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

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.