Harris and Lewis – Day 1

July 30

Our first day on the island of Harris and Lewis: confusingly one island although with a very narrow neck in the middle, which is not the divide between the 2 names! Lewis in the north and Harris in the south, with Harris also covering the lower third of the north island. Some history here I am sure. And yes, this is the home of Harris tweed: more on that later.

In 2013 when we left Goldie after the Cape Town to Cairo (and across Europe) trip we spent some time in Scotland, especially on the islands of Islay, Jura and Skye and we enjoyed these visits so much that Ros was keen to visit more of the wild wilderness that is the Scottish islands. And so here we are on Lewis and Harris for a week in a delightful cottage on the edge of a peat more! Ros choose well.

We are only 10 miles from the main town of Stornoway and central to all the island with a very local feel to it. The general store sells everything: petrol, papers, take away, wet suits, fishing gear, food and alcohol: what more could one want.

We had been following the weather forecast for the week and saw that each day showed rain! Fortunately, today is overcast but no rain, so the first order was to do the washing (does this sound like a recurring theme?) before setting out for a drive up the north west coast of Lewis to the town of Ness and the Butt of Lewis.

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Being Sunday was, however, a bit of an issue as everything, and we mean everything, is closed. No shops, no tourist sights, no restaurants, no cafes: even the golf course is closed and fishing is frowned upon. Must be a busy day in church. So, our visit was to the open air sights: the lighthouse, Steinicleit and the Ness port.

Even more interesting is the Clach An Trush Standing Stone, none knows why it is there: a marker from the sea? part of a building, who knows

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finally we were fascinated by the piles of cut peat drying out in the fields: fuel for heating in winter (and maybe even summer).

Sheildaig Lodge and two days in Scotland

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July 28We are staying at Sheildaig Lodge, an old hunting lodge on the shores of Gair Loch. We stayed here in 2103 and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It was then a family owned and run business and the host, Luigi, was warm and welcoming. The place was fairly rustic but very comfortable and the food really good.

When booking this time I did think it looked like it had been refurbished, but didn’t think much more about it. As it turns out, the property has been sold to a company which owns a couple of other small boutique hotels. Yes, it had been refurbished, very tastefully and without in any way spoiling the original building. (Perhaps too many chandeliers?) However, gone was the family approach to visitors and to sitting with mine host in the bar and discussing life over whatever your chosen tipple was. This is now a business and, although the manager was affable and became friendlier over time, our initial impression was less than 100% favourable. No help lugging luggage up two flights of stairs, one of which was quite narrow and twisting, for instance.

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The lounge area is very relaxing, with a beautiful view out over the loch, and as some of the guests chose to sit there with a drink before dinner, this did allow you to meet and chat with other guests. We met Barry and his son and grandson who were on an all boys fishing holiday in Scotland. Barry had seen Goldie and asked after our travels. We learnt that he owned a 1937 MG TA, an E Type Jaguar and a drophead Lagonda, among other things. We had a good chat about old cars, and other things. Dinner, as it had been under Luigi, was a set three course meal in the lovely old dining room and the food was good. A very relaxing way to spend the evening.

After breakfast the following morning, John had the full catastrophe Scottish breakfast, we went for a walk up into the hills behind the lodge to the scene of a WWII plane crash. The day was threatening rain and was overcast and what was billed as a gentle climb was anything but. At times quite steep, the path was very rugged in parts and in parts very marshy. It was also quit narrow and sometimes difficult to discern. The view on the way up was impressive, if misty.

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However, with the help of a couple of signs, we did find our way to the crash site. The plane belonged to the US Air Force and had been returning to the US after the war with both crew and passengers on board. It never made it, crashing into rocks above a small loch, killing all on board. What staggered both of us was that so much of the plane remained lying loosely on the ground after so many years and was clearly identifiable.

After returning to the Lodge we set out in the car to explore the area more widely. First we drove to the end of the road on which the lodge is situated. The end of the road is literally, the end of the road, which just stops. We did see some hardies swimming off one of the beaches.

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The temperature never got above 14 degrees, and they call this summer! The houses along the way were very scattered, most of them would have been old crofting houses. Bizarrely, we came across a Royal Mail post box cemented into a rock on the crest of a hill.

Then we drove in the opposite direction, visited a pub by the loch for a pint and a pot of tea, and drove into the township of Gairloch. Interestingly we found a very tiny but very well stocked book shop and so, after browsing for awhile, we stocked up on a couple of books.

The drive did afford us some wonderful Scottish scenery including very relaxed local livestock! No need to go foraging all day here as there is plenty of lush green grass to nibble on even while you sit and relax. It’s a sheep’s life!

By the time we returned to the lodge it was raining. We opted not to drive any further but to dine at the lodge again. It would have been a 10km drive back into Gairloch to find anywhere else to eat and we were just too comfortable where we were to contemplate moving!

July 29: Sheildaig to Lewis and Harris

John had booked himself in for a falconry handling lesson, as one of the various activities the Lodge offered visitors. So, for an hour after breakfast (John indulged in the full catastrophe again) John, with Daniel the falconer, flew two of the 12 birds on site which belong to a falconry company and which were housed just behind the hotel.

Not only were the birds flown for hotel visitors they were used for a variety of other purposes, the most interesting of which was delivering the rings to the best man at wedding services! A novel and rather stunning way to ensure the best man did not forget the rings. Daniel did say they often had a standby plan in case someone startled the bird and it retreated to the rafters or nearby trees with the rings and refused to come down!

John was first introduced to Isabella, a Harris’ Hawk, a beautiful deep brown and russet bird with highly inquisitive and piercing stare. She was exceptionally well trained and flew between John’s gloved hand (encouraged by the pieces of chick placed there) and two big urns on the lawn outside the Lodge. Daniel explained how each hawk is only flown once per day as the food is the encouragement and once they have eaten enough they might just take to the trees and not move.

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Each bird is weighed each day and its food intake monitored to ensure it does not over eat and get lazy! All the birds in the falconry are placed outside each day for about 6 hours to ‘take air’: to warm up in the sun (in Scotland!) to flap its wings and balance on the perch. The area of the garden where they are perched is protected from predators by a wall behind and the birds being perched in a line so a winged predator cannot get a straight flight at them. Foxes are not a concern in the daylight and wandering dogs are more likely to get a quick peck if they get too close.

Then Daniel and John collected the Barn Owl to fly and Daniel asked if I would join in as it was easier for him if he could get the bird to fly between the two of us while he stood between and talked about falconry and the birds.

Of interest to me were some of the words and phrases which have entered the English language as a result of falconry. The two I particularly remember are: ’caddy’, coming from the word cadger, the person who carried a frame, while out hunting, on which the birds were perched and to which they were tethered; and the phrase, ‘at the end of one’s tether’, denoting the long tether used when training the birds: when they are at the fully trained they will be at the maximum length of the tether! This is different to the jesses by which the bird is held when on the glove.

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This was a fascinating hour and ended with John holding the Russian Steppe eagle, which was about four times the size of Isabella, weighing in at 7lbs. You could see John’s arm droop with the weight when the bird hopped across to his gloved hand. All in all, this was a fabulous hour.

Then it was into the car for the drive to Ullapool where we were to catch the ferry to Lewis and Harris. Next stop the Outer Hebrides. On the way we paid a return visit to … Gardens. We had visited the Gardens in 2013 and were impressed with the enormous range of plants, the rather lovely layout on this sloping landscape with the loch at the end of the garden. The more formal part of the garden is planted with a variety of flowering annuals interspersed with vegetables of all kinds.

We revisited the Gunnera, a plant we later saw in its native habitat in Chile, sometimes called Giant Rhubarb. The leaves of this plant are simply enormous.

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Since our last visit the house on the property has also been opened to the public and the whole display inside, apart from being original to the owners who left the property to the National Trust, focuses on the garden, gardening and cooking with the ingredients grown in the garden. The garden was well worth a return visit.

Then we drove to Ullapool, visiting a National Trust listed enormously steep gorge on the way, to catch the ferry to Lewis and Harris. We arrived a few hours early as we wanted to stock up for the next few days and have another look at Ullapool (yes we visited here in 2013) and were surprised to see that the reception for the ferry was already open. But then, being school holidays the ferry was full, over 130 cars (no trucks) and seeing the attendants stack the cars in the car park was  fascinating. A 2 ½ hour ferry trip and a drive to our cottage.

 

 

Some Days

25 July

So Ros has told me that I am still in a go-go mood. I guess after 102 days of getting up each day with the road to hit it has taken me some time to slow down. Monday today, and it’s raining so we slowed down to a stop. We had one outing to the local off licence to buy some wine to say thank you to our hosts.

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26 July

I played golf at Gog Magog, this time on the ‘Old’ course. Met a very friendly member to make up a two ball. Rain cleared to make for a delightful round. Ros went for a walk to Poslingford, across the fields, using the traditional footpaths and a fabulous walking map of the area which was in the house. We managed to arrange insurance on the car.

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27 July

Drove from Suffolk into the Borders area of Scotland on our way north.

                      The Stansfield church and some goodies for Ros to pat

Rained most of the way. We did stop briefly outside Newcastle to drop off a suitcase, currently superfluous to needs.

Into Scotland

28 July

Driving north again to Scotland, we stopped for coffee at what turned out to be a store/café catering to campers in the area. The store was focused on organic foods and had some of the best looking produce we had seen since arriving in England. It also has an impressive array of everything else from jams and pickles to beautiful looking breads and cheeses to just about everything else you could need. It would have been easy to stock up if we had been heading for a self catering venue t for the next couple of days. Alas we are off to an old hunting lodge, now a hotel.

We decided to visit Falkland Palace to break up the journey. We were unsure whether we had visited here on a previous trip and I certainly recognised earlier than Ros that in fact this was the case. The palace was built as a Royal Hunting Lodge and was the home of the Royal keeper who was responsible for running the estate, managing the palace and maintaining the Royal deer herd and stocks of hunting birds.

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The palace was built in Renaissance style from 1501 by first, James IV and then James V of Scotland (not England). In 1542 James V added the Royal Tennis Court. Mary Queen of Scots enjoyed staying in the Palace and shocked everyone by playing tennis in ‘britches’!

We also wandered around the beautiful gardens and watched some of the appropriately dressed National Trust volunteers playing tennis on the Royal Court.

After Cromwell became Lord Protector of England it was used to billet Cromwell’s troops. Eventually the palace fell into disuse and disrepair.

1887 The Marquis of Bute purchased the palace, was appointed Royal Keeper and began the restoration of the palace. Most of the palace was restored and then lived in by the Marquis and his family. Even today the family of the Marquis are responsible for the management of the estate and maintain a set of apartments in the palace. The rest of the palace is now under the auspices of the National Trust of Scotland and is, obviously, open to the public.

We visited the Keepers Apartments, the Chapel (Catholic no less), the Tapestry Gallery and the reconstructed Royal Apartments. In the beautiful chapel, which is still used for services today, we got talking with a very knowledgeable young girl who gave us a much needed lesson in Scottish versus English history and where the two crossed over and intertwined.

We also visited the Edwardian Library, used until just recently by the Marquis of Bute as his estate office, with its arched ceiling which was painted in tromp l’oeil style with a ship’s window echoing the actual window in the ceiling, portholes and other naval images.

Images of England

Here are few random pictures we have taken of England so far:

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Two English ‘summer’ days – 23 & 24 July

When we arrived in Stansfield I noticed that the village was going to hold a fair on the second Saturday we would be staying at Walnut Tree Cottage. So, on this particular Saturday we took ourselves off to the Stansfield Village Fair.

This was held at the village hall and the next door playing fields. We arrived to find a series of tents and stalls set up with, inside the hall, more stalls as well as a bar serving drinks, including beer and a few other alcoholic beverages, and a canteen serving the more traditional tea, coffee, cakes and scones.

The first event to catch our attention was the stunt man doing some of the usual and some unusual tricks. Juggling with huge wicked looking knives we have seen before, juggling on top of a precarious monocycle we have seen before, however riding a motorbike blindfolded between roaring chain saws was definitely a new one. Possibly the whole routine was a little drawn out, however it was all in good fun and we watched and applauded where appropriate. The audience was very slow to respond and I did think that Dangerous Steve (could he not think of a better name?) had to work pretty hard to get the audience to participate in the ‘thrills’ and the threatened spills.

There were also about eight classic cars on display, including a MGB which had a board out the front of it listing all its many travels. The gentleman who owned it was very proud of the trips the car had done, around England and across to the continent. He was a bit disconcerted, however, when I confessed to owning the MG he had seen parked in the street which had travelled thousands of miles across five continents of the world. We had a good chat, however, and whereas as John and I do virtually no real ‘work’ on Goldie, he did all the work on his car.

There was also a dog show as part of the fair and this was treated most seriously. Not a best in breed type of show however, events were based on obedience as well as handling, with even a Best in Show category. I don’t think being a pure bred dog mattered a hoot, just how well the dog behaved. It was perfectly obvious that most of the dogs had been trained with treats and still expected them. Many of the handlers walked with a fist full of goodies held firmly just in front of the dog’s nose. John and I thought the very well behaved dog who expected no treats and whose handler also had in tow two small children should have won. But he was not even placed. Total injustice. There was a very beautiful four year old Goldie there, Lexie, who came in for a great deal of attention from me. I needed a little of the Goldie dog type time as I am certainly missing our two beautiful girls.

John had a go at getting a prize by throwing hoops over the legs of upturned mannequins – to no avail. We also indulged by buying a beer and a Pimms. Then it was time to watch the Morris dancers. If ever there is a queer ‘sport’ or dance this is it. The dances are performed by all men, with long sticks and dressed to the nines, including flower bedecked hats. It was interesting to watch and the history of Morris dancing would be interesting to research. Did it, originally, have anything to do with practicing with staves, aka Robin Hood?

We have just about read all the books we had brought with us so these were replenished at the second hand book stall. Then it was time for tea and cakes: a Victoria sponge cake and a piece of lemon drizzle cake! How more English can you get?

Then we headed off to Bury St Edmund. We were a little unsure what we would find there, apart from the abbey ruins, which now make up a huge park, but it was not too far to drive and the abbey and cathedral sounded worth a visit.

You enter the park through a vast gate which once led into the abbey grounds.

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The abbey ruins are spread over a very large area and all this has been turned into parkland with the ruins sprouting up here and there in rather interesting shapes and structures.

Some of the original ruins have just been used as the walls of newer houses. The houses look a little like they have tunnelled into the old ruined walls.

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After walking a little way into the park we could hear a brass band playing so set off to investigate. We were treated to the last few pieces played by a band from France Cuivres d’Amiens, a band comprised of amateurs mentored by semi-professionals, which travels the world playing. They had been joined for this performance by a local brass band. The music was excellent, the chilly weather hardly encouraging for the audience. The hardies who had turned out to watch were all huddled under rugs.

I had another chance at a Goldie encounter. Tom was sitting patiently with the wife of one of the players and he was quite happy to be patted while we chatted with his owner.

Then we wandered off to the cathedral to be greeted with by the news that an organ recital, by a well known British organist, Roger Judd, organist at St George’s Chapel in Windsor castle, was about to begin. It was free, and we were invited to stay and listen. Which we did. The music was quite different to what we expected as the pieces were elegiac and quite muted compared to the triumphal hymns most often heard in churches.

We had booked to have dinner at one of the nearby pubs, the Crown at Hartnest, on the way home. The pub is set in a very lovely green lawn (too cold to dine outside, unfortunately) and has very good food. It was quite difficult to decide what to eat as there was such an interesting selection of food on the menu. We did enjoy both the food and the atmosphere. We also enjoyed chatting with the father and daughter at the next table and having a good long pat of their elderly rescue dog who had to have quite a lot of Kelpie in him. It is amazing to see dogs happily sitting under tables in pubs and cafes etc, and rather nice also. How good would it be to go out for the day walking the dog and know that if you wanted to stop for lunch you could do so without wondering what you were going to do with the dog while you lunched. I wouldn’t mind if Australia adopted a far more tolerant attitude to dogs! (Though perhaps I would not go so far as having them sit on your lap at the table as you sometimes see in parts of Europe.)

July 24 – The John Constable walk

The next day we set out for Essex and John Constable country. Mum and Dad have a print of Constable’s The Haywain hanging in their lounge room and so Constable has been a favourite of mine since I was quite young. Personally, I love his depictions of the English countryside, so today was rather special as we wandered the area he grew up in and painted so vividly.

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There are a number of walks you can do around the area and some of those walks take you past the spot where various paintings were composed and painted. The farmhouse and the small lake in The Haywain are still there today, changed to an extent by time, of course, but still very recognisable.

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The lock and dry dock, still in existence today, also feature in Constable’s paintings.

We walked for most of the afternoon, across fields full of cattle and beside a small river where many people were boating in small row boats which could be hired for an hour or the afternoon. John and I were happy to walk.

We wandered as far as the town of Dedham and visited the church and the rather picturesque graveyard adjacent to it.

We also watched as the local council groundsman fertilised the cricket pitch while his three dogs enjoyed themselves by chasing bunny smalls across the pitch and surrounding field. All three dogs were enjoying themselves hugely.

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We avoided the rain, which had been threatening all afternoon, by splitting up. John went to the pub for a pint while reading the papers and I went to the very large and interesting local art and craft shop where I enjoyed a leisurely half hour’s browsing without anyone asking if I had ‘finished yet’!

We walked back along the river to where we had left the car. All the boats were now moored on the river bank. The rain had driven everyone indoors. All in all, a very pleasant two days enjoying an English ‘summer’. Did I mention that the temperature on both days never got above 17 degrees!

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July 21 – Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire

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We made a quick departure from Blackpool with a stop over on the way home at Hardwick Hall, a NT property which has been beautifully preserved. Quoting from the NT brochure, with a few additions:

It was the formidable ‘Bess of Hardwick’ who first created the Elizabethan style Hardwick in the late 1500s. She was the second richest woman in England (after Queen Elizabeth) and the house was her ostentatious showing of wealth, particularly the windows as glass was still expensive. In the centuries since then her descendants, farmers, gardeners, builders, decorators, embroiderers and craftsmen of all kinds have contributed and made Hardwick their creation. We’d like you to explore and enjoy Hardwick and in the process discover the lives, loves and adventures of the creators of Hardwick. Notably is the third floor, originally the guest floor which, as the property was little used over the years, has remained virtually untouched and provides a great example of Elizabethan rooms.

This year take a closer look at the life of Duchess Evelyn, the ‘Last Lady of Hardwick’, who died 1960. Her newly restored bedroom completes the family rooms on the middle floor. You can discover more about the life of a duchess, her pioneering conservation work and the dramatic changes she made to the east view landscape, in the East Court Rose Garden.

This was a fascinating few hours as we arrived in time to hear a talk by one of the NT volunteers who obviously knew the history of the family inside out and back to front. In a little over 20 minutes he gave us a very concise history of the family, from humble origins to being Mistress of the Robes to the Queen, as well as a clear and interesting history of the house.

The house dates back to the 1500s and has a very medieval feel to it. This atmosphere is enhanced by the plaited rush matting/carpet which covers most of the floors in the Hall. Previously, dwellings of every kind were ‘carpeted’ with scatted rushes which were changed regularly. Bess decided that this style of flooring would be much more durable and attractive if the rushes were plaited into a large woven carpet. It resembles a very coarse rattan or coir matting, much like we would use today except for the fact the weave is much bolder, less refined.

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The scale of the rooms and the huge floor to ceiling windows of approximately four metres in the grand hall where Bess entertained important guests is the most memorable aspect of the Hall. The rooms are huge, designed to impress visitors and to create a sense of the importance of the family. The house was designed to be an ancestral seat for the family.

The house is also  noted for its impressive collection of tapestries, frescoes and paintings.

Echoing the scale of the house and its spaciousness is the approach to the house, as well as the spacious and gracious layout of the gardens.

This was a fabulous place to visit and we really could have spent a great deal more time here studying the paintings and tapestries, exploring the gardens or simply enjoying the atmosphere of this very impressive house.

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Some Golf

July 19

Killara GC has a reciprocal arrangement with Gog Magog GC just south of Cambridge, so an opportunity to play a different course was too appealing.

Members of Killara (Mike and Penny) were in Cambridge visiting their son and grandchildren so I arranged to play with them. Footnote: Mike and Penny visit each year and it is no surprise that while Mike was captain of Killara he made the arrangements for the reciprocity so he and Penny could play when visiting (grandchildren responsibilities allowing).

Great views over Cambridgeshire.  Just don’t go into the rough!

After not even holding a golf club for 3 ½ months I was pleasantly surprised how well I het the ball. Mind you the greens are really true so that helps. I recommend that any Killara members visiting the UK make a point of playing this course.

July 20

I am not sure if Ros was really all that keen, but she said she wanted to come with me to The Open. Not too far I thought, just across England to Liverpool (actually Southport) at The Royal Birkdale.

Leaving at 5:30 I thought we’d be there by 9:30 – but not to be: an accident before we had even driven around Cambridge plus rain and the usual heavy English traffic meant it was a little later. However, not really a problem as, with the long daylight days, the players all hit off the first, starting at 6.00am with the last group not hitting off until 4.00pm. So we had lots of golf to watch.

It took me a while to understand the layout of the course: it is a links course rolling over the sand dunes with most holes separate from any other and with heath in between. The greens are rolling greens with deep dangerous bunkers (if you saw Rory McIlroy hit a double bogie on the back nine because he found a fairway bunker on his drive you would know what I mean).  No wind either!!!

We were able to watch some of the Australians on the first green as they had been placed in groups near the middle of the field, Baddeley, Day, Scott, Leishman, Smith and Griffin.

 

We started in the stand behind the first green and then I went for a wander around the course to look at each hole. Ros stayed in the stand at the first green and watched while the approach shot of Rory McIlroy landed on the path to the side of the green to be immediately surrounded by the spectators. She is not sure what happened next, but Rory did end up dropping a ball prior to his next shot. Not an auspicious start, and the English fans sitting with Ros were heartbroken as he was their favourite.

After a wander we ended up in the stand above the 18th green watching the finishing puts. Ros became quite an expert on the hole: ‘they need to hit it deep as it stops short, but not too deep as it will roll off the back’!

The only issue we had was the climate: it did not get over 17 degrees all day and with a slight breeze it felt even cooler. And the English call this summer!

We spent the night in Blackpool: why anyone would want to go there we have no idea: it’s a run down, has-been of a town occupied by elderly English and young families pretending that a wet and windy 15 degrees is the right weather to wear shorts and tee shirts. There is an enormous fair ground there but we were unsure when it actually operated. Not the Thursday night we were there, despite the fact this is supposedly summer, nor was it open the next morning.

 

 

More Tourist: Cambridge & Lavenham

July 17

Leaving Goldie with Beer’s we caught the bus into Cambridge for a day of sightseeing around the colleges.

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One must, of course, go into King’s College Chapel and admire the gothic architecture and the size. Started by King Henry Vl, it took from 1446 until 1515 to be completed (a period which spanned the War of the Roses, while the stained glass windows were not completed until 1531, and its early Renaissance rood screen was erected in 1532–36. Work was carried on by Richard ll, Henry Vll and Henry Vlll!

We then explored St John’s College with its old (1511) section and the ‘new’ (19th-century neo-Gothic New Court) across the Cam with its matched symmetry building.

                                        St John’s First Court and New Court

In Cambridge, on a bright sunny day (yes they do occur) one must punt down the Cam. We cheated and went on a chauffeured punt with the punter providing commentary on the colleges as we drifted past.

Some time for mundane activities like visiting the Apple store to buy the missing adapter to allow us to plug into the internet in the cottage, going to the bank to pay for our Scottish tour in a few weeks and shopping for clothes the replace the worn out rags we have worn for 3 months.

Back to Beer to collect the car and, deciding that it was quite late, we walked across the road from the workshop and had dinner (bangers + mash / bucket of fish and chips – how English) and met an Australian couple touring in a camper.

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Dinner at the pub.

Following that a pleasant drive across country in a convertible car in the English twilight that lasts until 10pm.

July 18

We set off late (amazing how quickly we have forgotten how to get up at 6:30 and be on the road by 8am!) for a drive across to Lavenham, a town of leaning medieval buildings. It has over 300 preserved timber and plaster buildings, including the Guildhall on the main square.

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Apparently the town made its wealth in the 1500s due to the wool trade, which made many towns in Suffolk wealthy at the time. However, to be different, Lavenham’s fame was due to the dying and weaving of a particular blue cloth that was sought after across the continent. The merchants sourced the wool and then used local people to spin, dye and weave in their own houses and yards.

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The Guildhall

The combined effects of the Dutch moving into Colchester and producing a better cloth and the introduction of a severe tax to finance the war with France caused the town’s downturn, with the result that many merchants just left the town and abandoned their houses. With no need for the housing stock, the houses sat empty for centuries until their historic importance was noted and they were preserved.

While wandering the streets we came across Neil and Lesley: Neil was outside re liming the house and after we had talked for a while he invited us into the garden. As the house was right on the street one does not really think that there will be much of a garden behind, but we were wrong: about half an acre set out with trees and shrubs and summer houses and 200 year old fruit trees.

Neil and Lesley’s back garden hidden behind the house on the street

Pictures to remind us what it looked like.

Read the house name and the hand written sign!

Home for dinner

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Yes, they are blankets on the bench, it maybe summer but its only 16 degrees!

A day at the races and our first day being a tourist

July 15

We are staying a few miles from Newmarket, the centre of the racing industry.  On Thursday, when we arrived, we were held up in the race traffic (Ladies Day) and that gave us the thought to see what other races were on while we are nearby.  We lucked out, it’s the Newmarket July Carnival with Saturday being the main day.  So why not attend!

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No tickets, not to worry, drive into the car park and we were immediately spotted by a couple of ticket resellers… only a bit of a premium! Into the grandstands and we found the whole layout quite different.

For a start, the track is one long straight of about a mile with the barrier way down the other end to the stands. This meant that for most races we watched the start on the big screens and then turned towards the track as the horses were about a furlong out from the finish. For longer races (most were 6 to 7 furlongs, so a real sprint) the track went around a corner so the start was completely out of sight.

The other difference was that the parade ring and the winner’s enclosure were behind the stands, so we needed to leave the stands to see the horses’ parade before and after the finish.

We did not do much good, only picked a place getter in the last race of the day.

July 16

A day sightseeing. We drove to the nearby village of Clare and followed a walking trail around through the paddocks and along the creek.

 

Views along the walk.  And what does a traveller from China find in a garden!

We then hopped over to Long Melford to visit Melford Hall. Our Australian National Trust membership has reciprocity with both the English and Scottish NT so we try to head for these sights for stately home visits and our history hit.

Melford Hall is the ancestral seat of the Parker Baronets and was mostly constructed in the 16th century, incorporating parts of a medieval building held by the abbots of Bury St Edmunds, and had been in use since before 1065. The locals say that the abbots could walk the 15 miles from here to Bury St Edmund all on church land! No wonder there was the dissolution of the monasteries. Beatrix Potter was a cousin of the family and was a frequent visitor to the hall from the 1890s onwards with some of her drawings on display. In the bedroom she frequently used you can see the original Jemima Puddle-Duck!

We arrived back at the cottage in time to see the Wimbledon final…without it being the middle of the night!

That evening we went around the corner to Hawkedon, to the pub for dinner. Very old (aren’t they all) with an extremely long wine list plus an extremely long whisky list and an even longer gin list!

What! There’s more?

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So you thought that was the end of Goldie’s blog! Well, Ros and I are staying in Britain a little longer and as we like to record what we do (so we can remember 2 days later) we’ll keep updating. It will not be as regular and detailed, but if you like hearing about Goldie’s travels, follow on…..

July 13: The day after

No one told us what time to get to breakfast and what time we would be leaving. No one told us where we were going; we felt quite lost!

One of the points I made to everyone before we even left Australia was to ensure that they had plans for the day after, or else you’ll be left in the Dog House Inn carpark wondering what happened. We had plans. First up, breakfast at our own pace. A second cup of tea! Time for toast! Time even to have a chat to other adventurers who were also relaxing.

Then the exodus started:

 

Dutchess (Maja and Henk) back to the train to drive to Holland in time for Henk to share his birthday with his family.

Vulcan (Lindy and Ian) around the corner to a friend’s house to drop of half the contents of their car (souvenirs) before enjoying three days sailing on the Solent.

Dash (Loris and Ian) up north to friends for a few days walking.

Burgundy (Tony) to his London flat with his wife Maureen who joined him in Abingdon.

Shiraz (Kay and Mike) to Preston for the Australia v Britain MG Hill Climb completion.

Shamrock (Paula and Peter) back to Kimber House for a photo before going with Mike and kay to Preston as the support team.

And lucky Goldie, off to Suffolk for 10 days in a friend’s cottage while relaxing and planning the next little while.

We are very lucky to be lent The Walnut Tree in the village of Stansfield just south of Cambridge. A cute cottage on a country lane backing on to a farmer’s field planted (my guess) with parsnips.

Two bedrooms upstairs, a lounge and dining nook downstairs plus kitchen and bathroom. Just perfect for a rest. Thanks to Di in Sydney and Rod in England for this perfect retreat at the end of a long journey.

First job, unpacking Goldie. Boy was there a lot of ‘stuff’ in corners, bags and tucked away everywhere you could find. Down to the carpets and totally empty to check if there were any damp spots (yes, so some carpet drying as well). Lambs wool car seat covers off and washed (3 days to dry). Feel much better now!

Before and After. All that came out of Goldie!

Multiple loads of washing. After 3 months on the road all clothes needed a wash, no matter how well we had done them in the shower each night!

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We did not quite goof off the next day. Goldie had developed a slippage in the gear box along the trip. Not a trip stopping issue, indeed more an issue of not stopping. So, while at Kimber House I asked for a mechanical recommendation ‘near Cambridge’ and was directed to ‘Beer of Houghton’ a business started in 1953 by the father of the current proprietor, Malcom, and now run by him and his wife Julie.

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If you know Sally and Stuart’s old workshop and multiply the size and quantity of ‘stuff’ (read spares, and maybe ‘needs one day’) by at least 6 and you have an idea of the shop.

Now the concept of ‘near’ is all relative. While Beer’s is 15 miles north west of Cambridge, The Walnut Tree is 25 miles south east, so overall it is a 40 mile trip across Cambridgeshire. Have we mentioned English traffic? 40 mile = 1 ½ hours driving. Sometimes on motorways, sometimes stopped on motorways, sometimes on A roads and many times through roundabouts. I am still uncomfortable doing 60 mph along what (to me anyway) seem to be country lanes. Accelerating out of a roundabout to 70 mph to then enter another roundabout in 1 mile’s time. And all along keeping up with traffic in front and having another car on the rear bumper.

So, we experienced complicated driving and found a very helpful, cheerful, knowledgeable person in Malcolm and we arranged to return on Monday for a service plus looking at the gearbox issue.

While there we visited the old mill on the river and walked along the old train tracks.

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Day 102: Calais to Abingdon

Is there a degree of anxiety about this last day? I would say so, as we had to be at the train, 5 minutes from the hotel, 1 hour and 25 minutes before boarding!

Goldie was in the lead and John specifically said, “So that we do not become separated, if you are asked if you want to board an earlier train, answer NO!”

Six out of seven cars got this correct. The computer expert in the group, faced with an automated check-in computer screen, somehow got it wrong, despite protestations to the effect that he was sure he had pushed the NO button. Oh, well, some of us got to do some duty free shopping, one of us got to hide out in the car park in England waiting for the rest to catch up!

The train is a very different experience as you drive into a carriage, get parked by an attendant, and then the doors between each carriage close for the duration of the trip. There is probably 5 minutes of daylight, where all you really see is the barbed wire fences protecting the tracks on the France side, before plunging into the darkness of the tunnel. Yes, the train carriages are lit!) You can choose to stay in the car or get out and walk around the carriage your car is in (yes, there is a loo) and socialise. The trip on the train takes approximately 45 minutes. Again, there is only about a five minute window of light at the English end.

Eventually we all arrived in England to be met by two MGs, a beautiful cream MGB roadster and a meticulous black rubber nose, with three members of the MGCC aboard. What a lovely welcome! We had intended to drive to Abingdon via England’s lovely country roads, however, after losing out hosts and the two cars at the tail end of the convoy we gave up and took to the motorways. Lunch in Abingdon was beckoning and we were not going to get there in convoy on back roads if we kept losing people!

We arrived in Abingdon to find a generous and warm welcome from the MGCC and the many members who had turned up to greet us. What a wonderful ‘family’ the MG fraternity around the world is. The question was asked, ‘Where is Dave Godwin?’, which was appropriate as Dave led the first MG ‘long drive’ group in 2010 across the Silk Road to Abingdon and then again the Cape to Cairo ‘long drive’, of which John and I were a part, which also ended in Abingdon. We were following in Dave’s footsteps and will always be grateful to him for getting us ‘hooked’ on long drives in our fabulous MGB, Goldie.

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That night many MGCC members joined us for a celebratory dinner. We were celebrating a fabulous achievement, the successful completion of a drive of 25,850 (approx) kilometres. There was, of course, some sadness also, as eight cars had set out and only seven had arrived. We all did feel the loss of Ginger and, of course, Dave and Pat. The ending was not quite so complete without them.

It was wonderful to have join us not only the MGCC members but also the Mayor of Abingdon, Jan, and her husband, Tom, as well as the designer of the MGB, Don Hayter. We felt very privileged to have all these people join us for our celebration.

John and Mike thanked all members for their contribution to the successful completion of the journey. Ours was not a professionally organised trip, rather all couples contributed. Mike, apart from being co-leader, organised, with Kay, the South East Asia leg from Bangkok to the China border. John, apart from being the initiator of the trip and co-leader, organised the 40 days we spent in China. Ian, with Loris, organised the four Stans, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Dave organised the transporting of the cars as well as organising, with Pat, the Iran leg of the trip; Peter and Paula took over the organisation when we crossed into Turkey and Henk, apart from being head mechanic, organised, with Maja, the European dash, taking us to an interesting series of small and large cities. Tony organised visas for the whole group, and there are lots of stories to tell about this aspect of the trip, while Ian and Lindy organised the team finances from go to woe, and along the way took on a much bigger role than anyone imagined and made life very easy for the rest of the group. Ros was left to organise a trip logo, trip t-shirts, decals and signage for the cars, and the MAP!! Many in the group doubted the need for a map showing the route but all could be seen, during the trip, crouching beside the door with an interested onlooker, tracing the route of our fabulous trip along the fabled Silk Road.

And those fabulous and tough little cars which took us almost trouble free for all those kilometres? What can one say? You learn to be passionately indebted to their toughness, endurance, forgivingness and the fact that, because they are MGs, they bring you together with people, other enthusiasts, throughout the world.

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We had a great night in Abingdon celebrating the end of our trip. All couples, including Pat and Dave, contributed around ten photos to a presentation and all couples spoke to their own slides. Thus, all present were able to appreciate how each couple had responded to the trip and what, for them, were the highlights. Yes, there were a few double ups, but these were surprisingly few.

Perhaps of greatest importance was the fact that, for all on the trip, the interaction with the people we met along the way was the most important and significant aspect of the trip. Lack of a common language is no deterrent should people wish to communicate, and all of us did! For me, however, it was the joy Henk took in telling people about our most remarkable journey which will stay with me forever. Yes, inevitably we were all ready, with engines running, to pull out and hit the road once again but Henk, however, was not quite ready as he could be seen tracing, with his finger along the map on the car door, that fabulous journey across 17 counties while his enthralled audience looked on.

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Another trip of a life time!

Day 101: Rochford, Belgium to Calais, France

Day 101 was another free drive day: no set plan, just find tonight’s hotel in Calais ready for the next day’s departure.

Ros and I decided to travel to Fromelles and visit the sites from the Great War and, in particular, the involvement of the Australians in the action seen on the Western Front.

however along the way we ended up in Mons so tool the opportunity to have morning coffee and apple pie in the main square!

And visited the local site, the bell tower.

We visited all the Australian and British war cemeteries and, of course, we were confronted with not only the huge number of casualties, but the futility of this particular battle.

(Or the futility of all wars?) Australia alone had 5,513 men killed, missing in action or wounded in a 24 hour period.

Our visit to Fromelles, and the various sites on which the battle was fought, was a sobering experience, especially after visiting Gallipoli a few days before.  At one stage, along the route following the battle, there are two signs signifying the Allied front and the German front; these were only 45 metres apart.

Of greatest importance is the respect the front line soldiers had for each other. At one stage, after there had been a non-official truce to allow the wounded from each side to be recovered from no-man’s land, it became apparent there was still a wounded British soldier left behind. It was a German soldier who braved the walk across no-man’s land, who picked up the wounded British soldier and delivered him to the British trenches.

Memorial to the bravery and compassion.  The grave yard at the field hospital site

Tomorrow, we reach Abingdon, the home of MG and the end of our mammoth journey

Day 100: Towards Abingdon

So these are the last days of our trip. We are crossing Europe at a rapid pace towards our final destination, Kimber House (the home of the MG Car Club UK) in Abingdon near Oxford.

First, a hop from Heidelberg in Germany to Rochford Belgium, crossing over, literally, Luxemburg on the way. Ros and I pottered around Heidelberg for a few hours in the morning, enjoying the cobbled streets and taking in the ambience plus catching the inclinator up to the castle overlooking the river.

There were great views from the castle and there we also found the Pharmacy Museum which provided a very interesting outline of the history of apothecary from the middle ages to the (almost) present.

From the time of expelling humours to cure diseases, through to using herbs, including very expensive herbs from Asia and further afield (which, in fact, were on the right track and effectively did cure diseases), to the pharmaceuticals we recognise today. Then the museum took us through the 1800s, as a better understanding of both the body and chemistry changed the knowledge of curative approaches, until today with artificial chemicals being used.

                   Old mixing room.                                                         A very big barrel! 

Of particular interest were the laws Germany introduced through these times in respect to pharmacy including, how the pharmacist needed to have all materials on display, through to having them in a back room and then, out in front and on display, again. The number of pharmacist was noted, with a big down turn in WWII, and how finally, the allies worked very hard after the war to ensure wide spread access to medicine.

The it was a relatively quick drive to our accommodation in Rochford to a delightful hotel / guest house / restaurant.This is a family run business, which I do just love, as the host and hostess check you in, then provide before dinner drinks, plus the husband is the chef.

Welcome to Belgium

Sights along the way

After checking in we walked around the very pretty town, though unfortunately most places were closed. It was Monday and after 5.00pm. We did find a patisserie selling luscious goodies so we both, respectively, a raspberry and custard tart (words cannot describe the flavour) and a caramel and banana éclair. This was a late lunch.

Scouts from afar were hiking in the woods nearby and we bumped into a few for a chat.

Belgium seems to be one complex road system!

A fun second last night enjoying dinner with Maja and Henk, Tony and Roger. The food was absolutely sublime, of the standard you would find in the best restaurants in Sydney or Melbourne, and of course we probably enjoyed too much local wine.

Day 99: Vienna Austria to Heidelberg Germany

 

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Breakfast in Austria, where would you like lunch: Germany, Hungary, Slovakia or Slovenia?

Germany as it turned out as our destination is the fascinating town of Heidelberg with its cobbled and car free ‘old town’ providing a beautiful setting for restaurants and shops.

A long day, over 700 kilometers, however all on motorways so was not too bad, especially as today is Sunday and trucks are prohibited and hence less lanes to pass slow moving trucks.  But, boy, do the locals drive fast!

Trucks parked along the side of the motorways and a MGA out for a Sunday drive

We were met at the hotel by Reinhart who owns an MG – unfortunately he only speaks German and so Henk and Maja were the only adventurers that could chat at length.

We wandered the streets with Peter and Paula ending up in a delightful restaurant over looking the river and the 17th century bridge.

Heidelberg is a university town and so plenty of bars and kids all over the place.

We are nearing the end of the trip and you can tell. Much less enthusiasm for sightseeing, slower to get going in the morning and less intense studying of the travel guides.

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We should have a real treat in store in England.  Some MG Car Club members are meeting us at Folkestone and driving with us to Kimber House (the home of the MGCC) and may then join us for dinner that night at the Dog House Inn, where we will have a celebration of an AMAZING trip.

 

Day 98: Budapest, Hungary to Vienna, Austria

Another day, another country as we head for home in Abingdon.

No formalities at the border at all: just drive through a few chicanes and continue at 110kmph. Of note is that in each country so far we have had to buy a vignette to drive on the motorways. In Hungary its just a recording of the number plate for the electronic tolling while in Bulgaria and Austria it’s a sticker for the windscreen: additions to the China MG Car Club and Iran MG Car Club stickers on, what is, a very small windscreen already!

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The maps on the side of the car provide Henk with a great pick up line!

We arrived at a delightful family run hotel before lunch and set out to explore the home of Beethoven, Mozart and a few other notables in the music world. First stop, a ride on the ferris wheel, which John remembers from his visit 40 years ago but, as a poor back-packing student, could not afford!

The wheel is in an amusement park full of breakfast releasing rides!

We then headed into ‘The Ring’ the centre part of Vienna containing a plethora of building built in the 1800s and especially St Stephens Cathedral.

Day and night

A quick coffee and cake stop was extended by a downpour, extending into a second coffee and sandwich.

Finally the skies cleared and we headed off to the Hofberg Palace and the Museum Quarter.

We then gained courage and headed into the underground and caught a metro to the Schloss Schonbrunn, the baroque summer place built over a former hunting lodge by Maria Theresa in 1740 to 1750. Apparently with 1,441 rooms although we only visited 26 mainly the royal apartments, set up both in the style of Marie Theresa’s time and Franz Joseph who was emperor from his 18th birthday until he died at 86 in 1916.  sorry no pictures inside.

The apartments included 2 side rooms (one round the other an octagon) set aside to display the Chinese and Japanese porcelain collected in the 1700’s when it was the height of popularity. And to think we had visited Jingdezhen in China where much of the collection was made!

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Fascinating stories of royalty during the 17, 18 and 1900’s as the travelled and intermarried (finally to their own detriment). Of Marie Theresa’s 9 daughters only 1 was allowed to marry for love, the others got married off for alliance reasons, including Marie Antoinette to Louis XVI – a bit of bad luck for her!

The gardens are extensive and, like the royal apartments and the large reception rooms have shades of Versailles, which would have been around the same period.

Dinner with Ian and Loris across the street form the hotel in a gausthaus. Ros had to have wiener schnitzel while John went for the Austrian goulash. Local beer and wine to complete the meal.

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After dinner John went wandering the streets and took some night time photos of Vienna.

Day 97: Timisoara Romania to Budapest Hungary

Another border crossing, this time into Hungary, with even less process than beforfour: drive to a booth and leave Romania, go forward 10 metres and hand passport and rego papers to the Hungarian policeman and then drive away. 10 minutes max!

On then to Budapest, the 2nd or 3rd largest city in Europe and one of 4 capital cities on the Danube. We arrived before the hotel was ready so we left the cars and headed back into the city proper by tram. We started on the Buda side of the river and explored the Citadel and the Palace, both high on a hill overlooking the river, which we expect, was originally chosen for defensive reasons and control of the river.

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The palace had a long history including being the seat of the Austro-Hungarian empire, swapping with Vienna for the title, and being bombed at the end of WWII. It has now been substantially rebuilt and is a series of museums.

Lunch in a delightful café in Independence Park (we think independence from Austria but need to check!) including a delightful rich sweety desert of sponge, cream, chocolate and a shot of some form of alcohol served in a tall glass. Just perfect!

Ros and I then walked across one of the metal suspension bridges built in the 1800s to the Pest side and spent the afternoon admiring the architecture, including the Parliament building and watching the guards patrol the flag pole out front.

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There are numerous pedestrianized streets, however unfortunately mostly taken over with souvenir shops and restaurants catering for the tourist industry near to the cathedral.

However, the leather shop did attract our attention and as Ros needs a (non travelling back pack) handbag for England we succumbed to a few purchases!

Fortunately we walked out the other end and found a slightly less tourist restaurant for dinner: Ros a crepe filled with spicy meat and covered in a tomato based sauce and John roast pork with tasty potatoes and red cabbage! I think John is pleased to be out of Muslim countries and was missing his bacon and pork as this was the second night he has hit the pig.

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We seem to have hit Europe in a heat wave. We have had temperatures over 30 each day, which is a bit wearing after a while. We had looked forward to cooler weather but we’ll just have to live with it! The locals certainly liked it, watching the sunset from one of the metal bridges over the Danube.97 sunset

We returned to the hotel to catch up with members of the MG Car Club of Hungary (yes there is one) including Mihaly a contact of Sydney MGCC member Tom! Small world eh!

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Day 96: Craiova to Timisoara, Romania

A driving day, again! We did leave a little later than usual, 8.30am and then drove for about 2 hours to the small town of Orsava on the Danube for morning tea/lunch. Ian and Lindy in the lead had identified a park by the river in the town for lunch and a possible short drive to visit a monastery.

Danube at Orsava

We opted for a walk around the park and morning tea and followed this with a cup of coffee in a café overlooking the river.

We were on small regional roads for most of the day with lots of trucks, however the road surface was good and the driving relatively simple. Plenty of haystacks built around a pole and then piled up manually with a great big hay fork.

Haystacks and unusual roof lines.  is it a Roma village?

Timisoara is the city which spontaneously began the Romanian independence revolution in 1989. There is a museum in the city and some of us decided to visit this on the way to the hotel to ensure we got there before it closed. So, with Ian and Loris and Tony and Roger we peeled off before the hotel, found the museum and spent a very interesting hour plus looking at the history of the revolution which was carried by the weight of the people who eventually forced Nicolae Ceausescu from office. He and his wife werethen tried (10 minutes) and executed (before any one could raise their cameras to take a photo).

The museum has a film about the revolution with English sub-titles and this was a huge help as most of the information in the museum is, understandably, in Romanian. What the film revealed was the entirely spontaneous nature of the revolution. The eviction and forced relocation of a priest in Timisoara ignited the rage of the people. This grew throughout the city, spread through the country, provoked general strikes across the country and eventually the will of millions of Romanian people prevailed and Ceausescu was forced to resign. But only after over 1,000 people were killed by the military and police in trying to stop the demonstrations. A fascinating visit.

Perhaps the most moving aspect of the museum was the presence of many of the flags used in the demonstrations where the ‘arms’ of the dictatorship were cut from the centre of the flag, leaving the flag we see today.

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We headed out with Mike and Kay to see the city highlights. First a walk through the riverside park with lots of children’s play equipment and paddle boats on the river.

Then watch a street parade of people in various local costumes (not too sure what it was about).

Then into a magnificent Orthodox Cathedral with so much glitter and great art work.

The main square is a fascinating place as it must have been a very wealthy city in the 1800s judging by the architecture although somewhat overlaid by the ‘Stalinist’ buildings around them. All buildings were pretty shabby, some in the town square even dilapidated and unoccupied with broken windows and crumbling facades.

A false start at a restaurant on the square before finding a open air restaurant on the river with a great bottle of local wine. We then followed the sounds of music and discovered an outdoor concert of very local music and listened here for a while.

 

Day 95: Plovdiv Bulgaria to Craiova Romania

Sad farewell to the find of Plovdiv and another long drive and another border crossing.

Unfortunately, there was a multicar accident on the motorway and all traffic in both directions was diverted onto the local roads causing almighty traffic jams through country villages and over narrow bridges.

More storks!   Lunch stop

It was very difficult to know exactly where we were at times, but policemen on most corners directed us for about 2 hours driving as we bypassed about 50 kms of motorway.

We then turned north towards Romania and crossed the Danube (the border) by ferry.

The border process was efficient, however the ferry was a bit complex. The ferry only runs each way every two hours. Fortunately, we arrived about 45 minutes before the next trip so it allowed us time for the Bulgarian exit procedures and only a short time waiting.

Approaching the border/ferry there was a very long line-up of trucks, we estimate the last truck would take about 8 hours to reach the ferry! After the border formalities, again relatively simple, we joined the car queue at the wharf and watched the trucks being loaded: it’s a drive on and turn around ferry so the trucks needed to go first and then the cars were squeezed in around them. Not so many cars so there was still a big empty space in the middle of the ferry. No more cars arrived and so finally the 4.00pm ferry departed at 4.30pm.

We still had 100kms to drive to reach Craiova where we were to spend the night. We were travelling along smallish country roads and so we did not arrive till after 7.00pm. We wandered down to the centre of the town with Ian and Loris and finally settled in a covered outdoor restaurant in the main plaza which was right next to a fountain. A very pleasant evening.

Day 94: Canakkale to Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Turkey is ablaze with sunflowers and so it was simply impossible to resist photographing Goldie among the golden sunflowers!

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A relaxed start as the morning’s drive was not to commence until 9am on the other side of the Bosporus, allowing the early birds to have a last minute run to Gallipoli for photos. John and I caught a letter ferry to the town immediately across from Canakkale. The crossing was quite rough as there was a strong wind blowing. The town where the ferry docks has a lovely old fort (having one through an extensive restoration it will reopen in two weeks!) and gun emplacements from the war. Then it was a short drive to the turn off to Gallipoli to meet us with the others.

We had a long drive with a border crossing, but this was so much easier than any to date. Basically, stay in the car and hand passports and vehicle registration out the window to helpful border control officers on both sides. We only had to hop out to open the boot at each side. This is the start of our race across Europe with some interesting stops on the way.

We are back in stork country, with these birds creating a very large nest on the top of the church spire. Mum, Dad and Bub were all in residence as we drove by.

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And then to Plovdiv, in Bulgaria, certainly a town we had never heard of but a fascinating town with 3,000 years of history and a very Eastern European flavour to it.

Ros and I spent the afternoon wandering the ‘old town’ sights. These included the colosseum (unfortunately now 98% buried under the main pedestrian mall), the theatre (still used for concerts etc, so looking beautiful), the ancient ruins of the Greek fort, the magnificent interior of the church and the amazing architecture of the mid 1800’s.

This is a really lovely small European city with winding streets and lovely plazas in which beautiful fountains take pride of place.

Dinner with Lindy and Ian as we also watched a fireworks display to end the evening.

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Day 93: Cannakale and Gallipoli

In 2012 we visited Gallipoli as we drove from Turkey to England at the end of the Cape to Cairo trip. Visiting Anzac Cove, Lone Pine and the other famous (infamous?) sites on the Gallipoli Peninsula was a moving and amazing experience. We were keen to return.

There is a fascinating museum and interpretation centre here which had only just opened when we visited in 2012 and, due to time constraints of the whole team, we did not have time to work through the entire interactive interpretation of the Gallipoli campaign. Only when I visited Gallipoli previously did I really begin to understand the Turkish perspective. That the two nations have grown close and hold each other in great respect, had never really adequately been explained in any of the history lessons at either school or university. Only after our visit in 2012 did I really appreciate the Turkish position, both at an international level and domestic level.

So, we are heading back to Gallipoli and, as the Interpretation Centre is not on the itinerary of the guided tour we decide to take Goldie over on the ferry, rather than take the tour bus, so that we can stay longer and return to the centre.

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I have no need to repeat the details of the Gallipoli campaign. Australians are imbued with these. However, to stand on the shore of Anzac Cove is intensely moving. To see North Beach, where the Dawn Service is held, with its intensely simple memorial brings stillness and a kind of tranquility. To gaze up at the Sphinx, the cliffs faced by the Anzacs as they came ashore, overwhelmingly daunting. To look down towards Cape Hellas where the British troops landed makes you aware of the enormity of the task which faced the allied troops.

We visited the war cemeteries along the beaches and at Lone Pine and the New Zealand cemetery at Chunuk Bair.

These cemeteries are just a reminder of the thousands of lives lost here. The thousands of families affected by this war alone.

And, of course, the Turkish cemetery and war memorial leaves you wondering why we never learn that war only decimates generations of young men and women. It never seems to solve anything. And yet, around the world, wars are continuously fought. The monument to Ataturk reminds us of the crucial role he played in defeating the Allied forces at Gallipoli.

Australia has never been invaded. Yet, we invaded the Turkish homeland. 87,000 Turks died defending their homeland on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Allied deaths totalled – 44,072, comprising: 8,709 Australians, 2,701 New Zealanders, 21,255 from the UK, 10,000 French, 1,358 Indians, 49 Newfoundlanders. The most successful part of the campaign from the Allied point of view was the evacuation of all remaining troops without loss of life.

The Turks paid an enormous price for the defence of their homeland, yet our two countries developed an enduring respect for each other born out of the tireless and courageous manner in which each country’s soldiers went about their business. The stories of Gallipoli at a personal level simply reduce me to tears.

Two stories, two statues. The Turkish soldier who, at the end of the ceasefire organised to give each side to rescue their wounded from no-mans land and bury their dead, still went into no-mans land to rescue and return to the British lines a British soldier left inadvertently behind, risking his own life to do so.

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The 109 year old Turkish veteran who returned, with his great granddaughter, to participate in the ANZAC memorial service. He died a year later.

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We did return to the interpretation centre on this visit. An excellent facility which not only involves you in the Turkish experience but underlines the respect which grew up between our two nations. Something not to be missed if you are visiting Gallipoli.

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives .. You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours… You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosoms and are in peace. After having lost their lives not his land they have become our sons as well.

Ataturk to the mothers of the Anzacs.

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