The Plan

Starting off in Sydney we head over to the US for a few days in Los Angeles, then Las Vegas and finally over to the Big Apple. Then off again, down to Cuba for about 18 days for some old cars, cigars and Baccardi. After that we head north, this time to Toronto in Canada for a whistle stop before crossing the Atlantic to the UK. One of the highlights there will be a week down on the Isle of Wight. Jetting off again we will then spend approximately the next two months driving around Italy and France. After all that hard work we journey over to Greece where we will island hop using the local ferry systems, with 3 nights on Santorini, 3 nights of Mykonos and 3 nights on Paros. Yep, we love doing the tourist stuff! Finally we begin the long haul home stopping off on the way in Honkers for a little retail therapy.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Friday, 14 August 2015

Hong Kong

We have been very busy the last few days. We left the Greek Island of Santorini and headed back to Athens by slow, really slow ferry and spent two nights in Athens before jetting out to Rome again for one night then a flight to Hong Kong where we have been for the last few days.
Usually I stay over on Kowloon, but this time we are staying on HK Island and it has been a very pleasant change.
Over here there is a tram system that runs from one end of the island to the other. The wood framed double decker trams cost about 20 cents to ride, no matter how long the trip. Needless to say we have travelled the trams a fair bit to save giving our legs further workouts. The only problem is they are very slow and because the weather has been a bit off the last few days, they leak. But they are a real hoot to ride.
We have travelled on the excellent train system over to the other side and have taken the Star Ferry across as well. Transport is very inexpensive over here and it is quick with minimum waiting times.
We have been round to Causeway Bay where once there were heaps of old junks, But there are very few there now.
We of course, had fun with the pirates along Nathan Road, they offer the moon but never deliver, so we have been elsewhere for our shopping.
The first few days here were fine and hot, the weather has stayed hot but it is now raining, only lightly though - just enough that we have to cover our camera gear.
Just a few minutes ago, looking from our hotel room across the harbour to Kowloon there were some really ugly, heavy, menacing storm clouds up above, now they have disappeared.
Fingers crossed the bad weather goes as we want to go up to Victoria Peak and do some walks up in that area of HK and we now only have two days to do it.
We leave on Monday and get home Tuesday.
We are of course planning our next adventure - but it will be in Australia - we are thinking a couple of months up in the territory as we love it up there.
So trivia people we will see you on Wednesday night.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Mykonos, Paros and Santorini

Magical names that conjure up all sorts of beautiful images and thoughts. This was Mikes first visit to this wonderful region of Greece and I know it has not disappointed.
Our first stop was Mykonos. A beautiful little town nestled around the port and buzzing with tourists. Not surprising really when there were four big cattle carriers in town, oops I mean cruise ships. These multi decked ships carry thousands upon thousands of travellers and they all seem to descend at the same time. But at night, the ships leave and the place seems deserted - it's wonderful. Mykonos has many little back alleys, each flag stone of the footpath is outlined with white paint, add the glowing white of the buildings and the various shades of blue of the windows and doors, the bouganvillea adds a beautiful splash of colour, and I'm sure you get the picture. We wandered up to the iconic windmills one night along with thousands of others but it was almost impossible to get a decent image, yet next morning we almost had the place to ourselves. The ships had gone and the others must have still been in bed.
Our next island was Paros, a new island for me too and what a delight. It has all the whites and colours of Mykonos, the back lanes the great shops, the delightful tavernas but the best part was - no cruise ships, which in turn meant not many tourists. Such a relaxed and beautiful place, we want to go back again, but to stay for a couple of weeks and really enjoy the place. We hopped the local bus to the other end of the island one day and visited the second largest town, which is not as big as Avalon. We got talking to some fishermen and had the most beautiful calamari and mussels for lunch at an almost next to nothing price, all caught that morning. We were very sad to leave Paros.
Then it was on to Santorini. This is a stunningly beautiful place. We are staying in Thira the most central town on the island and have used the bus system to get around. Yesterday along to Oia, which like Thira is perched on the high walls of the volcano and the houses seem as though they will fall into the caldera thousands of feet below, they defy gravity. But as with Mykonos the cruise ships pull in early in the morning and the tourists arrive on mass. Yes, I know we are tourists too.
Today we bussed ourselves to the other end of the island to a little place called Akrotiri where there is to be found Greece's answer to Pompeii. This town was in existence seventeen centuries BC, that is until the volcano happened. Like Pompeii is was buried under mountains of lava and volcanic ash and it was not until the mid 1960's that work began to unearth the town. Although nothing like the size of Pompeii it is a remarkable site, we had no idea it was here.
Tonight is our last night, tomorrow we take a ten hour ferry ride back to Athens. We then have two nights in Athens before we fly back to Rome, hopefully Alitalia will not pull a strike. So one night in Rome then we fly over to Hong Kong for the final part of our mega adventure. (We could not fly to HK from Athens on Oneworld Frequent Flyer points, hence the trip back to Rome).
Then the adventure ends for us when we arrive home on or about August 17th. First stop for me - my hairdresser - I'm looking like a woolly mammoth.

Monday, 27 July 2015

3 countries in almost 3 days

We have been such busy little travellers.
First up we had a few days in the beautiful city of Lyon. Being the experienced little travellers that we are we conquered the local train system and very quickly on the first day found ourselves right in the heart of Lyon. It is a very graceful city, situated at the confluence of two rivers, the Rhone and the Saone and is Frances' third largest city.
It was a stinking hot day and being a wee bit weary from the hectic pace we have been keeping we decided to just take the day very slowly. So we really only managed to check out the cathedral (being renovated) before jumping onto the funicular which took us to the top of the hill to the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere. This is a magnificent cathedral with outstanding views of the city. Inside takes your breath away. It is stupendous. The walls and ceilings sparkle and glisten with the most intricate gold and blue mosaics. Magnificent.
And that was the last of our European cathedrals - we have done lots of them, each so different, but each equally stunning in it's beauty and architecture.
For entirely different architecture we visited the Musee des Confluences, a most incredible modern building that defies description. It's walls jut out at extreme angles and appear to be aluminium in colour. It sits at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone Rivers. It is modern architecture at it's extreme. Absolutely fabulous to look at from the outside and architecturally very interesting on the inside which is more than I can say for it's exhibits which were not overly interesting for a natural history museum. This building is similar to the Sydney Opera House in that it started out at one price and has now more than doubled in cost - but it has been worth it.
From Lyon we headed back to Italy, to firstly return the car (unscathed, phew) and to spend some time with the Piasco family and this time we had the pleasure of the company of Fabrizio and Sienna, who has now hit the grand old age of four. So we enjoyed two days of beautiful Italian hospitality and Giacominas wonderful cooking before leaving to fly to Greece.
Alitalia decided to have a strike on the day we were flying from Turin to Rome, so we cut our losses and hopped on a train. It was actually great on the train and at least we knew we would not miss our flight next day to Athens.
So Athens is where we can now be found. We have done the Acropolis and Parthenon and it was gridlock with tourists. Still Mike had never seen it before and I know he enjoyed it. We have just been wandering today and plan similar tomorrow. Then on Wednesday we take off for the islands, Santorini, Mykonos and Paros - so the islands are going to be our holiday. Just put the feet up, relax and veg out. Though we may take a photo or two!
Greece seemed so far away when we started this mega adventure, now we are here and in four weeks we will be home. Goodness.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Busy, busy, busy

Phew, we are exhausted.  There is just so much we have done over the last week.
We based ourselves in the town of St Lo - a small town over near the Atlantic coast in Normandy, that was almost blown of the face of the earth during WW11.  Needless to say St Lo is possibly one of the newest towns in France!!
Day one we hopped up the coast to one of my favourite towns in France, the beautiful fishing port of Honfleur. It is a tiny little harbour filled with yachts tied up to the seawall and surrounding the three sides of the seawall are of course the cafes, restaurants and tourist trap shops. It is an absolute delight of a place and so colourful, even when it rained. After wandering around the harbour we walked out to the mouth of the Seine, which is very wide at it's opening. On the opposite side of the river is Le Harve, the huge container terminal.
Day two we drove off in the opposite direction to another favourite - St Malo. We arrived early in the morning which enabled us to get a parking spot just near the city walls. Again this is a city that was almost blasted off the face of the earth in WW11, but was painstakingly restored to it's former glory. Again, lots of cobbled winding laneways, cafes, restaurants and shops, but it has so much character and personality. It faces the Atlantic Ocean and is subject to tremendous forces of nature, but all was calm when we were there so we actually managed to walk all the city ramparts. It was Bastille Day when we were there, but there was nothing happening, no-one in funny costumes or wearing the flag, nothing - so unlike Sydney. Maybe it all happens at night.
A trip to Normandy is not complete without visiting the Normandy landings, but before we got to the beaches we stopped off in Bayeaux to see the tapestry. Then on to the beaches. I think we visited them all and spent time at each one. The most interesting is Omaha which is where the US Cavalry arrived and sustained huge losses of life.  The town of Arromanches-Les-Bains the small village behind Omaha Beach was another village almost destroyed by mortar fire. We drove the 80 Km of beaches, finishing at the American Cemetery above Omaha. It is a beautiful graveyard, but so very sad to see a sea of white crosses that extend for as far as the eye can see. There are something like 9500 graves there and seen like that you get a great feel for the futility of war.
Our final visit in Normandy was to the magnificent Le Mont St Michel. Since my last visit they have put in a new bridge that is above the tide level, which means you can visit any time now, unlike the old causeway they had which made for a quick exit when the tide turned. New car parks have been built away from the abbey and special buses run backwards and forwards every 10 minutes. Backwards and forwards is the correct description for the buses, like the Manly Ferry these buses can be driven from either end.
Who can not be impressed by Le Mont St Michel. I think everyone is familiar with what it looks like, so it needs no description. Arriving early in the morning and once inside the entrance we took off as fast as our little legs would go to get to the top to visit the abbey without the hordes and masses that arrive mid morning. It is a long, long, steep climb to the top, but well worth the effort.  The views are glorious and the abbey defies description. How people built something so beautiful in such a precarious position one thousand years ago is incredible.
From St Lo we moved on to Chartres, firstly so we could visit the cathedral and also because of the proximity to Paris and Versailles.
The cathedral will one day be beautiful. At the moment is is almost all under wraps as over 1000 years of grime and pollution are being removed from its walls and beautiful blue windows. The parts that have been cleaned look magnificent, but unfortunately we were unable to see the cathedral in its full perspective.
Yesterday we headed in towards Versailles. We told the GPS where we wanted to go but it let us down, mega big time. Where it took us we have no idea, all I know was I was driving in Paris surrounded by mad french people who knew where they were going and who got very impatient when I spent too many seconds pondering where to go next.
Anyway we did get to Versailles eventually. The crowds were huge, we knew they would be, so we opted to do the gardens and then perhaps visit the palace in the afternoon. But the gardens were a disappointment, last time I was there it was a sea of colour, not so this time. We walked miles through the bottom gardens and saw a couple of brilliant water fountain displays to music, but decided that our legs were too sore so we gave the palace a miss, primed our collective psyches up for the drive out of Paris and headed back to the calm of Chartres.
Today we arrived in Lyon where we will be for the next three days. We hope to mainly veg out and collect our thoughts before heading back to Italy.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

The Loire Valley

We have had a wonderful 5 days based in Tours which has enabled us to visit some of the glorious chateaux here in the Loire Valley.
But first...Carcassonne.
Carcassonne was just a whistle stop for us on our way to the Loire Valley. Carcassonne is one of those rare, magical places that just happen. It rises up before you looking like some fairy tale castle and with its witches hat towers, you can just imagine Sleeping Beauty asleep in one of the towers and Harry Potter flying around on his broomstick.  We spent hours just wandering its cobbled streets looking at the shops that sell everything from nougat to nightwear and of course there are all the cafes and restaurants too.  Carcassonne today is just a pretty face but way back in medieval times it was an incredibly fortified castle. With a moat, two complete castle walls, two portcullis at each entry with drawbridge of course, this castle intended to defend itself against the Spaniards just down to the road and of course the nasty English. Time moved on, the castle was no longer required, a new city was built on the other side of the river and the castle fell into disrepair. Then in the mid 1800's one man decided to bring it back from the brink of ruin and thanks to him we have this amazing place.
Our first day in Tours was spent in the city itself.  They have a really nifty tram system here which got us into town in no time at all. We spent time in the medieval square, visited the Basilique St Martin, the Cathedrale St Gatien, an amazing cathedral with twin towers and flying buttresses and we did have time for a stroll along the banks of the Loire as well.
Next day we were up and out bright and early.  The Chateau de Chambord was to be the first of two we planned to visit that day but we ended up spending all day at the Chateau de Chambord. What an amazing place. Built by King Francois 1 as a hunting lodge (a weekender) this chateau can only be described as being perfection.  It is in your face beautiful, defies description.  Inside there are over 400 rooms, the centre piece though is a double helix staircase designed by none other than Leonardo da Vinci. We wandered inside for at least 3 hours, never entering the same room twice, did lunch, then spent another few hours out in the grounds. Just mind blowing.
Next day we visited Chateau de Cheverny.  This was a welcome revisit for me but first time for Mike. This chateau is graceful and elegant and spans the River Cher. It is not huge like Chambord and is set in beautiful gardens. We wandered around the chateau for quite some time then left at lunch time to go and visit Leonardos place at Le Clos Luce. It is called a chateau but really is just a big house. Leonardo lived here for the last three years of his life and it was in the gardens and environs here that he came up with many of his ideas of flight and movement in general and his continued study of human anatomy.
Today we visited Villandry. No visit to the Loire is complete without spending time in the beautiful gardens of Villandry, which are one of the top gardens in France. Ten gardeners are employed full time keeping the hedges trimmed, the vegies planted and the flowers pruned. Villandry is superb.
Tomorrow we choof off over to the Atlantic coast to spend time visiting Brittany and Normandy. St Malo, Mont St Michel, Honfleur and the Normandy beaches are on the itinerary for us.
Till next time.

Sunday, 5 July 2015


As always we managed to pack heaps of activities into the 3 full days we had in Aix en Provence. Our first day was rather laid back, we just wandered around the city, visited the many markets, wandered up back lanes, ate a bit and drank a bit.
The hardest thing was figuring out the bus system.  As we had no idea where our hotel was in relation to the city, we hopped on, what we were told was the correct bus, got to the city eventually but we went in the opposite direction, the long way. Thank heaven it was a circular route.
Next day we went to Marseille. Ranked as the third most dangerous city in the world, and second largest in France, we decided that those little statistics would not stop us, and were we glad we followed our instincts.
Marseille is just brilliant. Sure there are unsavoury types around, but they are everywhere, especially here in France and Italy.
The old harbour of Marseille has been transformed into a mega tourist place.  Lined with cafes, restaurants, the fishermen still sell their catch along the sea edge and there are yachts and boats anchored along the wharves and sea walls.  The whole place is just a riot of colour. We did do a little train ride (like the one at Darling Harbour) up to the Notre Dame de la Garde, which is a huge cathedral that sits atop the highest point in Marseille and from where you get 360 degree views of the city. It is too far to walk and also very steep to access the church, hence the train. Later in the day we did lunch in one of the cafes and just soaked up the atmosphere of the wonderful city.
Our final day was spent in the lovely old city of Avignon. We had anticipated a peaceful day wandering the streets and enjoying the ambiance, but instead we arrived to find the old city was positively jumping. It seems that in July Avignon hosts a month long festival of theatre. The streets were jam packed with people (tourists), theatre performers, musicians and locals. Every street and building was festooned with placards advertising the various performances that would be held throughout the month. This was not the sedate place we had thought we would find, but it was great fun.
We did get to the Palace of the Popes (Palais des Papes) though and were absolutely amazed at the size of the place, room upon room, passageways leading up and down and all over the place. A regular rabbit warren. The Popes actually did live in Avignon in the 1300's and it did not become part of France until 1791.  We did get down to the Rhone to see the Saint Benezet bridge (Pont d'Avignon). Originally this bridge was built with 22 arches. But it kept falling down so it was just left.
We left Aix en Provence this morning and are now in Carcasonne.  We plan to spend the best part of tomorrow in the old city so haven't rushed over there today to see it.  The entrance is only about 800 m from our hotel, we have sighted it but getting our washing done was the priority of the day.
It is very hot in France at the moment, it must be well over 37 today.
After our whistle stop tour of 2 night in Carcasonne we head off to Tours (I think).
Till then.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Cinque Terre

Our final fling in Italy was in the Cinque Terre region of Italy.  Staying in the small village of San Terenzo in Lerici we were but a boat ride away from the five villages that make up the renowned Cinque Terre.
The boat ride was a brilliant way to see the Italian Rivieria, so very relaxing and so incredibly scenic. All the villages are perched up high on what seem to be vertical cliffs. Painted in reds, oranges, yellows, pinks and blues these houses seem to defy gravity. These little fishing villages are very much tourist areas today and so there are lots of terrific cafes, bars and tourist shops in each village each trying to extract the tourist euro.
As the villages are built on such extreme terrain it means you also have to walk the extreme terrain, just getting off the ferry is quite an experience as there are no wharves or jetties. It all just adds to the fun.  But having hiked up the streets of a couple of the villages we certainly slept well that night.
We bid Italy farewell this morning and hit the road bound for France.  We arrived here in Aix en Provence late this afternoon and have not had time for exploration yet.
But tomorrow we will be out there bright and early to plan the mischief we can get up to over the next few days.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Matera and San Marino

Wow, what a few days we have had.
Firstly Matera.  It is 13 years since my last visit here and Mike's first.  The Sassi is the most intact troglodyte settlement in Europe. First settled back in Palaeolithic times when the first settlers dug their homes out of the rock and formed a series of caves that over the years became a town. By the late 1960's the inhabitants had been moved out by the then government and the place was just left, ignored, even though it is in the centre of a modern city. But in the early 2000's people started coming back and in 2005 it was decided that anyone could live in the Sassi. The exterior must remain the same, but the inside of the caves can now be adapted to suit. Hence today there are many little trendy B & B's, cafes, restaurants, architects offices and IT businesses.  The Sassi is on the move upwards and as there are now all the essential services there it is fast becoming a desirable address.
We spent about 4 hours wandering the streets, no tourists in sight, no bl**** Americans, in fact very few people at all.  Matera is just not on the tourist radar. Although from the outside it looks just the same, the streets are now clean, the whole place is tidy. I loved it again and Mike was totally blown away by the place.
San Marino.  It must have been some romantic book I read at some time that piqued my curiosity about San Marino. At 62 sq km is size, founded in 301 AD and perched about 750 meters above sea level on a mountain ridge, San Marino is the world's oldest republic and is totally surrounded by Italy.
We caught the train from Marotta where we are staying to Rimini then a bus to San Marino. Train travel is great in Italy. Ok they sometimes go on strike and leave you stranded and sometimes they just cancel trains and you have to hang about for hours waiting for another one to turn up, but when the system works, it is cheap and it is fast.  One of the best rail systems in the world.
San Marino is a romantic place, little narrow cobbled streets that wander about, lots of fascinating shops, great little cafes and restaurants and views that are to die for. The castles are like those out of story books even though they were built as a defensive structure.
Here in Marotta our hotel is opposite the beach, mainly pebbles on the public parts and imported sands on the private sections. As the train station is not too far away it has been an ideal base for us to stay.
Tomorrow we are off again, this time to Lerici which is just a ferry ride away from the Cinque Terre and lots of $$$$ cheaper. We will be there for only 2 nights then we cross over into France and head to Aix en Provence our base for a few days. Till then.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015


The last four nights of our travels have been spent in Campania, which is home to Pompeii, Naples, Sorrento and the Isle of Capri.
Unfortunately Mike came down with the tummy wobbles which really put paid to some of our plans. For those concerned about him, he is now on the mend and has sampled a beer so he must be getting better!
We were staying almost in the ruins of Pompeii which was a blessing in one way as it enabled us to just cross the road to visit the ruins, spend a few hours there then hurry back to our accommodation so that he could lie down for a rest.
We had planned on visiting Naples but illness put paid to that idea.
Fortunately we did get to Sorrento yesterday and then hopped the ferry over to the Isle of Capri. It is a beautiful coastline in that area and I think it did wonders for Mike being out in the fresh air. We jumped on the funicular which took us to the top of Capri, where we wandered around then walked back down via back lanes that tourists just don't get to. The views were great and it is always fun looking into peoples yards.  Italians certainly make use of every available inch of land - there are always veggie patches and, for this part of Italy, lemon trees with huge lemons.  We do love our Limoncello!!
Nik, I tried to find that path we walked, without success, as I recall it was a stunning walk along the cliff tops.
Anyway, we ended up opting to go on a boat trip around the island, the aim being to keep Mike off his feet for a while and of course to see the island from the water.  We thought we had booked on to a proper cruise boat. Wrong. It was an open top motor launch. For 2 hours we bobbed about on the ocean, sometimes gently, most of the time not so gently.
We were taken into several caves and caverns around the island, all very interesting.  The highlight for some, not us, was the Blue Grotto.
Our launch joined a veritable herd of other boats and launches all amassed around the inlet where the grotto is located.  For thirteen euros per head they then take you into a dinghy, make you lie down flat, squeeze through a small cave entrance, stay inside the grotto for maybe 2 minutes and return you to your own vessel. Those who did it said it was great, personally we figured that kind of money buys a pretty good dinner.
I will not go into detail about our accommodation in Pompeii, I knew from previous visits that the place is not the greatest but I really had no idea we would be staying in a brothel - that is not a joke!
We moved on today and are now located in a beautiful hotel in Matera, which only cost about 20 euros more per night than the brothel in Pompeii. For those who have never heard of Matera go and visit
I visited it a few years ago and am so looking forward to taking Mike to see it - it is an incredible place.  If we have time later in the day I hope we can get to Trulli,, another fascinating place.
We only have 2 nights here before we push of again, so not sure when or from where the next post will be done.

Friday, 19 June 2015


This post finds us up in the hills of Tuscany, in an olive grove, looking down into a valley, where somewhere in the distance lies Florence. It is so peaceful and quiet here. As is common in Italy, this place has it's own little trattoria and bar, which we have availed ourselves of each night. We chose this place because it was central to visiting Florence, Siena and Pisa and also because they run a shuttle bus each morning down to the local station where the trains run very frequently to the above mentioned towns. Of course they do come and pick you up again at night. This has worked out well as it is a 5 km climb up the hill to where we live then a further 5 km to Empoli where the station is, so it has saved us a lot of grief with driving and parking.
On our first day we decided to go to Florence. Down to the station we went, purchased our tickets from the machine, looked up at the departures board to see which platform we needed to be on, when suddenly the whole board went blank, then all trains to Florence were cancelled. We then discovered that there was a train strike, no trains would be running until 5 pm. Just great!
We then noticed there was one train listed as heading in the opposite direction - to Pisa. This train turned up about an hour later so we hopped on board. Knowing that 'the sights' of Pisa are all confined to one place I knew we would not require a full day there, what extra time we would have could be spent wandering the city. Which is exactly what we did. The Leaning Tower, Cathedral and Baptistery are all beautifully preserved so we spent several hours admiring them.
That afternoon it was bedlam on the station not knowing when or if a train would arrive to take us back to Empoli. It was not until about 5.45 pm before a train arrived and it was a mad scramble to get on. We were jammed in like sardines.
Now for my 'only an American' tale. Sitting further along in the carriage were two American couples. The train started on its way, when the big motor mouth jumped up and declared that the train was going the wrong way and they would all have to get off at the next station. This train was going to 'fur n zee' he declared, they wanted to get to Florence. So despite other passengers telling him he was going the right way, he insisted his group get up then and there to be ready for the next station. The next station just happened to be 40 minutes down the track, we think he thought it was like the NYC underground and the next stop was a few minutes away. As it so happened we got off at the next stop and they were last seen trying to figure out how to get to Florence!!!
Next day the trains were running so we made our way to Florence and spent all day wandering the magnificent city. The city was crowded, but not like Rome. Here we did get into the Duomo, Giotto's Tower stood in all its splendour, but the Baptistery is under wraps, and the crowds admiring it's door was about 20 deep. We crossed the Ponte Vecchio and even did the hike up the hill to Piazzale Michelangelo lookout and ate an apple whilst gazing out over the beautiful city.
Finally yesterday we visited Siena. Due to mismanagement on our behalf we ended up walking to the city from the station and back again that night. Wow what a place Siena is, just buildings all jumbled on top of each other, narrow streets and lane ways. Piazza del Campo is the centre of the city, where the twice yearly Palio is held, overlooked by the Palazzo Pubblico, the stunning 800 year old building with its towering clock tower. The Duomo was what blew us away though. This Romanesque cathedral is black and white striped, so different to the browns of all the other buildings. And what was inside has a definite wow factor. The black and white stripes are continued inside but these just provide the canvas for all the incredible art works that adorn the walls and the inlaid marble of the floors. Just beautiful.
Tomorrow morning we are up and off yet again, having spent 5 beautiful days in this area of Italy, and head south, down to Pompeii for 5 days where we plan to visit Pompeii, Naples Sorrento, The Isle of Capri. The weather here has been just right – about 32 but down south it should be a lot hotter.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Abbadia Lariana

This post finds us in the little town of Abbadia Lariana which is located on one of the three arms of Lake Como.  We are staying in a small bungalow on the shores of Lake Como, the views are to die for.
We arrived here from Racconigi, in one piece, having negotiated several motorways and discovered the delights of paying tolls when you have not a clue what you are doing.  We learnt some valuable lessons on how to cope and will apply our new found knowledge when tomorrow we head out for the wilds of Florence.
Our stay here has predominately been one of relaxation.  Having been on the go since leaving home in March this is really the first time we have been able to just stop and do nothing.  We are excelling at doing it too.
We did venture out one day to Bellagio, which required no major effort from us.  We just walked to the ferry wharf just around the corner and hopped the ferry.  We spent about 4 hours in Bellagio, most of it spent dodging the rain which decided to bucket down just after we hopped off the ferry. Bellagio, although in a most beautiful part of Lake Como is decidedly a tourist trap, filled with expensive leather and accessories shops, plus various cafes and bars.  Dodging the rain we escaped from the tourists and took to the hills to look back on Bellagio and Lake Como from the heights.
Unfortunately the rain has continued to come down since then, but this morning dawned quite bright, so we decided to do one of the local walks up into the hills, passing through a couple of little villages via small lanes and pathways.  When we got to the halfway point of the walk we decided to visit the supermarket to stock up on the cheese and salami that we have managed to demolish over the last few days.
When we came out of the supermarket the heavens opened.  So there we were, several kilometres from home, and no wet weather gear.  We hovered in the local sports club for a while but figured we would just have to go and get wet.  Deciding to take the road home and not the up hill and down dale paths we were very soon saturated.  Then along came the guardian angels.  Some kind people in a van picked us up and delivered us back to our village.
So now we are drying out, thawing out and packing up for the drive tomorrow to our new camping site.
Lets hope the weather is fine in Florence.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015


Leaving the cold of England behind we arrived in Rome to 35 degree temperatures and that was at about 7 pm!
Next morning we were up and out and this fearless guide managed to get us lost on the way to the Forum - well it has been a few years since I was last here.  The good side of getting lost was Mike found a barber to cut his locks, long overdue. Finally we reached the Forum at the back entrance I have used on previous visits only to find that it is now the exit and whats more you have to pay. Bugger. Tickets must now be purchased at the Colosseum.  So back we go, only to find that the queue to buy tickets was about 3 hours long.
So muttering that the next day we would come back at sparrow fart to buy the tickets for the Colosseum and Forum we headed over to the Trevi Fountain.  Getting us lost yet again we eventually found it, only to discover it is being renovated, no water flowing, just scaffolding and drop sheets.
This was not a good day! Rome really is a wonderful city to get lost in though, you just never know what is around the next corner.  Which then for me was a hairdresser.  Mikes hair was pretty wild but mine was all over the place so my curly locks were tamed by a great Italian hairdresser somewhere in Rome.
On day 2 we were up really early and headed back to the Colosseum, this time arriving before the ticket office opened and joined a queue of several hundred people.  But the wait to buy tickets was not so bad and we ended up in the Colosseum before 9 am.  There has been a lot of restoration done there since my last visit, so much so that we spent more than an hour wandering the place.  It truly is amazing and more amazing to think that something built more than 2000 years ago is, for the most part, still standing. Later we crossed the road and spent lots of time in the Forum, again there is extensive restoration going on in there but there is still lots open to look at.
The rest of the day was just spent wandering, visiting the many churches and piazzas.  We did wander into one church, mainly to escape the heat, called Sant'ignazio di Loyola, which was incredibly beautiful. The trompe l'oeil had to be seen to be believed.  Feet and hands appeared to be hanging from the ceilings as did various flowers and vines.  Then of course there was the gilt which adorned the pillars and ceiling.  This church was truly a jaw dropping place.
On our third day, and knowing how horrendous the crowds are at the moment in Rome we left our hotel bright and early to catch a train down to The Vatican - too far to walk from our hotel.  It was just after we left the train that Mike discovered that the gypsies had managed to separate him from his wallet.  Fortunately it was just our joint kitty wallet which only ever contains enough money to last us the day, but it did have our joint debit card in it too and that was cause for concern. But we did managed to contact the bank and get it stopped, so in the end it was not mega deal and Mike is now a lot wiser!!
Again the queues were horrendous, 3 hours wait for The Vatican, 2 hours for The Sistine Chapel. We opted to buy tickets, at horrendously inflated prices, to fast track ourselves to the top of the queue. Sadly the crowds are just so big that what should be a wondrous experience was more akin to being a sardine in a very tightly packed tin. In the Sistine Chapel the guards are screeching out to tell people to be silent and not to take photos then in the Vatican barricades have been erected everywhere to channel you in and out.  Just awful.  Chris, do you remember when we were there we just walked straight in.  Sadly not like that now.
Apart from the crowds we had a terrific time, our hotel was good and the food was even better.
We jetted out the next day to Turin where we were greeted most warmly by Fabrizio's family, who have been treating us with such kindness and feeding us up as though we have not eaten since leaving Australia. Such a beautiful family.
Tomorrow we take Fabrizio's car and commence our drive through Italy and France.  All going well tomorrow afternoon we will be sitting beside Lake Como, relaxing in the sun, reading a book.  Well that's the plan.  We have been gone almost 2 and a half months without a break, so this will be our chance to recharge the batteries.  Yes we will still do a couple of things, but not much.
To then....

Monday, 1 June 2015

Goodbye England

The time has come for us to leave England after about 4 weeks here.  To all accounts, this has been a very cold month, even the locals are complaining.  But we have been assured that next week the weather will be better!
So what else have we been up to since the previous post? Well...
We did have a little rent a car for 2 weeks and managed to clock up almost 1700 miles (it is miles here, not k's).  Our first stop was a village called Thetford which is on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk and was very central for our plans to explore an area that neither of us had really visited before. First stop we did afternoon tea with an aunt of Mike's whom he had not seen for 50 years!! Over the next few days we visited Southwold, one of those peculiar seaside places where a stony beach is the norm and bathing sheds are in proliferation.  Gaily painted, these places perch above the beach and the owners are allowed to visit only during the day.  There appears to be not enough room to swing a cat inside and in most cases no power or water.  And the price people will pay for one of these dog boxes?  Up to 100,000 pounds! Which really begs the question, WHY?
Cromer is another example of the above. We did pay a visit to Sandringham, another of the Queens magnificent properties, we did not do an inside tour but did spend several hours in the magnificent gardens.  That must have been one of the rare days that it did not rain!
We moved on up the coast to Durham, a beautiful town complete with castle and cathedral. Thanks to Marg and David Stanton for the advice to stay in Durham, we loved the place. On our way to Durham we stopped off briefly in Lincoln with the sole purpose of visiting their magnificent cathedral.  It is a great cathedral, the facade was in fact used in the Da Vinci Code as Westminster Abbey, as they are both similar.  Lincoln is one of those hilly towns where you really need to be something of a mountain goat.  The street leading up to the cathedral is called Steep Street - and they are not kidding - it is steep.
While based in Durham we caught the train one day into Newcastle, a city that is trying to throw off its industrial cloak and reinvent itself as an arty farty place. Their concert hall is a futuristic building, that some say looks like a slug, others say a condom and still others say a half inflated hot air balloon. Whatever, it is delightful inside with 2 concert halls.
After leaving Durham, we took time out to visit Whitby, a small fishing village, jammed with tourists.  Whitby is the birthplace of none other than Captain James Cook.  We moved on up to Scotland to visit my old mate Lindy. We spent a beautiful day with her, and her daughter Tam and her 2 energetic boys.  Along with the family we visited Rosslyn Chapel, just west of Edinburgh. Now for anyone going to Scotland (Chris and Al) check the place out.  It is only small but filled with the most unusual architecture, plaster mouldings that seem to grow out of the walls and ceilings, not seen anywhere else and something like 102 green men hidden in the mouldings of the chapel itself. About 20 years ago the chapel was in an almost state of ruin, but thanks to the Earl and his family, and a lot of money, the chapel has been almost restored to its former splendor.  It helped a lot that the chapel was the site of the final scenes in the Da Vinci Code, a movie that really helped to bring in the tourist dollars.
Leaving Scotland we turned south, our next stop being Warrington.  Not the best city in England by a long shot, but very central to our planned visits to Liverpool and Chester. We hopped the train to Liverpool and did an open top bus trip which was terrific fun till it rained. We visited their magnificent cathedral, it is absolutely huge and was only built in the 1900's.  It is like a monolith from the outside, just a big blob, but inside it is filled with light and just cavernous.  We also spent some time down on Albert Dock.  Again this was once the shipping port area of Liverpool, but is now a trendy restaurant and shopping area.
Chester was our other stop.  We had both been there before yet neither of us had walked the whole way around the city walls, which we can now say we have done.  It is quite a long walk too.
After leaving Warrington we managed a whistle stop in Stratford-Upon-Avon, but the rain and cold got the better of us so we moved on to Milton Keynes, a place best forgotten, but the cheapest place for accommodation that we could find near to Oxford. The sun shone for us at Oxford and we happily wandered the city. Later in the day we did a 2 hour walking tour which included a visit to Queens College.  The tour was interesting as things were pointed out to us that we would never have noticed otherwise. For instance, all the characters in Lewis Caroll's 'Alice in Wonderland' were based on real characters in Oxford at that time. We even discovered that the white rabbit saying 'I'm late, I'm late for a very important date', is because Oxford was always 5 minutes behind London time. Ha, the important things you learn.
Heading back to Epsom we stopped off at the wonderful Blenheim Palace, home of the 12th Duke of Marlborough, where we spent almost a whole day, dodging the rain, touring the palace and walking the grounds.
So now we are in 'packing up' mode, It is Mikes birthday today and then tomorrow we head over to Italy. Rome. Sunshine. Shorts. T-shirts. Yippee.
We have enjoyed our time here, the things we have seen, the friends and family we have caught up with, but not the weather.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

The Isle of Wight

There were two reasons for our visit to the Isle of Wight.  When he was a child Mike and his family came here every year for their holidays, so for him this was a nostalgic trip.  For me, I just wanted to see Osborne House. Simples.
Along with Mikes sister and brother in law, we came across from Portsmouth on the car ferry, about a 45 minute trip.  Before heading to our accommodation for the week we made a detour to Quarr Abbey and spent some time wandering around not just the abbey but the attached farmlands and orchards.
A wing of Clatterford House at Carisbrooke has been our home for the last week - a large 5 bedroom place which has suited our needs perfectly and is situated very close to Carisbrooke Castle and a good walk to Newport, one of the major towns on the IoW. Clatterford House was, back in the 1700's, a farm, then a pub and a hotel before assuming it's current persona.
We spent many hours one day up at Carisbrooke Castle, initially to get out of the rain, then because we were fascinated with the castle and it's history.  Built in the 1100's it has a rich history and was for some time a major fortification against a threatened Spanish invasion.  Charles 1 when he was deposed from his kingship lived at the castle for some time as the guest of the Governor, then he became a prisoner and was subsequently shipped back to London for execution.
The castle is in a good state of repair, thanks to Princess Beatrice, the youngest daughter of Queen Victoria, who was Governor of the IoW and made the castle her sometime home.
Osborne House was just glorious.  We spent almost a whole day there.  The house itself is open inside to visit (no photos allowed).  As is expected it is very ornate as befits a queen and the times but at the same time it was the family home.  Albert's study was as he left it as was Victoria's bedroom. Interesting!!  The grounds though are magnificent,  Pathways leading through beautiful treed avenues, wildflowers growing in gay abandon.  At the bottom of the estate on the Solent there is a great cafe where we sat looking out towards Portsmouth and enjoyed watching the passing yachts. There is also a great walled garden where all sorts of fruit, vegetables and flowers are grown for use in the house.  All in all a top spot.
We have managed to get in a couple of good walks on the island in particular yesterdays long walk from Sandown to Bembridge, a walk which took us along the coast for about 5 miles.  It was a beautiful day for walking, in parts a little uphill - then of course we had to walk back.
Today it has been bucketing down so we headed over to Yarmouth the only part of the island we had not visited.  There we visited the castle, which was designed in the 1500's as one of Henry V111's defensive fortresses along England's shores and is the only remaining example of it's type.  It is a tiny castle, by castle standards, so the visit did not take long!!
We have sampled many of the great pubs on this island not just for the beer of course but also for the grub, needless to say we have had a great time.
Tomorrow we hop the car ferry back to Portsmouth and head back up to Epsom but not before stopping off near Chichester to catch up with our trivia team mate Annie.
On Monday we pick up our rental car and begin our 2 week discovery tour of the north of England, popping over into Scotland to visit my old mate Lindy.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015


Oh to be in England now that Aprils here - NOT.  It is cold, especially after the heat of Cuba, we even had to go and buy ourselves an extra jumper.  But apart from that grumble we have been having a terrific time.
We went up to London and wandered about through all sorts of back alleys and lane ways that Dave has discovered over the years. We caught up for lunch with Andrew, one of our fellow travellers in Cuba, and had a delightful lunch in one of London's quaint pubs.
On another day we walked Headley Heath which is quite near to Pat and Dave's here in Epsom.  The bluebells are out in force at the moment and it was like walking through a blue wonderland, just beautiful.
The last few days have been spent up in Birmingham where Pat and Dave's daughter has been for the last few years at university.  Mike and I both expected a very industrial city, instead we found a city that has reinvented itself as a lively, trendy place with some amazing architecture and lots of great foody places.  We walked along side one of the canals from the university into the city, a fair hike, but incredibly peaceful when we were in fact in the heart of the city.
We visited the library which is an amazing structure, it looks like a couple of cubes decorated with lazy daises from the outside but inside it is round.  You can stand on the ground floor, look up to the 9th floor, each floor has floor to ceiling books (of course) and lots of reading and research areas. Through the middle and connecting each floor are escalators with bright lights which make the whole place seem quite futuristic.
The Birmingham Museum was another shelter from the rain, which like many city museums was a great source of info for the surrounding area. A few years ago a local person discovered what has become known as the Staffordshire Hoard - which is a collection of gold, silver and other artifacts from the Saxon days,  The intricate work of some of the jewellery has to be seen to be believed.  It is an incredible collection that is still being researched today as no one knows why the 'hoard' was there and exactly who put it there.
Today we will be heading out for lunch with some friends and relatives of Mikes, then on Friday we choof off to the Isle of Wight for a week.  Fingers crossed the weather will improve as we plan to do quite a few walks on the island.
Annie, I will let you know which ferry we will be coming back on so that we can do lunch somewhere around Portsmouth.
Till then.....

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Farewell Toronto

We are sitting in Pearson waiting for our flight to LHR which has been delayed an hour or so.  Not to worry, we were tasting the local beers in the airport pub and are now feeling no pain.
So Toronto, what do I say.  My second time here and it is still the most boring of cities. Probably alright if you are a local but very little to entertain visitors.
We rode the ferry over to Toronto Island and had a good walk, then went back and rode the lift to the top of the CN Tower for a great view of the city. There has been an enormous amount of construction here in the last few years with hi rise apartments hugging the lakes edge.
We spent a lot of time in the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) and were fascinated by the section on the North American indians, their history, costumes and general way of life.
Of course, the main reason to visit this town is to see Niagara Falls. We hopped a bus there yesterday and spent a few hours in the freezing cold admiring the falls.  They are beautiful, but as we have both visited Victoria Falls twice they are just no way as impressive.
So that is the wrap up for Toronto.  Next time we visit it will be to the west coast.
We have really suffered in the cold.  After the high 30's of Cuba we were plunged into days where the max temp was about 9 degrees. Bbbrrrrr. Fingers crossed London will be warmer.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Lots of Rum and Old Cars

Our arrival in Havana was not without drama. Havana airport is manic, getting through immigration is unbelievable, as you go one by one into a small room where you are interrogated by a person who could have belonged to the Gestapo.  When finally passing through immigration then collecting the baggage, naturally you head toward the way out, looking for the welcoming agent to take you to the hotel. Wrong.  We got outside, no agent and could not catch a cab because the money exchange office is in the terminal and you can't get back in.  In most countries that is not an issue as you can use a credit card.  Not here.  Cuban money or tough titties. Eventually it all got sorted and we got money and a taxi to our hotel. Never a dull moment.
But after a bad introduction to Cuba we fell in love.  The place is delightful.  Just as you imagine it to be.  The old cars are considered to be part of the Cuban heritage and it is forbidden for them to be sold outside of Cuba. These cars are the pride and joy of the Cubans and there are hundreds of them in every town, some are a little worse for wear, belching thick black smoke out the exhaust and body work that is held together with what looks like putty and duct tape, but most are the pride of their owners.
The towns are a riot of colour, buildings are painted in every colour of the rainbow.  The roads leave a lot to be desired and despite the old cars in the towns there is not a lot of traffic outside the city areas, which is just as well as the roads are quite rutted – but not as bad as Madagascar.
Every form of transport is in use.  People get around on foot, bicycle, and bicycle with carriage attached.  Horses are another common form of transport, be it horse and cart or horse and carriage.  It is not unusual to see a horse being ridden bare back through the city and town streets.  Trucks are another form of transport with many converted into a very basic form of bus, some with roofs, minimal seating and people squeezed in standing up like sardines in a tin.
The days are hot, very hot and as is normal in the tropics the afternoon sometimes brings cooling showers.
The Cubans are very patriotic and have no love for the good old USA.  Fidel, Raul and Che are spoken of with great love and respect and the longer we stayed the more we came to appreciate the efforts of those guys and the revolutions that have taken place in the country over the last 200 plus years. The Cubans have every right to be very, very proud. It was so interesting to hear the stories of their revolutions over the centuries, from the days of slavery to the overthrow of Batista and the arrival of Castro.  Of course their view is quite different to that which we have been brain washed over the years, they have had a rough trot.
Tourism is big, especially at the moment as it seems the whole world wants to get there before the Americans arrive later in the year with the easing of tensions and travel between the countries.  We all know the Americans will wreck the place. The only good thing about the impending invasion is that the standard of hotels, transport and food will not suit the Americans so hopefully they will stay away in droves.  Also Cuba says they will insist that that there are no McDonalds, KFC etc and also that if there are new hotels etc built, then Cuba must have the majority holding. We shall see.
What is delightful is walking around and not being crashed into by people using mobile phones, they are rare down there.  People actually walk along the streets and talk to each other – what a strange thing to do!!!
So what did we do.  Well we visited the Australia sugar farm which was once huge but sadly is not longer.  It was near Australia that Fidel had his headquarters during the days of the Bay of Pigs invasion.
We visited museums, had train rides through sugar plantations, cruised around on various boats and generally sat around in bars and restaurants drinking the cheap beer and rum and of course, took 1 or 2 photos.
It has been a good group, most of whom belong to either PCC or DYCC, no getting to know you stuff, from the 1st rum we were fine.
When the sun goes down every town and city becomes party central.  The city squares are the venues for various musicians who bring all their own band equipment, speakers and amplifiers.  The locals all dress up and let their hair down.  Great stuff.
We had almost 4 full days in Havana.  What a city.  Back in the 30's when this place was a mecca for the world's trendies it must have really rocked.  There is just a beautiful feel to the place, like visiting a time warp. The architecture is mostly Art Deco but sadly it is, for the most part, in a very sad state of repair.  A faded rose.  We did the Hemingway thing, walked the streets, even rode around the city in a 1940's open topped Oldsmobile and drank more rum.  We needed to leave to dry out but will miss the $1.50 beers and $2.50 Pina Coladas.
What we will not miss are the 3, 4, 5 and 6 piece bands that descend upon every eatery at lunch and dinner.  They insisted on playing Beseme Mucho and Guantanamera loudly and pretty much in your ears, they scrambled what was left of our rum soaked brains.
But apart from that grumble, Cuba – we love you.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

New York, New York

Sore feet and aching legs probably best describes our New York adventure. Not long after we arrived we hopped the Staten Ferry over to Manhattan to begin our exploration. We hopped aboard the open top bus and did part of a tour downtown but got off at the Brooklyn Bridge as it was on our bucket list to cross.  Cross it we did, all the way to Brooklyn and back.  The wind was blowing, there were hoards of people.  The walkway is actually above the traffic and not particularly wide add to that the bike riders who think they own the path and it ends up being a wee bit frantic.
On our first full day, we again rode the ferry over then walked around to the ferry wharf to take the ride over to the Statue of Liberty.  The weather turned a little wet, so it was a bit bleak over there - we did a lap around the statue then headed back over to Manhattan.  We then walked up to the 9/11 memorial, two huge square recessed waterfalls that you look down into.  Around the outside walls are engraved the names of all those who died.  Again the weather was not being kind so we set off to walk up to Times Square.  For those who have been to New York before you will know that the walk from South Ferry to Times Square is bloody miles.  We did manage to find a great cafe where we partook of the best cup of coffee we have had since leaving home.  Decent coffee is unheard of in this country - Starbucks is considered the best!!!!
Wandering even further we reached the Empire State Building.  Rode the lift up to the 86th floor and looked out into fog and mist.  The rain was still with us.  There were moments when the clouds parted and a great view opened up, but blink and it was gone. That night we found a great bar on 8th Ave and enjoyed a great meal and a couple of IPA's.
Next day, the rain had stopped but the wind arrived but we were out again and really learned how to use the subway - the fastest and best way to get around NYC.  We went to the Discovery Centre in Times Square and saw the most amazing exhibition called Body Worlds.  People actually donated their bodies to this particular exhibition.  Called Plastination the (dead) bodies have their skin removed, they are then sawn up in different ways and the end result is the human body on display. Bones, muscles, organs, the lot.  Absolutely fascinating.
Later we visited the Top of the Rock - the viewing area at the top of the Rockefeller Centre.  This time we were only on the 64th floor, no rain this time, a beautiful clear view all over NYC - but the wind was horrific.  It had been blowing all day, but up there it was freezing, needless to say we did not stay long.  We finished the day again with another couple of IPA's and a great dinner.
Today we visited the Guggenheim Museum. The architecture of the building was what attracted us there as it is so advanced in it's style, both inside and out.  For that I would give the place 10 out of 10.  As for the exhibitions, well do data projectors connected to an electric cord which is plugged into and old shoe appeal to you as art?  Perhaps a word or two in letraset on coloured paper may appeal more.  Neither of those exhibitions appealed to us.  Surely they are joking. We left quite disgusted and headed across the road to Central Park where we walked from 86th Street to 42nd Street to Grand Central Station, took a few happy snaps, then hopped the metro and ferry back over here to Staten Island.
NYC is a frantic city, it is alive and it is real.  Unlike the ghastly LA and the plastic Las Vegas.
This will be the last post for about 3 weeks now.  Tomorrow morning we head out of JFK bound for Grand Cayman Island then to our connecting flight to Havana, Cuba.  Internet and mobile phone services are almost unavailable, so the next post will come to you from Toronto, Canada sometime near the end of April.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

The Las Vegas Experience

Las Vegas was a great experience.  Although we arrived in the early evening it did not take us long to get out to hit the pavement to wander along the strip and gawk at the architecture that is Las Vegas.  We were staying at Excalibur, which from the outside looks like some fantasy castle from back in the days of King Arthur.  It is a bit tired when compared to some of the other casinos but the room rate was fine. For those who have been before, it is next door to New York, and Luxor and across the road from MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay.  There are pedestrian overpasses everywhere connecting most of the casinos so getting around on foot is quite painless.  The architecture of the casinos is extreme to say the least, New York looks just like New York and visiting Luxor is just like being in Egypt.  The outside is a pyramid and inside the ceiling follows the roof line and of course there is a sphinx in the centre.  Amazing.  We wandered around most of the casinos, but would you believe, we must be one of the vary rare couples who did not even put a cent in a slot machine. At night the streets are alive with people, but during the day it is the opposite.
Funny thing - we had the TV on yesterday while we were waiting to check out of the hotel and a very serious guy was reading the news, the news item was about backyard pools and infant drownings. The news reader said 'there have been 5 drownings in Nevada in recent weeks, two of them were fatal'.  What???
Moving along......we actually came to Las Vegas to visit the Grand Canyon.  We had pre-booked our trip and it was absolutely fantastic.  It was a very small group, about 12 people and we were picked up at about 6.15 am.  The drive to the south rim took 5 hours, but was so worth the travel.  I had been to the west rim before but the south rim was awesome, spectacular.  We were dropped off at a car park and then walked about 2 and a half miles to a pick up point to take us back to our hotel.  We had 3 hours to do the walk and we needed every minute of it.  Needless to say we took heaps of photos.  When standing on the rim and looking down it is about a mile  to the bottom, it is a giddy making experience.  The colours of the walls of the canyon are just beautiful, from reds, greys, blues, magentas, the rock formations are incredible, with huge rocks balancing upon other huge rocks, wind blown archways and caves.
We did not get back to our hotel till about 7.30 pm so no partying for us that night.
Next morning we again had an early start, this time to the Valley of Fire.  Lucky us, we were the only ones on the tour, so we felt very special.  This trip was also amazing and very different to the Grand Canyon.  Our guide allowed us to stay in places as long as we liked, no pressure, so we really were able to soak up the magnificent scenery.  Red, red sandstone cliffs, which again had been weathered over the milleniums to create some absolutely glorious formations.  So another great day and no partying that night.
Our last day was spent wandering the strip and then packing for our flight later that day to New York.
So that now brings us to New York, where we arrived about an hour or so ago.  We are staying over at Staten Island which is only a free ferry ride away from Manhattan.  We are staying in the wildest B & B, its a turn of the century old house divided up into various rooms.  We have a gynormous bedroom, a kitchen complete with shower recess (yes in the kitchen) then a separate loo (not in the kitchen).  At $120USD per night it is a bargain.
When we arrived at JFK we queued for the taxi, and one was allocated to us, the driver put our bags in the boot, then an argument started between our driver and the guy who allocates taxis to passengers.  These guys almost came to blows, the cabbie wanted to take us, the JFK guy was telling us to get out of the cab and we were stuck in the middle.  The cabbie won but cursed and swore all the way to Staten Island then couldn't find the B & B.
So thats it for now.  We are about to head out to discover the delights on the Big Apple.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

The LA Experience

We have had an action packed few days here in LA.  Our first adventure was to Disneyland, the happiest place on earth.  We did the Jungle Cruise, the Haunted House, It's a Small World, a river cruise and rode the train and monorail. Phew.  We did not get to the Pirates of the Caribbean unfortunately, the wait time was about an hour.  The crowds were manic at Disneyland, like the busiest day at the Easter Show on steroids.  But we did have fun.  Disneyland has changed so much, the rides are all the same but now there is a resort nearby, huge parking stations and the new park California, which we did not have time to visit.
Universal Studios was another of our outings and we had the best time there.  Again this place has changed enormously over the years.  We did all the rides, the Mummies Curse, Jurassic Park and Transformers.  Transformers was absolutely fantastic, with huge digital images coming at you from all angles, just brilliant.  We did the back lot tour too, which is always fun.
Thrown into all this fun we then did 'the trip from hell'. We decided to do a LA tour which was to takes us to Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, and Hollywood.  The day was bad from the moment we were picked up by Speed Jordan in the bus.  Speed Jordan was obviously one of the managers who had had to substitute for a driver who did not turn up for work.  We were slipping and sliding all over the place while he mounted kerbs whilst talking on a mobile and also a walkie talkie.  And that trip was only about 2 km.  Next we were put on a bus with a lady driver, she was then pulled out and another driver was substituted.  He did not like our bus, so we were moved to another bus.  Drama, drama. Finally we got underway.  The company advertises a 1 hour stop at each place.  Well Venice Beach we had 30 minutes, Santa Monica we had 45 minutes, Rodeo Drive 30 minutes, which was about 25 minutes too long, then the Growers Market where we got 1 hour.  Hollywood rated 30 minutes.  Needless to say the 8 natives on board the bus were getting restless.  Our driver then decided to chuck a wobbly and focused his anger on a single lady passenger on the bus, he let fire with a terrible tirade at her and us in general.  I have since read reports of his outbursts on Tripadviser and my report will be joining those shortly.
Yesterday we decided to go to the Long Beach to see the Queen Mary.  All our other excursions had been with arranged transport, but we decided how hard could it be to get to Long Beach.  Dumb idea.
We caught the free hotel shuttle back to LAX, then the free shuttle to Aviation Station.  The train came along, we counted the stations to where we had to change, all going well.  Then oops they are doing track work.  So we were transferred to a bus which took us to the next serviceable station, then back on the train to the end stop, then onto a free shuttle to the Queen Mary.  That exercise only took 3 and a half hours!!!  The good news was we had to repeat the effort to get back to our hotel.  Yep, we did board the Queen Mary which in her day must have been a beautiful and gracious lady but is now looking a little sad and needs some serious restoration work being done.
So that's it for the LA bit.  This afternoon we take off for Las Vegas for yet another type of American madness.