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Our 2019 Trip around Europe

Navigating these pages: In the following itinerary, there are several columns describing the day. Text within brackets in the heading line explains the purpose of the link to the corresponding item. Clicking on a link in a column (where it exists) ...

Day(Cruise)
shows the ordinal number of the day of travel, and in parentheses, the day of the cruise. Note that I number the cruise day with 0-origin indexing, whereas the cruise companies use 1-origin indexing. I do this a) because I am a computer scientist, and b) the "first" day usually goes nowhere.
Date
will take you to the corresponding photo album page for the day. Due to space considerations, the original photos are not stored here (only the "medium" and "large" sizes). If you want to see the originals, please visit one of my other servers at ajh.co
Track
will take you to the track for the day. It is currently set to take you straight to a MotionX page, which will not last forever. But for now, it is a quick and easy way to see just where we went. Not all days were tracked, and these days will have no link to open. Furthermore, my tracker is aging, and on many days when travelling by train or plane, it cannot keep up. The track then has "holes" in it. Sometimes it just gets things wrong, and we appear to shoot off in a quite random way. Patience!
Time
shows the hours of travel for the day (not a link).
Blog
will take you to the corresponding diary entry, which is recorded later on this page.
Accomodation
Just to show we didn't sleep on the streets.
Document(s)
Maps and various travel documents
Steps
as recorded by my FitBit for the day.
Track
This is a GPX file, which needs to be opened with Google Earth. Browsers such as Chrome and Firefox will do this automatically for you (email me if you have trouble setting them up). If you do have trouble, then try clicking on the (alt) link. This gives a direct browser-rendering of the track, but isn't as much fun to play with. Not all days were tracked, and these days will have no link to open. This mirrors the Locations column, but is a link to a more permanent record.

Within the diary entries, the date heading is a link to the photo page (as for the itinerary). The day of the week/ordinal number is a link back to the itinerary, and the day's title is a link to the track (as for the itinerary).

All dates and times are local times. This can give anomalous timings when travel across time zones is involved. Where a change of time zone is involved, offsets from UTC are given in parentheses. A single UTC offset indicates the local time for the day, and if multiple UTC offsets are given, these indicate the UTC zones travelled.

Note that the pages will change over time as I complete my editing of the diary. Note also that when this document refers to 'John', the author is assumed, unless stated otherwise.

Day
(Cruise)
Date [Photos] Time Activity [Blog] Locations [Track] Accomodation Doc. Steps Track
0 28 Mar (Thursday) 2230.. (+11) leave Melbourne EY0461 MEL-AUH business class 13173
1 29 Mar (Friday) ..0335;07:15.. (+4)
..14:05 (+1)
transit Abu Dhabi;
arrive Paris
EY0461 MEL-AUH;
EY0037 AUH-CDG
Hotel du Parc, 6 Rue Jolivet, 75014 Paris 75014 1, 1-4 6157
2 30 Mar (Saturday) all day Amusing Musees Paris Hotel du Parc, 6 Rue Jolivet, 75014 Paris 75014 1-4 17703
3 31 Mar (Sunday) all day (+2) Luxuriating in Luxembourg Gardens Paris Hotel du Parc, 6 Rue Jolivet, 75014 Paris 75014 1-4 7807 366
4 01 Apr (Monday) all day Bato Belting a Bout Paris Hotel du Parc, 6 Rue Jolivet, 75014 Paris 75014 1-4 17967 367
5 02 Apr (Tuesday) 10:19-11:16 StPierre;
12:10-12:22 Amboise
Paris(Montparnasse)-StPierre;
StPierre-Amboise
Paris to Amboise 18 Rue de la Concorde, Amboise 5a, 5b, 5-9 11043 368
6 03 Apr (Wednesday) all day Amboise Bum Steers Amboise 18 Rue de la Concorde, Amboise 5-9 15198 369
7 04 Apr (Thursday) all day Leonardo and John: movie stars Amboise 18 Rue de la Concorde, Amboise 5-9 13490 370
8 05 Apr (Friday) all day Chateau Royale and Randonnee Amboise 18 Rue de la Concorde, Amboise 5-9 15808 371
9 06 Apr (Saturday) 10:23-10:36;
11:02-12:58
Amboise-StPierre;
StPierre-Reims
Amboise to Reims 51 Boulevade du General LeClerc, Reims 9, 5-9, 9-11 13095 372
10 07 Apr (Sunday) all day Closer to God Reims 51 Boulevade du General LeClerc, Reims 9-11 20026 373
11 08 Apr (Monday) all day Pommery et Pommes Frites Reims 51 Boulevade du General LeClerc, Reims 9-11 18655 374
12 09 Apr (Tuesday) 09:30-09:58 Marne;
10:24-12:34 Brussels;
13:53-14:51 Bruges
Reims-Marne;
Marne-Brussels;
Brussels-Bruges
Reims to Bruges Boat Hotel De Barge, Bargeweg 15, 8000 Bruges 12, 12-13 11704 376
13 10 Apr (Wednesday) all day Beautiful Bruges by Boat Bruges Boat Hotel De Barge, Bargeweg 15, 8000 Bruges 12-13 7090 377
14 11 Apr (Thursday) 10:23-11:50; 14:44-16:30 Bruges-Antwerp; Antwerp-Amsterdam Bruges to Amsterdam Westcord Art Hotel, Spaamdammerdijk 302 1013 ZX Amsterdam 14, 14-15, 14-15b 12938 378
15 12 Apr (Friday) all day Transported with the Public Amsterdam Westcord Art Hotel, Spaamdammerdijk 302 1013 ZX Amsterdam 14-15, 14-15b 10470 379
16 (0) 13 Apr (Saturday) 1415-1620; 1645-1730 Spinning the Cold Amsterdam to Wormerveer Barge Anna Antal 16,
16b,
16-23,
16-22a,
16-22b,
13777 380
17 (1) 14 Apr (Sunday) all day Clogged with People Wormerveer to Arkmaar Barge Anna Antal 16-23,
16-22a,
16-22b,
20623 381
18 (2) 15 Apr (Monday) all day A Windmill Doing what it Does Best Alkmaar to Purmerend Barge Anna Antal 16-23,
16-22a,
16-22b
13151 382
19 (3) 16 Apr (Tuesday) all day A 60km Day! Purmerend to Haarlem Barge Anna Antal 16-23,
16-22a,
16-22b
18857 383
20 (4) 17 Apr (Wednesday) all day Steam Driven Tulips Haarlem to Leiden Barge Anna Antal 16-23,
16-22a,
16-22b
16016 384
21 (5) 18 Apr (Thursday) all day Straining on the bikes? No, Spraining! Leiden to Aalsmeer Barge Anna Antal 16-23,
16-22a,
16-22b
11186 385
22 (6) 19 Apr (Friday) all day Running Down or Winding Down? Aalsmeer to Amsterdam Barge Anna Antal 16-23,
16-22a,
16-22b
11661 386
23 (7) 20 Apr (Saturday) -07:00 Amsterdam;
08:08-12:23 Mannheim;
12:46-14:54 Basel;
15:07-16:00 Zurich
The Flowers of Our Old Age Amsterdam to Mannheim to Basel to Zurich Du Theatre Zurich, Seilergraben 69, Zurich 8001 23,
16-23
11577 387
24 21 Apr (Sunday) 09:37-10:52 Chur;
10:58-12:58 St Moritz
World Heritage Travel Zurich to Chur to St Moritz Hauser Swiss Quality Hotel, via Traunter Plazzas 7,
St. Moritz 7500
23-26p 12566 388
25 22 Apr (Monday) 15:11-17:32 Tirano;
18:08-20:40 Milan Centrale
The Pinnacle of SightSeeing St Moritx to Tirano to Milan Centrale Michelangelo, Piazza Luigi Di Savoia 6, Milano 20124 23-26p 19671 389
26 23 Apr (Tuesday) 10:00-12:55 Rome Termini;
13:12-14:19 Civitavecchia
Freccia Fast Milan Centrale to Rome Termini to Civitavecchia B&B Carillon, via Antonio Canova 4, Civitavecchia 00053 23-26p,
26p
14260 390
27 (0) 24 Apr (Wednesday) 1300-1900 embark Prinsendam Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy Stateroom 122, Prinsendam 27p,27-39p
29
7609 391
28 (1) 25 Apr (Thursday) all day All at Sea At Sea (no track) Stateroom 122, Prinsendam 27-39p 4657 -
29 (2) 26 Apr (Friday) 0900-1700 Climbing, but not at an (alley) canter Alicante, Spain Stateroom 122, Prinsendam 27-39p 21514 392
30 (3) 27 Apr (Saturday) 0900-2300 Victoria Malaga Malaga, Spain Stateroom 122, Prinsendam 27-39p 24699 393
31 (4) 28 Apr (Sunday) 0800-1300 The Rock Bottom Gibraltar, British Territory Stateroom 122, Prinsendam 27-39p 13849 394
32 (5) 29 Apr (Monday) 0800-1800 (+1) Funiculi, Funicular, and Foot Scenic cruising Tagus River; Lisbon, Portugal Stateroom 122, Prinsendam 27-39p 14836 395
33 (6) 30 Apr (Tuesday) 0800-1600 All that Glitters is Gold! Leixoes (Porto), Portugal Stateroom 122, Prinsendam 27-39p 14123 396
34 (7) 01 May (Wednesday) all day (+2) Mariners at Sea At Sea (no track) Stateroom 122, Prinsendam 27-39p 3971
35 (8) 02 May (Thursday) 0730- Beers at Bazas Bordeaux, France Stateroom 122, Prinsendam 27-39p 8090 397
36 (9) 03 May (Friday) -1730 Libations at Libourne Bordeaux, France
and
Cruising the Gironde
Stateroom 122, Prinsendam 27-39p 7105 398 399
37 (10) 04 May (Saturday) all day Sick at Sea At Sea (no track) Stateroom 122, Prinsendam 27-39p 4347
38 (11) 05 May (Sunday) 0830-1300 (+1) Pedalling Wheres? St.Peter Port, Guernsey and Entering the English Channel Stateroom 122, Prinsendam 27-39p 11713 400
39 (12) 06 May (Monday) 0700-0915 Nostalgic Parting sailing into Dover, and Dover Castle Loddington House Hotel, 14 East Cliff, Dover 27-39p,39p 22126 401
40 07 May (Tuesday) 1049-1400 The Rover over from Dover Dover to Brighton Central Garden Flat, 5a Bath St, Brighton 40p,40-44s 16578 402
41 08 May (Wednesday) Folks under the Volk's Yoke Brighton: Volk's Electric Railway Central Garden Flat, 5a Bath St, Brighton 40-44s 14139 403
42 09 May (Thursday) Chasm Explorer Brighton: Devil's Dyke Central Garden Flat, 5a Bath St, Brighton 40-44s 14161 404
43 10 May (Friday) Pavilioned in Splendour Brighton Central Garden Flat, 5a Bath St, Brighton 40-44s 11897 405
44 11 May (Saturday) Golden Arrow Bluebell Railway Central Garden Flat, 5a Bath St, Brighton 44s,
40-44s
11108
45 12 May (Sunday) Brighton Right On to York Brighton to York Flat 45, The Walk, Holgate Rd, York 45p,
45-49
7882
46 13 May (Monday) Walled Up in York York City Walls and Minster Flat 45, The Walk, Holgate Rd, York 45-49 16092
47 14 May (Tuesday) 1020-1805 Jorvik a Shambles, and Evensong (not!) York and Jorvik Centre Flat 45, The Walk, Holgate Rd, York 45-49 10290
48 15 May (Wednesday) 1000-1730 NRM York, NRM Flat 45, The Walk, Holgate Rd, York 45-49 11374
49 16 May (Thursday) 0925-1815 Over Hill and Dales Ribblehead Dale Flat 45, The Walk, Holgate Rd, York 45-49 20463
50 17 May (Friday) 0935-1807 London the long way round York to Peterborough via Edinburgh Peterborough to London Lovely Spacious Quiet Flat, 63 Chris Pullen Way, London N7 9FG 50p,50s 8500
51 18 May (Saturday) Light at the End of the Tunnel? London, Islington Lovely Spacious Quiet Flat, 63 Chris Pullen Way, London N7 9FG 50s 15252
52 19 May (Sunday) 1022-1806 Code Writing and Breaking Bletchley Lovely Spacious Quiet Flat, 63 Chris Pullen Way, London N7 9FG 50s 16932
53 20 May (Monday) 1422-2142 Old Friends? Friends from Long Ago! Watford Lovely Spacious Quiet Flat, 63 Chris Pullen Way, London N7 9FG 50s 18725 416
54 21 May (Tuesday) 0920-1505; 21:45- Time(')s Pas(t|sed) British Museum EY0018 LHR-AUH, business class 15719 417
55 22 May (Wednesday) -04:55 Abu Dhabi;
08:00-
Winging Our Way Home (no track) EY0018 LHR-AUH; EY0462 AUH-MEL, business class 2919
56 23 May (Thursday) -21:15 Melbourne Home! EY0462 AUH-MEL, 5 Fran Ct, Glen Waverley 9264

Trip Blog

28 Mar 2019, Thursday (Day 0), leaving Melbourne

It was a funny sort of day to be embarking upon an overseas trip. It had been a funny sort of week leading up to today. Somehow we managed to get ourselves organized (although at the time of writing that may be a little presumptive), through compiling various lists and checking them off. There is always this vague feeling about "have we got everything" that pervades one's thinking, not matter how organized one thinks one is.

What made it funny? It was the fact that John started his term as a member of the Academic Board of Melbourne Institute of Technology, with a meeting at 12noon, and the realization that travlling into the city for the meeting, travelling back to Glen Waverley, collecting bags and then travelling back into the city to catch the SkyBus just seemed a little farcical. So John went to his meeting with suitcase in tow, and then afterwards met Barb for a little bit of shopping before catching the SkyBus. Needless to say, other AB members were quite puzzled that John felt it necessary to bring a huge suitcase to the meeting, although once explained, puzzlement was replaced by jealousy.

First point of call after the meeting was Athlete's Foot, where John bought a new pair of sneakers to replace the very tatty ones he had worn to the meeting. Did I say it was a funny day? Picture John in a shirt and tie, smart trousers, and the daggiest, hole-ridden, smooth-soled sneakers you can imagine, and you will appreciate the irony. The assistant in Athlete's Foot, Katrina, was very helpful, and offered to dispose of the old sneakers for us, so that we did not have to cart them out to the airport and beyond.

Then to Laurent for afternoon tea, when John had a long black, Barb a mango juice, and we played swapsies with an apricot tart and a pecan/macadamia tar. Very Nice! Then to Officeworks to buy a new portable disk, to provide backup while travelling.

(Pause to check said disk drive out. It works! But not for Barb's computer ...)

We decided to walk to Spencer Street from Elizabeth Street, which is not far, but it is uphill and downhill, and walking along Little Collins Street meant that the footpath was a bit narrow, all of which meant a slighly more tedious trip than first presumed. But we got to the bus stop, and boarded a double decker bus - first time I have done that trip in a double decker, and it was good, because you get a much better view of the Spencer Street yards (and all the N class stabled there), to say nothing of the Dynon depot and its two turntables. I did not have my camera out, but next time I will have to, since there were Ns, Ys, Ss, As, Ts, and probably more that I did not spot. I was just too busy spotting them all to stop and fish the camera out anyway.

We arrived at Tullamarine at 4pm, to find that the checkin was not yet open. We repaired to a bar and bought a couple of beers while we dialled up Nathan and Lynne and had a 50+ minute chat with them. Not sure where we will be next week at the appointed hour, but it will be much more difficult for us, as we will have to ring them at something like 0130 in the morning!

The checkin counter took a long time to open, and did not open until around 1850, so we just had to hang around and wait. But once through checkin, we zoomed off to the Etihad Business Lounge, where John had a light dinner (knowing more would be coming on the plane) of cauliflower soup, porcini gnocci, and a shared cheese board. With a couple of beers, of course - a nice Mt Macedon pale ale, which John had had last year when we went to the Woodend pub while staying up there to hear the Australian Chamber Choir.

Etihad's disorganization spilled over into boarding. We were asked to board at 2130 for a 2230 departure, but nothing happened at the gate for 30 minutes. It was amazing that we managed to leave the gate only 5 minutes late! Patience.

The flight itself was quite enjoyable. A little bit of turbulence in various places (notable passing over Colombo), and the on-board meal excellent. John had an Arabian mezze (vineleaves, stuffed capsicums, hummus, etc.), a very tender piece of braised brisket, and one of his favourites, bread and butter pudding, although the latter was not up to HAL standards. Washed down with some Bordeaux mixture, quite palatable. Watched two movies, the first "Johnny English strikes again", very funny, with Rowan Atkinson and Ben Miller, and the second "Blended" an American "comedy" which was only slightly funny. Then sleep overtook me.

29 Mar 2019, Thursday (Day 1), transit Abu Dhabi; arrive Paris

Slept for over 7 hours, and then watched another movie over a light breakfast: "The 15:17 to Paris", all about the 3 Americans who stopped a terrorist on board the Amsterdam-Paris Thalys train (TGV). What was particularly impressive was the fact that the 3 Americans were played by themselves, and they did very well. I only realized that they were not actors when the credits rolled at the end.

Landed in Abu Dhabi at 0530 local time (1230 Melb) and after the usual security hassles (I had to remove my belt again, and my trousers were in danger of falling down once more), repaired to the business lounge where Barb had breakfast (she skipped the on-board version), and John had 3 long blacks, due to a slight mixup with the ordering. But hey! I'm OK, and now fully up-to-date with my story!!

Boarding time came, and we ambled off to the gate lounge, which was of course, miles away, and, just like Melbourne, when we got there, absolutely no sign of activity and hoardes of people waiting. Patience.

Flight was slightly smoother than the first. John watched a movie "The Man Who Invented Christmas", all about Charles Dickens and his writing of "A Christmas Carol". Quite enjoyable. Then after the movie, lunch came. E-ven-chu-ally. Patience. John had duck breast, steak (a little tough), and a butterscotch pudding (very filling!), washed down with a glass of Italian Barbera. Barbara had none (lunch or wine), as she was not feeling the best.

Landed in Paris on time at 1330 local time, and quickly cleared customs and immigration. "Cleared" is not quite the right word - immigration was just a rubber stamp, but customs was just a wave through, so I'm not sure just how they knew that we did not have a big drug haul on board. We did have a bit of a wait for the bus - some 20 minutes - but did not require a vast call upon our reserves of: Patience.

Off we set on the bus, reviving memories of 2002 when we caught the bus from CDG to Gare Montparnasse, and it took ages. THe airport was under construction then (it still is!) and the bus took lots of detours just getting out of the airport, and then hit a traffic jam on the A1 going into the city. Some lads on that bus had a train to connect with at Gare Montparnasse, and were getting worried. Whether they made their train we shall never know, but one thing is certain - if they were on today's bus, they would have missed their train by the proverbial! We took 3 hours (yes, three!!) to get to Montparnasse, due to an "incident" on the "peripherique interieuse". At times, we did not move at all for 10 minutes, and most of the time, if we moved at all, it was only 100m down the road, to wait another minute at least before moving again. Patience!

A trip that normally takes 40-80 minutes took 180 minutes! We left the airport at 1430 and arrived at Montparnasse at 1730! How far? Oh, about 20k, and for half of that we were doing 80+, so doing the arithmetic that's roughly 3km/hour average for half the trip! Patience is a virtue (or so I'm told)

A short walk from the station to our hotel saw us at the hotel by 6pm. Just as well it was a short walk, too, as having sat still for 3 hours plus some 6 hours before that, and some 13 hours before that, you might well appreciate that our legs were a bit wobbly. Add to that carrying the suitcase and carry-ons up one flight of stairs to get to reception, and you may well appreciate even more how knackered we were to arrive at Hotel du Parc. Fortunately there was a lift to take us from reception to the 5th floor, where our room, 58 or cinquante huit, awaited us. Plonk! That was the sound of two plonkers plonking on the bed.

A half-hour of plonking (NOT bonking!) saw us sufficient recovered to think of dinner, so we wandered out and about to see what was on offer. Jacquie Robson had told us of a good restaurant called La Cerisaie not far away, so we went and looked at it. It was nearly empty (it had only just gone 7pm when they open), but as we were not that hungry, and Jacquie had warned us that they did generous portions, we decided to defer that place until Monday (they are not open at weekends), and went for something lighter a bit down the road at a Creperie, where John had a Kloug galette (buck wheat pancakes with cheese, curry chicken and mushrooms, very tasty) and Barb had "galette du moment", a buck wheat pancake with ham, goats cheese, lettuce, crushed nuts and honey, also tasty (according to her, I didn't get near it). Washed down with a glass of draft beer (biere pression).

We returned to Hotel du Parc by 1930 and John was asleep by 2000. Barb took a little longer, so she says.

30 Mar 2019, Saturday (Day 2), Amusing Musees

We awoke at 0400. Just couldn't help ourselves, I have to admit. Tried returning to sleep, but only fitfully, and John got up at 0545 to write his blog, and got sidetracking trying to fix various things not yet perfected on his new laptop. I have to say, I was very conscious about travelling with a new laptop that was not yet fully house trained, and although I had spent several weeks knocking it into shape, there are still some rough edges. Had to write an email to David asking him to copy some files for me to fix up those rough edges.

At 0615 we had a shower, and headed to the breakfast room for - guess what? - breakfast! The Hotel du Parc has had a bit of a face lift since we were here in 2002, and breakfast is that much the better for it. Lovely fresh baguettes, croissants, etc., and a wide choice of other delectables. The coffee machine took a little mastering, particularly as we were using it to make tea, but we learnt surprisingly quickly, particularly as we were not really all that full of "comprehension" for which the French are always quick to be grateful ("merci de votre comprehension"). Memo to French sign writers: we promise to bring more comprehension with us when we go out tomorrow.

Breakfast was delightfully drawn out and relaxed, and there were few others around. We sampled quite a few of the items on offer, and so it was that it was after 0830 that we got away. The plan today was to walk to La Musee d'Orsay, where we were to buy a ticket to both Orsay and La Musee du Rodin, and spend a half day in each. Now you might have thought, "oh, oh, 'the plan was ...' means something went wrong". It didn't.

Md'O was 2.5km away, so it was a bit of a hike. But unlike last time when we did this same walk, it did not rain. In fact it was a beautiful day, with the sun shining, and a pleasant breeze. "pleasant" may not be quite the right word, as it was about 14 degrees and we had just our Seattle tie-dye T-shirts on, so walking in the sun was good, in the shade not so good. We got to the Md'O right on 0930, the opening hour, which was good planning on our part, except that others had planned a little ahead of us, and the queue to get in was of airport length. Patience!

Once the doors opened, the queue moved quickly, and we were inside by 0950. First order of the day was to find L'Ours Blanc, with which Barb had fallen in love on our first visit back in 2002. (Well, first after some necessary visits caused by cool temperatures and waiting in line.) It had been moved since 2002, and was not immediately obvious as it used to be. As we searched, we somewhat separated, so that when Barb came running back to me all excited, I thought she had found L'Ours. Not quite. It was another memorable exhibit we recalled from 2002. "L'Origine du Monde". Look it up if you don't know it. Quite memorable, in its own way.

That little excitement over, it was not long before we found our beloved L'Ours. Tucked away in a bit of a corner, it was a little hard to find. But it was in a slightly better position for taking photos, so we made up for last time Right next to L'Ours was a small coffee shop, so we bought some coffees and sat overlooking L'Ours and drinking in the beauty of the beast.

But there is so much more to see in the Md'O, so coffee drunk, we wandered anew amongst the exhibits. The nice thing (?) about Md'O is that they don't mind you taking photos of the exhibits, as long as you don't use flash. So John took lots more photos, prompting Barb to try and keep track of those he had taken before (check this if you want to make your own tally). But I didn't care. It was so much fun. Obviously a lot of other people didn't care either, as many of them would walk up to a picture, take a photo of it, then move on. I guess we should be grateful that they were not standing in front of the art work with a selfie stick (Selfie sticks, I'm glad to say, were banned in Md'O). "Chacon a son gout" as they say in France (and elsewhere).

By 1230 - gosh, where did the time go? - we were ready for lunch. Well, John was, Barb wasn't feeling quite so focussed. After some debate, we returned to "Le Restaurant" (literally) where John had spotted that they had tartare d'bouef on the menu. So that's what he had. Sort of a ritual when in France. Washed down with a delightful verre d'vin, a Bordeaux rose.

Wonderful as the Md'O is, we had purchased a double ticket, so we set off for the Musee du Rodin, about 900m away. We had not been there before, and were not sure what to expect. Statues are not really my scene so much (bears excepted) so I wasn't too wound up. But what really made the afternoon was the wonderful garden surrounding the museum, full of - guess what? We spent from 1400 to 1530 just wandering the gardens, pausing to sit down here and there and just take in the tranquility of it all.

Well, tranquil it might have been, but for the constant "ble-haw, ble-haw" of police cars belting up and down l'Avenue des Invalides just outside the garden. The "gilets jaune" (yellow jackets) were staging another protest nearby, and the gendarmerie were making sure that they had things in hand. The "ble-haw"s are interesting as they seemed to be tuned to a perfect (?) fifth, but occasionally one went past with a "ble-hee", which was somwhere between a fifth and a sixth, and it really grated. I guess many of you would say that the perfect fifths were nott that perfect either, but when you are lying on your back staring at an azure sky (yes they do have them outside Australia), one does have the time to analyse the music of the peelers.

After the garden we "did" the museum propre (and yes, it was quite clean), taking an hour over that. We had planned to follow that up with afternoon tea at the cafe, but partly due to a misunderstanding (by John, mea culpa), and partly due to the passage of time and energy, we headed back to the hotel, some 2km away and rather tiring after having already walked our 10K steps for the day (final tally was 17703). On the way we stopped at a "Monoprix", a supermarket-cum-department store where we bought some deoderant (Barb forgot to pack it :-) and had a taxing time trying to translate all the subtlties of the labels. Then to Pinocchio, a nearby bar where we had a coupla beers before returning to Hotel du Parc.

After a short rest, off to find dinner. We returned to the Creperie street we found last night, and Barb was keen to try the place that had a huge queue outside as we went past. But on the way there, we were stopped by a young Parisian, who exclaimed in English, but with a strong accent, that he and his fiancee were very taken with our T-shirts. Did I mention that we had tie-died ourselves all day? Anyway, we let him take a photo of ourselves, and slightly elated, joined the queue at Creperie de Josselin. It was really rocking! After the promised 5 minute wait in the queue turned into 20 minutes, we were finally seated. Did I mention that patience is a virtue? Well, it is.

Barb had a Finistere (egg, bacon, eggplant galette) and John had a Bretonne (sausage, cheese, tomato, onion galette), washed down with a bottle of cidre. That was followed with a crepe with apple, ice cream and calvados, flamed at the table, and demolished with vigour. THen we trudged back to L'Hotel, quite full. Sleep followed almost immediately.

31 Mar 2019, Sunday (Day 3), Luxuriating in Luxembourg Gardens

Thought we had slept in, but we hadn't really, as the clocks went forward last night for daylight saving. So waking at 0830 wasn't really 8:30am, but rather 7:30am, a more reasonable time to be waking up. Even so, there were very few people at breakfast until 0930, when so many turned up the breakfast room was full! I think a few others got caught out by the clock change too.

Today was planned to be a deliberately slow day, as we had only a vague feeling that we might do something like the Bato Bus (a lovely French pun) and hop-on, hop-off at various places. But instead we delayed setting off, as Barb wasn't feeling too well, and I took the opportunity to catch up on some computing (blog, et al.). At 1115 we did set off, stopping at L'Odessa for coffee. Barb didn't like the sound of a cappuccino, so elected for a "cafe allonge" or "americano", same as me, but ordered a "pot du lait" on the side. When they turned up, the tide was a little out, and the pot of milk was hot steamed milk, so we both had a makeshift latte. Pas de probleme.

We found our way through back streets to the Luxembourg Gardens, and no sooner had we walked through the gates than we were set upon by scores of runners, all pounding around the park peripherique. There was a sort of a convention that the runners kept to the right, but that was certainly dishonoured by the many walkers also sharing the track, who thus caused the runners to veer all over the place! As soon as we could, we digressed from the peripherique and could amble without keeping two eyes open for runners approached from ahead or behind.

What followed pretty much set the pattern for the day. We would amble a bit, find a seat, and then sit and enjoy the park and the sun. The park is attached to the French Senate building, who provide hundreds, nay thousands, of chairs for people to sit on, and today being dimanche, there were plenty of people to sit on them, to the point of finding 2 chairs together became a more pressing problem as the day wore on. We ambled on, stopping at a little kiosk to buy an ice cream, Barb a very lemony lemon and lime, John a coconut flavour. It was all quite idyllic, in spite of the huge crowds.

Eventually, it was lunchtime. We stopped at an outdoor restaurant named La Terrase de Madame, but the menu at the entrance said Restaurant Complet (restaurant full). Barb said that she saw some people leave, and decided it was worth waiting. So we waited. Encore, le Patience.

Le Patience was rewarded. After 10-15 minutes, we were seated. But it took a while for menus to arrive. Then it took a while for someone to take our order. Then it took a while for the food to come. Then we took our time eating it. Then it took a while for the plates to be cleared. Then it took a while for l'addition to arrive. Aha! But here I pre-empted the cycle (slow learner, wasn't I?) because I had worked out how much it all cost and had the money ready!! Voila! We were free to go! Oh, and what did we eat? We shared a grande assiette of cold meats and cheeses, although we did have trouble getting the "share" part of the order across. "Partager" is the french verb, for future reference.

More ambling before we decided to head back to the Hotel at about 4. We had left it a bit late to do anything else, in spite of the extra daylight that had been saved, and anyway, Barb was still feeling a little out of sorts. So we went back to the hotel and crashed. No dinner. Lots of sleep. But it was a great day.

01 Apr 2019, Monday (Day 4), Bato Belting a Bout

Partly as a consequence of crashing early, but also partly as a consequence of lingering jet lag, we awoke early around 5, and spent some time reading the paper and catching up on this blog, before showering and dressing for breakfast around 7. The plan for today was to catch the Batobus, and mooch up and down the Seine, looking at whatever took our fancy.

And that is just what we did. We walked down to the wharf at St Germain des Pres, and got there just on 1000. 5 minutes later, a Batobus arrived, and we boarded, hoping to get tickets on board. One could not buy them on board, but "next stop" said the conductor, and so Barb alighted at Notre Dame to buy tickets, but the staff could not find the key to open the ticket box, so "next stop" they said again. At Jardin des Plantes, Barb tried again, and this time was successful, but only just, since while they could open the ticket booth, they couldn't open the till, and so Barb could only pay by card. This nearly stymied a fellow traveller, who did not have a validated card, and wanted to pay cash. So a bit more hunting before they did find the till key and all were happy!

We chugged along the river past Ile-de-Cite and the Louvre, and decided to get off at the Eiffel Tower. We were not particularly interested in going up the tower, especially once we saw the length of the queue (about 2 hours wait)!! We did try getting into 58 something, but they were fully booked. So after taking a few photographs for Jemima's benefit, we sortied out and back to the river to catch the next Batobus. Unfortunately for us, a huge school party was in front of us, and when the Batobus arrived, they all filed on, but the conductor stopped the queue one couple and their 3 kids in front of us! THe kids were a bit grumpy about that (who can blame them, says John? Patience.) but it gave us a chance to compare notes with the couple, who were originally from South Africa, but are now living in Bangalore. "IT?" said Barb. "Yes" was the answer!

The next Batobus arrived 30 minutes later, and we piled on. Back to Notre Dame, where we alighted, and made our way into ND. It was free to enter (wow!) and we wandered around taking much the same photos as we had 17 years ago. John had done a little research on eating establishments, so after leaving ND, we made our way up one of the side streets to a small cafe called "Sur le Pousse" which had had some mixed reviews, but on the whole, positive. We went for a formule 8E of ham and cheese crepe and a 33cl beer or soda - very good value we thought, and tasty to boot. John followed that up with a hedonistic salted caramel crepe, which he enjoyed greatly in spite of his conscience.

After lunch, we walked a couple of blocks to Saint Chapelle, and paid the entrance fee to visit this beautiful chapel once more, again taking lots of photographs in spite of the previous visit. Once we left the place, we found a cafe just across the road called Les Deux Palais, which served the most excellent coffee. The waiter cajoled us with the temptation of a slice of blueberry tart, but we said non. That is, until John went to the loo, and went past the counter with the said tart, and relayed what he had seen (of the tart) to Barb. Whereupon she called over the waiter and we relented. When he brought the pie, he asked if we were to partager (share), and John dissembled, while Barb said yes. He returned with one very large spoon which he gave to Barb, and one very small spoon which he gave to John! It was nice to have a waiter with such a sense of humour!

From there we caught the Batobus again at Hotel de Ville, going one stop to the Louvre, where we alighted to see (what we thought was} an amazing April Fool's Day prank played on the forecourt of the Louvre. The whole forecourt had been covered in paper with newsprint-style pixels that together made the whole pyramid thingy appear to be sinking into a gaping sink-hole. Whoever did it had gone to a huge amount of trouble, but it had started to disintegrate by the time we where there, and only some parts of the illusion persisted. Still, it was impressive! [Note: we later discovered it was an official celebration of the 30 years of the pyramid entry, but it had been almost destroyed by the feet of all the tourists walking over it.]

Again, we did not enter the Louvre, mainly because we were running out of time, so we mooched on to the Tuileries, and the memories they revived - not all good, because that was where Barb was attacked by a group of young Algerians trying to nick her handbag. Fortunately, Nathan (then all of 9 years old) realized what they were doing and raised the alarm, scaring the kids off. The irony was that when we walked around the next hedge, there was a gendarme looking very bored with nothing to do! Today, no kids, no attack, no gendarme, so it was all just an unpleasant memory.

But time to keep going, as we had an appointment tonight, so we set off back towards the hotel, stopping first at Pinocchio for a beer or two, and then across the road to La Cerisaie (the Cherry Orchard). This was a place recommended by our friends in Bordeaux, Mike and Jacquie (with whom we are to met later in our tour), and it was brilliant. We had three courses: entree of new asperagus (Barb) and pate (John); main of goose breast magret de l'oie (Barb) and notre cassolet (John); and dessert of blue cheese ice cream and fig (Barb) and baba a l'Armagnac (John). A bottle of Catalan Rose was a fitting accompaniment. Thanks Jacquie for the recommendation!

A very short walk back to l'Hotel du Parc and some well earned sleep after a lot of walking!

02 Apr 2019, Tuesday (Day 5), Paris(Montparnasse)-StPierre; StPierre-Amboise

We were very relaxed getting up today and consequently did not hit the breakfast room until 7, which was a bit of a mistake, as everyone else had decided to have breakfast then as well. There were places enough for us, but none together, so we had to sit a little apart until someone left. Even so, there was much more coming and going than we had experienced on other days.

No matter - we finished breakfast by 8, packed, and were ready to leave by 0830. So we did the obvious thing and had another cup of coffee, and then went off to the station. Unfortunately, it was pouring with rain!

The station (Montparnasse) was packed with people, and Barb and John got separated at one stage, which made for a little nervousness. John went one way around a pole, Barb went the other way, and on the other side we were not in sight of each other! A few moments of searching and all was well again, but not before a rising feeling of panic pervaded the scene.

On the correct platform at 1000 for a 1019 departure, so we were settled into our top deck seats on a double decker carriage. Barb in the aisle seat settled into her book (reading on her laptop), while John at the window seat started composing more blog. Unfortunately, the sun made reading the laptop difficult for John so he gave up and just looked out the window at the scenery zipping by at 300kph. At that speed, St Pierre des Corps (first stop) soon came up - with relatively little patience required - and we alighted at the appointed time of 1116. A little hassle a) finding the right train, and b) purchasing tickets, but that was soon solved, and there was time for a cup of coffee before the next train at 1209.

Even this humble connecting train zipped along at about 120kph, and Amboise took only 12 minutes to reach, and we were on our final platform for the day! We had yet to navigate to our AirBnB apartment, but Amboise is not that big, and we had had the foresight to bring our little Google map with directions on it to find our way across the Loire River and into the Centre Ville of Amboise. Now lugging around a large suitcase and two carry on bags is a little tiring, so we looked for a place to rest and be thankful. The first pub we came to was closed, but the second, just next door, called Lounge B, was open, so we entered therein.

Lunch beckoned - it now being 1240 or so - and we chose a charcuterie a deux and a couple of beers. When the charcuterie arrived, it was gi-normous, but we had time. And time was what it took. Over an hour we took, lingering on each slice of meat, and Barb gave up about 2/3 of the way through. But we did finish it, and felt that no dinner would be required tonight!

Our excuse for sitting put had now run out, so we collected our bags and set off to explore the town. There was a very cute mall (an old narrow street) than ran parallel to the esplanade, full of lots of shops, particularly tourist ones. We sat and took things in wherever we found a seat, then would mooch on to the next spot. Eventually we found a patissiere/boulangerie where we stopped and had a coffee. That suggests that cafes were few and far between - au contraire - they popped out of the brickwork everywhere!

There were lots to see, but bearing in mind that we would be wandering around tomorrow with the Morgans, we did not explore too deeply. At 1615 we made our way to the AirBnB, just as it started to rain! There was little shelter outside the apartment, and we got wet and frozen until Delphine turned up all apologetic to let us in and show us around.

The apartment is very spacious and comfortable, with a large living space, and modern kitchen, and generous bedrooms. As we were first in, we bagsed the bedroom with ensuite, but made a mental note to swap at the next accommodation. Delphine asked if we had any questions, and we said no, but after she left realized that we had not asked about a washing machine. But that was not a problem, as the Morgans found it when they arrived.

We spent a little time organizing ourselves after Delphine left, and at 1815 left the apartment to go and meet the Morgans off the train. We found them just at the other side of the bridge, which is in two sections, as it pauses on the island in the middle of the Loire, known as L'Isle d'Or (Island of Gold). There are quite a few houses on L'IdO, and we must come back to it sometime, as it is reputed to have the best ice cream shop in Amboise.

So we had lots to talk about with the Morgans on our way back to the apartment, them about Jordan and the Holy Land, us about Paris. Of course, a cup of tea helped the conversation, and when talk turned to what to do about dinner, there was little enthusiasm from either side, us because of Lounge B, and them because they had had lunch at 3pm (on some particular time zone, they were not sure which).

So with no further excursions either for sur place or a emporter, we each gradually trickled off to bed and expectations of the morrow.

03 Apr 2019, Wednesday (Day 6), ?

After we were all awake and had had our regulation cups of tea, we made our way down to the recommended breakfast place Bigot (sic), where we ordered various selections from the menu. I have to say that the menu was a little constrained in what you could order, either in terms of a formule, or a la carte. There was no way you could order an omelette other than a la carte, and no way you could order pastries other than formule. Barb and John both ordered an omelette and coffee (pas baguette), and the coffee came as a single plunger coffee which we had to share! We had to order another plunger, it did not go far enough. The omelette was OK, but it wasn't quite we imagined it, and it cost almost the same as the Hotel du Parc, but without the range of choice or quantity. A bit disappointing.

After breakfast we walked down to the small supermarket ("mini super") to buy a few essentials, such as washing powder and beer. Then on to the boulangerie (bread for lunch) and fromagerie (cheese for same). We checked out the Tourist Office, where we were able to buy tickets to the 3 castles in Amboise: Chateau Gaillard, Clos Luce, and Chateau Royale. Then home for lunch before heading out again to Chateau Gaillard.

Chateau Gaillard was set up by Charles VIII after first evicting the original owner Sieur Gaillard for tax reasons. He employed an italian gardener Dom Pacello to re-create the Italian Renaissance in France. He did a good job, but during the 20th century the place fell into disuse, and was "rediscovered" in 2011 and restored to something approaching its former glory. Exactly who the new benefactor is was not clear from any of the informations we read, but we think is it some private owner.

But we did have trouble finding the place. We followed all the signs dutifully, but when we were only (as we later discovered) some 200m from the place, this Grumpy Old Woman stopped us and told us in no uncertain french terms that it was a private road, and the proper way was back they way we had come, round that corner, round the next corner, in my lady's chamber, out the back door, and there you are! Voila! We got less than halfway following this instruction when by both consulting the map (she was sending us an extra km round the long way), and asking one or two people, we discovered that we were on the right road, and that she was just trying to piss us off! Well, she succeeded. One grumpy old man among us was all for throwing a brick through her window, but she wasn't there when we got back. Just as well. My french, her english, would both have been taxed by the likely invective.

The grounds of the chateau were a delight to browse. We were a little poorly served by the sun, which kept disappearing behind clouds. But, as I said, "at least it is not raining!" But that wasn't entirely accurate either. We did get some light sprinkles, nothing serious.

Dom Pacello was a whizz with oranges. He set up various orangeries, and the place established a name for itself amongst the gentry as the place to be en ete (in summer). There was a shop on our way out selling various orangey things, and we bought a jar of orange marmalade (which, incidentally, we are now eating for breakfast). Then we made our way back to numero 18 Rue de la Concorde.

We went for a late afternoon walk across bridge to take photos of the (Amboise) castle in sunlight, and have a drink at La Shaker (guinness and 1664) with a fromage plate while admiring the view. Then back to the creperie we had in mind, but it was shut. Found the Hippeau restaurant, quite nice. We all had the formule, John sweet potato soup, pork spare ribs, creme brulee, Barb sweet potato soup, chicken supreme and chocolate mousse. Then back to 18 Concord and slowly to bed.

04 Apr 2019, Thursday (Day 7), Leonardo and John: movie stars

John leapt out of bed this morning at 0645 to get dressed and race up to the boulangerie to buy breakfast: 2 baguettes, 2 pain multigraines, and 4 croissants. These were to go with the lovely orange jam/marmalade that we bought yesterday at Chateau Gaillard. Well! Barb and I started with half a multigrain roll each, but it became obvious by the second quarter that we each were not going to get anywhere near the baguettes! Not that the rolls were not tasty - far from it - they were delicious, but there was far more to them than just the usual slice of bread. Even with the delightful orange marmalade, there was no way a baguette could be countenanced.

The first quarter of each roll was with a cup of tea and was in place of our usual morning tea ritual, but then the second quarter (the one with marmalade) signalled the start of breakfast proper, and a cup of coffee was the companion. Somehow or other we managed to drag ourselves around a croissant each - with marmalade of course - and then breakfast was well and truly complet!

Then we set off for Clos Luce, an old 1471 building that passed into the hands of Charles VIII in 1490 and became the summer residence of the kings of France for the next 200 years. Francois I invited Leonardo da Vinci to settle here in 1516, and under Francois's patronage, da Vinci lived out the last 3 years of his life here.

So the place is now preserved as a monument to da Vinci, and the kings that lived here have faded somewhat into obscurity. It is a fascinating place to visit, not only for all the artifacts normally associated with a museum about a famous painter, sculptor, artist, architect, engineer and scientist, but also with many of these things brought to life in the large park surrounding the chateau - objects such as an Archimedes Screw, developed by da Vinci, and created as a tool whereby visitor can turn a handle and see water being lifted out of the lake into which it is immersed.

But the most intriguing was certainly a model of da Vinci's famous "helicopter", a large screw shaped apparatus which was intended to screw itself into the sky (it never could work, due to some basic physics principles). John was having a happy time trying to screw himself up when a cameraman and woman approached him, asking if he would be happy to appear on camera and be asked a few questions. John happily obliged, winding the screw up some more while the cameraman took movies from several perspectives, and then the woman proceeded to interview him about his reasons for visiting Clos Luce, how well da Vinci was known in Australia, and what effect he had had on my life! As an engineer, I felt more than confident about answering such questions, and felt myself move into "lecture mode"! I think she got a good clip of material from me! (Unfortunately for all you avid documentary watchers, they were a German crew, and I don't think the documentary they were making will get to Australia,)

After touring all the gardens we returned to the cafe where we had earlier had a delightful "latte macchiato", and had lunch of a gallette (John had mushroom and cheese) followed by a crepe (John had crepe a marron). Barb had some fancy sounding ones, much more elaborate, and she got walnuts on hers and the rest of us didn't. B and J shared a pichet of rose, slightly sweet, but nevertheless very enjoyable.

After lunch there was not a great deal more to see. A visit to the "culture shop" saw us buy a swag of T-shirts for the family, and then we headed off back to Centre Ville by a rather round-a-bout way, stopping to buy some cheese and veggies to make tonight's dinner.

John had run out of steam by this time, and just managed to plod home unaided. Beer o'clock revived him a little, and Barb's vegetable soup even further, so that when ice creams were mentioned, he did drag himself down to the corner shop for a delicious, world famous, gelato flower cone with (my choice) flavours of coconut, black cherry, strawberry, and mango gelati. Yum!

Then back to 18 Concorde for the last time today for a coffee, blogs and bed.

05 Apr 2019, Friday (Day 8), Chateau Royale and Randonnee

David did the honours in collecting the bread and croissants this morning, and we were slightly more relaxed about getting going. That happened at 10 heures, and Barb and John set off for the chateau, while David and Sue went to the market, which was some distance away. The chateau tour came with an iPaddy-sort-of thing, which one wore around one's neck, and it told you all the interesting things (and more) about the place in which you were standing (through the miracle of wi-fi).

We explored the royal house, and listened dutifully to the iPad thingy. The tour was slightly disrupted by school tours behind and in front of us, with which we kept getting mixed up. Provided we kept one jump ahead of them, we could hear ourselves think, and enjoyed the atmosphere that much more! But we also profited from the occasional tour in English, upon which we could eavesdrop, and discovered a few more interesting things that the iPad thingy didn't want us to know. Like the little stone mouse hidden in the stone fretwork in the chapel of St Hubert!

After visitng the royal house, we repaired to the cafe and had a cafe latte each, along with a rhubarb tart. Unfortunately, the tart had not been reheated fully, and the middle of it was still a little bit frozen! But the taste was good, so we no complain.

Then, as we set off to explore the gardens, we saw the Morgans in the distance, so we caught up with them, and explored the gardens together. We found the little cemetry set aside for the Muslims incarcerated in the chateau during the 19th C. There is a long story, but apparently the Algerian emir to France was accused of spying, and incarcerated here, but was pardoned after 4 years, and allowed to continue living at the chateau. He was befriended by the local catholic congregation, who obviously saw through to the underlying person, who, reading between the lines, was a good man, working and writing to improve the lot of his fellow countrymen. He and his retinue were allowed to live out their lives here, and were buried together in a plot that points towards Mecca. Sort of a happy ending, after all. A good example of the Golden Rule at work.

After the garden, there was not much more to see, so we wandered to the exit and made our way to the creperie that had been recommended, but was shut every other time we tried it. Anne of Bretagne Creperie, it was, and we had some very nice crepes: John a "Norwegian" galette (lots of raw salmon), Barb a goats cheese salad, and we followed that with some crepes (tartin - apple - and chocolat). John had an interesting beer, a tequila flavoured beer, which was OK (but not very hoppy!), but Barb liked it more.

Then we set off for a self-guided walk (Radnonnee) around Amboise. I say "self-guided", but the guide only spoke french (it was a printed map), and we struggled to interpret it! So much so that when it started talking about "les sables" along the river banks, we thought it meant the animals, prized for their fur. Even when we saw a sign "Sable Mouvants" we thought it a warning that the sables might be wandering around, and as they have a nasty bite, thought it an apposite warning. Only later when John did look up sable mouvants did we discover it meant "quicksand", and then all the references to sables along the river bank took on a completely different meaning! Funny how a little poor translation can be a most distracting diversion!

Dinner was a single large pizza, which David and John had a little trouble hunting down (they don't really do pizzas in France!) That was followed by a good helping of strawberries, which David and Sue had bought at the market in the morning, washed down with a semi-sweet rose that John and Barb had bought at the castle in the morning. Then bed, as we had a day on the move tomorrow.

06 Apr 2019, Saturday (Day 9), ?

John did the baguette honours this morning at 0715, and bought one baguette and 4 pain au chocolat - ordering it all in french, I might add, and even understanding the amount of money in French. That is usually where both Barb and I fall down - they say the amount so quickly, it is just impossible to parse it quickly enough, and we usually have to look at the cash register to see what the total is. Not this time! But it was 5.55, or cinq cinquante cinq, which was a bit easier to follow.

Breakfast over, we set about packing and had all our things organized by 0920. The plan was to leave at 0930 in order to catch the 1023 train, allowing for dragging our suitcases all the way across the bridges and up to the railway station. We were at the railway station by 1041, so we clearly we too generous in our estimates! Add to that the fact that the train was 5 minutes late, and we did have to sit about and wait a bit. But the time passed.

The first train got us to St Pierre des Corps, reversing the last part of our trip to Amboise, where we had another 30 minute wait. There was almost a slight disaster, as we had looked at where we needed to be on the platform to be opposite our carriage. The Franch are good on that, with illuminated signs showing where along the platform one should wait for one's carriage. But we had looked at the diagram for the preceeding train, and just as well John went to check, for our train was in two halves, one going to Strasbourg (which we wanted), and the other half to Lille Flanders. We were waiting in the Lille Flanders section, which would have been bad if we had got on the wrong half of the train!

But we didn't, and I write this as we have just passed through Marne-la-Vallee. (2 days later) We arrived at Champagne-Ardenne, the TGV station, which is some way out of Riems, so we had to get into the city centre. There is a train, but the next journey was not for another 2 hours, so we elected to catch the tram. This caused a little confusion, as the ticket machine was all in french, and the idiomatic instructions were not quite in alignment with Barb and John's level of french. (David and Sue have no french) We bought what we thought were 2 individuel tickets, but they were not for 2 individual persons, they were for 2 individual trips. This we found out only when we got on the tram and tried to validate them twice. So David and Sue jumped off again, poked the machine with more money, and bought just 2 plain tickets (half the price) and managed to jump back on, after we had knocked on the driver's door to get him to reopen the doors. No real panic, we didn't leave for another 5 minutes, but it was all a bit frantic.

Off the tram in the middle of town, where we mooched around for a bit, then decided on lunch at the Remois Creperie. (un Remois is a person who lives in Reims). The crepes were good value at E7.50 formule that included a salad and drink. John had a Mexican crepe, Barb a Forestiere (4 cheeses). By then it was nearly 1500 when we were due to meet our host at the AirBnB, so we trundled off and found the place, which was an apartment about an office suite. Adeline turned up pretty well on the dot of 3, and showed us round the apartment. Not quite as swish as the Amboise place, but comfortable enough, There is only one bathroom, however - we thought there was to be two.

After settling in, we walked to the cathedral and explored the vast interior. Reims Cathedral is built in true gothic style, and dates from the late 9th century. The roof was badly damaged in a fire caused by WWI shelling had was rebuilt in the 30s using a reinforced concrete "Meccano" style, and we were to see more of this on the morrow. But for now, we just immersed ourselves in the granduer of it all, and took lots of photos!

We adjourned to a bar just outside the cathedral where John ordered a Leffe Ruby, and Barb a Hoegaarden. The ruby was a mistake, it was very rasberry and far to sweet for John. So we swapped, and Barb drank it (she liked it) and John the Hoegaarden, which wasn't so much to his taste, but it was far better than the Ruby! The back to the apartment, via a supermarket, where we stocked up on some provisions, including a lasagna which we heated up for dinner once we got back. We also called in at the boulangerie to buy some bread, and discovered that it was closed on Sundays. So our plan to pop round early on Sunday for baguettes and pain au chocolat was kyboshed, and we elected to buy them then and save them until the morning. Quelle horreur! That is not what the french would do, but needs must. (Presumably there are boulangeries open on Sundays, or the french would not survive. But given that we did not know where they were, we didn't want to risk roaming the streets early on a Sunday morning with no idea where to go.)

We enjoyed the lasagna and a rasberry tart, then to bed.

07 Apr 2019, Sunday (Day 10), Closer to God

David's bithday! After wishing him a happy birthday, we munched into our baguette and pains aux chocolat - slightly less fresh than planned, but still pretty good. Opinion was divided about whether les pains were better for 10 seconds in the microwave, but the feeling was that any more and the chocolate would have been too hot to eat! (since it absorbs heat more quickly than the brioche pastry)

David set off 15 minutes before the rest of us to get to the Palais de Tau to buy tickets to do the tour of le tour de cathedrale. They were only on sale from 0930, and they sell out very quickly. He made it! We joined him just before the gates opened, and then did a tour of the Palais de Tau, which used to be the bishop's residence until the Revolution, and it was very grand, in keeping with the strong connection between church and state of the time.

After the Palais de Tau, it was morning tea time, so we wandered over to Place Drouet d'Erloin (a road full of cafes) and found a little place called La Mie Caline (the Cuddly Crumb), which had a formule for boisson et tarte. John and Barb both had coffee and a yummy apricot tart each, all for E4.50! Then a bit more cathedral exploring, particularly around the rear part of the church (the eastern side) before heading back to the same La Mie Caline for a formule E13.00 lunch of chicken baguette, tarte and orange juice (shared, but plenty of it).

Then for a quick visite to Eglise de St Jacques, before returning to the cathedral in time for our 1400 tour of the towers of the cathedral. The guide spoke in french, but with the help of some of the other visitors, we got the gist of the commentary. We went up to the top of the (internal) roof space, just below the two towers, and were able to see the inner workings of the cathedral. As I mentioned yesterday, the roof was demolished through fire during the first world war, but was repaired in a highly original way using strips of reinforced concrete all lashed together with interlocking pins in a Meccano-sort-of-way. It was very fascinating to the engineers amongst us.

Then out and around the base of the (exterior) roof some 60metres above the ground. We walked all the way around the north, east and south parts of the cathedral, and gor great views of Reims, as well as gargoyles, statues, flying butresses, and of course, pigeons! Lots of photos. And that much closer to God.

Then a long walk to the Museum of Surrender, an interesting museum devoted to the history of the signing of the first declaration of VE-day (there were two, one in the west - this one, and one in Berlin for the Russians). Interesting, but not really our scene.

Back to the apartment for a cuppatea, then some discussion about what to do for dinner. The thought was to go out for something a little upmarket, as it was David's birthday, but the hassle was that nearly all of the restaurants that we looked at on line were closed. We found one, which wasn't to Sue's taste (I think she thought it a little expensive), so instead we wandered the streets a bit until finding one in the main cafe drag (Drouet d'Erloin), and found a semi-italian one called "a Casa Mia".

John was in his element - they had tartare a boeuf, so he had that, preceded by 4 slices of terrine, and followed by raspberry and cassis ice creams. Barb had salade caprese, magret du canard and tarte tatin. David had an immense osso buco, and he loved it, so all good.

We did go home via the cathedral, expecting it to be all lit up, but it wasn't. A bit disappointing. Back home, and by then it was 10pm, so bed.

08 Apr 2019, Monday (Day 11), Pommery et Pommes Frites

David did the morning baguette run, and we had a leisurely breakfast before setting off for the Basilica de St Remi and the Pommery Champagne House. These were both about 2.5km away, so we had a fairly long walk along the Canal du Marne et l'Aisle before cutting back into the suburbs to find St Remi. This is a church almost as old as the Notre Dame (Reims) itself, and also was significantly damaged in WWI. But it had some impressive features, very high gothic, lovely stained glass, and once David put 2E in the slot machine, lighting for the whole nave and sanctuary. It happens to be where St Remi is buried, and there is a huge sarcophagus behind the altar containing his bones. Woopeedo!

Then we wandered on to find Pommery, the noted champagne house. A tour of the cellars cost 22E with a glass of champagne at the end. Barb went for the upmarket version (at my insistence) and got two glasses of champagne, the extra one being a vintage 2006! We plebs had NV. But the irony is that Barb said she liked the NV better, as it was a blend of the 3 grape varieties grown (chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot menieure), whereas the vintage was a blend of just the first two, and Barb said it was too "Chardonnay-y"! But the first one, the NV, was acclaimed by all and we thoroughly enjoyed our little luxury.

The cellars themselves were interesting, but we had a guide who was clearly thinking in French and translating to English on the fly, and she stumbled oftem, making her hard to follow. She didn't seem to know that much about the wine making process either, and I probably could have given as good a talk as her (admittedly, I didn't know all the figures, like the fact that they make 5 million bottles of champagne a year!) The tour was also distracted by the various "art installations" throughout the cellars, which did not do anything for any of us. (For example, a jumping castle lying on its side???) But we can say that we have been in the Pommery cellars.

The next thing on the agenda was lunch, so out with the smart phones and ask Mr Google about nearby restaurants. One "Frites@French" came up, and it was fairly cheap and only 500m away, so we walked to it. It had some basic fare, but sufficient unto the day, and we had a very filling lunch for only 8E! John had a thing called Les Frites Americaine, and ordered a chicken with barbeque sauce. Rather than try and explain it, just look at the photo! And there were at least that many chips again that got shared out amongst us.

After lunch, we staggered back past Pommery and on to the Musee de l'Automobile, a vast collection of old and modern cars. There were over 250 of them, and lots of motorcycles and bicycles as well. Barb and I both took a few photos, but we could not possibly do the place justice. You'll just have to go and look!

From there, we headed back towards the apartment, pausing along the way to drop into a patisserie for some afternoon tea. What! After eating all those chips! Just don't tell Trent. We paused at the cathedral to admire it one last time, and take one or two more photos.

We also paused at the boulangiere and supermarket to buy some cook-ourselves dinner, in this case a pate en croute, which we heated up in the oven once home. A few extra tins of beer did not go astray, either. After dinner, les lits.

09 Apr 2019, Tuesday (Day 12), Reims-Marne-Brussels-Bruge

We had to be up, up and away early this morning, as the train left the TGV station at 0930, and it was a 25 minute tram ride to get there. We were all packed by 0800 and set off, but we had to wait 20 minutes for tram anyway, so we got to the TGV station with 45 minutes to spare. Nothing like being well prepared, eh Pam?

A short 30 minute trip from Reims to Marne, where we changed trains for the Brussels TGV. David had bought some pains au chocolat before we left Reims, so we had time to consume them. John bought a most welcome cafe longo with his last few coins. We swapped platforms at Marne, and warm seats for B*^^#% freezing ones on the platform while waiting the 20 minutes for the Brussels train. Now here I am typing all this, having just left Lille. More anon.

At Brussels, it was pouring with rain (including onto the platform!), so we decided not to see Brussels, but instead left the TGV and changed straight to a local Belgium train, loco hauled. While not TGV, it clipped along at 125 plus kph, and we soon left rain and Brussel Spouting behind. We had lunch at a Burger joint in Bruge station, and they were quite reasonable. John had a "Hot Bull" (seemed appropriate) and Barb a "Farmer Field" (vegetarian). Then walked about 700m to our "hotel", the "Hotel De Barge", quite literally a hotel in a barge, floating on one of the canals.

Once settled, we walked into the town proper, firstly through a delightful Beguinerie, a sort-of a nunnery but not (I don't think the sisters who run it are ordained, or whatever it is that nuns do). We paused in their church to hear them chanting their prayers, and a couple of the locals chimed in with the chanting. It was all quite peaceful and uplifting.

The a pause for afternoon tea/beer in some local tea rooms, before contuining on into the real centre of Bruges, the chocolate centre. Did you know there are 87 chocolate shops in Bruges? And when I say chocolate shops, they don't sell anything else but chocolate! We resisted the temptation.

By now it was after 1800, so dinner became a focus. We looked around at several places, but none took our fancy. Then David recalled that there was a place advertising mussels for E18, so we headed there to check it out. It looked good! John counted 83 mussels in his big pot, David 81, and Barb lost count. (Sue had a waffle, she doesn't like mussels.) Pretty good value, we thought.

Then trudged back to the barge and went our separate ways to our rooms. John was so tired he was asleep by 8pm.

10 Apr 2019, Wednesday (Day 13), Beautiful Bruges by Boat

We had agreed to meet for breakfast at 8am, but we were a little slow. No matter, we had all day to potter about, and there was no agenda. The breakfast itself was quite comprehensive, and we had pretty much the same fare as at Hotel du Parc in Paris. All filling for the day ahead!

The first stop was not far down the road, as the local swing bridge was open, and there was a barge travelling through. So we stopped to watch it pass, and the bridge swing closed again. Stopped to photograph the swans in their little paddock again, and watch the 12 little ducklings flitting about on both land and water.

Past lots of chocolate shops again, and some contained chocolates that I have certainly not licked before! Again, I resisted the temptation! We headed for the market, but separated when Sue stopped to look at tapestries, and we stopped to look at toys. We found a push-car for Tabitha beautifully made out of wood, but quite impractical to take home with us. But our shopping side trip was not wasted - Barb found a beautiful milk jug designed by the top Belgium designer and top Belgium chef (or so we were told).

So we wandered around the market by ourselves, firstly looking for ourselves, and then looking for the Morgans. Not finding them, we stopped at one of the many cafes surrounding the market and sent them a text saying we were at Le Panier d'Or, then sat back to enjoy the coffees we had purchased. Some 20 minutes later, they found us, and we had another coffee!

Then we decided to do a boat trip. The receptionist at De Barge suggested that this was a "must do", and I have to say that I agreed with him. The scenery was fantastic, the sun was shining, and the commentary (in French, German and English) was entertaining. The trip took about 30 minutes, and was worth every centime of the 10E each that it cost. Needless to say, lots of photos!

Then to the Burg, the local town square,interesting enough, but too touristy (and expensive) to stop for lunch, so we wandered off to find some back streets. But they didn't prove too effective either, so back to the market and one of the cafes there, where we ordered 4 bowls of soup, E7.50 each - but they did take over half an hour to arrive! Then around the corner to what John's map said was the "best Australian hand made ice cream", but it wasn't. If it ever was, it had been replaced by Fred's (sic) glaces et gaufres, so David and Joh bought ice creams, and Barb and Sue had waffles. Or at least we thought we had bought them. Some hours later, when looking at the dockets to see what we had spent, we found that the ice creams did not get paid for! Oops. It was an honest mistake, and we were not about to rush back and settle the debt. (shame.)

Again, we separated, this time intentionally, agreeing to meet back in the market square "in the sunniest corner". Barb and John explored a couple of churches, particular St Saviour's Cathedral, which was of very recent construction (1921 IIRC), and which, both of us thought, was somewhat more inspiring in a spiritual sense than several of the other large (gothic) cathedrals. I'm not sure whether it was a question of the light (it was painted white inside) or the cleanliness (it had not had centuries of grime accumulating), but it did feel more uplifting to both us.

At the appointed hour, we returned to the market and stopped in the sunniest corner, as agreed. Time for a beer. John ordered a Kwak (partly because of the name) and was surprised and delighted when it turned up in a looong glass. It looked bigger than it was (only half a litre, a very standard size, and a bit less than a pint). Before long (i.e., just about the time it took John to finish the beer), the Morgans joined us, so we had another beer. (Royal "we", Barb didn't.)

Then to a little restaurant we had seen in our explorations, the "Blossom", where we had dinner. John thought he was ordering a steak tartare ("steak naturel") but when it came, it was a piece of grilled steak - just without any sauces! At least it was grilled rare. Barb had rabbit in the Flemish style, and said it was very nice.

Then back to the Barge, and bed.

11 Apr 2019, Thursday (Day 14), Bruges-Antwerp; Antwerp-Amsterdam

Up and breakfasted at 8am, as arranged. Got bags packed and we were on our way by 0930. We did not have a specific train to catch, as they were at regular intervals throughout the day. Every 23 minutes past the hour, as I recall. So we made the 1023 train with 40 minutes or so to spare.

The train to Antwerp was not a TGV or Thalys, but it was quite fast and smooth, and it was a bit over an hour to get to Antwerp. We had been told that Antwerp was a fabulous train station, but we were not prepared for what we saw. The approach to the station was lined with lots of little minarets, and every so often (at bridges over roads) a somewhat larger minaret. "Minaret" is probably not the right word, and they are more likely to be called "turrets", but they did have long finials on their tops. Rachel will know the right word.

The station itself was gobsmaking. Built in a very rennaissance style, it had 5 levels! Trains on the top, a walking concourse, trains in the middle, a walking concourse, trains on the bottom. The top two train levels were terminating, while the bottom level were through platforms. I think I have found a prototype for my new model railway! David, take note.

We arrived shortly before noon, so we each had some lunch (Barb and I shared a bowl of nachos) before agreeing to go separate ways and return for the 1344 train. Barb and I did not wander far from the station, nor did we have to, as they was plenty to see in the immediate vicinity, including the Antwerp Zoo. We didn't pay to go in, but we did have time to admire the nice gardens around the entrance - full of tulips, of course.

Back to the station before 1330, we were taken aback to see no train scheduled for 1344 on the departures board. So we asked. THe information that came back was a little confusing. Yes, they had missed the 1344 train. No, it was not running, it was cancelled. But then it appeared on the departures board as though everything was normal. We went to the nominated platform. There was the train, all labelled and ready, but the doors were locked. Then the departure sign went all red, with Dutch writing that we took to say "train not running". At least, there was a "trein" and a "nicht" in the phrase, so we knew we were in trouble.

At that point, we found the Morgans, who had gone through much the same process as I have described above. We asked a friendly employee, who seemed weighed down with a street sellers tray full of chocolates and the like, and he said (in perfectly good English) that the train was cancelled, that he was on it too, and that the next train was at 1444. So we found a table to sit at, and waited. Barb read, John blogged.

Not much to say here. But you have yesterday's blog to which you should thank the delay.

We arrived at Amsterdam, but when we emerged from the station, it was not as familiar as I had expected. We had come out on the harbour side, rather than the landward side, and consequently found it a little more difficult walking out of the place. Add to that the fact that we were staying in a part of the town that we had not visited, either by boat, bus or tram, and we had to keep refering to the map to keep our bearings. Both Sue and Barb had printed out maps showing how to get to the Westcord Art Hotel, and they both said that it was a 14 minute walk.

14 minutes my fat aunt! After 15 minutes we were not even half way, and it became clear that there was something wrong with the map. Still, we seemed to be going in the right direction. We trundled on, dragging our bags behind us. To cut a long story short, but not the walk, it took us an hour to reach the place. 3.4 kms we walked! It was when we sat down after checking in that we realized that both Sue and Barb had printed Mr Google's instructions with the route by bus! No wonder we felt cheated.

Then we repaired to the bar. They has several beers on tap, but the one which caught John's eye was a "Brouwerij'tij" (pronounced, I think, as "Brewery-tie"). But the waitress cautioned "that is an expensive beer - do you want to taste it before I serve you?" and threw in the line that it was an IPA. Well, of course, I wanted to taste an IPA, but still feigning a little ignorance (it was hard) I said "Oh. Yes please" in an as innocent tone as possible (also hard). It passed the test, I had a somewhat substantial taste, she was generous, and followed that with a 500ml glass that took me quite a while to drink, it was so strong.

After beers, it was 1900 and time for dinner, which we had elected to eat in the hotel restaurant - not wanting to walk any further at this stage. John had a sate chicken with sweet potato fries (pardon, Elinor, but it has become much easier to refer to them as "fries" rather than "chips", because nobody understands chips, but they do understand fries. C'est la vie.) Barb had polenta with roasted vegetables, but it was mostly polenta, with one carrot, one asparagus stick (both steamed), and a quarter of a zucchini, grilled. Not really roasted. Something got lost in the translation, and in the measuring, too.

David had had only soup, and that a thin consomme at that, so he felt like dessert. One in, all in, and that was a mistake. We could have all shared his one pecan pie (really a chocolate tart with a few pecans sprinkled on the top) and walked away happy. As it was, John had a creme brulee, and Barb another faux pecan pie/chocolate tart, and it was all more than we could manage. Sue, who took the wisest course (aka "none"), had to help us finish those blessed chocolate tarts! Then we variously rolled and staggered up to bed.

12 Apr 2019, Friday (Day 15), Transported with the Public

Down for breakfast at 8am, and the breakfast was up there with the Hotel du Parc - distinctly better than the dinner quality last night. After breakfast we caught the number 22 bus into Centraal and bought 4 tickets for the Hop-On, Hop-Off boat, and joined the short queue on the wharf for an (according to the wharf hand) 10am boat. But it did not turn up until 1015. Patience again, folks!

Off we went, enjoying the sights, and, wonder of wonder, the sun was out and the photographers had a field day! We motored along the Princes Canal and decided to alight at the Rijksmuseum. We didn't go in, but walked around and checked the sights. There was a very cute fountain (actually an art e "installation") that spouted out different jets according to some random pattern, and several children were amusing themselves running in when the jets were off, staying inside as the jets turned on (where they did not get wet), and then running out again when the jets went off. The idea was to not get caught midway when the jets started!

We were aiming to get the next boat after 30 minutes, so we dragged ourselves away, and made for the landing. The boat turned up almost on time, and we headed back north to Centraal, watching the picturesque houses as they passed. At Central we alighted and walked to the Aulde Kirk (didn't go in, too expensive) and looked at the red light district around it. There were a few women posing in the windows to attract customers! But we were more interested in the cafe running out of the old sacristy, and serving great food.

We ordered 4 bowls of carrot, coconut and ginger soup which was very enjoyable, and followed that with apple pie and coffee. Then we went shopping in the main street at Primark, which was very cheap. But only Sue bought anything. Then to Magna Plaza and its cheese shop, which we had visited before. We bought some smoked cheese, then found beer at the food court, while the Morgans went walking. Once they returned we caught the tram to Leidseplein, the blue line boat back to Centraal (again!), where we checked out the A-Train hotel, then caught tram back to Leidseplein (again!). A slight confusion arose after an announcement that we were missing the Rijksmuseum stop because of failed tram in the section, but it was nothing serious for us as the tram simply took a different route! They can do that in Amsterdam because of the highly interconnected tram network. In Melbourne it would have meant change to busses and an extra half an hour at least!

We then changed to the number 3 tram at Paulus Potterstraat, and alighted at Nassuplein near Haarlemmerdijk about 1830. We checked out a pharmacy near there because Barb had a cold sore that she needed some medicine for, but the pharmacy shut at 1800, in spite of displaying a big green cross outside! So we looked for a restaurant and found one called Tavernu which was Indonesian and served a banquet style formula called rijkenstabbel, which we all had and which was wonderful. After dinner we caught the number 22 bus back to hotel, and retired.

13 Apr 2019, Saturday (Day 16), Spinning the Cold

Again breakfast in the hotel was good, with some different choices being explored from yesterday. We packed up most of our things and headed off at 0930, leaving our bags behind for a late checkout at noon. We caught the bus to Nassauplein, where Barb checked the pharmacy again, but it did not open until 1000 on Saturdays! Then off on the number 3 tram to Vendolk Park where we wondered through it, stopping for a cup of coffee on the way. At the end of the park, we caught a connecting tram to a number 3, alighting again at Nassauplein so that Barb could check out the pharmacy again.

But that was just not to be! When we got to the pharmacy, it was indeed open (at last), but on enquiring for her medicine, Barb was told it was only available on prescription here! (It is over the counter in Oz.) Barb just had to be resigned that her malady would correct itself naturally. Patience for her, this time.

Back to the tram/bus stop. Would you believe, the next 22 bus was not for another 18 minutes! We decided it would be faster to walk and still be back in time for a midday checkout. It was for the Morgans, but as the Hursts were bringing up the rear, a 22 bus gaily stopped at the bus stop just before we reached it!! Not our day!

Checkout was straightforward, and back to the 22 bus (there was not much alternative, bar walking, or a taxi, and we still had valid public transport tickets). We alighted at Centraal and found a cafe suitable for lunch. Barb and John had a half-baguette with warm brie and salad - very good! THe we walked on (with luggage) to the Oosterport where we found the Anna Antal (after a slight bum steer from the signposts), and boarded to a warm welcome from Mike, our bike guide for the next 6 days.

We got settled, and then had an introductory talk from Liesje, our captain for the week, about what to expect. Well, not a female captain for a start! But she was very friendly and welcoming also, so we quickly relaxed. She explained that due to some canals and/or bridges being closed, our itinerary had to change, but we would still see all the major attractions. There was a bit of excitement when someone announced that it was snowing, and we all rushed out to see, only to get very cold very quickly.

At 1415, we cast adrift, and started cruising up the ? Canal to Wormerveer, our overnight stop. Once there and safely tied up, Mike organized the unloading of bikes, and we went for a little 8km spin to acquaint ourselves with the bijes, and with Dutch roads. Dutch motorists are very forgiving of cyclists, which is just as well, as there seems to be more of the latter than the former. Anyway, we survived the spin, in spite of the intense cold and biting winds (snow again at one stage). Then dinner, which was soup, chicken casserole and panna cota, all very hot, yummy and filling! All that meant that everyone was very willing to collapse into our bunks!

14 Apr 2019, Sunday (Day 17), Clogged with People

We woke up around 0700 and slowly started moving, getting used to the rather confined spaces in which to wash and to dress. We appeared at breakfast a bit before the appointed hour of 0800, but we were still one of the late ones. Breakfast was not at the same standard as Hotel du Parc or Hotel Westcord, but we could cut some slack, and all things considered, it was pretty much on par. Certainly the bread was just as fresh!

After breakfast, the fresh bread came into another role as the basis for making our own cut lunches, using whatever was leftover from breakfast, together with a few additions like boxes of juice, muesli bars and paper bags into which we could stuff everything! These and the supplied water bottles were in turn stuffed into our panier bags as the bicycles were offloaded to shore.

We set off at 0920 for a short 5km ride to Zaanse Schans, along a route that was not particularly notable. We took some precautions against the cold, notably double socks, bicycle shorts under our trousers, and gloves. The latter were actually a double pair we had bought in Amsterdam. Barb had the inner layer which were full gloves. John had the outer layer which were fingerless gloves. They did keep some of the cold wind at bay!

We had visited Zaanse Schans in 2014 on our APT tour. It was slightly different (many buildings had been repainted, and things slightly reorganized), but it was still very recognizable. We had a couple of hours to wander around, but as we now had to pay to go into the windmills (tickets were part of the tour in 2014), we didn't go into the mills themselves. E5 seemed a bit steep just to enter and wander around inside.

But we did go into the clog building (so did a thousand other people) and watch a demonstration of the clog making machines. I even managed to get some movies of the process, so I hope they are effective.

We did check out the two restaurants for coffee purposes, but they looked expensive (they didn't advertise coffee prices as such but things like coffee and cake were E6-7, and we did not want cake at this hour). So instead wewalked all the way to the furthest windmill and back again before finding a little window in one of the houses that served coffee for E2.70 That was most welcome, and John shared his peanut butter roll with Barb to allay hunger pangs until lunch time.

The next leg from Zaanse Schans to Castricum was much more interesting as we headed out from the urban environment across wide polders along bike paths that ran along the top of the inter-polder dykes. The polders themselves were under cultivation, but there was not much in evidence except for the occasional field of leaves, pregnant with embryonic tulips. When we did see some tulips in bloom, we had to stop and take a photograph and promptly got left behind by the tour party! Fortunately our absence was missed, which was just as well, as we had headed off on a side branch of the path, and while John was confident that we would catch up, David and Mike came hurtled back to collect us and take us along the right path.

We stopped for lunch in Castricum at about 1330 and ate our sandwiches. Then a cup of coffee at a local cafe before heading off again. At last we came across a field of red tulips, some of which were out, and so stopped to take a photograph (this time with everyone!) The next surprise was coming round a corner and finding a half dozen Highland Cattle lounging about, not quite on the cycle path, but close enough to be disconcerting, especially when you take into account the size of their horns! But they were placid enough, and hardly bother to even turn and look at us as we went past.

The next destination was the beach, and to get to it we had to cycle up a very steep hill. Everyone else had to drop down to their lowest gears, but I just pushed the E-bike into mode 5 ("turbo") and sailed past everyone! Then Barb and Sue got the idea and did it too, to the tune of lots of jaws dropping, until they all realised that we three were the ones with E-bikes! Woopee Doo!

The beach was quite full of people, but strangely, no one was in the water! Given that the air temperature was about 10 degrees, and the water temperate probably a couple below that, and that there was a 40kph wind below straight off the North Sea, I think they would all have done Lot's Wife impressions had they tried. We hung about for 10 minutes, but since one beach with lots of people is very much the same as another beach with lots of people, we left.

As David pointed out, you cannot go to the beach without having an ice-cream, so we found an ice-cream shop and had some. John was the only one having a regular ice-cream (salted toffee, yum), and Barb, Suie and David all had macaroons with ice-cream in the middle.

Then on to the next night's stop at Alkmaar, a quite large town, where the boat was waiting for us. We got back at around 1720, but skipped beer o'clock, as it was so freezing, and elected to have some of the red wine we started yesterday. Dinner was caprese, lasagna and tiramisu. Again, both quantity and quality were well within tolerances! Mike took a party of die-hards for a walking tour of the city, which was very interesting, but still quite cold, even with our extra layers of clothing. John did a bit of blogging and saw everyone off to bed before retiring himself.

15 Apr 2019, Monday (Day 18), A Windmill Doing what it Does Best

Woke up a bit ealier this morning at 0645 and tried to get moving, but it was still rather hard as the heating had stopped heating overnight, and it was quite cold even in our cabin. None of the rinsed-out clothes dried, and the porthole was covered in condensation. So we just had to grin and bear at.

After breakfast, we set off at 0915 for Oterleek, where morning coffee was planned. Alas, it was shut, and we had to pedal on to Rusteburg, where there was a cafe that was open. A coffee and a shared apple pie restored our energy somewhat, and from there we went on to Schermerhorn, where there was a windmill museum, which had a working windmill pumping water. We toured the innards of the windmill and took lots of movies of things going round. Then onwards again.

The wind was getting fresher, which, while great for pumping water, did not make for amiable cycling conditions. Most of the way seemed to be against a head wind (isn't it always?), which really slowed down the non-electric bicycles, and didn't make things any easier for the E-bikers either. We stopped at a little place called De Rijp to eat our lunches. It had a nice little lifting Dutch bridge over the canal, the old "Raathuis" (Town Hall) on one side, and a church on the other. Quite picturesque.

More head winds, and several stops to allow people to catch up and recover their breath. We finally reached Pumerend a bit after 4, and some of us went straight to beer o'clock! The ameliorating factor was an opportunity to catch up on this blog, so here I am 50 minutes before dinner, and this blog is up-to-date!

Dinner was slightly special. We had goats' cheese, walnuts and pear for entree, duck breast, sweet potato mash and green beens for mains, and special dessert, a fruit flan with whipped cream in honour of Sue's birthday, today! We sang her Happy Birthday, and she blew out the candles, just as required.

After dinner, Mike regaled us with some information about the geography and politics of The Netherlands (do you know the difference between the Netherlands and Holland? It is a bit subtle.) Then he launched into an explanation/translation of the poem, the last two lines of which are stencilled across the bulkhead in the dining room on board. The lines read "Tussen droom en daad staan wetten in de weg en praktische bezwaren maar ook weemoedigheid die miemand kan verklaren", which, very roughly translated, mean "Between dreams and deeds there are laws which practically limit the misery (?) that noone can explain". The rest of the poem is pretty miserable and inscrutable, too.

David, Sue and Barb went for a short walk. John did too. Pumerend is not a big place, but we did see some interesting sights. Then bed.

16 Apr 2019, Tuesday (Day 19), A 60km Day!

Distance today: 58.6 kms

Breakfast at the usual time of 0800 thismorning, and everyone seemed very keen to get going, as no sooner had they finished eating than they started spreading sandwiches and packing lunches. I think most people were ready to rissole roll by 0830, even though the appointed hour was 0900 for 0915! Same last minute panics to gather all bits and pieces, and we were off. Or so we thought!

Mike did seem to get a bit lost. We headed off in precisely the wrong direction, and then, even after he realized that, he took a wrong turning and had to go back! We added an extra kilometre to our daily tally even before we had left Purmerend. Once we got going along the proper track, alongside the Zuidoostbeemistermeer and along the Oostdijk (west dike), we settled into a smooth rhythym of about 15-18kph, and enjoying the fact that the wind was very much reduced from yesterday!

At Purmerend-Noord we turned to the east, and into the wind, puff, puff. But as it was less intense than yesterday, no one complained. Through the small village of Kwadijk, after which we crossed the Zaandam to Hoorn railway line, and on to Edam, where we stopped for a cup of coffee. There was a fascinating tunnel over the canal alongside, but we discovered from a plaque that it was in fact a "vaulted brickstone lock", last used as a lock in 1829! THere was no sign of any lock gates, and it now seemed to be used as a garage for boats.

From Edam it was a short ride along the dike that holds back the Markermeer, all that remains of the once Zuider Zee, since it is now barraged off from the North Sea, and much of it has been reclaimed. It is indeed now all fresh water, not sea water. The short ride (8km or so) took us to Volendam, where we had some 50 minutes to walk around. Volendam is an amazingly touristy town (a bit like the British equivalent of Brighton), with lots of tack on sale at every turn. We did buy one salted herring filet for John to try - Barb didn't like it, but John was happy to finish it all. Sue to a "selfie" of us against a Volendam sign, just to prove that we had been here.

Then on to the Henri Willig cheese factory at Katwoude, which makes only Edam cheeses, but Edam cheeses in all sorts of flavours, and from all sorts of sources: cow, sheep, and goat. We had a short demonstration, and then to try some 50 different cheeses! We didn't buy any, as we had already bought some Henri Willing smoked cheese in Amsterdam, but we did take a few photos. After the cheese tasting, we had our lunch, and the first thing that John ate from his lunch was a piece of brie mieux! Coals to Newcastle! A coffee from the local restaurant, and then a quick look at the Jersey cow stables. Honestly! I have never seen cows treated with such luxury! There were perhaps 60 cows sitting around, scratching themselves against motorized back-scratchers, munching hay, and moo-ching up to the automatic milking machines that detect the presence of a cow, automatically find the teats, and attach the milking cups to them, and Voila! A happy milked cow. THere was even an automatic vacuum cleaner that ran around, only it did not pick up dust. It picked up cow poo.

Then on and over the Katwoude River, and onto (and through) Monnickendam, through many polders, now mercifully with a tail wind, which made cycling so much more pleasant. And then we hit the outskirts of Amsterdam Noord. And on the banks of the NoordHollandsch Kanaal we found the Anna Antal tied up and waiting for us. Bicycle odometer 40.4km. It was here that we had a choice - continue on cycling, or join the boat and cruise to our next overnight stop in Haarlem. 3 of us elected to join Mike in continuing on: John, David and Linda. So what follows is John's account. Barbara stayed on the boat.

Our first stop was to catch the (free) ferry across the IJ water to Amsterdam Centraal. Apparently years ago there was a land/bridge connection across here, but to cater for the increasing ship traffic, the water was dredged and widened. Cranky citizens of Amsterdam Noord kicked up a bit of a fuss, and so to this day, the ferry remains free to pedestrians and cyclists!

Once at Amsterdam Centraal, we pretty much retraced our steps from the first day we were in Amsterdam back to the hotel. This scariest bit was travelling along the Haarlemerstraat with people, pedestrians, cars, and worst of all, cyclist appearing from all directions! But we made it to Haarlemmerplein, and on into Bretton Park, which then turned into a long cycle path called Brettonpad which took us to a place called Halfweg (halfway, although it was a bit more than halfway for us), where we stopped for a beer, before continuing the last 6km into Haarleem.

At a bit after 1700 we got to where the boat was supposed to be, but it wasn't. Mike rang the boat up to see what was happening, and discovered that they had got stopped at a railway bridge which was not due to open until 1820! So we cycled another km into the centre of town, found a pub, and settled back with a couple of beers. At about 1830, Barb, Sue, Axel and Didier joined us - they had walked from where the boat had stopped waiting for the railway bridge. Another round of beers, and then we cycled/walked to where the boat was just docking - alongside the Wending, a sister boat from the same company.

Dinner was slightly delayed, but quite unaffected. We had three herrings for entree - pickled, smoked and salted (this one much better than the lunch time one), then a really tasty beef stew for mains, and a chocolate panna cotta for dessert. After dinner, some others went for a walk around the town, while John stayed on the boat to complete today's blog. Phew!

17 Apr 2019, Wednesday (Day 20), Steam Driven Tulips

Distance today: 42.8 kms.

Usual getting up and having breakfast process, before leaving the boat at 0915. Mike took us on a bit of a tour of the town of Haarlem, some of it intentional. There were a few wrong turns, but we were soon out in the fields, sorry polders, and the usual scenery of green grass everywhere, divided up by canals and drains, but unfortunately not that much blue sky. The good news is that it has warmed up a bit, and I decided that I could manage with one pair of socks. It proved the right decision - I did not get cold toes, although the wind still had a certain chill factor.

Our first stop was at a little town called Cruquius, so named for the "steam engine" as Mike called it. But coffee was the first priority, and we took the opportunity for a loo break. But no sooner than that, when Sue came hurring back to tell us that there was a tour in English of the "steam engine", and we should hurry up.

There was not that much of a hurry, as the place was staffed by volunteers (!), some speaking english, some not, and it seems that there were several english groups (one bike, one bus, and us!) lining up. Amidst all the confusion, we paid our way in, and just mingled with the other group(s?).

The museum was actually very interesting, with a lot of information about the land reclamation process that has been going on in Holland for some years. Central to this land reclamation process is the task of pumping the (sea) water out, and for that, the Dutch first invented windmills, or more correctly, windpumps, to raise the water through various levels of canals sufficiently hig to drain into the sea. Over the years, the water has gradually become fresh, and now, what remains of the Zuider Zee is all fresh (or at worst, brackish.).

The Cruquius pump is actually a steam-driven beam engine, and is the largest beam engine in the world. Note that it is just a reciprocating engine - there is no flywheel, and the pumps are driven directly by the steam cylinders. Plural, because the engine is compound, with a high pressure and a low pressure cylinder. On each stroke of the piston rod, 8 horizontal beams (each weighing 20 tonnes, IIRC) drive a long linkage to pistons below the lower level water line, and then lift them up some 5 metres to empty at the upper level. A key fact to boggle the mind is that the engine can lift the equivalent of a full size olympic swimming pool every 3 seconds! John was impressed. He thinks Barb was too.

Then on to Keukenhof, arriving at about 1230. Our first priority was to eat lunch, which we did after finding a spare park bench amongst the 60 million people who were there! Then we wandered, slightly aimlessly, around looking at the 61 millions of tulips, and taking only slightly less photos. The only real focus we had was to find our way to the windmill, climb it, and check out the vista over the surrounding fields. When we were here in 2014, it was late in the season and the polders were older and balder. This year, yes! The polders were colder and much much bolder with colour. Barb was happy.

Mike had given us until 1530, so at about quarter past, we made our way to the "Entrance Extra", bought an ice-cream, and waited for the others to appear. Once complete, we left the gardens.

But there was a slight contretemps on leaving. There was a road that pedestrians had to cross. A flagman had stopped them. But we wanted to turn right at the road (the easy turn), and called out "excuse me", only to be rebutted with "you can't go". "But we want to turn right" I protested. When it became clear that the pedestrians in front were not moving, we turned and walked across some open ground that was fenced off - whereupon some officious woman grabbed my by my jacket and started swearing at me in Dutch. Well, I assume it was swearing. It didn't sound polite. All the while Mike was disappearing in the distance. I suppose I could have stopped and explained to her why we needed to be going, but there was not time, and anyway, I don't think she was in the mood!

At this point, I think a few comments on Dutch traffic are in order. When we first arrived in Amsterdam, we were very taken with the patience of motorists towards cyclists - it seemed that in the cities, cyclists got a respect that was consisted with their (lack of) contribution to climate-change emissions, in what I presumed was a somewhat guilt-ridden conscience-pricking social response. Of course, the high priority given to cyclists by the infrastructure certainly did help. But ...

... out in the country, things seem to change. Most of us reported various incidents of violation of this post-modern enlightenment. I have several personal stories to report! Barb had a close encounter not quite of the worst kind, but enough to rattle her confidence. There were numerous instances of motorcyclists abusing the cycle paths. Mike explained that the laws governing cycle paths do specify how fast they can travel, and who has to wear helmets and that sort of thing, but they were laws much more honoured in the breach. At traffic lights, the first cyclists to arrive (usually us, sine locals tended to ignore the lights) lined up dutifully in their lane. But then along would come the motor cyclists, scooter riders, oscillating arm wobbling thingajigammies, and line up at the head of the queue on the wrong side (left) of the crossing. Then the lights would change. Guess what? Indian mayhem, as everyone jostled to get first position going across the crossing. How there was never a more serious incident I do not know.

This was also evident as we left Keukenhof. Of course, there was lots more traffic, and courtesy goes out the window when you might get held up by a cyclist. Even though we were on a road marked with cycle lanes, cars would cut in on us when an approaching car appeared, as the car lane was not wide enough for two cars to pass. There are many such roads in Holland, and it has become clear to me that the ability of car drivers to see themselves above the law is just universal. I guess the car drivers are only slightly better behaved in Amsterdam because of the greater likelihood of getting caught breaking traffic laws. Out in the country, and outside the major cities, Rafferty's Rules!

So it was with some relief that we all arrived safely at the boat in time for dinner. A quick drink to steady the beating hearts, and then a round of champagne, courtesy of the French group (Didier, Axel, Maria-C?, Dominique, ?, and ?), who just wanted to celebrate "good company"! Then to dinner: first, a very nice pumpkin soup; then a vegetable curry to beat any other veg curry I have ever had; and finally a caramelized pineapple with "slagroom" and slivered almonds. "Slagroom" I must explain, is the Dutch word for Chantilly Cream. The French people in our tour group though chantilly a much nicer term. So did the Australians and Americans.

After dinner, Barb, Sue, David et al went for a walk around Lieden town. John worked on his diary.

18 Apr 2019, Thursday (Day 21), Straining on the bikes? No, Spraining!

distance today: 42.6, 3887 (total 247)

We set off at usual time. Within 15 minutes, David had to stop suddenly, slammed on the brakes, and went over the handlebars. We think he has sprained an ankle. Fortunately, nothing broken, but he was in a little pain. Being David, he didn't complain much.

We stopped at Woubrugge for coffee, but the first cafe we came to had all the other bike party ensconced there, so we thought we should try the one over the river, called Disgenoten. After we had cycled across the bridge to it, Mike went in to check if it was OK, and came back looking rather hurt, as he said that the woman behind the bar told him in very unpleasant tones that bike parties were not welcome. So we cycled back to the first cafe, had to wait for the bridge to open and close, and by the time we got there, the other bike group was about to leave anyway. So we had our coffee, and poked faces at the woman across the river.

After leaving Woubrugge, a short ferry ride at Wettering to us across the canal, and not long another ferry ride in Leimuiden before having another photo stop. The photo stops were becoming very welcome, as they gave a chance to get off the bikes and rest our by now rather bruised bums.

On a bit further to Bilderdam, where we stopped for a quick lunch. At least, Mike wanted a quick lunch, but we all ate at our own rate anyway.

The next section of track was rather stressful, as it was all along a very narrow strip of asphalt, at most 50cm wide, with lots of lumps and bumps, and quick slopes into the canal on one side, and a drainage ditch on the other. One could not afford to take one's eyes off the track!

Fortunately, the wonky track was only a couple of kilometres long, and we reached a very nice lifting bridge that we just had to stop and take a photo of, while others went to a nearby loo. See the attached photo, which I will attach real soon now.

We were back on the boat by 1440, making for a long afternoon on the boat. We were tied up 4 boats out at the wharf which made Mike's job of getting bicycles on and off our boat a little challenging. But a long afternoon was welcome enough.

Dinner was cheese and leek quiche; coq au vin; strawberries with meringue and chantilly cream. All very nice, then some comparing notes of what we had done during the day, reflections and commiserations for David (who was by now feeling much better, so he says). We watched the sunset over the lake, and then gradually each filed off to his/her own bed. Up very early in the morning!

19 Apr 2019, Friday (Day 22), Running Down or Winding Down?

As threatened, it was an early start today. We were away before 0700 for a short 5km ride to Aalsmeer. David deemed himself too sore to ride, but someone from one of the other (4) boats was catching a taxi, and offered to share it, so he headed off with them. But when we got to Aalsmeer, he was nowhere to be seen. "Ah, well", we thought, "he'll be inside somewhere". But he was not obviously so, and we therefore set off without him.

The place itself was fascinating. Thousands of little trolley carts, half of which were loaded with flowers, half of which were not, were scurring everywhere, towed either singly or in multiple, by men and women in little stand-up tractors. How they didn't collide with each other was a mystery, although we did see one incident of "trolley rage" where one carelessly parked trolley was impeding the progress of another! Welcome to the outside world, mate!

But I have to say that the most fascinating part were the automatic dispatch carriers that were automatically switched between various tracks, depending upon where their loads were destined. These apparently whizz all over Amsterdam by a dedicated system of overhead tracks, although I did not see any direct evidence of this. I got too engrossed in watching this, and lost sight of or group, and had to hurry over the last half of the exhibition. I didn't miss much, as it was all rather repetitive after a while, but I did stop to watch the on-line auction in progress, with big dials that count down the price until it hits someone's bid. One thing did puzzle me about the whole place though - there was no evidence of where the flowers actually came from. Thousands of trolleys with flowers on, being whisked off to all sorts of destinations, but where were they coming from? Where were the trucks bring them from the growers? I guess we just didn't see that part of the process.

When we finished, still no sign of David. Sue did get a cryptic message from him saying that he was slowed down and would join us in Amsterdam, but it was just a text message, and we were little the wiser. So we set off to rejoin the boat.

The boat was moored another 4km away, but we had to wait while the previous boat finished loaded and sailed off before we could board. Breakfast was awaiting us, and we took the opportunity to try and contact David again. This was successful, and he was still at the flower auction. So Mike told him to catch a taxi to our mooring, and we then waited for him. He turned up halfway through breakfast, to great cheers from the assembled masses. We then set sail towards Amsterdam.

We found a lock at the north east edge of Schiphol, and those of us keen to do more cycling alighted (within the lock chamber) with cycles to ride the last 20km into Amsterdam. Sue Barb and I were amongst the keen souls, but quite advisedly, David stayeed on board. The first part of the cycle was to backtrack alongside the canal we had just motered along, back to an interesting swing bridge of which I had taken some photos when on the boat, so it was an opportunity to take photos of the same bridge from the landside, particularly as the bridge had opened again!

Once open, we had to endure the usual impatient motorcyclists lining up in the wrong lane, and then, once the bridge re-opened and the gates went up, forcing their way back into the line of cyclists and pedestrians when, surprise, surprise, there were idiot motorcyclist going the other way doing the same thing!

We then headed north through the Amsterdamse Bos (Amsterdam Wood), and Mike took us on a scenic route throught the park (see map). At the end of the park, we stopped for lunch and enjoyed the sun.

Then off again, on the scariest section - riding through Amsterdam! Have you heard the saying "don't drive in Rome"? Well, I have another one "don't cycle in Amsterdam"! I take back all the nice things I said earlier about cyclists and cars in Amsterdam. Oh, and add pedestrians and tourists to that equation as well. They are all mad.

We eventually saw the green outlines of Nemo, the Science Museum, and breathed a sigh of relief, as it meant we were near the Oosterdok, where the Anna Antal was berthed. David was on the sun deck, regally waving to us as we pulled up alongside. We dismantled all personal belongs from the bicycles, said good bye to them, and boarded the barge for the last time (well, for some of us).

The afternoon was spent relaxing. Barb read a book, I caught up with this blog, and David and Sue visited Nemo. We even thought of packing! A beer or two helped pass the time away, and then it was time for dinner. Or almost. The crew had been having problems with the oven, and it was still playing up. So again, the entree had to be cooked on a neighbouring boat! But it was a special dinner, nonetheless. A trio of zucchini soup, bruschetta and asperagus flan for entree; baked salmon and zucchini/asparagus fettucine main; and chocolate cake, semi-freddo and limoncello with mango juice and prosecco. Wow!

Afterwards there were speeches from Liesje and Mike about what a nice bunch of people we were, and in response, several toasts and thank yous to the crew. John announced his blog address and invited people to visit, and David spoke for us all when he proposed a special vote of thanks to the crew. Lots of photos taken!

We then retired to pack out bags for the morrow. Some of the group went with Mike to do a (smaller) boat tour of the city lights. We were in bed by 2200, ready for the morrow.

20 Apr 2019, Saturday (Day 23), The Flowers of our Old Age

Another early start! Up at 0600 and a quick cup of tea before the crew started getting things going. First Liesje appeared, then Afra, who set about making us a "snack breakfast" - roughly equivalent to our self-made lunches on cycling days. Everything packed, we were able to say goodbye to a number of people who were up and about: Liesje, Afra, Mike of the crew, and Axel, Sandra of the passengers. Lynn pocked her head out of her door to wish us farewell and safe travelling, and we knocked on the Morgans' door to wake them up and say goodbye until Melbourne in late May. Then we set off, just after 0700.

It was a 20 minute walk to the station, and things were very quiet until the station itself. I realized later that one thing we had not factored into our timetabling was the possibility that the Nemo bridge might have been open, and we would have been delayed at least another 10 minutes. But it wasn't so we had plenty of time at Centraal.

Which was just as well, since gaining access to the platforms proved difficult. Just as we had to scan our tickets to get out of the station on arrival, so we had to scan to get in. But our tickets had no bar code on them, and there was no one to ask. So we found the information booth, and the woman there told us to use the appropriately titled "SOS" pillar at the gates. A disembodied Dutch voice spoke, and quickly changed to English. He asked for details from our ticket, and then the dreaded "one moment please", which probably lasted less than 20 seconds, but felt like 20 minutes, and then he said "I'll open the gate on your right hand side", and in another 20 seconds (!) it did! We found our way to platform 7 and the train, which was already in the platform, and boarded our (first class) carriage and settled down for the 4h20m trip to Mannheim.

The station rattled by: Utrecht at 0834, Arnhem at 1000, Dusseldorf at 1021, Cologne at 1050, Siegburg at 1120, Frankfurt (Airport) at 1207, ... at this point we became a little concerned that we were running a bit late, and with only a 12 minute change at Mannheim, it was clear that we were already more than 10 minutes late. So Barb stopped the conductor, and asked what should we do. It was complicated. Instead of getting off at Mannheim, we should continue on with the train until its terminus at Offenburg, then we were to transfer to busses which would take us around some trackword, and bring us to Lahr, where we were to catch a different (and later) train to Zurich. Just like Australia. Patience was needed.

So, continuing: Mannheim 1248, Karlsruhe at 1310, Offenburg at 1343. Transfer to bus 1402, Laht at 1432 and transfer to train at 1443, Freiburg at 1500, Basel Badische Bahnhof at 1540 (the German station, as some kind fellow travellor explained when we queried if this was where we got off), and Basel SBB at 1547. At Basel SBB we made the modified planned connexion, and arrived in Zurich at 1700. Found the Hotel du Theatre, dropped bags, and went for a walk around the city. The footpaths were littered with bars, all pretty full, and all with people in various stages of fullness. Walked for about an hour, and climbed up to the Lindenhof for a nice view of the city and river. Then thought about dinner.

Most of the bars we passed seemed to be just that: bars. No menus. But then we discovered that we were one street out. A short block away was another street, parallel to the river esplanade, that was also alive, this time with cafe/restaurants. We found a likely one "Tre Cucine", where a beer did not go amiss, followed by asparagus, dandelion and egg salad (Barb) and gaspacho (John). Barb said the dandelion was a bit bitter, and was not that mad about it. I was inclined to agree. But the pizza we shared which followed pretty well made up for it. It was a 30cm puttanesca pizza which we shared, and it pretty much hit the spot, both in quantity and quality.

Then the usual nightly ritual. Retire to the hotel, and bed. An exhausting and slightly stressful day.

21 Apr 2019, Sunday (Day 24), World Heritage Travel

Slept well and awoke in time for breakfast at 0800. They had an easter bunny bun as part of the bread collection, so we grabbed that and John went back to the room to get his camera/smartphone to take a picture of it. It was going to be about as close to Easter as we could get!

Packed and walked to the station in plenty of time to catch the 0937 train to Chur (pronounced as a cross between "Cur" and "Qur" with a soft "w" sound). The train trundled along the shores of ZurichSee, not very fast, which was not that surprising, since the track was rather windy. Given that we only had a 6 minute change at Chur, we were a little concerned (especially given the events of yesterday) that we might miss the connexion. But we need not have worried. The train was obviously waiting for us, and it was a simple walk across the platform to change trains.

The new train was not run by the national Swiss Railway (aka SBB CFF FFS, or as Wiki explains: "Swiss Federal Railways (German: Schweizerische Bundesbahnen, SBB; French: Chemins de fer fédéraux suisses, CFF; Italian: Ferrovie federali svizzere, FFS) is the national railway company of Switzerland." Instead, it is the Rhaetian Railway, or Rhatische Bahn in German, that runs a collection of metre guage railways all through the Engadine region of the Swiss Alps. We had an entire first class compatment to ourselves, which proved valuable, as we could sit and monitor scenery on both sides of the train, rushing over to the other side easily when something spectacular came along.

And there was plenty that was spectacular! Between us we took over 600 photos, and Barb exhausted the battery on her camera, the first time she has ever done that! (She did have a spare). John finished the SD card in his camera, and had to change that on the fly. I won't even try to describe the scenery, or the engineering of the line, except to say that since I always have a thrill going around the Bethungra Spiral on the NSWR network, you can imagine my excitement at traversing 5 spirals!

A very nice conductor came through to check our tickets, and when I asked if there was a cafe bar on the train where we might get some coffee, he said, "wait there, I shall bring them to you". True to his word, we enjoyed a most excellent cup of coffee while admiring the scenery. Indeed, I had to work hard to avoid knocking over the coffee in my excitement to get the next photo!

We arrived at St Moritz on time, and then set about finding the hotel. Barb had not printed the map of how to get there for this hotel and stop, so we only had an address. Mr Google Maps to the rescue (fortunately my smartphone had data roaming), and we then struggled up a steep hill to get from St Moritz Bahnhof ("bahnhof"="station") to St Moritz Dorf ("dorf" = "village") where we found the hotel. We only had to stop twice going up the hill, puff, puff, remembering that St Moritz station is 1775m above sea level, or more than a mile high.

CHecked in, no problem, and then had lunch in the hotel restaurant: two toasted sandwiches each, Barb salmon, John curried chicken - very filling! Then we explored the "village" part (which is fortunately slighly more flat) and saw the Leaning Tower of St Moritz - which has a higher angle of lean that the Tower of Pisa, although not quite as high. Saw inside the protestant church (very Lutheran). John indulged himself by singing the first verse of "Christ the Lord is Risen today" when no one else was around, as a sort of a vocal libation for not going to church on Easter Sunday (I think, for the first time in my adult life? Certainly for the last 40 years or so). Then had an ice cream while waiting for the sun to move to shine on a very interesing sgraffito building (Haselmann's Confectionery Building)

We then had a beer at the hotel to refresh before walking down the hill towards St Moritz Bad ("bad" = "bath" or "spa") but did not go right into the town, but took a windy short cut down to the lake, and then walked along the lake's edge (Lake San Murrezzan, which is Italian for Lake St Moritz). We took another short cut back to the hotel, this time via a set of escalators which made the climb much more tractable!

Then dinner in the restaurant, but after lunch we were not that hungry. Barb had Asian Noodle Soup and Rosti Caprese, John had Tomato and Coconut Soup, and Swiss Tartare (slightly plainer than the French version). Then we retired to collapse into bed.

22 Apr 2019, Monday (Day 25), The Pinnacle of SightSeeing

We had a free morning this morning, so after breakfast we packed our luggage, left it at the reception desk, checked out and set off down to the escalator down to the lake level, and started to walk around the lake. The plan, as espoused by the girl at the hotel reception desk, was to walk to the Staz Lake turnoff, check the lie of the land, and then make a decision as to which way to go. Off we went just a fraction before 1000.

The weather was slighly cloudy, but the sun was breaking through in patches, and the -1 recorded by the outside hotel thermometer slowly climbed. There were some great patterns formed by the re-freezing water on the lake, so we took a few photos of that as we walked along. There was little wind, so we did not feel that cold.

We got to the turnoff, and apart from the intial straight up a hillside stretch, it looked tractable, so we set off. The first hotel we passed looked shut, which did not bode well for our plans, which was to celebrate elevenses at the hotel by the Lake Staz. We got to the lake in the 45 minutes that the hotel receptionist said it would take, and checked out the hotel there. Geschlosen it said. Closed. No elevenses, or indeed for that matter, twelveses or oneses or any other ...ses. It all looked quite cold and forlorn, which we found a bit surprising, since there were several groups of people walking around whome we had encountered along the track. Oh well, you know what I am about to say. Patience.

So back we walked. We did see a squirrel and some interesting birds which Barb thought were nut hatches. At least, they were collecting small nuts from the trees and hammering them against branches to open them, so the "rat-tat-tat" sound they made could be heard quite easily in the otherwise total silence of the woods. There was lots of snow around, so it was all too easy to take more photographs.

We checked out the first hotel we had encountered, and it even had a sign up saying geschlosen, so we knew it was not much use. We encountered an old man and younger woman (daughter?) who also expressed surprise that it was "geschlosen". "St Moritz Bad" we were told would be the place for coffee. So on we walked, taking the path around the southern side of the lake.

Now the problem with the sourthern side of the lake was that it was in the permanent shadow of the mountains to the south, so lots of snow, and more to the point, lots of melting snow refreezing across the path! The path had been liberally sanded, so most of it was reasonably safe walking, but every now and then there would be a bare section of ice, which demanded extra care. Even so, Barb lost her footing at one stage, but John was quick to grab her and disaster was averted.

We reached St Moritz Bad without further incident, but the cold had had another effect, and searching for a WC became a high priority, more so for Barb than for John. We found one (phew!) but John had a very nervous moment for Barb when, since the "men" he saw was on the opposite side to the "women", he made for that door, only to find it looked. His heart sank in feelings for Barb. But! Panic off, there was another "men" on the same side as the "women", and both of them were unlocked. Phew! again.

That need assuaged, the next priority was the aforesaid coffee. We found a cafe that overlooked the ice hockey rink. St Moritz Isj Hochey Club (or however it is spelt) has a good reputation for ice hockey and have regular matches against the best of the Canadian teams. But the winter season had concluded, and the rink was deserted, albeit still iced, and we had coffee with a most excellent apfelstrudel und custard, which John gave a 10 out of 10 to, according to Mike the Bike Man's rating system. Mike, if you are reading this, make a note to go to the cafe next to the Ice Skating Rink in St Moritz Bad. You won't be disappointed.

We had a look around the rest of St Moritz Bad, but it rather lived up to its name, since everything else was closed, it being Easter Monday. (According to the waiter in the Hotel at breakfast, it was "another sunday", meaning a public holiday.) We looked at the Forum Paracelsus, supposed to contain lots of interesting information about the history of StMB, but we will never know. It was shut for Easter.

So back up the hill to St Moritz Good and the hotel, where we waited for the shuttle bus to take us to the Bahnhof. A five minute trip down the hill (beats walking 20 minutes up the hill with luggage) and we boarded the Bernina Express to Turino. Unlike yesterday, this train was full, so we had to content ourselves with the view out the RHS of the train - which was still pretty spectacular. John took 250 photos for the day, slightly less than yesterday, but still rather profligate. There might have to be a little more culling!

The chief highlight was the crossing of the summit, with snow cover everywhere, as though it were the middle of winter. The second chief highlight (nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!) was the circular viaduct that is part of the spiral descent into Brusio. Lots of photos there! (30, actually.)

We changed trains at Tirano (where there was an old tank loco in a sad state of neglect) with little hassle, and were soon bound for Milano on a TrenNord. The first class compartment was comfortably empty, but it gradually became uncomfortably full once we passed Lake Magiore (check name?) and many returning holiday makers go on, including many second class passengers who mooched into the first class compartment (our tickets were never checked). John exhibited his best case of Patience, also known as Not Being Grumpy.

We reached Milano Centrale at 2050, 10 minutes late, and found the Hotel Michelangelo with little effort - it was directly opposite the railway station! We checked in, and made a beeline for the restaurant, thinking it might close. But it was open until 2230, so no problem. A beer helped John relax (and well you might ask the question. I offer no further comment). Barb had a "two kinds of grilled fish" dinner after some confusion ordering the tuna dish, which was out of stock, while John had a delighfully rare beef filet, commenting on the fact that it had much more flavour than the tartare he had the previous night. Maybe the beer talking.

The rest ... you know.

23 Apr 2019, Tuesday (Day 26), Freccia Fast

A comprehensive selection of breakfasts this morning, with different choices around each nook and crevice in the basement breakfast area. The first point of confusion arose when we got in the lift, and the sign there said "breakfast - 1" which Barb took to mean "floor 1". But no. Floor 1 was more rooms, and while we were deciding just what was meant and pushed the "-1" button, up went the lift to floor 12 again, where we got on (our room was 1211). Two Australians joined us, and explained that they "had already played that game", and that "-1" was the correct button. They were from Canberra!

Indeed, once in the breakfast room, and faced with all that choice that I mentioned, we bumped into 4 other Australians as we wandered around trying to make difficult choices. One was from Melbourne, two from Ballarat, one from Towoomba! In between exchanging travelling notes, we managed a breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, muesli and scrambled eggs, together with several attempts at getting a cup of coffee to our respective likings.

Time for a little electronic catch-up after breakkie, including a happy chat with David and Jemima in sunny Albury. He was not all that happy, as the car had been misbehaving, but Jemima was very bubbly and full of chat.

To the station at 0930 and found our Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) high speed train and boarded for an almost on time departure at 1002. John settled into updating his blog, Barb into reading the New York Times (the only english language paper that they had!) and trying her hand at a US style crossword (just who was the first (US) female Supreme Court Justice?)

We zoomed along at 300kph, passing Bologna at 1058, and Firenze at 1130. They were the only two big towns we passed until reaching Rome at 1256, only a minute late. But finding the train to Civitavecchia (pronounced using English rules as "Chiv-i-ta-vek-ia") was a little challenge, The destination signs all had the train on platform 28, but where was platform 28? The signs we could see ended at 24, so we headed there to see what happened to the missing platforms. Aha! Another sign, hidden until you got almost to platform 24 pointed to platforms 25-29. And then a long walk. These platforms were at the end of the station in the train direction, not the concourse direction. So we had to walk the length of Milano Centrale to get to our train, which we finally did with a few minutes to spare.

The Civitavecchia train took an hour and a bit to get us to Chitty-V, and we alighted on time at 1419. But what to do? Barb had had a series of text messages from Patrizio the owner of the BnB we had booked, which culminated in us agreeing to meet him at 1630 - so we had a few hours to kill, but with suitcases!

We searched first for a lunch venue. That did not look promising, as the first half-dozen cafes we came across were all closed. But the seventh, a seafood restaurant, was open, and would take us in for lunch (the time was by now close to 1500). Barb had spaghetti con vongole (spaghetti and clams), John had frito calamere e gamberi (fried calamari and prawns) - both of which we acclaimed were excellent. We did take our time, and so did they, but as I said, we had hours to kill and suitcases not to pull, so delaying was good. We got away just after 1600, and slowly made our way to the BnB, called "Carillion", carefully following the map and stopping at each corner to re-check. So slowly indeed that we did not catch up with Patrizio until 1640, during which time Patrizio had changed sex and name and had become Julia, who fortunately recognized two foot-weary travellers and hailed us. I don't think we would have found the place on our own.

Julia showed us around the apartment, but it was not quite what we expected. It was more like a hotel room, it had an ensuite, but the whole place seemed to be more like upmarket student accomodation. There was shared kitchen, shared amongst 5 rooms, and before Julia had left, we had the kettle on for a cup of tea. Only after Julia left did we discover a) that there was no toilet paper, and b) no soap. b) we could cope with (we had our own), but a) was to be a problem. So another text message to Patrizio, who came round soon enough, but then dropped the bombshell that we had to pay in cash, not plastic as we had planned. Sure enough, the booking confirmation warned us that payment was required on entry, but there was no warning about lack of plastic (or toilet paper, for that matter). Not off to a good start.

Those things finally sorted out and tea consumed, we set off to check the route to the ship tomorrow, given our difficulty in navigating to the BnB. Without pulling suitcases, this was a much more relaxed walk, and we found our way to the wharf with not too much trouble. We paused at a cafe on the way back and had a beer each, but were again taken aback when the waiter explained that he could only take cash, his plastic machine was broken! Was this a plot to deprive us of all our Euro cash? It certainly seemed like it.

ON the way home (it was starting to get dark, about 1930). we stopped at a pizzeria to buy take away dinner. First question to the young waitress: do you take plastic? Answer (from the much older manager): yes, if you spend at least 10E. The pizza we wanted was only 7E, so we quickly added what we thought was a small bottle of beer for 3E to that, and were able to preserve the 8E or so in coins that we had left. When we got home, we found that the small bottle of beer had metamorphed into a big bottle of beer, with two plastic cups and several paper serviettes, so we think the waitress took pity on us for being coerced into spending more than we wanted. At least, that's the Occam's Razor explanation.

Once back the palatial suite, we ate most of the pizza, carefully keeping 2 pieces for breakfast tomorrow (!), and not so carefully drinking all the beer. Then we folded back the covers of the bed, and covered up the sins of the day.

24 Apr 2019, Wednesday (Day 27(0)), embark Prinsendam

We had two goes at waking up: first at 0600, when we saw that it was getting light; then at 0700, when it was a bit lighter. First a cup of tea. That was a big plus for "Carillion". Did you know that in all our travels so far, only one hotel had what the RACV motoring guide calls "tea mak fac" for short, or "tea making facilites" for long. That was the Hotel du Theatre in Zurich. Even the Michelangelo in Milan, the most upmarket hotel of them all, did not mak the tea fac.

Then followed a very slow getting up and getting ready process, which took from a bit after 0700 right through to 1030. Like yesterday, we had hours to kill, and the fewer of them spent towing suitcases the better. We were not supposed to board the ship until 1300, so once we hit the road, we did a very length coffee crawl, from one cafe to another. An hour here, an hour there, watching the passing parade and spinning out several cups of coffee. By 1230 we reckoned it was time to walk to the ship, and by stopping and buying two postcards, and then writing and posting them, we got to the ship about 1245 and they let us on (we were about the first, at least there was no one else in the queue!) All very civilised and relaxed.

Once on board and carry-ons safely delivered to our room, we went and had lunch in the Lido. Very restrained we were too, Barb having a salad, and John a small selection of lettuce, vegetables, cold meats and a few cheeses. Oh, maybe I should mention the SOLITARY scoop of ice cream? Then a bit of ship exploring, or rather, reconnecting, as we have spent several months on board this ship already! (Arctic, Baltic, South America and Antarctic trips)

At 1430 we went to the 4 star Mariner welcome - well, you don't pass up free drinks, do you? We met Peter and Lotte from Denmark, Jacquie from St John (New Brunswick), and Dawn from Ottawa and had a good chat with them about why we all like cruising, particularly on small ships like the Prinsendam. Then we went and booked a few excursion trips at 3 of the ports we shall visit, including a bike tour of Guernsey, ha!

Then the mandatory emergency drill at 1630, and a quick checkout of the gym, which did take a little effort to find as it is not mentioned on any of the maps around the ship. But we knew we had seen it on previous trips, so a little bit of Patience worked a treat. Then some quiet time in the cabin before sailing at a few minutes before 1900.

There were 4 other cruise ships in the harbour, and we (fortunately in terms of walking) were the innermost. So as we sailed out, we waved to the passengers on these four other ships: Costa Fortuna, MSC Seaview, MSC Orchestra, and Regent Seven Seas Explorer. Then out into the Mediterranean Sea.

I should mention that the Seaview strongly reminded us of a live cattle ship. There are 7 decks of verandah suites, lots of entertainment such as huge open air screens, and right at the very top, a water slide that swings out over the sea beneath. Not for the faint hearted! Basically a floating city, and one which all of us at the dinner table this evening agreed was not for any of us.

At 2000 we dressed (up) and went to the dining room, to meet our regular dining companions. There was: Doug and Corinne from Maryland, Dawn from Ottowa, Dan from New York, Nancy (and Paul) from Ohio. Paul was absent though - as Nancy explained, he had had a very busy few days before he left, didn't sleep much on the plane coming over from the US, and was too exhausted to even eat. We hope to meet him tomorrow evening.

The conversation was very lively, as all of us had heaps of travelling experiences. Dan in particular seems to have been everywhere man, and regaled us with horror stories of ships breaking down (including the Prinsendam), and of being on the Statendam (IIRC) when it was hit with a major norovirus epidemic! We all crossed fingers and knocked on wood that it would not happen on this cruise!!

Turns out that both Dan and Doug are also rail enthusiasts, so as Dan said "I can see that this is going to be a great trip!". We hope so, although I think the women might hope for a break in the railway conversation.

There was no evening entertainment other than movies, so after dinner (we were not quite the last to leave!), there was not much to do but to retire to bed and put the lights out.

25 Apr 2019, Thursday (Day 28(1)), All at Sea

We were both woken by a knock on the door by the steward with a welcome cup of tea at 0635, so we got up, had the tea, got dressed and were ready for the gym stretching exercises at 0700. Well, we were ready, but our bodies were not. Amazing how much the bodies detune when not doing the regular stretching routines. We had been doing enough exercise (see the walking records for that), but stretching, no. John wussed out after half an hour of stretching, but Barb kept going with the Abs exercises while John went and had a shower. The trainer was a young Portugese chap called Xavier, pronounced "Shave-yer", but he said he preferred just "Shave"! (The "X" is a "shh" sound in Portugese.)

Barb did a little more than she had bargained - she got back to the cabin after the abs routines, but found that she had left her key behind. We have a rule that while on ship, we never use the lifts, but always the stairs. Now the exercises were held on deck 4 and we are on deck 9, so while we both had to climb and descend 10 flights of stairs to do the exercises, Barb had an extra 10 just to retrieve her key. So she was feeling very virtuous, John only slightly so.

Then breakfast, where we chatted with a kindly old man named Miro, who was Yugoslavian, but migrated to the US in 1969. As you can imagine, he was full of experiences. But I think calling him "old" is a little presumptuous on my part (especially as I am wearing my "Grumpy Old Man" T-shirt!), however! since "old" is a relative term, I think being older than us makes him indeed "old".

Then coffee in the Explorer Bar before a quiet morning of reading (Barb) and blogging (John). We had lunch in the Lido, and were very restrained, except for single scoop of cactus ice cream each. This ice cream is made from the prickly pear, and it has a most wonderful flavour, slightly berry, slighly pear. We usually have it if it is on the menu!

After lunch, Barb went to hear the talk on what to see and do in the forthcoming ports (Alicante, Malaga, and Gibraltar), while John went to the Mariner's special wine tasting, and heard Jean Francois, the wine sommelier, give a fascinating talk about not so much the wines or even how to taste them, but much more about how to look for pairings with food. He demonstrated this by getting us to taste a wine, taste some food, and then go back to taste the wine again and look at how its taste changed with the taste of the food. This was very obvious with the first wine, which was very acidic. He then asked us to taste a lemon, just a tongue tip, then taste the wine again. Lo and behold, the strong acidity was much less pronounced! This was repeated with other wines, using different tastes, mainly cheeses, and then comparing. It was all quite fascinating, and I learned a lot.

Barb appeared at the end of the tasting, just in time to try some of the wines and cheeses, and with John's paraphrasing of all that Jean Francoise had said. "All" is perhaps a little presumptuous. At 1700, another wine tasting, this time Sip and Savour, again with Jean Francois explaining the two wines, a red and a white. Barb had the white, a Spanish La Fontana Albarino, quite good, and John had the red, a somewhat boring Solar Viejo Rioja and rather flat. Met Andre and John from Canada, near Toronto.

We dressed up for dinner, and met Paul, Nancy's husband, who was not feeling 100% yesterday. He was rather quiet, but there was no shortage of talking, particular as Dan regaled us with countless travel stories! We were missing Doug and Corinne, as they said they were doing the Pinnacle Grill thing. Barb had soup, duck and chocolate souffle, while John had scallop and crab gratin, artichoke and carrot soup, tenderloin and shrimp, with dessert of chocolate souffle. See the full menu here. That was the day.

26 Apr 2019, Friday (Day 29(2)), Climbing, but not at an (alley) canter

Tea at 0630, then stretching class at 0700. This time back on deck 4 in the Atrium. Someone asked Xavier if he knew beforehand where each session was to be held, given that it seems to change every day. He said no, just that he reads it in the newsletter everyday just like everyone else!

After breakfast we made our own packed lunch, just like on the bike tour, and packed it and some other essentials into the backpack and set off. Unfortunately we JUST missed the shuttle bus as we arrived outside the port facility! But it did not take long to do the round trip and be back for us, so we were in town much sooner than had we walked.

The plan was clear - we were to find the path up the side of the hill on which sat the Castle of Saint Barbara. But finding the start of the path was not easy. We had a false start when we found the funicular lift, which had a queue already, since it did not open until 1000 and it was only 0950. We resisted the idea of catching the lift, and walked back to try and find an alternative route. The town map which we had was not much help, I have to say. Why is it that these tourist maps are always so crappy, and lack key details of all the streets and their names? And why are tourist town councils so rude to their lifeblood by not putting street names on all their streets? Or signposts to the tourist features?

We did find a path eventually, and as you can guess, it was steep. It took us an hour to climb it - admittedly we did stop to take photos along the way - but that $$%^&#& council again! At one point the nice concreted pathway gave way to two dirt tracks, one which went up, one which went down. No signpost, so naturally we took the upwards one. Big mistake. It rapidly turned into a goat track, and after going up for a bit, it went down to join the other one, And when I say "down", it was steeper down than anything we had yet climbed up. Bah! Just about broke my leg in three places. And that sentence is true in both its meanings.

The conjoined paths then joined a roadway, and following it up, we reached the castle gate. From there it was plain sailing. There was a small cafe in the courtyard, so we stopped there for a quite presentable coffee. A bit of exploring around the upper reaches of the castle fortifications, then back to the courtyard where we fished out our pre-made rolls and ate them for lunch. Then down the road access to the castle, which was a longer walk, but a much more gentle slope. Unfortunately, it brought us out of the castle on the opposite side of where we wanted to be, so a little bit of orienteering was necessary to find the right way ahead.

That having been achieved, we headed for the market (Mercado), a lovely old building, still in use, and bustling with activity inside. But it was getting late in the day, and the market was winding down, so we stopped at a cafe inside the market to have a beer. John had a beer, and Barb wanted a mojito, but they had run out of mojito ingredients and offered us a sangria instead. When it arrived, John had a taste, and agreed with Barb that it packed a punch! The two English/Irish women sitting next to us told us that the spanish were wont to add a healthy (?) slug of brandy to sangria, and it certainly seemed that they had for this one! Barb could hardly walk when we finished!

We therefore staggered back towards the ship, stopping at the Church of St Nicholas - but it was closed. We got back to the ship a bit before 1600, and watched the sail away at 1630 before heading to Sip and Savour at 1700. The red was a Chateau des Trois Tours bordeaux, quite nice, and the white was a Georges Duboeuf macon-villages chardonnay, which Barb declared was quite acceptable for a chardonnay!

We had a full complement at dinner. John had sushi roll trio, roasted zucchini soup, roasted spice-crusted prime rib with wild mushrooms and sticky toffee and date pudding. Barb had cucumber, green apple and mustard goat quark, roasted zucchini soup, roasted spice-crusted prime rib with wild mushrooms and athena (greek yoghurt and figs). All good. Good night.

27 Apr 2019, Saturday (Day 30(3)), Victoria Malaga

In what is now becoming our regular morning ritual, we had a cup of tea at 0630, stretching exercises at 0700, showers at 0735, breakfast at 0800, before setting off on a walk around Malaga. We had booked an excursion of canoes and snorkelling, but that had been cancelled, so we had to do our own plan for the day.

Accordingly, we first set off to the Alcazaba, a Moorish palace subsequently repurposed by christian monks, but with many of the Moorish features preserved. It has a reputation of being a "mini-Alhambra", and it reminded me strongly of the Moorish/Muslim influence evident in the Taj Mahal in India. The same intricate stone fretwork, which was just inspiring to behold, and the same well laid out formal gardens that decorated the environs of the buildings. We must have spent about an hour and a half visiting this place, even though it was not all that large in terms of land area.

A quick coffee, then walked past the "One Armed Lady", a church so called because they built only one spire, the other spire being cancelled as they had spent all their money on the Spanish Civil War. What would Jesus think about that? Some gross abuse of His teaching, which I suspect was entirely lost on the catholic hierachy. Far more important to beat the communists, eh, brothers in Christ? Gee, it was so ugly, too.

Then to the Market, which was not quite as fancy or lively as yesterday's market in Alicante, but did have a Gustave Eiffel feel to the architecture, and a nice stained glass window depicting the town at one end of the steel-framed roof gables.

Then back up the hill to Fort Gibralfaro. Not quite as high as the castle yesterday, but still a rather tiring walk/climb. We found a bar at the top, so guess what? Yes, we did. A beer called "Victoria Malaga", which John rather deliberately mispronounced as "Victoria Ma Lager", making some sort of weak play on words about Victoria Bitter. No? We don't think so now, either.

We explored the grounds of the fort on foot, taking lots of photos from the parapets and ramparts, and any other paraparts that we could find. Then back down the hill!

A slightly different route downhill, as we did yesterday, but we did not get quite so lost, as we were able to walk through the roman amphitheatre, which we had seen while entering the Alcazaba. That was quite interesting too, but John resisted the temptation to sing "I, Nicholas" as he had last year in Episaurus in Crete.

back to the ship. It was a long walk, and we were by now rather tired. We had lunch Lido Poolside at 1630 with beer and dunkin' dog/hamburger, and then reading and snoozing until dinner time.

Dinner was with Paul, Nancy and Dawn - the others were missing. John had starters of smoked trout, pickled herring, then entree of steak tartare, mains of shrimp and scallop in red thai sauce, followed by shared dutch apple pie (but it wasn't dutch!). Barb had smoked trout, etc.; boring salad (her description); then wild mushroom strudel, followed by the shared apple pie.

After dinner we went to the show, which was a troup of flamenco dancers. I have to say that it brought back some bitter-sweet memories of my dear Mum, who loved flamenco dancing. I returned to the cabin to retire with a bit of a lump in my throat.

28 Apr 2019, Sunday (Day 31(4)), The Rock Bottom

The usual start, nothing to add. After breakfast, we walked into the "main street" just after 0900. Barb was keen to go to the top of the rock, but on discovering that it was over 400m high, lost a little enthusiasm. It was a fair hike even to get to the cable car, but we had been warned that the queues would be long. (We afterwards discovered that at times there was a two hour wait - we were only there for 4 hours!) So it meant that we stayed at The Rock bottom for our time there.

It being Sunday, most things were shut, including many of the cafes that we passed. We eventually found one, The Royal Calpe ("Calpe"? It was a word that was used in several places around Gibraltar, but nowhere did we find an explanation.) We had a coffee each, but as Barb had not brought her wallet with the GBP travel card, I had to pay in euros, which they accepted. But the exchange rate was a little high. The two coffees were priced at GBP3.10 together, which by my exchange calculator was about E3.90. But the bill presented was for E4.30! As I had exactly E4.20, I plonked that on the table and left. The waiter didn't give that good a service anyway, and I don't think they were short-changed. We were told to bargain anyway, so my conscience was twice assuaged.

It was not far back to the ship, where we had lunch Lido Poolside, then an afternoon of watching the coast of Africa slip past. At 1700 off to Sip and Savour, with two Italian wines, a Danzante Pinot Grigio (Barb) and a Santa Cristina Toscana (John). I tried both, and think that the white was the better of the two.

Then off to the Sommelier's Dinner! What to say? We started with a lemon sour aperitif in the Ocean Bar. I had expected to be placed with others at a larger table, but it became obvious that they regarded us as a twosome, and indeed, when we were shown to a table, we were offered a choice of two tables, both just two persons. As one was in the back corner of the restaurant area, and one was in the centre, and knowing what happened on our last cruise, I chose the centre one!

I won't try and describe all the culinary and oneological delights that befell us. Suffice to say that they evening went very smoothly without the hassles of our last somelier dinner. (You can read all about that in last year's blog.) Here is a list of the courses and the wines that we enjoyed:

Amuse
Roasted Foie Gras, Caviar and Quail Eggs, Blackcurrant reduction, parsely foam
Le Grand Courtage Brut, France
Soup
Porcini Soup with Micro Greens, chicken dumplings, creme fraiche
Sokol Blosser Evolution, California
Salad
Warm Lobster Salad with Truffle Vinaigrette, aparagus spears, artichokes
Canoe Ridge Chardonnay Ste Michelle, Washington
Intermezzo
Lemon Sorbet (with a splash of Le Grand Courtage
Entree Meat (John)
Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Bone Marrow, salt baked celeriac puree, crispy onions, truffle potato foam
Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon, California
Entree Vegetarian (Barb)
Brie and Spinach Tart, roasted ratatouille barley, dried cranberries
Guardo al Tasso Bolgheri DOCG Superior, Italy
Dessert
Chocolate Pot au Creme, grand marnier, marshmallow
Warre's Warrior Reserve Porto, Portugal
Coffee and Friandises

Two things of note:

  1. The Sokol Blosser Evolution at first taste seemed a little unbalanced to my taste at first. The front and middle palate seemed to be developing into a clean dry wine, but there was this "kick" of sweetness at the end palate. One taste of the soup, and that all changed to give a well balanced flavour and taste all the way through the wine.
  2. Since we had different mains, we had two different reds each. Naturally we tried each other's wines, and it became clear that the Italian wine was the much better wine. But Jean Francoise had made much more fuss over the Californian wine, decanting it with great showmanship into beautiful crystal decanters. The Italian wine got no mention. Turns out that only two people were having the vegetarian option, so most people were not interested in the Italian wine. But Jean Francoise agreed with our comment, and said that the Italian was not only better, but it was more expensive. However, he thought that the Californian wine "paired" much better with the steak. We retasted our dishes, and had to agree with him. It was a very interesting lesson in wine and food pairing!

All too soon the evening was over, and we staggered back to our cabin. This was easily the best somellier dinner we have had on Holland America!

29 Apr 2019, Monday (Day 32(5)), Funiculi, Funicular and Foot

Usual routine in the morning, except that we had an extra hour to do it! The ship's clocks were moved backwards one hour to align with Portugal's time zone, which happens to be the same as the UK, i.e. 1 hour ahead of GMT to reflect daylight saving.

After breakfast we went to the showroom to meet with our tour (this one wasn't cancelled!), number L17C. At 0900 we disembarked, found our bus and tour guide, and set off. We first did a small tour of the city by bus, ending up in ?? Square, where we joined the queue for the Gloria Funicular Tram up the hill. The queue was so long that we had to wait for the second tram, and then entry was complicated by the fact that because of the slope of the line, there was only one door, and you had to wait for the whole tram to empty before anyone could get one, and then 40 or so people took about the same time to load.

Not that there was much to see. We did have seats, but because of all the people standing and the fact that the seats were troop carrier style, all we could see were bums and fannys! The climb was about 100m (give or take a bit!) and took 4 minutes (or so, we were not measuring it) and was quite bumpy. There were 2 trams, one ascending, one descending, and the track was gauntletted for the first 40 metres because of the tightness of the passageway, but then split into double track on the upper half. Which was just as well, or the descending tram would have made short work of the ascending tram! (or is it vice versa, I'm not sure?)

At the top we had a quick 5 minute stop to admire the view, from a lookout called Jardim de Sao Pedro de Alcantara, and then walked on past the ? Church, to a pleasant little square, where we had a 5 minute loo break by popular request. Someone pointed out that it required money, but neither John nor Barb had any requisite coins, so John went down the steps with his 10E note, hoping to change it with the ubiqitous woman at the entrance to the men's loos. But she just waved me away, saying in Portuguese (presumably) "I can't change that!". So I went back up to report to Barb that she was out of luck too, but she had disappeared. Seems that some kind gentleman gave her the 0.5E coin required, and she went off on her own accord. The irony was that there was no woman on her side, so rather than come back and give me the coin, she placed it in the honesty basket at the foot of the stairs! Arrrggh!

Then on to the Square of Commerce (?), passing just before we got there a little shop with coffee and portugese tarts in the window. So when Andrejia (our guide) called a 30 minute coffee/sightseeing break once in the square, we zipped back to that little shop and ordered ourselves coffee and tarts. And I have to say, sorry folks, I did buy two for you, but it was so nice I ate one all myself. Barbara ate the other one. Pardon us.

Back in the square, we walked on to the nearest (regular) tram stop. The trams run on 900mm tracks, with both poles and pantographs, and seemed to swap them about willy nilly. The tram we caught even had both extended! We had to wait 30 minutes for a tram route 12 - the first one that came along was a bit full, and could not fit us all in, so we waited for the next one, which fortunately was quite empty. But not when we left the stop, it wasn't! Just about every other Tom, Dick and Harry squeezed onto us as well. And when we went past the next stop, the queue was about 50m long! Urks. Glad we were not here in "high" season.

We alighted at the Castello do S. Jorge, so named to celebrate a peacy treaty between Portugal and England in the 17th C. I think it was S. Joan (John) before that, but that was deemed too Catholic, or too Spanish, or too something. Anyway, we had 30 minutes to wander around the castle and check it out before walking a few streets to the Elevator of San Justa, a lovely 19th C lift that took us down to the Alfama (old town), through which we walked, slowly descending even further until we came out by the Museo do Fado, just opposite the ship berth. Here we said goodbye to Andrejia, and reboarded the ship.

It was now 1345 and time for lunch, so we went up to the Lido where John had a Dog Paddle, Barb had salad, and we drank lots of the ship's delightful lemonade! But we did not feel like a beer. Funny that.

The rest of the afternoon was spent catching up with email and generally otherwise catching up. All this "on the go" becomes rather tiring after day on day of different places, different sights, different cultures, different everything, and we just needed a bit of wind-down time.

But you cannot stand still too long. At 1600 we went and had a cup of tea on the Lido Deck again, and as Barb likes Sip and Savour, at 1700 we went to that. Again. nice white which Barb had, not so nice red which John had. I might try white tomorrow. While catching with a couple (whose names we don't know!), the ship started moving, and as everyone wanted a picture of the ship going under the 25 April Revolution Bridge, just about all the Sippers and Savours got up and left!

From the top deck we had a clear view of the bridge and of the city, and there was ample time to admire the view, as the ship took 30 minutes just to reach the bridge, and then you could hear the shutters popping! The crowd then slowly dribbled away, and we eventually did the same, retiring to our cabin until dinner time.

The full table complement was present at dinner. John had hazelnut crusted brie, french onion soup, fillet of beef wellington, strawberry crisp with blueberry sorbet; while Barb had hazelnut crusted brie, beet and red cabbage borsch, tandoori chicken, cheese board. Discussion contimued over the day's events.

Somehow the topic got onto climate change, and it was clear that there was not a lot of support for doing something about it. This made me a little angry - while I didn't lose my cool, I certainly became quite passionate about it, and started rebuting all the arguments they could muster. At some stage the bible got brought into the discussion as well, so I pointed out how the Bible gets it wrong, too. Suddenly the whole topic was dropped, and no one was willing to continue. So I shut up too. Whether it was because they realised they were on the losing side (I doubt that), or they were just being polite (my charitable interpretation), I don't know. Doug's final closing remark was "Are you a professor?". When I said yes, they all backed down. The rest of the meal then continued amiably enough, but I guess I am a marked man now.

30 Apr 2019, Tuesday (Day 33(6)), All that Glitters is Gold!

While enjoying our morning cup of tea, we reflected on what we might do for the day. John's inital thought was to walk around Leixoes, but on re-reading the blurbs, it was clear that Porto had more to offer. A quick check of the excursions for today revealed that "Porto on your Own" had two seats left, so pretty much as a spur of the moment thing, we booked them. They turned out to be expensive bus rides and little else, but what the heck? (As Jemima would say.)

So it was that after breakfast we joined to queue to the bus, and had a 40 minute ride through morning traffic into the city centre, reaching there about 0940. On alighting, there was some confusion over exactly where we were, but that was soon enough sorted. John wanted to see the Church of San Francisco, so we wandered down the hill according to his navigation of a map slightly better than the Alicante one, but still challenging in parts.

It cost E7.50 each to go in, but we think it was worth it. Over 300kgs of gold was used in gilding the "lilies" of the religious artefacts in the church. Some amazing wood carvings, amazing for the skill involved, but artistically not quite so exciting. A guide book (1E) gave us a reasonable amount of information, but not in a reasonable order, so it was hard navigating our way around the church. A woman came wandering through at one stage calling out "No Photo!" (where have we heard that before?), but I really think she had been told to disallow flash photographs, but gave up trying to spell out the distinction in 15 different languages. It did so remind me of the gilt church we had seen in Brazil, where there was a wonderful sign saying "Please no flash photographs. It rusts the gold"!! Turns out the resemblance was not coincidental. I looked that occasion up when back at the ship, and the Brasilian church, in Salvador, Brasil, was founded by the same group of monks, the Franciscans. Porto started in 1216, Salvador in 1708.

From the church we wandered around, slightly aimlessly, but slowly descending towards the River Duoro, widely regarded as a jewel in the tourist crown of Porto. Along the way we found an ex-market in fine 19th C style, but now used as an "entertainment" centre. We had a cheap and cheerful cup of coffee there.

The fog that had greeted us in the morning had been slow to lift, but it did so as we finally found the river bank, and sat down in a cafe, drinking a couple of beers, and watching the passing river trade (mainly tourist boats!). We took photos of the delightful houses by the river, all neatly done up and painted in a variety of colours. There was a lift in the style of the Gloria Lift in Lisbon, and we thought we might go up in it, but it was closed for maintenance. Nearby however, was a funicular, so we took that (E2.50 each). From the top, John's navigation was again challenged, and he had a nervous moment when he could not find a match between the street names that we could see, and the street names on the map where he thought we were. But a bit of scratching found a street name matching both map and reality, and we headed off back towards the meeting point.

We were a few minutes early for the 1400 rendezvous, but the bus was waiting, and in little time we were off back towards Leixoes, and reboarded the boat. Again we had a bit of a traffic jam (this time it was a 3-car pile-up), but that did not slow us down much, and we only took 30 minutes for the return journey. Lunch at Lido Poolside again.

The ship got underway a little early at 1550, and we watched from the rear top deck as they manouevered out a relatively narrow channel between various cargo ships. We were assisted in this by a tug called Aquiles, which seemed to spend most of its time going backwards, even when not connected to our ship. I guess that is something to do with manouvering ability?

Wine for Sip and Savour were two Australian wines: Deakin Estate Chardonnay, and Penfolds Koonunga Hill. Since Barb curls her tongue up at the thought of chardonnay, John had the white, and Barb the red. But on sipping both, we were of the opinion that there was little to choose between them in terms of enjoyment, as opposed to prejudice.

Dinner was quiet - only 5 of us there (Paul, Nancy, Dawn, Barb, John), but again a convivial atmosphere meant that dinner was over almost before we started. John had potato soup and pot roast, followed by creme brulee, while Barb had asparagus and crab quiche, stuffed baked eggplant, and strawberry sorbet. The pot roast was a bit dry, and Paul and I agreed that it was not really what either of us would call a pot roast. But it did get eaten.

01 May 2019, Wednesday (Day 34(7)), Mariners at Sea

The ship's clock went forward this morning, to reset from Portugese time to French time. Since it was a sea day, we were very much in the mood to relax, and cancelled all our regular morning routine: no tea, no stretches, no breakfast. Well, we did have a little nibble for breakky: John had a small serve of herrings to simply give his stomach something to cope with the regular ingestion of pills, which need to be taken after food. Then we had a coffee, probably far too much, as Barb ordered "medium", but we got instead "large".

At 1030 we went to the showroom to see the regular awarding of "Mariner Medals" for people with 100 days of cruising (bronze), 300 days (silver), 500 days (gold) and 700 (platinum). We are slopping around somewhere between bronze and silver, so no action for us. But there was free wine, so we didn't complain.

After the presentations, we all trooped down to the dining room for a "brunch". We sat at a table with Michael and Ann (California) and Jim and Linda (North Ontario) and had a great time chatting about travel, photography, software mishaps (Mike was a software engineer) et al. Then a little quiet time in our cabin before John went off for another wine tasting.

Another wine tasting? John, haven't you had enough? Well, sort of. There were 12 different wines from 6 different countries: 3 old world (France, Spain, Italy) and 3 new world (USA, Chile, Argentina). Each country was represented with a white and a red. I was a little miffed that the new world was solely the Americas - no South African, no Australian, no New Zealand, but that was sort-of expected. My favourite amongst them was a Cab Sav from Washington State, but a French Cotes-du-Rhone came in a close second.

Meanwhile, Barb went to the gym. Isn't she good? She said she did 50 minutes there. before going and undoing all the good work by going to afternoon tea. Who should she meet there but Jim and Linda from lunch time! Once John had downed hios last glass, he came and joined them, and we continued the lunch time conversation much where we had left off.

More relaxing and reading in the cabin until 1720, when we had to take our passports to be handed in for the "French Authorities". Pardon me? They scarcely glanced at them when we landed in Charles do Galle, and now they have to collect them all up and "authorize" us to land for 2 days in Bordeaux? As Jim said, the scariest thing for a bureaucrat is not having the right papers, so I guess they wanted to make up for their sloppiness in Paris. Or maybe there is a competition between French Immigration Officials as to who can stamp the most passports, and the CdG ones have already reached their target? Who knows? But one thing I have learned while travelling: Never point out the stupidity of immigration officials. They have the power to piss you off in more ways than one.

Quietness, reading, blogging and general zombification were the games we played until dinner time. Dinner was in the Canaletto. We had received two free dinners at the Canaletto from the travel agents (we have been loyal customers) and today was a good time to redeem them, so off we went. Dawn wanted to try the Canaletto as well, so we invited her to join us.

We had 3 "small" plates: antipasto, bufalo mozarella and salad, and beef caprese, which we all three shared, followed by 3 "large" plates: potato gnocchi with beef spare ribs, veal wrapped in prosciutto, and chicken cacciatore, again shared. Then a dessert of tira misu (Barb) and sicilian lemon cake (John). (Dawn had two different gelati scoops.) After that, Dawn and Barb had a glass of limoncello each, while John had a double espresso. Over the meal, we went through Dawn's list of ports that she will visit on her Australia circumnavigation later this year, helping her with ideas of things to see at each port.

02 May 2019, Thursday (Day 35(8)), Beers at Bazas

We missed the stretching class this morning as John was chasing around the upper decks photographing our approach to Bordeaux up the Garonne River. Jacquire had warned us to watch out for the two bridges that we were to pass under - the first a big suspension bridge that was high enough for us to pass under without a murmur, but the second had to be lifted for us, thereby upsetting lots of Bordeauvians trying to get to work.

We were berthed by 0730, so there was time to have the cup of tea that John forgot to put a time on, and hence did not get delivered until after 0730, and then we could go to breakfast. John has discovered a regular pile of herrings - either pickled as in roll mops, or marinated in a piquante sauce, that are on the breakfast buffet. So after he has had some of them, he is quite happy!

We had plenty of time to get ourselves organized for a 1000 meeting with the Robsons. The arrangement was for us to be out on the "bourse", the wide esplanade road that ran alongside the river, and watch out for a white VW Touran. We saw one and got all excited, but it was a taxi! But not 10 minutes later, Barb got all excited as she said "look who's over here", and I turned, and there was Mike walking towards us. They had parked a few car lengths away when they saw a parking spot and grabbed that, even though we had been making noises at anyone who even looked at the vacant spot right in front of where we were waiting!

Lots of hugs all round, then we settled into the Touran and proceeded to drive of in a south westerly direction. After 40kms or so, we came to a little town called Bazas, which Jacquie thought we might find interesting. Mike dropped us at a convenient point and went to find a park, while Jacquie led us to a cafe overlooking the town square, sat down and said "I'll order a beer and wait here - you two go and look at the cathedral.

The cathedral was humungous, quite out of keeping with the size of the town, but as Jacquie had explained, it was on the Perigrinatio Compostellana route and consequently has received countless donations from pilgrims over the years, this maintained the magnificence of the erection. There were posters about explaining how the fabric of the building was being restored, so it was clear that there was a steady income stream.

The decor was not quite as over the top as San Francisco, but it was very imposing inside. Even more so when the organist began to tune the organ! Have you ever heard an organ being tuned? A BIG organ? He would play a fundamental that vibrated the socks in your shoes, then a fourth/fifth/octave whatever and tune that until there were no beats. Barb couldn't stand it, and had to leave, but I tried to record a bit of it. See what you think.

The tuning of the organ prompted us to return to where we had left Jacquie, who, together with Mike, was by now enjoying a beer at that local cafe. We joined them in the beer, and enjoyed the off and on sun that shone upon us while chatting about things, and continuing the catch-ups.

Then on to Sainte-Macaire, on the other side of the Garonne, where Jacquie had booked dinner in one of her favourite restaurants, called Abricoterie {have I got the name right?], or "apricot tree". It was a delightful country style restaurant, family run, with very hospitable hosts and a warm welcome. Barb and I did have a bit of trouble with the menu, as it was all in French, and the dishes were not of the obvious sorts of things. Most of us elected to follow the E35 formule menu, which had a choice of two entrees, two mains, and a dessert. John had a thing called (IIRC) Salade d'ouefs de tarle et ... avocat which was basically fish roe on toast on a bed of avocado. Barb had an asparagus salad. Then we both had joue de limosine ("beef cheeks") which was a slow roasted beef in a rich gravy, and tasted wonderful! Dessert, for which I cannot remember the french, was a delighful cream and strawberry thing. Look at the picture, that is easier than me trying to describe it!

Of course, we had some wine with all that. Jacquie and I drank a local Graves from the Chateau La Rose Sarron, while Barb and Mike had a white from the same winery. All very excellent!

By then it was nearly 3pm, so we headed off again, keeping to the east bank of the Garonne, as that was the side that Pompignac was on, and so back to Le Rivaseau where M and J live. The rest of the afternoon we sat around drinking more wine, more champagne, and nibbling on a delightful foie gras that Jacquie had made. After the lunch we did not feel like eating a full dinner, so we passed on that. Mike took us down to the tram stop at about 2100 and we caught a tram back to Bordeaux.

That's the short story. The long story has glitches at both ends of the trip. Mike dropped us at a roundabout, and I at first thought that was where the tram stop was. But there was nothing "tram stoppy" about the surroundings. Yes, there were rail junctions, so we knew it was where we were supposed to be. But where was the stop? Aha, it was stightly further down the hill, and once we found it, also found several other people waiting, so that was a good sign. Along came a tram. We got on it. It went into the city, and we got off at Ponte de Borgonne, as Jacquie had told us. From there we could walk along the bourse, or catch another tram. We had planned to walk, but as there was a tram waiting, we caught that, expecting it to go past the ship. But no, second glitch! It turned off at Quinconces, and travelled a fair way up that road before stopping. We could have then walked across to the other side of Quinconces and caught the correct tram, but we decided to walk as we had originally planned. It wasn't that far to the ship - but we did not get on straight away, as they had decided to move the gangway from deck 5 to deck 6 (to allow for the falling tide), so we had to wait 20 minutes for that to be done! All told, it was 2220 by the time we were back in our cabin and collapsing into bed. John was not feeling well, either.

03 May 2019, Friday (Day 36(9)), Libations at Libourne

We did the morning routine this morning, including the abs exercises! John struggled a bit with the latter, but made it through. A quick breakfast, and then we headed off for the tram. This time we were a little more canny, and checked the route plan. We discovered that taking the Ligne A from outside the ship and travelling direct to Hotel de Ville, we could change directly to Bilitiere line tram (ligne C). That was the theory, but the first tram to go past terminated at Thiers Benauge, too short for us. The next tram to go past was a correct one, but after it disgorged about 50 passengers, the driver obviously thought he had waited long enough, shut the doors and left, leaving a dozen or so passengers stranded (he was not full, given the number that got off!). The next tram to come along again was a correct one, and this driver was not so rude as to take off without us.

So we got to Bilitiere where Mike was waiting for us, and we set off to Pompignac to collect Jacquie and head for the Libourne market. Again, MIke dropped us off and went to find a car park, and the rest of us started to perambulate the market. We bought a few things before meeting Mike at M&J's regular cafe. Barb and I had a coffee, while Jacquie had champagne and Mike a white wine. Some cheese shopping, and then we headed for Chateau Perron, where the Robsons had a wine order to collect. Jacquie is on sufficiently familiar terms with the owners that Beatrice (the patronne) opened up the cellar and gave us an impromptu tasting. They mainly make a straight "winery wine" that reflects the amount of grapes grown: 80% Merlot, 10% Pinot Noir, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. We tasted the 2014/15/16 vintages, and agreed that the 15 was the preferred one, although they were all very good.

Then back to Pompignac for lunch, which was basically an assortment of the goodies bought in the market: tomatoes, cheese, bread, and some more of yesterday's foie gras, washed down with a selection of wines (which to my sorrow, I forgot note the brands and varieties). More chatting and drinking followed until it was time to go. We said our farewells to Jacquie at Pompignac, and then Mike took us all the way into the Bourse and dropped us at the ship. Back on board in time for Sip and Savour (did we really want more wine?) and then the ship was off! We watched from the top deck as we sailed under the bridges again, and John did look out for the foundations of the WWII bridge that Jacquie mentioned, and did see something that might have been them, but it was not that clear. And I forgot to take a photo of it!

Dinner with almost a full complement - Dawn was missing, as she was at the Pinnacle Grill. Usual happy chatting, with an element of sadness, as we all realize that the cruise is coming to an end. John had Crispy Crab Roll, French Onion Soup, and Penang Red Curry Coconut Chicken, followed by a White Chocolate Mousse. Barb had the crab roll, and Grilled Chinese Five Spice Salmon and Crispy Tortilla Salad, and the chocolate mousse. Then bed. John still a little wonky donkey.

04 May 2019, Saturday (Day 37(10)), Sick at Sea

John snuffled all night with a cold, and elected not to go to stretch class in the morning. Barb did, and stayed on for the abs class as well. (Isn't she good?) Meantime, John struggled out of bed, had a shower, and was just about ready for breakfast by the time Barb returned.

The morning was spent quietly. John went to hear the captain's talk, followed by a question and answer session. John was able to croak out a question: "What is your scariest moment as a captain?", to which Capt. Marco Carsjens replied that getting blown back towards the wharf at some location in South America was perhaps the moment he'd least like to relive! Just like happened at Tallin on our Baltic cruise on the Prinsendam!

Lunch was the left over cheese from yesterday, and a couple of pieces of fruit from our fruit bowl. We didn't want to eat too much anyway, as tonight is our free Pinnacle Grill night. John does seem to be recovering a bit.

At 1400 we went to hear Brett talk about St Peter Port and Dover as the next ports of call. Barb made some notes, but as we have an excursion organized for tomorrow, we were a bit more relaxed than usual.

Sip and Savour was quite good. The savoury was a nice mushroom bruschetta, and the red wine was an Argentinian wine, Alamos Pinot Noir 2017, young and fruity, and the white was a New Zealand Marlborough Wild Rock Sav Blanc, with lots of green apple flavours.

Dinner at the Pinnacle was good, but it lack the finesse of the Sommelier's Dinner. Barb had mushroom soup (porcini, same as at the sommelier dinner), a sesame crusted tuna tataki, a Beefsteak Tomato and Burrata Salad, and a petite filet mignon. John had lobster bisque, steak tartare, a fancy clothesline candied bacon (which actually came hanging from a wire clothesline!), and a beef tenderloin with lobster dumplings. We were very full after our srespective steaks and passed on dessert. The wines were from our package, a white zinfandel (rose) and a Goose Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon (Washington State).

We detoured via the dining room after we had finished to see how the others were faring. Dawn has the same cold as John, and sounded a lot worse than he did. Paul complained that he had it too. But otherwise, everyone was chatting away as usual. Then we staggered off to bed, John not nearly so bad as he was last night.

05 May 2019, Sunday (Day 38(11)), Pedalling Wheres?

No stretching this morning, even though we did have an extra hour's sleep due to the clocks going back to British Summer Time (which is non existent, ha, ha!) We used the time instead fixing our watches, computers and cameras, all of which insist upon knowing the correct time. Even when they are automatic updates, they still get it wrong, so you have to go and fix it. I discovered that the time on my camera was wrong, simply because I had not turned daylight saving off when in Australia (it wasn't when we left!), and that then buggered up the British time. Why it hadn't in all the other places, I don't know, but that only goes to reinforce my thesis.

We had a quick breakfast, and met Dan on the way back to the cabin. He told us that they had started the immigration process, and as Barb was worried about how that might affect our meeting for the excursion, we hot footed it down to the library, where there was no queue! But they announced the process as we were coming out, and the queue at the entry was then growing by the second. Phew! Had a lucky break there.

But we need not have worried. The disembarkation process went very slowly, and it was 15 minutes late by the time that we got called. A tender took us to shore, where we met Ant (short for Anthony) who was our guide for the bicycle tour. I thought we were going to cycle from St Peter Port, where we landed, bu no, Ant drove us to the far end of the island, where he said it was far more picturesque, and more to the point, far less hilly. We started from a place called St Pierre du Bois, at L'Eree Bay, near Fort Saumarez, where we met Harvey and Jenny minding our bikes, and who were to accompany us on our ride.

I had a little trouble finding a bike of my size, but eventually found one (about the last one left), which turned out to be a little bit of a lemon. When I did a test ride, I didn't like the sound of bottom gear, but it seemed to work while riding round in test circles, so I accepted it for what it was, and we set off under Harvey's leadership.

The first spot we went to was Le Creuxes de Flaies Tomb, and it was at the top of a short but steep hill. When I changed down into first gear, suddenly the gear let go, and the pedals spun round quite ineffectually, causing me crash into the saddle suddenly (ouch!) and to lose my balance. I had to walk up the remaining distance of the hill, which fortunately was not far. Ant took a look at it, but could not see anything wrong. I made a mental note to stay away from first gear, in the interest of not suffering any further groinal injuries ...

Le Creuxes (I don't know what that means either, but it is something to do with fairies in the local French-like dialect) is a dolman used for burials in the second millennium BC, but in more recent times, acquiring some folklore about being the hiding place of fairies, who would come out at night, and make off with Gurnsey maidens. Sounds like a fairy story to me!

Then we cycled round to see Fort Saumarez, which is one of three remaining (? look up? meunier something?) towers on Guernsey, and was extended upward by the German Occupation Forces in the early 1940s. Indeed, everywhere you go in Guernsey (like Jersey) there are reminders of the Occupation, which pillbox-like fortifications all along the shore line around the island. From Fort Saumarez, we could see across to Lihou Island, where the ruins of an old monastery (St Mary's) could be seen. The island is only an island at high tide, and one can walk to it at low tide across the rocks.

Then we cycled along some lanes through the back blocks, admiring the Guernsey farm architecture, the wild flowers, and heard about the local industries (they used to grow lots of tomatoes until the Dutch undercut them). Barb took some photos of orchids growing wild in the paddocks - sorry fields - just to show David when we get home.

We finished up at Guernsey Pearl, a local jewellery shop and cafe. Harvey encouraged us to try Guernsey Gache, a thickly sliced fruit bread, so we bought a slice of it, but it was little more than the same sort of fruit bread one can buy at home. But it went down pleasantly enough with 2 cups of coffee, total GBP9.25

Then back towards Fort Saumarez, this time via a different set of laneways, and stopping at Mrs Betty Blundell's Bunker, another WWII Occupation fortification. This one we could go inside, but there wasn't really much to see, other than places to hit your head upon. Fortunately, we were all wearing helmets!

At one point in the laneways, we chanced upon the owner of "Le Pomare", who stopped to talk about a few of the local items of interest, such as German artefacts (treasures, even?) hidden in the laneway hedgerows! He knew a bit of local history too, and I think Ant made a note of contacting him again to add a few more anecdotes to his tour. Then back to Fort Saumarez to say goodbye to the bikes (I, and my intimate anatomy parts, weren't that unhappy to part with my bike!), get back on the bus, and return to St Peter Port.

We thanked Ant for his great tour, and headed off into town, pausing at the local parish church to admire the inside, and then walk along the main street. That was a bit of a dead loss, as it being Sunday, everything was shut! There was however one shop open - the Cornish Bakery, and it looked inviting. So we went in, and ordered a steak and stilton pastie (John), a traditional (large) pastie (Barb) and two coffees. We had some trouble paying for them - the two notes that Barb pulled from her wallet were apparently out of date, but another one, an Ulster GBP5 note, the chap said he could accept! So we paid the rest by card, and he explained that we could take them to any bank in London, where they would exchange the out-of-date notes for new ones. He was most helpful, and I made a mental note to give him a good writeup on TripAdvisor.

He also gave us advice on the quickest route to the Candie Gardens, which we followed, and so strolled around the gardens. The tulips were finished, but there were lots of other flowers to admire. We paused at the tea room to see if they served any local beer or cider, but they only had imported cans, so we moved on. Checked out Victor Hugo's statue, then on down the hill.

We found a series of steps called Constitution Steps, but only after a few false turns. These steps led (steeply) down to the town, and we came out next to the parish church where we had started. John suggested we try the pub next to it (notable for being the pub closest to a church in all of the UK!), which did have local beer and cider. So we had two half pints of cider, and then made our way back to the tender, and ultimately ship. Barb had a bit of a snooze, while John caught up with writing this that you, dear reader, are reading now.

Dinner was rather a sombre affair, in part because it was our last dinner together, and in part because we all had a little bit of a whinge about how Holland America's standards have slipped. Dan started it by mumbling that his soup was not up to scratch, and it went downhill from there. Nancy complained that both her soup and fish were too salty. Barb agreed. John (just for a change) complained that his steak was too big. Even the parade of the chefs copped some flak, because they just came in waving, no pots and pans, no singing, no fireworks! Such parades were a hallmark of the final night, and were usually accompanied by the parade of a big alaskan pie. with sparklers and all, as part of the way of giving passengers an opportunity to thank the kitchen staff.

Notwithstanding that, email addresses and business cards were passed around, and we said farewell to each most fondly. UNfortunately, Doug and Corinne were not there, which surprised us all, as they had not said anything the previous time they had come to dinner. Maybe they didn't like our company? Maybe they just got tied up with something else? Whatever, we said our goodbyes and retired for the last time on board the Prinsendam. Packed out suitcase and had it out in the hallway by 2230 for collection by the luggage handling crew.

06 May 2019, Monday (Day 39(12)), Nostalgic Parting

We had ordered tea for 0700 this morning, thinking that the wait staff would be very busy early on, but the tea arrived at -630 anyway with the explanation that they would be too busy later! Oh well, we tried! A light breakfast in the Lido, and then we packed up all the last minute things, like computers, charging cables and power supplies, power boards, last minute bills, etc., etc.. The was a pleasant surprise with the shipboard bill - it was only $US150 - largely due to the $900 "promo credit" that we had received. Why, I'm not sure, but something to do with the loyalty we have shown Holland America and Flight Centre (we did also receive a free Canaletto and Pinnacle Grill dinner during the cruise).

We were all ready to leave by 0815, but as we had a "late checkout" until 0930, we loitered a bit, finally making our way off the ship (no queues! no immigration! lots of nostalgia!) just after 0900. Saw Dawn in the luggage collection area, and said another goodbye to her, and promised to write soon. Then we walked into town.

It was a fair hike, and we actually had to walk to the other side of town, and it took us about an hour, dragging suitcases. Admittedly we stopped several times to take photos, and to just look at things, like reading the various info boards about war time happenings, and new harbour arrangements. We eventually got to 14 East Cliff, which was right under the white cliff face, where we were met by Robert, who allowed us to drop our bags, and then gave us some good advice on how to get to Dover Castle the quick way!

Yes, it probably was quicker than if we had navigated, but it was also steeper! We climbed a long flight of steps (I'm guessing, but about 150) and reached the ticket office, where Barb bought two seniors tickets for GBP18.80 each (20 regular adult price). But the climbing wasn't over. This time it was up the roadway, not quite so steep, and we had to navigate tunnels and moats and drawbridges, and lots of castle-like stuff like that. We got to a landing with a beautiful view over the city and harbour, so a quick stop to take photos. Barb raced on, but John stopped to help a woman wheeling a trolley full of cafeteria supplies which wanted to head off down the hill in the wrong direction. When John resumed walking, Barb was making frantic signals to hurry up, as the tour of the Secret War Time Tunnels was just starting.

The Tunnels Tour was fascinating, with lots of detail about the background events to the war, and the early stages of the war leading up to the fall of France and the Dunkirk evacuations. The tunnels were quite extensive with 3 levels. We only saw the middle level: the top level was dug during the war and used as a hospital, while the lowest level was not classified, but was only open on special occasions. There was a separate tour of the hospital, but we didn't do it.

We had a coffee and cake in the tunnel cafeteria (the woman who served us was the woman John helped earlier), and then headed up the hill to the ??SS (? ? ? Station) where there was a great view out over the harbour, and even down below to the roof of the hotel at which we were staying. The ???S had a few displays of the signalling and communications systems used over the ages, down to its use in WWII.

We then tried to find the battlement walk. On the map it was indicated as a dotted line that went 3/4 of the way around the castle, but finding the starting position proved difficult. We found a sign pointing to it, but as we went on, no further signs appeared. And yet we could see battlements! Eventually we asked someone with a yellow vest. She pointed out a narrow stairway that went up the side of the battlement embankment, cunningly laid out so that it was not visible as you walked past, and certainly not adorned with a sign!

We walked along the battlements, admiring the various views, either across the harbour, or the fields to the east of the castle. But then we came to a break in the wall where a tower had been (now somewhat dilapidated), and it was fenced off. We had to descend the battlement, and there was no obvious way to continue. By now we were close to the Great Tower, so we decided to visit that, rather than trying to persist with a walk that clearly wasn't.

The Great Tower was built by Henry II to show off his wealth and power. Interestingly, the tower design harked back to earlier times in its construction as a huge keep, whereas the rest of the castle had been designed on more modern terms as a series of concentric defences. Later, in the Medaeval Tunnels, we saw how the one weak link in the concentric defences had had to be strengthened, but for now we we quite blown away by the size of the Great Tower and its royal apartments. Not only were there huge halls for the king's private and public chambers, but beneath them there were equally huge halls to accomodate visitors (especially pilgrims crossing the channel) and other royalty. I took a photo of Barb on the king's throne.

After the GT, we walked down the hill a bit to the NAAFI Restaurant, so named in memory of the war time canteen service that ran in the castle. One has to remember that during wartime, there were scads of people in the castle - almost as many as there are in tourist season. The NAAFI offered some interesting hot meals - John had "toffee apple sausages" with bubble and squeak - but nothing beyond the quality that you would expect from the NAAFI!

We then found the other end of the battlements walk, but again, it was not really a walk. Up and down a bit as we had to walk around ruined towers. One such tower was "Hurst's Tower", so we had to take a few photos of that! At the top of the castle, behind the Great Tower, there was an entrance to some "Medaeval Tunnels", so we went down them. They were much gloomier and more difficult to negotiate than the WWII tunnels, with lots of spiral stairs and head bumping lintels. These tunnels were dug to extend the fortifications on the weak link side of the castle, and were obviously done in a hurry!

Then we completed the last remaining bit of the battlements that we had not done and exited just near the Roman lighthouse (pharos) and the church, St-Mary's-in-Castro, which we went into and had a look around. Lovely tiling on the walls.

Then we went for a ride in the "land Train", a set of carriages pulled by a landrover, that drove around the castle, stopping at various points of interest. We did one and a bit loops of this train, and got off at its lowest point so that we could walk out of the castle without having to walk down from the top! Down the set of stairs that were so exhausting coming up, and back to the hotel. While relaxing at the hotel we heard Prinsendam honking, and we watched her slowly slipping out of port and heading off to Jersey. Our last sighting of her. Sigh.

For dinner, we looked up Google, and found a restaurant only 5 minutes away, in a posh hotel overlooking the "beach". Called "Marine Court Table Table" (Marine Court was the hotel), it served reasonably cheap and cheerful food, and the two of us shared two curries, a green thai curry vegetables, and a chicken markhani.

While at the restaurant, we had a call from Nathan, so we chatted with him for a while before heading back to our hotel. He was at a conference in New Orleans called the "International Conference on Learning Representations", basically an AI conference. Back to the hotel at 2030, closely followed by bed.

07 May 2019, Tuesday (Day 40), The Rover Over from Dover

This morning, up in time for a very pleasant breakfast as provided by our host, Robert, then packed our bags and set off for the railway station. We even had enough time to stop at a coffee shop and have our morning coffees.

The first train trip (leaving at 1049) was a relatively short fast trip to Ashford International, with a quick change to waiting train to Eastbourne. Then followed a relatively leisurely trip to Eastbourne, which has a beautiful station, all light and airy with a big canopy roof. We had time enough here for another cup of coffee and a lunch roll. We shared a branston and cheese roll, and a salmon and cream cheese roll - the branston roll brought back memories of our time in Manchester, where we used to buy branston and cheese sandwiches for lunch.

From Eastbourne it was an even more leisurely trip to Brighton, stopping (nearly) every station. We arrived at 1400 and headed (up the hill) to 5A Bath Street, where we were met by Gus the Cat, a Main Coon and very fluffy! (And quite friendly.) It was also a chance to unwind a little a have a cup of tea.

Having unwound, we wound ourselves up again and walked down to the town centre, exploring The Lanes, a set of very narrow back streets, full of cafes and jewellers shops (touristy!), admired the outside of The Pavillion, and then walked the length of the Brighton Palace Pier. I'm not exactly sure why it is the "palace" pier, as it is full of amusement arcades, of which the major game seemed to be shove-halfpenny? Found a place to have a beer, which we did, and then decided to have dinner at The Flint House, one of the places we saw in The Lanes, and which was recommended by our landlady, Jenny,

The Flint House was a tapas house, and we struggled over the menu. We eventually settled on blue cheese stuffed dates, sweet corn fritters, Ox cheeks, asparagus, miso mackerel, and chicken thighs (which was an afterthought!) Dessert was a blue cheese crumpet with honey (Barb) and chocolate and peanut parfait (John). All exceptionally tasty! Oh, and did I mention a carafe of spanish white wine?

Then back to Bath and bed.

08 May 2019, Wednesday (Day 41), Folks under the Volk's Yoke

Since there was little semblance of a plan for the day, we had a very slow start to the day. We eventually dragged ourselves out of bed, and made our way to Seven Dials (the local shopping area, so named because 7 roads meet at a roundabout - one of the earliest roundabouts in Britain, apparently). There there is a coffee house recommended to us by the landlady, Jen, called the Small Batch Coffee House. We had coffee and an escargot, both good.

Once the coffees were finished, we looked around. Across the road was a Greek Bakery, so we had to visit that. And yes, they had cheese pies and spanokopita! So we bought a couple, and took them home for dinner before setting off for the day.

We walked all the way into the city centre (20 minutes or so), and made for the Pavilion. It cost GBP15 (no seniors discount) each to go in, so we passed on that. The girl behind the counter did say that if we booked on line the day before, we would get a 10% discount, so we made a mental note of that.

We walked on to the beach, and ... well, when I say "beach", it apparently qualifies by British standards, but neither of us would deign to tread on it! It's all just pebbles, nay boulders, and walking on those in bare feet would not be at all pleasant. But I suppose the Poms don't have much choice? Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, heading towards the famous Volk's Electric Railway. This has the distinction of being the oldest working electric railway in the world! It is a 825mm (2' 8.5") gauge system, with third rail electrification at 110VDC, and is 1.6km long

We bought return tickets (GBP7.60 for the two of us), and set off. Being the only passengers for this trip, the driver (a woman) invited us to sit in the front with her, and proceeded to give us some commentary on the line as we went along. Both of us had our cameras taking a movie of the ride, although Barb switched hers off midway - at the station called "Halfway"!

Our driver obligingly took a couple of photos of us sitting in the car when we reached the terminus at Black Rock, and also told us that we could walk a few hundred metres further to visit the Brighton Marina, which had a number of restaurants. This we did, although our first forays were slightly urgent due to the need for us both to find some loos. That satisfied, we sat and looked at the millions of boats of all shapes and sizes for a while, before exploring the lunch options.

We settled on a Mexican place, Los iGuanas, that had a dish that caught Barb's eye: Bean and Beet Burger. John settled for Nachos with Beef Chipotle, and a pint of beer. Barb had a non-alcoholic version of a mojito. We enjoyed all of that!

Then back to the VER and took our return journey back to the Acquarium Station, where we alighted and started walking home. Barb found a bank (NatWest) that changed our old British money from years ago into new British money. This wasn't the first time we were hit by out-of-date currency issues - I think countries change their money regularly so as to piss off any travellers who haven't visited the country regularly enough.

As the plan for the morrow was to go out to the Devil's Dyke, we stopped at "1 Stop Travel" to find what buses went that way. Apparently a number 77 does, but it only runs on weekends! So that was abortive. We stopped at Sainsbury's to buy some food and supplies, and then trudged up the Dyke's Road hill back to Bath St., where we had a heated up tin of soup and our Greek pastries we had bought in the morning. Watched a bit of TV, then bed.

09 May 2019, Thursday (Day 42), Chasm Explorer

We ate the smoked mackerel we bought yesterday - very nice! Overnight, Barb had done a bit more web surfing and found more bus info that would get us to Devil's Dyke. So we set off down to the railway station at 0830, in plenty of time to have a coffee at the railway station and then catch the CSG Countryside bus from stop E outside the station at 0938. It was a special sightseeing bus doing a round trip of various Brighton places, with first stop Devil's Dyke. So we were hot to trot!

It was less than 20 minutes to get there, and the bus driver found a map for us, and told us that the service was 2 hourly, so the next busses were at 12, 2 and 4. We thought we could aim for the 1400 since the planned walk was supposed to take 2 hours, and we knew we would be walking slower than that.

The planned walk, the Chasm Explorer, did a big figure 8, firstly down through the Devil's Dyke itself, a big V-shaped valley carved into the chalk by solifluction and river erosion. It was quite impressive, though steep to walk down into the valley. We saw the Devil's Graves, which come with a superstition that if you run backwards around these humps 7 times while holding your breath, the Devil himself will appear! That is, presumably, if you haven't fainted in the meantime, or tripped while running backwards ...

We the climbed up out of the valley, through some woods, over several stiles, past lots of brown cows, to arrive at Saddlescombe Farm and a small cafe, which was open. Two hot chocolates to warm us up, and a slice of cake each, and we were ready for the return journey (it is about half walk on the walk).

The return journey, on the other half of the figure 8, started in fairly persistent cold rain, and took us down to the end of the dyke, where we crossed our previous tracks, and then started climbing up the back of the ridge that formed one side of the dyke. This path led through a delightful wood, full of bluebells, until we came out of the wood onto a ridge that commanded impressive views out over the Sussex Downs Wealds. The path got rather narrow at his stage, as it wound its way along the contour of the steeply sloping side of the hill, and required constant watching of one's feet, least one would go sliding down the side of the hill!

We walked past the site of an old funicular railway, but their wasn't much to see, other than the shallow groove of a slight trench running straight down the hill. That was also the signal of the end of the walk, as we turned and went straight up the hill to meet the pub up by the bus stop where we had arrived. The time was 1250, and our walk had taken 3 hours, not 2, but Barb thought we had missed the bus as it was not there. "It doesn't come for another hour" I pointed out, whereupon Barb relaxed for a bit, and then said, "so what are we going to do for the next hour?" "Have lunch at t' pub" was my reply.

So that's what we did, although an hour did cut it rather fine. We had a (shared) entree of pate, then a steak and ale pie (John), and chicken and chips (Barb), washed down with a nice IPA called "Proper Job". All that was fine, but the main course was a little slow in arriving, which meant that we had to rush the last few mouthfuls. John went to the loo while Barb was paying, which Barb thought unfair. As the bus had not arrived, John told her to go back and rectify the omission. Just as she disappeared, the bus arrived! However, the bus diver was ahppy to wait, and all was well.

We then did the other half of the Cook's Tour, which consisted of stopping at one or two of the other Brighton attractions, but we stayed on the bus until we got back to the station where were had started, and then walked home, getting there about 1440.

The rest of the afternoon was spent resting. The landlady had been while we were out, and fixed the heating (which had not been working properly), so the house was nice and warm. An opportunity to catch up on things like this blog. Barb booked some tickets for the Brighton Pavilion tomorrow, and John worked out how to get the e-tickets onto his phone (it being the only one with 4G connectivity).

For dinner, we decided to do the English pub thing. We walked down to the local, called The French Horn, to find that it was not so much British, as French! We did have a win in that Thursday was "2 burgers for GBP12 day", so we ordered 2 ... wait for it ... Roquefort Burgers! But we were not entirely francofried - we did have a pint of beer and a half of cider. The roquefort burgers were actually quite good, with big patties with lots of meat in them, and enough roquefort to make them interestingly zingy.

Then home to watch a little TV, then bed.

10 May 2019, Friday (Day 43), Pavilioned in Splendour

First port of call this morning was the Small Batch Coffee House for coffee, and then we walked down to the station, where the Brighton Toy and Model Museum was located. It cost GBP5.50 each to get in, and it was worth it! Lots of model railways, of all gauges, including several working layouts, Dinky Toys, Triang, Model Aircraft, and a whole section on Meccano, complete with a hammerhead block setting crane! We spent an hour and a half there, and Barb amused herself by seeing how many Ford Anglia model cars she could find. I think the final score was about 6!

By now it was nearly 12, so we headed over to the Brighton Pavilion, stopping first at an Italian cafe for coffee (which wasn't too bad), and then did a circumperambulation of the Pavilion itself, because Barb had not seen all of the outside. Then we went in. Here John's efforts to capture the e-tckets proved ineffective, due to Samsung's bloodymindedness and poor interface design. (Now, John, don't get into a hissy fit over your stu%#(^!$pid phone! Remember, Patience!) Fortunately, the Pavilion staff had their own record of our booking, and were able to issue us tickets. So in we went.

But Mistress Samsung had other ideas. We John tried to access the wifi-based in house guide, she acted up. Even the trained staff person could not get her to work. In the end, he gave us one of the standard hand-held audio guides, and said "I'm not supposed to do this, but we don't want you to miss out"! So we dutifully followed the instructions on the audio guide, and most comprehensive they turned out to be.

For those who have not been there, Brighton Pavilion was built for George IV when he was Prince Regent (due to the madness of his father), and he wanted a "pleasure palace" to hold wild parties at and to entertain his mistresses. He was a sleaze bag, but in spite of that, or maybe because of that, he had an eye for elegant style, bordering on over-the-top-iness. Everything was gilded, embroidered, painted, in-laid, unique, exquisite, and just plain showy. I know some people will object to those descriptions and declare the place beautiful, but to me one can never divorce the aesthetic outcome from the intent of the architect. It was meant to be an opulent show of wealth, and that is what it is: opulent and obscene.

Its downfall was fairly obvious, given the limited purpose for which it was built. Queen Victoria, the next monarch to spend any time there, found it too limiting to her style - not big enough for her family, too little privacy, and in her words, "being so close to the sea but unable to see much of the sea itself". She sold it off, fortunately to the Brighton City Council, who bought the building (but not its contents) and thus saved it from demolition. Queen Vic moved all the contents to Windsor (and later Buckingham Palace), so they were saved, but it has been a long process restoring both the building and contents over the intervening years. The Brighton City Council is now the proud owner of the only Royal Residence not still in royal ownership! And a mighty tourist drawcard that is, albeit an expensive one.

Barb has documented a lot more detail of the internal features of the place, so I won't try to repeat that here. Suffice to say that we spent several hours touring the place, listening to the guide, but not, unfortunately, taking any photos, as photography within the building is expressed forbidden. We did find time within the tour to visit the tea room and have some lunch, including a very nice steak and stilton pie.

We finished at the Pavilion about 1600, and decided to return home at that point. At 1830 we went out again to visit another pub called the West Hill, a little further away than last night. Its claim to fame was not 2 burgers for the price of one, but rather 2 pizzas for the price of one. Unfortunately, that was on Wednesday nights, and this was Friday. So we settled on one pizza for the price of one pizza, and it was enough. John had a pint of "best bitter", but it was warm and flat. Oh! Isn't that the way they are supposed to be?

We returned for the last time today to the flat, and retired for bed.

11 May 2019, Saturday (Day 44), Golden Arrow

Another kippers for breakfast morning, this time on toast. It is a nice English custom, I think, We caught the 0933 train to London, and after an hour or so. got off at East Croydon and changed to an East Grinstead train. That train was somewhat slower, as it stopped at all stations, and we arrived at East Grinstead at 1120. We found the Bluebell station just next the the BR station (they are on the same track after all), and queued up for (hopefully) our tickets.

The tickets had had an eventful journey, to no effect in the case of the originals. They only arrived in Australia after we had left, and although Beth posted them straight away to the Robson's address. they hadn't arrived at Robson's when we were there. They still hadn't at time of writing (15 May), and as I said to Jacquie, I won't be surprised if they never tur up!

But we had been in communication with the Bluebell Customer Service Manager, one James Funnell (good name!), who had organized replacement tickets for us at East Grinstead. The woman had to hunt about for them (slight panic as that was happening), but did find them eventually, and we were able to board the train.

The plan for the day was to take several trips up and down the railway, finishing up at Sheffield Park (the other end of the line) for a 1930 departure with the "Golden Arrow" Pullman Train with on-board dinner. But on consulting the time table, we found that a) there were two trains running, b) our train was the one that ended up in the right place, and c) the timetable between the two trains did not allow good connectivity between the two trains. So we stayed on the same train all day.

This did not matter too much, as there was time at each end for loco run-around, and we had time there to look at things, but we didn't get to see much of the intervening stations, except Hosted Keynes, where there was a cross (of the two trains). Indeed, at the first crossing, John was able to jump out and get an arrival shot of the other train, but that was about all.

Our train was pulled by an S15 class Southern 4-6-0, which I originally mistook for a Schools class (a 4-4-0). Both have very similar lines and colour schemes, and both were designed by Robert Maunsell, the CME for the Southern Railway at the time. The S15 was probably a better choice for working the Bluebell Railway, as it had a bit more grunt and could handle longer trains as required for busy tourist days. But - the other train running was hauled by an 0-6-0, and it seemed to manage - albeit with a slightly shorter train.

At the first end (Sheffield Park), we had time for a beer. Lots of people also had lunch, but we deferred on that since the queue was so long and we only had half an hour at the place. Back on the train, and John was happily taking movies when his SD card ran out. Now he had bought some spares for one camera, but not the other, since that had been going for ages on the same card and it seemed like it would never run out. But it had. What to do? Then we remembered the Sainsbury's at East Grinstead. Now Sainsbury's is like Woolworths/Coles in Oz, and I thought they might stock SD cards. So when we arrived at East Grinstead, I jumped off the train, ran over to Sainsbury's, and guess what? They had them.

So I bought two. But when I went to pay for them at the checkout, my regular travelling credit card did not work. "Credit Card Error" it said. So I gave up on that one and used my other (regular home) one. It worked, but required a signature. No assistant in sight. I stood there for a good minute, waving the cards, with the red attention light flashing, before an assistant came. She did not quite know what to do, for reasons that will become obvious. I walked out the shop, and the security gates went beep, but I thought "she's forgotten to do the cancelling thing". I was in a hurry, so I did not stop.

Back on the train, it became clear what the assistant had not done. Remove the security boxes in which the cards came. I have to admit that I thought the cards were overpackaged, but these days that seems to be normal, so I thought no more of it.

Have you ever tried to remove security packaging? I guess not, sonce all of you, dear readers, I believe are law-abiding citizens. You can jump on them, smash them with a brick, prise at them with a key, and jamb them in a door. All to no avail. The plastic used is high impact polystyrene, virtually unbreakable, and an effective deterrent to thieves.

So what to do? Not much. I resorted to using my smartphone to take movies, and tried hard to exhibit a little Patience, not necessairly succeeding. Back at Sheffield Park, we had time for some lunch (a pie and peas) and that restored some equanimity. On the return trip (this was by now the fourth trip along the line) there was time at East Grinstead to visit Sainbury's again, so that's what I did. And I had the good fortune to encounter a woman who knew what she was doing, and removed the security packaging, no problem, sir. Phew!

So the last trip south to Sheffield Park was much more relaxed, and ironically, since most of it is downhill, I didn't need to take movies ('cos the engine wasn't working hard)! We had pleanty of time at Sheffield Park to look around, but now, of course, with the day's public running over, all the shops and museums were shut. Except for the pub. We were able to have a beer - Barb had a hot chocolate, as it was getting a little cold once the sun went down. Oh, I forgot to mention the weather. Not crash hot in the morning, it rained a few times when I still had space on my SD card for movies, but the sun did come out for the last downhill run.

We had some time to admire the train. The loco was an 0-6-0 number 65 of the South Eastern and Chatham Railway, and beautifully polished for the occasion. Her brass dome was polished to Colonel Mellor perfection, and her paintwork just gleamed in the late afternoon sun. But I have to say, not really a "Golden Arrow" loco! The carriage we were in was "Ashdown" built in 1955 for the British Railways as a first class dining car (not Pullman!), and the seats were luxurious (better than the modern first class equivalents)!

The dinner trip was excellent. We did 2 trips out and back from Sheffield Park, with one course on each leg. We both had a prawn cocktail for entry, duck breast for main, cheese platter for dessert, and coffee and mint chocolates to finish. It would have been possible to leave the train at East Grinstead and catch BR back to Brighton, but we had other plans.

On return to Sheffield Park for the last time, we leapt of the train as it arrived at 2303 and made for the car park, where we found waiting a taxi we had booked yesterday for 11pm. A friendly driver took us to Hampstead Heath, about 15km away, and dropped us at the station (cost GBP21) where we found a Brighton train just pulling in! So we were on it, and back in Brighton at 2345, and home in bed just after midnight. A pretty full on day, I have to say!

12 May 2019, Sunday (Day 45), Brighton Right On to York

Up bright and early (well, at least for us) so that we could pack and be ready to get to the station in time for the 1042 to St Pancras. The plan was to get their in time for breakfast but that did not quite come off. Anyway, we got to S.P. about noon, and decided to have breakfast then and there. Coffees of course, and John had a pork pie with stilton (tasted much better than it sounds!) and Barb had a salad - which we ended up sharing, 'cos there was a lot of it. All very nice, actually, considering it was railway concourse fare.

Then had to wait for the 1330 train announcement. The train was clearly running, but the platform announcement only appeared about 10 minutes before departure, so there was an unholy rush of people for the train when the platform number did appear. We were told (since we had no booked seats) to head for car M, which was the last in the train, and we plonked into the first 2 vacant seats we came across, which were the last two seats (physically, not literally) in the train. We were two by two Canadian women, mother and daughter, who were quite delightful company. They were heading to Edinburgh, the train's final destination.

We had a relaxing and entertaining trip up to York, food and coffee were thrown at us on regular intervals, and we pulled into York about 1600. With the aid of a Mr Google map, we made our way to 45 Holgate Rd, but the flat was not there! Barb fortunately had a photo of the apartment block, and by looking around, we were able to spot it back from where we came. It was Flat 45, The Walk, via Holgate Rd, a completely different address! Black mark there, Air BnB!

That wasn't the end of it. We had to negotiate a) the gate to the site (a combination lock that required one to sing "I'm walking backwards for Christmas" while standing on one leg and looking cross-eyed at the camera), b) the door to the apartment block (ditto, but different combination and reverse order of gyrations), and finally, c) find and open the key safe with a different combination, which we didn't have! So John had to ring the Air BnB help line, and fortunately they were able to help. God knows what would have happened if they couldn't.

We settled in, used the wifi and made a cup of tea, etc.. At about 1800 we looked for somewhere to eat. John found a small family-run Italian restaurant just around the corner with good reviews, so we elected to try that out. We were glad we did! We both had mussels as an entree, they were wonderful, and then pasta for main: John a lasagna, Barb a penne a Siciliana - also excellent, with a bottle of Italian pinot grigio to wash it down. All very good, and we made a note to try the place again before we leave.

A quick visit to Sainsbury's (just around the corner) to buy some breakfast provsions, and then we were ready for bed.

13 May 2019, Monday (Day 46), Walled up in York

We had the makings of breakfast (muesli, yoghurt and bananas) this morning, so we had those before setting off around 0930 to walk the walls of York. We got to the nearest "bar", Micklegate Bar, but decided that coffee was the immediate thing, so we stopped at the Social Bar, right next to Micklegate, for coffee before setting off along the walls.

The walls of the City of York are not quite continuous, so it is not possible to walk around the city at wall level, There are various places where one has to descend to ground level, either because the wall path does not extend across a road opening, or, as in several cases, the wall no longer exists, usually because it has been knocked down by some exhuberant 19th C. Lord Mayor wanting to expand his dominion. The wall itself varies in height from about 5 metres to 10 metres, and while there are always battlements on the outer side, the inner side sometimes has a fence, sometimes not, in which case one had to be careful not to stray too close to the edge!

There was plenty to see, and indeed, the guide that we had downloaded to John's mobile proved to be far too detailed for our purposes. Several times John had to hurry to catch up to Barb, because he stopped to read all about some plot by one king against another king (Richard III figured prominantly in these stories) and got too absorbed. Fortunately he did not try walking along the wall while doing this, or he may indeed have absent-mindedly walked over the side!

We got to Monkgate, where we descended the wall and made towards York Minster (incidentally, did you know that Australia has lots of Minsters? They form part of the Liberal Government, and are one-eyed Ministers.)

Fresh from our experience at climbing Reims' Cathedral, we elected to buy tickets for the 1230 tour to climb York Minster. It was much the same experience going up - 270 spiral staircase steps, with one respite of walking along the eaves of the South Transept roof (good view of the flying buttresses). But at the top, the experience was quite different. The centre tower of York Minster has a flat roof, not a spire, and from there one could easily get a view in all directions of the compas. The Minster is the tallest structure in York, and is only 5 metres shorter than the Sydney Opera House.

We enjoyed the view, spotting the various features that make up York (like the Railway Station!), before descending. We spent a fair bit of time wandering around, before deciding at 1400 that it was lunch time. For this, we found a local pub, "The Hole in the Wall", which served a nice steak and mushroom pie, with lovely fluffy puff pastry, which very much suited our appetites. Then back to the Minster (our tickets allow re-entry for 12 months!) to see the parts we had not seen. As we went in, the ticket attendant pointed out that there was a tour of the interior just starting, so we joined that.

The tour was led by one Margaret Poskett, and a very good guide she was too, with just the right blend os facts and fun. She spent a fair amount of time explaining the stained glass windows. which was only reasonable, considering that they had just recently completed the restoration of the Great East Window of the church at a cost of 10 million pounds!

After that tour, we went down to the undercroft, to see all the restoration of the Minster's foundations. When we were here in 1980, they had just discovered that the church was in danger of collapsing because of the amorphous state of the foundations - some older churches, some roman fortifications, some parts just timber slabs laid under the stones! All this had rotted/subsided under the weight of the building, and they had to dig out a lot and replace it with specially reinforced concrete.

The undercroft also had an interesting display of the roman times in York (Eboracum), with a history line running all the way through the Christian Era. I didn't know, for example, that the Roman Emperor Constantine was declared emperor while he was in York with the 9th Legion. York was a big Roman fort in its time, and its influence was felt throughout northern England. The church in York was at one time a rival for the church in Canterbury, and it was not until the middle ages that that rivalry was settled.

It was 1700 when we finally left the Minster, and continued our walk along the walls. We still had about two thirds of the way to go, so we did not spend as much time digressing from our purpose as we did in the morning. There were also many more breaks in the wall in this section, so we had to keep our wits about us as we navigated from one wall section to the next.

Eventually we reached Micklegate Bar again, where we descended the wall, and popped into "Social" again, this time not for coffee, but a beer or two. We also had a "Mediterraneum bread board", a mix of various breads with a nice lemon, thyme and rosemary flavoured olive oil for dipping.

That done, it was only a short walk back to the apartment, where we relaxed, watched "Endeavour" on the TV (with lots of railway scenes, some of which we recognized as being shot on the Bluebell Railway!) - and then bed.

14 May 2019, Tuesday (Day 47), Jorvik a Shambles, and Evensong (not!)

Barb had booked the Jorvik Centre for 1020, so we set off for the town centre around 0930, stopping for coffee along the way at a little out-of-the-way and off-the-main-street cafe. The Jorvik Centre was not easy to find, as the map we were using was fairly coarse, and did not show the small laneways that make up most of the inner city of York. But find it we did, and went straight in (avoiding all the queues) because of our pre-booking.

The first experience was a ride-in car that travelled through a reconstruction of York around 960AD. The scenes we were presented with were excellent, with very life-like animated people, and a running commentary from speakers in the car. The whole was most fascinating, and I tried to take a few photos, but the low light made it difficult.

But the static exhibits to come were just as fascinating. The Jorvik Centre is all about the Viking life as revealed by the archaelogical digging over the 40 years since we were here last. They found thousands of artefacts, giving a most revealing insight into the daily life of a 10th C viking immigrant. One of the fascinating artefacts was an ice-skate, made from a horse's bone, very small and with no sideways resistance to the ice, so one needed poles (like ski poles) to stop one from sliding sideways!

Another artefact, very popular with the crowd of schoolchildren going through with us, was a human copralite, or as the guide put it "fossilised poo". When he explained that the middle was still soft and smelly, in spite of the outside being fossilized, the schoolchildren let out an almight "urrgggh!" simultaneously. I took a photo, but I didn't think it looked much like a poo. More like a dead tree branch.

We finished the Jorkik Centre, and found a pub nearby where John had "traditional" fish and chips. Also a pint of the local best bitter, very tasty.

While finishing lunch, we decided that we needed to do the Jorvik Viking ride again. Our ticket allowed us to do that, so off we went. Just as fascinating the second time, and there was so much that we even noticed new things on the repeat trip.

We then headed towards the Minster, wandering first through the Shambles and exploring the local market that was on. Barb saw one or two milk jugs, but nothing that caught her fancy.

Then to York Minister. In spite of the fact that we had visited it thoroughly yesterday, it was worth another visit. We spent some time admiring the quire until we were kicked out because the choir wanted to rehearse. That was at 1630, so we hung around until 1715 to hear evensong. The queue grew amazingly large, and I think the church stewards were somewhat taken aback by the numbers, as they had to hurry around finding more orders of service and hymn books for people. We sat in the quire, just behind the choir itself, so we had excellent seats and were just blown away by the quality of singing. We heard Psalm 80, and an anthem by Harris, before the service closed with a congregational hymn (we did know the tune at least), and a Bach postlude. It was interesting that most people sat still until the last 30 seconds or so, then once one left, everyone got up and left! And here was me thinking how well behaved the congregation was!

We walked home, and on the way passed The Ivy, which we had not been able to visit in Brighton, so we decided to try it here. We were early enough to get the "early-bird" formule, and Barb had a duck breast, which unfortunately was the last one, so John had to have fish and chips again! At least the fish was beautifully cooked. Not that the lunch time one wasn't, it was just that this one was much better!

Then home to bed.

15 May 2019, Wednesday (Day 48), NRM

Muesli breakfast again, and then set off via a short cut that Barb had discovered, through the railway station itself to the National Railway Museum. We got there a few minutes before 1000 when it opened, and we made a bee-line for the cafe and coffee before attempting any serious collection observations.

One of the things spotted pre-seriousness was a "Mallard Experience" one of those virtual reality rides. It was 3 pounds per person, so after finishing our coffee we lined up to give it a go. It was great fun, although not entirely what I was expecting. Most of it was cgi, and I had hoped to see some archival film, but there were only a few seconds of that. The ride was fun nevertheless, and well worth doing.

I'm not going to attempt to describe everything we saw, there is just some much of it. But some highlights were:

  1. The Mallard locomotive itself;
  2. Evening Star;
  3. Ellerman Lines - a rebuilt Merchant Navy class that has been sectioned so that you can see all the internal workings;
  4. Duchess of Hamilton - a Coronation class and one of my favourite classes from when I was a boy. Similar streamlining to Mallard, but sufficient different to avoid copyright infrigements;
  5. ... and many more.
We spent the next 3 hours or so in the Great Hall wandering around, soaking up the atmosphere, and did not leave ourselves enough time for everything else. We had lunch (a bowl of soup each) at the restaurant in the Station Hall, then listened to a guide talking about the 5 royal coaches on display, from Queen Adelaide's 1840 stagecoach-converted-to-railcoach. right down to Queen Elizabeth's armourplated car, built during the war for her father, and deliberately made to look like any other rail coach so as not to draw attention to itself.

We also visited the South Yard (miniature train) and the North Shed, so that we did cover all the major areas of exhibits. The North Shed had the added attraction of including the restoration workshops, where we could see Sir Nigel Gresley (behind which we have travelled) and The Rocket undergoing major repairs.

In all of this, lots of photos! Of course. You will just have to visit the photo page to see for yourself!

We left the museum at 1730, after 7 and a half hours in there. I think we got our money's worth (it was free entry!)

We had dinner at Lo Spuntino again, and again, it was excellent. John had Vitello del bosca (veal in mushroom sauce) and Barb had Tonno alla piazzaiola (tuna in a mixed veg sauce), followed by a limoncello and lemon gelato sundae. Wow! Then home to catch up on all this intense activity, and do a bit of planning for the morrow. A slight bit of trouble downloading the map for our planned walk, with the web page insisting that we download some piece of software that I was not at all interested in - but we got it in the end. Pity about the instructions, however!

16 May 2019, Thursday (Day 49), Over Hill and Dales

Breakfast of muesli and yoghurt before setting off for the railway station, where we supposed to catch the 1009 to Leeds, but we arrived early enough to catch the train before, at 0925, a stopping all stations to Leeds. So at Leeds we had time for a brunch of "full english Breakfast" at a cafe that advertised "Breakfast and Beer: What more could you want"! And yes, someone came in and ordered a beer (but no breakfast). The time? about 1030.

We caught the train to Carlisle at 1107, arriving at Ribblehead at 1210. We set off (with walking poles) along the path as indicated by our downloaded map from last night. There were a few slightly random choices along the way (perhaps better to call them "informed guesswork choices"?) Barb thought we should go up the hill, John thought we should go under the rather grand Ribbleshead Viaduct, which, after all, was the reason we were here. But everyone else seemed to be heading up the hill, so John reluctantly agreed.

We found the point of divergence for our path (not signposted!), and headed down the Winterscale Beck valley, past several farms. Somewhere along here we both missed the point where we should have gone straight ahead, but we turned left. Why? Because the path straight ahead was not obvious, and the paths to the left was. Again, no signposts, other than "bridlepath to Scar Face" and "bridlepath to Suck Eggs", not all that helpful when we could not see eith Scar Face or Suck Eggs on the map.

We pressed on. The way the path was going became less and less like the map. Eventually we realized that the path (now a single track of bitumen, good for walking on, but not what we would call a "bridlepath", even to Suck Eggs. It joined, as we had feared, the main road, and we had no alternative but to walk along the main road (with its passing traffic) all the way back to Ribbleshead. Bummer!

At Ribbleshead we went to drown our disappointments at the Station Inn. We each had a burger, and they were good country-sized burgers at that. John had a pint of Black Sheep Riggwelter and Barb a half of 1875 (?). We struggled to finish the burgers, but having got as close as we could, we decided to walk back along the track we would have come in on had we chosen the right turnings. It was good, because not only did the sun come out on the viaduct, but we saw a goods train crossing the viaduct as well.

Back to the station, where we caught the 1614 train to Leeds, then across to a (fast) train to York, so that we were home by 1815. John went round the corner to Sainsbury's and bought a couple of tins of mushroom soup, which we had for tea (big breakfast and big lunch = little dinner). Then a bit of packing and organizing for tomorrow, before turning in for the night.

17 May 2019, Friday (Day 50), London the long way round

We faced a slight dilemma this morning: we had to be out of the York apartment by 1100, but could not get into the London apartment until 1500. Catching the train straight to London would have meant carting our luggage around for a few hours, and that did not appeal. Left luggage is always a hassle, so we decided to go to London via Edinburgh! Yes, that's right, we caught the northbound train all the way to Edinburgh, got off, found a southbound train, and got on that.

That was the theory at least. We had an excellent run north, with the sun shining, and the scenery looking very sharp. Got photos of Durham Cathedral as we went through, but made a mental note to take some on the way south again when the sun would be on the right side. The train was comfortably empty, and we were able to enjoy breakfast at our seats (smashed avocado anyone?) with coffee and all. Very pleasant.

But on arrival at Edinburgh at 1206, a hint of trouble. We first thought that the train would simply turn around and go back, but it lays over (shouldn't that be "lies over"?) to be cleaned and we had to alight. The next train south was at 1230 on platform 2 and we were on platform 9, so down the lift, across the subway, and up the lift to platform 2 where we discovered that the train was coming from Aberdeen, and hence was already 80% full!

The carriage attendant on the platform suggested that we go back to platform 9 and take the same train we came up on, but leaving at 1300. Barb had a squiz inside the carriage, and found two seats, so we grabbed them. They were only free until Newcastle, but by then the train had started moving, so it was too late to change! But we solved the problem by alighting at Newcastle and waiting for "our" train to arrive!! All good, and comfy seats all the way.

I mentioned breakfast - we also had lunch on the southward journey. A curry (John), a blue cheese and brie tart (Barb), some cake and coffee. Then after Newcastle, John had the cheese tart and Barb had a salmon baguette and then a cup of tea. We do like travelling first class!

At Peterborough there was a fault with the "door interlocking", and we were held up for 20 minutes. Something happened to my GPS tracking as well, and I had to reset the iPhone. We eventually got moving, but my thought was that we would lose our path. Trains (particularly in Britain compared to Australia) run at close intervals, and if you miss your spot in the queue, it is not just a case of bumping all the others to later, it is a case of having to wait until a spare slot comes along! While we barrelled along for most of the way into London (and made up some time), around Hampstead Heath we stopped for 10 minutes, and then crawled fairly slowly into King's Cross, with the net effect that we were 27 minutes late into KC, and arrived at 1807.

It was a fair hike from KC up to our Lovely Spacious Quiet Flat, taking some 30 minutes (towing suitcases). We had a hard time finding the key safe, which wasn't where the photo had shown it. We discovered that it hadn't been fixed firmly, and had fallen down the fence paling into some bushes, so once John waded into the bushes and scrabbled around, we did retrieve the key. Finding the flat from there was a piece of cake, unlike York, and we settled into our home for the next 3 days. The next few hours were spent just reorganizing ourselves, our computers, our washing, and having a very light snack for dinner (2 breakfasts and 2 lunches meant not much was needed!) Then bed around 2135 ...

18 May 2019, Saturday (Day 51), Light at the End of the Tunnel?

A slow start to the day, as we did not have anything specifically planned. We set off towards King's Cross about 0930, and paused at the Coal Drop Yards to a) have coffee, and b) look around. We had coffee at a place called Vermutena, which gave pause for thought: was it something to do with worms? Anyway, we had coffee and a portugese tart each, and suffered no ill effects.

The name "Coal Drop Yards" comes from its original purpose before redevelopment of being the place where trains came to drop their coal on the top level of a 3 level builing, where it would fall through to a sorting level, and then be placed in a chute to the bottom level where it was bagged and carted away, a lot of it via barges in the Regent's Canal next door. With the demise of coal (thanks, Scott Morrison) in the UK, it was redundant, and so redeveloped into a busy shopping and community area.

We wandered around, including looking at the Gasholder Apartments, old gasholder towers that have been made into fancy apartments (advertised at GBP 825,000 each). Then we wandered along the canal, where we saw a narrow boat advertised trips on the canal. It was 1110 and the departures board said that a trip was leaving at 1115, so after a brief discussion with the driver (it had a crew of exactly one!) we bought 2 one-way tickets to Islington for GBP 5 each.

The boat did a series of up and backs over a short stretch around the landing. I think it was because the driver had forgotten to fill in some paperwork, for one of the other nearby boats came over, and a woman jumped on our boat and started fussing around with various papers. She was quite chatty, and claimed to be one of the owners, and explained a bit about the canal and what we were about to see.

But the irony was that because of this faffing around, when we got to the 200 year old tunnel, we missed our path (sound familiar?), and had to wait for 2 boats coming in the other direction, since boats cannot pass within the tunnel. So the driver had to press the pedal to the metal (or whatever the equivalent is in a narrowboat), and we fairly motored through the tunnel. Not that there was a lot to see - or rather, there was too much to see, 16,000,000 bricks lining the tunnel was about all we did see.

There was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it gradually got larger and larger, until we emerged into daylight in the upper reach of the Islington Locks. There we alighted, thanked the driver, and started walking back to King's Cross, pausing to take a photo of the next boat emerging from the tunnel - driven by the woman we had spoken to earlier!

Walking back was a bit tricky, as we could not walk through the tunnel, but had to go overground, which involved some measure of navigation, as the roads don't follow the canal underneath. We came to a nice little pub in Islington - not "The Angel", but "The York", and decided to have lunch, as it was now 1240 or so. A semi-suicidal dash across the road and back to get some cash out of the local Lloyd's bank, and we settled down with a shared bowl of nachos, and of course, a beer and a cider. The lunch was unfortunately marred by John opening FaceBook to see what election news there was, only to find that Morrison had got back in! So depressing. The people of Australia are so stupid and selfish, but then, I guess that is the human condition.

Then we walked back a different route from that originally planned, as Barb wanted to see inside the St Pancras Station and Hotel (which was quite impressive). We stopped for a coffee and shared lemon tart at a cafe in the station around 1500 before resuming our path homewards back through the Coal Drop Yards. We got home about 1600 and then busied ourselves with the usual catching up of blogging, emails, and not so usual depressing news from OZ.

19 May 2019, Sunday (Day 52), Code Writing and Breaking

A bit of a hike this morning, as we headed south firstly to King's Cross, then along Pentonville and Euston Roads to Euston Station, where we caught the 1022 train to Milton Keynes, alighting at Bletchley for Bletchley Park. We walked up Jemima Way to the park entrance!

We had to queue for a bit to buy tickets (everyone off the train was going to Bletchley Park!), which were valid for a year - but I don't think we will be back before then. Made a beeline for the cafe and had coffee (what else?) and a half of a Victoria sponge cake each.

If you haven't been to BP (as it was called in all the info boards around the place) before, it is a huge place, with huts everywhere, all sitting on a large parkland. It was originally a manor house, and was bought by the government just before WWII as a place to locate the Government Code and Cypher School in a rather prescient move to prepare for the imminent war. GC&CS was built around the code breaking skills developed in WWI, and very quickly expanded as WWII continued. At its peak in 1944, there were around 10,000 people working there, of whom 2/3 were women.

We collected some audio guide sets (they were free), and set off using the sequence of buildings that they identified to follow a path around the estate. It was all very fascinating, and what particularly appealed to me was the intense and focussed atmosphere that must have existed at the time of operation. You also have to remember that everyone was under a sworn oath of secrecy about their work, so they could not talk about what they were doing, even to other workmates or their own partners. In spite of all that, it seems that there was a genuine sense of collegiality amongst the people, driven no doubt by the feeling that they were all working towards the war effort. Nor was there much class division. Everyone was pretty much on first name terms with everyone else (one director even insisted upon such conventions). Everyone was treated much the same, regardless of whether they were "boffins" (academics from Cambridge and Oxford), engineers, mechanics, typists, decoders, or even gardeners. Sounds almost idyllic, but for the pressure and responsibilty placed upon these people, and the knowledge that slip-ups or tardiness could result in lives being lost.

We had lunch in Hut 4 (originally used as the Naval Intelligence Decoding centre), which was nice food, but not well presented! We thought that might be deliberate, as a way of showing how war time shortages would have made themselves felt. For example, the food came in an enamelled metal bowl, the sort you see in cheap camping establishments, and the tables all had plastic gingham tableclothes. All giving it a very down-market sort of look.

At about 1530, we felt a bit of cypher-breaking overload, so we left BP, and wandered around to the Museum of Computing. It was a funny sort of thing, clearly an offshoot from the Bletchley Park redevelopment (it was housed in one of the war time huts), but rather like the black sheep of the family. Its main claim to fame was a working replica of the Colossus, now regarded (post declassification) as the world's first stored program computer. It was built to code-break the Lorenz machine, a development of the Enigma machine, and used by the German Navy towards the end of the war. The first Colossus was operational before the end of the European war, but only just, and it saw more use after the war in other classified operations. Altogether, 10 were built, including 2 in the US. It was quite impressive watching the replica working, with paper tape (containing the message to be decryted) whizzing past the optical read heads at 30 mph! Storage was a problem, so paper tape was used to hold the message, as it would not limit the length of messages that could be decrypted (as any read-write storage devices would).

There were lots of other exhibits besides the Colossus, and space or time prohibits an extensive list. But one exhibit caught both our eyes - an IBM 029 card punch, which we both knew intimately from undergraduate days (and in John's case, from his research work on the Burroughs B1700).

All too soon it was 1700, and time for the Museum to close, so we headed back to the railway station, pausing to stop and take a photograph of the street sign, "Jemima Way", for obvious reasons. We arrived back at Euston at 1806, and walk back towards the flat, stopping along the way in Granary Square to dine at the "Granary Square Brasserie" for an impromptu birthday dinner. John had steak tartare with a glass of Bordeaux, then a creme caramel, while Barb had a fish and prawn curry and a glass of Sav Blanc, then a tart tartin (flamed at the table). When the waiter discovered that it was John's birthday, he brought out a little extra tart with blackberries and kiwi fruit, with a little black chocolate with the words "Happy Birthday" on it. Very nice!

Dinner over, we continued our journey home and retired for the night.

20 May 2019, Monday (Day 53), Old Friends? Friends from Long Ago!

This morning Barb decided we should try out a local bakery "Bread by Bike" for breakfast. It was an 8 minute walk north up York Way, and we found it easily enough. We ordered smashed avocado (Barb) and chorizo baked egg (John) and of course, coffee. The coffee was good, and we drank that as we waited for John's baked egg to be baked, so we had to order two more coffees when the food arrived. Not a problem!

The rest of the morning was free, so we used that to catch up on blogs and email. We did not have lunch, but at 1320 left the flat to walk to Euston again, this time to catch the 1422 to Watford Junction, where we were met by Barb's university friend Ann Davis and her husband David Gigney. Hugs and embraces all round!

I won't attempt to describe the conversations over the next 6 hours. Suffice to say that we went back to Ann's house, not far from the station, had a cup of tea, went for a walk around Watford High Street at about 1830, then to a restaurant in the High St for dinner, where we had a delightful meal. All this accompanied by the non-stop conversation that goes with not having seen them for 6 years!

One thing I might say about old friends: it always intrigues me how one can drop back into relaxed conversation with old friends, even after many years of not seeing them. Something about not having to maintain appearances, and knowing that one is on the same wavelength anyway. It is always so heartening to see those factors at work.

(Parenthetical Paragraph: I have been accused of talking about food too much. To keep that criticism alive, here is the list of what we ate: John: steak tartare, boeuf bourgignonne, creme caramel with a glass of Bordeaux and a vintage port; Barb: asparagus with hollandaise sauce, tuna nicoise, cheese plate, with a glass of Sav Blanc and the vintage port. There. Honour is satisfied.)

After dinner (it was now past 2100) we strolled back to the railway station, where, after thanking Ann and David for their generous hospitality, and more hugs and embraces, we boarded the 2119 train to Euston, arriving back at Euston at 2155, and then the 40 minute walk back to the flat. Collapsed into bed a bit after 2300. ZZZZZ...

21 May 2019, Tuesday (Day 54), Time(')s Pas(t|sed)

We started the day with packing. We got all our suitcases ready to pick up and go, and then we went - without them - to the British Museum. As we were not due to leave Heathrow until 2045, we pretty well had the day clear to do other things, so we decided to go to the British Museum, as it was within walking distance.

Well, that was sort of true. It was only a little bit further than walking to Euston, but as we had dome exactly that (there and back) twice in the last two days, the 50 minute trek to the BM was a little more effort than we really had up our sleeves, and consequently we were not that charged up to walk around the museum for hours.

But firstly a beeline to the cafe and coffee did give us enough of a surface charge to explore the section that seemed the most relevant, in the light of recent activities: Roman Britain. And it was quite fascinating. We worked our way around all the displays, reading all the blurbs, admiring the mosaics, taking photos of Roman soldiers for David, and so on. This easily took us up to midday, when we went to lunch in the museum restaurant.

We managed to spend GBP 60 quite easily on lunch: a shared cheeseplate to start with, then a salmon salad for Barb, and a rabnit terrine and sweet potato chips for John, washed down with the usual quota of beer and cider. The amount of money was important, as Barb had flushed all the remainder currencies on our travel card (US$, Can$, Euros) into GBP, giving us the princely sum of GBP 90 to spend before we left. The card expires at the end of June, so it was a good time to clean it out.

We finished inspecting the Roman Britain exhibits, and moved to the Clocks and Watches section. This was particularly nice, as many of the (very early) clocks had been restored to working order, and were actually running, so that you could see the mechanisms. I was intrigued by one clock, that seemed to have only a few minutes before it struck the hour (although working, a lot of the clocks did not have the correct time), so I went and sat down to rest my weary legs. No sooner than I had sat down, when the blessed clock went off, so I missed watching (and videoing) the movement doing its thing. Damn!

But it was not long after that (about 1415) that we called a halt, and decided to head home to collect our bags and head to the airport. Walking was not attractive, so we walked to Regent Square tube station and bought two singles to Caledonian Road for GBP 9.80. Card now down to approx GBP 20!

The tube was much easier than walking, although Caledonian Road was not that close to the apartment. We collected our bags, restored the key to the key safe (John's ear getting scratched by the bushes in the process), and trundled our suitcases back to Caledonian Road, buying two more tickets for another GBP 9.80 - card now down to approx GBP 10. The first train to come along was in fact going to Heathrow Terminal 4, but it was no use to use, as we a) couldn't afford it, and b) had a BritRail pass that worked from Paddington only.

So we made our way to Paddington instead, changing at King's Cross (almost straightforward), and arriving at Paddington in time to just catch the 1603 to Heathrow. But that was slightly irrelevant, since when we got to Heathrow we found that the Etihad gates were not open until 1715! So we did what we did at Melbourne on the forward journey - went and bought a couple of beers! These in fact cost GBP 11, and when Barb tried to pay for them with the card, it barfed! So we tried GBP 10, and that worked (paying the difference in coins)! I think we successfully used up all the credit on the travel card with very little pain.

Once 1715 came and went, we checked our bag and repaired to the business lounge for another drink and a light dinner (we get more on the plane). Boarding was about 2000, and the plane took off a few minutes after 2100. John watched Mary Poppins Returns (pretty vaporous), while Barb elected to sleep.

22 May 2019, Wednesday (Day 55), Winging Our Way Home

There's not much to say about today. a) it was a short day, and b) we didn't do much except watch movies and read. We landed in Abu Dhabi at some ungodly hour, like 0300 London time, and left again at 1000 (local time, 4 hours ahead of London). Barb had breakfast (since she didn't have any on the plane), John had a shower, and the rest of the time was spent charging phones and laptops, and catching up on email, etc..

Back on the plane, more of the same. John watched , Widows, and Ocean's Eight, and possibly caught a couple of hours sleep, some of which overlapped some of the movies.

23 May 2019, Thursday (Day 56), Home!

We landed at 0448, an hour at which I thought even Tullamarine was asleep, but no, it was moving along quickly enough, so quickly that we were out of the front doors by 0515. We did buy a few bottles of duty free, which rather added to our baggage handling problems, but once on the bus we fell into a sort of a stupor, and the trip into the city passed quite quickly.

At Spencer Street, we alighted and made our way across to the suburban platforms, where we had to wait a full ten minutes for a Glen Waverley train. Again, on the train, stupefaction set in quickly enough, largely nulling out the journey time, and we were home by 0700, even having to wake up the kids to get the front door opened, as they had locked us out!

Jemima and Tabitha were well pleased to see us, as we them, and we swapped a few stories over a most welcome cup of tea, while the girls positively bubbled around us. Just great to be home!

I started this blog with the comment that it was a funny day on which to start a trip, and the strange thing was that the same funny circumstance surrounded our return. John had another meeting of the MIT Academic Board, so he had to travel back on the train into the CBD, where he went to the meeting (and largely managed to stay awake). Several other board members were quite impressed that I had "bookended" my overseas trip with two board meetings in this fashion!

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