Thursday, 31 July 2008

Talking about the weather!

Wow, what a week of weather here in New Zealand. We have had storms, floods, winds and high tides making the evacuation of people inevitable. In the south there has also been snow in the hills. All this shows how quickly life can change. What would you take if your home was under threat of flood and you had to leave in a hurry? 
My house is on a hill, a now waterlogged hill. The garage is flooded with the water seeping through the walls, the water is flowing down the drive. I have never seen the place this waterlogged and am a little concerned about the stability of the hill behind, the hill with the orchard.
More rain is forecast for tonight and snow on the hills. Although I missed the sound of the rain on the roof in Qatar, it can stop now in Christchurch. I need some sunshine!

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Photos 2



Funny, last night I didn't finish the last post before publishing. I thought about adding to it then thought that perhaps I could add a couple more photos and another entry. I know I do tend to run on......
Photos, such wonderful memories of places, people and events. I have noticed that the quality of the photo depends on the lens through which the subject is viewed. I'm not talking about the camera lens. I am talking about the lens of the photographer. From my observations, truly great photographers get involved with the people they are photographing and capture the essence of the person in their photos. 
A great example of this is my cousin Diane. I have seen many of her photos over the years, including some of me. The interesting thing is that I like the photos she takes of me, two of which are on her website. I look like me to me in the photos I like of me. Sometimes I look better than me in those photos taken with love, as Diane's ones were. Check out her website, especially the portrait selection and you will see what I mean: http://www.dimackeyphotography.com/

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Photos



I bought myself a new camera before I went to Qatar, a Luminx Panasonic camera. It is not one of those compact cameras. It's a big heavy one with 12x optical zoom and all the bells and whistles. I mostly used it on automatic setting, except when Di and I were taking night photos and when I was working in difficult light. Not being one to read the instructions, and I did lose them early on, I used trial and error. 
Overall I was really pleased with the 3000 odd photos I took while I was away. I discovered that my camera fitted nicely in my red handbag and my camera bag could hold a bottle of water as well as all the camera stuff. It went everywhere with me. 
I began experimenting with framing my photos and taking photos of windows and what was beyond them. I have included some of these on my Flickr and some here. 

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Go Carlos and Tim!


Carlos Sastra has done it! I was on the edge of my seat watching the penultimate stage of the Tour de France, willing him on to beat Cadel Evans in the time trial. Well, not exactly beat, more keep the time losses to a minimum and keep the yellow jersey and overall lead of the tour. He repaid my faith in him wearing yellow into the final day's racing. I danced around the living room going, YES! I so love being right, picking a winner, I'm not competitive....really!
I had to go out for the day to look after my father so missed the final hour or so of the stage. I kept away from the news so I could watch the final part of the time trial when I got home. Nothing worse than knowing the result of a sporting event then watching. Muzz kind of gave it away with a couple of comments. I ignored him!
We also watched the All Blacks last night, I had a couple of wines to help me cope. I needn't have worried about tour coverage, the news was dominated by the All Black's loss. The New Zealand psyche is so entwined with the winning and losing of sporting events that the country goes into postmortem mode, then mourning when we lose.  
A comment from my father, I won't watch another game, ever. I just smiled knowingly, knowing that he will indeed watch the next and every game he is alive for. He will complain about the ref, the players, the excuses. This is also part of the New Zealand psyche. Pleased he is still taking an interest. 
Today my eldest son Tim is racing in a world cup mountain bike race in Canada and I am waiting for a text, waiting nervously and willing him to continue with his excellent form this season. Tomorrow I will enjoy the final stage of the tour, the ride into Paris. I will enjoy the lovely Carlos being crowned champion and will look forward to next years race. 
I hope I will also be celebrating an excellent result from Tim. Sorry no photos of Tim on the new Apple, just his bike.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

The weekend

Woke this morning to light snow on the hills and ice on the deck. The sun was shining and the day had promise. I've had a bit of an email drought lately, everyone too busy I suspect.  Imagine my pleasure to hear from a few friends today, must get on to writing replies tonight. 
Friday drinks are a New Zealand institution and I had my first lot since I've been back last night. We talked about Margarita's at lunchtime and by the end of the day we needed them badly. The best Margarita's in town are at Flying Burrito Brothers. It would be rude not to eat there too as the food is delicious. Their marinated olives are something special and despite it being  a miserable night, the place was packed. 
Sitting yarning with friends and people watching is a wonderful way to spend the evening. The Margarita's come in a pitcher and we savored a couple while enjoying the company. I am slipping, I forgot my camera so no photos, sorry. 
Right now, the fire is going, the Tour de France is on the telly and we play the Aussies tonight in the tri nations so a night in, overdosing on sport. Think that deserves a wine or two. 

Thursday, 24 July 2008

It's cold

It's freezing outside again and Sam needs a walk. I know he does because he is bouncing around the room, and thats major when you are a ten year old lab, with his lead in his mouth. I did it this morning in the rain, so not my turn! 
There's snow on the hills behind the house but the fire is going and the house is warm. Now that might not sound a big thing but the fire broke towards the end of last winter and I have been waiting until yesterday for it to be fixed. Tonight it is belting out the heat in the living room while I am writing in the dining room and I can feel the heat from here.
The house is breathing a sigh of relief as it dries out and warms up. What is it about the radiant heat from a fire? Is it that you can see the heat in the form of flame? Does this bring back our primal beginnings when fire meant survival? All I know is that I need to be warm and the fire provides that, simple.
It's especially good to be able to sit in front of said fire and watch the Tour de France, vicariously traveling as the tour passes through my favorite parts of France. Tonight we have watched the stage up L' Alpe d'Huez. We climbed the Alpes in 2004 and watched Lance 
Armstrong blitz the field. I yelled and cheered with the best of them at the Dutch corner. Today my pick to win the whole tour, Carlos Sastra, showed his true colours and I cheered watching the telly willing him on as he won the stage by over two minutes. I have all the stages on disc so can revisit when I feel the need, when my feet itch to travel. Roll on tomorrows stage, go Carlos!

Now

When I had finished writing last night, I wondered what I would have to write about now. I'm not off working in a foreign land, exploring other places with wonderful photo opportunities or meeting new and interesting people. 
Then I got thinking, a phrase many of my friends dread because I have been known to share my thoughts and advice. Sharing my thinking can be badly timed and the advice badly delivered but my heart is always in the right place when I do it. Anyhow my thinking this time is about my life at the moment for I am still on my hikoi, my journey. 
The journey has changed for a while. I am reconnecting with the people I had built relationships with in my work life. I am out visiting the teachers in the kindergartens I manage, re establishing our relationships and seeing how life has been for them in the past six months. I have had some lovely conversations, I have been welcomed, I have enjoyed once again being in their place. 
It is very grounding to sit with a group of children and make a train track and transformers out of blocks; to join a birthday party at the dough table where a 3 year old is having, in her words 'my pretend 14 birthday party'; to watch proud parents arriving for their child's first day at kindergarten. All these activities came with some wonderful conversations. I value these and the many interesting people I get the opportunity to meet through my work. 

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Flying home


One last photo of Paris, sigh! I'm not sure when I'll be back, it took four years last time but I've put it to the universe that I want it to be a lot sooner than that. 
Now I'm not going to bore you with my plane story, no really I'm not. Suffice to say that on the first leg I got to lie down and sleep with three seats to myself. The second leg, the very long 18 plus hour one, I had to sit next to a lady who encroached on my seat. She was a very large lady. Yes, that was a long flight. 
Thank goodness for my ipod, an interesting retired teacher from Australia; a cute young French programmer of flight simulators and a precocious, just three year old with an amazing capacity for throwing a paddy. We had words as she kicked me through my seat. Her poor mum and dad were mortified. We made friends as you do when amusing a small child.
I planned to buy some duty free at Dubai as I had time and a couple of Qatari Riyal to spend. As my purchase was 125ml and I was going home via Sydney, I had to go and get the small tube of 'make me look younger' cream put in a sealed box, a very large sealed box. I then had to lug it around the airport for a couple of hours. I was unimpressed. The box was the sort you could carry three wine bottles in, I had a 125ml tube in it. Stupid rule. 
We got to Sydney and as I went to the gate I looked at a man sitting reading his paper in these early hours of the morning. He looked familiar and sure enough he was. Murray is, now wait for this, my youngest son's first girlfriend's, now an ex, who is still a daughter to us as she has lived with us on and off for many years between adventures, father. Quite complex really. Oh by the way, Cal's dad is also called Murray.
He had been staying with the lovely Callie in Singapore, where she now lives, after traveling Europe on a bus tour. Muzz had caught up with Cals on his way to Europe and then on the way back they met when she was dropping her dad to the airport to fly home.  They had told Murray that I was flying through Sydney, as he was, so he had waited for me at the Emirates gate. Small world of impeccable timing. We yarned a while, as you do, until off I went on my last plane for a while. 
The three year old and her mum and dad were also heading home to Christchurch after a family gathering in Germany. We kept each other amused for the flight, we were all quite silly after the long trip and we had two whole rows to ourselves, luxury! 
Landing in Christchurch the cold hit me hard, very hard. It was around 5C, windy and sleeting. Muzz had arrived home an hour or so before me so had gone home, fetched the car and my largest coat. The day didn't get any better weather wise but I did sleep. Roll on summer.

Insomnia!

I haven't slept well since I've been home. Being cold doesn't suit me and having to have heaps of bedclothes make me feel somehow claustrophobic. I enjoyed the hot nights in Qatar when I could sleep with just a sheet, breathing warm air and not having a cold nose. Very healthy for a dog I know. Talking about the dog, my getting up and reading in the night disturbs his sleep and he gets quite huffy with me when I turn on the light. He usually vacates to a darker place, after of course he has checked if I have anything to eat.
Thats one reason I struggle with sleep. Another is I think I am stuck in the wrong time zone. Taking melatonin has worked for me before in regulating my body clock but at the moment I feel awake and ready to party at 3am, 6pm Qatar time. This was the time when we went walking and caught up with each others day, a group of women charging down the corniche talking up a storm. I often wonder what the locals thought, I hope they didn't understand what we were saying, well some of the time! 
My mind is also very active at this time of day, sorting through issues and thinking about things. When I was writing, this was the time I got up and did my best work, so maybe I actually need a job that starts early and finishes early, just in time for a siesta.  
Here I am today at 5am, still awake, checking my mails and adding to my blog. When I go back to bed soon I will probably fall asleep until the alarm, not enough time to really feel refreshed. So if anyone out there has a solution to my sleeplessness, please let me know and I'll slip quietly back to bed for now.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Last tango in Paris



And it was a bit of a dance. I have probably mentioned this before, but when it comes to metro systems I have mastered many. I find the maps of the lines very logical and can work out a plan of where to go easily. I am the map chick after all, well not in Roma if you believe Di and not in Venice. I can even work out the cheapest way of doing it and have done successfully in Istanbul, Rome, London and now Paris. 
I get ahead of myself. From Musee d'Orsey, we caught the metro over towards Sacré Coeur intending to visit there and to see Espace Dali. We also fancied the idea of wandering around Montmartre. Wandering and watching is something I so enjoy, add taking photos to that and it is a perfect day for me. Unfortunately we ran out of time, actually after we lingered too long in the area, we very nearly missed our planes. A bit Freudian perhaps.  
Oh bugger, look at the time! We made a mad dash for the only metro station in the area that would take us directly to the hotel without changing trains. I had worked this out over lunch so poor Muzz had to trust me as we ran down the steps and onto the train. 
We ran to the hotel and while Muzz was trying to explain at the counter, I showed one of the staff where our bags were and retrieved them. We ran to the station dragging the bags, back onto the train. Oh no the wrong one, it did say it was going to CDG airport but luckily we overheard a Canadian couple asking and jumped off in time. Apparently that one went via CDG but didn't stop at the actual airport! 
We became friends with the Canadian couple as we waited. They were elderly and had decided to take several small bags on their travels instead of a bigger one each. They had discovered the basic flaw with their plan, they had to get five pieces of baggage onto the train. Together we managed to get the four of us, plus bags on the right train and off we went.
Now, anyone who know CDG knows that there are three terminals. We had made the assumption in the absence of solid knowledge, that Singapore Airlines and Emirates left from the same terminal. Arriving after the final check in time was stressful, not being able to find the check in was, well quite terrifying! 
No one we asked could help us for some reason until a nice Indian man I was a bit stroppy with when he wouldn't let me onto the escalator explained that Emirates left from a whole other terminal 10 minutes away on another train. I apologised, as I am perfectly capable of when I have behaved badly, and ran to the train leaving Muzz in my wake still trying to find the Singapore check in. 
Easy I thought, I'm 30 minutes late for final check in but it will be OK because I know where the counter is, how wrong could I be. Terminal 2 was more confusing than Terminal 1. I must have looked extremely desperate because a nice man showed me the general direction then some stewardesses showed me the check in line. Phew!
Did I mention there was a line? It was a very long line and I was the last one in it. There was a young Iraqi woman in front of me. She smiled and said, thank goodness I'n not last anymore! With that we struck up conversation, what an interesting young woman she was. It was great to share some of my Qatar experiences with her and discuss the Iraqi situation and Muslim culture with her. We had a bit of time as the check in was woefully slow. My breathing had quite returned to normal by the time we reached the front of the queue, the two last passengers. 
I was still dressed in my walking around Paris clothes so made time to get changed into some more comfy for traveling clothes. With the late check in, we boarded straight away, or rather the others did as I was getting changed. Yes, I was the last one to board but I made it! 
What a day. I was totally exhausted, feeling very sad to be leaving Europe but pleased to have some alone time. 
I had to include this bad photo of the Eiffel Tower as it was the closest we got this trip. I took this by climbing up on a high fence and perching the camera over the top of the mesh, so not a bad photo considering and a story of Paris would not be complete without it. 

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Karen and Charlie

It's so great to catch up with friends, especially old friends I haven't seen for a while. Karen and Charlie came down from Rotorua for one of their friends 50ths, thats what happens around our age. The three couples decided that Christchurch was the place to be. 
They had been on the TransAlpine rail trip across the Southern Alps to the West Coast and spent time taking a looking around the Christchurch environs.  I suspect most of the environs contained alcohol. The girls also did the shops, while Karen the non shopper and I met for lunch on Friday. 
It was cold, something Karen commented on frequently from the warmth of her Katmandu down jacket. For us hardier types, the day we met for breakfast was quite warm, well warm compared to the terrible weather we have had!
We had a big breakfast at Strawberry Fare, one of my favorite places to eat breakfast and the kind waitress took the photo to mark the occasion. We went and had a look around the Art Centre and, none of us being big shoppers, ended up at my place looking at the travel photos. 
Karen got quite excited when she saw the places she had been on her trip with the John Paul High French class a few years ago. Th photos got them quite excited. I think Charlie would like to explore his Italian ancestry by visiting Torino and I'm sure Karen would be keen to carry the bags! 

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Memories

When I looked at the last post I published, I wasn't too happy about how the photos and the words lined up, looked a bit messy to me. But how do you choose the photos to use when they are all so special and have special memories. I wanted to change the words to fit better but decided in the end I could live with it because my thinking had moved on. 
I was thinking more about the memories photos invoke; how when you look at photos that contain the memories of others, they are not as interesting as your own. I often sit and review my photos, all 1700 plus of my ones from Europe. I still don't have my ones from Qatar yet and I long to immerse myself in them as they contain some very special memories of my friends, of the places we visited and the times we had. 
While that possibly sounds a bit self centred, well really self centred, I'm sure everyone can relate to viewing the photos of others and how enthused they are about them while you are left not quite getting their significance. 
It's the same with memories of other places. I have often talked about my travels and work to others alongside sharing my photos. Some people love the stories and enjoy looking while others glaze over or worse don't want to know because they see the travels as your time, as excluding them. 
I take care now who I share with and I am very privileged to have friends who are travelers and enjoy sharing their stories with me as well. We have long talks, talks of longing. We talk about what we might do if we could choose without constraint, choose without thinking of our commitments to others. Dreaming leads to doing, I know that, but it often takes a more planned approach as well. 
I so enjoyed my trip around Europe after being in Qatar. I especially enjoyed my time with Di in Rome, wandering and taking photos. There is one little story that has escaped both our blogs. Feel free to glaze over.
In Rome it's possible to buy alcohol in a supermarket. This was such a novelty for me that we decided we would, a rosé for me and a chianti for Di. What we miscalculated was the distance to our home base, it was our first full day in Rome after all. We wandered carrying the heavy bag because we thought we should get nibbles too and found ourselves in an interesting bookshop. We both love bookshops. 
At some point I smelt a funny smell, a bit like rosé, as I was engrossed in the book I was reviewing. My feet were also a bit wet, thats funny I thought, until I looked down. The bottles had clinked together and the rosé had broken and was flowing freely onto the floor and over my shoes and new jeans. Oh crap! I made a hasty retreat outside to minimise the damage while Di tried to find something to clean up the mess. Luckily the shop assistant was understanding and with her help and the help of a couple of traveling Australians, the wine was sopped up. The place smelled like a brewery as we fled the scene dumping the broken bottle and ruined nibbles as we went. 
Di was generous enough to share the chianti a little later when we got home, not sure I'll live that one down. 

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Musee d'Orsey





We got up early the next day, left the bags at the hotel, caught the metro to Notre Dame and began our long walk around the sights in the area. Notre Dame was a place that made me feel very humbled to witness such a magnificent building, even after seeing so many churches on our travels. There was a choir singing when we visited, adding to the ambiance. 
We walked though Le Louvre and the Tuileries. On our last visit we had spent time in Le Louvre and had enjoyed a picnic in the Tuileries. It was a bit warmer that visit. We bypassed these wonderful places this time and headed for the Musee d'Orsey. 
Situated in the old railway station, Gare d'Orsey, the museum is an amazing art gallery containing the work of the French impressionists. It also has sculptures, furniture and photography in it's regular and special exhibitions. The building itself is very special, a work of art especially the main ball room. 
I am big fan of the impressionists especially Camile Pissario, Monet and van Gogh. It was wonderful to see their work all together and see the progression from pointillism to impressionist works. Amazing to think these artists had all worked together at times developing their unique style. I especially enjoyed Degas' bronze dancer who looked so much like our friends daughter Ruby, also a dancer. 
We could have stayed there all day but alas had to move on after getting our art fix to get our food fix, hungry work this art loving. Lots to see and only one day to do so, sigh, I wish we didn't have to fly tonight. 

We made it!


In the airport car park we unpacked the car leaving the cleaner half a bottle of wine and some other goodies we didn't want to carry. We must have looked so funny, two scruffy looking people piling all their belongings into two bags, packing then repacking because one of us was cold and needed her red pashmina! We had managed breakfast in a small town where our slept in appearance didn't put the locals off their wine, yes two hardy souls had a vino in front of them at 7.30 am. But I was hungry again and tired so a little cranky. 
We managed to get on the metro after carrying the bags down steps, why do they do that in train stations and airports when they know that the majority of people will have bags? This time we had booked a hotel for the night, a modern one with a bath! We arrived at check in time and I had a long bath then a sleep. We didn't see much of Paris that day, it was a bit cold and wet so a good day to chill. We did go out for dinner and got to watch another European cup match in the bar. Well the fans watched, cheered and jeered and I watched the fans. 
The photo is of me looking very pleased to be in Paris again, even if we had to leave later that day. We had to carefully choose what we could fit into the day but any day in Paris is a good day. 

Onwards to Paris 2



We headed towards Paris via Le Mans because it would have been terrible to not visit the famous race track with such a keen motor racing fan on board. The famous race had been on over the weekend so had we been a day or two earlier we could have gone and watched. No worries, the museum was worth the visit. 
We wandered around looking at all the vintage and classic cars and motorbikes. I loved the sidecars as we had had one. I have fond memories of trips to the coast and around Canterbury, baby in the nose of the sidecar in his carry bag. The things we did in the 70s! 
I was also thrilled to see grandad's old Citron. He used to take us kids on trips through the rough coast roads, pumping up the suspension when the going got tough, much to our delight. I must confess, I got bored before Muzz did but it was a worthwhile stop. 
We headed towards the Versailles entry to Paris and stopped to see the sights on the way, the palace and the parks. Did I mention that we had not book any accommodation at this point? We had tried at an internet cafe a bit earlier to no avail. That should have rung some warning bells! 
We pressed on thinking we would get something closer to Paris. That was not to be. Plan B, we would head towards the airport where we were to drop the car the next day. I must be a good navigator because we found the airport. There were heaps of hotels in the surrounds but they were all full. Plan C, the not in the plans plan! We kept driving north checking at any hotel we could find to no avail. There was a lovely full moon and we saw some interesting towns like Chantilly and Senlis by the light of the moon. 
We finally gave up, found a layby alongside some trucks and hunkered down in the car. The layby also had a service station so a loo and a hot chocolate, much needed by then. A few swear words were said, the cold and uncomfortable night passed and back to Charles de Gaulle we headed to drop off the car and catch the metro to see the sights of Paris. 

Onwards to Paris!


OK, the electric blanket still looks good but thought I would add just one more post. 
Onwards to Paris! Well that was the idea. We headed towards Paris expecting to meet Di and Gert there for a couple of days. Change of plan, they both picked up the flu on their trip to Turkey. I was so looking forward to exploring Paris again and to explore with such good friends would have made it very special. Alas, I didn't want their flu and they weren't up to traveling. Next time!
We drove until it was late and found a Logis de France hotel on the side of the road, looked perfect. They had a spare room or two so we booked in. What the hotel also had was a lovely owner who was an excellent cook, and a very friendly golden lab. Muzz and her talked about dogs in broken French and English while I rushed up the stairs to the loo. 
The hotel was very old and amazing inside with low ceilings and flagstone floors. We walked through the village just in time to see the local school end it's end of year concert, mums, dads and kids everywhere. Obviously a close community by the conversations and laughter. The locals even greeted the strangers walking by. 
Part of the nights stay was a set menu with the most delicious home cooked food. I had three courses including some yummy salmon and another carafe of wine, all by myself. And I managed to negotiate the stairs just fine! We met some lovely people in the dining room, obviously locals out to dinner. One group spoke English so helped us to negotiate the menu. Breakfast was also included. When I went to pay the bill, I was surprised when she said it was under 50 Euro. not a bad price for dinner, bed and breakfast for two people. 
Little did I know that the next night accommodation would not be quite so salubrious. 

Sick :(

Well it had to happen. I have been so lucky coming home to the cold and not getting sick but yesterday that changed, picked up a small tummy bug. I am home today, not long out of bed and thinking the electric blanket seems like a good idea again. I am not one to lay about and hate being sick but it's a bit cold and I'm sure I could find a good book to join me if I looked hard enough. 
I got a call from a friend in Rotorua yesterday to tell me she was coming down. I love the AirNZ grab a seat sales, people can pick up cheap seats and travel without having to plan too far ahead. I can't wait to see Karen and Charlie. I went to their wedding a couple of years ago and they are so happy together it makes me smile. 
I am planning my next trip at the moment too, off to Canberra to watch Tim compete in the worlds in the last weekend of August. It will be wonderful to see him and Sarah again, I have really missed them. I don't get to watch him race much any more so it will be special to be part of the mountain biking scene again. 
As we will be flying though Sydney, we will catch up with Muzz's brother David. I have tried to convince the youngest to meet us there but the response was less than warm "do you know how f*n cold it is in Canberra, colder than Christchurch and you want me to go there. You must be mad!" Plan B, I will have to use some of my precious air points to visit Brisbane soon. 
Need to work out how long I need to be working again before I can take some leave.....

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Mont St Michel




The day arrived, I was going to see my place. We drove through some lovely countryside, had coffee in a small hotel on the estuary and admired the stone houses. 
I was quite emotional when I first saw Mont St Michel, gobsmacked actually. It was everything, more than everything, I had expected. Just a shame we had to share it with so many other people!
The camera was out, the sore arm forgotten and off we went exploring. How to describe......well, I'm still a bit speechless so I'll refer to Wikipedia for some facts.
The first monastery was built on Mont Saint Michel in the eight century after the archangel Michael appeared to the bishop and instructed him to build a church on the rocky outcrop. It is featured in the Bayeux Tapestry which commemorates the Norman conquests of 1066. Mont St Michel reflects different architectural styles as it was fortified and added to over the centuries and is classified as a Gothic style church. It was used as a prison to house political prisoners during the French Revolution and was restored by influential people such as Victor Hugo in the late 1800s. It was declared an historic monument in 1874 and a UNECO World Heritage site in 1979. 
The tide is fierce and we watched it sweep in rapidly across the salt flats. So real in my dream and in real life, the tide measures about 14 metres between the high and low tide marks. The causeway makes traveling to the Mont safe at any tide but many choose to cross the salt flats on foot. Quicksand and the fast tides still cause drownings today.
All that notwithstanding, I had the best day exploring, didn't want to leave and dragged my feet down the hill. I realised why when I found the very small chapel on the way down. I needed to visit there before I could leave. The Chapel of St Michael featured a lovely statue of St Michael and had an amazing feel to it, very peaceful. We sat a while and bought a candle for Sarah as well as lighting one. Then continued down the hill to watch the tide coming in. 
As we drove away, the light changed and lit the Mont up with evening light, priceless. 


Brittany



We pushed north to Brittany and arrived at Dinard late in the day. The reason we had gone north is that I had been waiting for years to visit a place called Mont St Michel. As a child I had dreamt about the place, recognised it much later in a book and so learnt the name. I had dreamt that I was riding on a horse towards the town with the sea closing in quickly behind me making the causeway impassable. The causeway is now a road protected from the tide, but I digress. I was very excited to be actually visiting the place in my dreams but we had to find somewhere to stay for the night. 
Dinard is a lovely clean town with some wonderful architecture, gingerbread houses and mansions on the hillside overlooking the sea. It is also has daylight until about 10pm and the excellent light makes taking photos a pleasure. The restaurants sold the most amazing range of seafood so we ate very well. It was a little chilly in the evening, was very pleased I'd kept my warmest pashmina in the bag. 
We wandered around a coastal path in the morning and came around a bend to see St Malo, the pirate capital of Brittany, before us. The coast is very beautiful. It's where those amazing photos of lighthouses with the waves breaking over them are taken. Lighthouses are everywhere and needed as the coast is very rocky with many small islands some only visible at low tide. On the days we spent in the area the sea was very calm but people told us that the waves break over the high wall at St Malo when there are storms. 

Oh no!

For the first time our last minute hotel booking system failed. We turned up in a picturesque town just outside of Bordeaux and the hotel didn't have a booking for us. We had found the Logis de France site very good for booking small, inexpensive hotels. This time the message got lost somehow, no worries but also nowhere to stay the night. We pressed on to Bordeaux and found a Formulae 1 hotel. Part of the Accor group the F1's are a very cheap place to stay and very easy to find. The rooms sleep three so are good for families. Well that was who used them on our last trip, now they seem to be mostly used by men of the traveling variety, truck drivers, salesmen etc. The three woman I spotted were well outnumbered.
The main problem with F1 is that the loos and showers are those self washing communal ones down the hall. I had had a bad experience in a small town with those types of loos on the last trip, door came open a bit soon then wouldn't when I needed it to. Think I might have slammed it a bit hard? I had also had an interesting experience with a Frenchman the last time I'd stayed in an F1. Wish he'd put the towel, the very small towel, around his waist on the way to the shower and not over his shoulder. The look he gave me was full of promise......his advertising might have been better suited to the audience. 
The good thing about F1 is that there is breakfast. This one also had a cheap restaurant nearby with some excellent wine on their list. With Muzz not drinking, I had to polish of the carafe by myself. Back in the room, on goes the telly to drown out the man next doors telly and who should be there large as life but the All Blacks. I'm no good at watching telly in bed, after wine I'm worse, so off to sleep I went with mutters in my ear of 'aw ref, we watching the same game' and 'they're in our backline ya plonker' as Muzz got his rugby fix. 

Movies

One of the things I missed in Qatar was going to the movies. We had discussed this in our group and decided that it was in the too hard basket although there were movie theatres in some of the malls.
Annie and I get together when we can for drinks and a movie, so we arranged on Friday night to go and see Second Hand Wedding, a New Zealand movie one of my colleagues had enjoyed. It was a tough call as Sex in the City was the other choice! What swayed it really was that it was at the Arts Centre in the Cloisters, a theatre with lovely amibiance. That and it was close to the Dux a vegetarian restaurant and bar. We must be getting old to choose that over gorgeous, naked men!
I had to laugh, all around Europe and in Qatar I had often offered, and been asked, to take photos of people on their cameras. We had been in the Dux about 10 minutes when the table next to us asked for such a photo. The young couple were newly weds and they had family with them so wanted to record the moment. Annie and I got snapping with both their cameras, and they were delighted with the results.
After grabbing a bite to eat and a wine and talking each others ears off, as we do, off we went. The movie was fantastic, badly acted in places but a real heart warming story. A very New Zealand story that contained the best about us, and the worst. I won't give away the story line but Annie and I laughed and cried and then laughed and cried at the same time. It touched home in places too where people were being hard on each other and themselves. It was set in a beautiful part of New Zealand, the Kapiti Coast, and the shots of people on the beach made me hungry to revisit my beach places in the north.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Whio



We left Carcassonne and headed north. We stopped in a small town along side the Canal du Midi as we followed it north to have a late  lunch. One thing France is not short of is excellent boulangerie or bakeries where you can buy anything from a baguette to a pastry or my personal favorite, a chocolate eclair. There are usually a fruit shop, a wine shop and a cheese shop nearby so voila, lunch.  
We were walking along one of the small canals off the main one when we spied a New Zealand flag and a barge called Whio or blue duck. I wonder if the owners are from NZ? No one was home on our way towards the lock for lunch but on the way back we met Neil and Ian from Pahiatua and stopped for a chat. 
Whio was built in NZ and shipped to Belgium and spent it's time plying the waters of Europe. It was an amazing barge, very big, a lot bigger than I had imagined a barge would be, comfortably sleeping eight people. 
Neil and Ian were experienced sailors and loved their time on the canals, a pair of very laid back New Zealanders enjoying an enviable life style. I took their photo so I hope they see this entry. They did ask me about my injury, funnily enough how much I'd had to drink, why do people think that about me? I told them they should see the other guy. 
I have always been amazed about how locks work and it was interesting to see them in action, three locks to get from the big canal into the one we sat alongside. These small towns in France are so interesting to visit, something that is easy if you travel the smaller roads but not so  possible from the A roads. 

Carcassonne



Carcassonne was an amazing place. I had first seen it on a Tour de France stage on TV then when the All Blacks played there. I knew then I had to visit. I was still in my sling but to hide this embarrassment, I wore my pashmina over the offending sling. I also learnt that I could take one handed photos.
Walking through the old town it was easy to feel like I was stepping back in time. The cobbled streets led into the fortified part of the town said to have been first settled in 3500BC. The Romans fortified the hilltop on which Carcassonne sits in 100BC and from there these fortifications were added to over the centuries. In 1096 Pope Urban blessed the stones of the new cathedral, the Basilica St Nazaire, a stronghold against the Cathar (thanks Wikipedia for the detail). The tour inside the city includes a comprehensive history lesson in an audio visual format, very informative. The town was in disrepair in the late 1800s and renovation began on the 53 towers and double ring of ramparts, a huge undertaking with the tools available at that time. The result is an awe inspiring town with some wonderful Roman artifacts on display.
When we visited, we shared our time with some young people from the USA as well as families from other parts of Europe. I think the opinion on the experience was unanimous, an amazing place to spend the day. I just wish I had had my camera when we visited the hospital, night photos would have been amazing! I will include some of my other photos on Flickr. 

Friday the 13th


Friday started out well, in Arles seeing the sights and then driving towards Carcassonne to a small village hotel where I had booked for the night. It ended in an over 4 hour stay at Carcassonne Hospital accident and emergency clinic! 
The small hotel was alongside the Canal du Midi so after a long drive, a walk was tempting. Down the stairs I went to get my shoes from the car, well that was the plan. Instead down the stairs I went slipping in my socks, down several steps actually. I landed hard, on my left arm, on the marble steps. Oh did I mention it was a marble staircase? Unfortunately as I went down in a heap, I caught my thumb nail on the edge of a step and ripped it half off. It bled and went black, not a good sign. I was in a state of shock of course, but not as shocked as the poor hoteliers! 
Checking everything out, I could feel that my arm was a bit sore. The sore thumb kind of took over at first. Those helping took one look at my arm, luckily I couldn't see it, and sent me to the village doctor who sent me along to the hospital, first diagnosis: Broken! 
I waited to be x-rayed holding my poor throbbing thumb up in a pashmina sling, yes they are a multipurpose garment. X-rays done, we waited for the doctor to read them. By this time it was late and of course I was hungry. Alas it took longer still! 
Meanwhile, Muzz filled his time in by texting the kids, very mean! He got the expected replies; 'tell her to take a cup of harden the (bad swear word) up' and 'it took you two weeks of traveling to push her down some stairs'. Yes, it's true my sons love me dearly! 
The doctor came back and said it wasn't broken. He scratched his head and said in lovely broken English that he couldn't believe how it hadn't broken given the bruising etc. What he didn't realise is that when it comes to bones, I am superwoman. When I got back to NZ and had the x-ray checked, my kinesiologist commented on how thick my bones were. Normal people have bones that break, this chick has bones that bend, too tough to break! 
The doctor also had to drill a hole or two in my thumb nail to release the blood that was causing the throbbing. I had been through this before so knew the drill, if you'll excuse the pun. Fortunately the first hole released some blood, unfortunately the second was drilled into healthy tissue.....mmmmm that hurt. But wait there's more. Did I mention the doc was young and wouldn't have been out of place on ER? No, well he decided to put a sling on me, quite a nice experience really given the circumstances. We got back to the hotel very late. 
In the morning I felt very sheepish sitting at the breakfast table all slung up with Muzz having to butter my toast and pour my tea. The hoteliers came to check on me and the lovely cuddly chef gave me some sweets for being brave. What I didn't find out until later was that the joke he and Muzz were laughing about was my state of intoxication at the time I fell down the stairs, I hadn't been drinking....really! 

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Back at work

Back to reality this week, back to work in my pre Qatar job. Funny that things have changed in six months but not as much as I have, I suspect. I spent the first couple of days catching up on the hirings and resignations, meeting minutes and reports. Little wonder I didn't have the energy to get on the computer at night at home to update my blog! 
I have settled a bit now after some wonderful support from my new manager Rose. She knows the right thing to say to enhance my sense of belonging, compromised by my time away from this place of work. After three days I am actually getting my cynical side back, a truly kiwi trait. 
I was thrilled today to get emails from my Qatar whanau announcing that they are all descending on Christchurch for our inaugural reunion in October, very exciting. Wonderful of Air New Zealand to have a grab a seat sale at the right time, karma! Will have to stock up on the wine and chips. I can't wait to have a catch up although we are all keeping in touch via phone and emails at the moment. 
We are getting visitors tonight, family from the other side of the hill, so will add some more on my travels on the weekend. 

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Friends


I had an eventful Saturday evening including sliding sideways in the car down our driveway in the snow to go to Jo and Tony's; eating a yummy seafood pasta and apple and blackberry pie; sitting by a fire thats working; watching the All Blacks beat South Africa in the rugby and getting home in the sleety and slippery conditions. Oh and then there was the nice red we polished off. A lovely evening despite the weather, so thanks guys. 
Sunday dawned very chilly and forbidding so was wondering if the brunch was still on. Luckily Muzz parked the car at the bottom of the drive as it was still a little slippery. Into town to Strawberry Fare where Shirley, Keri and I had our inaugural Qatar reunion. It was so wonderful to catch up and share our "now we are home" stories as well as have some laughs over our Qatar adventures. Someone told me once that the Middle East gets into your blood and I think they are right. The lifestyle is certainly family friendly and peaceful and, as I have said before, the people extremely hospitable. 
We got the waiter to take the picture to mark the occasion, of course my camera was in my handbag where it has lived for the past few months. I was pleased that Keri had kept up with my blog and hope Shirley has now too. The planning is underway for our get together in Christchurch in the next school holidays. Do you think we could make it some where a bit warmer?

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Arles



Arles was the home of Vincent van Gogh and many of the scenes he painted are still part of the town for example the cafe at night and the hospital gardens. Arles was established by the Greeks as early as the 6th century BC (thanks Wikipedia) and has some amazing Roman ruins including a Roman arena that, I believe, is as impressive as the colosseum in Roma. 
I thought the pillars needed some support so held them up for a while and the other photo is of the Roman forum with the arena in the background as well as an ever present church. Restoration of the arena and forum are well underway and both are used for community events such as concerts and bull fights. 
The last time we were in Arles we visited van Gogh's bedroom. It cost us a bit but we thought it was too good an opportunity to miss. As a teenager, I was a big van Gogh fan and when I moved out from home, I set my new bedroom up to be as close to his painting as possible. Well, mine looked more authentic than the one we visited in Arles, at least I had a real bed and chair! We had  stood at the top of the stairs looking into an MDF and paint replica of van Gogh's bedroom and fell about laughing. We still laugh about that now and believe it or not, the display was still set up for tourists in the same way. We declined to revisit, opting instead for a coffee at the local cafe and some people watching. 
Arles is one of those places in the world where I could happily live. 

The south of France



I love the south of France. I love the winding, hilly roads. I love swimming in the Mediterranean. Most of all I love chilling out on the beach, watching the world go by. We took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up at Sanary San Mer, a lovely place with a pebble beach. It was later in the day before I got to go for a swim but still nice and warm. Muzz even ventured in for a short time. The water wasn't as warm as it had been on the Amalfi Coast but still good for the soul to be in the sea again. The small seaside towns are a treat along the coast, so laid back and pretty with their yachts and tropical trees. Alas we didn't stay long, onwards to Arles for the night.  

Arles was a place we had loved on our last visit but we couldn't spend a lot of time there as we were following the tour. This time we allowed ourselves a bit longer and lazed around for the day visiting the sights and enjoying the general ambiance of the place. 

To France and a car



Earlier in this blog I wrote about our time in Torino, a surprisingly nice place. One thing I didn't mention earlier was that my faithful black shoes had given up the ghost and I binned them in Torino. Anyone who knows me, knows I have a thing about shoes. I have a few pairs, actually a pair for most occasions and I love heels. I really struggle buying sensible shoes and thats what I had to do to replace my faithful walking sandals. After trying on many pairs, I found a pair that worked and off we went to the station, onwards to Nice.

It was quite a long way to Nice, through amazing mountain villages and tunnels. It was a bit worrying when the conductor tried to tell us something and then had to come back with another conductor who spoke a little English. They both looked very concerned as they told us that the French were on strike and we wouldn't be able to get to Nice, bugger one of the few places we forward booked accommodation. No point in worrying so we sat back and enjoyed the scenery. 
We eventually arrived at Nice, late in the day and found our hotel. It was a bit dodgy so we found a lovely restaurant in which to celebrate our return to France. The next day we picked up our car, luxury no more dragging the bags, and off we went to explore the places we loved so much last time we were in France. 
Oh yes, it's still snowing in Christchurch. Very white, very beautiful and very cold!

Venizia



It was exciting coming in to Venice on the train. I had always wanted to go to Venice after reading many books set there and hearing the stories of others. On the train we met some newly married Americans and chatted to them about their travels so far. One of the advantages of train travel is meeting people and chatting as the countryside passes by. 
We ventured out of the station dragging our ever present bags, down the steps and up over the bridge over the Grand Canal. Our hotel was a short distance away but we didn't notice the inconvenience as we soaked up the sights. I wasn't disappointed, it was amazing. We wandered the alley ways and waterways using the map to guide us, and true to form in Italy, we got horribly lost. Lesson 1: Maps don't work in Venice any more than they do in Roma. 
When we discovered that the best way to travel was by ferry, we managed to find our way to San Marco's piazza. It was lovely cruising on the ferry looking at all the wonderful buildings sitting so close to the water. We explored the piazza, a beautiful place especially with the late afternoon light on the ornate buildings, great for photographing. We sat at a cafe and looked at the menu while listening to a string quartet with the inevitable piano accordion. We made a quick get away when we saw the prices. Lesson 2: Don't sit at a cafe in San Marco's piazza unless you can afford a $9 coffee. 
It was getting late and I was hungry as we returned on the ferry to our hotel, or thats what we thought we were doing. We ended up somewhere else, somewhere not on the map, oh no! All was not lost, back on the ferry, right around the islands as the sun was setting and back to where we started at the railway station. It was a very cheap cruise, but I was a bit hungry and therefore a bit grumpy by the time we got to eat. Lesson 3: Check which way the ferry is going before getting on. 
We went out for the evening to a local bar, sat alongside a canal with a nice red listening to good music and people watching, priceless. 

It's snowing


As you can see by the photo it's snowing outside, sticky snow that has settled and is making my trees bend and groan under it's weight. And it's still falling coating everything in white, beautiful but freezing. It's 2pm and I can't see the city or the hills. It's very white while not letting any daylight through, lights and heaters on full. 
Sam doesn't like the snow. He ventured out for a second or two, decided it was too cold to pee and hurumphed inside in true Sam fashion onto his bed. He is a dog that has truly perfected sighing and the look he gives......hey, it's not my fault it's snowing and cold outside. 
Our drive is a bit treacherous in this weather as it's steep. Our neighbour has just slid his way down. Think it might be wise to park our car at the bottom for the moment before it becomes impassable. We are going to Jo and Tony's tonight to have a catch up, a meal and watch the rugby. I am doing the dessert, caramel apple pie I think, so I don't want to miss out on that. Oh did I mention they have a fire.  

Friday, 4 July 2008

Firenze



By the time we got to Firenze or Florence we realised that when traveling by train, the best place to stay is close to the railway station. You would think that was obvious but it took us a a while to work out. It was a bit cold and wet in Firenze, spring time weather. We wandered the streets and came to Ponte Vecchio. This was the only bridge over the Arno River to survive the war and is quite impressive. Lined by shops that equal the gold alleys of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, the bridge was packed with people.

Looking at the prices, I was left wishing I was back in Qatar in the gold souq. The products and the prices were much more NZ dollar friendly. I wear my ring and the necklace from there everyday. My necklace has my name in Arabic, a very precious reminder of the people I worked with in Qatar. The teachers tried their best to to have me fluent in Arabic through immersion but alas I only learnt to write a few words, including my name and understand some of their conversations. 
I bought a T shirt, a bit touristy but I liked the rip off of the coke label. We also found some shoes the youngest would have been impressed with. Unfortunately Kez, these were a little out of our price range and we had already bought your birthday present.  
Mmmmm, did I say it was snowing outside? Brrrr.

Perugia



Perugia was a place I was really keen to visit, a medieval walled city that looked fantastic in the brochures. I was disappointed. That could have been because it was wet, our hotel was away out of town, it was busy or just because I'd been spoilt by the other places we had been. 
The high point of Perugia was meeting the owner of the local laundrette, a former professor of Italian descent who had lived and worked in New York and had retired to Perugia. The machine had swallowed our money and he came to the rescue. We talked about Muslim/US relationships and the politics of Bush as well as other topics of world politics such as the increases in the cost of living. I was interested that he believed democracy to be a have, a myth that suits the rich and disadvantages the poor. His wife was from the Middle East so he was interested in hearing some of my thoughts having lived there for a short while. We could have talked for ever but we were interrupted as happens when you are in a public place. 
I did get to eat a fine risotto with truffles, rather partial to truffles I have discovered, washed down by two glasses of wine. For some reason by asking for a glass of wine we got one each. I had to rescue Muzz and drink his as well as mine, the sacrifices I make. 
We decided that Umbria was a place worth revisiting, next time with a car as the little villages were not so accessible by train. Onwards to Firenze. 

Train rules

Leaving Assisi we rushed to catch the train that had just arrived. A Eurostar, a bit flasher than the Trenitalia trains we were used to. Oh, they also run by different rules but no one told us that. We settled in for the short trip to Perugia. Along came the conductor. She was not like any conductor I have ever seen before. Muzz was besotted instantly, she was fashion model beautiful and could have graced any catwalk in the world. 
Unfortunately she had some bad news for us in her wonderfully accented English, we needed to pay extra to travel on Eurostar, 30 Euro each extra. And we needed to pay this at the station or the penalty was to double the extra cost. We professed our innocence of this rule, and we were indeed  innocent. She was wonderful, carefully explaining to these dumb tourists the rules around the trains we could travel on in Italy. 
We discussed the extra cost and I must confess I argued a little although she had us cold. All the time Muzz had a silly grin on his face as he gazed up at her while nudging me in the ribs every time I spoke. Then a miracle happened. She must have bought our innocence so she proceeded to "maka a mistaka" with issuing the new ticket, basically a two for one deal. The other passengers watching this exchange, and having it translated by said goddess, thought this was a fair solution. While she was making the mistake, she talked to us finishing with a "there, whata mistaka to maka" and a big smile. A truly beautiful lady. 
We met many people in Italy who were prepared to give us some leeway, people who encouraged our attempts at their language, who made us feel welcome and sent us to their favorite places and who made traveling there such a pleasure. 

Assisi


Assisi was like stepping back in time. The stone houses were well kept and the cobbled streets a treat to explore. Quite by accident we found the Chapel of St Francis who of course hailed from Assisi. It was tiny and hidden amongst the houses. The thing that strikes me all around Italy and from our trip to France earlier, is that the history of these places is valued. 
In New Zealand we don't seem to value our history so much. People say that we have no history, not true. We have a rich indigenous history as well as the later explorers and settler making their mark. These adventurous ancestors form a large part of our make up, of what makes us who we are. Not surprising then that kiwis are renowned as travelers, bat above their weight on the world stage in many endeavors and were amongst the first to sign up to the empire's struggles in both world wars. Religion is also a part of our make up. 
I am not a religious person, Muzz is a Catholic. We visited many churches on our journey. Each time we entered one, he stood well away from me until he had made sure it was safe, just in case of lightning bolts. He bought some prayer cards from Assisi for Sarah and himself and was most touched by the spirituality of the place. I enjoyed the peace and tranquility of many of the churches, especially the small ones in small towns where the sense of community pervades.  

The journey continues...

We left Capri late in the day after being ripped. Fancy being charged 11 Euro for an espresso, a cafe latte and a very small cake! The waiter had the good grace to look a little sheepish when he saw my face.
The ferry to Napoli was interesting. We got on the wrong one, confirmed by the ticket collector on board, but we were underway by then. Luckily we weren't cast off in a life boat by the look on his face. We got to Naples a bit early then, walked through the dirty streets and found a train to Roma, yes back to the lovely city. We stayed in another part of the city this time, away from the tourist routes. We ate at a local cafe, full of locals funnily enough, recommended at the hotel. The food was devine, the waiter reminded me strongly of House. He had a similar table side manner! 
It was great being back in Roma, even if just for the night, that city grows on you. The next day we were off again, on a train to Perugia in Umbria. One of the main advantages of our ticket is that we could hop and and off the train if we wanted to do side trips. Assisi was one of those side trips. Drop the bags at the station, a short bus trip and we were in the most beautiful place, a well chosen stop. 


Stormy night


Last night the heavens opened up and down came the hail. Something had to give. It had been mild, compared to previous days, and a cold front was due. The thunder was loud and impressive, the lightning closer than I would have liked. We live on the side of a hill so the the storms from the south come down the valley and hit us hard. This storm appeared to come from the norwest. I went out to check the damage and found the deck and my garden covered in deep hail. It was freezing too of course. 

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

More photos from Anacapri



Anacapri



From Praiano we set off on the bus to Sorrento. The trip was amazing, more communities cascading down the hillsides and those amazing views. We decided to go to Capri for a look as a friend had told me it was a highlight of his holiday. As I was looking for accommodation, I found a hotel in Anacapri so it was settled, we were off to Capri for the night. The ferry trip was lovely and I was in awe of the landscape as we approached the island, very steep and rugged. I was wondering if there was a place for the ferry to berth and sure enough, we came into a sheltered bay to see a small town nestled into the hillside. After checking the trusty map, we decided to get a taxi to our hotel. I didn't fancy dragging my bag up that hill! 
A good, if expensive idea. After a scary ride up the side of a cliff we arrived at Faulty Towers, or rather a hotel and staff that initially reminded us of Basil and his crew. We had to review that, once again the people were friendly and helpful providing us with a map and marking the main sights on it. We went wandering. 
Anacapri is the village at the top of Capri Island and seemed like a peaceful community. We visited Axel Munthe's house, one of the local tourist attractions and well worth the entry fee. Munthe was a Swedish writer, artist and doctor who lived in Anacapri in the late 1800 early 1900s. His sculptures are amazing and can be seen in the village. His house, the Villa San Michele was built on the ruins of the Roman Emperor Tiberius' villa. In the process of building he found many Roman artifacts and he restored those to display in his house and gardens. The villa sits at the top of the Phoenician Steps and, at 327m above sea level, the view of the surrounding area is spectacular. Thanks Wikipedia for the detail! 
We wandered the grounds and I took heaps of photos. It was a very restful place and I imagined what it might have been like to live there before the throngs of tourists invaded. There was a small chapel near the edge with my friend the Archangel Michael. Of course I couldn't resist another photo. Anacapri was a bit of time out and we did some shopping, getting gifts for the kids including the best birthday present for our youngest and most difficult to buy for. 



Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Amalfi 2


One of things I quickly noticed on my travels was that Qatar fit was not Italy fit. Qatar was flat. Roma had it's share of steps and hills but Amalfi was another step up from that, very steep and a climb to get to anywhere. Sometimes we got to go down first! 
So, we explored Praiano by going up and down steps and hills. We could see an amazing church as we lingered over a pizza lunch in the heat of the day. I couldn't believe that all the small towns had these ornate churches. This one had a mosaic dome and inside was the most amazing ceramic floor. People were worshipping so I refrained from taking photos inside but did get some of the outside. The smell of fresh flowers inside was overpowering and added to the sense that this was a community where the church was central to everyday life. 
I was sad to leave Praiano and know that I will return, next time for a week or two so I can more fully explore all that this part of the coast has to offer. 

Amalfi



Muzz and I left Rome on the train with a Trenitalia 7 day ticket, an excellent ticket where we could hop on and off trains for 7 days within 2 months. This was plenty for us and it worked out heaps cheaper and more convenient than booking individual journeys. 
Our first stop was Salerno at the start of the Amalfi Coast. It was a public holiday so very little was open but we did find an internet place so we could book the nights accommodation. Traveling without planning is fun but at times has it's pitfalls, like trying to find somewhere on the day. We found a place within our budget at a place called Praiano. 
It didn't look far on the map. We jumped on the local bus and the adventures began. Wow, the coast is amazing, steep drops into the sea, narrow roads, actually very narrow one way in places roads. Made us very pleased we didn't drive and were in a big bus! The short journey took us over two hours. We told the driver the name of our hotel and he dropped us at the road. Looking up, I was once again pleased I'd packed light. It was a long haul up the hill dragging our bags. 
The hotel was worth it, an amazing view as well as wonderful friendly owners and staff. The Holiday Hotel, very original I know, had a wonderful menu. The food was a delight, the lemon risotto and the dessert, strawberries in a sweet sauce, yum. I even sampled some of the local wine. The view from the balcony was spectacular. I couldn't believe the way the houses, hotels, gardens and lemon groves were suspended on the sides of the steep hills. 
I fell in love with the place, especially after I had had my first swim in the Medit for a few years. The water was deep and it was a bit scary getting in off the slipway the first time but after that poor Muzz had plenty of time to sleep while I enjoyed the water.