Sunday, May 31, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

France from bottom to top

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

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

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

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

and next is the town gate from their front door.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Sunday I made another long train trip to Bavaria.

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

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Barge Cruise That Wasn’t

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again a lunch in a nearby restaurant.

Friday we went to the markets at Auxerre

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

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

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

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Paris Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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