Archive for October, 2009

Reflecting on our BIG Adventure

 We couldn’t let our BIG adventure end without some last comments.

As we started our adventure, we were a little concerned that months and months of planning had built an expectation much higher than was possible to be in reality, but the end result was even better than we thought possible. 

We had no major hassles, which was amazing, considering the length of time that we have been away, the number of flights we have taken, and the number of tours/activities/accommodation we had pre-booked.

Overall, we were impressed with Globus, who we booked our Greek Islands, Italy and River Cruise tours through – they have a wonderful reputation throughout Europe, which meant that we were given extra special treatment as their clients.  We were impressed with the quality of service we received, how well-organised the tours were and the friendliness of all the people associated with their organisation.

Janet and Adrian did a fantastic job organising the accommodation for our Road Trip through Scotland and their little car did them proud, carting the four of us and a bootfull of luggage through the highlands, lowlands and Outer Hebrides.

When planning our Adventure, we decided that we would like to see a lot of places, even for a short time, rather than a fewer number of places for a longer time.  While there were certainly several places that we would have liked to stay longer, we were happy to have had the opportunity to see the number of wonderful places that we did.

The weather was extremely kind to us – we calculated we had only six days of rain – and none of the plans for these six days had to be changed because of the weather. 

It was extremely hot in the Greek Islands and Italy, quite cool towards the end of our trip in Germany and the Netherlands, and very pleasant the rest of the time.

We travelled through twelve countries and had no trouble in communicating with them.  We were surprised at the number of people we came in contact with who spoke quite fluent English.  Everyone we met was very helpful and friendly.

Before we left Australia, Adrian created our Blog site for us so that we could keep in touch with family and friends.  Very early in our trip, we discovered that recording our daily activities and posting some photos was fantastic. It gave us the opportunity to reflect on each day’s activities, as well as giving our family and friends the opportunity to follow our adventures.  We now have a really good record of what we have done over the past 13 weeks and we have over two and a half thousand photos on the web (as well as thousands more) to remind us of our wonderful adventure. 

We were delighted with the number of people who took the opportunity to keep in touch with us via their comments to our blog site or emails directly to us. 

We were extremely grateful to be able to have Janet and Adrian’s flat as our home base. Their flat became our second home and while we enjoyed our various excursions to Europe, Italy and Ireland, we also looked forward to being able to spend time with them, relaxing and enjoying their company, exploring the area they live in and meeting their friends.

We could not have done this trip without being able to go “home” to recharge our batteries, ready for the next adventure. 

For the two of us, this adventure has been something that we have dreamt of, but until recently, never thought possible. 

We feel really blessed that we were able to share such a wonderful experience together and, although we have tried, no words will ever be able to describe exactly how we feel.

So, this is the end of our BIG adventure…… until next time……… back to porridge and old clothes…….

Sunday 25 October – Brisbane

Sunday 25 October                   Brisbane                                   HOT !!!!!!!

After a good flight, we arrived in Brisbane at 6.30am and by the time we cleared customs (we had to have our suitcases x-rayed – not sure why!) it was 7.30am.

We were met by Eenie with a huge bright green sign, almost the same colour as her car – “THIS WAY TO THE BEAUTIFUL LITTLE GREEN CAR” and a big grin on her face!  When we got out to her car there was a green sign on the back of it “STOP – THIS IS IT” and there was another one on the side window “LUGGAGE AND BROTHER”. 

When we got home to Camp Hill and walked into our lounge room, there was a Welcome Home sign, with some Aussie flags and balloons and a kangaroo and card from Janet’s friend Fran – very lovely and much appreciated!

Eenie stayed for a cuppa and a chat – it sure was lovely to see her after all this time!  She had been over to our house and cleaned it, bought a few groceries, made the beds with fresh sheets etc and had been looking after our garden for us, doing some pruning etc – she is just amazing! (our lovely neighbours collected our mail, watered our potplants and mowed the lawn for us – we are lucky to have them!)

We spent the day unpacking and putting everything away, opening 13 weeks of mail and struggling to stay awake until it was time to pick up Meika, the spoilt and much-loved Tonkinese pussy cat, at 4.30pm!

We had an early dinner – soup that Eenie had made for us – and were in bed by 6.00pm and were asleep by 6.01pm!  We slept the whole night and woke up just after 4.00am on Monday morning, feeling much more human.

Maidenhead Day 3 and 4

Maidenhead Day 3 and 4                     Overcast, cool

 Yesterday, Thursday, we enjoyed just spending time at home, relaxing with our usual walk into Maidenhead to get a few groceries.  Also Sandy downloaded the talking book onto Richard’s iPod.  That is now five books that Richard has read on holidays and one ready for him for to listen to on the plane home.

In the evening, Adrian and Sandy went to see the musical “The Lion King”, which was fantastic.  Janet has seen it twice before (once with Katharine in Sydney – a Christmas gift from Eenie; and once with the Qld Youth Choir with Fran when they were in London) and Richard wasn’t all that interested in going as he has trouble seeing what is happening on the stage.  As Adrian hadn’t seen it, Sandy asked him on Monday evening if he would like to see it and he jumped at the opportunity and quickly got on line to book our seats.

Sandy and Adrian caught the 5.30pm train from Maidenhead to London Holborn, with a change of train at Ealing Broadway, just before Paddington.  After a short walk to the theatre, we had collected our tickets, visited the bathroom and were settled into our seats at 7.00pm!  Just love British transport!  The Lion King was showing at the Lyceum Theatre, which has been there since 1765, although it has had several additions and refurbishments since then. 

Our seats were excellent – we were sitting in the Royal Circle, which is the first balcony, in Row G, with a fantastic view over the whole stage and the extra things that happened off stage – in the boxes and in the audience!!

From the moment Rafiki came out onto the stage and commenced singing “The Circle of Life”, we were entranced – the scenery and costuming was just fantastic!!

When the show finished, we did our trip in reverse and got home at about midnight after a wonderful evening spent with my son-in-law!

On Friday, we had a sleep in and packed our suitcases.  We walked into town and got the ingredients for Sandy to make a stew/casserole for dinner.

When Janet and Adrian got home from work, we had a chat for a while, had dinner and then they took us to the airport.  They waited while we got checked in and then it was time to say our sad goodbyes.

Shortly after 10.00pm London time, our A380 Airbus left Heathrow for its 12 hour flight to Singapore.  We were on the opposite side of the top deck in the same row as on the way over.  We love this particular aeroplane – it has extra room, is very quiet and the Singapore Airlines staff are fantastic.  The food was good and they brought us copious amounts of water, juice etc – which was good, because Sandy wasn’t feeling very well – had succumbed to a head cold, which turned into bronchitis.  We arrived in Singapore at about 5.30 pm – funnily enough, we had just been served a lovely breakfast.  Approximately three hours later, after checking out the duty free shops and chemist, and having a cuppa, we boarded our A330 for our final leg of our holiday back to Brisbane.

Maidenhead Day 1 and 2

Maidenhead Day 1 and 2                      Overcast, showers, cold

 Yesterday, Tuesday, we did the washing and walked down to the shop to get Richard a new talking book and something nice for us all for dinner.  Nothing exciting today – but we enjoyed relaxing.

We spent the evening with Janet and Adrian, catching up with all the news.

Today, we went with Janet to The Piggott School, so she could show us where she works.  It is about 20 minutes drive from here. 

We met some of her colleagues and saw her teaching room, her office, the computer lab, the staffroom and the reception area.  Richard took some photos (of course!) and it was lovely to be able to see where she spends her days – when she tells us stories now, we will be able to visualise where she is talking about.

Sean directed us back to Maidenhead in Janet’s car – no problems finding our way!

We decided to go into London for the day, despite the predicted cool and showery weather.  We had planned to do the London Hop On and Off Bus on our return to Maidenhead and there was no guarantee that the weather for our remaining days was going to get any better.

We caught the train in to Paddington and found the Hop On and Off bus stop across the road from the station. We had just finished purchasing our tickets when a bus came along at about 10.15am.  There were no seats left downstairs or in the covered section on the top level, so we had to sit in the open area of the top level.  It was cold and by now very light misty rain was falling, so we were not sure that we had made the right decision.  The rain didn’t last long and we had a wonderful time, seeing all the sights of London once more…… however, we didn’t actually get off the bus, we just rode around like tourists!!    We changed seats in the bus a couple of times, sitting downstairs when several people got off and then again up the top as the weather improved.  We were surprised at the number of people on the bus – it was packed.

At times, the bus didn’t move very fast as the city appeared to be in gridlock – firstly, we had roadworks, then every light seemed to be red, then people were making turns in front of the bus when they shouldn’t have been.  The only time the bus appeared to be able to move freely was when we were going past the scenic attractions that we would have liked to photograph.  As a result of this and the fact that it was raining for part of the time, we have not taken many photos today.

The circuit took three hours and by then we were hungry, so we had lunch at a little café before heading back to the station for our train. 

We have had some incredibly good luck with timing for the trains during the past almost 13 weeks.  Many times, we have been changing trains, walking from one platform to the next, to find our train there or arriving in 2 or 3 minutes – we have never had a long wait.

Today was no exception – this morning, we walked down to the station, bought our tickets and got to the platform as our train was arriving and this afternoon, we walked into Paddington Station, looked up at the train departure board, to find that a train was heading to Maidenhead in 4 minutes, which gave us just enough time to walk over to platform 11 and get settled on the train before it departed!!

Janet had parent meetings after work today and Adrian and the two of us picked her up at about 20 to 7 because we were meeting Hilary and Andy and their son Oliver, for dinner at a lovely Chinese Restaurant about 35 minutes from here.  It was lovely to get an opportunity to say goodbye to them.  We had a thoroughly enjoyable evening – the food was great – it was one of those places where there was a standard charge and they kept bringing out as many dishes as you wanted. We had entrees and then they brought out their speciality – crispy duck – you take a small, thin rice pancake, spread some sauce on it, put shallots and cucumber on it, then some crispy duck, roll it up and voila!  Very tasty!  They served as many main meals as we wanted, and before too long, it was time to go home!

Hilary and Andy (and Oliver and Emily) are such a lovely family and we are very pleased that Janet and Adrian have such lovely friends.

We arrived home at about 10.30 and got on to the internet to check in for our flight home, which leaves here on Friday night at 10.05pm.  We are delighted to have seats on the Upper Deck of the A380 again.

Although we miss everyone at home, it has been lovely spending time with Janet and Adrian and the 13 weeks of our holidays have been so enjoyable that we would love to continue adventuring over here……

Day 17 River Cruise Amsterdam – Maidenhead

River Cruise Day 17         Amsterdam  – Maidenhead         Overcast and cool

 By 7.30am we were up, but the sun was not!  As their winter is approaching, the days are getting shorter.

After breakfast, we went for a walk over to the Central Station complex and around the docks.  Again the number of people riding bicycles astounded us and we had to be particularly careful when crossing roads as the cyclists appear to have total right of way….. or at least THEY think so! 

Our airport transfer picked us up from our hotel at 11.30am and delivered us to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.  We had a nice chat to the driver on the way – everyone that we have met has been so friendly.  He commented that he always find the Australians to be very friendly and easy to get along with.

As we sat at the airport waiting for our flight back to London, we reflected on the past two and a half weeks of the cruise again and feel very lucky that we have had this opportunity.

We arrived back in London just before 3.00pm local time and met our private taxi in the prearranged spot.  This is not the same as the taxis we have at home – they have no distinguishing signs on them and operate BMWs and Mercedes.

We unpacked, settled back into our second home, and when Janet got home from work, we went for a walk with her to the shops, meeting Adrian, who was on his way home.

It is lovely to be able to spend another few days with them!

River Cruise Day 16 Amsterdam

River Cruise Day 16         Sunny           top temp of 12 degrees

 After breakfast we said farewell to some of the lovely people we have met on our River Cruise.  We have had a wonderful time over the past two weeks – we have seen so many beautiful places and experienced lots of new things. 

We didn’t have any bad experiences at any time during the tour and both thought that Avalon Waterways did a fabulous job of making us feel very special. 

Our cabin was always clean and very comfortable – every night our cabin stewardess turned down our bed and left a chocolate on our pillow.  We didn’t feel at all cramped, with more than sufficient space for our clothes and for us to move around within the cabin.  The double glass sliding doors gave the cabin a feeling of spaciousness and allowed us to get some fresh air and really see the countryside that we were passing through. 

The whole boat was really well-appointed and spacious.  The meals were excellent and always had enough choices to suit all tastes. 

The included land tours were well done and the optional extra tours were great because they gave us the chance to see more, often out into the country.

Our Cruise Director, Gusta, was fantastic – she kept us up to date via a daily newsletter and Port talks each evening, so that we always knew where we were supposed to be and when. 

So, to sum up, our River Cruise has been fantastic and we take away many happy memories……….. along with hundreds of photos!!!

We were picked up from the Artistry at 10.00 to take us to the Crowne Plaza, where we will be spending an extra night tonight.  Unfortunately our room wasn’t ready when we got there, so we checked our suitcases in and went exploring.

We walked over to the next block and caught the Amsterdam version of the Hop on and Off bus, which took an hour and three quarters and only stopped twice.  However, one of the stops, included in the cost, was a tour of the Gassan Diamond Factory, which was very interesting.  Also included in our tour is the hop on and off canal boat, but as we have already been on a canal cruise yesterday, we chose not to do that part of it.

When we arrived back at our starting point, we headed off on foot to do some more exploring.  By now it was lunch time and we were feeling peckish decided to do as many of the tourists wandering around were doing, and that was to buy a paper cone full of beautiful tasting hot chips and ate them while we continued to wander around.

We walked down Damrak Street, past the Town Hall, which has a temporary carnival in front of it, past the Dam statue and wandered around through the shopping streets, dodging pedestrians, cyclists and trams.

We returned to our hotel to check in via the Old Town Hall, which has been converted to a shopping centre, and the palace – we didn’t take any photos of the palace as it is covered in scaffolding.

One of the things that has impressed us here is that we have had no trouble communicating here in Amsterdam because English is their second language and they all learn it at school.

We spent the evening trying to get on to the internet to post our blog and photos.

We are really looking forward to getting back to London so that we can see Janet and Adrian and spend some more valuable time with them.

River Cruise Day 15 Amsterdam

River Cruise Day 15         Amsterdam            Sunny and cool        top temp 12 degrees

 Holland was outside our cabin window when we woke this morning.  Atristry had moved into the Rhine Amsterdam Canal to take us the rest of our cruise into Amsterdam, arriving at about 11.00am.

To make the most of our time in Amsterdam, our Cruise Director had organised buses to pick us up as soon as we docked, so that we could go on a sightseeing tour via the canals.    We had not thought of Amsterdam as being anything like Venice, but there are some similarities, in that they do have a reasonable network of canals that are used for public transport.  The other form of transport is bicycles – we were amazed when we passed a multi level bicycle parking station – apparently big enough for 5000 bicycles.  Amsterdam has proper bicycle lanes, with traffic lights dedicated to the cycles.

There are 110 kilometres of waterways and about 2300 houseboats moored along them – they have to have licence for that particular spot and each site is connected to gas, sewage and water.

We passed the house where Anne Frank lived – The Diary of Anne Frank – and the Western Church where Rembrandt is buried.

The boats they use to show tourists around the canals are long and narrow and lie low in the water so that they can fit under the many bridges and archways.  Most of these boats have glass windows and a curved glass ceiling so that you can see all around.

Although Amsterdam is not directly on the North Sea, it is a busy port, connected to both the Rhine and the North Sea by canals.

This afternoon, we went on an optional excursion out into the Countryside.  Our first stop was Jacobs Hoeve Cheese Factory, where we were shown how they make their cheese and were able to sample several different varieties.

Then we were taken to see one of the 1150 windmills that are still working.  It is what they refer to as a Polder wind water mill, which was used to pump water out of the lowlands and into the next level up.  We all learnt at school how Holland had reclaimed land from the sea and built dykes to hold back the water from the reclaimed land, but today we were given a much better understanding of how this was done.  Dykes were built around low level areas and then the water trapped in the dykes was pumped using a series of wind water mills outside the dyke.  Once the land had become dry it was planted with a cane and burnt off after one season to further dry the ground and prepare it for farming/pastural.  The area that had been reclaimed was then known as Polder.  Interestingly, 60% of Holland is below sea level.

From inside the windmill, we were given a demonstration of how it operates.

Our next stop was Volendam, which is a tiny fishing village, on the shores of Lake Usselmeer, which was once part of the ocean and is now a fresh water lake, which is 300 kilometres in circumference.

 

Volendam is known for its folklore and local costumes and when we arrived, we were met by a lady in the local costume and taken into a mini theatre where we were shown a short film about how the dykes were built and how the entrance to the lake was closed off to the North Sea.

We were given some free time to wander around the village and shops.

We thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon out in the countryside of Holland.

After dinner tonight, we went on an excursion to the Red Light District….. interesting!

The bus dropped us off and we had a guide who took us past some of the “windows”, down narrow streets and also showed us some of the interesting tourist sights of Amsterdam by night.  We were surprised to discover that these “activities” are legal here in Amsterdam and so is the smoking of marijuana – they even have special “coffee” houses.  We were also surprised that the “windows” are scattered over a very large area and that it is not confined to a couple of streets.  The other thing that surprised us was the thousands of young people wandering around the streets.

We also walked past the canal with the flower markets on it, as well as several other canals with dozens of swans swimming in them.

We returned to the boat and finished packing ready for our disembarkation tomorrow morning after breakfast.

River Cruise Day 14 Cologne

River Cruise Day 14         Cologne                  Raining, cold, breezy        top of 15??

 The Artistry arrived at Cologne in the early hours of the morning. We woke to rain, wind and cold, so because Richard wasn’t feeling 100% and our tour this morning was for two and a half hours and it was a walking tour, we decided not to go.  We stayed in our cabin and did yesterday’s blog and photo gallery, working out which castle was which and generally relaxing.

After lunch, the sun came out momentarily and it had stopped raining, so we decided to go for a walk to the Cathedral, which was supposed to be a twenty minute walk.  We walked reasonable quickly and it took us thirty minutes, but we were glad we made the effort because the gothic Cathedral, with its twin spires that can be seen for miles, was really worth the visit.  The stained glass windows, which dated between 1507 and 1509, were amongst the most colourful that we have seen in our tours and luckily for us, the sun came out briefly so that Richard could take the photos. 

The mosaic floor was quite elaborate, but we were not able to get a clear go at taking a photo.

It is a pity that both the interior and exterior of the Cathedral are suffering the effects of time and pollution – the stonework, while very ornate, is also very dirty.  Attempts are being made to remove some of the staining; however, it appears as though it will be a long time before this is complete.

We had a brief look around some of the shops, including the Apotheke (chemist) before wandering back along the Konrad-Adenauer-Ufer (River walk/promenade) to our boat.  Cologne is the home of 4711 perfume but we didn’t go to the “eau de cologne” shop as we wanted to get back to the boat.

We have been amazed at the amount of traffic on the river. Barges come past our mooring every few minutes, some of them so laden that they barely have any freeboard.  Interestingly most of the barges carry at least one car at the rear of the vessel.

We have also seen a number of day cruise boats and even two police boats.

Tonight we will be having our Onboard Gala Farewell Dinner – the reason that it is tonight and not tomorrow night, is that tomorrow night some of us are going on an optional excursion into Amsterdam.

River Cruise Day 13 Rudesheim and Rhine Gorge

River Cruise Day 13     Rudesheim & Rhine Gorge    Mostly sunny and cold top of 7 deg

Another chance this morning for a slow start, which is just as well because Richard is not feeling 100%.

At approximately 10.00 this morning we passed out of the Main River and joined the Rhine River for the rest of our river cruise.

We arrived at Rudesheim at 12.30 and were transported into the town with two little trains.  Our first stop was the Siegfried’s Museum of self-playing musical instruments, which was really interesting.  It has musical instruments that have been collected and restored to their original working condition.  Up until now, we had thought that Pianolas were the only instrument that used perforated paper with the notes on it to play the music.  At the museum we saw instruments like wind, percussion and even string instruments being played mechanically, driven by perforated rolls or circular discs with perforations for the notes.  They have instruments dating back to the 16th century Bromserhof.

We were then given free time to explore and we decided to go up in the chair lift to the Niederwald Monument, set high up on a hill overlooking Rudesheim and the Rhine Valley.  The monument is a massive 32 ton bronze figure, which was cast in 1883 to celebrate German Unification 12 years before that.  Although it was freezing on the way up, the view over the vineyards on the way up and the view once we got there and walked around the side of the mountain, was absolutely stunning and worth every freezing minute of the journey!!  We looked out over the Rhine River (we could even see our boat), Rudesheim, Bingen (across the other side of the River) and the hillside covered in vineyards.  The sun was shining and even although it was a little hazy, the view was spectacular!!

When we came back down on the chair lift, we wandered around the town for a while and then walked back to the boat.

At around 4.30pm the Artistry set sail for Cologne and as she passed through the Rhine Gorge, we were given a commentary, which pointed out the many castles along the way.  We started off up on the Sky deck, but soon fond that even our heavy coats and gloves were not enough to keep out the chilly wind, so we, and several others, came down to the lounge area and hovered between the two side decks, listening to the commentary and running out to the sides to take photos as a new castle came into sight – we had a lot of fun with the others!

We saw 17 of the 29 castles in the Rhine Gorge.  The castles are in varying condition, from some that are being lived in, to others where only part of the bare shell remained.  We decided to get ready for dinner after we passed the Lorelei rock, which stands 430 feet above the river.  The legend, which dates back to 1822, tells us that a beautiful maiden sat on the rock combing her hair and singing, luring the mariners to their destruction on the rock.  This part of the river is quite narrow and the current can be treacherous and ships have floundered at this bend in the river.

As Richard is not feeling very well, he went off to bed after dinner, while Sandy went to the Passenger’s Talent Show, which was quite good – some of the acts were as one would expect for this type of activity, while others were actually really good.

Even although Richard wasn’t feeling 100%, we really enjoyed today because we were able to spend quite a bit of time doing our own thing, wandering around Rudesheim, going up to the Monument in the chair lift, watching the increasing traffic in the river (now that we are on the Rhine) and watching the German countryside go past – the villages and the castles – it is all just beautiful!

River Cruise Day 12 – Miltenberg

River Cruise Day 12         Miltenberg            Cloudy, occasional sun, cold – top of 7 deg

We were able to have sleep in this morning and woke to a strange foggy morning, with the fog hugging the river and the riverbanks.

The Artistry continued her journey along the Main River and arrived at Miltenberg at about 12.30pm.  We spent the morning relaxing – Sandy read her book and Richard had another sleep as he has a sore throat. 

We continued to pass through many locks with varying degrees of drop, but by now, the fascination has almost worn off as we just went through lock number 55 or 56 of 68.

We also enjoyed looking out the sliding glass doors of our cabin, watching the little villages and the wonderful autumn leaves glide past.

After lunch, we joined a walking tour of this small Franconian village, which is located on the River Main between the Odenwald Forest and the scenic Spessart Region.

We were shown through some of the very narrow laneways between the older, but still ornate houses and along the main street, which is known for its Framework buildings from the 15th to 17th centuries.

We also saw the remains of the ancient city walls, while our guide related stories from the past, which were interesting and funny, rather than historical.  She used fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel and Rumpelstiltskin to demonstrate that even the fairy tales had some basis in history, especially in the little villages of poor people in Bavaria.

While we enjoyed the walking tour and the free time we had to wander the streets on our own, the wind made the low temperature even cooler – actually bitterly cold!- and so we were pleased that we had taken both heavy coats and gloves, but decided to get back to the boat as soon as we could, after a visit to the local pharmacy, as Richard was still not feeling well.

Sandy went to an onboard presentation this afternoon on “How to prepare the best vanilla cookies in the world”, which was a lot of fun.

They have just cast off from the dock and we are about to head off to our next port of call tomorrow – Rudesheim.

We are looking forward to the Crew Show tonight after dinner.