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A Crazy Idea Too!

 
h1={color:#000;}. []A Crazy Idea Too

Copyright 2017 Chris Wells

Published by Chris Wells at Shakespir

 

 

 

Shakespir Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Shakespir.com or your favourite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Table of contents

Intro

The Idea

The Blog

The fashion show

Packing

And away we go

Stevington

Ickwell

Gillingham

Dover

Rochester

Canterbury

The Stowaway

The tour begins

Four countries

Amsterdam

Germany

Switzerland

Venice

Rome

Tuscany

Florence

Nice

Not so nice Nice

Spain

Barcelona

Madrid

Madrid and Toledo

Rosalie’s slant

Balbao

Poitiers

The road to Paris

Paris

Paris to Athens

Wednesday

Tree surgeon

The oldest olive tree

Another day off

[+ Down time -Rosalie +]

Day trip to Chania

Return to Athens

Athens our last day

Getting home

Impressions

The Blog and I

[][] Intro

These blogs were either written on the tour bus or late at night in our hotel room following a few glasses of wine. I’ve cleaned them up a bit but I’m sure they’re not perfect. This was after all, my first attempt.

They are meant to be fun and I hope that I delivered the sense of the fun we had.

I have to thank the following people.

Peter: who was the butt of most of my jokes; he’s a great guy.

Suzie: who kept Peter in check and holds the record for the fasted beer drunk.

And of course Rosalie: who kept me in check and gave me all the encouragement.

 

Most of the quotes came from https://www.brainyquote.com

“Friendship is the source of the greatest pleasures, and without friends even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious.”

Thomas Aquinas

The Idea

We don’t travel very often, maybe every year or two. 2015 was quite the exception, though. We started January off by going to Mexico for a month. In September we went to Europe for six weeks, and in January 2016, Arizona for two months.

When we got back from Mexico we were booked on a one-day river cruise up the Alberni Canal to Bamfield on Vancouver Island where we live. On the way back we were talking with a group of people when one lady mentioned that she was going to Europe for forty days. From what she was saying, it didn’t sound too expensive. So, on our way home my tiny mind started ticking over, and I thought maybe we could do a similar trip. What I didn’t think about at the time, was, that she was only one person and Rosalie and I are two, therefore, it would cost more.

The following day I paid a visit to our local travel agent to pick up a few catalogues. I had looked online for some possible tours, but she advised against the ones I chose, as they were pressure tours and sometimes on some of them we may even have to use public transport.

As this was my project, with Rosalie still working, I picked out another tour. I originally chose an eighteen-day trip that didn’t include Spain. But as this may be the only time we could do a trip like this I picked the twenty-one-day package instead, just to see what the extra cost would be. Back to the Travel agent!

She said that it was a good tour, and as Rosalie liked this one also, we started checking dates. We originally wanted to go in 2016 as we needed time to get used to the idea as this was a big expense. For some reason, the dates we wanted were all sold out. There happened to be a tour starting at the end of August 2015. They were selling fast but with four seats unsold. Yikes! Decisions, decisions! The travel agent also told me that she could hold two of the seats for three days at no cost, so I agreed and she reserved them for us.

Rosalie and I were starting to get excited now as it really looked as though we would be going. That afternoon we went to our good friends Peter and Suzie’s house to tell them the news and, as they are sensible, down to earth people, maybe they would point out the pitfalls. They took one look at the itinerary and said: “We want to go too”. So much for them being sensible! I remembered that there were two more seats available and promptly called the travel agent again. She confirmed that they were still unsold, so I handed the phone to Peter, and the rest, as they say, was a whole bunch of fun.

“No, No! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time”

Lewis Carroll

[] The Blog

As the trip got closer someone suggested that I should do a blog for friends and family back home. I thought this might be an idea worth looking into. I had a tiny bit of experience so I set up a website (http://www.abnd.ca), and started practicing.

I planned to blog each day, but couldn’t guarantee it as we had a hectic schedule and some concerns about Wi-Fi access. I bought an app that would allow me to blog off-line as we were travelling, and download the content later. This turned out to be a smart thing to do because often after a day on the bus I was too tired to think about blogging.

I wanted to include photos and had to do this in the evening, although I was able to add a few on the bus. We also wanted to keep the evening clear as Peter and I planned to try the local beer and wine in each country we visited. My good friend Malcolm and his wife Vivian live on the island of Crete He gets his wine locally in a one hundred and fifty-litre barrel so, as we were eventually heading there, I told him to make sure it was full when we got there.

We started off in England for a week visiting family and showing Peter and Suzie places they hadn`t seen. Then the tour started in London. We went to France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the south of France, Spain, back to France where the tour ended in Paris. Then we flew to Athens and then Crete for a week, then back to Athens for two days of sight-seeing. From there we came home. Phew!

“Yippee! I’m going to Europe”

Rosalie

[] The Fashion Show

About mid-way through the tour, the schedule showed that we were to have one evening in Monte Carlo. I’ve always wanted to drop the phrase “When I was in Monte Carlo.” into everyday conversation just to impress people. Yeah! Right!

Anyway, we had to have appropriate dress for the evening so I checked out my ‘wardrobe’ and found it was somewhat lacking. I haven’t had the need for dressy clothes for several years but was terrified that I would bump into Angelina Jolie and have her laugh at me. So we called on our good friend Lyn for an opinion as she seems to have a flair for these things. She came over and we had a few glasses of wine. I needed them as I had to parade myself for the two ladies to see what I looked like. I could tell by the laughter it wasn’t good. I wanted to wear my DOM tie (‘dirty old man’, yes I have one) but we decided it wasn’t appropriate.

Rosalie, on the other hand, tries her outfits on and looks great in all of them. Apparently, I have to go buy a whole new bunch of accessories, so it’s off to the Sally Anne Boutique to get myself outfitted. I had a suit that I had inherited so now all I needed was a new shirt and a suitable tie.

Also later on when we got to Paris I didn’t want to look like a geek walking down the Champs Elysees (Another one to drop into the conversation….like I just did. Wow, I’m getting good at this).

“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.”

Oscar Wilde

[] Packing

Three and a half days to go, the excitement, as well as the panic, were starting to set in.

We started packing and it looked as though we may not have enough room. I had tons, but Rosalie almost needed a separate shipping container.

We were running around the last two days picking up the extra little things we needed. You know, those little things that are essential but impossible to find. Like Canadian flag stickers so that people know we are not Americans. Although, more Americans are using Canadian stickers so we may be safer without them.

We found out that the stickers we bought weren’t stickers, so I had to start looking again. I finally found some at the local Dollar Store. I slapped them on our cases and we were almost ready to go.

I didn’t know if my fabulous wardrobe was ready yet. Lyn said she would let me know. Man, I got so nervous. I bought everything she said I should, but you know what women are like: it could change at any moment and I could end up wearing a rainbow tutu.

Unbeknownst to me, the girls had gone out and bought me a bunch of sports shirts for me to wear. Now I was set up for the daytime as well as the evening.

Rosalie was steadily packing. She had been for the previous month. Whereas I waited until the last possible minute and threw it all in. I cursed about the stuff I forgot later. I was worried that I was going to have to take a bunch of her stuff in my case, but she was really good so in the end, I only had to take a few things. She probably wanted to take a twenty-four pack of water just in case they don’t have any in Europe. The scariest part for me was how much stuff is she going to bring back? “Oh well!” I thought, “There’s always the shipping container.”

She also volunteered to redo our wills, cutting out the people we don’t like, and adding the ones that we do (I told our friends to be good to us as it might include them, and they may be able to use an extra $50)

I was a really hectic last week. (Sob!).

“I’m too grateful to be hateful; I’m too blessed to be stressed.”

El DeBarge

[] Away we go

Peter managed to get us to the ferry on time, so our journey began on a positive note. They were leaving three days after we were, as we were going to visit my cousin Peter and his wife Hillary in Bedfordshire. We couldn’t think of anything we had forgotten, so that was a good sign too.

We love living on Vancouver Island, but it can be a bit of a nuisance when travelling. We have a couple of choices to get to the Vancouver airport: Number one: take a ferry. This is the least expensive way to go but entails a two-hour ferry ride followed by a bus ride, followed by a rapid transit train ride. The other way is to fly over, but this way is more expensive. So we chose to haul our luggage over the hard way. We met some younger folks on the train on the way to the airport who were going to Las Vegas. I almost blurted out “Oh, well, we’re going to Monte Carlo” but I managed to control myself. I wanted to save it for when we got home anyway.

We took off on time and had a spectacular view of the Rockies. It was sunny, and as we had only just left, we were still flying fairly low. I got some great pictures. It sometimes makes us wonder why we leave this beautiful province of ours.

We flew British Airways this time, and the service was great. We had a full, three course, hot meal, with complimentary wine. Rosalie and I had two bottles each. I managed to sleep for a short time. Without a blanket: too cold; with a blanket: too hot, and it’s impossible to put just one leg out. Rosalie on the other hand just falls asleep at the drop of a hat. I really envy her. Did I mention the wine bottles were only 187 ml? We also got a breakfast but, no more wine.

When we arrived at Heathrow, two other flights arrived at the same time as ours, so it took us an hour to get through Immigration Control. But our cases were ready when we got to the carousel, so we just walked right out, where Peter and Hilary were waiting for us. It was good to see them again. They drove us to their home in Stevington, Bedfordshire and we spent the rest of the day trying to stay awake.

It was raining when we got there, but it is England after all. It was quite nice to see some wet after the dry summer we had had in Canada.

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page”.

Saint Augustine

 

[]Stevington

Every time I come to England I’m amazed at how much has changed and how much stays the same. There are way more fast roads and way more vehicles on them than I remember. Peter and Hillary live in a typical English village which probably has changed little in the last hundred years or so. We went for a walk that night and saw some really neat old houses with thatched roofs and some in the process of being thatched.

The Art of Thatching is really quite amazing. I do mean art, as some of the detail is very intricate. When the job is done, most thatchers make a figure from the thatch, usually, an animal of some sort, to put on the peak of the roof as their signature. Thatching was a dying art that has been revived a lot the last few years.

The next morning we awoke to a bright sunny day, but that didn’t last long as it started to rain in the afternoon. having managed to get about eight hours sleep the previous night, we were ready to go.

Cousin Peter drove us all into Bedford to see if we could sort out a European SIM card. I got so confused I ended up with a headache. Although the European community is fairly small and close compared to North America, you have to pay roaming charges in each country you visit. This is about to change as the European parliament has decided that there will be no roaming charges within the European community. Cousin Peter had a spare sim card which he was good enough to give to us. So now we could communicate if needed.

Of course, a visit to England just wouldn’t be right without a visit to the local pub. So we went out for dinner that night and I had my first English beer in nine years. It was as good as I remembered.

We weren’t feeling the effects of the jet-lag quite so much by now and figured we would be great by morning.

“Apparently we love our own cell phones but we hate everyone else’s. “

Joe Bob Briggs

[] Ickwell

It was raining most of the next morning so we stayed in and read our books. That afternoon we went to the lovely little village of Ickwell where there are lots of nice old houses, even one dated back to the 1500’s. We saw a lot more thatched roofs with ducks and other symbols of the thatcher’s signature. We drove past Woburn Abby. One brick wall we passed was about two miles long, and that was just one side of the estate.

Woburn was a hamlet in 969 and is mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086. A stately home was founded by the Cistercian monks in 1145.

There have been three major fires at Woburn. The first was when a chimney fire caused nearby thatched roofs to catch alight. The village was burnt by the Cavaliers during the English Civil War, (1642-1751.) In 1724 a third fire destroyed most of the Abbey and it was rebuilt in the Georgian style that can still be seen today.

We went to The Carvery for dinner then to the Royal George Pub (established 1834) then home. Not very exciting, but we needed to relax before the following week when the real work began.

“At the beginning of my acting career, I worked for two seasons at the RSC and spent a lot of time in the Cotswolds exploring Shakespeare’s countryside. It’s my kind of English landscape, with its tiny villages and one-room thatched pubs.”

Cherie Lunghi

[] Gillingham

We left Stevington on Thursday morning to enjoy the task of meeting up with Peter, Suzie, and the minicab and getting us all to Gillingham in Kent. Gillingham in conjunction with Chatham and my hometown of Rochester from what is known as The Medway towns. More recently simply known as ‘Medway’

The location of Rochester is strategic because it sits on the major crossing point of the River Medway. It dates back thousands of years as can be seen by the location of Watling Street built by the Romans. Watling Street runs between Canterbury and St Albans.

The Vikings wandered up the River Medway and attempted to take Rochester but were beaten back

Rochester Castle was built by William the Conquer’s sons. It’s one of the best preserved Norman castles in England. The Cathedral which is the second oldest in England is built on the site of an old Saxon church.

The Royal Naval Dock Yard at Chatham was where Admiral Lord Nelson’s ship, The Victory was built. The main towns in the urban area are from West to East Strood, Rochester, Chatham, Gillingham and Rainham.

My cousin Peter drove us to Heathrow and we waited for the other Peter and Suzie to arrive. Their flight was delayed by an hour but otherwise, all went to plan. The mini cab company had been texting me to let me know that they knew about the delay and would be waiting for us.

What we didn’t know was that the driver had been sitting right in front of Rosalie and me as we waited. We texted back and forth and finally met up with the guy who took us to Gillingham….except it wasn’t that easy. We expected to trip to take 1 1/2 hours but it, in fact, took 2 1/2 hours because of the traffic on the M25. It was fortunate that we had booked a minicab so we had a set fare.

Salim, our driver wasn’t too happy but he was such a good guy that I let Peter give him a good tip. We got to the hotel at 6:30 tired, but not defeated. The ride was truly international. Australia, (Peter) Hungary, (Suzie) Canada, (Rosalie) and England (me) were all represented and our driver Salim’s family was from Pakistan. A meal, a few drinks then off to bed.

Friday, we rose bright eyed and bushy tailed, to face another day of my organisational mayhem. Well, Rosalie and I did, but Peter and Suzie were suffering the effects of jetlag. I was to be the tour guide while in England as I was born here and speak the language fairly well. I decided the best way for us to get around was to catch a taxi to the train station each day and go from there.

“I think I would rather be a prime minister than a taxi driver.”

Jens Stoltenberg

[] Dover

Our first trip was to Dover, which lies on the south-east tip of England and is only 21 miles from France. It is a major ferry port supplying service to Calais and other destinations on the French coast. Dover has been inhabited since the Stone Age, according to archaeologists, and is of strategic importance being so close to the continent. The Romans made it part of their communications network and linked roads to Canterbury and London. And of course, there are the famous White Cliffs.

We wanted to visit the castle which is a very interesting place. It’s medieval and was built in the 11th century. On a previous visit, Rosalie and I came across a wall with a plaque which said the wall was built in 1099. Old or what?

It’s the largest castle in England and is known as the “key to England” because of its strategic placement. We climbed all the way to the roof. It’s a long climb to the top but we all made it and enjoyed the views from all directions. Including a beautiful view of the town and harbour where we would be leaving from in a few days.

Beneath the White Cliffs are secret tunnels that were the command centre for the removal of English and French troops in the evacuation of Dunkirk. As well, there was a fully equipped hospital that was used all the through the war.

Following is a Wikipedia account of the tunnels:

“The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 saw the tunnels converted first into an air-raid shelter and then later into a military command centre and underground hospital. In May 1940, Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey directed the evacuation of French and British soldiers from Dunkirk, code-named Operation Dynamo, from his headquarters in the cliff tunnels.

A military telephone exchange was installed in 1941 and served the underground headquarters. The switchboards were constantly in use and had to have a new tunnel created alongside it to house the batteries and chargers necessary to keep them functioning. The navy used the exchange to enable direct communication with vessels, as well as using it to direct air-sea rescue craft to pick up pilots shot down in the Straits of Dover.

Later the tunnels were to be used as a shelter for the Regional Seats of Government in the event of a nuclear attack. This plan was abandoned for various reasons, including the realisation that the chalk of the cliffs would not provide significant protection from radiation, and because of the inconvenient form of the tunnels and their generally poor condition.

Tunnel levels are denoted as A – Annexe, B – Bastion, C – Casemate, D – DUMPY and E – Esplanade. Annexe and Casemate levels are open to the public, Bastion is ‘lost’ but investigations continue to gain access, DUMPY (converted from Second World War use to serve as a Regional Seat of Government in event of an atomic war) is closed, as is Esplanade (last used as an air raid shelter in the Second World War).7

The Annexe level was excavated in 1941 to serve as a medical dressing station for wounded soldiers. It contained two operating theatres and had basic accommodation for patients. Soldiers would be sent for emergency treatment in the tunnels and then transferred to inland hospitals. Within the Annexe level were dormitories, kitchens and mess rooms.

A statue of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay was erected in November 2000 outside the tunnels in honour of his work on the Dunkirk evacuation and protecting Dover during the Second World War.8

If they were being attacked they would have to move quickly as the enemies were just nine minutes away from Dover by plane. There are over three miles of these Tunnels going deep down into the chalky cliffs, some still undiscovered. There are tunnels that are far too dangerous to walk down. Full information about these tunnels is not due to be released until 2020-2025”.

At the end of the day, we had to wait forty minutes for the taxi to come to take us back to the station. That wasn’t too bad, but Peter and I only had shorts on and it was a little blustery, so we suffered from chilly knees.

The prices here are high compared to home so instead of buying wine at the bar we got it from an off-license (beer and wine store) and saved about 50%. You have to pay for the beer in a pub though as it is so good.

“Dover’s cliffs call to mind the Roman invasion; the Battle of Britain; our proximity to, yet difference from, mainland Europe; and international trade and exploration, both fair and exploitative.”

Julian Baggini

[] Rochester

The next morning we had an early breakfast. Then went back to our rooms for a nap. I thought we would get away early but the trip to Dover had taken a toll on us.

We caught the train to Rochester and so I introduced my good friends to the town I grew up in. We walked along the High Street and I pointed out all the places that I remembered as a kid. I lived right in the heart of Rochester from about the age of 8 until about 12.

The cathedral bells were chiming for most of our stay and after about an hour they started to play on the nerves of a few of us. For me, though, they bought back a lot of childhood memories as I woke to them every Sunday morning. Our house was about 100 yards from the cathedral.

Rochester is a historic town. There is a Norman castle, a Saxon cathedral and the site is built on Roman ruins. Charles Dickens lived here for a long period and the town exploits that to the utmost. One of his most famous books ‘Pickwick Papers’ starts at the Bull Inn in Rochester high street. I wanted us to stay there but they were doing renovations at the time and unfortunately, the reviews were not too good.

The town has been occupied since Neolithic times. It was also home to the Celts, Romans, Jutes and Saxons.

At about noon we met up with my nephew David and his lovely 15-year-old daughter Taylor. We hadn’t seen them for about 9 years so it was great to be reunited with them again.

We went to the castle and climbed to the top. Unfortunately, Peter and Suzie had to stay below as their knees were hurting. It was a good choice for them as the stairs were very rough and would have played havoc on their knees

As a kid, I played in and around the castle. But at that age, I never had a sense of the historical importance of the place. It wasn’t until I went back there after being in Canada for four years that it really hit me.

Next, we went to the pub. (of course). Then we took some time and went to the cathedral. I didn’t start to smoke as we entered so we figured it was OK to go in. There is a plaque on the wall dedicated to different regiments of the army. On one of them is the name of major John. By who built Bytown in Ontario which became the town of Ottawa, the capital of Canada.

We were all getting tired by this time so we reluctantly said goodbye to David and Taylor and headed back to the hotel.

“Sorry, I don’t do castles. I hate those winding turret stairs.”

Laurie Graham (and Peter and Suzie)

[] Canterbury

We had our usual English breakfast and again hopped a taxi to the train station and got our tickets for Canterbury, close to where I was hatched in Sturry. At this point, we found we had a stowaway, Paddington.

I was born about three km from Canterbury Cathedral. During the war, my mum drove a van through the city during a bombing raid. The Germans dropped hundreds of incendiary bombs on the town and Cathedral. The brave work of the firewatchers who threw the devices off the roof and extinguished them with either sand or water saved the building from severe damage.

Canterbury is also the seat of the Protestant Church. After 1170 and the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, it became a major site for pilgrimages as depicted in Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” written in the 14th Century.

We walked to the downtown area which may have been a mistake as we tired ourselves out. So we had to rest up, and by sheer coincidence found ourselves In a 500-year-old pub. The food was great and the beer was even better. We didn’t get into the cathedral as there was a lineup and we didn’t want to wait as our various aches and pains were letting us know how decrepit we’re getting.

We had a pretty tough three days so we went home early to do the laundry.

Suzie stayed in the hotel (wise decision). Rosalie, Peter and I grabbed our grubbies and off to the laundromat we went. We had no coins so we sent Rosalie into the store next door. She was the cutest so we thought they would feel sorry for her. At first, the guy wouldn’t change a twenty-pound note so Rosalie told him that we would be back later to buy some wine and he finally relented.

So we grabbed our change and washed away. We got a lesson in laundromat protocol when someone who hadn’t done their washing in the place tried to use the dryer out of turn. One of the customers gave her a quick telling off, and then gave Rosalie a rundown on how the whole thing worked. Apparently, if you wash at home and only want to dry, you have to wait until those in the place using the washers are finished first. So now we know for next time.

We ended up the evening in the hotel lounge. We had a visit from Julie, the wife of my best friend John. We had been friends since we were five years old. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2008. We were also greatly entertained as there was a fancy dress party of some sort going on and we had fun checking out all the great costumes. Including Snow White and Cinderella.

“England is so defined, the class system, your education. I think what was unique about the Canterbury scene.”

Kevin Ayers

[] The stowaway

When we arrived in England we were unaware that we had a stowaway. While I wasn’t looking Paddington hid himself in my luggage.

He was born in Cambridge England, and this is his story.

The last time we were in England we were at a Chimney Sweeps Festival in Rochester. Unbeknownst to me, a little girl was going to grab my hand thinking I was her dad (Yeah, ok, I get it, she didn’t even look like me). Before she could do it though, her mum said, “That’s not your Daddy, Daddy has a black coat” to which the little girl looked up at me and replied” Yes, and this man has teddy bear ears” My friends just cracked up.

At the time I didn’t hear the exchange and didn’t know what all the laughter was about. Later they told me the whole story and I vowed to hunt that little girl down and have serious words with her. Teddy bear ears indeed.

Later that evening we were sitting around having a few drinks when Rosalie and I got into a minor disagreement about something unimportant. My friend John obviously didn’t agree with me and said “Oh! Shut up Paddington” and a legend was born.

Later in our visit, we were in Cambridge and saw a Paddington bear.I had to have him. Now he reminds me of my good friend John who left us too soon.

Paddington has a way of getting into trouble himself. On one occasion when we had just done a photo shoot with him, we tried to put him back in our backpack and all, we could hear was “I want a beer, I want a beer” so to shut him up we gave him one. Not a good idea.

“I want a pint of Best Bitter.”

Paddington

[] The tour begins

We left our hotel after we had our usual English breakfast, eggs, bacon, beans, tomatoes and mushrooms. We got to the station hauling our cases behind us just as the train arrived. My good planning again.

We arrived back in London and grabbed a taxi to take us to the hotel. I had done some research on Google and determined that the taxi would cost us about £15 to get to the hotel. Anyway, £30 later we arrived. So much for research! I think Google is fallible after all.

The current exchange rate is about two dollars to the pound. Woo! We checked in and made sure that we had rooms close to each other. Then we went to find the elevator to get to our floor. We had a bit of a hassle as the car only went to the 7th floor and we were on the 8th. We had to find someone to explain that a different elevator went to our floor. We realised then of course that we were special.

We met up with our tour director and he gave us our instructions for Wednesday morning. They wanted our cases outside our rooms at the silly hour of 6:30 am.

Peter had an old friend in London so we arranged to meet up with him and his wife. Bill and Eileen met us in the hotel lounge where we were drinking extremely expensive cocktails and Peter and I were trying not to cry at the prices. Not wanting to mortgage the house for another round, we toddled off to find a nice pub with £5 meals. Good beer, not bad food. All was right with the world. When Bill and Eileen left we found a supermarket and stocked up with essentials to last for the next few days, mostly wine

The British Museum:

We wanted to visit the British Museum today, so we walked to the tube station at Shepherds Bush. Once we saw the prices we decided that we would be cheaper to catch a taxi. Well, it wasn’t, another $30 but it was easier and quicker.

Fortunately, the B.M. is free. So, we had a great few hours checking out the antiquities. They wanted to put Peter in a glass case, but I had to tell them that he was still moving and not too dusty. (Boy, I’m glad he’s a good sport).

We started to be a little tired so we had to find somewhere to eat, and guess what, we happened to walk into another pub. They seem to be everywhere and totally unavoidable. We went back for the afternoon to complete our very short tour. Hopped into another taxi and told the driver that we didn’t want another tour of London, as the previous driver had already done that. It still cost the same so I guess we didn’t take the tour after all. On the way back we saw a nasty accident with one car on its side and a cab badly beaten up.

The next day was special so Peter, Rosalie and I went on a quest to find our own Holy Grail.

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going”

. Paul Theroux

[] Four Countries

Our quest the previous night was to get a bottle of something to toast Rosalie’s birthday, because, we were going to be in four different countries on that day and wanted to toast her in each one. this as Peter’s idea.

So he smuggled a bottle of Bailey’s into the restaurant at breakfast time and had it in our coffee. One country done! (England)

We boarded the bus at 8:15 and away we went. There were 45 people on the tour and most of them were Aussies. We drove to Dover and got on the ferry. I thought the ferries here were smaller than ours. Well, I was wrong. They have five vehicle decks and are a lot wider. Once we got into French waters, we went to look for something to drink, and that was when disaster struck…..We could no longer get a duty free beer. I thought I might have to tie Peter down. We toasted Rosalie again anyway. Two countries down (France)

We stopped in Calais and picked up our Tour Director Beatrice and the bus that we would use for the rest of the tour. We were told that we would rotate seats every day so no one could complain of a bad seat. There was a toilet on the bus but it was only for dire emergencies. As no one wanted to be the first to stop the bus we managed to get through the 21 days without anyone having to use it, although on one occasion we came close. More later!

Belgium is very flat. Other than that there isn’t much that I can say about it as we didn’t stop there. We weren’t allowed to bring alcohol on the bus so we had to be sneaky with the next toast. We didn’t have a glass so we took a shot out of the screw cap. I was just pouring mine when we hit a bump in the road and I got it all over my jeans and camera.

I was really concerned because we had been told not to bring any food or drink onto the bus, and there I was reeking of alcohol. Much later we go to know the couple who sat in front of us and they said they could smell it quite strongly. Thank goodness the tour director didn’t check it out or I might have been walking. Later in the tour, we did hear her call out “I can smell Pringles” so I guess I got away with one. Three down. (Belgium)

We stopped just across the border in the Netherlands. When we got to Amsterdam Beatrice warned us about the bike lane right in the centre of the sidewalk. Well, what do we do? We get off the bus and walked right into it and almost get run over. It’s a little confusing at first but after a while, we got used to it. We checked into the hotel at about 9:30 and had dinner. Then time for a night cap and off to bed. Mission accomplished!

“We were constantly moving to different countries and adjusting to new things. It was such a free feeling. I’m glad I didn’t have a traditional upbringing.”

River Phoenix

[] Amsterdam

We have to get up at about 6 am most mornings as we have to get our cases outside our rooms for pickup, and then get some breakfast. It’s a bit grueling but we were getting used to it. If I had known about this, I would have started doing it back in Gillingham just to give the troops some practice.

The first thing that struck me about Amsterdam were the bikes. We were told ahead of time that there were a lot but it’s still surprising. They’re everywhere. The first thing we did was take a canal cruise for an hour with a city guide. I knew that Amsterdam had canals but I didn’t know how many. Now I know why it’s called the Venice of the North.

A lot of the old houses were built on wooden props hundreds of years ago. Now, of course, the wood it starting to rot and quite a few of them are starting to lean. The only thing that can be done is to pump concrete into the foundation. Unfortunately, the houses can’t be righted so if you live in one you have to learn to lean a little.

Amsterdam started originally as a small fishing village in the late 12th century and has developed into one of the most important cities in Europe, famous for its culture, diamonds and of course those bikes.

Next, we had a one-hour bus tour of the city. Again lots of bikes, they have their own pathways, and they have the right of way, even over other vehicles. They are encouraged by the city, to cut down on congestion and pollution. It seems to work as there isn’t much traffic in the heart of the city compared to most major cities. They also allow scooters and even some very tiny cars to use the pathways. We went to a diamond processing site and watched the diamond polishers at work. Some of the jewellery was spectacular but incredibly expensive.

We had a couple of hours to go exploring by ourselves and we decided to go see the famed Red Light District. We were just about to cross the bridge when it started to rain, so we called it off and took shelter. It just so happened that we ended up in a restaurant….that sold beer. It sounds as though we’re drinking beer all day, but if fact we only have one or two.

We returned to the bus later in the day and headed for Germany. We got to the hotel in Cologne and turned in for the night

“My experience in Amsterdam is that cyclists ride where the hell they like and aim in a state of rage at all pedestrians while ringing their bell loudly, the concept of avoiding people being foreign to them.”

Terry Pratchett

[] Germany

 

The next day we took a cruise on the Rhine. I didn’t know what a beautiful country Germany is. We saw all the old ruined castles and lots of little riverside villages. It’s hard to think of the nasty history they’ve had over the last 100 years. The river is a very busy highway and is full of barges about 70 to 100 feet long hauling goods up and down, as well as all the tour boats. We passed the famous Lorelei Rock but weren’t too impressed since we have a lot of mountains in British Columbia. There were a few campsites alongside the river as well as lots of grapevines stretching up the hillsides.

We next headed for Switzerland with a stop at the old university town of Heidelberg on the River Neckar. The town is a popular place for weddings and there were a few going on. We found a restaurant for lunch and had a traditional sausage and sauerkraut meal. We also had our last Hefeweizen of the trip.

The trip to Lucerne was long and gruelling. We travelled on the autobahn for most of it. As Peter said “you’re either going 200km an hour or stopped. We were travelling at a good speed, but cars were passing us as though we were standing still. Then we hit road works. We were supposed to get in at 7 pm but were an hour and a half late. Peter and Suzie got a nice surprise as we checked in. Friends of theirs, who live in Switzerland, were there to meet them.

Tried the local beer! We don’t know what it was, but it was good, and they serve it in a half litre glass. Nice!

“Just as the British subject loves England despite her faults, so we must insist that all Germans who were part of the old Germany and helped shape her, recognize the greatness and worthiness of present-day Germany.”

Gustav Stresemann

[] Switzerland

We had signed up for an optional tour of Lake Lucerne. It was interesting, but if we had skipped it we could have laid in. Anyhow, up at 6:30, shower, breakfast, and on the bus.

We were taken to a beautiful monument to the “Lions of Lucerne”. It commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution when revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris

The tour was doing a few optionals that day, so once our boat tour was finished we were on our own. We had a really nice tour of the lake and the driver of the boat did a great commentary. He had a really neat Swiss accent which made it all the more memorable.

So we finished our tour and walked Peter and Suzie to the bus as they were taking the tour to Mount Titlis and we weren’t. I’ve been up a mountain and walked on a glacier before and it didn’t coast €90 each either.

We walked back to the train station and stopped to look at the Chapel Bridge which is wooden bridge erected in the 14th century. Anyway, we knew where to catch the train back to the hotel but had no idea how to get to the hotel from the station. Oh! What to do! No, we didn’t head to the nearest pub (Peter and I would have). So we went to Micky D’s and had a coffee. We found where the taxi stand was and after remortgaging the house and selling a few personal items we got back to the hotel.

We finally got an afternoon off (except for me doing the blog).

We decided that we needed a coffee so I went down and got one. 7.80 Swiss franc’s later ($10.69 CD) we had a little, pinky raising cup. Paddington was not amused, even though we did get a small Swiss chocolate with it.

In the evening we had an optional event which we’d signed up for. We went to Swiss restaurant and were highly entertained with traditional Swiss songs and music. We heard yodeling, accordion music, Alpen Horns and music played on a saw. The place was packed and we had a lot of fun. The food was very good too.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Switzerland to see what the army does with those wee red knives.”

Billy Connolly

[] The Road to Venice

Ok so I got the blogs out of order, I was tired and the Wi-Fi wasn’t too good. Sorry I will be more vigilant from here on.

One of the most interesting things that we found was the Aussies reaction to seeing snow on the top of the mountains. A lot of them went up Mount Titlis to see snow for the first time. They were in for a treat as it was snowing when they got there. I guess we Canadians take it for granted

We were up at 5:45 and on the road by 7:30. We went through the longest tunnel in Switzerland (17km). There are lots of tunnels. Before we went through, the Swiss spoke German. When we came out the other side, they spoke Italian. Also, when we entered the tunnel it was a chilly day and raining. When we got to the other side it was sunny and warm.

We stopped for coffee in Lugano and enjoyed the city for 45 minutes. Legally, our driver has to take regular breaks, so we have to take them with him. Then we headed for the Italian border and passed through just before lunch. We stopped at a service area and had our first genuine Italian meal. Delicious! We even managed to have some wine with it. One of the things we noticed right away was that wine is about a third the price of the rest of the countries we visited. We bought a three-bottle pack for €10, about $15. The only problem is that they all have corks and we can’t find a corkscrew.

We stopped for a side tour to Verona, which is the site of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. We went to see Juliet’s balcony. It was very crowded! There is a statue of Juliet outside the house and the legend says that if you touch her boob you will have luck in love forever. Well, we couldn’t get near her for all the insecure people trying to cop a feel. We did find a really nice corkscrew though. Far more important!

We continued our journey to Venice and checked into our hotel outside of the city. We had about 1 hour to kill before going for a meal on the islands. We ate at a quaint little restaurant tucked away down some tiny back alley just off of St. Mark’s square. It was a four-course meal and absolutely amazing. The four of us sat at a table, with a bottle of both red and white wine, plus they started us off with a glass of champagne. When we left we could hardly walk, and not just from the effects of the wine.

Tomorrow we go exploring.

“Traveling is the ruin of all happiness! There’s no looking at a building after seeing Italy. “

Fanny Burney

[] Venice

We had a bunch of optional tours today but Rosalie and I decided to skip them. We did have an included tour to the Murano glass factory though. We watched a guy create a beautiful glass pitcher and when the presentation was over he shoved it back in the kiln. But of course they wanted to sell us stuff, so the next room was for presenting their fabulous wares. Rosalie had her eye on a set of wine glasses at €100 each. I dragged her out of there real fast.

We were free for most of the day so we headed for the Rialto Bridge. If you have ever been to Venice then you know it is really easy to get lost, and equally easy to find your way back again. All those narrow little alleys. On the way back I decided to try my amazing knowledge of Italian that I had learnt over the last 24 hours, and ask the way to St Mark’s square. I approached a lady shopkeeper and in my best Italian asked for directions to Piazza Di Marco. Well, surprisingly enough she said I was a pervert and told me to shove off. Man, I love those fiery Italian women.

Peter and Suzie had signed up for an optional tour, so Rosalie and I were on our own for most of the day. We wanted to see the museum but neither of us had our first born with us to pay the admission fee. So we decided to stroll the square and see the shops.

It took me a while before I clued into why Rosalie kept saying:” It’s hot, let’s check out this nice little store that sells stuff that I like” I got my own back though as we stopped for a beer in the square and paid €12 ($18) for it. That’ll teach her.

We still had a couple of hours to kill before the tour director came to pick us up to go back to the hotel. We found a restaurant and bought another €12 beer and tried to make it last two hours. While we were waiting, a group of four ladies from our tour joined us and we all waited out of the sun, expecting at any moment to be booted out as we had only bought two beers and had been there for two hours.

Before we got to the restaurant, Rosalie and I had bought a selfie-stick (gotta keep up with the kids) Well, one of the ladies decided she wanted one, so we gave her a demonstration and up I got to help her buy the right one. We sit down and sure enough, the next lady wants one, and so I worked my way through all four ladies. (?) Fortunately, our tour director soon collected us and we returned to the hotel where we made a bit of a dent in the wine supply before retiring.

“Is it worthwhile to observe that there are no Venetian blinds in Venice?”

William Dean Howells

[] Assisi and Rome

The first several hours of our trip were on a paved, but very bumpy road. It was mostly boring, but at one point we were entertained by one of the Aussie lady trying to make and receive Skype calls from her daughter. She only just got her mini iPad and didn’t know how to turn the volume down. She had our section of the bus in fits. We rotate our seats every day so we get to see someone different, although we mostly know each other by now.

The countryside, for the most part, was unspectacular. Lots of fields and small farms. We stop on a regular basis for “comfort” breaks and a coffee if we’re lucky. Beatrice keeps us informed with all kinds of info as we go along. When she takes us on a tour she carries a large orange umbrella so that we don’t lose her. All the tour directors have a stick with an object on the top or a distinctive umbrella. It’s handy as it’s very crowded.

After our second break, the scenery changed to beautiful rolling hills, so it became a little more interesting. Our third stop was for lunch in Assisi. It was a quick lunch as we wanted to see the Basilica of St Francis. I’m in no way religious, but I do appreciate the history. The buildings look as though they were built yesterday. They didn’t face the grime of the Industrial Revolution as they did in England. The frescos in the upper basilica are spectacular. Sorry, no photos, not allowed! Rosalie got a fridge magnet, but I, got a genuine replica of St. Francis knee cap, and, it only cost me €20.

I said this was going to be a short blog. Well, apparently I lied. The less I have to do on the bus the more my mind works. As they say, “An idle mind is the devil’s playground”. I keep thinking of little things of interest that y’all might want to know about, and if you’re not interested I’m going to tell you anyway, so pay attention.

We got to the hotel at 5 pm and realised we had signed up for an optional tour and dinner. Dumb move! We visited the Trevi fountain, but unfortunately, it was being repaired so we didn’t get as good a look as we would have liked. Then we walked through town and up the Spanish Steps. We had a nice meal with all the wine we could drink, which was a good move, as we were all too tired to drink much anyway. But Peter and I did our best.

Our day today went like this. Up at 5:45, breakfast at 6:30, on the bus at 7:15. Drive to Assisi with two breaks on the way. Lunch at Assisi, and back on the bus. Arrive Rome 5:00, tour at 6:30. Back at the hotel at 11 pm. And we got up at 5:45 next day. Grueling!

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

Francis of Assisi

[] Rome

This was one of the special days I had been looking forward to, except it didn’t turn out too well.

We left at 7:15 and started our Vatican tour at which time Rosalie informed me that she wasn’t feeling too good. She toughed out that tour but couldn’t face the next part. Peter and Suzie said they wanted to go back to the hotel anyway, so I reluctantly let Rosalie go with them.

The Vatican is an amazing place and we saw lots of neat things in the Vatican museums. Then we were informed that the Pope was giving a general audience and we would get to see him. St. Peter’s square was packed with thousands of people and we were a long way from the viewing stand but I did manage to get a zoomed in close up.

After Lunch, we went to the Coliseum and that was one of the highlights of the trip for me. It’s a magnificent building and would have loved to spend more time there but we were on a tight schedule. Next, we walked across the road to the Forum and enjoyed all the ruins. We had a local guide who was very knowledgeable (They all are) and we learned all sorts of things about Roman life.

By this time we had walked 13km and were somewhat weary. There was an optional walking tour after ours that we had not signed up for, so a bunch of the more sensible of us got our coach back to the hotel.

While we were driving back, I took an interest in the Roman parking technique, quite interesting. They park anywhere. Triple parking is quite normal; the poor guy on the inside has to just wait until the outer cars go away.

The drivers here are totally crazy. They drive while texting even in traffic. I even saw a guy on a scooter driving in traffic while texting! I don’t think we saw an undamaged side mirror. Most were hanging on by their wiring and lots of cars had none at all.

The following morning Rosalie was a lot better and managed to travel again.

“They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I wasn’t on that particular job.”

Brian Clough

[] Tuscany

Rosalie is better today, although still a bit iffy. We managed to get a couple of people to move so we could have the whole back seat for her to lie down on.

Our next stop is Florence, so we have to drive through the beautiful Tuscan countryside. Lots of olive trees but not too many grape vines yet. We passed close to the site where the Costa Concordia sunk. Also, we could see the island of Elba where Napoleon was exiled for a short time.

I try to write this as we are travelling, but it is a challenge sometimes as the roads are pretty bad and we bounce all over the place. I just wrote ‘place’ three times.

We stopped at Pisa to see the famous leaning tower. I think it must have been built by one of my ancestors with that alignment. We didn’t go up as we didn’t feel inclined.

Once again I was surprised to see how pristine the buildings were. They look as though they had been put up last week. Beautiful architecture! Each of the faces in the facade roof is an individual work of art. We had lunch and a beer at a sidewalk cafe. The beer was good but the sandwiches we had were stale and the service was terrible. In my opinion, the Italian people are not very friendly towards tourists. We were told to order outside, then the waiter said order inside, so I went inside and was told to order outside. That’s when I lost it and in my very best Italian I laid down the law. Remember, I’ve been at it three days now and actually seen the Pope himself, so I must be getting fluent. Anyway, I think that’s why we got stale sandwiches.

We were warned constantly about pickpockets and con artists. Apparently, they are mostly gypsies. We saw a lot of street vendors from Senegal, but they are just trying to make a living and don’t make trouble.

We got to our hotel in Florence and rested for a while, and then we went on an optional dinner out. We had a great meal and some very good entertainment. Rosalie didn’t make it as she is a little under the weather again.

“When a little more than a teenager, I was a piano-bar pianist in the land where I was born and raised, Tuscany.”

Andrea Bocelli

[] Florence

Today we did a walking tour of Florence. And then we had about 8 hours of free time in the city. Interestingly, we thought this was way too much time to kill.

Before we went on our tour we went to visit a leather factory. We were expecting a look into making leather but all it was, was a sales pitch. And no thank you, I don’t want a $1000 leather jacket.

Florence is a beautiful city and we had a lovely Italian tour guide with a somewhat strange accent. She was Italian but had spent time in England learning the English method of speech. I didn’t know there was a method, I just open my mouth and it sort of spills out.

We started off at the Basilica of Santa Croce and walked through the narrow little streets dodging cars, scooters and the odd horse and carriage. We ended up at the Florence cathedral, a really beautiful building of cream and green marble. Then we walked to the main square and saw the statue of David. It’s not the original as that was damaged in 1991 by a crazed Italian.

In our free time, we walked to the Ponte Vecchio. This was the only bridge in Florence left standing during the German retreat in World War II, as Adolph Hitler couldn’t bring himself to destroy it. There are dozens of shops selling jewellery on the bridge and I once again had to drag Rosalie away. Then we went and found a place to have a beer. We had about four more hours to kill at this time so we wandered the little streets and soaked up the atmosphere. There were even more of those wee cars around.

We were supposed to get a free dinner tonight but Rosalie was feeling a bit queasy again, so she and I hopped a taxi back to the hotel. She was great this morning but I think she pushed herself a bit too much this afternoon. By the evening she was in and out of the bathroom constantly, so I called the Tour Director and we decided to call a doctor who came to our hotel room. He diagnosed I a viral infection and prescribed some meds.

We also arranged for him to visit Suzie as her ankles were quite swollen. He was charging €25 a visit; I think I heard him walking up the hall knocking on doors trying to get more business. (A joke) Beatrice, our director, got a taxi and went to the pharmacy for us. We gave Rosalie some meds and she settled down and had a good night’s sleep.

“Florence is charming, cozy, beautiful, inspiring – it has so many great places to go to and so many unique things to see that you won’t find anywhere else!”

Edgardo Osorio

[] Nice

Rosalie seems to have settled down today. Beatrice reserved the whole back seat of the bus so Rosalie could lie down. The rest of our group was very cooperative. One of the New Zealanders said he had been watching how I handled the situation and said he would have had his wife put down. I suggested it to Rosalie but she wasn’t too enthusiastic. I should have asked when she had her head down the toilet; she might have been a bit more cooperative. But of course I jest; I missed her at the dinner last night.

We travelled through Tuscany and into the area of Liguria, beautiful scenery, lots of hills, with small towns and villages perched on top of them. In North America communities were built around a water source, but I guess these towns were built on hills for defensive purposes.

There are 178 tunnels totaling over 90 miles between Florence and Nice. Just thought I’d mention it. We were in and out of tunnels like a steam piston. (For the guys, I could have made that much dirtier.)

I have more pictures of insides of tunnels than I need. I’m just going to press the button on the camera, when, whoosh inside another tunnel. I also have a lot of pictures of trees for the same reason. Up until now Peter and I have each taken over a thousand photos. We think we might have a party to show them off. We will have a special tree and tunnel section. I bet nobody turns up.

We crossed into France and Monaco and I can finally say: ….“When I was in Monte Carlo” We visited a perfume factory on our way in. Peter and I were really disappointed as we thought it was a winery. I really have to brush up on my French. Anyway, it didn’t taste too bad.

We had dinner in Monte Carlo near the casino, and afterwards, we were left to roam. We went into the main casino where we were told by the tour company that we would have to wear a jacket and tie to get in. But apparently, now, all you need now is a €10 note. I spent all that time and humiliation getting my wardrobe together for nothing. I didn’t get dressed up for any of the tour. I just wore jeans and a sports shirt.

It’s a beautiful place with a fabulously decorated ceiling. And that was just the foyer. We saw more flashy cars than you may ever see in one place, from Lamborghinis to Rolls Royces and everything in between. Some of the guys saw a lot of silicone as well, but I obviously wasn’t looking hard enough. We got back to the hotel at 11:30 all ready for our wake-up call at 6:45.

Oh! By the way, Angelina says “Hi!” And I will never wash that cheek again.

Rosalie was a lot better this evening Beatrice arranged for her to have a light dinner of chicken and rice and she also had a small glass of wine.

“When you live in a safe place like Monte Carlo, you can walk home at any time of the night and you don’t have to worry. I don’t feel at risk there. If I drive myself, I can leave the car doors unlocked.”

Shirley Bassey

[] Not so nice Nice

We woke in the morning to a crashing thunderstorm with quite high winds; so much for the sunny south of France. As we drove out of town, the weather started to clear up. We stopped for a break at about 10:30 and then continued on to Avignon. Another lovely little city!

We stopped for lunch at an outside cafe. I had Almond Trout and it was one of the best meals I’ve had this trip, absolutely delicious. I didn’t have a beer. I can’t speak for Rosalie, Peter or Suzie though.

We wandered back to the Popes Palace and took more photos. On the way back to the coach we took still more photos of Le Pont D ‘Avignon the famous bridge crossing the Rhone River, immortalised in the song “Sur Le Pont D ‘Avignon”. The rain held off so didn’t need our umbrellas.

Our stop for the night was in Carcassonne another small town with a massive fortress overlooking it. We can see it from our hotel window and when it’s lit up at night it looks beautiful. We are going to take an hour to go exploring tomorrow.

We had another great meal. Oh! Those French sure know how to cook. We went into the bar after dinner and met up with an older, very posh English couple who turned out to be a hoot. They live near here and also have a place in Norwich in England. It was interesting to hear their very posh English accent with a few F-bombs thrown in.

Peter reminded me to mention that the bus we used in Monte Carlo belonged to the Monaco football club. Coooool!

Rosalie seems to be back to normal thank goodness. At one point we thought we would have to leave the tour, but things turned out great.

We are free until 11 am tomorrow. Yea! A lay in!

“To be able to serve and to eat a whole fish, especially a trout, is part of civilized dining. This applies particularly to the young, who should take to it as soon as they can handle knife and fork; this is a fine way for them to begin taking pride in themselves and their abilities.”

Julia Child

[] Spain

This morning we got up late and were able to have a leisurely breakfast for a change. We took a 20-minute walk up to the fortress. We only had an hour but we really needed a full day. There were little shops and restaurants everywhere. Unfortunately we only saw a small part of it. Oh well! Maybe we’ll visit some other time.

We entered Spain in the Catalan district. The Catalans want to separate from Spain. Peter suggested that they get together with Quebec, but I don’t think this would work because as soon as they create a new country, one of them would want to separate.

Another short day as it was a travel day and not much to report unless you’re interested in our drinking habits.

Barcelona is pronounced with a lithp, as is most of the language in Spain. We arrived in town at about 3:30 and after retrieving our cases we were free for a few hours. Ok, so we spent it in the bar.

We had signed up for a dinner and a Flamenco show at a local restaurant so we got there at about 6:30. The food was once again terrific and we had unlimited wine and sangria.

The show was spectacular. Before it started they brought around champagne for everyone, which we thought was quite friendly of them. The artists had no idea of what the program would be about until 10 minutes before the show started, so everything was improvised. I thought it was wonderful; the passion that goes into the dance is amazing.

At the back of the stage are three, or, sometimes four, singers who encourage the dancers. Then there are two or three guitarists to provide the music. The thing that impressed me the most was how the singers and guitarists watched the dancers with obvious admiration. They knew how hard these dances are to perform. In the middle of the show, the flamenco guitarists really showed their stuff. If I tried to play the way they do my fingers would drop off. It was a very small venue and we were only about 10’ from the stage.

We got back to the hotel at about 11:30 but get a lay in tomorrow until 7:00.

“Spain is a fascinating mix of people, languages, culture and food, but if there is one thing all Spaniards share, it’s a love of food and drink.”

Jose Andres

[] Barcelona

We rose early, as usual, and did a tour of the city with a local guide. She showed us some pretty spectacular buildings and some not so much. We went up a huge hill and had a panoramic view of the city. In the distance, we could see the church La Sagrada Familia which we had visited earlier in the day. We hadn’t bothered to go in as it wasn’t our thing. The entrance fee was 15 euros. It’s a huge building, started in 1847 and expected be finished until 2026. My personal view is that it’s a waste of time and money. I wonder how many homeless people could be fed and clothed instead. I also don’t think it’s the best-looking building in the world either; although it is an engineering marvel.

After our tours, we were free to go and get into mischief by ourselves. Rosalie and I met up with Vern, a new friend, and caught a taxi back to the hotel to rest up for a while. There was an optional tour to Monsarrat, but we decided to skip it as you can’t do them all. So instead we found a sidewalk cafe and had a few drinks and watched the world go by.

Later we met up with Vern, Peter and Suzie and went to meet Vern’s wife Carolyn who had been to see the inside of the church, so we could all get some dinner together. We found a sidewalk restaurant and had a very nice meal supported by two jugs of sangria and a few glasses of wine. Our waiter was from Syria.

We decided to walk back to the hotel. This was not a good idea as none of us seemed to have a clue which way to go. Common sense prevailed and we hailed a taxi. There were six of us and the taxi only took four. I grabbed Rosalie and sat her on my lap but the driver wasn’t amused and we had to bail out. That wouldn’t have happened in Mexico. Fortunately, there was a larger cab right behind so we all hopped in and headed back. After a few more in the bar, we retired to prepare for the ordeal the following day. Who says seniors don’t know how to have fun?

“Once, I took a taxi. I hate those limousines. They stink and their drivers have been driving dead people to the cemeteries”

Klaus Kinski

[] Madrid

We have a full travel day so not too much to talk about. Our breakfast started fifteen minutes late so we ended up leaving late. We had 680 km to cover before reaching Madrid.

Along the way, we were pulled over by a traffic cop who wanted to check the driver’s record for the last 28 days. They are very strict here. The drivers have to take regular breaks and can only drive a certain amount of hours in one day. The drivers are awesome; to see some of the tight places they have to squeeze these huge buses is amazing. They also have to back up into some interesting spots, like out into the Main Street.

We had rain and high winds a lot of the way. Some of the countryside was similar to the Okanagan Valley, very dry but without the sage brush.

We took our regular comfort stops. The interesting thing was when we stopped for lunch. Spaniards take lunch at about 2:00 pm, so when a bus load of 45 people arrive unexpectedly at noon it throws them into a state of confusion. It didn’t help that the local dialect was Catalan and we couldn’t pick it out with our limited Spanish vocabulary.

We arrived at the hotel on time, which was something of a miracle with the delays we had had, and proceeded to the bar. There is a tapas night tonight but Rosalie and I decided to skip it as we needed an evening off. We stayed in the hotel as the weather was bad and had a nice meal together.

“Madrid is enjoyed most from the ground, exploring your way through its narrow streets that always lead to some intriguing park, market, tapas bar or street performer. Each night we’d leave our hotel to begin a new adventure in Madrid and nine out of 10 times, we’d walk through the Plaza Mayor”

Emilio Estevez

[] Toledo

This morning we hopped the bus and did a tour of the city. Our guide today was Antonio. First, we visited the bull ring and saw all sorts of monuments to the bull fighters. It’s a beautiful brick building and holds 29,000 people. Bullfighting is legal in Madrid, but a lot of people want it banned. There is a fight every Sunday, and sometimes a protest on Saturday.

We saw several important buildings including The Royal Palace where Rosalie met the invisible man. Then we went to a park with a huge monument to Miguel Cervantes who was born and is buried in Madrid. He wrote ‘The Man of La Mancha’. There is a beautiful statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

In the afternoon we took the optional tour to Toledo. This is the most beautiful city on the tour. We went to the top of a local hill to view the city from there. Lots of pictures were taken. The city has changed little since the Middle Ages. In fact if a new building goes up there it must fit in with the current architecture. This is in the old city not the new.

They parked the bus and we had to go up seven long escalators to get to the main square. We visited the cathedral which has artefacts weighing about 250 kilos, and are made of gold, silver and precious jewels.

We also saw a lot of original art by El Greco. The walk across the city was quite tiring but worth it. The bus picked us up on the far side so we didn’t have to walk back.

Toledo is in the La Mancha region so we see a lot of stuff to do with Don Quixote. This is definitely on our list to see again one day.

 

“Too much sanity may be madness and the maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.”

Miguel de Cervantes

[] Rosalie’s Slant

The logistics of the tour:

First, the bus! It is comfortable for the most part, though personally, the seats could be a few inches wider. Chris sits by the window; I have the aisle, as has been our practice in airplanes etc. over the past 20 years. I find there is nowhere to put my left arm… (Cause Chris’ arm is right there.) I might try the window seat tomorrow. Also, my legs are not the longest, so I put one of our backpacks on the floor for my feet to rest on.

Then there is the requirement to move seating location every morning, to three seats up from where we were yesterday. Well, we got the bulkhead a few times and had to trade: We had a great view down the highway but nowhere to put our feet. You can always trade; some people like that spot.

The hotels:

Every night, or sometimes wonderfully, two nights, we have a different hotel. Some are ‘house beautiful’, and some are very cosy, as in room for the people, no room for the luggage. In Italy, we had a bidet in every hotel room. None of the hotels ever have face cloths and sometimes no hand towels.

Comfort stops:

These are every couple hours, and early in the tour, they were all pay toilets. Sometimes we paid €0.70 with a receipt for €0.50 that could be used towards the purchase of items such as food, from the rest area grocery store. There have been some pretty ugly toilets even when they charge for them. Sometimes paper, sometimes not. Sometimes can’t figure out how to flush, then can’t turn the water on – some have foot pedals, can you believe it! Sometimes paper to dry your hands, sometimes not, sometimes machines for drying that sometimes work and sometimes don’t.

Water quite often costs more than Beer. Luckily José our driver has a water stash we can buy from him. Coffee is iffy. Sometimes all you can get is espresso – I down that so fast, I’m ready for more right away.

Laundry:

Well, as we are on the move a lot, we need to only wash out knickers on hotel stays of two nights. We have taken damp laundry from one hotel to the next, but it gets a bit musty in the luggage. Knowing what I know now, I would bring even less stuff and only the comfy stuff that washes and dries easily. Of course, I still need the fancier stuff for the dinner’s out. Some people dress up, some don’t, but I prefer to.

Currency:

We dealt with UK pounds for the first week, then onto the Euro. In Switzerland, they would take our Euros but give change only in Swiss francs. If we paid with a credit card, then it was charged in Swiss francs then converted by the credit card company.

After we had been on the bus tour for about 8 or 9 days, we had seen so many different countries, currencies, cultures, historical significances, awesome scenery, early mornings, late nights, different bus drivers, local tour guides, venues of all sorts, types of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, types of food, strange showers that had water all over the floor, ways of flushing totally unknown to modern woman, different highways, hotel rooms, cafeterias, dining rooms, etc. etc.

It would be interesting to know if other people also became totally overwhelmed to the point of shutting down. Without being conscious of what was going on, or happening to me I got dysentery & throwing up, wanting to sleep a lot, not able to cope, and wanting to go home even. Yet having to put one foot in front of the other and carry on. At one point Chris and I were worried we would be left behind.

Having said all that, I’m having a wonderful time seeing all the places I never thought I would see. I marvel at how old everything is. I’m in awe at some of the buildings; it’s amazing to think that they built these things with no modern equipment.

We are getting along great with Peter and Suzie and for the most part, the other people in our group are great.

“The tour director has been wonderful and takes care of us like a bunch of kids. Sometimes it must be like herding cats.”

Rosalie

[] Balbao

It’s Peter’s birthday today and someone mentioned it in the hotel foyer while we were waiting for the bus. He got a 45 person choir singing happy birthday. Awesome!

“On the road again!” I actually sang that, so it’s lucky you weren’t able to hear me.

8:30 and away we go. We have a new driver today, another Jose.

As we spend most of our time on the bus I think I should pass on a few observations and comments. The worst part of travelling so long is the boredom. I don’t have too much trouble with it as I have my iPad to do crossword puzzles, read a book, do the blog or, best of all I am learning to nap on the go.

The seats are ok, but they could be a bit wider. They recline so that we can nap. Sometimes Beatrice plays some music, not always to our taste. They have shown one terrible movie so far. Beatrice gives a report of what’s going to happen during the day and adds comments as we go along. Rosalie deals with it well, she mostly sleeps but reads a bit too. Of course watching the scenery go by is another diversion.

I’m writing this on the bus. We are at 1000 meters (3000+feet) elevation and the air conditioner is on and it is a bit chilly. Beatrice got it sorted and we were soon comfortable again. Typical bus trip! We do get some laughs. We were at the end of a comfort stop when Beatrice did a quick count and said we were ready to go. A few of the guys were still outside having a last stretch, so Jose closed the door on them.

Stopped at Burgos for lunch and saw ABC (another bloody church/castle). the Cathedral de Burgos. We had lunch in a little square and ended up drinking wine at an outside restaurant watching the world go by. As we left Burgos we passed an open market and there were a lot of protests because we didn’t stop there. Poor Beatrice sure took a razing but the guys were happy.

We proceeded toward Bilbao and passed through the Arthurian mountains into Basque Country.

The Basques speak Euskara which is a different language from Spanish but is an official language.

On the way to Bilbao, we had stopped for our usual lunch break and one of the guys had had a few too many beers. He wasn’t drunk but was the first to ask when the next rest stop was once we got back on the road. Beatrice said it would be 10 Spanish minutes. We arrived at the Guggenheim Museum and headed for the toilets.

As it happened there was only one stall for the ladies and one for the men. Our guy was third in line, so feeling sorry for him we pushed him to the front. We waited, but the person occupying the stall wasn’t in any kind of hurry. By this time our friend was getting desperate. We were told that there were more toilets on a lower floor so he hustled off to find them. He was back in a few minutes having failed in his quest. We once again shoved him to the front of the line and mercifully, this time the guy vacated the stall and all was well. Except by now the rest of us were getting desperate, so we headed for the elevator to the ground floor and found a nice multi-position toilet . We all came out with relieved smiles on our faces. I don’t think anyone of us had more than one beer for lunch after that. We found the cafeteria and being the artistic types; we sat and had a few glasses of wine. Got to our hotel at 5:30, had dinner, celebrated Peter’s birthday with a few drinks and turned in.

“The toilets at a local police station have been stolen. Police say they have nothing to go on.”

Ronnie Barker

[] Poitiers

We left Spain today. It’s a long trip to Poitiers so as usual, we started out early. I would like to have just one day where we could lay in until we felt like getting up, and perhaps have Rosalie bring me tea in bed. Anyway, three more sleeps and we will be heading for Greece, where Malcolm has promised a relaxing week and a keg of red wine.

We rolled into Bordeaux for lunch and tried to remember to speak French instead of Spanish. We thought Rosalie would be best, with her French background. She did really well and I was so proud of her when she ordered her lunch until she told the waiter that we wanted it for ‘dos’. Then she was going to ask for the bill by saying,” les addition, por favor.” It’s hard to switch that quickly, but it did give us some laughs.

I went to the restroom and two girls walked in behind me and one went into the next stall??? The bonus for me was that when I came out, she was adjusting her stocking. Anyhow, that's France.

Saw a good movie today “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”. We had seen it before but it was worth seeing again. Then I got to play with my selfie stick. It alleviates the boredom. Although I do think it needs a little lubrication as it doesn’t go in and out too well.

We got into Poitiers at about 5:30. We had an included dinner and I sat next to one of the kiwis and educated him about Canada. It’s interesting to note how little they know about our country. Anyway, I had him convinced that we are indeed, the greatest country in the world. Except of course when it comes to rugby!

No pictures of Poitiers as we rolled in and rolled out again. We would have liked to have the time to drive from Madrid to Paris and stop at all the towns along the way for a few days, something we can’t do on a bus tour.

Tomorrow, gay Paree!

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart”

Nelson Mandela

[] Road to Paris

Yeeeea! It’s the last day on the coach. We left Poitiers at 7:30 and headed for Paris. It was chilly and very foggy in parts. We saw a beautiful sunrise. We stopped for a break at Amboise and saw the chapel, where Leonardo is buried but didn’t have enough time to go in. We did get a forty minute break which is unusual. I have been referring to our tour director as Beatrice, but it’s all in the pronunciation. Her name is Beatrice, pronounced “Beatricheh”.

We travelled through the Loire Valley this morning which is referred to as the Garden of France. My home county of Kent in England is referred to as the Garden of England. Nice, (not Nice) I like it.

We had a lunch in Orleans where Jeanne D ‘Arc lived before defeating the English army (blah, blah, blah.) The brits were having an off day is all. Our best guys stayed home to beat the Aussies at cricket. Orleans Cathedral was where she prayed to beat the good guys, I think it was unfair as, apparently, she had God on her side, whereas we only had a one-eyed archer with a hangover.

As we left, we drove down a very narrow street and at the end there were a number of cars illegally parked. Jose our driver had to back up and do a few nifty illegal turns to get us out. This happened twice, and he got a well-deserved loud cheer from the bus’s occupants.

We arrived in Paris and started our first tour. We took a cruise boat up the Seine, and after that, we went up the 56 stories of the Montparnasse Tower, a spectacular 360-degree view of the city.

We finally got to our hotel about 6:15. Tomorrow the real work begins.

If I don’t post tomorrow it shouldn’t be surprising. We have a long day and a fairly late night. But I will try.

“Of the love or hatred God has for the English, I know nothing; but I do know that they will all be thrown out of France, except those who die there”

Jeanne D ‘Arc

[] Paris

We started bright and early as usual and headed into town. We picked up our guide and did a bus tour of the city. My first impression of the Eiffel Tower was not what I had expected. I didn’t realise how elegant it is. I had thought it was just a pile of iron girders. How wrong I was. We ended the tour at Notre Dame Cathedral.

It’s a massive building. I looked for Quasimodo but couldn’t find him. He’s probably off playing with his bells somewhere.

We had a quick lunch and headed for the Louvre. Our guide was very knowledgeable and we got a good history lesson on art. I think we picked a good time of year to go on a tour like this as nowhere was it as crowded as I had expected.

We had several hours to kill before heading off to the farewell dinner, so a bunch of us found a sidewalk cafe, ordered wine and watched the world go by.

For dinner, they had a place booked in the Latin Quarter. It was in an old cellar and once again we had unlimited booze. A guitarist and an accordionist entertained us and had the place in fits. We ended up by going for a night tour to the Eiffel Tower. It looks spectacular lit up at night. We had a very good evening; a great way to say goodbye to all our new found friends.

We got back to the hotel ready for an early night, up at five tomorrow.

“I love Paris for the million reasons that everybody loves the city. It’s an incredibly romantic and beautiful place”

Alan Furst

[] Paris to Athens.

So an early morning again, but this time we were headed for the airport. We got a taxi which was the final part of the tour so we didn’t have to pay.

We went to check in and were informed that our checked baggage would cost €35 each bag to get from Athens to Chania on Crete. Well, that was a bit of a blow as this added another $220 to our fare which had been only $292 for both of us to begin with. We had no choice so we coughed up. We were met at Chania by my lifelong friend Malcolm and his lovely wife Vivian.

Now comes the problem. Malc has a pickup truck but it only holds five people and there were six of us. I knew this beforehand and had volunteered to ride in the back. There were some cops about so I couldn’t jump in right outside the arrivals door. Malc and the rest of the crew took off and I walked off innocently whistling to myself and met them round the corner. I nimbly hopped into the back and fell flat on my face. Fortunately, Malc had provided an air mattress so I survived unscathed. I had a nice 40-minute ride and got a few funny stares from people but arrived in one piece. We got Peter and Suzie settled into their digs overlooking the Mediterranean and Malc and Viv took us back to their place.

Later on, we picked Peter and Suzie up again. I took my place in the back of the truck and away we went to a Taverna that Malc recommended. We had a great meal with lots of wine and raki (“Ooh! We likes raki we does!”) and the bill for six of us only came to €61, less than lunch for two in other parts of Europe. I’m going to like this place. No more photos today as we didn’t go anywhere.

“The center of Western culture is Greece, and we have never lost our ties with the architectural concepts of that ancient civilization.”

Stephen Gardiner

Wednesday

We did nothing today but lounged around and ate at another taverna. We expect to do this most of the week as it’s a cheap way to eat.

We rose late again which was a good thing as I was really hung over, and didn’t feel good for the rest of the day.

Malc and Viv had some business to take care of so they dropped us in town. For about three hours of free time. (They are so generous to us). I couldn’t find my camera anywhere so, I didn’t take any pictures. It was about noon and as I hadn’t eaten yet we found a little cafe and had a very light lunch. I had a glass of orange juice and started to buck up a bit. The girls took off by themselves to do some shopping while Peter finished his beer and me my O.J. Of course when we went looking for them we couldn’t find them. We walked from one end of the town to the other.

When we did find them they had only gone about 100 yards as they had been in and out of shops all the time. So we found another restaurant and waited for Malc to pick us up, then we went home for a nap to prepare for going out to dinner.

Later they threw me into the back of the truck and off we went. I’m getting quite used to dozens of locals and tourists staring at me; you would think they had never seen anyone in the back of a pickup truck before. They’ve obviously never been to Mexico. My biggest fear is getting stopped by the cops and having to walk home.

We had another fine meal at another taverna owned by another of Malcolm’s Greek friends. The food was good but I didn’t eat a lot as I was still a bit under the weather. No wine or Raki either. Malc has lots of friends here and beeps at them in Greek as we go by.

“One day I woke up with an atrocious hangover, and it hurt so badly that I told myself, ‘It’s time to stop. I can’t do it anymore. It’s not good. It hurts too much.”

Jordan Knight

[] Tree surgeon

We arose late again, boy what a luxury. Malc and Viv went and got Peter and Suzie and we sat around the pool chatting for a while. We decided to go into town to yet another taverna for lunch. I love tavernas. Just as we were set to go Malc informed me that I had a very special job to perform on the way, I was going to trim a few branches that were threatening to scratch his truck. As I practically live in the back of the truck I saw no harm in this.

We got to the first branch and I trimmed away. The next one was somewhat bigger and as we approached it one the neighbours showed up and tried to direct me what to cut. I did well until he pointed to one branch about 1 1/2” thick which was way too big for the cutters I was using. Then, to our surprise, he pulled out a small pruning saw and gave it to me. I proceeded to lop the branch, and am now the hero of Kontomari as traffic can flow freely again.

Malc and Viv had their house built on a one-acre lot on top of a hill overlooking the Mediterranean. I thought it was the Aegean Sea but apparently, that starts further North.

They have 56 olive trees which they farm every year for the oil. The house is beautiful and has a large patio with a swimming pool. They have picked up the language really well and have a lot of friends here. Most own or manage tavernas so that’s why we go out to eat so much. We get really good treatment and sometimes a few little extras.

That evening there was a Greek night happening at Peter and Suzie’s hotel so we had to be there. We started off with a nice meal followed by Greek dancing and there is an infamous picture of Rosalie and me dancing on the table. The table was only about 8” off the floor. While we were doing this, the hostess was opening and spraying us with bottles of what looked like champagne, but we think it might have been sparkling water as it wasn’t sticky. Anyway, a great time was had by all. I suffered for it the next day as of course there was unlimited wine and Raki.

“All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of the great leaders have arisen merely from a lack of skill at dancing”

Moliere

[] Oldest olive tree

We decided to do something different today; actually, we decided to do something.

As I am now the designated tree surgeon, Malc wanted us to see the world’s oldest olive tree so after a twenty-minute drive we arrived at a lovely little location where the tree resides. It’s over three thousand years old and still produces olives. The trunk is twisted and gnarly (like me) and grows in a spiral shape. It’s like looking at the clouds and seeing figures and shapes. There is also a museum about the olive industry with lots of neat artefacts. The olive branch crown for the marathon winner of the 2004 Olympics came from this tree. I pronounced the tree healthy and we went to find lunch.

We found a nice little restaurant on the local harbour where we again had good food. They serve large portions here, and most meals end with complimentary Raki. They were telling us that the taverna owner goes into the hills and uses a legal still to make his own brand from the leftovers of the grape harvest after they have been crushed to make wine. It’s quite potent and is supposed to be good for you so we have to drink it. Surprisingly, Malc and Viv didn’t know the owner this time.

“I know more about wheat and olive trees than I do about politics.”

Ariel Sharon

[] Another day off

Seeing as we weren’t going to Chania, Malc laid on a spectacular thunderstorm for us. He said he wanted us to experience Crete in all weathers. We started late and picked up Peter and Suzie about 11 am. By this time the rain had stopped. It was decided to go to Chania a different day so we went back to Malc and Viv’s place. We traded photos and bored each other for a few hours. Not true really, as we got to see pictures of the progress of building their new home.

We had our regular time out for a nap and a cuddle (if you’re so inclined) and went to Faulty Towers taverna for our evening repast. Malc and Viv call it Faulty Towers because of the miss adventures the owner seems to have.

We caught him up a ladder trying to get fresh grapes for us for our dessert. It looked quite dangerous. Anyway, he survived and the meal for six of us, including wine and Raki, was €50, about $75.

We had another great evening and returned to Peter and Suzie’s hotel. At which point I planned to play a little joke on the rest of the group as the truck slowed down. I thought that I would jump out when no one was watching and do a commando roll (probably breaking a collar bone in the process) and run off into the woods and hide, awaiting the reaction of my devastated colleagues thinking that they had left me behind. Then I thought that Malc and Peter would say “Oh good, he fell out” Viv and Suzie would say “What the hell happened” and Rosalie would be checking the double indemnity clause in our insurance policy. So I decided to give it a miss and think of some other way to pay them back for making me travel in the back.

“Life is too short not to do a little practical joking.”

Krista Allen

[] Downtime

Rosalie, 27th Sept.

Basically, all we’ve been doing here on Crete is resting. We get up anywhere from 9:15 to 10:15, in order to go pick up P & S from their hotel.

Chris has been riding in the back of the pick-up everywhere we go as no room for 6 inside.

He gets laughed at & pointed at, but be is a good sport. He laughs that he is 70 years old & still doing crazy things. I’m proud of him. Peter wants to spell him off but Chris won’t hear of it.

After P&S come over we sit by the pool until it gets too warm then we move to the covered area – chew the fat. Viv gets out crackers & cheese for lunch, or yesterday she had spanikopita & of course Beer.

After that Malc takes P&S back to their hotel so we all can have a nap. We pick them up at 7 pm to go out to dinner to a taverna every day. We go to places owned by Malc’s Greek mates. Malc orders a couple or three starters, and then sometimes we each order our own main course. At some places, where he knows the portions are large he orders 3 mains for us to share. Everything is always delicious.

There is always 2 carafes of red wine, 1 carafe of white and 2 carafes of Raki, which is totally (really?!) medicinal. So far each couple has been taking turns paying the whole bill. We’ve had our turn twice – first time total £61 & second time £50. Cheap! The Greeks have been giving us free stuff cause they know Malc & Viv. It is awesome.

Today we are actually going to see stuff – the oldest olive tree in the world.

Tomorrow we are going into Chania, to the market.

Tuesday we fly back to Athens for 2 days before flying to Vancouver on Thursday. We are getting a hotel Thursday night – home on Friday, October 2.

“So there you have it. The bus tour took the poof out of us. But here, we are recovering nicely!”

Rosalie.

[] Day trip to Chania

Chania is pronounced Han-yah.

We got up early to a miserable rainy day. It started to clear before we left so we drove into town to catch the bus to Chania. The weather is weird, twice now it has rained really hard and then a few hours later we get clear blue skies. Chania is an old town once inhabited by the Turks and you can still see a lot of the old buildings from that time.

We wandered around the market and along by the harbour. We saw lots of fresh fish stalls and fruit stands. We went to one shop and bought our raki to bring home so that we can make our friends suffer with it as we have had to. It cost €5 a litre, ($7) a steal we think. We decided to have lunch when we got back to town so we headed for the bus depot early.

Now the bus system here appears to be very good on the surface. They use the same type of bus that we toured in so they are very comfortable. However, even Malc and Viv got a bit confused when we tried to get on our bus. We were told that it went through the town we wanted but didn’t stop there. We had to wait in the hot sun for another 10 minutes or so before the right bus came along. Even then we were a bit dubious. The buses carry a driver and a conductor who collects the money, which I find kind of amusing but it seems to work out ok.

This is our last day on Crete so we had to head back and start packing. Part of me needs to be home but at the same time, I’m reluctant to leave. We still have a couple of days in Athens though.

“I don’t wanna go home! I don’t wanna go home and you can’t make me!”

Me

[] Return to Athens

Off to the airport today. Because it was raining we found out that we could, with a squeeze, get four people into the back seat of Malc’s truck after all. They had been torturing me all week for nothing.

We arrived with plenty of time for our flight and checked in. The trip from Chania to Athens is only about 40 minutes so we were there in no time. We went to collect our baggage and out popped Suzie’s and Rosalie’s. Peter’s showed up much later, and mine, not at all. I checked the other carousels to no avail. I checked with one of the customs people who couldn’t help and was just about to start blubbering when I got a shout from Peter that it had arrived. Phew!

Next challenge, get a taxi at a good price in a country that speaks little English, easy! We were approached by a couple of sleazy looking limo drivers who offered a ride for € 100 and the next one € 90. I told them to stuff it, but the others looked at me askance.

We went to the taxi rank and there was a regular cab and the driver waved to me. I stuck up four fingers, hoping this wasn’t a rude gesture in Greece, and he nodded. This was a regular sized taxi remember and we all had luggage. Well, he jumped out and the guy was about 4’3 high and 4’4” across. He turned out to be a little round ball of fun. We haggled for a fixed price of €55 and he started to load. He lifted the trunk and it was obvious not all the bags were going in. Wrong! Well almost. He took Peter’s first and bunged it in. Suzie’s was next. She started to panic a little as he really gave it a good pushing and shoving, next mine. I was somewhat concerned as I had a plastic bottle of Raki in mine and didn’t want it to burst. Well, there was no room for Rosalie’s so he took it and put it on the back seat. So now we have three people and a suitcase squished in there. It didn’t bother us though as we had been practicing this sort of thing on the way to the airport in Malc’s truck, so we were experts.

He drove off and it was fairly obvious that he had no clue where he was going. So he pulled out his GPS gizmo and programmed it as he drove, which wasn’t too bad except that at one time it needed two hands. Peters was in the front so saw this closer than the rest of us, but every time I ask him about it afterwards, he starts to tear up and turns pale. Forty minutes later we did arrive at the hotel all in one piece and the little dude was vindicated.

We checked in and hustled off to find some lunch and a beer. We decided to take an open air hop on/hop off tour bus later in the day to get a feel for the city; the ticket is good for two days so tomorrow we will explore more.

“The world does not need tourists who ride by in a bus clucking their tongues. The world as it is needs those who will love it enough to change it, with what they have, where they are.”

Robert Fulghum

[] Athens, our last day

Because we still had a bus pass we decided to go and visit as many sites as we could. What we didn’t realise, was, that seeing the Acropolis would take so long. It is one of the places I needed to see and I wasn’t disappointed. Rosalie wasn’t too keen to see it until we got up there and then she was happy that she had gone.

Before we went up the hill, we did a tour of the old town of Athens and used one of those great little tour trains. Some people don’t like them because they slow down traffic but we tourists think they have a place in our holiday. We thought the train would take us up to the Acropolis but it didn’t, so we had to climb. It was well worth it! The architecture is spectacular and to see the work done on restoration is amazing. There were lots of tourists but not too many and we managed to tolerate them.

We could switch tours with our bus passes, so after we had finished with the Acropolis we hopped on the bus to tour the harbour. We had been told by someone that we should get off at station P4 as the restaurants and the view was spectacular, so we did. If we ever go back to Athens I’m going to find that guy and beat him with a stick.

We couldn’t find any restaurants and were about 1/4 mile from the sea. We were on a tight schedule as we had to connect with the bus to take us back to the hotel. We hunted around and Rosalie found a nice place to eat. We were a bit rushed but weren’t too worried as the buses are always late. We got back to the bus stop, and wouldn’t you know it, the bus was just about on time. We made our connection and got back to the hotel and had a glass or two of wine on our communal balcony and went to bed.

“How great are the dangers I face to win a good name in Athens,”

Alexander the Great

[] Getting home

We left the hotel at 10 am and caught a taxi back to the airport. I knew the rolly polly man had ripped us off as we had a much better and bigger cab for €44 and he had charged €55 coming in. Ah well, the life of a tourist. We got to the airport and checked our luggage. We were fortunate as we could check it, and us, right through to Vancouver. Then the first of the day’s wait started.

We caught our flight to Heathrow and arrived four hours later. We had a quick snack and then tried to find our gate to Vancouver. Heathrow Terminal five has an underground train system to get you to your gate and at first, it’s a little confusing; but we made it on time.

Rosalie and I didn’t have the best seats as we were in the middle two of four seats. The wine was free again so that was some consolation. Nine hours later and we were in Vancouver. We had been separated from Peter and Suzie for the flight and found out later that they had been upgraded to Business Class. So while we were elbowing it out with our neighbours, they were drinking champagne with their feet up. Anyway, good for them!

We landed at 6:40 pm and rather than stay the night in another hotel we decided to catch the ferry home that night. The next ferry was 8:15 so we didn’t have much time. We retrieved our luggage and found a taxi. The driver said we may not make it, but he did try. We arrived 10 minutes before sailing but no matter how hard Rosalie pleaded with them they couldn’t let us on. More waiting! We finally caught the last ferry of the day at 10:45 pm. We ordered a taxi to meet us at Duke Point to take us home. Three taxis, two flights and a ferry later we arrived Home Sweet Home. Total travel time, 26 hours!

So our odyssey ends. We had lots of fun. Peter and Suzie were the best travelling companions. There will be a few cleanup blogs to follow and then we will look for a new adventure. Yes, we have a few in mind.

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”

Matsuo Basho

[] Impressions

These are just a few impressions of some of the places we visited. Also, would we do it again? Probably not. We got to see what we wanted to see and a lot of the places we never thought we would see. Now we can pick and choose. Do we regret it? Not in the least, it was a fabulous trip and we would recommend it to anyone as a sampler. Also, it should be done when you’re younger. Peter and Suzie were great travel companions and we had a lot of fun together. We met awesome people, made new friends, drank too much, ate too much, spent too much and laughed till we cried.

England:

Loved my home county of Kent but wouldn’t live there again.

Belgium:

Very flat we didn’t stop so have I no idea what it’s like. I hear they have good beer.

Netherlands:

Bikes, thousands and thousands of bikes! The bike paths can be dangerous if you’re not careful.

Germany:

The Rhine Valley, beautiful place, loved all the little villages.

Switzerland:

One side of the tunnel spoke German and it was cold. Seventeen km later they spoke Italian and it was warm.

Italy:

They need to buy some toilet seats and get a better attitude.

Monaco:

Too glitzy and seemed to me very plastic! Or am I just envious?

Spain:

We loved Spain. The people were friendly and they had toilet seats, although they have to do something about that Cathedral in Barcelona. We hope to go back there.

France:

We loved Paris, but like the Italians, the French need to get a better attitude.

Greece:

Like Spain, I loved the place and the people were awesome.

Athens:

Graffiti everywhere! It really spoils an otherwise nice city.

Favourite towns:

Barcelona, Paris, Venice, Carcassonne and Toledo.

Biggest surprises:

The Eiffel Tower, the Cathedral at Florence and The Basilica of Assisi.

“I have never experienced another human being. I have experienced my impressions of them.”

Robert Anton Wilson

[] The Blog and I

I’m somewhat surprised at myself; I don’t write very often and am not versed in writing techniques. However, I found myself putting out a blog for six weeks. Perhaps it’s because I’m more versed in reading techniques, and not just Playboy articles I might add.

I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find enough to say or that it wouldn’t be entertaining enough, and it didn’t help to know that people would actually be reading it. You know, like having someone looking over your shoulder. So I just decided to write what I was thinking, and often found that I couldn’t type fast enough. I didn’t know if I could keep up the pace for that long, but somehow I did. The more I got into it the more I enjoyed it.

I got encouragement from a number of sources. I got a lot of comments from friends and family which boosted my confidence. And of course, my greatest inspiration was my Honey and proof-reader, Rosalie. It was good to hear her laugh at some of the silliness that I wrote. Thanks kiddo.

Writing it, in the beginning, was something of a trial. I started by writing up the previous day’s events and found that my mind was starting to write ‘today’s’ blog. As our days were fairly intense I kept forgetting where the hell I was and what we did ‘yesterday’. So I started to write as we went along, often on the bus, or if not, in the evening at the hotel. This worked a lot better. However after a hard day of sightseeing, beer for lunch and a few glasses of wine at dinner, it was sometimes quite the challenge.

I use WordPress for blogging and this is an online program. So if we had no Wi-Fi, I was stuffed. However, I found an app that can be used off-line and then later synced with WP. This mostly worked great, but I lost a few blogs and parts of blogs because I wasn’t familiar with the program. As a matter of fact, I’m redoing this one because I lost it all. (Curses!)

The writing, which I had been so worried about turned out to be the easy part. Inserting the pictures was another kettle of fish. I had a card reader for the iPad, so downloading them was no problem, but inserting them into the program was quite a pain at times. Again it was my unfamiliarity with the software.

I intended to include some video but my programs didn’t seem to want to cooperate. I considered using YouTube but didn’t know enough about it and didn’t want to learn another program as I went along. I’ve since learned that YouTube is quite easy so here is a link if you want to see some of them.

I did it; I really did it and will continue to write my blogs. If you wish to unsubscribe please feel free. (Although my little feelings could be hurt) :-) Please keep comments coming, and if anyone has an idea for a blog, let me know, I will be happy to screw it up for you.

“Phew! That was fun!”

Me


A Crazy Idea Too!

A second crazy idea. This time to do a bus tour of Europe in the company of good friends. We visited ten countries and had lots of laughs in each of them. Including riding in the back of a pickup truck in Greece.

  • ISBN: 9781370737789
  • Author: Chris Wells
  • Published: 2017-04-07 20:05:15
  • Words: 19870
A Crazy Idea Too! A Crazy Idea Too!