Friday, November 13, 2015

Deconstruction of a shade sail

A few weeks ago, the twins and their Mummie moved to a new apartment, where their shade sail was no longer needed, so TRO was called upon to take it down.

Here is is on the ground ready to be folded up and taken back to Castlemaine where it will find a new home and be loved once more.

Zoe was very interested in the whole procedure, and along the way, learned about chains and shackles 

The pole had been concreted into the ground, but was able to be dug out.

And here is the sail in its new abode, giving very welcome shade at the Willy Milly Chateau.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Thirty two hours traveling

First thing on our last day in Monaco was a swim at Nikki Beach, which is what the pool area on the 7th floor of our hotel is named.    It's just beautiful up here, lots of lounge chairs (most of which were already reserved at 8.30am) couches, tables and chairs etc. 
Not  to mention all the young, handsome men who are bar staff, cleaners and lifeguards...who appeared to be appealing to some older ladies...oh, and I mustn't forget the couple of gorgeous young women who lead people to their chairs!

Of course, like a lot of the hotel, it overlooks the country and the ocean, with all its yachts, boats, water sport vehicles and ocean liners.   Just lovely, and if it wasn't for the very hot sun, I could have spent quite some time there.   The pool is just slightly warmed, and very refreshing.  Alas, we have to pack up and move on though.

Our transport vehicle came at 12.30, and so began our 23 hour journey to arrive home safe and sound at 3 am in the morning.

Three separate flights, which seemed a little easier than one short and one long actually.  I  am promising myself that next time I will ride in the pointy end of the plane, at least for part of the return journey. 

Our lovely holiday is over, what a great way to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, and already I am wondering what we might do for the 51st ???

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Thursday in Nice

Today we took a train to Nice, which was relatively easy after we found a nice French gentleman who just loved Australia to help, us with the ticketing machine.  The station was huge, and he told us to go the middle of the platform.  When the train arrived we realized why.....that is where the train pulled in.

Once we arrived in Nice, we walked through the Main Street to the beach, passing this fountain, and a  water playground on the way.  Both the boys bought a shirt each, and Kath purchased a lovely Desigual bag.  There are lots of shops of course, and many souvenir places to buy as well. 

The beach consisted of large pebbles, but that did not stop people lying on it.  It must have been quite uncomfortable.

After lunch at an Irish pub, we strolled back to the train station for the ride home.  The buildings in Nice are all colored very lightly, and very attractive.  It's a nice town, and we all agreed we would be happy to visit again some time.  

Dinner this evening was at the hotel restaurant, dining outside, and overlooking once again  the Mediterranean Sea. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Flash cars and swimming in the Mediterranean

Maseratis, Aston martins, Ferraris, Range rovers, Porsches, Lamborghinis, BMWs, Mercedes, and Audis.   All the glamourous and mega expensive cars were outside the Monte Carlo casino.  There was a huge crowd looking on and taking photographs, just as we were.  This was our after dinner stroll, following another delicious meal.   

The casino was built in the 1850's , with the plan that the revenue from it would,save the Grimaldi family from bankruptcy.  It it just not a casino, but also houses the theatre of Monte Carlo and the office of the Ballet of Monte Carlo.  To enter and tour it the cost is €10.   We decided to just have a look around the first hall and  not pay the €10 to enter the gaming rooms.     It is a very beautiful building, full of marble.  There was a display from early last century, the Russian Ballet performed there on the day my Mum was born.   I took this photo from the Internet, it would be impossible to get one like this, there are far too many tourists milling around this famous casino. 

Tonight  we ate at the Cafe de Paris, where a hamburger is $30.    TRO enjoyed a delicious flambé creme brûlée for dessert, which as you can see, came out flaming!   Kwong and I had the chicken curry, which we both agreed was the strangest curry we had ever eaten.  It was simply prices of cooked chicken breast with a very light curry sauce over the top.   We decided it was curry French style.  


The first activity this morning was a drive in a Ferrari, taken by TRO.   Sensational was his opinion!    He wasn't allowed to drive in Monaco, so was driven over the border into France for his half hour at the wheel.

Next on the program was  the hop on hop off bus to the top of the Monaco Rock, specifically to watch the changing of the guard at the Palace.   It was worth the wait in the boiling hot sun for twenty minutes to have the first row vantage point.  The crowd was around eight deep, and the selfie sticks were very much in evidence.   The Grimaldi family have reigned in Monaco since the 1600's, when they popped over from Genoa in Tialy,moored of the civil war there apparently.   They dressed as Monks, hiding weapons under the cloaks, and this enabled them  to overpower whoever was in charge at the time, and take over.  End of story, they have been ruling ever since.    This little bit of pomp and ceremony takes place each day at 11.55.  

The hoho bus took us back down the wharf area where we took the boat taxi across the harbour, and then a cruise outside the harbour on a small 12 seater launch.  This gave us some wonderful views of Monaco from the water.

It is an amazing place, just two square kilometers.    We cruised past a couple of ocean liners, and many luxury yachts, as well as para sailers, and jet skiers. 

On return to our hotel, we took a beach pack from the hotel, and headed off to the nearest public beach, enjoying a swim in the cool water of the Mediterranean Sea.

Another busy day, and we were very tired at the end of it.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Perfect weather in Monaco.

True our guides description, the sky was blue today, and the weather perfect.  After a late leisurely breakfast at the hotel, we set off to look for a pharmacy as I needed some supplies to help my ailing body.  After a decent walk, we found one, and then headed back to the shopping centre near our hotel for coffee and lunch at what has become our favourite cafe.

On returning to the hotel, we actually got lost looking for our room.   This hotel is enormous, and as we wandered the corridors, I kept noticing on the doors a sign saying Fairmont Hairpin Bend.   I had no idea what this meant, and was quite puzzled.  At one of these marked doors, we saw a couple who had been on our cruise leaving the room.     They complained that the room faced the street, and was very noisy.  It seemed that they overlooked the Hairpin Bend, which is the most famous part of the Formula 1 racetrack.  The room they had been given was the most expensive to rent during the time of the race. 
In fact, four nights at the Fairmont during the race, in a room like theirs would,cost €40,000 !  If you had a few more spare euros, you could pay between £200,000 and half a million to rent a yatch!

After a resting afternoon, we walked along the promenade to find a nice restaurant to have a delicious dinner in.   This restaurant has its own private beach, where you can rent two lounges, and one umbrella for €45 per day.  That's for the front row chairs, they are a little  cheaper in the back row.

Monaco has the most expensive real estate in the world, it is €65,000 per square meter!   The Maths don't quite work out on this apartment, but I'm reporting to you what our guide told us!

The evening was beautiful, and a nice stroll brought us back to the Fairmont and bed. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Farewell to the Avalon Scenery and hello Monte Carlo.

After our cases had to be outside our rooms at 7 am to be taken to the buses, we were loaded onto buses (ours was the blue one) at 7.45 for our trip to Monte Carlo.  Our journey took us a bit over four hours, so after two hours we stopped at a large roadside service station come shop/cafe for a welcome coffee break.

We followed the old Roman road route to Monte Carlo.  Apparently the Romans made the quickest way possible for their roads, and there were stops, or outposts around every 25 miles, for horse changing, resting etc.   the Romans used these roads to deliver messages to the countries they had conquered.  Our guide told us that the object was to make the conquered people want to be Romans. They did this by incorporating the gods of the conquered with their own Roman gods.   No wonder the Christians would not capitulate to the Romans, and were martyred. 

In the French Riviera, there is sunshine for 300 days per year, and the climate is Mediterranean.   There are lots of palm trees, acacias, and pine trees.  The town of Nice was always part of the "grand tour" that European people took, and lots of wealthy folk settled here in the 19th Century.   There is a TVG train from Nice, but it does not have a dedicated train line, so it can't do its usual speed of 300 KPH, until it reaches a little further along the train, so the trip to Paris takes 5 hours.   The Cannes Movie Festival brings lots of visitors to the area.

As we crossed the border into Monaco, the five lanes of traffic have to converge into one lane, so there is always a traffic jam apparently.  Our first view of the small principality, which is the second smallest country in the world, the Vatican being the smallest.  In the distance is Italy.

   Once we arrived at our hotel, the Fairmont, which by the way is the biggest one in Monaco, we left our carry on luggage Ina secure room and set off to look for food for lunch.  We found a big shopping centre very close to the Fairmont, and ate our lunch in a park that was very nice except for the fact that you weren't allowed to walk on the grass.  Of course, that meant there was no where to eat, so we had to sit on a brick wall ! 

We checked in at three, and at six met with our other travelers, all 80 of us, for a bus and walking tour of the older part of the city, and dinner out at a restaurant overlooking the sea. 

In the Cathedral we saw the graves of Princes Grace and Prince Ranier.   90% of the population here is Catholic, even if only nominal.  Prince Alfred is the reigning monarch, and is in complete charge, with a Prime Minister under him, whom he chooses.   He has  recently married and his wife has given birth to twins, a prince and a princess, around 10 months ago.  He is already 56 years of age, so we agreed the need for an heir was urgent.

The older part of the city was built on the Rock of Monaco, and this is where the royal palace is.   There are superb view from this vantage point as well, again with Italy in the background.

After a fairly ordinary dinner compared what we have been having, we were bussed back to the Fairmont to collapse into bed, as it had been a very long  day. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Vincent Van Gogh

This morning it was raining as we awoke, and we were moored in the town of Arles.  Again we elected not to go walking, and most who did  came back very wet, despite being provided with umbrellas.

 We are moored next to the remains of a bridge that was bombed.

By the time we were ready to go on our excursion, the rain had stopped and the sun was out.
Today we follow in the footsteps of Vincent Van Gogh.   He lived in Arles for around fifteen months, twelve of these were spent in the mental hospital in St Remy. After he sliced off his ear, his neighbors in Arles got up a petition to force him to leave, hence his time at St Remy.   He was prolifically painting whilst he was in Arles and St Remy, more than 100 paintings done in St Remy.  During his time in Arles, he visited a small fishing village for a week, and also created some works. 

Our first stop was an old drawbridge.  This was not the one he painted but a similar one, and the only one remaining in the area.

The delta of the Rhone River is fertile, and we saw similar fields of vines, olives, sunflowers that we had been seeing in the area, but additional here, are rice paddies. The water to grow the rice is pumped from the river.
There are also wind turbines.  France's electricity is mainly supplied by nuclear power, but they are beginning to diversify a little now.   This area has what is called the Mistral Wind, the master wind, which can blow for 120 days every year at speeds of up to 180 KPH. 

The mental hospital at St.  Remy is still in use, but only one wing, and just for ladies.   There is a strong art therapy program in operation amongst the patients.   It was originally a monastery, and still has a lovely cloister, which you can imagine would have been a peaceful place to be. 

This is a recreation of Van Gogh's bedroom, and below the view from his window.    In a letter  to his brother Theo, he spoke of looking through the bars to the garden below.   He really was a tortured souls, and took his own life just two months after being released from the hospital.   In fact, his whole family had a history of both epilepsy and mental instability.  His brother Theo went mad two months after Vincetn died,threatening to killer his wife and child, and died just two months later also committing suicide.  Our guide told us he was suffering with syphilis,  but  that was not noted on the information of the walls of the museum.  Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime.   After his death, and the death of Theo, Theo's widow promoted his art, and the rest is history, as they say.  

A few years ago, when visiting an art gallery out the back of Korrumburra in the Strezlecki Ranges, the artist, whose name was John Koenders told  us he had recently learned that he was a distance relative of Vincent Van Gogh.  This man, his wife, and his daughter were very talented painters,   I will include his website if you would like to look.

Back in the small, but popular town of St Remy, we enjoyed a drink in a cafe, to enable us to use the toilettes.  The only public one we could find appeared to be men's, but who knows really?  The men and women share.......don't turn around to quickly men, and avert your eyes ladies :).    Every tree and corner you pass reeks of urine, it quite awful really.  We were amused by a dog looking for food in a rubbish bin.

Dinner with some colorful characters, we have met some lovely folk on the cruise, and back to our stateroom to pack in readiness for disembarkation tomorrow. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015


 We docked in Avignon during the night, and when we woke up this morning we noticed we were moored next to another river ship, and the galley was opposite  our window.

We assembled at 8.30 to board our coach, and to disembark  from our ship, we had to travel through the reception area of the ship moored next door to us.  This is not the first  time we have done this, there  are so many ships on the river, they sometimes need to dock two or even three abreast.

Our excursion took us firstly to the Pont du Gard.  This is a bridge  over the river Gardon and part of a Roman aquaduct, the means the Romans used to supply fresh water to the city of Nimes from the city of Uzes.  

This is just amazing, it was built in the  first century, and is a 50 kilometer long aquaduct.   The largest one, at 150 Kilometers, is in Carthage. The lower arches are  21 meters high, and 6 meters wide.
It's a very imposing structure.

On our drive through the countryside we saw grape vines and sunflowers fields; cherry tree orchards, pomegranate fields, and oak trees producing truffles.   The grapes will be ready early for harvesting this year due to a very hot summer.  Our guide, Katherine, has a heavy French accent, and it can become quite tiring concentrating on listening to her...rain becomes wain, trees become twees, and birth became birs.   After the Pont  du Gard, we visited the small medieval town of Uzes, which in the 17th century was very famous for its silk, especially silk stockings, which were worn by both women and men.  It was the very first Duchy of France. 

On return to the Scenery, we enjoyed a grill lunch on the sun deck.   It was lovely just being out in the fresh air for a meal, which was typical of a BBQ we would enjoy at home.

Our afternoon walk took us to the city of Avignon, once owned by the Papacy.  Avignon is 900 kilometers from Paris, and thanks to the TGV (fast train) can be reached in just 2 hours and 40 minutes.  It is one of the few cities with the city walls still in place. In the early 2000's the Rhone River flooded to around the height of a third of this wall.   

Avignon is home to the Palace  of the Popes, and we had a walking tour of it.  It's a huge castle, that was used by the Popes for  almost a hundred years, 1309 till 1377, when Rome was deemed to be unsafe for them.  It remained under Papal rule until 1791 when it became part of France. 

This is just a model of the Palace, which was surprisingly austere, although a lot of the decorations have been lost through the years.  Our guide did tell us that there once were tapestries on the walls of the great chapel.  These were for the acoustics, once the singing changed from Gregorian chanting to to polyphonic singing.

On the way back to our ship, some of us enjoyed a carousel ride.  It was very relaxing sitting in that carriage and gently moving forwards and backwards.

More entertainment on  ship tonight, a gypsy band and a flamenco dancer.  A little loud for my taste, and no English!

Is it Saturday already?

The days are just flying by, and we all agree we could manage this lifestyle for another week or so...not too much longer though, the pace is cracking!   At least we don't have to cook, wash and clean as well.
This morning the walking tour of Tournon was beginning at 8.30, so TRO and I decided to skip it, just have a bit of a lie in, and miss the small town we had stopped at.

Instead we had a late breakfast.   After cereal, we enjoyed cooked breakfast, and cheese and fruit.
I've taken to drinking two cups of tea over breakfast, and even  drinking it black.  This came about because at one of the places I had tea, they gave me no milk, so I didn't have a choice.  I have discovered that I don't mind it black at all.

The breakfasts are wonderful, anything you can think of is available, including sparkling wine.

We set off cruising  for Villiers, the next stop on our itinerary around mid morning.    The tour of the wheelhouse was offered, so we headed up to the top deck to enjoy over an hour  in the wheelhouse,
with Captain Phillippe giving us all the low down on the ship.   It was extremely interesting, especially when the wheelhouse was lowered to enable us to pass under a bridge.   Whilst we were there, we went through the first of 7 locks for the day.

The view from the wheelhouse, many passengers enjoying the beautiful weather at the front of the ship.  In the foreground is the "whirlpool" or spa, as we would call it. 

TRO was able to sit in the Captains chair.  This is the second Captains chair he has taken to this year, I think he's getting used to it.

While we are going through the lock, captain Phillippe takes control of the ship from outside the wheelhouse.

Lunch again, then a quiet afternoon until it was time to have our visit to the Galley.   This is really the most surprising place!   It would not measure more than 10 meters by about 8 meters.  It seems incredible that all those beautiful meals are produced in such a small place.   There are always about 6 choices of main meal, 3 entrees, 2 soups and 3 or 4 desserts...and that is just for dinner!

This is one corner of the galley, where the head chef cooks to order. 

After that tour, it was time for the afternoon tea and chocolate tasting....yum yum!

Even as I write this blog, it's hard to believe all the things we fit into just one day.   It's as well that I do write it, because I would never remember things otherwise.

We docked at Villiers around 5 pm, and by 5.30 were off on our walking tour of the town, with a French guide whose name escapes me.  Like all our guides, he was terrific.  We seems to have hit the jackpots with our guides, we have heard a few reports of not so good ones.

We were promised a the Cathedral of this town, so TRO and I, feeling a little churched out, thought we might slip off by ourselves.   But the commentary was so interesting, we found ourselves in the Cathedral anyway.    It was just as well, because we were treated to a concert by the organist.   He played several pieces, including the Pirates of the Carribbean theme,  and for his encore played "Amazing Grace" encouraging everybody to sing  it as well.   

The Cathedral has been almost destroyed a couple of times, first in the Religious Wars, and secondly during and after the French Revolution.    More recently, two of the magnificent tapestries had been stolen.  One was found in Italy, and the other is still missing, believed to be in a private collection in Germany.

The bonus for walking to the top of the hill where the Cathedral is, was the view over the Rhone, and further afield.

We were a little late back to the ship (naughty guide kept us too long ) so there was no time to change for dinner, and the gentlemen were allowed to wear their shorts.

During dinner we went through the biggest lock on the river, dropping  some 24 meters.  I went up on the deck to take some photos, it was just a little scary:)

The top pic indicates  where we started, and the second one where we finished up, once the water had drained out and we were ready to cruise on.

Dinner finished, it was time for bed, as we had  another early start in the morning.