EUROPE TOURS – FIRST TRIP AN INSIGHT EDUCATIONAL 1990
This was very special as were both my Insight educational trips to Europe and Egypt, this one as was my very first trip to Europe. Insight really know how to look after their clients, and make sure every aspect of a country is seen so they provide many extra inclusions.
On this trip I met dear friend Debrah Lawrence who was our very fine Escort and our excellent sales representative. There were 34 lovely agents along John McKenzie (“Father Christmas”, Newcastle) Chris Davies, Bryan Briers, Corinne Dauster, Stephanie Franchi, Annemaree Casey, Kris Del Grande, Pat Poulimenos, Claire Stephenson, Suzanne Cortie, Anna Gasbarra-Raineri, Julianne Frede, Wendy Thomson, Kristen Turner, Maxine Van-Wyngen (my room mate) , Maureen Blakey, Thavone Chantharasy, Lucie De Vries (Mother) Caroline Jefress, Pauline Harney, (all of Sydney) Val Taylor, (Muswellbrook) Judi Ticknor and Dan O’Connor (Canada) Maria Barone (Camden) Karen Robinson, Gayle McWhirter, (Wollongong) Dick Thornton (Moruya) Nicole Blair (Canberra) Robyne Dunne (The Entrance) Antonia Stafford (SQ) Sophie Brisard (London)
We flew Singapore Airlines via Singapore and Dubai to Rome and were met by our tour escort Gary Junge whom all the girls fell instantly in love with he was that sort of guy, and one of Insight International’s best operators. He knew what he was doing because he took us straight to Piazza Navona for a hit of Espresso, and that lovely Italian square has always remained one of my favourite places in Rome. So after admiring the Egyptian Obelisk, and Bernini’s 1648 statue in the 4 rivers Fountain (Fontana del uattro di Fiumi) which represent the four great rivers of the of the four great continents the Nile in Africa, the Ganges in Asia, the Danube in Europe and the Rio De la Plata in America and the Bella Italian men.
We then moved on to another most memorable moving place, the Pantheon, commissioned by Marcus Agrippa as a temple to all the early Roman Gods, and rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in 126AD, so it has been standing a very long time. It is a very unusual building as is circular, with Corinthian columns in the front, and even now 2,000 years after it was built it still has the world’s largest un-reinforced concrete dome which also unusually has an opening at the top where rain and sunshine come in. Another unusual aspect of it is that the height and the diameter of the circle are both exactly the same that is 142 foot. It is said that it was built by filling the area with sand as they went higher then from the hole at the top removing all the sand.
We always take our groups back to these magnificent places, including of course the Trevi Fountain where we have left several coins, not just three! Also the Spanish steps, the Circus Maximus, The Colosseum. I brought a little stone home from the Colosseum as “if only these rocks could talk” series.
We were taken to the Vatican to visit St. Peter’s Basilica, most memorable there Michelangelo’s ‘the Pietà’ which was not behind bullet proof glass then, the Sistine chapel, and also the fantastic Vatican Museums with all of its priceless collection of tapestries, and statues etc.
From Rome we went on to Florence but on the way we made a very memorable stop at Padua to visit St.Anthony’s Basilica. It is simply magnificent and of all the beautiful old churches I have seen in Europe this one really stays entrenched in my memory. Inside it was unbelievable with its 7 separate chapels, each one ornately decorated and dedicated to a different saint. Of course St.Anthony being the main central chapel and altar.
We then travelled to Florence (Firenze) and I fell in love with this beautiful Italian city also with its Duomo, The Florence Baptistry with its bronze “Gates of Paradise” by Ghiberti, Piazza Signoria, visited the Accademia gallery to see the Statue of David and in that same museum some very poignant unfinished carvings of Michelangelo. Also the Uffizzi gallery. I just loved the Santa Crocé Church,(another uplifting experience, like St. Anthony’s Padua) a very intimate church with its frescoes by Giotti and so many famous people you know buried there, Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini. You feel like you are among old dead friends!
We strolled along the River Arno and across the Ponto Vecchio with its jewellery shops, we went to the leather shops of course, And Gary took us to a very interesting (to say the least) night club in Florence.
Then on to another fabulous place Venice where we stayed right on the Grand Canal in the Hotel Principi a lovely old palace, where we took our group back to stay. We visited St. Mark’s square and beautiful old Basilica, although very dark inside is embellished with many frescoes so that centuries ago the peasants could see Bible stories as the majority could not read the Bible. We went to see glass making at Murano, did a gondola ride etc.
One of the nicest extensions to do in Venice is the boat trip to Burano the lovely fishing village of the island, you cannot visit Venice without going here. We had a most delightful lunch here at the Il Cato restaurant. It is said that the houses of this fishing village were painted different colours so that if a fisherman was lost at sea, the news could be relayed to his family designated by the colour of the house.
The coach took us on to Innsbruck, we saw the Gold roof, lots of shops with Christmas decorations and went up to the Winter Olympics ski jump right at the top of Innsbruck. Then up to Lucerne where we stayed. It was snowing and cold here and we went up to Mt. Rigi (the Queen of the Mountains) in the old cog train car.
It was just like Christmas scenes here all the trees covered in snow.
Then on to Paris, staying right on the River Seine in a modern high rise. We did all the sights of Paris, the Eiffel tower, the evening illuminations tour, Notre Dame Cathedral, Montmartre, the Sacre Coeur Cathedral which we got caught up inside in a special processional, and a real treat we were taken to the Follies Bergére, or I think it might have been the Moulin Rougé with dinner. We did a River Seine cruise, saw the Mona Lisa famous smile at the Louvre along with the Winged Victory.
Then we caught the Calais to Dover Hoverspeed ferry and travelled through to London for more sightseeing here, the Trooping of the Guard, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Downing Street, War museum, Buckingham Palace
To the Tower of London and saw the Crown jewels, shopping at Harrods and along Oxford street with all the fabulous Christmas decorations out.
What a way to finish with seeing the incomparable “The Phantom of the Opera” at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Insight then conducted an interesting debriefing before we headed home after one fabulous learning experience. We were debriefed at tour end in London with Mike Ness chairman Travel Corporation, David Wood and the late Chris Newman Insight International tours at the time.
A big thank you to Travel Corporation for these experiences.
John went a few months later in March 1991, on his Educational a Trafalgar Tours winter one as well, also debriefed in London by Mr Mike Ness, Travel Corporations Chairman. When people ask us what is it like touring Europe in the winter off-season, it is quite appealing because you are able to see more as all the trees have lost their leaves opening viewing scenery up, and there are none of those pesky queues, especially at places like the Vatican museums, Acadamia etc.
Photos below from John’s Trafalgar Tour of Europe, at same Lion monument in Lucerne, fancy that, popular group photo background.
ENGLAND – WINDSOR CASTLE
We went to England to follow Mardi Lunn, and Adam caddying for her at the Weetabix British Open. So between rounds at Brockethall Hertfordshire and the Open we went to visit Windsor Castle.
Windsor Castle is one of the official residences of Queen Elizabeth. It was founded by William the Conqueror c. 1080, a Norman castle standing for a very long time. Royals that have lived there since are Henry II, Henry III, Edward III, Edward IV, Henry VIII, Mary I, Elizabeth I, Charles I, Oliver Cromwell (Lord Protector) Charles II, George III, George IV, Queen Victoria and Albert, George V, George VI, and Elizabeth II. So what a history, it is mind blowing as you walk around the premises and in the Halls.
We were lucky to be able to do a full tour of the Castle and St. George’s lovely Chapel. The fire of 1992 broke out in the private Chapel left a lot of destruction and so the restoration was a huge task. It has been done with great care to incorporate all of the craftsmanship as was previously there. St, George’s Hall has been restored magnificently and is where the Queen gives state banquets.
ENGLAND – BRITISH OPEN
BROCKETHALL – Hertfordshire – We went to England to follow a golf tournament at Brockethall, Hertfordshire a grand old Hall, it is a stately old home as well as a Hotel the Melbourne Lodge. It certainly has a shady past.
The owner Charles Brocket was infamously jailed in 1996 for drowning his Ferrari’s in the lake, and burying some of them in a golf bunker, as an insurance fraud, his estate, which included two golf courses and a restaurant, was repossessed by the bank and sold on a long lease to an Asia-based hotel company.
The 30-bedroom Hall itself, one of England’s most notable stately homes, with glorious interiors and a scandalous history (it was the home of Lord Byron’s infatuated lover, Lady Caroline Lamb, and the scene of octogenarian Lord Palmerston’s sudden demise while in flagrante on the billiard table with a chambermaid) is now used for private functions and weddings, not as a hotel.
HWT COWRA GROUP OF 35 TOUR TO UK & EUROPE 1994
This was a group 0f 35 mostly all from Cowra flying Singapore airlines to London joining Insight International tours. As we could not check straight into our London Hotel, The Victoria, we were taken on a sightseeing tour of London. Firstly to the Royal Albert Hall, then to Buckingham Palace where we lined the streets to see the Changing of the Guard. On to Westminster Abbey allowed time to go inside.
Next morning we left for Oxford University first stop with a wander around there, then on to Stratford-Upon-Avon time for lunch, on up to York visiting the famous York Minster Cathedral.
Then on up to Edinburgh, staying two nights, seeing all the sights of there and walking the Royal Mile to take in our tour highlight the spectacular Military Tattoo which was actually the ‘highlight’ destination for this tour, we always had one very special highlight.
We then walked down ‘the Royal Mile’ to our hotel. Next day we visited Edinburgh Castle and Palace of Holyrood House where the Royal family spend some time in the summer. One evening was lovely with the traditional piping in of the Haggis, much food, much wine and even dancing to Scottish bagpipes.
Then on to St. Andrews the home of golf, where our son Adam has caddied for the Women’s British Open several times. Then time for a wander there and look in the golf shop, next stop a whisky distillery where we sampled the goods, and then to our Highlands hotel, where the Haggis was piped in (again). Next via Glasgow down for a cruise on Loch Lomond, to the English Lakes District where we stayed at one of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed at The Prince of Wales, Grassmere. I always said I would go back there for a week just a-wandering.
This area is so green and picturesque that a walking holiday around these hills would be perfect. This is where of course most of the English poets like Keats and Wordsworth got their inspiration from nature itself. You know like we learnt at school and never forget like our multiplication tables.. …………. “I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of dancing Daffodils;
Along the Lake, beneath the trees,
Ten thousand dancing in the breeze”.
Then ferry across to Ireland from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire, staying at Dublin for two nights, where we went to a grand Irish evening at Jury’s Hotel Cabaret with of course the well known Irish comedian Hal Roach “Write it down, it’s a good one”. John cracks up every time he hears Irish jokes, laughs till he cries (even if he doesn’t always get them, or hear the punch line).
Another lovely night we went to famous Oliver St. John Gogarty’s Pub in Temple Bar, Dublin upstairs for more bacon and cabbage washed down by copious amounts of Guinness. It has to go in my ‘Favourite Bars around the world chapter’ as is the most colourful, busiest pubs I have ever been to. The young people of Dublin throng both inside and outside in the streets quaffing their beers and Guinness’s till all hours of the morning.
On Down to the Irish National Horse Stud, County Kildare, for a look at its layout and famous breeding horses, even a very grand Japanese Garden there, one of the best I have seen, even better than San Francisco, and maybe even Cowra. We kissed the Blarney stone , although John refused because he said he though he might catch something.
Then of course we did the Ring of Kerry and drove by the ‘black faced’ mountain sheep to the Cliffs of Moher. It was here that we stopped at a lovely old Irish pub for morning tea, and chatted to the locals in the pub, even singing a shanty or two, as we downed freshly made Irish coffees. It was fascinating watching these being made with of course Irish Whisky, strong coffee, brown sugar, and cream poured over the back of a spoon into this very nice concoction. In fact I could do with one right now! And did, yum.
It was near Blarney castle that I bumped into a friend Maxine Van Wyngen I had not seen for years that I had travelled on the insight educational above article with. Once again six degrees of separation as they say. John opened the door of the restaurant and Maxine just walked in off the street, and we both stared at each other in total disbelief and roared laughing, and so we had lunch together, more bacon and cabbage, the dish I really loved in Ireland on a cold day. Just as well I don’t live there, I would be as fat as a horse – oops I mean house.
We went to Limerick and of course quoted many Limericks of course like…….. “There was a young man from Cowra, who thought his Whisky turned sourer! That’s how come they invented the drink the ‘whisky sour’ (don’t quote me).
Then all the group did the Killarney horse and carriage rides which proved very enjoyable clip clopping around the town, then back to the Killarney pub for a Guinness and more bacon and cabbage!.
Last place staying in Ireland was at the lovely seaside town of Wexford (I could stay there again it is so quaint and cute) from here we visited the nearby Wedgewood glass factory and museum which is a real eye opener with all of its treasures. They keep a copy of all of the major sporting trophies in the world in their museum.
This prior to ferry from Rosslare to Fishguard in Wales. We had a night at Cardiff, and went to a traditional banquet at Cardiff Castle before visiting enigmatic Stonehenge,(Just how and why the origin of these unusual monoliths) before returning to London for more touring and sights.
This completed our 14 days in the UK and now the beginning of our 14 days in Europe with a new tour guide Alfred coaching across southern England to take the ferry from the white cliffs of Dover to Calais.
Our first country of visit in Europe after arriving in France was Belgium with its fine lace, starting a shopping spree in beautiful Brugges.
This charming place has much allure and one of those places you just want to return to, with its quaint cobbled streets with the sound of ‘clip clop horse drawn carriages, and canals throughout with lots of swans floating along.
It is a UNESCO World Heritage listed historic city centre, with its Gothic churches, gargoyles, and quaint design.
Funny to think later when we started our wholesale travel company I was booking ferry tickets out of Zeebrugge the seaport not far from Brugges, to Rosyth in Scotland. Of course we have another funny one here with one of our group ladies. In 1994 before Euro days each client had their own little bag of currency for each country that I spent all afternoon collecting at Trafalgar Square, and Dot instead of buying Belgian lace in the lovely shop in Brugges like most of our group, wanted to know where she could change the Belgium francs back to Aussie dollars straight away, she didn’t want to spend it!
From Brugges to capital of Belgium, Brussels. You know you are nearly there when you see the gigantic shining structure silver balls, of The Atomium a large atom from the Expo 1958. The first place we visited was the Grand Place, the 15th century city square, all of the buildings here have historic significance including the Town Hall.
Whilst we were there we sat in one of the outdoor eateries listening to lovely baroque music from bands in the square.
Then we walk down a narrow street to see the Mannequin Pis (the peeing boy), if you are expecting a large statue, wrong, it is the tiniest one you will see. Locals revere it and decorate it for all sorts of occasions throughout the year. They sometimes pour wine in to make it look more realistic, and sometimes detergent to make it froth.
Then on up through the Netherlands countryside and flat paddocks into Amsterdam where we stayed two nights.
The group had a dinner cruise down the Amsterdam canals past the red light district with also an interesting stroll around there. We did ask if they had any special group rates there, but no reply! We were taken to a diamond factory, where we were given nice sandwiches then locked inside with the world’s biggest diamonds. John bought me a new wedding ring because the old one had shrunk with the sweepings off the floor!
Then we headed for the Flower Markets, some of the biggest in the world. It was a fascinating place, the largest undercover venue at Aalsmeer. It is a fascinating place and arguably the largest undercover venue in the world being 990,000 sq. metres.
Every week they sell about 20 million flowers provided from 6,000 growers. The auction never stops week days, starting early morning, it is a most unusual way of auctioning, each lot goes on sale, the price on a huge board starts at 100 and then goes down until the lot is sold. This special kind of auction was invented here, and it is a very fast way of getting the highest price out of the buyer who wants the lot the most. They promise delivery next day of these purchases as far away as New York.
We spent the day cruising down the Rhine, embarking at Boppard down past Lorelei Rock, between all of the lovely green vineyards, and small villages, church steeples, and fairytale chateaus and castles.
On through Bavaria to see the castle of mad King Ludwig and a quick call into the lovely town of Oberammergau where every 10 years the whole town take part in the religious passion play.
Through the Dolomites mountain range into Italy and exciting Venice staying right on the Grand Canal at the Hotel Principi one of my favourites because of position. Next day we did the gondola rides, visited St. Mark’s square and St, Mark’s Basilica and did the day cruise out to Murano where we saw glass blowing and to Burano the lovely village with its coloured houses where we had lunch.
From here down to Rome to stay 2 nights and visit all the magic Italian places and have a lovely dinner at an Insight restaurant in the Piazza Popolo. We went to the Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, Vatican city and museums, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine chapel.
Next stop Florence for a night where we did all the main tourist calls then next day to the Leaning Tower of Pisa up the Ligura coast to Genoa and through to the C’ote D’azure staying in Nice.
We had a memorable night going up to the principality of Monaco for dinner, parking in the Eagle’s nest, and our coach driver Gabby driving us around the Grand Prix racetrack much to the delight of all on board. The drive back to our Nice Hotel with all the lights along the coast was breathtaking, and everyone a bit tipsy and giggly, a right happy bunch after consuming all of the liqueurs on the drinks trolly before leaving the restaurant. Joey and Mary had very rosy cheeks.
Then up through to Switzerland staying at lovely Lucerne for 2 nights, walking across the bridge from our Hotel into town for a relaxed day and motorboat cruise up the Lake, and we had a dinner at the Lucerne Casino.
On to Paris for two nights to see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, Montmartre and Sacre Coeur Cathedral, visit to the Louvre, evening meal at the Moulin Rouge with a show. Whilst we were on the River Seine cruise we noticed author Colleen McCullough on a parallel Insight tour to ours, travelling with her husband Rick, we also saw them climbing to the top at Stanserhorn-Bahn, Lucerne.
It was here that the Insight tour bus dropped us off at the Paris Opera House and said be back here in 1 hour, you are on your own to wander. So after the hour we all rocked up back at the Opera House, except Dot, nowhere to be found. We waited an extra hour, still no Dot, then the driver said we cannot wait here any longer, we have to go to beat the pm Paris traffic back to our Hotel on the periphique. I was really panic stricken at the thought of losing my first ‘groupie’ but one of the group allayed my fears by saying don’t worry Dot took a map and description of the Hotel when we checked in. We were all due to go to the Moulin Rouge for dinner and Show, so I said to John I would have to stay behind he take all the rest. I was looking out the hotel window, and you would not want to know, but there was Dot escorted by 2 lovely ladies from Reykevic in Iceland who had found Dot, not on the old Opera House steps but the NEW Opera House steps where she had gone because she thought they looked better, they were cleaner ,with no pigeon poo. Any way I said to Dot you had better give the two lovely ladies something really fitting for bringing you home by taxi, thinking monetary compensation of about $100 would be OK, to which she replied. Oh no I gave them a Cowra tea towel!Then back across the English channel to London Heathrow to fly home.
GLOBUS TOP SELLERS TO LONDON AND PARIS RITZ 2000
This was a group of 43 lucky enough to go to London for 5 days, and Paris for 5 days and apart from having a fabulous dinner at the Paris Ritz all of us ‘glammed’ up for the occasion.
I shared a room with my dear old friend from Harvey World Travel Louise Carruthers, “Lulu” who was a great travelling companion because she had all of the places to visit in both cities listed, that we had either not seen before or wanted to go back to visit. So ‘hang on to your hats’ whilst I take you places you may never have been to before.
As we had already previously done Westminster Abbey, Albert Hall, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London, Madame Tussauds, all the regular things our hit list had different agenda.
Our five free days in London, really the highlight for me was doing something on my own to go visit the Queen. Well the Queen Mother anyway. It was her 100th birthday whilst we were there and I asked most of the group if they wanted to come with me at 6.00am to line up at Buckingham Palace to witness this grand event and couldn’t get any takers. They all declined but were really sorry when they saw my close-up photos of the Royal family later. It was such a ‘hoot’ of a day. Whilst you wait for the main even there are parades going by and the Bobbies keep you entertained as they line the route. Then when the Queen Mother with Prince Charles drove by in their open carriage, I called out “Happy birthday ma’am” and I am sure she looked straight at me!
Anyway back to Lulu’s list of things to do in London, first the Tate gallery, next the British Museum and of course I just had to go to see the Greek exhibition housing the Parthenon Sculptures (Elgin marbles). These were all the panels brought back from the Parthenon in Athens, in the early 19th century by Lord Elgin. This is a subject dear to my heart in supporting the move for these beautiful sculptures to be returned to their rightful place in the Athens Museum.*
*Please go to my blogspot to see poem on restoration of Elgin marbles – link on menu on Home Page
We strolled along the Thames and ended up at Sahespeare’s Globe Theatre, the original built in 1599 to house Shakespeare’s plays closed in 1642 and the new one built in 1997 is a marvellous tribute to the old one. It has a fabulous gift shop and I purchased a minted coin which I just can’t find now.
Next stop the War Museums, never boring, absolutely riveting. The Churchill War Rooms really were fascinating, this is where Winston Churchill directed his troops to victory during World War II from this underground warren and the Cabinet War Rooms today are almost exactly those which closed in August 1945. We took the tour through these famous rooms and let me tell you it is a bit claustrophobic and you find yourself keeping an eye out for the green exit sign all the time, expecting a bomb to drop. The Churchill museum was next with its interactive showcase of the great man’s life.
Then off to the theatre to West End to the Prince of Wales theatre to see “Mamma Mia” the musical, what fun, everyone up bopping away in the aisles making the old theatre shake to Abba’s music. Funny thing Lulu and I were sitting at an outdoor table at a little restaurant waiting for the theatre to start and walking right by came Jamie Oliver of The Naked Chef TV programme, of course one could not hold back the remark “Oh Jamie you’ve got your clothes on tonight” which just got a cheeky grimace back.
As there was a strike on when we were there we had to walk just about everywhere so we did miles and miles up and down Oxford and Paddington Streets and simply everywhere.
Just warmed up, now we are off to Paris,(France of course). Cȇst la vie Mon amie. Lulu got her list out again the minute we got off the plane, we were off and running. First on the list the Tuileries gardens first opened to the public in 1657, situated between the Louvre and Place de Concorde. A beautiful big park housing Musȅe de L’Orangie at the west end of the garden close to the River Seine. Built in 1852, but important today as it has some of Claude Monet’s (my favourite French Impressionist) paintings in his series of Water Lilies. It also has four of Rodin’s sculptures. I like his Le Penseur ‘The Thinker’ in the park.
Next on the list the Musȅe d’Orsay, well I could spend weeks in this magnificent art gallery my favourite I must say, more so than the Louvre.
It is on the left bank and on the River Seine opposite the Tuileries (above) and is an old railway station the Gare d’Orsay, which seems to be the story with many British and European famous places.
When you walk into a famous gallery such as the Musȅe d’Orsay and you come face to face with your favourite paintings it can only be compared to seeing a very dear friend for the first time in a very long time. And so it was when I met up with Paul Gauguin’s bright Tahitian ‘Arearea’, Edgar Degas ‘The Ballet Class’, a Manet, and Renoir’s ‘Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette’, Van Gough’s ‘Bedroom in Arles’ self- portrait and lovely ‘Starry night’ my favourite of his. Then bump into Cezanne’s ‘Still life onions’ you can almost smell them, and just around the corner you glimpse ‘Whistler’s mother’ nearly orgasmic to then walk into the Monet section.
Actually, I think if you blind-folded me as I entered the entrance of the Musȅe, I could tell you where I was. So entrenched in my brain did that glorious gallery become. And so I walk up through the sculptures in the Opera room, take a left up the stairs to the upper level coming to Gallery 39 just to whet your appetite Monet’s Water Lilies and garden. Then go through to Gallery 36 Cezanne’s still lifes, through to Gallery 35 the Van Goghs’, Gallery 34 Monet’s Rouen Cathedral ‘Poppies’,and ‘Study of a figure in open air, woman holding umbrella) Renoir 1880’s and 1890’s to Gallery 32 more Monet’s (the confrontational Saint-Lazare Railway station and Renoirs’ and more favourite artists Pissarro his ‘Village of Voisins’ and Sisley’s lovely works, and then wind down to Gallery31 Degas and Manet. Bliss.
Lulu and I had a mission, to find the hotel Esmeralda on the Left Bank, about the girl with the hotel cat from the story “Linnea in Monet’s Garden”. So two big heel blisters later, every little back street in Paris, and guess what we found the Hotel Esmeralda, after following the directions to first find the park opposite. Then you wouldn’t want to know, we took a peak through the glass front door, and there was the same staircase in the book and A CAT sitting on the bottom step. Well there was the CAT fancy that, but probably not the same cat.
Whilst we were searching for Hotel Esmeralda we stumbled upon a few other little treasures, one being the Shakespeare and company bookshop, which just beckons you come in. It is a delight to the avid reader and is a mumble jumble of books and old book shelves without parallel.
It is on the Rue de la Bucherie across from the Notre Dame Cathedral if you are looking for it. It has new and second hand books and is also a reading library if you can find a little nook. It was frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Lawrence Durrell, in years gone by.
Also not far from there Aux troi Mallaiz – 56 rue Galande (the three mallets roughly translated) on the left bank in Paris. We only stumbled upon it because sitting outside on rusty uncomfortable chairs in the pleasant evening, we could not work out where people were disappearing inside, till we followed the stairs downwards and the sound of jazz music and there it was like a cave. It was so good we went there a second night. Getting back to our hotel was something else as taxi’s do not just pick up passengers on the street, so it was a 10km walk through the darkened streets of Paris, and many blisters later.
We did a lot of things with Globus also as a group for instance going up the Eiffel tower again, third time lucky. You can never be blaze about it though because Mr Gustave Eiffel sure gave us all an eyeful. It is such an enduring piece of structural genius the shape of which is not able to be replicated anywhere in the world, they have tried like the Tokyo Tower but not the same. At 324 metres in height it is still the tallest building in Paris. Even though it was built in 1889, 124 years ago it still holds the same amazing drawcard, even though originally some Parisians objected to it when put up for its World’s Fair, but funny thing that, as soon as the rest of the world decided they liked it, it they then the French adopted it as a revered icon
The group spent a lovely evening on a dinner cruise of the Seine, and we went to Giverny to visit Claude Monet’s gardens, which have to be apart from Butchart gardens Vancouver island and Tivoli Gardens Italy have to be the best in the world.
No wonder Monet painted such splendid works to be living surrounded by such beauty and of course the light there is so soft as in most of Europe, and of course Monet was titled the ‘master of light’. There is a preponderance of colour and profusion of gorgeous hues emanating from every corner of this fabulous garden and with the soft mushroom colour of the house highlighted by green shutters in the background, is just a painting in itself.
Just like Monet’s famous Water Lily collection, when you walk around the lake with the weeping willows and bamboo and flowering water lilies you wonder what came first the painting or the garden. Of course the gardens were Monet’s inspiration even though a railway station for example St-Lazare could inspire him, or Cathedral as in Rouen.
Of course I could not afford to purchase one of Monet’s paintings so when I got home I had a try at painting one for myself as a reminder of this most beautiful place, and of such a wonderful experience that was given us by the Globus company who looked after us so well.
Thankyou Globus and Stewart Williams for looking after us so well.
GLOBUS IRELAND INCENTIVE SEPT 2001
I was very lucky to be chosen for the second year in a row to go on the Globus incentive tour to Ireland. Globus really know how to treat their leading travel agents well, doing different things rather than hotel inspections.
I recall that we were supposed to fly via Europe to Ireland, but because of a problem with the aircraft we were due to fly out on and it being delayed for 24 hours. Fortunately we had the Irish Tourist Board and Aer Lingus representative with us jumping into action and had us fly on the next plane to Ireland via the USA, This meant going via Los Angeles to New York, and from New York to Shannon Ireland, and did not seem to take much longer going that way, and this added to another trip to the USA!
Because we arrived in Shannon instead of Dublin our itinerary was slightly changed so we travelled by coach up past the Rock of Cashel to see Ballykissangel the cute little town where the TV series of the same name was made on the way to Dublin
Stayed at Dublin at the Glandore Hotel for two nights. From here we did our highlight dinner at Malahide Castle sponsored by Irish Tourism Board.
The chief guest was the Australian Ambassador for Ireland, former Speaker for the Upper House (Senate) in Canberra Mr. Bob Halverson and his wife. We were piped into the dinner, and were treated like royalty to a grand Knight, oops I mean night (Knight would have been grand)
We went to Killarney, and Muckross House. Whilst staying at the Riverside Hotel in Killarney, a strange thing happened in the middle of the night. My room mate Louise Carruthers woke me up and said “HIT THE FLOOR” of course my immediate reaction was to look out the window to see why and to hear gun shots, and a person fall off the 3 story roof. Well then I did hit the floor and we stayed there till dawn when we looked out again there was an ambulance in the car park and someone was taken away in the shadowy dawn. Who knows what, or who, it wasn’t any of our Globus group, thank goodness. And none of them saw or heard anything. Strange things that go bump in the night in Ireland. Every time I got up enough courage to look out the window, Lulu would say “hit the floor” again. Every time I see her now or get an email from her, she says “hit the floor” ha ha. Just as well it wasn’t Limerick, or I would have to write a limerick!
We travelled around the Ring of Kerry and in addition which is not always on an Irish itinerary, the Dingle Peninsular which is really lovely. We were told quite a few film stars and VIP’s have a home here. It was here that I asked if I could stop for a swim. The coach driver asked if I was for real, as the water was cold enough to kill you instantly. No, it was just for the ‘craic’.
After going to kiss the Blarney stone we had another grand night at Bunrattly castle for a medieval banquet which was quite sumptuous with Irish entertainment and waiters dressed in medieval costume, all very authentic.
We also had a very extensive tour of the Waterford Crystal factory, where it was hand’s on to volunteers that wanted to have a go at making Waterford crystal, so I helped do a piece. I wonder who got that trophy? We were all given a gift of a Waterford crystal letter opener.
Once again a very memorable trip thankyou Stewart Williams Managing Director for Australasia and Globus.
WALTZING IN VIENNA 1998 WITH ATO
This had to be one of the best organized overseas travel functions I have had the privilege to attend, with all due thanks to the Austrian National Tourist Office, Adventure World and Lauda air Every facet was extremely well thought out, with the best inclusions possible.
Flights were fabulous with Lauda-air on their new 777 service, meet and transfer extremely efficient, with the fastest customs arrival procedure of any country in the world. The Vienna Hilton was a great venue for accommodation and conference facilities, as well as being a wonderful position to walk into the city, or the park or just for a cup of coffee. The inclusions were so well planned and memorable, each night in Vienna a treat, with the two traditional nights and the Grand Ball at the Palace. The meals offered at all of the places which included breakfasts, lunches and dinners were sumptuous to say the least. What is the German word for diet?
We were indeed fortunate to be flown at a super fast rate in a brand new 777 by that great racing man in the sky himself, Nicky Lauda on our way from Sydney to Vienna. Yes he was our pilot as far as Kuala Lumpur on our National Austrian Tourist Academy visit, on our journey to learn all about the wonderful things that Austria has to offer.
Lauda air’s flight attendants stand out for the non uniform in the form of denim jeans, RM Williams, red vests, red spotted blouses, and red base-ball caps. This has to be the best in-flight entertainment available on any international aircraft. With 12 non-stop video programmes, bringing you up, with all the latest movies, 16 audio stations, a flying casino where a choice of 8 Casino games are available on credit card, you can join the smile high when you go broke in the sky club. Call back home on satellite to let them know you’ve just lost the farm. – local calls between passengers on board seat to seat, which means as soon as you see your friends settle in to sleep, give them a call. A fabulous innovation is the pilot’s eye or bird’s eye viewing on your personal screen. Watch yourself crash! There is Nicky’s Kids Club for youngsters, if you’ve been good enough to take the grandkids with you, as well as PC games. Duty Free shopping, get your Christmas presents early, without wearing out any shoe leather, and the cuisine was extra special prepared menus by top restaurant ‘Do & Co’, all beautifully presented on triangular shaped china, not a square meal on board, and in first class they have Sky Chef, no Bombe Alaska though, just in case. The drinks selection was excellent, and cool drinks were offered frequently on board, just to water down the alcoholic beverages.
Vienna Airport was very impressive, clean, with fast check-in and custom clearance, only one hour is required to connect through to other ports. There are 54 specialty shops ncluding ‘Harrods’ in the airport terminal, so shop till you drop there, and on exit, get rid of those remaining schillings.
Americans tend to get Austria and Australia mixed up, for no other reason than the first five letters, which is a great pity, because they are so entirely different in landscape and culture, and every other little geographical facet. It is a fascinating country that has seen civilization for a lot longer than has ours. And we were to witness the beautiful heritage of buildings from a time gone by, long before Australia was even discovered.
The city of Vienna, is a delight to the eye. Very elegant, and if one were comparing it to a lady, one would call it a graceful, elegant lady, in the same manner that you might describe Paris as a saucy wench and Amsterdam as a steamy siren, and London as a grey and boring dame. This captivating elegance in Vienna has been created by careful planning of the aesthetic buildings encircled by the pulsating Ringstrasse, St. Stephen’s Cathedral as its heart, Stadt-park and Rathaus-park breathing life into it, and of course, blessed with the beautiful Danube as its life-blood. Although not blue like the unofficial Austrian anthem says, it never-the-less is very lovely, especially when the wind whips playful ripples under the bridges, up its course to turn the silver poplar leaves on its banks up-turned to white. Along its banks are very elegant and colourful apartments.
One could say that it was the great Apple Strudel eating tour, and on my 27th piece, I decided they were all good. But there is much more to Austria than Apple Strudel and Schnitzel and noodles and dumplings, because these are just a few of my favourite things! The list is endless.
Firstly the people are very friendly and smiling in the street. Very well dressed in their winter finery with beautiful faces that turn the head. They wear the cold very well.
I had heard of the “ring road” before, the Ringstrasse, this wide avenue, but nothing prepared me, for the showcase it led the traveller to see. The State Opera House, the Museum of Fine Arts housing that fabulous collection of Flemish artist Bruegel the Elder and Bruegel the Younger’s depictive paintings. Also the National Theatre, City Hall, University, Parliament, Museum of Natural History, all magnificent in stately structural significance, of such elegant design. It is a place where Bad is good.
The Museums are many and varied and a culture addict’s paradise. From the Historical to Military History, from the Jewish Museum to Sigmund Freud, from Kitsch if you were a 50’s freak to Kunstforum but is a private collection stored in the Bank Austria including works by Monet, Picasso, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne, Chagall etc. But then there is the Kunsthalle as well, and the KunstHaus which is a bit of a worry!
Shopping venues are just great off the Ringstrasse as well in the Galerien, and one place I would have dearly loved to have been ‘let loose’ in was Graben in the Old City, and to potter in Kohlmarkt and Karntner Strasse.
We discovered these fleetingly on our fun
quest to “Conquer Vienna” by finding designated places pinpointed on the map, and collecting proof of discovery. Such fun things were making Apple Strudel along with the Chefs in the kitchen of the Hotel Imperial one of the Luxury Collection, finding the statue of Johann Strauss in Stadt-park and saluting him with champagne, counting the steps to the tower of St. Stephens, finding the steps of the State Opera House, learning the Minuet in a 9th century court-yard, and learning the facts behind such riveting traditions of receiving a glass of water with a teaspoon perched on top with each cup of Melange (Austrian coffee). Now if you are a music-lover, you then become a lover of Vienna, Because the sounds of the most beautiful pieces written by the most prolific composers in history pour forth from every shop, archway, venue possible. Of course the State Opera House is home to the greatest conductors, musicians and singers, and just four nights prior to our arrival, Pavarotti had visited and sung. Between November and March seven world class Operas will be staged at the Volksoper.
All the rage, and on everyone’ s lips is the Musical “Elizabeth” at Theatre an der Wien. This is all about the beloved Empress, wife of Franz Josef whose life and lifetime 100 years ago is being drawn in parallel to that of the tragic Princess Dianna, the similarities are quite uncanny. It is 100 years since her assassination on the 10th September, 1998. There is also an Operetta called “Sissi” in honour of Empress Elizabeth, at the Schonbrunn Theatre. Elizabeth was a woman ‘before her time’ refusing to be a traditional monarch’s wife, she was an excellent rider, and even had her own gymnasium at the Palace.
And then we have all the Festivals, of course there is the Mozart Festival ’97,Vienna Spring Festival, Jazz Festival, the 15th Vienna Schubertiade, this year celebrating 200 years since the birt of Franz Schubert who left us a legacy of over 1,000 pieces. If you are not into the masters, then there is even a Wien Modern Festival.
1998 sees the 500th Anniversary of the Vienna Boys’ Choir founded by Maximillian I in 1498 and 1999 the centenary of Johann Strauss’ death which has already set in motion plans for performances to honour the “Waltz King”.
One of the best ways to get around and see Vienna is with the ‘Vienna Card’. This way you can board a tram or underground or bus, to get to see all of the treasures available. It also gets you a cheaper fare from the airport, which is not cheap, if not included as a transfer in a package. It lasts 72 hours, so go, go, go, visit all those museums I have just mentioned and for a bit of nostalgia, do not forget the Giant Ferris Wheel, which featured in ‘The Third Man’. That movie I recall being dragged as a child into a picture theatre in Adelaide by my mother to see, and all I can remember is “Da, da, da, da da da-dum, Da, da, da, da, da da -dum” the haunting theme for Harry Lime.
One of the most magic times to visit Vienna, must be during Advent, when all the Christmas trappings are visibly displayed everywhere, amongst trees, in parks, on buildings, with Christmas markets already being set up in early November. And if there for Christmas, why not stay on for the grand event of the year at the Imperial Ball in the Imperial Palace.
We just tasted a little glimpse of the sumptuousness and atmosphere provided at the Pallavicini Palace, with a most delightful meal served by waiters in period costume, announced courses in grand style, and of course, a band playing Viennese Waltzes that had everyone going one, two three, one, two three and sometimes coming up with four or more. It was one of those nights for lady’s choices, and on one occasion on asking I was told “shit no”, but on persistent asking yielded a positive response from an Aussie Ocker, who could actually waltz thanks to a good Catholic school up-bringing.
Actually I enjoyed the warmth (once inside) and hospitality provided on our first night at the famous ‘Marchfelderhof’ restaurant in Lower Austria, which just had a beautiful traditional Viennese feel about it. We were told, such ‘celebs’ as Sophia Loren, and Elizabeth Taylor had dined there in years gone by. The meal was superb, and the entertainment just memorable from a red-blooded Hungarian violinist, to a lovely Operatic duet, to even a whistler who made the “Hot Canary” sing with pursed lips that resembled an over-hot canary, I was uncomfortably close enough to see right down the warbler’s throat. We were greeted prior to going in, with a loud bang from a guard of honour’s firing rifles, etc, and Oompahpah band just to set the climate for the evening. Although talking climate, it was cold enough outside to freeze the buttons off a brass trombone!
Now the Schonbrunn Palace, summer residence of the Imperial family, has to be seen to get the ‘full picture’. Photos do not do it justice, because from gaining access past the very regal facade from the front entrance, you are not really prepared for the impact of the vista of the palace from the rear looking over its manicured gardens and layout to the mirror like image of a ghostly apparition on the hill in the distance representing the mere shell of an embryonic palace.
This is the very soul of the place, what is and what nearly was. It is quite emotionally stirring to stand in awe of the magnitude of the architectural masterpieces, right down to the statues in the garden. The very enigmatic ‘menage de trois’ so flowingly graceful looking over the scene, I am sure has a story to tell.
The real attraction of Vienna, is that it has not been modernised with high rise buildings and stays complete and true to its past centuries. I do not mind the Haas Haus opposite St. Stephen’s, as it is such a stark contrast to the Gothic, and other fine buildings, as to accentuate and reflect their elegance. Also the bizarre buildings created by Hundertwasser, his KunstHausWien, against the somewhat austere suburban dwellings.
I wished I had had more time to take a fiacre ride, in a horse-drawn carriage through the old city to take in all the sights, just like in the imperial days. Also would like to spend more time in Lower Austria which appeared to be very beautiful – next time in Vienna, a good excuse to go back, and as you may have ascertained by now, I do not need much of an excuse.
After a full day of work-shops was completed, about Austria, we were told we were now ACTS which is Austrian Certified Travel Specialists, which is just great, because John has been trying to get me Certified for years!
Following the convention, we had a choice of Tyrol or a tour to Graz, I took the Tirol, either spelling will do, both are used, as had not been to that region before, and had not travelled by train in Europe previously. This is a very comfortable way to travel between cities and countries, and a great way to see the scenery which is sometimes missed by coach on the autobahns. This I had been told by lots of returning clients. By the way we never did find that place Ausfaht!
There were six people to a train car, with a passageway linking all to the refreshment/dining car. Personal bar service by a Woody Allen look-a-like who brought “de vine” right to the car, and said “sanks” an awful lot was a highlight. A little added drama too, with a ‘dotty damsel’ who had boarded our car to use the toilet, she said she had just travelled from Bangkok to Vienna in an aircraft toilet, and was going to toilet it all the way to Rome. She made sure she kept her toilet to herself, as she declared it ‘un safe’ even with a red light to warn she had some incurable disease. One way to get free travel on the system, or should I say cystern!
The Hotel Europa was a delightful five star hotel right across from the Innsbruck railway station, which we could just walk to carrying our carry-ons, and the hotel staff brought the luggage across. It was a thrill to open the hotel bedroom shutters and see the height of those magnificent Tyrolean Alps, with just a smidgen of snow on top, like icing sugar, and then to wake up next morning to see a dumping just for our benefit.
The gentlemen on tour advocated selling McCulloch chain saws to twin sharing same sex duos for packages to regional Austria, as those twin beds are mighty cosy!
Umbrella bearing, we did our city tour, the misty rain only enhancing Innsbruck’s intrinsic beauty. We visited the ‘Golden roof’ where Emperor Maximillian 1 had 2000 plus fire-gilt copper tiles embellish the loggia over an oriel window in the year 1500, we then visited the very beautiful Baroque St. Jacob’s Cathedral. The Hofkirche built in 1555 by Ferdinand 1 was very impressive with its centre-piece cenotaph dedicated to Maximilian 1 and the 28 bronze figures standing guard, known as the ‘Black Knights’, must be an eerie sight when only lit by hand held lanterns on religious festival days. We passed by that architectural master-piece, the 15th century Imperial Palace.
A city visit in Innsbruck would not be complete without climbing to the top of the downhill ski run built for the 1964 Winter Olympics which over-looks the portentous cemetery of Wilten Basilica, that beautiful 14th century, ornate rococo style church, with exuberant ceiling paintings. From the ski jump it looks like you will jump right into its dead centre!
In the evening we drove to Wattens to visit Swarovski’s Crystal Worlds. This is a unique venue featuring a wall of crystal 11 metres high and 42 metres long, a crystal dome where one could see thousands of images of one’s self, which is a bit daunting, and which had a strange acoustic effect, and when a flash light was emitted from a camera, it reverberated ten fold. The works by Salvador Dali were impressive. Everyone bought stacks of crystal carvings there.
The next day saw us coaching it up to the alpine areas, and the opening of the ski season at Stubai Glacier. Now, it was here that about 15 of us managed to escape the clutches of Tirolean lass Katja, by unknowingly catching the wrong coloured lifts to the 2,900 metre Eisgrat mountain station rather than the lower station where we were meant to have free ski lessons, which I have been told, you are never too old, if you don’t get lost on the mountain first. One ski instructor said he could have had me skiing had I turned up for the first ever lesson, he had taught an 80 year old before, who at 89 was still ski-ing there every year.
Anyway we went right to the top of glass! It was just a little daunting on the home run when the cabin lifts stopped three times in blizzard conditions and swung perilously back and forth for minutes that felt like hours in the eerie silence. An amplified message in German, obviously calling everyone in off the slopes, did not help whilst hanging helplessly suspended. To pass the time and not look out and down from the suspended cable car, we drew a picture on Russell Jahn’s head!
There were literally thousands of skiers on the slopes that day, being “Kings Weekend” (‘Kongingswochenende’) where free activities were offered, this made it very tight squeezes, and lengthy cueing on the slopes and for the lifts which did not make the sport of skiing look enticing. We spoke to some young people who had travelled up from Germany, taking 12 hours by road just to make this ski weekend. About 20 of our group actually hit the slopes in one form or another. Robyn got her ski caught in Paul’s boot which didn’t paint a pretty picture.
Anyway, once we made it down the slopes safely we headed for the warmth of Harry’s Pub in Neustift for a memorable lunch of venison goulash and of course the mandatory apple strudel, washed down by the most enormous jugs of local beer.
Then off to what promised to be a real highlight, the place where ‘the hills are alive, with the sound of….” Salzburg. This lovely city did not disappoint, and is a real fairy-tale of a place just like in that movie made immortal by Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer and the Von Trapps and those lyrics that just happen to issue forth from every-one’s lips all the time whilst in this lovely city. You just can’t help singing “How do you solve a problem like Maria” whilst walking in the Old City past St. Peter’s Abbey, and “These are a few of my favourite things” as you stroll down Getreidegasse, that lovely street with decorative shops, “I am sixteen going on seventeen” when we see the actual gazebo used in the film, in Hellbrunn Palace gardens. And of course “Something good” got an airing. So what a treat
it was to visit the Augustine Brewery for the “Sound of Music” dinner show in an olde-time hall, and join along with “Doe a deer, a female deer”. The five singers really made the show come alive. It must have been the magic elements of those mountains, because someone actually remarked I have a nice voice, which is a first, believe me. I should have got it in writing!
You cannot quite envisage what a visit to a salt mine would be like. After all we do say “off to the salt mines in Siberia” when we wish someone ‘to hell’. So it was quite a pleasant contradiction, after driving to Hallein Salt Mines, to slide in twos’ in our white miner’s gear, down the wooden slides once used by salt miners to take them to work, complete with splinters in the bottom. Down into an under-world area, quite clean and easy to breath in, good for asthmatics and was said that the miners there, were a very healthy lot, though one poor fellow suspended in the mine for all time, but well preserved, did not look so healthy. There is even a museum down below, approached on a unique raft trip on a subterranean lake choreographed to aesthetic music.
These salt mines were very important and of course, where Salzburg got its name. Such sayings as “salt of the earth” spring to mind. Salt was the all important element necessitous for the preservation of food-stuffs back in the era pre-refrigeration. It was much sought after, and exported all over the world. It was run by the Archbishops and funds went to Hohensalsburg Fortress for dispensing. The fact that these mines run right through the Austrian German border, must have had worrying political implications during the war years.
A walk through Salzburg, is a very romantic expedition, passing the Fortress constructed in 1077, which perches ominously from every aspect, and engenders a dramatic back-drop throughout, especially as you walk through the cemetery with its mystical wrought iron gates of the church of St. Peter with its two magnificent spires. This is where the von Trapp children were purported to have hid from the Nazi soldiers. Past the Residenz Fountain and The Residenz to the magnificent Salzburg Cathedral, which was begun in the 1500’s and had reconstructions throughout the ensuing centuries owing to fires and bombings. It has a lovely ‘open’ feel about it with its plain glass windows, and early baroque style.
Through Mozart square situated in the centre of the city, with a characteristic memorial, even though there is no photograph or painting from which to gauge the true effigy of Mozart himself. Mozart’s birthplace, where in No.9 Getreidegasse Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on 27 January, 1756.
In the afternoon we were treated to a reception at Leopoldskron Palace built in the 19th century and featured in “S of M” and has been converted into a conference and seminar location, with 56 bedrooms. We inspected the magnificent Marble Hall, ornately decorated Venetian room and well-stocked welcoming Library. The ambience of a time gone by, still lingers on.
The evening was to be one of the prominent events of the tour, with the promise of dinner at one of the oldest restaurants in the world St. Peter Stiftskeller dating back to 803. And a highlight it was, with a most elegantly served meal in the Baroque Hall, serenaded by a seductive quintet playing Mozart’s most popular compositions. As if this was’nt enough, we were then whisked away to Klessheim Palace on the outskirts of Salzburg now housing a very glamorous Casino. Some of our party won, but most just enjoyed playing roulette amongst locals and chancing our luck, and enjoying the majesty of the building.
So, this was a fitting finish to our very event-filled week in Austria, what a week to remember. There is a great need to return to Austria to do the things one did not get to do. Yes, even after all these fabulous inclusions there is still more to see in this most beautiful, beckoning country.
Oh! to go back walking through Salzburg’s alpine pathways, or dance at Vienna’s New Year’s Eve Grand Ball, or visit the Spanish Riding School, or go to see Musicals like ‘Elizabeth’ and ‘Sissi’, or go on a romantic fiacre ride around those beautiful Viennese strasses, or stroll around the gardens of the Schonbrunn again.
Thankyou Adventure World and Austrian Tourism Office for this unforgettable experience.
GEOFF PHILLIPS TRAFALGAR TOUR FRANKFURT TO ROME VIA EASTERN EUROPE – 19 IN GROUP
Aug- Sept. 2002
This tour took place right at the height of the eastern and central Europe floods and on 14th August the death toll had risen to at least 87, with tens of thousands of people forced to flee the rising waters. Rescue operations were operational in the Czech Republic, Germany, Russia and Romania, as muddy, stinking floodwater lapped through historic towns and city centres, right where our tour was to travel in the coming week. Especially where the two big rivers the Danube and the Elbe met. Even the Salzburg festival was threatened. At one stage it was a worry that our tour would not be able to go ahead but fortunately was able to with some adjustments to the intinerary. Some things had to be curtailed owing to the floods.
This excellent Report submitted by Pat Hall who travelled with Heather part of Tour Group lead by Geoff Philips WIN TV Wollongong newsreader & prepared by Colleen Woodward at Mediterranean Holidays & Tours office then in Cowra. This group was the first of many that Geoff did in conjunction with myself. It also proved that even with conditions that nature throws our way every so often, that with due process, a planned tour can go ahead rather than be postponed.
Wed 14 Aug. Sydney to Singapore.
Thu 15th Aug. Singapore. Hot 33c Stayed at Concorde Hotel – lovely but expensive – took us a while to workout how to use the shower and toilet. Went on a tour of the city in morning – this included Botanical Gardens and Orchid Gardens, well worth seeing. Heather and I took a taxi to China Town then walked and walked to the Raffles Hotel for a look and a Gin Sling, then a taxi to shopping centre for a Japanese meal. Left at 8 pm for Airport and flight to Frankfurt. Left 11.20pm on Boeing 704 Mega Top.
Fri 16th Aug. Frankfurt, Germany. Hot approx.30c On flight over, we had a strong head wind over Bay of Bengal, therefore trip took 13 hours and we arrived at 7.30am. Met Tour Guide, Terry Deane at Airport and boarded Trafalgar Coach with Mario as driver and proceeded to our Hotel –What a shock that was—scaffolding and workers everywhere and to our eyes, no hotel, but behind all this was a surprisingly decent hotel but very noisy during the day. Taken on a tour to Frankfurt for lunch and a look through town and Cathedral, 1st built in 780 AD and parts added through later years. Back to Hotel for a swim, welcome drink and dinner.
Sat 17th Aug. Frankfurt to Prague. Czech Rep. Hot 33c 7.30am departure for Prague. Stopped at Nuremberg Old Town to look at Town Square Memorial Statue, Cathedral and Fruit Markets. Local fruit and vegies are very good. Road closed around court house where Nuremburg trials took place so could not go there. Continued to Czech border. Arrived 12.30pm. It took over an hour to get through. Saw some lovely old castles and forts on the way – from a distance. Terry, the guide, uses the expression ‘Ricky Dicky’ quite a lot – think it means ‘not quite right’. We crossed the border at Waidhaus, a small crossing near Pilsen on the way to Prague, not the main border, to avoid the traffic and hours of waiting.
Sun 18th Aug. Prague. Hot & Humid. Left Hotel Movenpick at 9am for sightseeing tour of Prague and Hrodcony Castle then a 3hr walk around the old city to the flooded river and St Vitus Cathedral and Old Town Square. Could not visit Bohemian Crystal Factorybecause it had been flooded and was closed. My lunch was an ice cream cone at Big Mac. We were informed that the Metro System will not be working for at least 12 months because of the floods, therefore a lot of traffic on roads as we left the city.
Mon 19th Aug. Prague to Krakow, Poland,. Hot & Humid. Left Hotel 7.30am to travel to Krakow via Brno, through large dark forests of pine and fir trees, and some cottonwood trees. This area has a larger farming system than Germany which, in the part we were in, had small rotation farming. After Brno there was larger rotation farming, mainly sugar beet and corn. Not much scenery as large trees are growing on each side of the road and where there are no trees, there are fences to keep out the noise (or so tourists can’t see in!)
Anyway, a good time to catch up on some sleep. Toilets in Czech Rep – if one sits too long, one gets a very wet bum, they flush automatically. Crossed border to Poland at Ciezyn. Poland is pretty much the same as Czech Republic except that the houses are newer and more stock can be seen in the fields – sheep, goats, cattle, but in small numbers. Every entry to a big city is marked by the high-rise accommodation blocks, they look very run down and cramped. Passed through Pope John Paul II home town of Wadowice at the same time that he was visiting his brother’s house. The roads were blocked and thousands of people were about, all carrying yellow ribbons or scarves. We had to go to Krakow via back roads and it delayed us about 4 hrs. Saw farmers using horse drawn carts and old fashioned farming methods – all the family out harvesting- like stepping back in time. By the look on their faces, they had never seen a tour bus on their narrow roads before. We got lost a couple of times but finally found the right hotel. Too late for sightseeing so had dinner at hotel and went for a walk, but found that there was no where to go. Novotel Hotel is well out of town.
Tue 20th Aug. Krakow, Poland. Approx 30c Today we had a tour through the old town and the castle and cathedral on Wawel Hill (outside only) in the morning. Afternoon was a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Seeing these Concentration Camps was a very stark and awakening feeling, seeing them made the stories that I’ve read more real and horrible. I think the area is a must for as many as possible to visit and realise the truth of what happened there, it should not be forgotten – the trouble is, the people who need to remember are not the ones who are. In 1940 the Nazis cleared an area of 40kms around the camps and declared it a special area to keep the camps a secret. To see the buildings, cells, photos, stacks of shoes, cloths, suitcases is horrifying but to see all the bundles of hair brought me to the reality that they were real people who suffered all this.
Wed 21st Aug. Krakow to Bratislava, Slovakia. Hot Left Hotel Krakow 8.30am, reached border 10.30am. We had a long wait, it took over 1 hour to get through – as it was a long time since breakfast, we were relieved to see a large W.C. sign on the side of a building. On following the arrow we discovered that it pointed to the trees – OK for the men, I guess – I waited as the bush was not real thick and there were a good few people waiting and watching. This is one of the only areas left that still have storks around. Storks are as bad as Osprey with nest building, but there are not as many of them. Travelling to Bratislava we passed 3 very large and old castles built in the 1st to 12th century and ruins of some much earlier. More open fields on the way, not small hand worked one of previous days. At Bratislava Heather and I climbed to the Castle from the Hotel, a very steep climb, and walked around the walls, The Hotel was the Danube Hotel and after dinner we had a lovely walk beside the River of that name.
Thu 22nd Aug. Bratislava to Budapest. Hungary. Hot and overcast. Left Bratislava 7.30am. Because of flood damage to the road we could not take the side road along the river and had to take main highway to border. It was the first time a tourist bus travelled that way. Nearing the border there was a line up of Semi-trailers for at least 5kms each side of the 3 crossings. There were 16 gates and only 1 open, with a lot of guards and workers standing around but not many working.
Fri 23rd Aug. Budapest. Hungary. Hot and cloudy. Had tour of Budapest to see Parliament House which has 27 large staircases and is the 2nd largest Parliament in the world. Building is 100mtrs wide and 200mtrs long and was opened in 1904. We also went to a small local village called St. Andrew. Budapest was part of the Roman Empire for 400 years, therefore has lots of Roman ruins, aquaducts, traders houses and forums. At St. Andrew we helped cook goulash at a small restaurant and had a traditional meal with apricot brandy & red and white wine. We had dinner at a high class Gypsy restaurant, I had Goose – very tender and tasty but the others said it was very dry and tough – guess I was lucky. We then went on a night cruise on the Denube to see the city lights. We were on the first boat out since the floods – lucky again. Free drinks were served on the boat. It was a lovely atmosphere – sitting on the top deck, drinking wine and watching the beautiful city buildings, which were flood lit, drift by. I’m glad we didn’t miss it because of the floods.
Sat 24th Aug. Budapest to Lake Bled. Slavinia. Hot Left hotel Novotel Budapest Congress at 7.30am. Rooms were small and food not the best. Crossed 2 borders today, to Slavinia via Croatia. Lovely gardens and facilities at both and a lot quicker service. Slavinia is a lovely country, mountains all around and growing hops and maize corn for oil. We travelled around Lluljana to Lake Bled, which is a beautiful place – a lot like Lake Louise in Canada but with a castle on a big rock in the middle and a church on a small island nearby, lots of row boats and a small roadway all around the lake. On one side was a hill with an old church, the inside of which was covered with murals, we attended half a Mass but could not stay for the end. After dinner we went for a walk to the lake and listened to music and watched dancing at local cafes. We all would have liked to spend more time at this lovely spot.
Sun 25th Aug. Lake Bled to Salzburg. Austria. Hot Left the Park Hotel, Bled for Salzburg at 7.30am. Crossed border to Austria via a tunnel nearly 8km long through very mountainous country. Saw a bit of snow on Alps near Salzburg. Stayed at Radisson Airport Centre Hotel.
Mon 26th Aug. Salzburg to St. Moritz. Switzerland. Hot, over 30c. Had a quick tour around Salzburg then continued to St. Moritz via Innsbruck. Country is all green, soft hills with Simmitel Cattle – mainly milking cows and some calves. The houses are well kept and clean looking from the outside. All 2 and 3 stories with living quarters at one end, made of stone, and stock at the other end, made of wood and fodder on top of them, all attached as one building. Travelled along River Inn to Innsbruck. River is green because of Copper Sulphate from nearby mountains. Had lunch at Londeck, a road junction to St. Moritz via Fluela Pass, a very windy narrow road beside the River Inn. Took photos of some lovely scenes and river after crossing Swiss border. Passed a golf course near a ski resort village 2kms from St. Moritz. A tiny bit of snow on mountains. With the river through the village and many small chalets, it would be beautiful in winter. A lovely entry to St. Moritz via a large lake. We arrived late afternoon so didn’t have much time for sightseeing. Hotel was old hunting lodge and had stuffed heads, bears and small animals everywhere, very interesting.
Tue 27th Aug. St. Moritz to Interlaken. Switzerland. Warm. Clouds over mountains. Not very impressed with St. Moritz, it’s just a small, old town on the side of a steep hill beside a lake and very expensive. A typical ski resort for the rich. From there we travelled via the Glacier Express to Andamatt – One of the world’s great rail journeys and a great feat of engineering. There were some lovely views, it would be much better with snow around but still a trip not to be missed. The train travels over very steep mountains, across Swiss Alps and has to change engines at one stage to rack and pinion type engine and use cogs to descend from mountain top to Andamatt. We saw no glaciers while on the Glacier Express. After leaving the train at Andamatt we travelled by bus through Sustern Pass, very sharp hairpin bends – not a good road for buses. Stopped at Rhon Glacier for photos. Passing a green (Copper Sulphate) lake on the right we continued onto Interlaken. Stayed at Hotel Metropole.
Wed 28th Aug. Interlaken to Geneva. Switzerland. Overcast Some rain in morning as we left beautiful Interlaken at 8am. Most of the houses were old Swiss style made of wood and flower boxes at each window and most had lovely gardens. Saw lake from hotel window and from road but no time to get near it. Went for a walk along the river last night but too far to lake. We stopped on the way to see the bears of Bern. These bears are kept in a large pit in the centre of town but look healthy and content. The king who founded Bern (Bear in English) named the town after the first animal he killed when he went hunting in the area. There are clouds over the tops of the mountains and a little snow on some. Passed Lake Thun, (named after an ancestor of mine), which is larger then Lake Muringal- Interlaken lies between the two lakes and means “between two lakes”. As with all the roads, fantastic scenery but can’t take photos because too many trees and so far the coach has stopped only twice for photos – Bear Pits at Bern and Rhon Glacier. Had lunch break at old walled city of Murten on Lake Le Man between Bern and Geneva. Countryside is a little different now, rich chocolate soil – better looking and larger crops in Swiss, French section on way to Lausaane and Geneva. On arrival at Geneva we had a tour of city, passed the Reformation Wall built to remember that the reformation in 1719 started in Geneva. Our hotel was well out of town, next to Airport – went for a walk to airport and back before dinner. Ramada Park Hotel. We had dinner at Mt. Saleve in France – we had a coach trip over the border into France then a cable car ride to the top of Mountain (cable car held 50 people) to restaurant for a fondue and drinks. The cable car ride was a bit scary for me as I don’t like heights, but the meal was well worth it. The fondue was everything served raw and we cooked it on a hot tile in the centre of the table. (beef, chook and lots of different vegs.) Some in the group were shocked that we were served canned fruit for sweets.
Thu 29th Aug. Geneva. Switzerland. Hot Went on a boat cruise on Lake Geneva. Saw large chateaus with lovely waterfronts. The lake which is also Lake Le Man is 72kms long, 14kms wide and 310mtrs deep. It is the largest in Europe. After the cruise we returned to Geneva by coach and had time to walk around and have lunch. Hotel was across the road from a very large golf accessory shop so bought a few golf souvenirs.
Fri 30th & Sat 31 Aug. Geneva to Zermatt. Switzerland. Hot. Left Geneva and back tracked towards Lausanne around Lake Le Man. Stopped at a small town of Sion , between lake and very steep hill covered in vineyards, where I had coffee then rang home. This is a wine making district and every space on the hillsides is used to grow grapes. Travelled through St. Bernard Pass towards Zermatt. It was a very steep, narrow and winding road through the pass via St. Nickalus the Tasch, the end of the road – had to park bus and travel to Zermatt by Taxi – there is also a train from Tasch to Zermatt. We had a clear view of the Matahorn in the distance from the road. We had two delightful days and nights at a lovely hotel resort, the Alpen Resort Hotel. It had a spa, sauna, pool with spas and massage sections at various spots around it and scented showers. Zermatt is an old Switz village with a mix of old and new alpine buildings. We went two thirds up the cable car to see the Matahorn but could not go all the way as the top cable car was out of service. We had photos taken with a St. Bernard dog called Elsie, at the middle station.
Sun 1st Sept. Zermatt to Stressa. Italy. Warm, overcast with showers. Left hotel at 8am and after boarding coach at Tasch we frove through the Semplon Pass, 2000mtrs high, on the way from Brig to Tocarno on the road to Stressa on Lake Maggiore. Stayed at Grand Bristol Hotel on the shore of lake, old world with a grand foyer but the rooms were a b it small – a good view of the lake and mountains from the balcony. Went for a ride on a local ferry to three islands, Bella Island has a palace and gardens belonging to the Borremeo family, originator of the modern day banking system and his son was St. Charles Borremeo, a Cardinal from the 1600’s. He died a pauper, giving his riches to the poor.
Mon 2nd Sept. Stressa, Italy. Warm and overcast, Walked around the old town and along the lake. Had swim and spa while the others went on another coach tour to a nearby old town and an island and viewed a giant statue of Cardinal Charles Borremeo. There was a severe storm at night.
Tue 3rd Sept. Stressa Italy. Rain Awoke to another storm then rain set in for the day. Disappointing as we had booked a trip by launch around the lake and to other islands, so we again walked around the old town and had lunch then back to the hotel for a rest, then back to the town for dinner.
Wed 4th Sept. Stressa to Florence. Italy. Warm but overcast. Left Hotel at 8am. On leaving mountains we drove through Po Valley and crossed the River Po – rich small farming and milk producing country. Rice, corn and Lombardy Poplars, used for producing toothpicks and matches, are grown here. Through Tuscany to Florence. We had a tour of Florence old town in the afternoon. Italian farm house complexes are similar to other countries but are much larger, almost a community centre and some have small churches attached. Cattle on one side, hay on one side and people on the other side, like a large U shape. After travelling over the Apennines Mountain Range from Bologna to Florence we passed Marconi’s house near Bologna. Florence is the capital of Tuscany. The main feature is wine, growing grapes with olive growing in Arno River Valley near Florence and on the way to Rome. Went to a country restaurant in the Chainti Hills – local food and music, opera singing and drinks, as much wine as we wanted. It all would have been an extra special night except that it was raining and we had to sit inside and the music, etc,. was much too loud, but it was still a very enjoyable evening although very expensive.
Thu. 5th Sept. Florence to Rome. Italy. Warm and overcast. Left the Hotel Viva Capital at 7.30am and stopped for a view over Florence to take photos but it was very misty. Next stop, Rome. Crops on the way were olives, corn and tobacco. Passed the mountain top village of Assisi, the town of St. Francis. Arrived in Rome at 11.30am. Had a quick lunch and meet a guide at 2pm who took us for a tour of St. Peters in the Vatican (inside the building for a change), then to the Colosseum which was very interesting. We had a farewell dinner at a local restaurant with much wine, flute and guitar playing and singing included. After this we all went to the Trevi Fountain to throw our three coins in the fountain and wished to return someday – it’s worked twice before for me, so here’s hoping. The fountain is worth seeing at night.
Fri.6th Sat 7th Sept. Rome. Italy to Sydney Australia. Left our Rome Hotel at 9am for the Airport and home via Singapore. At Rome airport Heather and I had to wait over one hour at the check in counter. Almost everyone else had gone through and we were still waiting and getting very worried. The reason being, Heather’s Passport did not match with Canberra records, therefore, could not get approval to re-enter the country. This was finally sorted out and as a result of the inconvenience we were given good seats in the plane as far as Singapore, a 12hr trip. We made the plane with 8 minutes to spare. The rest of the group were getting very worried about us. One of the group – Ruth, lost her passport again (for the 4th time on the trip) but lucky for her, it was returned to the information desk. After a comfortable trip from Rome to Singapore – 2hr stopover then a very uncomfortable trip from Singapore to Sydney, 7hrs, we said ‘goodbye’ to the other members, and now friends, of the tour group.