Saturday, November 17, 2007

Blissed out in Beautiful Bali

Ric and I recently had an opportunity to fly to Bali for song - so we did.

Bali is a beautiful place adorned with beautiful things, both natural and created. Being Balinese means being creative, and it is a given that art is the domain of all.

We had an amazing time with our friend Tri - who took us on a road trip and showed us some of her favourite spots on her island paradise.

No phone, no computer, no TV, no radio - just blissful relaxation, except when we were driving - which seemed complete anarchy. The rules as told to us by Tri were:

  1. If you are in front, you have right of way - evidenced by merging and turning traffic that never checked if there was oncoming vehicles before turning or merging

  2. The bigger your vehicle, the more right of way you have

  3. A motorbike can drive any direction on a one way street

  4. The motorbike is the preferred Balinese family wagon: variously we saw families of five on one bike; a women (pillion passenger) bottle feeding one baby with two toddlers wedged between herself and the helmeted rider

  5. If you are a foriegner and you are involved in an accident - it's your fault, even if it wasn't. The logic is if you hadn't come to Bali the accident wouldn't have happened - so it's your fault.

  6. The horn is mode of communication to be used liberally with other drivers

  7. There is no such thing as road rage
Petrol is available everywhere from roadside stalls using reused containers

After swimming in the waterfall at Gunung Kawi near some amazing ancient (1077) carved stone memorials

Relaxed resident of the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud

The beautiful metallic black sands of Amed on the NE corner of the island. The snorkling on the reef off the beach was outstanding!

Giant peacock at Tirtagganga Water Palace

Tri, Ric and me enjoying barbequed fish on Jimbaran Beach

Monday, October 22, 2007

Holiday Down South

Walk down to waterfall in Mt Buffalo National Park

Me skiing in Burrenjuck Dam and not falling off after 25 years (x 2 times)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Tootle Pip

25 June 2007

In London we headed to Islington and our hotel, then more exploring - London has a new surprise around every corner and I like it more every time I visit. It's shocking to think that the population of London equals all of Australia's! A trip on a bus lands us in Soho – very bohemian! We wander through the theatre district and try for afternoon tea in the Ritz but don't get past first base since Ric isn't wearing a jacket and I have jeans on.

Natt comes to stay to bid us farewell and we enjoy dinner at an organic produce pub on the back streets of Angel. A guy from Cambridge and his daughter sit next to us and chat about Scotland. The Camden Markets are a happening place, so after Laura - Natt's friend arrives on Friday we all head down into the underground to check them out. Camden is very much an alternative scene - with punk shops, goth shops and everything in between as well as great markets. We wander around for a while then have a drink in this amazing bar/restaurant called Gilgamesh. It is the biggest restaurant in London and is extravagantly decorated and furnished in Babylonian style. Every inch of the walls is covered with elaborate carvings and the centre piece is a pair of gilded statues of some sort of man-beasts.

We enjoy our last drink in London together, say our farewells and head off to the airport. I won't bore you with the trip home except to say that we had a near-disaster in Hong Kong where we suddenly realised we were booked on separate flights home; Ric a couple of hours after we arrived and me the next day. A very kind man from Cathay Pacific fixed it all up and we had a night and a day in HK to change our body clocks closer to home time. We landed in Sydney this morning and the Aussie accents and colour of the banknotes tickled us as we moved through the airport. What a holiday! I hope you enjoyed coming along for the ride. Ric's already planning our next adventure - but that's another story. 'Til the next travelogue...Cathy & Ric

40 Shades of Green

24 June 2007

We heard somewhere that it rains 266 days per annum in Ireland – not all torrential downpours but more often soft, gentle, misty rain – but it's still rain. Everything turns grey and I can't imagine living with all this rain all the time, especially when it is cold.

We head off for a day trip down the Dingle Peninsula, glimpses of blue sky tantalise us but evaporate before lunchtime. The Dingle Peninsula is a finger of mountainous land jutting into the Atlantic sea – nothing between it and the east coast of the USA. The sea views from the tiny winding road nearly make me crash the car - so I pull over every few kilometres. At one such stop there is a grotto with Jesus on the cross again and a giant seagull the size of a turkey is there trying to cadge a living from the passing trade. A couple of German walkers are as interested as me and I get the great idea to entice it closer with a crumb off the floor of the car (after the chook in the car at Salisbury) and the German guy says to me that he read a sign down the road saying not to feed the birds!!

The Dingle Peninsula is littered with archaeological monuments – some dating back as far as 6000 years that have managed to survive the ravages of time with the less intense farming on this unforgiving landscape. Along the road we pull up to the beehive huts (Clocháns in Gaelic) - amazing stone buildings - corbelled again surrounded by stone fences in what they call forts. Amazing to think that these tiny rock buildings - not cemented together - have been sitting there for so long. Further down the road we find the Gallarus Oratory - a Church in a field thought to date from somewhere around the 6th century, absolutely complete. It's made from stones from the ground up to the top of the roof in the classic house shape and is watertight. Ric loved it and has an idea milling around in his head that he wants to build something from stone.

Finding Dingle has not been that easy - all the road signs are in Gaelic (An Daingean) and the word 'Dingle' has been obscured from most except some hand painted 'Dingle' signs. As we pull into the little township we notice other signs posted saying 'Dingle - a town denied democracy'. Intriguing? Wandering around we see a little shop with newspaper clippings in the window explaining. Apparently some politician made the arbitrary decision that 'Dingle' would no longer be used and henceforth would be obliterated from all road signs. The townsfolk were upset, as tourists were getting lost and tourism is part of their lifeblood. A vote was held - overwhelmingly in favour of reinstating Dingle but it was overruled. Hence the ‘no democracy’ claim. We had the best seafood chowder we have ever eaten in our lives in Dingle. We've had about 5 different versions. This one was fragrant with dill, coriander leaves and seeds, leeks and 4 types of fish. Scrumptious!

Later back in Killarney we drove through the national park again and noticed some weed work happening. Rhododendrons are found in Ireland's fossil record but died out over the last ice age cause it got too cold. Someone had the bright idea of reintroducing them as a garden plant and they've gone berserk - in fact you see them through Ireland, Scotland and England and Wales. Infestations get huge and it's difficult and time consuming to control. You can go and stay for free in a hostel at Killarney and help kill the stuff if you want. Also everywhere we have been there are fuchsias in the hedgerows - I think they are a tropical plant so am unsure if they are weeds too. I suspect they are there is just too many of them. I bought a tea towel with Irish wildflowers on it and the fuchsia is included - confusing!

Killarney NP boasts the only wild herd of Red Deer - around 700 individuals. We didn't see any though. The Red Deer is Ireland's native deer, and has been around for nearly 10,500 years. In Muckross House there was the intact skull and antlers of an ancient species of deer, long extinct, that roamed when the dinosaurs were around. The skull survived virtually intact in the bog. It was huge - dwarfing the Red Deer - this deer was 3m long; would be very scary meeting up with one in the rutting season.

From Killarney we head to Ennis then meet up with Tri and Ginni in Quin at an old ruin of an Abbey for a picnic at 9:30pm - the sun is high. It's amazing how many hours of light they get here in the summer. The sun sets so slowly, at 10:30 or later and bounces up again at about 4 in the morning. The TV weather tells you what the evening weather is like separately to the day - so you can plan your evening! (eg. Bright day, sunny and rain patches then a bright evening with long periods of sun and showers) Tri and Ginni were going to a music festival and we opt to explore Ennis and surrounds instead. So we head first to the Cliffs of Moyer on the edge of County Clare. The place is amazing - huge cliffs 120m high home to heaps of seabirds including Puffins! It is one of the most important sites for cliff nesting seabirds in Ireland. I was really keen to see a Puffin up close but sadly to no avail. We saw them from a distance but they were only specks.

Recently the managing authority has completed works at the cliffs to make them safer -- the sad thing is you can't get near the edge. Apparently a French tourist got blown off so they had to fix it up. The visitor centre had great interps - we really enjoyed it - despite it not being popular with people who have been there before all the work got done. The have cleverly excavated near the edge so you look out from behind these huge slabs of slate – with fossils - off the edge. There's a tower - like part of castle built there years ago apparently to impress female tourists - but why you'd need to impress anyone with such impressive natural features is inexplicable. Next we drove off to The Burren which is a unique Karst landscape right near the Cliffs of Moher. The rolling hills of Burren are uniquely made up of limestone pavements with crisscrossing cracks known as "grikes", leaving isolated rocks called "clints". There is an unusual collection of arctic, mediterranean and alpine plants that grow side-by-side, between the cracks. I read a quote by a guy during a war in the 17th century said of the place...”It is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him...... and yet their cattle are very fat; for the grass growing in turfs of earth, of two or three foot square, that lie between the rocks, which are of limestone, is very sweet and nourishing”. You can't see the plants really from a distance you have stop and get out. It's weird walking on the rocks they're loose and some tip as you step on them. We walked up the side of hill across the rocks to check out the amazing view down to what looked like a mesa. The rivers all run underground - and there's amazing caves to see in the area. The next day we met up again in Gort with Tri and Ginni and make the trip back across to Dublin for a night at Ginni's before leaving Dublin the next day. Ireland is an amazing country - the beauty is in its natural places and ancient sites rather than the modern man made cities. The people are open and friendly and we are sad to bid our friends and the 40 shades of green farewell. Cathy & Ric

No Blarney here

21 June 2007

We didn't hang around in Kilkenny as we had decided to explore the rugged SW corner of the Ireland. We shot straight past Cork - never mind Blarney Castle or the Blarney Stone - anyway, who knows what would have happened if I had've kissed it. Speaking of Kil's we entertained ourselves making up names for new places called Kil-something. Kilkeith, Kilcathy, Kilcolin, Kilkatrina, Kilclarky. Some of them even exist so we found out! And it doesn't have to have a "c" sound after the Kil so we found out. Killeach, Killarney on it goes. They even have a straight up "Kill" - never mind a name to go with it. We thought it might mean "mountain" but I found out it described the second most common feature in Ireland - a church!

The Irish are religious. We climbed an amazing pass on the Beara Peninsula - Healy's Pass and on the top of the pass there's a statue of Jesus on the cross, with Mary in toe and some other saint I couldn't recognise. Grottos with statues abound; from the urban street to a spot in what seems like a complete wilderness - they sure are a pious lot.

Back on our odyssey we lunched on sausages and bread at a food market in Kinsale on the harbour before arriving at Bantry - another seaside spot - fishing and tourism being the main industries. I was excited as our B&B was out of town - on a working farm and was described on the internet as 'luxury accommodation' with 'home baking' for breakfast. Ha! It was a converted garage and the TV just barely worked. Breakfast was fine but not home baked as advertised. I saw a story about how the star rating system for accommodation has lost credibility in Ireland - too true. Oh well, the dog was friendly there at least.

We drove off to explore the amazing Beara Peninsula and stopped enroute to check out Glengarriff Nature Reserve. It was gorgeous - a true rainforest - very wet - ancient and cloaked in moss - the canopy of oaks sheltered us from the persistent rain. Despite the rain we did the River Walk along a braided watercourse, every colour of green laid before us. We were moved by the atmosphere and beauty of the place. Onward to the Beara and the rain just would not leave us but the breathtaking views compensated - we basically did a figure of eight across the peninsula, eager to explore every inch. Healy's Pass took us over the top and middle on a tiny, winding mountain road made for horse and cart and not yet 'improved' thank goodness. No tourist buses here! Sheep were are only traveling companions - walking at times on the road for a few hundred metres in front of the car. Aside from the crucifix statue at the top, the county changes from Cork to Kerry and there is garbled sign that tells us about coffins being slid over the county border - not sure what that was all about. The road was a work project when the famine was happening.
Further down the road we drive out to a Buddhist meditation centre recommended highly by Tri. The road/driveway is blocked right at the end by (would you believe it at this remote location) - road works! We manage to get out to the cliffs near the retreat centre and enjoy a short respite from the rain gazing out across jagged rocks to a brooding sea. An unparalleled setting for contemplation.
We eventually find our way to Allihies where the road is too narrow to accommodate buses again (YAY). We buy a sandwich in the shop and head down to the car park overlooking the beach for lunch. A pod of dolphins entertain us with their antics tossing fish out of the water - playing with their food, Ric quips! Tri later asked me if I saw St Patrick's footprint somewhere there - apparently that's where he landed when he arrived in Ireland from France - sadly we missed it. I read about that St Patrick was purported to have said - 'Any snake that wants to stay in Ireland, please raise your right hand'. Very funny!

Next day and we were off to the Ring of Kerry. Enroute we stop for a real coffee at Kenmare. The quest for a decent coffee has been long and difficult one! Mostly unsuccessful though, including in the UK. We drank half a cup rated 4 out of 10 and wandered down the main street. Alarmed we noticed the army - at least 10 soldiers complete with machine guns had arrived, seriously checking out everyone in the street. We stop and gawped. A nearby range rover filled with more soldiers with machine guns pulled up next to me. They were laughing and having a joke. I stepped forward to ask them through the open window what was going on? They told me they were guarding the armored vehicle delivering money to the bank! I ask if I could take a photo - at first they say no - but then they tell me to stand back in the cover of their vehicle and get one. It's all very good natured.

Ric and I opt for the short version of the Ring of Kerry and head over Moll's Pass towards Killarney - the scenery again takes our breath away - lakes in the distance with heaving geology over our shoulders. At the top of the gap there is inexplicably a shop - tourist buses out the front - I am about to unceremoniously speed past but I notice it is an Avoca shop - gorgeous stuff, clothes and great food - too good to miss even on the top of a mountain. We get some takeaway salads and Irish brown bread and beat the rush of the buses - head down the road and stopped near a precipice to dine in the car. Magnificent!

Almost at Killarney we notice Killarney National Park and despite the hissing rain stop for a quick walk. We discovered an amazing waterfall with loads of people walking in the torrential downpour. I guess you just have to ignore the rain in Ireland and get on with it. Killarney NP is around 10,000 hectares and is Ireland's first national park to be declared. There are 3 lakes, a mountain range and a series of heritage buildings including the Victorian mansion Muckross House; a lot packed into a relatively small space. We visited Muckross House (built 1843 - restored in the 1960's) the next day and did the tour - an amazing grand old building with 25 bedrooms. Queen Victoria and family came to stay a few months before Albert died. She gave 6 years notice of her impending arrival and stayed just 2 days, sleeping in a bed she brought from home. Apparently she sent heaps of wealthy families to the wall as they completely renovated their homes for her with great extravagances they couldn't afford like they did here. A sideboard took 4 years to carve in Italy - heavy elaborate drapes were brought in from France and they had to install a fire escape - Victoria was paranoid about being caught in a fire.

On the plane on the way to Ireland we noticed that Riverdance was in Killarney while we were there so we shouted ourselves tickets and absolutely loved the show. Both of us have been practising our Irish dancing ever since - aisles at supermarkets seem to provide the necessary amount of space. Cathy & Ric

PS I am a bit behind with the diary - please forgive me but you will be getting peppered over the next couple of days. Finding internet has been a challenge - next time I'll definitely travel with a laptop.

Fiddly Dee

21 June 2007

I forgot to tell you when we were in Dublin on the last day we saw a guy singing in Grafton Street " I'm Irish.....fidldy dee, fiddly dum, I'm Irish......fiddly dee, fiddly dum" over and over in the hot sun - he was dancing with an old lady out of the crowd - then he said "Get your free CD, all proceeds go to charity" - we cracked up! Also Ric was tickled by an ad he saw on TV for ice-cream - "It takes a whole pint of milk to make one litre of ice-cream".

After a great night's sleep and some clothes washing at Tri's parents, Ginni pointed out all the 'must see' spots on the map. We hit the road not really sure where we would end up, but heading down towards the south west. First stop though was at Newgrange, not far from Balbriggan – another prehistoric site, but this time a building - they call it a passage tomb - but no one is buried here however, cremated remains were placed inside when it was built around 3200 BC (about 1000 years before the pyramids!!!) Theories abound as to what it is, how it was built and why but no one knows for sure.

The structure is a weird earth mound - huge in proportion flagged all round with massive stones (tonnes) on their sides (brought from many kilometres away) and is the whole thing is faced on the front with quartz - which was put back in more recent times. Inside there is a 19m long passage ending at a cruciform chamber - that fits in about 20 people at one time. The space in the middle is made by corbelling - an ancient building technique using overlapping flat stones and is completely waterproof - still to this day. Our guide tells us it is the oldest building in the world. Simple line drawings of swirls and circles were pecked into the hard rocks on the largest stones. The most intricate pattern is on the stone in front of the opening - it looks a bit like an ancient Aboriginal map. Amazingly the passage lines up with the sun on the winter solstice so that for 17 minutes in the depth of winter the sun shines through the light box constructed above the low entryway and penetrates right to the inner chamber (if it's not cloudy or rainy on that day of course)! Quite mind boggling. The visitor centre is outstanding with dioramas of what life would have been like around the day when the mound was constructed including mocked up clothing from animal furs, reconstructed huts and such. Around the time Newgrange was constructed most people on average only lived to 25 years of age with the oldest people only getting to 50 so this would have taken a few lifetimes to construct.

Everyone listened transfixed as our young Irish guide, Mary, told the story of the place. She was very quietly spoken but had us all in the palm of her hand with her descriptions and dramatic pauses. Her enthusiasm was obvious and she engendered respect for the place - at least I thought so. The group was too big to fit inside all at once so while the first half of the group went in the other of us half waited outside in the bright shining sun before we squeezed up the tiny passage to the surprisingly spacious chamber. A couple of young American guys waited with us. All of a sudden one clambered up onto the 2 metre high standing stone just adjacent to the mound and had to be asked to get down. Unbelievable! His comment as he jumped down was - "I'm not going to hurt it- it's only a rock."

Back on the road we make a bee line for Kilkenny - trying to enjoy the Irish countryside enroute. The confounded hedgerows get in the way and we don't enjoy too many vistas. All roads in Ireland are currently being upgraded as the place is in a boom period, so road works are a common feature. The roads are narrow - without verges and as in England, the Irish just stop their car in the middle of the road - never mind where and everyone just goes around. It's like putting the hazard lights on means road rules no longer apply - you have an amnesty for however long the lights flash. The new works are done so haphazardly - the whole road at once torn up and gravel made on site. Cathy & Ric

In Dublin’s Fair City

14 June 2007

We arrived back in Gatwick - the plane was inexplicably running half an hour late and so we only had 2.5 hours to arrive, collect our luggage, head off to Heathrow by bus (1 hour 20 on a good day) via the M25 (that car park!) and check in for the next flight to Dublin. Everything went smoothly got our bags quickly - caught a bus that left within 2 minutes of us getting on - no traffic on the M25 - quick check in - then we ran through the rat run that they send you on through Heathrow - no dramas whatsoever.

We got to Dublin at about 11pm and stayed at the airport - the room was wondrous after Dubrovnik - did I tell you our apartment was in an attic and you could only stand up in the middle of the rooms - we both sustained a few bumps and bruises from the sloping walls - and the toilet was pretty well in the shower - very hygienic but slippery. Bewley's Hotel at Dublin airport was spacious, clean, crisp and white. Ric flailed his arms wildly around for a few minutes after we arrived to enjoy the space.

Next morning we headed into Ball’s Bridge in Dublin - as it happened it was just around the corner from where Tri lives when she's there. We dumped our bags and walked straight into town to get a feel for the place. Right in the centre of the city there is this giant silver spike - the Millennium Spire - erected to replace Nelson's Pillar that was blown up in 1966. It's 120 metres tall - most unusual and striking. A taxi driver told us they are just starting to get used to it. We wandered around and found the Liffey- the tidal river that runs through the centre of the city - checked out Temple Bar - a cobble-stoned area that is now extremely touristy - and wandered down Grafton St - the main shopping precinct of the city. There are Romanian gypsies everywhere - with swaddled babies (even kids up to 5 years get wrapped up like babies) - mum’s eyes downcast, begging. Ric and I got separated and we both started thinking we would never see each other again - so once we were reunited we decided a drink was in order. We headed for a grand pub decorated in art deco with leather lounges opposite the GPO and waited for Tri to come and meet us.

Tri was a wonderful guide - and her commentary was very personal - down to her Granny being holed up in a wardrobe that got dragged into a blockade on O'Connell Street during the Irish Easter uprising of 1916.She pointed out buildings her Dad and Grandad had owned and the places she'd kicked around as a kid. We walked back to Ball's Bridge met up with Natt and her friend Laura who just arrived from Cambridge, drank a couple of celebratory bottles of champagne then walked back into town for more sightseeing and dinner. We ate a meal in a cavernous hall of a building turned into a pub and restaurant - absolutely packed with people - it once must have been a shoe factory because one wall was decorated entirely by shelf after shelf of shoe lasts. Walking around on a Friday night in Dublin was electric - every pub was filled to overflowing with people standing in the night time sun lit streets, drinking pints and laughing. Ric said he had never walked that far in his life when we got home - we were all foot weary - Tri's feet were even bleeding!

Dublin is an eclectic place - the beauty is in the detail - the shamrocks on the lamp post, the brightly coloured front doors and a tiny shop jammed in a corner - you couldn't describe the city as beautiful. Sadly there is rubbish all around and millions of cigarette butts but the place is very welcoming despite its comely appearance.

We walked Ric and the girls to the Guinness Factory through an area on the wrong side of Dublin. Tri tells me you can tell from the shape of people's faces which side of the Liffey they are from - we laugh when we hear a mother confiding to a friend that her toddler will grow up to be a handsome knacker (slang for a rough character) as Tri and I head to a emerald green park next to a church to chill out before all meeting up again in town. Ric is disappointed the Guinness Tour is 'virtual' with no actual brewing on show. Apparently the view from the top coupled with the 'free' Guinness helped to ease his chagrin. Natt's shoes can't sustain the amount of kilometres we've covered and completely blow out - she buys a pair of leather thongs (flip flops here) to replace them.

We walk back again to Ball's Bridge before dinner and Ric and I taste our first sip of Bolly before walking back into town again for Japanese dinner. Together with Ginni, Tri's mate joining us for Natt's birthday dinner Ric puffs up - he is surrounded by 5 beautiful women and glances around to see if anyone has noticed! We have an outstanding meal, laugh our heads off and head off to an outlandishly decorated pub for more partying - I meet a guy who is a ranger at Phoenix Park in Dublin, 712ha - lawns and stuff, all enclosed with deer grazing we compare jobs and realise they are very different - he's horrified to hear we shoot deer! Natt and I have a dance and finally we decide to head home - this time in a taxi. We chat to the good natured taxi driver who recognises our accents immediately and he tells us about a boy who was transported to Australia for picking up an apple that had fallen outside a walled orchard!

Next day we head out for breakfast and Ric accidentally drops his telephone into a deep section of the Grand Canal just near our hotel. We wander into town via a park where artists display their works along the fences and enjoy a free outdoor gallery experience. Many of the local landscapes have dark brooding skies with grey seas - As I put on sunscreen it occurs to me that the hot sunny day overhead is at odds with the Ireland represented in the paintings. The artworks in the National Gallery across the road have the same muted colours. Back in town we enjoy a coffee together before heading of to pick up our hire car. Tri, Ginni Ric and I head to Balbriggan to Tri's Mam & Da's (sorry Tri) and the girls laze in the sunny park before heading back to Cambridge. I talk to Natt later that evening to hear that the flight back to England is completely unloaded due to her luggage! Meanwhile in Balbriggan we walk along the seaside (rocky beach) to Skerries about 7 km away to witness an amazing sunset over the sea and eat an incredibly fresh feed of fish, rounded off with a Baileys on ice. Cathy & Ric

White & Shiny Dubrovnik

7 June 2007

In Gatwick we drop off our little car - affectionately known as the Pug that has carried us 1800 miles (3000 or so km) around England and Scotland, skirting Wales and find a motel room that has everything we want except atmosphere and climate control! The heat is stifling indoors overnight until we come out into the cool of the morning. The flight to Dubrovnik takes 3 hours and we sit next to a guy and his wife from Perth! Flying in, the landscape is reminiscent of Tuscany - stark hills, cypress pine and white stone. The blue Adriatic shimmers.

We are picked up by our host at the airport and drive the 22km to town along the cliff side road. Suddenly he makes a wild turn into a tiny parking bay above the city and bids us to get out. We look below and a flight of stairs that defies imagination lies before us. He points out his sister waving - a speck in the distance and we struggle downward with our bags, better than carrying them up I suppose. Finally we make it without tumbling uncontrollably down (my imagination running off again) and she shows us to the starkest of white rooms containing only 2 beds and an unbelievable view of the harbour and the terracotta roofed old town. Oh - we booked an apartment for 4 nights, I stammer. Sorry not available, is the reply, this your room. So after a quick orientation of how to get to the old town we leave our bags and continue down the stairs.

I try to block out visualizing walking back up. I can't believe there is a place with more stairs than Positano in Italy but Dubrovnik is a clear winner. We cross the fair dinkum drawbridge into the old town. Once inside the dazzling white of the limestone walls and pavements nearly blinds us. The main street has seen so many feet the limestone blocks are worn shiny like faux marble. We are immediately confronted with a map of the houses that lost their roofs, buildings that were completely demolished and direct hits during the war (1991-1995). 90% of the buildings needed re roofing evidenced by the pristine terracotta tiles now in place. Many buildings have been obviously repaired - others just left as is. Ric and I decide to walk around the fortified walls for a bird’s eye view of the place - yet another maze - this time of tiny laneways, many just stairs radiating out from the main shiny pathway.

The view from the top of the wall is nothing short of spectacular. On the seaward side are high cliffs down to the ocean and then views across the red roofs and up 'that' hill to our room. After taking many photos we complete the 3 kilometre circuit and come down into the town. Time to eat - restaurants in every direction, down every lane way, all with a person politely touting for business outside each one. We choose a modest looking set of tables lining one side of a lane, 3 storeys of limestone blocks either side. We order fish and it is delicious - pan fried in butter - sea bass for Ric, bream for me. Afterwards we notice the movies and decide to go - it's 'Piratez s Kariba'. It's in English with Croatian subtitles. It finishes late into the night and there's nothing for it, up we go.

I couldn't help thinking of the fire fighting fitness test that we have to do when we come home - this counted as serious training! 20 minutes later, blood pounding in our temples and sweating profusely we showered and fell into bed for a fitful sleep - broken by building works at 3am – yes, there's still more reconstruction happening - not sure why they do it in the middle of the night though. The sound of machinery and clinking stone blocks reverberates around the side of the mountain at an ungodly hour. Next morning we resolve to move - I talk to guy and he is very smooth - suddenly an apartment is available only 20 euros more per night. We tell him we will think about it over breakfast - pack our bags and head off to find somewhere else - preferably down the bottom of the hill. The tourist info place comes good and we get an apartment in the old town. We've got to go up the hill again and drag the bags down - oh well, last time.

Dubrovnik is the pearl of the Adriatic, so said Byron, and George Bernard Shaw said - if you are looking for paradise on earth, search for it in Dubrovnik! It is such a beautiful place it’s hard to believe it was cruelly bombed by the then Yugoslavians. The Old Town of Dubrovnik was recognized by UNESCO through its inclusion on the World Heritage List in 1979 and the attention of the world may have saved the place from complete destruction. Even though the war continued for 4 years bombings stopped here after 9 months. War, what is it good for? - Absolutely nothing!

Thousands of tourists surge through this place, many following a tour guide for a few hours before jumping back aboard a bus and heading for the next destination. Ric and I have the luxury of a few days and investigate many of the lanes, climb countless stairs and marvel at the history this pace has amassed. As with desirable or strategic locations many regimes have conquered Dubrovnik, the Hapsburgs, Germans, Serbs and Italians. There have probably been others. Curiously the necktie is said to have begun here - Louis 14th stole the idea sometime in the 15th century from the soldiers’ uniform.

We take a charter boat ride with a couple from Birmingham and the deep azure of the sea is even more brilliant from water level. The ride takes us along the cliff edge of the city walls and out around the vegetation covered island of Lockrum - a national park with the remains of a monastery and a ranger's house the only buildings on the island. It looks idyllic but a long way from home. We notice new buildings with unsympathetic architecture are beginning to spring up that threaten to ruin the charm of this place. We find a restaurant that serves whole, deep fried sardines – eyes, guts and all - they are absolutely delicious and we cannot stay away, eating lunch & dinner there for a couple of days. We try just about everything on the menu the octopus salad is probably the best with capers and red onion, yum! We head of to the movies again this time to see Miss Potter - it's very pertinent since it is set in the Lakes District in England and we both enjoy the locations as much as the storyline. The last night we go to the only movie we haven't seen in town at the open air theatre this time - Blades of Glory, it's a crazy movie but we have a good laugh. This cinema is just a vacant block with tiered concrete steps completely surrounded by peoples’ apartments on 3 levels - windows all opening on it. I wonder if they get sick of the same movie showing for a week at a time? A little girls runs in just as the lights go off and sits in front of us she waves at her mum hanging out a third story window just to the right of the screen. The little girl watches the movie while her mum watches her for the whole 1.5 hours.

Today we packed up and are off the Dublin via London to meet Natt for her birthday should be fun. Cathy & Ric

Chester to Bath to Dinton

4 Jun 2007

We wake up in Penrith refreshed after a great night's sleep to a beautiful breakfast - fresh fruit, the obligatory full English breakfast, and great coffee. Juxtaposed outside however, we find that bank holiday revellers have kicked the side mirrors off five cars parked in the street - ours being one of them. Ric manages to cobble the mirror back together despite a few broken pieces that are missing. Off we zoom to Chester past Manchester and Liverpool without so much as a sideways glance. Truly this place has just too much to see - and you can turn yourself in knots worrying about what you've missed or trying to get everything in. We've finally surrendered to only doing a few things well.

We arrive in Chester welcomed by blustery winds and freezing rain showers, and umbrella our way into town. We are at once entranced by the striking black and white Tudor buildings. The main street is a mall and is lined by building after building, all with their own signature style. Some ornate - others simple, but all distinctive - black and white. The amazing things are the walkways on the first floor that traverse across the first floor of each building a sort of incorporated veranda, where you can get a birds eye view of the building across the street as well as everything happening below. The floors lurch crazily in every direction from building to building and some don't even have enough head room to accommodate Ric standing erect. Looking at the buildings from the outside you can see the crazy floor levels evidenced by huge beams that probably were never quite straight and appear to have sagged considerably over their 500 year lives.

After looking around we beat our retreat to the B& B – nothing to report there, but we head down the street to the pub and are enticed into the smoky environs by £4 meals. We sit down and engage in conversation with a local who was bemused that we travelled across the world to visit his local pub. We discuss the upcoming ban on smoking - which annoying begins after we leave - and he remonstrates that he thinks everyone will give up going to the pub. I doubt it! Smoking indoors is already banned in Scotland (and Ireland) and from what I've seen so far there are not many empty pubs!

Next day we are off Bath and drive around madly trying to find our accommodation - only to discover some streets have two names in this city - one side is called one thing the other is called another – making navigating most infuriating. Bath is distinguished by it's Georgian architecture; the best collection in the world apparently - although I find it much more flat and less ornate and while more perfect than the Tudor much less appealing- Ric tells me it's not his favourite. After a nights sleep we wander into town for decent coffee and drop into the impressively huge cathedral. We listen to a guide who tells her group that the interior and exterior has been recently cleaned - using toothbrushes! It must have taken a few years! She goes on to say that the rector asked parishioners from the pulpit to bring in their old toothbrushes!! She also tells her group that the cathedral has the most memorials dotted around the walls - second only to Westminster Abbey. A lot of people came to Bath for a miracle cure even from Roman days, and apparently a lot of them never left, hence the far afield places many people hale from in the memorials. We wander around for a while and I read a plaque that said 'In Memory of Bill Jones, suddenly translated from earth to heaven this night aged 81 years'. Very poignant.

Then we head off to visit the roman baths. As we wait in line to buy our ticket the sign regales us with the myriad tourism awards this place has won. We weren't disappointed! The whole complex is nothing short of remarkable. The audio tour is included in the price and has a varied range of commentaries to choose from including one for kids, one by Bill Bryson and various others including actors being Romans. The site itself is amazingly intact in parts considering its age. In other parts where only fragments remain they have cleverly filled in the gaps with fake walls depicting original finishes. Brilliant videos that recreate the rooms from their present state to their original glory further fill in the gaps. I dip my hand into the hot sulphurous water as I listen to the commentary and hear that the Emperor would have taken 2 baths a day if he had time, along with a massage, and then indulged in consuming oysters, brought to Bath in sea water to keep them fresh. I'm sure I was an Emperor in a previous life - it all sounded perfect (or 'pairfect' as they say around here) to me. I hear Ric laughing listening to his commentary - he tells me he thinks I was a Roman Emperor!
It's quite amazing to hear that the baths themselves are still waterproof over 2000 years later - as built by the Romans - lead lined - with special joins! Other pipes have reinforced lead joins indicating water was piped around the baths under pressure. Quite extraordinary! On our way out we are given a glass of hot spring water to drink. I can only manage a sip as I think of the guide in the cathedral who said so many people died after drinking it. Maybe they didn't die from drinking the water but I'm not taking chances. We planned to stay a couple of nights in Bath but the particularly nasty weather and the decidedly unfriendly B&B proprietor spur us onwards on journey to Salisbury, not far down the road. Here we hit the B&B jackpot at a farm stay in the nearby village of Dinton.

The spacious room is welcoming along with the hosts - Fiona and Mark - who like are us are empty nesters but with a huge 17th century house on their hands. The house was a temporary home for a wealthy family who was waiting for their 'proper' house to be completed. Mark's family has been farming sheep and crops there for 3 generations.

We decide to stay 2 nights and enjoy the king sized bed and the absolute serenity outside the city. We are sweetly advised of the morning by a chorus of birds and the sound of squirrels scampering industriously outside our window. Speaking of birds and such, we have become addicted to a brilliant show on BBC TV presented by Bill Oddie called Springwatch. They set up a range of cameras to catch the action in various bird nests, a badger's hole and follow the fortunes of a clutch of rescued blue jays. The action is mostly live and a whole hour of prime time is devoted to the show. Amazingly they advise people to feed birds and a competition is on for viewers to provide their favourite bird food recipe! It's like an animal version of Big Brother - without the manipulation. A clutch of five owl chicks reduced itself to 3 over the week we'd been watching through the bigger chicks eating the runts -is that called siblicide? A family of five kingfishers learn the fishing ropes and a large family of badgers tackle climbing for the first time - all gripping viewing. We have our own animal encounter next morning with Henny Penny - the resident sole surviving chicken (her coop mates where cleaned up by foxes) jumping into our car and meticulously cleaning any crumbs of food off the floor. Ric is surprised how friendly chickens can be! More later. Cathy & Ric

Monday, September 03, 2007

Not Smiling, Grimacing

Stumpy is getting bitten here - ouch! From the damage on the interloper's head though I think Stumpy may have got the first good bite in.

Stumpy is on the left, her head in the pincer like jaws of the new bluey dubbed "Munchy".

Previously I've posted photos of our resident female Blue-tongued lizard in a lovers' embrace but not this was more like mortal combat! On the weekend, our neighbours 2 doors up reported having relocated a sizable female bluey to rescue it from the jaws of Hunter, their aptly named fox terrier, onto the property that separates out houses. Meanwhile at home "Stumpy" was sunning herself in the fresh mulch next to the metal section she had commandeered at the end of last summer as a ready made although somewhat straight burrow, unaware her paradise was soon to be invaded.

Less than an hour later the new female was challenging Stumpy to the rights of her garden haven. They fought quite relentlessly, the sound of crunching teeth(?) turned my stomach as the invader locked her jaws onto Stumpy's head. Unable to watch for longer than 5 minutes we grabbed the interloper and took her down the back yard and offered up a plastic pipe that was gratefully accepted. We'll see what happens!

Lakes and Cars and Dogs on the Bank Bloody Holiday

31 May 2007

We finished our drive through the Scottish Highlands and headed back to Edinburgh for our final night in the apartment - then packed up and headed to Stirling to check out the famed castle. Stirling Castle did not disappoint! The restoration works were magnificent with major ancient tapestries being recreated as well as the buildings. The displays were excellent as well documenting the painstaking efforts to faithfully put back what was damaged or missing, and life as it had been in the castle. The military stuff was fierce some. Even the modern history in WWI & II with horrifying stories of soldiers using sharpened shovels as weapons and hand making clubs from heavy pieces of metal machinery for convenience of size in the trenches. We headed off to Luss to see the bonny banks of Loch Lomand. It was more vast than I had imagined with a sandy shore and a timber wharf. The village of Luss was beyond quaint and the maddening nose poke of visitors might have explained the lack of locals anywhere to be seen. We wandered up to the little church surrounded by old grave markers as a wedding was about to commence. The nervous groom paced inside the stone yard. We happened upon a cafe - and sat down to a hearty hot soup and delicious hank of hot fresh bread before continuing on down south.

After leaving Luss we headed into Glasgow for a quick look - a big mistake - it was Saturday on the Bank holiday weekend that was also the beginning of a mid term break (school holidays) and a big 1st division final footy match on in Glasgow that day. Bloody hell! The traffic was bumper to bumper (again!) and our nerves were pretty frayed as we sat waiting in a line of traffic into a car park when the FULL sign went up. We had nowhere to go with 3 lanes of cars and us, buried squarely in the middle of it all. Every now and then a car or two would leave and the FULL sign would disappear and let 2 more cars in. Finally in and finding an empty car space was as difficult as you could imagine. Then when we found our way into the middle of Glasgow Square? Mall? There were literally hundreds of thousands of people - it was quite overwhelming. We found out what was going on and after checking the internet for accommodation options our worst fears were realised. The city was overflowing. So we beat our retreat and headed out towards Carlisle.

At Carlisle we hit the trifecta - not the winning one though. We spied a B&B with a vacancy sign after trying a couple of hotels - all booked out (there was a racing carnival in Carlisle this weekend!) So we went in and secured a bed. The man seemed nice enough and sent us across the road to the pub for dinner where we met a couple from Newcastle who we saw at one of the hotels - sprinting across the car park to beat us to a room. They'd been having much the same experience as us in Glasgow! After dinner we headed home and I found after showering for bed that the sheets were somewhat used - I just brushed out the black coarse hairs and fell into bed exhausted. Then the rhythmic banging of the music must have started around 11pm. The disco at the pub outside our window was getting into full swing and continued on well into the wee small hours. To complete the trifecta coffee in the morning was akin to grey dishwater. Oh well.

We put all that behind us and headed off to the Lakes District where the scenery made up for our aborted attempt to get to know Glasgow. The leafy green tunnels opened out to vistas of shimmering lakes with narrow stone-fenced roads slowing everyone down to a pleasant sightseeing pace. We pulled into Glen Ridding just as it began to shower and wandered into the tiny village and checked out the national parks visitor centre. It was freezing! Everywhere there are serious walkers - gaiters, walking poles, gortex anoraks with the obligatory dog in tow. People were camped here in the rain with their dogs and a little bit or rain or freezing temperatures will not deter them from their walking/camping bank holiday weekend. Very stoic. I guess the bank holiday weekend is a little like our Easter camping weekend - it is guaranteed to rain the lady tells us in the visitor centre.

We decide to continue down to Windermere and Ambleside the heart of the Lakes District - and the drive through the mountain pass is extraordinary. Huge looming hills - bare, save for a large rock here or there and then a stone house and a gaggle of stone farm buildings. Then the stone fences - they cross-stick the rugged landscape in every direction you can see, including up! The hills rise to mountains and the dry stone fences struggle ever upward, til beaten by the grade. A marvel of human engineering - some meticulously straight - other taking wild beds or wiggles - to avoid hips and hollows? Bad surveying? Or just for fun? I'm not sure. The amazing thing is how many miles of them there are (local measure)! I would say hundreds or even thousands. How long does it take to build a dry stone fence - maybe 2 feet thick, tapered at the top, 5 feet or so high, on the side of a mountain for miles and miles? How many people does it take? Ric and I joke about the wife asking the farmer about his day - every day - for his whole life building stone fences.

Talking of miles - it's weird here how the temperature is in celsius, the money is decimal currency but the measure of distance is miles. A persistent struggle to hold on to an imperial measure?
Close to the top scree slopes reveal the seemingly endless source of the stone - I wonder if the owner of that land made his fortune selling it to his neighbours? As we wind back down into the valley, the temperature rises and the beautiful leafy hues of green envelop us again as we drive flanked by a wide lake at an ever decreasing speed. The problem? Traffic of course.
Slowly we crawl into the Windermere high street and despite the beautiful buildings we are horrified to see that half of England has chosen this weekend to head to the Lakes District as well. There are so many people walking along the streets they cannot fit on to the footpath so spill on to the roads, replete with their dogs on leads, serving only to create more traffic chaos. We head to the short stay car park and are confronted with as many cars looking for car parks as there are cars already parked. By some stroke of luck we jag a park and jostle our way into the village with all the people and the dogs. We find the tourist info place only to find it is being refurbished and although open is not assisting visitors with accommodation. The cheerful man behind the counter informs me this is the busiest weekend in the Lakes District and we would be lucky to find anywhere to stay - save the places costing £100 plus (just times it by two and a half). Crikey! So we head off to Penrith via Ambleside to take in all we are missing. Ambleside is truly beautiful - Tudor style houses and pubs with the fairytale lake and castle with turret in the background. Finally we speed off up the ‘A something or other’ towards Penrith. A large racecourse looms into view as we drive into town with a crowded car park with a couple of police directing traffic out front. Oh no, not again!!! Bloody bank holiday weekend. After trying a couple of hotels we find a row of B&B's. The one I choose is heavenly - clean quiet and spacious. We wander down the street and eat a sumptuous Indian feed and then quietly waddle home to sleep in crisp clean sheets. Goodnight!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bonny Scotland

27 May 2007

We left York and headed north on the A road through the Yorkshire Dales and Moors National Parks. Driving along the A or B roads is like taking the back roads through the countryside rather than the motorways (freeways in our lingo) the views are spectacular - when you can see them, that is! All along the roads are either hedgerows or rock walls obscuring your vision down to a green-lined, grey ribbon along the roads. As we drive through the Moors and the Dales we catch glimpses across oceans of green or bright yellow fields with zephyrs gently playing across the crops. White sheep with black faces and playful lambs dot emerald quilts, patch worked with stone fences. The parks are certainly different to our own but still very beautiful.

I forgot to tell you when we drove to York from Cambridge we stopped at Sherwood Forest near Nottingham. It's an amazing forest of senescing oak trees. Not surprising that they are nearing the end of their life really -they are so old! Some are over 1000! The oldest of them all was this tree named The Major Oak - it's giant spreading limbs held up by steel struts and supports that somehow manage to steal it's dignity. This tree was said to have hidden Robin Hood at some time or another - maybe when he was evading the Sheriff of Nottingham.

We arrived in Edinburgh in peak hour so it was complete chaos driving into the city, particularly as we didn't have a map. We soon worked out where we were, using all our tracking skills, and made our way across the cobbled streets to our apartment. We stayed 3 days - spent the first exploring Edinburgh, including walking up the high hill from the river to the castle. The Scots of old were a warring lot and all the interpretation at the castle is devoted to battles, wars, war heroes and weapons. A bit confronting - no wonder Hadrian built a wall to keep the Scots out of Britain in Roman times. Edinburgh itself is an amazing city if not a bit drab. The buildings are very beautiful but all soot covered. I guess it gets cold and coal fires are absolutely necessary.

The second day we took a drive up north to the highlands. First we fang across the Firth of Forth to Fife - that is we drove across the harbour bridge to Fife. The harbour is named the Firth of Forth! In fact there's a few forths around Scotland.

The scenery was spectacular and uniquely Scottish. Amazing leafy forests then on to huge heather covered mountains. Ric and I practice our Scottish accents on all the road signs but manage to sound Irish or even Italian - we are both easily amused. Our first stop was at Pit Lockry where we checked out a fish ladder for the salmon that need to swim upstream beyond the power station to spawn. Somehow they work out they have to swim through a maze of tunnels and ponds to get upstream. There was a glass wall on one of the ponds and a counter - none were in there though. I saw a huge salmon jump below the weir wall.
We drove on to Blair Athol - and then down a lime green, ancient tree lined avenue which revealed the beautifully white washed, fairy story Blair Castle. The entrance hall is terrifyingly completely bedecked with hundreds of weapons of every type in every space on the 4m high walls. Muskets, crossbows, knives and spears are all arranged in geometric patterns. I asked the man if was a new exhibit and he assures me all entrance halls of castles and halls (huge houses) are similarly fitted out from their inception. It's meant as a show of strength to visitors and I guess easy to grab a gun if you need to quickly respond to trouble. And it seems there was a lot of trouble in Scotland over the years! The rest of the castle is crammed with artefacts and furniture and ancient family portraits that put our piddling, short lived history to shame.

We continue on to Bruar's - the Harrods of Scotland. It's quite unexpected to find a David Jones-esque food hall in the countryside of northern Scotland. Lunch is Haggis and neaps - a mince of who knows what and mashed turnips. Very tasty! From here the landscape changes markedly to soaring mountains covered with low shrubs - heather to be accurate and on the very tops little remnant drifts of snow. We stop near a tiny stream and taste the water that has run down from the heavens. There is water everywhere, the vegetation is all peatish and waterfalls cascade from on high every few minutes along the road. The amazing thing is you can smell the heather - the tiny white flowers subtly perfume the air all around with a faint honey and baby powder fragrance. Amazingly there are walkers everywhere. They brave the elements (it was showering) and walk up hills that rival even Kosciusko. We are suitably impressed.
I guess that's all for now - finding a computer is harder than I imagined hence the space between correspondence!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Haven’t seen the Grand Old Duke of York yet

23 May 2007
Well today I write from York. We left Cambridge yesterday and picked up our little hire car that Natt found for us - instead of an Vauxhall (Holden) Astra that she booked we got upgraded to a Peugeot 307 with a sun roof! Very smick! We drove around Cambridge a couple of times on the ring road before leaving (not by choice) took a wrong turn and was confronted with a rising bollard in a controlled area. Needless to say we weren't supposed to drive there and a police-looking type man started to walk towards us but I was able to utilise the tiny turning circle and burn rubber getting away. Ric was supposed to be navigating but he couldn't concentrate on the map with all the beautiful buildings we hadn't seen on foot. We finally got on the A1 and headed north.

The countryside is truly beautiful - leafy emerald green fields lay in every direction. Through the sun roof we could see cloud building then rain showers and then patches of blue. We drove straight into York and paid £6 for parking one hour (about $15). The traffic here as everywhere including the big arterial roads and small back roads is crazy. I think there are just way too many cars in this country. If everyone went out driving at the same time it would just be gridlock from one end of the country to the other. No wonder just about everyone has a bike for when they can't face the traffic. Consequently today when we drove back into York we used the 'Park& Ride' option. You park out of town for free and catch a bus that gets caught in the traffic - oh well, some lanes are just for buses.

I booked accommodation for us from the internet and I didn't realise it was a 'theme' motel. We were amused to find our room was in a railway carriage! Pretty small but cozy - a shame the TV was on the wall above our heads (go figure?)

We went to the restaurant for a drink and some dinner- the whole complex is right next to a main railway line. Huge trains and smaller ones wizz and clatter past about every 15 minutes. There was a couple in the restaurant and every few minutes the husband raced outside with his expensive looking Nikon camera to capture a shot of the locomotive for posterity. He didn't photograph every train mind you - just the ones he was enamored with. Some even honked in appreciation as they raced past! I tried to engage him in conversation to find out what his penchant was but he and his wife were quintessentially British and preferred not to elaborate beyond the absolute minimum. I didn't press my luck with them but found out he was an actual 'train spotter' and his wife did not share his passion beyond accompanying him on the 'spotting' expeditions.

Overnight it took a few hours to calm my nerves when a train suddenly burst through the sound barrier - and convinced myself they wouldn't derail and land on my head, which was closest to the tracks (< 5 m) through a very thin timber carriage. Needless to say I survived the night and will no doubt sleep better tonight with a few passionfruit vodkas under my belt!

This morning we went to Fountain's Abbey near Ripon. It was extraordinary. I think Ric and I took about 4,000 photos between us. It was huge and ruined (that's why we were there really) King Henry VIII apparently took the honours for ruining this Abbey since the catholics wouldn't let him divorce when he got sick of his wives. So he vindictively tore the roof off and sold the iron and cast the monks out. But according to the chaplain who gave us a potted history in the spectacularly beautiful grounds, the Abbey was already on the road to ruin. Money and other such worldly distractions had made them unpopular with their townsfolk as well. I gather Henry disbanded all monkeries and abbeys - but will have to read more on the subject.

Sadly this afternoon when we arrived back in York the camera battery has gone flat and there are so many sights to document. We went to the York Minster (huge cathedral) and walked down the Shambles - a small lane with weird leaning buildings defying gravity. Might come here tomorrow really early before everyone is up to capture it on chip!
That's all for today!

Yes I Am Alive!

Not a very faithful blogger, am I? So much has happened since February - suffice to say that the UK, Ireland and Croatia are very beautiful, but seriously there's no place like home. For whomever may be interested you are about to be subjected to installment one of my travel diary from our trip...

Hong Kong to Cambridge
20 May 2007

Well we've just had the last few days in Cambridge with Natty. The flight over was completely painless - flying in the day I think is the answer - arrive in the night or afternoon and just sleep, then tomorrow is another day! Probably the good seats had something to do with it as well.

Hong Kong was brilliant - we were very relaxed compared with the first time we visited and walked from Mong Kok down to the harbour and back about 4 times in the day and a half we were there. The smell of HK is unmistakable: cured seafood, liniment, spices and curdled milk all rolled into one. Walking in crowds of thousands of people is like being in a ballet, or swimming as part of a huge school of fish, and is strangely not unpleasant.

Cambridge on the other hand is an out of sync tangle of bikes, people, car, buses and the odd truck (lorry). The architecture is a stark contrast with that in HK as well - and it has completely blown us away. The college buildings in Cambridge range in age from 1000 to 1979 - almost a millennium, which is quite difficult for me to wrap my mind around. The buildings throughout the town are all very ornate and impressive as one would expect for this town with prestige to burn! Most of the colleges have been closed to visitors as it is exam time, and we peeked through the stone arch of one but were chased out by a very cranky porter (the man who sits in the office at the front).
We've been on day trips across the fen (a huge ancient wetland that was drained in the 1700's with help from Dutch engineers) to Ely whose massive cathedral is known as the 'ship of the fen' and ate lunch at a lovely pub aside a canal. Ric tells me it won pub of the year! Then we went to Newmarket and Natt and I shopped while Ric sat in another pub and wrote his diary. Yesterday we went off across the fen again to Bury Saint Edmonds - which was once an important religious centre with a huge Abbey with lots of Monks. The place got renamed Bury St Edmunds after poor old St Edmund got killed in 870 and his body was moved there in 903. The Abbey was destroyed by the townspeople in 1539 because they rebelled against the mean Abbot that lorded over the place. We went to the brilliant markets and then walked through the expansive grounds of the giant ruined Abbey, Ric was in his element. This is truly a pathetic history of the place. I just looked it up on the internet and a lot happens over a course of a few thousand years! That's all for now.