Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Kensington Gardens

Chelsea Flower Show

Chelsea Flower Show

Christ College Oxford

Hyde Park London
I have spent 5 nights in London so far and will be leaving on the 8.20 am train in the morning  to Wales to connect with a ferry to Dublin.

It has been nice to stop a while in one place and also somewhere familiar. I stayed in the same hotel last year when I was here for the Proms.

The weather was lovely on Wednesday but it  then turned cool and very changeable.
On Wednesday, after doing some necessary mundane shopping and having a haircut, I walked in Kensington Gardens (photo 1) which are only a few blocks from my hotel. It was very enjoyable and I would have liked to have done more but felt it wiser to return for a rest as I had a ticket that night to ‘Jersey Boys’.  I enjoyed the show with the nostalgia of the songs of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Thursday I went to the Chelsea Flower Show. When I planned my trip I had not realised I would be in London at the time of the show. Fortunately I discovered the dates coincided in time to make a booking as it was booked out.  I spent 5 hours there. The flowers in the main show tent were stunning. Thankfully the knowledge that I would not pass NZ customs prevented me spending a fortune on seeds. I tried to take photos, I took over 90 (Photos 2 & 3) with the labels but guess it will be hard to source the same back home.  There were intermittent showers and sunshine and by 2 pm the crowds meant it was getting hard to move around so I left and was back in my hotel when a severe thunderstorm struck.

That night I went to the Globe Theatre and saw “Much Ado About Nothing” It was an experience. Although I paid for a cushion, the seat had no back and I had not studied that play at school. It was very different form ‘Jersey Boys’.

On Friday I went by train to Oxford. The morning was spent wandering the streets and I did see part of Christ College and the cathedral (Photo 4). Other colleges were closed due to being the last day of term.  
However I had a lovely afternoon having lunch with Malcolm and his wife. Malcolm was a student at Kingsgrove High in my first year of teaching and went on the tour of New Zealand that year. He was a very close mate of Garry who died recently and we reconnected as a result. They now live near Windsor and kindly drove over to meet and take me to lunch. We talked until nearly 5 pm. Fortunately Friday night was my night ‘off’.

On Saturday  I visited the laundromat, it has been nice not to wash each night in the bathroom.  As the weather was still changeable, I went to nearby Notting Hill and the Portobello Road markets.  I was tempted by some antique prints of Sydney but decided they would be too much hassle.  Just as well there were none of Dunedin.

Then after another afternoon’s rest I went to see ‘Wicked’ The staging is brilliant and lively but I do not feel any of the tunes are memorable, unlike ‘Phantom’ or ‘Les Miz’. None stayed in my head to remove  ‘Walk like a man’ or “My eyes adored you’ from Jersey Boys.

Today, Sunday, I attended Eucharist at a nearby church then walked around Hyde Park (Photo 5) in a very cold wind. I have photocopied notes of park walks from a book out of the library which makes these walks more interesting. I will be back at this hotel for my final day in Europe so may do another in 3 weeks time.

Now it is 'Back on the road again'

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Seville, Alcazar

Seville Plaza D'Espana

Cordoba Mosque-Cathedral

Cordoba Street of Flowers

Alhambra Nazaries Palace

Alhambra Nazaries Palace

Alhambra Gardens
I am writing this while on a 24 hour ferry trip from Santander in the North of Spain to Portsmouth in England. I will post it after arriving at my hotel in London.

I have spent 10 days in Spain mainly in the south with 2 nights in Seville, 2 in Cordoba, 3 in Malaga with a day bus trip to Granada then 1 each in Madrid and Santander.

While there were some wonderful things to see, I am glad to be leaving Spain. Meals were a nightmare for a person who rises early and goes to bed early, usually finishing dinner by 7.30 pm at the latest.  In Seville and Cordoba I had to go out for breakfast and generally only found some orange juice, a bun or croissant with butter and a cafe express. Fortunately the other hotels had good breakfasts included.  Finding a light lunch around 1 pm was very hit and miss. The Spanish people seem to eat a large lunch about 2.30 pm. This then lasts them until they have a full dinner about 9 pm. How they sleep well on a full stomach I do not know. They spend the early evening either strolling or sitting drinking and eating tapas. These are not suitable activities when travelling alone.  It was pointless sitting in a restaurant and asking for a dinner menu before 8.30 pm at the earliest. I am afraid I had 3 fast food meals at a reasonable hour so they could digest and allow me to go to bed before 10 pm.

However some of the sightseeing was memorable. Fortunately I went to Granada and the Alhambra last as if you could just choose one city in Southern Spain this would be it.  I can see why they advise you to book ahead. However I cannot think which of the other cities I would want to miss.

It was very hot when I arrived in Seville which surprised me this early but I think it was an early summer burst. Cordoba was slightly cooler and it was comparatively cool with some rain in Malaga but fortunately fine for Granada and heating up again in Madrid.

Seville has one of the largest cathedrals in Europe, it is huge and a climb of the tower for a city view was worthwhile, The Alcazar (photo 1) had many nice rooms and lovely gardens, thankfully cool. I was recommended to visit the Plaza D’Espana (Photo 2) and it was also impressive. However I felt sorry for the hundreds of horses drawing carriages with tourists in the heat around the city.

Cordoba has the Mosque (Photo 3) which has been converted into a cathedral although I believe it was built on an even  earlier Christian church, the original pavement can be seen at one spot. This gives it some rather strange architecture.  It also has an Alcazar with lovely gardens. I liked wandering through the narrow streets and looking into courtyards with their gardens and painted tile walls. There was a street of Flowers (Photo 4) and the remains of a synagogue in this area. My hotel was located here so I am glad the owner gave me a map and circled the main spots to see. Even so, I got lost several times trying to get back to the hotel.  I spent an hour or so in a museum of earlier times built on the excavated foundations of a Roman Theatre. It was very well laid out and explained.

Malaga is a port with cruise ships and a beach. It is the stepping off point for the Costa del Sol. As stated it was thankfully much cooler but also rainy so the beach looked a bit forlorn. There is an extensive network of paved pedestrian streets and plazas. I climbed to the ruined castle on the hill above the city and then visited its Alcazar below. I guess these would be the least impressive of those visited. Similarly its cathedral although I do not know how anyone could worship looking at the very realistic painting of the martyrdom by beheading of St Paul. Due to the rain I also visited the Museum of Picasso. he was born in Malaga but left at age 19 never to return. However the city is proud of him and has a large collection of his works. He is not one of my favourite artists but some paintings do grow on you when studied carefully.

I spent one day travelling by bus from Malaga to Granada and return. It was one and half hours each way and that part was not so pleasant.  However the visit to the Alhambra was a highlight of my journey.  I had booked ahead and climbed up the hill from the city arriving about 1 pm. My entry was at 2 pm so I was fortunate to find a shop selling ham and cheese rolls and juice to eat in the park. They also give you a half hour time slot to visit the Nazaries Palace (Photos 5 & 6). This has perfectly proportioned rooms and courtyards, beautiful tiles and intricate moulding, wood and leather lined ceilings, pools and fountains. Unfortunately they are restoring the famous 12 lion fountains. The lions are completed and we saw them in a room waiting to be put back into the courtyard which is still being repaired along with the necessary plumbing.
After this palace, the other palaces at the site were less impressive but still worth visiting but the final hour was spent wandering in most beautiful gardens making use of flowers, especially roses, trees, some 700 year old cypresses and water to create a perfect end to the visit (Photo 7). I could have posted many photos on these gardens alone.

From Malaga I travelled by very fast train to Madrid.  It was local election weekend in Spain and there had been demonstrations in Malaga but a huge one in the main square of Madrid. I managed to avoid most of that and spent an afternoon in the Museum Thyssen-Bornemisza. This was once a private collection and is near the Prado which I had visited in 1980. I found this museum amazing as the paintings are arranged historically and I cannot think of a famous European painter from 14th century Italy to the present time who was not represented. There were some American painters as well Brueghel, Monet, Sisly, Gainsborough. Picasso, Canalleto, Munch, Constable, Van Gogh, Kandinsky are just some of the many names The list goes on and on. I spent 2 hours and could have learnt much more if my feet had not complained.

On Sunday morning I wandered in a nearby park before catching the afternoon train to Santander on the North coast of Spain. Another morning wandering in a pleasant town before boarding the ship to the UK. It has mainly elderly UK people returning from holidays in Spain. It was a rough night and we are delayed but thankfully has now calmed.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lisbon and Surrounds

Just catching up. I find the siesta in Spain a good chance to do this. In Lisbon I was fairly busy all day travelling out and back and after dinner and a few wines is not the time to write.

I stayed 4 nights in Lisbon but spent Wednesday travelling by bus 150 km each way to the town of Evora, Thursday by train 25 km each way to Sintra and then on Friday 300 km south to Faro where I stayed the night and caught a bus the next afternoon to Seville, Spain.

Lisbon is built on hills and ancient trams rock and roll their way up the hills. The city  transport pass covered these as well as the modern metro system. There is a huge harbour crossed by 2 large bridges. The Vasco Da Gama bridge is 17 km long and the bus to Evora left over it and came back by the other higher but shorter bridge. I took a 2 and half hour ferry trip on the harbour.

There were more churches to visit but also views over the city. An area called Restauradores just 2 metro stops from my hotel had lots of restaurants catering for English and other Northern European types who like to eat early. Different from country towns and here in Spain where they look at you strangely if you ask for a meal menu before 8.30 pm.
I have included a photo (1) of the trams on a comparatively wide street for the hills and a view (2) of the city from the Castle with the Suspension Bridge called April 25th Bridge. I need to research why it was named after that important date and discovered the revolution in 1974 that  overthrew the right wing government was on April 25.

Evora is inland but not as hilly as I expected. I was intrigued that storks had built their nests on the top of most high tension electricity towers along the way. I climbed to the roof of the cathedral and there were Roman ruins and an aqueduct as well as pleasant gardens.

Sintra was more stunning. Although close to Lisbon, it was the summer retreat of the Royal family and has two large palaces and a ruined Moorish fort. The fort and one of the palaces was up above the town but thankfully a very crowded bus took the tourists most of the way up. There was still a climb involved. The Castelo dos Mouros (Photo 3) was built in the 9th century and is now an archaeological site. I climbed some of the ramparts but baulked at the very high ones. It clearly dominates the hill from the town below. It was then a climb up through some gardens to the Palacio National da Pena which was built in the mid 19th century and occupied by the royal family until they were removed in 1910. It is still used for State occasions. It is quite amazing in parts(Photo 4). The apartments are still kept as when the royal family left. I then returned down to the town for lunch and visited another palace, the Palacio National built in the 15th century but constantly updated. Many rooms were lavish including the Arabs’ Room (Photo 5) and large kitchens. Finally, in Sintra I caught another bus out to s Park originally built to Indian designs (Photo 6) by a succession of eccentric Englishmen but now owned and being restored by the Government. The 30 hectare garden contains many exotic species and paths and waterfalls. The bus took me back to the station for the train to Lisbon.

I left Lisbon after midday on Friday for Faro right down south. The train crosses the April 25 Bridge on a new deck hung under the road deck in 1999. There are many beach resorts around Faro and boats were leaving for bird watching tours  but as my bus for Seville left early the next afternoon  I just wandered around the town. Up the stairs of yet another cathedral and into a chapel made of the bones of the monks. I found the nesting storks interesting (there are 3 in the centre of photo 7).

Monday, May 16, 2011

Northern Portugal

Cloister of Porto Cathedral

Bridge in Porto

Street (stairs) in Coimbra

Castle and Town in Leiria

Batalha Abbey

Cathedral at Alcobacas

Cloister at Alcobacas
I travelled in the overnight train from Paris to Lisbon. Had to change from the very fast French train at the Spanish border and onto what they call a train hotel . It was very nice but expensive but I was served a 3 course meal (limited choice) with sherry to start and a small bottle of wine. Only problem, it was after 10 pm, way past my usual eating time. Next morning I was given breakfast and I left the train in the north just after 8 am. Fortunately Portugal is on the same time as UK so I had gained an hour. I then changed to a fast train for an hour to the city of Porto. 

This is the 2nd city of Portugal and I loved it. Nicer than Lisbon. The steep streets are far worse than most in Dunedin. Of course Baldwin street must be steeper but then most Dunedinites only use it to show tourists. Porto is situated along a gorge through which the Douro river flows. Luckily there is a funicular to take you back up from the riverside area to the main town and it is included in the metro pass so I mainly only walked down. But even that is risky as in all towns in Portugal with the uneven cobble stones.  I began what has become a very regular visit of churches. I have met some Australians who are trying to limit themselves to one church per day. Very hard. There are some lovely gold and silver altars but they do become a little bit the same after a while. The cloister (Photo 1) of the cathedral had some lovely hand painted tiles which I have also discovered are very common in Portugal.  I had a change in activity by taking a river cruise called the 6 Bridges Cruise up and down the river.  The bridges over the gorge are quite massive. I made the mistake of walking across one of them (Photo 2). But the railing was quite open so I was very glad to reach the other side and caught the metro/tram back again. A trip in a vintage tram to the river mouth gave a different perspective, then it was lunch and yet another church. Lunches in cafes on the river front called the Ribeiria were also very pleasant.

After two nights in Porto, I travelled back by the train to Coimbra where I had left the overnight train. Coimbra has the oldest university in Europe. The students apparently still wear gowns but most were carrying them through the streets. I guess they just wear them in lectures. Ok in winter but it is definitely late spring here now and temperatures are around 28-32’C. The buildings were quite impressive but this time on top of a hill and most of the streets were stairs, the main route is called backbreaker(Photo 3). It was graduation time and a band played in the stadium until 6 am on Saturday morning. I was glad my hotel was over a kilometre away. The main scenic church was under repair and the cathedral was very simple so I just looked in the door rather than pay to enter. I was to visit enough churches later on anyway.

While I prefer travelling by train to bus, the next few days were only possible by bus. I went to Leiria which I used as a base and climbed yet another hill to the ruined castle after visiting its cathedral and later climbed another hill near my hotel for a scenic view of town and castle (photo 4).  Then the next day I used buses to visit Batalha and Alcobacas. Each had a very impressive abbey and monastery. The abbey in Batalha, built in the 15th Century  is astounding (photo 5). The stone work seems to be edged in lace and there are lots of pinnacles, parapets and flying buttresses. Inside the ceiling is very high with beautiful stained glass.  Being Sunday the visit to the attached monastery was free but also the buses were few and far between and I spent 4 hours in a fairly small town. There was a flea market and I had lunch and looked at a dozen souvenir shops but also spent quite a while sitting in the town square and finally went back for a return visit to the abbey.

Fortunately the bus timetable meant I only needed to spend 2 hours in Alcobacas where the cathedral (Photo 6) was less ornate but very impressive in length and height. The monastery refectory and kitchens were also huge. Both monasteries had some pleasant green cloisters (photo 7 Alcobacas).

On the Monday I took the bus south to Lisbon.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Wandering in Paris

Art Nouveau House
Markets Rue Poncelet
I have been to Paris a number of times and my last  two visits were each over 10 days so I did not need to see the usual tourist icons.  I was fortunate to find a book in the Dunedin Library called “Walking Paris” by Gilles Desmons and then ordered an updated copy from Amazon.com.  It has been a gem. I love wandering the streets of Paris but this book has led me into little nooks and byways and pointed out buildings that I would have walked blindly past. There are 30 walks ranging from 3 to 8 km each and I completed 3 of them plus parts of another 3 so this book could have me coming back again and again.

On Saturday I probably walked nearly 10 km. I began at the Arc De Triomphe and headed into the northern precinct of Ternes which is off the usual tourist track.  Art Nouveau buildings (photo 1), the dance hall used to film parts of “ Last tango in Paris”,  street markets (photo 2) and the leafy Place des Ternes led me past the Russian cathedral to the Parc Monceau (photo 3). I, of course, stopped for an expresso, sitting at a table on the pavement, along the way. Then I visited the Museum Nissim-de-Camondo. This 1910 house was built to house the 18th century collection of the owner and left to the State but on the condition that everything be left as it was, so it contains porcelain, tapestries, and other art works just as the owners would have displayed them when they were living there(photo 4). Even the downstairs kitchen facilities are state of the art 1910 and have been kept original.

I returned to the lovely parc for my lunch prepared that morning in the little kitchenette in my studio. As on previous visits, I had gone out early to buy a baguette from the nearby bakery and used it to make breakfast and lunch. Unfortunately the hotel is now very dated, they have removed the only English TV channel (even CNN keeps me up with the world) and the Wifi would not work in my room. The owner was very arrogant., I think he is new.  If I am fortunate to return to Paris I will be looking for somewhere else to stay.

After lunch back in the park I made my way to another museum past many large homes, a wealthy area of Paris. There was a queue for the Museum Jacquemart-Andre because of a special exhibition of art and photos by a couple in the early 20th Century. I was more interested in the regular paintings - French, Italian (Mantagna, Tiepolo ceiling, Uccelo) Flemish and even a British Reynolds and a Gainsborough. It is described as the best collection of Italian paintings in France outside the Louvre. Again in a beautiful home built in the mid 19th century.

I completed this walk and added part of another nearby walk which visited two churches, St Phillipe de Roule and St Augustin then past the Palais D’Elysee ( I was not invited in), the British, US and Japanese embassies to the the Eglise Madeleine which I have visited several times so I thankfully caught the Metro back to my little hotel and dinner in the Brasserie a block away.

On Sunday I went out of town to St Germain en Laye about 19 km from Paris. This is a mini Versailles and about the same distance from Paris. It is nowhere near as good as Versailles but it is free and not crowded although there were a lot of locals picnicking in the park on the May 1 holiday.  After arriving in the town I had my usual expresso in thesquare or place then headed into the gardens following the Petite (small) Terrasse to a view over the river to Paris in the distance. Then I walked along part of the Grande Terrasse (photo 5). It is 2.5 km long but I did not go all the way. I turned into the forest which was delightfully cool (it was a lovely sunny day). people were walking, jogging and bicycling. Back in the formal gardens you could purchase lunch and eat in deck chairs but I ate my sandwich and juice prepared that morning. I then walked through the town, a bit quiet on a Sunday although I later found the market as it was closing down. I headed for a museum about a km away but was disappointed that, although it is open on Sundays,  not on the May 1 holiday. After taking a wrong turn I needed a beer when I arrived back in the main square. I then headed for the chateau (photo 6) which is now a museum of prehistoric to medieval objects. These did not interest me but I wanted to see the Saint Chapelle which was built by the same person as built the glorious one opposite Notre Dame in the city. Being a holiday, the chateau was not closed but free, so lose one, gain one. Sadly the Chapelle while similar looking, only has clear glass windows so does not have the beauty of its city cousin. However the 13th century Gothic architecture is the same.

On Monday I headed first for the St Denis Basilica (photo 7). It is 9 km from the centre but still on the metro system. The basilica was established in the 7th century but largely built in the 13th. It was the first structure to be built largely in the Gothic style and is the burial place of nearly every French king from the 10th to the 18th century. Although many were dug up during the revolution, as far as possible they have been replaced, even what could be distinguished of Louis XV1 and Marie Antoinette. There is a memorial statue of them. Some beautiful windows as well as the tombs. I had often wanted to visit the cathedral but it is a longish journey out in the metro.
Back in the city after an expresso and a lemon crepe on the Ile St Louis, I began one of two walks from my book through the Latin Quarter and around the Sorbonne University.
While the book recommended entering many of the schools, it was probably dated as there were doormen checking student IDs so I stayed outside.  Showers meant I cut short the walk and returned to my room a little after 2 pm to eat my lunch and rest.

Finally on Tuesday I headed back to the same area as I realised I had never actually been inside the Pantheon. This was designed as a church but was finished around the time of the Revolution when churches were very out of favour so has become a pantheon to the great men of France. I saw the tombs of Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacque Rousseau, Emile Zola, the Curies  and many others whom I did not know. The pantheon itself is colossal and I joined a tour up 250 steps into the Dome and a great view over Paris (photo 8). With my fear of heights, I was a little hesitant but there was a broad stone parapet and only one small section of stairs looking down over a dizzying height so I managed okay. I went into the nearby Eglise St Etienne du Mont with a flamboyant architecture of various styles as it was built over 2 centuries. The stone rood screen(photo 9) is apparently unique. The organ was playing, making it a very pleasant experience. I then followed a shortened version of the 2nd walk described in the book through the Latin Quarter and found the Roman arena which is the oldest monument in Paris then through a typical Parisian Place and down the famous Rue Mouffetard with its fruit and vegetable market. Past the Mosque which I did not have time to visit as I went into the Botanical gardens for a brief visit and lunch and then back to my hotel as I had to make my way to the station Montparnasse and catch the 3.50 pm overnight express to Portugal.

I have 182 photos from my time in Paris and it was hard to choose which ones to post
Parc Monceau
Nissim Camondo Museum

Grande Terrasse St Germaine en Laye

Chateau, St Germaine en Laye
St Denis Basilica
Paris from the Pantheon
Eglise St Etienne du Mont - Note Rood Screen

Thursday, May 05, 2011

From Dunedin to Paris

I flew from Dunedin  to Sydney via Auckland over 2 weeks ago. I spent Easter with my sister and enjoyed attending services at St James, King Street. I was also able to meet with some friends for lunch. I had hoped to do a little sightseeing around the harbour but the
weather was not good so all I managed was to visit the Archibald and other prize exhibitions at the Art Gallery.
The Anzac Dawn service in Martin Place was very wet but fortunately we obtained cover under the GPO colonnade.  I was pleased they sang the NZ anthem in Maori this time. I was also pleased to hear the Australian anthem was sung in Dunedin. I do not think they did that last year.

Some time was spent hassling with United Airlines. I was unable to obtain an upgrade to any of my flights to or from Europe but after several calls have managed a return flight to Sydney in August for a school reunion. My first call resulted in being told there was nothing available over a 2 week period. A call an hour later and there were plenty of flights???

I have now joined Air NZ frequent flyer and hope they will be easier to deal with in future.

Finally last Tuesday I flew to Singapore and spent 2 nights there. For someone who fled the summer humidity of Sydney, it was not the most enjoyable place but I need to break the journey to Europe somewhere.   However I did make it by metro and bus to the Changi Museum. That was very worthwhile. The story of the suffering of the prisoners of war and the civilian population was moving. One room has the paintings which were originally drawn by an English POW in a chapel. He restored them during the  80’s in the museum as the actual gaol is still a prison today. I was surprised to read about some Japanese soldiers who were kind to the prisoners and one man in particular who was high up in the command and went out of his way to help prisoners and civilians. He is referred to as the Schindler of Singapore. There are also stories of the civilians who risked and sometimes suffered torture or death to provide some comforts. I am attaching a picture of the replica chapel which has been built at the site. and a photo I found on the net of one of the murals.

On Thursday was the long 12 hour flight to Frankfurt in a packed plane. I arrived at 8.40pm which was 2.40am in Singapore and found my way to the hotel where I have stayed twice before. However I was unsuccessful when I tried to use Singapore dollars to buy some fruit juice. The next morning I had time to regroup before crossing the road to the main railway station for a fast train to Paris. It took about 4 hours often travelling at over 200km per hour over the plains of Northern France. Again I am staying in a hotel I have used twice before but have been a bit disappointed in changes that have been made. I think under new owners. No English TV channel meant I  had to interpret the big  wedding with a French commentary. Also the Wifi will not work in my room so I have to sit in the lobby to keep up with the world. However I have enjoyed some long walks around lesser known areas of the city as I have seen all the main tourist attractions on previous visits. I will describe these in my next letter after I have reached Portugal which will be completely new to me. I am travelling there by overnight train next Tuesday.