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

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Overnight Train Travel (Part 1 1954? to 1974)

I have just read that overnight trains are to be discontinued in much of Western Europe next year.  This is disappointing as I had hoped to travel on the night train from Paris to Munich next May.
I love overnight train travel and began to reminisce about my experiences.

My first overnight travel was while I was in Primary school in the mid 1950’s, I think 1954.  My Aunt took me on a journey to the Central West of NSW.  It was the first long rail trip of my life and I caught the bug.  Prior to that I had been to Newcastle, the Central Coast and the Blue Mountains but no further.
We travelled in the Central West Daylight Express from Sydney to Orange and, after 24 hours there, continued onto Wellington where we stayed in the Hotel Wellington.  I always imagined it was above the station and was surprised to find on a visit in 2012 that it was across the road.
After one day wandering Wellington, the next morning we caught the Mail train to Dubbo where we changed to the diesel 600/700 railcar set. These were fairly new in those days.

We alighted at Nyngan for lunch and a walk around while the train continued on to Cobar.  Catching it on the way back we returned to Dubbo and, I guess, the Mail to Wellington.
The following morning saw us again on the morning train to Dubbo and, after a day there , we were back on the night Dubbo Mail but this time all the way back to Sydney.
My Aunt’s boarder/friend, the relationship was not explained to a young boy like me :-), was a railway ticket inspector.  I think at Orange, but it may have been at Bathurst, he placed us in a dogbox carriage and locked the door so we had the compartment to ourselves.  Dog box carriages had no corridor. Each compartment had its own toilet and the seats went right across the train so plenty of room, especially for a 10-11 year old to stretch out.

This trip was so basic to my love of railways that I repeated it in part in 1982 with my Mother in the early days of the XPT.  We stayed 24 hours in Orange then went on to Dubbo for a few nights and returned direct again by XPT to Sydney.  Then, as mentioned above, I travelled through to Dubbo on the XPT in 2012 and after renting a car to visit the Zoo, Warrumbungles, Gunnedah and Wellington. I returned to Sydney, again with 24 hours in Orange.  Sadly there are now no passenger trains to Nyngan and no overnight Mails anywhere.  With just one passenger train (XPT) per day to Dubbo, I had to resort to car rental.

In later years my Aunt took me to Melbourne on the Daylight and then we did a grand trip to Adelaide. We travelled overnight with a sleeper in the Parkes Mail to Parkes. After breakfast we boarded the diesel Silver City Comet to Broken Hill.

At Broken Hill we were transferred by bus to the narrow gauge Sulphide Street station and what was then called the Silverton Tramway. It was called a tramway as the government did not allow private ownership of railways. I thought the engine was very impressive. My research has found this, now restored elsewhere in South Australia.

The sleeping car was also impressive for its time with a small lounge at one end. I remember staying up talking rather late which was not good as we had to change in Terowie at about 5.30 am to another diesel set (Bluebird?) on the broad gauge into Adelaide.

After several days in Adelaide we caught the Overland Express to Melbourne, again with a sleeper.  I cannot remember if we returned to Sydney on the overnight or daylight train. 
My Aunt also took me to Brisbane in 1957 but that was a 2 day coach trip each way with overnights in Nambucca Heads and Urunga. However we extensively explored the Brisbane suburban trains which were still steam hauled.
There was also a trip by train to Cooma to see the early development of the Snowy Mountain scheme but we returned by plane from Canberra. That was my first flight and had nowhere near the influence on me as the train journeys.

I guess I became too old to continue to travel with my maiden Aunt.  I did make one trip with some school friends sitting up in the overnight express to Albury and then returning on the Daylight the next day.

Sitting up all night in a train has not been attractive since although it did feature in my next few overnight journeys as a teacher with the Travel Club at Kingsgrove High School.
In 1967 we went to North Queensland and sat up from Sydney to Brisbane.  Fortunately we had sleepers on the Sunshine Express from there for 2 nights to Townsville.  In fact that was great fun for a group travel.  I remember one teacher (Biology) running beside the train with a net after butterflies. There was no dining car and meals were taken in Railway Refreshment Rooms. We returned on the Sunlander with much better facilities but the Sunshine Express had been fun. We again sat up all night on the Brisbane Limited Express to Sydney.

I organised a similar school trip in 1971 and because of costs we again sat up each way between Sydney and Brisbane.  However the Sunlander had cheaper sleeper accommodation and involved 2 nights each way between Brisbane and Townsville.

in 1971 we took a trip to Tasmania. The first 10 days were by coach across to Adelaide and then around the coast to Melbourne. From there we flew to Launceston.  After 2 weeks around Tasmania by coach we flew back from Launceston to Melbourne then sat up on the overnight Spirit of Progress to Sydney.  Despite my love of train travel I thought that was an anti-climax and so when I repeated the tour in 1974 we flew all the way from Launceston to Sydney.

Otherwise, during those years  when I was in my 20’s, I had a car and little interest in train travel. I regret that now as many lines were closed in the following years.

In 1974 I took leave and headed on the big Overseas Tour. There was one overnight train journey in India from Jaipur to Delhi.  I travelled to Jaipur by bus but the Monsoon set in and that was no longer a safe way to travel so I returned by train. I was taken to the station by a hotel employee who arranged  the purchase of a ticket, then for a porter to get me a seat but not to hand over any money until I was sitting in the seat. I later discovered the porter had bargained and bribed the train official for my seat. The train was slow. I was told to keep my camera safe under my pillow. As in European couchettes, we were given a pillow and blanket and shared with at least 3 others.  

On arrival in London, I purchased a Kombi van which I drove around England, Scotland and Wales then by ferry to Oostende and through Belgium to Amsterdam. I left it in Rotterdam while I took a 3 night Rhine cruise to Frankfurt and returned by train to Rotterdam.  Copenhagen, Goteburg and Oslo followed where I again left the Kombi and took a train to Myrdal and down to Flam.

Then on a cruise along the Sognefjord and back to Oslo. I was getting tired of the loneliness of driving by oneself but took the Kombi overnight by ferry back to Copenhagen then down to Lübeck, Hanover and visited with friends in the English forces somewhere near Dortmund.
On leaving them, I headed for Munich only to have the Kombi engine pack in. I was told it needed a new engine and took nearly all my money to buy it and I returned to my friends. That was before ATMs gave easy access to money and I had arranged for money to be sent to a bank in Munich.
Therefore it was onto a train and my first experience of European couchettes to Munich.
I remember saving half the breakfast in case the money was not there. However I need not have worried. The teller commented on my obvious relief when she told me.  I splurged on a hotel in the main Square which has been a favourite ever since.

I spent a few days sightseeing then returned north to collect the Kombi with its new engine. I am not sure if I again travelled overnight, I collected the Kombi, returned to London and sold it, and all my journeys in Europe since have favoured train travel.

I began by returning to Europe, this time in the Night Ferry from Victoria Station to Gare du Nord.  I took a sleeper and remember waking to realise the bed was rolling and not rocking as the carriages went onto the ferry and the sleeping passengers were not disturbed.

I took trains from Paris to Geneva, Zermatt, Interlaken, Bern and Zurich but all in daylight. Then it was back to Munich, in those days the doors were locked as the train passed through Austria without stopping to avoid customs formalities. A few more nights in Munich before a daylight train journey to Oostende and overnight sitting up on the ferry to Dover and again by train to London. A few days later I flew back to Sydney.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A few days in the South Island of New Zealand Part 3

The next morning I drove and climbed up to a view of the Franz Josef glacier. It has retreated a lot since I was last there in 1973.

I took a short walk to a small pond known as Peter's Pond which had great reflections.

I drove south to Fox Glacier where we use to camp on the school trips I led in the early 70's.  I went out to Lake Matheson.  I did not remember it as being such a long walk from the road. However the views were well worthwhile. New Zealand's highest mountain Aoraki (Mount Cook) is in the 2nd view.

I took a quick look at Fox Glacier, also much smaller than in 1973.

Then I drove further south to Knight's Point.

There was a monument to the opening of the road and I discovered I first drove along it (in a bus) just a year after it opened in 1965.

After lunch in a hotel at Haast, I headed over the Haast Pass. It is lower than Arthurs Pass.  Here is a view of the Haast River valley.

The Pass is only open from 8am to 4pm since the terrible landslide that killed 2 tourists last year. I was held up for about 15 minutes at one spot where the repair is continuing.

As I reached Lake Hawea, the shadows were lengthening.

I stayed the night in Wanaka.  I had pre-booked the motel as it was Saturday night and Wanaka is in a ski area. Otherwise I would have stayed longer on the coast after being delayed on Arthurs Pass. I will have to return.

Sunday morning, I took some photos of Lake Wanaka from the town. All my previous visits have been in summer.

Then I drove home across Central Otago. This view was taken from the road as I approached Ranfurly about 125 km from home but much closer as the crow flies. 

I could still see snow on the Rock and Pillar Range not far west of me when I looked yesterday but we had another snowfall just a week ago after I arrived home

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A few days in the South Island of New Zealand Part 2

I left Darfield the next morning and it was not long before I was climbing into the Southern Alps and over Porters Pass. It was fine although there were dark clouds to the south and a haze ahead.

There were patches of snow on the ground.

I stopped to take a photo of the Waimakariri River.

Not long after, as I approached the township of Arthurs Pass, it began to snow. Road signs said snow chains essential and there were some cars stopped in the carpark while the drivers fitted them. Along the road was a line of trucks waiting for the road to clear.

Instead of stopping half an hour for morning coffee, I went to the motel where I stayed several years ago and booked a room. Even though it was just after 11am, I was given a room and I settled in to read my novel.   About 1pm I walked half a kilometre to the shop for some lunch and, while there, the snow began to bucket down. These photos were taken as a I walked back.

and my car outside the motel.

The trucks began to move soon after as I think the wind had moved from the south west to the south east so the western side of the pass cleared while snow was falling heavily in the township on the east. I did not leave until the next morning 22 hours after my arrival.

I stopped at the lookout

I had 2 reasons for my hiking stick. 1 to make sure I did not slip on the snow and 2 to fight off the attack by Keas who thought my car aerial and windscreen wipers would make great fun.

Here is a similar photo someone else took at the same spot which gives a  clearer picture of these intelligent but annoying birds

The rest of the day and the next three were in brilliant sunshine. This is not often the case on the west coast.

I headed for Hokitika where I had originally planned to stay overnight.

The town is famous for its greenstone or pounamu and the town clock is a feature.

I headed inland to the gorge which is also a brilliant green.

I took a half hour walk including a swing bridge over the gorge.

I took this photo on the road to the gorge.

Returning to the town, I walked along the river and looked back at the very long bridge and alps

I wish I could have had longer, especially in such wonderful weather. Hokitika has 2,901 mm (114 inches) of rain a year falling on an average of 172 days.

I drove south to Franz Josef stopping at Lake Mapourika and a view of the winter sun.