Thursday, May 30, 2013


I have now arrived in Paris after 10 days in Italy. My experiences there have been rather mixed. It began badly with the hotel in Rome. I had originally intended  sailing in the overnight ferry from Dubrovnik to Italy but the ferry only ran some nights which did  not suit me. I therefore flew to Rome and extended my stay in Florence (a good decision) and tried to change my accommodation in Rome to a day earlier. This was at the beginning of January but after many unanswered emails, I rang and on the 2nd call was assured it was ok. Wrong. They did not have me booked in and they were full. However the manageress gave me a room in her apartment downstairs for the first night but it was a harrowing welcome. While the staff were nice, the hotel was one of the worst (but at least clean).

On the Sunday morning I was pleased to be able to attend  Eucharist at the local Anglican church at about the same time as Joanna Fielding from St John’s Roslyn was being ordained a priest in Dunedin cathedral.

I then walked the usual sites, Spanish steps, Trevi Fountain with lunch in the Piazza Venezia followed by a walk down to the Colosseum

which I visited along with hordes of other tourists. Fortunately the 3 day pass, purchased mainly for the transport benefits, gave me 2 free entries without queueing and I used the first there.

I was glad to return to my hotel and find I now had a room even if very tiny and old.

On Monday I went to the Vatican and queued to visit St Peters. Then after coffee I wandered around Castle Angelo and crossed the Tiber. 

I boarded a bus back to Piazza Venezia and received a message that my sister and brother-in-law were at the Trevi Fountain on the tour from their ship. A quick rush through the Rome traffic and we managed to meet up and I followed their group for about 20 minutes to the Spanish steps.
I then set off alone again and used my other free entry for the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum.

That night was probably the best part of Rome for me. I travelled by bus out to the Music Auditorium and heard the National Academy of St Cecilia, apparently one of the oldest musical institutions in the world, play Mahler’s 3rd Symphony.  I counted approximately 100 in the orchestra with 40 women and 60 boys and girls in the choir plus a mezzo soprano soloist, Katarina Karneus from Sweden.  The conductor was Tilson Thomas from the USA.
As this is the longest symphony in the standard repertoire I was lucky to hear it and it was a wonderful experience even  if it did not start until 9pm I did not get back to my hotel until nearly midnight.

On Tuesday I was pleased to leave Rome and travel by train to Florence. In my opinion a much nicer city, probably helped by having a lovely hotel room.
After settling in and buying some lunch I headed for a park and was a bit surprised to find I had to pay entry but it also gave me entry to other gardens and some small museums. I visited Italy way back in January 1977 and did not want to see all the art works again. I have included a photo of a rose garden with the porcelain museum behind.
and a pleasant covered walk
plus one particular character

Wednesday I began my walks in Tuscany. I caught the bus up into the hills to the town of Fiesole and after a coffee looking out over Florence I walked about 8 km mainly on local roads but finally down a bush track to the town of Settignano, where I bought a sandwich and drink for the same price as the earlier coffee with a view.  One photo taken on the walk.

After a bus back to Florence and a rest, I went out after 5pm to the busy Piazza della Signoria right next to my hotel and visited the old town hall or Palazzo Vecchio to take in some culture.

After dinner it was out to another concert. This time in the St Mark’s Anglican church where  a soprano and a tenor gave a rendition advertised as  Love duets of Italian Opera but there were many solos as well and, although they sang it in Italian, Vilia from the Merry Widow is hardly Italian.  2 arias from La Boheme brought back memories of 3 weeks earlier in Vienna. It was a quite enjoyable evening.

Thursday I went walking again. After an hour train ride it was shown as a 13km hike but that did not allow for me setting off along the wrong road and returning to the station again after 40 minutes and probably over 2 km.

The scenery was lovely and I passed almost through some farms

and the medieval village of San Gimignano

 was often in view, thankfully getting closer but by the time I reached it, I was not fit to do anything more than find a drink and buy my bus ticket. It is a UNESCO town famous for its tower houses.

Arriving back in Florence I decided against visiting the Academy of Fine Arts and the David statue. After treating the blisters it was all I could do to hobble out for dinner.

Friday back on the train, this time to Venice. When I arrived it was pouring rain and windy and dragging my bag over 3 bridges was no fun. My sister’s ship was delayed by the weather.  However it fined up and I caught a vaporetta to St Mark’s square and visited the church.

After a lot of texting hassles, I met up with my sister again and this time we caught the vaporetta back to near my hotel, had dinner and then I managed to guide her back to her ship.

Saturday was a long journey in 3 trains to the Cinque Terre. It was relieved by sharing a compartment on one train with 2 couples, one from Adelaide and one from Perth.

My hotel was in Deiva Marina, 20 minutes by train from the main 5 towns but was right on the beach front which would have cost a fortune in the main towns. While not beach weather, breakfast on the terrace was pleasant.

The main tourist trails are closed due to storm damage and will probably remain so for months. I decided to take the more difficult trails and climbed over 600 metres up from Roggiamore

 and then along the hill ridge

and finally back down to the town of Corniglia (photo taken from the track way up above) .
and in the village

 Altogether it was 13km and some parts were quiet steep and slippery. I was glad I carted my boots and hiking stick all this way.  The blisters needed constant attention.

My plan was to take the following day easy and go on a ferry trip between the main towns but the winds were up and the ferries were cancelled. So I decided to do the remaining open popular walk between Vernazza

 and Monterossa. It was just 4km and only rises to 160 metres but some of it was scary along the cliffs above the sea.

I managed to visit 4 of the 5 towns but saw the 5th from above and from the train.

Unfortunately I had packed my stick in my bag as I caught a train about 5pm to Milan where, after staying overnight, I continued on a train into France and finally this apartment in Paris. Only gentle walking this week to give my feet a rest. It is cooler than usual in Europe this May but I see that my home in Dunedin was blanketed in snow on Tuesday.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Croatia by sea

I have now finished my Adriatic cruise out of Dubrovnik and have arrived in Rome.
It was just  a small ship, the Adriatic Pearl seen here docked in Puscisca on the island of Brac.

There were 33 guests. I think 14 were from NZ, about 10 from Australia, 2 USA, 2 Bosnia (one of 2 honeymoon couples) and 4 UK/Ireland. There were 2 sisters and everyone else except me were couples.
Our planned itinerary had to be changed due to weather forecasts. We were mainly docked at night. 
Saturday night was at Korcula where we had a tour of the old town guided by a very amusing lady.

 On Sunday we sailed to Pucisca and had a tour of the Stone masonry school. There was a swim break in a sheltered bay on the way. Due to the weather this was the only such stop although some did swim at beaches near where we docked.

On Monday I was disappointed when strong winds forced us to miss a stop which would have involved a river cruise in a National Park. Instead we sailed to Split where I had stayed overnight the previous Tuesday and were bussed to yet another old town, Trogir. However this UNESCO world heritage site was one of the best preserved and pretty of the many such towns I visited.
The fort

and a street in the town.

Another walk included a serenade of Croatian songs a cappella.

The afternoon was spent visiting the Diocletian Palace in Split which was built in the 3rd century. Diocletian’s mausoleum is now a cathedral. His remains were removed as he was probably one of the worst persecutors of early Christians and the cathedral is St Dominius one of the martyrs of that time. I also visited Jupiter’s temple nearby.

On Tuesday we sailed to the very pretty island of Hvar. Some of us climbed up the stairs

 to the fort above the town for  a view before lunch.

Afterwards we had a talk and demonstration of lavender oil for which the island is famous and another guided walk. Unfortunately forecast  storms meant we did not stay the night there but instead went to Vela Luka on the other side of the island of Korcula. We did not go ashore there and left again at 3am on Wednesday to sail to Mljet.

I was glad of this as it is a National Park. We walked to the large lake and crossed in a very small ferry to a monastery on an island. Returning to the mainland, I left the others and walked several km around the large lake and back then round the far shore of the small lake and arrived back at the dock with 15 minutes to spare. I estimate I walked over 8 km but it was lovely. The large lake is a deep blue seen here with the monastery in view

 and the small lake a brilliant green.

This was even more obvious when I flew over it on the way to Rome on Saturday.

We had to go to a more sheltered harbour for the night on the island of Sipan. This was not on the original itinerary but was a small, less touristy town where I tried some artistic photography.

On Thursday we had to keep to sheltered waters so went to the mainland town of Slano where we boarded a coach for Ston. Ston is famous for its salt pans producing a lot of salt in the original methods and we were given a talk then we climbed part of the “Great wall of Europe”.

 Apparently this is the longest such wall in Europe though much smaller than its counterpart in China. We needed a drink in town afterwards. The coach took us to a wine and liqueur tasting. Most were not impressed with the wines and I did not try any of the wide range of very sweet liqueurs, not to my taste. Then it was on to an oyster tasting, for which the area is also famous. I am told they were not up to Bluff oyster standards but still they were quite good.
On Friday we sailed across the biggest seas of our journey back to Dubrovnik. Again we had a town tour, so I learnt a little more although I had wandered by myself in the town a week earlier. Probably the worst of the town’s long history was in the siege from October 1991 to May 1992. Thankfully most has been restored.

It was time for a final dinner and sleep aboard before travelling to the airport on Saturday for the afternoon flight to Rome. 15 went to the airport and 7 were on the Rome flight.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Monday, May 13, 2013

Travelling Croatia and Nearby

I have been in Croatia over a week now and the land based part is finished as I board a ship this afternoon to cruise the islands. The last 3 days have been particularly hectic as I continually crossed borders, changed currency and saw different cultures.

First I based myself in Zagreb and after a day exploring that city (and buying bus tickets), on Sunday I went by bus to the original royal city of Varazdin.  Sadly rain set in and I discovered the museums and galleries closed at 1pm, so after a visit to the castle and an art gallery and a quick walk around the small city, I was back in my hotel by 3.30pm.

Monday was much better although the weather began similarly and remained grey all day.
I spent 2 hours in the bus down to Plitvice lakes and then took about 4 hours to do the walk which was advertised as 5 to 6 hours. I could have taken the first part more slowly. We began with a trip in a bus/train  along park roads to the beginning of the lake and then walked the upper lakes followed by a boat trip across the largest lake and another walk through the lower lakes and finally back in the bus/train to the entrance.

The falls were everywhere and sometimes we walked almost under them. I have had to include 4 photos but have many more and hope to upload a youtube version when I find time. I am not sure about the strength of the wifi signal on the ship so am rushing to produce this.

On Tuesday afternoon I was suppose to travel for 6 hours by train but discovered due to track work the first 2 hours were by bus then half an hour wait and a slow train rather than the modern one promised and I arrived in Split at 8.30pm nearly 2 hours late only having eaten a banana and drunk one expresso in all that time.

I will be returning to Split on the ship so did not do any sightseeing but it was crowded with a festival and fireworks at 10pm, all I heard was what seemed like cannon shots.

Wednesday I was back on a bus and travelling for 5 hours to Dubrovnik. We crossed into Bosnia Herzegovna for 23 km so the first borders since entering Croatia. Croatia becomes part of the EU on July 1st and while the Slovenia/Croatia border will no longer have checks, I am told these others will possibly be worse.

In Dubrovnik my apartment has been up on the hill overlooking the city and I have included a photo from the terrace.

To pay for this there are hundreds of steps to climb to reach it. There were even 40 from the taxi to the front door.  I have just climbed them once each day after dinner in the old city.

I walked the walls the first afternoon and will explore more this morning but the last 2 days have involved bus tours, first to Mostar in Bosnia Herzegovna which meant crossing the borders 6 times. Mostar is pretty but sad. The bridge

has been rebuilt but our guide described her time as a girl of 12 hiding in cellars during the day and going with her mother into the countryside to find food at night. We visited a mosque and a Turkish house. Bosnia is largely Moslem and they have their own currency but also use Euros and the Croatian kunar.

Yesterday another long bus trip but only across and back the border with Montenegro. There the people are Orthodox (Croatia is Roman Catholic) and they use Euro as currency.  We spent several hours in the pretty old town of Kotor before taking a terrifying road which climbed 900 metres with 25 hairpin bends and nothing between us and a steep drop. I will never complain about the Otago Peninsula roads again.  The view of Kotor

 was stunning. We drove through the mountains and to the seaside town of Budva which has been built largely by the Russians as a resort. Then back, crossing a vehicle ferry to Dubrovnik.

Sunday, May 05, 2013


My train trip south from Vienna began as a repeat of a journey I made almost exactly 5 years ago. There is some pretty mountain scenery for the first few hours.

After 5 hours in comfortable first class with coffee and later a sandwich and juice on crockery and in a glass served at my seat (however only some nibblies were free), I arrive at Villach where in 2008 I turned back north for Salzburg. This time I wandered in a pretty Austrian town for nearly 2 hours

before continuing on another train for about an hour including a long tunnel under the Jura Alps into Slovenia. There were no customs formalities as Slovenia was the first of the old communist countries to join the EU.

I met a couple from Boise, Idaho in my compartment. We discovered we were going to the same B&B but their travel agent had arranged for them to change trains, waiting an hour, to arrive at a station only slightly closer but nearly 2 hours later. The train conductor was happy for them to stay on the same train with me and we shared a taxi the 4km to the B&B rather than catch the bus as I had planned. They then invited me to join them for dinner so a very happy coincidence.

Bled is a very pretty town with a castle up on the hill

 and a monastery on an island in the centre of the lake.

There was still some snow on the hills. I stayed 2 nights but should have made it 3. 

In order to see everything in one day, I estimated I walked about 17 km.

 I began with a gentle walk around the lake and a climb up to the castle. This is described as 6.5 km with a climb of 150 metres. There were beautiful views from the castle and a small museum and gallery as well as a demonstration of medieval printing.

Back in the town I had a coffee and obtained a map for my afternoon activity. I walked 4 km  out of town gradually rising 110 metres to the Vintgar gorge. The walk through the gorge is 1600 metres each way and was quite stunning. Besides the photo below,

I have uploaded a short video presentation to youtube

After a bottle of sprite and a banana taken at breakfast, I returned the 4 km (thankfully downhill) to the lake and took a gondola ride across to the island. While sitting in the boat was pleasant, I was very stiff when I had to get out. There was 30 minutes on the island but like most people I did not pay the 3 euros to enter the monastery but did climb the small hill.  A glance through a window showed it was just one more of the many Baroque churches found in this region of Europe. The 12 euros for the boat ride was enough and I was glad to buy an ice cream, only 1 euro, when we got back to Bled. I must admit, even after a short rest, going down the hill from my B&B to a restaurant was hard that night.

Thursday was showery, I cannot expect perfect weather for 7 weeks and have been very lucky until now.  I caught a bus about 50 km to the capital city Ljubljana. It was another public holiday (both May 1 and 2) and with the poor weather, just enough rain to be a nuisance, the small city was rather dismal. I found my way around the old city with quaint buildings and a river through the centre

 and paid for the funicular to go up to another castle. I did climb the stairs to the top of the tower but the views of distant hills were very misty. 

However Friday was completely different weather, sunny with a cool wind in the morning and fairly hot out of the wind by midday. I walked in the Tivoli park but it was not very interesting, nice trees but few flowers  and so went back to the old town.  The dragon

 is the symbol of the city and there are 4 on each corner of the Dragon bridge. Sunny skies allowed better photos of the many interesting buildings

 I walked back up to the castle and took some photos from the ramparts but did not pay to go up the tower again as I could see there was still cloud over the hills.
Instead I followed a guide book, purchased online, which suggested ending with lunch at a small tavern slightly out of the town. It was a real find. There were set courses and, while the menu was only in Slovenian, the waitress made a good attempt at translating into English although her pancakes was actually an omelette. I had a beef and noodle soup, the omelette with cottage cheese and wild garlic, a green salad (it seems common here for you to mix your own dressings as they bring bottles of oil and vinegars to the table) and finally a dessert as well as a glass of wine and a small tip for just 10 euros (Au or US$13, NZ$16). I do not usually have so much for lunch but it was very pleasant sitting in the shade of a tree in a very quiet part of the city.

English speakers are so lucky. I heard the waitress attempting to explain in English to other customers who were speaking other languages, I guess not Slovenian. Everywhere you go these days, you usually find people speaking some English and many announcements and signs are also in English.

I then made my way back to collect my luggage and walk to the station. Another train trip of 2 and half hours followed the Sava River partly through a deep gorge to Zagreb.

This time there were customs as I am now in Croatia.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Music in Vienna

I am off again on this year's trip, back to Europe.

I left Dunedin just over a week ago travelling by bus, it was very cheap,  for 6 hours to Christchurch then flying across the ditch to Sydney.
Three full days in Sydney were spent arranging currency, doing some shopping and helping my sister set up her new printer.  I did make a ferry ride to Manly. The Sydney harbour is one thing I do miss.

On Friday I began the worse part with 14 and half long boring hours in the plane to Dubai. After a night trying to sleep, there was another 5 hours on Saturday to Vienna.
Since then I have attended 3 operas plus some other musical experiences.

I am staying in an apartment, which allows more flexibility, but did require some food shopping using my schoolboy German.  Then I had to buy a transport pass and travel in the U-Bahn to pick up my opera tickets.
I found it hard to keep awake that night at the Staatsoper as I saw Werther by Massenet. However it was excellent.  When I left they were up to their 6th standing ovation.
The mezzo soprano Vesselina Kasarova was a stand-in due to illness but was obviously very good. The tenor was the well known Roberto Alagna whom I have seen in Met Opera cinema productions.

On Sunday morning I was up and off to the Hofburgkappelle to attend Mass sung by the Vienna Boys Choir.  I was surprised to find myself in the front row, luckily I was not nodding off like the night before.  I was thankful for my time at St James, King Street and in Catholic schools so I could generally follow the service which was in Latin and German.  The priest gave a brief recap of his sermon in English. The setting was Schubert Mass in C major. At the end the boys came down from where they had been singing up in the balcony at the back and sang one song from the front then photos were allowed. I recognised some of the boys from their performance in Dunedin last year.

I mainly rested and organised myself on Sunday before going to the Volksoper to see 'Der Wildschutz' or 'The Poacher'.  I had been there on 2 previous trips, once for the Barber of Seville and the other for Lehar's "Land of Smiles"  The latter production had some English translation projected up above the stage.

Unfortunately this time it was not a good choice. I should have paid attention to reviews that Der Wildschutz is a stodgy comic opera only appreciated by Germans.  While I had read up on the story, much of it was lost on me and it was nearly 3 hours long.  The music was pleasant but not outstanding.  I am afraid I had another period of  fighting sleepiness.  I was disappointed to see the Merry Widow will be on next week.

On Monday I thought I should do some sightseeing.  I have visited some of the museums on previous trips and enough money has been spent on operas.  I went to the markets and bought some items for dinner and had coffee and apple strudel.  Then there was a walk past typical Viennese buildings to a very impressive war memorial.  I have since discovered it was the Russian war memorial built when Russia controlled part of Vienna after World War 2 so it is not a popular monument for the Viennese and I will not publish my photo.

Then into the Stadt Park which was very pretty although sadly the tulips are at the end of their blooming.  I think there has been a sudden spring warming.  There are lots of statues of Viennese musicians so my musical theme was continued.

In the afternoon I went to the PetersKirche or St Peters church.  It is just a block from the Stephansdom or St Stephens cathedral which I think is overated.  It is better on the outside than in and very crowded.  I went in for less than 10 minutes.  However I was pleased to learn about the Peterskirche.  While fairly plain on the outside, the inside is remarkable, although a bit over the top in the usual baroque style.  However I had read there was an organ concert at 3pm so enjoyed 30 minutes of organ playing for a small donation.

Then it was back to rest up and prepare dinner before setting off back to the Staatsoper to see 'La Boheme"

This as usual was marvellous and, although I had walked a lot during the day,  I did not succumb to sleepiness. Such beautiful music in a wonderful setting.


Today I leave Vienna and head south by train to Slovenia.