4-8 March: This year‘s Europe adventure begins…in Vienna

Author: Mr A

Location: Vienna, Austria

We decided to go ahead with our Vienna trip even though the medical conference that Catherine had been invited to speak at had been postponed . Covid -19 cases are pretty much non existent in Austria so far, and life continues with a degree of normality that has been comforting. Toilet rolls and hand sanitiser are on the shelves of supermarkets, and there’s hardly a mask to be seen. The streets are still vibrant with locals catching up over coffee and those wonderful Viennese pastries. The tourist hordes are missing, and of course that’s fabulous.

An oat milk hot chocolate for Mrs A – stark contrast to the rest of dairy-Austria

On our walk round the city we started to see the beauty in the architecture here. Voted the world’s most liveable city ten years on the trot, we wandered past the Sigmund Freud museum, as the father of psychoanalysis lived and worked here for much of his life. Countless grand buildings house the concert halls, palaces and universities that dominate this classy, urbane and clearly prosperous city.

St Stephen’s Cathedral is a striking landmark
Is there a light on? No, the late afternoon sun catches the window as we pass
A magnificent interior

In three days we haven’t seen anyone begging on the streets, or people sleeping rough. The locals dress with style, chic scarves tossed over shoulders draped in smart winter jackets. Trams whiz along broad streets lined with an eclectic range of up market shops. This is a city with panache, and we love it.

Walking past the magnificent Hofburg – a baroque palace filled with museums

The first night we met three of the senior cardio thoracic surgeons who had driven the establishment of the conference. They had invited us out to meet and greet, very kind given their punishing workloads. As usual I had that swelling of admiration for Catherine as she has positioned herself to help so many women suffering from the same disease as her self through the Facebook support group she established. Now with over 4,000 members it is literally a lifeline of knowledge and emotional support for them, and recognised as such by the world leading medical practitioners who work in the field.

The next day (Mrs A’s birthday) dawned with blue skies and crisp temperatures. What a pleasure for walking around. First stop was to see if we could get tickets for the opera at the main state theatre on Saturday, and we did. Opera in Vienna, a bucket list item for us. A plethora of restaurants and cafes line the pavements. We chose one on the river Danube that dissects the city. A lovely lunch of chicken soup (Catherine is fighting a cold) and a glass of the local white wine for which Austria is famous, Gruner Vetliner. It has really become a favourite of ours with its smooth elegant bouquet. In fact Vienna is the only city in the world that grows significant quantities of grapes within its city boundaries, housing around 350 vineyards. This is our kind of town! Great food, quality wine, and a relaxed vibe. There always seems to be time for the locals to have a coffee!

Horses and carriages outside the Hofburg
A horse and carriage trots past us as we stroll through the streets
We have just purchased tickets to the opera!
Inside the Hofburg
Everyone dresses like they are out of an advertisement, with a backdrop of stunning architecture in every direction
Every open doorway reveals another magnificently decorated courtyard

Catherine’s birthday dinner had been venue had been recommended by her key contact here. Dr Tom’s a super busy in demand doctor, but he finds the time to even book it for us, and what a superb choice it was. Croatian seafood was the focus, and after a melt in the mouth octopus entree we had talbot and succulent veggies baked in a big casserole type dish swimming with juices that cried out for bread to mo it up. I obliged…several times. We are definitely leaning towards being pescatarians these days, with an ever decreasing amount of meat finding its way onto our plates in the eating choices we make.

Cheers! A nice bottle of Gruner Vetliner accompanies our fish perfectly
A delicious birthday feast at Konoba Restaurant

We were a little nervous about the bill, as the fish prices were by the kilo and we hadn’t worked it out, but pleasantly surprised with a total of just shy of €90 (150 AUD), and this included aperitifs and a bottle of wine. Good value indeed. Budget worries are likely to feature in our plans given we are watching our investment portfolio, the returns from which fund our travel, get wiped by the market drops due to the virus. Ah well let’s see. It’s out of our control.

Mrs A is tempted by an exhibition at the Albertina museum
Mrs A spends a couple of indulgent hours enjoying the art in the Albertina while I entertain myself in nearby coffee shops

We wandered these city streets for four days, clocking up according to our iPhones over 43 kilometres of walking. It’s been an absolute delight with no real agenda we just leave our hotel and wander where our fancy takes us.

Some early signs of spring as we walk about the city
The Danube looking swollen and fast moving….we had little rain, and a brief sprinkling of sleet, but generally it was dry, despite the foreboding skies
The Scottish winter gear is appreciated!

Then it‘s our last night here and time to enjoy the opera at the main state concert hall. The Wiener Staatsoper is a massively grandiose affair and we felt so privileged to be there, dwarfed by the 1,709 seat renaissance building. The opera was Manon, not one we had seen before or knew anything about, but that didn’t stop us immersing ourselves in the pageantry and incredible musical artistry.

Pre opera dinner at Glasweise Währingerstraße, another recommendation from Dr Tom
Another fine meal recommendation – and popular with the opera crowd
Built in 1869, the Wiener Staatsoper is steeped in history and looks magnificent at night
The exterior architecture pales in contrast to the opulent interior
The incredible entrance hall
Every surface is covered in frescoes, tapestries, carved wood, marble and tiles – it feels palatial
Getting settled in our box with a fabulous view of the stage – €65 a ticket, last minute
The final bow from the cast of Manon – incredible voices

We leave with unfinished business here, always a good sign, there was so much we still wanted to do. Cycle down the Danube, visit some wineries, listen to classical music on a summers evening in the square sipping an Aperol spritz. Let’s see…

25 December – 1 January: Oh what a year! Reflecting on 2019 as we enter a new decade

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia

The past week has been full of friends, colour and laughter, starting with a Christmas day feast, lunch catch up in the city, and finishing the year with a bollywood inspired new year’s eve fancy dress party.

Christmas and new year’s fun with friends in Sydney, Australia

Coming to the end of the year, it’s a great time to reflect on all the amazing things we have seen and done – even we pinch ourselves when we recall all the adventures we have had.

The year started in New Zealand, spending time in Omokoroa, a stunning quiet harbour side area in the North Island near Tauranga. We did some incredible walks, met up with lovely friends and spent some quality time with my dad and his wife Sue.

January 2019 in New Zealand

From there, we returned to Australia and spent a couple of months touring Victoria, catching up with friends new and old, a little wine tasting, paddling and cycling thrown in for good measure.

February-March 2019 – Victoria, Australia

At the end of March it was time for our long awaited Europe adventure. We flew to the UK, arriving on what should have theoretically been Brexit Day. Of course it didnt happen, which suited us fine, allowing us free reign to explore Europe without deadlines. We picked up a new-to-us motorhome, which we named Truffy (all motorhomes have a name apparently!), and set about making him comfortable while we caught up with friends and family, Mr A becoming expert in piloting a left-hand-drive vehicle.

Our first month with Truffy, touring friends and family

In May we set off for France, taking a ferry across the channel. We joined friends at a gite in the Champagne region and learned a lot about sparkly bubbles. In Provence, there were more friends to see, beautiful scenery and amazing weather.

Champagne and Provence, France

Leaving there, we headed off to the Italian Riviera and Tuscany, falling in love with the beautiful towns, friendly people and delicious food and wine.

The stunning Italian Riviera

We travelled across the middle of Italy over to Le Marche, where we spent a week with more friends, touring the stunning villages, vineyards and mountains of the area.

Fun with friends in Le Marche, Italy

Croatia was our next stop, with some time in Dubrovnic before a cycle-cruise with friends up through the islands. Sparkling clear waters, peaceful sleepy villages and friendly smiles on the islands, a little edgier on the mainland, busy with tourists flocking to the pebbly beaches for the summer. From there we worked our way up through the country to Slovenia.

Amazing sunsets and turquoise waters greeted us in Croatia

Slovenia, we really loved. From spectacular art, delicious wine, amazing cycling opportunities, safe, friendly cities and the most beautiful lakes of Bled and Bohinj. To say nothing of enjoying the novelty of cycling into Italy and back, just because we could.

Picturesque Slovenia

We drove through the Karawanks Alpine Range to Austria next, a country chock full of stunning views, colourful houses, and a cyclist’s dream with hundreds of kilometers of paths away from traffic or through quiet villages.

Awestruck in Austria

A brief interlude with Bavaria in Germany caught us up with some old friends while visiting lakes, waterfalls, castles and more cycle adventures.

Beers and bikes in Bavaria, Germany

Our 10th country of the year was Switzerland, where a pulled pork sandwich is a cool $42 at the airport. Mr A spent some time by bike exploring Zurich while I flew to the UK for a hospital visit, and once I was back we moved on to cheaper regions back in France.

Cycling and river swimming in Swizerland

We spent a few weeks in France, did some big day walks, explored Brittany and Normandy and wallowed in the Anglo-French history, learning lots about everything from medieval times through to the second world war. We did some cycling and wine tasting the Loire Valley, and decided we were not so keen on French oysters when we parked for the night on a farm.

A final jaunt across France

Back in the UK we spent some time with family and explored areas we had not seen much of before. We visited Derbyshire, Yorkshire, County Durham and the Lake District, but the absolute highlight was Scotland. After a few days in Edinburgh, we set off for the Outer Hebrides, visiting Skye, Harris and Lewis, and the highlands. Being off peak, the weather was rather fresh, but the scenery spectacular and unlike anything else.

Previously unexplored corners of the UK

We finished off our time in the UK with visits with friends in Chester and Nottinghamshire, before putting Truffy into storage for a few months and jetting off on what should have been the next Brexit Day (but wasn’t) to the warmth of Australia.

A final fling visiting friends and family before we jet off around the world

Back in Australia we had a brief catch up with friends in Sydney, before picking up our Zone (caravan) and heading south. We went back into Victoria, exploring some more wine regions and attending a Zone-muster.

Beautiful Victoria before the fires

We were fortunate to be invited to house sit for a good friend for six weeks over the Christmas period – a time we generally try to avoid travelling due to the busy school summer holidays. It has really made us appreciate being settled in a home for a few weeks, a chance to unpack, take stock and enjoy the city life from a location that is quiet and bushy.

Many of the areas we visited in November have now been burnt beyond recognition, the tarmac melted and warped, trees down across roads, properties and lives lost. It is so sad, but we feel privileged to have visited the regions in safety before all this happened.

There is enough in the press about the fires through Australia so I won’t dwell on that, only that like the rest of the country we are hoping for relief sooner than later – sadly no rain forecast at least until the end of January. Mark and I have donated to the Salvation Army Bushfire Appeal – please click on the link if you’re able to help too – any sum of money is appreciated to help those families who have lost everything.

Thank you to everyone who was a part of our year and helped make it so special. The kindness of friends and strangers (who became friends!) has really made our travels so memorable.

Thank you too to everyone who regularly follows our posts, we really appreciate it! If you’re not yet a subscriber and would like to make sure you don’t miss an update from us, you can subscribe here. We have an exciting year ahead planned, with more travel in Australia, Singapore, the UK, Austria, Spain, France and Scandinavia.

We would like to take this opportunity to wish you a very happy, healthy and safe year ahead, may 2020 bring you adventures and maybe we’ll meet you on the road somewhere?

Keep in touch, we LOVE hearing from you!

PS If you were part of our year and we’ve not included a photo of you in our montages its only because we are so limited in how many to include – I am certain there is likely a photo of you on this blog somewhere! Thank you!

8-15 December: Culture, kayaking and conviviality

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia

A week last Friday I had heard disappointing news about my airway. A visit to my local ENT surgeon found the scar tissue has returned again, closing my trachea by about 40%. Definitely not news I wanted to hear. He injected some steroids into my neck, a treatment aimed at shrinking the tissue – regular readers will know I have had a few of these procedures now, so I was hopeful it might work. Well, I don’t want to talk too soon, but so far so good – even in spite of the continued smoke, I am breathing much easier. Our fingers are crossed it stays that way over the coming weeks.

When it comes to breathing, higher numbers are better…

One of the main reasons for staying in Sydney is to be able to catch up with friends here, and breathing is always useful for that!

We had a great week full of lovely smiling faces of friends we haven’t seen for several months, with a couple of dinners out as well as hosting here in our house-sit, pleased to be able to repay others’ generosity while we have not had a home to entertain in.

There had to be a curry night with our friends John and Eveliene
And we found a local dumpling house to treat Rosemary and Richard to a Christmas lunch with a difference
A Friday night catch up with friends at the Opera Bar
L-R: Miles, Throshni, Mrs A, Owen, Mr A, Eric

I also joined a friend at the Art Gallery of NSW, always a haven of tranquility, colour and inspiration nestled at the edge of Sydney’s Botanical Gardens and the Domain. At present there is an exhibition of work by Ben Quilty, an artist who uses art to spur debate and discussion on various issues. I first noticed his work back in 2011 when he won the Archibald Prize for portraiture, an oil painting of a fellow artist, Margaret Olly.

Delicious smears of thick oil paint make up the features of Margaret’s face in this larger than life canvas artwork
Using a Rorschach technique (painting one side and squashing it on another canvas to make a mirror image) this artwork is a response to an 1880 painting of Myall Creek in Victoria, where a terrible massacre of Aboriginals occurred. The woman on the riverside visible on the right, has all but disappeared on the left in Quilty’s version of the picture ‘Evening Shadows’. Quite moving to see it in person.
Another Rorschach technique painting, Fairy Bower, depicts another beautiful location which is associated with sadness and grief

After one of the worst smoke days we have seen, we awoke to cool temperatures and drizzle on Wednesday morning, the haze clearing over the water. Mark and I decided to take advantage of it and drove to nearby Tunks Park and launched our kayak.

Wrapped up warm in our rain jackets we could hardly believe the day before had been 36°C

We just love how you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city by getting out on the water, with no cars or buses to disturb the gentle lapping of the water on the boat’s hull.

Peaceful paddling past the multi million dollar homes on the water’s edge
The boat launching nearest to where we are staying

We also launched our kayak on Saturday morning from the beach at Clontarf, paddling over to Balmoral for lunch and back. If only we could easily pack this beast in our luggage and take it over to Europe, what fun we would have exploring there!

At 7 metres 30cm it’s a bit beyond our luggage allowance, and actually longer than Truffy, our motorhome!
Launching from the calm turquoise waters at Clontarf
Sated post lunch in Balmoral, ready for bit more of an explore…Noticing my dirty neck? It’s actually the remnants of a big bruise from my injections last week!

We’re really enjoying staying in Mosman too, in the this little nook of Sydney we haven’t previously explored. We’re surrounded by tall gum trees, woken each morning by a raucous dawn chorus of birds. Bush turkeys strut their stuff around the streets, kicking up gum leaves, and flying up in to the trees to roost at night. Owls, tawny frogmouths and possums take up the night shift, chatters and calls joining the sound of cicadas in the evening warmth. It’s a fairly peaceful little haven, belying the fact it is only a 20 minute bus ride from central Sydney.

We joined a few of the neighbours for Jingle & Mingle, a Sunday evening seasonal catch up in the local park, taking along wine and nibbles. It was great to meet such a friendly bunch of people, with accents from around the world. We’re happy to make this area our home for the next few weeks.

24-31 October: Winter is coming…preparing Truffy for storage and our last days in UK

Author: Mr & Mrs A

Location: Newark & Harby, Nottinghamshire, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, London and Hastings, East Sussex, UK

Our final week in the UK for a while went quickly, the autumn temperatures dropping and the wet weather continuing. We are so fortunate to have good friends John and Catriona living not far from where we are storing Truffy, with a nice flat driveway on which we spent a good day avoiding the showers and getting him prepared to store.

The Hymer Owner’s Group was again invaluable in its help providing an essential checklist on all the many things we needed to do to ensure our little camper would make it through a British winter unscathed, and we set about draining tanks, blowing water out of pipes, cleaning and removing soft furnishings. We are so grateful for our friends’ large attic space where we have stored anything that might freeze or suffer from damp.

We made sure we were finished by the weekend when friends Stuart, Karen, Barny and Mel arrived for a farewell/reunion, revisiting our memories of our last time together back in June in La Marche, Italy. It was a fun weekend with a few gins sampled from around the country – with contributions from as far apart as the Outer Hebrides, Cornwall and Hastings.

A magnificent feast with dinner from Catriona and dessert from Karen on Friday night
After a day of pouring rain, Saturday night cleared to a fabulous sunset
Feeling cheery after a rainy Saturday afternoon chatting and drinking champagne, as you do
Stuart enjoying his glass of red
A little brotherly love between John and Barny

While the others enjoyed the Wales-South Africa rugby match on Sunday morning, we jumped on our bikes for a final ride, enjoying the emergence of bright sunshine but braving the chilly temperatures to ride 15km along a rail trail from the village of Harby to the River Trent. Apparently funding has been secured by a community group to extend this path all the way to Nottingham – we look forward to doing that once it is completed.

Mr A heads off down the path
Our start and end point where Doddington and Harby station once stood

Sunday afternoon saw us heading out for a stroll around Whisby Nature Park, an old quarry which has been transformed into a wetland environment with walks and bird hides.

Once barren sand and gravel pits, this area has been restored to provide bird, insect and other wildlife habitat
Silver birch trees are common here. These native trees were first to colonise the UK after the last ice age and are quick to grow and stabilise an area.

Our short walk blew out the cobwebs before we all farewelled each other until next year.

On Monday it was time to drive to Hawton Waters to store Truffy. We left him locked up safe and sound and went off on our way. From here we hired a car and drove south to Milton Keynes.

Truffy’s new home for the next few months

Mr A: While Mrs A was off to London then Hastings I had a few magic days with my daughters in Milton Keynes. I would count as the highlight of our trip this year the opportunity to spend time with them, and their children. two of my grandkids were away with this time, but the two who were around were plenty to handle!

Luke getting more confident riding his bike around the quiet neighbourhood streets

I am just amazed when I watch mums of young children just power through the endless challenges of parenting, especially when it’s school holidays as it was this week.

We had a couple of outings, a walk along the River Ouse was declared “enjoyable” by my older grandson, quite an accolade really considering mum had to prise him away from his Minecraft game!

Strolling along the River Ouse
Luke lapping up some grandfatherly wisdom – James less interested

That night I took my two daughters out for a meal, and what an absolute pleasure that was. Turkish and Lebanese fine dining, in the best company.

My favourite daughters, Zoe and Hayley…

Wednesday was a trip out to an open farm, the coldest place I have ever stood in. I have gone so soft in the Australian sun. The boys loved it though, interacting with the animals and playing on the farm toys.

Off to the farm

Mrs A: Mr A dropped me at Milton Keynes Station and I took the train into London. There I spent a lovely evening in Twickenham staying at a friend’s house. Jacky is another of the wonderful women I’ve met through my rare disease – making special friends is certainly one of the unexpected benefits of running the support group.

Tuesday morning saw me back at Charing Cross Hospital for my next airway examination and set of steroid injections. I was fairly anxious about this appointment given my breathing had declined over the past month, and I was worried the scarring was quickly returning. It was with some relief I was told I just have an infection and the scar has remained at bay.

After my appointment I travelled over to Charing Cross Station (nowhere near the hospital of the same name) and met my mum at Trafalgar Square. We spent a great afternoon visiting the Royal Acadamy of Arts for an exhibition of Lucian Freud’s self portraits followed by a browse around the Covent Garden Market stalls.

Catherine and Jenny
Gold leaf decorated gates on the entrance to the Acadamy
Mum grew up in London but this is her first visit to the Royal Academy of Arts
There are two major exhibitions on right now – sculptures by Gormley and self portraits of Freud
Covent Garden is all prepared for Christmas with giant baubles and mistletoe adorning the marketplace
Can you spot us in the bauble?

We concluded our London day out with a pre-dinner drink at the Fortnum and Mason Wine Bar, followed by dinner at Viet Food in Chinatown.

Fortnum and Mason was founded in 1707, and remains a glamorous and glitzy department store. It‘s worth visiting for the luxurious hand cream in the bathrooms alone!

Mum remembers taking cooking classes in the 1960s with a pastry chef from Fortnum and Mason, but cannot recall ever having visited the store…another first!
The wine bar is in the basement and sells a range of premium drops from around the world. Mum chose an Australian Barossa Shiraz….
An Italian Montepulciano for me…
Another first for mum – Vietnamese food in Chinatown
Some delicious dishes enjoyed…
A busy and bustling Chinatown on this fresh October Tuesday evening…London never sleeps

It was a fun mother-daughter catch up and chance to treat mum for her birthday which I missed in September.

Wednesday was an opportunity to spend some time with my 97 year old grandmother. She has been unwell recently and spent some time in hospital with pneumonia and cellulitis, and hearing she was back on antibiotics I made it a priority to get in and see her. It’s one of the challenges of travelling, especially when you’re on the other side of the world, wondering whether it will be the last time you see someone you love. She was in great spirits, rosy cheeks from her infection, but still full of smiles and laughter and could still remember ‘Catherine visiting all the way from Orstralia!’.

Grandma getting the hang of ‘selfies’
Three generations of smiles

Thursday: So now its time to head back to Australia, heads crammed with memories of so many wonderful experiences. Time with friends and family, as well as learning about so many new places. Our dream to travel in Europe, converted to memories of 8 different countries.

People travel for pleasure for lots of different reasons. For us it‘s the opportunity to make new friends, deepen the existing relationships we have, explore new countries and try to understand a little of their culture and history. It’s been simply amazing. To get to share this with adventure with someone as smart, funny, positive and gorgeous as my wife/husband – truly awesome.

21-22 October: Into Derbyshire…

Author: Mr A

Location: Bakewell and Chatsworth House, Peak District, Derbyshire, UK

Sunday: We left our hotel in Chester behind, but not before enjoying a final long, long, shower – then heading back to our life of short showers in the motorhome or disappointing shower blocks on campgrounds. Well, it rains enough here to never have to feel guilty about water usage!

We left Cheshire headed into Derbyshire and over to the small town of Bakewell, famous for its tarts. Not the short skirt wearing variety, but the yummy decked-out-with-butter-pastry type.

The sun and blue skies are replaced with grey as we enter into Derbyshire
Stone walls and fields of sheep

We tried to set up to stay the night there, but after all this rain we couldn’t get on our ramps as they just sunk into the mud. So it was a quick tour around town instead, and some power shopping for yet more warm clothes, before heading off for the night to a campground adjacent to the estate of Chatsworth House, famous for being the filming location of Pride and Prejudice and the Colin Firth version of Mr Darcy.

Our visits to Chester and Bakewell have encouraged us to reflect on what we’ve enjoyed though about these small English towns, as we prepare mentally to leave them behind and head back to Australia. There have been a number of really standout examples of vibrant little centres like this one at Bakewell. There were so many niche stores, from cheese shops to gin emporia, and quality independent clothing stores, cosy cafes and enticing pubs, all bustling with people.

Mrs A and I often wonder what the magic formula is, why some small towns seem to flourish and others in a similar geography wither. We had some ideas from our own observations, but I’ve been doing some digging and reading up to see what the experts say . The formula seems to be the creation of what one of the global leaders in urban planning Brent Toderian termed “a sticky street” – places where people want to linger. Structural changes such as pedestrianising areas are in the hard to do bucket, but essential to make them people friendly. It’s something we always comment on when wandering around a new town or village, ‘Who wants to linger in a street with cars and lorries thundering by?‘ Then changes being made that make that environment even more attractive, with entertainment for instance, like street artists. In Chester I stopped for ages listening to a guy playing an electric violin, it was so beautiful. I meandered around even more shops and spent money.

Another key strategy bringing back to life the high streets of some towns is the independent shops selling the non-commoditised goods we don’t see on Amazon. Why would you go to a high street where most of what is on sale you can have delivered? It all seems so obvious, so what’s stopping so many councils from acting and providing leadership? I think of our own little high street in a suburb of Sydney, where several of the store owners I know are against pedestrianising the street because they are afraid business will drop! A half decent councillor with an eye on something more than feathering there own pocket (thinking of several of the ones we’ve met) would be able to show them the data and convince them. It’s just a no brainer. Once we settle back down somewhere I think I may have to have a go at local politics and stop bitching from the sideline.

So it was goodbye to Bakewell and a lovely 6 mile drive over to Chatsworth House and the camp site that was heaving at the seams, with I would guess, over a 100 caravans and motorhomes. There’s a lot of us about.

It’s nestled right next to the 1,000 acre Chatsworth Estate, with its grounds designed by Capability Brown (famous for designing landscapes that look as though they could be natural, while presenting a range of trees, colours and textures to the view).

Trees are given space to grow and spread out as well as being selected for their complimentary colouring throughout the year

Monday morning we walked through to Chatsworth House park and heard a strange noise behind us. We turned to see a herd of deer leaping over a fence. Well the big ones did, the smaller deer had second thoughts.

Chief stag literally prances through the field, jollying up his herd
The herd takes guidance on which way to jump
There is no running up, literally just jump over the fence from standing
It looks almost painful!
The younger ones struggle to get over and get a bit panicky as the adults gallop off into the woods, leaving them behind

We continued through the grounds to the grand house.

The sun breaks through the clouds, lighting up this tree like flames
Not the house – this houses a cafe as well as children’s farm
Chatsworth House
Looking across the gardens at the sculpted landscaped views

Mrs A explored the house while I inspected the cafe in some detail. My ankle was still playing up so I couldn’t really do the place justice.

The grand entrance hall is designed to make visitors gasp with giant paintings and ornate carving on every surface. The first duke was appointed in 1694 for helping put William of Orange on the throne as King of England – royal scenes are depicted.
The balconies overlook the hallway
The grand stairway up to the first level
Dating back to 150-50 BCE, this foot wearing a sandal is thought to have come from a giant Greek wood and marble statue. The right foot is at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin
Incredible stories of gods and goddesses are pictured in the murals
A disliked housekeeper was immortalised by the artist painting this ceiling, using her face on a bad God, holding scissors ready to cut the strings of life
On the first level of the house, an elaborate suite of rooms was designed specifically for receiving King William III and Queen Mary II….they never came to stay….
Chinese and Japanese vases on many surfaces
Spot the trompe-l’oeil of the violin behind the door

The house continues to be lived in by the present Duke and Dutchess of Derbyshire, and in recent years has had a substantial revamp with more than £33 million spent on it restoring the building inside and out.

The royal bedroom is hung with elaborate tapestries
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire portrayed as a goddess
A cosy looking pair of chairs by the fireplace
Bedrooms with Chinese wallpaper
The present Duke and Duchess are big fans of ceramics with many collections around the house
There are many staff to do the dusting
A more modern ceramic installation commissioned by the Duke and Duchess for this space

There is an extensive collection of sculptures and statues, and a whole room dedicated to a collection going back several hundred years.

A handsome bust of Napoleon dating to the Battle of Waterloo, 1815

In the late afternoon we took a gentle walk into the small village of Nether End nearby, and of course a cosy pub beckoned.

Walking past thatched cottages, the lovely smell of woodsmoke in the air
Lovely autumn leaves over Bar Brook which winds through the estate and the village
And a cheeky drink at the Devonshire Arms

18-20 September: Exploring northern England

Author: Mrs A

Location: Harby & Newark-on-Trent – Nottinghamshire, & Ripon -Yorkshire, UK

Wednesday: We left Milton Keynes early and by 9am were in Newark in Nottinghamshire dropping Truffy off at our dealer for some warranty work. One of the reasons we love Fuller Leisure is that they’re a small, friendly family business, and they don’t hesitate to loan us a little runabout for the period of the service. We took the opportunity to drive into Newark-on-Trent, just a 20 minute drive from the dealer.

The castle has stood here for over 900 years

We knew nothing about the town as we drove in, but almost immediately saw Newark Castle ruins alongside the River Trent. It’s extremely picturesque, and given it has free entry we couldn’t resist an explore.

The castle was partly destroyed in 1646 at the end of the English CIvil War
Mr A wondering at all the people who looked out from this window before him

Leaving the castle we wandered into Newark’s market place, delighted to find it bustling with market day activity. We picked up some fruit and vegetables before exploring the rest of the town. We just love to buy produce fresh from the local farmers, appreciating the fresh taste as well as the opportunity to support local suppliers rather than supermarkets wherever possible.

Newark Market Place being used as it should be

After some shopping we returned to the car and drove up to our friends’ house in Harby for the night. There we had a delicious meal and shared some of our wine purchases from across Europe….enjoyed post a glass of the 1066 Hastings gin we gifted to Catriona.

Sunset across the countryside as seen from John and Catriona’s back garden

Thursday: My cousin’s daughter Hannah has just started a law degree at Lincoln University, just a half hour’s drive from our friends in Harby. Mark and I decided to drive up there to buy her breakfast and ensure she’s settling in alright. Lincoln is a small and friendly city, reminding me of Chester where I spent my university days.

The view from Hannah’s student room, uninterrupted up to Lincoln Castle and across the canal, walking distance into the centre of town.
Breakfast in Lincoln
Lincoln is a busy buzzing city on this Thursday morning

After farewelling Hannah off to a lecture, we drove back to Newark to pick up Truffy.

Dave debriefing on all the work they’ve completed
Happy customers with Dave ‘Always a pleasure, Fuller Leisure’…

We were amazed how much the team had completed in a relatively short period of time, consistently good. By 3pm we were on our way again.

When you grow up in the far south of England, anything past Watford Junction seems a long way away. Yorkshire, for example always appeared to be a mysterious place with lots of green on the map where people talk with the most intelligent sounding accent in the UK.

Nearly 300 miles (500km) apart – Sussex where I grew up and Yorkshire

So when our Nottinghamshire friends agreed to a weekend away in an AirBnB together in Yorkshire we were quite excited. Mark, Truffy and I skipped our way up the country, arriving in the city of Ripon on Thursday evening. There’s a carpark right in the middle of the city near the cathedral and Sainsbury’s that allows free overnight parking for motorhomes, and £2 for parking all day. It suited us perfectly and we settled in.

Truffy’s home for the night

After a peaceful night’s sleep, we decided to stick around the next morning and explore Ripon. Ripon is the oldest city in England and the smallest city in Yorkshire.

Not seen this many phone boxes
Mr A does a little ‘Black Sheep’ shopping for the weekend (locally brewed ales)

Ripon Cathedral was originally founded in the 660s by Scottish monks and tweaked and adjusted over the years.

Ripon Cathedral

Today it is still a living and active space, with lots of activity and full of people. Despite being an autumnal Thursday morning outside of the school holidays it was busy and bustling with an art and sculpture exhibition. I couldn’t resist a look.

Arches and stairwell to the sculpture exhibition
Many tours around the cathedral going on concurrently. A fabulous space with lots of light for the exhibition
Dating to 1789 a building beside the cathedral is now used as a hotel

Not far from the cathedral is a river and canal, so Mr A and I decided to stroll down. The canal was originally opened in the 1700s and restored in 1996. Today it’s clean with a walkway alongside it with several bird hides looking out towards wetlands.

The River Skell
The Ripon Canal
A bit of birdwatching
The wetlands
Mr A crossing over the canal on our circuit walk

We had a great afternoon’s walk around the waterways before returning to Truffy. We drove off to our AirBnB near Jervalaux Abbey to check in and await the arrival of John and Catriona as the sun set. A great first day in Yorkshire. We will be back!

Sunset
Truffy relaxing outside the Old Hall
Our accomodation at the Old Hall

4 September: Feeling reflective in Normandy…

Author: Mr A

Location: Longues-sur-mer & Rouen, Normandy, France

This is the first time I’ve seen the area that was the scene of the D day landings in 1944. I found it overwhelmingly sad, and could not understand the smiling selfies that people were taking next to the remnants of the carnage in which so many lost their lives. As was Germany’s leader said last year:

“…when the generation that survived the war is no longer here, we’ll find out whether we have learned from history”.

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, 2018

Wise words indeed.

German weapons trained on the English Channel. Their purpose quite clear
These were designed to sink ships and kill soldiers

I saw that quote in this article published last year in The Guardian written by a 93 year old Polish survivor of the war. I keep re-reading it and finding new depth in the insights he has, both reflecting on his life, and providing some salutary observations on where our world may be headed.

To summarise, and not do his prose justice, Aronson is afraid the “armchair patriots” of today tap into the fears our baser nature has under the screen of firing up “national dignity”. There are clearly many people around the world receptive to their messages that somehow things would be better for them if their country took more care of its borders, and “preserved” their independence and grew their power as a nation.

I have never been close to experiencing any small scale conflict, let alone a war between nations, but I know how I was affected today seeing these relics and reading the information boards describing the horrific events that unfolded on those Normandy beaches. Of course by then there was no choice, the Third Reich had to be stopped. the world would have been ruled by a regime with a hatred for all that was not “Aryan”. I have nothing but admiration for those who stepped up and stopped them.

As Arinson says “Do not underestimate the destructive power of lies”. The world was almost destroyed by them and up to 85 million people lost their lives, and countless more their homes, family and friends. Lies are being spread even more efficiently today using platforms like the one I’m using for this blog. Lying, providing alternative truths, seems to have been socialised now as a “normal” way to communicate, when some leaders on the world stage don’t even bat an eyelid when doing so. They seek to fuel hatred of other groups who don’t share their views on culture, religion, or golf resorts. Yes, those of us who live in democracies get to have our say once every so often, but day to day we can also speak against these people and their lies.

The city of Rouen, suffered greatly while occupied by Nazi Germans in World War II
Rouen Cathedral, dating back to the 4th century, has been extensively restored
Detailed stonework on all the walls
Rouen was liberated from the Nazis in August 1944, a flag flown from the cathedral showing the extensive bomb damage to the city from Allied forces
The interior of the cathedral has also been restored
Wise men look over us, many still showing damage from shrapnel and the fires during WWII, a stark reminder of the longevity of scars
The streets of old town Rouen are also well restored
Claude Monet painted the city of Rouen extensively during the 1890s
Monet painted the cathedral in different lights…oh for simpler times…

13 – 14 July: Travelling the backroads of Slovenia

Author: Mrs A

Location: Kostanjevica na Krki and Dolenjske Toplice, Slovenia

Saturday: After nearly four weeks travelling around Croatia we crossed the border into Slovenia this morning. A quick showing of passports and we were into new territory, and back in the European Union. Having lived in Australia for so many years crossing borders still feels bizarre to us – the concept that you can drive a few metres and there is a whole new culture and language. Thankfully our basic Croatian language learning of ‘thank you’ and ‘good day’ are exactly the same in Slovenia, so if nothing else we can be slightly polite, if largely ignorant!

Waiting our turn for passport checks…

Once over the border we continued on to the little settlement of Kostanjevica na Krki. Mark was earning his brownie points having found an old monastery which had been completely renovated and turned into a sculpture park and art gallery – an absolute culture hit, really not his style, but totally mine! Thank you Mr A, brownie points stored.

The centre of the settlement of Kostanjevica na Krki sits on an island in the middle of the Krka River.

Mirror perfection on the Krka River
Beautiful displays of flowers throughout Kostanjevica na Krki
Clearly a lot of pride in how their town looks – perfectly painted homes and not a single scrap of rubbish or leaf litter anywhere

You would be forgiven for thinking the Krka river becomes Krka falls in Croatia, the beautiful national park we visited a few days ago, but no, this river flows entirely within Slovenia, and is in fact the second longest in the country.

We continued to the Kostanjevica na Krki monastery.

The monastery and sculpture garden. All sculptures here are made from oak, and with recognition they slowly degrade in the elements, three are replaced every three years
One of many sculptures in the grounds

The Cistercian monastery was built in 1234 and was lived in by practicing monks until the abolition of monasteries in Slovenia in 1786. In the early 1800s all the furnishings were sold off, and the complex slowly fell into ruin.

A grand entrance to the monastery

Throughout the 1900s it has gradually been restored and renovated, the bulk of the work conducted post WWII, and today it is in perfect condition. Today there is nothing religious about the buildings, even the chapel, with all rooms given over to hosting the Božidar Jakac Art Museum and the Forma Viva Open Air Wood Sculpture Collection. The complex has been declared a cultural monument of state importance.

The chapel – today used for weddings and art exhibitions
It really is a lovely space, fresh and modern while embracing the history
Flowers adorn every archway on each of the three floors

I explored the complex with an exhibition showcasing medieval fragments from the old building and telling the story (in Slovenian and English) of the renovation and the work involved. From there, I enjoyed artworks from several important Slovenian artists and some temporary exhibitions. It is an incredible space for showcasing art, and all the more powerful for being just me there most of the time. Time just flew.

Incredible sculptures which physically moved you
Artwork picturing somewhat sinister stories
Beautiful immaculate exhibition spaces
Sculptures you wanted to quiz the artist about, like this dancer and bull
Modern bronzes in a historical space
A temporary exhibition inspired by bark beetles
And yes, even a cat!

Invigorated, I went back to meet Mark, who was relaxed, reading in the picturesque car park and we headed off for our next destination. As we drove, the sunny sky disappeared and the clouds began to darken.

Dramatic weather ahead…an ominous view through our windscreen…

We diverted off the main road to see a castle (now expensive hotel) on another island in the Krka River.

Otočec Castle – dating to 1252

There was just enough time for a quick photo of the beautiful building reflecting in the river before the first crack of lightning and boom of thunder split the silence and we retreated to find our camp, a further 20km away near the settlement of Dolenjske Toplice.

The storm raged for about an hour, with incredibly heavy rain, almost deafening on Truffy’s roof. Early evening it abated, and we emerged to go for a walk to see where we were staying.

We followed a woodland pathway into the small town. It’s famous for its hot springs and attracts a number of German tourists it seems. We had a little look around before returning to camp as the sun set.

The Krka River near to where we are camped
Apples dripping in rain along the roadside
Dolenjske Toplice
Sunset on our forest walk back
And the sun goes down on our first night in Slovenia

Sunday: Blue skies greeted us as we awoke so we decided a bike ride would be on the cards. A little research online revealed a mostly off-road and on quiet lanes ride along the river to the settlement of Novo Mesto. We decided to investigate.

Beautiful lanes along flower laden meadows

We found the pathway and followed it along the river – beautiful little agricultural villages, fields of corn, wheat, strawberries, pumpkins, tomatoes….mostly small scale, local workers.

The RIver Krka our constant companion
Beautiful barns, the detail in the woodwork is gorgeous
Mr A heads off towards the next village
Still some puddles from yesterday’s downpour
The river is full of fish
We find a riverside restaurant full of cyclists upon reaching Novo Mestro
Mr A samples chicken breast with a dumpling stuffed with cottage cheese
Ribs for Mrs A
And a glass of Slovenian red house wine – surprisingly drinkable
Yup, that river again!
Storm clouds are rolling in again over Novo Mestro

We had a fabulous ride, around 35km (22 miles) all up, and felt we got a real taste for Slovenian life in this part of the country. Despite being only about 60km from the Croatian border, Slovenia feels quite different.

11 – 12 July: Zagreb and surrounds – a different Croatia to the over touristed Dalmatian coast

Author: Mr A

Location: Samobor and Zagreb, Croatia

Thursday: We took advantage of the cooler, mid twenties weather and leapt on our bikes to explore one of the many rides signposted around the small town of Samobor, to the west of Croatia’s capital Zagreb. The area does a good job of branding itself as a gourmet weekend destination for the weary city dwellers nearby. No evidence of them on a Thursday and it was beautifully quiet.

Market day looks vibrant in colour but is quite empty on this morning
The Gradna river winds its way gently through town
Samobor Castle peeks over the trees above the town. It dates back to 1260

Firstly though it was a visit to the doctor for an annoying blocked ear. This would be the second time I had visited a doctor in Croatia and both times had been seen immediately with no appointment.

The first time I saw a private doctor in an immaculate surgery, and paid the same as I would in Australia, the gap between what the government thinks a doctor should charge and what they actually need to charge. On this second occasion there was no private doctor so I was sent to an “emergency” facility, again top notch, well presented facilities with super friendly staff. I paid the equivalent of £1 (AU$2).

I contrast this not only with my experience at home in Australia but the miserable task of getting to see a doctor in the UK. I was told to turn up the next morning and “expect to wait around 3 hours”, or have an appointment in several weeks’ time! No wonder the UK’s life expectancy rates are declining and the infant mortality rates increasing. The country is bursting at its narrow seams with people and just not coping…in my opinion.

So on with our ride with hearing restored. Bucolic scenes were everywhere, the rich soil and climate enabling small allotments being tended by stooped figures.

Beautiful scenery and comfortable riding temperatures
Riding alongside the Sava River, watching a car ferry cruise across
Sweet corn fields backed by the Žumberak and Samobor Mountains

We took it all in and enjoyed the fresh climate and green space after the stifling heat and endless concrete developments on the coast.

Having cycled 45km (29 miles) we had worked up an appetite and headed for lunch at a family run restaurant recommended by our campsite host.

Wild mushroom soup for one!

Mushroom soup, containing 15 different types of this locally picked delicacy, was followed by shared plates of a delicious mushroom risotto and fresh asparagus with scrambled eggs.

I think this was the best lunch we’ve enjoyed since we have been in Croatia. Immediately you can taste the freshness of local produce, something we have been missing in the tourist spots on the coast.

Friday: The next day we took a bus and tram into Zagreb. I’m sad to say we were completely underwhelmed by this capital city. We just didn’t find much to really get excited about.

Zagreb has a daily market selling fresh fruit and vegetables, cheeses and a few trinkets
The twin towered cathedral looms over the town
A dramatic looking water feature

We walked up to the Upper Town, the old Zagreb. There Catherine wandered into St Marks church.

Its colourful tiled roof, constructed in 1880, has the medieval coat of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia on the left side, and the emblem of Zagreb on the right.
The 14th century Gothic portal

I have decided to stay out of churches as a silent protest to institutional religion. While I waited, I was told off by a policeman with a gun for sitting on the steps of some official looking building.

Not dissimilar to the man with the gun….

We thought we would try the National Natural History Museum. Disappointingly there was no English signage at all meaning we learnt nothing… apparently it’s due a big makeover in 6 months – at least our ticket donations will go to a good cause, it is in dire need!

A courtyard full of sculptures in the old town
Of course we were met by a couple of feline locals
Catherine looking for a restaurant with good reviews and no smoke…challenging

Then we started the long painful process of finding somewhere to eat where cigarettes weren’t going to be waved in our face and the menu featured some thing a little fresh and interesting. Finally we found a lovely little cafe in the leafy grounds of the Museum of Archaeology.

Resplendent after a huge beef and egg salad
Catherine about to explore some of the old pillars and statues in the grounds
Parasols make fabulous shades in nearby Park Zrinjevac
Park Zrinjevac
Beautiful flowers outside the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts
Headaches at the Bank of Zagreb?

We were ready to leave mid afternoon, the first capital city we have ever run out of motivation to explore that quickly.

The electric tram which took us back to the bus station – keeps fumes out of the city centre

So it’s back to our lovely camp ground in the country and a snooze!

5 June: Spellbound in Spello

Author: Mrs A

Location: Spello, Umbria, Italy

Wednesday: We only drove 15 minutes to Spello, just 10km away from Assisi, everything we had read suggesting it was worth a visit.

We took quiet winding roads through agricultural land, grateful we didn’t meet any other traffic along the way.

Maybe just room for a cyclist to pass here…fabulous roads to drive on as long as you don’t meet anyone!

Gorgeous views accompany us on our way

Spello is far less well known than Assisi, but its history stretches back just as far. Much of the town is built on Roman remains and foundations, and sits within an old amphitheatre. The churches are often built on top of old Roman temples, and encompass little clues here and there to the past.

We entered through a grand gateway flanked by towers, amazed that there was not a soul around. In fact that is one of the main appeals of this town – it is so close to Assisi but there are so few tourists here. The streets and buildings are quiet, taking on a pink hue from the Mount Subasio limestone used in their construction. The constant call of swallows can be heard as they swoop catching flies around the rooftops, and the hum of insects on the ever present flowers.

Where are all the people?

These stone walls were restored in the early 1900s

Every corner is filled with flowers

Pretty pathways in all directions

A lovely looking villa

Every little space is used for pots of colour

Richness of colour in every direction

Seppo is full of flowers, every windowsill, doorstep and corner brimming with blossoms. The few people we did see were often tending to their pots, painting wooden planters, replacing dying plants with new ones.

A local gardening enthusiast tends to his pots

There seemed to only be one cat in Seppo…quite a chunky one too!

Fine views across the Umbrian countryside

From the top of the town there are fabulous views back across to Assisi, a monastery behind us enjoying this view daily.

Assisi on the hillside opposite

Wander around forever and never see another person!

Heading off down yet another enticing lane way

Will we get tired of these views?

A flower within a flower?

If only we could understand the stories behind this architecture

We tried to find somewhere nice to have lunch, but the menus were quite restrictive in terms of dairy-free, and the restaurant we really wanted to go to was closed on Wednesdays.

Mr A making use of the Google Translate app to ask about dairy-free meals

So we wandered back through the town, calling in for some wine tasting on the way through (three small glasses for €10), and popping our heads into the Chiesa di Saint Andrea, a church built in the 11th century, an example of Francisan architecture.

Hard to resist another little alleyway to explore

Chiesa di Saint Andrea

Frescos by Tommaso Corbo in 1532

We’ve seen sculptures like this all over Italy

It was well worth the visit to Seppo. We didn’t buy any wine, the prices set for the American market (two to three times the usual cost!) rather than the Italian value we have become accustomed to. It would be a great location to stay if visiting Assisi and wanting to avoid the crowds, assuming you had a hire car you could park outside the town walls.

We, meanwhile, jumped back on the road and continued our journey towards the east coast.