It didn’t take us long to drive down to Amsterdam and to ‘Gaasper camping” an enormous campsite with 350 pitches and whhich was extremely well run.
We were near an area of thousands of highish rise appartments where a proportion of the 350,00 Surinamese descended population lived.
Suriname was part of the Netherlands kingdom until 1975 when mass migration took place with Surinamese moving to the Netherlands looking for better living conditions. Apparently most of the people have Dutch passports and have integrated into Dutch society.

It was only a 7minute walk to the metro station and about 25minutes into the centre of Amsterdam. There was much construction of units and a lot of reconstruction underway in the city which was full of tourists. First we went to the ‘Bloemenmarkt’ which was for me a disappointment as apart from many tulip and other floral bulbs for sale they had only one very poor fresh flower stall. We did an hour’s boat trip around the canals and got our bearings and then did a three hour free walking tour which we find to be the best way of seeing any city. Tijs was an excellent guide for the 12 of us on the tour and we got our exercise as it was done at a good clip to get around much of the inner city. We had to constantly dodge bikes,cars and other tourists and we crossed over a few of the 1000 bridges in the city. He showed us the Desso 40metre carpet runner in the Schutter museum with each patch representing the 179 nationalities living in Amsterdam and of course the red light district with the girls in the windows as well as part of the University which was previously the headquarters for the Dutch East India Company. He told us that Dutch society was a very tolerant one however that it was more tolerant years ago and not so much today.

It was cool in the shade but warm in the sun and we had a mostly blue sky for the whole day.
There were hundreds of legal boats moored in the canals with electricity and water supplied but the water was a dirty brown colour everywhere. Not what I would like to wake up to in the morning.

Rain was forecast for the afternoon the next day so we went into the city and walked a good half hour and found “Bocca” coffee bar which had been recommended to us. There were several Aussies working there and the coffee was great. From there we walked to the vast ‘Vondelpark’ and had our picnic lunch before heading nearby to the ‘Van Gogh’ museum. We had luckily bought our tickets online as there were hundreds of people lined up waiting to buy them. The 3 floors covered a lot of what Van Gogh had sketched and painted and there was much information about the man,his life and his paintings. We learnt a lot that we didn’t know about him.
We spent a good three hours there before setting out in the rain to Mazzo restaurant to meet a friend Claudine, a dutch lady who we had met in India.
It was still raining when we left so we caught a tram back to the central station and the metro back to ‘Gaasperplas’ station near the camping ground. We could buy 24/48 or 72hour transport passes from the camping ground and although the metro lines were quite limited, the bus and tram system was excellent.

Wednesday was spring clean the van day in preparation for our friends who will join us in ten days time and the weather was kind to us.
Back to the city on Thursday to the Rijksmuseum to see Rembrandt van Rijn’s works and other Dutch masters – a wonderful building and museum. A lot of artifacts were from the Dutch East Indies and wonderfully intact wooden panelling and furniture from an Amsterdam house.
A whole room was dedicated to doll’s houses which were not for children but for wealthy ladies who wanted to show what was contained in their homes or what they wished for, for their homes. The craftmanship was amazing especially given the complexity of the minute items. We got there before 9am so managed to get around a couple of floors in about 3 hours before the masses arrived, again long queues for tickets. I don’t know why more people didn’t buy tickets online to avoid standing in a queue for hours

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Maurice wanted to visit Bremerhaven and after a visit to the fisherman’s harbour for lunch and to see the amazing array of seafood for sale we caught the bus to the centre and spent a few hours in the “Auswanderungs” museum which documented the emigration of Germans to all parts of the world. It focused mainly on the USA but Canada, Australia and South America also featured. It was very innovatingly set up with you being issued a boarding card with the name of two people and then you climbed the gangplank into the ship where you found information about the persons you became. It was thoroughly interesting and we really felt we were on a ship as much of the construction was from various ships. We stopped for the night south of Wilhelmshaven at a pretty and very well set up camping site on the Koenigsee a small lake. I wasn’t going to venture into the lake like one brave woman did.

The landscape in the north of Germany was very flat with vast tracts of crops of various kinds. This continued in Holland with many cows/sheep and horses grazing in the fields.

The weather for the previous two weeks was very changeable and very like Melbourne weather – four seasons in a day but at least it wasn’t really cold – around 19-25degrees. We had rain mainly at night and it didn’t stop us from any of our activities. The locals all said it was a lousy summer and unusual for the time of year. Seem to be a similar comment in the rest of the world too.

We happened upon a large Street Art competition and exhibition in Wilhelmshaven and the art gallery featured street art from Berlin which was quite interesting. We also bought a new Tom Tom as our old had had it. Many improvements had been made so it was a pleasure to use.
We travelled to Harlesiel on the North Sea and along the coast for a while and on to Nessmersiel where the tide was out. There was a string of islands off the coast of Germany and which continued along the Dutch coast. There was not a lot to see apart from the sheep grazing along the dyke.
We crossed the border into Holland the next morning on the 6th of August and drove down to Groningen which was an interesting town but being a Sunday morning the city was fairly empty. We had been recommended to go to Harlingen on the Waddenzee and were rewarded with seeing a lot of old Tall Ships coming into port after their racing weekend. The port was buzzing with people and there was a lot of traffic on the Afsluitdijk which crosses the inland sea and over to mainland Holland again.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We took all day again to travel up to our next stop of Travemunde where we met up with an old friend. Again the countryside was full of hay bales or fields of crops either being harvested or waiting to be harvested.
The only drawback of travelling on the country roads was the likelihood of meeting up with tractors or farm machinery being driven on the rather narrow roads. We luckily were only stuck behind a tractor or truck for a short time. We arrived into Travemunde at 7.30pm and it was still a pleasant 27
degrees and sunshine.

We met with Baerbel and had a nice fresh fish meal at a very good, local restaurant just down the road from where she lives – being on the Baltic meant fresh fish!
We did a bit of shopping and then had the compulsory German tradition of coffee and cake later in the afternoon before catching the bus back to our campsite which was filling up. There must have been about 300 campers in caravans/motorhomes and tents. The next day,the 21st July was the start of the “Travemunde Woche” now a 10day event which has been a tradition in the town for 128years.

It involves sailing competitions with young to old sailors and all along the Baltic were more campers from the sailing fraternity.
There were many stands along the waterfront selling all sorts of food and drink and it turned into a sunny,hot day. We caught the passenger ferry
across to Prival. There was a lot of new development of blocks of apartments.

We had more fish for lunch (pickled Matjes herring for me) and walked to the “Passat” a steel barque Windjammer dating from 1911. Our friend Olaf in Norway sailed on her for 3months in 1961 when she was a training ship.
She now is a tourist attraction and stands in the harbour and cannot sail any longer. We caught the ferry back across the river and then went for afternoon coffee on the 35th floor of the “Maritime hotel” where we got a great view of the whole area. There were thousands of people enjoying the festivities down below.

The next day was a different kettle of fish with steady rain from 12noon. We managed with our friend to get a walk in along the rocky coast before it started. After lunch there was no point in staying in the rain so we caught the bus back to the campsite and chilled for the rest of the afternoon. We felt sorry for the poor stall holders.

On Sunday we left and made our way to the Schmidt hotel in Hamburg where our friends from Lohne – Marianne and Franz were staying before leaving for France the next day. It was great to have a catch up with them after a year.
We then went back up to Lubeck to stay with our friend Ruth and her family and catch up with more friends there. We had a week of eating, drinking, shopping, a cruise down the river and a visit to the “Hansa” museum, an extensive and very interesting multi level museum describing the trade and movement of people around Lubeck and the Baltic area over hundreds of years.
Lubeck is a beautiful city with many original and renovated old houses with a very particular style and there are many lanes and small streets to explore.

Unfortunately for us and many other foreign tourists, many shops and establishments do not take any credit cards other than a German EC card. Some shops traded in cash only and receipts were issued sometimes still using carbon paper! This meant frequent visits to the ATM which was sometimes a real nuisance. We even went to the trouble a couple of years ago to get an Irish bank account with an Irish debit card but that wasn’t accepted either. Shops other than the bakeries are all shut on Sunday and even service stations. A lot of shops in towns also close from 1-3pm on weekdays as well. Very frustrating at times when you forget and are not used to it.

Our next stop was Dollern to our old friend Helga who at 82 and after breaking her shoulder in three places and her wrist was back in top form and she still drove extremely fast and well. We had a lovely five days there and visited the other three generations of her family as well as our other friend Helmut (a former ship’s captain) and his family.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We stayed with Margarete and Philipp in their newly reconstructed house and the weather stayed good for the week we were there. They are a short walk away from the centre of Scwetzingen and it’s amazing castle and vast and beautiful gardens. Maurice’s daughter in law Yuko and her parents were also visiting Heidelberg (only 20minutes away) so we picked them up and had a lovely day together. We had a brunch in Huben and Maurice and I ate for two days running at a Turkish place which had the freshest and tastiest food.

We again took secondary roads over to Claudia and Niels in the tiny but gorgeous town of Gappenach west of Koblenz. We met Claudia at the Ayurvedic centre in Kerala with her friend Melanie so she joined us for dinner one night. Claudia is a photographer but she and Niels open their Cafe-Kostbar on weekends and the odd other days for special functions. I was able to help out with a spot of waitressing when she had twenty ladies from the next village come for coffee/cake and drinks on the Monday. Claudia makes wonderful cakes, food and desserts and they have a lot of repeat customers from all over the place to sample her cooking.
Claudia took us also to an area where we left the car and walked for a couple of kilometres to come upon Bad Eltz, an 850 year old castle which still belongs to the same family. Unlike most Schlosses it lies in a valley surrounded by mountains and is a spectacular sight
when rounding the corner down below.

The long evenings were perfect and we could sit out in the cafe until after 10.30pm when it got dark. Sebastian, a very energetic Spanish neighbour kindly let us use a field next to the barn he was reconstructing to park the van and supplied us with electricity.
We met a very interesting character – Hartmut Wiesner an artist from Wilhelmshaven who was going to go with Niels to cycle around Belgium for four days. He is 73 years old with an 8year old and 3year old child as well as two older sons from another marriage.
He had fascinating stories from his travels all over the world.

The countryside around the whole area was undulating hills covered a patchwork of crops and forests. It looked all the more beautiful in the sunshine when we took all day to drive up to Celle where we camped for the night after the tom tom got us a little lost down another goat track. This time there were two very vicious dogs to greet me (on the other side of the fence) until their owner came and gave us directions to the campsite. In the morning we went into the old town of Celle which was full of nicely restored houses from the 1600’s. Maurice had a slight altercation with a rude woman who was parke behind the van who thought we should not be allowed into the town because of our size. Very timely a large semi trailer went by which doused her argument slightly but she made Maurice move the van so that she could leave – she had plenty of room and Maurice did ask her whether she had a driving licence as there was more than ample room for her to move her car. He always seems to encounter problems when I’m not around.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We travelled through the beautiful mountain scenery from Garmisch and then along Lake Constance on the eastern side and then detoured to Salem to see where our old friend Margaret von Perger lived and taught in the school there. We continued on past the end of the Lake and around to the Gaienhofen Horn on the Untersee which is a part of the Rhein that flows into Lake Constance from the north west.
We met up with Maurice’s cousin Margarete and her husband Philipp who shares my birthday at the “Hirschen Horn” a beautiful hotel on the banks of the Untersee where we had terrific breakfasts and dinners and wonderful service. We had a lovely three days walking around the area and spent one day travelling from Gaienhofen on the ferry down the Rhein to Scaffhausen and then caught a bus and a train back via “Stein am Rhein” in a pocket of Switzerland on the north side of the Untersee. The weather was hot and humid, such a contrast to the last few years in Germany and last year in Switzerland but there was a nice breeze blowing when the ferry was travelling down and across the river to both banks to pick up more passengers. There were terrific storms with torrential rain on two nights which did clear the air the next day. The province around Lake Constance gave us through the hotel free transport passes for the days we were there and it was preferable to driving around ourselves and we could all enjoy the scenery. On the 10th July Maurice and I took all day to travel the backroads up to Schwetzingen. It was holiday season in Germany and there were many traffic hold ups, some for hours so we were glad to take the secondary roads which were not at all congested.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We had been through the Brenner Pass a couple of times – once on the Autostrada and once on the secondary road so we decided to take another route up through the mountains and through South Tirol which was our favourite mountain and valley scenery. We felt as though we were on top of the world at the top of ‘Rombo Pass’or as the Austrians call it “Timmelsjoch-Hochalpenstrasse” where it had cooled to 9degrees – a bit chilly for us but the sun was out intermittently so the van was nice and warm. Maurice liked driving up and down the mountains
with scores of switchbacks except when an Italian driver (the Italians all drive on or over the white line) clipped our side mirror with a huge bang. Very luckily for us we had purchased mirror guards after we bought the van (new mirrors would have been 700pounds)so the bang just disloged the bottom mirror which we could push back in. I think the other car may have had a bit more damage but as there was nowhere to turn around we would never know.

When we arrived at “Camping Erlebnis Zugspitze” we had an uninterupted view of both the Zugspitze and Alpspitze although the top was covered in a bit of cloud. We were very blessed the next four days with perfect weather – 30ish degrees with blue skies. It was cool at night which made for good sleeping weather. A change from Italy where we had the air conditioner going at night.
The campsite was about ten minutes out of town in Grainau but we were given a bus pass to use while we were there which was very handy as we went into town every day and walked through the town and up into the mountains for some lovely walks. The sales were on in town so we took advantage of them. A great little roadside cafe called “Pano” served great coffee and drinks so we stopped there every day.

There were many hikers in town and more seemed to favour the mountains on the Garmisch side of town. Partenkirchen town has been preserved with it’s beautiful painted buildings whereas the former has been modernized to a large extent. I took a photo of Juwelier Stoekel in Garmisch. My mother’s first boyfriend about 80 years ago was the owner’s grandfather and it felt moving to sit across the road in a bakery which dated from 1930 and imagine the place such a long time ago. We even found the house where my mother had a flat on the first floor when she lived there from 1943 to 1948 after moving from Berlin.

It was hard to leave Garmisch on a picture postcard day but we were due near Lake Konstanz to meet up with Maurice’s cousin Margarete and her husband Philipp on the 7th July for a luxury weekend to celebrate my and Philipp’s birthdays. We had driven up the Swiss south side
of Lake Konstanz the previous year so this year we decided to take the secondary roads on the north side to Gaienhofen Horn on the Untersee where we were to stay.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We changed our plans a little to be back for Aida in Verona on Friday so on Wednesday we left early and stopped to see Juliet’s tomb and to see the amazing frescos in the museum there. We then drove via Bergamo and had a look around the old town for a few hours before heading for Milan. The weather changed dramatically from 32degrees in Verona to 22degrees in Bergamo. We took the steep funicular up to the old town which was very atmospheric with beautiful architecture and lovely shops and restaurants. It took an hour in pouring rain to reach Camping Milano so we stayed put in the van for the rest of the afternoon and evening as the rain continued. At least it wasn’t cold.

We set off early from our good campsite to get the bus and then metro which arrived at the ‘Duomo’ right in the middle of town. The cathedral was very imposing and there were many tourists waiting in long lines to get in. We chose the visitor’s entrance or those wanting to pray where there was no queue so we went in and lit a couple of candles and were able to see the cathedral. Most cathedrals that require tickets allow you in if you are going to pray. The piazza is enormous and adjacent to the cathedral is the Galleria with all very high end shops like Louis Vuitton and Gucci. The structure itself is magnificent. We wandered down the Via Dante to the
Piazza Castello with it’s large tower and high walls and through to the beautiful enormous gardens behind the castello. The day was warm and we had no rain in the morning.

We stopped for a light lunch at the buzzing ‘Bar Mauro’ and then walked to the church of “Santa Maria delle Grazie” where Leonardo’s painting “The last Supper” is housed. We unfortunately did not know that tickets to see the painting had to be bought in advance so we left and did some retail therapy instead and walked around the interesting streets. We were luckily in a boutique when it started to hail and then rain very hard until there was a river running down the street so we waited out the storm until it was only
spitting with rain and made our way back to the Piazza del Duomo. I had spotted the “Aperol Terrazza” earlier in the day so we installed ourselves there overlooking the Duomo for me to enjoy a couple of Aperol Spritz’s euros 13 for the first one and euros 9 for the second one. Maurice had a couple of mocktails and enjoyed them. The storm and torrential rain was unusual for the time of year and we managed to get back to Camping Milano with only a sprinking of rain as we were walking back from the bus stop.
The transport system in Milan was excellent with buses every 10-15minutes and metro every few minutes.

There was heavy local police, carabinieri and military presence all over the centre of the city at the major tourists spots.

Across the Lombardy plains were widespread wheat, corn and rice fields. We took the secondary roads which made for a much more relaxed drive back from Milan.

We left Milan on the last day of June back to Verona to get to our campsite again and have a rest before going to the Arena for the performance of Aida which did not start until 9pm. We arrived at Marta’s spa to pick up the tickets (we had met her in India 2years before)she had for us at a discounted euros 20 each and then went back to our favourite ‘San Nicolo” bar for aperitifs and arrived an hour early to the Arena which was already filling up. The performance with four intervals continued until 1am and we were lucky to have been told to go across the park to the taxi rank where we managed to get one in 15minutes. It was quite cold by then and we were back in our van by 1.30am.
Aida was an amazing spectacle in such a wonderful setting. It was a modern adaptation with comic aspects as well and was an incredible feat in choreography and technical aspects. The orchestra and singers were wonderful and we were very glad that we changed our plans so that we could attend the performance.

After a necessary sleep in we headed on a clear blue sky day for Pieve di Ledro’s Camping Azzurro where we had stayed last year.
The secondary road wove through the mountains and large areas of vineyards and over the north side of Lake Garda to lake Pieve just to the west of Lake Garda. After the hot and humid weather in Verona the previous week, the mountains offered a much cooler 24 degrees and some spits of rain. We arrived in Ledro to a large contingency of cyclists who were competing in a triathlon the next day. A very loud party only started at 9.30pm which is one of the only drawbacks of travelling in Europe in Summer with all the events and school holidays and activities for children. The loud music ended at 11pm which was fine and that was the only disturbance we had so far this year. As we drove through the mountains the views were spectacular to the lakes below. Up into the Dolomites and on the way to Bolzano the fruit growing area was enough I think to feed all of Europe. We passed enormous sheds and thousands of packing cases in several areas as well as hectares of grapevines, a lot of which were trailed horizontally instead of vertically.

As we got closer to Bolzano most signs were in Italian and English and the storekeepers in Bolzano definately favoured speaking in German although we were still in Italy. It was 28 degrees when we arrived at our campsite for the night. We got an early start to park in town and have a short look around Bolzano which had beautifully decorated houses and buildings.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We found a good camping supply shop just south of Florence and purchased a few items before driving the hour on to Lucca and our Camping
“La Valle” 4 kilometres from the centre of Lucca. It was a relatively new and very well laid out campsite complete with excellent facilities and a pool.
It was about a 25minute walk to the tiny station of Ripafratta and then only 7minutes by train into Lucca.
Lucca reminded us of the small village of Pingyao in China which is also a small walled city. We walked around the wall in Lucca in about an hour to get our bearings. Some of the wall dates back to the 9th century. Most of the wide walkway was lined with avenues of trees where people were walking or cycling. On our friend’s Vicky and Mark’s recommendation who have visited Lucca many times we had good aperitifs at “Santa Zita”,a delicous meal at “Da Pasquale” where we were given amuse bouche and unlimited bread and mineral water and delicious chocolates before we left. The locals were suffering being hotter than normal so early in the season but we were enjoying the heat.

After a couple of days we headed north to Rapallo along the Autostrada in the end after our Tom Tom tried to take us down some country roads which were 2metres wide and 2.30metres high (not for Van Mauriceson).
The seaside town of Rapallo has some interesting old buildings and is full of harbourside cafes and restaurants and is a starting point for boat trips up to Portofino, Cinque Terre and various other places along the Ligurian Riviera.
I asked a local to recommend a good fish restaurant and he kindly walked ten minutes with us showing us three of his favourite ones. The Italians are passionate about their food and it is a big part of their general converstation (whether they are men or women).
We had bought tickets on the ferry the previous day to take us to Portofino ( a place I had wanted to visit since seeing it in a brochure when I worked on the tours desk at Qantas in the 80’s). It a very reasonable fare euros 13 each return for the 1/2 hour trip each way. It was unfortunately a dull, cloudy day but at least there was no rain.

Portofino is a very picturesque small town built around a bay where a couple of very luxurious launches were moored. We climbed up to the church where we got a good view of the town from above. I had a cappuccino euros 7 which confirmed Portofino as a high category tourist destination! We decided after a couple of hours to return to Rapallo and have lunch at the recommended restaurant ‘Eden’. We thought that it would be hard pressed to surpass the delicious prawn tempura and spaghetti marinara that we had had at Orbetello but we were pleasantly surprised and enjoyed every morsel of our meals with a large amount of the freshest seafood and delicious basket of a variety of breads and it’s national award wining ‘Agazan’ Ligurian olive oil made from the ‘Taggiasca’ olive.

One sad aspect of so many places in Europe are the abandoned houses in villages and abandoned farmhouses and their land. In places like Roccamandolfi as the old people die their houses remain vacant because in most cases their offspring have moved into a city or off the mountain and down to a more level area without so many steps and with vehicular access.

Our next stop was to be Verona and we took the Autostrada so that we could stop in the city of Cremona famous for it’s ‘Torrone’ or nougat and it’s beautiful architecture. Cremona’s other claims to fame are it’s violin makers (still 140 in the city) and the ‘Tramezzino’ or soft white bread (no crust) sandwiches with various fillings. We sampled a couple tasty ones for lunch.
The hot and humid weather continued as we made our way to Verona and the amazing camping site of ‘Castel San Pietro’ built amid the old walls of the castle which was destroyed by the French centuries ago. The terrace of the campsite overlooked the city of Verona with the river ‘Adige’ winding around the old part of the city.

The ‘new’ Castel San Pietro which was only 100metres from the campsite had even better views of the city and 200 steps connected it to the road below and then a short walk over the bridge to the old town. We managed to ascend these steps a couple of times and then opted for the funicular which had only be reopened a month before, after having been in disuse since the 1940’s.
After wandering around the city it was a welcome respite from the steps. On Sunday the church bells started early and the city was overrun with tourists – foreign and local but on weekdays we could wander the streets admiring the beautiful architecture and piazzas without throngs of people especially in the early morning or later in the afternoon.

We visited the popular ‘Juliet’s balcony’ from below and the ‘Museum of the radio’ which was extremely interesting as well as Juliet’s tomb and a wonderful museum of Cavalcaselle’s frescos in the same complex. We had a coffee with Marta who we had met in India about 18months ago at the Ayurvedic centre. She part owned a very nice spa so Maurice had a hair cut and I had a spa treatment. She also had a couple of tickets for ‘Aida’ in the Arena of Verona which she couldn’t use so we bought them from her. We were given the tip to take a cushion as the marble heats up during the day and the steps are extremely hard.

We enjoyed a meal at the ‘Osteria dei Signori”. I had the spaghetti with shaved truffle which was delicious. Truffles seem to be used far more in the north. Specialites of Verona were Donkey and Horse meat dishes which we definately were not going to try.
We bought a lot of very tasty Summer fruits – peaches, nectarines and melons from markets in various towns.

I managed to have a few of my favourite Aperol Spritz’s and at ‘San Nicolo’ winebar they were very reasonable and the nice waitress opened another couple of red wines and gave me generous portions to taste. On the bar was more or less a meal with abundant nibbles to accompany the aperitifs. We wouldn’t get any of that in Australia.
Verona was one of our favourite Italian cities so far.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We had a chance meeting at Rome airport on our arrival with our Roccamandolfian Raffaele and Antonietta who had flown in from Sydney (we had flown in from Doha).
A few nice warm days in Rome visiting family and having nice walks in the ‘Parco della Caffarella’was just what we wanted.
We visited the ‘Fosse Ardeantine’ the graves of 300 people killed in a reprisal during the war. We had read an interesting book the ‘Scarlet and the Black’ about the German colonel and the Vatican priest Hugh O’Flaherty.

We got back by train to Isernia and then by bus to Roccamandolfi on the 20th May. It was much cooler there and we had the fire going most nights. We packed up several boxes with things we had stored at the house for the last 5 1/2 years and deposited them in the garage which had previously housed our van during winter. We made a detailed list of everything in each box which was a pain staking job.
They will be dispatched to a container in Milan and then on to Genoa for the 46day trip to Perth later in the year.

We spent a lovely last time in Joe’s house and met with Antonietta and Raffaele to enjoy several meals together and to gather leafy mountain greens at the top of “Campitello Matese”. We had a nice meal together with Joe’s cousin Maria and Ada another friend.
When we had serviced the van and had everything sorted and ready for shipping we set off for Sezze and a round of visits with all my cousins. We had a couple of relaxing days by the sea and hosted a party for about 60 of my 70 relations there.

It was sad leaving both Roccamandolfi, Sezze and Mary in Tuscany as we were not going to be back there for a few years.

On our way up the coast two weeks later my cousin Alessio welcomed us to the wonderful seafood restaurant “La Rosa dei Venti” at Orbetello where he is the Maitre’D. Being right near the coast the seafood was very fresh and delicious. We then made our way up to between Panzano and Greve in Chianti, half way between Siena and Florence to visit our 93 year old friend Mary who had a lovely replacement Ukrainian carer named Oliena and an Australian friend Sue from Melbourne who was also visiting her.

We enjoyed meals and scrabble games together and on Mary’s recommendation we all went to the tiny quaint village of Volpaia for a memorable lunch under the trees and overlooking the Tuscan hills. We also had two amazing English women to lunch. One 80 and the other 84 who had driven over from England. They entertained us with their travel stories as they had been to nearly every part of the globe (save China) and had driven all over Australia last year. They remimded us of the “two fat ladies” (although only one was large) who were popular with their cooking show years ago.

Mary lives in the middle of forest, vineyards and olive groves and we saw wild boar and deer close to the van but luckily no snakes.
At night we could look out of the window of the van and see lights in the distance down the beautiful valley and even a few fire flies blinking by. We were very sad to leave Mary after four nights and hope that we can meet her there again one day.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We flew on the 24th April to Bangalore from a pleasant 2night stopover in Kuala Lumpur. We now stay at the Sama Sama hotel a super hotel at the airport with golf type buggies to get you from inside the terminal to the hotel in 2minutes.

The airport express from KLIA to KL Sentral train station is a great service taking 1/2 hour and costing $25 return. If you prepay at the airport and pay with Mastercard you get 20% off the ticket price. We went into the city for the day.
The metro goes right into the mall now next to the Petronas towers and the free pink bus outside takes you straight to Bukit Bintang the main shopping/restaurant area in 15minutes. The transport system has improved over the last couple of years and the city looks more like Singapore all the time with good infrastructure and innovative sky scrapers.

The ‘Simple Life’ vegetarian restaurant next door in the mall near the very upmarket Isetan complex serves delicious food and is only a short walk along a long line of modern restaurants to the ‘Pavillion Mall’ where there is now another undercover area full of food choices and the best Italian icecream.
The ‘Johnny Rocket’ staff as well as staff in some hotels have taken to doing a choreographed 5 minute dance routine every so often which is fun to watch and the staff seem to also enjoy the performances. We took the monorail back to KL Sentral and the train back on the KLIA express to the airport.

We luckily got to the airport early as the check in staff wouldn’t take our confirmation of an e-visa for India shown on Maurice’s phone (even though they accepted people checking in for the flight showing their e-ticket on their phones) so it was a performance of going to the newsagent and the nice man there let me use his computer to print out the confirmations so that we could show the check in staff the piece of paper!
We then had little time to get through the long immigration queue so a quick chat with a security guy got us into the diplomatic passport checking booth where no one was waiting. We just boarded the flight in time and landed in Bangalore four hours later.

Our second fright was when Maurice looked at the wrong bus ticket on his phone and told me that we had missed our bus. We went to the bus counter and the officer pointed out that the ticket was for our last trip. After a short panic he found us on the list and we boarded the 11am, 4 hour trip on the Volvo flybus to Mysore.
We had a good meal at the quirky ‘Gupha’ cave restaurant in the ‘Pai Vista’ hotel and then were picked up for our 3 hour trip to our new Ayurvedic centre in Wayanad down the road from the ‘Karapuzha Dam’. The centre built and run by Dr Tony had treated Maurice before and he had good results in the 2 weeks there.
The whole area had had no rain for months but we had about ten days of unusually early torrential rain with dramatic thunder and lightning.

The good work the healer had done in Bali on our backs was rather undone by the long journey to the Ayurvedic centre so at least we were in the right place and Dr Tony and the good therapists worked their wonders on our backs. We received good massages and food prepared by Jaicy, Dr Tony’s wife and Jay Kumar, a lovely yoga teacher we had met previously gave us personalized yoga sessions. We had daily walks around the dam and saw a few tribal people who live in the area and who could have easily been mistaken for Australian aborigines. The locals were very friendly and we saw first hand the latex sheets made from the rubber plantations in the area which were formed using big old wringer like machinery.

A nice tradition of Dr Tony’s at the end of a stay is to have a tree planted in your name. We went to where his father has some land and Maurice and I
planted a small Jackfruit tree.
We left Muttil South on the 9th May for trip back to Mysore, flybus to Bangalore airport and the flight to Mumbai to see our friends Nidhi, Ashraf and family there for a few days.

Mumbai
Mumbai international airport is a very user friendly one with conveniently placed prepaid taxi counters which made transport to the city very easy.
We just happened to be in Mumbai again for the six week ‘Alphonso’ mango season and Nidhi had bought some for us to have which we enjoyed immensely.
Nidhi’s driver Shankar took us to an amazing baggage repair basement shop where the craftsmen there replaced wheels on my hand luggage and they do amazing repairs. Shankar dropped us at at the large Infinity 2 mall so that we could replace my sneakers. I left the old ones with little tread in Kerala after slipping on a smooth rock the previous day and giving myself a nice big bruise on my leg.

Nidhi’s mother in law is a great cook and she prepared my favourite masala dosas for breakfast one day. We opted for a north Indian restaurant one night after having had the very different south India food for two weeks. Mumbai is a city with an amazing number of high rise apartments under construction all over the city. Andheri West where Nidhi and Ashraf live on the 11th floor of a large commplex is a surprisingly quiet area with a lot of birdlife.

The locals were suffering in the 36 degree humid weather and it promised to be hotter in Delhi when we flew there three days later with cut price airline Indigo which proved to be one of the best flights we had been on in our five years of travel. They have the best on time record and all the staff from check in to cabin and flight crew could not have been more pleasant or helpful. It was a short bus ride from the terminal but their ramps to the plane are so much better and easier to navigate with luggage rather than the staircases that most airlines use.

Delhi
Jyoti’s driver Ravinder picked us up from Delhi airport for the trip to her apartment in Gurgaon, an large area of innovative company buildings and gated communities.

We stayed for 2nights with Jyoti our friend and owner of the Gratitude and Mantra properties in Pondicherry who lives in Delhi. She took us to her organic farm in Rajasthan which is a beautiful property developed from a barren area years ago into a lush and green oasis. It is also run as an airbnb property where guests can learn about bio and organic farming as well as relax by the pool and lotus pond. There are chickens and geese, squirrels, many bird types and colourful lizards on the property which is run by six staff. The cook prepared us a tasty organic vegetarian meal and the dry 40 plus temperature did not bother us. Maurice and I took the metro the following day into the city about an hour away and we wandered about, bought a couple of items and had a north Indian lunch at ‘Zafran’ restaurant. I also had a coffee at ‘Cafe Coffee Day’ which we know from Pondicherry and who train and employ young deaf people as baristas. It was decidedly hotter in the city with all the concrete buildings and bitumen roads but the metro was very well ventilated and cooler.
Our return to Gurgaon was not as we expected as our train broke down at ‘Green Park’ station and we had to find a way to get back to Jyoti’s apartment an hour away.
We were a bit concerned as the train was packed and everyone was trying to get taxis and auto rickshaws. We were lucky enough to find two lovely guys who called us an ‘Ola’ taxi and who waited with us until it arrived. We got to the airport in plenty of time for our 3 1/2 hour flight to Doha on Jet Airways.

Doha
We had only transited Doha previously so decided to spend a couple of nights in the city. We chose the ‘Arumaila hotel’ part of the’Souk Waqif’ group of nine hotels all located in the old quarter of ‘Souk Waqif’. On check in they kindly upgraded us to a room with a balcony which overlooked the souk. The hotel cat slept by the front door most of the time and took the guest movement in his stride. Golf type buggies moved guests to some of the other properties to have breakfast or to have the use of a pool. The staff were the most polite, friendly and efficient we had encountered anywhere and there was Arabic coffee and dates on hand in the foyer. Their new property Najd had an African flavour and a lovely fragrance greeted you as you walked through the hotel. The Souk area, Dhow harbour and Museum of Islamic art was opposite the modern city centre with it’s skyscrapers. Within a short walking distance was the ‘Falcon Souk’ where Falcons costing thousands of Riyals sat on posts in a sandy pit in the shops selling the birds and everything associated with Falconry. In the same area was the Falcon hospital which was specifically for treatment of the raptors. Around the corner was the Camel Paddock where camels were kept for tourists to admire.
A little further along were the horse stables and paddock, an elaborate set up for the horses some of which were used for racing. Rajasthani men took care of the animals. The hotel, restaurant and souk workers were a mixture of Arabs from various countries such as Tunisia and Egypt and there were also many other nationalities in the service industry there.
The Qataris in the main did not work and those that do usually own large businesses. I went looking for a Qatari souvenir but all the products on sale came in the main from either Turkey, Iran or Syria. I asked one Arab shop assistant if anything was made in Qatar. He said ‘Oil and Gas’. I ended up buying some carved glass Arabic coffee cups made in Turkey but used by the Qataris.
Like mad dogs and Englishmen we went out in the midday sun in the 40 odd degrees to walk around the Dhow harbour and then to the Museum of Islamic art which had a wonderful temporary
exhibition of ‘Imperial Threads’ displaying beautiful carpets and carvings from Iran, Turkey and India. The only other people outside were the poor foreign workers who were doing mass plantings along the Corniche. We made our way back to the hotel and later when it was cooler one of the staff gave us a free walking tour of the souk and surrounding area. The souk was quite extensive with pets, clothing, souvenirs, food and an area for elaborate gold jewellery.
The transportation of goods in the souk was done by older men with wheelbarrows rather than using donkeys or mules. The souk at night was very atmospheric with fairy lights and it was pleasant sitting outside with no mosquitoes. The souk stayed open until 10pm even though there were few tourists. The shop keepers were very pleasant and it was nice browsing without any pressure to buy.

The airport was only a 15minute ride from the old part of town where again staff were very pleasant. We flew the hour to Dubai with Emirates and then had a long trek (about 1/2 hour) to reach our gate for the flight to Rome on the 16th May. At the arrivals hall in Rome we had another chance encounter with friends who had flown from Sydney to Rome. We had been looking at the baggage belt for our bags for a long time when I decided to go and find an Emirates representative. As I turned and made my way through the masses of people our friends appeared walking towards the exit. Karma!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.