And another dam! This time Rotterdam to Berlin Europe travels and travails 2017

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 A small selection of  comments and images from a couple of big city experiences and photos,
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Train from Amsterdam to Rotterdam is not a long journey. Certainly worth the effort.

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Amsterdam station while we wait for our train

Departing and travelling through essentially rural land, farms interspersed with small villages and farm cottages and buildings. Can’t help but be impressed by flatness of land which is divided not by fences but irrigation drains.

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Dutch rural landscape through train window

Rotterdam is a delight. I reckon a must do, if you’re visiting this part of the world especially if historic and modern architecture is of any interest. Could have done with a few more days there, but hopefully we got to the main points of interest. But did encounter a couple of surprises.

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Inside the spectacular Market Hall – Markthal

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Mural ceiling in Markthal, Rotterdam

 

 

 

Any interest in architecture, especially modern and quirky, will be piqued in this city.

 

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Markthal large glass building ends reflect surrounding urban features,

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Calypso, a building including more than 200 apartments, shops, and parking.

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Corner of Inntel Hotels black building

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Famous yellow Cube Houses

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Four buildings each with unique design characteristics

 

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Street scene with white Swan Bridge and background buildings across river

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Erasmus or Swan white cable stay bridge with two unique buildings.

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Rotterdam’s old port area in front background towering buildings.

Public art plays a big art in the Rotterdam urban landscape. There are some 200 pieces on permanent display around the city. Here’s a couple.

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Cascade, an sculpture of old cans and and flowing human figures stands 8 metres tall.

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Brightly coloured geometric sculpture near Erasmus Bridge. Black front view of Inntel Hotel building.

Scam alert!

An interesting experience, that could have become frightening, saw us approached by well dressed man asking the name of the area we were in at the time. He persisted with his enquiry then out of the blue two tall also suited men arrived from nowhere, said they were police, had swingers around their necks intended to convey some official role. They asked for our passports. Uh oh. Immediately we started to move away with me saying we didn’t believe them. at this they said OK, and walked off. A scam to watch out for.

So for the next day and some relief from the city walking and such intrusions we head to the Kinderdijk area and the windmills so synonymous with the Netherlands.

There are other scenic aspects of Rotterdam worthy of ones time to enjoy too.

Gardens, historic buildings, museums, galleries and the river combine to make this amost interesting city.

And like the rest of the country, bicycles and ubiquitous, but here’s what apparently happens if you lock yours where you shouldn’t. Rotterdam Holland-4-2

Note the little sign on post above the handle bars!

Speaking about security, on our last night got a message from our foreign affairs ministry advising extreme caution. There had been a terror alert for the city and a rock concert for some American band with the stupid name of Allah-Las cancelled. Saw little of no evidence of the problem on way to the station. Guess this is just part of life for now.

Advice if travelling to Rotterdam and have any interest in art and architecture, allow more time, or run everywhere. For m, much of the fun of  travel is all about the unexpected, the things that catch you and the things that go wrong. Well not much has here, but here’s a travel travel tip for Rotterdam. Our hotel is part of a chain, large modern property. It’s as hot as hell and I can’t find the aircon control. Ask at reception only to be told, oh no you’ve you’ve booked a standard room. You’ll need to upgrade for to have that. Now I know why it’s called airCON. Bit like Air New Zealand, they are stripping services and then offering them back at additional cost. Huh, conned again.

Rotterdam by train to Berlin-15 (2)Back to the train, en-route to Berlin. Orderly crops in rural Holland. Interestingly, to me anyway, about the time we crossed the border the orderliness of the Dutch landscape became a disheveled rural outlook. This smoothed scene from the train disguises the real look.Rotterdam by train to Berlin-22

In a couple of stops we are joined by Andreas.

A doctor in zoology it turns out, who is very helpful confirming Anne’s plans for Berlin and adding a few ideas as well.

Berlin, graffiti city. Its everywhere. Why its put up with I cannot workout. Great shame.The city presents us with a series of contrasts, the old and new, the historic and the ultra-modern, the historic and the graffiti vandalism and amazing memorials and museums relating to WW2 and the fall of Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.

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Memorial to holocaust and surrounding buildings

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From a hole chiseled by an East German, a symbolic glimpse of the other side, now part of a museum display.

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From an audio visual of the time of the wall. Graffiti even then ever present on the western side.

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Brandenburg Gate

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Friedrichstrasse looking toward railway over-bridge along tramlines.

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Projected light-show

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Projected light-show

 

 

 

 

 

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The Spree from bridge on Freidrickstrasse. Berliner Fernsehturm TV tower beyond church dome.

 

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Amazing modern architecture including Sony Centre on right. Image does not show the real intricacy of the these amazing buildings.

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Incredible dome over atrium and public space in Sony Centre.

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Most of so-called street art is not up to this standard. Many unused doorways have been attacked, or if your view is different “enhanced”. A good one.

Another must see if you visit Berlin is the town of Potsdam, about 45 minute train ride away. Believing we were headed to a little town that we could take in in a few hours we trained there. Really a few days would have been the proper option. It’s population is about 170,000, its is another film centre and has some amazing castles or the like, with significant Nazi SS history. Well worth an allocation of a lot more time than we gave it. Wish we’d known more before going.

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Potsdam’s own Brandenburg Gate.

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Potsdam’s Film Museum building

Diners in Berlin courtyard

Diners in courtyard of Oranienburger Strasse Berlin. The buildings and courtyard were left derelict after reunification until some arty types got the property put under control of a sympathetic owner and then set about enlivening it with businesses, galleries and restaurants.

For our final night we strolled 2-4 k’s to the Potsdamer Platz area for dinner in the Sony Centre and some more night street and architecture photos then by the Gate and Reichstag again

Leaving Berlin, the realisation that the number of museum, memorials and galleries collectively deserve a reasonably long stay. As always there so much more to see.

There’s so much about war and the wall you could fill a week or more just an that, and there’s so much more. Got to walk part of museum island yesterday and see what could only be called a huge exercise in propaganda last night as we passed the Reichstag. Billed as a light show in the government area (images above “projected light show” captions) it was a series of speeches by important governmental people, some English sub-titling indicated a high level of _”look what Germany has achieved and how great we are” Ra-ra stuff for sure.

Standby for the next missive. Prague, Vienna, Salzburg before back to Germany.

Just watching an item on the Coffin Club. No real reason to mention this other than its on BBC and the club is an NZ club. Embarrassingly corny.

Cheers

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European tour 2017 – Holland – for a few days in Amsterdam

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Amsterdam, capital city, city for art and so many renown artists, famous for bicycles (more than people) the roof gable styles, cheese shops and where the streets are paved with litter and cigarette butts. Guess 6 mill tourists don’t help either.

Then there’s the plethora of vegetable shops.Strange thing tho’, they seem to only sell variety. Its a strange looking small green leaf. Seed shops too, but none of the common old garden variety flower seeds! Reckon these strange shop account for about 99.98% of the 6 mill visitors.

Grey skies dominate the days here as do bicycles, lots of walking, museums and galleries. An art lovers dream come true.

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Unquestionably bikes exceed the population. there are acres of land covered with mostly old cycles.

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They are parked everywhere. There’s buildings for them, there’s a 4 story one in Amsterdam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our cabbie informed us the theft problem is so great that you only see old bikes. You  can often buy your bike back late at night on the street, apparently. Noticed many are made to look worse by being sprayed with rusty looking paint or bright colours.

The streets are seething with some of the 6 mill, not to mention the odd local I guess. At the moment students are everywhere as their year starts. Raucous buggers they are as the enjoy their first week.

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Busy street scene

First night wanderings see us accidentally in the De Walletjes (Red light) district as we head home after a meal.

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Young couple in street scene. Note office for rent behind them!

Night scenes always proved some interesting challenges and often turn up some stunning images. Some early ones as we rush back to our digs. The National Monument in Dam Square, dark back street and reflected lights along a canal start the collection.

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Canal and street night lights abstract

The canals are as busy as the roads. There must be 10’s thousands canal boats plying the miles of canals though these images don’t show it there really is, mainly for

tourists availing themselves of different day and night cruise services.

The Rijks Museum collection and archives date back to 1800. A phenomenally large collection of art and objects of real significance. This is one of many incredible galleries.

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In the Rijks Museum, massive Rembrandt, one of the large collection on display in his home town.

The popularity of the this city and its galleries means that if you don’t book about 6 months ahead you are destined to waste a large part of your time here, if not your life, in goddam queues. For the Rijks Museum we spent about 40 mins in line in the rain for a good part of it waiting to get to the next queue. Yep, once in the door you then queue again for your tickets, another 20-30 minutes down the dunny, and if that’s not enough, bags and tripods (and of course I have both) are not permitted in, so another friggin line for 15-20 minutes to turn them in. Thankfully only about 10 minutes queuing need to retrieve my gear after a few hours inside. Inside this beautiful building I concluded it must have been designed by an artist, not an architect, finding your way round even using provided and google maps sees more time lost. And as you’d expect after all the waiting is that its pretty busy inside too, but that’s managable.

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Inside Rijks, Rembrandt gallery in rear of image.

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Gouda, the main variety around here

And the find of the trip so far; cheese shops. Mentioned them before, but these genuinely do compete numerically with women’s shoe shops in this city. But it gets better. They mostly offer tastings. So in what has already become an end of day ritual we assist a number of them to dispose of their chopped up curdy offerings. I’m in heaven. The sore feet, the wet backs, the tired and overloaded minds and senses all vanish at least temporarily while at great personal sacrifice I work to restrain Anne’s headlong rush from platter to platter!!!!!

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There’s literally tons of the stuff. Trucks full stacked like this.

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Gouda cheese market in nearby city of Alkmaar. Turns out to be a highly choreographed tourist performance. On our day there we battle not just the hordes and  clouds but also frequent showers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A walk around including the Saturday Albert Cuypmarket provided opportunity for

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The making of strawberry Dutch waffle.

a Dutch waffle. Couldn’t resist, following which kinda wished I had more willpower.

 

 

 

More Amsterdam architecture;

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canal-side hotel that turned John Lennon and Yoko Ono away on their honeymoon. They were accepted by the Hilton and there started the famous “bed-in for peace” demonstration. their room at the Hilton now is a tourist attraction, bet they are glad they accepted them.

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Magna Plaza building

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Theatre

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Buildings reflected in canal along Damrak

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Modern architecture features of 4 buildings in Amsterdam north across from Central Station

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Houseboats on canals in the city are held on long term mooring leases. A tour boat takes passengers through these permanently moored on both sides beyond the collection of cycles locked to bridge and seat railings.

Along with the big renown galleries there a many lesser known places showing well known artists. Some we’ve visited include Banksy and Dali in one venue, then on our last day here Warhol and a collection of other pop-artists in another. Great stuff.

It;s been another full immersion in the streets of Amsterdam to conclude our time here. Dinner tonight, a sleep the on the train and outta here. Rotterdam here we come.

Some street scenes to conclude,

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Amsterdam streets

 

European travel 2017

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First stop, Hong Kong. Drab, dreary Kowloon. Walked the streets b20170802_032906eing accosted every 3rd step by tailors touts, the day has passed with little to show for it except the street scenes below. Arriving last night the plane window view was speculator. Maybe the evening lights tonight will provide more opportunity from street level. Well that was the hope. Didn’t get into it in the end, will need to make sure on return journey when we have another couple of nights here.

Tomorrow we’re London bound.

And so it was, catching up with our fantastic family and enjoying the park walks and street scenes again for a few days.

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Fruiterers of Roman Road

arranging their produce as they do every morning about 6.00am.

Regents Canal around Little Venice, London where we did an evening canal ride and had a picnic dinner, with shot of Hertford Union Canal in Bow.

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Then off Ireland-bound. Leaving London was struck by the number of construction cranes on skyline.

Then arriving in Dublin, same thing. Cranes everywhere. Staying by the Grand Canal. Obviously an area of massive regeneration. Old brick industrial buildings being redeveloped as apartments mixed in with new modern apartment and commercial buildings. Wonderful wandering around the streets seeing the contrasts between the old row houses and interesting new architecture nearby. The great old Bolands Flour Mills Building is part of a large mixed old/modern redevelopment on one side of the Grand Canal. the canal is actually not that big despite its name and is surrounded by recent and new office/cafe and apartment buildings. its hard to escape the feeling that once again Dublin could be in midst of an over-development phase.Dublin, Ireland-22

On the more modern side the central city has the 120 metre high stainless spire seems to pierce the clouds above O’Connell Street.

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And then heres the harp shaped white bridge which stands out and catches any ray of sun that gets down to Dublin street level

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Samuel Beckett Bridge across River Liffey, Dublin.

A day spent of and on the hop-on bus including a couple of hours at the Guinness Brewery turned out to be an interesting day. Got my certificate as a fully qualified Guinness pourer. Great tradition. Did you know it takes 119.5 seconds to pour the perfect Guinness black drop? And, turns out its not to be sipped, that way you allow the flavours and nuances to escape!

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Some lovely parks scattered around this city, one claiming to be be bigger that all London’s parks together and more than 2 X New York’s Central Park. Impressive.

The Temple Bar area of the city is a tourist magnet comprises of a swag of “traditional” styled bars providing Irish music and food along with all the beer you can drink always including the iconic Guinness of course.Dublin, Ireland-10-2

Drive via the quaint town of Trim, do a Trim Castle tour and learn a bit about the area’s history since the 1100’s. Amazing what went on then. How’s this for an important piece of critical information, in those days to be able to put someones head on a stick (presumably after chopping the thing off) one needed a licence from the King which came at a price. Guess that would be called a head tax.

Countryside from Trim Castle.

Countryside from Trim Castle.

Getting to Galway for the night proved to be a fair trial as we encountered an horrendous level of travel slowing us to a crawl for several k’s from outskirts of city.

A drive along the Wild West Atlantic Way (WWW) beckons but we wake to a windy, misty and drizzly day. The WWW is essentially a coastal route of slow narrow roads with some amazing scenery, limestone rock formations essentially flat or strata rock walls. Key tourist features become a obliterated by thick mist. Today a stop to see the Cliffs of Moher prove pointless as visibility is down to a few metres. Abandoned that idea and moved on. Stopping briefly in the quaint town of Ennis before moving on to our nights accommodation, a B&B near Limerick.

Another day, another damp low vis day. Driving again along the WWW heading for the Dingle and the Dingle Peninsula.Dingle Peninsula, Ireland-82

Firstly through the Slieve Mish Mountains following hordes of cyclists on narrow roads. From the pass at top the view is quite spectacular, albeit through the mist.

After a stop to look both ways and a stop to talk to some goats Dingle is achieved.

Dingle Peninsula, Ireland-40A quaint old fishing town and centre for the peninsula is the start of our circular drive around more of the scenic WWW

The cloud and mist moves on in time for us to see some great coastal peninsula scenery.

Killarney is, our second to last stop before heading back to Dublin and our exit from Paddy’s Land. Ireland has certainly been Ireland. Its a place where they talk constantly about their lousy weather, where you can find a b and b with no breakfast, where laundromats are closed on the day of leisure, Sundays, and I’m Anne told me doing laundry was leisure, why else would she do it so often!!!

Ross Lake and Castle made a great early morning stop on our way from Killarney.

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Then on to the Blarney Castle, House and Gardens.

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Blarney House silhouetted back-lit by bright sunny sky.

The weather looked like it was to improve, though as we moved east it got worse, overcast with some patched of drizzle.

Wexford, described as a medieval coastal town is our base tonight while we watch the Irish Women’s Rugby team play Japan in the Women’s World Rugby Cup happening right here in Ireland. Spotted a bit of hurling in Waterford on big screen in the town square, don’t understand it.

County Wicklow, also known as Ireland’s garden county, certainly worth a visit, perhaps even the highlight of our Irish road trip. Unfortunately about about week is required to get near doing it some sort of justice. For our last morning we visit Rossborough House and Garden at Blessington. A grand old home dating back to 1700’s full of art, furniture and architecture each item of which has it’s own fascinating story.

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Rossborough library

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White marble carving adorning one side of one of the Rossborough House fireplaces

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Typical Irish sky and landscape through window of Rossborough House

There’s high gaiety in the pubs,typically and enthralling Irish I guess, too many to count on any street you see. Talking of streets, you’ll remember U2’s hit “Where the streets have no names”, well Paddy’s is a place where street numbers haven’t been invented yet. the streets have no numbers. They have street names that can change sometime 3 + times in a few hundred metres (in Dublin anyway) and there’s no numbers. Took our cabbie half an hour to find our accommodation when we arrived, ‘cos there where was not a fekking number, and that’s in a street he said he knew well. Just as well he had a constant stream of funnies to regale us with.

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And speaking of U2, as I did a mo ago, Bono is really God here. He’s everywhere you look. So it’s true, he not only thinks he is, I’m thinking he’s actually believed to be.

In spite of his enormous wealth though they have all the same problems we do. Housing, homelessness, politicians etc dominate the news in the land of leprechauns and the shamrock.

Next stop the Netherlands, slainte.

Niue in May

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Please click links to see more images from this real surprise in the Pacific.

Niue –nowhere like it, or so they say. 

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Arrived following characteristic delays on Southern Motorway and of course AirNZ.

Blustery as all hell, 35 – 45 knot winds, huge seas, and 28 degrees.

 

 

Nice resort, a wine, dinner and good sleep set us up for what is in effect day 1.

Collected hire car –  rattletrap of Nissan Cube. More rattles in this thing than grandkids have. Spent day dodging potholes, and taking walks down to rocky coves with wonderful rock pools all fairly teeming (slight overstatement, but compared to what we are used to!) little fish, myriad of colours and styles. Had a wee snorkel in one of the larger pools, very pleasant. Heaps of coral types growing,  all colours and shapes and styles (or is species).

 

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The whole place though is somewhat of a grave site. Typically Pacific Island, everywhere you turn there are the graves of those who have gone before, be they people, old houses or dead cars, they scatter the landscape.

The monthly ship from NZ  arrived today to restock the necessities of life here. It’s a monthly event, and quite an exercise as the ship is tied off to the wharf about 300 metres Niue-30-3out and motors kept running to hold her stern on while the unloading of containers on to a barge occurs one at a time over the next couple of days. By then the supermarket, the gas station and I hope the cafes will be restocked (not that we have had any trouble getting a coffee, but was getting worried).

I say not that getting a coffee…… actually the coffee is quite good, but you’d better not be in a hurry. Average wait time would be 30 minutes, and (through beautiful bush usually) continually rising too. To get to the coral ledges and tidal pools we often have to take a bush walk or sea track and then a swag of steps to the bottom.

Seems like we descend and rise the 70 metres every time we head to the rock pools.

We’re heading out today to start with a school assembly. An interesting experience. About 100 kids singing, praying and receiving awards, all in two languages.

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Then off to some more of the scenic spots navigating our way through the strategically located potholes.

 

It’s fun swerving our way down the road, slowing and waving when cars come the other way. Not sure Anne feels it as much fun. Especially when I hit one, it sends a shuddering reminder that I’m alive to my spine. According to Israeli owner of the Japanese restaurant they are waiting for the Chinese to return to repair them. Better hurry because I’ll swear some of them are big enough to be home to marine life now! The Japanese food was worth the effort Graeme, some of the best we’ve had. Thanks for that recommendation.

The other side of the island (east) is very different. Rugged and rough.

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Met a woman collecting what turned out to be large sea-snails for lunch after church on Sunday. Told me it was good on this side today, can’t always do what she was doing. Looked pretty rough to us.

As well as the rock pools and coral at end of the walks, arches, chasms and caves add to the beauty spectacularly.

 

 

 

Not much in way of wildlife. Haven’t seen a seagull of any variety. Quite amazing, but the place is chocka with cats and the ever-present chooks, or jungle fowl as they know them.Niue-70

Not sure but am seriously wondering whether the cats are to blame for the dearth of bird-life.

If Gareth (cat-man) Morgan really needs a mission perhaps he should check Niue out.

I think life is pretty good here, simple, seemingly worry-free and warm. Met the Secretary for Government on the plane on way up. He says, that with the taro, a few veges (hydroponically grown), coconut and fish it’s a breeze.

The working week here is 4 days. Guess that works because 35% of the people work for the Government so we are told.

Lunch at another of Graeme N’s recommendations. The Washaway Bar. A rustic fun joint only open on Sunday afternoon, after all the church services are over. Again, a great experience.

Final sightseeing journey was to the Talava Arches. Worth the 30 min walk through bush and over a rugged coral path that requires some concentration to avoid falls, then through some narrow limestone caves to finally spot the arch across a bay. This is one of the more recognised scenic destinations on the island.

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Potholes, strategically located, chooks, ,amazing variety coral, chasms & caves, that’s about it.

it all here and tomorrow the cocks crow for the last time for us.

Gaudi’s Barcelona

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Gaudi’s architecture is somewhat bizarre, incredibly interesting,  stunningly creative and innovative and a major drawcard to Barcelona. Recently uploaded selection at bit.ly/gaudian . Trust you’ll enjoy.

 

Things, they are a changing…as we get towards the end of our time here

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final missive;

Enjoyed sharing some of our experiences  and photos as we travelled and shot over last 8-10 weeks, hope we haven’t bored you with it all. Have tried to keep the Instagram shots different to those shared here, and hope if you are following those Instagram images (which find their way to facebook, twitter, google+ & LinkedIn) you’ll see another side of our photography and add to what we could put into these blogs.

Certainly getting colder now. Can tell, not just in my bones but in the colours of the leaves.


These are from a smallish town that might have talked of previously, they have a great market each week, and it is the home of that not so wonderful cafe experience mentioned last time! otherwise a lovely place, Pezenas.

We got to London for the weekend. Great opportunity to catch up with the family there, see Michael’s (Impero Design) new offices and pick up a few shots. Thanks guys for looking after us so well.

London across Thames from Impero offices on wet evening.

London across Thames from Impero offices on wet London evening.

UK's largest sculpture, the ArcelorMittal OrbitLondon Olympic Park

These are from Olympic Park in London. The AcerlorMittal Orbit red steel sculpture is apparently the highest sculpture in the UK. Views from top are panoramic London. The fine silver spiral tube in the image is a recently added slide. Quick way to get to the bottom, about 40 seconds. The screams (not sure if they were of delight) we heard reinforced our wimpy decision to take the lift, about 45 seconds too.

The historic city of Carcassonne has been left to the end of our time here. Main interest here is La Cite Medievale, the historic walled city and castle atop a hill adjacent to the “modern city”. Getting via the secondary routes rather than the main highways there is through more ancient, and not so ancient, villages, plane tree and vineyard lined country roads and along canals and past locks.

Carcassonne is like so many of the old cities, narrow streets, old buildings, some wonderful, many not, cafes that you are lucky to get a coffee and never find something to eat in and although the height of the tourist season is over, we make up the bulk of the people wandering about. Rugby is everywhere in this part of France. From people wearing jerseys on  the streets to shops selling the clothing. We come across a Serge Blanco shop (followers will recall his great contribution to French rugby, now he’s got a chain of retail fashion rugby clothing shops) to a chain called “Otago” would you believe, just a couple of doors along.

In the old city on the hill, across the old bridge and obviously older river, there’s the place everyone comes to see. The walled city, castle and cathedral. I guess to make these places pay they need to fill them up with tourist shops and restaurants. Same here. Many the tacky not so nice shops and “authentic” French pizza restaurants. To be fair, here there a a few classier shops. We roam eventually getting to the cathedral where we are treated to a tenor quartet in the stunning acoustics these remarkable buildings have.

 

 

La Cite Medievale, Carcassonne, France

La Cite Medievale, Carcassonne, France.

 

We  fill the bulk of our day here then decide to head back for dinner and some night shots.

 

 

La Cite Medievale, Carcassonne, France

La Cite Medievale, Carcassonne, France night scenes.

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Minerve, an historic village perched on a rock outcrop in the middle of Gorge  Du Brian (Anne suggests a not too liberal translation is Gorgeous Brian and who am I to argue with Anne!) high in the mountains over the river Cesse in a fork with the Le Brian.

An interesting stop.

How the hell they built these fortified villages in the spots where only a mountain goat could go still defies my small mind. Like all these places it was the site of many a battle in ages past.The village has strategically placed catapults. Not sure that they are the originals or just some fake replicas, but they were clearly a part of the defense of the place nearly 1,000 years ago.

minerve-1-of-1Other than the vineyards the people here clearly rely on tourism but I still can’t get a coffee with a muffin or croissant, and tminerve1-1-of-1he “authentic” restaurant, only one open, is a pizza job. And thought people visited other countries/cultures for that experience.

A collection of artisan and tourist shops have made it here into the typically narrow streets though again at this time of the year most are closed.

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At this altitude high in the Midi Pyrenees the autumn colours are starting to display. A few of the forest trees are turning red and gold. Will be stunning in a week or two. The vines too are changing, some with spectacular effect.Minerve, France

My attempt at an abstract of the colours in some of the vineyards now.

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The endless hot sunny days the marked the first  6 or 7 weeks of our time in the Med have turned to pretty cool days and more rain than sun. The whole area was just so dry previously. This will get those vines producing for next year, though I did hear a report suggesting the harvest is down for the current year.

We’ve seen a lot, visited some amazing places and enjoyed a little of Spanish and French life. Although this wasn’t a road trip, we’ve driven over 6,000k’s in the two countries and fired off over 7,000 images between us. We have some work to do when we get back. we head to Toulouse and then to San Fran for a couple of nights each en-route. See you all soon, au revoir.

 

 

 

 

We are getting around…as you will have seen

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Missive 6.

There has to be an exception.

Mentioned last time how friendly and helpful French people have been. There has to be an exception. The other day walking through village yearning for a coffee, came across this cafe, door open, darkness inside (but that’s not unusual we are finding) walked in as you do. I’m about halfway into the joint when “monsieur, monsieur, monsieur” can be heard loudly from the doorway we had just walked through. Turn around and there’s this woman who had been sitting at a table outside smoking as they do, and talking loudly on the phone, as they do, like one of those undesirable customers every cafe owner must get.My rapid retreat is followed by some un-understandable volley of rapid fire french. At this stage I realise she is the owner. “Deux cafe au lait sil vous plait” I ask, “OK”, then feeling like a bite, a croissant or similar, as you do, I ask in broken French, “and something to eat”. “OK”.

Thinking we are heading in again, I stride purposefully forward, my eyes adjusting to the darkness seeking the counter to see if there is anything to select from. Voila! I see a cabinet, like those drink cabinets they point too, with a get your own sweep of the arm, if you ask for a cold drink, move towards it, open it and start to look inside. Just at that moment my peace is shattered. Blaring from near the door comes “MONSIEUR, MONSIEUR, MONSIEUR”(thought that had happened a moment ago). But this time the smoking, loud talking outside proprietor is now striding towards me yelling “THIS IS NOT A SELF-SERVICE (REPEAT)”in broken English. Now we are even, but I’m thinking hey we are not really welcome here, so I wave Anne out of the place and follow to the much more dulcet tones of she with the loud voice’s “au revoir”.

We got what we wanted from a much nicer man in a much nicer place just a couple of doors along.

Boujan Sur Libron, Languedoc France

Boujan Sur Libron, woman outdside Cafe D La Paix sits reading newspaper, Languedoc France

Cafes, as I’m sure you know,  though different from ours in terms of offerings and coffee quality are an important part of daily life where dogs often outnumber patrons.

Tauromachie,

No we haven’t been to a bullfight.

Boujan Sur Libron bullring France.

Boujan Sur Libron bullring France.

 

 

But just as bullfighting in Spain is on the decline, we find a couple of rings in the area around us in France. Drove to a smallish village the other day and there near the entrance was a newish, small ring complete with toreador with horns on head statue.

Driving the vineyard lined narrow country roads is always an enjoyable experience for me. often vines give way to rough edges frequently with wild pomegranate, apples and escapee grape vines. The shooting season’s in full swing. Might have mentioned that before. Wandering the vineyards its amazing what you come across. And all that gunfire must have sparked the desire for a duck dinner. Well at least duck skewers on our bbq,

 

lieuran-les-beziers-languedoc-france-39-of-56Many of the village entrance roads, and canal edges, are lined with plane trees. It is said Napoleon started this (somewhere I read the Romans did, so who knows) but now some are being removed as they have been responsible for car accident deaths.

Another constant here is the need for continual navigating around (well not always around as some just are not that shape), roundabouts that seem to have infested the country. The only things that contest these for popularity is churches. Even in our little town there are 2 I have found, usually locked only operating once of twice a month. Actually I think the roundabouts work quite well. some are large sods (I’ve driven around a number more than once trying to find the right exit. Others, small or barely existent. The need for so many, sometimes only metres apart,  must come from the number of entry points each town has. Usually about six. On one occasion we “circumnavigate” a more triangular “roundabout”, and just when I think I’m through there’s a pedestrian crossing, an old couple waiting to cross, I wonder whereto and stop for them. They scurry across to some large wrought iron gates in the middle, open them and head into what is clearly their home. So a home in the middle of a roundabout, but that’s not all, as we leave the apex of the roundabout (?) I notice some impressive headstones. I guess the family burial plot, who knows, but in this triangular roundabout.

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Round another corner, and another village. This one Poilhes has Canal du Midi running through it. A couple of significantly different boats pass on a bend in the canal.

Narbonne is a nice city for a day or two. Main attractions are its museums and cathedral, also the Canal de la Robine runs through it. Below the canal at night, part of the Cathedral of Saint Just, a recovered 1,000+ year old mosaic and a statue of someone I’m sure I know but just can’t recall for now.

 

By now the weather is turning colder and a strong wind is kinda making the day difficult.

Spent a night at a seaside holiday place La Port Nouvelle, lovely ocean beach, but not much else that’s memorable, except our hotel that is. The last place open I thingruissan-france-14-of-133k, the room quite nicely done up with concealed blue lighting (ugh). The entrance was tiny, struggled to get our one bag though and even bigger struggle to get it in the lift, all so that when we reached our floor we could be assailed by darkness and an almighty stench. You know the one that you face when out of sheer desperation you are forced to enter a public toilet the local council has taken off its regular cleaning list. Shan’t be returning there. However did get some nice sunrise shots next morning.

We head to the area generally referred to as Aude Nature hoping to see and photograph some bird-life. Still seems scarce around the prime spots we were referred to, nothing to shoot, so give up on the west side of this great estuary and wetland area and head for the other side and the town made famous by the Newman’s. Not the Paul Newman’s, the Eric and Carol Newman’s.gruissan-france-19-of-133

On approaching Gruissan we come across another canal with a couple of old boat restorations going on. Here’s one of them.

Round the corner I spot some flamingos flying, not close enough, then go stalking storks.

gruissan-france-129-of-133Pretty much everything else seems blown away by the wind.

The wind we learn is the tramontane and can blow at up to 120k’s. It originates from the same central area as the better known mistral winds.

The town of Gruissan is like many here divided into new and old towns. The new is essentially built around 3 massive marinas. These are marina’s spectacular, ones that NZ boaties would just lust over. A really classy modern town that attracts 120,000 in the peak season. That’s over now and most shops and restaurants are closed. Enough are open though for us to get all the meals we need. The old city has the remains of a chateau on the hill, built about 1100 and a fairly typical small town, narrow streets, tight corners and streets littered with cafe tables and chairs to be navigated around. Oh of course a couple of great churches too. Not planning to, but late in the day we decide it’s worth staying longer and book into the 1st B & B (Chambres de Hotes) we come across. What a find. Probably the best accommodation on this trip, beautifully renovated and built from rock pilfered from the the chateau (you can what remains of the chateau below). All these places have so many stories. The proprietor of our B & B answers a lot of questions over breakfast and we learn a bit (I’m sure there’s a ton more) from him

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Both the estuary (Etang de Thau) and the ocean are photogenic.

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Gruissan, Framce, Etang de Gruissan nets and small fishernens bo

Gruissan, France, Etang de Gruissan nets and small fishermens boats silhouetted on beach as sun sets.

Gruissan, Framce, Etang de Gruissan nets and small fishernens bo

Gruissan, France, Etang de Gruissan nets and small fishermens boats on beach

As is the Il’e Saint Martin salt works which date back to Roman times and as you can see still producing the stuff by the mountain-load.

 

Country living in rural France, it is a provincial life around here

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Missive 5;

Mentioned our arrival in Corneilhan last time. It is really rural out here. Our little village, 10 minutes walk away is supposed to have about 1,500 inhabitants. your wouldn’t know it to visit.

Swear there acorneilhanfrance-8-of-12re as many tractor movements through the town and cars,  one bar no cafe we’ve found yet, a couple of greengrocers that open peculiar hours and days, a woman’s hairdresser, and a butcher closed until end of Sept and a patisserie open 4 mornings a week. The coffees at the bar are wildly different each day. Anne keeps saying why have another? I keep thinking one day they’ll get it right and I’ll be able to say “voila”. Corneilhan is a typical ancient European village with the compressed terracotta roof pattern when you see from above and two monumental churches that are hardly ever used. A walk in any direction other than the road to town takes you into an endless vista of vineyards.

But there are lots of really quaint villages around.

We are essentially well-off the tourist trail here,

though it is not more than about 20 minutes to find the coast or other more “touristy” villages. With exception of coastal places like Sete and Beziers, Montpelier the rest I’ve never heard of and suspect most bar a few immigrant poms wouldn’t have either. Yep, they seem to flock here too as we encountered in our area of Spain.

The Canal Du Midi flows nearby. Looking forward to walking some of its banks and coffee-ing in many of the cafe’s I’ve seen pictured along its sides. We dropped into Villeneuve Les Beziers for a wander around the little village and along the canal alongside for an afternoon. Check the interesting restaurant name..

Beziers, monument through huge wrought iron gates, looking down on city from atop Cathédrale St-Nazaire (the city’s big one in terms of churches ) and mains street where the coffee is great

And the French people, well at least the ones we’ve met, those who have opened conversation with us have been fabulously friendly, helpful etc, certainly they have let the stereotype of aloofness and arrogance that we all hear about down. They have been great. Only negative is some are just so bloody impatient when driving. Guess they’re the young ones!!

As you know, once the All Blacks are mentioned you can’t stop them. Interestingly though, we seem to get a positive reaction to our accents, well perhaps we just don’t notice the others. Had a couple who it turns out are from Belgium and have a holiday place in the area sitting next to us over lunch in Beziers the other day. They really got into telling us about all the spots we should go to, then morning tea alongside the Canal Du Midi a guy who didn’t give a stuff about the All Blacks became passionate in telling us about a nature reserve and lake not too far away so we will be busy for the rest of our stay, just based on millau-france-14-of-53these experiences. Actually, saw this bar in Millau, went for a drink, clearly the French didn’t win the world cup, it was closed, shut, ferme, non ouvert, couldn’t get a beer there.

Weather has turned cooler in last week. Temps now start down at about 12 – 13 and rise to 24 -26. Quite pleasant especially since our car here has only a fan and windows for aircon!

Been a busy week this one, Sete, Beziers, Pezanas, Villeneuve Les Beziers, St Chinians, Murviel Les Beziers, Capestrang, Colombiers, Valra Plage, Serignan, Cap D’Agde, and we are not finished yet. And markets, there’s at least one a day round here, and our GPS automatically finds them somehow! Wonder who sets that thing every time we get in the car?

Most interesting part of markets (for me anyway) is the food and produce stands.colombiers-france-10-of-51

Look at this mouthwatering display.montellier-france-62-of-80

 

 

University of Montpellier, Faculty of Medicine, the worlds oldes

University of Montpellier, Faculty of Medicine, the worlds oldest medical school still in operation.

We spend a night in Montpellier after dropping our good friend Andrea of at the airport. Nights on the Place de le Comedie pedestrian area are full of light and people.This is apparently the largest city pedestrian area in the world. The opera house is lit in blue at one end beyond the statue.

montpellier-viaduc-1-of-1 We stay in the historic district for our time here. The Saint Clement Aquaduct is proably one of the most recognised of city features. We see it as sun falls.

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Another dimly lit lane from my night stroll around. As always old cities seem more interesting after dark

 

A number of small villages entertain us as we head (much to Anne’s consternation and subsequent delight!) to see the Millau Bridge. St. Guilhem le Desert is a beaux city (term used I believe to denote Frances most beautiful towns and cities) and a National Site.

st-guilheme-le-desert-france-133-of-137Within the town is Abbey Gellone.

What a checkered history this Abbey has, even more than most religious buildings in Europe as far as I can see anyway. It’s worth reading about.

Abbey of Gellone, Saint Guilhem Le Desert, France

Abbey of Gellone, Saint Guilhem Le Desert, France

Late afternoon at Millau Bridge doesn’t show it off to it’s gleaming white best, but it is impressive to say the least, structure of 2.5 k’s in length with its tallest pier being  higher than the Eiffel Tower has proven worth the effort to get to. They claim it took 3 years to build at a cost of 320 million (yep million) euros.We stay omillau-france-37-of-49ver-night, but the next day is overcast and showery so photos reflect this too. Bugger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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And back to the beginning – life in rural France; well, bird shooting season opened here yesterday. We now wake to the banging of shotguns. Some seem to be just outside our window. Give you a fright when they are real close. Had to rush to Carrefour for some additional undies….

When we look out the window there’s all these bright orange caps walking in the fields and vineyards. For starters I thought they must have been looking for he orange crested pheasant to …whatever with. Then I saw a gun over the shoulder so I guess they feel they won’t shoot one and other if the orange cap works!!

They are at it again in the evening, so if this becomes our last missive you’ll know we must look like birds on a wire.murviel-les-beziers-the-men-of-1-of-1

This is what men should do. Each day, up to the village corner for a get-together and tell a few lies. Usually there’s some vin rouge and/or espresso too. The village a few k’s away from ours.

Au revoir from Corneilhan

Adios to the Costa Blanca its been great and Bonjour to Corneilhan in Languedoc-Roussillon region of France

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Missive 4;

So we leave the Coll De Rates in Parcent leaving a spectacular sunrise. Guess someone organised that farewell for us. Very nice thanks.

Headed by train for Barcelona. Our hotel is at the Paca de Catalunya end of La Ramba.

 

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one of the fountains in Placa de Catalunya, Barcelona.

A short “orientation walk before dark around the plaza, then turn right from hotel door and down the tourist magnet of  La Ramba. A seething mass of tourists, restaurant touts, vendors (legal and not so) periodically divided by police vehicles weaving through the hordes on the plaza you should see the fake brands peddlers lift their goods and move to where the cops have just come from. Its a game. They drop their sheet like bags with strings from each corner for quick regather when the law arrives. They sell what they can in few short minutes then are usually spooked off, by the next wave of cops, to the spot they left about 5 minutes earlier.

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Night on La Rambla

Did I mention the parking ticket? Long story, sorry but has to be told, it really does spell Spain.

Been to Valencia, picked up the ills, heading back to Parcent, diverted to small town of Gandia for a break. Found a candidate carpark, checked there were no “prohibido aparcar” signs and that other vehicles were also parked in same area. Returned in due course to find a pink slip under rear wiper blade just below the rental car sticker. Rechecked all previous assumptions, no reason to believe we couldn’t park there especially as there was a white lined parking space. Me thinks this is a case of quota achievement and a cop who can’t believe his luck, a tourist & rental car prospect!

The ticket is helpfully in 2 languages – Spanish & Catalans. Helpful, like hell.

Decide to keep moving and get a translation in due course. Turns out there’s a 50% reduction on the 100 euro fine if [aid within 20 days. There’s a list of banks for payment, but I can’t see any direction to appeal. So, next day off to local bank, after 5 minutos on computer the teller advised, not his bank. So traveling on, next bigger city, Valencia must be able to pay here, into one of named banks, same outcome. So the days tick by, eventually try another back in another town. 10  minutos on computer and all’s looking good, takes my 50 e’s, wont’t take credit card though I thought worth a try. What a relief I hand over a hard eared 50 E note and am asked for my numero de identidad de extranjero (NIE). Whaaaaat!

Try to explain, but no, must have before she can accept my payment. Got the car number, the ticket number, my license number, God knows every number under the sun but I don’t have an NIE. Suggests I apply for a temporary one. Really, where? Gandia. By now things are looking like I’ll be watching my back as I leave Spain. But in charges a white knight in the form of Anne who’s been silently standing and observing. Using a tone and lparkind-ticket-duly-receipt-stamped-by-bank-1-of-1ook normally only reserved for me she eyeballs this poor teller and says”can’t- you -phone -someone- and -sort -it -out?” The teller, as I always do, shudders with fear, relents and picks up the phone. 10 minutos later she takes the money and gives a receipt. Hola! Gracias! Lets get out of here! The fact we shouldn’t have even had the damned fine will be a fight for another day. Can see myself winning that one too – not -especially as it turns out I need to argue my case at the Gandia Adjuntament.

The ticket duly receipt stamped by bank, thanks to Anne’s demand.

Back to Barcelona – La Rambla is not for me. Head to the side streets as soon as practical. The deeper we go the lighter the tourists, the darker the streets, the more “Spanish” the feel and the better the restaurants. These streets we’ll frequent mostly for our nights here, eating, observing and photographing, not really for enough time. Really great places for the experiences and gritty scenes.

We spend a day and half on those tourist bus things, getting an overview, then having hit some of the key points, museums, Gaudi buildings, Sagrada Familia etc we start walking.

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Sagrada Familia still under construct some 130 + years on, 3 cranes working on the top and some detail shots from the mighty minor basilica.

 

 

What a city. I get a real buzz doing this. Seeing and clicking from ground level the places and things that go on in a city. Barcelona sure didn’t let me down on this count. We encounter the gothic area, a swag more churches, bascilica’s, historic buildings and some great (and not so) cafes and street scenes.

Some more from Gaudi;

 

One of the highlights has to be the visit to Palau de la Musica Catalonia, a UNESCO Heritage site, building that is centre for the musical arts in the city. Built in modernist style commencing 1905 this turned out to be a must see.

Architectural detail is of course everywhere;

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Next day on train to Beziers, France en-route to our new home/base for 6 weeks in Corneilhan. A small village of about 1500 people, not, I don’t think, on the tourist loop at all but that’s good. Handy to many very scenic areas and Mediterranean beaches so we have a lot to look forward to.

Our new home is comfortable enough, certainly wouldn’t pass Anne’s design school test but it does have some interesting features. Like 1st thing she does (or was it 2nd?) on arrival is head to wash her hands. Well these old pipes want you to know they are in use and erupt with a booming clattering wailing sound that is less harmonious, more frightening and every bit as loud as dad’s early morning bathroom call, if you know what I mean! I’m sure that won’t be the only strange encounter we experience, rustic goes some way to describe it.

there’s been some interest in the car left by our host. It’s a little ripper. I call it the blue streak  (successor to the Blue Bird), due to; 1. its colour, 2. its mobility. Malcolm Campbell would have been proud of it!! Though yesterday, got pulled over by the cops down in Sete. Turns out the French equivalent of our WOF is required 2 yearly. Our one hadn’t been renewed since 2009!

She rattles along, a real hot little number, no aircon, each change of gear (5) I spend a moment or two finding the location, they seem to shift around in the gear box, cornering is a delight, no power steering & my shoulders ache, pretty secure though the front passenger door is permanently locked, although a swift and deliberate knock near the keyhole did help open it once, I said secure didn’t I, when getting out all doors have to be individually locked, all 5 of ’em, and then of course the walk around is required to unlock them. Citroen hadn’t heard of central locking when this little beauty was built about 25 years ago. oh, like the the Blue Bird speed isn’t an issue, no speedometer.

It’s really good though. You should see the vineyards around here. You probably have, so you’ll know what I mean.They are endless. France may run out of water one day, but never wine.

Au revoir