Bruce Stainsby's Blog: Muttering from the mo

Part 2: USA again – Titusville to Miami, Florida.

August 20th, 2018

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November 26, 2017. Orlando to Titusville, via Melbourne, Florida, USA.

On our way to Titusville and after more excellent Googling from Thea, we found the Drunken Monkey for a morning coffee

They had great coffee and a very interesting approach which separated them from the run-of-the-mill coffee chains.

Their positioning was funky, relaxed and very ‘hipster’ They even boasted Anzac Cookies. I wonder if any of the locals had any idea of what the  acronym, ‘ANZAC’ stood for?

This bohemian café was just out of the Orlando CBD and on our way towards Titusville.

We had head of Melbourne in Florida many times. Mainly from people wondering if we came from there, when we told them where we were from.

We also hired a car in the US that came from Melbourne.

So now it was time to visit.

Both the town of Melbourne and Melbourne Beach were nothing to boast about, but at least we have been there now.

We discovered a great Brew Pub for dinner with, as we have come to expect, no stress, great food, excellent, non grovelling, Staff and exceptional beer. 

As they say in their publicity: ‘On any given day, you’ll find at least 20 rotating craft beers on tap…’

This makes choosing one very difficult.

The Playalinda Brewing Company has two pubs in Titusville, the Hardware Store, in downtown and the Brix Project, which is six miles south.

We found the latter, which is their main brewery and distribution centre.

Like so many of the good craft breweries we have visited in the States the different approach isn’t confined to the beers. At the Brix Project the lighting, furniture, taps and signage is either locally sourced or repurposed from the original building, that now houses the brewery.

 

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November 27, 2017. Titusville, Florida and the Kennedy Space Centre, USA. 

The room and facilities at the Days Inn were fine but the breakfast was yet another ‘disposable affair’. 

The only items that didn’t end up in the bin, were the things you ate. 

And they really should have been there as well. 

The main reason for being on this side of Orlando was to visit the Kennedy Space Centre. 

Sputnik and the Space Race were part of my upbringing. 

I still remember standing outside our home in North Balwyn in 1957, waiting for the blinking lights of the Russian satellite to pass over. 

Then in July of 1969 I took a half day off University to come home with some friends to watch ‘man walk on the moon’

Since 1968 the Kennedy Space Centre has been NASA’s primary launch centre for human spaceflight.

It has been involved in or witnessed the Apollo, Skylab, the Space Shuttle, Constellation and the International Space Station projects.

Our tour of the Kennedy Space Centre took us past the launchpad for the new reusable Space X project and into the control rooms used for the Space Shuttle and the Apollo Five launch.

One of the most impressive sights was the Rocket Garden. Here there was a display of at least seven rockets, none of which had ever been launched. Which isn’t surprising, considering that in those days rockets we only used once.

The stats for the 25 year operation of the Space Shuttle Program were also interesting and impressive.

There were 33 missions flown between 1972 and 2011. There were 207 astronauts that flew 202,777,343 kilometres and spent 307 days in space.

That night dinner was at Bapa’s Bistro and Bar at the Holiday Inn. This was American dining at its most average.

We should have returned to the Playalinda Brew Pub.

 

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November 28, 2017. Titusville to St Petersburg (St Pete Beach), Florida, USA. 

This was a day of driving.

We were heading east to St Petersburg and had a detour to Tampa on the way. 

Tampa, like Orlando, is a 20th Century city. 

Although the history of the Tampa area dates back to 1,000 AD, the main growth of population and industry was in the later part of the 1900s. After World War II there was a major expansion of bridges, highways and tourists. The mild Florida climate was a magnet for holiday makers and retirees escaping the bitterly cold northern winters.

In the evening we found, yet another, fabulous brew pub. 

The Sea Dog Brewing Co. was only about 5 kilometres from our hotel at St. Pete Beach. 

We looked for an Uber but the app didn’t seem to respond. The receptionist at the hotel suggested that we use the ‘almost free’ local service.

Free Beach Ride is like an Uber but the only payment that the driver receives is tips. The drivers have to pay for their petrol, while the van is owned by a separate company. They make their money from the local advertising that’s emblazoned all over the van. As they say on one their website it, ‘Tips for trips.’

We caught it there and back.  

 

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November 29, 2017. St Petersburg (St Pete Beach) to Miami, Florida, USA. 

We had breakfast at a great little café and bakery right over the road from the hotel. 

Café Soleil was French and the pastries were as good as you get in Paris – light, fluffy and very fresh. 

The best we have had in the US. 

We had heard about the famous Don CeSar Hotel and, as it was on our route, decided to stop off and get some snaps.

Developed by Thomas Rowe and opened in 1928 it quickly became a retreat for the rich and famous. At its prime it was frequented by F Scott Fitzgerald, Al Capone and Franklin D Roosevelt. It is also known as the ‘Pink Castle’ or ‘Pink Lady’ – as soon as you get close you realise why. 

It’s pink, very pink.

It has both Mediterranean and Moorish influences in the architecture, with the final building costs escalating a staggering 300% over budget. 

After the death of Thomas Rowe in 1940, it had a number of different reincarnations. It was a military hospital, airforce convalescent centre and a veterans hospital. After nearly falling under the wreckers ball in 1969, it was refurbished and returned to being a hotel, reopening in 1973.

It was a 430 kilometre drive from St Pete Beach to Miami, which took us over the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Known locally as the Skyway it is over 6.7 kilometres long and spans Tampa Bay. It was named after the politician who came up with the idea of a bridge and was completed in 1987.

That night we found the Batch Gastropub in Miami. It had great food, wine and beer but unfortunately there was uncharacteristically bad service. 

 

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November 30, 2017. Miami, Florida, USA. 

I worked in the morning then we caught the free aerial rail service to Downtown. This is a great transport system that ran from just near our apartment in Miami.

We were booked in for an Airboat tour of the famous Florida Everglades. The bus left from the Holiday Inn at the port and it was about a 65 kilometre trip. 

The Everglades are about 1,900 square kilometres of tropical wetlands. It’s the only place in the world where there are both alligators and crocodiles. 

Our Airboat trip was aboard the Bush Whacker, which was ‘piloted’ by a young girl who was determined to show us a good time. We went slowly at first then sped up, flying over the water, leaving a rooster’s tail of spray in our wake.

We managed to see lots of birds but only one alligator, or was it a crocodile?

 

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December 1, 2017. Miami, Florida, USA. 

Miami was founded by a Cleveland woman, Julia Tuttle, in 1891. She purchased 259 hectares of land on the north bank of the Miami River.

She gave away some of this property to the railroad magnate Henry Flager. This was in exchange for him bringing a rail line and development to the area.

After the railroad arrived in 1896 the township boomed and it was incorporated in the same year.

In the afternoon we took a 90-minute sightseeing cruise on Miami’s Biscayne Bay. 

It was an interesting way to see Miami and get a feeling for how the rich and famous, and just the filthy rich live. 

There were some pleasure boats in the marina that were worth as much as some of the waterfront properties. 

After that we walk around downtown Miami and then back to our apartment.

December 2, 2017. Miami, Florida, USA to Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Today we were flying to meet the family in Jamaica. 

But first we had to drop off the Hertz rental and before that we needed to fill the tank. 

Using the traveller card to get petrol isn’t always that easy. That is when they require your zip code (post code) as verification. 

Hampton’s, 3188 didn’t work. 

Once we found a petrol station, that would take our card, the next challenge was to find the Hertz drop off point. 

We found the signs directing us where to go. Then the signs ran out and we found ourselves heading out of the airport. 

Eventually we asked for directions, at a staff car park, and got put on the right road. 

Even checking in at the American Airlines counter had its issues. 

It was all automated which resulted in long delays, as the kiosk was not that intuitive. 

Again we needed help and eventually got our baggage checked in and our boarding passes. 

I am very sceptical about this type of automation. It’s designed to help the airline’s bottom line, not the customer. 

When we finally got airborne, our path took us over Biscayne Bay. We then got to see the boat trip we took yesterday, from the air.

Part 1: USA again – New York City to Orlando, Florida.

August 14th, 2018

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November 17, 2017. West Harlem, New York City to Beacon, New York State, USA. 

We were back in the USA again and Ev and Steph had arranged another adventure for us. This involved hiring a car and going to upstate New York for a couple of days.

In the morning Ev and I picked up the Chevrolet Cruze from Hertz and then returned to get Steph and Thea.

Then we headed north, to Sleepy Hollow, on the east bank of the Hudson River.

Sleepy Hollow is best known for ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ a short story by Washington Irvine. This tells of the fictional character The Headless Horseman, who rides through the town of Sleepy Hollow searching for his head. Set during the American Revolutionary War, traditional folklore tells of a Hessian artilleryman who was decapitated during the Battle of White Plains.

He was then buried in the cemetery of the Old Dutch Reform Church in Sleepy Hollow. Each Halloween night his ghost rises from the grave and goes searching for his lost head.

For lunch we visited the Peekskill Brewery and then drove to Bear Mountain.

Bear Mountain is only 393 meters high but we got great views of the Hudson and New York City. It was traditionally known as Bear Hill which is more apt considering its height.

In the evening we went to the Great Jack O’ Lantern Pumpkin Blaze at the Van Cortlandt Manor, Croton-on-Hudson.

This is the Halloween event in the Hudson Valley. It runs for 45 evenings, with over 10,000 hand-carved illuminated pumpkins, all in an elaborate walk-through experience. There was even a 6 meters diameter, fully functioning carousel.

This is all set in the estate of the Van Cortlandt Manor. Built in 1665, on a tract of land granted to Stephan’s Van Cortlandt by King William III.

Our accommodation that night was in an Air BnB in Beacon, New York State. It was comfortable, warm and gurgled.

The gurgling came from the very effective central heating that ran through the house. 

We were glad of the gurgling as the temperature got to -7°C overnight. 

 

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November 18, 2017. Beacon, New York State to West Harlem, New York City, New York State, USA. 

The next day, apart from being cold, was wet.

After a late breakfast in Beacon we visited the Storm King Art Centre. This is an open air museum located near Mountainville and contains what is believed to be the largest collection of contemporary outdoor sculpture in the United States.

This is all set in a 200 hectare estate that was owned by a successful business man, Ralph E Ogden and opened in 1960.

It was dark by the time we were on the road back to New York and it was raining. 

It was one of the hairiest drives I have ever done. 

The roads were crowded and slippery, but that wasn’t the issue. My biggest problem was I couldn’t see the lane markings. 

Strangely they don’t use either ‘cat’s eyes’ or reflective tape, so you have no idea where you are. 

This combined with the undisciplined US drivers, who pass on either side, makes for a heart-in-mouth ride. 

I was glad to reach NYC two hours later. 

 

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November 19, 2017. Harlem, New York City, New York State, USA.

On Sunday we walked to the Greater Refuge Temple – one of the famous Baptist Churches in Harlem. 

It was a random and chaotic service of singing, dancing and a thousand renditions of ‘Praise the Lord’

This total gospel frenzy, at least for us, lasted just over two hours. And it looked like it was set to go on for at least two hours more

I wondered if Jesus of Nazareth could ever imagine how his words were interpreted and delivered 2017 years after his birth. 

My photography was cut short by one of the many attendants. I think he felt that my camera was a bit too professional looking. 

And I didn’t even have the big lens fitted. 

November 20, 2017. Harlem, New York City, New York State, USA. 

Evan went off to work and we stayed in Harlem and had a planning day. 

I worked on organising our time in Florida while Thea had the more daunting task of planning our South American trip. 

November 21, 2017. Harlem, New York City, New York State, USA. 

Another day of planning and for a break, a walk around Hamilton Heights.

This neighbourhood, in the northern part of Manhattan, is bounded by 135th Street to the south, Riverside Drive to the west, 155th Street to the north and Edgecombe Avenue to the east.

The name derived from one of the Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, who lived there for the last two years of his life.

This area, like much of northern Manhattan is changing, with a shift of demographics from black to white residence. This is interesting, as back in the 1930s and 1940s the population change was in the other direction.

In the evening we took the subway into into Union Square to meet Evan for a drink and then dinner. 

He had planned to go to his monthly Motion Graphics Meet-up but decided to stay with us, as he had worked late. 

November 22, 2017. Harlem, New York City, New York State, USA. 

More planning and a walk to a new coffee shop about 15 minutes from West 127th Street. 

Evan finished work at 3pm, as the next day was Thanksgiving. It was a public holiday for the next two days so it was decided it was ‘almost Friday’ so we went to the Harlem Hop House for a drink and dinner. 

 

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November 23, 2017. Harlem, New York City, New York State, USA. 

It was Thanksgiving in the USA and a public holiday for many. 

We took the C train to 67th Street to watch the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. 

I remember visions of the Joker’s Parade from the 1989 Batman movie. 

Staring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson the opening scene has a similar character to the Pillsbury Dough Boy floating menacingly down the Gotham City Streets. 

However they didn’t throw any money at the crowd in this parade.

The parade lasts for about two hours and features many of these floating characters. There’s a combination of cartoon and marketing inflatables. 

Interspersed with these are high school marching bands, from across the US, plus representatives from local law enforcement and emergency services. 

There are also floats with local celebrities. 

I didn’t recognise any of them. 

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade started in 1924 and is the world’s largest parade. It has been televised by NBC since 1952. At the first parade there were over 250,000 people watching. It was such a success that it has been held every year since.

The First Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims, as a harvest festival, in 1621. It was attended by 53 Pilgrims and, ironically, 90 Native Americans.

George Washington made a proclamation to Congress in 1789 and in 1863 Abraham Lincoln declared the day a federal holiday.

After the parade we returned to E & S’s for a Thanksgiving lunch. 

This was a mammoth affair.  

Preparation started at 2:30pm and we eventually sat down to eat at 5:30pm. 

It was a bit like Christmas Day in Australia.

November 24, 2017. Harlem, New York City, New York State to Orlando, Florida, USA. 

This was our last morning in NYC as we were flying to Orlando, Florida in the afternoon. 

We caught the bus to La Guardia. 

Miraculously my Met Card ended up with just 50 cents on it. Unlike our last trip to the Big Apple, when I finished up with an unusable credit of $20 still on the card. 

As usual we were early for our flight so we went to find a snack at La Guardia airport. 

There were 41 beers on tap at the Prime Tavern, but unfortunately for Thea, no snacks. I had an espresso.

What a wasted opportunity. 

The entire food hall at La Guardia was fitted with iPads. You could order and pay for food and beverages as well as check your flight status. 

There were many other ‘buying opportunities’ built into the apps that were displayed on the home page. 

Well, we were in the US of A. 

The population size of the American east coast becomes a reality when you fly from New York to Orlando. For almost the entire 2.5 hour flight, the lights from the densely populated coastal areas were constantly flickering. 

We picked up the Mazda 3 from Hertz and that was relatively easy. 

We then proceeded to get completely lost finding our hotel, the Sunsol International Drive. 

What should have taken 20 minutes took 45. 

Then checking into the hotel was a complete disaster.

The hotels internet was down and had been for four hours. This meant that we couldn’t check-in as normal and they wanted us to get cash from a nearby ATM to pay for our two night stay. 

We weren’t about to do that if there was no internet.

It was a stand-off.

In the end we cancelled the reservation and drove around the corner to the Hilton Garden Inn.

By this time it was just before 10pm and their kitchen was closing at 10, so we very quickly ordered a meal, even before getting our bags from the car.

What a night.

 

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November 25, 2017. Orlando and Disney World Magic Kingdom, Florida, USA. 

Disney World Magic Kingdom was opened in 1971. It’s based on the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California, that was opened in 1955. 

It was conceived by Walt Disney but did not open until after his death in 1966.

One of the interesting features of Disney World Magic Kingdom are the ‘Utilidors’ or tunnels that join each of the kingdoms. There were designed so cast members could move from area to area, without being seen by the visitors. Their creation was ordered after Walt Disney spied a cowboy, from Frontierland, walking into Tomorrowland.

He disliked the idea of a character from the past visiting the future.

In 2016 Disney World Magic Kingdom hosted over 20.3 million people, making it the world’s most popular theme park. 

To get to the park you can use either the monorail or a ferry boat. We decided to use both and arrived by monorail and departed by the ferry.

Magic Kingdom is divided into six themed lands. 

Main Street USA, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Adventureland, Liberty Square and Tomorrowland. 

Everything is ‘Ooooooverthetop’

We managed to get around them all and even had time for a reasonable Italian meal at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant. 

We tried to make it dinner but everything was booked out in the evening. 

It ended up being a late lunch at 3:30pm. 

The entire park is based around Cinderella Castle, which seems to dominate. 

This is surprising, considering it is only 58 metres tall. 

It’s grandeur is achieved by the use of ‘forced perspective.’ Each successive story of the structure is built progressively shorter, which makes it look bigger.

Part 2: Back to Britain – Burton Bradstock to Gatwick Airport.

August 9th, 2018

November 6, 2017. Highbury, Greater London to Burton Bradstock, Dorset, United Kingdom.

After a coffee, pastry and an excellent fresh orange juice, at a nearby café (It was outrageously expensive at our hotel) we headed to Burton Bradstock to stay with our friends Pat and Graham. 

For some unknown reason the TomTom took us right through the centre of London. 

We had a break in Bournemouth and then continued on. 

It took us most of the day and we didn’t arrive until after 5pm. This was partly due to the fact that we couldn’t find Pat and Graham’s house. 

The last time we visited was in the summer of 2012 and it was very light in the evenings. 

Now it was pitch black and we couldn’t recognise anything.

Added to that our travel phone didn’t have coverage in the area.

Thea went into the local pub for directions but they were in the middle of renovations and there were no locals there to help, only tradies.

One of the painters lent Thea his phone and we made contact with Pat and Graham and got directions from them. 

 

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November 7, 2017. Burton Bradstock, Dorset, United Kingdom and Portsmouth Dockyards.

Pat and Graham had arranged for us all to visit the Portsmouth Historic Dockyards. The dockyards are part of HM Naval Base in Portsmouth and managed by the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

The museum in Portsmouth was first opened in 1911 and houses many artefacts including historic buildings and the warships HMS Victory and HMS Mary Rose.

HMS Victory is best known as being Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Built in the Chatham Dockyards in 1759 and launched in 1765, she was moved to a dry dock in Portsmouth in 1922.

It was on the Victory that Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson was fatally shot. There is a spot on the deck that marks the exact place where he fell. On that day the Victory lost 57 men and another 102 were injured.

HMS Mary Rose is a Tudor-era warship built during the reign of King Henry VIII. Laid down in 1510 and launched in 1511 she saw action against in France, Scotland and Brittany.

She was sunk in the Solent, near the Isle of Wight in 1545, while leading the attack on the galleys of the French invasion fleet.

The Mary Rose was discovered in 1971 and salvaged in 1982. The exhibit, which is housed in a large building, contains thousands of artefacts that were recovered after she was raised.

 

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November 8, 2017. Burton Bradstock, Dorset, United Kingdom and Isle of Portland.

This was the first clear sky day in some time and we were off on another adventure, this time to the Isle of Portland.

Portland is just off the Dorset coast, near Weymouth, and joined to the mainland by the Ferry Bridge.

The main significance of Portland lies beneath surface.

Portland Stone has been used in many famous buildings in both England and around the world. Buckingham Palace (1850), St Paul’s Cathedral (1675), the Palace of Westminster (1347), Tower of London (1349) and London Bridge (1350) as well as the United Nations headquarters in New York (1952).

The stone from Portland has been used as a building material since Roman times and was being shipped to London in the 14th century.

Pat and Graham, like Thea and me, enjoy walking, so no sooner had we arrived than we set of on the historic Portland Island walk.

Our first stop was the Portland Bill Lighthouse. Built between 1903 and 1905, its light warns passing ships of the hazardous Portland Bill. This narrow promontory is at the southernmost point of Dorset, a coastline that’s famous for the number of ships that have come to grief there.

We walked along the coast and then to Yeates Incline and the Merchant Railway. The railway, started in 1826, was designed to move Portland stone from the quarries to the coast for shipping. It was originally powered by horses but later replaced by the steam engine.

Then we found the Tout Quarry Sculptural Park, with its strange collection of free-standing and relief sculptures.

Our final stop was at St Georges Church which was built between 1754 and 1766.  It was built to replaced the dilapidated St Andrews Church, which was Portland’s first parish church.

We ventured inside and were greeted by a very enthusiastic caretaker. He insisted that, as a visitor, I should ring the church bell.

He warned me not to hold on too tight as I might be taken up into the bell tower – he was right.

 

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November 9, 2017. Burton Bradstock, Dorset, United Kingdom.

We decided to walk into West Bay from Burton Bradstock. This wasn’t along the road but over the fields. Graham described it as the ‘Trespass walk’ as we were illegally crossing some of his neighbours’ land.

No-one seems to care, as there were gates and tracks to make it easy.

In West Bay, Thea and Pat had a traditional ‘Cornish’ pasty for lunch. But it was really a ‘Dorset’ pasty, as we weren’t in Cornwall but Dorset. 

Pat and Graham lead a very country life and part of that involves keeping pigs in their back yard. The pigs are collectively owned and cared for by the villagers of Burton Bradstock.

They aren’t pets but food.

Each year the village decides what breed of pig to keep and at the end of the year they are slaughtered and butchered. This keeps everyone in enough pork for the following twelve months.

This year’s breed was an Iron Age and Berkshire cross. They were due to be ‘realised’ in the next few weeks and Graham was frantically trying to find a butcher. It was getting towards Christmas and they were all booked up.

Obviously they weren’t the only village in the area to have livestock it seemed.

 

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November 10, 2017. Burton Bradstock, Dorset, United Kingdom and Kingston Lacy House.

After the more relaxing time we had the previous day we were back to exploring English history. 

Graham had booked for us to do a tour of Kingston Lacy House – that didn’t eventuate.

When we arrived, the car park was filling up with people, so we just followed the crowd and joined in. This turned out to be the Kingston Lacy National Trust walk, not a tour of the house. 

It took us through part of the estate and the surrounding area. The grounds consist of 164 hectares of gardens and 159 hectares of park and ornamental land.

It turned out to be a good mistake, as the guided walk was interesting and gave us some more exercise.

In the afternoon we then did a tour of the house.

Kingston Lacy is a National Trust stately home, built in 1662, it was for many years the home of the Banks family. Between 1835 and 1838 the explorer and adventurer, William John Banks (1786 – 1855) extensively renovated Kingston Lacy. He faced the original brick with stone, added a chimney at each end and lowered the entrance to the basement level to create a new, grander, portal.

Within the house was ‘Exile’ an exhibition about the LBGT movement, William John Bankes and Kingston Lacy House.

Banks was an avid collector and a student of ancient Egypt. He was also gay, which was illegal at the time.

In 1841 Banks was exiled from England due to homosexual indiscretions, having been caught in compromising circumstances with a guardsman in Green Park, London.

Sodomy was punishable by death so exile was his only option.

Unable to return to Kingston Lacy, Banks continued to collect art and commission great works, which were then sent back to the house.

His last 14 years were spent in Europe, although it is believed that he did return from time-to-time to inspect his beloved home.

November 11, 2017. Burton Bradstock, Dorset to Newport, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom.

After a very pleasant few days we left Pat and Graham and headed off again.

It was just under two hours from Burton Bradstock to the ferry terminal in Southport. 

The TomTom told us it would be 90 minutes. It obviously wasn’t aware of the long queue of Saturday shoppers heading to Ikea, which was just near the docks. 

When we arrived in Newport we didn’t do much, just wandered around and got a feeling for the town.

The area was occupied at least 40,000 years ago by Neanderthals. There are also signs that the Romans were there as well.

After the Norman conquest the French burnt down most of the town in 1377. This was while trying to take Carisbrooke Castle.

 

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November 12, 2017. Newport, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom.

On the Isle of Wight we stayed in the Wheatsheaf Hotel in Newport. This former coaching inn, built in 1693, is in the heart of the old town and opposite the Minster Church of St Thomas that was built in 1854.

Even though it was November 12, not 11, the Brits we’re celebrating Remembrance Day. 

Apparently they celebrate on the Sunday that’s closest to the 11th. 

Straight backs, firm jaws and stiff upper lips were everywhere on both the men and women.

They were all proudly displaying their medals.

The main excursion for the day was to see Osborne House.

Built between 1845 and 1851, Osborne House was the holiday home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. 

It was here that they raised their children, entertained their friends, relaxed and escaped from court life. 

Prince Albert designed the house himself in the style of an Italian Renaissance Palazzo. He even built a replica Swiss chalet to remind himself of his childhood. 

Much of the house’s furnishings were paid for from the proceeds of the selling the Royal Pavillion in Brighton.

There is a big connection to the British Raj and India, especially in the Durbar Room. Built for state functions, it was decorated by Bhai Ram Singh, one of Punjab’s formost architects. The room even has an Indian carpet from Agra.

In 1901 Queen Victoria died at Osborne house and after her death the house was given to the state.

The Governor General’s residence in Melbourne, Victoria is said to have been styled after Osborne House.

You can see the similarity.

Before exploring the house we wandered around parts of the gardens, even down to the private beach. Here Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the children would swim from bathing machines. Queen Victoria’s bathing machine is still on the beach.

Bathing machines were part of the Victorian etiquette for sea bathing. They allowed the bather to change into their swimming costume and enter the water without any hint of skin.

The beach and bathing machine were only opened to the public in 2012.

 

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November 13, 2017. Newport, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom.

The Isle of Wight isn’t very big, only 384 square kilometres, so we decided to drive around.

It was owned by a Norman family until 1293 and before that it was an Anglo-Saxon settlement. And even before that, the Romans settled there in 44BC.

We discovered the Brading Roman Villa, which was established between the 1st and 4th Centuries AD.

It was discovered in 1879 by Mr Munns, a local sheep farmer. Excavations started in 1880 with one of the most exciting finds being the mosaics. There are five on display, which are now protected by a contemporary museum and visitor’s centre that has been built over the site.

We were about half way through the exhibition when a guide turned up and insisted on showing us the rest. 

This was fine, except that he then proceeded to tell us that most of what we had already read was wrong. 

Recent finds had disproved most of what was written there. 

There was also an exhibition of Japanese woodcuts from the 19th century, titled; Japanese Ghosts and Demons. 

We drove to the most south west point of the Island to catch a glimpse of the Needles at sunset. The Needles are a distinctive row of 30 meters high chalk stacks at the very western part of the Isle of Wight.

The name ‘Needles’ comes from one of the rock formations known as ‘Lot’s Wife’ which collapsed after a storm in 1764. The remaining Needles don’t look like needles at all.

The Needles weren’t the only thing worth seeing as there was a vixen warily guarding her den. There was also a group of para gliders catching the updrafts from the white cliffs. 

 

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November 14, 2017. Newport, Isle of Wight to Winchester, Hampshire, United Kingdom.

We arrived in plenty of time for the 10:30 ferry to Southampton and were put on an earlier one, at 9:00. 

Sometimes it pays to be punctual. 

This left us with the rest of the day to explore the countryside around Southampton and Winchester.

Thea navigated around the area with the help of three GPS systems and an analog map.

It was a little confusing on some occasions when I was getting instructions from three different female voices.

We arrived at the King Alfred Pub in Winchester in the middle of the afternoon and checked in.

This was another traditional English establishment with old furniture and a large bar. There were many small rooms running off to the side.

We drove back into Winchester to see the famous Winchester Cathedral and have a brief wander around the old town area.

The Diocese of Winchester has a long history dating back to 650. The new cathedral was built in 1079 and is one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in Europe, with the longest nave and greatest overall length.

It had a brief revival of popularity in 1966 as a song by the novelty British pop group, The New Vaudeville Band.

Being nearly winter the days were short.

When we arrived back at the pub everything was dark and the door was locked.

There had been a flood in the ‘Gents’ and they had been forced to close for the night.

We were told not to worry, as their sister pub, the Green Man, was just a 15 minute walk away and we would get a discount if we ate there.

They even offered to get us a taxi. 

The food was typical Pub Grub and the service shabby. 

I think they had more guests than they had expected. 

November 15, 2017. Winchester, Hampshire to Gatwick Airport, Crawley, West Sussex, United Kingdom.

After breakfast at the hotel and a coffee in Winchester we headed to Gatwick Airport. 

The long way. 

Travelling through the South Downs National Park. Opened in 2011, it is England’s newest national park, however there have been plans for its development since 1929. Bickering and interminable enquiries delayed it for that long.

When we reached Gatwick finding the Hertz drop off point wasn’t easy. The directions that came with the car were useless and we used three different GPS systems to work it out. 

When we finally got there we complained, as I am sure others must have had a similar issue. 

They didn’t really care. 

Our last meal was at our hotel, the Hilton. It was ok but very expensive. 

I much prefer the English pubs. 

November 16, 2017. Gatwick Airport, Crawley, West Sussex, United Kingdom to JFK, New York City, New York State, USA.

We were up very early for our 6am flight to New York. 

Our flight across the Atlantic was with Norwegian Air, and what a contradiction it was. 

We were told that there wouldn’t be a meal service, and there was. We were told that their movies were great. There wasn’t any, not even a route map. 

After a long wait at Howard Beach Station we caught the A Line to 125th Street, just around the corner from Ev and Steph’s place. 

We were back in NYC. 

Part 1: Back to Britain – Henley-on-Thames to Highbury.

August 4th, 2018

October 30 and 31, 2017. Melbourne, Australia to Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom.

Late in the day we caught QF9 to London Heathrow – we were back in Britain again.

On arrival we went straight to Hertz and picked up our rental, another Renault Captur. 

This one was deep teal with a silver roof and a much lower spec that the one we had from Renault Eurodrive. 

It was also a right hand drive and had a five speed gear box instead of six, which made it much easier to drive on the English roads. 

It was only about a 40 minute drive to the Phyllis Court Club, a very posh establishment right on the Thames. 

The room price was reasonable but there was a strict dress code, of jacket and tie for dinner. 

We ate at one of the many pubs in town, which was much more to our liking and suited our available wardrobe. 

To quote from a book on the history of the Phyllis Court Club. 

‘Phyllis Court Club was established in 1906, to provide a headquarters for social and sporting life on the river for those of good social standing. ‘

I am not sure of our ‘social standing’ but we certainly enjoyed our brief stay there.

 

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November 1, 2017. Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom.

With the railway coming to Henley in 1857 the town began to promote itself as a fashionable resort on the Thames. 

It was was originally made famous by the first Oxford and Cambridge boat race in 1829.

Then the Royal Regatta was established in 1839 and held on a stretch of the Thames River, just outside our room at the Phyllis Court Club. 

It became an international event for the Summer Olympics of 1908. The site was also used for the Olympic Regatta during the Summer games of 1948, making Henley the first town in the world to host two Olympic Rowing Regattas.

Henley-on-Thames is a quintessential English village with pubs every few yards and surrounded by fields of verdant green pastures.

Established by King Henry II in 1179, it is now a thriving market town with the Town Hall at one end of the market square and a church at the other.

The banks of the Thames is the focal point and where the locals walk their dogs, push their prams, walk, run and relax. 

The town has also been host to the popular TV series of Midsomer Murders and the Vicar of Dibley. 

In the afternoon we made a side trip to Pangbourne, the former home of our friends Rob and Lorraine. It is also on the Thames but much smaller and sleepier. 

 

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November 2, 2017. Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, to Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire, United Kingdom.

It was about a 1.5 hour drive to Milton Keynes with most of it on country roads. 

We did stop in Aylesbury, another quaint old market town, for a coffee but the rest was driving. 

I had forgotten just how narrow the English country lanes can be. 

Milton Keynes was created as a ’New City’ in 1967 after the British Government decided that London was becoming too congested.

It is situated in Northern Buckinghamshire and equidistant from Birmingham, Leicester, Oxford and Cambridge.

Milton Keynes was designed with a Modernist approach and often features in design journals in the late 60s and early 70s. Many talented young architects were attracted to work on the project and it became a model for future cities. History has not been kind to the city and it is now seen as rather boring and bland.

Having arrived at our hotel, the Best Western in Milton Keynes, we were told we were too early to check in. 

Two hours too early. 

So we headed to Willen Lake and went for a walk. 

The lake is on the outskirts of Milton Keynes, next to the old town of Willen.

No sooner had we started our walk, than we came across a large hot air balloon preparing to take off. 

We were part of a small crowd that had gathered to watch proceedings. 

We then continued on our walk around the north part of Willen Lake, finishing up in the old village of Willen.

Willen is one of the ancient villages of Buckinghamshire, first named in history in the 12th century. It has a beautiful old church, St Mary Magdalene, which was designed by Robert Hooke, (1635-1703) a compatriot of Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) and built in 1680.

 

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November 3, 2017. Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire, to Hitchin, Hertfordshire, with a side trip to Bletchley Park, United Kingdom.

Bletchley Park was the centre of British and Allied code breaking during the Second World war.

It was at Bletchley Park that the codes were broken for the German Enigma and Lorenz ciphers.

At the height of it’s operation, there were nearly 9,000 people employed at the facility.

Even before the invasion of Europe, by the Germans in 1939, Polish cryptographers had an understanding of the Enigma code. 

It has been claimed that the work done at Bletchley Park shortened the war by two to four years. 

At the centre of the park is the ‘Mansion’ a concoction of architectural styles including Victorian, Gothic, Tudor and Dutch Baroque.

The site was chosen because of its proximity to Bletchley railway station, which was on the Varsity Line connecting Oxford and Cambridge.

It was home to Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician and computer scientist, who worked in Hut 8. He was responsible for breaking the codes of the German Enigma machine. 

Despite his wartime actions he was prosecuted in 1952 for ‘gross indecency’ and subjected to chemical castration.

Turing died of cyanide poisoning in 1954, just days before his 42nd birthday, and was given a posthumous pardon by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013.

His life story is told in the 2014 movie ‘The Imitation Game’ staring Benedict Cumberbatch and directed by Morten Tyldum.

It is interesting to compare the approach the British had to shortening the war, compared to the Americans. The Brits used brain power and code breaking, while the Yanks, also used brain power, and developed an atomic bomb, but then dropped it on Japan.

After our visit to Bletchley Park we went just up the road, to the National Museum of Computing. This houses a rebuilt Colossus computer, similar to the ones used to break the Lorenz ciphers. By the end of the war there were 10 of these purpose built computers.

After the war all but two were broken down and destroyed. The remaining ones were used to try and break remaining code that could be used in gaining convictions during the Nuremberg trials of 1945 and 1946. 

The Colossus is thus regarded as the world’s first programmable, electronic, digital computer. 

We arrived in Hitchin late in the day and got settled into the Lord Lister Hotel. 

The hotel building was constructed in the late 18th century and later became a Quaker school. It was responsible for educating many 18th Century scientists. 

One of that eminent alumni was Joseph Lister, 1st Baron of Lister. As a surgeon he became famous through his discovery of antiseptics. 

Where possible we like to stay in old hotels or pubs in Britain. Despite the fact they aren’t usually as well appointed or luxurious as the new ones and they rarely have a lift.

It’s their history that’s the attraction.

 

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November 4, 2017. Hitchin, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom.

The morning was cold and wet, which wasn’t a real issue as I had work to do. 

We did get out a couple of times during the day and wandered around the small village of Hitchin. 

It it believed that in 673 Hitchin was the place where the fledgling Christian church first formed in Anglo-Saxon times.

In the evening we visited friends in the area and had a well needed, home cooked meal.

 

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November 5, 2017. Hitchin, Hertfordshire, to Highbury, Greater London, United Kingdom.

We had arranged to have a Sunday lunch in Highbury with Cam, who is the son of our friends Rob and Lorraine.

The pub was in walking distance from our hotel, which was good as it turned out to be a long lunch.

Apart from catching up with Cam, one of the the highlights of the day was to discover that the pub, the W.B. Yeats in Finsbury Park, had Brew Dogs craft beer on tap. 

The night silence was continually punctuated by the sound of fireworks. 

Well it was November 5. 

Guy Fawkes (1570-1606) was a member of a group of English Catholics who, in 1605, was a part of the failed Gunpowder Plot. The group planned to assassinate King James I and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne of England.

He was captured in Westminster Palace on November 5, while guarding the explosives. 

This event has been commemorated in Britain since 1605. First by burning his effigy on a bonfire and then a fireworks display.

One night in Holland and a brief stay in Britain.

August 1st, 2018

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September 18, 2017. Berlin, Germany to Oldenzaal, Netherlands.

It was just over 500 kilometres from Berlin to Oldenzaal in Holland. Again we encountered rain and roadworks on the way. This made the trip over six hours, rather than the five the TomTom had estimated. 

We were deep in the Dutch countryside. 

Our hotel was the Erve Hulsbeek Koetshuis and it was surrounded by the Hulsbeek, a large recreational park. This was a Dutch summer resort in ‘the nature’. 

Late in the afternoon we went for a stroll around the Hulsbeek, it certainly catered for a variety of activities. 

It was originally an estate and in the 70s it was transformed into a recreational park. Three lakes were created by sand excavation and the sand was then used to make the De Thij residential area in Oldenzaal.

The Hulsbeek is 230 hectares that’s been set aside for sailing, fishing, swimming, skate boarding, table tennis, basketball, soccer, cycling, rowing and horse riding.

These were a few of sports we identified, there were a number that we couldn’t. 

 

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September 19, 2017. Oldenzaal, Netherlands to Great Bromley, Colchester, United Kingdom.

The Hotel Erve Hulsbee was shrouded in fog when we left. 

It was about a two hour drive to catch the ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich. 

No rain and no roadworks. 

The trip was easy until we discovered the complexities of Dutch roundabouts. They seem to go out of their way to make them difficult to negotiate. 

I got confused and ended taking the same, wrong exit twice. 

We then encountered further problems when we went to check the Renault onto the ferry. 

The customs official believed that our red French number plates were only for cars that were being exported. 

Of course our paperwork didn’t support this. 

After an hour of waiting and numerous phone calls, he finally let us drive on. 

We had no plan B. 

Unlike the ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki, the cross channel boat was relatively empty. 

There was gambling but no live entertainment. 

Trucks seemed to be the main cargo and the ‘truckies’ even had there own area. 

It was a much longer voyage than the trip across the Gulf of Finland. 

Six hours as opposed to two. 

We arrived in Britain late in the day and we had to very quickly get used to driving on the left of the road with a left hand drive car.

Thea felt rather exposed, sitting on the right of the Captur, especially as all the oncoming drivers thought that she was in control and looked at her.

That night we had dinner at our accomodation, the Courthouse Hotel. It was a typical English pub and very different to what we had got used to over the last few months in Europe.

Duck Liver Pâté, Deep Filled Pies, Hand Carved Roast Beef, Home Cooked Eggs with Chips and Spotted Dick with Custard.

We hadn’t had food like that since we were last in Britain.

 

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September 20, 2017. Great Bromley, Colchester to Lowestoft, Suffolk, United Kingdom.

A ‘light’ breakfast at the Courthouse Hotel was a mountain of scrabbled egg on a slab of toast. 

I’m glad we didn’t order the full English one. 

The hotel was actually a court house that witnessed the trials of witches, who, if found guilty, were strung up on the gallows, that were just over the road. 

Built in the 1600s, it was first a pub then the court house and now a pub again. 

That night we were staying at a B&B in Lowestoft and couldn’t check-in until 4pm. 

We therefore had some time on our hands. 

The drive from Great Bromley to Lowestoft was only 111 kilometres so we diverted to Colchester to do some shopping. The main task was to get a new SIM for the travel phone. 

We then reconfigured the TomTom to take the country roads. That’s when we discovered the Snape Maltings.

Situated on the River Alde at Snape in Suffolk, the Snape Maltings is an art complex, best known for its concert hall.

The maltings were originally built by Newson Garrett in the 1800s. The site ceased to be a malting by the 1960s and after the concert hall was opened there in 1967 it became the home of the Aldeburgh Music Festival.

 

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September 21, 2017. Lowestoft, Suffolk, United Kingdom.

We ask the owners of the Corner House, our B&B in Lowestoft, for some touring suggestions. 

They gave us quite a list. 

One trip looked very interesting. It was a boat ride up Lake Lothing to the Mutford Lock. 

Unfortunately it didn’t run on Thursday and it was Thursday.

We did get to do a few other things, like walk along a wind swept beach into Lowestoft and then on to Ness Point, which is most easterly point in England. 

We then walked back into town via the Stanford Arms. This is supposedly the best pub in Lowestoft, especially for craft beer.

We were hoping to go there for dinner that night and wanted to check it out. 

It’s also closed on Thursdays. 

We did do a lot of walking that day and managed to tick a few things off the list of things to see. 

Late in the day we drove, rather than sailed, to Mutford Lock and walked around the park that’s at the end of Lake Lothing. 

The lock separates the fresh water, of Oulton Broad, from the salt water, of the North Sea.

Lowestoft is a seaside town in the very east of England. It is also one of the oldest, with human habitation dating back 700,000 years.

Lowestoft has been settled by people from the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age as well as Romans and Saxons.

Dogs are really appreciated in the UK – especially in the pubs. 

On our last night we walked a little further down the road from our B&B and found the Oddfellows Hotel – the place was packed. 

The dining room was full so we ate in the bar and there we met a number of people and their dogs. 

Dogs were very welcome in the Oddfellows, so long as they didn’t sit on the seats. 

A very reasonable request, if you like having your best friend drinking with you. 

One chap literally drank with his King Charles Spaniel. The dog had a tiny drop of his beer in her water bowl. 

Politically incorrect but they were both very content.

 

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September 22, 2017. Lowestoft, Suffolk to Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, United Kingdom.

Our next stop was at Great Yarmouth, which was only 17 kilometres away. 

We had to be out of our B&B in Lowestoft by 10:30am and couldn’t check into the next one until 3:00pm, so there was plenty of time to do some local touring. 

After walking around Lowestoft and enjoying the better weather we headed off. 

First stop was Beccles, a market town in the Waveney area.

The main feature of Beccles is a detached church bell tower, dating back to the 16th century. 

It dominates the small town. 

From there we did another short drive to Burgh Castle. We thought it was a village but it actually turned out to be a castle as well. 

And a very old one at that.

It is situated on the River Waveney and was developed as a fort town, by the Romans in AD300, as a defence against the Saxons. At that time it was believed to be known as Gariannonum. 

There are only a few of the massive walls remaining at Burgh Castle but you could get an idea how impressive it once was.

That night was our 44th wedding anniversary, so we were looking to find somewhere special for dinner.

Our hosts suggested that fish and chips was an iconic meal in Great Yarmouth. I don’t think they understood the significance of the celebration.

We ended up at the Imperial Hotel, a posh pub on the outskirts of town.

It was full of people who had obviously eaten there many times before. They all knew the menu off by heart and the waitress, Andrea, by name.

 

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September 23, 2107. Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, United Kingdom.

Breakfast in the UK isn’t easy. 

People stare at us, as if we have two heads, when we don’t want a ‘Full English Breakfast’ or a ‘Pot of tea’ or ‘Mug of coffee’

After the simplest breakfast we could get we boarded the ‘Vintage Broadsman’ for a two hour trip on the Norfolk and Southwark Broads. 

Travelling up the Bure River the captain delivered an eloquent description of our journey. All entirely in English, as you would expect, but not what we were used to. 

The weather wasn’t great but most people chose to sit on the top deck, in the open air. 

The Vintage Broadsman was crowded and so was the river. Leisure craft, yachts and small, self guided, tourist boats we constantly passing by. 

It seems that boating on the broads is a very popular pastime. 

And, as seems to be so common in the English speaking world, everyone waved to each other. 

Google let us down in Great Yarmouth. 

We searched for coffee and Mocha was the best rated, with great reviews. 

We should have gone to Starbucks. 

We searched for a good pub with food and Google found the Mariners Hotel. The place was empty and they no longer serve food. 

Should have gone to KFC – no, that’s going too far. 

Mobility scooters are more common than push bikes in Great Yarmouth. 

It probably has something to do with the demographics. 

These coastal towns are relatively poor. This is evident in the hotels, restaurants, food and entertainment on offer. 

Great Yarmouth is a hybrid of Coney Island in New York State and Blackpool in Lancashire.

It lacks the charm of Brighton in Sussex and has the tackiness of Vegas, but is much more forgettable than both.

There are some grand old Victorian mansions and terraced houses behind the gaudy facade of gaming machines, fast food outlets and strip clubs.

On the way back to our B&B in Great Yarmouth, we found Fastolff House in Regent Street. This beautiful office building was constructed in 1908 by RS Cockrillin, in the Art Nouveau style.

In Britain Art Nouveau is also known as Arts and Crafts.

 

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September 24, 2107. Great Yarmouth to Norwich, with a side trip to Cromer, Norfolk, United Kingdom.

We weren’t that sad to leave Great Yarmouth but it had been an experience that will remain with us. We stopped for coffee in Cromer, which is about an hours drive away.

The contrast between the two towns was amazing.

Cromer hadn’t forgotten about the fact that it was a seaside town and that people like to be beside the seaside.

The beach was full of families and the town wasn’t clogged up with commercial distractions.

Cromer is the crab capital of England.

The Cromer Crab is the commercial mainstay of the town and the tourists love them as well. 

The Cromer Pier is the centre point of tourist activity with many families trying their hand at catching the local delicacy.

Most of the crabs caught are very small and part of the ritual is to take them from the pier, in your crab bucket, and then walk down to the beach and put them back into the North Sea.

There are many menacing seagulls, hovering overhead, hoping to get an easy feed.

The crabs are a bonus to local business as the surrounding shops sell crab caps, crab buckets and crab nets, all to make your crabbing that much more enjoyable.

I am sure that time spent, in the less commercialised Cromer would make for a much more rewarding family holiday experience than staying at Great Yarmouth. 

It would probably also be a lot cheaper than constantly forking out for rides, mini golf, slot machines and fast food.

Apart from the crabs, Cromer has the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, dating back to the 13th century. As well as the Hotel de Paris which was originally built as the residence of Lord Suffield in 1830.

That night we found the, weirdly named, Unthank Arms in Norwich. It was about 10 minutes walk away from our hotel, the Best Western George.

It was great and vast change from the previous night.

Good food, wine and beer with an excellent ambiance and great staff.

 

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September 25, 2017. Norwich, Norfolk, United Kingdom.

Lens issues, yet again.

There was a nasty rattle in my 7-14mm wide angle lens and it didn’t sound good.

This meant that we had to find a Olympus repair centre, as well as a laundry, while we were in Norwich.

Google let us down again, just as it had done in Great Yarmouth. We were trying to find a place for breakfast, this time Google maps and the TomTom didn’t know one end of a road from the other. We eventually went to a shopping mall. It was easy to find and you can always get a cup of coffee and a croissant in a mall.

After finding a local laundromat, we went in search of a camera repair centre. The good news was that the guy in the shop didn’t think the problem was terminal. The bad news was that to get it fixed the lens would have to be sent away, to Portugal, for the repairs.

Frustrated with laundry and camera issues we went for a long walk around Norwich.

Norwich is one of the most important cities in England. From the Middle Ages until the Industrial Revolution it was the second largest city, after London.

Besides the obvious standouts of Norwich Cathedral and Norwich Castle there are other delightful areas in this Medieval city.

One of my favourites was the Royal Arcade. Designed by architect George Skipper, in the Arts and Craft style in 1899. The arcade has a humble single storey exterior but a stunning two storey interior. There are decorative tiles featuring flowers and peacocks as well as exquisite stained glass windows  of trees and birds.

Late that night we got the very sad, sad news regarding Phil, Thea’s younger brother. He had tragically passed away in his sleep, while watching the Brownlow Medal on TV.

Suddenly all our future plans were thrown into confusion.

Our immediate priority was to get back to Australia as soon as we could. 

 

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September 26, 2017. Norwich, to Sutton Bridge Spaulding via King’s Lynn, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom.

We arranged a late check-out with the hotel so we could start to make arrangements for our return home.

The original plan was to drop off the Renault Captur at Orly Airport in Paris, so that had to be reworked. Fortunately Renault Euroddrive were very understanding and arranged for us to drop it off at Heathrow.

Qantas were also excellent and so were our travel insurance company, so we went ahead and made all the arrangements.

We couldn’t get a flight to Melbourne immediately, as it was the Grand Final weekend, so we had a couple of days to fill in.

On the way to Sutton Bridge Spaulding we made side trip to King’s Lynn. This was a good move as there was nothing at Sutton bridge.

King’s Lynn was known until 1537 as Bishop’s Lynn and is a seaport and market town. The River Great Ouse is a central part of the town as is the Purfleet Quay. There are some other attractions such as the King’s Lynn Minster or Saint Margaret’s Church, which was built in the 12th century. Plus some wonderful municipal architecture like the Town Hall or Trinity Guild Hall which was built in 1421.

At Sutton Bridge Spaulding we were staying at the Anchor Hotel. This was a typical English pub, in the middle of nowhere.

Fortunately they had a restaurant, that served good English fair and some good draught beers and wine.

 

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September 27, 2017. Sutton Bridge Spaulding, Lincolnshire to London Heathrow, United Kingdom.

Relatively easy drive to Heathrow. There were some roadworks, something we haven’t seen since we have been in the UK. 

We stopped at Saint Neots for a coffee and arrived mid afternoon at the Park Inn by Radisson. 

The location of the hotel was excellent as it was 50 metres from where we had to drop the car off and only 600 metres from Heathrow Airport. 

September 28, 2017. London Heathrow, United Kingdom.

This was our last full day in England and we needed a long walk.

What better place to have one but along the Long Walk in Windsor Great Park.

It was only about 12 kilometres to Windsor, from our hotel in Heathrow. 

The stroll was relaxing, about 8.5 kilometres from the castle to Copper Horse Statue of King George III and back.

The sun shone as the jets thundered overhead – we were right under the flight path.

As we passed through Deer Park we could see the deer in the distance. Then suddenly one buck broke out of the woods and came straight towards us.

It was a tense few seconds until we realised that he was heading to a muddy hollow for a wallow.

After a coffee for me and lunch for Thea in Windsor, we headed back to the hotel to pack.

This was the last drive in the Captur. We had travelled 8,931 kilometres in the Renault and 925 kilometres in the Opel Mokka.

We had started in spring, missed summer completely and now it was autumn. 

September 29, 2017, London Heathrow, United Kingdom to Melbourne, Australia.

After some final packing we dropped the Captur off to the Renault Eurodrive depot. They then drove us, in the Captur, to Heathrow to catch QF flight 10 to Melbourne via Dubai.

Part 3: Along the Baltic Sea – Berlin again.

July 26th, 2018

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September 11, 2017. Poznań, Poland to Berlin, Germany.

We were returning back to Berlin to relax, catch up on things and spend some more time with Hayden and Andrea. 

On reaching Berlin we detoured to Templehof Airfield.

Up until 2008, when it ceased operating, Templehof was one of the main airports in Berlin.

It is now a vast playground for the Berliners, and is now known as Templehofer Feld.

It was a cold and windy afternoon when we arrived at Templehofer Feld but there were hundreds, if not a thousand people walking, riding, playing, kite flying or just hanging out.

Because of its vastness it was difficult to estimate just how many people were there.

Currently there is 386 hectares of open space available to the public.

The original terminal was constructed in 1927 and in the mid 1930s the Nazi government started a massive redevelopment.

As part of the Soviet blockade of Berlin in 1948, Templehof became the lifeline of Berlin. For 11 months vital supplies were airlifted into the isolated city. The Berlin Airlift is now regarded as one of the greatest feats of aviation history.

To keep West Berlin supplied, over 200,000 flights delivered 8,893 tons of necessities into the city.

September 12, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

Over the next few days we took off our tourist hats and just became Berliners.

We did have a walk around Volkspark Friedrichshain and Alexanderplatz but that was about it. I didn’t even take any photos for two days.

September 13, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

The highlight of the day was a haircut and visit to the Post Office, not to post anything but to get money. There are very few banks near Hayden and Andrea’s apartment.

 

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September 14, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

It had been raining on and off since we returned to Berlin so we were confined indoors for much of the time. We really didn’t care as this was our time for R&R.

I took a photo for the first time in days it was of the rain in Saarbrücker Straße from our apartment window.

 

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September 15, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

We were back to being tourists, but only for a few hours. 

After getting the Renault washed, and it needed it badly after the bug splattering of the last six weeks, we headed off to do some sightseeing.

Berliner Mayer East Side Gallery is a 1,316 meter long section of the Berlin Wall that has been preserved as a memorial to freedom.

The gallery contains 105 paintings of artists from all over the world. Sadly many have been damaged by vandalism and tagging. This is a shame as the gallery attracts over 3 million visitors a year.

Some sections have been removed and others partly demolished. 

There is still a major conflict regarding the gallery.

One of the most famous pieces is the Socialist Fraternal Kiss between Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev, titled: My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love.

On the other side of the gallery is part of the Wall Museum. This currently has on display a series of documentary style installations recounting experiences of victims from East Berlin.

September 16, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

It was the weekend, so after a late breakfast we went strolling around the area near Hayden and Andrea’s apartment.

This was not the tourist areas but the places that Berliners frequent on the weekend.

 

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September 17, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

The sun was out and so were the people. 

Our tourist outing for the day was a visit to the Reichstag or German Parliamentary building on the edge of Tiergarten Park and next to the Brandenburg Gate.

Hayden and Andrea had booked us passes to visit the dome. There is no entrance fee but you have to book in advance.

We did and so did many others – the place was packed.

There was a touch of irony in our visit, as next week the Germans go to the polls. 

A very important vote for both them and Europe. 

The Reichstag was originally built in 1884 and designed by architect Paul Wallot, after a competition.

It housed the German Parliament until 1933, when it was badly damaged by fire that swept through the original dome.

Hitler blamed the fire on the Communists and this was a catalyst for many reforms that gave him the power to rule Germany as a dictatorship.

After the war it fell into disuse as Germany was now divided between the east and the west.

When Germany was reunified in 1990 it was decided that the German Parliament should again sit in the Reichstag.

In 1993 again a competition was held, calling for new designs, and was won by the British architect Norman Foster. The building then underwent reconstruction between 1995 and 1999.

The new dome was a feature of the design.

Foster, under a brief from the German Parliament, built the new dome as a symbol of Germany’s unity and ‘Transparent Politics’ in contrast to the Nazis and the Soviets.

The large glass and steel dome has great views of the surrounding city and you can look into the space below.

The new dome covers the main debating chamber of the Bundestag and incorporates a number of high-tech features. A mirrored cone, in the centre of the dome, directs sunlight into the chamber, reducing carbon emissions by saving on power. While a sunshield tracks the sun and blocks out the direct sunlight and associated heat.

Norman Foster has been responsible for many ground breaking designs over the years.

Some that I recall and admire are the HSBC Building in Hong Kong, the ‘Gherkin’ in London and the world’s tallest bridge, the Millau Viaduct in France.

He was also involved, with the late Steve Jobs, in designing the new Apple Park, or ‘Spaceship’ in Cupertino, California. 

After the Bundestag we walked to the Soviet War Memorial in the Tiergarten. It was constructed just after war ended in 1945 and designed by Lew Kerbel. It is in remembrance of the 2,000 Russians who died fighting to ‘free’ Berlin.

These were our last days in Germany and Europe. 

It was the end of our Baltic adventure, we were now headed to a more familiar place – England. 

Part 2: Along the Baltic Sea – Lithuania and Poland.

July 20th, 2018

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August 31, 2017. Kuldīga, Latvia to Klaipeda, Lithuania.

I put on shorts for the first time in weeks and it was a good feeling. 

How long the better weather would last along the Baltic Sea, was questionable, but I wanted to make the most of what little summer we had left. 

On the way to Klaipeda in Lithuania we stopped in Liepāja for a coffee and then went to the beach. 

Another stretch of wind blown sand. 

There were more people in the water, as the temperature had climbed into the mid thirties. 

You can certainly see while people from this part of the world are attracted to the Adriatic. 

Wind turbines are a sure sign of wind and Liepāja is regarded as the windiest region in Latvia. There is a plan to construct a wind farm of 19 generators in the area.

We had come to Klaipēda, which is the gateway to the Curonian Spit. However the town offers more than just a stepping off point, with a relaxed, stylish lifestyle and many good bars and restaurants. 

Klaipēda is the third largest city in Lithuania and situated on the confluence of the Kurškju and smaller Danēs rivers.

The most impressive part of the town is the Theatre Square and the Klaipēda Theatre. An attractive Neo-Classical building from 1857.

Surrounding the square are many bars and restaurants and the square itself is home to the local handicrafts stalls.

The square has seen some history.

On March 23, 1939, Adolf Hitler made a speech from the balcony of the Klaipēda Theatre. This followed Lithuania accepting the Nazi German ultimatum to surrender the region.

We had dinner in one of the many restaurants on the square and afterwards visited Nesé, the Irish Pub that was opposite. During dinner there were roars of delight and groans of displeasure coming from the pub and we wondered what football game was on.

It turned out to be a basketball game between Lithuania and Georgia.

Unfortunately for the locals, Georgia won by two points, in the dying moments. (Georgia 79 defeated Lithuania 77)

 

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September 1, 2017. Klaipēda, Lithuania.

The Curonian Spit is a 98 kilometre long sand dune thats stretches from Klaipēda in the north to the Russian state of Kaliningrad in the south. It varies in width from 400 metres to nearly 4 kilometres. 

It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site shared by Lithuania and Russia and has an interesting history. Baltic mythology suggest that the Curonian Spit was created by a giantess, named Neringa, who was playing on the seashore. Apparently she scooped up sand and brought it there to shelter the local fishermen from violent storms on the Baltic sea.

There is a ferry that leaves Klaipēda every 20 minutes and crosses the Curonian Lagoon to Neringa on the Curonian Spit – on the other side of the spit is the Baltic Sea. 

My faith in the weather improving was mistaken, as the morning was dark, overcast and cold. In defiance I stupidly put on my shorts.

Even that didn’t help.

 

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September 2, 2017. Klaipēda to Šiauliai, Lithuania.

The drive from Klaipēda to Šiauliai is about two hours, or 160 kilometres, depending on the roadworks. 

The main reason for our one night stay in Šiauliai was to visit the Hill of Crosses. This is a pilgrimage site, about 12 kilometres out of the town.

It is believed that the first crosses were placed on the former Jurgaičiai or Domantai Hill Fort after the 1831 Uprising. (Also known as the Polish-Russian War of 1830-31)

All sorts of religious icons, large and small, have been placed on the hill by Catholic pilgrims.

Over the years they have come and gone, as political entities flexed their muscles.

In the late 1800’s there were an estimated 9,000 items on the hill and in 1922, just 50.

In 1961 the Soviets destroyed 5,000 and in 1975 a further 1,200 more.

During the years of Soviet occupation, the Lithuanians used the hill to demonstrate their allegiances to their original culture and identity.

By 1990 there were 55,000 items placed there and it is estimated that there are well over 100,000 there today.

There was certainly a lot and I wasn’t about to start counting.

It’s also a popular place to visit for locals, especially wedding parties. Two groups turned up while we were there.

The city of Šiauliai was said to have been founded in 1236. It was named Saule, after the Battle of Saule, or Sun, fought in the same year. 

We found no sun in Šiauliai. 

In Šiauliai we were staying at the Hotel Turnê. This was another Soviet era pub with the mandatory USSR Green walls. 

After trolling through TripAdvisor I found what looked like good place to eat. Black Bar described itself as a gastropub and they had 12 draught beers on the menu. 

Things were looking great.

When I went to order one of the beers, I was told that they only had two available. 

The food was good. 

We had just finished our meal and the reality TV, that was in the background and mute, was turned off and the Eurobasket was turned on. It was live, loud and suddenly the pub was full. 

We didn’t stay to watch the game but later discovered that the locals had a good win against Israel. (Lithuania 88 defeated Israel 73)

They love their basketball in Lithuania.

 

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September 3, 2017. Šiauliai to Kaunas, Lithuania. 

Kaunas was first mentioned in history in 1361.

Over time It has been invaded or occupied by the Russians, Swedes, French and Germans. 

It is Lithuania’s second largest city with a population of over 300,000. Up until the Second World War there was a large Jewish population living in Kaunas. Under the Nazi occupation many were exterminated. 

We arrived in Kaunas mid afternoon and our accommodation, Hotel Hof, was just meters from the main walking street. 

It was a Sunday afternoon yet the place was buzzing, especially compared to Šiauliai, where we had been the night before. 

We found Green Cafe, a free trade, eco-sustainable coffee house. It was stylish and the coffee was good. 

In the afternoon we visited Vytautas the Great War Museum. 

The weather was still overcast with intermittent drizzle. What better place to go than a museum on a foul day. 

The museum was established in 1921 and in its current location since 1930.  

It was named after Vytautas the Great, a ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Born in 1350 he is regarded by modern day Lithuanians as a national hero. Posthumously he was an important figure in the 19th century national rebirth.

This museum is part of a complex containing, the War Museum, which is by far the largest and the M. K. Čiurlionis National Art Museum, the Ethnography Museum and periodic exhibitions. 

They were designed by the eminent architects of the day, Vladimiras Dubeneckis, Karolis Reisonas, and Kazimieras Kriščiukaitis. 

The theme of the museum is war, conflict and weaponry. 

Something the Lithuanians know a lot about. 

It traces the history of Lithuania, from the Stone, Bronze and Middle Ages to the current day. 

The dioramas, in the early part of the exhibition, were a great way to see how fortifications developed over the millennia. 

Another fascinating display was the  Exhibition of the History of Weapons. It displayed swords, rifles and handguns from the 16th to the 20th Century. 

The Main Street in Kaunas was alive and the blare of the TV sets in the bars and pubs was deafening. 

Lithuanian sides were competing in both basketball and football, so there was no escaping the excitement. 

We did manage to find a local restaurant, off the main drag that was quiet. 

They didn’t have a TV. 

In fact it was so quiet, that apart from the two of us, there were only four others in the place, at various times during the night. 

The food was great but, as to be expected, there wasn’t much ambiance. 

 

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September 4, 2017. Kaunas, Lithuania.

Kaunas is the second largest city in Lithuania and is on the confluence of the Neris and Nemunas rivers. It is a cultural, economic and academic hub. It has been named ‘Little Paris’ due to its rich heritage and architecture.

It was a Monday and everything was shut, especially the museums, so we decided to walk.

Our first stop was the Bank of Lithuania which was built in in 1928,  in a Neoclassical style, as a result of a competition held in 1924. A French company initially won the tender but the plans were deemed to be far too complex and expensive. The responsibility then passed into local hands and M. Songaila, the only Lithuanian professor of architecture at the time, was appointed.

He also happened to be the chairman of the jury judging the competition.

One of the main features of Kaunas is Laisvės Alėja. It is supposedly the longest pedestrian avenue in Eastern Europe, measuring 1.6 kilometres. 

Walking the entire length, there and back, gave us some exercise and an excellent opportunity to see the city.

At the start of 2017 Kaunas was chosen as one of the European Capitals of Culture and it’s easy to see why.

Stunning street murals are everywhere.

One that particularly attracted my attention was the giant wall painting entitled Wise Old Man. This 440 square metre artwork, on the side of an abandoned factory, was created by Gyva Grafika in 2013.

We then crossed over the Nemunas River to ride the Aleksotas Funicular Railway. Opened in 1935, it’s not the oldest funicular in Kaunas, that honour goes to the Žaliakalnis Funicular, built in 1931.

The weather turned balmy in the afternoon and we actually took our coats off.

That didn’t last as it was raining again that evening.

 

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September 5, 2017. Kaunas, Lithuania to Reszel, Poland, including Wolf’s Lair.

It was a long day of driving and sightseeing.

It’s approximately 280 kilometres from Kaunas, in Lithuania to Reszel, in Poland. The famous hideout for Hitler and his henchmen, Wolf’s Lair, was on the way.

We were also loosing an hour of daylight, as there was a time change moving from Lithuania to Poland.

Wolf’s Lair was Adolf Hitler’s first Eastern Front military headquarters. It was a high security site hidden deep in the Masurian woods. Hitler spent more than 800 days at Wolf’s Lair and it was there that the most famous assassination attempt was made on his life on July 20, 1944. 

The name ‘Wolf’ was one that Hitler gave to himself in the early 1930s.

The forrest complex is 6.5 square kilometres in area and at it height of use housed about 2,000 people.

Hitler departed from the complex on November 20, 1944 when the Red Army’s Baltic Offensive reached Angerburg, (now Węgorzewo) which was only 15 kilometres away.

Wolf’s lair was demolished by the Soviets on January 24 and 25, 1945. It is estimated that it took 8,000 kilograms of TNT to partially destroy the buildings.

What remains there now is a mass of reinforced steel and concrete that’s slowly disappearing back into the forest.

We arrived in Reszel late in the afternoon and had a quick walk around the castle. As we were actually staying in the Zamku Reszel, the hotel within the castle, we decided to do a more comprehensive tour the next day before we left for Gdansk.

 

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September 6, 2017. Reszel to Gdánsk, Poland.

The castle in Reszel, apart from being our accommodation, was the town’s main tourist attraction. Reszel is dominated by both the castle and the Peter and Paul Church, which is practically next door.

The castle was built by the Teutonic Order between 1350 and 1401, while the church was built in much the same time from 1360 to 1402.

Both are in red brick and built in the Gothic style.

Apart from climbing the castle tower, which gives you an excellent vista of the town, it’s the Reszel Tower Museum that’s within, that holds the most interest.

The main theme of the museum is Medieval torture.

There are 30 plus methods of inflicting pain in the torture tower and a further 25 methods were on display in the dungeon.

The Virgin of Nuremberg, or Iron Maiden was a standout.

Used in the 16th century to torture and extract confessions, this 2.2 meters high casket could accommodate a man standing. The victim was tied inside the Maiden and when the doors were shut spikes would penetrate the flesh. The spikes were strategically places so as to not damage the vital organs. 

They didn’t want the victim to die immediately – just suffer.

Once the doors were completely closed their screams couldn’t be heard from outside and concurrently the victim couldn’t see any light or hear anything from the inside.

Talking of torture.

Summer and autumn in Europe is wasp season. Whenever you eat outside these flying pests, with a nasty sting, want to sample your food and drink. Especially if what you are consuming is sweet.

They hover around the table and the more you try to wave them away the angrier they get.

We have found that the best strategy is to just ignore them and, like most pests, they give up and leave.

After our castle experience in the morning we started the drive to the Baltic coast and Gdansk. It was a good trip until we got to within 30 kilometres and then we struck roadworks – again. 

When we arrived in Gdansk it was raining – again. 

 

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September 7, 2017. Gdánsk, Poland.

Gdansk was first established as a Polish stronghold in the 980s and over the centuries has been ruled by the Prussians, Germans, Russians and Poles.

We were in Gdansk to try and get an understanding of this famous Polish port city. I first remember hearing about Gdansk in the early 80s. It was the home of Lech Wałęnsa and the Solidarity Movement – a movement credited by many, with the fall of the Soviet Union.

Solidarity was the first independent labor movement in the Soviet-bloc and spawned an anti-communist social movement that, at its peak, claimed 9.4 million members.

What set it apart was the fact that it was non violent.

The morning was spent dodging the rain and exploring this beautiful old town.

We were staying in another apartment but unfortunately couldn’t find a good supermarket. This meant that we couldn’t self-cater for breakfast as we normally do.

We had to eat out yet again.

In the afternoon we joined a free 2.5 hour Solidarity walking tour around Gdansk.

Kasia was our guide and she made it very clear, right from the start, that she expected a tip. 

So it was free in name only, which wasn’t an issue as it was worth every Złoty of the tip. 

The tour was designed to put the Solidarity movement in context. It traced the the Polish freedom movements growth from 1945, culminating in the Revolution of 1989.

The tour covered a lot more than Lech Wałęsa. 

We were taken around the city and shown how it had been restored after the Second World War. The restoration of Polish cities like Warsaw and Gdansk was a miracle, especially when you see what was left of the them after 1945.

Many parts of the city were rebuilt during the 1950s and 1960s. Any trace of German influence and tradition was suppressed and only Flemish/Dutch, Italian and French influences were revived.

Fittingly the tour finished at the European Solidarity Centre, near the Gdansk Shipyards. Opened in 2014 the museum and library is dedicated to the Polish Solidarity Movement and other opposition movements in Communist Eastern Europe.

The design is intended to suggest the hulls of a ship built at the Gdansk Shipyard.

Both the interior and exterior are made of steel which have oxidised to produce a rust effect.

There is a rooftop terrace with views of the Gdansk shipyards on one side and the a city-scape on the other.

The building is an impressive example of contemporary architecture.

Supposedly Lech Wałęsa has an office there.

We didn’t see him.

Kasia did share her views of the current state of Polish politics. She did take care to mention that she really shouldn’t discuss political issues. But…

One of the things that disturbed Kaisa most was the demonising of Lech Wałęsa by the current right-wing populist government in Poland.

Many fear that Poland is on the road from a liberal democracy to authoritarianism. There is a push within Polish politics to re write the history books regarding the Second World War and the rise of the Solidarity Movement. The Polish government is also turning its back on many of the liberal values and democratic principles that are a core part of the European Union, to which it belongs.

 

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September 8, 2017. Gdánsk, Poland.

We took a day trip by train to Gdynia, Polands largest port on the Baltic Sea.

We actually got off by mistake at Sopot, which is a seaside and spa town. We then hopped on the next train to Gdynia. 

The trains were running every fifteen minutes so we didn’t waste much time. 

I was very impressed with the tourist facilities provided by the city. The Observatory of Change in Gdynia was a viewing platform. This was free to visit and gave the tourist a great view of the city and port area.

There was also an InfoBox at the top of the tower that allowed people to discover more of the city. You could find out where the public parking and city bikes were located and see the trolley bus routes.

We then took the two minute ride on the Kamienna Góra Funicular to the top of the Kamienna Góra Hill, which is near the centre of the town. Again it was free and we got another good view. Unfortunately the weather was rather grey.

Gdynia is one of the youngest cities in Poland, only receiving its rights in 1926. Before that it was only a fishing village. 

Because of its young age the architectural style of the day was chosen for many of the buildings. This has led to it becoming the Modernist capital of Poland.

Even now, many of the contemporary buildings have adopted elements of Modernism.  

Modernist is the most important new architectural style of the 20th century. It turned its back on ornament and embraced minimalism.

Steel, glass and reinforced concrete are the most populate building materials in Modernist architecture.

There are a number of leisure craft on Passenger Ship Alley, some still sail, but most don’t. 

There was one ship that impressed me the Orb Błyskawica. This destroyer was built in England between 1935 and 1937 and certainly saw some action during the Second World War. 

It was involved in the evacuation of Dunkirk and the Normandy landing, as well as operating in the North Atlantic, the Pacific and Bay of Biscay. 

On returning to Gdansk we wandered down to the Motlawa River again and took a few snaps of The Crane.

Built in 1444 this Medieval ship’s loading crane used hemp rope and a system of blocks and two wooden turnstiles. The crane was powered by men walking inside the turnstiles to load cargo and erect masts onto the ships moored by the river’s edge.

On the last night we discovered a proper supermarket, just around the corner from our apartment. The one we found on our first night was very average. 

And much to my horror we also discovered a Craft Beer Pub, Labeerynt, also nearby. 

We had been looking in the wrong direction. 

At least we found it before we left. Imagine discovering it as we drove away. 

 

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September 9, 2017. Gdánsk to Poznań, via Toruń, Poland.

It was 299 kilometres to Poznań. Not a long drive but considering our luck with roadworks, we expected the worse.

We stopped for lunch at Toruń but once we got there, finding the Old Town wasn’t easy.

Both our satellite navigation systems (one in the car and the other in our travel phone) sent us to an obscure part of the city, certainly not the centre. We have discovered that the Tourist Information Office is usually in the centre of most towns and cities and near the main town square, if there is one.

This is definitely an area that Sat Navs can improve on. I must talk to Hayden about that.

This was definitely a town on the tourist map as the streets were bulging with tour groups. 

Toruń is a UNESCO World Heritage City, but more than that it is the City of Copernicus.

Copernicus monuments, street names, houses and souvenirs are everywhere.

Born in Toruń in 1473, Copernicus was a Renaissance Man, in every sense. He was a mathematician, astronomer, physician, governor, diplomat and economist.

His greatest claim to fame was in developing the Copernican Revolution, that put the sun at the centre of the universe (Solar System) not the earth.

The foundation charter for Toruń was signed in 1233 by Herman von Salza, the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order. It was managed by the Knights until 1454 when it became incorporated into the Polish Republic.

 

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September 10, 2017. Poznań, Poland.

Poznań is one of the ancient cities of Poland. 

It’s earliest remains can be traced back to the Stone Age. It was first written about in history as early as 966 and became a city in 1253.

On our first night we just wandered into the Old Town to find some dinner. This wasn’t as easy as we had imagined.

Everyone was drinking and there seemed to be very few people eating.

The next morning we walked down the length of Stary Browar. This is a huge mall and arts complex, just opposite our hotel. 

The architecture was strikingly industrial, with red brick and steel. Not surprising, as it was built on the site of the old Brewery Huggerów. 

The award Winning design of Stary Browar, or Old Brewery, has preserved much of the architecture and many elements of the original brewery. 

The first brewery was constructed on the site in 1844, by a brewer from Württemberg, Ambrosias Hugger.

The walk through the mall kept us out of the rain, at least until we reached the Póhwiejska, the walking street.

We spent the rest of the day wandering around Poznań.

Firstly to the Old Market Square, one of the most attractive in Europe. The main feature is the Renaissance Town Hall, designed by the Italian architect, Giovanni Baptista Quadro.

Like many Polish cities the buildings surrounding the square have been painstakingly reconstructed, after the destruction of World War Two. The building facades are painted in subtle shades of creams, greens and browns and many of them also have intricate decoration.

Then to the lavish Baroque masterpiece, the Parish Church of St Stanislas.

We took the King’s route, which is a tourist walking path, to the see the Cathedral Basilica of St Peter and Paul on Cathedral Island. Originally built in the 10th century but rebuilt after WW2, when it was badly damaged.

The cellar holds the relics of the first rulers of Poland from the 10th century.

Apart from old architecture there are some modern buildings in Poznań. One of the most striking is the  Poznań Gate Ichot. This is a history museum that is linked to the Old City by a suspended footbridge over the Cybina River.

Back in the Old Town we discovered the Nikon Polish Press Photography competition, which was at the rear of the Parish Church of St Stanislaus.

That night we went back into the Old Town and again found very few people eating.

Poznań is a draw card for tourists, especially from Germany and Britain.

It could be the lower prices and excellent shopping or the fact that there are so many places to get a drink.

Part 1: Along the Baltic Sea – Estonia and Latvia.

July 18th, 2018

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August 20, 2017. Tallinn, Estonia.

We were back in Tallinn to start our trip along the Baltic Sea. Being our second time in the Estonian capital we decided to stay on the other side of the old town. 

This time at a hotel, the Park Inn by Radisson, rather than an apartment.

Little did we know that there was a new office building being constructed, right next door. 

And buildings sites work on Sundays in Tallinn. 

After getting up earlier than we had planned, we walked to Kadriorg Park to ‘smell the roses’. 

We discovered that nature also works on a Sunday as the bees and butterflies were hard at it.

Estonian flags were everywhere and we wondered why there were so many. They were on buildings, cars and some people were even carrying them. 

Then we discovered that it was the Day of Restoration of Independence. This was the day in 1991 that the Estonian Supreme Soviet in association with the Estonian Congress proclaimed Estonian independence from the Soviet Union.

As a result of the festivities there were no museums open so we just had to walk around.

We did visit Kumu, the Art Museum of Estonia, but that was just for coffee.

The museum is housed in a very impressive, contemporary building on the edge of Kadriorg Park.

Like so many public buildings the architect, Pekka Vapaavuori, was the winner of a competition in 1994.

It was constructed between 2003 and 2006 and is built into the limestone slopes on the side of the park.

Again built on the edge of the centuries old Kadriorg Park is the Kadriorg Art Museum. In total contrast to the glass and steel of the Kumu Museum, this one is housed in the grand baroque palace, that was built for Peter the Great in 1718.

Designed by the Italian architect Niccolo Michetti it’s a fine example of Tsarist extravagance. 

Unfortunately we didn’t get to go inside either as they were also shut.

 

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August 21, 2017. Tallinn to Pärnu, Estonia. 

It was meant to be 1.5 hours from Tallinn to Pärnu but due to roadworks and more rain it took a little longer. 

The receptionists at the Hotel Carolina told Thea, when she enquired about the rain, that it had been a ‘light summer’

When we walked into Pärnu there was a removals’ van taking away the umbrellas from one cafe. Then we saw workers removing the summer veranda from another. 

I’m afraid we have missed summer completely in this part of Europe. 

Pärnu Beach is regarded as the best beach in Estonia, so we walked down to have a look. 

There was no one bathing at this section of the beach but a number of people were wandering around on the sand. 

I think they were looking for summer. 

 

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August 22, 2017. Pärnu, Estonia.

This was adventure day. 

Thea had booked a day trip that involved a walk in a peat bog, lunch and a canoe ride on the Halliste River. 

We didn’t know much more than that.

It turned out to be a great experience and a chance to “enjoy the nature” as the locals say.

The entire excursion was set in Soomaa National Park, with the walk on the Ingasi nature trail.

Soomaa means ’The Land of Mires’. Over time these mires developed into bogs.

The trail was a combination of boardwalks, soil trails and a bog walk that required special ‘bog shoes’ that were provided.

At the end there is an 8 metre high observation tower that allows you to overlook the bog and the forests beyond.

Lunch was provided and certainly part of the experience. 

It was traditional Estonian fair, that consisted of potato porridge, homemade barley bread and desert (Kama) that was made from curd cheese.

After lunch it was time for part two of our nature adventure, canoeing on the Halliste River.

There was a lot of serious instructions on how to go about canoeing, especially the possibility of ending up in the river.

I decided that my camera and equipment would be better off remaining behind.

It was probably a wise decision as the bottom of our canoe did start to fill up with water. This was a combination of bad paddling, on my behalf, and rain that that started when we were about half way through the trip.

The Halliste River is one of four rivers that separates the mires within the national park.

The other rivers are the Navesti, Raudna and Lemmjögi.

The Soomaa National Park was created in 1993 and is 359 square kilometres in size. It is situated in what’s called Transitional Estonia and has been created to protect the raised bogs, grasslands, flood plains and rivers.

 

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August 23, 2017. Pärnu, Estonia to Cēsis, Latvia.

An elevator. 

It’s only when you don’t have one that you appreciate them. 

I thought this as we descended the five levels to the ground floor as we were leaving the Hotel Carolina in Pärnu. 

Most of our hotels or apartments are booked through bookings.com and we always have standard requests such as free off-street parking, WiFi and non-smoking. 

On the Eastern European stage of our trip, most of our accommodation has been in old cities and therefore old buildings. 

Carting our bags up has become a pain, literally, so we now include a lift as standard request. 

It doesn’t always work out that we get one, but when we do it’s much appreciated. 

Before leaving Pärnu for Cēsis we made good use of the hotel’s free parking and left the Captur there and wandered around the town. 

Pärnu is the fourth largest city in Estonia and situated on the coast of Pärnu Bay. The Pärnu River flows through the city and into the Gulf of Riga.

Perona, which was very close by, was founded in 1251 but was destroyed and replaced by the current town in 1265.

On our walk we discovered Villa Ammende, which was built in 1904. This mansion house is a fine example of the Art Nouveau style. It is now a luxury hotel that serves the resort area of Pärnu.

Another architectural discovery was the Church of the Saint Martyr Catharina.

Built in the baroque style, 1765-1768, by the architect Peter Yegorov and named after Catherine the Great.

Our apartment in Cēsis was a bit of a walk from the centre of town. But it was raining, again, so we found a restaurant close to home. 

2 Locals had good food and service at a reasonable price but they only take cash. 

This we discovered at the end of the meal. 

I am very uncomfortable with cash only places, as they are probably cheating the system in one way or another. 

I complained that there was nothing on the menu to alert me to their policy and was told that there was a sign on the front door. 

It was back to front and almost invisible. 

In Finland, Estonia, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, credit cards are the norm and you always get a receipt, whether you ask for it or not. 

I can only assume that fraud, corruption and tax avoidance are still prevalent in this part of the former Soviet Union. 

 

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August 24, 2017. Cēsis, Latvia.

It rained all night and was still coming down in the morning. It was also cool, with the temperature hovering around 11°C. 

With our lantern in hand we took off to explore the Cēsis Castle complex. 

The lantern was so we could climb to top of the Western Tower, without being in complete darkness. 

It wasn’t really necessary but it was a nice Medieval touch. 

Cēsis Castle was built in the 13th century and the ruins are regarded as some of the most impressive in the Baltic states. It was once the most important castle of the Livonian Order. The Livonia Order was formed in 1237 and were a autonomous branch of the Teutonic Order.

During the Soviet occupation (1940 – 1990) Latvia, like the rest of the USSR, erected statues of Vladimir Ilich Lenin. One such statue was unveiled in Cēlcis in 1959. This particular statue was created by one of Latvia’s most talented 20th century sculptors, Kärlis Jansons (1896 to 1986). As a result, in the 1990 break-up of the Soviet Union, the statue was not destroyed but just dismantled.

It now lies in a wooden crate in the castle grounds.

Since 1949 the Cēsis History Museum has been situated in the New Castle of the Cēsis Castle estate. The Museum covers the history of Cēsis and the Latvian people.

A very interesting exhibit was the wax reconstruction of a woman, aged in her mid 20s, who was found after the siege of 1577 by Ivan the Terrible.

After visiting the castle we went for a walk in the Gauja National Park and Sarkanãs Cliffs. The Gauja National Park is the largest national park in Latvia with an area of over 917 square kilometres.

Everyone was there for the water, which must have had some healing powers, and not the walk. 

The options for dinner were limited. After finding the main hotel was full, with tour groups, we discovered a local Latvian restaurant. 

A much better option. 

We ordered our meals but they were served to another table. Then they tried to get us to accept what the other table had ordered. We refused and then had to wait so that they could prepare what we had ordered in the first place.

The meal was worth the wait.

 

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August 25, 2017. Cēsis to Rīga, Latvia.

On the way to Rīga we visited Sigulda Castle. Built in 1207, this was yet another the castle of the Livonian Order.

The Sigulda Castle Complex was under renovation as was the entire town. Road works and reconstruction was everywhere.

In Rīga we were staying in the Bearsleys Downtown Apartments. Getting to our apartment was a complex task. It did have a lift but we also had to negotiate stairs, a walk, more stairs and a second lift before we reached our rooms.

It certainly wasn’t that bad, as just opposite our apartment was Bierhaus, a gastro brewery. 

How unfortunate. 

All the staff at Bierhaus were ‘hipsters’ who had a great command of English and a wonderful sense of humour.

The brewer is an American architect, turned brewmaster, Gordon Van Houten. After abandoning architecture, fifteen years ago, Gordon studied brewing in Germany then brewed beer in both the States and now in Latvia.

His wife is Latvian, hence the connection.

 

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August 26, 2017. Rīga, Latvia.

After breakfast in the apartment, which was a rare pleasure, we went looking for a coffee. 

Miit Coffee was recommended by Triposo and right opposite our apartment. 

This area is fantastic.  

Great beer and coffee, just over the road.

We were in Rīga for five nights so we will be visiting both places more than once. 

The day was spent discovering the city of Rīga.

It was about a 25 minute walk from our apartment, which was in ‘Downtown’ to the Old City.

Rīga Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has a history going back to 1201. 

It was set up by Albert of Bremen as a port city and a base to convert the local Livonians to Christianity, which he did by 1206.

Rīga has a diverse population, due to its rich history, which has been influenced by the many nationalities who have called it home over the centuries.

The Old Town is very compact and easy to get around.

Rīga is the capital of Latvia and has a population of over 700,000 inhabitants. One in three Latvians live in the city and its surrounds.

During the Soviet occupation Rīga was a popular destination with the Russian tourists and many Russians were living there as well. A lot of work was done to restore the Old City and make it more attractive. 

In 1989 only 36.5% of the population in Rīga were Latvians.

Having eaten at a Brewpub one night, it seemed only fair that we go to a gastro wine bar, that was just around the corner, the next. 

It was a Saturday night and they were shut. 

It was a great area for beer and coffee but not for restaurants. 

We did find an Armenian restaurant that was close by and ok. 

The food was fine but the service a little gruff – all part of the great Socialist experiment that spread the Russian’s lack of humour from the Baltic States through Armenia, Georgia and Central Asia. 

 

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August 27, 2017. Rīga, Latvia. 

We drove 25 kilometres west from Rīga to Jūrmala. This is a resort town with a population of about 57,000, making it the the fifth largest city in Latvia.

There is a toll of €2 to get into the town. 

I think all the money goes into hanging baskets – they were everywhere. 

Jūrmala has a 33 kilometre stretch of sandy beach which is long, flat and very, very shallow. You would have to almost walk to Sweden before the water got over your head. 

When Latvia was part of the Soviet Union, Jūrmala was a popular holiday resort for the high ranking Soviet officials.

Leonid Brezhnev and Nikita Kruschchev graced their shores.

Not a pretty sight I am sure.

After an ice cream and a coffee on the beach we drove, west to the Kemeri National Park.  There we had a choice of two walks – the floodplain forest or forest trail which are both on the Vēršupīte River.

They were only about 1.2 kilometres in total, so we decided to do both.

The Vēršupīte River is fed from sulphur springs, which is obvious to the nose and a boom for the many therapeutic health resorts in the area.

There were wheel chairs everywhere.

 

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August 28, 2017. Rīga, Latvia.

Today we went in search of the Art Nouveau district, which wasn’t far from our apartment. 

There are about 800, so called, Art Nouveau buildings within Rīga. 

This architectural style comes from the early years of the 20th century. And unlike other, older styles, many of these buildings were designed by Latvian architects. 

Art Nouveau in Europe was popular between 1890 and 1910 and inspired by natural forms, particularly plants and flowers.

In Latvia it’s known as Jugendstil.

Art Deco replaced Art Nouveau in 1910 and I think that there are many buildings that have been attributed to the wrong era, as I didn’t see that many authentic Art Nouveau buildings on our city walks.

Because of the decorative nature of Art Nouveau, there is a lot of surface sculpture and floral moulding on the building facades. 

If not properly maintained, this has a habit of coming lose, so a number of buildings were covered in protective netting. 

Rīga Central Market is the largest in Europe and part of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Listing. 

It was constructed from 1924 to 1930 using old German Zeppelin hangars, as a basis for the design. The architectural style incorporates both Neoclassicism and Art Deco.

It measures 72,300 square metres with over 3,000 traders.

Traders have been operating on the banks of the Duagava River since 1571, so the area is no stranger to commerce.

 

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August 29, 2017. Rīga, Latvia.

About 300 metres from our apartment was Gastranome, a gourmet food store, delicatessen, café, patisserie and butcher. 

Yes, on one side of this huge store was a purveyor of fine meat.

In large refrigerated cabinets were, what looked like, quality cuts of dry-aged beef.  

On the other side was everything else.

And upstairs was an upmarket seafood restaurant. 

While we were in an apartment we decided to eat in one night and availed ourselves of the wide selection that Gastranome had to offer.

The selection was huge and the quality top class.

As our apartment didn’t really have any condiments or ingredients to look after ourselves and cook, we decided to go for the pre-prepared take-away options.

Our last day in Rīga was spent just wandering around and revisiting some of our favourite sites. Especially those that had been difficult to capture, when the weather was foul and the light poor.

I was particularly taken by the Central Market and felt that I really hadn’t done justice to the place.

That, and the Dome Cathedral, definitely needed re-visiting. 

We also discovered a monument to George Armitstead, who was the Mayor of Rīga from 1901 to 1912. 

Born in 1847 to a British merchant family he became the fourth Mayor of Rīga. George was responsible for the cites rapid transformation from a regional town to a major city.

He was involved in the development of many of Rīga’s current building,s including 13 schools, 3 hospitals, the National Museum and the Zoo.

Many of these developments would have been during the Art Nouveau style, as his time in office was during that short period in architectural history.

At one point he was asked to become Mayor of St Petersburg by Emperor II of Russia – he refused.

On our final night we returned to the Brewpub across the road and again we weren’t disappointed.

The beer, was still, good and the food innovative, fresh and well presented.

It wasn’t nearly as busy as the first night we visited, so we got chatting to one of the owners.

He was one of four that have set out to create a real Gastro Brewery in Rīga.

Three of the owners are Latvian while, as I have mentioned, the brewer is an American guy, married to a Latvian woman, who needed to return home.

Originally an architect he decided to turn his hand to brewing. Latvia is better off for his change in occupation, as his beer is the best we have had in the Baltic States.

The current name of their restaurant is Bierhaus, which is very German. Which isn’t surprising as this is the origin of the original restaurant.

They are now trying to tun it into a contemporary Brewpub, under the name of ‘Alķīmiķis’ but are realising that time, and money, are involved.

I think they will succeed, as their ideas are sound and their product is exceptional.

Most of the local breweries are very traditional and a quality craft brewer will give the market a shake up.

I just hope that they can turn beer into gold.

Miit Coffee, which were next door, are also innovators. They have developed a confectionary, that looks like chocolate, but is made from coffee. Each segment in a bar has the equivalent hit of a double shot espresso.

 

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August 30, 2017. Rīga to Kuldīga, Latvia.

It was about two hours to Kuldīga, west of Rīga. We extended the drive by going to the coast, which is further north, and stopped in Ventspils. 

This is a Blue Flag Beach. Blue Flag is certification by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE). It is only designated to those beaches, marinas or tourist boating that meets its very high standards.

The temperature had finally decided to rise above 17°C and managed to get to 25°C by the time we reached Kuldīga. 

In the afternoon we wandered around the town. One of the features is the Kuldīga Bridge which was built of brick in 1874 and runs across the Venta River. The Alekšupīte River runs through the centre of town while the Venta Rapids are the widest waterfall in Europe, measuring 164 metres. 

Kuldīga is an ancient town, with interesting architecture and a history dating back to 1242.

Being much warmer that night we ate at the hotel – outside.

Part 2: Finland – Savonlinna, Imatro and Porvoo.

July 6th, 2018

August 13, 2017. Helsinki to Savonlinna, Finland.

Savonlinna is 350 kilometres north east of Helsinki and is surrounded by lakes. Not surprisingly it’s in an area known as the Finish Lakeland. 

Finland is a country of forests, 70% of the country is covered by them, islands and lakes. We had certainly seen the trees on our trip to Lapland and some of the islands in Helsinki.

Now it was the lakes. 

There are over 168,000 lakes that are larger than 500 square metres and 179,000 islands.

Most of the Finish landscape is a result of the last Ice Age. The glaciers were thicker and lasted longer in this region, compared to the rest of Europe, leaving the landscape flat with few mountains.

As we left Helsinki we detoured to visit the Kallio Lutheran Church. We had seen it while touring around the city and were interested to get a closer look.

It was completed in 1912 and designed by Lars Sonck in the National Romanticism style with Art Nouveau influences. The grey granite structure is 65 metres high, and dominates the flat Helsinki landscape.

The Estonian coastline can be seen from the tower.

While we were in our long pants, jackets and jumpers, the local tourists were in T-shirts and shorts. 

I think they are living in a false sense of summer. 

 

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August 14, 2017. Savonlinna, Finland.

We were running out of clean clothes and the hotel didn’t have a laundry service.

Therefore our first job was to find a laundrette.

This took us to parts of Savonlinna that tourists wouldn’t normally go. There we found a commercial laundry and they had one small machine, so we left our clothes to be washed and went off sight seeing.

Olavinlinna Castle is the primary tourist drawcard in the Savonlinna area, apart form all the lakes.

And it was also only 200 metres from our hotel.

Olavinlinna Castle was started in 1475 by Eric Axelsson Tory (1415-1481) and renovated by the Finnish State between 1872 and 1877. 

The castle has been a constant battleground, as Finland has been under the control of both the Swedes and the Russians, for centuries.

In 1912, Aino Ackté, a world renowned Finnish opera singer started the Savonlinna Opera Festival in Olavinlinna Castle. She gave more performances in 1913, 1914, 1916 and 1930, after Finland’s independence. 

The festival was restarted in 1967 and has just celebrated its fiftieth year. It is now held annually, within the castle walls and had just finished. A temporary stage and seating allows the performances to continue, despite the weather.

About 60,000 people come to Savonlinna for the festival. That’s a lot more people than we ever saw in the town.

In a weird twist of culture, the festival season ends in August with a boxing match.

When the town is surrounded by lakes you don’t use a Hop-on Hop-off bus, you take a boat. 

We took an hour long cruise around the islands in the MS Leva.

This gave us yet another opportunity to view the Olavinlinna Castle, this time from the water.

One of the strangest sights we encountered was on our way into Savonlinna. There was a rather large bridge under construction and instead of metal scaffolding supporting the works, it was all timber.

I guess when 70% of your country is covered in trees, you need to use them.

 

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August 15, 2017. Savonlinna, Finland. 

After breakfast we set off to visit the wooden Lutheran church in Kerimäki, which is about 23 kilometres from Savonlinna.

Kerimäki is the world’s largest wooden church.

Designed by Anders Fredrik Granstedt and built between 1844 and 1847, it can hold up to 5,000 people. It measures 45 meters in length, 42 meters wide and 37 metres high. 

The reason that it’s so big is that Frederik Neovius, who held office at the time, believed that the church should be able to hold half the townsfolk of Kerimäki at any one time. 

When winter comes in Finland you don’t want the faithful standing out in the cold.

The rest of the day we negotiated the narrow stretches of land, between the lakes, and just drove around.

We had no particular plan other than look for some good photo opportunities.

We found these at Lake Puruvesi and Lake Enonvesi.

The constant threat of rain has produced some spectacular clouds as they constantly moved across the sky.

Fortunately the rain had held off for the last couple of days, which was good considering that most of our activities were outdoors.

In the evening we walked back into harbour area for dinner. We discovered that the best place was the Bistro Ŵaahto. 

They only had two draught beers but the food was excellent. 

On the way back to the hotel we walked past Olavinlinna Castle, yet again, and took more photos. 

I think I have take more photos of this Medieval castle than anything else on our travels. 

 

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August 16, 2017. Savonlinna to Imatra, Finland.

The Imatrankoski or Imatra Rapids were formed around 5,700 years ago, during the stone Age.

Water from the higher Saimaa lake penetrated the Salpausselkä Ridge, causing the river to flow into the lower Lake Ladoga, gouging out the ravine where the rapids run.

The rapids were so spectacular that they put Finland on the tourist map.

Since the 1700s’ people have come from around the world to visit the Imatra Rapids.

In 1903 a stone hotel, the Valtionhotelli, was built overlooking the rapids. This was after several smaller wooden ones burnt down.

Now the tourists and the dignitaries had somewhere grand to stay.

The Russian Empress, Catherine the Great, visited in 1772 and Dom Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil, in 1876.

Fourteen trains per day brought people to Imatra from St Petersburg to see the wonder of the rapids. 

In the 1920s’ tourism declined, as a result of the depression. So, in 1929, they dammed the rapids and built a hydro electricity plant. 

Now there’s nothing left except a dam wall, dry river bed, power lines and ‘graffiti’ carved into the rocks by famous visitors. 

As a compromise the dam gates are opened daily in the summer months and also on Christmas and New Year’s Day. Presently they are closed completely due to renovation work on the Imatra Hydroelectricity plant.

 

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August 17, 2017. Imatra, Finland.

Even though this was the high season Imatra was very quiet. 

The rain held off again so we decided to go on another forrest walk. This time to Lammassaari Park on Mulikionselka Lake. 

We only walked 4.5 kilometres but it took us two hours. 

Again the track was clearly marked, this time with white dots on the trees, not yellow. 

There weren’t the information boards along the way but small numbered posts with QR Codes. 

Much more high-tech, but useless unless you’re on-line. 

The walk was great. It wandered around a small peninsula, meandering along a mixture of coastal and forest tracks. 

There were many campfire spots with firewood and even axes and a bow saw, if you felt like a bit of exercise. 

One of the fireplaces was in a small cabin. Probably used in winter or when it rained, which is very often. 

We had a coffee at a lakeside restaurant and Thea got chatting to the owner. 

Apparently he is only open for four months of the year. The rest of the time he travels. 

To somewhere warmer, would be my guess. 

 

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August 18, 2017. Imatra to Porvoo, Finland.

We woke again to the sound of Eurovision style music coming from the town square.

Our hotel was the Centre Hotel Imatra and it certainly was right in the heart of the town. 

The drive from Imatra to Porvoo is about 230 kilometres, that’s if you take the longer route, as we did.

Just over the road from our hotel in Porvoo was the Porvoo Cathedral and Bell Tower. The first church to be built on the site was wooden and like most wooden structures of that time it burnt down. It was replaced by a stone sided church around 1410-1420.

Since then the church has been destroyed by fire again many times. In 1508, by the Danes, 1571, 1590, 1708 by the Russians and in 2006 by Kalle Holm, a Black Metal musician.

Porvoo has the oldest Town Hall in Finland, being completed in 1764. It sits proudly in the town square and now houses the Porvoo Museum.

Porvoo is one of the six Medieval towns of Finland with its first historical mention being in the 14th century. The original city was believed to have been founded in 1346.

It’s only 50 kilometres east of Helsinki, so day-trippers come there by the busload. 

The Old Town is famous for its Medieval wooden houses, especially the Shore Houses that run along the Porvoo River.

Porvoo is currently under consideration for a UNESCO World Heritage listing and I can understand why.

We have had two great ‘beef’ meals on our travels. The first was in Malbun, Lichtenstein, in 2012 with Hayden, the other one was in Porvoo, Finland. 

Ravintola Meat District is in Old Porvoo, about five minutes walk from our hotel and just near the river. 

Dry aged beef hangs in a large refrigerator in one part of the restaurant – proof that they knew something about their meat. 

The Meat District pride themselves on sustainability, with a focus on ecological meats and organic ingredients.

August 19, 2017. Porvoo, Finland to Tallinn, Estonia.

Today we had to get the ferry from Helsinki back to Tallinn in Estonia. 

So it was more sitting around. 

It started to rain as we arrived back in Helsinki and the sky was dark. Much as it had been when we arrived 13 days ago, and has been for most of our time in Finland.

Part 1: Finland – Helsinki and Rovaniemi in Lapland.

June 28th, 2018

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August 7, 2017. Tallinn, Estonia to Helsinki, Finland.

The Renault was taking its first overseas trip, as we were on the car ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki in Finland.

It was only an 80 kilometre journey but it was a day of waiting, as we needed to be at the ferry terminal at least two hours before departure. 

We were in fact there almost three hours before. 

As we left our apartment in Tallinn the tourists were arriving, by the busload. If we had departed any later it would have taken much longer to get through the streets. 

The ferry pulled out right on time at 12 noon. 

The Finlandia was a huge, 100 metres long, hermetically sealed, floating casino. 

I counted five bars and countless gaming machines strategically placed around them. 

In the area where we were sitting there was a bandstand, with a band, to entertain the punters and a Finish magician to keep them amused. We didn’t understand a word of Finnish, but you don’t need to. 

Pulling the metaphorical rabbit out of the hat, is visual not verbal. 

Just as we arrived at our hotel, the Best Western Carlton, it poured down. We had obviously brought the rain with us from Tallinn. 

It cleared in the afternoon which gave us a few hours to wander around the Old City. Which isn’t really that old, as most of the buildings are from the late 1800s and mid 20th centuries. However the area does have a history dating back to the Iron Age.

Helsinki was developed as a trading town by King Gustav I of Sweden in 1550. The intention was to make it a rival for Hanseatic, modern day Tallinn. Not much came of the plan and Helsinki remained a small town afflicted by poverty and plague. In fact in 1710 the majority of the city’s residents died from plague.

Helsinki became the capital city of Finland in 1812, just after it gained autonomy from Russia in 1809. Finland didn’t get full independence until 1917, after the February Revolution in Russia.

Helsinki is the world’s northernmost metropolitan area with a population of over 1 million people. It is also the northernmost capital city of the European Union, which it joined in 1995. 

Most of the city’s growth occurred during the twentieth century, after independence. It held the 1952 Summer Olympics and undertook a rapid urbanisation in the 1970s’. In 2012 Helsinki was named the World Design Capital.

In the evening we found the Bryggeri Helsinki a Gastropub just off the Senate Square. 

The beers were great as was the food. 

We both had the smoked salmon steaks, which was on a rich roasted vegetable stew of carrots, onions asparagus and fennel. 

Beer has been brewed in Helsinki for over 500 years and over that time there have been 27 breweries in the city area.

Bryggeri is the latest.

 

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August 8, 2017. Helsinki, Finland.

We had been lulled into a false security with the low prices in Eastern Europe. 

Finland was another thing. 

Everything was more expensive than Melbourne and that’s saying a lot. In Sandringham a beer and wine will set you back $20 in Helsinki its €17 ($25.50)

On our first full day in the capital we decided to take the Helsinki Hop-On Hop-Off bus, just to get a feeling for the city. 

In the late afternoon we then walked to closer inspect some of the sites that interested us most from the bus tour. 

Temppeliaukio, or Church of the Rock is one of the most visited sites in Helsinki. Completed in 1969 and designed by the architectural brothers, Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen. As the name suggests it’s built directly into solid rock.

Helsinki’s central railway station is a wonderful example of the Art Nouveau style. Designed by the Finish architect Eliel Saarinen (1873-1950) and inaugurated in 1919. The massive, Monumental Style, sculptures out the front are a feature. 

The station is a hub of both the Finland overground and Helsinki Metro and handles over 200,000 commuters per day. 

In 2013 it was voted as one of the world’s most beautiful railway stations by the BBC. 

Our next site was the Sibelius Monument, designed by Eila Hiltunen and built in 1967.

Jean Sibelius 1865-1957 was a composer and violinists. He is regarded as Finland’s greatest composer and credited with helping Finland develop a national identity during its struggle for independence from Russia.

As usual a competition was run to find a suitable design for the sculpture. And, as usual, there was controversy over winning design. 

You can’t please all of the people, all of the time.

Using over 600 hollow steel pipes welded together, the contemporary design resembles organ pipes. It is very striking – especially set against a rarely blue Helsinki sky.

Critics of the design argued that it was too abstract and, more importantly, Jean Sibelius created very little music for the organ.

Hiltunen answered her critics by adding a figurative piece, the face of Sibelius, as part of the main design.

We heard on the bus tour that the Finns’ are amongst the world’s biggest consumers of coffee. There was certainly no shortage of good coffee to be found in Helsinki. 

 

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August 9, 2017. Helsinki to Rovaniemi, Finland.

The Renault was having yet another first today, as it was going travel on the training to Rovaniemi, in Lapland. 

After checking out of the hotel we put our bags into the car, which was still in the underground car park and walked into the Market Square. 

The train wasn’t leaving until 7pm so we decided to take a boat cruise around the islands surrounding Helsinki. 

We took the Historical Helsinki Cruise, which lasted about 90 minutes. 

It was interesting to see the city from another perspective. However the commentary was a bit boring as it repeated much of the information we had head on the Hop-on Hop-Off bus. 

After the cruise we had a coffee at the covered market, which has been turned into a food hall for the Market Square. We walked around the city a bit more and then wandered through Stockmann on the way back to the car park.

Stockmann is the largest department store in the Nordic countries and makes the claim that: ‘If you can’t get it in Stockmann, you don’t need it.’

They were right, the store is huge and has an enormous range of goods on offer.

We didn’t want to be late for the train so headed to the station early. 

Getting out of the car park was an interesting experience. 

We travelled hundreds of metres, underground, just to get to our parking spot. Then we must have driven a kilometre or two just to get out. We had obviously taken a wrong turn and finished up doing a subterranean tour of Helsinki. 

We emerged, like a mole after winter, on the other side of the city and were very happy to see daylight. 

Even getting to the train wasn’t without it’s problems. There were roadworks along the way and when we got to what we thought was the departure point, the station was being demolished. 

We finally got to there only to be told that we were 70 minutes too early. 

Oh well, so much for planning. 

At dinner on the train Thea met her lover – well he was in love. 

A very drunk Finnish guy thought he had it made when he discovered Thea sitting, on her own, in the restaurant car. 

I was off getting us a drink and when I returned the look of disappointment on his face was priceless. 

He had a minder, whose job was to make sure he got off the train at the right station. 

They were both retired electrical engineers and had been in Tallinn for a few days with some former work mates. 

I think it had been a big few days.

After dinner I had some work to do so we stayed in the restaurant car. The internet on the train was excellent and I was able to upload files with ease. 

 

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August 10, 2017. Rovaniemi, Finland.

The car train arrived in Rovaniemi at 7:10 am and it took another 40 minutes to get all the cars off. 

That was still too early, as the town was deserted and nothing was open. 

We finally found a cafe open and had breakfast. 

Rovaniemi has been the business centre of Finnish Lapland since the 1800s but the city is relatively new. 

It was destroyed by the Germans in WWII and has been completely rebuilt. As a result there is a lot of featureless concrete constructions in the main town area. 

The Arctic Light Hotel is one of the oldest buildings in the newly constructed Rovaniemi. 

It dates ‘way back’ to 1949 and was used as the new town Hall for a number of years. 

Our hotel room had a record 12 pillows on the bed. Then we found another one in the wardrobe. 

Apart from an over abundance of pillows, the room was lit up like a carnival, all controlled by a computer touch pad. 

Well it was the Arctic Light Hotel.

On the outside the building was rather mundane but the fit-out was very stylish. Everything was in black, white, grey and chrome. 

It also boasts the oldest lift in Rovaniemi. 

We were up inside the Arctic Circle to visit Santa, so after breakfast we headed north to Santa’s Village. 

As you would expect it’s very tacky, but a lot of fun. 

We chatted and even had our photos taken with the bearded one. And when he discovered we were Australians, he revealed his secret love of Vegemite.

Visiting Santa is free, having your photo taken with him isn’t. We opted for the video and digital download.

Nothing is cheap in Finland.

The Arctic Circle is defined …as the line, north of which the sun never sets for at least one day in summer, and never rises for at least one day in winter.

From Santa’s Village we travelled further north, up the road, to Vikaköongäs and the Vaattunkiköongäs wilderness area. There we had a great walk around some of the tracks. 

Just as were we’re heading back to Rovaniemi it poured down. 

The rain had caught up with us yet again. 

We wandered around the city centre of Rovaniemi, which didn’t take long and then had dinner at the hotel restaurant. 

This wasn’t plan A, as were we’re going to eat at the Finnish restaurant next door. 

It was booked out. 

As it turned out it wasn’t a problem, as the hotel restaurant was excellent and no where near as crowded. 

We had Reindeer, cooked two ways, which was fantastic. 

 

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August 11, 2017. Rovaniemi to Helsinki, Finland.

The breakfast at the Arctic Light Hotel was amongst the best we’d had. 

Lots of interesting tastes but with a Lappish touch. Even smoked Reindeer with cream cheese. The breads and cheeses were also great and they had fresh berries. 

We have been seeing berries for sale in Estonia and Finland and this was the first time we were served them for breakfast. 

Walking in nature is a common summer pastime of the Finns, so we decided to join them. 

We drove about 80 kilometres east of Rovaniemi to Auttiköngäs to do the nature trail walk. 

The road was excellent and the trip took just over an hour.  

The walk was 3.5 kilometres of stairs, duckboard (boardwalk) and tracks. There were waterfalls, swing bridges and a lookout along the way. 

At the very start of the track is an old timber log chute, which is strange as this area is not meant to have been logged. 

The track was well marked and there were interesting commentary boards describing the flora, fauna and geography of the area.

It took us just over two hours, as we had many photo opportunities and reading stops along the way. 

On returning to Rovaniemi we did some shopping for the next day’s breakfast and had an early dinner. That night we were back on the train to Helsinki, boarding at 9:10pm and arriving 12 hours later.

Again we had to be at the station early to load the Renault. 

 

P8123731

August 12, 2017. Helsinki, Finland.

After an eventless night on the train, ie: no drunken engineers, we arrived in Pasila, on the outskirts of Helsinki at 9:05 am.

We again took the car to the underground car park, as it was too early to check into the hotel.

The first task was to buy an Olympus 40-150 mm lens. We had seen one before we left to go north and decided that the price was too good to miss.

Unlike so much in Finland that is expensive this lens was well below what we expected to be paying.

In the afternoon we wandered around the newer area of Helsinki and admired the street art that’s all over the city.

There was one very impressive piece of sculpture, sitting in front of the music centre, titled Song Tree. Created by Reijo Hukkanen in 2012, it’s 13 meters high and was inspired by a poem by Aaro Hellaakoski. It tells of a pike that rose from the sea and begins to sing. The song was so beautiful that birds in the trees stopped their singing to listen to the fish.

We then visited the City Park and Töölönlahti Lake, which is very close to the centre of the city. From there is was a short walk to the National Museum of Finland.

A visit to the museum gave us a good opportunity to immerse ourselves in some Finnish history.

The exhibits covers the country’s past from the Stone Age, though the Middle Ages, the Swedish Kingdom to the Russian Empire Era.

It included the rise of Christianity, the Reformation in 1517 and the influence of Martin Luther.

There are a number cafes in Helsinki that have adopted the US system of minimal service. 

It’s counter service and you clear away your own crockery, cutlery and glassware. The big difference is, that everything is real and gets washed and reused. 

No paper, no polystyrene and no tip. 

Staff levels in Finland seem to be low, compared to other places we have been this trip. 

People do multiple tasks and work very hard. 

For instance the receptionists, at two hotels we stayed in, also looked after the breakfast buffet. And at one hotel they also serviced the bar. 

Wait staff in restaurants are thin on the ground and service a large number of tables. Even the kitchens seem to operate with minimal staff.

Self service is the norm, especially in the pubs. You order at the counter, pay and basically look after yourself. 

I have a theory that it’s all to do with the basic wage and cost of employment. The unemployment rate in Finland, as of July 2017, was 8.08%. 

In the US it is currently 4.8% which isn’t surprising considering that their average wage is US$2.13 per hour. 

In Finland a bartender gets about €11 per hour, that’s about US$13. 

Basically it costs more to employ people in Finland but they get paid much more. 

We were impressed by the pub culture in Estonia but when we discovered the Sori Brewpub in Helsinki, we were overwhelmed. 

This brewery is based in Tallinn, Estonia but has a Brewpub in Helsinki, not far from our hotel. Ironically it was started by two Finns.

The quality of the beer and the food were exceptional.

We were appreciative of a cosy environment for dinner, as no sooner had we arrived than it poured down.