Sunday, July 27, 2008

Home

Our flight from Singapore to Wellington with Singapore Airlines was quite straightforward. The flight was full and we got to watch movies, read and have the requisite airline meals and drinks! An interesting observation - all the flights we were on were full or very near full. I wonder if that has anything to do with the cost of fuel? I remember flights we have taken in previous years where there were often several vacant seats - not so now!

When we arrived in Christchurch we were told the temperature on the ground was 3 degrees - once we got out of the main terminal we were able to agree with that figure! Yesterday morning it was 27 degrees in Singapore at 5 am - quite a difference.

The photo opposite was taken from the Christchurch airport terminal.




On our flight to Nelson I managed to capture a photo of the mountains. When we arrived in Nelson our friend Elizabeth was there in the cold to meet us. She had put on the heater in our house to help warm it before we got there, put supplies in the cupboard so we didn't have to go out for the rest of the day and had put a cottage pie in the fridge - we thoroughly enjoyed that for tea!





Some statistics from our trip:

89 days away
16 countries visited
8 schools visited
14 flights
5 train journeys
10 bus trips (3 overnight bus trips)
4 ferry trips
2 car rentals (21 days)
24 different beds slept in - okay - how else could I have written that??

I'm away tomorrow to see my bank manager!!

Singapore 2

We left our accommodation in Dubrovnik this morning around 7 am. Mare and her daughter Natasha were both up to say farewell to us.

It was easy to catch the airport bus because we were about 5-10 minutes walk from the departure point.

We arrived back in Singapore having travelled Dubrovnik to Frankfurt to Singapore. We had an 8 hour stop over in Frankfurt so plenty of time to do some work and check out all the shops in the terminal!

We arrived in Singapore in the afternoon so Quinn was able to come to meet us. She was as excited as we were and was keen to dance in circles for us!

The next few days were spent simply enjoying time with Dionne, Duncan and Quinn. That included a lot of rest, swimming, some work, shopping eating and simply relaxing.





Obviously Quinn occupied most of our camera time! The next two photographs were take at Pasir Ris park/playground. This would be one of the best children's playgrounds I have ever seen. It would have cost a lot of money but I am sure it's worth every dollar it cost.

Since we were here on a wet weekday we had the park to ourselves!



Here she is on the shore with Dionne. The park is bordered on one side by the sea and it is possible for people to use canoes and do other water sports here.









Duncan and Dionne's friends Margaret and Mike from Wellington called round one evening and we all spent time sharing travel stories. They were on their way home to New Zealand from the UK.








Raquel and Steve also called by on their way back to Sydney so we had a small 'family reunion'. I think Quinn was surprised to wake up and find them in the apartment - they arrived just after 6am after an overnight flight from Denmark.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Montenegro

We had an absolutely wonderful day in Montenegro. When we realised how close we were and how easy it was to get there and back we decided to join a day tour. After two border inspections within minutes of each other we were set to learn about a place we had only heard about second hand. The trip from Dubrovnik followed the coastline and people were already swimming before 8 am.






Our first stop was in Kotor where we visited another Old Town – as fascinating as any of the others we have visited.

After that we followed a route up the mountain that involved 25 hairpin bends and a climb to 1000m above sea level. The photograph shows one section of the road where the hairpin bends make an 'M'.

The town of Njegusi can be found at 1300m; that is where we had a solid lunch made with local bread, cheese and smoked ham. Apparently our purchases go a long way towards ensuring their survival.





After lunch we carried on up the mountain to 1300 m above sea level before dropping back to Cetinje, a former capital of Montenegro. Grand it once may have been but those days are certainly in the past! However, it was a very interesting stop to have made.


From the top of the mountain you get a great view of Koto below and the rest of Montenegro in the background.


We eventually wove our way back down the mountain to the seaside resort of Buva. Everything seems to happen there from the Rolling Stones to the very rich set with their ‘boys toys’ parked in the bay. It seems that this is where you come after you have a brown body

We were able to visit another Old Town – we are becoming experts on these! We had refreshments here too.




After an hour there we made our way back through the two border controls to Dubrovnik and the 136 steps to our room!

Tomorrow we fly out from Dubrovnik for Frankfurt then Singapore to start our journey home.

Dubrovnik Old Town



Today we caught a bus to the old town and started on the city wall. This city is brilliant.









Lynne and I pose with the Old Town behind us.










The boats in the old harbour made for magnificent sightseeing.










From the highest point on the city wall the orange roofs really stood out.











Paul poses with a hotel in the newer part of the town in the background. The beach looked so inviting!











Dubrovnik coat of arms perhaps?







It took us over 2 hours to walk the city walls and take in the views out to sea, up to the hills, along the walls and down into the old town itself. Every turn in the wall brought new photo opportunities not to be missed. I may never pass this way again so took every chance to take a picture.

We felt really envious of people who managed to find/afford a room in the old city that also gave them access to the Adriatic Sea. I’m not so sure however, that I would want a copy of me sun bathing to finish up in every visitor’s photograph album!

We had been warned by the hostel owner that prices in the old town are 30% higher than elsewhere. However, we felt we needed a reward and respite from the sun so sat down at one of the many restaurants to rest, have something to drink and do some people watching. There were at least three cruise ships in today so that increased the pressure on facilities all round and we were glad to have two of the sought after seats.

After a great day in the old town we walked back to our hostel stopping off at a restaurant bar for a drink and to write postcards.

Dubrovnik

We arrived in Dubrovnik around 1:30 pm, found a map and set off to find our hostel. We had been directed to go west from the station. Have you ever tried to work that one out in the northern hemisphere? That’s a prelude to saying that we had a 50/50 chance of getting it wrong and we did! However, no problem, quickly sorted and the street found. The instructions said the hostel was 70m from the end of the street. What the website didn’t say was that the street went up a hill steeper than the one in Dunedin. They would have been more accurate if they had described it as “136 (big) steps from street level to your room”. In 33 degrees Celsius carrying a suitcase (even though it’s only 16kg) and a computer, I can tell you it was more of a workout than I could have had at the gym. Fortunately the owner, a very kindly woman, gave us a cold drink to help us regain our composure. The room and facilities are fine and the view of the harbour and cruise boats is magnificent. We felt we deserved a restaurant meal for our efforts even if we had to climb the 136 steps to our room again!

Incidentally the owner and her daughter were really wonderful hosts and we enjyoed their facility very much and would stay here again. This shot taken from the balcony.

Bosnia Herzegovina

Not far from Dubrovnik our bus pulled into a passport control centre at Neume so that the Bosnia Herzegovina officials could inspect our passports. We were soon on our way again only to meet another passport control centre so they could inspect our passports as we left the country – strange but explainable (but not right now!). More on passport control in a later post!

Trip to Dubrovnik

Our bus for Dubrovnik was scheduled for departure at 8:30 am – we were there in plenty of time – so much so that we almost left on the 8 am bus! Even at that hour there was lots of action around the bus stop with buses coming and going from and to all destinations in Croatia at least. The accommodation touts were out early as well. I guess you can’t tell who has an accommodation need or at what time of day they might need it. For example, a couple arrived at 3:10 am into our hostel last night.

Shortly after we left Split we could see people swimming in the many bays we passed. The water had to be warm for so many to be in the water at that hour. The sun was up and the heat of the day was already under way. All along the coast the picture was the same – where ever there was a beach there was accommodation ranging from rooms to apartments on offer. The Adriatic/Dalmatian coastline was a real picture and it is easy to see how they create such attractive calendars and post cards.

Split

It was late in the afternoon when we first sighted Split in the distance – numerous huge blocks of apartments dotted the skyline. As with Zagreb I had no idea of what to expect from Split but it seemed a lot bigger than I might have imagined.






The people of Split are on target with tourist requirements – a host of accommodation touts were lined up at the bus station with their cards offering accommodation – where were you all yesterday?






We picked up a map from the bus station and set off to find our hostel – it would have helped if we had correctly identified our starting point. Instead of going right we went left and learned the error of our ways. Fortunately we still had plenty of energy, sought some local advice and within about 15 minutes we were settled comfortably in a room on the second floor of a building we wouldn’t have picked as a hostel. Still it was comfortable and clean and the shower we had was enough to revive us for the rest of the evening.


Within a short time we were off to explore the old town area where Diocletian built his palace. I keep using the word amazing to describe these places but that’s what they are and Split is no exception. The place was ‘crawling’ with tourists and the crowds on the waterfront area would have you believe it was carnival time. We visited the palace area and joined the throng of people taking photographs. We could see preparations were under way for a summer concert in one part of the old town with television camera and technical people doing their thing.

After 4 hours pounding the pavements and making sure we didn’t miss anything we finally called it quits and headed back to our room for much needed sleep!

Trip to Split


Our trip from Zagreb to Split took us through some amazing country ranging from green and yellow fields to beautiful gorges to a mountain pass, through a few tunnels and down again to plains type country before passing along a very picturesque coastline. We noticed all along the journey numerous accommodation offers. It would seem that travelling by car would allow you to take advantage of such offers and explore more fully the wonderful places we could only see from the bus.

Around Zagreb


We spent time during the afternoon/evening checking out the many attractions of Zagreb including the tram system, beautiful downtown parks and statues, an array of architecturally beautiful buildings and of course a street that contained very little else except bar after bar after bar. It amazes me how people can make a choice of where to spend their money.





The experience we had earlier in the day with our hotel search caused us to call into an internet cafĂ© and book ahead for Split and Dubrovnik. We have secured rooms in private homes - hostel type accommodation where you share facilities – should be interesting.





We could see from the many posters around the town there was a lot on over the summer.







Zagreb was completely new to me so I don’t know why I should be amazed by it but I was. I feel so much more informed now that I have been there. I now have a context for whatever else I may come to learn about the city.





Although we didn't have to use it the tram system looked easy to use.

Hotel Dora


Our arrival in Zagreb was punctual and we set about trying to achieve four tasks: obtain local currency, buy a bus ticket for our onward journey to Split tomorrow, secure accommodation for the night and see something of Zagreb.

The first was easily achieved courtesy of an ATM. The second goal involved a walk of about 6 blocks in 33 degrees Celsius while dragging our suitcases (fortunately still only around 15kg) and (for me) carrying my computer and (for Lynne) some hand luggage. We hugged the shaded spots as much as we could but we were glad to reach the bus station where we managed to buy our bus ticket. We thought we would achieve goal 3 by visiting the information/accommodation office in the bus station. Alas, tourism isn’t so highly developed in Zagreb for them to have one of those! So it was back to the train station where we knew they did have one.

This is a good news bad news story – they only dealt with hotels – again another sign of an under developed tourism destination. Having completed two treks in the sun we decided we would forego a third in search of accommodation and opted for Hotel Dora – in fact that is all they had!


From the map we could see that Hotel Dora was just across the railway tracks and to the left – similar to situation we faced in Ciampano, Italy a few years ago. On that occasion we took a taxi only to find out later we could easily have walked by taking a tunnel. Although we looked for a similar route we couldn’t find it so again, took a taxi.

Later that evening we found the tunnel! It wasn’t too far from the railway station after all. We looked in the wrong place. The ‘tunnel’ was in fact an underground shopping complex so we had to check it out more fully.

Hotel Dora was not all it ought to have been given the prices they charge. It was rated as 3 stars but had a five star price. It seems they have pre-empted the tourist invasion and got in first with their pricing system. It may yet backfire on them! Compared with the many other places we have stayed in, breakfast wasn’t worth getting up early for either. Unfortunately I won’t have a chance to check out the other hotels in Zagreb to see how they compare.

On to Zagreb

Our onward journey to Zagreb meant a short train ride from Keszthley to Balatonszentgorgy where we changed to another train travelling Budapest to Zagreb – sounds like something out of an Agatha Christie novel! Waiting gave me time to finish off the water melon we had bought a couple of days before – waste not want not!

Since we weren’t familiar with the geography of the region, there seemed to be trains to and from everywhere. We did our best by following the Hungarian map we had which was good until we got to the Hungary/Croatia border.

The Hungary/Croatia border was interesting. Once the Hungarian officials had checked our passports the Croatian officials came on board and carried out their own checks including the usual questions: How long will you stay in Croatia? Where will you stay? What made them different was the abruptness and militant tone of voice. However, I wouldn’t want to be asked to do that same job in the Croatian language!

Some time after entering Croatia we were joined in our compartment by four Croatian women whom we guessed were going to Zagreb for shopping. One of them held court for as long as she was in the carriage. Although she was known to the others I am sure they breathed a sigh of relief when she went off to another part of the train – I know we did. Those who remained were friendly even offering us mints.

Again, the countryside was flat but interesting with the forests and crops showing up as patchwork in many shades of yellow and green.

Last days at Keszthley


We left Keszthley with some good feelings about it as a holiday destination. It has a lot to offer anyone interested in swimming, boating and perfecting a tan! A car makes attractive and interesting villages nearby accessible although there are buses that will do much the same thing. The main difference lies in the convenience of a car and the ability to fit in more sightseeing. There are also enough restaurants to satisfy most palates.


We enjoyed revisiting a nearby park and checking out a local market on our last day.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Keszthley


After Steve and Raquel left for London we spent time enjoying the streets and sights of Keszthley. The Keszthley coat of arms - at least that's what it seems like!





The waterfront was alive with boating activity with trips going to many other towns on Lake Balaton. They even had a three mast sailing boat operating!






In the evening we were luck enough to be in the main street when a group put on an exhibition of Hungarian dancing. That was something special with the dancers changing costumes for each dance.






Today we walked the streets of Keszthley taking in the architecture – much of which could do with a scrape and paint to restore it to its former beauty!





Lynne visited a puppet museum and we came home via an interesting market with all sorts of produce, crafts etc for sale.






I spend time with one of Keszthley's famous sons.

Sumeg


Sumeg is a small and pretty town about an hours drive from Keszthley. We were able to get a close up view of a field of sunflowers. The heads were massive!





Sumeg’s main attraction is a castle set, as are most castles, on a hill behind the town. Access to the castle is via a steep winding path that circles the castle. Vartaxis (vans) were available to take people to the top but we decided we needed the exercise.





This castle had several things of interest; a knight offering horse riding for children, a bakery making sweet rolls of some description, museum rooms and an excellent view of the town below.





Lynne poses with the local baked sweet roll.







We paid a quick visit to the wine museum set in a huge old building beneath the castle.






After a lovely lunch at a restaurant in the town we meandered our way home through some really pretty villages.

Slovenia

Today we drove into Slovenia to a town called Maribor. The roads here were certainly better than those in Hungary, especially the main highways.









However once we got into Slovenia we were faced with long lines of trucks coming towards us – I guess there were as many going the same way as us too!

The country side was simply beautiful; picturesque some would say, with houses and churches on the tops of low, green hills. Houses were painted colours we wouldn’t think of at home – shades of orange and yellow for example.


Unfortunately it rained as we approached Maribor and that dampened our viewing somewhat. However, Lynne and Raquel did the best they could from the car.






The river is spanned by several bridges and we eventually found our way across on and into a huge shopping mall with free parking.








After checking out the restaurants in the mall we enjoyed our lunch and the opportunity to look out over the city.

Lynne and Raquel found the empty tray return system interesting.






We had an equally enjoyable drive back to Keszthley taking a less busy route. Interestingly, there were no border inspections in either direction.