Posted in Photography, Travel

Day # 14: Prague

Streda 3 Leden 2018

Dobry den from Prague. If you’ve been following along on our journey, you’ll have picked up our penchant for starting out in a new city by going on a photo walk with a local guide. I’d found Johnny’s Prague Photo Tours online and was impressed with his images, so booked a morning tour – which meant being out in the middle of Prague at 7:10am. One thing to be aware of, if you’re reading this from Australia, is that the sun doesn’t rise till 8am and it’s usually around 4C-5C at that time of the morning – or colder. So getting up early and heading out into the cold shows our dedication to capturing images of the places we’re visiting.

Or that we’re slightly mad!

Johnny contacted me last night to say that the forecast was for rain and he didn’t think we’d have a very good time in the morning so could we go in the afternoon? We could … the bonus of course was that we got a sleep-in and we stayed warm just a little longer. It also meant checking out the local pradelna – what an amazing place. No, really! It was very cool and a much more friendly space than the laverie had been in Paris.

So with our washing done, a visit to the potraviny for some mleko bez laktoza, vejce, maslo, ryzove kolacky, and a few other bits and pieces, we were ready to head into the city on the #22 tram (thanks to Darko for the info he gave us last night we knew where to buy tram tickets).

Our first stop on the photo tour was Black Madonna House – I struggled to get a good shot, but here’s one attempt. Hopefully I have some better ones.

We had made our way to the Charles Bridge and noticed the clouds were getting very dark. Before we knew it, it was hailing (very hard), and we ran for a restaurant close by. We sat and chatted while the storm (complete with a peal of thunder and flash of lightning) rolled over the city, and then headed out again.

It’s a beautiful city. Tim’s photos are way better than mine so keep an eye out on his blog in case he decides to post some. In the meantime, here’s just two of mine:

Posted in Photography, Travel

Day #13: Venice – Prague

Martedi 2 Gennaio 2018

We had decided to forego the train from Venice to Prague in favour of flying … mostly to make the most of our time in the Czech capital. It meant we had the morning in Venice, and so we spent it seeing some of the sights we hadn’t yet seen or that we wanted to return to after our photo walk with Vinnie.

Or that was the plan. Vinnie had told us of a great vantage point from which to look out over Venice … the top floor of the new shopping mall. We’d been two days before but the terrace was booked out (yes, you have to book) so this was our last opportunity. We arrived early, wandered through the shopping centre (gorgeous red escalator that Sakye would have loved), then headed for the 4th floor and joined the line.

There’d been lots of rain the day before and apparently the terrace was dangerously slippery and so they weren’t letting anyone out there. Too much of a risk, so no looking over the rooftops of Venice this trip it seemed.

Except we had a back up plan … Vinnie had taken us to a place we’d never have found by ourselves and we returned there, climbed the thousands of steps, and managed to see the rooftops of (some of) Venice.

We had worked out what time we needed to catch the vaporetto to the airport and from which ‘station’ … but what we didn’t bank on was the height of the tide. We’d seen people wearing plastic knee high boots over their shoes and thought they were being extra cautious – there was no water spilling over from the Grand Canal – but when we arrived at the vaporetto station we were told the boat couldn’t go from there because the tide was too high. We’d need to go to San Marco instead and catch the blue line rather than the orange line.

We had six minutes to get there.

The closer we got to St Mark’s Square the more crowded the streets became and the more people there were selling the plastic boots. We soon saw why.

The Square was flooded.

We made our way around the outside – the non-flooded bits – only to be confronted by more flood waters at the other end of the Square. There was no other way around it – we had to wade through ankle-deep water.

Luckily my knee high fur lined boots were waterproof – as were Tim’s, except his weren’t knee high and so he ended up with wet feet.

We made it to the vaporetto station just as the boat was leaving the wharf. The orange line, the one we’d planned on catching, took 15 minutes to get to Marco Polo airport. The blue line, the one we now had to catch, took over an hour. By this time it was after 12 and our plane left at 2:40. Tim had read that it’d take 2 hours to get through check-in/security/passport control and it’s safe to say that by this point he was slightly stressed.

We waited in line only to realise after 15 minutes of waiting that it was the wrong line. Climbing through the fence to the right line was ungainly, so I didn’t do it, instead choosing to hobble as quickly as I could, through the throng of people in the line, out the gate that thankfully were open, around the barrier and up the jetty to join the right line – just as the boat pulled in.

We had a lovely trip across the Lido, then to Fondamente Nove where we’d been the day before, across to Murano, and then … finally … we were on our way to the airport. I hasten to add at this point that Tim didn’t think it was a ‘lovely trip’ but I was feeling quite relaxed.

We (finally) arrived at Marco Polo, ran (yes, ladies and gentlemen, you read that right, I ran – Tim was walking fast but for me to keep up I had to run), and followed the signs to the terminal. It was a 10 minute walk we did in six minutes.

There was no one at the check in counter – they’d all amassed at the gate by this time – and things were proceeding well until the machine spitting out the baggage stickers got a baggage sticker stuck in it and it took the girl quite some time to get it unstuck. You can imagine Tim’s state of mind at this stage.

Finally, the stuck sticker came unstuck … but she now had to change the roll. Tim was tearing his hair out.

Right, baggage stickers stuck on our bags, away they went on the conveyer, and away we went to security. Remove my watch, my hat, my gloves, my buff, my shoes, my jacket … something still beeped so I was led away to be checked over more thoroughly.

I looked around to see where Tim was, and he was as pale as a ghost and looking decidedly sick. He’d lost his passport and boarding pass. He was in a mad panic, upturning the security bins, reefing people’s belongings out of them to see if his passport was underneath their jackets, scarves, gloves, computers. He’d left his bag with me, and that apparently looked suspicious because I was called over to the security guard for another personal check of my person and both bags.

A shout of jubilation … he’d found it!

I bade a fond farewell to my patter-downer and off we raced for the gate. The plane was late and we had fifteen minutes before we had to board! Time for a coffee to calm Tim’s frazzled nerves, and a toilet stop and we were on our way to Prague.

Not the best way to leave Venice it has to be said! It strengthens my resolve to train it when next we find ourselves in Europe.

Small plane to Prague – one of the ones with propellers – but very smooth and uneventful. We’d booked a shuttle to our accommodation – ‘there’ll be someone holding a board with your name on it’ I was told.

There were about a dozen men holding boards with people’s names on them, and at the back a massive Macedonian with my name on his board. I approached cautiously, but as soon as he smiled I could see he wasn’t anywhere near as scary as he looked.

This was no ordinary shuttle – this was a meet and greet service. Darko, for that was the name of the massive Macedonian, provided us with lots of information about Czech people, how to stay safe from pickpockets and those who might want to take advantage of our foreignness (Prague is the 6th safest city in the world, so there really isn’t too much to worry about), where to change money and which currency exchanges to avoid, which tram to take to get into the city, the best stop to get off when visiting the castle, which pharmacy is open 24 hours a day (just in case you need), where to buy food, which restaurants we should try … he even took us into the apartment to point our how to get in, how to get out, what to do with the key … it’s a fabulous service.

What a lovely way to be welcomed to Prague! It was especially welcome after the stress of leaving Venice.

Posted in Photography, Travel

Day #12: Venice

Lunedi 1 Gennaio 2018

Yes, it’s the New Year and we’re in Venice! I heard the fireworks last night as the sound bounced around the canals and streets from Piazzo San Marco, but didn’t manage to see them. We’d seen squads of police heading towards the Piazza late in the afternoon but we didn’t feel like joining them.

Murano and Burano were on the agenda for today. It was another drizzly day but we figured we couldn’t let a little drizzle stop us getting out and about so we walked to Fondamente Nove to catch a vaporetto to Murano. The tide was high and water was lapping very close to the edges of the streets – in some places spilling over the edges – but we managed to get through without getting our feet wet.

Murano was quiet – it was too early for the shops, and given it was New Year’s Day the glass factories weren’t open either. But it was lovely to get lost amongst the laneways and follow random strangers in case they knew their way out of the maze of streets, to see places tourists wouldn’t usually get to see, and to end up in a bar with a group of old men drinking wine like it was water and they were dying of thirst. It was fascinating to sit there and listen to their interactions, the ways they greeted each other, the ease with which they welcomed each newcomer into their circle, their comraderie and gentle ribbing, without understanding a word they said.

More and more visitors were arriving on the island and the shops and factories were opening. The water continued to lap at the footpaths and before long it was drizzling. We rushed into a restaurant to have an early lunch, then set out for Burano, the island of colourful houses and lace making. We hadn’t made it very far onto the island before the rain intensified … Tim managed a few shots (including the gorgeous one below), then we ran for the vaporetto station and a very welcome hot (and sweet) lemon tea.

I went back to the apartment to dry off while Tim explored the Doges Palace. I still haven’t made it into the Basillica. Perhaps next time.

Italian pizza for dinner – one more thing ticked off Tim’s bucket list, then back to the apartment to pack for the next leg of our journey.

Posted in Photography

Day #11: Venice

Domenica 31 Dicembre 2017

Tim has a penchant for supermarkets. He found a few in Paris he quite liked, although his favourite was M&S because they had a lot of English food and English food means he can read the labels and therefore avoid the nasty things that would make our trip most unpleasant.

But there is no M&S in Venice, so he had to battle through lists of unfamiliar ingredients to find products safe to eat. It’s the sort of challenge he takes seriously – and, what’s more, the kind of challenge he enjoys. He manages just fine though and returns with unfamiliar but safe foodstuffs. (More on the exciting topic of grocery shopping later – I bet you can’t wait!)

We make our way to Ponte dell’Accdemia where we meet Vinnie. He’s our photo walk tour guide for the morning and I won’t say anymore except that we had a fabulous time wandering through parts of Venice we’d never have found ourselves. Of course there are so many bridges and canals it’s hard not to take the sorts of shots that Venice is famous for.

Here are some photos I took along the way …

Posted in Photography

Day #10: Basel – Venice

Samstag 30 Dezember 2017

We ate a huge breakfast as it’d be our only meal till tonight, then hopped on a tram for a quick spin around the city. We hopped off at a deserted outer suburban stop and hopped on another one going in a different direction.

Fortunately it was going in a direction we needed to go in.

We checked the board when we arrived at the train station – conveniently located across the road from our hotel – to discover our train was 10 minutes ritardo. We had 40 minutes to change trains in Milan, so still do-able.

This train was slower than other ones we’d traveled on in France and England, and stopped much more frequently. At each stop we became a little more ritardo, and there was mention of technical issues.

In between stops though we travelled through snow-covered landscapes and mountains in the distance that are far bigger than mountains back home.

I was glad to be travelling by train and not hiking!

At Monza we had a 30 minute delay (unspecified and ongoing ‘technical issues’ apparently) – Tim started investigating other options for getting to Venice from Milan, but we arrived in Milan with five minutes to run from platform two to platform five – plenty of time!

A steward came around offering free drinks and biscuits – but my Italian is so bad that I smiled politely and he moved on. After, I might add, an extended conversation with the three other people in my four-seater compartment (Tim was in the one next door – weird seat numbering), where I think they talked about the Australian sitting amongst them too stupid to learn some Italian for her long-awaited return to Venice.

Venice, and one more means of transport today … trams in Basel, trains through Switzerland and Italy, vaporetto in Venice.

Thankfully our huge breakfast had sustained us. Even more thankfully that there was a kebab shop next to our apartment because if we’d had to go further afield to search for food things might have started to get ugly!

Yes, even more ugly than a crowded kebab shop late on a Saturday night where the only option for eating in was standing at a small though tall red plastic table. Not our finest gourmet experience, it has to be said!

Posted in Photography

Day #9: Paris – Basel

Vendredi 29 Decembre 2017

It’s with great reluctance we say au revoir to our Bastille loft this morning. It really has been a great place to come back to each evening – so spacious and warm and comfortable.

But we’re heading east to see yet another city in yet another country and so saying au revoir is inevitable. We can certainly see ourselves coming back though!

We decide to walk to Gare Lyon – it isn’t far and it’s an opportunity to see a different part of the city. There’s no passport and security checks here as there was when going to the UK and that certainly makes the beginning of our next train trip much more pleasant and stress free.

Without any fuss we’re heading off through the suburbs. Ludovico Einaudi provides the soundscape once more – the exquisite delicacy of the piano in Run is a fine counterpoint to the industrial nature of the cityscape flashing past outside. The trains are so comfortable and roomy and the leisurely nature of train travel (despite hitting a top speed of 320kms per hour) makes moving from one place (city or country) to another a seamless experience that has a certain rhythm and flow – an experience I particularly enjoy.

We are heading to Venice but have decided to stay overnight in Basel, a city sitting almost at the juncture of Switzerland, Germany, and France. If we’d had more time we’d have stood on that spot of confluence, but our time was short and the helpful man at the tourist centre gave us loads of ideas for things to see in Basel itself.

We had designed it as a stop over only, but found it a lovely place to visit. The old town is gorgeous – and that’s where we were when it snowed a little (amazingly exciting experience – so amazing I made a video). We wandered through the old town, watched large groups of young Swiss people dance outside the Cathedral with some nuns, were carried over the Rhine on a boat connected to a wire (which stops it floating off in the current), wandered through the Christmas market, were amazed by the redness of the Rathaus, came across a food van selling spinat borek so had to try one (delicious), bought some Swiss chocolate for a colleague of Tim’s (which he ate, so he had to buy some more!), and miraculously found our way back to the hotel (well, when I say miraculously I really mean ‘thanks Google maps’) where we drank tea like the posh people around us and listened to the piano player, trying not to doze as that would have seemed rude.

I sat there thinking how fortunate we are to have this experience – to spend even small amounts of time in other cities, to see different cultures, to experience different ways of life. And to know that I can handle the cold – and not whinge about it! Not even once 😜.

<<
Anyone would think I hadn’t seen snow before! Well, I haven’t had it fall on me before and certainly not in a town!!

Posted in Life, Travel

Day #8: Mont Saint Michel

Jeudi 28 Decembre 2017

A guest post by Tim Moss

Much of the trip had seemed a little impossible at the planning stage. Convince Sharon to trek half way around the world, at a time when maximum temperatures were likely to only just edge into positive numbers? Impossible. Travel through so many countries, in such a short space of time, and still feel like we had a sense of each place? Impossible. Get up at 5am, make our way across an unknown city (Paris), find a completely new train station and navigate to our early train, just to journey for several hours at high speeds, to see a lump of land in the middle of the ocean? Yep, you guessed it; impossible.

And yet there we were, rugged up (as usual), Sharon with more layers than your average filo pastry, boarding the train to Mont-Saint-Michel. I didn’t have a strong idea about what to expect, but I was enjoying the adventure. And the first-class train carriage. My early advice about travelling in Europe is to always travel by trains if you have the time, and to always travel first-class if you have the money. It’s the only way to go…

The train pulled away smoothly from the station right on time, and the first half hour was spent zipping through a series of tunnels (I think? It was pretty dark outside, but these were definitely darker), each more ear-popping than the last. And then, whoosh, out into the countryside, past green-edged paddocks, tiny barns and houses with earthy coloured thatched roofs, a rather exorbitant number of powerlines, and so on, all punctuated regularly by a new ear-popping sound, that of the similarly svelte bullet trains going in the other direction. Sharon jumped a little each time, through the whole trip. At one point I looked at the speed indicator – 317 kilometres per hour. Yep, impossible, but there we were, in a smooth, air-conditioned bubble.

I’m a little hazy on the rest of this part of the trip, mostly because I might have napped a little to make up for the early start I suspect! But the hours passed impossibly quickly, and with just a short hop on a shuttle bus, there we were, at Le Mont.

When you get to Mont-Saint-Michel, you have a choice – you can hop on a shuttle bus (which is somewhat convincingly panelled to look like a wooden carriage, except for the diesel fumes and lack of a horse at the front end), you can ride a horse-drawn carriage (although the horses appeared to have slept in on the day we visited), or you can walk the 45 minutes to the island. Despite Sharon’s ongoing knee pain, we decided to act like pilgrims and make the journey on foot. I’m so glad we did. You walk along a nondescript gravel path for about 15 minutes, with very informative (I assume) panels about grasslands and birds and stuff, and then the path opens up, and there in front of you is the most impossible thing of all, Le Mont-Saint-Michel.

Frankly it’s a little hard to describe it, but just imagine your average tidal wetland. It’s flat, there’s some water but because the tide is out there’s not much of it, and a few small rocks creating something of a border or boundary for that puddly water residue, and then some muddy flatland that seems to go on forever. And then, rising out of this completely ordinary landscape (believe me, I’ve tried for several minutes here to make it interesting), is a rock. And on that rock is a wall. And behind the wall there are turrets, ramparts, buildings, flags, lights, seagulls, people, and rising above it all, seemingly perched on just a tiny triangle of land, impossibly small, is the abbey, which is everything except tiny and impossibly small. It’s quite an impression, and easy to forget where and when you are.

Once we’d picked ourselves up from the ground after being bowled over by this incredible view, we finished our pilgrimage and made our way in… Somehow we managed to find the back way to the abbey, past groups of people washing their feet after exploring the wetlands outside the walls as people have done for centuries, past armed men entrusted with keeping order as armed men have done on Le Mont for centuries (hopefully we didn’t look too rowdy), past dozens of tiny doors that seemed to lead to sheer cliff faces, or to tiny rooms with no clear purpose, up stone steps worn to smiles by generation after generation of tired feet, and miraculously to the front door of the abbey.

At this point, I’ll just share some general impressions, as the overall experience was quite profound and worth experiencing first-hand… There are still monks in the abbey. They live, work, and share their modest lives there, surrounded by swarms of tourists but somehow still able to live lives of peace, tranquility, and worship. And they have extraordinary singing voices, if (like us) you should happen to find yourself wandering through the main chapel as mass is taking place. Those voices and the whistling winds have been finding harmonies for an impossibly long time, and I feel extraordinarily fortunate that we arrived there at that moment so purely by chance. The abbey itself is almost impossibly complex, to the point where those trying to interpret the layout now are simply unable to describe why some rooms exist; there are chapels, refectories, crypts, a scriptorium, rooms with great wheels turned by the feet of prisoners held in the abbey when it was a prison, cloisters, gardens, great halls for receiving dignitaries and kings, and then there are other rooms, spaces that link these purposeful rooms, spaces with fireplaces large enough to hold entire trees, and spaces that… well, do something. It’s like a home improvement reality show has been running for centuries – “I reckon we could add another well here to really spice things up a bit”, and somewhere along the way, the reasons for that work were lost.

But this is perhaps an injustice, as the spaces that we can explain are extraordinary, and the design shows a level of sophistication and insight into not only the engineering required to build a remarkable space, but also the ways space can be shaped to create an emotional response (like the tall, slender windows in the refectory, that bathed the room in light but are invisible as you enter the room). This is an abbey of drama, prestige, intrigue, history, story, and time. And it is still unfolding, still being told…

As our shuttle bus groaned away from the kerb on our return journey, rain had started falling in earnest. A kind of light mist began to curl around Mont-Saint-Michel, softening the lines, reducing clarity, wrapping it up again, ready for tomorrow’s pilgrims, tomorrow’s tiny marks in the impossible pages of its time.

Posted in Life, Travel

Day #7 – Paris

Mercredi 27 Decembre 2017

A slow morning as we pretend we live in an amazing Parisian loft. Tim had found a supermarket nearby last night and we started the day with a home cooked breakfast.

We found a laverie around the corner, in the cobbled laneway we’d walked through last night, and despite the instructions being in French we worked out pretty quickly how it worked. We were so adapt we were able to help a young French man who didn’t speak any English, and a young couple who didn’t speak English or French who were so appreciative of our help they bought us a Nutella crepe! I wanted to sit there for the rest of the day helping people, but once our clothes were washed and dried Tim insisted there were more interesting things to do in Paris than hang around a laverie hoping for Nutella crepes!

We were booked to go on a photo tour of the canals around the Bastille area (where we were staying) but the weather wasn’t good and just after lunch it was cancelled. We decided to head out in the rain anyway and made our way to Notre Dame, a wander through the Latin Quarter, an hour or so in Shakespeare and Company and a cruise on the Seine where the rain on the windows made for a great impressionistic shot of the Eiffel Tower.

It felt much colder today than when we were here before Christmas – it got to 4C (felt like 1.4C) but I still didn’t complain. I was actually warm, probably because I had so many layers on – only my nose and eyes were exposed to the elements, and walking back from the cruise I pulled my buff over my nose so not even that was cold. Weirdly, my hands stayed warm even when I wasn’t wearing my gloves!

The rain didn’t appear to be stopping, so we headed back to our apartment where it was cozy, warm and amazingly comfortable.

Mel wrote to say it was snowing in Cheddar! It feels cold enough to snow here … wouldn’t that be good?!

Posted in Photography

Day #6 – Cheddar – Bristol – London – Paris

Tuesday 26 December 2017

Our whistlestop trip to Cheddar was over and we headed back to Bristol via Cheddar Gorge. It had rained overnight – hailed even if the ice on Melanie’s car was anything to go by – and there was plenty of water lying about. Mel had just finished saying that the particular road we were on sometimes floods, when we crested the hill and saw the flooded road ahead of us.

The Gorge is wild and rugged and we’ve decided we need to come back in the warmer month to explore it more fully.

What a treat it was to spend a few days with family when we’re so far away from home – a real shame we couldn’t spend more time in England to catch up with Aunty Carol. Next time!

We arrived at the bus terminal with plenty of time to spare, and were fortunate enough to catch the earlier bus, meaning we weren’t so squeezed for time in London getting from Victoria Cross to St Pancras. Our Uber driver took us past Buckingham Palace but we didn’t have enough time to pop in.

Buckingham Palace from the back of the Uber

Why don’t we have trains like the Eurostar in Australia? It’s fast, it’s clean, it’s comfortable … we hurtled across the English countryside and then the French countryside in comfort and before we knew it were back in Paris.

Adrian, our AirBnB host for this part of our stay in Paris, had given us detailed instructions for getting to his place from Gare du Nord and despite it being dark by the time we arrived we found our way through cobbled laneways and the early dinner crowd with ease.

Djidji – Adrian’s assistant – was there to welcome us and show us all the features of the apartment. She spoke enthusiastic, but broken English, which was still much better than our French, and we eventually worked things out.

The apartment was amazing, with the world’s comfiest bed – if you’re heading to Paris in the near future and looking for a fabulous place to stay let me know and I’ll give you the details.

 

Posted in Life, Travel

Day #5 – A Cheddar Christmas

Monday 25 December 2017

People have been doing this for years (celebrating Christmas in very different time zones than their families) but for Tim and I it was a first. A very different day from this time last year when Rochelle hosted a family Christmas with all the noise and excitement you’d expect with more than 11 children under 10 in the same house!

Phone/FaceTime calls punctuated the morning: Hunter and Lily excitedly showing me all the gifts they’d received; Felicity sleeping peacefully in her cot after a relatively quiet day; Emma getting all the kids bathed and into bed; Daniel’s relief that Ziggy was recovered; Mum’s delight that Dad had recognised her; Deb’s cool-ish day at the beach (though still warmer than the 4C we were expecting); Ben’s day spent with friends in far-off WA (too far away when we’re home, let alone now) …

We were keen to explore Cheddar but given the weather decided a walk up/through the Gorge was out of the question. A bacon sandwich fortified us for a stroll through the village and, once we’d added another three layers of clothing, we headed off.

What an interesting place. Tiny laneways, houses whose front doors open straight onto the street, stone cottages, old old pubs, and above all the Gorge looming overhead. I can see its appeal.

 

Craig spent hours in the kitchen and around 4 in the afternoon produced a Christmas meal unrivalled in my many years of Christmas meals! It was a Christmas meal that made sense. It was hot and hot makes sense when it’s 4C outside. Honey roasted parsnips, the most deliciously crunchy roasted potatoes, Yorkshire puddings (who knew they were so good!), rosemary and sage stuffing, pigs in blankets, turkey (beautifully moist) and more … much, much more.

We ate and ate … such good food … and then snoozed away the rest of the day in the warmth inside. It was raining outside and so spending a quiet evening in was just what the doctors needed!