Monday, December 27, 2010

Egypt: Hurghada

The second week of my Egypt adventure took me to the Titanic Resort Hotel and Aqua park in Hurghada, on the Red Sea. It took about 5 or 6 hours to get there from Luxor, by coach. There were several other people from the cruise on the coach so we kept each other entertained through the endless miles of deserty nothingness. Sadly, we were all booked into different hotels. The travel agent ( really could have made more of an effort to keep people together. It would have improved that week immeasurably.
The hotel, like all the others in Hurghada, is huge. It's built to look like the Titanic, except that it isn't sinking, fortunately. My room was clean and very spacious with a view out onto the enormous swimming pool. The aqua park section was over the other side and full of kids having a great time. The main pool was empty most of the time.

Note that 5 star accommodation in Egypt is not the same as 5 star anywhere else! 3 stars is a more accurate rating.

The hotel seemed to be fully booked but most of the holiday makers were German and Russian. English voices were few and far between. Any thoughts I had of visiting Russia on this trip have been deleted. I know it's wrong to generalise but....... rude, no style and definitely no class. (And I don't mean 'class' in a Karl Marx sort of way.) Even the Egyptians don't like them.
A major drawback in the hotel is that it only has one restaurant. Queues and crowding were the norm. Unless you're a bogan Russian, of course, then you just barge in regardless. Several times I got up halfway through my meal to go get a drink or whatever, to return to my seat to find everything cleared away by the staff and someone else in situ. Perhaps they should provide trays so people can get everything they need at once and so keep their seat till they've finished.
Lack of decent internet is also a problem. There are three computers for hire in the games room. 4 pounds (GBP, or 30 Egyptian pounds) an hour. The guy who runs the computers doesn't turn up till about 1pm. It's also hit and miss as to whether the server and/or connection will work properly.

I spent the first couple of days just lazing about, reading by the pool mostly.
I booked a trip to Cairo to see the Pyramids and Sphinx on the third day. Up at 1am to get on the coach for the long, long ride to Cairo - about 7 or 8 hours. There weren't enough English on the trip to have our own coach so we were put on a German coach. The guide spoke German the whole way, only occasionally remembering to let us up the back know what was going on. We did pick up an English guide once we arrived in Cairo.
First stop was the oldest mosque in Cairo (and Africa I think). We were immediately segregated according to gender. Women had to put on ridiculous green hooded cloaks before we were allowed to enter. There's a whole section of the mosque hidden behind a wooden wall - that's where the women pray. I wasn't impressed.
Next stop was the museum. Once again, we all had to leave all camera equipment behind. That always makes me nervous. But it was all still there when we'd finished. Inside, we were whisked from one exhibit to another at ridiculous speed. I did get to see Tutankhamun's mask and gold sarcophagi. Very impressive!
From there we were taken to a restaurant, somewhere in Cairo, for lunch. Food was provided but we had to pay for drinks. The manager wasn't happy that we were all drinking bottled water from the hotel.
From there it was off to the Pyramids of Giza. I've always wanted to see them and now I can say I have! I was surprised at how close they are to Cairo itself. To be honest, I think the temples at Luxor and Abu Simbel are more interesting to look at. The pyramids are impressive though. The size of the blocks of stone they're made with is enormous. I didn't go inside: the entrance is tiny and there were hundreds of people all trying to crowd inside. Seeing the outside was enough for me.
The Sphinx, however, is magnificent. It's huge! I'd seen lots of smaller sphinx in Luxor but there's nothing to compare with the one at Giza. It's face is badly damaged but that doesn't detract from the overall spectacle that it is. It's cordoned off to stop people clambering all over it. There's scaffolding over one of its hindquarters - renovation work I assume. I'm glad to see they're trying to maintain these magnificent structures.
For the short journey from the pyramids to the Sphinx people had the option of staying with the coach or hiring a camel or horse. I chose the coach haha. Just as well as it turned out. One lady with 2 young kids decided they'd hire a horse. 50 Egyptian pounds is the going rate and we were told to not pay a penny more. So she made the deal and wandered over to the staging point. The operator waited till the coach had moved off and then demanded 50 American dollars each for the three of them. She refused, of course, and so had to walk, with two crying kids, down to meet up with the coach. I don't know why Egyptians think tourists are so stupid. They end up making no money in their greed to rip people off.
Anyway, back on the coach and back to Hurghada - arrived 11pm. A long day but worth it really.

The rest of the week turned out to be a bit of a waste. I had wanted to do a trip on a glass-bottomed boat on the Red Sea and a 4wd trip out into the desert to see a Bedouin camp. However, Pharaoh's Revenge got me and I was sick for the rest of the week. Therefore, I didn't do much at all. Fortunately, I'd already seen what I'd set out to see so I wasn't too upset that I'd missed the opportunity.
The coach trip back to Luxor left at 9.30am and was made better by the fact that those of us on the same cruise were reunited for the trip. That also made Luxor airport more bearable. What a mess that is! Checking in was easy but from then on...... I'm still surprised we all managed to get on our flights. We were all a few hours early so we sat downstairs for a while just chatting and swapping stories. Then we decided to move upstairs as the blokes were in need of a beer. We had to go through a security checkpoint to get up to the bar and duty free area. That's standard. But, after a while, about an hour before boarding time, we noticed a huge queue forming. We decided to join it just in case. Good move. Over an hour later we got the the head of the line to find another security checkpont. Three booths for hundreds of people. Chaos. I've not seen any other airport that has the main security after the duty free area. Crazy! Once through security you go straight to the boarding lounge, which was completely empty as, by now, the plane was an hour late departing and people had to board immediately. "Why are you so late?" said the man checking the boarding passes. Pffftt!
The flight was uneventful, except there was no tea or coffee on board - not enough fresh water. Apparently it's illegal to take water on board from Egypt (probably because it's of such dodgy quality) and so they had to make do with what was left from the flight from Manchester, which wasn't much.
We landed at 11.15pm, only half an hour late. I was supposed to pick up my car from the long term carpark but decided, as it was minus 12 C, I'd go straight to the hotel. I'd missed the last shuttle bus 'cos we were late so had to get a taxi. It was about 12.30 by the time I got to bed.
The next day, I hung around the hotel till the last possible check out time then went in search of my car. I had to catch a taxi back to the airport terminal to get the shuttle bus to the carpark. Fortunately, the car wasn't buried under snow and I was able to get it out relatively easily.

I've got some observations to make about Egypt in general but I think I'll save them for another post. All in all, except for getting sick, it was a memorable two weeks. I enjoyed the first week a lot more than the second but I'm glad I went. It was worth it all just to see the wonders of Ancient Egypt. Truly magnificent.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Egypt: the Nile cruise.

If ever there's a trip worth doing it's a cruise along the Nile. This week has been a once in a lifetime experience that I'll never forget.
Egypt is a crazy country. It's the country where you don't ask “Why?” because there are apparently no reasons for what goes on.
Most of the population lives along the narrow strips of irrigated land either side of the river. I think the stats are something along the lines of 95% of the population lives on 3% of the land that borders the river. I think it's fair to say that without the Nile there would be no Egypt.

The Cruise boat:
I was originally booked on a boat called the Nile Saray. After negotiating my way through Luxor airport I got on the shuttle coach to where the boats are docked. The road is one that most tourists travel on and is, therefore, in very good condition: well lit and bordered by many-coloured plants (bougainvillea I think). The first thing I noticed was that nobody drives with their lights on (it was dark). Occasionally they'll flash their lights to make sure you know they're there but they never leave them on. Doesn't matter if it's a big coach, a car, a motorcycle (often with 3 or 4 people astride). No-one could explain why this is the case. Don't ask “Why?”.
At the place where all the boats were moored I was directed to the Nile Saray and crossed the gangplank – literally a plank: three feet wide carpeted plank with thin rope to hang on to and a couple of bits of 4 by 2 jamming the plank in position. You get used to them after a while. Anyway, onto the boat to be told I'm supposed to be on the boat next door: Semiramis 1. Back up the gangplank, down another one. This time they said I could stay. Phew!
I was booked into room 103 where I soon discovered that the window didn't open, as I was at water level (steerage!), the shower had no hot water, the fridge didn't work and the power outlets wouldn't hold plugs in place. Great start! Fortunately I was able to upgrade to room 308, two floors up, the next day. Everything worked and the window opened. Cost me an extra few dollars but it was worth it.
The Nile Saray was decorated very garishly, in a cartoonish Egyptian style. The Semiramis is decked out like a 1930s movie set. Poirot would feel right at home!
There were two groups of people on the boat: the English and the Germans. Haha, don't mention the War! In the English group was one Aussie (me), three Irish, two Welsh and three South Africans, plus the English. Most of the group were about my age, retirees for the most part. We had a lot of fun. I've made a couple of new contacts that I'll try to follow up when I get back to Liverpool.
I'd booked fully inclusive: three meals a day and drinks on demand. No other way to travel!

The cruise itself starts in Luxor, where it stays for two nights. Then on, through the Enza lock to Edfu. Then on through Kom Ombi to Aswan for two nights. Then back to Edfu overnight and one more night in Luxor.
Once on board I was able to book daily excursions. Of course I booked them all. Karnak and Luxor temples; Colossi of Memnon, Valley of the Kings and Temple of Hatshepsut; Edfu temple, Kom Ombi temple, Nubian village, Abu Simbel, Karnak light and sound show, Luxor city tour in horse and buggy. And a hot air balloon ride on the last morning. Still can't believe I did that last one! It was a pretty packed itinerary and we were all exhausted at the end of it all. But it was worth it. In between, of course, was time to sit on the sun deck and watch the Nile float by.

The temples are magnificent. All of them. Huge, of course. Edfu and Abu Simbel are the two I saw that are still mostly intact; the rest are missing rooves, wall, etc. But all are incredible to see first hand. Photos just don't do them justice. Abu Simbel (two temples dedicated to Ramses II and his wife Nefertari) was moved when Lake Nasser was created, otherwise it would have been flooded. It took 4 years and a lot of impressive engineering to move. At first they thought to leave it there but soon realised that salt water and sandstone don't mix. One bright spark had the idea of taking tourists to see it via submarine. Wiser heads prevailed. Two concrete domes were built and the temples rebuilt under them. Then the mountains were constructed over the domes. You'd never know they're not in their original place.
The statues of Ramses II are magnificent. 21 metres tall. There are four of them – two either side of the entrance. All are of Ramses sitting on his throne. At his feet are smaller statues of 14 of his favourite children. Ramses II is widely recognised as Egypt's greatest Pharaoh. He reigned for several decades, living till the age of 97. I forget how many wives he had but he had close to 200 children! The inner rooms and chambers are all dedicated to his exploits. There's a small room at the back of the temple with four statues seated on thrones. They are Ramses II, the god Amun (Ra), one other god and, on the left, the god of darkness. Two days a year the sunrise lights the faces of three of the statues; only the god of darkness is not lit up. Originally this happened on Feb 21st and October 21st. Since the temples were moved this now happens on the 22nd of the those months.
The second temple is dedicated to Nefertari, Ramses' favourite wife. The facade statues are not as tall but are still hugely impressive.
Kom Ombi was buried under tons of sand until about 150 years ago. Kom Ombi means City of Gold so the locals were very keen to help with the excavations: no gold though. Must have been rather disappointing. It's mind boggling to think of how much sand it would take to completely bury such a structure. Even more mind boggling to think of the work involved to uncover it again.
There's also a new excavation in Luxor itself: a road has been discovered that connects Karnak and Luxor temples. The road is lined both sides with sphinx: Sphinx Avenue. Shops, homes, two churches and a mosque had to be moved to recover the avenue. Apparently the mosque management refused to move until the mayor of Luxor told them “Move now or I knock it down. Now.” They moved. Cool dude that mayor. This has only happened over the last few months.
The Valley of the Kings was fascinating too. No photos allowed though, not even outside. All cameras had to be left on the bus which made me a bit nervous. We saw three tombs, Ramses 7th, 4th and 3rd. I can see why they don't allow photography as there are still areas of original colour inside the tombs. Flash would fade them too quickly. (Though they should make exception for cameras like mine which don't need flash to take a reasonable picture!) The work that's gone into these tombs is incredible. The walls, and ceilings, are carved and painted from start to finish, telling the story of the Pharaoh's life. Unbelievable.
Edfu had the most complete facade of all the temples; huge carvings into the granite. It's also the only temple we saw with an intact roof. Probably because it was buried under sand for centuries. The ceilings were very smoke blackened though – we were told that's from countless fires lit inside by early Christian (Coptic) groups who took over the temples in days gone by.
Hatshepsut's temple has the most impressive setting: set against the mountainside like it was carved out of it. Over the back of it is the Valley of the Kings. The facade is the most impressive part here; inside is not much to see compared with other temples.

I've seen zillions of photos of these places in History books over the years. Nothing compares to actually seeing them. A photo doesn't convey the scale, the work, the sheer awesomeness of it all.

Two excursions that were completely different were to a Nubian village near Aswan and a buggy ride through Luxor.
To get to the Nubian village we had to walk along the mooring area to get on a much much smaller motor boat to take us across the river. Hahaha, the gangplank here was maybe 9 inches wide and lodged onto the riverside rocks. Thank goodness for the man with the helping hand! So we clambered into the boat and away we went. The ride across the river went the long way round through the First Cataract area. At one stage a couple of young boys, paddling on what looked like old doors, attached themselves alongside and sang songs to us. Once they'd collected a few coins they paddled off.
The village was quite large but we only really saw the main market street, the school and one private home, belonging to relatives of our guide. The Nubian homes are no wealthier looking than the average Egyptian home but they are much cleaner and brightly painted, inside and out. The home we visited had cool Egyptian scenes painted on the whitewashed walls, sand floors, large open living areas on two levels, crocodile heads (over the door and on the walls), live baby crocodiles in a cage. Apparently they are a symbol of luck so the men go down to Lake Nasser and catch them. They're kept till they grow too big, then released back into the Lake. Most of them anyway. The family were very welcoming and offered us home made bread, dips and a very sweet cheese. It's considered rude not to partake.
The buggy ride through parts of Luxor in the evening was an eye-opener. The market streets are just wide enough for the buggies and were very crowded with stalls, shops and shoppers (mostly women). The men do the selling. Other men sit around in coffee shops smoking huge hookahs. We also went through a few of the back streets and that was pretty awful. There's not much lighting which makes it a bit scary. The back streets are full of tiny hovels, most roofless and often without electricity. People sit around in the doorways or out on the street around fires made from anything they can scrounge. There's usually a donkey outside as well and, sometimes a scrawny cow or two. Stray dogs and, especially, cats are everywhere. Children run alongside the buggies begging for money. The buggy drivers chase them away but that doesn't stop them. Sad.

From there we were taken to Karnak temple again for the sound and light show – the temple is lit up and, as we moved through the temple, a recorded history of the temple is broadcast from hidden loudspeakers. It was okay but not the most exciting excursion of the week.

The last morning of the cruise was my most adventurous by far. Up at 4am, onto a shuttle bus to a small boat to take us across the river, then another bus to the hot air balloon field. I still can't believe I signed up for a hot air balloon ride. To say I was nervous is a complete understatement! Climbing into the basket was an adventure in itself! Once in, there not much room to move either. So off we went, up into the sky. I think we reached 2,000 feet high. It really is very peaceful up there. The views across Luxor and the Valley of the Kings were just amazing. Because of the wind direction we didn't go across the Nile itself, which is a pity. But we floated above the Colossi of Memnon, Hatshepsut's temple (which gave us a glimpse into the Valley of the Kings), various other temples and parts of Luxor. We watched the sun come up over the Nile, although extreme haze muted that somewhat. From the air you can clearly see the line where cultivation ends and the desert begins. After an hour (which went by very quickly) we landed in a ploughed field. I don't think the farmer was too pleased. After clambering out of the basket we got back on a bus, crossed the bridge and reboarded the boat in time for breakfast. Incredible trip!

Then it was time to pack and board the coach for the 4 hour trip to Hurghada. More on that later.
The cruise was such an excellent adventure. I loved every minute of it. If you ever get the chance.... do it!


Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Flew out of Manchester at 9.45am where the temperature was minus several. Arrived Luxor 5.10pm (local time; 3.10pm England time) and I was completely overdressed.
The flight was uneventful, except for my panic attack at check in when I realised I'd left my lucky charms in Liverpool. Flew over the Alps - awesome. Mostly what I saw was clouds. :/


Luxor airport is organised chaos. The plane stopped in the middle of nowhere and we all had to catch a bus to the terminal. 5 planes had landed in quick succession and only one (ONE) passport control booth was open. Also, only one baggage carousel. Did someone mention "queue!" I had to get a visa (15 GBP) on arrival. The tour guide guy sent us to a queue. The guy at the desk said we had to go to another queue because our names weren't on his list. I looked at the list.... "there's my name" and I pointed to it. He didn't look, just said "Give me 15 pounds" and stamped my passport. Quite bizarre.
Another bus took us to the boats - there are several. I was taken to the one on my paperwork but it was the wrong one. Next door! It's always next door in Egypt! (that's a variation on a Goons joke btw).
The boat is such a throwback. I'll have to take some pics tomorrow. Speaking of pics....saw the most amazing sunset as we came in to land. Stay tuned for some sunset shots!
The staff on the boat and at the airport are all male. I haven't seen a single woman yet. Saw some donkey drawn carts on the road though. And flat-roofed mud brick houses. 5000 year old traditions right next to an international airport. Boggles the mind.

So... I'm here, in Egypt. Who'd have thunk! It's going to be amazing.


PS. Meanwhile, hahahaha, King Tut is in Manchester. Go figure :)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


At a currency exchange booth, Manchester airport:
Me: I'm going to Egypt tomorrow. Is it better to change money here or when I get there.
Man in booth: I've never been to Egypt.
Me: (following a short, stunned moment) Thank you for your help.
Man in booth: You're welcome.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Lake District

The Lake District, Cumbria, in England's north west, is one of the country's most popular holiday areas. I can see why. Mountains and lakes always make for spectacular scenery. It's a very popular spot with walkers, hikers and climbers - not that I'm any of those! There were plenty of them about though, even in near freezing temperatures. Hardy souls.
I stayed one night in Ambleside, at the north end of Lake Windemere and one night in Kendal, the south end. Windemere is England's largest lake. It's quite narrow (1.5 miles) but very long (11 miles) and is very scenic.

Boats and snow

Ambleside is a pretty little town. Quite hilly though. It's less touristy than the bigger towns - Windemere, etc. Every second shop sells outdoor gear for the serious hiker. I bought a hat :) I stayed in the Queen's Hotel at the top of the hill. Haha, every time I went up to my room I had to pass a portrait of Betty Windsor. Kind of an old fashioned place :) Comfy though and reasonably priced for bed and breakfast. Wifi too.
From Ambleside I drove up to Keswick, past Thirlmere - another of the lakes. I took the back road rather than the main A road so was able to stop a few times to take pics without having to worry about getting in the way of traffic.


Keswick is also a pretty town. The central section is for pedestrians only - very pleasant.
From there I headed back to Windemere. I had thought about taking the lake cruise to get some pics but the thought of standing about in the freezing cold for a couple of hours changed my mind.
I decided to just drive back to Liverpool but only got as far as Kendal - just a few miles down the road. I'd had enough of driving by then.
Woke up the next morning to discover it had snowed overnight.


It wasn't a lot of snow by local standards but it looked very pretty. I was a bit nervous about driving in it though. You have to drive for hours up into the alpine areas to see snow in Australia and I haven't done that for many, many years. So it was all a bit new and fantasy land like to me.
It took a while to get the car cleared so I could see where I was going - very thankful it has a good heater!
The drive back was uneventful. Just a few miles down the road is the motorway and there'd been no snow there at all.
English roads are in excellent condition given the incredible volume of traffic they carry and the dreadful weather. Not just the motorways either, the A and B roads are just as good. (Unlike the US where the roads are terrible.)

Anyway... apart from the cold it was a pleasant couple of days. I think I'd like the revisit the area when it's warmer - cruise the lake, take more pics, etc., because it really is a pretty area.


Next trip is to Egypt. It'll be good to get warm!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Not much to report

I haven't been doing much since the Cotswolds trip. The weather up here in the north west is miserable: cold and wet. Gale force winds last week uprooted the big tree in the back yard - it's currently awaiting insurance assessment.

And the tree came down

I went into town the other day, the one when it didn't rain, and checked out the John Lennon peace monument in Chevasse Park.

Imagine: Peace and Harmony

I really like the monument itself - vibrant colours and a distinctly musical theme in the main section with peace doves above. There's a strange white tent thing to one side with Give Peace A Chance printed on it and another billboard type thing with words from Julian Lennon.
What I didn't like was the position of the monument. It's very central to Liverpool's main shopping precinct - that's okay as it means there are plenty of people around to see the monument. But.... it's right next to an amusement park/fairground. It's kind of difficult to imagine peace and harmony (the message of the piece) when there are people on rides screaming their lungs out right next to you.
It needs to be in a proper park with trees and grass and open space and, well, peace.

I'm currently investigating my next trip..... I think I'll go to Egypt. Fed up with the miserable weather here.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tewkesbury and Gloucester

My final day in the Cotswolds consisted of a trip through Tewkesbury and Gloucester. The former has an abbey which greeted my arrival with all bells ringing. There are 13 bells - proper ones, not pre-recorded like so many places these days - and they sounded very impressive. Inside was just as musical as the organist was practising on the big pipe organ. The ladies in the gift shop weren't impressed but I thought it was fine. A very majestic sound.

Outside Tewkesbury Abbey

I had a pleasant stroll around the town - lots of Tudor style buildings - and then headed over to Gloucester. This is a much bigger place and, naturally, more populated. I wanted to have a look at Gloucester Cathedral as it was used as a film location for the Harry Potter films - the cloisters in particular.

Harry Potter contemplates his latest predicament

Unfortunately there was an art show of sorts inside so it was pretty damn crowded. There were sculptures all over the place, most of which didn't impress me - too much pain and suffering for me. Along one wall of the cloisters were a series of outstretched hands, sticking out from the wall, all holding something: a packet of chips, a sandwich, etc.
The cathedral itself is not as big as something like Canterbury but it does have some very nice stained glass.
I wandered onto the main street of town and decided to have lunch at The Pig Inn In The City (I think that's its name). Nice enough pub but 45 minutes is a bit long to wait for lunch, especially the roast of the day.
Anyway, after lunch I strolled around the dock area.

Gloucester dock

It's much more aesthetically pleasing than Salford Quays in Manchester but I think Liverpool's Albert Dock is still the best I've seen.

On Sunday I'd planned to take the long way home to Liverpool but ended up on the motorway anyway. The day is over by 4.30 - 5pm now and I don't like driving in the dark. I got back just in time to see Liverpool beat Chelsea 2-0.

Got a birthday dinner to go to tomorrow night but not much else is happening this week. I got a large print of one of my photos, framed, to give as a present.

Evening light

Looks good, even if I do say so myself :)


Friday, November 5, 2010

The Cotswolds and beyond.....

I've seen a lot over the last few days and I've only scratched the surface of what this area has to offer.
Tuesday: Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick Castle.
Wednesday: Chipping Campden and other local spots
Thursday: Avebury and Stonehenge
Friday: Tolkien and Blenheim Palace.

Stratford, of course, is all things Shakespeare. I came across Anne Hathaway's cottage first. 7 pounds 50 to get in plus a pound for parking. The cottage is quite big - thatched roof, interior beams, fully furnished, etc. Photography not allowed inside. The beds look particularly uncomfortable!

Anne Hathaway's cottage

The town itself is very pretty. There's the Avon River of course, plus a canal. The narrow boats moored there all seemed to be cafes and ice cream vendors. There's a signpost on the canal: 199 miles, 154 locks and 99 hours to Liverpool by canal. :)

Avon River

Shakespeare's birthplace is right on the main street. I didn't go in for the tour but wandered randomly round the town instead.

Birthplace of William Shakespeare

There's an interesting, very old, Tudor style building next to a church not far from the town centre. Like Canterbury, it turned out to be a school so I couldn't get in. Pub names mostly refer to Shakespeare or his plays in one way or another. The one place I forgot all about was the Globe Theatre. Unforgivable, I know. Maybe I'll get back there some other time.

From Stratford I headed into Warwick and checked out the castle there. 18 pounds to get in plus 5 pounds to park! Expensive day out. It's a bit Disney inside but interesting nonetheless. The falconer was doing his thing when I got there so I stopped to have a look. I'd missed the first bird, it was just being put away, but I was just in time for the Sacred Falcon. Apparently he's a youngster, still in training. Probably explains why, when his hood was finally removed, he flew away and didn't come back. I saw him later over the other side of the castle, so he hadn't gone far.
The Great Hall is amazing. Not huge but big enough and it's full of medieval weapons and armour. There are two full sized, fully armoured knights on horseback in the centre area of the hall. Swords, spears, pikes and various pieces of armour grace the walls. It would have been the perfect place to take Yr 8 history classes for an excursion!
I've got some reasonable photos but haven't uploaded them yet for some reason.

The next day I was treated to a 2 hour tour of the local area by Barry, the owner of the B&B where I'm staying. It's part of the package if you stay 3 or more nights. Me being me I didn't really want to go, thinking it'd be a waste of time. But now I'm glad I went. He showed me a lot of places I probably would have missed on my own. The Cotswolds is a beautiful region. The trees, well the leaves, are all yellow, gold, red, rusty brown. Just gorgeous. There were a lot of cars parked along one stretch of road and Barry got all excited. "Hunt followers", he cried. So we stopped and waited. Sure enough, a whole lot of people on horses accompanied by hounds appeared. I thought fox hunting was outlawed here now but it still goes on. Barry said I was privileged to see it but I'm not so sure. Thankfully, the hounds didn't flush a fox - that would have been distressing I think.

The hunt

One of the places we went through was Chipping Campden, the nearest town. I went back for a closer look in the afternoon. Apparently Johnny Depp stayed there a few years ago while filming something or other. Very nice place.
Being in The Cotswolds is like being in The Shire.

Autumn in the Cotswolds

Yesterday I went further afield - to Avebury and Stonehenge. Avebury is about an hour and a half's drive from here. It's a small village but is surrounded by one of the biggest stone circles in Europe and England's largest. The circle has a diameter of about 1000 feet. It is, in turn, surrounded by a huge ditch and earth rampart. The only way to photograph the whole thing would be from the air. The circle is spread over a number of fields, many of which have sheep grazing in them as well. It pays to watch where you walk!
Stonehenge is about 30 kms further south so I thought I might as well wander on down, seeing as I was so close. Absolutely awesome. I was impressed by the scale of Avebury but its size means, for me, it lacks the impact of Stonehenge. It truly is a magical place. You have to be quick though as they close it up at 4pm at this time of year. 6 pounds 90 to get inside the huge chicken wire fence that stops people just wandering in from the road. It's worth it though. It's easy to see why it's such a magnet for alternative culture types.


There's a rope barrier around the henge to stop people wandering through the stones - a result of too much damage done in the past. The good thing about that is that it's possible to get a decent, people-free photograph. :) The sun was going down as I was there. I would have loved to have stayed longer but they were ushering people away by then.


The drive back to Mickleton - two hours in the dark and drizzling rain - was not so good.

Today I thought I'd go to Oxford, just over an hour from here. First off I went to Wolvercote cemetery to pay my respects to my favourite author: JRR Tolkien. I found the town of Wolvercote (sort of north Oxford) and stopped at the pub for directions to the cemetery. A bloke there said "Oh, that's at the other end of town, five mile drive." So I got directions and off I went. Hahahaha, 'five mile drive' is not an indication of distance but it is the name of the road the cemetery's on. Three minutes away.

Pilgrimage #2

He's buried there with his wife, Edith. The headstone refers to them as Luthien and Beren. Very touching.

I decided to bypass Oxford as traffic is horrendous there. I went to Blenheim Palace instead. It's the home of the Duke of Marlborough and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. Huge place with even huger grounds and gardens. Photographs are not allowed inside but I snuck some anyway. Photos of the grounds are limited as it was raining constantly. Bleah! I wandered around for a while though - determined to get my money's worth. Another 18 pound entry fee. However, I was able to trade my ticket in for an annual pass so I can go back at any time for free - weather permitting.

Today is November 5th: Bonfire night. Guy Fawkes night. I went to Chipping Campden to see the fireworks but it was still raining, and getting heavier. I was fed up with being wet, and especially fed up with my camera getting wet, so decided that I'd give it a miss. There will be more displays tomorrow in the area so, weather permitting, I might get some fireworks pics.

I have one more day here. As I type, the plan is to go to Gloucester. That might change though.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Went for a bit of a drive today

And ended up in Mickleton, Gloucesterhire (Glosst'sher). From Liverpool it's straight down the M6 for a couple of hours, bypass Birmingham and take the Stratford exit. It's about 20 minutes south of Stratford-upon-Avon and west of Oxford if that helps :) It took me an hour less than I thought to get here because I forgot to turn the car's clock back an hour. Duh.
However, now that Samhain (Summer's end) has been and gone, 5pm ticks over and it's dark. That can only mean one thing.....early starts.
I wish the motorways had stopping zones. So many photographic opportunities on the way down - mostly trees. It's Autumn here and the trees are just gorgeous. Hopefully I'll take a few decent snaps while I'm here.
Tomorrow's agenda is to go to Stratford and explore all things Shakespeare. I've never been a fan of The Bard but I have a sister who is. I passed through a bit of the town on the way here and it looks beautiful. Caught a glimpse of an old bridge across the river - definitely going to photograph that.
Also on the agenda for this week is Oxford, Warwick (it has a castle; have to go!), Blenheim Palace, Bath, the countryside. Who knows what else? The Cotswolds area is known as the Heart of England and not without cause. The little bit I've seen already is stunning.
Meon Hill is another photographic possibility - it's supposed to be the inspiration for Weathertop. Must go have a look.
I got to the B&B (, home for the week, at about 5. Too dark, sadly, to start exploring so I settled for a welcoming cuppa then showered (in a proper shower, not a shower-in-a-bath) and headed off to the village, Mickleton, in search of dinner. Two minutes down the road is The King's Arms. Had a very tasty (although a tad overpriced) burger with "proper chips". The publican reminded me of Imran Khan so I might go back before the week's out :)
I'm back at the B&B now, got the place to myself tonight. Comfy :) It'll get more populated as the week progresses apparently. Hopefully that'll be a good thing.
For now I'm going to kick back and read.... got The Gathering Storm (Robert Jordan) on the mac's pretend kindle. The next volume (volume 13!!!!) of the series is due out tomorrow. Hopefully there's a bookshop in Stratford.....


Friday, October 29, 2010

Hereford and Wales

From Rushock I headed a bit south to Hereford to spend the night. I'd heard that the Magna Carta (1215) was on display in the cathedral so I had to go look. Also there is the Hereford mappa mundi. Both were in a darkened room, behind glass. No photos allowed but I did sneak one of the Magna Carta while the official guard, I mean guide, wasn't looking. Terrible photo though. The document itself is quite small. Nevertheless, it's probably the most important document in the history of constitutional government.
There's a lot of renovation work going on at this cathedral: scaffolding everywhere. While that's inconvenient for photography it's excellent to know that the old places are being cared for.
From Hereford I headed into Wales for a couple of days. Cymru to the locals. I think that translates as "cold." ;) Beautiful countryside though.
I based myself at Aberystwyth on the central coast for a couple of days.
There are plenty of castles in Wales - built mostly by Edward I during his campaigns to subdue the Welsh princes and add Wales to his empire. I checked out three of them: Aberystwyth, Harlech and Caenarfon. The first is little more than a ruin, just a few broken towers and such like. Lovely setting though, overlooking the Irish Sea. I must say though, it's a very chilly wind that comes in off that sea!

Aberystwyth Castle

The remains of Harlech are more substantial. It's a concentric castle, ie., it has two sets of defensive walls. The inner walls in such castles are always much higher than the outer walls so that defenders can shoot from both walls without fear of the outer guys getting an arrow in the back from the inner wall guys. I climbed the spiral staircase in one tower and the view from the top was pretty nice. Between the castle and the sea is now a golf course.

Across the irish Sea....

Harlech itself is a smallish village/town. Most buildings are built out of dark grey stone - that seems to be the standard material in the Welsh areas I saw. I found it a bit depressing to be honest. Houses in Irish towns are often painted in different colours which is much more cheery to look at.


I stopped in at the pub in Harlech for a coffee to try to warm up. There was a real coal fire burning away. I haven't seen a proper coal fire in decades. Like everyone else I've spoken to in the UK and Ireland, the publican knew someone in Australia so we had a bit of a chat. One interesting thing she said was that it was cheaper for her to buy her lamb from Australia than to buy the local produce. Bit sad for Welsh farmers.

I also had a quick look at Caenarfon castle, further north. This is where the Prince of Wales is invested. I mainly wanted to have a look because I have vague memories of a family holiday there way back in the Dark Ages. I know there's an old photograph somewhere of either Peter or Paula, or maybe both, sitting on the cannon in the castle grounds. So, of course, I took a pic of the cannon.

Caenarfon cannon

One of the main reasons for going to Wales was to try to find the cottage of Bron Yr Aur - where Jimmy Page and Robert Plant stayed (1970 I think) to write most of the material for Led Zeppelin III. I got as far as the bottom of the road that leads to the cottage. There's a sign at the bottom saying "Road not suitable for motors". I thought about trying to drive up anyway but decided against it - what if I got the car stuck and couldn't get down, etc etc. I also thought about walking up but it's a very very steep hill. Eventually I decided it wasn't worth risking a heart attack for the sake of a photograph. Bummer.

So, instead, I went for a drive up though Snowdonia National Park to Yr Wyddfa, Mt Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales. It was bloody cold up there (average temp at the top is 2.5C) but the views were worth it.

Mountain lake

I think Snowdon might be the inspiration for Misty Mountain Hop.

Misty Mountain Hop

So, from Wales I headed back to Liverpool, where I am now. I've had a yucky cold all this week so have done bugger all. On Monday, however, I'm heading south to the Cotswolds - got 6 nights booked in a B&B in Chipping Campden. I plan on doing several day trips - Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon, Blenheim Palace, Bath, etc. Should be good!

Right then, I think I'm finally caught up.



I forgot to mention that I also visited Canterbury, specifically the cathedral, while I was down in Kent. Another huge, impressive piece of architecture.

Canterbury Cathedral

Inside is a wonder of vaults, arches, buttresses, stained glass, etc. Unlike the pretentious (mercenary?) lot at Durham, photography is allowed inside.

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury is the spiritual home of the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the most senior cleric in the Anglican church. While Durham has the Venerable Bede, Canterbury has Thomas Beckett. Not many archbishops have been murdered and fewer have been murdered in their own cathedral. He may be the only one but I'm not sure of that. It occurred because of a power struggle between Church and State - Henry II, the king of England, frustrated by Beckett's attempts to increase the power of the church, and said some words he probably shouldn't have. The actual words are debatable but the result was that four of his knights took off and, when Beckett refused to go to the king, murdered him at the altar. (1170)
Canterbury, of course, then became a shrine to Beckett and a place of pilgrimage. The shrine in the centre of the cathedral and the altar where the murder happened were both destroyed, sometime in the 1500s, on the orders of Henry VIII during his own power struggles with the church. (That struggle led, of course, to the formation of the Church of England.)
A new, small, altar has been placed at the scene of the crime with a quite dramatic sculpture above it - four swords, to symbolise the killing and Beckett's martyrdom.

Thomas Becket

In place of the shrine there's now just an empty space with one candle perpetually burning.
There's also another perpetually burning candle, in another part of the cathedral, dedicated to prisoners of conscience. The sign says: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing." And also: "as a reminder of prisoners of conscience and all those who suffer unjustly for their beliefs and actions".

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.

I thought it was good to see a church recognising such injustice. It makes a change from most (all?) religious organisations with their "there's only one way and it's our way" approach.

Anyway...... after the cathedral I tried to get into what I thought was the castle. Haha, got stopped at the barrier by a uniformed bloke telling me I couldn't go in. Turns out it's not a castle but a school. The King's School. One of the most elite in the country apparently. I was there as kids were getting out and being picked up by parents - never seen so many expensive cars in one place. Tory Central. When the revolution comes......

From Canterbury I did a quick jaunt down to Dover to have a look at the White Cliffs.

The White Cliffs of Dover

I could just make out France across the Channel. Might be all I see of France if the strikes and protests don't get sorted out soon. You have to admire the French for standing up to their government but really.... their timing is terrible!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Update #2: Pilgrimage

From Kent I decided to go back to Liverpool via Wales. But first I headed to a little church (St Michael's) in a tiny village (Rushock) in Worcestershire to pay my respects.

John Henry Bonham

I'm not ashamed to admit to shedding a few tears.


Been longer than I thought. Sorry folks.
Since I left Sweden I've been in the UK, where it's getting colder by the day.
I didn't do much for a week or so once I got back to Liverpool. After a month on the road I was in need of some rest. I did have a day out in Chester. I really like Chester - it's an old Roman town and there are still some Roman ruins there. Plenty of medieval stuff too. Lots of history wherever you look - just what I like :)
Too many people though!

Just a quiet Saturday afternoon in Chester

Next stop was Blackburn to stay with my uncle Brian (and Ann) for a week. Blackburn itself isn't much to look at: a north-western industrial town. I was taken to a club one night - one of the local haunts. The band was okay but the so-called comedian was atrocious. Apparently there are no laws against racial vilification up there.
The surrounding countryside is lovely though. We did a couple of day trips around the area: Ribchester, Whalley, Chipping, etc.

Whalley Viaduct

We also had a day in Manchester. Nothing to write home about there. The refurbished docks looked plain and boring compared to Liverpool's. The old buildings have been torn down whereas in Liverpool they've been cleaned up and turned into shops, restaurants, galleries, etc. The Albert Dock area in Liverpool really is a nice place to spend the day. I did think about looking for The Hacienda and Factory Records but we didn't know where they are, or even if they still exist. Maybe some other day I'll go do that pilgrimage.
Brian and Ann then took me up to their daughter's place near Durham. We had a look at the Angel of the North - another Antony Gormley structure. It overlooks the motorway at Gateshead and is huge! It's an industrial angel sort of thing and is meant to remind us to keep imagining angels. I like the idea of that. The angel itself is very imposing. Lots of people don't like it but I think it's interesting.

Angel of the North

We also went to Durham Cathedral. The cathedral was originally founded in 1093 and is regarded as the finest example of Norman architecture in England. It's very impressive inside but, sadly, they don't allow photography. The reason I was given is a load of bollocks really. I was told it's because it's a place of worship and cameras distract the worshippers. I looked around and saw hundreds of people - all tourists, nobody was praying. The clerics and volunteers were all busy shepherding tour groups around. Really what they mean is "no photos because we want you to buy our merchandise". Pfftt!
From there we headed north towards the Scottish border to check out Hadrian's Wall. I only saw bits of the wall but we did have a lengthy look at the remains of a Roman fort at Chesters (not to be confused with Chester). I wandered around taking lots of photos of grey stones :)

Chesters Roman Fort

The fort is 2000 years old, give or take a few years, and was originally built by the Romans to protect Hadrian's Wall where it crosses the Tyne river. Clever people those Romans.

On the way home from Blackburn I decided to pay the Iron Men at Crosby another visit:

The Watcher

Next stop was Kent to visit Joan and Jim, another aunty/uncle. I drove down from Liverpool - motorway driving is pretty damn boring. Kent is lovely though - they call it "The Garden of England" and not without cause.
I spent an excellent day with Bridie, a friend from Melbourne. We drove around the countryside and had a look at Hastings and Brighton. Brighton is a big seaside town which used to be "THE" place for the rich and famous to go. It's also home to fearless doughnut thieves too. After wandering up and down the pier, we decided to get some doughnuts. Next thing you know, a seagull swoops over my head from behind (actually hitting my head on the way through) and stole Bridie's doughnut right out of her hand.
While in Kent I also visited Chartwell (home of Winston Churchill), Hever Castle (home of Anne Boleyn and, later, William Waldorf Astor), and Knole (home of the Sackville family - important royal cousins in Tudor times).

Hever Castle

The grounds at Chartwell and Hever are spectacular. Chartwell is traditional English with rose gardens and sweeping lawns. Hever has that too but also has an immense Roman garden, established by WW Astor. Impressive.

Hever Castle

To be continued........

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Gotland #2

Day 2 on the island began looking like it was going to be a total washout. It had rained all night and continued to do so during the morning. I decided to go sightseeing anyway – a wet tourist is better than no tourist. I'd read about a working Viking village/museum at Tofta, a few miles south of Visby so headed off to there. Closed. I caught a glimpse through the locked gate and that was it. By now I was feeling a bit despondent and there were a few tears of frustration when I got back to the car. More than anything, this crappy northern European weather is getting me down a bit. I don't mind that it's a bit on the cool side but the constant rain – in Liverpool, in Ireland and now in Sweden – is beginning to wear me down.
Rather than go back to the hotel and sulk I decided to head to Farosund, about 50kms north of Visby. In the back of my mind I had the idea of crossing over to Faro, a much smaller island separated from Gotland by just a few hundred metres. Driving in the rain and on the wrong side of the road isn't all that much fun and there wasn't a whole lot to look at along the way, except a few churches and the odd windmill here and there.
A couple of kilometres short of Farosund I saw another Viking village/museum. It was closed too. I'm not sure when anything's actually open on Gotland.
Anyway, as I was about to leave a lady came out through the gate and said that yes, they were closed but I was welcome to go in and have a look around anyway. I wouldn't be able to go inside any of the houses, etc but could still walk around the site. So in I went, suddenly feeling a lot more positive about the day.
The museum has a number of houses (some with thatched rooves, some with tiles), stable, sheep pen, windmill (post-Viking vintage), wind-saw, a couple of waterwheel mills, tools and other artefacts, etc. Plus some runestones. I think I smiled properly for the first time for the day when I saw them. They've probably been moved here from their original homes but they looked authentic. One runestone has runic writing while another has a complete pictorial history of whoever it's a memorial to.
Just to prove I was in the right place, the sun came out. Once again, all was right with the world.

Standing stone

After I'd had my fill of Vikings I headed into Farosund. Crossing to Faro is by ferry but it was over the other side when I got there. So I had a wander round. There's not a lot to see besides the little harbour. I went back into town – needed the supermarket and a toilet. While I was doing that the ferry came and went. Sigh. Nevermind, I decided to head to the west coast and make my way back to Visby as I hadn't given that a proper look.


It rained on and off all the way back. I stopped at a couple of places during rain breaks – Sjalso for instance; a tiny village with a small stone pier and a few fishing boats. Pretty though.
I headed into Visby from the north and had to enter via the northern gate – a proper medieval gateway in the old city walls. Impressive. I found somewhere to park and went exploring round the old cobbled streets. Fortunately the rain seemed to have ceased by this stage.
Apart from the city walls with their towers there are numerous ruins scattered about – churches mostly. The church of St Nicolaus, an old Dominican (Blackfriars) establishment, is quite big but is basically an empty shell. There was some sort of Renaissance banquet thing being prepared for. I didn't have a ticket so had to leave. The Cathedral of Santa Maria is impressive. It's fully intact and is a working church. It has three black spires which I found interesting. The parish churches scattered around the island are all very Romanesque in style. This had a much more Russian look to it. Or, perhaps, Russian churches have a Swedish look about them – given that the original 'Russians' were a Swedish Viking mob called the Rus. Pics of Visby will be up in a day or two.
Because the weather had cleared up, mysteriously, there was a decent sunset happening by the time I'd finished with the cathedral. I wandered down to the sea walls and took too many photos of the sunset, as usual. It was cold but enjoyable.

Visby sunset

Then dinner and back to the hotel. Another 5am start today to catch the ferry back to the mainland. I'm on the ferry as I type – the sea looks cold and mean out there. I'm glad to be on this huge ship and not in a Viking longboat, under sail and oar and open to the elements! Those guys were tough!

Back in Akersberga now. Out for dinner tonight then back on a plane tomorrow. Back to Liverpool for a bit.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Gotland is an island off Sweden's east coast, in the Baltic Sea. It has lots of historical goodies to investigate.
I managed to find my way from Akersberga, through Stockholm in morning peak hour, to Nynashamn - about 50kms south of Stockholm. From there I caught the ferry (officially the biggest ship I've ever been on) to Visby, the main town on Gotland. The ferry trip is about 150kms and takes about 3 and a half hours. The weather in Nynashamn was clear but deteriorated markedly as we got closer to the island. The Baltic Sea has quite large swells - you have to admire the seafarers of the past who conquered it with just a couple of sails and some oars.
My hotel is walking distance from the ferry terminal - I have a perfect view of it from my window :-/
I'm facing west so was hoping for a decent sunset. Ha. Blanket cloud and rain is all I got. I went for a wander around part of the old town here but gave up after half an hour or so. Found a place to eat and shelter from the rain instead. I can't remember the last time I was so cold. I took a few snaps with the baby camera but only a few are usable. The rest have big raindrop smudges across them :(

Cute street

Haha, I'm in Gotland, Sweden and ate at a place called O'Leary's which is run by a couple of Spanish guys and serves Mexican and American style food and Irish beer. Go figure.

I woke up to more rain but it seems to have stopped at the moment so I'm off to explore.

Monday, September 13, 2010


I spent yesterday in the Old Town area of Stockholm. My host, Liselotte, was going to a wedding so we caught the train into the city and then she went off to the wedding and I managed to negotiate the subway to Old Town.
It's quite confronting, at first, to be in a place where nothing is in English. Signs, names, directions, etc are all in Swedish. But most people speak English pretty well so one just has to ask.
Old Town dates back to the 1600s when Sweden was an important European power. The basis of that power was the sea - Stockholm has been called the Venice of the North because of the way it's built on 14 islands where the River Norrstrom meets Lake Malaren before the whole thing empties into the Baltic Sea. Right back to the days of the Vikings, Swedes have been excellent seafarers. There's, disappointingly, no evidence of the Vikings in Stockholm; you have to go to places like Birka and Gotland to see that heritage. There are plenty of ships and boats moored along the many waterfronts though - everything from giant passenger liners to small fishing boats.
The architecture of Old Town is interesting. The buildings are tall but quite narrow. The streets are narrow too, and cobbled. Cobblestones can be very hard on the feet after a while!

Old Town, Stockholm

The area is dominated by the Royal Palace, the official residence of the Swedish Royal Family. It's a huge baroque building and makes a good landmark for finding your way around. For 140 Kronor you can tour various parts of the palace but photography is not allowed. 100 Kronor equals about 15 Aussie dollars. Sweden is, on the whole, an expensive tourist destination.

The Royal Palace

From Old Town and the palace I crossed the river to the island of Skeppsholmen. This used to be Stockholm's naval base but is now a public area. The buildings have mostly been converted into hotels and restaurants. I had a glass of wine in a converted torpedo workshop! The ex-naval training ship, the af Chapman is now a youth hostel. Yesterday was an open day of some sort for the island so the ship was acting as a floating bar and cafe.

af Chapman

After wandering around the island I ended up back near the ship and thought it was time to start making my way back to Akersberga. Until I saw a sign....... the Chinese Terracotta Army. Woohoo!! I can't remember the cost but it was worth every penny.
There are tunnels under the island, storage, secret military places, etc., which have been converted into an exhibition space. This is where a selection of the Terracotta Army is on display. I wandered round twice taking photos - allowed as long as you don't use flash - then twice more just looking. There are only a handful of the 8000 or so warriors on display but that's plenty to get a good idea of what it's all about. There are also a selection of smaller figures - warriors and animals - from the later Han imperial tombs. The larger figures (they stand over 6 feet tall) are from the Qin emperor - the First Emperor. These are dated back to 210 BC. There are also examples of tomb architecture and other paraphenalia - jade figures, dragons, lucky discs, etc. Absolutely fascinating. A must-see if you're in the area.

Chinese Terracotta Army

From there I wandered back to Old Town where I ate an expensive plate of spaghetti and then made my way back to the subway. I managed to negotiate the subway, then the train to Akersberga, then the bus to the house without any dramas.
All in all, a rewarding day.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Next stop: Sweden

Up at 4am or thereabouts this morning. 7.30 flight required me to be at the airport by 5.30. Don't know why though as I had ages to sit around wishing I was still in bed. Uneventful flight to Heathrow where I had a 2 hour wait for the connecting flight to Stockholm. The huge distance between one terminal and another meant that I didn't have too much time to just sit around. two shuttle buses just to get from Terminal 1 to 5. Arrived at Arlanda airport, just outside Stockholm at about 3.30pm Swedish time - an hour ahead of the UK/Ireland. Another shuttle bus to the car hire centre. I've got a VW Golf to play with now. Manual, diesel and completely the wrong way round!
I got out of the airport at about 4.30 and headed off for Akersberga, about 40 minutes from Stockholm. Haha, took me two hours. Got lost three times. Plus it was peak hour and traffic was at a snail's pace for some of the journey. I discovered that the GPS doesn't work here - it's only programmed for the UK and Ireland. There is a map in the car though and the roads are well sign posted. I still managed to end up on the road to Oslo somehow. I didn't do too badly driving on the wrong side of the road. Only got beeped at once.
So the journey took about 14 hours all up. I'm a bit weary this evening!
100 Swedish Kronor equals just under AU$15. When I found that out I felt a bit better about the hideous price I paid for a bottle of water.
My first glimpse of Sweden from the plane showed huge expanses of very tall trees. Looking forward to getting out and about with the camera.


Thursday, September 9, 2010


The Republic thereof is, in a word, fascinating.
The last week, from Waterford to Wexford, to Wicklow to Dublin has been a wash out, literally, but the previous two and a bit weeks were well worth the effort.
The little Freddo Frog car has been given back to its keepers and I must say it served me well. Over 2,500 kilometres at a cost of not much more than 100 euros for petrol. Far and away the cheapest part of the trip! Prices in Ireland don't seem to be overly expensive.... until I do the calculations into Aussie dollars. It's been an expensive few weeks and later on I'll probably regret staying in hotels rather than B&Bs - the need for wifi I suppose.

I've seen a fair bit of the country I think, though no doubt I've missed lots too. I think I've seen enough to get a general feel for the country. The main feeling I've had is that sometimes it's just not in the real world. There is magic here. Most definitely. It's hard to explain but sometimes I could sense it - particularly in forest areas. Though maybe I'm just telling myself I could sense it. I prefer to believe in the magic.
The parts of Ireland that are in the real world are, however, in deep trouble. Listening to radio and TV news as I travel round, it's clear that the economy is floundering. The main issue at present is what to do with the collapse of the Anglo Irish Bank. Unemployment is high and about to get higher. It's interesting though, that a lot of the people, especially the women, who work in hospitality are from Eastern Europe - Polish and Czech mostly.

The Irish themselves are not really as the stereotype would lead you to expect. Most do not have red hair or green eyes and most eyes, whatever their colour, are not smiling. People are friendly enough when you speak to them but there's an underlying feeling that this is a country in severe trouble and that life is far from easy.
In many parts of the country, particularly rural areas, the people speak Gaelic. It's interesting to listen to - sounds almost Germanic at times but it's clearly not. Even those who speak English are barely intelligible. That lilting accent you hear on TV, the one so many people love, is very much the toned down, and very much slowed down, version and not the norm once you're out of the main cities. Challenging. However, I only have to say two words and they all know where I'm from. Everyone I've spoken to knows someone, in their family usually, who's moved to Australia. It seems that in past times the Irish would go to Boston, now they go to Sydney, Melbourne or Perth.

The country itself is beautiful. The west coast is much wilder and less populated than the east. There are many more trees in the south and east - out west there are rocks. I'm not at all surprised that everything is built from stone. There's plenty of it about.
I was surprised, pleasantly so, by how much history there is here, just lying about for all to see. Neolithic tombs, stone circles, standing stones, medieval castles and religious establishments - and not all are ruins by any means. The churches are particularly well preserved. But then this does seem to be a very religious country. Catholic of course. Several times I went into a church or cathedral with my camera and there'd be people (both genders, all ages) inside praying, lighting candles, etc. Every town and village has a church (or two, three or several), there's even one in the middle of the airport.
There are abandoned cottages everywhere. I read somewhere that the roofless ones are from the time of the Famine in the 1840s. Apparently, after the potato crop failed, destitute peasants were evicted and landlords burned the rooves to make sure they couldn't return. The Famine is not forgotten here. The abandoned cottages are still there and there are memorials in many areas - some in towns, some in the middle of nowhere.
What I haven't seen is wildlife. I did see a badger dead on the side of a road but, apart from that, I've only seen domestic animals: sheep (who own the roads as well as the fields in the west), cows, horses, donkeys, dogs (sheepdogs mostly) and feral cats (in more populated areas). As for birds - gulls and crows mostly. Crows are everywhere!

What are everywhere, of course, are tourists. I've come across other Aussies, lots of English and, by far the majority, Germans.
Irish roads can be a challenge - once you get off the main highways the roads become very narrow. Signs are to be taken with a grain of salt. Guidelines only. Although, I wish I'd taken a pic of one of the "Traffic Calming" signs. I saw them everywhere when there's a change in the speed limit coming up, usually when approaching a town or village. The best sign ever. :)

It's hard to decide what my favourites bits were: The Burren with its wealth of neolithic history, the Dingle Peninsula for its spectacular scenery and Fungie the dolphin, the village pubs with enough seats for maybe a dozen people, the greenness, Traffic Calming.
There's a lot to like :)

I need to pack up the suitcase, get some sleep and head off to Sweden in the morning.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Kinsale to Waterford

It was about 2 in the afternoon when I got out of the hotel. Watching the Saints beat Geelong was so sweet :)
I went up the hill, around the harbour to Charles Fort, a 17th century fort which overlooks Kinsale. The walls are intact - in fact, they're so thick I doubt anything could knock them down. The buildings inside are all gutted though as the place was burned out during the civil war in 1922. Great views of the bay and harbour. However, it was very hazy and grey so not so good for photography.
It was about 4 by the time I'd finished wandering around so I decided to take the highway towards Cork. The roads on this side of the country seem to be in much better condition. I guess it's the more populated side of the country, more traffic, etc. Anyway, 20 or 30 kilometres down the road and all of a sudden I'm in peak hour traffic. Ugh! I got stuck on the ring road and just followed the traffic round endless roundabouts. No idea where I was. Finally saw a sign to Waterford so I pushed my way into the left lane and off I went. Didn't see Cork at all. I'm sure I've missed some interesting stuff. Oh well.
The road to Waterford was busy but not excessively so. The main thing I noticed was the blanket of haze across everywhere - not sure what it was: smoke or smog maybe. Made everything a uniform grey and very hazy. Didn't bother stopping for scenery shots as a result.
Finally got to Waterford about 7.30/8pm. Stopped at the first hotel I came to - right on the river. There's plenty to look at in the town and surrounds. I want to chase up some of Waterford's Viking history if I can. Today though, I think I'll do the indoor thing - the crystal glass factory, churches, etc. Mainly because it's pouring with rain :( I hope it's not going to rain for all of my last week in Ireland. That would suck.

Driving in Ireland is an interesting experience. Once you're off the main roads it's better to trust your instincts than the road signs. So many times I've followed a sign to such-and-such, 2km.... then 2km down the road is an intersection or junction and no sign to tell you which way such-and-such is, or how far. Plus the roads get very narrow, VERY narrow. It's an adventure alright! :) Everything's fine until another vehicle appears, coming the other way. That can be interesting!
The most annoying thing is the number of Audi drivers rushing up behind, wanting to speed past. Pushy drivers in Ireland ALL drive Audis. If I see one coming I just find somewhere to pull over. I hate being tailgated.
I love the signs on main roads when you're approaching a town or village. Instead of saying "Traffic lights (or roundabout) ahead" they say "Traffic Calming". I just think that's gorgeous :) Traffic calming. Makes me smile every time I see such a sign.

Time to go explore Waterford.

Friday, September 3, 2010


The first thing to be said is that, after the wilds of Kerry, the countryside in Cork is quite ordinary. It seems to be a more populated county and most of the countryside, that I've seen, is farmland. The fields are green, of course, but the fencing is different to what I've seen elsewhere - more use of trees and wire rather than the stone walls I've become used to.
There's just as much history here though - stone circles in particular. There are apparently about a hundred of them in the Cork region but I've only seen a couple.

Dromberg Stone Circle

I'm currently in Kinsale on the south coast. Very pretty harbour town. The Spanish Armada was sent here in the late 1500s as part of the war between England and Spain. Ireland, being a Catholic country, was happy to support the Spanish. There's a small peninsula not far from here, called Old Head, which is where the Lusitania was sunk during WW1. There's a lighthouse down there too but you can only get close enough to view it if you're a member of the golf club. The whole Old Head area is now a private golf course so there's no access to the lighthouse and coast for plebs like me. The locals and, of course, tourists are very unhappy with this situation but the golf club doesn't care. Pfftt!!

Old Head

I'm currently sitting in the bar of the White Lady hotel in Kinsale. The football is on the TV. First game of the finals: Saints V Geelong. Replay of last year's Grand Final. Hoping for a different result this year!

GO SAINTS!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Beara Peninsula

Yesterday started off brilliantly with the stone circle at Kenmare, just a short walk from the town centre. The first one I've ever seen and it's a beauty. About 20 metres across and all 15 stones are still there after 3000 years.
From there I decided to travel around the Beara Peninsula - the most southerly of Kerry's three peninsulas. The lady at the hotel told me it would only take a couple of hours and there'd be little traffic as it's not as popular as places like Dingle. Ha. Ha. Ha. I managed to find another stone circle: the Uragh circle up yet another narrow, twisty, hilly road. A gravel road takes you to a gate where an old man sits to collect 2 euros. Then you walk a little way up a hill and there it is.

Uragh stone circle

It's much smaller than the one at Kenmare - only 6 stones; one large one and five smaller ones. Somehow, out there in the middle of nowhere, it seemed more authentic.
From there I headed west along the coast road. Mostly all I could see were towering hedges along the roadsides and these got closer and closer together as the road got narrower and narrower. The little car struggled a bit with the steeper sections of road. Coming up one such steep bit, approaching a left hand bend, I was suddenly confronted with a convoy coming the other way. There wasn't enough room to pass so I had to go back down the hill, backwards, till there was room to pull over. I gave up then. Turned round and headed back to the main road and drove straight through to Glengarriff where I found somewhere to stay for the night. I just wasn't enjoying the stressful driving on those roads. Consequently there are a couple more stone circles and other things that I missed. Oh well.
Today the plan is to head into County Cork.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry

The Dingle Peninsula, in County Kerry, is Ireland's most westerly area. And it's quite gorgeous too. From Limerick I headed towards Tralee, originally on my way to Killarney. But, as usual, I saw a sign and went off in a different direction - to Dingle. Good choice!!
The road heads up through the mountains, through the Connor Pass - parts of it are closed to large vehicles like buses and HVGs (whatever they are). I'm not surprised as it gets pretty steep, narrow and windy. There's one whole section of road, up top of the pass, that is only wide enough for one car at a time. Scary. But great scenery!!

Dingle peninsula

Dingle itself is at the western end of the peninsula. It's built around a harbour which has two functions: 1. fishing, 2. dolphin tours. 25 years ago Dingle was nothing more than a small, sleepy fishing village that no-one knew about. Then someone spotted a dolphin. 25 years later that dolphin, Fungie, is still there and Dingle has prospered. Boats leave the harbour every half hour to take people out to see the dolphin. 16 euros but if the dolphin doesn't appear there's no charge. The tour takes about an hour and was worth every penny. The scenery is worth the trip alone - ruined tower, lighthouse that's too cute to be true, cliffs with caves - and then there's Fungie. The boat cruises around where the dolphin hangs out and we didn't have to wait long. At first he appeared away from the boat, just gently surfacing every now and again, always in a completely different place. Playing with us. Then he started racing alongside the boat, surfacing only when the boat slowed down. It was like a game - race, jump, race, jump, race. Until he'd had enough and then he wandered off to rest till the next boat arrived. Awesome!

Fungie the fun guy

From Dingle I headed eastwards, along the south coast of the peninsula, to Killarney. There's lots of historical stuff around Killarney - Ross castle, cathedrals and churches, etc. But, I arrived in town at the end of a major funeral service - 4 teenagers were killed during the week (car accident) (two of them were brothers). The whole town seemed to be in mourning. I decided it wasn't appropriate to wander round playing tourist so left.
So yesterday and today I travelled the Ring of Kerry, a road that runs around the perimeter of the Iveragh Peninsula - the other half of Kerry. I got some great sunset shots at Cahersiveen last night.
There also seems to be a lot more trees in this area. I saw a thing today that said that by the 1910s Ireland has only 1.5% of its forests left. That has increased to 7% now. Still not a lot. I'm not sure where all the wood has gone as it's not used for housing - all buildings seem to be made of stone throughout the whole country. Maybe it was all just cleared for farm land? Exported? Dunno.
Tonight I'm in Kenmare and will head into Cork tomorrow.