Posted in Uncategorized

A rant for a sunny Saturday morning

Saul Eslake was speaking in Hobart the other night and I happened to go along. For a long time Saul was the Chief Economist for the ANZ Bank and is now the Chief Economist for Bank of America Merril Lynch. He was talking about productivity and why it matters for Tasmania (the state of Australia in which I’ve lived for 26 years).

It was a very interesting talk, but one thing in particular caught my attention.

Saul Eslake contends that one of the reasons productivity growth has declined in recent years is because there’s an obsession with security. He says that governments (of whatever persuasion) seem to want to remove all risk and so put in place policies that, without the ‘security’ tag, would be deemed ‘bad’ policies. He’s written that I’ve come to believe over the years that the easiest way to gain acceptance or endorsement for ‘bad’ policy ideas – that is, policies which impose unnecessary costs on consumers, unnecessarily restrict international trade, entrench monopoly privileges, or detract from productivity – [is] to wrap them in a ‘security blanket’.

He’s also said: Sometimes I feel like I’m one of a tiny handful of people who question this.

And here I was thinking that I was the only person who questions particular kinds of security measures!

Take airport security for example. When I check my bags in at an airport, I can feel my steps slowing as I head towards the security check area. My face hardens and I cannot, ever, stop myself sighing heavily and grumbling (possibly loudly) about the waste of time and money this is.

You see men of all ages taking off their belts, their trousers sagging dangerously; and removing their shoes … then walking through the device. The alarm sounds. They return through – holding the rest of us up – and go through their pockets. (Gosh men keep a lot of junk in their pockets!) They take another stroll through the device and again they beep. Oh yeah, that’s right, I need to put all my loose change on the tray as well, he says, smiling awkwardly at the rest of us tapping our feet in unison (and impatience).

Meanwhile, the queue has extended through the food court, down the escalator, through the door and into the taxi queue.

All this waiting around in airports, the extended periods of time we must now spend preparing for a one hour plane flight (we spend more time in the security line than we do on the plane) is not good for productivity growth. It’s slowing us down.

I flew out of Frankfurt Airport two weeks ago. I beeped as I went through the security device and a woman indicated that I needed to stand to the side – in a little booth. I waited while she went over another woman with expert hands. A few minutes later she came toward me and asked if I spoke German. I said no. It didn’t stop her getting very personal with me.  I’d been away from home for two weeks and let me tell you, she patted places that no other person, apart from perhaps my husband, should pat! It was a very (very) thorough job.

I wondered what her previous work experience had been – what had prepared her for this job? What sort of qualities does an airport security person have to have? They don’t have to have a sense of humour (in fact it’s best if they don’t), they don’t exhibit any sort of care or compassion, they don’t keep their hands to themselves, they have no problem crossing personal boundaries, they are not good at chit chat or engaging in small talk … what work experience prepares you for this? What do you need to learn in school to prepare you to be a patter-downer of the security kind?

It was the same story in Malaysia – except this time I didn’t beep, but other people did. Old ladies being pushed in wheelchairs are forced to stand up out of their chairs so they can be patted down. Old men strip down, almost to their underwear, before they are allowed through. Shoes are taken off with wild abandon; hats, glasses, belts, jackets … all placed on the security belt while the rest of us wait like cattle in a line stretching the length of the concourse.

What madness is this?

I went from France to Italy on a train. No security, no removal of clothing, no pat downs. I wasn’t even sure when I’d crossed from one country to another. I went from Italy to Austria on a train. Same story. And then from Austria to Germany. I arrived at the train stations about 20 minutes before the train left but could have turned up five minutes before if I’d been confident that I knew which platform the train left from. It was effortless and easy and there was no waiting in long lines for hundreds of people to take their laptops from their bags, and remember that they had a water bottle hidden about their person, and they possibly shouldn’t have put their brand new $70 bottle of Crabtree and Evelyn moisturiser (that they used for the first time that morning) in their hand luggage because they’ve just lost it and they stand in the path of everyone else because of the devastation they feel at losing something they wouldn’t have purchased if they hadn’t been travelling out of the country for the first time … and we all shuffle forward one inch at a time with as much joy as if we’re on our way to a torture chamber.

If I’d flown from France to Italy to Germany I would have spent hours waiting in lines, lost even more water bottles, removed my shoes more times than is strictly necessary in front of strangers, and been felt up by more women than I care to talk about in this sort of blog.

Will it ever stop or are we so compliant, so entrenched in thinking that this is the way it is, that we don’t/won’t question it and we’ll live with this invasive, unnecessary, expensive, unproductive practice that ultimately doesn’t make us any safer for ever and a day?

It seems I’m not alone.

What do you think?

Posted in Learning, Travel

One final post about my trip

Things I learnt while in France, Italy and Germany. 

1. The money is called Euros, not dollars.

2. When crossing the road, look left then right then left again.

3. Despite how it might appear, passengers do not drive cars in Europe.

4. Go for five or ten dollar notes when it takes a while for the amount you just heard to register.

5. They’re called Euros, Sharon, not dollars.

6. Oh. Right. Sure.

7. Take small notes; 50s and higher are frowned upon in most places.

8. Wine is often cheaper than water. Drink wine.

8. Wear comfortable shoes, even if they look daggy.

9. When getting into a taxi do not try to get into the driver’s side. Taxi drivers don’t like it much.

10. The bus will come from the left. Don’t waste your time looking in the other direction.

11. Get into the passenger seat carefully – there is no steering wheel to hang on to on that side.

12. Don’t expect cars to stop just because you’re on a pedestrian crossing.

13. Scooters are able to swerve around you; cars, not so much.

14. Look left Sharon! Then when you get into the middle of the road, look right.

15. Two dollar coins are bigger than one dollar coins.

16. They’re called Euros, Sharon. It’s really not that hard.

17. Don’t take photos in supermarkets.

18. Travel first class on the trains when you can.

19. Latte means milk. Don’t order one if you want coffee.

20. In France yes is oui, in Italy it’s si, in Germany it’s jah.

21. Tea comes black.

22. Don’t get anxious, even if you get lost. Just enjoy the wander/wonder.

23. Take a coat if you’re going to Germany in autumn.

24. Learn how to say bandaids in French, Italian and German.

25. Spending a penny can cost up to a euro fifty.

26. Ha, I got it right!

27. Take a packet of tissues in your bag for the times when the WC is free.

28. Be prepared to walk your feet off. Visit as many things as you can.

29. Be prepared to be overwhelmed. Enjoy the feeling.

30. Take photos of other people when you don’t have your own close by.

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Posted in Travel

Three days in Germany (almost)

Saturday, 13th October. I’m on my way home. In fact I’m half way there – I’m sitting at Starbucks Coffee (not drinking coffee, but the chair is comfy) at Kuala Lumpur International Airport after a 12 hour flight from Frankfurt, Germany.

I left on a cold and rainy day, the visibility very poor as we took off at 12:45 this afternoon. I didn’t get to see any of Frankfurt – I’d caught the train to Frankfurt from Eichstatt (a station that seemed in the middle of nowhere because we’d taken the scenic way) after spending a few days with Elke, my German sister.

I’d arrived in Ingolstadt late on Tuesday night after a train ride from Venice. Elke was there to pick me up and we drove the half hour to Eichstatt, arriving at about 11pm.

She was thrilled to see me:

Elke showing how excited she is that I’m visiting 🙂

The next day we went to Nürnberg on the train. It has some beautiful cathedrals and a castle.

After a steep uphill climb we made it to the castle, minutes before it closed for the day.

On our way back we stopped in a supermarket and I couldn’t resist taking a photo – and was promptly told off. The only word I understood was ‘forbidden’ … Elke explained that I was from another planet which didn’t allow alcohol to be sold in supermarkets. That appeased the situation – the woman who had told me it was forbidden looked at me pityingly – I wasn’t sure if it was because I was an alien or because my planet was so unsophisticated.

How’s this for impulse buying … I’ll just grab some wodka and a mars bar on my way out.

The next morning we wandered around Eichstatt, before having lunch.

Oohing and aahing over the autumn colours I noticed this quite macabre site over the river – a stark reminder of the past (quite a sobering one):

Fancy a quick dunk in the river?

But the town really is very pretty … the autumn colours are deep and gorgeous.

Autumn in Eichstatt, Bavaria (Bayern)

Elke showed me her folk dancing skills before taking me on a very scenic route to the railway station. The scenic route involved a dirt road through a forest and a sudden U-turn but I had every confidence that Elke knew where she was going.

A special Bavarian happy dance (Sharon is here visiting me)

It was time for me to leave – a very (very) short visit – and I headed off to Frankfurt via Munich. I had a little time to spare in Munich so that I’d go for a walk around the city closest to the train station. It became clear very quickly that this wasn’t the ‘nice’ part of town, so I cut my walk short and wandered around the station instead.

The train ride to Frankfurt was uneventful – and then things got interesting. I had directions to my hotel from the airport train station, but I’d arrived at the main station. Hmmm … I found the tourist office and asked the girl how to get to the airport hotel I had booked and she told me to take the S7 train (I didn’t have to pay for it) and I’d find my way from there.

Have you ever been in a foreign country, on a train, and not known the train station to get off at, and how to know which station you at? I was staying at Morfelden-Walldorf and when I got on the train I found a station map. There was a station called Morfelden and one called Walldorf. Hmmm … it was dark by this time (about 8:30 at night) and I alighted from the station, searching vainly for a taxi. Nope, not a one in sight. I crossed the road and went into a shop. The Indian boy behind the counter said that he wasn’t from around here and couldn’t help me. A customer in the shop couldn’t help me either.

I walked up the street a little way and came upon another shop. It was shut, as was the next one, and the next one. Finally, I found one that was open. I asked the girl behind the counter if she knew where the hotel was. She didn’t. I asked her if she knew where I could get a taxi from. She didn’t.

But then she had a brain wave and looked up the number for the taxi and rang one for me. She wouldn’t take any money for the call. I was very (very) appreciative. The taxi duly arrived and we drove for a few miles in the rain; I was glad I hadn’t decided to walk.

Sleep … walk to the bus stop in the rain (lucky I had my rain coat) … bus … shuttle … wait wait wait …. plane.

And here I am. In Kuala Lumpur waiting for my second last flight before I get home. I leave here at 9:30 (local time) and arrive in Melbourne at about 9:30 – too late for a flight to Tassie, so an overnight in Melbourne, and then, finally, home to Tim.


Posted in Travel

Musings from the train

Martedi, 9th Ottobre. Venice is about two hours behind me. I’m on the train heading to Germany, to see Elke.

It was strange coming over the bridge between Venice and Mestre (on the mainland); it was like coming into a new world. A world of cars and regular (Italian regular) houses and farms and industry and … regular life.

Venice is anything but regular. There are traffic jams, but they’re not regular ones. Gondolas rather than cars get caught in jams and on the big canals horns honk just as virulently as they do in non-water based cities; ‘stop and go’ men hold up red stop signs for pedestrians rather than cars. The rubbish collection isn’t regular – well, it happens on a daily basis (except Sundays) but instead of bins, people put out their bag of rubbish (and their recycling if they have any) on little hooks stuck into the walls.  At 8am each morning the rubbish collectors move through the laneways pulling their rubbish carts behind them. Ambulances aren’t regular ambulances; police vehicles aren’t like regular police vehicles; delivery-men work tirelessly pushing and pulling their trolleys loaded with goods up and over bridges, through the laneways and into the shops. Everything is delivered on foot. It seems so obvious once you’re here, but it’s not something I had thought about previously. Furniture is moved by boat, then carried through tiny laneways to houses, grocery shopping is done on a daily basis because there are no cars to drive it home in. No lawn mowing is needed, no front gardens need tending; there are no grassy playing fields, no skate parks, no tennis courts, few trees. It’s a different world.

A jam Jim, but not as we know it.


The ‘stop/go’ man, keeping the traffic under control while something happens in the building above.

Stopping ‘traffic’ the Venetian way

I even saw a Venetian garage:

A garage of the Venetian variety


And then there’s the art. My goodness! Some I went to, knowing I was going to go; others I came across in my wanders. The Dali exhibition was one I just happened upon. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection was one I deliberately set out to see. Works by






Max Ernst


… amongst others.

And then the older works contained in the Gallerie dell’Accademie. Paintings from the 12th century onwards, looking as though there were freshly painted. Titian, Bellini, Tintoretto and more. Room after room after room of amazement.

And of course the Doges Palace, which has one of (the?) biggest rooms in Europe in it. Again, amazement on every wall and ceiling. Furniture, paintings, wallpapers, frames: interpretation panels making sense of it all. Across (inside) the Bridge of Sighs and into the maze of the old prison. It made me think the convicts at Port Arthur were lucky, in their own way. The Giants Staircase, with the original rises from the 14th century; Aries and Poseidon continuing to guard it.

The view from inside the Bridge of Sighs


This staircase would have some interesting stories to tell!

And then there are the churches and the islands … and the history.

And the music! On my first night in Venice I went to a Vivaldi concert in Vivaldi’s church. I Virtuosi Italiani were playing The Four Seasons, but they started with Pachelbel’s Canon. On the first note a tear trickled down my face and then as the music continued I couldn’t stop them; it was so beautiful. Tim will know the other reason. The concert was fabulous and if I hadn’t been caught in the infinite maze looking for the lavanderia I would gone to another one. Another thing to do on my next visit.

I know thousands/millions of people have ‘been there, done that’, have seen these galleries filled with beautiful old and new works, heard this music played live in Vivaldi’s church, and it’s not new for them (possibly for you), but for me it was new and it was wonderful. I walked the laneways thinking that people have walked these same laneways for hundreds of years – the cultural heritage here is so present, so evident, that it was easy to let my imagination go and think about the number of priests and noblemen and women (and not so noble ones) walking the same laneways over the years. So many other people, in so many different cultural evolutions, have walked where I walked; did they stop and admire the dome on a church on the other side of the canal? Did they marvel at the statues and ornate buildings in the same way I did? Was it at one time new and wonderful for them (you) too?

There was plenty I didn’t see: churches and museums and galleries and islands and concerts and St Mark’s Basilica from the inside … but it’s not too far from Prague, so I can go back during next year’s trip.


I have just passed through Trento and I have to say that the countryside is beautiful. The hills on either side are lit by the late afternoon sun which makes the rock faces shine. Vineyards take up every available space, a castle clings to the side of a mountain and I catch my breath with how beautiful the scene is. The rivers are wide and fast-running and the same kind of colour that rivers in New Zealand are. To me it suggests water that’s come from high in the mountains over particular kinds of rocks that turn the water almost green in its colourlessness. The landscape is amazing! Little villages are dotted here and there, the church steeple always the tallest structure. A road snakes steeply up/down the mountainside and the light flits across the tower of an old castle, making it glow amongst the green of the vines and the apple trees.

Fields of solar panels, as I’d seen in France, come into view and even old sheds have solar panels on their roofs. As we pull into a station I check the number plates of the cars to see if we’re still in Italy. We are. I wonder if I’ll know when we cross into Austria. It’s amazing that … that we can move from one country to another without having to fly or go on a hazardous boat ride. I suppose only Australians fully appreciate that; although I perhaps the English have some idea of what that’s like. Does driving to Scotland or Wales feel like going to another country, I wonder?

We have arrived in Bolzano Bozen, a place I never knew existed. There have been quite a few of those sorts of places on this trip. The German family leave and close the door to the carriage after them, dissuading others entering the train from coming in. Except one man, who nods to me as he enters, and then another who sits opposite but insists that I don’t have to move my bags out of his way. They both communicate with me in a way that suggests they both know that I’m not from round these parts.

Bolzano Bozen is beautiful; vineyards climb up and over the hills on one side of the train, while the hills on the right hand side are full of pine forests. It’s green, something I (oddly) missed while in Venice.

Another castle high on a hill, built on the very edge of a cliff. I wonder what OH&S would have been like when it was built. So far this is my favourite train ride yet. Twin waterfalls spring from a hole in the hill, about half way down; apple trees laden with fruit, tractors on the roads, flower boxes full of pink and white and red flowers adorn balconies and window ledges, the prevalence of church steeples, the green of the hills, dahlias in bloom in gardens beside the train line, scooters lined up at the station, fat cows with bells around their necks, touches of autumn colours, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu playing through my headphones (it somehow seems fitting) … what a wonderful way to spend the day.

It’s almost 6pm and I’m almost in Austria. I have to say that the northern part of Italy I just travelled through is beautiful. Sarah asked me where to after Prague next year … I think I just found it. Innsbruck is about 35km (by road) from here, and the train arrives in Munich at 8:25. We must be crossing a narrow part of Austria. I hope I get to see some of it before the light goes. There are patches of fog sitting at the tops of the valleys and smoke rises from chimneys at the bottom of valleys.

My trip is winding down and I feel sad about that. I’ve had a fabulous time; seen lots, travelled to many new (for me) places, ordered things off menus without knowing exactly what I was getting, seen more artworks in a week than I think I’ve seen in my life before, eaten ice cream just about every day, drunk French or Italian wine nearly every night, said Ja instead of Si (or even yes) more times than I should have (in fact I didn’t once manage to say Si), seen the Mediterranean and the Adriatic seas, been to four countries, found my way on and off trains, followed incomprehensible instructions to hotels in five cities, walked between four and six hours every day, spent time with my niece Sarah and her partner Ben … it’s been fantastic.

Two weeks has felt like a month, but it’s not over yet. A day with Elke, another train trip (to Frankfurt this time) and then the long flight home, via Kuala Lumpur (plus a night in Melbourne).

I’m having  a blast!

Posted in Travel

And I think to myself …

There are so many people, but once you move past that and begin to see individuals rather than crowds, you see differently. There are young people, old people and then there are the children…

… dancing

This little girl was having a wonderful time dancing with her grandfather


chasing seagulls

This little girl was taking a breather from chasing seagulls


… playing dress-up

This little girl enjoyed wearing her Venetian mask


And I think to myself …

Posted in Travel

Just for Mum

Hi Mum,

I thought of you especially today when I was wondering around St Mark’s Square. There were loads of people and I wasn’t sure what to do. Other people were taking photos of themselves and each other in front of the basillica, or in front of anything really. Kids were chasing the pigeons, adults were being told off for feeding them (the pigeons, not the kids), some had pigeons sitting on their head or shoulders.

This man was told off repeatedly for feeding the pigeons.

I was asked by loads of people to take photos of them with their cameras. Others I just took with mine …

This couple asked me to take a photo with their camera too.

I became aware of music. There are cafes in the square with orchestras playing and gorgeous waiters in white coats and black bowties. I saw a couple dancing

What better way to move around the square.

I wandered closer to the cafe and looked at the menu. The prices were out of this world, but then I thought “If mum was here with me, we’d be in there like a shot” … so Mum, I played ladies and thought of you while I drank my Darjeerling tea with lemon and listened to the beautiful music.

Playing ladies with(out) Mum

How about next year we do it for real?



Posted in Travel

For dog lovers

In Paris it isn’t at all unusual to see people walking their dogs. It’s not unusual to step over dog business or the streams of dog wee that seems to pour from buildings.

So I wasn’t surprised to see people walking their dogs in Avignon. But I was surprised to see dogs accompanying their owners on the train, or to a restaurant. One couple had a really big dog which somewhat surprised the lady at the next table when he showed a sudden interest in her food.

Imagine my surprise though, when I was walking up the Stada Nuova in Pavia the other day, to stop as a man and one golden retriever came out of a cafe. No, wait … not one … two. No hang on, there’s another one. Oh, and another one! Four! Four golden retrievers in the restaurant.

It seems the Italians love their dogs just as much as the French do. They take their dogs to Venice and sit with them in cafes in St Mark’s Square:

Moments before, the dog had been reading over the man’s shoulder!


And they include their dogs in self-portraits standing in front of the church.

The whole family has to be in the shot!

The dog didn’t really seem to care for that!


Posted in Travel

Rats … everywhere

We (I obviously include myself in this as I’m one of them) are like rats … crawling over the city, finding our way into narrow (narrow) laneways, into buildings, onto boats. We are everywhere. We arrive by train (like I did), by plane (like Sarah and Ben will tonight), by car and by cruise ship (there were three in the harbour when I came into the station).

The hordes invading Venice

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting the noise – of the water hitting the boats (it was quite rough on the Grand Canal) and of the boats’ squeaks as they rub against the jetties, and of so many boats. The people noise I can shut out, but this other noise surprised me, caught me off-guard, made me feel a bit overwhelmed.

I called Nicola and we kind of managed to understand each other. I found the right vaporetto station (thanks Sarah for the instructions) and was pulled with the tide of people onto a boat. I found a place to sit – I was to get off near the end of the Grand Canal. Getting off meant fighting against the tide of people and in the end I had to stop being polite and I just pushed.

Nicola was waiting at Arsenale station for me. At each other train station in each other city I’ve visited I’ve had a print out of directions from the station to the hotel from Google maps. When I was home, on the other side of the world, it seemed like a good idea. Then I got to Avignon and the first direction said, “head west in the direction of the SS1”. That’s the equivalent of saying, “turn left where the BP service station used to be”.  I didn’t know what the SS1 was, let alone what direction I was facing! It made for some interesting (long) walks.

But Nicola was there waiting for me, and I don’t think any number of directions from Google street view would have helped. We went across to a street (Calle dei Forni – sounds like California, remember that) which was directly opposite the station, and we walk down that until we reach the photographer’s shop. We turn left and follow the church around. We turn left and go over the metal bridge. Sometimes when men have been fishing and catch something they bring it back and sit at the little table and chair there … and something I didn’t catch). So we walk along the canal, with the wall of the Arsenale on our right on the other side of the canal.

We then turn left, walk to the end of that street (I think you call them streets – but they’re about three feet wide, so I’m not sure) and go under a low arch which has an angel on it and turn right. Remember that when walking back the other way. We go to the end of that street, turn right, turn left, turn right, turn left, turn right, turn left, turn right, and we’re the house with the lion on it. The red house. (There is no alternative to the lefts and rights – that’s just the way the street goes.)

The house with the lion on it.

I did that walk three times yesterday – once with Nicola and twice by myself – the last time at quarter to ten after the Vivaldi concert. It is not in the tourist part of town, so is very quiet … and when a man coughs behind you, no matter how sore your feet are, you speed up!


More of my adventures later – for now, breakfast is calling!

Posted in Learning, Travel

Trains, bidets and Renoir

Trains. Go first class. Not that second class is bad, but go first class.

I travelled first class from Paris to Avignon. When I got to the station, and was starkly reminded of the soldiers with big guns who scarily patrol the stations (and decline to be photographed … no, I didn’t ask, but I saw a man ask and the soldier shook his head in a severe I’ve-got-a-very-dangerous-job-to-do kind of way), I noticed (well, I could hardly miss) hordes of people standing facing the same direction. I searched for the performers, thinking there was a spot of street performance happening, but couldn’t see anything, so searched some more for a reason for people to be standing in a crowd all looking at the same thing.

I followed their gaze and saw that they were looking at the departure board. I wondered why. Not long after, I found out. The voie (platform) the train leaves from is only posted about 10-15 minutes before the train leaves and so you have to watch the board and then scramble for your train (particularly if it’s at the end of the station, or if your carriage is at the other end of the platform).

So that’s one thing I learnt.  Oh, and by the way, ‘voie’ in Italian is binari. Just as I learnt that ‘exit’ in French is ‘sortie’ while in Italian it’s ‘uscita’. It’s a very handy thing to know when you’re on the train station wondering which way to go. When a shop is open in Italy it’s aperto, when it’s closed it’s chiuso (the same goes for biglietteria), and when you have to push the door open you ‘spingere’ it (or in France you poussez – which is good to know when you’re in a tiny cabinet lift and the inner doors open and there’s another door with “poussez” written on it) and if you have to pull the door you “tirare” it.

Anyway, Paris to Avignon. In France the platforms and the trains are the same height, so you don’t have to step up to get into the train. In Italy, il binari are very low and there are three steps to get up into the train. This is a little difficult with a suitcase, a backpack and a handbag. Not impossible of course, just takes a special knack. The conductor – oh yes, that’s one thing I haven’t made it to yet – they have conductors on trains – anyway, the conductor at Pavia station (smoking) helped a man with his (very small in comparison) bag. I heaved mine, being the independent woman that I am, by myself while the conductor and the man he helped looked on. Grazie, for nothing … I said in my head.

Back to the Paris to Avignon train. The compartment was a one way compartment – meaning that you couldn’t walk through it, and it was quiet and felt secluded. ‘The bar’ (of the snack variety) was next door and the toilet was close by. The seats are comfortable and recline in such a way that doesn’t have the person behind you with a seat two inches from their face the way airplane seats in recline do. There’s a footrest and a table that folds down and a little rubbish bin just for you. There’s also space to store your luggage easily. The seats are wide and the headrests are a good size for resting your head.  All in all a very comfy trip.

I was in second class from Ventimiglia to Pavia. The usual three big, narrow steps up to the train. Heave, push, got it. The train is like a Harry Potter train – it has an aisle down the right hand side and little compartments seating six on the left. Each little compartment has a door which you can shut off if you like. Three smaller seats face each other with enough space to play knee-sies with the person opposite. The chairs next to the window have little tables and there’s a little rubbish bin for the fairies who travel on the train. There are two sets of racks above – the bigger rack, for the bigger luggage, is the higher one (about six foot from the floor) and the smaller rack, for smaller luggage, is the closest one (about 1.5 metres from the floor). On the tips of my toes, using my head and my hands, I finally managed to get my big bag on to the big bag rack and then flung my backpack onto the other way. I’m an independent woman, travelling independently.

Unlike the pretty young thing with a tiny bag who got in at San Remo. Spray tanned to within an inch of her life, eyelashes weighed down with mascara, rings and bracelets and things that went jingle jangle when she moved … how long do you think it took the bloke next to me to help her with her bag? Oh about 0.42768 seconds! His girlfriend and I exchanged glances. Yup, we both agreed. He’s a chump.

So there we were. The Russian on my left, the pretty young Italian girl on my right, opposite her an older woman reading from what looked like a University reader and taking meticulous notes, a Moroccan or Algerian lad opposite me, and the Russian’s Japanese girlfriend. There was a ring-ring down the corridor and along comes a man with a cart selling food and drinks. No one bought anything. The Russian man read Russian things on his iPad and took photos of his Japanese girlfriend while she slept. The Italian girl read a love story in Italian and then watched a movie on her laptop. The older woman worked studiously, the Algerian/Moroccan boy listened to wailing kind of music in his headphones, but it was so loud we all listened as well, and the Japanese girl slept on and off. Lots of very long tunnels, and in between the periods of darkness were glimpses of the Mediterranean, beaches and some wonderful houses. Alassio caught my eye – I’d like to have a closer look some day. I travelled backwards until we reached Genova and then forwards from there to Pavia.

First class from Milan to Verona. A lady came around with a trolley and when faced with a blank expression gave me a refresher towelette, perhaps to help refresh my language skills. The drinks and food were free. First class is good!!

Bidets. I didn’t come across them in France but in each of the hotels I’ve stayed in in Italy there’s been a bidet in the bathroom. I have to say … I’ve become a bit of a fan. It’s quite simple really …there’s a plug (with a lever behind the tap so that you don’t have to put your hand in the water to pull it out) and a tap. I found that I didn’t need the plug – it was good just to have the water spraying. I can wriggle around to make sure it sprays all parts and I can control how hot/warm/cold the water is. It’s a good size and as the ones I’ve used so far have been opposite the toilet so I can sit on that while I wash them.

Yes, my feet you goose!  What do you think the bidet’s for?

Renoir. I was walking up corsa Cavour in Pavia yesterday afternoon when I saw a banner advertising a Renoir exhibition. I noted the details and kept walking. I came across the university and was slightly puzzled. It turned out I wasn’t walking up corso Cavour at all, but was in fact walking up corso Strada Nuova (which happens to run at 90 degrees to corso Cavour so you can understand my puzzlement). I went in. To the university that is. It’s nothing like the university of Tasmania. UTAS might be the third or fourth oldest university in Australia, but the University of Pavia was founded in 1361 and there is mention of an institute of higher learning in Pavia in 825! There was a position (a chair, no less) in Italian eloquence in the early 19th century – how’s that for a role! I’ve put up a photo of UP on the Travel Photos page.

So, Renoir. Nothing to do with UP, but it was there I saw the banner. The exhibition was on at the Castello Visconteo, not far from where I was staying. Or so I thought. But it was an interesting walk. The Castello is an ugly building at first sight – it looks like a big (big) barn, but then the more I looked at it the more I grew to like it. There’s another building I came across in my wanders yesterday afternoon and that’s the Duomo, which is a very similar style. I’m not sure if either building has been rebuilt but the castello was originally built in 1361 or thereabouts.

Renoir. On the bottom floor – in the scuderie (the stables) – was the Renoir exhibition. There are signs on the outer walls so that sitting or leaning on the mangers was not allowed. It really was the stables!! A group of children (about 5 or 6 years old) was visiting the exhibition and being given very detailed information about the paintings. I wondered if it explained the amount of time the adults took in front of each painting – they didn’t just glance at it and walk on, they examined each piece, discussing aspects with those around them. There seemed to be a real appreciation for the works, and they didn’t mind getting up close and looking in detail.

When I bought my ticket I was given a little container of coffee and the girl explained that there are coffee machines where I could make myself a cup  of coffee. Mum, they were like the machines at Helene’s last year. I didn’t make myself a coffee of course, but I thought it was a lovely gesture. I then went upstairs to the Museo Civici. It was amazing … no English interpretation so I couldn’t understand any of it, but the rooms were amazing – the frescos, the artefacts … amazing.

I’m now in Verona … and despite (my son) Daniel’s warning of gang violence (between the Montagues and Capulets) I feel pretty safe that there won’t be any biting of thumbs … not by me anyway.

As people in Australia are waking up, I’ll say buona notte. It’s a late one for me!!