Saturday, September 25, 2010

Good bye to Europe

I farewelled Europe on Wednesday afternoon when I flew from Munich to Chicago.
I always feel sad at leaving Europe, especially Germany.

However back to where I left off in my last message.
I spent Friday night in Luxembourg, partly because I got a good deal as Luxembourg hotels are cheaper on the weekend when the EU bureaucrats return to their own countries and partly so I could add another country to my list of those visited. At first I was disappointed as the railway station area is not the nicest but in a walk around I found the old area of the city and the bridges over a deep valley. I had a few hours before leaving the next morning and quickly visited the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the Flea market in the town square and a brief walk down into the gardens in the valley below the old city. The first photo shows the old bridge over this valley.

My train journey that day followed the beautiful Moselle and Rhine valleys. The 2nd Photo,  through the train window, does not do justice to the views of gorges, villages, castles and river traffic. I had never seen the Moselle before but did cruise along the Rhine way back in 1974. My destination for that day was the city of Mainz.

I walked down to the river side through pedestrian only shopping streets and then found the old city and square with the Cathedral (3rd photo). I discovered that Gutenberg, the inventor of the Printing Press was born in Mainz and there was a museum but it was too late to enter and I just browsed the bookshop.

On Sunday I continued on by train to Munich where I met Peter and Kathy, my friends from Johannesburg, South Africa. We originally met here 30 years ago on the train to Oberammergau and it was their suggestion that we have a reunion that has been the basis for this whole trip. Due to some connection problems last year, they booked much later than me and were staying 14 km out of Oberammergau in the little village of Bad Bayersoien and I went there so that we could have one evening together before I moved onto my hotel in Oberammergau itself. The Lake in front of the hotel was beautiful and my 4th photo is one of many I took of the reflections. It was a typical Bavarian town and I also have many photos of the house with their window boxes.

The following afternoon they helped me transfer by bus into Oberammergau. I loved this town when I visited in the 70’s and later attended the play in 1980 but it has become far more touristy. Possibly it would be nicer in a non-Passion play year. On Tuesday morning I did walk out of the town and up into the surrounding hills, providing the last photo which is of the town from about 300 metres higher. I would have liked to have walked further up but had to return for the play starting at 2.30pm. The play lasts about 6 hours with just over 2 hours break in the middle. It use to be held in the morning and afternoon but this year it was afternoon and evening. As the season is about to end, it was very cold by the finish at nearly 11pm and I was sitting in the front row and the stage is open to the air. We had two beautiful clear sunny days but the nights were therefore quite chilly and the provided blanket was very welcome.

On Wednesday, I travelled back by train to Munich and out to the airport for the 9 hour flight to Chicago.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sydney At it again

Being in Germany, I do not have time to go into all the details, but my sister has drawn my attention to the following article. 
It appears Sydney Diocese wants to divorce the rest of the Australian Anglican Church. Aspinall is obviously concerned. The Sydney Diocese spokesman denies there is any threat but who would believe anything they say especially as regards money. They have not been able to get their own way over women bishops and lay presidency so want to go off and sulk.  I am glad to be living in a much more Christian Diocese in Dunedin.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

London and the Lakes

I have now left England and to keep up the L’s am spending the night in Luxembourg.
My main purpose for visiting London was to attend the Proms particularly the last night so  I attended 2 programs in the Royal Albert Hall and the last Night in Hyde Park across the road. The Thursday night was excellent as I had a very good seat. It was the BBC Philharmonic and they played  Schubert’s Symphony No 8 and Mozart’s No 40 . There was a piano piece by Schumann and the soprano Dorothea R√∂schmann sang the premier of a piece by Robin Holloway. On Friday night I was sitting up behind the choir so while I had a good view of the Hall, it was not the best for listening. Monteverdi    Vespers of 1610 would not have been a choice of mine but the singing was beautiful with some voices coming from high up and original instruments being used. It was a very good experience. Despite having a ticket, I queued for 2 hours to get into the park on Saturday afternoon and was able to sit not too far from the grandstand. Perhaps that was not wise as the loudspeakers were very loud and the lead up music was not too my taste. Serpentine Fire and Nell Bryden are for a younger crowd but I may have enjoyed
the cast of “Jersey Boys” and “Bjorn Again” if the bass had not been ringing in my ears. As my sister says “I have to face it, I am getting old”
The actual program was better although Kerry Ellis and Brian May would have been better a little softer but I did enjoy Neil Sedaka and, of course , Kiri Te Kanawa and Jose Carreras. Crossing to the hall for the traditional final was great but I would have loved to be actually there. However unless I somehow find a way to spend a month in London and attend enough concerts to be eligible, this will never be. I waved both  the NZ and Aussie flags.

I had no particular plans for the day. I did spend over a month in London way back in 1974 and visited again in 76 and 80 so while the city has changed greatly I am sure the Tower, the Abbey etc. are still the same.  I decided to spend time on the South bank of the Thames so on Friday after a haircut and using a laundromat I headed for London Bridge and walked along the Thames and across the Millennium Bridge which was not there in 74. The Globe Theatre was not there but is only open for tours in the morning, The Tate Modern is also new but was evacuated by a fire alarm soon after my entry. I am glad London Bridge did not fall down to make a 3rd.

I travelled upstairs in a bus through the city and Westminster to Victoria and decided to try and find the hotel where I stayed so long those many years ago. i think I found the building but it is no longer a hotel. A decision to walk past Buckingham Palace was inspired as i discovered the State Apartments are currently open for just 8 weeks. It was put into my plan for Sunday.

Saturday I went back earlier and had a tour of the Globe theatre which was very enjoyable and informative. I have included a photo and would like to attend a performance if I return to London.  Sunday, after ridding myself of the headache created by those loud speakers I  went back to the South Bank and Southwark Cathedral for Choral Eucharist. The Dean preached at St James, King Street last year but was not there that Sunday. Then I headed for Buckingham palace and queued for tickets to the State Apartments. Any future visit to London is not likely to be at this time of year so it was a great and unexpected opportunity. I had a very late Salmon and cream cheese bagel lunch in the grounds of the palace. I believe Her Majesty is holidaying at Balmoral so did not meet her. although the news is full of her meeting the Pope today. I am glad to have left London before the confusion that visit is causing to the city.

On Monday I travelled by train and bus to Ambleside in the Lake District. My impression of rail transport in England is not very good to say the least not helped by pouring rain.
It was raining at breakfast time on both Tuesday and Wednesday but luckily I made the right decision to take a lake cruise on Tuesday and walk on Wednesday. The skies cleared as i boarded the ferry and I had a beautiful day for a cruise first to Bowness   then on to the end of the lake where I transferred to a steam train to Haverthwaite. Lake Windermere is one of the 2 lakes used by Arthur Ransome in his “Swallows and Amazons” series and it was great to recognise some sites. The second photo is one of many I took that day.
Wednesday I walked with intermittent showers first up the valley to some falls above Ambleside and across farmlands, then after a coffee right around Rydal Water and Grasmere with lunch in Grasmere. I passed both Rydal Mount and Dove Cottage where Wordsworth lived but did not go in. According to the guide book I walked over 10 miles (they still use miles??? in the UK). Views of the lakes, I have included one of Rydal Water,  would have been nice in sunshine which only appeared for a brief period although there was no rain after lunch.

On Thursday I returned to London, a late bus required sharing an expensive taxi. I stayed overnight in London and attended Evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral . Then it was onto the Eurostar through the chunnel to Paris where I spent an all too short, less than 2 hours mainly walking between the Gare du Nord and the Gare de L’Est and buying a pannini while I waited for the train to Luxembourg. These two train journeys were much more pleasant than the ones in England. I now have less than a week left in Europe.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Farewell to Scandinavia

I am writing this while crossing the North Sea. We do not reach Harwich until 1pm Danish time (Noon in UK) so I am taking the opportunity to catch up on my finances, diary and messages. If you receive this, it will mean I have arrived at my hotel in London as I do not have the internet on the ship. I can see the English coast out of my cabin window but when I went up on deck it was not as cold as expected but sadly no fresh air due to the concentration of smokers. Last night was very blustery and we were told to expect gale force 7 winds and some movement but, if they occurred, I slept through them.
I have, however had English television for the first time in over 2 weeks and have just watched an interview with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa whom I will hear sing at the Proms in the Park next Saturday night. At the end she was asked about returning to New Zealand and she mentioned she was given her first start at the Town Hall in Dunedin and I felt very homesick for my home of only 7 months. After becoming excited at hearing she will sing at the Proms, I was disappointed to learn that she will be singing in Dunedin while I am away.

The trip along the Norwegian coast was so wonderful that it would have been nice to go home and reflect before heading off again but sadly Australia and NZ are too far away so I have had to regroup and continue on.

My recent sightseeing has largely been in Museums, Art galleries and old palaces so not many photos to send. I feel I have seen every picture painted by Munch. I had already seen a few in the gallery in Bergen and visited the Munch museum in Oslo, then saw a whole room in the National Art Gallery in Oslo and finally a few more in the National Gallery in Copenhagen. There is a version of “The Scream” in both the Munch museum and the Oslo Gallery but while the first is expensive with security overload, the second is free with no obvious security. I believe both have lost paintings including The Scream but had them returned.  Munch’s painting grow on one and certainly provoke thought but I do like the other famous Norwegian painter Dahl of a century earlier with mainly great landscapes. The Oslo gallery also had some impressionists and Picasso as well as older painters

The Danish gallery was a bit of overload with some rooms having 4 rows of paintings up the wall. Other than Scandinavian artists I only saw some Matisse and more Picasso but may have missed others.
In Copenhagen I visited the Charlottenburg castle with the State Rooms so will know I have been there when they next show Princess Mary at a function. There were some impressive but modern tapestries (I think made in 2000) The Dining table was huge but no longer used and the silverware would be worth a fortune. . The Rosenburg Fortress had more older tapestries and crown jewels.

I spent time in the Botanical gardens of both Oslo and Copenhagen and while they were nice, it is late summer so not the prettiest time of the year. Autumn colours have not yet started. I have always been told to visit Tivoli, it was closed on my visit way back in 1974 and as it was only 2 blocks from my hotel I went on my second night. It was expensive and not really worth it as I was not going on either the wild rides nor the gentle lake boats at extra cost. I had the worst hamburger I can remember, very overcooked, and listened to a big band for a while, including a Porgy and Bess medley. However I consider Tivoli very overrated. The lighting which came on just as I left was very pretty and I believe there are fireworks at the weekend.

I do wish these countries would adopt the Euro. I know Norway is not part of the EEC but on Monday I dealt with 3 currencies. I managed to spend all except 1 Norwegian coin (about 20 Australian cents) by buying juice, 2 New Zealand apples and a chocolate at the station. I changed a Norwegian note for Swedish currency during my 2 and a half hours in Gothenburg but after paying for the locker and a salad roll was 1 kronor short of any drinks on offer so bought a cinnamon roll and am left with 4 Swedish kronor (80 cents).
Last night I spent my Danish coins on a juice and coffee while waiting to board the ship. I expected to be able to use British pounds on board (the same line between Copenhagen and Oslo accepted Danish, Norwegian and Euro) but only Danish money is accepted so I did not have a  drink with dinner (The meal was prepaid but did not include drinks, not even coffee). I bought a can of Sprite from a machine to  have in my cabin. This morning I found another 50 Danish kronor note in my wallet so have just bought coffee and muffin and am now left with 9 Danish kronor (just short of $2) which will not buy anything. Now I have to get use to British pounds and then back to Euros in a week. At least I would hope I might be returning sometime in the future to use any of those I have left.

We dock in less than an hour and I will have to catch a train to London. It will be wonderful to have announcements in English. After boarding the train in Copenhagen to travel across the country to Esbjerg where this ship started, the conductor told me I was in a carriage which was not going all the way and I had to drag my bags through the train to the right carriage.  The joys of travelling.

I am including photos of the harbour in Oslo, a nice garden near the Rosenborg Fortress in Copenhagen and a view over Copenhagen from the top of the Round tower. I certainly helped my fitness by climbing up there.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Norwegian Coastline

I had trouble with the internet on the ship. Prepared this and spent my money for an hour's worth but nothing would load. Am now back in Oslo but will post as originally prepared.

It is my last day on the SS Richard With. The Hurtiguten Cruise is billed as the world’s most beautiful voyage and they are not exaggerating very much.  It is hard to find time to write this without being called out on deck for another view and I am too tired at night when it finally gets dark about 9pm.  We have just crossed the Arctic Circle, again moving south towards Trondheim where I will disembark tomorrow morning for the train journey to Oslo.
Although the end of Summer, the temperatures have been about 10’C so like Dunedin in Winter but most days have been sunny.  Two days ago we had rain and fog but it was  probably the best day for it and we actually got up a bit of rock and roll for a few hours which most of us thought was good as the rest of the journey has been like a millpond.

At the moment there is a bright blue sky and the first photo was taken a short while ago as we passed an old trading post.
Tromso is a beautiful city and on the way up I visited the Arctic Cathedral (photo 2) and then took a cable car ride up to overlook the city (photos 3 &4) We went back to the Arctic cathedral on the way back for a concert at midnight - organ, piano, flute, soprano with Norwegian folk songs and some Grieg. It was beautiful although I was feeling very tired and would have preferred it a few hours earlier. we went to bed as the ship departed at 1.30am.

We passed the most northerly point 71 deg 8’ north before travelling down to Kirkenes where I took a bus ride to the Russian border. Here we were further north than anywhere in Siberia and further east than Istanbul.

Yesterday was memorable with first a bus ride across Norway’s largest island and then appeared to head for solid ground (photo 5)  but entered a narrow channel and sailed  the  back into the Trollfjord (photo 6) but this time in daylight so we could the photos as the ship manoeuvred in the narrow conditions. I have been lucky to team up with a couple from Wales and another from near London and will be sorry to farewell them. Like everyone we talk of returning for at least part of the voyage but it will be much easier for them  Most passengers are Norwegian or German. About 7 or 8 Australians left the ship at Kirkenes and there have only been two others on the journey south. I have dinner with them and they are in the next cabin to me.