Amber Road touring

We finally arrived in Sarajevo after airline delays and met up with our friends to start on a 13 day organised tour of Bosnia and Croatia.  Our Amber Road tour is made up of 14 Australians and 4 Americans, an unusual statistic for an American based company.

The first two days were spent in Sarajevo in Bosnia,  a city which was besieged for 1425 days days by the Serbian Army between 1992 and 1996.  It was the longest siege in the history of modern warfare.  The city had no electricity or services, there were acute food shortages and over 5000 civilians died. We visited the Tunnel of Hope which was built to allow the passage of food and other supplies into the besieged city.  There are signs of the war damage throughout the city.
It was a very cold wet day for our tour so warm clothes and umbrellas were the order of the day.

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We also had dinner  one night at the home of a Bosnian family and they described their experiences during the war.
Sarajevo is also significant in world history because it was here that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip on the 28th June 1914 thus triggering World War One.
We also visited a brewery, had our laundry done and ate some of the chevapi which  Sarajevo is well known for.

There were 18 of us in the tour and we then travelled to Dubrovnik though some beautiful Bosnian country side.  Dubrovnik is in Croatia so after several border crossings we arrived at this beautiful medieval walled city on the sea.  It will be well known to all you Game of Thrones fans out there.
We had a morning walking tour with a very passionate guide and after lunch Mr L and I walked on the walls from where there are great views of the city and the bay.

Back in the bus again after two nights in Dubrovnik to the seaside village of Orebic on the Peljesac Peninsula in southern Croatia. Our home for two nights was the Hotel Indijan right on the waterfront.  En route to Orebic we visited a local oyster farm and climbed a part of the great Wall of Ston which was built initially to protect the precious salt pans.

In the 19th century Orebic was renowned for shipbuilding and boasted 90 large sailing ships of its own that plied the world’s oceans. We spent the morning in Korcula  one of the best preserved medieval towns of the Mediterranean on the island of Korcula.  It is also the birthplace of Marco Polo.  That night we enjoyed a visit to a local winery for some good food and a taste of local wines.

What have I been wearing? After a cold start in Sarajevo the weather has been wonderful.  Warm, clear and in the low 20sC so short sleeves and cropped pants have been the order of the day.  Just as well I bought a pair of cropped jeans in Belgium!

Next stop Split and then the Plitvice Lakes.

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Bruges, Brussels and the beginning of the Balkans

After Ieper we had five more days in Belgium, two in the medieval city of Brugge and three in Brussels. Brugge is indeed a lovely city but Brussels did not inspire as much.
In Brugge we had a pleasant canal ride, a pleasant but pricey ride with a horse and cart and Mr L climbed to the top of the belltower (366 steps).


Brussels we did lots of walking partly due to the fact that our hotel was just over a kilometre from the centre of town.  On the plus side it was near the main railway station.  Mr L visited the Modigliani Museum, we went to a Sunday market and generally walked around the old part of town.

One day we went to Ghent using the excellent Belgium train system.  It’s another medieval cloth town with a famous altar piece in the cathedral –  The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Van Eyck.  I have to admit that most of my knowledge of this art work came from the the film The Monuments Men starring George Clooney! Ghent is another beautiful town, spoiled slightly by the fact it rained all the time we were there. We were amazed by the hundreds of bikes at the Ghent railway station.


A quick flight from Brussels and we were in Ljubljana the capital of Slovenia, known as the dragon city.  It is a city well worth visiting with its car free central city, wide streets and its beautiful architecture.  I was once told (by a Slovene) that Slovenia had more sunshine than anywhere else in Europe.  Whether this is true or not I don’t know but the day we arrived, after a week of dismal weather days in Belgium, the sky was blue and the sun shining.
In just over two days we’ve managed to fit in a walking tour of the old town, a trip to Bled and Bled Island, a ride on another funicular up to Ljubljana Castle, a boat ride and we’ve still got half a day to go.

Why is there a kangaroo water fountain in Slovenia? We have not been able to find the answer.  The cake is the famous Bled Creme Schnitte.  If you think it looks a bit like a vanilla slice you would be correct!

What have I been wearing?  The grey Uniqlo down jacket and Frankie 4 sneakers have both  been on high rotation with various jumpers and shirts topped off with scarves.

Next stop is Sarajevo and the beginning of the Amber Road guided tour and meeting up with friends from Australia. It’s also time for a much needed laundromat stop.

 

Lest we forget – remembering the great uncles

After Shrewsbury we returned the car to Birmingham Airport and then flew to Brussels.  The main reason for travelling to Belgium was to attend the 100th anniversary commemorations for the battle of Polygon Wood, the commencement of the World War One battle we generally know as the Battle of Passchendaele.  The attack began on the morning of September 26th 1917.  By the 3rd October almost 1800 Australian soldiers were killed and about 3000 wounded.  Amongst the soldiers killed in that battle were my great uncles Pike Whittaker and Tom Fidge, and Mr L’s great uncle Will Smith.

The Dawn  Service was organised by the Department of Veterans Affairs who did a fantastic job but appeared not to have liaised with some of the the local officials.  After a short sleep we boarded a bus at 2.30 am and our police escort led the way.  Unfortunately to the wrong location as he had been given incorrect orders!  We eventually arrived at the Buttes New British Cemetery after much security checking. There was a walk of remembrance from the car park to the cemetery which featured re-enactments and dioramas of scenes behind the Allied lines in 1917.

There are graves for just over 2000 Commonwealth servicemen in the cemetery.  On the Butte itself is the Battle Memorial of the 5th Australian Division, who captured it on 26th September 1917.

We were worried about having to stand up on a cold Flanders morning waiting for the service at 4.30, but we very impressed with the pre-service programme of interviews with historians, music from a choir and the army band, and  with the stories read by serving defence personnel about some of the men who were killed in the battles.  We also saw a great short film called the Telegram Man.  If you get a chance to see it somewhere we highly recommend it.  The weather also behaved itself probably only dropping to around 10 or 11C.  Plus there were enough seats for everyone and free hot drinks and croissants!

Th service commenced with a didgeridoo player.  To me that was the highlight.  It was quite spine tingling hearing the didgeridoo music moving between the graves in the dark.  Following the didgeridoo player were speeches by our Governor General, the  Minister for Veterans Affairs and Belgium’s Princess Astrid.  They all said what was right and proper but no one inspired.

It was bit dark for good photos.  If anyone is really interested there is a YouTube of the service. We were both rugged up and I appropriately wore my woolly red poppy scarf and a red hat.  Mr L wore the free beanie provided by DVA (there are no photos!).
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Lots of people, private and public, laid wreaths.  We saved our wreath laying until that night, when we laid a wreath at the Menin Gate Last Post Ceremony to honour the three great uncles. There were many Australians in Ieper and many laying wreaths that night.
Every evening since 1928 the Last Post has been played under the Menin Gate Memorial in Ieper at 8pm.

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In Ieper we stayed at a lovely B and B called Ter Thuyne.  We stayed there 10 years ago and it was just as delightful this time.  Martine the hostess is most welcoming.  We were in the Poppy Room. There is a garden out the back for guests to enjoy.

Now we have more Belgium to explore for about five days.

Relaxing in Shrewsbury

After a two train ride from London we were in the Midlands where we picked up a hire car from the Birmingham Airport. Two hours later we were in the beautiful medieval town of Shrewsbury.  Our Airbnb apartment there was very tastefully decorated in shades of grey and an easy walking distance to the centre of town.
Shrewsbury is a very picturesque town on the River Severn and as a bonus it has some wonderful shops!  Even though summer has finished the flowers are still blooming in pots and gardens.  There were lovely begonias everywhere.

 

We took a day trip to Ironbridge where we stayed last year, and came back via Bridgnorth to ride on the local funicular.  As a bonus it was market day in Bridgnorth which is yet another very pretty town.

 

In the photo I am wearing a necklace from Mr L’s Ironbridge series.  More about that nearer Christmas.

The weather has been surprisingly mild with little rain so  jeans, a long sleeved shirt and jacket have been the order of the day.  As you can see my Uniqlo down jacket is getting lots of wear.

A week in London

After the long tiring journey across the world we finally arrived at our apartment in Clapham Junction. We had some dramas accessing it but finally we were in and unpacked.
The London weather has been generally fine and in the high teens Celsius.

We’ve managed to both visit the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum and Hampton Court Palace.  At the V&A I saw the Balenciaga Fashion Exhibition, and also managed to insult a Canadian woman visiting there by suggesting she was from the USA. I’ve been to the Science Museum where I saw an interesting exhibition about how World War One changed many medical practices. Mr L true to form has visited various Art Galleries.

We’ve seen a couple of shows ( Kinky Boots and an American in Paris), and caught up with old and new friends.  We spent time with our daughter who just happens to be in London for work.  With her we’ve been to two great restaurants – Nopi and Dishoom

We’ve even fitted in some time for laundry! The benefit of having an apartment with a washing machine.

I’ve pretty much worn my travel uniform of jeans, a long sleeved tee and a Uniqlo down jacket every day. One night I dressed up in a skirt and my leather jacket and then forgot to take a photo!  My silver Frankie 4 sneakers have given sterling service thus far. So far the pink, blue and grey colour grouping is working well.

Tomorrow we catch the train to Birmingmam and will spend three days nearby in Shrewsbury.

 

Leaving on a jet plane.

Today we leave for almost six weeks in the UK and Europe with a quick stopover in Dubai on the way home.  I had no intention of restarting this blog (or our other travel blog either) but a request from a friend on the weekend has prompted me to do so.
I’m  not sure if I will be as assiduous a poster as I was  back in 2014 but I’ll do my best.  I also think I will use Instagram more.

Thinking about what to take has taken me weeks of time and clothes sorting and today I put it all in my case.  This time another smaller soft sided two wheeled case from Victorianox and carry on bag from the Russian market in Phnom Penh.

Clothes need to cover a cold dawn service in Belgium in three weeks time, to the the heat of Dubai.  In between is England, where anything could happen weather wise, and Bosnia/ Croatia where I expect the weather to be pleasant but not hot.

I’ve gone for a neutral palette with accents of pink and blue with the occasional animal print.  Too late for photos of what I am taking as it is all in the case, but in summary I have 3 jeans (wearing one on the plane), a black pencil skirt, a culotte (or is it a pair of culottes even though there is only one  garment!), and a pair of 3/4 pants.  All bottoms in blue and black.
Two short sleeved tees, and 2 longer sleeved tees (one for the plane) , as well as two long sleeved tops are all in grey, white, blue and black.  Two jumpers, one grey and one animal print, as well as a pink long lined Kookai cardigan ( that will be plane wear too).
One grey down filled jacket and one brown leather jacket (I’ll take that on the plane) as well as enough undies and socks.  Three scarves in beige, blue/ pink and pink, as well as jewellery in similar colours.  I am taking one smallish cross body bag in black with tan trimming.

I always have problems with sore feet when walking long  distances so the choice of shoes is critical. Hopefully I have it right this time. One lace up tan pair with animal print trim is from  Ziera, a silver lace up pair is from Frankie 4 and I have added a pair of black patent wedge sandals from The Flexx.

I’ve also packed a red and black poppy patterned woolly scarf and red  woolen hat to wear to a  Dawn Service in Belgium as I think it will be cold there and I bought the scarf especially for the event.

Are there enough clothes or have I packed too many? Only time will tell.  I have left enough space to fit in any clothes purchases.  I’m hoping at least to find a pair of stylish but comfortable sandals with a heel that  I do not need to mortgage the house to purchase.
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Tonight the long haul to London via Dubai will be tiring and boring, but the results of the long journey will no doubt be worth it.  Looking forward to seeing old friends, catching up with our daughter who will also be in the UK for work, and meeting a new Facebook friend in London.

Next post will be from London!

How much is enough? The packing dilemma again!

Did I take too many clothes or just enough?  I think there were possibly too many, although my case only weighed in at just over 16 kilograms on the way home.  All my tees and shirts would make the cut again.  Even though there were 10 shirts in  various sizes and colours I wore them all.  Some did need an iron after being washed but that wasn’t  too much of a problem and at a pinch could have been worn unironed.
Of the bottoms ( 4 capri pants in white, grey, black and denim) I would only take three pants and leave the white ones at home (and possibly put in another skirt especially if I knew if it was going to be very hot ). I basically wore a skirt or a dress for the last two weeks (except at night or when flying). The grey and denim capris were by Sportscraft and kept their shape well after multiple wears.  The black pants were from Ambre in Cambodia and they were fantastic. Never creased, always looked good and being black didn’t show any dirt. The black and white skirt was from Blue Illusion, and like the black pants, never creased and lasted five weeks of wear (and no laundry) and still looked good.

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The one dress I did take (from Elsewhere in Phnom Penh) was possibly too light a colour.  It needed to be washed it twice whilst we were away.  But on the plus side it is light weight cotton and very cool.  I just need to more careful when eating ice creams!

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Most of my clothes (and shoes) were in blue, grey, black  and red colours with white backgrounds  so they all mixed and matched very easily.

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Shoes –  I’d take them all again.  I was so impressed how good my USD35 shoes from Phnom Penh were that I will be looking for another pair when I am in Cambodia next year. The red Frankie 4 sneakers did not get as much wear as I thought they would, mainly because it was just too hot.  They were worn more than the photos would indicate though, as I put them on for specific activities such as walking down into the cave or climbing over ruins.

Of the extras (underwear, scarves, jewellery etc) I had too much.  Anyone who knows me well probably never thought they would hear me say I had too much jewellery and too many scarves!  A scarf for the plane (and one more) would have been enough.  I also bought a scarf in Trani and another in Rome.  The latter was a forced purchase as I turned up for the Catacombs tour wearing a sleeveless dress and needed to cover my arms. I took a lot of jewellery, and although I did wear all of  it except for one pair of earrings and some bracelets. About half the amount I  took would have been enough. Bathers and the sarong I wore twice but they are something you need to take just in case.

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Underwear – I took 12 pairs of knickers and four bras.  I was glad of that many, although I could have taken less and washed and dried  them overnight. I  took two camisoles to wear under shirts if it was a bit cool (one black and one white). They  did not get much wear as we were in a heat wave some of the time.

The red leather hand bag was used most of the time and the  fabric green/grey bag I used on particularly hot or humid days.  I also took a small black leather cross body bag I thought would be good for evening – which it was – but it was not really necessary.

My wearing on the plane clothes were good although I did not wear those pants or cardigan at any other time.  That’s the problem with starting out in one climate and holidaying in another.

So in summary if I was going on a similar holiday in summer to southern Europe again I would take:
One pair of long loose pants for the plane
One long line cardigan for the plane
10 shirts of various styles including one to wear on the plane
3 pairs of capris or 7/8th pants
Either two skirts and one dress or two dresses and one skirt
One short sleeved cardigan
One long sleeved loose knit jumper
10 knickers
4 bras
2 camis
Bathers
Sarong
Foldable sunhat
3 pairs of socks
A good leather cross body bag and a fabric bag

I’ve  been asked for more info about my case.  It was a So Lite 4 wheeled  61cm case from the Australian Luggage Company and I paid about AUD90 for it.  On the plus side it was light and easy to wheel on smooth surfaces and the interior bottom is fairly flat making packing easy. On the negative side it was not easy to wheel on carpet, rough surfaces or cobblestones.  I would have preferred it to be smaller, (ideally about 55 cms) but they do not seem to make that size any more.  I also took an quite old carry-on bag (also from the Australian Luggage Company).

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In summary thanks for reading this and for your comments.  Actually documenting my packing list and travel wardrobe has made it easier for me to clarify  what worked and what didn’t and make planning for next time easier.  Next time will be Cambodia and Vietnam in January/ February 2016!  I hope to see you all again then

Home again!

We’ve been home for a few days now after too long in the air. Milan to Dubai is about 7 hours and then Dubai to Melbourne is another 14 hours,  That’s a long time to be enclosed in a large metal container with lots of other people.  At least I got to see four movies!
Jet lag has never really been a problem for me but this time it has really affected me so I have had plenty of sleepless nights to reflect on this holiday, what we did and what I wore.  I am going to spread this out over two blog posts because no-one wants to read an essay from me!

What we did is the easiest part to consider. Five and a half weeks is a long time to be travelling and although I am glad we only went to to Italy (instead of Italy and Croatia as we had originally thought) we still did quite a lot of travelling (especially internal air flights).  Next time I’d take the train.  Not only because Airitalia are very inefficient, but also because there’s a lot of time wasted getting to airports early, going through security and waiting.  A train in contrast usually leaves from somewhere in the central city area and does not require the passenger to be there much more than 30 minutes before.  It also arrives in the central part of the next city.

We stayed at airbnb apartments in Milan, Sardinia and Rome.  Whilst I like the philosophy (and prices) of this sort of accommodation we did feel a little isolated.  There’s no concierge to ask about where to shop or eat, or to advise regarding the best sites (and what to avoid). An up side of these apartments however was the washing machine.

Our first ever organised tour (by Amber Road) in Puglia and the Amalfi Coast was a big highlight of the holiday.  However I think it was partly luck that we were on a tour with so many like minded people all around the same age.  It was also a small group tour with quite a good balance of free time and organised and guided tours.  We also visited places slightly off the general tourist route (such as beautiful Trani and Ostuni) and stayed at smaller independent hotels.  There were no early morning starts either, and we always stayed at least two nights in every place.  Sicily with a car and driver was also a good move although we did try to see too many things in not enough time!
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Trani in Puglia on the Adriatic Sea was such a lovely peaceful town.

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Ostuni – picture postcard perfection.

Two organized tours one straight after the other was a mistake too.  We would have liked some time for R&R in between.
These are however good problems to have!

Arrivederci Roma!

I am sitting at Dubai Airport and my body clock isn’t too sure of the time.  It’s almost midnight here, almost 10 in Italy and almost 6 in the morning in Melbourne, our next stop.

Our last two days in Rome were very hot.  In fact Rome was sweltering through an unprecedented heatwave.  It was either the hottest July in 10 years, 130 years or 150 years depending on from whom the information came! We were very glad to have an  apartment with great aircon.
A quick Google showed that a visit to the Catacombs was a good thing to do on a very hot day.  We joined a half day tour that also included a visit to part of the Appian Way and to a still standing aqueduct. No photos were allowed in the Catacombs but it certainly was cooler down there.

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Here we are at the end of the Appian Way in Brindisi three weeks before with our Amber Road group, and in the second photo we are near the beginning in Rome.

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The aqueduct was an amazing structure.

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Out for dinner in Rome.  I am standing near the entrance to our apartment which was at the back and on the roof of an the apartment block.

All roads lead to Rome.

Since my last post we have flown from Sardinia to Rome and are now in a spacious apartment near the Parthenon. We know from a previous visit that Rome is a very walkable city but with the temperatures in the high 30s it is a bit too hot to walk in the afternoon. Although since it is barely reaching double figures Celsius in our home town right now perhaps this is not a good time to complain about it being too hot.

We went on a tour of Cagliari in Sardinia on a rather unique form of transport in a Fiat 500 car which belonged to the tourist guide’s grandmother. Cagliari is quite a hilly city and several times we thought we may have needed to get out and push.

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We saw some of the popular beaches near the town and the pink flamingos in the wetlands area.

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Out for dinner our last night on Sardinia.

Our last day was spent walking around the old town and in particular the old Jewish quarter.  The Jews were exiled from Sardinia by the Spanish monarchs in 1492 during the Spanish Inquisition. In more recent times most Sardinian Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

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The rear of the Sardinian parliament buildings.  There is lift that connects this old part of the town to the newer parts of the town quite a way below!
IMG_1737All ready for the flight to Rome.

We are beginning to think that no Alitalia plane leaves or arrives on time, and our flight from Sardinia to Rome was no exception. Because we had quite a wait at Cagliari airport we took the opportunity to buy shuttle bus tickets from Rome Airport to the central railway station. We were very glad we did because the shuttle bus ticket booth and bus stop were chaos at the Rome end of things! We finally reached our apartment which is very  good – well air conditioned and spacious, although you do need to have a bit of mountain goat in your genetic makeup to access it via stairs, and then through what appears to be a window.

Yesterday I went on a food walking tour of Travastere an old neighborhood (yes they are all old!) on the other side of the river.  By then I had discovered a great app for taxis that allows us to book a cab without having to attempt to do so over the phone in Italian. (Mr L who visited a contemporary art gallery, managed to find a taxi by the old fashioned way of walking to the nearest taxi rank.).

The food tour was excellent and allowed for large tastings of cheese, biscuits, small goods, bread, fried risotto balls, fruit, gelato, pasta and sweets, plus a few glasses of wine in about three hours. Sadly I do not think there was enough walking to counteract the  effect of all that food. Prior to dinner we did as the Romans do and enjoyed a few aperitifs of Spritzs and a Campari and soda. Dinner for me was a very small affair of grilled veges and a salad.

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No explanation needed!

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It’s easy to buy pizza by the slice for a snack.  We’ve never needed to do that because there is so much food with each meal.

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Enormous wheels of local pecorino cheese.

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This is a pork smallgoods meat (guanciale) made from the jowls of the pig.

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And lastly one of my favourite fruits.

This morning we did what I called our own Roman icons tour.  We set out earlyish when it was only in the mid 20s and walked to the Trevi Fountain, (currently without water and undergoing restoration) and then the Spanish steps.
Only one and a half more days in Rome and then we start the long journey home.

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The Spanish Steps made famous in the movie Roman Holiday. Not too many Gregory Pecks around today, and even less Audrey Hepburns.

Clothes wise I just wish I had more dresses and skirts as it is too hot for pants or jeans.  My black and white skirt from Blue Illusion is getting a good work out as is my new Noto dress.