Cathedral, begun in 1521 but not completed till the 18th century. With this schedule, the NSW government could keep pace! it was a beautiful building with excellent light, unusual stained glass windows and pure simplicity.

Later we went out for dinner in one of the local squares. Food only fair and annoyed by people selling lottery tickets, lighters etc and buskers demanding money. Other than that, a good night.

We are looking forward to seeing more of the city and visiting the Allhambra on Wednesday.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sunning on the Costa del Sol

We are enjoying our extended stay at Malaga on the Costa del Sol.

After our first day, we upgraded our accommodation to a waterfront hotel with a swimming pool. Not that we haven´t swum in the Mediterranean, but the pool was great after the last hot week.

We have managed to fit in a visit to the cathedral, episcopal palace, a Roman theatre and the alcazar. We have spent even more time relaxing, swimming, eating and drinking.

We move on to Grenada tomorrow (Monday) and will be refreshed from our break and ready to visit this fascinating city.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Message from Malaga

Have you read the Helen McInnes book Message from Malaga? Well we are in Malaga. So far we have not had any secret meetings in dark cafes frequented by flamenco dancers although we have had dinner at an outdoor restaurant and an ice cream on the beach.

We travelled by express bus from Seville this morning and are spending a few days to rest and recuperate. We will find time to go and visit some of the city highlights in the morning.

Italica, a Roman Treasure

A little disappointed at our last Roman ruin, we headed off from Seville to the Italica site.

It is a wonderful site and we basically had it to ourselves. The day before hit 36 degrees so we started early and breakfasted at a local spot in Sandiponce.

Italica was established in 206 BC by Scipio for the soldiers injured in the war with Carthage. We did not see the special ward for elephant stomps! It was the birthplace of Hadrian so when he became emperor, he expanded the town providing an efficient water supply, drainage system and public fountains. It sounds a step ahead of Sydney today!

The site retains the original magic. We wandered through areas that had been nobles' houses with intact mosaics. We loved the House of Birds and its mosaics, the Neptune mosaic that had been the bottom of a pool and the House of the Planetarium with the seven divinities that relate to the days of the week.

The other outstanding area was the Amphitheatre. This was one of the largest in the Roman Empire and considered to be one of the best in Europe. We were not only able to visit the public seating areas but the gladiators' rooms and walk the floor of the arena.

This was a truly wonderful site seen in total privacy with the exception of a few gardiners, the odd archeologist (they mostly are odd) and one school group that turned up just prior to our departure.

Oranges in Seville

Seville was hot, burning hot. We arrived from Faro to temperatures in the high thirties and walked to our hotel near the cathedral in the old city centre.

This is a beautiful city and we were lucky to be in the heart of things near the town hall, Alcazar and cathedral. All wonderful places. The cathedral, the third largest in the world was impressive and we climbed to the top of the tower with its commanding views. This was the former minaret from when the building was a mosque. Instead of steps, it is a series of ramps from when the Moors rode their horses to the top. We also visited the Plaza del Torres - Bull Ring and the Golden Tower. This is an old Moorish structure built in the 13th century as part of the defence system and is now a naval museum.

Now for the oranges. (It is half time in the story). There are orange trees everywhere in Seville. We sat in a square full of orange trees to eat dinner and even the cathedral and Alcazar have squares full of orange trees.

I tried in vain to order orange juice for lunch. We had to settle for wine and marmalade for breakfast, again offered wine or beer but settled for coffee. We finally had oranges for lunch and orange juice for afternoon tea. Well actually Jean had orange juice, we had beer and wine.

Some say the oranges they grow in the public squares are so bitter that no-one will eat them. I think they exported some to Australia for marmalade.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Faro

Our plannned train to Faro did not run due to the strike but we caught one that left ata better time even if a little slower.

The train wound around Lisbon and went over the Pont 25 April, one of the great bridges of the world where we had a wonderful view, especially over Belem. We could see all the places, all the spots that we had visited and had a great view of the monument to Vasco.

Arriving in Faro in the early afternoon, we organised our accommodation and our bus for tomorrow. We toured the historic precinct, including the cathedral built in 1251 and its museum. From the roof we had wonderful views across to the coast. We toured the other historic spots of the old town and had a cool drink by the marina before returning to our hotel. We have just been out for dinner in this beautiful little town.

Tomorrow we return to Spain and will beat the train strike by catching a bus to Seville.

Why Are the Italian Restaurants in Lisbon Run by Indians?

Looking for a change of cuisine from the Portuguese, we decided to try one of Gail's favourites - the local Italian. These were quite common but one thing amazed us. They were owned and operated by Indian families.

Finding our waiter had lived in Melbourne for 3 years and considered himself an expert on Australian football, cricket and most other things, we asked him the big question.

We received a long history of Indian migration to Mozambique, Kenya and South Africa, the rights of Indians from Goa to come to Portugal and much related detail. After 15 minutes, we thanked him and returned to our meal.... now cold.

The meal was excellent, a good bottle of prosecco, a pizza, pasta and local portuguese wine.

Come to think of it. We never did find out why Italian restauarants in Portugal are run by Indians.

Meeting Nunu

On our last afternoon in Lisbon, after returning from Sintra, we went up the street elevator just off the huge square near our hotel. it provided wonderful views to the coast and across to Castello Sao Jorges.

From the top we were able to walk across to the old Carmelite convent and to tour the ruins. It had been established by Nunu Alphonso and we saw the grave in the courtyard museum.

The Nunu that we met was Gatto nunu....., the convent cat named after the founder. She spent her day lazing in the courtyard or sitting on the ticket office window.

The convent was established in the 1500s and is one of the few buildings that predates the earthquake of 1755. it remains as a shell of a building as in the 19th century, tha fashion was for romantic ruins.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Palaces and Castles of Sintra

For our final day in Lisbon, we decided to check out nearby Sintra. We caught a train from Rossio train station not far from our hotel for the 40 minute trip.

Our first visit was the Moorish Castle. It was built in the 9th century but abandoned when the Moors retreated south. It was later removated by King Ferdinand 11 in the 19th century.

We caught a bus from the station but had a 15 min walk to the castle. We then walked up the battlements, a series of steep steps with wonderful views over the country side and to the Atlantic. This is one of the most picturesque spots we have visited.

We went on to the Pena Palace, a Royal summer holiday house built by King Ferdinand from an abandoned monastery. We went up the steep hill on a train that was really a bus.

The palace has a magnificent location not far from the Moorish castke. The views also extend to the Atlantic and we could see the most westerly point of Europe.

The furnished rooms were packed with items that the royals had acquired. These ranged from royal beds, royal baths, royal (bathroom) thrones and some interesting furniture and beautiful fittings. The castle is quite exquisite.

We finished the visit with a wander through Sintra village before catching the train home. Another great day!

We leave tomorrow for Faro. The train strike is still on and although we could not catch the train intended, we have another one booked.

In Vasco's Wake

After Christmas, reading the history of Vasco de Gama's trip to India, our trip to Belem, his starting point, was much anticipated.

It was a great day. We caught an old tram to Belem. It could even have been the one that Vasco caught. It is about 6 km around the coast west of Lisbon.

Our first stop was the Belem Tower, built by the first king of Portugal as a symbol of his power. One unusual feature is the carving of a rhinocerus. The real thing was a gift to the pope but when the boat delivering the gift, sank, the body was recovered and stuffed with straw. The stone carving is the first in Europe of a rhino. The building is fabulous and sits just off the coast. Yes there are lots of stairs to climb!

We viewed the old lighthouse and the special memorial to Vasco. It depicts Vasco and his crew boarding the boat for India.

The monastery of San Jeronimus was magnificent. The church has superb fine stone work and wonderful cloisters. Inside the church we discovered the tomb of Vasco himself. The church was built with profits from the spice trade with India.

The Maritime Museum had not only models of Vasco's ships but 2 anchors recovered from Chris' Nina that he had carelessly left somewhere in the New World. The museum had a magnificent collection of barges, seaplanes and aircraft. All this and it is located in the beautiful San Jeronimus' monastery.

Before departure we also visited the Archeological Museum and the Cultural and Modern Art Museum where we saw Dali's lobster phone, works by Picasso and also Jackson Pollack. Our final stop was the Museum of the President where we failed the technology for the English audio guide. The president lives in the ex royal palace next door where presidents have resided since the departure of the royals in 1910.

As we rode the tram back, we reflected on a wonderful day..... Vasco was quite a guy.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Why the Number 37 Bus is So Small.

We climbed onto the no. 37 bus to go up the steep hill to Castello de Sao Jorge. Why was it the only tiny bus when all the others were so big?

Soon we were in a traffic jam sandwiched between 2 equally small trams. As we rounded a corner almost collecting a load of washing hanging from a first floor window, we started to get the idea. We had at least 2mm. clearance each side up the next street and only needed the footpath and roadway to pass a parked car. We did manage to fit under the awning. After we waited for the deliveries to be unpacked from a small truck, we continued up and around corners until we finally arrived.

The castle was delightful. It was built by the Moors in the 12th century and we were able to stroll the ramparts and walk the open courtyards.

The views were superb. We looked out over the old part of Lisbon and over the Rio Tejo to the distant shores.

After lunch in the castle grounds, we caught the no. 37 back down the hill past the cathedral and church we had visited yesterday and finally arrived back in the square near our hotel.

Train Strike in Portugal - Rock in Rio

The strike started on Friday with us due to depart for Lisbon. It is the engineers that are on strike, so most of the trains were still running. We caught the train from near our hotel to the main station with no problem. We were told that they would not know if the train from Coimbra to Lisbon would run until it left Porto in the north.

Finally the train came up on the departure board - then it showed a 10 min. delay. Was this the way to tell us it would not arrive?

We finally boarded the packed train and had a slower trip than anticipated to Lisbon. There was time for 2 cups of tea! We finally arrived half an hour late.

We had decided to travel on the day of the Rock in Rio concert. We did not even know that the Rio concert was being held in Lisbon! It is promoted as the world´s largest rock concert. Fortunately when we changed to the Metro, the Rio Rockers travelled in the opposite direction to us.

We are staying in Rossio in the centre of Lisbon, near 2 of the major squares. It is a beautiful spot. We spent the afternoon looking round the area, visiting the old cathedral and St Anthony´s church and travelling on the Metro and on their wonderful little trains. St Anthony is the patron saint of Lisbon.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Roman Ruins of Conimbriga

One of our reasons for our visit to Coimbra, was to also visit the Roman ruins at Conimbriga, just 15 km away.

Considered to be the best Roman site in Portugal, the visit was greatly anticipated. The area has been settled since the 9th century BC and the Romans in the second half of the first century BC.

We saw magnificent mosaics in situ, foundations of many houses and public buildings, baths and aquaducts, the forum and a very early Christian basilica. Most of the area was absolutely wonderful but a few, had in our humble opinion, been rather spoilt by poor reconstruction.

The museum housed many of the items that had been found on the site and whilst small, it had an excellent display of all things Roman.

We caught the return bus back to Coimbra to the news that we may be stranded by a train strike starting tomorrow. At least we know how to ask 'pergunto: ha comboios amanha? Is there a train strike tomorrow?

We think all is ok but there may be many more posts from Coimbra. We hope to be in Lisbon tomorrow.

The Oxford of Portugal - Highest Seat of Learning

Arriving in Coimbra, we soon settled into our accommodation and headed off for a visit to Universidade de Coimbra. The university was founded in Portugal in 1290 and transferred to the former royal palace in Coimbra in 1537. This city is the former capital of Portugal.

To get to the university, you climb up and up and up the steep steps and streets. You certainly work your way to the top but the reward is not a higher degree but magnificent views making it all worthwhile.

The university, called the Oxford of Portugal, is an impressive place. We entered the courtyard through the Porta Ferrea - iron gate - to the magnificent facades of the buildings, the statue of king Joao 111 and the views over the valley.

We looked through the Biblioteca, a magnificent baroque library built in 1717 and considered to be the best in Europe. It has a wonderful collection of historic volumes housed in gilded rooms.

The most fascinating thing about the library, is that it houses a colony of bats. Each night they feed on the tiny insects inside the building, thus saving the books from damage. The tables and furniture are themselves protected from damage by being covered each night with leather cloths and the library is cleaned each morning. Bats in the Biblioteca!

Next we went in to the Prisco Academica - university prison, a private gaol dating from the university's privileged position of independence and authority. Amongst the 'crimes' that could land you in gaol were damaging a book or failure to show respect to a professor. perhaps we could reintroduce these for Australian schools and universities as part of a new discipline code. The mind boggles as what term would be imposed for not doing your homework, talking in class or graffiti on the toilet wall!

We also visited the wonderful graduates' hall and the chapel along with the old and new cathedrals of Coimbra - a great visit.

PS it is hard to believe but we just walked back up all the steps to post this blog from the university Internet site!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Any Port in a Storm

We changed to bus for our trip from Salamanca to Porto as the train trip is next to impossible.

With a one hour time adjustment, it became a six hour trip with just one stop for lunch plus a few short stops to drop off passengers. We passed through Man of La Mancha territory, across the Spain Portugal border and past lots of Aussie gum trees as we went over the central mountains to the coast.

Porto has many wonderful buildings with houses from the 15th century and churches from the 12th century. We visited the cathedral and lots of the famous landmarks around town.

A high point was the climb up the 1754 Torre Dos Clerigos with its 225 steps. The view was magnificent over the rooftops of Porto to the river and ocean beyond.

An unplanned sight was the Palacio de Bolsa, the former Stock Exchange, one of the great buildings of Porto. It was closed for a performing arts function but we were able to talk the guard into letting us have a little look. We saw a mermaid shed her tail and dance in a pink tutu on top of a globe of the world. Now we know what mermaids have under that tail.

Tonight we plan to have a drop of port in Porto.

Tomorrow we move on to Coimbra for two days.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Dining With Manuel

During our visit to Spain, we have had many meals when we were served by Manuel....... with a few supervised by Basil and Sybil.

One memorable meal had Manuel having about as much English as we have Spanish. he used his full vocab..... Sit!... Order!..... Eat!.... Pay!...... These were his only words during the meal.

Using our equally limited Spanish vocab, most of which relates to food, we somehow managed quite a reasonable meal.

We have also learnt a few lessons about What Not To Order In Spain.

1. Beef... the day after the bullfight
2. Anything round and rubbery served in a gravy when Manuel laughs when he serves it.
3, Anything for dinner before 10 pm.
4. Sangria after 4 am.... just joking.

Having "mastered" the art of ordering in Spanish, we move on to PĂ´rtugal tomorrow.

As I Was Saying

Our visit to the Pontifical University of Salamanca was only possible by joining a tour..... given only in Spanish. The rooms were beautiful but the talk went on and on....... it was only sllightly more interesting than some of the lectures that I sat through such as Econometrics and Mathematics for Economists.

The city is a traditional seat of learning in Spain. We saw the old lecture rooms that are famous as the venue where Fray Luis was arrested in the Inquisition for subversion of the faith. After 5 years imprisonment and torture, he was released and continued his lecture with his famous words "As I was saying yesterday".

Aah the commitment of university lecturers. Frank H, Please note.

If time permits, we may visit the Oxford of Portugal next week.

Salamanca the Most Graceful City in Spain

Salamanca certainly lived up to its claim to being the most graceful city in Spain.

The new cathedral was commenced in 1513 as "the last breath in the Gothic style". By the time it was completed, Gothic style had been replaced. The new was incorpòrated into the ornamentation and the result is magnificent.

The old cathedral is adjoining. It was commenced in about 1152 and it is most impressive. We also visited the cathedral museum holding the old and precious religious regalia.

We are staying in a pedestrian only street that is packed day and night with people strolling. Our attempts to eat lunch and dinner outdoors today were however thwarted by a few isolated showers at the wrong moment. The street links the many old buildings of the old quarter and is a magical place to stay.

We have visited a lot of the buildings including churches, convents and universities. We also walked across an old Roman bridge comprising 60 arches.

One of the best places was the Convento de San Estaban (Steven) with its wonderful cloisters, church and museum.

Tomorrow will see us catch a long distance bus to Oporto in Portugal.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Celebrating Jeanie´s Birthday

After allowing Jean a sleep in, we delivered breakfast in bed along with the traditional singing of Happy Birthday, presents and cards, one of which we were told said Happy Birthday in Spanish!

We spent the morning walking the Latin Quarter, visiting Madrid´s weekend market and several churches and a beautiful garden. We had to sneak into San Francisco (church not city) between weddings.

The closest we came to birthday cake was some yummy Spanish pastries along with our morning coffee that we had in the early afternoon.

Later we had a private luncheon in our suite sampling the fine foods of the Madrid region. The cheese, ham, vine ripened and strawberries were amongst the best we have sampled.

We spent the afternoon at the art museum and returned in time to dress for the ballet. In Spain, you do a show and dinner not dinner and a show! Dinner is never taken before 10 pm.

The performance by the Ballet Espanol featured flamenco dancing and classical Spanish numbers. We all enjoyed it.

We are about to return to our room... sorry suite! to continue the celebration before we go out to dinner. Unfortunately when we return we have to pack as we depart for Salamanca tomorrow.

The Art of Madrid

Amongst the wonderful places we have visited in Madrid are three of the great galleries of Europe. On our second day, we visited the Prado. This is a huge museum of art that rivals those of Paris, London, Florence and Moscow. We saw works by El Greco and an excellent display of Goya´s work including a painting that we missed in Pamplona.

The next day, on our way back from Anjuirez, we stopped at Reina Sofia modern art museum. Saw lots of Picasso and Dali and a very extensive collection, a lot of which was not to our taste.

Today we spent the afternoon at the Thyssen Museum that included an excellent display of Impressionist works as well as a very diverse collection with some interesting American works and a stunning Constable.

Touring Toledo

We caught the superfast train to Toledo - 78 km in 28 minutes. We had a fabulous day.

We visited the churches, synogogues, museums etc but as interesting as any, were the amazing streets and alleys of old Toledo.

We started at the cathedral built in 1226. Large and magnificent with great stained glass! The treasury was stacked with precious things, vestments etc.

We went to visit several churches, 2 synogogues from the era before the Jews were expelled from old Toledo and saw the El Greco painting, The Burial of Count of Orgaz.

We climbed the steps to the top of the steeple in the Jesuit church and had a wonderful view over Toledo..... Toledo Desde El Cielo... From the Heaven. We were able to see the entire old town and to the new town beyond.

We retraced our steps and were back in Madrid in time for a rest before our 10 pm dinner.

Spanish Palaces

Since arriving in Madrid, we have seen some wonderful Royal Palaces. On our first day, we visited the Palacio Real. The rooms were sumptuous with the things the royals have. Included a very interesting Farmacia and an extensive display of armour. The armour of horses and dogs was amazing.

The next day, we went to the spring palace - Real Palacio de Aranjuiz, 48 km south of Madrid. This is called the Versaille of Spain. It was extensive and impressive but lacked some of the gilt of Versaille.

Our third palace was El Escorial at San Lorenzo. We arrived after a 70 minute train trip, a 10 minute bus trip and a 10 minute walk as the carillon sounded the 10 o clock opening. it is the largest of all the palaces and incorporates the royal basilica and pantheon.

Built by Phillip 11 in 1563, it houses an extensive art collection, wonderful royal rooms with beautiful decorations and original furnishings and a huge basilica originally only used by the royal family. The pantheon remains the burial place of Spanish kings and queens.

We also saw a wonderful library with books from the 15th century and one from the 6th century. Also amazing globes, one showing half of Australia.

The Spanish Royals certainly knew how to live a right royal life.

Monday, May 26, 2008

I Think We Are Turning Spanish (not Japanese)

We succumbed to the Spanish way yesterday and had an afternoon siesta.

We spent the morning wandering the town and enjoying the Pamplona art museum. It was great but its main painting, a Goya, was on loan to Madrid.

Last night we hit the night spots and enjoyed a great dinner out with Bianca.

Leaving in one minute for Madrid.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Meeting Bianca in Pamplona

Another train trip now finds us in Pamplona staying at a more upmarket hotel in the centre of town (good weekend rate).

Bianca met us at our hotel and showed us the local sights. We followed the path taken by the bulls from the mayor's house to the Plaza del Toros - the bull ring. Fortunately we did not enter the bull ring as we were over a month ahead of the actual event and the first into the bull ring is greeted with jeers. We were so far ahead of the bulls, there was no-one there to jeer us. At least we had a safe bull run. The last person to be killed there was Australian!

We walked up to the cathedral and on to La Navarreria, the oldest part of the city walls. We saw the French gate, the only gate of the original six still standing. We also walked through beautiful parklands around the city walls, some areas with animals and birds. The peacocks put on a display for us and we were most impressed with the one that was pure white.

We farewelled Bianca in the Ciudadela, now beautiful parklands and arrived back at our hotel soaking wet, having been caught in a heavy hailstorm.

We are looking forward to a dinner with Bianca on Sunday night.

Backdoor to Spain

Departing Biarritz for San Sebastian, we caught the train to Hendaye and then walked around to the local line to San Sebastian. Somewhere along the way we crossed over the border... an international train trip for 1.45 euros!

We visited 2 local churches, the 16 century gothic San Vicente and the 18 century baroque Santa Maria but both were closed for renovation. It was a very interesting walk through the old city. We checked out the famous beaches, especially La Concha.

We had a wonderful visit to the Buen Pastor Cathedral. it was late afternoon and the sun shining through the stained glass windows reflected incredible coloured patterns onto the stone walls. It was very symbolic as the colours shimmered on the religious icons.

Outside the cathedral, the kids were out of school and all public space was now the local playground. A side door of the cathedral became a makeshift goal as a local soccer kids' soccer team´practised their goal kicking.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Industrial Action - Train to Spain

We move on to San Sebastian today. We can't depart until later in the morning as yesterday's industrial stoppage does not end until mid morning.

The locals shrug their shoulders, say 'It is France' or 'C'est la vie'.

Basque Biarritz

We are in Basque country staying in the seaside town of Biarritz just near the Spanish border.

We travelled from La Rochelle by train via Bordeaux and arrived late in the afternoon. We found a great little hotel just above the main beach and settled in.

Yes, Robert did swim in the Atlantic even though it was cold..... about 16 or 17 degrees. He also tried some Basque dishes, a spicy veal and ham pasta and a delicious almond cake.

We spent yesterday checking out the scenic spots, walking around the headland and out to 2 islands linked to the mainland by small bridges. We also checked out the beautiful St Eugenie's church. Napoleon and Eugenie were regulars at Biarritz - so were Bing Crosby and Cary Grant.

Moving on to Spain on Friday.

Stopover in Bordeaux

We read that Bordeaux is 'drab and boring' so we did not plan a stopover. We did however have time between trains so put our gear into a locker and caught the tram into town. It is anything but drab and boring.

Beautiful architecture of the Place de la Bourse, yhe wonderful Girondin monument with its green marble horses and fountain, the impressive Grande Theatre and Notre Dame with its vaulted ceilings and stained glass. We also admired the modern Miroir d'Eau.

Bordeau is indeed an interesting city and worth a full city. Even if it wasn't, they have lots and lots of wine!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Towers of La Rochelle

Just how many towers can you climb in a day?

We travelled down by train from Nante to this delightful seaside town. One of its special features is its old fortifications of towers along the harbour front. We managed to climb all three towers and enjoyed the views of the coastline, the town and the displays which they contained.

We also managed to have both lunch and dinner sitting by the harbourside enjoying the food and wine. This was a great way to relax after the rush of the last few days.

Nantes... Cqthedral, Chateau, Elephants and Voyages Extraordinaires

Nantes is a great city built on the Loire River close to the mouth. It is a great mix of modern architecture and medieval city.

The cathredral of St Peter and St Paul had stunning Gothic lines and the tomb of Francois III and his 2 wives (not at the same time).

The chateau belonged to the Duc de Bretagne. His daughter became Queen of France in the 15th century. We climbed the battlements with its great views of the city and walked around the grassy area that had once been the moat.

The elephant was mechanical. A larger than life size mechanical walking elephant is located at the Ile de Machines that also has many other incredible mechanical devices.

The Voyages Extraordinaires were not ours but those of Jules Verne. We visited his museum and marvelled at his submarines and aeroplanes... all predating their invention. What an imagination... only rivalled by Leonardo.

Mont St Michel

Courtesy of our host we received a lift to the causeway out to Mont St Michel.

It sits across the sands from the coast and is a most impressive site. We had no trouble filling in a full day!

We walked to the Abbey at the top of the mont and joined an English language tour for one and a half hours. There are so many passage ways and rooms that this is the most efficient way to see them all. The rooms on the northern side were magnificent. The cloisters with lots of columns and breathtaking water views along with gardens and walkways were especially stunning. The Refectory was equally magnificent. The monks were only permitted to eat in daylight hours so it had lots of windows. They were built at an angle so as you looked to the cross at the end of the room, you had no external views.

The steps provided a workout..... up and down and around corners. We saw guest halls, chapels and all the rooms that made up this settlement of Benedictine monks.

Later we visited the 4 museums in the village that follows the pathway up to the Abbey. They range from modern multi media presentations, wax work figures with dramatic tales..... even more dramatic in French to traditional history museums.

We left late in the afternoon, just before the tide rushed in. The remaining drivers were about to scramble to move cars before the water covered the carparks.

A most interesting day.

Message from St Marcan

We are staying in the delightful village of St Marcan on the Brittany Normandy border. Our accommodation is a 200 year old house in a very quiet village. There are no shops but yesterday afternoon we walked to upper St Marcan and visited a unique telegraph station. It was built just after the French Revolution and was the forerunner of modern telecommunication. It could send a message to Paris in 20 minutes.

Unfortunately there is no Internet cafe but we did visit the creperie bar and had crepe bretagne washed down with muscadet. We recovered in time to dine at the local village pub. Tomorrow we dine at the only other eaterie, the pub in the upper village.

PS This was like a little bit of Britain run by a football fanatic from Manchester.

Monet at Giverny

We headed off by train to Giverny, 78 km NW of Paris to visit the house and gardens of Claude Monet. The trip was pleasant as we passed along the banks of the Seine. The local bus from Vernon was packed as it is a popular place to visit. It is also a favourite site for school excursions for primary students.

Monet's house enabled us to see the studio where he painted and furnished rooms and reproductions of many of his works. It also contained an extensive collection of Japanese woodblock prints. These had a significant influence on many of the Impressionists.

It is the gardens that people come to see _ especially the waterlily pond and the Japanese bridges. Visiting in spring meant that we saw the flowers in full bloom and the wisteria covering the bridge. We saw only a solitary waterlily flower however!

In the afternoon we returned to Paris and visited Musee de L'Orangerie. Our first galleries were Monet's waterlilies. There are about 10 paintings up to 13 metres x 2.5 metres. Now we understand why the studio at Giverny was so large.

The gallery specialises in Impressionist works and we saw an extensive collection by many of the great painters as well as some of the lesser known artists.

Stealing the Flowers

During our walk through Jardin de Tuileries' we all admired the beautiful spring flowers. Jean spoke to a gardener to congratulate him on his efforts. When Robert came along, he admired the beautiful iris so he produced a perfect stem that must have been broken off and gave it to him to present to the beautiful lady.

Being in a dilemma, he recounted the story and gave the flower to Gail. She agreed that must have been the gardener's intention.

A little later we sat on a seat to rest and as each Parisian walked by, they gave Gail a filthy look...... Obviously they take a dim view of the tourists stealing the flowers!

Shortly after, we placed the iris on one of the sculptures in the garden.... a modern bronze of a beautiful lady.

Paris on Strike _ Paris by Night

After arriving from Seoul late, we settled into our hotel well positioned in Montmartre. After a night to recuperate, we headed off to Musee de L' Orangerie to see Impressionist paintings, especially Monet's waterlilies. The museum was closed. We had missed out on our first visit to Paris _ time and on our second visit _ closed for renovation. Now industriqal action beat us! We did however enjoy a walk in the Tuilleries Gardens up to the Louvre.

We then headed over to Chatelet and walked to St Chapelle with its exquisite stained glass windows. Yes they were on strike as well! As we walked up to Notre Dame we checked at an Information booth and only 2 places were closed with industrial action and those were the 2 we had chosen! Notre Dame was wonderful however with its rose windows and fabulous stained glass.

We spent the afternoon at Montmartre, climbing the huge flights of stairs that began just near our hotel. We visited Sacre Coeur with its huge dome abd beautiful view of Paris, then the Place du Tertre _ the artists quarter _ and the little streets and shops of this delightful area.

After dinner' we headed down to the Seine to ride the Bateau Mouche along the river to see the buildings of Paris beautifully illuminated. We finally made it home after midnight.

Posting Delays

The blog entries that follow have been written as we travelled but today for the first time we have located an Internet place. It seems Internet cafes are declining in popularity but many places provide wireless Internet free of charge. The fact that we have stayed in villages without even a shop has not helped.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Holidays on the Cheap

We have had a restful and cheap stopover in Seoul. So far we have had 2 free meals on the plane, a free airport transfer to our free hotel and free dinner and breakfast.

This morning we had a free swim, then a free transfer to the airport and we are now sending a free Internet message. By the time we reach Paris, we will have had 2 more free meals but after that we think things might change.

The hotel was wonderful - Hyatt Regency Incheon - with excellent rooms and facilities. We feel rested, refreshed and ready for Europe. We can highly recommend this route to Europe via Korean Air. Great leg room on the plane and friendly service.

Next posting from Paris.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Europe Here We Come

It is nearly nine months since we returned from our last big journey and we are off again tomorrow - mostly to new places and returning to a few we loved previously.

We leave at "obscene o'clock" to quote one family member and will spend one night in Seoul before heading to one of our favourite places - Paris.

During the next three months we will explore the Atlantic coast of France, beginning at Mont
St-Michel and travel through Spain and Portugal. We then head across to Morocco and Tunisia before catching a ferry to Sicily and eventually catching a train to Rome for the return flight home, stopping off in Seoul for a couple of days.

Keep in touch with us and we will be thinking of you all as we travel.