Friday, June 19, 2015

Vienna

Vienna has been warm, apparently unseasonably, with most days reaching 30’C.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I really enjoyed the light operetta, Grafin (Countess) Maritza on Wednesday.  I went to both Siegfried and Gotterdammerung (Twilight of the Gods) by Wagner and so fulfilled a dream of seeing all of the Ring Cycle in the Theatre.  They are not for everyone and I would not quickly go again, with Siegfried taking 5 hours and Gotterdammerung nearly 5 and a half (each with 2 half hour intervals) but the music is glorious. I was lucky in timing, as each was presented just twice this year.
That was on Thursday and Sunday.


On Friday I went on a round trip to the Wachau-Danube Valley. The train took me to Melk and the huge Benedictine Abbey sitting up above the town. Photo 1 is in the Abbey church, Photo 2 is part of the extensive gardens and Photo 3 is a view from the Abbey over the countryside.











After lunch, I boarded a ship for a 2 hour journey down the Danube through the Wachau Valley.  The photo shows the castle at Durnstein above the town. This was the castle where King Richard of England was held captive on his way home from the Crusade. There were a number of castles along the river.



I left the ship in Krems and returned by train to Vienna.  On Saturday I went to Schonbrunn castle but just spent my time in the extensive gardens.


That evening I again went to the VolksOper (Light Opera) and saw Carmina Burana, ancient poems set to music to create a cantata by Carl Orff in 1936.  This is usually a recital by Symphony and Chorus but this performance was put on by the Vienna City Ballet.

On Monday I went hiking in the Vienna Woods but chose a short hike, probably just 8km but up 300 metres, due to the heat. The views over the city were not very good due to the heat haze. That evening I went to the much shorter but bloodthirsty opera, Salome by Richard Strauss.

Yesterday, I flew to Dubai where the temperature was 40’C. Today I found my way to the Historical museum at the Al Fahidi Fort, not easy when you make a wrong turn in the heat.


However the underground and airconditioned museum told the story of the development of Dubai. Then I wandered in the huge Dubai Mall, apparently the world's largest but only bought a much needed juice and lunch then a book for the plane. Outside I took a look at the world’s tallest  building, Burj Khalifa but did not pay the $50 to go up to the top.



Tomorrow I will make the long flight back to Sydney and then it will back to Dunedin on Monday.


Thursday, June 04, 2015

Salzkammergut

The weather has certainly improved for me, thanks for your good wishes. Sorry if I sent the bad weather to Dunedin.
As you can see from the photos it gradually got better during my 5 days in the Salzkammergut region of Upper Austria. It is now quite hot in Vienna but I know I must not complain.
The blue skies have made it hard to choose the photos to post.

I fell in love with the town of Hallstatt when I stayed there back in 2008. It is a UNESCO heritage town on the edge of a lake with wonderful mountain views. However to get there you must catch a ferry over the lake from the train station so this time I chose to stay in the bigger town of Bad Ischl instead and have easier travel to the various lakes and mountains.  I had an apartment right in the centre of town with shops and restaurants underneath and my window looked down on the river rushing below. However the bedroom and bathroom were up a narrow winding staircase from the lounge/kitchen which became a bit tiresome.

On the day after my arrival (Saturday) my departure was delayed due the panic caused by a misplaced credit card (I had hidden it from even myself). Once solved it was too late to do what I planned (left to Sunday) and probably just as well as there were still clouds and one or two brief showers.

I caught a bus to Bad Gilgen and waited an hour (over a coffee of course) for a ferry that took me along the Wolfgangsee to where a steam cog railway went up to Schaftsbergspitz at 1732 metres. I have included this photo showing a bit of the train and track.



On Sunday the bus went in the other direction to Obertraun and the Dachstein chairlift. Here 2 cable cars lifted me up to 2100 metres and a  20 minute walk (difficult at that height ) took me to the 5 fingers viewing platform.  This photo shows the platform and explains why I had to pluck up all my courage to go out on it



from where this photo looks down over the Hallstattersee mentioned above.



You can see there were clouds but it was possible to get a photo with some patience and jostling as only 2 people can stand on each of the 5 fingers at any one time.  The next photo is the view from the path across the Dachstein Mountains



I returned back down the top cable car and took a tour of the Dachstein Ice Cave. This involved climbing 70 metres to the entrance where we met the guide who then told us it was 0’C inside but not to worry as we would be climbing 500 steps to keep us warm. I was probably the oldest and while I can manage the steps, I would prefer to take a bit more time. However I probably handled the temperatures better than the mainly Asian young people with me. The ice shapes were intriguing. I think this photo is the best of my attempts to show them.



On the way back I stopped for an hour in Hallstatt.  Being Sunday afternoon 31st May, I found it much more crowded than my previous visit in late April  2008. The views were still great and the town probably improves in the evening after the tourist coaches leave. I bought  an ice cream.

Monday I caught the train to Gmunden on the Traunsee and, again after an hour over coffee and cake, it was on a rather small ferry along the lake to Ebensee. It is a beautiful lake and the photo also shows just one of the many water activities even on a week day.



At Ebensee I walked a kilometre to another cable car (they get a bit addictive) this time only 1600 metres but apparently one of, if not the first cable cars in Austria. There were lots of ski chair lifts at the top but not in operation at this time. I walked about 35 minutes each way looking at the views one of which is in this photo.


On Tuesday I was again on the train past Hallstatt to Bad Aussersee then a bus to AltAusseer which is on a smaller lake and I was able to walk around it in about 2 hours (6 and a half km). The final photo shows one of the views.



Unfortunately rather than wait and catch the bus back I decided to walk not realising it was another 5 km although much was along the river bank. The bus passed me at the last stop before the town so only about 5 minutes quicker.



I never got round to visiting the museums and castles in Bad Ischl. Left that to a rainy day which never came.

Yesterday I again packed up and caught the train to my last stop in Europe, Vienna.  I have a lovely apartment and the owner has been most helpful. Opera is my main interest here and, after rushing to pick up the tickets before 5pm and then buy a few foodstuffs as today is a public holiday (Ascension day) and even supermarkets close on public holidays as well as Sundays, I went to the Volksoper  (Folk Opera) which was my 4th visit there.  I did not know much about the light opera Grafin (Countess) Marizka by Emmerich Kalman but the music, staging and dancing were delightful. Fortunately English is displayed above the stage although I found it a bit above my line of sight to see the action and I gather some contemporary jokes were added to the script but not in the English. Many of the songs are still running in my head especially ‘Komm Zigany (Gypsies)’ and ‘Komm mir nach Varazdin’ (I visited Varazdin in Croatia back in 2013.)

Today I am relaxing, as I have a much heavier opera (Wagner’s Siegfried) at the Staatsoper starting at 4pm this afternoon and finishing at 9pm

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Bavaria

I think i must have offended the weather gods.  Of the 12 days I spent in Germany, only 4 were sunny and 2 of those were travel days. Probably another 2 full and 2 half days were just overcast and threatening while the rest were fairly consistent rain.

The Sunday I travelled by train from Strasbourg to Munich then onto  Garmisch-Partenkirchen was sunny as was the next day when, seeing the forecast, I did hike up into the hills about 450 metres. This photo is taken where I had a coffee at Partnackalm about 300 metres above the town. I do like the way you can find restaurants with some accommodation up in the hills. Many people hike up for lunch.

On Tuesday I went to a lake near my accommodation, Riessersee, and you can see the clouds were already low so I only went up about 100 metres and was back in my apartment for a late lunch as the rain set in.



With pouring rain on Wednesday, I decided to go by bus to one of King Ludwig’s castles, Linderhof. I had visited it in the 1970’s. I got drenched just waiting in the queue to enter and as I left, not spending much time in the gardens, it began to snow although it did not settle in the valley. I think the mountains would have been beautiful if I could have seen through the clouds.  I had to change buses in a favourite town of mine, Oberammergau, so cheered myself up with a big plate of strawberries, cream and ice-cream.

The next 2 days were just drizzle so on Thursday I walked in the hills just above the town but only up about 100 metres and travelled by bus to Munich on Friday. That evening I went to the impressive Herkuulesaal in the Munich Residenz where I heard the Bavarian Radio Orchestra. Sir John Gardiner was the conductor. I think I have seen him conduct Last Night of the Proms.   I was in the very centre 2nd row but I actually prefer to be up high so I can look down and see all the orchestra.
Berlioz 'Harold en Italie' was first with Antoine Tamestit playing the viola solo. He was excellent and quite a showman.    The 2nd half was Schubert Symphony Nr 8.

Saturday in Munich was overcast but did not rain until evening. I went to the Nymphenburg Palace. I do not remember going there on my previous visits to Munich. After going through the amazing Baroque and Rococo rooms in the main pavilion, I wandered in the 200 acre park somewhat reminiscent of Versailles, and visited the 4 garden pavilions, each in a different style. This photo shows the hall of mirrors in the Amalienburg Pavilion.



Sunday morning was rain again and I wandered in various parts of Munich but it fined up in the afternoon allowing me to go to the English Garden which is a vast urban park. As in 2008, I joined many locals in sitting, drinking beer and listening to a Bavarian Oompah brass band. I only managed a half litre unlike the litre jugs being drunk all around me.

Monday was fine and sunny again as I travelled by train to Berchtesgaden but the rain returned on Tuesday so all I managed was a 2 hour soggy historical walk around the hills above the town.
Wednesday was better but still overcast so I decided to take the boat ride on Konigsee. I had taken this twice before, in the 1970’s and in 2008 but both were in the off season when the electric boats do not go all the way up the lake. This time I went to the end and took a walk to a smaller lake, Obersee. The track was a bit rugged in parts, but, even with the clouds, the views were magnificent.







Finally on my last full day in Bavaria, I had the sun and blue skies which I would have liked to have seen more often.  I took the Jennerbahn, a 1,170 metre cable gondola almost to the top of Jenner Berg 1,874 metres where we could see over 100 German and Austrian peaks. 


I tried to climb the final metres to the very top but even with my boots and stick the icy steps and dizzy heights forced me to retreat. However, after descending to the middle station, 1534 metres, I walked down a muddy track with lots of steps to the bottom at about 700 metres.



Wanting to make the best of the weather, I took a bus in the afternoon to another lake, Hintersee


 and walked around it and followed a nature trail through the Zauberwald, or Magic Forest, probably about 7km in total.  No wonder I had trouble going down to the town for my dinner.

It was another sunny day as I travelled into Austria and the Salzkammergut region.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

France from bottom to top

I last wrote after catching the train south about 350km from Paris to Poitiers. I stayed next to the station but climbed the hill to the interesting town mainly for dinner.

On Sunday morning I travelled still further south (about 450 km) changing trains at Bordeaux and Toulouse and finally meeting Malcolm at the nearest station to his home in Cordes sur Ciel.

Malcolm was a student at my very first school and went on the tour to New Zealand in 1966-67.
I had a wonderful 2 days with him, his wife Kerry and their friend from Australia, Mary.
The town is a medieval town perched on a hill and this photo is from the car as we approached. Their house is about the centre of the photo.

The next photo is the view from their terrace (and my bedroom window)


and next is the town gate from their front door.


I have many other photos of one of the most beautiful towns in France. It was lovely, after my long journey to sit having a late lunch which morphed into dinner on their terrace. The weather was actually hot there for my stay.

On Monday, Malcolm drove me and Mary to the nearby town of Albi, bigger but also beautiful with a large cathedral from where this photo is taken looking over the ornate gardens and river.




Then the afternoon was spent having a BBQ by a pool on an estate about 20 km away owned by a wealthy English man who was not there but allows his American caretakers to use his facilities. They are friends of Malcolm and Kerry and also live in Cordes.  While very nice, I would prefer to live in Cordes itself.

On Tuesday I wandered the town and then we went to lunch in another nearby pretty town of Gaillac before I caught the train to Toulouse.

Malcolm invite me to visit many years ago and, when I planned my itinerary, it looked like we had a clash as they flew to England the next morning.  I am so glad we were able to make a few adjustments so I could visit for 2 nights.

I spent a night in Toulouse which is about 180 km from the Spanish border. I last visited in 1976 when I did catch a train to that border but in those days I needed a visa to enter Spain.
On Wednesday I went back to Bordeaux and stayed about 24 hours. It was also a nice city with an old town, another cathedral of course and some impressive buildings, thankfully slightly cooler as it is near the ocean. This interesting fountain on the waterfront allows you to keep cool but you do get your feet wet.



Finally on Thursday it was a train journey of nearly 1000 km back through Paris to Strasbourg on the German border. Thankfully the very fast trains in France meant it only took 5 and a half hours.

I spent 3 nights in Strasbourg. The first morning it rained but I visited the very ornate Gothic Cathedral famous for its Gothic architecture and carvings. It was the world’s tallest building for 250 years until 1874.


I also wandered among the Alsacien (I prefer this to the English Alsatian) houses in the canals and, in the afternoon visited a museum of Alsacien culture.

Saturday was fine and sunny again and I took the train a little over half an hour away to a smaller town of Colmar where there were many more such houses


and visited the Dominican church which houses among several altarpieces the masterpiece of Martin Schongauer, Madonna of the Rose Bush created around 1475.





On Sunday I made another long train trip to Bavaria.

My almost a month in France has ended and I have to start saying Danke schön instead of Merci.
I have also now passed the half way point of my trip.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Barge Cruise That Wasn’t

The rain that I experienced in Paris last week caused flooding of the Yonne.  So, although this week we only had a few showers, the river was too high to allow access to the canal. Therefore our barge, the Luciole, never left the quay at Auxerre.


The trip I booked last July and which cost more than all my other 7 weeks of travel in Europe (airfares excepted) was very disappointing.

There were 10 of us on board and we still ate lots of food. Lunches were buffet  plus  2 cheeses and 2 wines and dinners were 3 courses plus 2 cheeses and 2 wines.

However our visits had to be in the bus. On Monday,we walked the medieval town of Auxerre


 including  the cathedral seen in the first photo. In the afternoon there  was  a wine visit to Chablis.

On Tuesday a rather long drive to the town of Beaune where we toured the Hotel-Dieu built as a hospital for the poor in 1443 and was then well ahead of its time.


This was extra to the normal program and included a 3 course meal plus cheese in a restaurant.
On Wednesday we went to the very pretty village of Noyers sur Sereine.











On Thursday we went to the hillside town of Vezelay and the Basilica where some of the crusades started.



Again a lunch in a nearby restaurant.

Friday we went to the markets at Auxerre


 and saw the procession for Victory in Europe day.  In the afternoon a few of us visited an archaeological site of old Roman ruins. This was another add on and much more interesting than I expected. 

Afterwards I walked along the first part of the canal we did not take and took the next photo.




A cooking class, colour consultant and massage were other activities offered which I did not take.
Today (Saturday) we were bussed back to Paris and I have come south by train to the city of Poitiers.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Paris Revisited

I am off again, this year to France, Germany and Austria.

I spent 4 nights in Sydney, fortunately in beautiful weather, a few showers on the way to the airport were the only indication of the deluge to come after I departed.  I again made the obligatory ferry trip to Manly and had a lovely lunch with my sister on the waterfront at Circular Quay following a movie set in France which seemed appropriate.

After a night in Dubai, I reached Paris on April 21 and took possession of the apartment where I have now stayed 12 nights.  While different, it is in the same area in the 13th arrondissement where I have now stayed many times and a Navigo decouverte or weekly ticket on the metro, buses and trams allows me to easily move around inner Paris.  The first week had glorious sunny weather but it changed on Saturday and has been rather cool and showery this week.

I planned my whole trip around attending the Anzac Dawn Service at the Australian War Memorial in Villers Bretonneux. There were a few showers as we left by coach from Gare du Nord  at 1.30am but, soon after arriving at the site just before 4am, the deluge began.
I am told about 6000 were there and was impressed that there were many French people at such an hour in such weather. They still respect the Australians who saved the town on April 25, 1918. While the emphasis was on Gallipoli this year, I guess this will move here in 2018.
I was honoured at the end of the service to be able to place flowers and a card from my sister and me in memory of my uncle who is buried nearby, having been killed at Pozieres in June 1916.

We went for breakfast and to dry out. Fortunately the rain did not return as we were taken to the memorials at Pozieres and Bullecourt then, after lunch, to Fromelles and the Cobbers memorial.



I have toured the Somme before but this trip the emphasis was on Australian Memorials rather than those of all the Commonwealth countries.

The days before Anzac were mainly to overcome jet lag but I did wander in some gardens and visit the Picasso Museum, newly reopened, as well as the Museum of Modern Art.

Last Monday I took a long train ride to visit Mont St Michel.


 The day was sunny but cold. It was French school holidays so very crowded and the place is over commercialised but the Abbey was interesting and picturesque.

Tuesday and Wednesday were in Paris and I went to the Chateau de Malmaison



 where Napoleon and Josephine lived and Josephine remained living after their divorce and finally died. The furniture was impressive as were the gardens.

Thursday, another train trip to Normandy and a tour of the American landing beach of Omaha and the war cemetery. There were not enough numbers for a tour of British/Canadian sites but I guess one beach is like another and it was interesting to compare the American Cemetery



 with the many Commonwealth war cemeteries I have visited.  I was pleased to see in the Museum the flags of all nations involved in the Normandy landings included Australia and New Zealand.


Our forces, of course, were more involved in the Pacific at that time.

I have had some musical experiences in the evenings as well. A string quartet in La Chapelle with works by Mozart, Schumann, Mendelssohn Bartholdy and Dvořák was pleasant as the sun set through the magnificent glass windows.  Dvorak’s opera ‘Rusalka’ at the Opera Bastille on Sunday afternoon was lovely and it was wonderful to hear the Orchestre de Paris play at the Paris Philharmonie. Arcadi Volodos was the soloist for Beethoven’s Piano concerto number 3. By coincidence I have now heard that piece 3 times in one year, in New York and Dunedin as well. Fortunately I think it is great music.

The Paris Philharmonie was only opened a few months ago and is the largest concert hall in Europe.  A New Zealand and a Japanese Company were the sound engineers and the acoustics have received rave reviews.  I had a front row seat and the photo taken with my phone gives some idea of the modern design.


An organ recital at Notre Dame Cathedral was less impressive.  Wonderful setting and I discovered the strange sounds an organ can make but the modern music was not to my taste.

Then last night a chamber orchestra in the Church of St Madeleine with a variety of composers. I particularly enjoyed the soprano who sang “Casta Diva” a favourite of mine.

Rather disappointed the weather has not allowed me to wander the streets and parks of Paris as much as I planned. Some final photos taken in the Luxembourg Gardens.





A very different type of holiday is ahead of me this week on a barge in Burgundy.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Dunedin Remembers World War 1

It is now 100 years since the beginning of the Great War. The first infantry from Otago and Southland left from the Dunedin Railway station 100 years ago this week. The country with the highest proportions of deaths per head of population was New Zealand.

Yesterday I went to see the Procession to the Station and the ceremony that followed.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Overnight Train Travel Part 2 (1976 to 1996)


I returned to Europe in the (Australian) summer holidays of 1976-77.
After some time in London and visiting friends by train in Bradford and Oxford, I again caught the night train to Paris.  However the Aussie dollar had fallen and I had a mortgage so I sat up and alighted from the train at Dover, onto the ferry and back onto the train in Calais.

During the week In Paris I made day trips by train to Chartres and Normandy.  Then I travelled by day train to Toulouse and from there on day trips to Carcassonne and Perpignan then on to Avignon for Christmas Day and back to Paris.

After a day trip to the Loire Valley I travelled overnight in a couchette from Paris to Nice for New Year’s Eve.  New Year’s Day saw trips to Monaco by bus and Cannes by train and then I again took a couchette for an overnight trip to Rome.


Basing myself in Rome I took 2 long day return trips to Naples. On one day I toured Pompeii and the other day I climbed Mt Vesuvius. Most of the way on foot as I kept missing buses.

Leaving Rome, I travelled by train to Florence, took a day trip to Pisa and then on to Venice.

I had a memorable trip to Innsbruck. I caught the train from Venice to Verona and had reserved a seat on the express to Innsbruck. On arrival in Verona I found the express had been cancelled so was refunded my booking fee. I used this to buy some Morning tea, I had got rid of all my Italian lira. I boarded a slower train and the conductor said “Quo vadis?’ It was some of the small Italian I knew. I answered “Innsbruck” and he said “Non”
He took me along the corridor to a map, pointed at the Brenner Pass and said “Chuiso, neve” ‘Closed, snow’
He directed me to catch a branch line train up the mountain. I am unable to discover this line today. Perhaps it is closed. It may have been a rack railway. I only remember waiting at the top for about 3 hours for a train down the other side.  The snow was waist deep and I had no cash, only travellers cheques so was starving by the time I finally reached Innsbruck. How wonderful is the Euro for travel these days

I used day trains to travel to Vienna, back to Salzburg, on to Munich (yet again), Heidelberg and Frankfurt to connect with a flight home.

In 1979, late August/early September, I went to a conference in Melbourne and travelled both ways in a roomette on the Southern Aurora. So sad that it was discontinued a few years later. It was comfortable and the dining car provided a good dinner and breakfast.


In 1980 I again returned to Europe. After visiting a Greek Island, I travelled by train from Athens to Patras and boarded a ferry for 24 hours to Brindisi in Italy travelling on deck in a lounge chair. However I again took a couchette to travel by train to Milan.
This was followed by day trains to Lucerne then Geneva. However from Geneva I travelled in a couchette all the way through France to the Spanish border.
In those days an Australian needed a visa to enter Spain so it was necessary to alight and pass through customs at the border (possibly Perpignan) then I caught a local train to Tossa de Mar on the Costa Brava.  Searching today I find that while there are no overnight trains from Switzerland to Spain, there are also no border formalities. There are no trains now to Tossa de Mar but I may have transferred to a bus but I usually avoided that.

After 3 nights in Tossa de Mar I travelled to Barcelona about 2 hours away and after a night there I again was in a couchette to Madrid. I remember sharing with a Swiss family. Three nights later another train in a couchette took me to Paris. That was memorable because I shared with a Japanese man, a Frenchman and possibly a Spanish man. Any conversation involved the Japanese man speaking to me in English, I translated into French and that was translated into Spanish??  then reversed. 

The rest of my trips were in Day trains to Fribourg, across country to Munich then Oberammergau for my first attendance at the Passion Play then by bus on the Romantic Way as far as Rothenburg where I stayed the night then the next day caught local trains to Cologne. Then I went to Amsterdam and back through Brussels to Ostende for the ferry to Dover and train to London. I travelled north by train to stay with friends in Bradford. Back in London, I flew to New York. I caught a train to Boston but flew from there to San Francisco and home.

I did not leave Australia for the next 17 years. Summer holidays were also the bushfire period when I did not want to be too far from my house.  I was also busy paying off my mortgage and establishing a garden.

In May 1982, as mentioned earlier, I sampled the new XPT train with my mother to Orange and Dubbo.

In September 1984 I travelled to Coffs Harbour for a weekend conference and took a sleeper in the North Coast Mail and returned also in a sleeper in the North Coast Express. Neither train runs now. I again went to another weekend conference in Coffs Harbour in 1995 but went up in the Brisbane XPT sitting up and arriving about 1am.   I returned in the Grafton XPT on the Monday having obtained a day off work.

In October 1996 I went to Melbourne for the week and travelled on the XPT both ways. I did return in the Overnight Sydney-Melbourne XPT which does not compare with the Southern Aurora. It is necessary to share a compartment with a stranger and  meals are in take away boxes, best to have dinner before departure.




 In 1997 I returned to overseas travel, to North America