Blog for 2012

Arrived in Holland

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Well our first few days have been very eventful, playing the tourist as well as meeting up with some of the Boat Brokers and seeing some of the River Cruisers that are currently on the market. Unfortunately due to current holiday season, many of the boats we wanted to see are out and not due back till autumn.


Canal Du Midi

23/8/12

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More Pictures

Having been picked up by our friends in Lyon, we arrived at Beziers in the late afternoon. We found our hotel “Alma” in a tiny backstreet of the 8th century old settlement with it’s cobblestone streets and old stone houses in dire need of repair. The hotel itself was one of them, but once the 3 floors were climbed, we found 3 very clean rooms with original décor and a big roof terrace overlooking the city. Madame “Alma” was very friendly and helpful, although with little English, so my sketchy French was immediately tested.

We walked through the unexpected lovely old center to the Cathedral de St. Nazaire, easily one of the most beautiful and impressive churches I have ever seen, it’s gardens overlooking the Orb River.

For dinner we sat outside at one of the many little restaurants and ordered 4 different types of salads. Our friend Mario was more than a little amazed when he was presented with a basket containing a piece of cucumber, a capsicum, mushroom, a tomato neatly arranged around a big bowl of oil containing what we assumed was the duck liver pate and a knife to cut up the salad vegetable.

Well the pate turned out to be a very salty anchovy paste. (not our fault, but a wrong English translation on the menu – and the whole dish was exchanged without protest after I explained in perfect French that my friend doesn’t eat fish). A bottle of champagne consumed on the roof terrace of the hotel finished of an interesting and funny evening.

 

24/8/12

After doing a big shop for the boat we made our way to Port Cassafieres and took possession of our hire boat “Tango 15”.

It didn’t take our captain, Austin, and 1st. Officer, Mario, long to get a hang of the engine and steering, and we made our way towards the first locks. With gazelle like grace, us two shipmates, Eva and I, jumped onto the quay to fasten the ropes and secure the boat while the water was gushing in. Travelling through the beautiful tree lined canal, there were always waving and hellos as other boats passed. We managed 3 locks and then stopped under big chestnut trees and made our dinner.

On our after dinner walk along the canal we spotted a large bison rat(nutria) which didn’t help with falling asleep the first night on the water.

 

25/8/12

Day 2 on the boat was very exciting as we came up to the infamous steps of Fonserannes. There was really no need for anxiety as our team managed the 6 locks one after another without problems, so we didn’t give the many spectators (it was a Saturday) a lot to laugh at. The lock-keepers were very helpful, and had to organize some of the other hire boats (without as expertly crew as ours). Shortly after the steps we also crossed the river Orb over the aquaduct.

After a perfect lunch on deck under the shade of our sun umbrella to shield us from hot southern European sun, we had to pass through the Malpas Tunnel.

In the evening we fastened our boat at Capestang with it’s old very low stone bridge and it’s 2 street centre and semi ruined romanic church.


26/8/12

We had to re-stock our galley and the Sunday market of Capestang was just the right place for this. From here we continued along a 53 km stretch of lock-less canal. The canal becomes more winding here and the landscape changes with vineyards to the right and left and the Pyrenees in the background.

I took my first driving lesson, but relinquished my post as the canal narrowed and overhanging branches were hitting us and endangering the Australian flag mounted at the rear via a Le Boat broomstick.

We stopped at Le Somail, one of the most picturesque villages, but being a Sunday, the cafes and restaurants near the canal were quite busy with tourists.

We visited the old library where the laptop on the front desk stood in stark contrast to the old calligraphic signage, the whole cave-like interior giving the impression of stepping into a Harry Potter Scene with book editions and illustrations of bygone eras.

Trying to stay clear of the Sunday folks we found a kind of beer garden restaurant and had a substantial dinner of pates ala French and in Eva and my case way too much of the local grape.

 

27/8/12

Due to our over-indulgence the night before we had a late start. The sun was beating down on us. The only relief was the breeze as we moved along the canal and the prospect of curing our hangover with ‘the hair of the dog’ at the church-like wine cellar in Ventenac. Unfortunately the wine we tasted was not to our liking, and after feeling a little woozy from the heat and the diverse samples imbibed, we left without purchase. The only option was there fore to carry on…

So slightly sun struck we made it to Homps where a “Le Boat” harbour offers water, recharge of batteries and another nice little town with a good stock of wine in the local supermarche.

After an excellent dinner of our own creation, we slept really well until a storm hit in the early morning hours.

 

28/8/12

The storm was very short-lived and I could proceed with my planned washing day.

Later we set off for a walk and ran into 2 Australian couples from Fairlight and Lake Macquarie, formerly from Harbord. As we got talking, the name “A&J Robinson” and “Robinson Strata” fell, and one of the ladies exclaimed:” You are managing our unit in Kangaroo Street! “Quel petit monde!!!”

In the afternoon we carried on, but had to stop at Marseillette because the lock was closed over lunch-time. Aussie and I walked into the small village with yet another old, Romanesque church, and stopped at the village pub for an Espresso.

After lunch we headed to Trebes. We boated past amazing scenery of vinyards, small villages and met a lot of friendly people in the locks. One lock exhibited moving metal and wood sculptures – very humorous: a lady cycling on a bike, a man turning his head and poking his tongue out etc. We also passed over another aquaduct at La Redorte.

 

The weather was gradually deteriorating and the temperature dropped from the mid 30 ‘s to the low 20’s. Austin and I practiced to manage some of the locks without Eva and Mario’s help to see if we could manage. We had previously observed a couple who, with some difficulties due to less maneuverability of their Narrow Boat, were making fast and untying by themselves. Of course we excelled in this too!

We arrived in Trebes and moored in the boat harbour which was bordered by little restaurants.

We spent the evening and next morning exploring the new aswell as the old part of Trebes and bought way too much cheese – 3kg by mistake – which goes very well with our wine and olives, but might not be too good for my cholesterol.

 

29/8/12

Like almost everywhere we went in the old town centre the old houses are very dilapidated, which in a way adds to there charm, and only sparsely inhabited. We walked to an amazing old cemetery with huge family crypts and graves full of flowers, most of them artificial ones, as the climate with the high winds and strong sun doesn’t promote longevity of fresh flowers.

When it started raining we had a hard time finding a café where we just could have a coffee as most places are set up from 11.00- 11.30 for lunch and even though there were hardly any customers around due to the weather, there is no flexibility.

Most of the afternoon and evening we spent reading and playing cards.

 

30/8/12

High winds again and clouded today with a few showers, but we still mastered many interesting locks and arrived at Carcassone in the afternoon.

Due to the boat harbor being in the middle of the city, we had to see the “Capitain” or Harbour Manager, in this case “Manageress” to obtain a berthing place which for the first time we had to pay for. The $ 21 Euros included water, electricity and access to warm showers. It all came with the additional warning, that “a party” was happening in the harbor park and the noise would go to 2am.

We explored the busy but quaint shopping streets with it’s brasseries and restaurants and walked all the way to the old bridge over the Aude river from where you have a great view of the castle of Carcassone, “La Cite”, and found some fantastic spots to make photos.

The “party” turned out to be a huge Spanish Fiesta with 2 bands and speakers as big as our boat. So we enjoyed Salsa and Spanish dance music until 2am exactly, very little sleep though.

 

31/8/12

Although we woke to flooding rain, we braved the elements to explore “La Cite” and were rewarded with clearing sky and sunshine from lunch-time onwards.

The castle is quite amazing in size, beauty and it’s 2500 year history. The dynasty of Trencavel who had protected the Cathars from Pope Innozenz III’s crusade eventually had to capitulate and the castle was included into the crown’s domain.

The architect, Viollet –le-Duc later in the 19th century restored much of the castle to its original beauty.  Legend says that someone called out to the princess, Carcas, at the end of the siege: “Carcas sonne!” “ring the bells, Carcas and so the town got it’s name.

At lunch-time we sat down in one of the little restaurants and tried the for this region typical “cassoulet” a stew of duck, chicken and white beans – very tasty.

Coming back down into town Spanish flamenco dancers and musicians from the fiesta had spilled into the town square.

We returned to our boat and met up with Eva and Mario, then moved the boat about 500 metres away from the harbor and had a  good nights sleep.

 

1/9/12

After long discussions, Mario insisted to leave by train this morning to fetch the car from Port Cassafieres and drive it up to our end-station Castlenaudary.

We were all to catch up later in a place called Bram.

Our team was there fore reduced to just the captain and the 2 ship-mates. But I have to say that Eva and I managed the ropes at each lock like a well oiled machine and we reached Bram way before the anticipated time. On the way right and left of the canal were one sunflower field after another and a month ago it would have been a stunning site. However now the heavy crowns although still pointing all in the same direction towards the sun, were drooping and the leaves wilted. As sad and desolate was the village of Bram, 2 kms away from the canal, where we were to pick up Mario from the station. The station itself consisted of 2 rails and an abandoned brick shag and its surrounding streets seemed largely uninhabited. It reminded me of the first scene of “Once upon the time in the West” with Charles Bronson playing the mouthorgan.

 As we still had some time to the train’s arrival we had a coffee in the local hang-out, which I thought was quite courageous. Our café au lait was forthcoming but ‘sans lait’ , the warm milk arriving from somewhere in the back of the place (maybe the cow shed) 10 minutes later when our coffee had got cold.

Never mind, we had a great lunch in the boat beforehand where Eva copied a local recipe of salade au chevres chaud ( a mixed salad with toasted baguette with slightly melted goats cheese- yum.

Eventually we caught up with Mario who had experienced quite an odyssey himself.

 

2/9/12

Our last day cruising – so sad, but we could make the most of it having to manage another 11 locks some of them being double to quadruple.

We really were experts by now in jumping gracefully to the shore without wetting our feet, jogging leisurely to the top of the lock where we stared into the abyss until captain Austin had expertly maneuvered the boat to one side leaving room for two or more others, catching the ropes at the edge of the tall canal wall and draping it around the boulders.

The real challenge is to hold onto the ropes for dear life, so the boat neither moves too far forward or back as the water gushes into the lock nor bangs into the boat to our side. Well, as I said, it never presented too much of a problem for this crew, but today we could observe the consequence of lay ship-mates work when the front of the boat next to us flooded with water.

A to and fro friendly banter started between our captains and crew, especially after Eva poised her camera to immortalize the whole mishap.

We were goaded to go in front of them in the next lock, and as soon as we were in position, the French captain of the unlucky boat stood atop the bow with his camera in place. Of course we showed him how it is done!

It’s a really nice camaraderie between the boaties, everyone helping the other out. We met some nice people from Cornwall on a Catamaran, exuberant French people, and also bumped again and again(not virtually) into the same Scottish, English and Aussie people at the locks.

The same applies to the lock-keepers who were helpful and friendly without exception. Some live at the lock houses and sell wine, bread and artifacts or run a small restaurant, others are students on Uni break. They all loved the little cling-on koalas or the boomerang key-rings I gave out.

Well, there is a little piece of Australia now floating in the Canal du Midi. One of my little koalas unfortunately fell into the canal when I tried to toss it to a friendly French lady on another boat. Luckily she didn’t join the koala as I only realized after she missed catching it that she was a little inebriated.

In the late afternoon we reached Castlenaudary pretty exhausted after another quadruple lock and were rewarded with a beautiful old-town silhouette above the harbor.

We celebrated our last night on board with a delicious dinner made from most of the left-overs in our fridge, followed by an apple-cake from the local patisserie.

 

3/9/12

A little sadly we packed up and scrubbed the deck, then handed back the key and were on the way to Arles.

The closer we came to Beziers, the warmer it got. By the time we arrived there the sun was shining and the sky blue. We stopped at Hotel Alma again to collect our sim card, but it hadn’t arrived, so reluctantly we moved to a café on the town square and had coffees and chocolate croissants, soaking up the sun after the cool winds on the upper canal.

On the way to Arles Austin, Eva and I fell fast asleep, so Mario had to drive a sleeping compartment to Arles. We just woke up in time to add to the confusion of trying to find the hotel among tiny, one way lanes of the old city. Had to abandon the car and found Hotel Regence around the corner at the bank of the Rhone and basically adjoining the town wall. A great spot, with free parking in front, helpful receptionist, clean rooms with aircon and about 5 minutes from the Arena and other sites. After a short rest we explored the arena, town square, many very narrow picturesque lanes and found the Place de Forum with its crammed street cafes and had dinner next to the Café La Nuit of van Gogh’s street café painting. I tried the famous French fish soup (because my brother said I had to) and despite not being a fish lover, it was very tasty.

On the way back we stumbled over the Ancient Amphitheatre, the Hotel de Ville on the Place Rebublique and some other van Gogh’s sites, like the yellow house.


Arles

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3/9/12

A little sadly we packed up and scrubbed the deck, then handed back the key and were on the way to Arles.

The closer we came to Beziers, the warmer it got. By the time we arrived there the sun was shining and the sky blue. We stopped at Hotel Alma again to collect our sim card, but it hadn’t arrived, so reluctantly we moved to a café on the town square and had coffees and chocolate croissants, soaking up the sun after the cool winds on the upper canal.

On the way to Arles Austin, Eva and I fell fast asleep, so Mario had to drive a sleeping compartment to Arles. We just woke up in time to add to the confusion of trying to find the hotel among tiny, one way lanes of the old city. Had to abandon the car and found Hotel Regence around the corner at the bank of the Rhone and basically adjoining the town wall. A great spot, with free parking in front, helpful receptionist, clean rooms with aircon and about 5 minutes from the Arena and other sites. After a short rest we explored the arena, town square, many very narrow picturesque lanes and found the Place de Forum with its crammed street cafes and had dinner next to the Café La Nuit of van Gogh’s street café painting "Le Café Le Soir". I tried the famous French fish soup (because my brother said I had to) and despite not being a fish lover, it was very tasty.

On the way back we stumbled over the Ancient Amphitheatre, the Hotel de Ville on the Place Rebublique and some other van Gogh’s sites, like the yellow house.


4/9/12

Nice to sleep in a wider bed again, although I almost missed the sound of the bilge pump, creaking of the floor boards at every movement and the way too close noises from the adjoining cabin on the boat.

Not being “real tourists” although we ignored pedestrian lights just like tourists stepping off Manly Beach, we petit-dejeuned in a local hang-out with the best café crème. From there we observed the great spectacle of frenzied French drivers and delivery trucks blocking each other in the intersections of the tiny lanes with exclamations I can’t repeat here.

Today we toured around Arles a little more organized, walked around the cloister, the ancient theatre, the jardin d’eté with the bust of van Gogh and the hospital where he spent some time in. From there the walk lead to the Place de la République with it’s roman obelisk which used to be the center of the Arles Roman Circus and the Romanesque St. Trophime Church and Hotel de Ville.

A short stop at our hotel to pack a picnic lunch of left-overs from the canal trip plus extra water bottles and we were off to Les Baux. We had our lunch on the deserted central car park of Paradou surrounded by shady trees and park benches and managed to polish off the rest of the kilos of cheese we had purchased along the way and which now sit nicely around our hips.

The landscape changed from rural farms and vinyards to limestone hills of cavernous appearances the residual of old quarries (the name Les Baux originates from the bauxite which was mined there) and approached the amazing castle high above the valleys with the adjoining village.

The size and heights become even more astonishing as you breathlessly after climbing the stairs enter the castle ruins. Some rooms, stables, towers are standing quite intact and when you climb into one of the towers or onto the remaining wall you get a birdseye view of most of the Provence. Very goose bumpy to imagine that one of the Lords of Les Baux in 11th century forced unransomed prisoners to jump of the walls. In the 17th century the infamous Cardinal Richelieu on the order of Louis XIII had destroyed most of the castle.

The village is a typical tourist trap with one shop after the other. An exhibition shows photos of Grace Kelly at the time she first met Prince Rainer.  Her visit to Les Baux was an important event to give the area and extra lift. The Monaco Royal family once owned the castle and the chapel is still owned by Prince Albert. 

Pont du Gard & Avignon

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5/9/12

 Being partial to good coffee we returned this morning to our local breakfast place. That might have been the last time of enjoying the place because in the attempt of stopping the lovely waitress tripping on his camera bag, Mario bend to shift it, and coming back up hit the coffee cups she was carrying with his head.

The coffee poured all over her front, staining her light pink blouse, but luckily not burning her. On Mario’s apology she just said: “C’est ne pas grave, c’est ne pas grave!!!” and brought out new coffees in a jiffy.

We were quite sorry to leave Arles. Such a great place, and due to the finished school holidays not too overrun.

In just 35 minutes we arrived at the “Pont du Gard” the biggest Roman Aquaduct.

Except of twelve arches at the end all of the 2000-year-old bridge is still standing – amazing! There are several good viewpoints and many walks to do ones you enter the area via a flat car park fee. The museum gives a great insight into the history and the engineering of the Pont and of the tools that were used by the workers. The gravestones of the hundreds maybe thousands of workers who died in the process showed the tools used depending on the job they were doing.

In pm we drove on to Avignon where we had booked into a hotel “Logis” in Les Angles.

Vow! Avignon! The town wall, Palace of the Popes  and surrounds seem to come right out of a Hollywood studio – only in giant proportions!

We had a mediocre dinner on the Place d’ Horloge, but who cares in mids of this scenery! An aged guitarist singing French chansons further enhanced the atmosphere.

We returned to the hotel to have a good bye drink in the vine covered garden with our friends.

 

6/9/12

This morning Eva and Mario joined us in another stroll of Avignon to the old area of Tie-dying Rue de Teintures with its canal and old water wheels and to Les Halles (the big market). From there we went up to the high “Jardin du Rochers de Doms” offering a beautiful view onto the Rhone and city.

After sadly waving good bye to our friends we spend the afternoon with doing our laundry at the lavarie and relaxing at the pool of the hotel.

 7/9/12

Beautiful weather again, temperature in the low 30ties.

After a substantial breakfast at the hotel and some entries for the website we travelled part by bus part by taxi to Europcar only to find the door closed for lunch. We should have learned by now that between 12.30 and 2.00pm its siesta time. The taxi driver took us out of pity to a nearby American steakhouse where we spent the next 1.5 hour nibbling on a shared tapas platter and writing postcards.

This evening we drove to Villenieuve lès Avignon and found ourselves squeezing through the narrow medieval cobblestoned streets uphill to a 1316 fortress of St. André. All around the fortress the parking areas were full of expensive cars and people in beautiful summer dresses and suits were streaming into the manicured gardens.

Again we admired the dress style and elegance of the French.

Moving forward we saw that the gardens were full of modern sculptures, surrounded by groups of people chatting and drinking wine. We were, for once, the only English speaking in shorts and loafers, and, as by now we realized that we had crashed an art party for the rich and famous we stopped short of cueing up for drinks and hors d’oeuves and just tried to dawdle inconspicuously through the exhibit halting now and then to admire and comment on one of the works of art.

 Our tenacity was rewarded by a beautiful sunset colouring the walls of St. André in a soft orange and illuminating the golden Mary of Avignon on the other side of the river.

After another squeeze down and into the “centre ville” we ate at a little Tunisian snack bar and it was one of the best dinners we had so far.     

French Riviera


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8/9/12

After booking hotels for the next 3 days, we took off towards Cassis on the French Riviera. Gerd before warned us about the area being “one big car park”! But we thought now the school holidays are over, we would be safe. What we totally forgot was that it was weekend. We went ok up to Marseilles.  Although we didn’t intend to visit this great city, we involuntary did a city tour through taking a wrong turn off, and drove past most of the interesting sites including all around the amazing harbor.

Shortly after finding our way out we hit the weekend traffic, and when we entered Cassis, a small see port between Marseille and Toulon, we got the very last car space in town, or so it seemed. Even though the small streets and lanes running down to the beach were empty, the harbor site and beach was packed. As it was quite hot, we thought it a good time to jump on a boat to the Calanques. The Calanques is a coastal area of Fjords of rare beauty. Some of them are surrounded by huge curtain like limestone cliffs; others have more jagged rocks with pine trees growing in between. Another one has an open cave where water flows through. High above one of the Calanques stands the chapel of Notre Dame which was built as thanks for having survived the plague. Today there was a lot of live inside the calanques. Young men climbing the rocks and some jumping down into the crystal clear water, nudists displaying their tanned bodies to the passing tourist boat (so I was told – I looked away of course!), lots of kayakers and private sailing boats anchored to serve as jumping board for a swim or a snorkel.

On our return we decided to carry on to the “Routes des Cretes”, a very steep serpentine road right up to Cap Canaille. At 394 metres. its Europe’s 3rd highest cliff. Sir Winston Churchill apparently painted the cliff and spent some time in Cassis.

The drive moves further up and down the mountains with one stunning view after the other. Photos cannot show the extend of the panorama or the depth looking down and it was well worth overcoming my fear of the oh so narrow road, the plunging drops and the crazy French hoons!

 

9/9/12

We woke up early to call Lisa for her birthday, who was having a BBQ at Manly Dam. It was great to hear all three girls voices and I became a little home sick.

Went back to sleep and left rather late to go to St. Tropez. We hit early traffic exacerbated by the many roundabouts (yes, way more than in Oz), but streets were relatively clear as we turned off to St. Tropez, and: Vow, vow, vow….

What a stunning place! The bluest and cleanest water you can imagine. Pastel coloured houses with their blue, green and yellow window shutters surrounding the harbor and Bay. Yachts and sailing boats as far as your eye can see, and when I talk about yachts I mean the Onassis kind and above!

A handful of them could solve the entire European financial crisis at once.

Amazing – Akuna Bay, eat your heart out!

This is a place where you could sit on the jetty or at one of the harbor side cafes and watch all day the huge multistory yachts berth very cautiously. This was done with a lot of radio communication between the crew and captain; the crew  busying themselves straightening things up, wiping the sides down or serving more drinks to the upper deck. We were busy trying to spot or guess the celebrities which are or might be on board -  all a little different to our recent boating experience!

 

Just around the corner are several little bays where you are instantly far away from the hoity toity in the harbor. Austin and I had a wonderful swim – no snorkels needed to watch the marine life – and sundried on the softer than expected pebble beach.(had to adjust Austin’s optic several times – see photo!)

A little further on we found the sailors cemetery, right at the edge of the water – a beautiful and peaceful place with blue sea and sail boats in the background.

 

Quite a crowd had gathered to watch a couple of super yachts berth by the time we returned to the harbor. One of them was believed to be owned by Tom Cruise and there was also the rumour of royalty. But who it actually was – well I didn’t see William, Kate or Harry inspite of the union jack. Later we saw that most yachts were from Cayman Island – I wonder why..?????

Orange

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10/9/12

Left Cassis and drove over Aix en Provence to Orange. The constant tool booths along the way really slowed the traffic down. Our Mastercard doesn’t work on all of them, so we had to queue up at the cash&card lanes.

Arrived at the pre-booked Logis hotel and seeing the rundown facade were presently surprised by the cleanliness and quality of the room.

Spent the afternoon strolling around the city and had a quite traditional dinner with view of the great and famous Amphitheater. 

Dinner consisted of an aperitif (when in France…….) of Pernot (yum), then an entrée of baked cheese on a bed of salad, followed by traditional seafood dumplings in a creamy sauce with tagliatella and, of course, some local red wine.

 

11/9/12

This morning we climbed onto the central hill above the Amphitheatre. Once the Dutch Prince of Orange, yes you heard right, an ancestor of the current Dutch Royal Family, ruled the area and built his Castle there. Later under Louis XIV the castle was destroyed and now only a well and a few stones are left. Instead there is a lovely park area from where you have a great view over the theatre and the town.

We visited the inside of the Amphitheatre. It was built under Augustus and is the second largest and probably best- maintained Roman theatre in existence. The outer wall is 37 meters high. Inside operas and classical theatre is still being performed. Orange has its own Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dam Cathedral too.

In the afternoon we had a picnic lunch on the central hill and relaxed with a book. Austin nearly brought his lunch up again. He is allergic to my “French” driving. His fault! I told him to get an automatic! 

Lyon

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12/9/12

This morning I had to take Austin to a doctor. He complained of an earache (not caused by my talking this time). He admitted it had been there for 2-3 days.

I know from experience if Austin complains – its either a joke or quite bad. Well he wasn’t joking! I said, no problem, all doctors speak English. Yes, “Pustekuchen” as we say in German. This presented a new challenge to my blocked out school French. I think I mumbled something like: mon mari mal oreile droit pendant 2 jours…..I think the docteur got more from my sign language. She examined Austin’s ear, and within 5 minutes we had a prescription and an invoice for our insurance, and we were on our way!

The weather started to turn as we were driving into Lyon.

Our hotel was close to the Metro, so we didn’t loose any time to see the old city, St. Jean’s Cathedral, the lovely backstreets with its courtyards and hidden passageways – all in an unhurried, non-touristy environment. However it got really cold as the sun went down and we sought refuge in one of the backstreet restaurants. These are places whose menus offer calf-cheeks, diverse livers dishes, unidentifiable sausages, tribe and other offal with varies sauces – all totally overpriced.

In the more exclusive restaurants the chefs are apparently stars like footy players and create marvelous dishes… I read later in my travel guide).

 

13/9/12

Caught an early metro in, then found the tourist bus and “hopped on”.

Crossed the Rhone and the Saone, which meet in Lyon, drove past the old opera with new glass dome à la Berlin Bundestag, the old lovely theater, many really nice and exclusive shopping streets, the Hotel de Ville with fantastic fountain, and then crawled up the hill to Fouvière with Notre Dame Basilica. The Basilica was to be a tribute to Mary by the bishop of Lyon if she spared the city from the Prussians. It’s a beautiful building with its graceful towers, its mosaics and China doll like Mary figures on beds of flowers. Unfortunately we could only see the ornate ceilings on DVD as restorations are carried out.

The terrace outside presents a great view over the whole city. From there we walked down through the rose garden and down 200 steps ending in a small lane just above St. Jean’s Cathedral.

We carried on by foot avoiding the tourist bus, but following its tire tracks, so to speak.

In town across the river there was high life: people shopping, drinking, eating, and among the crowd about 100 Smurfs in human from, but nevertheless, as blue as can be. My friend Erika would have liked this. We watched groups of these young Smurfs and Smurfettes fulfilling little dares and pranks, and saw some of them later rolling in or being doused with flour after having jumped in the fountain. Great fun! All part of the new Uni student’s “Interacting Day” – to get to know each other

Bourgogne (Burgundy)

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14/9/12

From Lyon we drove up the Rhone valley to Beaune. We stayed in the near village of Levernois in midst of a golf course.

The countryside of the côte d’dore has one romantic village and vinery after the other. Houses are ivy covered and streets paved with cobblestone. The very green landscape is part hilly, part flat. Just beautiful!

We took a trip to Bourgogne Marine to view our first proper barge for sale, The Overjong, a Sagar Mini Lux 1998. I was quite amazed how spacy and light it is inside a barge. It even had central heating and a potbelly stove! However, it needs a bit of work done to it.

From there it was only a short drive to the big marine of H2O at St. Jean de Losne, a charming place on the Sâone River. Aussie was in heaven! Lots of boats for sale, barges and motor cruisers. We got talking to a family from Melbourne in a sailboat that reminded us of Vicky and Andrew Bray, in that they also sailed extensively with their 2 small children and had just come from the North of Holland via canals and rivers.

Along the canal we saw another Aussie flag and had a good chinwag with a couple from Perth who had purchased a lovely barge a few months ago. They started off cruising at Bordeaux (loved the journey to and city of Toulouse) then carried on along the Canal Du Midi and up the Rhone, Saone to the Bourgogne.

Eventually, I had to drag Aussie away. After all we will return there next week to meet with the boat salesman. This night we ate at the hotel of the next village (“no need for a map”, said our hotel receptionist,” just be careful you don’t miss it!”), a 5- house- village with an exquisite restaurant and very reasonable priced.

(For Nini:  Veal Terrine, Trout fillet (Dad had roasted chicken) with cute little cucumber pieces stuffed with vegetable mash, chocolate mousse.)

 

15/9/12

Took it leisurely with a Picnic on the side of the regional road to Paray de Monial, bread, brie, cucumber/yoghurt salad, glass of vine (water for the driver – guess who drove!).

Bought a cooling bag for our petit déjeuner and déjeuner supplies in a larger shopping center, then approached our hotel through squashy laneways. We live right under the roof of a really old building opposite the monastery and almost next to a Basilica, Hotel de la Basilique. In the 1930th entrance hall a little, old lady (at least 75 y.o.) welcomed us.

“Troisieme étage”1 she announced, then smiled as she saw my desperate face, suit- case in hand. “ Ascenseur à gauche”2 she added quickly. Well this old place in spite of it’s beginning of the century décor has all the modern cons, like flat screen TV, Internet and most importantly a lift! We were amazed!

Most of this pilgrim town seems to consist of monastery ground with at least 6 chapels, 2 catholic schools, seminar buildings and a monastery Park with prayer stations. A narrow disused branch canal near the Basilique and the Canal du Centre surround an island where the old hospital was situated isolating the ill.

Some of the town center’s buildings originate from the early medieval times, 7th century or so, and the early 16th century town-hall façade is absolutely stunning. My friend Eva would have had her camera running hot here!

 

1 -Translated to English means "3rd Level"

2 -Translated to English means "Lift on your left"

Boats, Birthdays and Barbers

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16/9/12

 It’s Aussie’s Birthday and after driving through some low hanging cloud early am we had the best sunny weather and blue sky fitting for the sunny birthday boy!

The rural country along the Saône and the Canal du Centre is beautiful and has some great regional streets. We arrived on time at Briennon Marine (you won’t find that on a map), a tiny boat harbor with approximately 8 moorings. There we met with Graham Wambly, an English born Frenchman, to see one of his boats for sale. The French owner was around too and waited patiently while we looked around the 13 m cruiser and discussed pro and cons. The inside of the boat was very roomy, so was the Aft deck (slowly catching on to the boating language). I particularly liked the bar in the living area and the island bed – that means you can actually walk around the bed and don’t have to climb over a snoring body when you need to go to the loo at night. But Austin, being interested in something as unimportant as the diesel engine, found a lot of oil in the bilge. Ashame! I would have liked Aussie to find the perfect boat on his Birthday!

With the decision on this one outstanding we made our way back North to St. Jean de Losne, a real canal cruising fanatics kind of place. There the Saône and the Canal de Bourgogne come together. We booked into yet another Hotel Logis, right at the river past the old, historic bridge. This night we had a real gourmet birthday dinner: duck breast in black currant sauce (not fatty at all) with 5 different tasty vegies. For desert Austin was presented with a 3 mini desert platter, which the chef had doubled up to 6 different deserts – heaven for a Robinson!

 

17/9/12

Today was dedicated to visiting the large H2O Marine here in Losne, which, by the way, is owned by a German as we were told.The young salesman, Max, gave us a bunch of keys and sent us off to look by ourselves at suitable boats for sale. We saw another nice barge. But like most barges, it was missing a decent outdoor area to sit on. It also smelt rather musty and was a little old worldly for me, although some people like just that about them. We saw a few motor cruisers, nothing really suited to our needs and budget. Lastly we saw the Leieland, a 12m motor cruiser still occupied by their Belgian owners Eric and Belinda. Everything on this boat was spick and span – even the motor! We were impressed by the space and brightness inside, and stayed for a good chat on board. Eric and Belinda really know their boats. They used to pilot a commercial barge up and down the Rhein for 30 years. The “Leieland ist mein Augenapfel”, said Eric to me (is the apple of my eye), and you could see that he treated the boat like it. Well the boat went straight to the top of our list.

Mundane things like shopping and doing our washing at the Laundromat took up the afternoon. However bumping into more boat people during our wash cycle and later at the riverside eating some Tapas made it all fun and interesting.

 

18/9/12

Couldn’t sleep all night after Austin and I discussed to make an offer on the Leieland. We asked Eric and Belinda to take us for a little test drive this morning, so Austin could hear the engine and see how the boat handles.

The engine purred like a cat! So on our return to H2O Austin put his great negotiating skills to work. We waited what seemed forever for Max to return from presenting our offer to the owner. He had jokingly said, “If I don’t return the owner has probably shot me…”

Finally he returned with a counter offer, which was very acceptable – and so we did! Yeah!!!

We celebrated with some Rosé and both getting our hair trimmed. Unfortunately my French for “Austin wants his hair cut with a number 4 comb” was interpreted as a 4 mm crew cut!  “Vive la difference!”

And that was not the only stuff up that occurred today.

Driving back from the “shearer” we got stuck in a queue behind a truck transporting a huge barge. Soon the whole village was at standstill. It turned out that the driver had taken the corner onto the old bridge to tightly and busted the rear hydraulics. It took 20 minutes until we finally could pass and another 2 hours until the hydraulics were repaired and the truck could move on.


Alsace/Elsaß

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19/9/12

Thanks to the recommendations of the same French hairdressers that cut Aussie’s hair, we stopped in Dole. You should always listen to your hairdresser! It proved to be an interesting town.

Like in many of the medieval towns, metal plates within the pavements, this ones adorned with a cat, lead you around the old cite to all the sites. We walked in the footsteps of the town’s poor along the disused arms of the Doubs river and through passageways following underground canals. Here Louis Pasteur was born in one of the tanneries along the water where once hides were washed.  There are signs and monuments of him all over town. In this damp and unhealthy environment then teeming with vermin, he just had to find a vaccine for rabies -and do something about the milk quickly too: before you knew it the milk was past- your- eyes (ouch)! We also walked in the footsteps of the old Habsburg and the Spanish at the time when Dole was the capital of Bourgogne.

The “canal de rhône au rhin” flows along the 17th century Hotel Dieu, an important hospital at Pasteur’s time and there we had the chance to watch an automated lock being used.

At lunchtime we continued on towards the Alsace.

Trying to reserve a room close to Colmar via phone, we found a vacancy in Muhrbach and followed instructions of our GPS. This was not the first time we doubted our guidance system (always unjustified), but this time we were really worried. It took us far from the mainstream into gradually decreasing roadways, more like bushwalking paths, deep into the forest and up the Vogese mountains. Any minute we expected Red Riding Hood or the woolf to jump out. To our surprise there was actually a lonely but lovely family hotel/ restaurant at the very end of it, similar to what I remember from family holidays in the Black Forest.

  

 20/9/12

Waking up in the big country style bed and opening the window to crisp mountain air looking onto pine forest, I thought for a moment that I was in Germany. The Alsace or “Elsaß” has actually changed hands a few times between Germany and France, and most people are bilingual.

So we did what good Germans would do and started walking through the forest and up the mountain. A very steep ascent brought us to a hut at 1000m elevation with a clear mountain spring. And this all before breakfast!

Coming back down we threw our suitcases into the car and snaked our way  down to the nearest village. Coffee at last!!!

I wanted to show Aussie the town of Colmar with its Fairytale half-timbered houses and colourful roofs and window shutters. We booked into an inexpensive hotel and strolled the 1km to the center after our usual picnic lunch.

Starting at “little Venice” with tiny tourist barges making their way through the romantic scenery and under the very low bridges, we did the historic walk right through town.  Here like in Dole the water was used in medieval times for the tanneries and to allow farmers to barge their goods into town.

In the old custom’s house we enjoyed the Exhibition of “Recycle Art” with sculptures made from garden tools, collages from flattened beer lids, tires and soft drink cans and amazing ikebana sculptures made from bus and train tickets.

We took a break at a sunny table of non other than the local Irish Pub “Le Murphy’s”!(love the name!)

 

21/9/12

Since we had seen almost all there is to see in this little town we started late and retraced our steps until we reached the well known “Unterlinden Museum”. The mueum houses among a collection of Christian art, the famous Issenheimer Altar by Mathias Grünewald, Martin Schongauer paintings, whose Madonna in the Rosery we admired yesterday in St. Martin’s church, and an amazing altar piece by Albrecht Dürer. Now, those names probably don’t mean a lot to Aussies, but every school kid here learns about these artists.

Time for an afternoon nap and some reading! Tonight we are planning to eat one of the Elsaß specialities: Tarte Flambée (similar to cheese and onion pie but sounds better!), Baeckeofe (don’t quite know what is in it), Spätzle (a kind of homemade noodles) with pork and sauerkraut and maybe some Kouglehopf glacé for desert!

I can see we have to do a long walk again tomorrow!

Wished we wouldn’t have checked out the Manly/Storm game at lunch-time!

PS: By the way, the sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was born here in Colmar. He sculpted among others, the Statue of Liberty, a replica of it was erected here in 2004 to commemorate 100 years after his death. Rather oddly, it stands in the middle of a roundabout here. Nobel prize winner Albert Schweitzer was also born close by in neighbouring Kaysersberg. 

The Black Forest, Germany

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22/9/12

Crossed the Rhine into Germany and drove by rain and fog into the Black Forest.

In the ‘”Bauernstube” (the country style Restaurant) of the local hotel/pub at Thurner we warmed up with a noodle soup, and by the time we unpacked, the clouds had lifted and the rain stopped. We drove through the windy green hills surrounded by the typical pine forest and low roofed farmhouses into Hinterzarten, a health resort, and further on to the “Titisee” (Lake Titi – nothing to do with the female anatomy).  Austin didn’t mind the tourist shops and cafes along the lake entrance, in the contrary! Couldn’t keep him away from the Black Forest Cherry Cake – he reluctantly let me have a fork full too.

In the evening we had great fun with a group of businessmen from Freiburg and the very witty son of the hotel owner, bantering across the tables about what the kitchen had run out of and which food had to be gotten rid off by the cook. All in good humour – it made for a great night’s entertainment.

 

23/9/12

Beautiful sunshine after a few early clouds!

Austin wanted to return to Titisee to make a few photos and we ended up walking not only around the Lake, but also up into the forest to the next valley and back.

Met a couple of 80 year- old Germans living in Switzerland who shamed us by overtaking us climbing the hill!!! I think, we need to improve our fitness level!

Black Forest and Würzburg

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24/9/12

Woke up to clouds and rain, but bravely took off on a 10 km walk after a good country breakfast.

And sure enough the skies opened up and we stripped off our rain jackets. The walk to the village St. Mäergen led over sunny cow pastures and through moss carpeted pine forests. The only challenges on this walk were to push through the gawking cattle and avoid their splashy excrements. But- aah! The good country air!!!

Something else is good here: the food!!! We had heaps of the seasonal mushrooms called Pfifferlinge (not available in Oz) usually served in a cream sauce over Dumplings or hand made pasta, called “Spaetzle” – yum!

By the way, our guesthouse is a pure family run Hotel/Pub/Restaurant. There are 7 kids between 17 and 30, all lovely and all working in some capacity in the “business”. Where do you get so obedient, loyal kids??? Just kidding, Lisa, Jules and Nin!

 

25/9/12

We reluctantly left the Black Forest, but not before stopping at a roadside stall to purchase some smoked Black Forest Ham and Pine Forest Honey. The elderly farmers couple insisted that we also try some the Kirsch. Poor us!

At 13.30 we crossed “the boarder” to Bavaria (also called “The Free State of Bavaria”). You see, the Bavarians classify themselves as special and independent from the northern part of Germany. Is this right, Christiane?, John?, Mario and Eva???

Mind you, they allowed me to live in Munich for 3 years, though they got rid of Austin after 6 months.

Driving on the Autobahn Austin got the most out of our hired Renault Clio at 170kmh while Mr. Audi, Mercedes and BMW swooshed past with at least 200kmhs. I calmed my nerves by listening to hits from the early 60ties like “Schöner fremder Mann”, “Spanish Eyes” and Wenke Mhyre on Radio Baden Baden.

So we headed to Würzburg at the top end of the Romantic Road.

 

26/9/12

We started this morning at the Residenz Palace, where from the early 18th century the Prince-Bishops lived. They combined church and political power and were only displaced by Duke Ferdinand of Tuscany when secularization abolished episcopal rule. Later it became part of the Bavarian Kingdom. It is described as the most significant baroque palace of Germany, even Europe and was inscribed in the UNESCO world heritage listing.

Luckily, most of the furniture, doors, paintings and wall carpets escaped the fires in the two wings after bombing at the end of WW2. Therefore everything could be reconstructed with its original items.

Unfortunately the Dom of Würzburg was closed for renovations, and so we crossed the “Main” River and climbed the steep hill to the Fortress Marienberg. Here the Prince Bishops used to live from the 12th century until this fortress became too small and insignificant in their eyes.

The way down from the fortress lead right through the vineyard, and we couldn’t help ourselves and picked some of the small very sweet grapes  (if you want to get us in trouble you need to write to the State of Bavaria who owns the vineyard).

Determined, as we were this morning, to change our diet and making a good start with the grapes,  our tourist map had to lead us straight to the local market and the stall with “Currywurst and Pommes”!!!  


27/9/12

Today we are heading back to Remscheid and Ahlen to catch up with my family and friends.

We will be "out of office" until approximately 7/10/12 when we fly to England.

England

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7/10/12

After great times with my family and friends in Ahlen, Remscheid and Essen, we left today for England. Landing at Gatwick is so much nicer than finding your way through Heathrow. We picked up our hire car and drove on to Wargrave near Reading where we booked in to do our Inland Waterways Certificate.

 

8/10/12

Just having a glass of red in the “Bull Hotel” next too a crackling fire. This place is as English as can be! It’s at least 120 years old – and this is no “bull”! - with crooked walls and low ceilings of white bulging plaster and black wooden beams. People around me speak a strange foreign language and drink Fosters (imported from the colonies – well, someone has to drink it!).

Wargrave is a beautiful little village full of little cottages but also grand mansions. Among the estates we found a white Victorian mansion on a grassy hill full of deer. The estate is apparently the English holiday place of the Sultan of Amman, and not a deer farm as first suspected. I guess for him these are exotic animals.  

Getting back to our busy schedule today:

 At 9 am we met with our examiner for the boating test . Unfortunately, due to flooding, the Thames had a vicious current, and so (fortunately in my case!) we could only do the theoretical examination for our license.  Well, we passed with flying colours!

The practical test had to be re-scheduled to next weekend. Therefore we had the whole day from 10.30am on for our leisure.

We first visited near-by Henley on Thames. A charming place with houses from the 15th and 16th century, one of them called “The Anne Boleyn House” due to the connection of her family to the area. In the yard of the 12th century church a memorial for the singer Dusty Springfield has been erected.

Henley is apparently the highest mortgaged area of England – very expensive estates, more Mercedes and Audis than on the German Autobahn!

After eating our “cut lunch” we carried on to Windsor. We had never been inside the castle, and on our arrival we were told: “She” arrived this afternoon”. Our request for having high tea with her majesty was declined, but we were able to see all the rooms used for reception and entertainment of VIPs that are often closed to the public. We were most impressed by St. Georges Chapel with the grave of Jane Seymour and Henry VIII, and burial chamber of King George VI, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret. The knights of the Garter Order and their individual regalia and flags dominate the choir of the chapel. So much history under one amazingly ornate ceiling!

Well, the weather was typical English: it poured all day, so we were happy to settle in the hotel at night with a steak and kidney pie and a glass of red. 


13/10/12

The last 4 days we spent in Manchester, Cleveleys and Lancaster with Austin’s family. It was lovely to see everyone again; meet Samantha’s gorgeous new baby, William, Paul’s beautiful daughter, Keeley and Donna’s Josh.

Tomorrow we’ll have an early start to go back to Wargrave for the practical boot test. 

Skippers Ahoy!!!

15/10/12

Today we finally could complete our Inland Waterway Certificate.

Well, talk about four seasons in one day! We woke up by frost in Wargrave. Martin gave us a short theoretical briefing on board of his training boat while we shivered under 4 layers of clothes + beanie + gloves. Then off we went down the Thames, which was a lot calmer than the previous week.

For a short time the sun came out while we practised rope throwing, only to bucket down with rain ½ hour later as we practised turns and berthing. Luckily we had a break of 35 minutes to have our sandwiches in the car at lunchtime.

The area is truly beautiful, even more so seen from the water. Magnificent old-English country houses line the Thames here. The waterway is full of small ducks, large Norwegian ducks and swans. The big ducks have no problems flying above the water, but the swans hit the surface with a “bup-bup-bup” of their tail feathers, and then elegantly go into floating mode once tiring.

After lunch the wind had picked up again which made our next task to steer into a lock and make fast even more difficult. But what can I say- we are just “naturals” and mastered also this feat to perfection (Martin, I hope you don’t read this!). Anyway, we both got our certificate.

Before being able to celebrate we had to drive to our next stay in Portsmouth.

Portsmouth

16/10/12

Had our first cooked English breakfast and were lured outside by blue skies and sunshine. We soon realised that Portsmouth comes only with a stiff breeze.

So back to beanies and wind jackets, we walked along the historic harbour of Portsmouth, in Admiral Horatio Nelson footsteps. We learned that also Captain Bligh from the bounty and Robert Falcon Scott, Antarctic explorer, took off from here. Even our Captain Cook made fast at Portsmouth after discovering Australia.

The main attraction of the town is of course the restored HMS Victory (Nelson’s ship) and “The Mary Rose” built by Charles II in honour of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII sister.

Already filled up with history and looking for Charles Dickens’ birthplace, we ran into a former schoolteacher/tourist guide at the Portsmouth Cathedral. He gave us a very thorough inside into the history of every corner of the cathedral including, statues of Thomas Beckett, Lancelot Andrewes and paintings of W. Lionel Wyllie.

Exhausted from wind, sunshine and this historic lecture, we made our way back to our car only to be chased down by our friendly volunteer guide to impart some more knowledge on to us ignorant Aussies.

Well, all I remember is that Peter Sellers was born here too.

Off to the “Duke Of Buckingham” for a glass of Red and a good night’s sleep!

Brighton

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17/10/12

Today we made our way to Brighton, the Seaside “Blackpool” of London.

In reality the town reminds more of Bath. It has the same Squares or Circles surrounded by stately residences where once the carriages would have discharged their royal fare in style.

We walked along the miles of pebble beach bordered by colourful beach houses enjoying the rare sunshine. At the famous Brighton Pier with its carrousels, fun -park and games parlour we watched unusual looking seagulls waiting for people to drop a chip or a crumb of fish.

The oriental Royal Pavilion, built by the “Party King”, George IV, although in a beautiful setting of landscaped gardens, doesn’t fit at all into the picture.

Getting ready to fly to Amsterdam tomorrow and the following day on to KL and Saigon, where we visit our friends Michael and Trang.

 

Vietnam

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21/10 – 26/10/12

Back again with our lovely friends in balmy Saigon. It’s monsoon season and humidity is very high. Michael and Trang bought recently a beautiful, large apartment overlooking the Saigon River. Here it is less crowded and noisy than in the area they lived before with Trang’s family. The building is a modern generously built high-rise with a large pool, sauna, tennis court, gym and restaurants on the ground floor.

We were very spoilt with lovely Vietnamese cooking from Trang and Trang’s Mę (mum), who cooked her special chicken curry and other delicacies “especially for Austin”, who was in culinary heaven. He would have even denounced our marriage for Mę’s curry and pork ribs.

It was great fun to see the family again: beautiful Tuyen, Vu and his lovely new wife, Ai, and hear stories of Giang, Hiro and their Baby Kaei in Japan.

On Saturday the 20/10/12 our special friend Jane in Australia had a special Birthday, so no sacrifice was big enough for us to get her a very special present:

Trang, Michael, Austin and I spent a sleepless night worrying about sleeping in and the forecast of heavy monsoonal rain. Finally, at 4.30am we managed to tear ourselves away from our beds for the dangerous trip through Saigon’s traffic to the airport. If you have in Vietnam, you know that traffic means multiple bikes laden with all sort of hardware and cars next to each other interweaving in no special order with multiple bikes and cars out of several other directions.

Well, we made it and caught our plane to the island of Phu Quoc.

No sooner had our feet touched ground we swung ourselves onto 2 bucking scooters and rode along the teeth clattering, bone shattering dirt roads. We encountered hundreds of massive water filled potholes and furrows of deep red mud spraying up our legs and sliding us towards oncoming trucks, bikes and wildlife (chickens, buffaloes, lizards). We also passed through dangerous villages with riled natives engaged in cockfights.

How we survived this Odyssey across the island and made it to the chosen place to buy a present for Jane – nobody knows!!!

Of course this was not the end of the ordeals we went through for our friend, Jane!

After a short beach break with some meagre sustenance washing our sore limps off in 28 degrees water, Austin and I lost the spring of our bike-stand and shortly after the clasp of my “plastic” helmet. So we drove off with the stand tied up by a piece of string and me holding on to the helmet with one hand and to Austin with the other. Luckily, Michael and Trang were sticking close by because next our bike stalled and would not re-start. A low battery! In the meantime threatening monsoon clouds had gathered overhead threatening to burst, and we could still be stranded in the middle of the dungel if we hadn’t been spotted by one of the bike-hire guys. He managed to re-start us somehow and only through Michael’s expert survival skills and astral navigation (so he says) we escaped being lost in the jungle drowning in the torrential downpour.

Nothing is too troublesome for our Jane! 

On the second day on Phu Quoc I was quiet embarrassed when two Vietnamese women on the beach pointed out my hairy legs and insisted on removing them. I watched with fascination how they first wetted a thread of cotton in their mouth, then twisted it. While relaxing the thread a little they captured a hair in one of the loops, then tightening the string with a quick pull. Much less painful than waxing and less irritating to the skin - I don't know whether the wetting was necessary though!

We are back in Saigon now and having a goodbye dinner with the family tonight, then off to KL for 2 days before heading home.

PS: If you got worried: I still have both my legs! I meant to say : insisted on removing the offensive hair.


27/10/12

Dinner with the family was amazing! Michael and Trang took us to "nhà hàng håi sån ngn". The restaurant has an outdoor feeling including trees, a pond and being open to the front. The owner has collected former street cooks, each for their expertise in a speciality. The mainly female cooks are set up in a walkway which goes around three sides of the dining areas in a similar fashion and just with slightly more sophisticated equipment than you see it everywhere on the streets of Vietnam.

The food is simply amazing! Another first for me: eating snails! Yum!


Malaysia

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28/10/12

Yesterday we arrived in KL and after a swim in the hotel pool, we had a wander around Chinatown with it’s Night Market.

Today we took a taxi to Batu Caves. The drive there including the driver waiting for us for 2 hours and then taking us back cost us 100 MR (about $33-). A giant statue of the god Shiva protects the entrance, followed by 272 steep steps to the main limestone cave, the Cathedral Cave.

Women and girls in gold and silver embroidered dresses and men and boys in white silk shirts bring offerings of milk, Peacock feathers and fruit praying at several shrines and temples. Long tailed macaque monkeys jump all over the place being fed with fruit, coconut and colourful orchid flowers.

Several couples bring their new babies to the shrines. Both the father's and the babies’ heads are covered with a yellowish clay-like substance. Maybe this is similar to our christening ceremony?

Our taxi driver had encouraged us to give some money and make a wish. If the wish comes true, then you have to return to the caves and give thanks.

At lunchtime we asked the driver to drop us of at the Central Market. We shared a Mee Goreng for lunch and wandered around admiring the local art and craft for sale.

Two water basins full of little fish drew our attention. The fish, called "doctor fish", are advertised as "therapy" and people can buy 10 or 20 minutes of sticking their feet into the basins. The shrieks of some of the “patients” were a little off-putting but brave as I am, I sacrificed my feet first. It took me a minute to work up the courage as I observed swarms of fish nibbling on other people's feet. As soon as I, and shortly after Austin, put our feet in the water - whoosh- the fish all swarmed to the "fresh meat", and it's such a tickling strange sensation, that I couldn't suppress a shrieking giggle-fit.  For the first minute or two it takes quite some self-discipline to keep the feet down while the fish give your skin a good peeling and micro massage. After that we purposely withdrew our feet, only to enjoy a renewed fish-frenzy once we immersed our feet again. 

29/10/12

Our flight home will leave tonight at 10.40pm, so we think it is a good opportunity for a day trip before heading off to the airport.

We asked the concierge to book a trip to Melaka (Malacca) looking forward to learn about the history of the former important trading port, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The fee for this trip seemed quite high for Malaysian standards, so our expectations were accordingly high.

Our driver arrived early and seemed friendly enough and was quite chatty.

Instead of the historic background of one of the earliest Malay sultanates, whose Monarchy ended with the arrival of the Portuguese in 1511, we were lectured about the benefits of green tea and given a full description of the guide’s bowel movements before and after green tea.

So we didn’t hear about the Dutch driving the Portuguese out in the early 17th century or the arrival of the English etc. until he dropped us of at the City’s Museum where we could obtain at least the basics.

Well that was the last day of our adventure, and we are already looking forward to cruising the canals of France with our boat in 2013.

Over and out!

Susi   



© Austin Robinson 2019