Bruce Stainsby's Blog: Muttering from the mo

A side trip to Dresden, Germany. (July 2019)

December 4th, 2019


July 23, 2019. Berlin to Dresden, Germany. 

We had been staying in the Ibis Hotel in Berlin for about 9 days and decide it was time for our first side trip.

After picking up the rental car, a Ford Fiesta from Europcar, we drove to Dresden. 

We did have a couple of stops along the way. 

The first was a coffee stop in Bestensee and then for a walk around Neuendorfer See. 

The Lake, which is both an inflow and outflow of the Spree, is a popular camping spot for Berliners with many permanent sites. The shoreline is flat with many bays and the surrounding area is covered in pine forests.

And apparently the fishing is also good.

We then drove into Dresden and found the B&B Hotel. This was out of the city centre and had two great features. Firstly it had free parking and secondly it was half the price of the inner city hotels and still within walking distance of the sights. 

After a stroll around the city we had dinner at a restaurant on the River Elbe. 

It was a rather quiet spot and we wondered where the action was in Dresden. After dinner we continued our city walk and discovered the Neumarkt Square. 

It was crammed with restaurants, serving a variety of cuisines – we will return there again. 


Dresden, zerstˆrtes Stadtzentrum

July 24, 2019. Dresden, Germany. 

It was a slow start to the day with breakfast at a local café before we headed out to do some sightseeing.

It’s lucky that there is any of Dresden left to see, considering the pounding it took in February 1945. 

Primarily a city of art and culture Dresden, unlike many other cities in Germany, wasn’t the home to vast industries. On the night of February 14 the RAAF deliberately bombed the Dresden city centre. The destruction of the city and the resultant civilian casualties, many of whom were refugees, was hotly debated, even before the war ended later that year.

Even now, 74 years after the war, Dresden is suffering again, this time from the tyranny of the far right. The growing concern about the rise of extremists in Dresden has led to the city council declaring a ‘Nazi crisis’ in the city.

Porcelain from Dresden is famous, so we headed to the museum to experience it first hand. 

Between 1602 and 1657 more than 3,000,000 porcelain pieces were imported into Europe.

In 1715 Augustus the Strong introducing porcelain to Germany. Much of the Oriental works that he imported came via the East India Company and is housed in the museum.

It’s a huge collection of 20,000 pieces but with limited display area available in the Zwinger only about 2,000 artefacts are viewable at any one time. 

Meissen Porcelain, which was derived from the Oriental version, was first developed in 1708. Again Augustus the Strong was involved, as he was instrumental in financing the construction of the royal factory in Meissen, near Dresden.

To protect the authenticity of Meissen Porcelain a logo was developed in 1720. The ‘crossed swords’ is thought to be one of the earliest forms of trademark.

The Zwinger is not only home to the Dresden Porcelain Collection but the Old Masters Picture Gallery and the Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments. This Baroque palace was completed in 1728 and designed by the court architect, Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann.

August the Strong, on returning from a grand tour through France and Italy, decided that he needed something like Versailles for his own court. This ultimately resulted in the building of the Zwinger.

The buildings were destroyed by the carpet bombing raids of February 1945, however the collections had been moved by this stage and were saved.

Just around the corner, in the historic centre of Dresden, is the Semperoper or Opera House.

In order to see inside we had to wait for an escorted tour.

The building was originally designed by Gottfried Semper and built in 1845. Following a fire it was then rebuilt by the same architect in 1868. It was destroyed again in 1945 and then rebuilt to the pre-war design in 1985. 

The interior is a combination of Italian Neo Classical, Baroque and Corinthian styles.

When we reached the main body of the theatre there was a rehearsal underway. This was for an Australian production of Westside Story. We were told that, due to the rehearsal, we couldn’t take snaps in the auditorium. I pointer out to our guide that we had paid €6 to take photos and that we weren’t photographing the actors but the architecture. 

I don’t think she was impressed but we carried on regardless.

Outside it was over 32°C, so we continued our touring with a slow walk around the city. 

On our travels we explored the interiors of two of the largest churches in Dresden. 

Dresden Cathedral or Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (1739 and restored in 1962) and the Dresden Frauenkirche, the Lutheran Church (1726 and rebuilt in 1993). 

We expected the Lutheran church to be more austere than the Catholic. In fact it was just the opposite. 

The Lutheran church had a rather Baroque alter surrounded by a very spacious interior that was decorated in pastel colours. 

Naturally that night dinner was in the Neumarkt Square, at a Spanish restaurant, Bodega Madrid. 

With the evening temperature so balmy it seemed only natural to eat Spanish Tapas – outside.



July 25, 2019. Dresden and a side trip to Bastei, Germany. 

This was our day to explore ‘The nature’ around Dresden, so after breakfast, this time in the hotel, it was into the Ford Fiesta for our drive to the south east.

Another heatwave was forecast for Europe, with temperatures into the high thirties. The car was a good refuge from the heat. 

I was about an hours drive to Rathen South. We then caught a ferry over the Elbe River to Rathen North, which is on the edge of the Saxon Switzerland National Park, a protected area of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. 

From there we had an easy walk around the Amselsee, an artificial lake or reservoir that’s only 55 metres long and quite narrow. There is boating as well as fishing, as the reservoir is stocked with trout. 

Then it was a very hard walk up to Bastei, a lookout over the Elbe River. 

The degree of difficulty was raised by the temperature, which was now into the mid thirties. 

Today little remains of Neurathen Castle, which you get to by crossing over the Bastei Bridge. This rock castle was first built between 1100 and 1200.

Bastei has been a tourist attraction for over 200 years. In 1824 a timber bridge was built to connect some of the stone formations. This was replaced in 1851 by the current stone one.

Bastei means bastion and relates to the towering rocks that formed a defensive ring around Neurathen Castle.

It was a tiring afternoon climbing around the Bastei rocks in the  37°C heat. We were therefore very glad of the air conditioning in the car on the return drive to Dresden. 



July 26, 2019. Dresden to Berlin, Germany. 

After checking out of the B&B Hotel, which is more a walk-out than a check-out, as everything was paid up-front, we drove into Dresden. We then parked in one of the numerous underground car parks near the centre. 

Coffee was at the Solino Café and Bar Italiano, which is in the Glockenspielpavillon of the Zwinger Palace Museum. 

This is probably the best coffee in Dresden, well at least that we found. 

We arrived just in time for a performance of the glockenspiel. The bells were made in the famous Meissen porcelain factory and have only been part of the Zwinger since 1933. The carillon plays a short melody every 15 minutes and a longer one at various times during the day. The more extensive tunes are from Vivaldi, Mozart and Bach.

I have no idea what was playing but it was certainly a wonderful sound as we sat inside sipping our espressos.

This time we were in the Zwinger to visit the Mathematical Museum or to use its full name the Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments.

Elector August of Saxony started the collection around 1569. In Saxony Elector Augustus was to mathematics as Augustus the Strong was to porcelain.

It was an important role of rulers to sponsor both the arts and sciences during this period

The understanding of mathematics and the associated equipment was a measure of power in the Renaissance period, so it was very important to have those instruments on display.

Today the museum is divided into four sections. The Cosmos of the Prince. (Instruments from around 1600). The Universe of Globes. (Terrestrial and celestial globes covering seven centuries). Instruments of Enlightenment. (Large telescopes and burning mirrors, which use the concentration of sunlight through a convex lens to generate great heat). The Course of Time. (Clocks, watches and automata from the Renaissance).

Animated graphics were used to augment the displays and add explanation. There was also a number of hands-on displays. 

An astronomical Clock, made in 1568 was a feature. It stood nearly a meter tall and not only told the time but indicated where the planets and constellations were at any given point. 

It took five years to build. 

After retrieving the car from subterranean Dresden we drove to Kunsthofpassage. This is in the Bohemian part of Dresden and features wacky architecture and funky cafes.

The complex consists of five courtyards where the buildings are decorated with various themes. 

There is the Yard of the Elements with the bizarre architecture that used downpipes. Courtyard of Light that used reflective surfaces. The Yard of the Animals with a number of animal reliefs on the building exterior. Courtyard of Mythical Creatures that are displayed in mosaic tiles from Portugal, Italy and Meissen. The Yard of Metamorphoses, which has two steles or freestanding monolithic pillars. In the evening they are illuminated and become lamps.

After this very contemporary interlude, from what was primarily a Renaissance experience, it was back into the Ford for the two hour return trip to Berlin.

Our first side-trip was complete.


Hawaii, USA. (May 2019)

November 19th, 2019

May 6, Waikiki Beach

May 6, 2019. Los Angeles, California to Honolulu,
Hawaii, USA.

Today we were leaving the continental United States and flying to Hawaii. 

This was the final stage of our three months adventure. 

Our trip to Honolulu took us via Kahalui. This was just a flight change for the very short journey to Honolulu, on the island of O’Ahu. 

As we came into land I could make out surfers on the waves – well we were in Honolulu. 

When we arrived I got the shock of my life to discover that there was an espresso bar and a craft brewery within the hotel complex. The coffee shop served coffee from locally roasted beans while the brewpub  had a range of beers from Maui.

The Waikiki Beachcomber was right on the entertainment strip and just over the road from the famous surf beach. It was certainly in the thick of it, so there was no excuse for not enjoying our six nights there. 

It had been a long day, as we were up at 5:30 in LA and had lost three hours along the way.  

Once we had settled into the hotel we went for a walk around the area.

The first point of interest was a statue of Duke Paoa Kahanamoku (1890-1968).

Duke Kahanamoku was native Hawaiian, five-time Olympic medalist in swimming, who popularised the ancient Hawaiian sport of surfing.

Duke was his given name, he was also known as ‘The Big Kahuna’

In 1914 he put on an exhibition of surfing at Sydney’s Freshwater Beach. He did this on a board made from timber purchased at a local hardware store.

That was the introduction of surfing to Australia.

In 1925, while living in Newport Beach California, he rescued 8 men from a capsized fishing boat. He did this with the help of his surfboard, which then led to surfboards being used in off-the-beach rescues.

He was not only an athlete but also an actor and a law enforcement officer, serving 13 consecutive terms as the sheriff of Honolulu from 1932 to 1961.

A striking, more  colonial, addition to the Waikiki beachfront is the Moama Surfrider Hotel. Built in 1901 it was the first hotel on Waikiki.

Naturally that night we ate at the Maui Brewing Co. They had an excellent selection of beers, as well as good wine and an extensive menu.



May 7, 2019. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.

We had breakfast in the brew pub, yes they were open from 7am. There was fresh tropical juice plus Avocado on Toast. 

The pub didn’t serve espresso coffee, we had to walk across the hotel foyer for that. 

We then popped into Avis, which was next door, and arranged a rental for later in the week. 

Part of our package with the hotel included free trolly bus rides, with unlimited use for the duration of our stay. The trolly takes two different routes around the Waikiki area and, depending on the driver, you get a guided tour as well.

There are a number of these trolleys, all provided by the hotel groups and even the airlines like JAL.

It seems to be a huge waste of resources as many of the busses passed by empty. I think that they could pool their resources and have one trolly system that ran more often and took everyone who had the passes.

We did one circuit to get a feeling of the city area then, on the next, hopped off at Diamond Head. 

Diamond Head is a volcanic cone and it dominates the skyline behind Waikiki. The name was given to the volcano by the British, who believed that the calcite crystals found in the caldera were diamonds. The Hawaiian name, Lēahi, is far more fitting as it relates to the dorsal fin of a tuna. Which is exactly what the silhouette of the rim looks like.

Although the walk to the summit looked hard there were numerous switchbacks that made it relatively easy. 

That evening, before dinner, we went to the free Kuhlo Beach Hula Show. 

This was a narrated history, with dancers, of the hula in Hawaii. The hula was originally developed by the Polynesians who first settled in the Hawaiian Islands.

These dancers on Kuhlo Beach were much more conservatively dress than you see in the movies. I think that this had something to do with the strangle hold the missionaries had and still have on much of Hawaiian society. They saw the dance as heathen and pagan. 

The show was an hour long and certainly worth it. The golden light of a fading sunset, the rumble of pounding surf, all set to the lilting tones of Hawaiian music.

Western cultures promote horse racing as the ‘Sport of Kings’. In Hawaii it’s surfing. The history of surfing in Hawaii goes back to the 4th century. When Polynesians migrated to the Hawaiian Islands they brought with them the art of board riding. It was belly boards to begin with then the long hardwood boards were used. The first sighting of a board rider by westerners was in 1779.

Surfing was a religious act and the Hawaiians would pray to their gods to find the good waves and seek inspiration on how to fashion the best boards.

The society was divided between noble people and the commoners. The nobles surfed on better breaks than the commoners and also had the superior and longer boards. Chiefs such as Kauai and Kamehameha were known for their ability and counted their surfboards amongst their most prized possessions.

These boards were enormous measuring over 7 metres (24 foot) in length.

When Captain James Cook arrived in 1778 he was closely followed by missionaries. Their strict religious piety, regarding clothing and their rules of only believing in their god, resulted in surfing almost dying out – just like hula dancing.

In 1905 things began to change when Duke Paoa Kahanamoku started a native surf club and revived the sport. Then in 1907 the author Jack London (1876-1916) and friends formed the Waikiki Swimming Club and opened up surfing to Westerners.

London was an atheist and social activist so it’s no wonder that he wasn’t concerned about offending the ‘faithful’.

It was London who coined the phrase ‘Sport of Kings’.



May 8, 2019. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.

In Hawaii, or at least in Waikiki, we paid a Tourist Tax of US$30 per day, per room. 

This gave us a number of benefits. 

As well as free rides on the Trolly Bus, we also got discounts at certain restaurants. This encouraged us to share our patronage around a number of places. 

For breakfast we went to the Hula Grill, just over the road. 

The breakfast was good but their espresso machine had ‘broken down’ so it was back to the hotel cafe for coffee – again. 

We then went for a long walk along the Waikiki beachfront, towards the base of Diamond Head. 

The weather was rather overcast and threatened rain for most of the day. 

Right along the beach there were surfers enjoying the small but consistent swell.

There are very few short board riders here, most tend to prefer the long boards. I guess this is partly due to the conditions but more to do with tradition. 

Duke’s Waikiki is right on the water and across the road from our hotel. We tried to book there for dinner, on two occasions, but couldn’t get a decent time. 

It’s a very popular restaurant. 

Waikiki is a hybrid, something between a tourist town and a surf coast. 

The streets are packed with tourists, of all shapes and sizes, many grossly overweight. There are three distinct groups, the mainland Americans are the largest, followed by the Japanese and finally the Australians, who are a substantial part of the mix. 

They are obvious by their accents. 

Then in the midst of this you get the surfers, male and female, young and old. All dressed in board shorts or bikinis, meandering along the main street, with their boards tucked under their arm and still soaking wet from their last wave. 

Wherever we looked around Waikiki there were Hawaiian flags fluttering over the rooftops. They look more British Colonial than American, with the Union Jack sitting proudly in the top left corner.

This is a constant reminder of Hawaii’s past.

Hawaii was settled by Polynesians somewhere between 124 and 1120 AD: similar to New Zealand.

Captain Cook arrived in 1778 but there is a belief that the first European to set foot in Hawaii was the Spanish captain Ruy López de Villalobos in 1542.

American immigration quickly followed Cook, led by Protestant missionaries. The Americans were there to set up sugar plantations, much as they did in the Southern US.

Sugar was the prized crop, with markets spread around the world, and Hawaii had the ideal climate to cultivate it.

Unlike the US, slaves weren’t used as labor, instead immigrants were brought in from Japan, China and the Philippines.

The Americans, wanting more control, rewrote the constitution, limiting the power of the King ‘David’ Kalãkaua and weakening the native Hawaiian’s rights. In 1898 the islands were annexed by the US and became the Territory of Hawaii, then in 1959 they became the 50th state.

It’s little wonder that the Hawaiians prefer to have the Union Jack on their flag – that must really piss of the ‘patriots’.


Banzai Pipeline

May 9, 2019. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.

We opted to drive around O’Ahu in a Nissan Versa. All the travel guides suggested that the best experience is in a Jeep Wrangler or Ford Mustang, both convertibles of course. 

The Nissan was half the price and it was rather hot to have the roof down. 

Besides soft top motoring is not that much of a novelty to us. 

We stopped at the famous Banzai Pipeline. The surf was better in Waikiki, as there was only a small shore break at Banzai and nothing like the huge waves that are a hallmark of this well known break. 

We didn’t get a lot of snaps on our trip as there is a shortage of good pull-offs and viewing points along the way. 

On our return we tried to get a closer look at Pearl Harbour but found ourselves on a bridge heading towards the naval base. We were stopped, turned around and escorted off by a very pleasant security guard.

We were then sent on our way, but not before he checked my driver’s licence. 

On the way back to Waikiki we drove through the downtown area of Honolulu, which isn’t very big, and stopped at the Iolani Palace.

Construction commenced in 1879. It was designed by Thomas Baker, in what became known as the American Florentine style. It was the home to Hawaiian royalty from its completion until 1893 and boasted electricity and a telephone, even before the White House.

After the overthrow of the monarch, in 1893, the palace became the capital building for the provisional government until 1969. It was restored in 1978 and then became a museum.

It still remains the only royal palace on US soil.

On our island excursion we drove 215.6 kilometres (134 miles) around O’Ahu. This isn’t much but then it’s not a large island. 


The flag of Hawaii

May 10, 2019. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.

We used the trolly bus again, this time to get down to Ala Moana Centre. 

Built in 1959, It is regarded as the largest open-air shopping centre in the world. 

It’s also the most valuable shopping mall in the US and one of the most valuable in the world

It is very large and I wonder if its world class status comes from the huge car park that is attached. There are 350 stores, restaurants and services spread over 220,000 square metres (2,400,000 square feet)

That night there were fireworks down on the beach. They were over in a flash and a bang and by the time we got there they were finished.


Duke’s Waikiki

May 11, 2019. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.

It was Saturday and our last full day in Honolulu. It was also the one day in the week that the KCC Farmers Market is operating.

Again we caught the trolly bus, which has a special market stop on Saturdays. 

The market was primarily made up of food stalls but there was some fresh produce and flowers as well. It was also a place where there seemed to be more locals than tourists.

Wherever we went in Waikiki we seemed to come across ABC Stores. These aren’t operated by the Australian Broadcasting Commission but a chain of convenience stores that are based in Honolulu. They were opened in 1964 by the son of Japanese immigrant, Sidney Kosasa and sell a combination of groceries and tourist related items.

It’s not surprising that there are 178 hotels in Waikiki, what is a shock is that there are also 42 ABC stores.

There was a red carpet gala event being set up on Queen’s Beach, which is south of the main area, heading towards Diamond Head. 

This was part of the premier of the 10th season of the new Hawaii Five-0 series. 

The original police drama ran from 1968 till 1980. It was created by Leonard Freeman and stared Jack Lord (1920-1998) as Captain Steve McGarrett. Born in Brooklyn New York City he moved to Hawaii with the show. When Leonard Freeman died in 1974 Lord took over as executive producer.

McGarrett’s famous words, “Book ‘em Danno!” have become part of popular culture.

After the market we decided to go for a long Saturday lunch at Duke’s. This was our third attempt to get into this iconic beach side restaurant.

The chain of restaurants was named after the surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku and operates in Hawaii as well as California and Florida.

The food was just ok, however the location was stunning and worth the wait to get in. It’s practically on Waikiki Beach and you can watch the surfers catching the waves in front of you.

We had only a two minute wait when we arrived for lunch at 2pm, at 4pm the wait was twenty minutes and building.

Now large family groups were starting to pile through the doors. 

Come 6pm and there would be no chance of getting a table at all. 

The temperature has consistently been around 30°C, so it’s going to be a bit of a shock retuning to a Melbourne winter. 

After being on the go for three months it was a great decision to have six, very relaxing, days in Honolulu. 


May 12-13, 2019. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA to Melbourne via Sydney, Australia.

We were returning home and almost got caught out at the last turn. 

It was very fortunate that we had one last coffee at our hotel in Waikiki, as the only one available at the airport, was at Starbucks. 

We had travelled over 6,000 kilometres across America and not had to endure a Starbucks – I wasn’t going to start then. 

Part 2: East to west across the USA – New Orleans to Los Angeles. (April/May 2019)

November 5th, 2019

April 23, 2019. New Orleans, Louisiana to Houston, Texas, USA.

We returned to Merchant one more time for breakfast, as they served fresh orange juice, fruit, cereal and a great coffee. 

Hard to find all that in the one place in the US. 

It was a long drive to Houston, the start of the second stage of our drive across the Southern US, so we stopped at Rêve Coffee Roasters in Lafayette on the way. 

I had an espresso made from locally roasted Java Taman Dadar beans. 

Again it was full of single people, on their computers. 

Then it was back onto the road to Houston. 

In Houston we were staying at the Microtel Inn and Suites by Wyndham Houston. This was opposite the Houston Space Centre, the official visitor centre of NASA Johnson Space Centre.  This was our main reason for being in the city.



April 24, 2019. Houston, Texas, USA.

It was 50 years since man walked on the moon and the Space Centre at Houston was a pivotal part of that historical event.

We had visited Kennedy Space Centre, Florida in November 2017. This is where the rockets took off but the control centre was in Houston.

No rockets were every launched from Houston. 

The facility was built as a political gesture, to win Democratic votes in Texas and to support Lyndon Baynes Johnston.

The “We choose to go to the moon.” address was delivered by President Kennedy, in Houston, to mark the start of the space centre’s construction in 1962.

There were many exhibits from the ‘Space Race’ including Mercury and Gemini spacecrafts, a Saturn V rocket as well as a replica of the Space Shuttle Independence. This was strapped to a Boeing 747 and you could actually walk around inside the shuttle and view the cargo hold and flight deck. The Saturn V rocket was in fact three rockets, from various programs, that were put together for the display.

It was massive, measuring 110 m (363 ft) in hight (or length as it was lying down) 10.1 m (33 ft) in diameter and weighing in at 2,970 kg (6,540 lb).

The only disappointment was that the control room, used in the moon landing, was closed for renovations. This was in preparation for the 50th anniversary later in the year.

Dinner was a 10 minute Uber ride away to BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse. It was just down the road from la Madeleine, where we had breakfast that morning. 

This was a huge complex with a wide selection of craft beers and an extensive menu. 

In 1978 they started off in Santa Ana, California, as BJ’s Chicago Pizzeria and then moved on to become a craft brewery and restaurant chain. Currently they have 204 outlets in 15 states across the USA.


Forever Bicycles (2014 Ai Weiwei)

April 25, 2019. Houston to Austin, Texas, USA.

After looking at a couple of options, we returned to la Madeleine, the French bakery, for breakfast. 

It was a huge cafe with a wide variety of options.

However there was something strange about the place and it was only on our second visit that I realised what it was. 

There was no tipping and they had staff who cleaned the table for you. 

Service without a charge. 

It was a relatively short, three hour, drive to Austin but we stopped in Columbus for a break. 

The terrain was flat and green with the Colorado River meandering through. 

This  is not the same Colorado that created the Grand Canyon but a different one. This Colorado is the largest river in Texas with both its source and its mouth in that state.

It was right on 3pm when we arrived at the Best Weston Plus Austin City. 

Our room wasn’t ready and we had to wait. 

After we finally checked in we went for a wander around the city.

Rainey Street is the entertainment centre of Austin. It was originally residential but now the historic, pre 1934 bungalows that line the street have been turned into bars and restaurants. There are some vacant lots and these are full of food trucks.

We then walked down to the Colorado River and got a view of the city from another perspective.

It was then back to Rainey Street for a drink at Craft Pride and then dinner.

Again we saw the American service industry at work. 

The only restaurant on Rainey Street that didn’t serve their meals off polystyrene was Anthem. As it turned out they were eco friendly and sustainable, so that was a plus. 

When we arrived the place was busy but certainly not full. We still had to put our name on a list and wait. 

I don’t fully know why but suspect that they were understaffed and couldn’t accommodate a full house. 

Yet again they were maximising the return for the owners, by minimising the experience for the customers and employment for the staff. 


Wild Seed Farms

April 26, 2019. Austin to San Antonio, Texas, USA.

We were both surprised and delighted that our hotel in Austin didn’t use disposables in the room. 

There were real, washable glasses and coffee cups. 

We headed off to breakfast, thinking it might be the same there. 

Unfortunately it wasn’t, everything was destined for the bin. 

Luckily we had our ‘Save the World’ kit with us. 

Before the drive to San Antonio we explored a small area of Downtown Austin, especially the area around the Texas Capitol Building.

Not surprisingly, there was a ‘Remember the Alamo’ monument within the Capital Building gardens.

It was then back on the road, but with one more stop, this time to visit Wild Seed Farms. This is a wildflower farm, the largest in the US, just near Fredericksburg. It was literally acres and acres of flowers.

We tried to get an espresso at Wild Seen Farms but they specialise in flowers not beans, so we moved on.

We did find a good coffee in Fredericksburg and had a walk up and down the main street afterwards.

When we finally arrived in San Antonio, and checked into our AirBnB, we discovered that we had done it again.

We had arrived just in time for the last few days of the Fiesta and our apartment was right in the middle of it. 

The ‘Fiesta San Antonio’ is an annual event that originally started in 1891 to honour the memory of the battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto. Local women decorated carriages, baby buggies and bicycles with flowers. They then met in front of the Alamo and threw the flowers at each other.

This inspired the name, ‘Battle of the Flowers.’

Today it’s a money spinner for the city, with over three million people taking part, and flowers are still part of the celebration.

On arrival we quickly realised that everything we wanted to see in San Antonia was within walking distance of our apartment, so we parked the car and left it there.

The Riverwalk in San Antonio is unique to the city and I would think, the US.

This is a pedestrian only walkway that’s below street level and runs along the winding banks of the San Antonia River. The walkways are on both sides of the river and full of shops, bars and restaurants.

We had dinner at The River’s Edge, a restaurant right on the Riverwalk. 

We then continued around the circuit and were glad we had chosen River’s Edge. 

The other areas were over commercialised, a bit like Southbank on heat. 



April 27, 2019. San Antonio, Texas, USA.

As we we staying in an apartment we took the opportunity to self cater our breakfasts. We had purchased fruit and cereal the night before, so it was a leisurely start to the day. 

We were told that there was a street parade due to pass by our apartment during the morning. People were already lining up and many had brought their own seats.

They were there for the long haul. 

It was Hayden’s birthday and we had arranged to give him a call. 

Just as we were calling the parade started. 

To get a closer look at the parade and the fiesta we went wandering around the area near our apartment. The streets were full of happy people and there were a number of private street parties in progress. These were held under canvas gazebos that had been erected in the front gardens of large timber Southern mansions. There were decorations on the houses and the fences were also festooned with streamers.

Then we went in search of some history.

The Alamo is a very important event for Texans and the people of San Antonio. In 1836 about 100 Texans defended the Alamo Mission from about 1,500 Mexicans. The siege lasted 13 days and eventually the overwhelming force of the Mexicans prevailed and most of the Texans were killed.

The siege of the Alamo involved a number of famous Texan frontiersmen. 

Colonel James Bowie (Bowie knife), Davie Crocket (King of the Wild Frontier) and General Sam Houston (the city of Houston)

Both Bowie and Crocket died at the Alamo. 

Late in the afternoon we wandered back to the Riverwalk. There we met Hershey and Tim, a couple of old friends who had got together for the fiesta. They were fascinated by our accents and wanted to chat.

I got the feeling that there are very few Australian tourists in San Antonio.

In the Evening we avoided down town and went to Rosario’s, which was just around the corner. 

It was a loud, but enjoyable, Tex Mex restaurant, buzzing with people intent on getting the last out of the Fiesta. 


The fort at Fort Stockton

April 28, 2019. San Antonio to Fort Stockton, Texas, USA.

It was overcast and the good weather from the last few days was gone. 

Which was lucky for the Fiesta goers and for us as well. 

This was the start of our long drive to the Pacific coast. Today was over 500 kilometres and 4.5 hours driving – the next day a little shorter. 

The longest day will be Tucson to San Diego. 

The geography had changed dramatically. We were now out of the lush hills with wide flowing rivers and into a more desert environment. 

There were even less wildflowers along the roadside. 

National Highway 10 was an excellent drive with far fewer trucks, but it was a Sunday and could be a very different story the next day. 

Up until this section of the drive we had always been able to find a good coffee, but as we moved further west it became harder. 

We arrived in Fort Stockton at 3 pm and then made the short drive to the other end of town, the site of the historic fort.

There’s wasn’t much left of the fort, just a few out houses scattered over a very open expanse of grass.

To my mind the best attraction was a sculpture of Paisano Pete, the world’s second largest Roadrunner.  “Beep, beep.”

The fort was known as Camp Stockton until 1860 and was built around Comanche Springs, one of the largest sources of spring water in Texas.

Since the 1920s Fort Stockton has benefited from another underground source of wealth – oil.

Fort Stockton is a one steer town and that night we had dinner the at Kbob, where we both had steaks.

The portions were so huge that I think we probably ate that one steer between us.


Cactus flowers

April 29, 2019. Fort Stockton, Texas to El Paso, New Mexico/Texas, USA.

The Garage Coffee, Music and More coffee shop was the only coffee in Fort Stockton that looked reasonable, but was closed on Mondays. 

So we found one in Van Horn, that was on the Interstate 10, about half way between Fort Stockton and El Paso. 

Aslan’s Coffee Shop was one of the strangest coffee experiences I have ever had. 

When we arrived we weren’t even sure if they actually served espresso, so Thea stuck her head in the door an asked. 

By the time I had parked the Jeep and got inside, Aslan was already making our coffees. 

Once inside we were greeted with “Good day and God bless you.“

There were two very rotund people already in the cafe and the male of the couple was holding court. 

It turned out that their RV had broken down and they had sought refuge in the town. 

Being good Christians they had asked the local church if they could park there while their van was repaired. 

It just so happens that the cafe was on the same land as the church.

So there they were saving everyone who popped in for a Cup of Joe.

It was a bit like having coffee with Jesus. 

When we arrived in El Paso was 30°C.

This was the fourth day of warmer weather – the warmest spell we had experienced since leaving home. 

We were too early to check into our hotel at Sunland Park Casino so, at the suggestion of the receptionist, we went sightseeing. 

This was along the Scenic Drive, a short stretch of road that overlooks the city of El Paso. 

It was created in the 1920s’ and has been a popular destination even since. 

Before our drive we popped into Sunland Park Mall, which was just around the corner, for lunch. 

The mall had just undergone a refurbishment and was almost empty. Most of the shops were still vacant and very little of what was already there was open. 

Thea had run out of knitting so the next stop, after the Scenic Drive, was a wool shop.

This gave us an opportunity to see some of the surrounding suburbs. 

We chose to stay in the casino area as it was out of the sprawling downtown area of El Paso, which isn’t regarded as a great tourist destination. 

The hotel was in New Mexico, practically on the border with Texas and Mexico. 

On one side we had the Sunland Park Racetrack, on the other, the Western Playland and right next door was the casino. 

It was Vegas in Texas but more down market, if that’s possible. 

We could even see part of the US/Mexico border wall from our hotel window. 

This is the wall that already exists between the two countries and has nothing to do with the Donald’s grand plan. 

The wall was started by George H. W. Bush in 1990 and continued by Bill Clinton in 1993. Any further expansion was halted by Barack Obama in 2011. And this is more than likely the real reason why Trump wants to continue it now.

Dinner at the casino was a strange affair. 

We were told that there were three restaurants within the casino, however there really was only one. The main, full service restaurant, is only open during the racing season, which started the next day and the third one was just a snack bar.

So we were forced to eat at their exceptionally mediocre café. In fact describing it as mediocre probably gives it too much credit. 

The service was poor and the food, masquerading as Italian, was worse than that. 

Whatever did the Italians do to the Americans to cause them to massacre their cuisine the way they do?



April 30. El Paso, New Mexico/Texas, to Tucson, Arizona, USA.

The food was so bad at the casino cafe the night before, we didn’t want to risk having breakfast there. 

Fortunately, just down the road was 2Ten Coffee Roasters. 

Great food, including a variation of Avocado on Toast and excellent coffee. There seems to be more and more of these boutique roasters popping up across the US. Maybe the tide is eventually turning against the likes of Starbucks – let’s hope so.

We had been told about Old Mesilla, a well preserved western frontier town, while we were having our religious coffee experience the previous day. 

During the American Civil War Old Mesilla was briefly the capital of the Confederate Territory of Arizona from 1861 to 1862.

The Wild West era saw the like of Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett and Pancho Villa visit the town. In fact Billy the Kid was tried and sentenced to hang in the Old Mesilla court house in April 1881. He never did hang in the town but died of a gunshot wound in Fort Sumner in September of the same year.

The area around Old Mesilla is surrounded by pecan orchards. I am sure Pecan Pie is a favourite in the town.

Our next stop was Tombstone, another place of Wild West legend. Tombstone’s city seal boasts that it’s: ‘The Town too tough to die’

The most famous event in Tombstone is the ‘Gunfight at the O.K. Coral’ This involved the Earp brothers, Wyatt, Morgan and Virgil  in a shootout against Doc Holliday, Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton. 

The irony is that the gunfight didn’t actually take place in the O.K. Coral but in a nearby vacant block of land owned by the famous photographer C.S. Fly (1849-1901). Camillus ‘Buck’ Sydney Fly is regarded as one of the first photojournalists in the US. He chronicled the lives of Native Americans, while they were still at war with the United States. And was an eyewitness at the O.K. Corral gunfight.

Unlike Old Mesilla, Tombstone is a Hollywood set, with fake cowboys at every corner, all with their Six Shooters at the ready.

In Tucson we were staying at the Hotel McCoy – Art, Coffee, Beer, Wine. This was a retro 60s Motel with a bar serving local wine and craft beer. They had 6 craft beers in cans and 4 on tap. 

It was a very funky motel in a great location, just off the freeway.

Downtown Tucson was an easy Uber ride away.


Mount Lemmon Scenic Highway in the Coronado National Park

May 1. Tucson, Arizona, USA.

We had breakfast at the hotel but it was a strange affair with Oatmeal, Pop Tarts and boxed drinks, all of this was out of disposable paper cups, plates and containers. This was really at odds with their Hipster image.

Our Save the World Kit got yet another outing.

Also, they didn’t have an espresso machine, so coffee would have to wait.

Therefore our first stop for the day was to Hermosa Coffee Roasters. This was just a short drive from our hotel and in, what is known as, the Old Market Area. 

The area wasn’t old at all but a totally new development, of small trendy businesses, all housed in shipping containers.

The cost of keeping these metal ovens cool in the Arizona heat must have been horrendous.

The days outing was a drive up to the summit of Mount Lemmon, on the Scenic Highway. It was a beautiful winding mountain road, with an abundance of lookout points and pull-offs. 

As we climbed to 2,400 metres (8,000 feet), the change in scenery was dramatic.

At the start of our ascent cacti dominated, then as we climbed, conifers took over. 

The temperature also plunged from 28°C (82°F) to 14.5° (58°F)

At the top we stopped for a break at Sawmill Run. Thea had of all things, Pecan Pie and, to my surprise, I got a very reasonable espresso. 

The staff at the Sawmill had T-shirts with a graphic of a hand, that was missing two fingers – funny but a bit sick. 

After our scenic adventure we returned to Tucson to get a better look at the city.

A map that was provided by our hotel suggested that we do the Aqua Tourist Trail around Tucson. It was a bit of a waste. 

Most of the area that was suggested in the tour was under construction. In fact Tucson seems to be undergoing a transformation, with new buildings popping up all over the city.

It was now 31°C (88°F) and getting a bit hot to do much walking so we returned to the hotel.

We needed an early nigh as it would be a long drive to San Diego in the morning. So it was another Uber into town for an early dinner at Hotel Congress.



May 2. Tucson, Arizona, to San Diego, California, USA.

Before leaving Tucson we returned to the Mercardo District and Hermosa Coffee Roasters for breakfast.

We had to drive 661 kilometres to San Diego. This would take us over 6 hours so, after a few hours on the road, we stopped in Yuma for a break and yet again found a cafe serving an espresso – of sorts. 

It was at the Coffee Bean Espresso Bar and Cafe that we decided that the ‘hickness’ of a place is measured by hats. The more guys you see wearing baseball hats, the ‘hicker’ it is. 

We were staying out of the main area in San Diego at the weirdly named, Days Inn by Wyndham San Diego/Downtown/Convention Centre.

It certainly wasn’t in Downtown, so we had a bit of a hike to get to the Gaslamp Quarter. Which is where the action is in San Diego.

Also known as the Gaslamp District, it is an historical area of sixteen and a half blocks and full of restaurants and bars as well as a number of strip clubs.

Historically gas lamps weren’t actually used in the area but have since been installed to add a touch of authenticity.

After dinner we got an Uber back to the hotel as the route back was rather hilly.


Del Mar (The Pacific Coast just north of San Diego)

May 3. San Diego to Los Angeles, California, USA.

It was only 210 kilometres, about 2 hours driving from San Diego to LA. 

However we took much longer as we used the coastal route and were then confronted with 29 kilometres of traffic jams as soon as we hit the outskirts of the LA.

It turned out to be more like three and a half hours.

In LA we were staying at Cathie and Earl’s apartment, which was over the road from Universal Studios, in an area known as Studio City. They weren’t there but had very kindly offered us their place while they were in New York. This meant that we had the rare opportunity to cater for ourselves again and needed to get supplies.

In much of the US the culture is irrevocably bolted to the past. 

So much of the attitudes, architecture, politics, transport and even food is all from a bygone era. 

It’s as though the New World has now become the Old World. 

There is always exceptions and the Whole Foods chain is one of those. Much of their fresh food is organic and they are now introducing bulk products, to save on packaging waste. 

They sell reusable, bamboo based, cups plates and straws. 

In their Burbank store they have a cafe serving healthy food, coffee, wine and a range of craft beers. 

We had used Whole Foods on a previous stay in LA and had also visited their new store in NYC. 

It was therefore the logical place to go again for our breakfast supplies.

Founded in 1980 they now have over 500 stores worldwide and growing.


Grand Central Market (1917)

May 4. Los Angeles, California, USA.

Just up the road from the apartment was a Metro station. We took the Red Line to Union Station and then wandered back, one stop, to Pershing Square. 

Union Station was celebrating its 80th Anniversary, being built in 1939. It was designed by John and Donald Parkinson and combines Art Deco, Mission Revival and Streamline Modern styles.

It’s a beautifully spacious example of transport architecture.

Next was the Grand Central Market, which is on the ground floor of the Homer Laughlin Building. In 1917 the market replaced the Ville de Paris department store. The location for the market was chosen because of its proximity to the Angels Flight Railway. This funicular services the well-to-do residents of Bunker Hill.

It was yet another festival weekend. The Cinco de Mayo was due to be celebrated the next day. 

This time we missed out by a day.

Cinco de Mayo or Fifth of May celebrated the Mexican Army’s victory over the French Empire  at the Battle of Puebla on May 5th 1862. Nowadays in LA it’s more a celebration of Mexican-American culture.

We had a coffee at Demitasse, well it was better than Starbucks. 

This thought was reinforced by a board out the front which read: ‘Friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks’

Ironically there was a Starbucks just opposite and many passers-by stopped to take a snap of the sign. 

On the train ride back to Studio City there were people selling a wide variety of products. Incense and socks were two popular items on offer.

That night we had dinner at Cafe del Ray with Ian and Peta Beavis and Evan, who was in LA on business. 

This involved a long drive and a number of Uber rides, as it was on the coast at Marina del Ray.

LA is a very big city.


Universal City Walk

May 5. Los Angeles, California, USA.

After spending a quiet morning in the apartment, we cleaned and walked up to Universal studios to do the City Walk. 

This was a strange combination of designer brands and American fast food outlets. 

There was an Italian restaurant just inside the entrance and we managed to get an espresso. 

We were lucky it was there, as it was the only place that looked like it served coffee – of any variety. 

We returned to Cathie and Earl’s and did the final bit of packing, before embarking on the ‘loooong’ drive to the airport. 

It was only a 30 minute drive but it felt like an eternity. 

Even on a Sunday many of the freeways were car parks. 

After checking into the Sheraton Gateway at LAX, we dropped the car back to Avis. 

We had been going for 23 days, on a variety of roads, covering 5,903 kilometres (3,668 miles) and averaging about 257km per day.

In that time we met some interesting people, stayed in both good and bad accomodation, dined in a wide variety of restaurants, all while travelling through some amazing parts of the Southern US.

Part 1: East to west across the USA – Charleston to New Orleans. (April 2019)

October 19th, 2019

April 9, 2019. New York City, New York, to Charleston, South Carolina, USA. 

 We got the subway from Manhattan and then connected to the Skytrain. This took us into JFK for our flight to Charleston, the starting point for our trip across the US.

It was a long trip but better than a taxi or driving. 

I was surprised that the long term car park at JFK was practically empty. Obviously the people of New York would rather take public transport to the airport than drive. 

I am sure the same would apply to the people of Melbourne – if only we could convince a government, of any persuasion, to build a train line to Tullamarine. 

We planned to pick up a rental car Charleston and drive from the east coast to the west, via the southern states. 

We had done the reverse trip, across the northern US and Canada, back in 2015. 

As we checked into our motel in Charleston, it started to rain. 


Corner of South Battery and Meeting Streets

April 10, 2019. Charleston, South Carolina, USA. 

Charleston was founded in 1670 and originally known as Charles Town in honour of King Charles II of England (1630-1685).

In 1783, after the Revolutionary War, it was renamed as Charleston.

The city played a major part in the slave trade, which resulted in its size and wealth. Nearly half the Africans transported to America arrived in Charleston. It was the only major antebellum (before the Civil War) American city to have a majority-enslaved population.

In 1860 the population of Charleston was over 700,000, 57% were slaves, owned by just 26,000 white Americans.

In fact the reliance on slaves, who were controlled by an oligarchy of white planters and merchants, was a big factor that lead to the start of the Civil War in 1861.

The temperatures were going to be in the twenties, so I put on shorts for the first time in the trip.

We found City Lights Coffee for breakfast. It was owned and run by a South African, whose accent seemed as much out of place in the South as ours was.

We then visited the Charleston City Market, which was originally established in the 1790s. The architecture of the market hall is in the Greek Revival style. It stretches back from, Meeting Street, for four city blocks. It was originally a beef and produce market but these days there is more money in tourists, so souvenirs and art occupied the market stalls.

I bought a new foldable Broner hat from the Charleston Hat Man, who has had a stall in the market for over 35 years.

Our hotel was in the Charleston Historical District, just down the road from the market, so we spent the day exploring the old area of the peninsula. 

We walked all the way down to White Point Gardens at the end of the peninsula and then zigzagged back. The gardens were originally built in the 1800s’ and are at the confluence of the Ashley, Cooper and Wando Rivers. 

An initial search of the area on Google, indicated that there were a number of brew pubs around us. 

This wasn’t the case. 

They either didn’t exist or had gone out of business. 

We eventually found the Swig and Swine for dinner which was ok, but certainly not a brew pub.


United States Custom House (1853)

April 11, 2019. Charleston, South Carolina, USA. 

A visit to Fort Sumter gave us an excellent history lesson on the American Civil War.

To get there we sailed on the Spirit of the Lowcountry, a faux paddle steamer.  This was a two and a half hour round trip. Most of the time was spent on the water with less than an hour on the island. However that was fine, as it was rather small. 

The Battle of Fort Sumter heralded the start of the American Civil War. 

In 1861 the South Carolina Militia bombarded the fort, resulting in the surrender of the United States Army. Ironically there were no casualties.

This followed the declaration of secession by South Carolina in 1860. 

Earlier in 1860 six more Southern states adopted a similar ordinance of secession. They then, as a group, adopted a provisional constitution for the Confederate States of America.

The fort was besieged for nearly four years and eventually abandoned, just prior to the capture of Charleston in 1865.

Fort Sumter, built between 1812 and 1815, dominates the entrance to Charleston Harbour and was designed to be one of world’s strongest fortresses. It is only 2.4 acres in area and was built to hold 650 soldiers and 135 pieces of artillery.

There’s not much left of it now.



April 12, 2019. Charleston, South Carolina to Savannah, Georgia, USA. 

After checking out of our motel we got an Uber to pick up our Avis rental, a black Jeep Compass. It was relatively new, with just 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometres) on the clock. 

Our first stop was at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.

First built by Thomas and Ann Drayton in 1676, it is one of the oldest plantations in the South. It originally grew rice and had extensive dikes, dams and irrigation. The first slaves in the Magnolia Plantation, were shipped from Barbados in 1670, by the Drayton family.

The slave trade and slavery, within the tourist South, is a subject that is not really talked about. It’s too easy to forget that these magnificent homes, gardens and plantations were built on the backs of Africans who were dragged from their homeland and brutally forced to work for white property owners.

You rarely hear the slaves’ side of history – everything is whitewashed, pardon the pun.

Today the gardens are the big tourist attraction. They were developed in the 1840s by the Reverend John Grimke-Drayton.

Grimke-Drayton, an Episcopal minister, had the gardens redesigned from an informal European style to the more formal English style. According to legend, this was done to help lure his bride south from Philadelphia.

As an interesting aside we read that the white Christians believed the disease that ravaged the American Indians was a gift of God, that made more room for them. 

Don’t you just love White Supremacists.

We left Magnolia Plantation and Gardens and drove straight to Savannah, leaving just enough time for a brief wander around the historical district before dinner.

Established in 1733 Savannah is the oldest city in Georgia and today still largely maintains the original town plan.

Being situated on the Savannah River, the city is an important Atlantic seaport. This is celebrated by a rather strange sculpture of Florence Martus (1869-1943). Also known as Savannah’s Waving Girl. Between 1887 and 1931 Florence would wave to all incoming ships and became the unofficial greeter of all ships arriving in Savannah.


Prom night in Atlanta

April 13, 2019. Savannah to Atlanta, Georgia, USA. 

This was the first longish drive on our road trip. The drive wasn’t the problem but finding a good coffee was. 

Thea eventually found My Coffee Shop in Dublin, which was about half way between Savannah and Atlanta. 

The cafe and the town were empty but the coffee was good.

They served Lavazza coffee, an Italian brand that was founded in 1895 by Luigi Lavazza. They are the market leader in Italy, so they must know something about roasting coffee.

That evening we walked into Midtown Atlanta for dinner and very soon realised that it was a special night. 

The streets were crowded with young people and they were all dressed up – it was ‘Prom Night’. 

Our restaurant was right over the road from one of the prom venues. We watched as the high school students, dressed in their finest, were dropped off and lined up to enter. 

Interestingly there was a heavy police presence and everyone was searched before entering. 



April 14, 2019. Atlanta, Georgia, USA. 

In the morning we walked the few blocks from our hotel to the Centre for Puppetry Arts. 

This is one of the few puppetry museums in the world. It was opened in 1978, where Kermit the Frog and his creator, Jim Henson cut the ceremonial ribbon.

Jim Henson (1937-1990) and his characters are certainly featured heavily in the museum.

Jim is best known for creating the Muppets and his work on Sesame Street (1969 to present) the American educational TV program, that uses many Muppet characters.

The exhibitions were designed in three parts and are certainly created with kids in mind.

Naturally, the first part was the Jim Henson Collection. This was followed by the Global Collection, showcasing the world of puppetry from a more historical view point.

The final section of the exhibition was the World of Myth and Magic, heavily featuring The Dark Crystal (1982) and Labyrinth (1986), both of which were directed by Jim Henson.

It was a Sunday, so in the afternoon we walked to Piedmont Park, which was full of families making the most of the pleasant weather. 


Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery

April 15, 2019. Atlanta, Georgia to Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 

The previous day we found Dancing Goats for breakfast. It was a rather hipster coffee bar with a good food selection so we returned on Monday, before leaving Atlanta for Nashville. 

The place was an ‘office’, full of single people on their computers. 

There were only 10 seats available to people who actually wanted to talk to each other, the rest were benches. 

Surprisingly, not everyone in the place was under 30. 

Later in the afternoon we stopped at Velo Coffee Roasters in Chattanooga and it was the same deal. Even though this was, as the name suggests, a roasting house, everyone was on their computers. 

Worldwide cafes that encourage their space to be used as an office are regarded as legitimate ‘Shared Work Space’.

When I looked around, one more time, I discovered there was one person actually reading a book. 

Once in Nashville we did a bit of housekeeping, got some clothes washed then caught an Uber into town.

In Nashville I had found a local brew pub that looked promising for dinner. However once we were there we discovered that something rather ‘Big’ was going down in the town.

Atlanta and now Nashville, this is becoming a habit.

The stages were being set up for the NFL Path to the Draft. Which I believe is a live telecast, over a number of nights and has something to do with the selection of new players for the NFL teams.

I have no concept of American football, either how it’s played or how the competition runs. This also goes for how new players are selected for the different teams within the competition.

But apparently this is really a big deal and it was being held in Nashville, so the community welcomed them with open arms.

Below is how NFL Media describes the event:

“Watch the NFL’s stars of tomorrow take the stage, live from Nashville, TN at the 2019 NFL Draft live on NFL Network, ESPN and ABC. We go behind the scenes and inside the war rooms to bring you an all access pass to the 2019 NFL Draft.”

The brew pub, Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery, was in the heart of Nashville’s downtown and right next door to the area that was being set up for the draft draw.

The beer was great and the food was also very good. 



April 16, 2019. Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 

Our first tourist stop for the day was to visit the Nashville Parthenon in Centennial Park. Luckily Three Brothers Coffee shop was just around the corner, so we naturally went there first.

The Nashville Parthenon was constructed in 1878, for the Tennessee Centennial Exhibition. It’s a few years younger than it’s counterpart in Athens, that was built in 447 BC.

It’s a full scale replica of its Greek counterpart and, unlike the one in Athens, has a statue of the Goddess Athena on display in the interior.

However this Athena looks more Thai than Greek.

Nashville has been known as the Athens of the South and this probably influenced the powers that be to build this rather strange edifice.

There were a number of building constructed for the exhibition, that were in the classical style, however this is the only one that remains in Nashville.

It was so popular with the locals that they decided to keep it after the exhibition ended.

After our classical interlude we headed to something a bit more in keeping with Nashville, the Country Music Hall of Fame.

This is one of the world’s largest museums dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of American vernacular music.

The original Hall of Fame was built in 1967. It’s popularity grew and in 2001 the museum moved to it’s current location in the heart of downtown Nashville.

The main exhibition, Sing Me back Home, is a journey through country music. There are nearly 200,000 sound recordings, 500,000 photos and 30,000 moving images. Plus instruments, clothing, scrapbooks and even iconic vehicles like Elvis Presley’s 1960 Solid Gold Cadillac.

Even the architecture of the Country Music Hall of Fame symbolically reflects country music. Some of the building’s elements represent musical notes, drums, piano keys and even the tail fin of a 1959 Cadillac.

In the evening we stopped at Doc Holliday’s Saloon for a drink and some live, Nashville Country and Western music. 

That night we returned to the Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery.

The food and beer was still good and work was progressing well on the Path to the Draft stage.



April 17, 2019. Nashville to Memphis, Tennessee, USA. 

“When you’re onto a good thing…” as they say, so it was back to Three Brothers Coffee again.

The brew was good and it was also on the way to Memphis. 

We arrived in Memphis mid afternoon and, fittingly, we were staying on Elvis Presley Boulevard. 

This was just down the road from Graceland, which we immediately visited. 

Graceland was Elvis’s home for twenty years. 

The Graceland farm was originally owned by a printer, Stephen C Toof and was named after his daughter, Grace.

The house was built by her niece, Ruth Moore and her husband Thomas Moore in 1939. It’s a Colonial Revival style mansion of 10,266 square feet (953.7 square metres). It has 23 rooms in total, with eight bedrooms and bathrooms.

In 1957 Presley purchased Graceland for himself and his parents. After Elvis’s death in 1977 his father, Vernon, took over the estate. Then when he died in 1979 Priscilla, Elvis’s estranged wife, became the estate’s executor on behalf of their daughter, Lisa Marie.

Poor management meant that the Presley estate owned a lot of money. Priscilla then decided that the best strategy would be to turn Graceland into a money spinner. As a result Graceland became a museum in 1982. With over 500,000 visitors a year it’s the second-most visited home in the US, next to the White House in Washington DC.

The house has been left as it was during the time that Elvis lived there – and it’s all very kitsch.

It’s a very sanitised testament to his life, omitting the drugs, mental issues and obesity that were part of his demise.

Born in 1935 Elvis became one of the iconic figures of the 20th century music scene. He was known as ‘The King of Rock and Roll’ or simply, ‘The King.’

He had no musical training and couldn’t read music, playing everything by ear. Today he is still the best-selling solo artist in the history of recorded music.

That night we had dinner at Marlowe’s Ribs and Restaurant. Partly because it offered a shuttle service from our hotel and, more importantly, it was local food. 

We shared some ribs – they were great, but all the sides were overdone. 

The corn fritters were stuffed with cheese, the beans cooked in pig fat and the slaw was drowned in mayonnaise. 


The Lorraine Motel

April 18, 2019. Memphis, Tennessee, USA. 

After breakfast our intention was to go to Java Cabana for coffee and then onto the National Civil Rights Museum. 

However Java Cabana was shut for renovations. Luckily we found another cafe, just around the corner. It wasn’t as eclectic as our first choice appeared on Google but the coffee was ok. 

The National Civil Rights Museum is housed in the Lorraine Motel, the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

The motel was originally built around 1925 and in 1945 it was purchased by Walter Bailey who turned it into an upscale accommodation for black clients. This was during the era of segregation in the South and many well known guests, such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and Wilson Picket, stayed there. 

They were barred from staying in the mainstream hotels.

The museum was opened in 1991 and now incorporates a number of other buildings, besides the Lorraine Motel. Buildings that were also associated with the assassination of King.

The primary thrust of the museum traces the Civil Rights Movement in the United States from the 17th century to the present day.

The first exhibition was photography by Andrew Feiler, taken at Morris Brown College. This abandoned Black College was part of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities of the South (HBCUs)

No photos were allowed here.

The rest of the museum chronicles the civil rights struggle in the US – it’s a very sad and sorry tale.

By the time of the Civil War (1860) there were nearly 4 million slaves in America. They were worth around $10 Trillion to the economy, in today’s money. In fact at this stage in their history America’s economy was reliant on slavery. 

The South played a vital role, as tobacco, rice, cotton, sugar and rum were the staples of production. Therefore the Southern States had a very vested interest in promoting slavery and keeping it viable for as long as possible.

Slavery lasted in America for nearly 200 years. However it wasn’t just slavery that was the issue. Over 3,000 African Americans died from lynching between 1890 and 1930. Even today black lives don’t really seem to matter.

Perceived threats to the economy and push for more equal rights from the North led to the creation of the Jim Crow Laws. Developed by the Southern States as a compromise to the North, they promoted the concept of Separate but Equal, for Negros. 

This in effect meant more segregation, with one rule for Whites and another for African Americans.

The Lorraine Motel tour ends in room 306, the room that Martin Luther King Jr. was staying in prior to his assassination.

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) was a Baptist minister and Civil Rights activist.

In 1964 he won the Nobel Peace Prize for advocating racial equality through nonviolent resistance. From 1963 onwards he was targeted, as a radical, by the FBI’s J Edgar Hoover and investigated for possible communist ties.

From the Lorraine Motel you cross over the road to the boarding house, where James Earl Ray shot King.

As with the assassination of President John F Kennedy in 1963, there were many conspiracies and this part of the museum explores them all.

An oddity about African Americans is that Christianity played an important part in their culture within America. The missionaries, zealots and slave owners turned them away from their traditional African beliefs and saw to their conversion. This faith was used to control them but it also bonded them and helped them in their struggle for equality through people like King. 

Unfortunately a quest that is still ongoing.

Memphis will go down as one of our worst US hospitality experiences. 

The management of the hotel and the two restaurants we visited are to blame. 

If the staff don’t know what is expected of them, how can they deliver a service. 

At Delta’s Kitchen I quizzed our young waiter about his training. This was after asking for a beer list and finding that he had no clue about what they served.

He told me that he had only been there a couple of weeks and that the person training him had left a few days after he joined. That person had never been replaced and therefore our waiter had received no more training. 

How can management, with any integrity, send wait staff out to serve their customers and expect them to get a tip without proper training. 

The other staff at Deltas Restaurant were disinterested in serving their customers. So much so that several other tables, all Americans, commented on how poor the service was. 


April 19, Natchez Brewing Company

April 19, 2019. Memphis, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi, USA. 

We drove to Natchez, via the Natchez Trace Parkway, which was originally a trade route from the north. This gave us an opportunity to drive on something other than freeways. 

Which was a green and pleasant change. 

We have used the Parkways before. These are two lane roads that mainly travel through national parks. 

Natchez is the oldest established city on the Mississippi and we were staying in the Antebellum Mansion, an 1840 colonial home. 

All the rooms were named after famous southerners and we were in the John R Lynch Room. 

Lynch was born into slavery in 1847 and became one of the strongest African American voices in post-Civil War America. 

After the long drive a quick drink at the Natchez Brewing Company was welcome. 

We were going to stay there for dinner but there wasn’t any. 

This was a brew pub in the old tradition. 

Brewery and warehouse by day and a bar in the evenings and at the weekend. 

And like the brewpubs of old they only served beer, so Thea was forced to stomach a Wheat-beer Sour. 

She wasn’t that impressed. 

The interior was all very industrial and we were surrounded by brewing equipment and barrels. 

We then went back to the hotel for a meal. 

The menu was a strange fusion of eastern Mediterranean and Southern cooking. 

Again the service was a disaster. 

We hadn’t finished our entree and the main course arrived. 

We hadn’t finished our meal and the bill arrived. 

On so many levels the owners of these restaurants are immoral. 

They don’t pay their staff enough to live on and expect them to make up the difference with tips. 

Yet they don’t train them well enough to earn the 18-30% that they need to survive. 

The repercussions of this laxness effects every member of the staff, as they all take and need, a share of that tip.



April 20, 2019. Natchez, Mississippi to New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.

For two reasons good coffee was hard to find in Natchez. 

Firstly there were very few places serving it and secondly, when we did eventually discover Steampunk Coffee Roasters, it was almost impossible to reach. Two power poles were lying at an odd angle over the road, with emergency workers blocking our path. This meant we had to negotiate the Natchez one way street system to get there. 

This took us at least four goes. 

We arrived in New Orleans late in the afternoon and, after checking into our hotel, went exploring the city. 

The hotel was in the Commercial District and very close to the French Quarter, home to the famous Bourbon Street. 

Bourbon Street is like a long, narrow, three ring circus, if that’s possible. It’s full of weirdness, with both the performers and the audience dressed to impress. Some in the most inappropriate attire I have every seen. 

There are also performing animals. birds, dogs and reptiles, all adding to the circus feel.

After time in ´Freak Street’ we wandered down to the banks of the Mississippi. Here it was slightly calmer. 

There we found the Crescent City Brewhouse, which is situated in a property that was originally  built in 1722 and later rebuilt after the fire of 1794.

Opened in 1991, it’s the the oldest craft brewery in New Orleans and the first brewpub to be established in the city.

They pride themselves on their adherence to old Bavarian brewing techniques. All natural ingredients with no preservatives. 

Both the beer and food were excellent. 

They even had a jazz band playing, which made it even more special and very ‘Orleans’.

On the way home we wandered back via Bourbon Street and popped into the Drinkery for some more live music, this time blues and rock with the Steve Mignano Band.

A real contrast to the jazz.


Easter bonnets

April 21, 2019. New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.

New Orleans was first founded by French settlers in 1718 and is renowned for it’s music and Mardi Gras. The first such parade in Louisiana was held at the mouth of the Mississippi River in 1699.

Like in Corfu Town we happened to be in New Orleans for a festival weekend. 

On Easter Sunday there were two street parades. 

The first was the general merchants and then, in the afternoon, the Gay Easter Parade. 

We caught the tail end of the morning parade and then returned to see the gay pride parade in the afternoon. 

They were both a lot of fun but a bit of a shambles. 

It was the 20th annual Gay Easter Parade, so it promised to be something.

We had seen the Gay Pride Parade in Montreal, Canada in 2015, which was much more lively, professional and had some very good sponsors like Pfizer, makers of Viagra.

During the afternoon we visited one of the many New Orleans travel centres and purchased tickets for a riverboat cruise the next day.

When we were there Thea enquired about a good Cajun restaurant and we were given a card for Coterie on Decatur Street, in the French Quarter.

We went there in the evening, the food was ok but not really Cajun.

The waiter fancied that he has a good Aussie accent and tried a few phases on us.

I couldn’t understand a word he said.



April 22, 2019. New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.

 Our paddle steamer trip wasn’t until late morning, so we jumped onto the St. Charles Streetcar for a side trip. We went to the end of the line and then caught an Uber back to the wharf to get the paddle steamer.

We still had some time before boarding, so did the tourist thing, and dropped into Cafe Beigner. This was to try their famous Beignets, which is a French term for pastry made from deep-fried choux dough. In New Orleans they are eaten fresh for breakfast, with heaps of icing sugar on top.

Our trip up the Mississippi River was on the Paddle Steamer Natchez. Built in 1975 this is the ninth SS Natchez, named after the city we had visited just a few days earlier. The steam engines, driving the paddle steamer, were from the steamboat Clairton and built in 1925.

On board I discovered that they had their own craft beer, a Natchez IPA.

We had booked a table and had a longish lunch on the Natchez, this included a jazz band in the dining room.

There was a good commentary as we paddled up the river and back. We were shown some of the areas that had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 This was the deadliest storm to hit the US since the Okeechobee Hurricane in 1928.

The excursion could have been at least half an hour longer as everything seemed a bit rushed. 

After our river trip and lunch we were going to return to the Drinkery to get a snack and listen to some more music. As their name suggests, they were only selling drinks, not food.

We then finished up at a very pleasant restaurant, Red Fish. Unfortunately, no live music there.

Every table top was an original piece of art, painted with fish designs, which were all protected under perspex.

It was an early night as we had a long drive to Houston the next day.

Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, USA. (April 2019)

September 20th, 2019

April 2, 2019. Zurich, Switzerland to New York City, New York, USA. 

Another day devoted to travelling. This time to New York City, via Reykjavik in Iceland. 

We had done a similar trip once before, that time from Berlin. 

The flight was with Icelandair and you pay for everything. They even have the audacity to try and up-sell you. 

Buy two beers and save. Buy a meal and a drink and you will save again. 

After our failed attempt to use public transport in Berlin, we decided to try the airport bus again and caught one to the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

There we were met by Ev and Steph, we then walked the few blocks to their new apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. 

This will be our home in NYC for the next seven days. 

By the end of the night we’re were rather buggered, having spent about 22 hours on the go. 

This was mainly due to the 6 hour time difference. 


April 3, Intrepid Museum (aircraft carrier)

April 3, 2019. New York City, New York, USA. 

Ev and Steph moved from West Harlem to Hell’s Kitchen about nine months ago. This was our opportunity to explore a new area of New York. 

As you might expect, this part of the city that’s below Central Park has a very different ethnic mix. 

Finding a good coffee in the US is always an issue but Ev had unearthed a few places close by. 

After breakfast, a coffee and some work I needed to do, we headed out. 

First job was to get clothes washed.  Fortunately there was a laundromat just around the corner. 

As we were going to be in the US for six weeks we needed to get a SIM card for the travel phone. 

That was the next chore. 

We then just walked around the ‘hood’.

The only snaps for the day were of the USS Intrepid, a former aircraft carrier that has now been retired. Its second life, as the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, was opened in 1988. 

It contains, among other things, the USS Growler submarine, the Space Shuttle Enterprise and a British Airways Concorde.

I wonder if it was the one I flew on in the 80s’.


Macy’s Journey to Paradisios (Spring flower display)

April 4, 2019. New York City, New York, USA. 

It was another relatively quiet day in NYC.

We walked a few blocks into the city and happened upon the Macy’s spring flower show.

Journey to Paradisios was a flower display set in a space theme, very weird but interesting. The show, featuring spaceships and floral displays, was staged in Macy’s marquee stores in Chicago, San Francisco and of course New York.

The hidden reason for the space theme was to celebrate the USA winning the Space Race 50 years ago. When on July 20, 1969, man first walked on the Moon.

In the afternoon we revisited B&H Photo Video – Electronics and Camera Store. This is a New York institution and regarded by some as the largest camera store in the world.

In the evening we had our first Off-Broadway experience.

Avenue Q is a musical featuring puppets and live actors. It cleverly combines singing, dancing, racism and sex.

It’s where Sesame Street meets Stormy Daniels.  



April 5, 2019. New York City, New York, USA. 

The company Ev works for in NYC very kindly give their staff a day off for their birthday.

This was the day and we decided to visit The Cloisters.

Situated in Fort Tryon Park, the museum contains a vast collection of art and architecture from Medieval Europe.

A strange sight in modern Manhattan. 

The building was designed by Charles Collins and built in 1938. It’s governed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Many of the museum artefacts have been built into the architecture of four French cloisters that were purchased by the sculpture and art dealer George Grey Barnard.

These were dismantled and shipped to New York between 1934 and 1939. This more than likely saved them from the devastation of the Second World War.

Windows were used to hold stained glass, either entire windows or fragments. 

As well as the architectural and sculptural pieces there were traditional museum styled galleries that housed smaller items. 

There are about 5,000 works of art and architecture in The Cloisters.

On the way back to Hell’s Kitchen we popped into an outdoor store near Union Square.

We were there to purchase camping gear. Not to go camping but to use, instead of disposables, on our road trip west

The idea of our ‘Save the World Kit’ was dreamt up on our last trip in the US. We were so disgusted by the waste that we vowed to do something about it. 

It will be interesting to see what reactions we get as we produce this bag full of goodies at breakfast.



April 6, 2019. New York City, New York, USA. 

It was the weekend and start of Spring so we all went to Central Park in search of tulips. We spent a very pleasant few hours in the park but never did find any.

Late in the afternoon we went in search of craft beer and visited the Fifth Hammer Brewing Company in Queens.

There we did find some excellent brews.



April 7, 2019. New York City, New York, USA. 

The main attraction of the day was to visit the One World Observatory, which sits at the top of the World Trade centre.

The One World Trade Centre was built after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, that resulted in destruction of the Twin Towers.

The Freedom Tower as it is known was built over the site of the Northern tower and is the tallest building in the US and the sixth tallest in the world.

Not surprisingly it was designed by the architectural firm of Skidmore Owing and Merrill. The same firm that built the Burj Khalifia in Dubai, once the tallest building in the world.

Nothing lasts forever.

The One World Observatory was opened in 2015 and at over 382 metres, offered a wonderful 360º view over Manhattan.

Just below the One World Trade Centre is Oculus, a transportation hub that cost over $4 billion and looks like something out of the Jetsons. It was designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and has been criticised for it’s inefficiency and expense.

But it looks great.

On the way home we came across the Irish Hunger Memorial. Built in 2002, it’s dedicated to  the Great Irish Famine (1845 – 1852)

The famine drove many to leave Ireland and make the journey to the New World and a new life in the US.

Much of the memorial is landscaped with stone, soil and natural vegetation that was shipped from the west coast of Ireland.

There were two burned out cars on Laight Street in Tribeca and we wondered why.

As reported on April 6, by Carl Glassman from the Tribeca Tribune:

“Two parked cars went up in flames in Tribeca around 6 p.m. Saturday evening, the result of what was said to be a carelessly tossed cigarette. 

The cars were parked in front of 79 Laight Street when a person walking by threw a cigarette onto a pile of recycling on the sidewalk, igniting the garbage that, in turn, set the cars on fire, a resident of the building said. The blaze also scorched windows on the building’s first floor. No injuries were reported.”

April 8, 2019. New York City, New York, USA. 

It was Evan’s 34th Birthday but he had to fly to Chicago for the day. We therefore arranged to catch up with him for dinner that night at one of their favourite Thai restaurants.

We were off on our next adventure the next day, a drive across the southern US, and needed to get our clothes clean.

Therefore another trip to the laundromat was needed.

That afternoon we visited Steph’s office ‘Green Space’ in Brooklyn.

Rather than work at home alone she has rented an office. She now has people to talk to and a place to work.

With so many people working remotely, it’s become common practice now, with office spaces popping up all over the place.

Switzerland. A bit of history, nature and lakes. (March/April 2019)

September 3rd, 2019

March 28, 2019. Stuttgart, Germany to Arnex-sur-Orbe, Switzerland. 

We were on the train again, this time to visit Denis and Martine in Arnex-sur-Orbe in Switzerland. 

The first stop was Zurich, with only seven minutes to make our connection to Yverdon les Baines. 

We failed by 30 seconds. 

The Swiss rail system prides itself on their punctuality and rules. Which is why we got told off by the conductor of the next train, for missing the last one. 

We had a discount fare which only applies to the train you book. 

We got away with it. 

Martine and Denis put on a home cooked meal, which was very welcome. 

Not that we had missed out having had several in Berlin and one in Stuttgart. 


The ages of Charlie

March 29, 2019. Arnex-sur-Orbe, Switzerland. 

The weather was beautiful. 

Spring had come to Switzerland and the skies were blue, the blossom blooming and the bees buzzing. 

Martine’s mother, who was approaching 100, had had a fall, so Martine went to visit her. Denis had to attend a retirement lunch in Vevey, so we went to visit Chaplin’s World. This is a museum dedicated to the life of Charlie Chaplin (1889 -1977) who spent 24 years living just outside of the city. 

As a result of ‘McCathyism’ in the States, Charlie was exiled to Europe. 

Charlie Chaplin is one of the most important figures in 20th century filmmaking.

He wrote, directed, edited, acted, produced and composed the music for a large range of both silent and talkie movies.

Chaplin was born in London and his childhood was one of poverty and hardship. When he was 14 his mother was committed to a mental asylum and his father was absent. He then began performing in music halls and developed his skills as an actor and comedian.

At 19 he move to America and joined the famous Keystone Studios. There he developed his Tramp character and by 1918 he was one of the most famous actors in the world.

In 1919 he founded the film distribution company United Artist. This bold move gave him complete control over the production of his movies, something many actors of the time, and even now, never get.

The Chaplin Museum is set in his mansion, Manoir de Ban and surrounded by beautiful gardens. 

The exhibition is divided into two parts. The first traces his life, relationships and politics and is situated in the mansion. 

The second section concentrates on his movies and this is housed in a section known as the studio. 

In the evening we went to the Toucan for a meal. 

This is as institution in Arnex and the social heart of this small village. The place was full and bookings are essential. 

It’s not surprising as the food was excellent.



March 30, 2019. Arnex-sur-Orbe, Switzerland. 

This was a day in the country. 

Firstly to see the wild Jonquils in the forest, not far from Arnex-sur-Orbe. Then onto the small village of Caux to catch the  train and travel high into the alps. 

This was probably the most expensive train ride ever. CHF58.80 ($83) for a 25 minute return ride from Caux to Rochers de Naye. However at 2,042 metres the scenery was spectacular.

It was a fun walk, through the snow, up the mountain. Martine bounded to the top, followed by Denis, while Thea and I struggled in the very unfamiliar conditions.

We then drove into Montreux and had a walk around the edge of Lake Geneva.

Montreux has a close association to Freddie Mercury from Queen. In 1977 Freddie came to the Montreux Jazz Festival to record the album ‘Jazz’ with Queen.

He fell in love with the city and the lake and established his Mountain Studio there. This was the place where he recorded his final Queen album ‘Made in Heaven’. Lake Geneva is even featured on the cover.

There is a very prominent sculpture of Freddie on the Lake Geneva. Created by Czechoslavakian sculptor Irena Sedlecká, it was unveiled in 1996.

That night we had an evening of song. Denis and Marine took us to the local hall to see the Arnex Mixed Choir perform. There was food, booze and lots of laughter, with most of Marine’s extended family also there.

One of the highlights was the ‘Four Lads’ an all male group from another village. They were very funny, even though I did’t understand a word they sang.



March 31, 2019. Arnex-sur-Orbe, Switzerland. 

It was another day of ‘nature’ as we were off to walk the Circuit de Fontaines. 

This was a river walk that culminated at the 20 metre high Cascade du Dard. 

We walked about 10 kilometres, through the forest and then along the ridge on the return journey. 

The Circuit de Fontaines was first developed in the 19th century. Public fountains were very important as they supplied drinking water to the locals. They were also a social meeting place where women and children met to do their household chores.


04_April 1, Chinese Garden (1993)

April 1, 2019. Arnex-sur-Orbe to Zürich, Switzerland. 

Denis left us in the morning, as he was flying to Australia. In the afternoon Martine drove us the the railway station in Yverdon-les-Bains and we caught the train to Zürich.

I needed a new watch band for my Tag Heuer and Zürich seemed to be a good place to look.

Via the internet we discovered Bucherer on Bahnhofstrasse. 

This was the most efficient store I have ever visited. 

We were greeted at the door and, as a security precaution, had to remove our sunglasses.

After they found out what were there for, we were directed to the second floor, where we were then directed to the repairs department.

After viewing my watch a technician was called to help. He then went off and brought back a range of replacement watch bands. 

All the time we were being chatted to by a delightful young Swiss girl who immediately picked our Australian accents. 

She had a friend who lives just outside of Sydney. 

Once I chose a band the technician went off to fit it. This all took about 10 to 15 minutes and then we were off to explore Zurich. 

We went for a long walk along the Zürichsee, or Lake Zürich, to the Chinese Garden.

Established in 1993 it was a gift from Zürich’s twin city of Kunming and dedicated to the Three Friends of Winter. 

As an inscription described it:

“The Chinese Garden is a holistic work of art combining nature, art, philosophy and poetry.“

There was so much detail in the pagodas, bridges and pavilions. 

Dinner was at Zimmerleuten, a traditional Swiss German restaurant on the river. 

I had Weiß Wursts with Rosti potatoes. It was a good choice for our last night in Switzerland and our last night in Europe. 

Afterwards we discovered a very funky bar, Kleine Freiheit, in a container, just 30 metres from our hotel. 

There I found a wonderful IPA, Bier Paul 10. It was the best draught IPA I’ve had on this trip – so far. 

A quick trip to Germany. (March 2019)

August 12th, 2019

March 20, 2019. Larnaca, Cyprus to Berlin, Germany. 

Breakfast at Costantiana Beach Hotel and Apartments was meant to start at 7:30 am. Normally this would have given us enough time for a quick bite before heading to the airport for our flight to Germany. 

Unfortunately the guy who was looking after breakfast must have slept in, as he didn’t arrive until 7:45. 

Breakfast was a rush. 

Fortunately the airport was only minutes from the hotel and it was an easy drive to get there. 

We were there, even after filling the tank, at 8:30. 

Dropping the Citroën off at Avis was even easier.

So far on this trip Avis have been great. Despite the fact, that even after 13 years with an Avis Preferred Card, I have never had an upgrade. 

We had driven 428 kilometres around Cyprus and it had been a wonderful adventure. 

The car performed well, despite a dodgy clutch. The roads had been a joy to drive on and the drivers were courteous. 

The scenery was spectacular as well. 

Our flight to Berlin took us via Athens again. This time the layover was only 1:40 minutes. 

Not really much time to do anything other than go from one flight to another. 

We arrived at Tegel Airport in Berlin mid afternoon and decided to take public transport to Hayden and Andrea’s place. Being a working day we didn’t want to arrive too early. 

This wasn’t to be. 

They kept on cancelling the bus, so we went back into the the airport, had a drink to fill in time and then caught a cab. 


Ishtar Gate, Babylon (6th Century BC)

March 21, 2019. Berlin, Germany. 

The only tourist destination we intended to visit, while in Berlin, was the Pergamon Museum on Museum Island. 

We had visited Pergamon, Turkey in April, 2012 and were impressed with the site but unimpressed with the fact that most of the artifices had been looted by the Germans. 

This was our chance to see those stolen artefacts.

The official line is that they were taken under the approval of the Ottomans.

When we arrived we were not impressed. 

€19 ($30) each for the museum and half it was closed for renovations. The work started in 2013 and was extending to 2019 and beyond. 

At the Pergamon Museum monumental exhibits, like the Altar of Pergamon, are their claim to fame.

This was the part that was shut. 

What was available of the Pergamon exhibition was in the ground floor. Upstairs was devoted to art from the Islamic era. 

Within that section there was a lot of space dedicated to Syria and its destruction, due to the ongoing war. 

A theme we had just recently encountered in the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha. 

In the end the saving grace was the Panorama, an adjunct to the main museum. It was housed in a purpose built facility that was just up the road. 

The main feature was a 360° panorama.

Not only was it 360° in circumference it was also about 50° in height. It was done in such a way that you needed to climb the four stories of the central tower to get the best view of the panorama. 

The entire scene of Pergamon was a combination of 3D digital illustration and photography. Real people, dressed in period costume, had been combined with a highly realistic interpretation of this 2,000 year old Roman Hellenistic city. 

It was very impressive. 

It was designed by Yadegar Assisi and originally staged between September 2011 and September 2012. This was a revised version that started in November 2018.

Yadegar Assisi is an artist, architect and university lecture. Born in Vienna to Persian parents in 1955, his tertiary education was in Germany and he currently lives in Berlin.

He has created some of the largest 360° panoramas in the world, some measuring 32 meters high and up to 110 meters in circumference.

The Pergamon Museum was built between 1910 and 1930 and designed by Alfred Messel and Ludwig Hoffman. 

It replaced the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum on Museum Island, which opened in 1904. It soon became clear that with all the artefacts that were being repatriated to Germany that this museum wasn’t large enough – so the idea of the Pergamon was born.

The museum was severely damaged during the bombing of Berlin at the end of the Second World War. But most of the exhibits had been moved off site and the larger displays walled-in to protect them.

At the end of the war, during the Russian occupation, many of the artefacts were relocated to Russia, a lot still remain there.

March 22, 2019. Berlin, Germany. 

Chilling out was the order of the day. 

Hayden had taken both the Friday and Monday off, so we spent most of the day just hanging around the apartment. 

I was hoping to get a much needed haircut but the place I had chosen was booked out. 

I therefore made an appointment for Monday. 

In the afternoon we all went to do the weekly shopping. 

Now this might sound a bit boring but we have found that you learn a lot about a city and its people when you visit a supermarket. 

What food they like, how important and available are fresh fruit and veg. Plus trends in health, luxury goods and even recycling. 

March 23, 2019. Berlin, Germany. 

It was a Saturday so a good opportunity for the ‘workers’ to sleep in. 

After a late breakfast we went into Kurfürstendamm, the main retail strip in the heart of Berlin. 

After some shopping and a lot of walking around we went for a late lunch at Schildkröte, or Turtle, a typical Berliner restaurant. 

The literal translation of Schildkröte is ‘Shield Toad’. 

Germans have a very strange way of naming some animals. Everyone knows that a Pig is Schwein, but a porcupine is a Stachelschwein, which means ‘Spike Pig’.


First ducks in the Venus Pool

March 24, 2019. Berlin, Germany. 

Another relaxing day with H&A in Berlin.

Todays activity was to walk around the Tiergarten, Berlin’s most popular inner city park. At 210 hectares it is the city’s largest park, next to Tempelhofer, formerly the Tempelhof airport, which we visited in September 2017.

It was just the second day of spring and there were signs of it everywhere.

The trees, flowers, wildlife and even the Berliners were enjoying the slightly warmer weather.

The Tiergarten was originally developed as a hunting area for the Elector of Brandenburg in 1527.

In 1740 Frederick the Great (1712-1786) not being a great fan of hunting, opened part of the part as a public garden.

The park remained the property of the monarchy until 1881. At this time Emperor William I abolished his rights to the forests and it became state land.

As a result of the Second World War the Tiergarten was severely damaged. Much of the forrest was cut down for firewood and the land turned over to agriculture.

Only 700 trees survived of the 200,000 that were originally in the park before the war.

The gardens stagnated until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Then many of the embassies, that had been abandoned, were re occupied and the area gained a new lease of life.

March 25, 2019. Berlin, Germany. 

The warmer weather of 12°C, from the previous day had gone, now it was 5°C, real feel 0°C. 

This was fine as we had nothing planned, except my haircut at ROWDY, a hipster barbers shop about 15 minutes walk from the apartment. 

My barber spoke perfect English, like so many in this area of Berlin.


Church of St John (1864-1876)

March 26, 2019. Berlin to Stuttgart, Germany. 

Sadly our time with H&A had ended and we were off to Stuttgart to see the city and visit Rebecca and Felix with their growing family.

This time we were on the train, first to Nuremberg, then on to Stuttgart.

Like the Japanese Shinkansen there is a sign on the platform telling you where your carriage will stop. Unlike the Japanese trains it’s not that accurate.

Ours was at the opposite end of the platform from where we were told we should be.

They do move as fast as the Bullet Trains – we were travelling at over 210 kph. 

The second leg of our journey, south to Stuttgart, was not on a high speed train. It was on a local line that was slower and without WiFi. 

However it did have mains voltage power to charge our computers and information screens with the connections available at the next stop. 

Once we were settled into the Novum Hotel Rega, we went for a walk around the area. 

Just around the corner we found the Church of St John. It was designed by Christian Friedrich von Leins in the Gothic Revival style and constructed between 1864 and 1876. 

The church is on a peninsula of Lake Feuersee or Fire Lake. 

We intended to go to a typical German restaurant, Stuttgarter Stäffele, but it was booked out. 

We ended up at another one, just around the corner. It was again typical German but not as fancy. 

It turned out to be great, even though the portions were mega. 

We were given a ‘Doggy bag’ to take home but left it at the restaurant. 

We were full enough.


Benz Victoria (First four-wheeled automobile 1893)

March 27, 2019. Stuttgart, Germany. 

We decided to use public transport in Stuttgart and bought ourselves a day pass on the underground. 

Never once did we have to validate our ticket or even have it checked. Obviously the Germans are very trustworthy.

Our first stop was the Mercedes Benz Museum.

The museum showcases 130 years of automotive history, from the very German perspective of Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz.

There are 16,000 square meters in this purpose build facility, set in the heart of the Mercedes Benz factory area.

Travelling by lift to the top floor you descend nine levels through time, from 1886 to present day innovations.

The tri-star of Mercedes is brought to life with the application of Daimler’s ‘Grandfather Clock’ motor. This amazing piece of technology was used in transport on ‘land’, ‘sea’ and ‘air’ (the three points of the star).

One fact of automative trivia that really stuck in my mind was the placement of the steering wheel.

In the early years it started off in the centre of the vehicle. It then moved to the right hand side. This was done because it was felt that the driver needed to see the curb more clearly. Only after traffic became more congested did it move to the left. This was done so the driver could see the oncoming traffic.

It was a fascinating exhibition and I only wish that we were in Stuttgart long enough to also visit the Porsche Museum as well – I don’t think Thea would agree.

After the museum we then got the S Bahn back to the centre and wandered around there for a few hours.

There isn’t a lot of historical building remaining as so much was lost during WWII.

Stuttgart sits on the Neckar River and since the 6th millennium BC has been an important agricultural area. But today it’s manufacturing that gives it the status of being one of the wealthiest European cities by GDP.

Today it is known as the ‘Cradle of the Automobile’ being the birthplace of the motor vehicle and the home of Mercedes-Benz , Daimler AG and Porsche.

We had another run-in with the law, however this was of our own making.

We found a wallet lying open on the footpath, just near Palace Square. It contained cards, money and more. Fortunately we had just past a couple of police officers nearby so we raced back and handed over the find.

They were rather shocked I think.

That night we had dinner with Rebecca and Felix and Rebecca’s parents Harold and Barbara.

It was great to catch up with old friends and to see Rebecca and Felix’s growing family.


Cyprus has a foot in both camps. (March 2019)

July 30th, 2019

March 14, 2019. Corfu, Greece to Larnaca, Cyprus. 

Our flight to Cyprus, with a three hour layover in Athens, was at 9:30 am. 

We had left the car in the city car park and had to wheel our luggage there, which was about 200 metres away. 

That was easy, the hardest part was taking our cases the two floors down from the ‘Cute house in old Corfu Town’.

The stairs were steep and narrow. 

Once we were at Athen’s airport there was plenty of time to get some breakfast and a coffee. 

The coffee in Greece has been, on the whole, very good. A double espresso gets us the required quantity and strength. 

For me, Cyprus meant a new country. Thea visited there back in 1971. 

Because of our long layover our bags must have gone into the Larnaca flight first – as they came off last. 

Again our room was in the old part of the town but it was in a contemporary building. 

There was even a lift. 

We were staying in the heart of Larnaca’s tourist town and surrounded by Yankee fast food establishments. 

Littered along the waterfront, just near our apartment, were testaments to America’s bad culinary tastes. There was a McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut and Starbucks. 

What has the rest of the world done to be subjected to such crap?

Luckily we did manage to find, Ocean Basket, a good seafood restaurant for dinner. 


Saint Lazarus Byzantine Church and Museum (9th Century)

March 15, 2019. Larnaca, Cyprus. 

The good weather from the previous day had turned sour and the sky was leaden. There was also periodic rain that was sometimes heavy. Once it seemed to have subsided we ventured out. 

As a large poster on a public building boasted. 

“Larnaca, city of Lazarus. 

One of the world’s 20 most ancient, continuously inhabited, cities for the last 4,000 years.”

Lazarus is certainly the local hero In Larnaca as we were to discover. 

Just down the beach from the ‘Avenue of Fast Food’ was the Medieval Castle of Larnaca, built in 1625 over a site that was first settled around the 14th century BC.

During the British rule the fort was used as a prison and the gallows still remain just inside the front entrance.

The last execution took place in 1945.

It now houses a small museum.

Just next door is Kebir, the Grand Mosque of Larnaca. It was built over the site of the 16th century Holy Cross Latin Church in 1835-1836.

There are still a few of the flying buttresses remaining from the original church.

A mosque with buttresses is a strange architectural mix.

Just a little further in from the coast is the Saint Lazarus Byzantine Church and Museum.

This has an interesting story to tell, as I found out on PlanetWare ‘Things to do in Larnaca’ site.

Below is a quote from the site:

“After Lazarus rose from the dead, he lived here in Larnaca (then known as Kition) for another 30 years and was ordained as Bishop of Kition. When he finally died – this time for good – he was buried here, where the stately Agios Lazaros (Church of St. Lazarus) now stands. The church was built in the 9th century by Emperor Leo VI and was faithfully restored in the 17th century.”

Dodging the rain we found the Archeological site at Kition, the original settlement from, 707 BC, which eventually became Larnaca. The actual site was closed but there was an open air display of a number of artefacts.

In the evening we ignored the suggestion of the host and looked beyond the fast food strip. 

Surprisingly, just around the corner from our apartment was a group of bars and restaurants that were much more appealing. 

The Hipsters were there and in large numbers, all smoking and therefore sitting outside. 

I didn’t envy them in the least, as the temperature had dropped and we were much cosier indoors. 

However our presence did raise the average age by about 20 years. 

It was a good meal accompanied by a thumping soundtrack. 


Aphrodite’s Rock

March 16, 2019. Larnaca to Paphos via Limassol, Cyprus. 

There has been human activity in Cyprus since the 10th millennium BC. It was then inhabited by Mycenaean Greeks, who came in two waves in the 2nd millennium BC.

The island occupies a strategic location in the Middle East and has been of interest to many conquering races.

Assyrians, Egyptians and Persians have all laid their claim at some time. In 333 BC it was seized from the Persians by Alexander the Great. Both the Classical and Eastern Roman Empire called Cyprus home, as well as Arabs, French and Venetians. This was followed by three centuries of Ottoman rule between 1571 and 1878.

Cyprus was placed under the UK’s administration in 1878 and was annexed by them in 1914.

We were back into another rental car for a four day drive around southern Cyprus. 

The big difference, I was now back driving on the left – another legacy of British rule.

Another quirk of the British rule is the Powers points. They are Pommy points but most have adaptors for EU plugs. 

Again the rental company was Avis. The car was handed over to us by an American, with a broad southern accent. 

He carried our bags to the car with the words: “Let the nigger carry those bags.”

His words, not mine and yes, he was African American. 

We wondered why certain vehicles in Cyprus had red number plates. Once we reached the Avis lot it was obvious, as we were greeted by a sea of red. 

All throughout our afternoon drive, from Larnaca to Paphos, there were red plates everywhere. 

This south western part of the island must be full of car hiring tourists, just like us. 

The skies were still dark when we arrived at Limassol and in the midst of our morning coffee the rain came thundering down. Fortunately we had seen the rain approaching and chose to sit inside.

Unlike many, who were dining alfresco. There was then a rush as everyone tried to squeeze into the rather limited cafe interior.

On the way to Paphos was Aphrodite’s Rock, a place Thea had visited all those years ago. She had actually slept on top of the rock, so it was only natural that we had to climb it.

I am sure it was a lot easier when we were in our twenties than seventies.

We made it and it was worth the effort.

Aphrodite’s Rock or Petra tou Romiou, (Rock of the Greek) is attributed as the birthplace of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. There are many other legends but this is the one that gives rise to the name.

It was late in the day by the time we reached Paphos and after settling into the Hotel Kirinas we wandered around the town.

Being off-season there wasn’t much open in Paphos, so we opted to eat in the hotel. The specialty of the kitchen was Moussaka which was ok but I have had a lot better.


The first poppies of the season

March 17, 2019. Paphos to Nicosia, Cyprus. 

After a good coffee at the Urban Coffee Company, which was just around the corner from our hotel, we headed to a UNESCO World Heritage Site near the coast. 

The Tombs of the Kings is an archeological site containing many underground tombs dating back to the 4th century BC. The tombs are hewn out of solid rock and believed to be the burial sites of Paphitic aristocrats.

No kings were actually buried there, the name comes from the magnificence of the tombs with many featuring Doric column and frescoed walls.

Excavation is still continuing today.

Then if was off for a day of driving towards to Nicosia, via route 88, up to Troodos near Mount Olympus. 

At Troodos the last of the winter snow was clinging on and people were still skiing and snowboarding. 

On the drive into Nicosia red number plates were everywhere. The tourist season has started early in this part of Cyprus.  

Once in Nicosia we went for a walk. There was a large number of Filipinos women around Ledra Street, in the old part of the city. Also quite a few Africans as well as Indians and Pakistanis. 

At the reception desk of our hotel we asked why?

The Filipinos are employed as nannies for the Greek Cypriot middle class and they work flat out for six days and get Sunday off.

Many are devout Christians and after church they wander in groups through the streets.

The government guarantees a good wage and holidays so there are many of them living in the city. In fact they make up 18% of the Greek Cypriot population.

We were also told by reception that the Africans, Indians and Pakistanis were there to study at shonky private universities, that offer degrees with very little work for rather large fees.

From our hotel window, on the Greek side, we looked into the Turkish part of Cyprus. And just to make sure that we understood the politics, there was a large Turkish flag carved into the facing hillside.

In the 1950s Cyprus was divided and a Turkish state created in the north of the island. There was a time when the Turks wanted to annex the north and considered it part of Anatolia, a state in Turkey.

Meanwhile the Greek Cypriots wanted union with Greece.

In 1974 a coup d’état was staged by Greek Cypriot nationalists. This then led to a Turkish invasion and the subsequent division, displacing over 150,000 Greek Cypriots and 50,000 Turkish Cypriots. 

A separate Turkish Cypriot state was established 1983 and is still a matter of ongoing dispute.

Even now the Turks, under the ‘dictatorship’ of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are illegally drilling for oil off the Cypriot coast.


The Turkish flag on the ‘other side’

March 18, 2019. Nicosia, Cyprus. 

This was our day to explore the Turkish side of Nicosia. 

As we walked to the checkpoint area, Ledras Street was devoid of the Filipino nannies we saw the day before. 

It was Monday and they were obviously back, hard at work. 

Once we went through passport control, I had a Turkish Coffee at David People, a trendy little establishment near the Kumarcilar Han Caravanserai. 

Remembering not to drink down to the ‘sludge’, brought back memories of our times in Turkey and Greece.

Of course It would have been a Greek Coffee on the south side of the border.

For 4,500 years Nicosia has been continuously inhabited and since the 10th century it had been the capital city. 

Thea had done an excellent job of researching the top spots to see in the city.

It was all within walking distance of our hotel which was good as it gave us a great opportunity to explore this unique place and get some exercise as well.

We visited two Ottoman era Caravanserais then went to the Selimiye Camii Mosque which in a former life was Saint Sophia Cathedral built between 1208 and 1326. Again the flying buttresses were a giveaway to the original architecture. 

Just inside the entrance to the mosque was a white board. On it, written in English, was a simple explanation of Islam. 

A sign of the times, given the tragedy in Christchurch NZ just days earlier. 

One of the most interesting sites for me was the historical houses of Samanbaçhe. This was an Ottoman council housing project built between 1918 and 1925. 

We walked down to Kyrenia Gate. This is the northern city gate built, in by the Venetians in 1562. 

We then walked back through Turkish Nicosia, through passport control again and then down to the Famagusta Gate, the southern gate, built in 1557. 

This was another Venetian gate but on the Greek side of the city. It was originally called the Porta Giuliani after its designer and restored by the Ottomans in 1821.

Having spent the best part of a day in the Turkish side, I had a feeling that it was a bit more ‘down to earth’ and less ostentatious than Greek Nicosia. There were none of the American fast-food chains and the atmosphere seemed to be a lot more authentic.

In the evening we discovered that there was another Ocean Basket restaurant in Nicosia. We also discovered that it’s part of a chain and a very good one at that. The food was excellent and the staff attentive.


Citroën C3 and the Hala Sultan Tekke

March 19, 2019. Nicosia to Larnaca, Cyprus. 

On the drive back to Larnaca we stopped at Lefkara the home of lace and silver in Cyprus. Lefkara lace is unique and in 2009 was included on the UNESCO List of Intangible Heritage Items. 

There were Nonas outside every shop, hoping you would buy from them. 

Lefkara lace also caught the attention of Leonardo Da Vinci, who visited the village in 1481. He was so impressed that he took some home to Italy to be used on the altar of the Cathedral of Milan.

After a bit of searching we found the Heritage Museum. This was in a restored house and on two levels and full of the famous lace as well as other historical artefacts.

We were given very strict instructions to close the door, when entering and leaving. 

Apparently the pesky swallows have a habit of flying in and trying to nest. 

Our last stop for the day was to the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque on Larnaca Salt Lake. 

Built in the 18th Century over the tomb of Umm Haram, foster mother to the Prophet Mohammed. 

Consequently this is one of the most holy places of Islam. 

We had booked a hotel very near the airport. So to save time I wanted to fill the car up before we went there in the morning. 

This wasn’t easy. 

The petrol stations were open, but for some reason, they were only operating on ‘automatic’. 

This meant we had to risk using, and possibly losing, a credit card or pay cash into a machine. 

A machine that didn’t give change, only credit – credit we couldn’t use. 

Our hotel was right on Mackenzie Beach, so, at dusk, we went for a walk along the front. 

In the evening we found Kellari, a tradition sea food taverna. 

The food was simple, rustic and very tasty. We even completed our Cypriot experience with an after dinner Ouzo. 

One between the two of us, as we were up early for our flight to Berlin the next morning.

Corfu is Greek and a little bit British as well.
(March 2019)

July 14th, 2019


It’s the start of the ‘Wedding Season’

March 9, 2019. Saranda, Albania to Corfu, Greece.

The ferry to Corfu wasn’t until 1pm, so we spent some time walking down into the town centre of Saranda again. 

The weather was certainly improving, with blue skies and sun that had some warmth in it. 

The cafe on the front was full, especially all the seats facing the water. 

We had a coffee then returned to the hotel. 

The hotel owner kindly drove us to the port. 

Not wanting his generosity to go unnoticed, he urged us to put a good word in on Google. 

Once aboard the Kristi, we left the Balkans and were now headed for the Ionian Islands. 

Part four of our adventure. 

The route took us down the straight between Albania and Corfu and past Butrint, where we had been the day before. 

We caught a taxi from the port into Old Corfu Town, there we were to meet the host of our AirBnB.

We waited and waited but she never turned up.

Eventually we came across a guy who seemed to be looking for people. We put two and two together and realised that his guests had probably gone off with our host.

Sure enough, after a phone call, our host returned to the meeting place and took us to our accommodation. 

Then there was a swap of guests.

I get the feeling that the other couple might have ended up winners.

‘Cute house in old Corfu Town’ was the way our accommodation was described.

Sometimes marketing people need to answer to their over-sell. 

‘Small and cramped’ would be more of an accurate description. 

Admittedly it was a short walk to the centre of the old city, but still an over-sell.

Cute’ is a way of saying it has lots of issues, therefore forgive it’s short comings.  

This was an apartment, booked through and should have had far more amenities than were provided. 

It also had some idiosyncrasies.

The water from the washing machine had to be drained into the toilet bowl.

Too bad if you needed a poo while it was draining.

You had to turn the water heater off in between using it, or else it would overheat.

The smoke detector ‘chirped’ so it had been turned off – maybe a new battery was in order. 

The key had great difficulty actually opening the front door and had to be replaced.

In the evening we went for a wander around the old town and discovered ‘Diver’ a Beer Restaurant that has outlets in both Athens and Corfu. 

Much to Thea’s delight they also have wine as well. 

They had five beers on tap, which is rare, and 50 beers in bottles, which in this part of the world is unheard of. 

Craft beer is certainly catching on – even in Greece. 


The Corfu cricket pitch

March 10, 2019. Corfu, Greece.

As it turns out we were in Corfu during a carnival long weekend. 

The origins of the word carnival come from the Latin: ‘carn’, meaning flesh and ‘levare’ to put away. So in essence carnival was a food festival, as it was the last time to eat meat before the 40 days of lent.

The reason for the celebration and public holiday was for Clean Monday. 

Also known as Pure Monday, Ash Monday, Monday of lent or Green Monday. This is the first day of Great Lent, a popular festival with the Eastern Catholic churches.

On the Sunday, as part of the carnival, there were processions through the main street in the old city. Apart from the people in the parade, many locals dressed up. 

There were children dressed as police, super heroes and in army fatigues. 

An angel and devil duo was very popular with the teenage girls while ‘Anonymous’ was the favourite with the boys. 

We spent most of the day just wandering around enjoying the festive atmosphere. 

In the evening we returned to the main city centre and dined at one of the local restaurants. 

It was like being back in Albania – the place was empty. 

As the waiter explained, it had been a big day for most, and the majority had gone home. 

By 9 pm a few people started to drift back into town.


The Old Fort (Mainly Venetian 1386-1797)

March 11, 2019. Corfu, Greece.

The earliest mention of Corfu relates to the Mycenaean Greek word, meaning Man from Kerkra, in 1,300 BC. Some scholars believe that it was mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey.

Old Corfu Town is a classic Venetian city, with a old town and stylish colonnade along the front that overlooks the green expanse of Spianada Square. 

The colonnades are full of cafes and restaurants and everything faces the water. 

Spianada Square is the largest town square in Greece and right in the middle is a cricket pitch. Corfu is the only place in Greece where cricket is played. It was introduced to the island during the British Protectorate that followed the Treaty of Paris in 1815. This was a time of prosperity with new roads, improved water supply and the construction of the first Greek university in the Ionian Islands.

During this period the Greek language became official in Corfu.

We were not surprised to find this relic of British colonialism, as we were pre warned by Alex, the Zimbabwean/Dutchman, we met at the Blue Eye in Albania. 

Kite flying seemed to be a part of Clean Monday. 

After a coffee we returned to the town centre and there, on the cricket pitch, families were trying to get their kites airborne. 

There were a few ‘professionals’ and they had no trouble. Their kites seemed to be soaring hundreds of metres into the blue Corfu sky. 

Custom has it that the higher the kite flies the closer you get to God. The Greek mathematician and engineer, Archytas (440-360 BC) first started to fly kites around 400 BC. However the ancient Chinese were flying kites well before that in 1,000 BC. 

Their desire was similar, in that they would write messages on their kites, in order to communicate with the gods.

We walked the few hundred metres, past the park, to the the Old Fort. This is mainly Venetian in design and built between 1386 and 1797.

Again there were kite flyers in the central courtyard. 

After wandering around the township for some time we eventually found the New Fortress. Only to discover that it was permanently shut due to safety reasons. 

Compared to the previous day Corfu was dead. Admittedly it was a public holiday but the streets were empty and most businesses, except in the centre, were shut. 

Everywhere we go we hear songs that are sung, either by Justin Bieber, or someone who sounds just like him, or his female counterpart, Justine Bieber.

It’s all Bieberish to me.


The Triumph of Achilles 1892 by Franz Matsch (1861-1942)

March 12, 2019. Corfu, Greece.

Having spent three days wandering around Old Corfu Town we hired a car and headed out to explore the island.

We needed something small, considering the narrowness of the streets and parking spots.

The VW Polo suited the task.

We had the car for two days so planned to head south on day one and north on the second day.

Our first stop was the Achillion Pallace and Museum, built in 1890 for Elisabeth, Empress of Austria and Hungary. It was designed by the Italian architect, Raffaele Caritto. 

While we were inside, it started to rain, which stopped us exploring some of the gardens.

Elisabeth purchased all the land between the house and the sea. This 80 hectare area contained gardens plus walking and riding tracks.

She was a great lover of exercise and would walk and ride around her beloved Achillion.

The name ‘Achillion’ came from her love of Greek mythology, especially Achilles, for whom she had a deep affection.

The house, now museum, is full of Greek statues.

After her assassination in Geneva in 1898, by the anarchist Luigi Lucien, the house remained closed for nine years.

Since that time it has been owned by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, been a hospital for French and Serbian troops and then taken over by the Greek State.

During the Second World War it was used by the occupying Italian and German forces and then again it reverted back to state control.

For a period it was a casino, the first in Greece and was featured in the 1981 James Bond Movie, For Your Eyes Only. Then in 1994 it was restored and used for the European Union Summit in Corfu.

From Achillion we then drove to Lake Korission, a coastal lagoon of 427 hectares that drains into the Ionian Sea

Continuing our drive around the south we ascended up route 25, where we got some great views of Corfu. We found that from that aspect we could see another angle of Achillion.

We then visited Mon Repos, the house where Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was born in 1921.

The house was originally built for Frederick Adam, the British Lord High Commissioner of the United States of the Ionian Islands in 1828. After the union with Greece in 1864 the villa was granted to King George I of the Hellenes.

He was the grandfather of ‘Phil the Greek’

This was yet another attraction that wasn’t open. It would have been interesting to see inside.

The area where the house is located overlooks the coast and is also a public park.

Many runners and walkers enjoy the solitude and verdant green forrest that surrounds Mon Repos.

We were the only tourists.


A telescope at Bella Vista view point

March 13, 2019. Corfu, Greece.

It was a beautiful blue sky day for our drive around the north of Corfu. 

This part of the island seems to be much more affluent than the south. 

However everything was still shut, the ATMs, currency exchanges and even the traffic lights don’t start working again until spring. 

In the south many places were in disrepair, while in the north construction and renovation was everywhere.

The north even appears to have better landscape.

The rolling green hills, dramatic rock escarpments and small villages tucked into the hillsides, all added to a great drive.

At one point we drove along the ridge road between the villages of Troumpetas and Agia Anna (Saint Anna). At times we could see both sides of the island.

Near the village of Almyros, in the north east, we got a great view over the Ionian Sea to Butrint and Saranda in Albania.

We continued driving in an anti-clockwise direction and came across Angelokastra Castle. This Byzantine fortress sits at 305 metres on the highest point in Corfu. Built in the 13th century it never succumbed to attack.

It was a great day of driving. Perfect weather, good roads and courteous drivers.

We returned back to Old Corfu town and parked in the city car park, which was adjacent to the cricket ground.

It was a good spot to park, with decent size car spaces, easy access and only €3 per day.

We had picked up the Polo from the airport and were going to drop it off the next day. This was to catch our flight to Cyprus.


Albania, the secret country. (March 2019)

June 19th, 2019


Krujë Castle

March 2, 2019. Prizren, Kosovo to Tirana, Albania. 

Albania was the wild card on this trip. 

Back in the early 70s, when we started travelling, Albania was a fortress country. You had to skirt around it when travelling from Italy to Greece and go via Yugoslavia.

It would have been much easier, with probably better scenery, to have travelled the coastal route. 

We will soon find out. 

It was just over 200 kilometres from Prizren, in Kosovo, to Tirana in Albania. That was with a side trip to visit the National Museum in Krujë.

Also known as the Skanderbeg Museum, it is one of the most significant in Albania. It is named after of the Albanian national hero, George Castriot Skanderbeg or in Albanian, Gjergi Kastrioti Skënderbej. 

Only inaugurated in 1982, the museum is housed in Krujë Castle. This impregnable fortress was invaded three times by the Ottomans (1450, 1466 and 1467) but never taken. It helped Skanderbeg defend Albania from the Ottomans for over two decades.

Most of the artefacts in the museum date back to the time of Skanderbeg (1405-1468)

Skanderbeg was part of the noble Castriot family and was sent to the Ottoman court. There he was educated and rose through the ranks to become governor or Sanjak of Dibra, part of the Ottoman Empire in Macedonia.

He deserted the Ottomans during the battle of Niš in 1443 and became the ruler of Krujë, Svetigrad and Modrič. In 1444 he became the leader of the short lived League of Lezhë. This was the first time that Albania was united under one leader.

Another, more infamous, Albanian was Enver Hoxha (1908-1985), the Communist head of state from 1944 until his death. He was also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces for the same period.

Following Italy’s invasion of Albania, at the start of World War II in 1939, he became involved in politics and entered into the Party of Labour of Albania in 1941.

Hoxha was instrumental in rebuilding Albania after the war and achieved a lot for the devastated state. Under his leadership much was achieved, such as building railways, electrification and the raising of the adult literacy from 5% to 98%.

However he was tyrant.

Albania became a repressed country with labour camps, extrajudicial killing and executions, all aimed at eliminating opposition to his communist rule. This was controlled and directed by the Sigurimi or secret police who were under Hoxha’s direct rule.

Hoxha was a communist of the Marxist-Leninist persuasion and a great admirer of Joseph Stalin, who was also a tyrant.

There was a falling out between Tito’s Yugoslavian communists and Hoxha, who was constantly in fear of being invaded.

This wasn’t helped by Stalin who fuelled the conspiracy fire with the Yugoslavians.

His anxiety was so great that he eventually fell out of favour with the USSR and then tried to forge an alliance with the Maoist China.

In Enver Hoxha’s mind everyone was out to get him.

Between the 1960s and the 1980s he was so paranoia about invasion that he constructed 173,371 concrete bunkers across Albania.

That was 5.7 bunkers for every square kilometre.

We saw them everywhere.

Once in Tirana, the capital of Albania, we had arranged to meet with Eduart Cekoja, a director of Evasion Travel. This was the company that had done all the ground work for KimKim for our tour in Kosovo and Albania.

The meeting was partly social, as Eduart wanted to get our feelings on the trip. However it was mainly arranged so that we could get our replacement rental car.

The new car was a deep red Renault Clio, which was in better condition than our previous vehicle, even before the accident.

The poor old Opel Corsa was taken away and we managed to get a car park for the Renault right out the front of our hotel. This was great, as parking was at a premium in Tirana and we didn’t plan on using the car the next day.

That night we found Patricia, an Italian restaurant that was just 20 metres down the road. The service was patchy but the food excellent. 


House of Leaves (Built in 1931)

March 3, 2019. Tirana, Albania. 

Our full day in Tirana was rather confronting. 

This was our day to explore the city and to delve a little more deeply into the secret state that was Albania.

As we had left the new rental car at the hotel, we were on foot. This wasn’t an issue as most of the attractions were within easy reach of our centrally located hotel.

After walking through Skanderbeg Square, past the Skanderbeg statue (this man is omnipotent) we arrived at The Museum of Secret Surveillance, formerly know as The House of Leaves.

During the Hoxha era it was the home of the Sigurimi or secret police. But before that, during the German occupation in World War II, it was the headquarters of the Gestapo.

Making it’s recent history rather dark.

The house was originally built in 1931, by Doctor Jani Basho (1892-1957) as a private obstetrics clinic.

It was known as The House of Leaves because of the climbing plant that covers the facade.

The museum is very new, having only been opened since 2017. The 31 rooms are crammed with artefacts from the communist past, much of it is interactive and each room is themed.

There was even one of the bunkers in the front garden.

As the promotion for the museum states it is: ‘…dedicated to the innocent people who were spied on, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and executed during the communist regime.’

There are some amazing collections of equipment that were used by the Sigurimi to spy on the average Albanian.

Recording devices, bugs and cameras were all on display.

There were even cameras there that I have at home in my collection. This really gave clarity to the fact that this didn’t happen that long ago – it’s very recent history.

There was one exhibit The Panopticon by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) This British philosopher developed the idea of a radically new prison where the gaoler, who was unseen, could control the inmates by observation, or at least have them believe they were being observed.

This form or control shows staggering similarities to the Communist Chinese government’s current method of monitoring of their people through constant observation. 

After a few sobering hours in the House of Leaves we moved on.

Just around the corner from the museum is the former house of Enver Hoxha.

This large, private resident is an architectural mishmash of 1930s revival and 1980s concrete modernism.

Apparently 25 members of Hoxha’s close family also lived in the house during his time there.

Surrounded by a high fence and off limits as a tourist destination is the Pyramid of Tirana.

Built in 1988 this rather bizaare structure was formerly the Enver Hoxha Museum. One of the co-designers was Enver Hoxha’s daughter, Pranvera Hoxha and it was designed to honour the legacy of Hoxha’s life.

Judging by the dilapidated state of the building, it’s not a vision shared by the current government.

There are even ideas to demolish the structure and redevelop the area.

Bunkers are an important part of the landscape in Albania, so it’s not surprising that there are museums inside two of them.

Bunk’Art 1 and 2 are history museums of the Communist, Cold War era in Albania.

We visited Bunk’Art 2 which is built in the anti-atomic bunker of the Interior Ministry of Communism. It was partly a repeat of what we had seen in the House of Leaves but there was a broader range of displays.

When technology doesn’t work. There was meant to be an augmented reality guide in Bunk’Art 2, but it didn’t work.

An interesting observation on one display explained; It was only after the fall of the Berlin Wall that the Albanian Communist regime provided their police with the weapons to face democracy – riot gear. 

That night we found the restaurant Artigiano for dinner. This was another Italian feast but the service was much better.


Endangered Dalmatian Pelican

March 4, 2019. Tirana to Berat, Albania. 

Driving from Tirana to Berat we stopped off at the Divjakë-Karavata National Park. With an area of 223.3 square kilometres it contains wetlands, salt mashes, coastal meadows, floodplains, woodlands, reed beds, forests and estuaries.

Apart from 228 species of resident and migratory birds, it’s also home to the endanger Dalmatian Pelican. This is the largest member of the pelican family and one of the biggest living birds.

Of the world’s remaining Dalmatian Pelicans, 6.4% of the European birds live in Karavasta Lagoon, which is within the park.

There were a number of them there to greet us when we arrived at the visitor’s centre. As was a very enthusiastic park ranger, who walked us through some of the displays inside.

There was a large lookout tower nearby and from there we could get an excellent view of the park.

We then walked down to Godulla e Pishes or Fish Lagoon and some of the marsh area.

The ranger suggested we visit the Karavasta Lagoon, this is where many of the birds congregate. We did find the Adriatic coast and some rather dilapidated beach huts, but unfortunately no access to the lagoon.

By the time we reached Berat it was getting late and I was dreading finding the hotel and then a car park.

We found the hotel Mangalemi without much trouble and there was even a car park out the front.


Monument of the Agonothets

March 5, 2019. Berat, Albania. 

Most of the day was devoted to archaeology, with a visit to the ancient Greek city of Apollonia.

However before that, we went to yet another monastery, Ardenica. But there was still an ancient Greek connection at that monastery.

The Monastery of Ardenica was built in the 10th century on the site of an ancient Greek temple dedicated to Artemis. 

The name Ardenica is thought to have been derived from Artemis, the daughter Zeus and the twin sister of Apollo.

The monastery is famous as the place where in 1451 Skanderbeg, the national hero of Albania, married Andronika Arianiti.

This is still a working monastery and there was limited access to the main areas.

The ancient Greek city of Apollonia, the day’s primary focus, was established in 588 BC by Greek colonists from Corfu and Corinth. It was set over a large area and we spent several hours just wandering around the ruins.

We looked and looked for the amphitheater but couldn’t find it. 

I think it may have been used to build St Mary’s Monastery, which was next door. 

There was a small but well endowed museum associated with the monastery. This contained a number of artefacts from the Greek archaeological site.

At the end of the day we returned to Berat and had a walk around. We realised, too late, that we should have spent more time in this UNESCO World Heritage city.

Unfortunately the light was dull and this added to our frustration, especially when trying to get some snaps of the city at dusk. 

Berat has a history going back to ancient times but its importance stems from the Ottoman period. Situated on the Osum River, it features a wealth of interesting architecture, that rises up the hill from the river bank.

In the 18th century the economy of Berat was closely connected to the city’s craft guilds. In 1750 there were 22 guilds, such as cobblers, leather-working, metal-working, silver-smithing and silk-making.

Many of the houses were built for wealthy craftsmen.


The idle youth of Berat

March 6, 2019. Berat to Gjirokaster, Albania. 

Before the 3.5 hour drive to Gjirokastra we went up to Berat Castle, which was on a rocky outcrop overlooking our hotel. 

There we met Jurgen, an architect working for the the Department of Culture. 

His main task was to get videos of tourists talking positively about Berat. 

He showed us around the lookout and then chose a spot for our interview. 

He was rather gobsmacked that we rolled off a 40 seconds narration, without drawing a breath. 

We aren’t strangers to these interviews, having done them in Iran and Japan. 

We were interested in a rather out-of-place piece of architecture in the city below. 

Jurgen was happy to fill us in on the details. 

The ‘White House’ was a private university in Berat. It went broke as a result of the administration awarding degrees without the students doing any work. 

It is now going to be converted to a five star hotel. 

Berat Castle or the Citadel of Berat was built in the 13th century and is still occupied today.

The citadel was burnt down by the Romans in 200 BC. Then in the 5th and 13th centuries major reconstruction work was carried out.

Many of the buildings within the fortress wall, that were built during the 13th century, are still inhabited today.

We arrived in Gjirokastra, or Stone Town as it’s known in the tourist blurb, late in the day.

As usual we had difficulty finding the hotel and a place to park the car. 

This was exacerbated by the roadworks that were surrounding the hotel. 

We had been given the hotel’s phone number and this resulted in Ledia coming down to help us out. 

We ended up parking in the town square, at the bottom of the hill, a far distance from our hotel.

The Hotel Bineri was brand new. 

We were the only guests and I got the feeling that we may have been the first. 

That evening we went for a short walk around the old part of the city and stopped for a drink at a very small bar. 

Again we were the only people there. 

After that we went in search of a meal and ended up at Restaurant Korda, which was just a few metres from our hotel. 

There were only two others eating. They were Americans and probably from the American Aid office that was opposite our hotel. 

You get used to eating in empty restaurants when you travel out of season.


Italian Fiat tank L6/40 (1940)

March 7, 2019. Gjirokastra, Albania. 

Gjirokastra is another old town with a castle dominating the skyline.

Gjirokastra Fortress (12th -13th Century AD) has a number of museums within its walls. One was military, containing captured artillery and memorability of the Communist resistance to the German occupation.

The entire fortress area was well signed and contained many, very well written, information boards.

In 1967 the Communist regime officially pronounced Albania as an atheist country. 

Almost all religious buildings were destroyed. Twelve of Gjirokastras thirteen mosques were demolished. 

Religious figures were imprisoned or killed. 

What was interesting to note is that the restoration of the Bazaar Mosque was being funded by the Turkish government.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems intent on spreading his influence throughout the former Ottoman Empire.

A fascinating fact to come out of our museum tour, was that Enver Hoxha, the communist dictator, was born in Gjirokastra. 

It wasn’t easy being a tourist in the town of stone.

The construction work aside, many of the main tourist sites were shut. 

The Obelisk, Ethnographic Museum, Ismail Kadare’s House, and Skenduli House, all closed. 

Even the tourist office was shut.

We were told by a local, anxious to sell us postcards of the closed sights, that they would’t open again until April.

It would be intriguing to see what tourism in Albania would be like in ten years time. 

It seems to be developing at a rapid rate, especially in Gjirokastra where there is so much infrastructure being built.

Gjirokastra is another UNESCO World Heritage city, as was Berat, so they are doing something right in the development of their tourist industry.

These classifications don’t come easily.


Blue Eye (Syri i Kaltër) natural spring

March 8, 2019. Gjirokastra to Saranda, Albania. 

Before our drive to Saranda, on the coast, we had a coffee at Bar Restaurant Rrapi, which was 30 metres from our hotel. 

Again it was dominated by men drinking coffee and smoking. 

Thea was the only woman there. 

This town of stone is dominated by mountain ranges on all sides. They still had a dusting of residual winter snow on their peaks. 

We had set ourselves a few sites to see before our last stop in Albania.

First was Blue Eye, (Syri i Kaltër) a natural spring of clear blue water that bubbles to the surface from a depth of 50 metres. This is believed to be the source of the Bistricë River which runs for 25 kilometres into the Ionian Sea south of Saranda.

There we met Alex, a fair haired Dutchman, who was originally from Zimbabwe. He was doing a three month bike tour, through the Balkans, before returning home to get married.

However he seemed to think that he would have to return to Holland earlier than expected as his girl friend was missing him, not to mention the fact that she was preparing for the wedding – on her own.

The archaeological site of Butrint is a microcosm of Mediterranean history. The Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans and Venetians have all left a legacy. 

This was possible one of the best archeological sites we had visited on this trip. 

Butrint’s links to history are amazing. 

This is a quote was from one of the many information boards placed around the park. 

“Caesar arrived at Butrint in 44BC and recognised its potential as a town. After his bitter struggle with Pompey he designated Butrint a Roman colonial city.

Augustus, Caesar’s adopted son, further developed the colony after defeating Anthony and Cleopatra at nearby Actium in 31BC.”

Talk about name dropping the who’s who of ancient history.

After checking into our accommodation, the Hotel LIiria in Sarenden, we went for a walk along the waterfront boulevard. 

This was after we returned our hire car. 

Our excess for the accident, in the first car, was half our US$100 deposit. 

I was very happy to only pay US$50. 

Saranda is a seaside town and there were far more people than we had become used to. 

And more women in groups than we had seen in weeks. 

It was also more expensive. 

Was this the coastal Albania that we had missed back in the 70s? I get the feeling that Saranda and Albania in general has come a long way since those Communist days.

It was still off-season and again we had the feeling that we were the only guests at the hotel.

When we returned there after dinner, we couldn’t get in. There was no one at reception and no matter how hard I knocked on the door I couldn’t get anyone to answer.

Then I found a side entrance and luckily it was open.