Friday, July 11, 2008

Brussels to London by Stormy Sea!!

Brussels was better than we thought it would be!! We had been a trifle alarmed at the number of people we had met who raised their eyebrows at the idea that we were planning to spend three nights in Brussels – even Charlotte, our hostess in Ypres and a rabid Belgian patriot had looked a little blankly when we asked for things to do there!!

Suffice it to say that we enjoyed our two nights having planned to spend the other in Dover before heading on to London.

Brussels is a very pleasant place with scenes reminiscient of

many European cities without anything truly remarkable. The old city is delightful and the square is certainly one of the best we have seen – not exactly enhanced by a handball game on the Sunday between teams kitted out like our 20/20 cricketers. We wandered a lot, saw the Comic Muesum (and Herge of course), enjoyed the Musical Instruments Museum (where we had one of the best meals we have had all trip!) with its great view over the city and Sunday afternoon in a pub watching Federer and Nadal in real time

while drinking beer. Actually was good to have a bit of a spell after the pace of the last week.

Monday 7th – Tuesday 8th

To London, to London to see the Queen!

Having decided to invade England by sea we left Brussels for Calais via Lille. Apart from the British Customs at Brussels station things went well and we embarked on Sea France arouns 12.30, to complete one of Elaine's dreams to see the white cliffs from the sea! Unfortunately the crossing was as “rough as guts” (to quote an old salt Mick was yarning to while Elaine was throwing hers up in the loo!) Mick enjoyed the pounding waves (imagining he was Eisenhower on D-Day or some such!) but Elaine and many othes didn't. To add to the pain the trip was ninety minutes longer than usual as we had to “hove to” (according to Mick) for quite a while!

Elaine brightened up when we were in the harbour and saw the white (a bit grey today) cliffs from there. We repaired to The Park Inn where we had lodgings for the night. After a bit of a spell we wandered round the town and along the seafront (in a roaring gale) before retiring to a restaurant to have some dinner. (England seems the same summer and winter – at least it ensures that you get to wear all the clothes you brought with you just in case!!)

Finally to London around 2 pm (we would still cross the channel again (even Elaine) it is good to see where you are going!) to our upmarket digs at Canada Water (think Docklands, Jubilee Line – sort of Green Square in Sydney – lots of medium rise apartments being purchased by young professionals hoping to make a killing in the property market) most suitable for us – it even has a bath!! The weather was great so out we went to “sniff around”.

It is great to see large crowds just hanging around in places like Leicester Square with the leafy trees – so much different to winter time!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

We like Amsterdam!!

Wed July 2nd - Sat July 5th

Only two days in this pleasant open city had us feeling very much at home. The locals ruise past on bicycles (you have to be careful not to get skittled!) and this seems to set the laid-back tone, why rush??

We “did” the museums and Anne Frankhuis and while we enjoyed the great stuff to see it was the sense of being at ease which capped it off. Elaine sniffed out free classical music in Vondelpark so on the Thursday we took a picnic – we still had a bottle of French wine! - with food from the lovely Welsh woman who has just opened a takeaway in the “Newtown”like district (Elaine read the review in a street paper, the woman hadn't even seen the review and was grateful for a copy for her window!) The goodies included chicken curry with cous cous AND rhubarb and strawberry crumble!! Just like being at Homebush for concets in Feb – only this is Holland – the violinist was excellent and the sax quartet played some Phillip Glass, among others!

Van Gogh was open until 10 on Friday so after a day out and a snooze we attended to find, to our delight, that the evening included free music (string quartet, modern stuff, this time) so with red wine and nibbles we relaxed in the lovely gallery and thought how lucky we are – just like being at an AGNSW soiree but when your gaze wandered if always fell on a Van Gogh!!

Home via our Vondlepark – we had seen the food there last night – it was modern dance tonight, we only stayed a little while and were home early (10.30) to do some skyping and sleep.

Up early and to train via tram (same friendly conductor who was delighted to see us!) and off to Brussels.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Flanders Fields

Monday Afternoon June 30 th – Wed July 2nd

Flanders Fields

After a massive holdup on the A1 (we had lunch in the car!) which led to a very adventurous TomTomless cross-country excursion we arrived at Fromelles.

This is our first point of contact with the Northern Battlefields and is a rather desolate place where so may young men died completely pointlessly. The monument is a lovely statue and the absence of headstones (just the white crosses flush with the grass) made it very touching. With luck (and directions from the mine hostess we found the site of the recent diggings and, eve though it is just a bare patch of earth it was goo to find it!

On then to Varlet Farm our most comfortable B&B right near Passchendaele where we were warmly welcomed by Charlotte. After a refreshing shower we decamped to Ypres for the Last Post at the Menin Gate. Again this was great to experience – there were lots of Brits as July is a time of significant anniversaries for so many of their ex-servicemen. A lovely dinner i the main square and home (in the daylight!) at eleven!

On Tuesday we travelled from Polygon Wood through Zonnebeke to Passchendaele, followng the battles and gaining a great understanding of some of the realities and trials of the soldiers. Particularly fine museums at Zonnebeke and Tyne Cot added greatly to our experiece and so many cemetries, large and small, tell the tale all too well. (The troops congratulated Mick on his research, planning and guiding but reckoned that he needs to improve his motivational approach! - he calls them wimps!) Menin Gate and dinner in Ypres again at night.

In the morning we visited the grave of one of Mick's WA friends and a rather sombre German cemetery, before lunch in Ypres and off to Lille where we returned the car and said 'Goodbye' to Brendan who headed back to Paris and home while we turned towards Amsterdam!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

From Paris to the Somme – The Somme Battlefields

Sat June 28th – Monday Morning June 30 th

From Paris to the Somme – The Somme Battlefields

A few hassles with Europcar – the longest line ever and a very small car! - but we squeezed in and were out of Paris with no incidents. The run up the A1 took about two and a half hours and we found our lodgings easily. A lovely ex-railway station on a one hectare block near Montauban de Picardie. Delightfully rural, green and gold, warm and with the most wonderful light especially in the evenings.

I won't attempt to do justice to the Somme there is so much that has been written. We have greatly appreciated simply being here and seeing such a lovely place. It is impossible to appreciate the horrors of the War but walking the ground certainly enriches and develops your understanding. Mick's approach to the campaign with meticuluous planning, maps, books daily troop briefings and efforts to urge on the flagging troops were miles better than Herbert Gough ever achieved.

There are only a few photos for you here because the don't mean so much until you walk he ground and get it in your head. We walked Pozieres, Mouquet farm, Tiepval, Beaumont-Hamel and visited Mick's grandmother's brother's grave at Warloi. Also Villers-Brettoneux, le Hamel Mont St. Quentin and Bullecourt as well as many cemetries. It has been a wonderful experience which we will look back on for many years. a true privilege to be here!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Farewell Italy, Hello Paris!!

The Last day in Paradise!! Leaving Tuscany

Up and an easy start. We didn't want to leave until midday so ther

e was time to pack and clean. To Florence, where we dropped the car, “left” the luggage and just wandered around one of our favourite places. It was a bit hot so we didn't do too much - went through the Duomo and ate our packed food in Place della Signoria before heading to Stazione for dinner, decamped to Campo di Monte (Florence's second railway station) where we waited for our (late) overnight train to France. While it was somewhat cramped and crowded we all managed some sleep in our “couchettes” before arriving in Paris a

round 10.30.

Paris – in the Springtime (well almost!! - early summer!)

Our little flat in Rue Jean Beausire (just off Bastille) is just fine. It is light a

nd airy and is just right for the four of us.After showers and a quick lunch we headed off for a taste of this new delight. Together around 8 for dinner at a nearby restaurant with Genevieve (MaryAnn's schoolchum and best friend who lives in Paris) and Kate (likewise MaryAnn's longtime friend and cousin of Gen – from Oz but here for the same wedding as MaryAnn).

It was a great night to be out. Almost like NYE!! It was a Festival of Music which encourages musicians of all genres to perform for free – so every back alley, archway and bridge resonated to rock, hip-hop, classical, bagpipes, flugelhorn, organ, accordian, folk etc. it was quite amazing. We wandered for ages through huge friendly crowds – there was still light in the sky at 11.15 p.m. A terrific way to begin!!

The next day we were up surprisingly early and off to the markets at Richard Lenoir to play at being Pariesiens stocking up for the next few days. It is a great market with a wide variety of food really well patronised. In the afternoon we joined a small walking tour around Pigalle with an entertaining English gent who has lived here for forty years – the tour focused on Piaf, Jane Avril et les autres femmes de l'etage. It was good fun and a different way to go!

Paris is for wandering, looking and enjoying and that is what we have done in various combinations. Sung Mass at Notre Dame; Musee Carnevalet; an evening chamber concert n Sainte Chapelle; Latin Quarter; Marais; lots of river views and bridges; coffee and crowd watching and more to come!!!

Mick achieved a lifelong ambition by riding his Velib (commuter bicyclette) across the Place de la Concorde, a full lap of the Champs Elysees (including around the Arc) and along the river. The locals were confused as to whether he was Stuey, Robbie or Greg Norman(he wore his Akubra!) and all that was missing was the maillot jaune!!! (For authenticity sake it is acknowledged that this video was actually shot at Bastille - he really did the Champs!!))

MaryAnn left us today (Wednesday) for the family wedding in the South but the three musketeers are carrying on!!!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Second Week in Radda in Tuscany

Sunday June 15th

Glorious Local Delights

Lovely sunny day so we strolled up to Radda to enjoy the Sunday quieter mood of our village. There was a more relaxed feel and we wandered about phoned, interneted and shopped. Drove along small local road to Volpaia – small hamlet about 4 km away – decided on the spur of the moment to have lunch in a warm sunny restaurant with magic views (licensed since 1707!!). MaryAnn, our tenacious native-speaker, cleverly negotiated a cliff-top table with exquisite views and we settled in!! Mick had wild boar (very appropriate thought the others) and the desserts were to die for! Checked out the Church and village before enjoying a forest drive and magnificient views back over our lodgings. Siesta around 4.30, light tea and early bed ready for the next two days!!

Mon June 16 – Tues june 17th


Up early and off via A1,A11,A12 & A15 to La Spezia where we eventually found some free parking, bought tickets and caught the 12 o'clock train. Jumped off at Vernassa (on Ben and Maddy's recommendation – thanks guys, a great call!!) where, after negotiating some “zimmer pimps” MaryAnn and Elaine settled on two lovely rooms (close to each other and one with access to a tiny private garden with sea views) high up on the hillside! Having dumped our gear we headed off for Monterosso. The next two hours was a rather strenuous climb and descent with astounding views – certainly well worth the effort and leading us oldies to be a little smug about making it!! The regulation beer and sniff around (rather spooky church!)in Monterosso before train back to Vernassa and REAL SHOWERS!!! (the only downside to our Chianti digs). Drinks in our secret garden; dinner al fresco by the harbour – feeling like locals now those pesky tourists had scuttled off; walked around the town (with several glimpses of the full moon on the water!) and home!!!

Breakfast at O'Shannassy's before packing and walking to Corniglia – still pretty difficult but well worth it. The weather was overcast (thankfully! we have no illusions about us all making these walks in really hot weather) but fine and the sun came out around 11. Pit and phone stop at Corniglia and joyful news that the track to Manarola had just opened after a week of being closed! Off we went (down all those stairs!) brief stop in Manarola and on to Riomaggiore for late lunch – there were lots more people at this end and we know that we didn't do the latter towns justice but still there was a sense of accomplishment in having “done” the whole nine km!

Left La Spezia around 4.30; home around 7.30 to Elaine's pasta and bed!!!!! A great experience!!

Wed June 18th / Thurs June 19th

“Come back to the place you began and know it for the first time” T.S. Eliot

The simplest things are just the best! Our last two full days here were blessed with perfect weather – gloriously sunny and warm with slightly cooler evenings – and we expected just to experience more of the same. Up very late on Wed.; wandered up to Radda for a look, coffe and phoning; back down the hill with groceries for washing, lunch and siesta; drinks around six; lingering meal; an even better sunset; great company; fireflies!!! in the dark – they looked like fairy lights at one stage!

Thurs up a little earlier. Off to Castellini (the next town which we had driven straight through about ten times). Saw and went into Etruscan tombs (c. 400 B.C.) open to the public sort of in the middle of a park. Wandered through yet another delightful town and found excellent local museum which had a fine presentation of finds (some back to 1000 B.C.) and the history of “our” area. Bonus was a terrifically restored castle with tower and top views. A great way to finish our time here. Home for the usual; siesta, walk to the village; drinks; lingering meal (Mick's risotto – much nicer with only two stock cubes this time!!); music; wonderful sunset – and, for the first time, chocolate!!!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Wed to Saturday Week One in Radda

Well we are slowing down a little!! Wednesday was Siena. Another beautiful place with the Duomo reminiscient of Florence and the rather special Campo. The weather was pretty good and it is only about an hour from here (although we took another half an hour to find a park!!). The up and down hills make Siena different and we were all fascinated by St. Catherine's head and digit!(p.s “Not me!” says Elaine) On the way back we visited Castel D'Albola – a local winery (there are dozens!) Fortunately or unfortunately, we decided that we really aren't able to tell a lot of difference between the good ones and the cheapies (peasants that we are) so we renewed our pledge not to spend more than 4 euro on a bottle! Home for another cooler but still lovely night.

Thurs was really quiet – weather wet, us tired! Didn't get to Radda till 11- shopped for fruit and Mick spent time on the internet. Down the hill again, snooze, dinner, quiet night ... Lovely!!

Friday was Florence, our favourite place!! Again about an hour away. We wandered at our leisure just feeling good to be back in this lovely place with its colour and magic and the Duomo appearing almost magically at so many corners – especially in the summer sun!! There was actually a storm around one so we headed into the Pitti Palace with all those great paintings – any single room on show in Canberra would have us all on the Hume! After a late lunch sitting in the sun we headed for the Brancacci Chapel with those frescoes. Then wandered slowly back across the Arno (with gelati) and back up the rise. After a beer and some shopping we headed off around 7.15 and just made the Alimentaria in Radda. MaryAnn cooked a simple yet lovely pasta meal for the tired but happy bunnies, who quickly fell into a deep sleep!

Saturday had lots planned but the wearies took over! We were up sluggishly and with local internet on MaryAnn and Brendan Skyped Liam and the girls. Mick checked out accomodation for London and we simply went shopping for groceries at Poggibonsi (30 mins away). We were going out for dinner but the BBQ beckoned and we just stayed home – the weather was glorious – MaryAnn forced us to play “Spicks and Specs” and Charades (Mick was outstanding, of course – wails of protest from the girls with maryAnn saying that Mick was *****!!) before we retired.

Paris Apartment -