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The Phantom Bloggess

The public blog of a private diarist

Updated: 2018-03-16T01:39:00.797+13:00


Wahoo! Now I can thread needles again!


SO frustrating like you wouldn't imagine, if you sew by hand or machine, and can no longer see to thread the needle.

Today I discovered this awesome tool!
It cost me $8.99NZ from Spotlight, and works on both sewing machines and hand held needles.
I would also recommend you read the instructions for how to work it from this Amazon reviewer, it helped me!  Helpful user review

And while I was shopping, I also bought some of these oldies but goodies for embroidery and sewing thread.  Can't have too many helpers!

Reflections on a month of travel


This time last week I was in transit, and I'm only just coming back to the land of the living - jet lag is a dog!  (And not Jess the toe licking dog, either!)My mind is filled with the people and experiences of the last month, the wonders, the bizarrities, and especially the history.  I'm lucky to have good friends who don't mind hearing me go on about my travels - most of whom have been further and seen more than me anyway!I've got plans for more travel now, there is so much world out there to experience, but I may have to do shorter haul flights and have adventures on the way.  I'm told that flying premium class with the luxury of a bed inflight helps counter jetlag, but the cost is out of my range!Okay, so what was the highlight I've been asked, and where would I go back to?!The Colosseum was totally awe-inspiring.  To think of the age of this massive arena, and the technology used, to hear it explained and realise it had a retractable roof, it had a floor capable of being flooded so they could have boat battles to the death, to know the huge number of citizens it could contain, this was indeed my number one wonder.The Tower of London was a huge high-light.  So much history involved in this sprawling fortress, and still occupied today by the Yeomen of the Guard - the Beefeaters - everywhere we went there was a story from actual history.  Here Anne Boleyn was executed.  Here the twin princes were imprisoned by their uncle who seized their right to the throne.  It was sobering and awful and it stays with me.Castle Rushen on the Isle of Man was exciting.  Originally built by the Vikings and extended over the centuries, it was a complete and original real castle.  Some of the other castles I saw had been restored in much more modern decor, but this was a spiral-staircase up to the turrets real coastal fortress.  Very cool!I loved spending time with the people, especially my wonderful hosts, Sue and Neil in London and Viv and Ian in Douglas, IoM.  I don't think it's possible to say how much I appreciated them making space in their lives and homes for me.  Thank you!And where would I go back to?Italy in a heartbeat.Italy was too hot, it was chaotic, I fainted there, and yet I loved it.  It was so real, it had passion, they live and eat as if cooking for you and feeding you are what matter, no matter how long things take.  They laugh.  They care.  (Except if you happen to be on a pedestrian crossing when they're driving over it..)  I would love to go back there and actually spend some time there, not just travel in and out.I've had my mind broadened by this travel.  I've been in places where no one spoke English - that's quite disconcerting after several hours!   I've been surprised at how far behind us Europe is with smoking.  It's like we were 50 years ago - very common,  and butts litter the streets despite the special containers everywhere.  Vending machines for cigarettes were everywhere, obviously no age limit for purchase.  Europeans must get a shock to come to New Zealand and find we're mostly a No Smoking country!And dogs!  In shops, on buses and the underground!  All on leads and all that I saw very well behaved and controlled, but again, so many of them everywhere.And what would I do the same or differently next time?It was very hard to pack for a month and know what weather I was going to find, and I took too much merino and not enough aertex!  It was much hotter than I'd expected.I was very pleased with my Loaded For Travel card - loaded up before I left with different currencies, bought at the prime rates, and useable everywhere.  And actually paying for tours of places like The Tower was well worth it.  I actually had the history and important aspects pointed out to me, didn't just have to rely on my memory of things I already knew.I didn't do much shopping, maybe next time I'd do a bit more?  But luggage restrictions on flights i[...]

After Hampton Court, we go in search of our ancestral home and walk through the buzzing heart of a London hotspot....


There was still light in the sky, still warmth in the sun - more than expected actually, what hot weather we've had for late September in London! - so we took ourselves to Regent's Park.  (The Regent was to become King George IV.) I'm impressed by the amount of green space in London, and the degree to which it's used.  This was a sunny Sunday afternoon, and there were families and young people everywhere, a rugby game going on, dogs being walked, a boy trying to befriend a squirrel, people enjoying the fresh air.We walked through to the zoo, looked down at the canal - of which more later - and crossed the road in search of Chalcot Crescent. My grandmother, Jessie Agnes Pfanz was born here, in number 34, back in 1885.  A short walk, and only one block from the park, in Primrose Hill, we found it.  Jessie's mother, Louise died in childbirth when she was 11, and she spent the next few years with her aunts, while her father Christian brought up her brothers.  When the aunts decided to join other family in New Zealand, Jessie came too, in the first decade of the 20th century, and she met Albert Price whom she would later marry and who would become my grandfather - although I never met him - on the ship coming over.We had many trips to Auckland as a family to stay with Gran, and Jessie lived with Mum and Dad and our family as an old woman, from about 1965 until her death in 1974.And this is where she was born, this primrose house.The railings at street level protect passersby from falling down the light-space to the basement rooms where the servants lived/worked.  I am delighted to have seen this spot!  I felt no urge to knock on the door or see inside.We walk around the area, up Chalcott Square and Street, watch the families enjoying fresh air and each other's company in the square, and go back towards Regent's Park, but this time we walk along the towpath by the canal.Right across from this very elegant Primrose Hill and Regent's Park we find Camden Lock and Camden Town. This is different from anything I've seen here - it's funky, busy, kinda crazy!  The cigarette smoke I'm smelling is not all tobacco either.  There's music, food and it's very different from where we were just moments before.I'm very glad to have been here!Now it's Monday morning and I've got a plane to catch today to Hong Kong.  I'll be home Wednesday afternoon, and I can't really imagine being home again after the month I've had exploring the world![...]

Hampton Court Palace


This morning Sue and I took bus, tube and train to Hampton Court to see Hampton Court Palace, the home of Henry VIII.Wow!  This place is massive!  First view was of the Thames and the type of boats that have ferried royalty and their guests between the castles and palaces over the centuries. Then through the main gates and I'm bowled over by the sheer size of the place!  It's enormous!Look at these chimneys!  They are ornate works of art, each of them different.  I'm deeply impressed, and we haven't even got through the Gatehouse yet!  This palace was originally built early in the 1500s.This is the ceiling of the great gatehouseAnd this is the great gatehouse looking from the first courtyard or "Base Court".All of the wing along the left-hand side was kitchens -King Henry VIII had massive kitchens which could cater for 1000 people - and the internal covered ways were wide enough to take a horse and cart. The buildings have many outer alleys and passages.In the mid 1600s, William of Orange and his wife Mary set about rebuilding Hampton Court and much of the original building was demolished.  However money and motivation ran out before the new palace was built, so that it joins on to Henry's palace, which can be seen in the background here.Painted ceiling in the "newer" part.Shire horses whose lineage can be directly traced from the original royal horses which carried armoured knights into battle.  These enormously strong horses stand 18 hands high.Part of the yew walks - with trees up to 300 years old - and Mary's formal gardens.What a wonderful visit to this marvellous palace![...]

Goodbye to the Isle of Man, and a visit to Hever Castle, childhood home of Anne Boleyn


An early start, and the first plane out of Ronaldsway Airport, IOM. I will miss the beautiful island and the lovely people!  I particularly appreciated meeting Viv and Ian's family, what superb people!  I loved seeing the island and being included in their family get-togethers!  What a wonderful time I've had on the Isle of Man! My papers said I needed to be checked in by 5am at the latest - !!! What was I thinking when I booked that!  However as the airport doesn't open until 6am, we had a bit of a reprieve  and a tail wind meant I was back in London by 8am.  Probably the most interesting and least palatable in flight meal -  a cooked and kept breakfast of egg, bacon, sausage, mushroom and hash brown - but my second flight on British Airways and I do like their flight crews' easy sense of humour.And this morning my expert London tour guides took me on a wonderful excursion south to Kent.  We went through beautiful countryside, dotted with oasthouses, timbered inns and Tudor houses with mullioned windows and arrived at Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn.  What a gorgeous castle!  I've decided I like castles, so much history and romance, so much death and plotting!The oldest part of Hever was the gatehouse built in 1270, and the castle was converted into a manor house in 1462.  Anne lived there in the early 1500s, while King Henry VIII pursued her, despite being married to Catherine of Aragon and having Anne's sister Mary as his mistress.  With Grace alongside the outer moatElla with the inner moat in the backgroundWe went through the double-moated castle, up the winding spiral staircases, and into the rooms mostly decorated in the restored fashion of around 1900, but some in the manner they may have been in Anne Boleyn's time.Part of the gardensWhat a lovely day we had! In the early 1900s it was bought by the Astor family who have restored it and planted the yew maze and the beautiful Italian gardens.Anyone who doubts I could find my way into the centre of a maze and out again - here is photographic proof of me and Ella in the centre!  Okay, I couldn't do it, and after becoming hideously lost for the umpteenth time, I followed Neil who knew the way...[...]

South on the Isle of Man


Today we went by steam train south to Castletown, met up with Paul and Jessica, and from there drove to Castle Rushen, the Calf of Man, Cregneash and Port Erin. The steam trains on the Isle of Man, the Anglican Diocese of Sodor and Man, were the inspiration for Rev Awdry's "Thomas the Tank Engine" stories, and in 2000 the movie "Thomas and the Magic Railroad" was filmed on location here.  So we travelled by one of these real life steam trains!  It was very cool!  The smell of the steam is something special.Castletown I've dealt with separately, it's a wonder on its own!This is a building from the 13th century, which in the 17th and 18th was used as a school house in Castletown.Then we went to the southernmost point, and the island known as the Calf of Man.So that's all points of the compass here now!  The Isle is much bigger than the often invisible dot on the map, there is so much to see!Cregneash is a delightful spot, with a heritage farm and village.  Here the houses are thatched(although not the only thatched ones on the island, we saw others on our trip north a few days ago, two of which were in the process of being re thatched); the hayrick is built in the old style,and what better place to come across a Manx cat!These Loaghtan sheep with four horns must be a treat to shear!!We came through Port Erin,and Ian was delighted to be able to find, in the local bookshop, a book he'd been looking for.What an awesome tour I'm having of this exotic island!  Loving it![...]

A bucket-list crossing-off day!


One of the places I wanted to see, above all others was Castletown, IOM, and today I did.Castle Rushen is a wonderful medieval castle, which was built for defence in the Viking era, and subsequently added to.  It's in great condition, and I wished I'd had a good camera to do it justice.  Coming in to the castle over the drawbridge and through the portcullis.Looking down onto the courtyard, with the well in the middle - one of I think five wells within the walls, to cater for the people in the event of a siege - with the gallows to the right hand side.The castle was used as a prison for many years - these are some of the objects of torture. Most of the prison areas were too dark for me to get reasonable photos.  It was at various times home to political prisoners, debtors, and those awaiting execution.  Access to the different levels was by the original narrow, steep spiral stairs.During the English Civil War, in the mid 1600s, Castle Rushen became one of the last strongholds of the Loyalist cause of Charles I against the parliamentary forces of Oliver Cromwell, and was visited by many leading supporters of the King.  When The Lord of Mann was ordered to surrender the castle, he replied that should he be troubled with any further orders of this sort, he would "burn the paper and hang the messenger".  And was left in peace.The banquet hall, Lord's Chambers, kitchens (surprisingly small!) are all set out in the decor of a certain age of the castle, as of course they wouldn't have looked the same in 1700 as they did in 1200.  Views from the battlements overlooking modern day Castletown.[...]

Wednesday - Peel, Tynwald, Manx Heritage Society


Viv and Ian belong to the Manx Heritage Society and arranged for me to be included in a small select group who were shown around the archives of the Douglas Museum Library Archives.  It was fascinating for a librarian to see behind the scenes on an island on the other side of the world!  From newspapers printed 300 years ago, court records, professional and home videos taken in Mann, to plans, posters, photos, postcards, shipping records, birth- death- marriage- records - these archives are available to anyone doing any sort of research, from school projects to the BBC.  Very impressive!We walked down to the Museum through the shopping district of Douglas.These buildings along the Promenade were boarding houses back in the day when ferries brought holidaymakers over from England for a weekend by the seaside.  Many are still bed and breakfast places, but the heyday of a weekend in Douglas has passed.  They're rather grand, aren't they!After lunch we took a drive over to St John's, the site of Tynwald Day, where the Isle celebrates their parliament! the oldest continuous parliament in the world.  Read more about it here.The Royal Church of St John the Baptist, Looking from Tynwald HillIan drove us to Peel,where I was fascinated by Peel Castle constructed in the 11th century!  Pretty ancient!View on the way back - looking towards Mt SnaefellTowards DouglasI'm still catching up on relaxing - so good to get lovely sleeps each night![...]

Touring the Isle of Man


This morning we rose at a civilised hour and I was taken on a tour of part of the Island. Viv outside hers.The delightful houses in this street, quite typical of the area.It was pleasantly raining, and I am delighted to report that the warm clothes that filled my suitcase which Ivan (tour bus driver) lugged in and out of hotels and on and off buses for me through Central Europe weren't just on a bit of a Grand Tour of their own, but now are being worn!Viv and I went north-east to Laxey on the electric tram, and were met by Ian, who then drove us to the enormous waterwheel.  I've seen this on many a calendar but - like many of the wonders I've seen on this trip - no photo did it justice.  It's MUCH bigger than I'd realised!  In fact it is the largest working waterwheel in the world.From there we went north - as far north as you can go "without getting your feet wet" as Viv said.  We were 16 miles or 26 km from Scotland at that point, the closest point to mainland Britain.  This is the Point of Ayre, Northern Ramsey.  Had the day been clearer we would have been able to see Scotland, and as we drove down the Western side of the Island, Ireland was visible out to the right.By now it was time for refreshments and homemade tomato soup at the village of Bride was perfect.This is country that looks very similar to what I imagine much of rural Ireland must look like, and in fact I'm told that they have a healthy film industry here, with some of the movies "set in Ireland" actually having their outdoor scenes set on the Isle  of Man.  "The Waking of Ned Devine" is one of them.We came back through Kirk Michael, and to Onchan via the TT track, starting at Ballaugh Bridge, to the start/finish point.  It must be awesome seeing the motor bikes roaring round those corners at speeds of up to 180mph - about 290kph!!!What a lovely place this is!  More photos in the next few days in the sunshine, but the few today might give a little idea of where we went today.[...]

From London to Douglas


New Zealand has voted.
National Party back in.
No surprises there.  But I am pleased that some of the clowns standing in their own interests (Internet Mana maybe?!) didn't get any seats.  Life I guess goes on....

So!  London City Airport and a lovely walk in the Thames Barrier Park with Sue beforehand.  Check out how these barriers will protect London (or the important parts of it?) from flooding.

London is such an interesting city!  And they have educational exhibits explaining such things as this, the Thames barriers.  I like London a lot.

And free, working, efficient wifi at the airport!  It isn't always so.

-  -  -

Now I've taken a short flight on a Saab 2000, and am relaxing in Douglas, Isle of Man!

Oh my days!  
I've finally made it to the Isle of Man after 50 odd years of "must" "one day" "if only" ......

So wonderful to be with my friends in their lovely home on this ancient island at last!

Back in England


 Good crossing of the English Channel, apparently the ship used its stabilisers as the sea was quite rough (so we were told by public announcement).   It was nothing compared to many of the Cook Strait crossings I've been on, and very smooth compared to Foveaux Strait.

Hello White Cliffs of Dover!

There's something akin to "being back in home country" in landing in England!  That's unexpected!

Our tour party split in Paris, after joining up with another Trafalgar Tour Group, with those heading to Charles de Gaulle Airport going one way, and those heading back to London going another.  We London-bound travellers changed buses, said goodbye to Graham and now come under the wing of the other Tour Director Lucien.  These people are awesome and dedicated to making our travelling problem- and stress-free and they are one of the signal benefits of travelling like this.  Lucien has already been in contact with Sue to make meet-up arrangements, checked my baggage allowance for my flight to Douglas tomorrow - and that's just for me!  He's doing similar services up and down the coach.

In London!  Had a lovely meal with Sue and Neil and family and am now blissfully in bed.  Been an exhausting couple of weeks!  Three weeks tomorrow since I left New Zealand and the time has just flown.  It's been filled to the brim with so many rare and wonderful sights that I had never expected to see, I'm quite dazed by actually being here!

Isle of Man tomorrow!  Excited!



Firstly, Notre Dame.A wonderful cathedral.  So much more spiritual than any of the other famous churches.  It contains a wall around the altar/sanctuary so that in olden days the pilgrims could walk around on their pilgrimage while Mass was going on.  Today it is used by tourists, but NOT during Mass.  We have progressed!Other sights - Versailles, the Seine...Then the Louvre.Oh my days.  Another hot museum, but I stayed upright, but need to leave hot, people-filled museums off my list. And we didn't even have to queue - this is CERTAINLY one of the benefits of being with an organised tour.What awesome object d'art are in this place!  From the ancient civilisations of Greece, Egypt, Rome,and of  course more modern (but not recent modern).The Louvre is an ancient (rebuilt) fortress, and we walked around the original moat!Up the Eiffel Tower!  So clear!  Such views!Boating on the Seine by night...So tonight is our last night in Paris.   The last night of two weeks in Europe.  I've met showers which offer no obvious manner of operation, toilets which require you to put your used toilet paper into a bin rather than down the loo, ordered food and drink without a really clear idea of what to expect, I've met wonderful people - it's been a great adventure!  But I've seen things that I seriously never imagined I'd see.The Louvre!  St Peter's at the Vatican!Oh the Colosseum!  Schönbrunn Palace!And the London places!The Tower!Buckingham Palace!The Globe Theatre!The Thames!Just a few highlights that spring immediately to mind.And I've made connections.  The history of Austria connects with the history of France through Mary Antoinette - just one example.  I think history has come alive so much now from seeing the buildings and hearing the history as we went through each area.  It's been wonderful!The trip isn't over - just the Central European part![...]

Up in the clouds in Lucerne, Switzerland


This morning we have an early wake up call to get up to Mt Pilatus before the rest of the tourist horde.Realising the extent of the tourist market is a real epiphany for me.  Cities such as the ones I've visited are INVADED by coach loads and ocean-liner loads of organised tour parties and it is true that I had no idea of the extent or value of this industry. But then I didn't realise the lottery Italian toilets were either - they might flush while you're still using them, not flush at all, have a sprung toilet seat that you virtually have to sit on to get to go down, oh but wait! A toilet seat!  Yay, that's unusual!  They may flush by a pedal, a handle, a button, a sensor (watch out for these ones, unpredictable!) or you may be left trying to work out how to flush it at all!  And - as in Germany, Austria and The Netherlands, they'll cost between €0,30 - €0,80 every time you use them.  One of our party reckons she's spent about US$25 on piddling so far!Anyway, they seem free here in Switzerland.  And we have electric kettles in our rooms again!But I have to say, I DID like the Italian people.  Delightful, happy, kinda crazy but in a good way.So anyway we board the steepest cog-railway in the world for a 30 minute haul to the top of Mt Pilatus.  We have it to ourselves, so the early start was worthwhile.  We come back to thousands of bloomin' tourists and their coaches all waiting in long lines...  Our tour director Graham draws groans when he tells us about 6am wake up calls but that extra time spent in bed would be paid for by a far greater time standing in queues.  (I'll try and remember that tomorrow at the 5:45 am call - we need to get to Paris before the Friday rush hour....)Then we head out to the country to a working dairy farm - goats and cows.  Not as we know them in New Zealand!  This is small, with the animals being taken up the mountain to pasture - just as in "Heidi" - until the snow, when they are brought inside.  One of the community is a cheese maker, one a butcher, a lovely little artisan village where the farmers all work at other jobs to make a living.  We enjoyed travelling to this farm in Engelberg (The Angel of the Mountain) by horse and carriage, and the villagers were so friendly and pleased to see us.  Here, off the main tourist track somewhat, we tourists haven't yet become a necessary evil, but are a bonus to income and the villagers are proud to show us how things are still done in the traditional way.The cheese and beef were delicious, as was the strudel.  And the coffee with schnapps just the thing for the cold!An early night tonight!  We travel all day tomorrow to reach Paris!Friday - in ParisI didn't post this yesterday because when I went to download the photos, couldn't find the camera.... Maybe left it on the coach....No, it's probably someone's new treasure after my leaving it on the washbasin area in toilets in Engelberg ....  Bugger.But thank you so much to Catherine Y who loaned me her gadget so I've been downloading my photos to the ipad every evening!  So I've lost only a camera, and one day of photos.Now the question is, do I try and buy one here in Paris, with no French, but it would mean I could take photos here, or do I wait till London and put the lack of photos down to a travelling experience?I could take my ipad - SO many people do! - for the last 24 or so hours.....[...]

Our modern Roman dinner of the day before yesterday, more kindness, and another boat trip - this time in Switzerland


WednesdayThis morning at breakfast I am met with much solicitation.  How genuinely kind people are!  Two Australian women who are travelling with their mother on this trip shyly present me with a beautiful pashmina which they bought for me yesterday as I was missing out on the shopping!  I'm reduced to tears. But I need to make note of our Roman dinner.So on our last night in Rome, (Tuesday) being in Rome it was fitting to do as the Romans do and eat out at a family ristorante.  Most of the families in Rome live in city apartments - in fact this is true of everywhere I've travelled.  Houses and sections such as we have in New Zealand are the rarity.  The Roman apartments have very minimal kitchens, as most people eat out, so tonight we join the masses of people in the streets and make our way to an evening of delicious food, live entertainment, a few kisses and bum pinches and lots of laughter.  Actually having said that, and without photos, am not sure I know how to better draw it for you, suffice to say I'm glad I went, although was feeling a bit exhausted!Anyway, after breakfast, we make our way north west, and our morning tea break is a good opportunity to treat my fellow tourists to some lovely little Italian biscuits to thank them for their loveliness.We reach the border between Italy and Switzerland just after lunch.  It's the first time we've actually had a formal border stop - Switzerland not being part of the European Union - but we first leave Italy.  This border is the same formality we've met before, we are in a Belgian coach so are recognised in the EU, then roll forward a metre or so and are at the Swiss border.  We have been told to have our passports on us, as although bus checks are infrequent they do happen, and a delay in retrieving a  passport from the luggage compartment can encourage the Border Officials to ask for all manner of documents while they are waiting, resulting in a delay of some hours.  We are cleared immediately but the coach in front of us has been selected for a full passenger check.  We leave them to it and are in Switzerland!I am suddenly curious to know more about my Swiss great-grandmother who married my English great-grandfather.  I think she was a nanny?  Or did I make that up?!  But it's time I heard the story again from those elders still left to tell it!We have a competition to decide how long it will take us to make our way through the 16.9 km long St Gotthard tunnel (limit of 80k) and I win a toblorone by coming 3rd with 14 minutes 45 seconds.  Our driver Ivan is one skilled European coach driver, who has manoeuvred that giant bus round some steep and sharp roads, populated by far less talented drivers.Just after 4pm we are in Lucerne, and after hearing the story of Lion Rock, we visit this dreadfully sad monument representing the Swiss mercenary soldiers who were killed rather than abandon their - well, employers I suppose.  Such a beautifully sad face.Then a trip around Lake Lucerne - ahhhh!Me in my pashmina from Florence that will forever remind me of the kindness of peopleMt Pilatus - tomorrow we go up there,on the steepest cog-railway in the world...My travelling companionsAnd dinner at a traditional Swiss ale house, akin to the oompa evenings of Germany's beer-fest!  Great fun!  Although I leave early, needing my bed![...]

Fiorenze! Michelangelo's David, heat and kindness


Well, you know, it's hot, and this tourist thing IS pretty tiring.  One way to get around the  Academia to see Michelangelo's David in comfort, is to faint just as you're going through the security check at the door....

The first thing that registered when I came to, was a burly security official clutching my feet to his chest as I lay on the blissfully cold floor, and all I could think was "oh you poor, brave man!"  These are not dainty Cinderella feet, and the footwear has been worn constantly for weeks.  In high temperatures.

So yeah, got the wheelchair treatment, got to see David in comfort, and then an early taxi ride back to the hotel.

Florence is hot!  Rome was hot!  Venice was hot!
Do you get the sense that Italy is warmer than I expected?

But gosh, these people I'm with are awesome.
Solicitous, kind, checked that I wasn't a diabetic or needed to take any other medication, rang the tour director who was guiding another group of us through the streets of Florence, pushed my wheelchair, just totally lovely people.

So not many photos of Florence.  And a reminder to drink much more water than I have been.  Because it's very hot!
And room service dinner.
I was ready for a rest and an early night, just didn't expect to get it with such publicity!

Rome - the Vatican and the Colosseum


Feet much better after a night's raised rest, which is good as there's quite a bit of walking to do.  We get an early start as we have a booking at the Vatican, to avoid the crowds, so no waiting in line for us.  Another advantage of an organised tour!I've got almost no comment to make, because words and even pictures are just so insufficient.The Vatican Museum and St Peter's are more/bigger/more impressive than I could have imagined.Swiss guards checking documentation at the border.And the Colosseum.   Seriously!  Ancient and marvellous, and so much of it still standing. We also walked past some of the city walls dividing Italy from Vatican.  The Roman Aqueduct.  Just mind-boggling to be actually in the presence of these antiquities.Tonight we go out to a Roman  banquet! [...]



A long drive over the mountains from Venice to Rome, made uncomfortable by a bit of heat rash in the sock area from yesterday, and swollen ankles.  Common after a week on the bus.  I'm fortunate in that travelling by myself, I have a double seat to spread out on, and sit rather inelegantly so my feet are raised.  It helps.Tuscany!Rome!  And we take a leisurely walking tour. Traffic ignores pedestrians on crossings - our local guide advises not to look at the cars.  Apparently if the driver realises you've seen them approaching, they'll expect you to get out of the way.  But if you make no sign you know they're there, they're more likely to be the one to take evasive action.  "Don't make eye contact!"It's good advice in dealing with the many street sellers too.  If they catch your eye, you'll get the hard sell. Cars are everywhere.  Stopped, empty, moving, everywhere.  When the parking at the side of the road is full, they just pull up along the middle of the road, and hop out.  New parking lane!Ancient, ancient city.  Remains that predate Christ.  Buildings that have stood for 1800 years.  The Pantheon.  Still used as a Basilica.The Trevi Fountain is in the process of restoration.So many tourists!  The locals must get so tired of them!  (Us!)  And we stopped for dinner.  Real Italian pizza in a real roman plaza. Fantastic!  I actually ate that whole thing!  Did share the bottle of wine - thought I was ordering a glass......! Tonight we stay at a hotel in the Vatican State, a former Franciscan Convent.   It's not old - I was expecting it would be.  There is internet, but it's too slow and I'm too tired to bother.  And my conversion plug - which has worked all over Europe - seems slightly too large for the point.  A sign!  An omen!  Good night![...]

Venice! A FOUR-boat day!


Breakfasts in London, Amsterdam, Germany and Austria have all been monumental displays of the best - one can choose from (or of course some of each!) cereals, fresh fruit, yoghurt, toast, jams, bacon, eggs, sausages, baked beans, salads, cold cuts of meat, cheeses, croissants, pastries, the list goes on and on!  Then there are the varieties of fruit juice, the types of coffee, the blends of tea, hot chocolate....In Italy it's a little different.For a start they don't do toast.  They barely do cereal (choice of cornflakes or all-bran).  They don't do tea.The eggs were apparently reconstituted, so I guess they don't do eggs.  Cake and coffee?  Yes they do do those!But fortified as befits the country we're in, we head out again by motoscafi to Canale della Guidecca to the island of Guidecca or Solla Della Guidecca to see the glassblowers demonstrate their art.  I've seen glassblowing before, in Hokitika, New Zealand, and this was very similar, except for the amount of gold and the bright sharp colours produced by the precious metal ores used.The finished products are exquisite, and sell for sums of Euros with many zeros after the figure!!  I have to admit to buying myself a necklace made of their glass beads, it is very lovely!Back to the boats and over to Murano and St Mark's Square.  This is fascinating.  As the tides turned, you could see water bubbling up between the tiles on the ground, and it wasn't long before a wooden stilted walkway appeared so we didn't get wet feet.  We went into St Mark's Church, likewise on this walkway, while the water swirled over the ancient mosaic floor beneath us.  The church is slowly sinking into the sea. Many of the buildings are, because of the number of motor boats and big ships allowed in.Do they not realise they are allowing tourists to destroy that which they come to see?We came out of the church to this woman begging. I photographed her as she had her face hidden, she seemed so abject that I couldn't pass without giving her a couple of euros, although others said she'd assumed various positions around the plaza earlier in the day.  She has her hand on the raised walkway, which we had to walk over as we left the church.  The water hadn't reached where she was kneeling.A walking tour around the thin, narrow back streets, brought us to places where ordinary people lived.  No traffic of course, and neighbours very close to each other, hearing everything that goes on!   And some shopping and wandering time.   Several of these shrines to Our Lady were in the ordinary streets.Then by motoscafi - more damage done to buildings! - to the beautiful island of Burano where we had a superb late lunch/early dinner here.Oh these Italians certainly know how to enjoy good food!I was too hungry to photograph the food before I ate it - pasta, risotto, seafood lasagne, calamari, prawns, salad, (yes all of that for each of us), plenty of wine and water, then finally these dipped into wine, mmmmm, and this,And coffee and amaretti!And into the sunshine to shop before a return to the hotel by boat again.A stunning four-boat day, AND a little bit of shopping!That meal was one of the best I've eaten.  And somehow seeming simple and "with family". Very happy![...]

I arrive in Venice, Italy and explore the Grand Canal


I'm in Italy!  I'm actually in Italy...Yesterday we said goodbye to Vienna, but not to Austria until after lunch, as we drove over the Dolomite Mountains.  It was a fairly long trip, so what better way to say farewell to Austria than by watching The Sound of Music!  Still brings me to tears still certain parts, and brought back memories of my girls and I knowing the words not only of the songs, but of the entire movie script which drove our menfolk out of the tv lounge about 20 odd years ago!  Good times!!We stopped for lunch here - where I had THE BEST APPLE STRUDEL IN THE WORLD!! - near the border with Italy and drove down to Venice.And boarded small boats to go through the Grand Canal!Oh my days I'm in Venice on the Grand Canal!  And although it looks just like the pictures, it's also so much more than any tv programme or picture could describe!Not all the boats on the canal were small, the Port of Venice is on this canal and there were biggish cruise liners docked, and after being told that it's the boat motors which are causing the buildings to rot at the water line, stirring up air bubbles which traditional water transport didn't, I wonder that they allow any motors.It was pretty impressive, for all that.After a short walking tour - we use headsets so our guide doesn't have to shout - around the area, we boarded gondolas to be serenaded by a singer and accordionist through the very narrow alleyways.  This was awesome.  Here there were families going about their usual evening routines and children playing around their homes.Back to the motoscafi  - (water taxi) bigger ones this time - to return to our coach.Tonight we stay at another lovely hotel Laguna (?) and dine there, our first Italian meal on Italian soil -   pasta served to each of us at table from a giant dish, then turkey, and a delicious cake/tart dessert.  I love these countries that value eating so highly!!And we are ready for our beds!It's been a full day!Any day with three boat trips is a superb one!  Good night![...]

Vienna, Austria! We enjoy the fine life... And it rains on our parade


We toured the summer palace of the Empress Maria Theresia who is venerated here for all the great and good social and cultural benefits she brought to Austria.  The Schloß Schönbrunn is perhaps familiar as the venue for performances by Andre Reiu and it's pretty awe-inspiring.  After visiting Buckingham Palace last week, I'm looking at it like the next rung of the gilt-and-wealth ladder.  Maria Theresia's youngest daughter was Marie Antoinette who went to the guillotine in the French Revolution, so it was a display of the excesses of the generation prior to that.I'm not shopping my way around Europe, not bringing back souvenirs, but I did buy a birthday present for a princess granddaughter at this Austrian Palace!And then it rained.We carried on with the tour, not all of it under cover, and I made use of my pashmina as a head covering.  Shawls and scarves are great, being so adaptable for the changes in climate as we travel in these different regions.We visited the Palace of Franz Josef (well renowned in New Zealand) and the Spanish Riding School.  Here the horses were just beginning their exercise, but not their dancing.I decided against the shopping in Vienna, my umbrella and raincoat being back at the Danube Waterfront Hilton, and took advantage of the coach going back there to get some dry clothes and chill out before the evening banquet and concert.It's been ten days since I left New Zealand, and it was pretty hectic in the week or two before that, settling Mum into her new home, so this few hours of solitude and luxury was perfectly timed.I'm liking Austria.  Vienna is quite stunning, an unusual capital city in that it isn't huge.  If there were beggars here I didn't see them.  Maybe the rain played a part in that?  I could come back here for a week or more!10:30pmJust back from a superb dinner and an evening of Viennese musical entertainment, involving an orchestra, two ballet items and a few arias.  Truly stunning and entertaining!And a chance to bring something other than jeans and sneakers out of the suitcase!Tomorrow we leave for Italy.  Italy!  I'm very excited!![...]

Awesome Österreich! The hills are alive.....


IBreakfast in Innsbruck and although I thought it a tad early for wurst, it's never too early for cake!  Austria being famous for torte and other delicacies, it was in the interests of enjoying the complete travel experience to have cake with my breakfast.  After the cereal and fruit of course, I didn't go completely overboard.Austria is dotted with villages, each with its own church whose tall spire/roof is usually green.  Very picturesque!  They still use the traditional barns where cattle are kept indoors over the winter, and the house is often built abutting the barns, to make use of the warmth of the beasts in heating the house.  No doubt the smell travels alongside the warmth!We were apparently lucky to have a lovely fine day in Salzburg where it has been raining every day for the last four weeks!  Our tour guide Veronica walked us around the city and pointed out the various churches and buildings of importance in Mozart's life.I struggle to cope with the beggars.  They are everywhere.  Every couple of shops there's another one sitting there supplicating.   They are all ages, male or female, many with a sad looking dog or crutches, and they sit silently.  There were more in Salzburg than I saw in Germany, but they were there too, and in Amsterdam.  I want to give them all money, I want them not to need to beg.  We have been told to ignore them, and they are endless.  But it saddens me greatly.This river, the Salz, has become famous for the padlocks on the bridge with which lovers declare their undying love for each other and toss the keys into the water!  I think it featured in an episode of The Amazing Race in which contestants had to find the padlock that fitted the key they were given.Salzburg is obviously still benefitting from "The Sound of Music"! We were shown many of the places where it was filmed, and apparently in the movie when Maria leaves the Convent and comes through this archway (in the background, right) and goes towards this fountain, the REAL Maria is just behind her. I'll have to watch it again!  She is apparently a shorter, rounder person and was objecting to the romanticising  of her story, but ended up having this little cameo.Other pictures in Salzburg.  Little lanes and alleyways through from one street to the next.Another wonderful market - I liked the look of this cheese-cutter!And summer is drawing to an end, so it's berry season all through here   I'm treating them as sweets and trying to avoid the chocolate - it's the home of Lindt!Some photos from last night's dinner in Innsbruck which was a typical meal of the region. After dinner I took a stroll around the town - we were told it was an extremely safe area and encouraged to do this.  It was lovely!  Warm and full of people, but it didn't seem like any city at night that I know.  Just - well - safe!This building I photographed because of the age of it - so much of this region is really really old!Danube Hilton, Vienna!  Oh my days!  My room could house the entire von Trapp family!  Very luxurious.I've done washing in the elegant basin, draped it around the finely appointed room.  Some people just never rise above their station...And we're here for two nights.Later - Just back from the most hilarious random and bizarre evening at The Marchfelderhof. It's quite beyond explanation, quite beyond capturing by camera.  But one of the best nights I've had for a lo[...]

We wake in Mannheim Germany, lunch in Munich, and dine and sleep in Innsbruck, Austria


What a difference a 9 hr sleep makes!After another impressive breakfast, we hit the road again and head to Munchen (Munich).I've got to say, this is the way to travel by yourself when you're a little beyond the wild adventure of going where the wind blows you!You see the things you want to, have time to chill/shop/whatever, no queues to "must see" attractions, someone else lifts your bags for you, meals are prepared and served (apart from the lunches and other local delicacies you buy along the way,) there is as much or as little company as you want, nice hotels - and if you have a yen for it, I've seen a McD's in almost every place we've been! We seem to be an unusually compatible and considerate group - there is no one who is perennially late, no one loudly moaning, none of those annoying personalities that can grate in groups such as this.So today, after heading south down the west of Germany yesterday, we now head east.The first thing I notice is that the weather is cooler.Yay!  I'm a happy girl!  I NEED the weather to cool down so that it matches the clothes in my case!And then it's trucks.  Oh my days trucks everywhere!  The highway is full of them - big, new, fast and from all over Central Europe.Hops!  Fields and fields of hops.  Well that beer has to come from somewhere!And solar panels like "crops" at the side of the roads.  Replacing nuclear power.I'm adjusting to being on the wrong side of the road but still catch my breath sometimes in the narrow streets when a vehicle roars towards us on the left!But the most entertaining thing this morning was the toilet system a couple of hours south of Mannheim.So after you've made yourself comfortable, you stand, wave your hand in front of a sensor, and watch.  Firstly a normal flush.  Then a blue dispenser juts forward at the back of the seat, and with the noise of a small weed-eater, dispenses a small quantity of disinfectant as the seat slides forward and slowly rotates!  It caused us much hilarity and meant the pit stop was rather less speedy than anticipated! And apparently the seats in the Herren (men's) didn't have the same entertainment as those for the Damen!Okay, no photo of that...but I know you wanted to know that improvements and developments in the area of personal care are on the way. However I'm told that although in other parts of Europe they have the same system, they have different results....because the Germans are particular about maintenance it works for them, but in Italy you may have water shooting up as you stand or any other possibly-imagined disaster. Munich and lunch time. I headed for the permanent market of local produce, JUST a tad bigger than the Hastings Farmers' Market!!More churches, more bikes, more smoking, but a clean city.Then on the road to Austria. My girls will be pleased to know we were accompanied by the songs from The Sound of Music!And we have arrived in Innsbruck.  Beautiful!  Camera needs to get recharged, so pictures tomorrow. Tonight we have a Regional Meal - more about that when I know more about it![...]



Tiredness is setting in now - there is grumbling in the lifts about the 6am wake-up calls!  I need a really good night's sleep, with no 4am body-clock alarm.  Or a nice early night...  It's going to happen tonight!We're in Mannheim.  No free internet, so this can wait.:  -  :  -  :  -  :  - :  -  :  - :  -  :  - :I chose this particular tour because of the variety of transport, and the number of times we will take to the water.  It's proved a good decision!Today we left Amsterdam and travelled through Arnheim to Cologne. Our tour director is a history major and entertains us with interesting historical commentaries and stories as we travel, so today of course - the Battles of Arnheim and the Bulge and Operation Market Garden, the attempt by the Allies to hold the bridges over the numerous canals and get a significant force right there on Germany's doorstep.And to Cologne.  This town was originally established as a Roman garrison in 38AD.  its proximity to the Rhine made it an important staging post for transport.The building of the Cologne Cathedral was begun in 1248.  And only finished in 1880.  Makes modern building project hold-ups seem pretty mild....The Cathedral is Gothic and huge, dominating the landscape.An architectural and construction wonder.But not a spiritual one in any way.  Inside were dozens of people chatting, photographing, lighting votive candles, doing almost anything but pray.I left it and wandered off to buy a postcard to send to Mum.  And again found actually posting postcards to be in the too-hard basket.  Postcards are for sale all over the place, but obviously people just take them home, because postboxes are pretty-well non-existent.  If I can buy stamps I give the mail to the hotel concierge to post.  But e-mail is king!Photos will tell the story as we sailed between Boppard and St Goar on the Rhine.A cute street in St Goar.Quote of the day (I offer it without comment, although the fact that I offer it at all is a comment in itself..)A really nice Texan couple telling me about their part of Houston, they live in the country where every crop you can name grows.  "Yessiree, ma'm, all that fresh stuff growing right on the doorstep and healthy?!  The skies are criss-crossed by planes spraying herbicide, pesticide, defoliant, you can't get healthier than that."[...]



So - Amsterdam! We arrived on a Sunday afternoon, and spent five hours seeing the city by three different modes of transport."We" incidentally are a bus-load of 48 travellers, mostly Americans and Australians with about four from Canada, and four or five of us from New Zealand.  Our Tour Director Graham was born and grew up in New Zealand before taking himself off to settle in UK.  Many of the Americans have been to New Zealand (Queenstown) and all have a good impression of it/us.  Not so much of our neighbours across the Tassy.  But we're a pleasant group.  They are nice people!  It seems a relaxing way to holiday around foreign countries!So firstly, we went on an orientation drive around the city.  Sunday afternoon, sunny, families out biking, dining, groups out shopping, smoking, dining, hanging out.  Tall thin houses, busy, crowded, cyclists have their own paths, but there are cyclists EVERYWHERE!!  On their paths, the road, the footpath... Looks like a great place to meet up with people.Then we went for a walk around the city.  Oh my days!  At ground level this place is CHAOTIC!!  Although there are cycling paths, and roads, there are pedestrians and cyclists all over the place - walking around, there seems to be no clear delineation between street/traffic/bikes.  Cyclists do have their own traffic system alongside that of other vehicles.My city, Hastings, New Zealand has introduced cycle lanes on the road between the car parking and driving lanes.  Holland is often quoted as being the example.  But over here, the cyclist has kudos.  Dedicated traffic system.  Not just lanes, but in many places separate cycling roads.Part of the walk took us through the Red Light District.  Now we were warned, I need to say that.  But hey, I'm mature, I know about stuff, you know, I'm not very shockable.  And I was shocked.  These were real people, displaying their attractions in their ground-floor windows just a metre from us.  From people passing by.  The streets here are very very narrow.  We were told no cameras but the Americans among us couldn't resist.  Not all - I must say that a couple of them pronounced their moral righteousness and declined to take part in this section of the walk.  But it was sad to see these young women degrading themselves in public on a Sunday afternoon with children playing nearby and tourists gawking.  For the rest of it - at ground level I found Dam Square and the area around to be noisy, dirty, crowded, and dangerous with the mix of vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians.  Did test the frites - hot chips with a mayonnaise like (but different-tasting). Was pleased to move on to the next part, the canal cruise.Ah the waterways!  Best told by photos!  Lovely!  Quiet, busy, just delightful and the perfect antidote to Amsterdam on foot.Anne Frank's hideout.[...]

From London by Eurostar and coach to The Netherlands


Today we left London by St Pancras' Station - plenty of time waiting there to admire it.  It was opened in 1868, and the modern lifts and escalators stand inside the impressive Victorian curves and brickwork.

We took the Eurostar under the English Channel - how amazing is that!

We had popping ears, was it the 250ft depth perhaps?  The train is quiet and smooth, and we crossed the top of France before stopping in Belgium and boarding our coach.

Belgium as it passed my window
This is the view from my Amsterdam hotel window.

Right now I need some sleep!
It's been a full day and I have much to muse on!
Tomorrow if I wake early enough, I'll share it with you!
Good night!