Fresh from a few days in glorious weather in North Wales we headed for Yorkshire. However, the weather was much colder, wetter, snowier and windier. Nevertheless, we had a great time. Our first night was spent visiting friends in Thorner and the traditional curry evening at Rajas. We had a great evening with Bridget and David but the next morning headed off to Richmond Castle (on the left) which we visited last September, Mount Grace Priory (on the right) which we last visited many years ago. The reconstructed monk’s cell and herb plot certainly gave a feeling of how the monks lived 600 years ago!
Braving the elements, we were able to take a stroll along the terrace and enjoy views of Rievaulx Abbey below.
During our walk we came across a brilliant wire statue of a horse. The horse stood on the edge of the Terrace overlooking Rievaulx Abbey which was to be our next port of call.
After our busy day we arrived at Pear Tree Cottage which was our base for three nights. This was our second stay at Pear Tree Cottage which is a lovely bed and breakfast place and one we would certainly recommend it to any like minded travellers. The evening meal was a return to Pickering’s Spice4U which is probably our favourite curry restaurant. We were not disappointed.
The next day we set off for our trip on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway to Whitby and our (by now traditional) lunch at the Magpie.
Both railway and food were excellent but it was a shame that a heavy sleety/rain shower chose to fall just as we were walking from the station to the restaurant. Dried off and replenished we headed straight back to Pickering to visit the Beck Isle Museum. The museum is an excellent way to learn about Pickering’s rich history as a rural market town and our visit was an excellent way to round off the day.
The following morning’s weather forecast was quite specific about rain later in the day so we set off early for our walk through Farndale (we did the walk last autumn and thoroughly enjoyed it). The walk is also known as the Daffodil walk and is obviously very popular as there was a temporary car park in a field rather than the small tarmac one we used before. Of course the daffodils are largely over by the end of April so there weren’t too many walkers, indeed we only met one group and they were going the opposite way to us. We finished our walk and were just taking our boots off when the rain started. Undaunted we set off to explore the coast north of Whitby. We got as far as the delightful town of Saltburn-by-the-Sea. The photo, taken from the lovely pier, shows the funicular railway and the wonderful Victorian buildings on top of the cliff. The promenade, pier, beach huts and funicular railway were all in beautiful condition and rather impressive as was the sandy beach. We had a lovely walk along the sea front and got back to the car just before it started to rain.
We returned to Pickering and another visit to Spice4U for supper. Annie has observed that curries do not help Gerry’s blood sugar levels nor do they help either of our waistlines!
Once again we had a lovely visit to Yorkshire and look forward to a return perhaps later in the year!
We got home to Fairford in time to go shopping and prepare for a visit by grandchildren Bethany, Callum and Elsie who arrived on Saturday morning and left on Sunday afternoon. We had a lovely time together and they seemed to enjoy themselves!
Our American friends Gene and George Bland are visiting the UK for an extended stay. This year they are once again staying in a delightful cottage in Longborough not far from Stow on the Wold. We enjoyed a lovely lunch prepared by Gene and then took a pleasant stroll around the village. We had a lovely time and plan to see them again before they head back to Florida at the end of next month.
Gerry managed to arrange his biopsy at short notice and so we set off for a hastily arranged stay in Bala, North Wales. On Sunday we drove up from Fairford in glorious weather and visited Powis Castle for the second time in a year.
We were greeted by the photo-savvy peacock that seemed to seek out the camera and stand still whilst the photo was taken.
The gardens were delightful and although it was probably not the best time of the year to visit them, the potential was obvious.
Neither Gerry nor Annie had visited before and we had a pleasant walk below the dam before driving around the lake.
Bala was as delightful as ever and we enjoyed an evening stroll around part of the lake.
Monday was cool but dry and we set off to visit Penrhyn Castle near Bangor (National Trust).
Penrhyn is a very impressive 19th-century neo-Norman castle crammed with fascinating items, such as a one-ton slate bed made for Queen Victoria, much elaborate carving of stone with similarly elaborate plasterwork. We were also fascinated to find an industrial railway museum in the stable block.
From Penrhyn, we drove a short way up the coast to Conwy and visited another National Trust property, Aberconwy house – a medieval merchant’s house in the centre of the town. Well worth a visit if you are ever in the area. We also had a quick look at the old suspension bridge built around 1840 and one of the first road suspension bridges in the world.
We thoroughly enjoyed the brilliant colours of the magnolia trees rhododendrons, daffodils and many other plants.
It was made even more pleasant because there were so few people around and the weather was just right for a gentle walk.
We were able to meander through much of the grounds but by no means all (another visit will be required). We did find a weir and then a lovely waterfall.
The weather was even better on Tuesday as we headed for Porthmadog and a trip on the Welsh Highland Railway to Caernarfon. Porthmadog harbour looked wonderful in the morning sun when we had first arrived in the town in time for a pleasant walk before getting on the train.
We treated ourselves to an upgrade and enjoyed sitting in the comfortable armchairs for the 2 hour 20 minute journey through some spectacular countryside with frequent views of Snowden and its snow covered summit.
As usual, photographs taken through the windows failed to do the scenery justice! We both thoroughly enjoyed the trip and almost wanted it to go on longer.
The bus may have been a great deal quicker but it was noisier and far less comfortable than the train and the views less spectacular.
From Porthmadog we drove back to Bala via Harlech and Dolgellau arriving in time to go for a walk around the northern part of the town and lake.
The next morning the weather was even better as we, rather reluctantly, set off to return home. Our journey took us through mid-Wales and across into Shropshire and the ruins of Clun Castle.
From there we headed to Stokesay Castle near Craven Arms. To quote English Heritage, Stokesay is the finest and best-preserved fortified medieval manor house in England. The castle was constructed at the end of the 13th century by Laurence of Ludlow, who at the time was one of the richest men in England. Much of the castle is still as it was with the great hall unchanged over 700 years. The 17th century gatehouse is quite a contrast with its almost garish yellow colour. The English Heritage audio guide was particularly good.
What a great few days made better by the lovely weather.
We have just completed a most wonderful river cruise with Viking River Cruises. We travelled from Budapest through Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria before landing in Romania and travelling to Bucharest for our flight home. The ship, Viking Vili, was only 15months old and absolutely fantastic. Every part had that brand new feeling about it and our cabin was perfect for us. As there were only about 135 passengers out of a capacity of 190, the ship seemed very spacious. The food on board was really good and as an alternative to the formal dining room there was the Aquavit Terrace. Apart from our first dinner we chose to eat all our meals on the Terrace simply because breakfast was continental and more favourable to the waist line and also lunch and dinner were lighter meals than in the restaurant. Very few ate on the Terrace (we were the only ones one night) and as a result we received personal service from the staff and Terrace chef who very soon was preparing vegetarian food for Annie without being asked. Enough about our wonderful floating hotel, what about the sights.
We also found the very beautiful St Stephen’s Basilica and Heroes’ Square was also a magnificent memorial.
On our walks around we came across many small modern statues including this man on a bridge. We also visited the very poignant Shoe Memorial to the Jews murdered by the fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in the Second World War.
We thoroughly enjoyed our short stay in Budapest which will be remembered for its cleanliness, magnificent buildings, memorials and impressive night time views.
The second port of call was Kalocsa in Hungary. Amongst other things we were treated to a display of traditional horsemanship. Our next stop was Croatia and the towns of Vukovar and Osijek. We were treated to coffee and home-made cakes in a family home. The house had been destroyed in the Balkan war and the owner was injured in the fighting. The family had, with help from the government rebuilt their home but there were still a lot of damaged buildings in the locality. We were made very welcome and enjoyed a tour of their garden.
All too quickly we had moved on to Serbia and the capital Belgrade situated on the confluence of the Rivers Sava and Danube.
The city’s location, at the intersection of Eastern and Western Europe, made it a much ‘contested’ region throughout history with the Kalemegdan Fortress. Belgrade’s Cathedral St. Sava has been under construction since 1935 and is still unfinished but is still one of the largest Orthodox Churches in the World.
The Danube is normally quite wide but on this day we sailed through spectacular narrow gorges known as the Iron Gate.
The scenery was lovely with two memorable sites shown below.
We also passed through two massive locks which was quite an experience.
Vidin itself was a pleasant town with the only entirely preserved medieval Bulgarian Castle! From Vidin we took a bus ride to the spectacular rock formations and fortress at Belogradchik. The rock formations are great natural wonder and are a curiosity for the many fantastic figures and profiles that emerge when you catch them at the right angle. During our journey we passed the quite beautiful small church shown below.
We sailed overnight to the town of Russe from where we took a full day tour to the towns of Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanasi. Arbanasi was a small town with a small church with a rather drab exterior. However, the inside of the Nativity Church was covered with intricate frescoes dating back many centuries. We did not take photographs as flash was prohibited and the place was rather dark. However, we passed the beautiful Judas tree on our walk from the church to a restaurant.
Veliko Tarnovo was a town Gerry had visited during his working trip to Bulgaria in 1998. We even had coffee in the hotel where he stayed. An ex communist hotel it was still pretty awful and in need of quite a lot of attention.
We fell in love with a large hand thrown and decorated bowl bought it and then wondered how on earth we would get it home to the UK in one piece (we managed).
Our final port of call was Giurgiu in Romania although we saw little of the town as we headed straight to Bucharest by coach. Bucharest was a city of contrast, there were the ‘Commie Condos’ the name given to the drab concrete apartments the communists constructed so workers could be near the factories they had erected. They are depressing to look at, let alone live in. They were very small and very poorly insulated. The ones that had been renovated looked really good but the others were depressing. On the other hand the buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that Ceauscau had not destroyed were magnificent. The roads were frequently wide dual carriageways with grass reservations. We visited a Village Museum but many of the historic buildings (relocated from all regions of the country) were locked and there was little to tell us the detail of what we were looking at (disappointing as the place had tremendous tourist potential).
Our final visit was to the second largest building, by volume, in the world – Ceauscau’s Palace of Parliament with 3000 rooms and gold ceilings. We enjoyed a tour of part of the building which is now used as the parliament and a conference centre. Apparently it is about 70% utilised. The view from the balcony was quite spectacular – a bit like the balcony at Buckingham Palace that overlooks the Mall.
And so our passage to Eastern Europe came to an end. We certainly enjoyed ourselves and adapted well to the concept of a floating hotel. Who knows we may do more River Cruises in the future.
It has been one year since Gerry started on his maintenance chemotherapy regime. A scan this month revealed that the disease had not returned to his body although there was something going on at the site of one of the original lumps. The consultant did not know what was happening and after an examination decided that a biopsy was necessary. This will be done as a routine procedure between now and the next scheduled chemotherapy in 8 weeks time. We will just have to wait and see. Meanwhile, we will continue to enjoy life to the full.
The flight from Tasmania to Melbourne was pleasant enough but Melbourne airport was crowded and seemed to us chaotic. We even struggled to find a payphone to arrange the shuttle to the car rental depot. After picking up the car Gerry realised that the depot was a new build on a new estate and, on checking, it was no surprise to find that the Sat Nav database did not recognise the address. A quick selection of the coordinates into the memory allowed the Sat Nav to navigate us back to the depot at the end of our stay! Another peril of the Sat Nav was that Gerry had forgotten that it was set to avoid toll roads – most of the motorways around Melbourne are toll roads. Our journey to Upwey and our friends’ home was therefore quite slow and tedious. Funny how Gerry remembered about the settings once we arrived in Upwey.
We were made very welcome by our friends Nick and Suzanne and their two daughters 6 year old Lila and Niamh who is three. Nick and Suzanne had both taken the day off work on the Friday and so, once the children were in school and day-care we were able to enjoy a leisurely walk in a park that was inhabited by duck-billed platypus. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any but the walk set us up for a very pleasant lunch in a popular local restaurant. Saturday was family oriented and involved taking the girls to the local park and then to McDonalds for lunch!
Sunday morning was spent watching the annual Billy Cart races in the local town. Gerry was most impressed by the quality of the carts and the organisation. After lunch we travelled to Belgrave to board the narrow gauge steam train known as Puffing Billy.
The trip to Lakeside station was delightful and once we had disembarked we were able to enjoy ice creams before returning on the same train an hour later. Health and Safety fans eat your hearts out. No one seemed to bat an eyelid at the children sitting with their legs dangling through the bars on the sides of the coaches. In fact the web site for Puffing Billy shows a picture which positively encourages such behaviour. Gerry was quite nervous about Lila at first but she seemed to be perfectly confident dangling her legs outside the coach.
We left Melbourne early the next day to fly to Singapore on the last part of our trip. Martin met us at the airport and drove us to our hotel which made our arrival so much easier. After freshening up we headed over to Martin and Louise’s apartment and later walked to the Hawkers’ Market for supper. The food was really nice and every bit as good as we remembered from our last visit. It was so pleasant sitting in the evening cool after the heat of the day. A good night’s sleep and pleasant breakfast saw us ready for a brilliant day at the Gardens by the Bay with Martin and Louise. The Gardens were a very up market Eden Project and can only be described as fantastic. The first of two conservatories we visited was the Flower Dome which is the largest glass greenhouse in the world according to the 2015 edition of the Guinness World Records! We spent ages just strolling around enjoying the incredible display of flowers and plants from the Mediterranean and semi-arid regions. There were also some amazing wood carvings/sculptures
After lunch we visited the second conservatory which was a totally different experience. The Cloud Forest conservatory showcases plant life from tropical highlands up to 2,000 metres above sea level. There was a 35-metre-tall ‘mountain’ covered in lush vegetation, as well as the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. We took a lift to the top of the ‘mountain’ and then strolled along a walkway in the clouds for an aerial view of the canopy and mountainside below.
As any young child would say our visit to the Gardens by the Bay was awesome.
The final evening of our Round The World trip was spent at the Tiffin Room in Raffles Hotel. Martin, Louise, Annie and Gerry enjoyed a splendid curry buffet in sumptuous surroundings. It was a fitting end to a magnificent trip.
We left Singapore early the next morning to arrive back at The Nook late in the afternoon.
Many thanks to all of our family and friends who acted as hosts at the various ports of call – we could not have asked for more.
We have so many happy memories – Thank you
We left Christchurch to head to Launceston in Tasmania via Melbourne. We had quite a wait in Melbourne for our connection which had been made longer because Gerry had failed to take the time difference between Melbourne and Christchurch into account! However, we picked up the rental car at Launceston airport and made the short journey to our motel on the outskirts of the town in time to enjoy a glass of Tasmanian wine before retiring. The next day we headed for the coastal town of Swansea but decided to travel on the northern route over the mountains and through the rainforest. We were not disappointed, the scenery was beautiful. We were heading through the Weldborough Pass when we saw a sign telling us that there was a walk that we could take through the rainforest. The walk was not very long and in the absence of any other people and no sounds other than the birds and the wind in the trees it was magical.
We continued on our journey and stopped at the lovely town of Scottsdale for coffee marvelling at the width of the streets. Next we headed to the hamlet of Pyengana and 9 km down a no through road to the St Columba Falls. The falls were reached along a 600m path that descended into the valley where we could gaze up at one of the tallest waterfalls in Tasmania. Despite the isolated location, the absence of any shops/cafes, and the lack of vehicles on the roads, we were surprised by the number of people at the Falls.
Returning to the main road, we continued our journey to Swansea stopping in the only other major town on the route, St Helens, where we managed to get a late lunch. We eventually arrived at Swansea in time to go for a short walk and find a delightful restaurant overlooking the sea. We sat on the balcony for wine and nibbles before going inside to eat our meal.
The food was delightful and Gerry had his first curried scallop pie of the trip. Tasmania is famous for its scallop pies and the curried ones in particular. The taste was amazing and just as good as he remembered from our last visit to Tasmania in 2008 (Gerry was to have several more such pies before we left the island!)
The next morning we headed for the town of Richmond and found ourselves surrounded by tourists. That’s an exaggeration it just seemed like a lot of people compared with everywhere else we had been in Tasmania. The town itself is old and has many historic buildings as well as a 19th century bridge built by the convicts who had been transported to Tasmania from the UK, The quality of construction was really good and, like many bridges in the south eastern part of Tasmania, has stood the test of time and greatly increased usage without any major repairs. We then visited Eaglehawk Neck which is a narrow isthmus that connects the Tasman Peninsula to the main part of Tasmania. A line of dogs were chained at strategic intervals to prevent convicts escaping from the convict settlement at Port Arthur to cross the isthmus. The statue of the dog certainly portrays their fierceness.
We decided not to go all the way to Port Arthur has we had spent a day there on our last visit. Instead we headed to the central highlands of Tasmania and the historic town of Bothwell where we had booked bed and breakfast at the 19th century Bothwell Grange.The Grange was not that big and despite its history as a drinking, eating and resting place was now rather sad. The town of Bothwell was very spacious and pretty but quiet. There was nowhere we could get a meal that evening unless we ate a fried takeaway before 5PM. We even drove 32km each way to the equally quiet town of Hamilton and found a similar lack of eating places. However, back in Bothwell we found a shop and bought some fruit, cheese and crackers and then bought a bottle of wine from the pub. We enjoyed our repast sitting on the balcony of Bothwell Grange.
We returned to Launceston the following day travelling to the east coast through Campbell Town and then back through the hills and rainforest. The bridge at Campbell Town is just like the one at Richmond but the difference is that it was easier to understand the scale of the penal colonies and the harshness of the regimes because, set in the pavement of the main road, there were hundreds of bricks each one inscribed with details of a convict who had worked on the Campbell Town Bridge. When you looked at the offences and the punishments awarded, wrongdoers today just don’t know how lucky they are.
Since our visit in 2005 a collection of elaborate wooden carved statues has appeared. I suspect they are not to everybody’s taste but they certainly depicted a little of the history of the area.
Our second visit to Tasmania had been every bit as good as the first! and it was with some sadness that we returned to the airport the next morning to begin the next leg of our trip.
After a pleasant evening in Taupo marred only by poor service at the restaurant we enjoyed a delightful bed and breakfast before setting out to enjoy a cruise on the lake on board a replica steamboat. It looked like the steamboat but was powered by a diesel engine (disappointing for the engineers amongst us) The 2 hour cruise was very pleasant and took us to see the impressive Maori Rock Carvings at Mine Bay that are over 10 metres high and only accessible by water.
We then set off to return to Auckland via the real Middle-Earth at the Hobbiton Movie Set near Matamata. James and Gerry were a bit iffy about the entrance fee but soon decided it was well worth it. The whole place was quite special and extremely well maintained. If readers are interested in The Lord of the Rings films and are ever in the area a visit is a must.
After a wonderful 9 days with Lucy and James we left Auckland to stay with our friend Penny in Christchurch South Island. We arrived in Christchurch a few days before the fifth anniversary of the earthquake that devastated the city in 2011. Our first encounter with the effects of the quake was in Penny’s home which had only been repaired a few months previously. This had involved Penny moving out for several weeks whilst repairs and a complete redecoration were undertaken Christchurch itself is a massive building site and it has been estimated that the recovery is only about 50% completed. The Remembrance gate was just one of many many places where major work was in progress. One of the first sites we saw in the centre of Christchurch was the ruins of the Cathedral. We had been to a service there in 2005 and found it hard looking at the steel bracing holding up part of the building. In fact the wall that the bracing had been supporting had collapsed the week before when Christchurch was hit by a 5.2 magnitude earthquake. As a point of interest there have been over 17,000 quakes since Feb 2011 most of which were very small but we felt at least one during our stay.
The view of the old undamaged cathedral was a photograph of a photograph fixed to the security fence around the ruins. Another very poignant site was a collection of 185 different white chairs including a child’s car seat and a wheelchair. The chairs represented one for each life lost in the earthquake. It was a simple memorial that could not fail to move.
A sign of the resiliance of the Christchurch population was the new so called Cardboard Cathedral. We found it to be a very spiritual place made special by the simplicity of construction and the simple symbology. The side walls were originally iso containers. The roof struts were not really cardboard but hollow compressed paper tubes braced with local wood. The roof was like a Perspex sandwich with apparently excellent thermal qualities. The building was designed free of charge by a Japanese architect who specialises in using ‘cardboard’ to build cheap buildings quickly after natural disasters in his own country.
The building should have a long life and last until all of the different ideas about repair/replacement of the ruined Cathedral are debated (I suspect that will take a considerable time).
In the meantime Christchurch has a Cathedral it can be proud of!
The day before we left Christchurch Penny took us to the Botanical Gardens. They were a haven of peace after seeing the devastation that still pervades Christchurch.
We left the UK full of trepidation – to travel around the World in 27 days and visit the people and places planned seemed ambitious if not daunting. Our first port of call was San Francisco and then a rental car to travel to Jo’s home in San Jose arriving quite late at night. We saw Jo and the children off to school and the met our friends Sharon and Cliff for coffee and then a delightful lunch.
Friday evening and Saturday were spent ‘chilling out’ with Jo and the children.
Oliver and Sienna demonstrated their prowess on their skateboards .
Alexander seemed content to lie on his bed and play on his iphone!
Leaving San Jose on Sunday afternoon we caught an overnight flight to Auckland. However, as we crossed the International Date Line we lost Monday and arrived on Tuesday morning. We picked up a rental car and drove to Lucy and James’s apartment block before collecting the keys to our rented apartment two minutes walk away within the complex but in another block (magic arrangement). We enjoyed a leisurely day with Lucy acting as guide as we explored the local area including the harbour and many waterfront restaurants. James joined us after work for dinner. The night time view of the Auckland tower from their apartment was quite special.
Over the next couple of days Lucy showed us Devonport (reached by ferry), the beach at PIha (famous to surfers) and the nearby Kitekite falls only visible after a twenty minute walk through the forest.
We also went to the Auckland Botanical Gardens – they were quite away out of the city but well worth the visit. There were many sculptures in the gardens including the one shown in the photo which looks like a giant flower but is in fact a collection of upturned watering cans arranged around a central core!
Then we visited the Hells Gate Thermal Reserve (so named by George Bernard Shaw following a visit) with its boiling hot pools in excess of 100 degrees Celsius; steaming vents from which volcanic gas escapes, hot water lakes, sulphur crystals and deposits; It was smelly but awesome!
Our final visit of the day was to the Huka Falls where the Waikato River, which is normally 100m wide, is squeezed through a 20 metre wide gorge and over a 20m drop. It is said that 220,000 litres of water a second gush through the gorge – it certainly was a special sight. Annie and Gerry had visited before in 2005 but were still entranced by the power of the water.
What a busy couple of weeks we had over Christmas and New Year. First Jo arrived from California to spend Christmas with us as her children were spending the holiday with their father. Then the three of us went to visit Jenny and family at Caversham. The next day James, Hannah, Rosie and Ptolemy arrived at The Nook and then on Christmas Eve Jess, Jon and Oscar arrived. We had a lovely time on Christmas Day – the grandchildren seemed to enjoy themselves opening presents as indeed did the adults. Boxing Day was quiet as all bar Jo left.
We dropped Jo off at Heathrow on Monday 28th December and then drove to Torquay to stay for two nights of a Twixmas Break. We had a lovely room with a bay window and easy chairs overlooking the sea and gardens. The hotel and food were generally good and we enjoyed our short stay.
Weather over Christmas and New Year was not good (but better than the poor people in the North of the country had). However, the Tuesday was brilliant and we walked from our hotel along the coast to Paignton. After a coffee we took a bus to Brixham where we enjoyed lunch before returning the same way to our hotel. We were pleased as we walked about 8 miles in total. The beach at Paignton was quite crowded really and there was some beautiful sand art to be seen at Torquay.
We left Torquay and drove along the sea front with spray and a couple of waves splashing over the car and flooding the road. We heard on the news that night that the road was closed shortly after we had travelled along it! We were lucky.
Jenny, Mark, Bethany, Callum and Elsie arrived at The Nook quite early on New Year’s Eve to see in the New Year with us. We had a great day and all except Mark and Jenny were in bed long before midnight. New Year’s Day was not great weather wise but we all went for a walk to the very soggy park and then down to the river before returning home.
All in all a very busy but enjoyable time.