Monday, 30 September 2013

Eilean Donan

Around the corner and there it is, amazing. Eilean Donan Castle is a Mc Kenzie castle, I'm not sure of all the details but it is still used by a branch of the clan. As Wikipedia states:

Eilean Donan, which means simply "island of Donnán", is named after Donnán of Eigg, a Celtic saint martyred in 617. Donnán is said to have established a church on the island, though no trace of this remains.[4]
The castle was founded in the thirteenth century, and became a stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and their allies the Clan Macrae. In the early eighteenth century the Mackenzies' involvement in the Jacobite rebellions led in 1719 to the castle's destruction by government ships. Lieutenant-Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap's twentieth-century reconstruction of the ruins produced the present buildings.

I had to give Didge the shoes I was wearing the day I visited Eilean Donan. The blisters were so horrible I had to wear flip flops for the rest of my time in Scotland, despite the cold. As I wandered in the  castle I had one of those senior moments I tend to have, a bit of brain fade as another goldfish slops out. Did I lock the car? The car with all my worldly goods in it? I had the keys in my pocket so I raced to find a suitable window and leant out to press the lock the car button. A man saw me and chuckled to himself, I didn't dare turn around, mortified someone had witnessed this act of desperation. I'm not sure it worked, but it was locked when I got back, thankfully.

There is much more about the history of this interesting area  to explore on Wikipedia and in our family tree. A job for a quiet New Zealand evening. Now I've got packing to finish, my bag down to a very light 20kg after I posted some stuff home and gave away some other things. A good clearing out. Here's a photo I took while freezing in the fierce summer wind the whipped up the water.

More 6 degrees

That old 6 degrees of separation comes to mind as I travel. I stayed with Deborah and her family at Dunbar. Over breakfast I shared that I was traveling to Kintail to see the ancestoral home. The place my family on my mother's side emigrated from to come to New Zealand a few generations ago. Oh, said Deborah's husband, that's where my family are from.

Much later I continue this post I found in my drafts.

It seems that we both originate from the same Clan Mc Kenzie, his side the MacRaes and mine the MacKegans. It really is a small world. He was really helpful is telling me where to visit and the story of how the clan got to Kintail in the first place, from the other side of Scotland it seems. Up Inverness way. They must have been a hardy lot, apparently it was summer when I was there. It just didn't quite feel like it.

I wrote in an earlier post about staying at the Innseagan House Hotel  in Fort William. One of the musicians and I were chatting in the morning and he asked where I was from. Cayman came up, he told me that a friend of his was heading there soon to start a new job. We pieced it all together, she was the person who was hired to do Brent's job, a similar one to mine, and we would have been in the same team had I still been there. I had exchanged emails with her about apartments.

This evening I've been playing with my photos of Scotland, finally got them uploaded and sorted. It was a bit of a mission as there were hundreds on the card. Here's one of my first look at Kintail, a blink and you'll miss it type of place.

On the road again

Tomorrow, it's time to fly from my lovely Belgian whanau who always welcome me into their life when I turn up on their door stoop. I don't like goodbyes, not too good at saying them, especially those early morning ones. Tomorrow morning will be the goodbyes as Di and I disappear on the bus for the airport for our flight to Milan where a car will be waiting.

I've had some more driving practice, a trip to Spa that didn't end well. In fact it didn't begin well and only the middle bit had a few nice happenings. Like running into a restaurant and asking the poor waiter if I could use the loo before I ordered. I was that desperate and could only hope he understood my hurried New Zealandish. He laughed, pointed in the direction and off I ran. All was well when I was seated with a salmon bagel and espresso in the sun.

On the way to Spa, actually just down the road, the road works began. The exit I needed was blocked by steamrollers and the like so I just had to keep on going and take the detour. The poor satnav was very patient as I changed what she asked me to do. I apologised. So arriving at Spa over an hour later than expected wasn't ideal. I had also left about an hour later than I had expected, I slept in. Looking at the time, I figured I had a bout 90 minutes for a spa. Thank goodness I didn't book that massage as it took me almost that to find where I supposed to spa. Not enough time to do other than note where it was.

Oh well, it was a nice relaxing day out enjoying a part of Belgium I hadn't visited before so I made a mental note to do it properly next visit. The cable car up the side of the hill was fun, worth it for the view. Off I set for Antwerp, enjoying the countryside and yes, the road works were on both sides so a slow drive to the ring road. And that's where it stopped, 17 kms from Di's place, just about the time I had to get the car back to the rental company. A long while later, thoughts of picking up Di abandoned, I reset the satnav at the lights and headed for the rental company.

I was feeling a little smug, until she said, "you have reached your destination."

Mmmm no, not really. Maybe I was nearby? I drove on around the corner and found a park. A miracle in Friday rush hour Antwerp. I saw why it was there a moment later. It was the police station, the place all the police cars get to park. I looked slightly out of place. Still relatively calm, I called the rental company. You know the drill, what country are you in madam? With no power left on my phone, I managed to talk to someone who knew where to go so reset the satnav and off I went on a wild goose chase while the satnav was silent trying to sort out where I was in relation to where I should be.

It ended rather badly, I lost my cool and shouted at Di who was trying to help and, as we would say in New Zealand, totally packed a paddy. Not helpful that I was once again needing the loo, badly. I could see where I thought I needed to be but there were bollards in the way. I wasn't sure this car, despite being a rental, could jump those with a single bound. So, feeling teary and desperate, I asked a nice young lady if she could help. Help she did and off I went, left across rush hour traffic dodging cyclists, buses and trams then left again and into the parking garage.

Luckily the rental people were closed, I'm not sure how polite I'd have been and it wasn't really their fault. All's well that ends well, the tram arrived and off I went back to Di's place. I had to apologise and eat a small piece of humble pie, admitting that I had indeed experienced the terrible traffic that is the Antwerp ring road, the worst in the world according to this.

Driving to Verona tomorrow might just be easier than that, I certainly hope so. Once more Airbnb have come to the party with some good accommodation in all our stops on our 8 day whistle stop road trip through Italy, Croatia, Hungary, Austria and back. Staying in peoples homes and apartments is a good way to meet the locals and get local knowledge for the important things, like where to eat, what to see and where to park the car.

There were no great photos of Spa so here's my last of the day, a welcome back to Antwerp. I love this camel and rider set high above the square by the railway station, both better ways to travel here I suspect.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Abbaye de Villers

It seems the name of the abbey I visited today was Abbaye de Villers. Below is a little about the abbey from Wikipedia:

Villers Abbey (abbaye de Villers) is an ancient Cistercian abbey located in the town of Villers-la-Ville in theWalloon Brabant province of Wallonia (Belgium), one piece of the Wallonia's Major Heritage. Founded in 1146, the abbey was abandoned in 1796. Most of the site has since fallen into ruins.

Abbaye de Villers had a special feel about it, a restful peacefulness, I hope the photos give some sense of that.

It worked.....

Today on so many levels things worked. The new satnav excelled itself as I calmly drove my way to a new friends place in the countryside well beyond Brussels. Wendy has a wonderful house, the kind I dream of. A country house along a country road near a small village. A proper house with two stories and everything. I wanted to stay for the day and photograph the tiles on the floor, old tiles with amazing patterns and themes that were worn from generations of family feet. Just beautiful.

On the way to Wendy's I had a potential small mishap. I drove on the wrong side of the road for a small and forgivable moment. That was because of the abby right in front of me, unexpectedly through the narrow arches in the road. My mouth dropped open, I swerved accidentally. The oncoming car must have been a local and used to tourists doing just that. The abby is huge, I'm not quite sure of it's name as I, also accidentally, didn't go in via the usual entrance. Apparently you must pay, a side gate was open and I wandered in. I would have been happy to had I known.

I've had some really useful one on one and group tutoring with Di that included a workbook explaining the different features of my camera and how to use these to best effect. I really recommend her style of teaching; discussion on how to use the settings and practicing until using the settings becomes unconscious. Using your own way of seeing, knowing which settings to use automatically and not being afraid to experiment. Today I practiced, experimented. This evening I viewed the results. 

I was working on stopping water, making the water dance, making it the focus. I could fully engage with the fountain at the abby because there were so few people there, I could get engrossed and not worry about what was going on around me. I took photos from all angles with many different backgrounds, ISOs and focuses. Playing with what I had in iPhoto this evening resulted in the photo below, cropped from a larger one. I was delighted with the result. Thanks Di.

The other is of my new happy place, a small corner of a walled garden in which to contemplate. There were herbs along the wall adding fragrance to the soft air, another fountain with restful water and a lily pond. An ideal happy place. 

Thursday, 26 September 2013


It's funny, I really thought that I'd have the time to keep my blog updated with the stories from my travels. That's not gone well so far. I've only just up loaded my photos from Scotland and I've not really had time to look at them as yet. The days are filled with things to do, places to go and rest to be had. I'm actually feeling a little tired this evening after today's adventures. Tired enough for an early night and a good book.

There are so many snippets of storied to share. They come into my head at odd times, small memories that make me smile or giggle or cringe or cross. One that I was talking with Di about today was the small incident in the cafe at Lisbon's airport at some ridiculously early hour. Remind me never to book a 7am flight to anywhere from anywhere ever again. Sara and I were enjoying a very early breakfast after having left the apartment at 4.45am, sandwiched between an older English couple and a younger American couple.

It was hard not to listen to two lots of English speakers, in stereo. The older English couple's conversation went something like this after one of them had noticed the Victoria's Secret shop amongst the usual duty free fare.

"Victoria's Secret, " he said looking puzzled."What do they sell?"
"Underwear, " she replied. "Sexy underwear."
"What, like a sex shop, sex shop things?" he said with a look between shock and delight on his face.
"No, no not that sort of shop," she replied. "Only celebrities shop there, ones in the movies and such. Ones who can afford it. It's too expensive for ordinary people."

I giggled thinking about the cheapest finest Vic's Secret knickers I was currently wearing. I was tempted to comment, Sara gave me that wicked look she has to give at such times. We were both a little tired to engage in that delightful exchange. Then the second exchange began while I was still smiling. I only caught the end of it, the word savages piqued my attention.

It seems that this young couple, mid 30s maybe, were heading off on an adventure as missionaries. They said something about an island, an island of savages.

"It's okay", the young man said reassuringly. "We're lucky, it will be alright. Another American missionary has already been there and has civilized the savages a little for us."

Mmmmm there was more about the same savages finding their way to being Christians. I was horrified, speechless. These two people believing they had the right to call other people savages, to see them as less and to change their culture to their own. Colonisation hasn't changed much over time. I wondered just how many people they had really engaged with out there in the world, how their views might change as they learn to be part of another culture. Will they be welcomed and experience the beauty of new friendships or will they show that they have little value for the beliefs of others.

By the time I had gotten over my shock and become indignant, they were walking away. I was tempted to follow them, engage in a discussion and find out where they were going. Not so much to challenge, more to keep in touch and see how they were going, how their views might have been changed by their experiences. A small social experiment. I wasn't feeling very awake, or very coherent, so decided not engage this time. I suspect Sara was pleased about that.

A regal guard, Sterling Castle Scotland


An interesting day in Antwerp today. Yesterday I hired a car for some exploring, we made it back to Di's just fine. Today we set out for Brussels after visiting a friend just out of Antwerp and picking up the small one from school. We used Kiwi Ben, the original Cardiff Kate Sarah and I bought to negotiate Wales with a sex change. I'm not sure Kate wanted to be a boy, especially one who says, "chuck a U'ey and lets have a pie" when I've made a wrong turn.

Slightly irritating when the wrong turn was caused by a slow kiwi lad. Kiwi Ben takes his time to make decisions and communicates them just before the turn, the lane change, the exit. Not helpful when there's traffic and sudden lane changes are not quite possible. So a journey of a few kilometres becomes one of a many kilometres and much frustration. Being time bound did not help that much, schools don't wait for lost picker uppers.

We kept our calm, mostly, and managed to negotiate the tram lines, one way streets, roundabouts, ring roads, country lanes, road works, bikes and pedestrians without too much carnage and bad language all while driving on the other side of the road. A baptism of fire to driving in Europe, there's a first time for everything. The day ended well, tomorrow it's more of the same with a trip to Namur planned and a visit to another friend.

This is such good practice for our trip across the top of Italy, into Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary. That's next weeks adventure. Today a new satnav was purchased for that trip, I suspect that's a wise choice, I'm not sure my blunt map method would work so well on that journey.

I think I'd rather travel this way, although the water was way too cold for a swim.

Parking Cascais, Portugal

Cascais, nice day for a swim

Tuesday, 24 September 2013


I loved Lisbon, it was a city I could live in and enjoy. Wandering was easy, the people very friendly, food and accommodation reasonably priced, good coffee and wine, gorgeous scenery of city, river and ocean, boats commercial and pleasure, trams and taxis, the old and the modern. The apartment we stayed at was perfectly placed to see most of this from the window, wandering took care of the rest.

On the first day we wandered up to the Castel Sao Jorge that our apartment backed onto. It was quite a walk for this flat lander, lots of steep streets and steps. The sights and views over the river amazing. Sara and I were debating the direction when a lady stopped and asked us if we needed help. She was lovely and typical of the friendliness we found in Lisbon. Local people proud to show the delights of their city. Welcoming tourists to their place.

The photos below were taken as we wandered up to the Castel from a small garden and lookout close to a beautiful white church.

Thursday, 19 September 2013


What a treat. We met Julietta Beatrice, the woman of the button curtains in the small restaurant at the end of our street. There are just some people that really inspire, conversations born out of scallops, buttons and porto.

Julietta took a shine to us after our button comments and came out to talk. We had met her husband earlier when he recommended the seafood restaurant. She was there then, smiling at us. She may not have remembered. Tonight she is our friend, sharing philosophies and stories. She is well traveled, Mexico, Brazil and the USA. New York rather than middle America.

"I am 50, I am my story. I am I," Julietta was the gem of today. And there were many highlights. When you are in Lisbon next, go and visit her at Costa Do Castelo Bar Das Imagens. The perfect place to end the evening of a perfect day.

Salette and Julietta sharing a moment

One of Julietta's famous button curtains

Sunset from my window

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Where in the world.....

Portugal is a bit of a treat, an unexpected journey. Sara and I arranged it via Skype at the last minute and here we are, in an apartment built into the side of Castelo de Sao Jorge over looking the old city of Lisbon. Cobble stone streets, colourful tiles on the outside of the houses and the most amazing view. One of the houses in the panorama in the link is where we are. Thank you Airbnb! Our host told us there was a supermarket nearby, to the left and down the lift (elevator). We wandered down some steps, lots of steps and found it. By chance, we found the lift on the way home, phew, so many steps to get up.

The food here is fresh and cheap, the supermarket full of the essentials. We ate at a seafood restaurant, snow crab, garlic shrimp and of course the local delicacy grilled sardines. The waiter recommended the wine, a crispy white and very good with the seafood. Today we're off exploring and wishing we'd added a few more days to the stay. I suspect two days is not enough here. Today we explore, tomorrow we travel to Sintra. Photos will follow. 

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Spiders n things

There's nothing quite like an enormous spider on ones bedroom wall to chase away thoughts of sleep. Apparently I shrieked, a slight exaggeration. I just shouted a little for help as I tried to rope and wrestle the beast. I'm not fond of spiders, I have got braver over the years but still not brave enough for this monster, the second I've seen inside here. Think hand size with the legs spilling over a bit. A VBFES. Di was brave, stand aside she said very large book in hand. The vacuum choked on the enormous squished body. We left it on awhile then plugged up the hole with tissues. Just to make sure.

I'm being brave, I'm in the room of the spider. Not quite brave enough yet to actually pull back the covers and get into bed. I know that's inevitable, I'll just wait until the PTSD subsides a little and my heart beat slows. Breathe, just breathe as the song says. It's been a lovely few days, resting and wandering in Antwerp. Catching up on photos and reading and sleep. Just what the doctor ordered.

The next adventure is planned, London then on to Portugal with Sara. Air BnB came to the party again with a lovely apartment overlooking Lisbon. The city looks beautiful, the surrounds very interesting. It's only for a couple of days and I suspect that will leave me wanting more. Others tell me of their love of this country, the photos I see are stunning. Right, checking for spiders under the covers  while the pics load.

Now that's the life, not a spider in sight

All clear, phew!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

So easy to please

I'm happy this evening, downloading photos that had to wait until I could free up some space on my Mac. Today, with Gert's help and Di's support, I purchased another external hard drive. One I could drive this time. I didn't really trust the last one, I wasn't sure where my photos went and how I might retrieve them. Yes, I'm not that technological and glaze over when the technical terms get too complex. Others think I know what I'm doing, I just take a risk and make attempts that quite often work.

So this evening I have the pleasure of downloading to my new fancy, small and sturdy hard drive, deleting files and uploading the many photos I've not seen as yet. I'll do some work on these and add the ones I really like here. I can't believe how quickly they uploaded, no messages saying there isn't enough space, luxury. Photos will follow, here's one taken at San Fruttuoso while enjoying an espresso.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

A little jaded

I'm feeling a little tired, could be that I've been on the go for a few months without real down time. I'm loving being in Antwerp with Di and her lovely family and getting some time to do and be before heading back out there exploring. So far, in five weeks, my travels have taken me from Cayman to New Orleans to Ireland to England to Scotland to Italy with Milan, Acqui Termi and Genova and here to Antwerp via Brussels. It's been a fantastic start to my holiday.

Being too busy to write and having a computer that needs some TLC means I've not been keeping up on my entries here. Today it's a trip into town to buy an external hard drive so I can take away some photos to add some more. That just may fix things, that and continuing to delete obsolete files. Emptying my Mac a meg at a time.

The next leg of my journeying is getting interesting with an invite to Norway added to a journey through northern Italy to Croatia and beyond. My travel agent is looking into options that won't have me waiting in Cairo's airport for eight hours, Athens may go as a departure point and that would be okay. One way flights within Europe seem quite inexpensive and oaky to book near the time of flying. I love that flying in Europe and the the UK doesn't require massive amounts of invasive and time consuming security. Arriving in Milan from London was a joy, a quick stamp and off I went.

So Antwerp is some much needed downtime with a week of local wandering planned. Maybe a day in Spa, coffee in Brussels, exploring Gent and other adventures yet to unfold. More will follow, a back look and some stories and pics. 

A Genovese selection

Door of Piazza Ducale

Fresh veges on Via Revecca

Lion of Cathedral San Lorenzo

Cathedral San Lorenzo

Doorway on Via Garibaldi

Angel on San Siro church

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Who missed the boat?

Well, lunch was lovely and we were having a nice chat to a lovely Aussie couple on their big OE and there was the shopping, we were in Portofino so there was shopping to be done. Sara and I set out this morning, early for us, and went on a mini cruise to Portofino via the gorgeous San Fruttuoso. What a lovely day out, paddling in the slightly warm Mediterranean while enjoying an espresso and enjoying people watching.

We hopped off the ferry and onto another after a while and went to Portofino, the most gorgeous harbour where I sighed at the yachts. I took photos, lots of photos and will download these soon. Lunch was lovely, overlooking the harbour and the beautiful people wandering by. Our table was a double, I spoke and the next thing I hear is, "gidday where in Aussie are you from?"

Close, our new friends Sharon and Darren were entertaining company, enjoying their big OE, a New Zealand and Australian rite of passage. They had left their kids and taken off for nine weeks of free travel, no tours just driving and having an adventure, staying where it feels right. That brings back memories of my first trip, the driving, reading a map and following the Tour de France. Camping in odd places.

We chatted a bit long and missed the last boat back to Genova, only we didn't realise that until we arrived back in San Fruttuoso. We charmed our way back on another boat and ended up at the most beautiful place, Santa Margarita. The train to Genova leaves from there and we got to wander and watch for a while on the way to the station. I managed to negotiate the ticket machine and we were soon back in Genova with a cold drink, new clothes and tall stories. Apertivo time now, an Aperol is in order I feel.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013


My weak connection has died so here I am sitting in a cafe, espresso in hand, enjoying people watching, Sara's company and just chilling while the sun slowly sinks outside. People watching as they come and go, enjoying that dogs are welcome and small children. It's almost aperitivo time again, time for an aperol or a gin fizz and some food. The food is free with the cocktail, a nice way to begin an evening of eating and enjoying a vino or two.

I'm loving Genova, understanding why Di loves it so, maybe her enthusiasm is rubbing off. Sandy has left on her cruise, we leave later this week for Antwerp. It's been a busy lately, the Beautiful Truth retreat was amazing. Intense and challenging as well as enlightening. I've learnt so much about my camera and how to make the best of the light when taking photos. I'm very happy with the results, happy that I can see that the photo is not quite right and know how to fix it.

During the retreat I got to create with clay, wonderful to feel clay after so many years. I made a tablet, a photo will follow once I have this on display where ever I end up living. Diana is firing this for me and will send to Di's once it's done. Sara, Di and I are planning a trip to Istanbul for a few days, three adventurers revisiting a city we all love. I hope it happens, Istanbul was on my first itinerary and I cut it due to time.

Now I must once again cut Egypt too. This is the fifth time I've had to do so over the years, for a variety of reasons. I'm disappointed but when a travel advisory says extreme risk, I tend to listen. That will give me a week longer in Europe, not a bad thing as I'm not sure when I'll be abel to return next.

Beautiful Bocadassi

Monday, 2 September 2013

Today in Genoa

Here's a selection from today. A day of funicular riding; eating black, slug like pasta with scampi; drinking wine; aperitivo with a buffet; wandering the streets of Genova; quiet contemplation and lighting candles in Cathedral San Lorenzo; photographs of each other and places; meeting artists including Amedeo and buying an awesome painting off him; watching a wedding with red and white balloons; hanging my Cayman Islands T-shirt on the line outside the window in true Italiano style; and gelato. Lampone of course with a little mirtillo on the side. A day to bottle, with sunshine and smiles.

Add caption

Amedeo and my new painting

New Zealand washing on an Italian line
San Lorenzo


Sunday, 1 September 2013


I'm staying in the famous city, made famous by many through the centuries including Di. Her love of Genova has rubbed on Sandy and I as we wander and chat, take photographs and enjoy the delicious food. Last evening we went to a place that really could be my place, Boccadasse right by the sea. Photos will follow as I get these up loaded onto my overloaded computer. Di's headed off to get some pastries for breakfast, fresh pastries and fresh fruit with an espresso. Breakfast heaven. 

The Beautiful Truth retreat was wonderful, truly a space to be and enjoy the finer things in life. Photography, the sharing of stories late into the night, problem solving, creating, sightseeing, wine tasting and the most wonderful food and wine; all shared with the most wonderful women. Diana is a goddess in the kitchen, creating from mostly local, seasonal ingredients the most delicious food. She is multitalented; a ceramic artist, life coach and photographer as well as running a successful business in hard times alongside the lovely Micha. Max reminded me of Sam, a wise golden lab who loves his back being rubbed. 

I was sad to leave, I know we all were. There will be more on this as I take time to reflect on my time there. Three of us are in Genova with the forth to follow. Sara will join Di and I in the next few days, Sandy leaves to enjoy a relaxing cruise tomorrow. Sara and I are making travel plans, possibly dragging Di off to Istanbul for a few days, then maybe heading to Prague and beyond. I left my Europe plans open for just this reason, the unplanned adventures that seem to come when I'm there. 

I'm keeping a watch on the events in Egypt, listening to those who know and at this point I'm thinking I may have to cancel my trip there. It doesn't seem sensible to put myself at possible risk when Cairo seems to be at the heart of the unrest. I guess I'm not destined to go there this time, I've canceled a few trips there now and will get to be there when it's the right time. 

Time to get ready for the day, breakfast and adventures in Genova. Life is good.

A protective lion