Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Wandering along the pathway

I had started this journal a couple of days ago when our world in Australia was besieged and consequently very sad with the deaths of innocent people because of one madman.

This was not my purpose for writing so late at night when my world is quiet. The street is dark, the dogs and birds are sleeping as is my husband. My problem is I have so many thoughts roaming through my brain I cannot switch it off, so, write I must.

I was planning initially to start my exposay into life as a student nurse in the 1970's but there is so much to write about, so much to dredge up from the cortex of my brain I might leave it for another day.

I recently had a visit into a health establishment in the inner city of Melbourne and I must say I was very pleasantly surprised with my experience..... well, some of it anyhow. I won't go into the bits of what I didn't enjoy as it's totally irrelevant when trying to write a light bit of fluff.
I must say though that I had direct continuity of staff, from my (yes, my) night nurse who cared for me from my first to my last night, as well as the nurses during the day.
I found this continuity to be so very important as when I was initially admitted I was feeling somewhat miserable and revolting and wanted to be unconscious ( which wasn't the case I might add). By my time of discharge I was feeling so much better and back to myself and it was important to me for these nurses to see the real Jenny...not the monosyllabic misery guts who couldn't keep her eyes open without vomiting and crying! I can assure you dear reader, I am NOT like that normally hence the importance of that said continuity for me.
The staff from the nurses, be they clinical or the pain nurse or the gynae nurse, the cleaners who came in and vacuumed and emptied my rubbish bins every day, the food services staff who, when safe to do so, bought me tea and iced water, breakfast, lunch and dinner were all pleasant and friendly, not to mention the woman who bought in a fresh newspaper every day as well with compliments.
Nothing was too much bother. My buzzer was answered quickly and my needs met quickly as a consequence. 
I come from an environment of frantically busy midwives and nurses who do their utmost best to exude the same calmness and spontaneity but are hampered by the large volumes of people we care for every day and their ensuing dramas, so this recent experience is no criticism of my work environment nor is it a judgment of, or comparison to my workplace. It is merely an observation albeit a pleasurable one of my recent expense about being 'on the other side' for a change.
My first couple of days were spent trying to sleep more than be awake I felt so bad, but once I improved I began to observe my own habits of this time, and realised just how unusual I can be. 
For example, as mentioned earlier, I slept a lot initially. The day I began to emerge from my cocoon I would lie in bed. With the covers up I felt too warm from time to time so I would pull the covers down. Almost immediately I would begin to feel cold so, I would then pull the covers up again and snuggle under and relish the joy of being able to enjoy the increasing warmth again. I would adjust the pillow against my head, have a snooze then wake up too hot again then begin the whole procedure once more.
 I most likely had too much time on my hands as I wondered about this action=result=action and the physics involved in such activity a little bit until I was distracted with drinking from a straw whilst lying down.
I really now do appreciate the person who cleverly invented the bendy straw which is used in most hospitals throughout the land far and wide now.

I am enjoying some peace and tranquility when the dogs aren't barking although I find being stuck at home and not able to drive, so close to Christmas frustrating, but, such is life and it is very much a first world issue.
I am intrinsically healthy and for that I am grateful.

We have our home on the market at this present time and unfortunately I am beginning to think it's unsaleable as we have not had anyone come through for an inspection for over a week now. The most difficult part of being up for sale is the constant need to keep everything in its place, just in case someone should want to come have a look, but as I mentioned, it's been over a week since our last visit from the agent and supposedly interested parties, so, thankfully I have not been holding my breath.
Perhaps after Christmas it might change, I don't know anymore, as at the onset, we were spun the "We'll sell your house really quickly" tale and are still waiting.

Perhaps if I get bogged down tomorrow in my life story of a student nurse we might see some action at an inopportune time.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Cockatoo Magic

We're up north again for a fleeting visit and I was hoping to wander outside and take a few photos but it's raining softly on the roof and therefore I've decided to stay indoors till the rain stops.
I do love the rain up here, be it dramatic with thunder and lightning (we get plenty of that) or soft and gentle like today, nutritive for the ground and grass and all other things green.
There is a flavour in the air that is only apparent when the rain happens and it lifts the heart and makes me want to stay like this forever.
It's cool outside too and this I do prefer to the extreme heat that is apparent everywhere in this great land of ours come summertime.
I took some photos this morning of beautiful scenery, of which I hope I will never see with unseeing eyes.

You know how familiarity breeds contempt? If you have something in your life that you love when it's new, but forget about after a time, it's rather sad that the appreciation and that gob smacking awesomeness loses its presence once you look at it long enough.
I recall my mother when she and Dad lived in Rosebud, used to have a view to Arthur's Seat and she would stand out on her veranda every day with a cup of tea and admire her mountain.
Once we moved Mum up to be closer to family she lost that connection with her view and I have always felt sad that she has had to miss that lookout. Even now she still refers occasionally to 'her mountain' and wonders if it is still there.
Taking photos and putting the picture up on the wall is not quite the same as the real thing when you know the real thing is now unattainable. This makes me very determined to appreciate our good fortune and make the most of what we have in our life.
Even where we currently live, there is a gorgeous view from the front window which looks out onto the square. Night time has its own beauty there as our one street light comes on and shines on the front lawn. If it's foggy it creates a mystical type hue of a night time and many times I have been reminded of just how lucky we are.
The way the rain has set in I am thinking it'll be damp for a long haul now and I'll have to give my walk a miss.
We brought our dogs up with us as we always do. There often seems to be a tale these days of dogs going missing from their homes and even though we have to leave them when at work and when on big holidays we like to bring them up with us when we visit our nirvana.
Mind, they do have to stay in a farm stay/kennel whilst here, but the owners know them well now and like their presence and both dogs exude a happiness of sorts when we arrive (that may well be because they're sick of being cooped in the car who knows) but at least we know they are being cared for and it is a bit of an adventure for them.
They are both that little bit older now. Stuart is heading towards 4 years of age and Noni 3 1/2 now and really are delightful companions.
 Stuart is the woosey one and sooks a bit whereas Noni is quiet and just goes about her business. Stuart is also a typical adolescent and tries to expand the boundaries when out and about. One would think sometimes he doesn't know his name when he is called which can be an embarrassment until ones voice becomes a little gruff and he knows he is in trouble.
Noni however is the antithesis to such vexatious behaviour and is very well behaved, coming when called and forever trying to play 'fetch the ball' with anyone who is remotely interested.
Consequently dear reader, I have to provide yet another photo opportunity of the two of them for your perusal...

So, there you go, no lean machine here, but happy, healthy and well.

Friday, November 28, 2014

A very busy day

Our home is plainly and simply, a big mess right now.

We recently tiled right through the house, from entrance to exit.
There is dust upon dust as a consequence and furniture upon furniture as well.
Today we are having new carpet and underlay installed throughout the three bedrooms and computer room next door to our bedroom, so, these rooms are empty of their furniture which is piled up in the other areas of the house.
We have had a new toilet installed in the second lavatory space and had a painter here to patch up in different places as well.
We're also waiting for the plumber to rock up to fix up our downpipes so it's chaos and pandemodium as we can obviously cannot return the furniture and stuff to its allocated space until all this work is done.
Any wonder I have been feeling off lately. I developed laryngitis not long after returning home from our trip to Europe and whilst my voice has returned I have been left with a nuisance cough and sore throat which is taking forever to shake off.
I am not here to complain though. I merely wanted to state my case and issues, describe the frustration of having the house in complete turmoil and vent my annoyance at not being able to clean properly.
As I write, the painter has been paid and left, whilst the carpet layer is busy trying to lift up and remove the pre-existing underfelt which has over time managed to adhere itself to the slab surface. I sense he is not 100% happy but I am sure this must happen a lot especially with older homes.
We have lived in our current residence since 1999 and it's been a good home. The kids were adolescents when we moved here and were not too happy with the change from our old place at the time, but, they grew to settle in and enjoy the peaceful environment that comes with a lovely big court and a house set well back from the hustle and bustle around.
One can hear the freeway in the distance but the local sounds are that of birds and motor mowers as a rule, so peace and tranquility has reigned here for a long time.
We have very strong memories of our children as they grew from that adolescence into young adults here and those memories both wonderful and sad will remain with us always.
We have held many parties here, especially significant birthdays with Chris's 18th., my 50th., Merryn's 21st., and Murray's 60th. coming to mind. Chris's farewell was held here also all those years ago as well and while much of the nitty gritty of that time is a blur, due to the devastation we felt there are still times when I think of the throng of people who came to celebrate his life, and for that I will always be thankful.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Wedding day..... When young Jacqui got her Mr. Burnes.

Yesterday we stood under whispering pines in anticipation of a union of two like-minded souls.
Jacqui and Ricky were married with just the sounds of the gentle breeze blowing through the pine needles with loved family and friends surrounding them.

This wedding was absolutely amazing for its simplicity and natural beauty. I am not the first to admit that the sight below brought a few tears to my eyes as Jacqui with her Mum and Dad walked the gauntlet through the throng of family and friends to her beloved, waiting patiently with the marriage celebrant.

This young couple had a cross section of family and friends to witness their becoming husband and wife and given the tale we heard about how and where they met, and how their intertwined lives have moved on from that moment, I have no doubt this is a relationship is one that will last longtime.

My first memories of Jacqui are of when she was a very little girl, running around her parent's property with her two sisters and baby brother.

She has grown into a beautiful woman now and has a life, a love and a career all of her own like so many others, but, also, like so many others, different and unique.
Ricky I had not met until yesterday, but through Jacqui I feel like he has been a part of our extended family for a long time. 
I do believe there was not one section of the day where those two were not smiling. Their joy was certainly palpable and they had the uncanny ability to transfer it to all those around them.

There were of course family members there and it was so good to touch base with them and catch up on the doings of busy family life.

Thank you Jacqui, Ricky and Vikki for this splendid wedding celebration.
Thank you for graciously allowing us to be a part of such a fine day.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The bucket list and other tales.

This may or may not be my last post regarding our trip to to Europe.
I suppose it depends on whether or not you would like me to keep prattling on so please let me know if you would like me to continue.
All suggestions will be gratefully received regardless of the outcome!

Our final bucket list completion was to visit a place I learned about in primary school.
Now, some of you may recall if you are as old as me (the original Methuselah) and will have in your memory banks, pictures of deceased humans and puppy dogs who suffered horrible deaths some 2000 years ago following the eruption of a volcano close to the village of Naples , from your Victorian Education Reader Grade 4 or 5.
The village was Pompeii and this eruption occurred approximately 79 years AD and destroyed a whole village, not with lava flow or fire, but with volcanic ash which suffocated the inhabitants of this once thriving village.
Please forgive my lack of knowledge regarding accurate dates etc. but the village was covered and left to solidify for many hundreds of years as there was neither the interest or the expertise to uncover it until approx 1599 when it was initially rediscovered. There was further archaelogical diggings there from 1748 and in recent years the village has been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site with nowadays approximately 2.5 million visitors each year.
I suppose people knew it was there as a whole life form once existed where there was now solid mass, but, life goes on in other villages and there was living to be done. Consequently the reality became rumour for sometime until someone decided to dig and uncover what was left of this once thriving village with its amphitheatre, gymnasium and port.

So, getting back to the here and now, Murray and I decided on our second last full day in Rome to take a bus trip to Pompeii to check out what was once and what is current.
We had to get up bright and early and be ready for our pick up at 6:30 in the morning as the collector was coming by the hotel around 7. So, like good children we were ready and waiting for him.
We hopped on a mini van and I was pleasantly surprised for there were only 5 other people on board. My initial thought was what a great trip this will be...quiet, collective and a focused tour guide.
Alas, my expectations were somewhat thwarted when we pulled up at the tour company depot and had to hop onto a large bus which already had approximately 30 other people already waiting for us.
Down to the back of the bus for us...well half way down the bus at least, we went and waited for one other deposit of tourists and off we travelled for a three hour bus ride to encompass the city of Naples, a 'cameo factory' ( warning warning), lunch in Pompei, then our walking tour of the original Pompeii.
Now just to confuse you, there is Pompeii, the ancient city, and there is Pompei, the current town, adjacent to one another. These are differentiated by the spelling... two i's as opposed to one I!!!
So, on we went with my other half having a quiet snooze within half an hour of being on the bus. We stopped somewhere for a quick coffee and toilet stop as you do in rural Italy and back in the bus till we got to Naples. Naples is a pretty complex city....amazing views from afar which stretch from one side to the other of my photographic capabilities and down by the stormy seas it was quite pretty, but the town itself was dirty with litter and graffiti everywhere. Although there is plenty of graffiti whenever you go in Italy and France, I had not seen the volume of litter and accumulated rubbish I saw lying about in parks and streets of Naples anywhere else.
The place had the feeling of being very unkempt and neglected which is kind of sad as Naples is supposedly a wonderful holiday destination in summer with large marinas and is a port for major cruising holiday vessels. We drove past slums...tent like buildings with people appearing to live in them and not far from their residence what looked to be a rubbish tip with people searching through for whatever they could find.
Fortunately our stay there was short and merely a drive through with our now acquired local guide giving us a quick lowdown on Naples with the great Mount Vesuvius in the background.
We drove up part of the way to Pompeii then, only to stop on the side of the mountain at yet another village which specialises in cameos and such matters.
Now, some of you may know me as being a very impulsive buyer and fortunately I have a level headed husband who is my rock and my sensibility. 
I have been known, when in other countries, to be easily pressured into purchasing items in factories we are encouraged to visit...silk doonas and their covers in China, pearl earrings in Vietnam to cite just a couple of examples.
You may be pleased to read my friends that this factory visit was no different to previous expeditions as I walked out of there with an exquisite hand carved cameo brooch which can be worn as a necklace featuring the three sisters...'Faith, Hope and Charity'- guaranteed hand carved and gold background carved from blue shell.
Some things are just unchangeable!
Anyways, onwards and upwards we go after this pit stop for another half hour to the quaint now inland village of Pompei (one i) for this is the current village and we disembark from our bust for lunch.
I had thought in my cynical brain that this lunch would probably be one slice of pizza ma'am and that's all but as usual I was incorrect in my assumption and  lunch was a delightful combination of:
Appetizer: a slice of Margherita pizza (tick),
Entree: a plate of two types of pasta, hand made fettuccine and macaroni with bolognese sauce (another tick)
Main: either chicken or veal roasted with sautéed potatoes and spinach (tick number three)
Dessert: fruit salad (fourth tick in a row).
What a pleasant delight this was turning out to be, with the best yet to come.

Pompei City, compared to Naples was clean and tidy. There was a sign in the centre of the town requesting silence as this was a quiet zone with cathedral and square and that people needed to pray.
I might add though as we were returning to our bus, a young woman with baby in tow was begging as was a little child of about 8 so perhaps all is not quite as it seems in this town of contrasts.

So, getting back to why we were here...

The bus took us some half a kilometre back to the entrance to the old city of Pompeii, and before you could say "tickets please", I was there.
It was a real Ripleys Believe It Or Not sensation having wanted to be there for so many years. A bit like walking out onto my first street in Gay Paree not so long ago.... Unbelievable!
So, we walked, and walked and walked for the next two and a half hours, up streets, into houses, into market squares along rutted cobblestone pathways, into bath areas, hot and cold. We entered into Pompeii's version of the colosseum and their amphitheatre.
It was an amazing place, so meticulously restored and well worth the visit. All of this and more with the evil Mt. Vesuvius in the background, just biding it's time and waiting.
There were tourists every which way whilst we were there. Occasionally our local tour guide could shake them off and it was just we 40 odd from the bus but everyone is entitled to see what we saw, so you just have to wear it don't you?
There were friezes on some of the walls that had been meticulously restored, beautiful art work of early roman times. There is, as presumed, an apothecary shop which dealt with penile infections. On a large stone out the front of the shop a penis and testicles are engraved so locals knew what it was for.

We walked through what was known to be a brothel, so indicated because of the karma sutra type pictures on the walls inside that were preserved.
We walked through a wealthy persons abode, with their house fully equipped with hot and cold baths, not to mention their summer and winter gardens.
It was an incredible place and when quiet all you could hear were chirping birds who don't have to pay an entry fee.
We wandered throughout the once thriving village with our tour-guide mostly on our own. Occasionally we would pick up a stranger or two who were reminded we were on a 'private' tour and they were quickly discouraged from continuing with us.
There were market places and meeting places, shopping areas and even a doctor's clinic.
You could almost sense the presence of people here in a former life and I now wonder if perhaps they too wondered about future generations that might visit after their existence on the planet had ceased.

There were families enjoying the sights, mostly Italian speaking. How fascinating to be able to visit such a place for a day trip.
We were very fortunate to have our guide who ensured we all stayed together and every so often as we were walking up a hill or down a hill, he would say..."Slowly, slowly", to ensure nobody fell or got left behind.
I have to admit too, that given my recent ability to connect with cobblestones and pavements, my husband was very protective of me also. I had no desire to further my falling ability in such a place either, so, between all three of us, I made sure I remained unscathed during this little adventure.
Our two and a half hour walking tour all ended too soon and before we knew it, we had returned to the start of the walk, looking out towards the Port of Naples with the beautiful blue sea in the distance.
By the time the tour of Pompeii ended, it seemed most in the group were somewhat tired.
We had a brief rest back at the depot with a toilet stop and a quick drink before boarding our bus again to begin the three and a half hour journey back home to Rome.
Most on the bus dozed off from time to time on the return journey. It was very quiet with the occasional sound of gentle snoring heard above the drone of the bus engine and soft murmuring from the odd person thinking over the day's events.
I watched the sun set over the Isle of Capri as we returned through Naples and it was well and truly past dusk by the time we entered the outer walls of Rome.
Our trip to Pompeii and her surrounds was soon over.
It was a day of lessons, magical sights and one of fulfilment.
Another 'never to be forgotten' day, one of many we have been fortunate enough to experience on this our trip to Europe.
Our return to Rome was relatively uneventful and so dinner was at yet another close by restaurant, adjacent to our hotel. There are so many to choose from in this area we are staying. 
All sell similar foods, but each has their own special touch and flavour we have realised. Bruschetta is different in each restaurant. Some have the crusty ciabatta bread with seasoned tomatoes only. Some have the bread, tomatoes and cheese. Some add onion and garlic to the mix. It just depends on your preferences and your tastes as to what you have. Pizzas are the same here, with different toppings yet similar toppings if that makes sense. Often the difference is merely the seasonings and the cheese and it can make such a profound difference to the flavour as a whole. I have found, the simpler the pizza, the better it is and must apply this theory when I return home.
Even the Gelaterias are different in taste and quality. In the short time we have been in Rome, I have developed a distinct preference for Pistachio gelato, whereas once it used to be lemon and orange.
It now has to be pistachio and a vanilla type flavour, all rather delicious, all rather fattening and all too tempting to deny.
There will be time enough on our return home to return back to a more strict regime of foods, so, whilst there is walking and tasting and savouring to be done, one must enjoy what there is on offer.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sleeping with strangers

 Well dear reader, this time you find me high up in the clouds winging home after almost four wonderful weeks away. By the time you read this I will be home trying to stay awake, trying to reduce the impact of the inevitable jet-lag after 24 odd hours in the air.
Funny how there is minimal lag when you begin your trip, but the blow is quite significant as you return back to your usual normal time frame.
To be quite truthful part of me is happy to be coming home. There are changes afoot in many ways and 'things' need to be done. I miss my friends even though my travelling companion and husband of many years has been a fantastic co-tourist. 
Who else would make sure I didn't fall over more than I did in the cobbled streets of Paris, Rome and Pompeii?
I miss my furred friends especially although I am quite happy to know they have accepted their temporary management without any issues. I miss my family and friends and look forward to boring everyone silly with our stories of what we saw and what we did. I especially look forward to being able to download our myriad of photos and relive our experiences and sights through them.
I miss not having my choice of clothing to wear. Funny how the excitement of living out of a suitcase wears off pretty quickly. I am fairly fussy when it comes to cleanliness with clothing and my usual motto at home is "wear it once then wash it" and/or "when in doubt, chuck it out". On holiday I find I have had to swallow my pride and wear clothing two, maybe three times and some things like cardigans etc., have not had a wash since leaving home. One thing I will not compromise on though is undies..... Have to have fresh ones every day I'm afraid, so consequently every bathroom we have stayed in has been decorated with an array of undergarments, both male and female, hung up to dry on a daily basis.
The poor old washing machine will receive a bit of a work out once we get back. That'll be my domain after a bit of a sleep I think.
We will go see my Mum and reassure ourselves that yes, she can last a good distance without me. I am not the be all and end all when it comes to mother care and love. Am sure my siblings have done a fine job in my absence.

We ended our time in Florence with a very quick and this time, uneventful trip to Rome via the fast train. It was wonderful watching the countryside slip past although we travelled through numerous tunnels the closer we got to the roman capital, but still, the terrain changed and one could tell we were no longer in Tuscany. House shapes changed also and we returned to the formula of high rise inner city living which seems to be the most popular form of residential living in such old cities as opposed to the villas high up on hills, surrounded by olive groves and vineyards.
Rome has (to our eyes) many similarities to Florence but is also extremely different. There is noise and pace in Rome too as we walk from the central station lugging our suitcases to our new accommodation. Fortunately for myself, Murray is an excellent map reader. Trying to decipher where we are and the direction in which we are travelling/walking is for me, quite difficult as the maps do not always give you the street names. Monuments are listed, but obscurely, but he has a good sense and ensures we do not get lost as we find our way to our next abode, the White Hotel.
We walk through a long tunnel that appears to have gardens atop it. The tunnel is actually quite uncomfortable to walk through. Car fumes are very strong, it is dark inside, cars race through at an extreme speed, almost like they don't want to be in there and hurry to get through, and I have this sense of disquiet and insecurity as it is a tunnel for cars with a narrow pedestrian walkway on either side.
It is a little difficult pulling our luggage through there as some people insist on walking on the wall side of the pavement in the opposite direction to us and I am frightened my luggage will spill onto the road and be hit by a very fast car. Of course this does not happen and we make our way to the other side safely enough. It is then time to check the map again and with a little discussion realise our hotel, our oasis as it may be, is just around the corner.
We are so pleased to walk into the quiet serenity away from the hustle and bustle of noise outside.
The hotel is a contemporary building having being redecorated in recent times. We check in, make our way up to our first floor room, excited at the prospect of being upgraded to an executive suite in a 4**** hotel, open the door to our room and are stopped dead in our tracks.
We can hardly move in our room. Our "king" bed turns out to be two very single beds, not even pushed together. The room is the size of A VERY SMALL room. We have been spoilt in Paris, on the boat, The Scenic Gem, and in Florence, with the generous spaciousness in all our accomodation. As we walk in I manage to bang my shin on the corner of the bed due to the lack of room, an action I am to repeat numerous times during our stay here and is something I just cannot quite get used to. There is nowhere to store our suitcases so they take up even more room and we constantly doh-see-doh to get around each other.
The room is bright and white and warm. The air conditioning is not working, we are told, as it was very cold the week before and they turned the cooling off and have not been able to turn it on again. Needless to say the room is hot and like a sauna. Great for drying underwear I might add which is an unexpected bonus! The bathroom is salacious and this is where the executive comes into the room description as this area is quite contemporary with its shower recess, it's toilet and its bidet. All are new and sparkling but we feel we are here for three nights and might end up just a little bit insane if there is nowhere to sit other than on a low bed so we go to management and ask what the deal is given our expectations were quite different from our reality.
I might add at this injecture that management are quite lovely and willing to listen to our issues with our lack of room space etc. but are unable to compromise as the room size is a common theme throughout the building. Like it or lump it, this is our accommodation for the next three nights and so we have to get used to it. It certainly is an encouragement for us to get out and wander around.
Other than the fact you cannot swing a cat, we concede defeat so we decide to go out sans bags and view the local area for a time. There are many food places outside our hotel and as we stroll along we are besieged with people asking us to come in and try the best pizza Roma has to offer. There are stalls and shops outside our door along the quaint little streets with the usual hawkers wanting us to part with a few euros to buy their camera sticks and flashing lights and noise machines. There are occasionally roman centurions who offer to have their photo with us, all for five euros, but we decline gracefully to all for now as all we want to do is explore our new surroundings.
We walk down a walkway, turn this way and that and come across Trevi Fountain (just around the corner, up the street) only to find it is under major repair at the moment like so many other places. There are still hundreds of tourists and tour groups there though and with all this work being done there is a platform one can walk across to get a closer view of the repairs being done. There are signs asking people not to throw money into the fountain as there is no water, but the base of the fountain is littered with coins and the occasional note, not to mention rubbish everywhere as well.
We decide to turn away from this tourist Mecca and walk up a steep path/road, down a number of steps then up a further number of 50 or so steps yet again to discover Le Palazzo Quirinale, home of the current president of the Republic of Italy. We come across an amazing sight which is a military band playing with marching soldiers and people watching and clapping and realise this is a significant place or something as there are very official looking people standing to attention as the music is being played.
There is a conductor orchestrating the music and he is quite a joy to watch as he controls the tempo and the volume from his position with a wave of his hands and even sometimes a look if the musicians are too loud or need to pick up sound. I look at the band and all eyes are attentively on him and it is fascinating to realise he has such control. The music is strong and powerful and reminds me of my childhood when my brother and I would play 78rpm. records of Joseph De Souza's and we would march all around the house.
We eventually wander off as the unexpected concert comes to an end and find ourselves in another part of the city with many people still around, socialising on a Sunday evening.  We walk past a shop that sells just-cooked chips sold in a paper cone and we succumb to them with lashings of unexpected tomato sauce.
 As we wander around a small part of this town with its ancient artifacts, noise, cars, beautiful shops and beautiful people we realise the sun is beginning to set and it might be wise to return to our new abode again before becoming lost in Rome.

I have learnt many things whilst in Rome.
It is not just a bustling city famous for its food and accent, language and ability to gesticulate so well when speaking.
It is a city full of so much history. It doesn't matter what you are walking on when you walk the streets of Rome, you are walking on streets that have an underlying artefact structure dated thousands of years old.
Rome still uses the original aqueducts that were created back in the beginning of civilisation and many people still believe in its history which supposedly began with Romulus and Remus, two brothers who started the story of Rome.
Their mother, so the story goes, was one of the Vestal Virgins. This woman conceived supposedly after lying with an unknown man and to protect herself and her pregnancy, this mother claimed to have had intercourse with the God of War, Mars.
This in turn protected her life as if she had confessed to having intercourse with a mere human she would have been put to death but apparently the God of Mars was different indeed and meant she could stay alive if he had his way with her!
This mother birthed not one, but two children at the same time (twins) and after the birth they were placed in a basket and cast into the Tiber River for no Vestal Vigin could be seen to have had children, regardless of how conception was or wasn't. Now mythology states they were saved by a she wolf who suckled them until they grew into children, but the Latin word 'volpe' for wolf was also a word used to describe prostitutes of the time, so we are told that perhaps they were saved by a prostitute who claimed them as her own and called them Romulus and Remus.
Now these two brothers grew into young men and as there were many wars happening throughout the land decided that they both wanted to found a civilisation of their own.
Even between the two brothers there was fighting for ascension over the other and eventually one of the brothers was killed.
It was Romulus who survived, killing his brother Remus, and thus the civilisation of Rome was born and Roman Civilisation began.

Whilst in Rome, we visit the Colloseum which was one of many ancient ruins to take our breath away on the day. It really is quite strange to be standing in a place that not only has it been there for centuries but is a place I learnt about as a child and have always wanted to go visit just to have that right here, right now feeling of knowing I have been there.
We decided to participate in a guided tour which aided us in skipping the queue which was always interminably long. The queue was extended around the base of the Colloseum it seemed and I felt just a twinge of guilt as we walked past all those people waiting and waiting to get in.
Our 'Jump the queue' tour provided us with a brilliant guide who walked us around the place and spoke of the life back then, be you a wealthy person, a gladiator or a persecuted Christian.
We marvelled at the basement below us, also known as the catacombs, filled with room after room. The was over this a timber floor and sand covered this in turn which provided the floor of the stadium.
Such ingenuity in their time. It's incredible so many things that we use nowadays were created and invented and back then.
One of the bonuses in doing such a tour, is chatting with the likeminded people who are part of the group. This Colloseum tour had two young couples from The Netherlands walk with us and it's always interesting to speak about their work and their holiday if only to compare their life with ours.
Many comment that we have come such a long way with our extended flights as they only have to fly 2 to 3 hours to get to other European cities. They always want to come to Australia eventually too, primarily Sydney and Queensland of. Purse because of the sun and beaches for that is what Australia is renown for overseas. We elaborate about our beautiful part of the world, Melbourne, with its 'young' history, and warmth in summer also.
As a bonus to the Colloseum tour, we are then offered a free tour of the Palantino which is a major excavation site adjacent to the Colloseum which also dates back to before Christ. This was supposedly the site of Romulus's and Remis's birth and the site of the original founding of Rome. Our tour guide here is also extremely knowledgable and is a great story teller as she imparts to us some of the mythology that surrounds this environment.
This walk and talk tour continues for a couple of hours and once it has finished, we then have a bite to eat before hopping on an On/Off bus which then drops us close to the Piazza San Pietro which is a large expanse in front of The Basilica De San Pietro. This in turn is an enormous (dare I call it) church which is positioned outside The Vatican.
I cannot get over the enormity of these places. This church, for the want of a better term, is absolutely gob smacking with its enormity, its priceless artwork, its figurines and its sense of respectful somber religiousness if there is such a word. 
I am not a religious person by any stretch of my imagination, but I was even moved to tears by the profound beauty I found here. Michaelangelo's Piéta is housed inside and I stood there with many others and gazed at this magnificent work of art amongst other statues. We wandered around in all the chambers of the building and marvelled at what we saw until it was time to leave and eventually wind our way back to our new temporary home.
The one thing we could not find, and it was something we looked long and hard for, was the chimney used to announce the decision once the new pope is elected. Murray had asked one of the guards, who told him if he stood at the fartherest peak of the Piazza he would see it, but, alas, somehow I suspect the guard was having a bit of a laugh at Murray's expense as all we could see were albatross/seagull birds and pigeons with the occasional black/grey crow thrown in for good measure as we left.

Did I mention how wonderful the staff are at White Hotel?
They were most understanding regarding the size of our room and would apologise on a daily basis regarding the state of the air conditioning. They were very helpful about organising a large day trip we took to Pompeii and Naples, and for any queries they were quick to give advice and support. So, not all was bad with our last stay. They even provided us with picnic bags to take on our day trip with breakfast foods so we would not miss out on that very important first meal of the day. Even on the day of our departure, because of our discomfort with the room size and lack of air conditioning, the management offered to pay our city tax which was 6 euros a day per person in a 4 star hotel which would have equated to 36 euros for our three nights. 
It amazes me how professional the people are who work in such places in France and Italy. They are gentle, respectful and also very knowledgeable as well as being excellent multi problem solvers. They always dress appropriately, be they behind the counter at a hotel, or waiting in a restaurant or working at a train station.
Like all prospective tourists we had heard many stories of locals being rude to visitors to their land but we had no complaints and no issues at all to deal with.
We found that people would go out of their way to assist us, even the lovely driver who took us to Rome's airport yesterday (or was it the day before). This gentleman was obviously very proud of his city and imparted a lot of history about the old Rome and the new Rome as we began our journey homeward bound.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Last day in Florence

Time passes much to quickly,
When we're together laughing...
(Chicago,  1969)

Well it's now the evening of our last day in Florence.
We have been here for seven days and I have loved almost every minute of it.
The weather has been marvellous, the crowds have been incredible....and this is the low season.
 I dread to think what the streets are like in the high season.
People, well the vast majority anyhow, have been very welcoming and friendly.
Food has been amazing, occasionally expensive but not too bad on the whole.
Pizzas and pasta have been to die for as has the gelato and the bruschetta.
Last evening Murray had veal in lemon sauce and I had chicken in a porcine sauce...melt in your mouth incredibility. I could never make anything like that taste so good.
Fresh pasta tastes so different to the shop bought stuff. It has a completely different texture and combined with garlic and herbs and cream and freshly cooked it has been unbelievable.
Coffee aromas abound every time you pass a shop and it's all I can do to stop myself from wanting one wherever I go. I have to give it to these Firenzians..... They know how to make great coffee.

It is now the next morning.
Our suitcases are full and we are waiting at Santa Maria Novella Train Station. 
It's just gone 10 am. and there are people everywhere in this bustling metropolis of a city.
Firenze is certainly something different to anything I have ever experienced.
We stand up at a bar to drink our coffee. You can sit inside or outside for that matter, but we prefer to mingle with the locals and have a brief respite at the bar, sip our coffee, eat a panini for breakfast and then be ready to leave.
Apparently, you only sit if you have a date or are meeting someone to talk for a long time compliments of a lovely young lady we were standing next to at the bar opposite the station this morning. 
We are catching the 11:04 train to Roma this morning and if Roma is anything like Firenze I will be happy.
What a week we've had. Come to think of it, what a three weeks we've had.
Paris and cruising up the Seine seems like a lifetime ago in a sense.
This week of walking step after step into churches, cathedrals, and museums has enveloped me in the here and now.
There is a large square tower attached to the D'uomo and for a nominal fee you can have the glory of walking up to ooh and ahhh at the view. We walked the 400 odd steps up, great for the cardiovascular system and walked them down again. My legs were like jelly for a couple of hours after but it was well worth it just to be up the top and take in the magnificent views of this city.
This camera of mine will have to give up in excess of 1000 photos when I finally download a program onto my iPad that allows me to transfer via wifi.
Be prepared dear readers for some spectacular shots of places I have only dreamt about until now.

The day before yesterday (Friday I think)... we purchased two tickets for a half day bus trip to Pisa.
The shop we purchased them from was a shabby little place a few doors down from our sumptuous apartment. This chap is a money exchanger of sorts as well as a tourista ticket seller too.
He was eating as we walked in there and the place had the appearance of a very grubby motor mechanics office instead of a shop-like experience we are used to.
He initially 'no comprende' our request for a ticket each to Pisa for the half day tour but after repeatedly showing him the page, written in Italian I might add, he finally got the gist.
After much debate about how I spell my name, a new version was created...Jennifa Ballnaghes written on the tickets to prove to all mankind....and we were prepared for the trip.
He did go to great pains to ensure we knew to be under the black clock at the station at 8:45am. for the 9am. departure time.
We were there with 15 minutes to spare yesterday fortunately. We approached someone who looked like they were part of our tour and he spoke to us in Italian initially. Once we explained our lack of comprehension, he then said follow me and took us on along walk into the station itself, down a platform to a group of innocuous people all standing around looking a little lost like us.
Eventually someone with an important jacket on that said 'My Tours' came up and gave us a sticker for our clothes that said 'Pisa and Lucca tour'.
We waited some more at this spot then were ushered outside the station again to where we were in the first place and shown our bus which we then boarded.
A young woman boarded the bus and after yet another 15 minutes (it was now 9:15) told us we were waiting for some others who eventually strolled up at 9:30 hrs.
She intoduced herself as Luka our tour guide, called the bus driver who was standing outside the bus, smoking, then as soon as he started his engine we were on our way to Pisa.
The initial drive to the outskirts of Florence was fine. I am amazed at the skilfulness of the drivers with these almighty big buses as they weave in and out of traffic, all on the wrong side of the road.
After passing a couple of towns we are told there is an accident up ahead so we are going off the highway as there is a traffic jam preceding it. We went through a couple of agricultural settlements, one of which grows and sells trees...Italian Bonsai trees no less, then proceeded to return to the highway.
We had not gone 5 kms. when up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light (thanks Eagles!).
Bumper to bumper we embraced yet another traffic jam for a good 45 minutes. Our tour guide and I might add, bus driver, make numerous phone calls, all the while speaking in their native language. There are a few exclamations from them (even I understand profanity in another language) as they are on a tight schedule and this delay puts them behind in some way for this trip.
This at least gives us opportunity to gaze out at Tuscany beauty...lovely villages perched atop green hills. 
Luka tells us about the different villages from time to time, when not engaged in conversation on her phone or chatting and laughing with our bus driver.
We are eventually fitted out with walky talky things so the local tour guide at Pisa can speak to us and explain about the local history of Pisa. We drive ever so slowly past the entrance of a town on our right where it is bumper to bumper traffic once again in all exits off our highway and then we are off.
The bus driver proceeds to drive liked a man possessed as the road is now clear and we weave in and out of traffic like this is a little electric car one sees so much of over here.
Going round bends and turning corners we hold our breath as this is done with a speed we have not experienced before.
Before we know it we have arrived in Pisa as have countless others. We walk a distance from our bus to the entrance of the Blessed Square which houses the cathedral and tower and are then informed that because we have arrived so late, we all have to choose to not experience the cathedral or the leaning tower.
As our primary wanted experience was the tower we forgo the cathedral which I am a bit peeved about but, what choice as a temporary tourist do you have.
We gaze at the tower which leans to one side as depicted and my amusement is watching so many people take visual photographs of the tower pretending to push it up or knock it down.
We are told we are not allowed to take bags up into the tower so we have to queue up to place our bags in a locker room.
Once that is accomplished, we then queue up to enjoy the experience of climbing the tower and once again gaze out at the view from utop.
Very quickly we are in the tower.
The initial climb is easy as the tower is sloping downwards, up marble steps that are well worn, we follow the pathway of so many others. Once we get to the other side of the tower though the going is harder as we climb uphill. This is all to be repeated numerous times as we make our way up to the bell tower top.
Whilst we are here the bells chime. The noise is deafening and fortunately the chimes only occur for six repetions which is more than enough for our ears.
The experience of climbing around and up up this tower makes me feel a little giddy and its a good feeling once we get to the top of the tower and walk out onto the balcony. This too is sloped similar to the tower trajectory so on one side you walk uphill a little the other side of the balcony you walk downhill.
I am fine as my trusty sketchers grip the surface well but Murray finds the going a little slippery wearing his running shoes. We are only given a short time up on the balcony-one circumference to be precise then it is time to return downwards again. 
I have to place my hands on the walls as we walk down as the giddiness has returned and the last thing I need is to take a tumble here.
I count the steps as we return to the earth and get up to 235 (from memory).
It is then bag collection time, toilet stop time, then just enough time for an ice-cream-gelati of course and a bottle of water before we return to our designated meeting place with our Florence tour guide to return to the bus.
I had thought that perhaps driving back, if no traffic, would be a calm relaxed ride through the country side, but, alas, no, it's a madcap crazy drive yet again, with our driver talking on his phone most of the time, when not dialling numbers...all this probably to secure his next job, who knows!
We return to Firenze at 2:30 precisely, and that's it for the tour.
We alight off the bus and wander back to our apartment and begin to pack for our trip to Rome the next day.

Last evening we go out to dinner for the very last time (this trip) in Firenze. We have pizza and pasta and it tastes wonderful as always. We go for another stroll along the busy streets and I pay my final homage to Florence by falling over in the street yet again. People around are wonderful and with Murray help me up and make sure I can walk ok.
(Don't tell my doc but that's three falls in as many weeks!)
Skinned knees will remind me of Florence for a while, as much as grazed elbows and bruises on my bottom remind me of France!
Carpe diem!!!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

And now they have gone.

I haven't written for a few days.
I gave my mind a bit of a rest, but also, my daughter and her partner were coming over from Düsseldorf and I wanted to devote my whole time with them as I hadn't seen her for over six months and their time with us was a priority.
Alas, they have returned today to their adopted home and consequently, we feel very lost without them here already.
Florence is, as you know, a beautiful city. It is full of people from sun up to sun down. It is a crazy noisy place, especially around the Duomo which is where we are residing for a week and it is such a contrast to where we live 'normally'.
Just to set the scene, I will tell you dear readers of our adventure, getting to Florence.
We left Paris on the day we were supposed to.
We had a long train ride in front of us and both Murray and I were excited at the prospect of catching up with our daughter and her boyfriend after seven odd months.
The train we hopped onto from Paris was great. We had decided to travel first class and we were in a compartment by ourselves. Lots of leg room, newspapers if we wanted, drinks and food all part of the service.
 Such a contrast to train service in Australia.
The only problem was that initially when announcements were made they were first made in French, then Italian and then in English.
 We travelled through the countryside on a very very fast train getting up to speeds in excess of 250 kms. per hour. We had coffee, we had bread (French style) and we continued on and on....
Beautiful countryside zipped by and I swapped sides of the train to take photographs, trying to record as much as I could. (God help me when it comes time to edit these photographs as I'll be at it forever).
There came a time when we stopped at a town called Chambery in the early afternoon. We had made typical time and all was what we thought on schedule.
At this point, we were under the impression the train would continue on to Turin where we would hop off, then board a train from Turin to Florence.
We had been given a pre determined arrival time and other than having to disembark at Turin and board the train to Florence, we were not aware of any other changes.
You can imagine then dear reader, our profound discomfort at this country town Chambery after the train had stopped, a large number of people got off the train. We waited thinking we were continuing then all of a sudden, the train started going backwards!
We looked at each other, wondering if we had missed something in our instructions and thought that perhaps the train was going back a little way then would travel on to Turin as we presumed.
You can then imagine our further discomfort when we continued going backwards, getting to a pretty busy town by the name of Aix-Les-Bains then even further on to a town Annecy before realising we had been thwarted in our attempts at freelance travelling through Europe!
Once we realised THIS train was stopping at Annecy (never heard of it before this day) and not going any further, panic mode set in and all I could think of was that my beloved daughter and her boyfriend would be waiting at Florence Station for us and we would not be arriving. We would be lost somewhere in France and be set upon by goodness knows what...
We asked a young station attendant where we were and what was happening. She did not speak our panicked language and directed us to the information booth man who spoke neither French (our version-bear in mind, all niceties had gone out the window by then) and definitely not English!
He waved us onto the ticket office and I had visions of us camping there for the night until an interpreter could come and save us from our 'Lost In France' plight.
We waited for ages here as there was a queue and we were 5th. in line and every person ahead of us had their problems to deal with before us and there were only three women behind the counter and they seemed interminably slow.
Eventually, "Next" meant us and we walked up to the lady who was to throw us a lifeline that afternoon and explained in broken English and broken French our plight...
'We had booked a train from Paris to Florence. We knew we had to swap trains at Turin (Aka Torino) but not one person had told us about Chambéry'.

The lady who shall be known as 'Elizabeth The Lifesaver' was brilliant. She was :
A) Cross for us
B) Sorry for us
C) A Multi skilled problem solver for us
D) Able to not only book a ticket for us to Turin that day, but booked us accomodation in Turin for that night as we had missed our connecting flight of course and booked us an ongoing passage via train the next morning to Florence.
E) So sympathetic when I began to weep, me thinking our daughter would be distraught and beside herself when waiting at the station in Florence with no Ma and Pa rocking up that evening.
F) Our proxy support, taking us personally to the platform we had to be on to catch this later train to Turin.
I will forever be in her debt as she made what was a scary experience initially into a bit of an adventure (Turin was a bit on the side... An extra bit perhaps).

 Merryn and Kieran were in Florence that evening and we weren't and that was my primary cause for distress.
 We finally got to Turin and found the hotel booked for us. Once I was able to message Mez and let her know our dilemma and received her reply and reassurance I felt much better.
As you can imagine, I had been so looking forward to catching up with her that a few hours delay seemed like a lifetime at that stage so I was quite emotional that evening.
The hotel in Turin was a funny place.
The room was tiny, the bed comfortable. The ammenities were basic but adequate. The room was very hot and when Murray put the fan on, a lot of dust flew down from the ceiling so consequently, the fan was turned off immediately.
There were beaufiful wooden doors that opened onto shutters that in turn opened onto a balcony which overlooked the street. We were on the third floor of this hotel, but there was no view as our street was a main street with a very similar building opposite.
The story goes that Turin (AKA Torino) was the very first capital city of Italy until they decided Florence would do. They then decided Rome was even better but that's another story!
Prior to the recent global economic crisis there was in excess of 1.5 million people living in Turin, but with that horrible impact, many people have left this beautiful town and their population in now under 900,000. There are beautiful streets with colonnade arcades for miles and miles, but there are people sleeping on cardboard in those streets which tells us poverty is rife in this city now, which is ever so sad. This information is imparted to us, compliments of our taxi driver in the few short minutes it takes to get from the station to our temporary accomodation.  He is a lovely man who tells us he wants to visit Australia, especially Sydeney (sic)!!!
The night passed quickly enough and the following morning we are at the station quick smart to catch the train onwards to Florence, ensuring this time there are no hiccups.
We board again and cannot believe our luck that all is good and Florence is on the map this time without a problem.
I might add though that it's very confusing to pull up at a station on the outskirts of Florence, known as Florence and think you have to get off, until I ask someone "Is this Florence central?"....
"Oh no Signora.... You must get off at Firenze Santa Rosa, which is the next stop"
Lordy me, we nearly did it again!!!
We eventually got off at Firenze, Santa Rosa. My heart was in my mouth, so impatient I was to see my daughter.
There were crowds of people as we struggled off, some getting on (for this train was travelling to Rome) some getting off....with people all over the place. I craned my neck to see if I could see my girl and all of a sudden I spy Kieran in the distance (he is very tall after all) and I start to cry.
There is a clearing, and then I see her and the tears start to really fall. The anticipation has been so great with this delay happening that I am beside myself to see her and envelope them both in a big hug.
We laugh at each other when we finally get there as she is crying too. All I can say is thank goodness for dyed eyelashes!!!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Brief Encounter

We are now on the train travelling at high speed to our next destination which is Florence, Italy.
We have successfully disembarked and have had no issues hopping aboard the VVVFT to Torlino where we will swap trains for Florence.
We had our last sumptuous meal this morning with Mal and Chris. Mind, I was so full after eating too much these past days, I really have little appetite and eat because it is in front of me rather than because of appetite. I did order Eggs Benedict today as a last treat, but they fail to arrive. Our waiters are very busy multi skilling this morning, helping to empty rooms, remove luggage and begin the arduous preparation for stripping the rooms.
As this is the last tour for the season on board The Scenic Gem, the boat will go into dry dock once she has been emptied and undergo maintenance and any repairs in preparation for the next year tours.

Following on from our trip through Vernon and Giverney with the visit to Monet's garden we travel further again on our way back to Paris, stopping the night at Conflans. This all occurred yesterday and is our final leg of the trip before returning to a busting city yet again.
Conflans is another pretty town from what we see with a large amount of goods and services transportation occurring on the waterways as well as our aspect of tourism.
This day is the day I have been so looking forward to for it is the day we visit the beautiful village of Auvers-sur-Oise which was the final place Vincent Van Gogh lived before his death around 1890.
As was stated yesterday, we learn that Vincent, as he preferred to be called, led a troubled life, rejected by his mother when younger for no particular reason, and only having his brother who was 4 years younger as his emotional support in those years before his death.
Vincent had a significant psychiatric disorder and was admitted to an asylum following living in Paris which he did not enjoy, prior to relocating to Auvers-sur-Oise where he had hoped to regain his passion for life and health.
Deep dark depression was Vincent's burden and initially when relocating to this country town he had a burst of mania that saw him create a tremendous amount of paintings in a very short period of time.
Bear in mind that some painters of this time might take up to a year to complete one piece of artwork. Vincent in the 50 odd days he was at Auvers-sur-Oise painted hundreds of canvases with some of them being his most memorable.
All he wanted was to be at peace with himself, as he wrote, in numerous letters to his brother and to have some recognition of his artwork, but alas that was not to be whilst he was still alive. Like so many artists of great and profound reputation, his genius for his craft was not acknowledged till after his demise which occurred in mysterious happenings.
There are theories he committed suicide, there are theories he was shot intentionally and there is the theory he was out hunting and was shot accidentally. No one really knows what happened to this man other than his wounds caused him to return to his abode where he lay in agony for two days before death overtook him. His brother was with him at the time and cared for him till the end. The room in which Vincent lived and died remains untouched to this day and all there is to remind us of his presence is a symbolic chair facing the garret window. There are holes in the wall where he hung his artwork to dry and a presence of greatness once being within.

We wander through the village and look upon the fields where he gained inspiration. We visit the catholic church where he would spend time as he was a devout man, at one stage in his life wanting to become a protestant minister like his father. We wander the streets and stroll along the steps he once ambled along, with very little of the scenery changing from one century to the next in this country town with no walls and no housing estates. Just a little bit of traffic from time to time making us aware as we cross the Main Street to be careful.
We visit Vincent's grave, located up a hill out the back of the town in the local cemetary and we learn how his brother died not 6 months after Vincent from complications of syphillis which Vincent apparently had as well. They are buried together in a little plot and we have opportunity to pay our respects to this man and his brother Theo in a cemetry that also contains soldiers buried in haste during the second and first world wars also.

This is my piéce de resistance for the trip as I have for a very long time felt a spiritual connection with the story of this man and his life for reasons I will not go into at this time as I have written of them previously. 
Needless to say though, I once met a little man who was named Vincent also but who never had life to draw breath.

"This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you"

We finally say farewell to this place and return to our ship for our last sail back to Paris.
Dinner this evening is a gastonomique degustation delight (with wines to match!!!) which is delicious but as it is the last day is a 10 day gastonomique delight where I haven't had to cook or decide what's for dinner I am a bit over the richness of the food despite the individual flavours and the abundance...or should I say overabundance!
We sail into Paris around 9:30 that night and are up on deck in time for the multitudinous lights on the hour every hour. 
Tis a very beautiful way to return to the City of Love and we are truly grateful for all we have experienced these past 10 days or so.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Adieu, adieu to you and you and you!

Well, it's our last morning.
We are waiting for a summons to put our bags outside and then travel with four others to Gare du Líon.
Outside (it being Sunday morning), the river is being used for a rowing /kayaking race and we stand at our window and wave as they travel past at lightening speed.

Our last two days have been full on artist influenced.
We were docked at Vernon on the 9th. day which was a Friday?
This gave us opportunity to cycle again (and with more confidence) to Giverney, some 6 kms. from Vernon. No falling off today!
Firstly we had a trip to Monet's beautiful exquisite jardin and we, like many other like-minded souls oohed and ahhhed at the layout and were able to place some of his paintings with what we saw.
Even though we are now in autumn over here with the changing of the leaves to that glorious rusty red colour, there are still flowers blooming and there is the occasional bee doing his or her job for the honey population of the world.
We enter Monet's home and I noticed a significant colour theme for each room, such was his penchant for all things beautiful.
No dab dark rooms for this man as they are all pastel themed and the furniture remains as it was when he resided there. The kitchen is an amazing enormous room with blue and white tiles as a splash back throughout. It's a very pretty light room and I am sure many a fine meal has been created within these walls.
There are still some of his pieces of art work there as well as other impressionist painters of his time and we are not allowed to photograph them which is rightly so.
I might add, to get to Monet's garden, as we rode our trusty bikes today, this time with Pete who is the gadget man on the trip with his fine array of camera gadgets, including of of those head piece things.
Our fellow bikers are Judy (from H&A) and Bruce and so that makes up our "Team Scenic" as we strive along, all five of us, clocking upwards of 25 kms. per hour as we pedal and occasionally let the motor take over. (I have to get myself one of these I have decided)!
We stopped at a church on the way to the gardens and viewed where Monet was buried with his family and took a quick look inside to appreciate the peace and tranquility. There are so many churches we have entered whilst in France and each one is unique with its sense of serenity and beauty.
We marvel at cows in this countryside and the stone walls along this designated bike/pedestrian path.
People smile and nod as we ride past and we laugh like school kids, enjoying this sense of craziness and freedom. It's amazing how riding bikes brings out the carefree child in us all.
After learning about Monsieur Monet and his beautiful garden, we eventually have to return to our boat.
Peter, Judy and Bruce decide to try out for Le Tour de France and careen as fast as they can back along the bike pathway. 
Later we watch a video Bruce made of Judy as she is speeding along in excess of 30 kms. per hour. I might add that he was riding his bike too trying to keep up at the same time. Needless to say he nearly came a cropper a couple of times which is so funny afterwards but I dare say scary at the time. 
Rather than return to the bateu too soon Murray and I meander back stopping occasionally to gaze at the countryside and just enjoy this leisurely 6 kms. ride. The weather is cool and there are occasional spots of rain but nothing dampens our enthusiasm other than knowing we will soon leave here.
We eventually return to the boat and return our bikes after negotiating the traffic the wrong way around.
Lunch is waiting for us on our return and we catch up with our delightful new friends Mal and Chris and rehash the morning events.
The afternoon sees us sailing on to Vernon (I think) and we chill as the boat glides along socialising  as one does on the cruise.
Remember I spoke at the beginning of the trip about people groups and how our personalities expand as we get to know one another.
We have been blessed with the people on board. The majority are from various parts of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States, Great Britain, Wales and even one couple from The Bahamas. We all appear to get on together with no significant personality traits demonstrated. There are no apparent arguments between groups and despite there being access to alcohol 24/7, no boorish behaviour to complain about either.
The youngest in the group are two women in their thirties who appear to have a good time although I think the night life is not to their liking. The oldest are at least in their eighties and obviously have no intention of stopping their travelling at this stage of their lives either. Out of the 120 odd tourists on board, some are retired, some, like us are continuing to work and are solicitors, an orthopaedic surgeon, writer/actors, medical receptionist (married to the above surgeon), teachers, artists, all from very different walks of like when you take the time to stop and chat.
As the tour progresses and we are closer to the final destination of Paris once more, people are more friendly and email addresses are exchanged with promises of keeping in touch between groups. There is even the occasional Facebook link up as well which is good for the soul, as you can never have enough Facebook friends!

Le Chateau pour Monsieur Benedictine(not his real name)

This was the day we travelled to Caudebec-en-Caux, arriving there sometime around 3 am. Whatever the time, we do not know for we are firmly tucked up in our beds fast asleep and there is no indication we have arrived at port until we awaken.
There was a tour to be done this day but some have opted to stay on board instead of hopping on a bus yet again after two previous day's lengthy bus tours.
I thought...."Well, when in Rome....or Caudebec-en-Caux as it may be", I would jump on the bus and do the tour on offer sans husband and so I did just that.

Forgive me my profound lack of historical knowledge and I will take poetic license with this story, but the story goes that once upon a time, in a country town known as Fécamp, there was an order of Benedictine monks, going right back to the Middle Ages.
Now, they were a pretty poor order and it was cold, wet and miserable a lot of the time. One of the monks hit upon an idea to create something to warm the cockles of their collective hearts and thus began the secret herbs and spices recipe for a drink known as Bénédictine.
They used all sorts of flavours....anything they could lay their hands on it seems that grew from the ground and wasn't poisonous. There was thyme, lavender, mint, chamomile, pepper, you name it, it was added to this liquid that was then placed in barrels and allowed to ferment over time. This was created in their monastery and I dare say they shared it from time to time with the locals and eventually word got out that there was something pretty special in this place.
This boivré gave them some comfort for a long time and made them all happy until a wealthy baron came along in the 18th. Century and patented their liqueur whilst still encouraging them to continue creating the base.
I shall call him Monsieur Le Bénédictine and he was ever so wealthy that he built an enormous mansion (chateau) across the road from the new premises he built once he extracted the recipe from the now defunct order of monks.
To this day, Bénédictine is still created across the road from his chateau on a much larger scale and its shipped around to all countries of the world.
As it is so exclusive and there was lots of money floating around thanks to this now even wealthier man, he decided to tack on a museum to the factory.
This gentleman you see had a bit of an O.C.D. Disorder and wherever he went he collected stuff.
He amassed hundreds of pieces of religious art and statues.
He collected keys by the hundreds and locks for those keys by the hundreds also. He collected wooden figurines, he collected rare china pieces, you name it, he collected it. Added to all this 'stuff', he decided he would flamboyantly decorate this factory come museum internally with stained glass windows, marble staircases, parquetry floors, decorous architraves with buttresses soaring high to the ceilings added to which there were numerous chandeliers in every room also.
So, this is the Bénédictine Tour. We learnt about this enormously wealthy man who became even wealthier. We saw his collection of everything and last but not least we see where the liqueur, Bénédictine is nowadays created. Of course, at the end of our tour we are given a sample of the real, raw thing and it still has the power to warm the cockles of your heart, even with a little tipple.
It is then into the gift shop we go (yet another captured audience) and of course I purchase a bit of this and a bit of that to take home...
Personally, I am not sure I like the bite and flavour of Monsieur Le Bénédictine's liqueur, but then I am me and I am a little fussy when it comes to all things spiritual!
We return to our boat and off we sail again, this time to Vernon. Whilst floating back towards Paris though....for we did a U-Turn when leaving Le Havre.....we are given a cooking exposay on how to make proper Crêpe Suzette using just a touch of that secret herbs and spices liqueur which is magnifique I must say.
This is a kind of sad part of the tour as we are starting to talk about how we will be saying farewell in just a few short days.
Tonight though is the Captain's dinner and we have to dress up. For me, the quandary is what the hell I will wear that:
a) I haven't worn before,
b) Is clean
c) Is fancy schmantzy for the Captains Cocktail Hour and Captains dinner.

I hit upon a dress I have worn previously, but IS clean (hopefully) and is nowhere near and fancy as some of the other costumed and bejewelled womens' clothing but, hey, what the heck, I am me and what you see is certainly what you get.
It was yet another fun time as it turns out with a lot of fancy food (yet again).... Bloody raw minced meat for starters and no, I did not eat the Steak Tartare unlike others....sorbet between courses etc (which incidentally I did eat) and other foods and then it was 'Let Down Your Hair Time' with the crew we have come to know and love providing us with a funny floor show and then disco afterwards where they get everyone up to dance.
All too soon though it is time for bed yet again for we old farts and so ends yet another day on this amazing brilliant water way.

Friday, October 24, 2014

I think it's day 9.

I'm kind of running out of time here.
There's so much to do each day I'm finding it harder and harder to remember where I was the day before.
Yesterday though was easy to recall as we visited the landing sites at Omaha Beach, the American Cemetry and the D-Day Landing Museum at Arromanches Beach.
We were up early yet again, (6:30 am.) and on the buses by 8:30 to travel to the coast? Once again we travelled through beautiful country towns, typically French and I marvel at the agility of bus drivers who manage to fit through the narrow roads without incident.
We arrive eventually at Arromanches after being given an ongoing commentary by our guide who today is brilliant with her narrative telling us the stories of war and how the local people coped with invasion. Her mother was a little girl when this all happened so her story is second hNd but extremely accurate and she narrates with a sense of the time and with much animation.
We have a look through the museum which focuses on the D-Day Landing and surprisingly there are quite a large number of people there (for a mid week) and we then watch a news reel movie for 15 minutes which tells us the story of how the allies worked out a plan to make an artificial harbour off the coast of France so as to transport soldiers, artillery and tanks from Britain by the shortest possible route. There were paratroopers also with one of the first being caught in a tree and shot by the opposing forces. The first number of tanks that came over also were driven into water too deep for them and a large number of American soldiers drowned as a consequence also.
Those that made it to the beaches were shot by the enemy as they were easy targets...sounds a bit like Gallipoli doesn't it. I can only wonder why men do not learn that killing masses and masses of men is not the answer.
You may recall 'Saving Private Ryan', the movie. The reality of what happened is similar to the initial scenes as the Americans landed on the beach and the actual story line is true regarding the soldier who lost three brothers as a result of the war. The only main difference is that a priest was designated to find him, not a platoon as was demonstrated in the movie.
We leave Arromanches then travel to a beautiful country manor house where we have lunch which consists of a three course meal.
This is Normandy we are told, where food is cooked in cream Nd butter, never oil and they drink a distilled apple brandy during their lunch to aid digestion. First course was similar to fried Camembert cheese only it was sharper and to die for. Second course was for Murray, a roast pork with vegetables and for me a piece of baked cod which also was wonderful, and I eat every little bit.
We then had an apple sorbet with this liqueur I mentioned earlier and trust me, just two to three teaspoons of it and my head is swimming.
Dessert is then served and is not one, not two but three different cakes... One is Neapolitan, one is coffee and one is like an apple cake. Once again... Magnifique!
This is all followed by coffee and chocolat!
Mon died, how do they eat like this all the time I wonder.
Following lunch we are encouraged to wander around the farm house and take numerous photographs as it is absolutely out of my world at least.
It's time then to climb back on the bus and go onto The American Cemetry which once again is so moving, I cry.
There are rows upon rows of crosses, as far as the eye can see. Every so often there is a Jewish Star Of David instead for those who were not Christian but Jewish boys. I will call them boys as the youngest in the cemetery was 14 when he died. There were many others of course of various ages and the beauty of the place is not that they were buried according to rank. Soldier was buried next to soldier, regardless of where he stood and what he was so it is not unusual to see. Private buried next to a major or even a general.
There were few exceptions with regard to where people were buried here. The brothers I mentioned before from Private Ryan (not their real name of course) were buried together as were a couple of brothers from other families but generally as I said before, soldiers were buried as they died and were not even buried alphabetically. Incidentally the one brother who was found initially did not return home, choosing to stay and fight with his comrades. Approximately 12 months later he was repatriated home to rejoin his family and lived a long life.
Once we have very quickly visited the Visitors Centre at the Cemetry which is a sad but amazing place we return to our bus and travel quickly down to Omaha Beach, one of the landing places. We alight from the bus and spend a short time there. It's beautiful yet again with children playing despite the inclement weather, others riding horses on the beach and there is freedom all around. So different to those days of bloodshed, death and trauma.
I collect a pine one and a couple of beach pebbles to remind me of the day, in the future Nd it's time again to mount our trusty bus and wind our way back home yet again through different villages yet again.
I have made myself a promise that I want to return to this beautiful place....there are so many bed and breakfast places which would give us a good base to explore further so our next European foray will be an even longer one than this time.
We are back to our boat by 5:30 pm. and prepare for dinner, the inaugural seafood buffet.
That is a story in itself. We were fashionably 5 minutes late and I have never seen so many avaricious poisson eating carnivores fighting for the opportunity to access the mussels and oysters and crayfish. We eventually got our share and were once again happily replete (it's not like we've had the opportunity to starve!!!)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Le Havre/Honfleur

'Today is yet to be another big day as we are traveling by bus again, to the Normandy Beaches to view another historical component of our trip. More about that tomorrow.
Today I write about our very brief sojourn into Honfleur yesterday to gaze admiringly at the quaintness of this busy seaside village.

Following our trip to The Somme the other day, Murray and I watched Schindlers List which didn't finish until 2:30 in the morning. Consequently we were very tired yesterday morning but given my shift working hours I was able to adapt to the lack of sleep a little better than Murray.
We had free time in the morning so a sleep in was in order, then up for yet another delicious breakfast.
Mind,  the volume of food is enormous and overwhelming at times.
My breakfast appetite is getting smaller and smaller and whereas on day 1 tried many different foods, now I am happy to settle with porridge, a slice of toast and a cup of coffee to start the day.
Have I spoken about our bed on this boat? I actually want to take it home with me. So very comfortable and follows my every contour as I snuggle up at night and very conducive to a great nights sleep.  I wonder if we can fit it somehow  in our luggage and transport it home with us. Never have I slept in such comfort. Even my bed at home gives me aches and pains of a morning, but this bed has me feeling ever so refreshed on awakening.
Anyway dear reader, I digress from the day's topic.

Following this first meal of the day we went for a stroll across the road to a contemporary shopping complex conveniently situated not far from our docked boat. We purchased a new pair of jeans for Murray plus a couple of gifts for soon to be recipients. They will find out who they are when receiving them!
I might add too that prices are relatively reasonable here compared with what we would pay back home. By the time our shopping foray had ended it was a once more time to return to le bateu for more food...this time in the shape of our daily lunchtime smorgasbord.
It is going to be so difficult to return home and prepare our meals ourselves, not to mention have to make decisions on what to purchase and how to cook it again.
I can well understand why people would want to perpetuate this experience and reside on a boat such as this indefinitely.
Following lunch those who wanted were welcome to join a shuttle bus and venture through the industrial area of Le Havre, and over the enormous span bridge into Honfleur for an historical glimpse into yesteryear.
To gain a full impact of this address dear reader, I suggest you google Honfleur if only to look at the professional photography of this beautiful town. It was unfortunately dull, wet and windy when we were there (thanks Mr. Hurricane), still a photographers paradise mind, but less so than on a clear day with blue skies.
Our day as mentioned before was cold, intermittently wet and unfortunately grey which diminishes the colours that abound as you will see when I eventually get my photographs on line.
There remains though an inherent beauty here with its cobblestone laneways only wide enough for a cart, and our guide regales us with tales of people in the Middle Ages taking their lives in their hands when walking along first thing in the morning as people emptied their chamber pots into the alley ways. We look towards four storey cottages running along the edges of the Quay made of timber and paint. Such tiny little cottages individually painted to reflect their owners colour schemes may have four maybe five storeys on one side and maybe two or three storeys on the other to accomodate the steep hill incline behind the buildings. There is a harbour that houses local fishing boats with shops surrounding it on three sides and beyond there are those little cobblestone streets again winding around and up the hill with shops of all varieties scattered along them. Such a pretty place is this.
We are shown a timber church created in the 1500's that is still standing intact and sit inside briefly to savour the atmosphere of quietness. Durning the wars the churches were taken over by the invading countries and were used as stables for horses so they were often filled with straw, horses and soldiers.
Once the formal part of our tour is over we are given free time to wander at will until five o'clock. I now get to photograph quaint alleyways and steps and shop fronts as well as inspect the goods available to tourists and make a couple of purchases as I go.
I'm still flummoxed occasionally when I speak à la français as people presume my comprehension is much greater than what it is. I then have to confess "Je suis australien" and some laugh and translate what they have said, some just continue on.
It's all part of the fun though and I continue to amble along enjoying my presence here. I have stopped pinching myself but I am ever so grateful for my experiences in what I have seen so far of France.
All too soon it's time to return to the bus that will take us back to our boat and I am so tired I go to dinner n'avec pas une shower.... still in my grotty clothes from the day, but I am past caring.
Dinner is once again a 4 course affair with wines to match. We sit with our friends again, Chris and Marilyn and discuss the day's activities and all we have seen.
Following dinner there is a Dixie Jazz band playing for a bit and they sound pretty good. Murray has gone to bed by now and I sat and listened whilst I blogged for a time.
The drummer from the band decides to play some of his music on my iPad ( they probably thought I was a little rude, blogging as they played) but I laughed and he had a twinkle in his eye so all is good with the world. It is soon time enough for me to wander upstairs to our cabin and it's time for bed yet again.