I had been in Kenya 25years ago and I didn’t recognize the city although it wasn’t as incredibly changed as somewhere like Dubai.
We came across the most pleasant immigration official on the 14th October who welcomed us and she was very chatty and also processed our $50 visas on arrival very promptly. I had to give all my fingerprints but Maurice didn’t. When I asked why he didn’t have to give his, she said in a sweet voice ‘if you get to that age we think you are good!’ Did that make me a potential criminal?

We had arranged a pick up from our hotel ‘La Maison Royale’ so as to not have the hassle of finding a taxi driver on arrival.
The hotel was located in Westlands where there is a lot of construction taking place and the streets were clean and tidy. The check in staff were also very professional,friendly and cheerful and the hotel had only been open for a couple of years.
We don’t do mass tours so we had arranged for a car with driver for the next day to take us to the Masai market, Karen Blixen’s house, the giraffe centre and a couple of other places in between. We had a wonderful day.
The pick up was not there at the allocated time of 9am so we called the company who said the driver would be to us in ten minutes.
He arrived and asked what time we were flying out! I said that we had just arrived the day before and he was to be with us for the day.
We all realised then that the allocated driver had not turned up and Daniel who usually did airport transfers was sent in his place with no information! We were a bit worried but we had a wonderful day and Daniel turned out to be a real gem, the best guide and a very cheerful one where nothing was too much trouble. He even found us the best coffee too at the Java House, a chain of 15 cafes in Nairobi, owned by Italians.
The pollution in central Nairobi is pretty bad with no controls over fuel emissions and sometimes an hour’s journey can take five hours.

We went early to the Masai market when the stall holders were still setting up shop. It was such a colourful place with some of the women in traditional colourful Masai dress and most of what anyone sold was also very colourful with so many innovative knick knacks. I had to buy a woven basket as well as a couple other small souvenirs which were very well priced.
The traffic in Nairobi can be horrendous with some traffic jams lasting hours. Luckily being a Saturday the traffic wasn’t so bad when we drove to see Karen Blixen’s house and gardens and then on to the Giraffe centre – a non profit organisation to educate schoolchildren and youth on conservation. There are only ten giraffes there and there was a baby who was only two weeks old. They are very gentle but when feeding them you have to be careful that they don’t unintentionally head butt you when they toss their heads back. We spent some time there
before heading to the coffee garden – a house built in 1905 and relocated from the centre of Nairobi to the outskirts of ‘Karen’ suburb where many large houses and properties are hidden in vast gardens and behind large hedges. After a light lunch we drove up to the Ngong village where trucks on the road and at the side of the road with many belching out black smoke. The container terminal in Mombasa is one of the largest in Africa and thousands of trucks go backwards and forwards from there to Kenya, Uganda and southern Sudan. The sheer volume of trucks, most carrying containers make progress very slow especially when they go up a hill or hog the ‘climbing lanes’ so that cars cannot pass.

We were very lucky as we could see Kilimanjaro and a neighbouring peak very clearly. Maurice had always wanted to see Mt Fuji (which he did see last October)and Kilimanjaro so he was very pleased.

Amboseli Safari Park gets it’s name from the Ambosel, dust devils or willy willys as we call them in Australia and they are constant, picking up dust and whirling around the park. There are over a thousand elephants in the area and we saw many of them, most semi submerged with the hippos in the vast tracts of swampy water. The wildebeest, Grant and Thomson gazelle, Ostrich and the many zebras were scattered over many kilometres as well as the ostrich, waterbuck, water buffalo and the huge numbers of cattle that the Masai herd to the water. A lot of the park was very green with all the water around and many of the elephants were practically submerged. The government are building large bores away from the park so that the Masai will not need to bring their cattle through the area. We saw a number of giraffe who stayed mostly in the shade of large trees and away from the rest of the animals.

The road into the park was bone shattering with a lot of corrugation and the driver chose this particular entrance as it had been graded!
We left the park at 2.30pm for the 4 1/2 hour trip back to the hotel. It was an exhausting day but a very fulfilling one as Maurice got to see Mt Kilimanjaro as well as so much wildlife in a natural state. The Chinese are very active in Kenya financing the new railway between Nairobi and Mombasa which should be finished next year and then they want to continue it all the way across Africa! The Chinese use their construction engineers and African labour. They have also built many new highways in Nairobi and around Kenya.

We were given a packed lunch to eat on top of the observation hill where we got a spectacular 360degree view of the whole park. Ephrahim our driver did a great job of getting us there and back in one piece and we both collapsed into bed after such a long day.

Kenyan TV showed eight thousand stored tusks being burnt in Kenya, one of the biggest hauls of elephant tusks and it was reported that over 70 percent of the elephants in Africa have perished in the last few decades. It was good to see that the population in Amboseli is so great although the largest number of elephants are found in Tsavo National Park.

We had a lay day the following day visiting the Westgate mall (where 67 people had died in a terrorist raid in 2013 and which now had very strict security insideand outside the mall). We went to see the movie ‘Inferno’ (our second trip in 5years to the cinema) and a meal before heading for Mt Kenya and a five day private safari the next morning with a well recommended tour company called ‘It started in Africa’. I wanted to revisit places that I had seen 25years ago and also show Maurice what I loved about Kenya.

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It was time for some R&R in Dubai and we had a few relaxing days with Alan, a couple of swims in the Arabian sea at Jumeirah beach, a spot of shopping in the Mall of the Emirates where we now know our way around and we had some delicious Arabic and Turkish food. Delivered food is huge business in Dubai
and the quality and price are very good, especially if you know where to order. The daytime temperatures were between 35-38degrees and the evenings were lovely and balmy so that we could sit outside at restaurants which we couldn’t do there in Summer. The shops all had Autumn and winter gear and everyone was commenting on how much cooler it was. Well compared to 45-55degrees I suppose it was a lot cooler. We enjoyed it anyway.
The construction continues unabated there with more malls, skyscrapers, apartments and hotels. It is hard to imagine who will live in all of the dwellings once they are completed. The malls are full of tourists but many of the individual upmarket shops are void of any people and in the local area there are five supermarkets and you are lucky to see a couple of people in them..

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We drove on the 13th of September to our 92year old friend Mary in Greve in Chianti. It is always a lovely and tranquil place to visit and we enjoyed chats with her and her carer Barbara and Mary drove us (she is a great driver!) to ‘Le Panzanelle’ about 15 minutes away to have a wonderful yet very reasonable meal.
Our run of good weather prevailed with sunny, warm days.
We drove on the Autostrada to Sezze Scalo which took us about five hours to stay with my relatives and next morning took the 7am train into Rome which took about 45minutes.
We wanted to get in early to visit an agent who completed our Indian visa applications and uploaded the necessary photos before we took them to the Consulate.
Maurice had checked the weather the previous night and because there was only ten percent chance of rain (never trust the weather bureau) we set off in short sleeves and with one umbrella. By 9.00am it was like a black night sky with torrential rain. Within minutes the street looked like a river and I gave up trying to keep my feet dry in my sandals. Maurice stood with many others for half an hour wet to the knees, waiting for the consulate to open at 9.30am and the Indian visa agents kindly lent me an umbrella to get further down the road to the consulate who are not the friendliest of people. We wanted to be assured of being towards the front of the queue as we
had a 10.30am appointment for our vaccinations on the other side of Rome.
They herded us like a mob of sheep and there was no logic to their system. The electronic dispenser for numbers should have been activated at 9.30 but the Indian official told us that it would not operate until 9.45am. No rhyme nor reason. We luckily were seen quickly and on the way out at the entrance we did laugh at a little enterprising Indian man who was selling umbrellas and vegetable samosas so we bought one umbrella and two samosas and they were delicious.
We had vaccinations for yellow fever, compulsory when entering South Africa from Kenya as well as the Hepatitis A and B. We could have gone the whole hog and had cholera and typhoid as well which was also recommended by the tropical medicine doctor who was very thorough in giving us every possible disastrous medical condition that we could encounter. We did also opt for some anti malarial/intestinal fix all etc tablets and some natural
neem oil to combat parasites in water when showering or as a preventative to mosquito bites as well as a cure all for a myriad of other maladies which we might need in Africa.
After recovering from the bill (a whopping 414euros) we had one of the worst meals we had ever had in Italy at ‘Ragna D’Oro’ which had been recommended by the tropical medicine doctor.
I suspect he was a regular and was treated as such but we should have had warning bells when we saw many tourists in the restaurant. By then we were feeling a little sore and woozy from the vaccinations so we took the train home and had an early night.
The ten days we spent in Sezze with the family ensured I put on about three kilos – too much good food as usual. Our Perth friends Tony and Michelle arrived on the 21st of September and we found them (with the help of my American born cousin Ruth Lotero now living in the town of her grandfather)a lovely B and B with 180degree view of
the surrounding countryside and the sea in the distance.
We did some touristy things going to ‘Piano delle Orme’ an amazing museum with exhibits displaying early rural life and the history of the draining of the Pontine marshes (one of the good things that Mussolini did) as well as an amazing, vast collection of every kind of military vehicles from the second world war.

On the Friday we went to Tivoli, hoping to miss the weekend crowds and visited Hadrian’s villa which is much, much more than a villa. It cover’s hectares and is the remains of a whole Roman city. Within a few kilometres is Villa D’este and Villa Gregoriana so we set off with the help of the sat.nav which unfortunately took us through the old town again – a bit hairy for Van Mauriceson but we made it through without scraping the van or any other cars. Maurice has become much more relaxed in Italy about stopping or turning the vehicle and making others wait as does everyone else in Italy but at least we don’t double park and leave the car or park on a corner on a crosswalk which we have seen many times. No-one seems to get excited by all of this but we do shake our heads every time we
see it. There also is never any urgency at the supermarket checkouts if the checkout chick knows the customer as everyone waits patiently for them to finish their conversation. The other interesting habit is if someone is serving you in a shop and another person comes in they start serving them at the same time rather than
finish with one customer. It is Italy after all.
Maurice and I had been to Villa D’Este in May so while I made lunch in the van our guests went through the gardens and after lunch we moved to another parking spot where we could walk to a view point to take some photos of Villa Gregoriana.
We also managed to catch the huge Sezze Saturday market selling household goods, clothes, plants and all sorts of foods. We were all kindly invited to cousins’ houses for a meal and had a couple of delicious meals at a fish restaurant and one specializing in open fire roasted meats.
We briefly saw cousin Ruth Lotero who had just arrived back from San Francisco and London on the 25th September, had a great paella meal at a new Spanish restaurant that night and left Sezze on the 26th September to Roccamandolfi. We detoured slightly to Monte Cassino and visited the enormous and ornate Abbey on top of the
mountain. The enormous Abbey except for the belowground level areas where the monks and many refugees sheltered was totally destroyed by the Americans during the war as they thought it was a German stronghold which wasn’t at all. Hadn’t they thought of spies?
There were only monks and refugees but it it did make it easier then for the Germans in the vicinity to then comandeer it. Many refugees were killed but the monks and other refugees who hid in the basement survived. We opted for the guided tour which was fortuitous as we learnt a lot from our guide and were shown areas that we would not have otherwise seen. The views from the top over the town of Cassino below and the large Polish war cemetery were lovely and clear given it was another warm and sunny day.
After lunching in the van we continued on to Roccamandolfi where we dropped our guests at the only hotel (and a good one) in the lower town and Maurice and I then proceeded to empty the van of most things which were then taken down by Luca to Joe’s house to be stored for the winter. We had a relaxing few days and some nice local restaurant meals. We took a picnic up to the ‘Campitello’ past the castle and up into the mountains and were so lucky to see the wood brought down from the thick forrest by a few hardy men and their mules. We saw our guests off on the early morning train to Rome from Boiano where we saw our first sunrise there which was a bonus.
Luckily the weather had been lovely for their stay. Two days later we had overnight rain but it was still not cold for the start of October.
I was invited to a ‘ladies night’ at the hotel where a lot of good food and wine was served. Roll on the diet!
Everyone in the town was stacking their firewood for the winter. Some of the townsfolk had made a transition to pellets instead of wood. We had a woodburning stove and still had wood from a couple of years ago. We saw a lot of people at their mountain plots gathering their crops of potatoes, corn and beans and I helped one day shelling
the borlotti beans with another few women. Maurice and I both imagined the towns people doing the same thing centuries ago.
We had another anxious wait for our Indian visas (why don’t they make it easier for tourists who want to stay longer than 1month?). We had to surrender all passports -Australian, my British and Maurice’s Irish one as well has his expired Aussie passport. I had written in bold 18font letters a letter stating we would be leaving Italy on the 7th October giving them 3weeks to process the visas but it still hadn’t happened two and a half weeks later!
Two of my cousins and a husband make the two hour journey by car to visit us in Roccamandolfi bringing enough food for twenty.
On the 6th October we had the van washed and then prepared it and covered it for it’s 6month stay in the garage. On the 7th October we left Roccamandolfi for Rome and went to the Indian consulate at the designated time of 4.30pm to collect our passports with our Indian visas. Thank God it was the last time we needed to do this in Rome as the officials at the consulate were not only unhelpful but one was particularly rude.
We visited my old aunt and her husband in Rome and stayed at our favourite B and B Nik Niks just down the road and only 10mins from the centre of Rome by metro.
A taxi ride to the airport on Sunday the 9th October only took 30minutes and 50euros which saved the hassle of a taxi to the train station and then the train to the airpoprt.
It was even getting cooler in Rome so we were glad to leave Italy was the warmth of Dubai.

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It was a good thing that we started early in the day as we wanted to have a good look around Lucerne which is such a picturesque city with it’s interesting buildings, covered bridges and towers on the lake. We were lucky again to get parking very close to the city. There were a lot of students and tourists around and the cafes and restaurants were full of people, the outdoor ones. The weather had continued to be hot and sunny and we counted ourselves very lucky in that regard. It took quite a bit of planning not to take the Autobahn to Lake Konstanz as the sat.nav. kept trying to take us on it but we got there in the end after many hours of pleasant driving though the hills and towns.

The first and very well recommended campsite at Seehorn near Romanshorn was unfortunately full so we ended up at Buchhorn in Arbon which was a well run campsite with friendly staff and with the train which ran by the site. Luckily it did not run overnight and it was a handy three minutes to the station.
Maurice was feeling a bit tired the next day so I took myself off to Romanshorn where I got the ferry which took 2hours to get to the island of Mainau. We criss crossed the enormous lake and sailed by the city of Konstanz in Germany to Mainau island which is known as the garden island. Count and countess Bernadotte live in the enormous chateau on the island which is known for it’s beautiful gardens with over 12,000 dahlias and countless roses,enormous sequoias and other interesting trees.
I stopped to see the arrival of a bride at the ornate church. There were many different cafes and restaurants on the island and I opted for afternoon tea in the palm garden which was suitably sub-tropical. There were well laid out paths all over the island and I found the butterfly enclosure with a stunning array of specimens.
I walked across the bridge connecting the island to mainland Germany and caught the bus to Konstanz. I didn’t know exactly how I would get back to the campsite but I had my day ticket which luckily was valid for Germany and Switzerland and there was a manned train information office which printed me out a route map taking me to Kreutzlingen back in Switzerland and then to change to Romanshorn and then on to Arbon to the campsite. I didn’t get back until nearly 7.30pm but it was a good journey and still light.

We met up the next morning with Peter who worked for a company we were affiliated with and who had visited us on a couple of occasions in Perth. We hadn’t seen him for 5years so it was nice to catch up with him. We had coffee a few doors away from the campsite in a cafe by the lake and then he took us up into what he called the Swiss outback!
We drove past the turn off for ‘Heididorf’ on the Autobahn and on the left side was Liechenstein and Austria and Switzerland on the right hand side.
We went up into the Swiss Alps and had amazing views of the surrounding mountains and small villages. It was a Sunday and there were lots of people out and about and the first restaurant we tried was full and the one we eventually found was also very full but had room for us.
It was lovely sitting outside in the sun. I took some photos in the street and found a house selling ‘self serve’ cheese. The small fridge with an honesty box on top was next to the front door so I put the money in the tin, took my change and took a piece of cheese from the fridge. I couldn’t do that in too many countries I’m sure!

After a delicious typical Swiss lunch with Rosti and Spatzli and a nice Aperol Spritz to start with we drove along the winding very narrow roads back down the mountain and back to the campsite. We had a very enjoyable day and it was nice that Maurice had a break from driving. We caught up with computer and van housework in the afternoon. The wonderful weather continued the next day when we drove over the mountains and into Liechtenstein, a principality using the Swiss Franc. The town itself is very small and after a coffee and a walk around the mainly touristy shops we only took about half an hour to get from one end to the other of the principality.
It was strange to get the three different languages – German, Italian and French on the radio as we drove along.
All the cows we saw seemed happy cows with plenty to eat in their very green fields and we could hear them from a long way off with their large bells around their necks.

We took the long way over the mountains and stayed the night at Cugnesco near Lago Maggiore in the Swiss Italian Alps where the managers were very pleasant. They didn’t even charge me for printing out some things that I needed for our Indian visas. We had to get back to Rome fairly quickly to lodge our visas and get some vaccinations so we left early on the secondary roads down through the San Bernadino pass and over Lake Lugano to Italy and Lake Como.

We will come back to Switzerland next year to Lake Konstanz as we want to take the ferry from Konstanz down the Rhein to Schaffhausen which we didn’t have time to do this year. Maurice likened Switzerland to a good looking golf course. Everything everywhere was so neat and tidy.

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We awoke at our good campsite in the small village of Neydens to a lovely sunny day and caught the bus from there with a change at St Julien to Geneva city. We met a couple of English ladies who were also staying in the campsite so chatted on the way to town.
Geneva is a beautiful city with it’s interesting architecture, vast lake and lovely places to have coffee and eat, although a lot more expensive than France with it’s strong Swiss Franc. We found our way with the aid of a city map to the Reformation wall located in a large leafy park. It stood very high with larger than life statues depicting those involved in the reformation. From there we went to St Pierres cathedral with the ruins of the old cathedral beneath it in a very well preserved archaelogical site over three levels below ground. The Reformation museum just opposite the church was in a beautiful old house and the information was very innovatingly shown with films and clever audio explanations.
We walked around the old city and down and around the promenade by the lake with stops for coffee and lunch along the way. Everywhere was very clean and tidy and we saw very little graffiti which was a change from most of the larger european cities. The only bus to take us back to Neydens was at 6pm with a change again at St Julien and we walked from a large new shopping centre/pool complex along the backroads to the campsite. The public transport in Switzerland is excellent and runs on time to the minute.
The trees on the hills were already changing colour and the nights were getting shorter.
The campsite was very well appointed with good pitches and spotless facilities and we managed some washing in the two nights that we were there.

We drove along the east side of Lake Geneva on the French side the next day – the border as such is in the middle of the lake – to Thonon where we had a walk around and then continued to a nice quiet spot with a small jetty by the lake for lunch.
We drove on further to Montreux at a nice leisurely pace and around the pretty, very orderly city with it’s very large and ornate appartment houses which had beautiful views across the lake. On the edge of the lake near Montreux was the Chateau of Chillon which belonged to the House of Savoy from the 12th century.
The location and the chateau itself was magnificent as were the views across to the other side of Lake Geneva.
The secondary roads which we took all through Switzerland were in tip top condition. Our campsite of ‘Rive Bleue’ by the lake at Bouveret a short drive away was a nice quiet one with excellent facilities.
The following day we left Bouveret to see the town of Vevey (where Charlie Chaplin spent his last years) on the way to Lausanne to meet our friend Christian.
We managed to find a parking spot very near the centre of Lausanne and walked up hundreds of steps to the Cathedral where we had a view all over the city. Lausanne was very hilly and we had a steep climb even in the pedestrian shopping area. We found a cafe ‘Blackbird’ serving healthy food and I had a delicious salad with the tag of ‘superfood’ Quinoa and pommegranate seeds etc and Maurice a haloumi, hummus and salad sandwich and with two cold tea drinks and we did enjoy it – just as well as it translated into $55 Australian! We decided not to convert Swiss Francs any longer. Even Christian a Frenchman who has lived in Lausanne and who we met in Pondicherry a few years ago said that it was an expensive place to live compared to France and for us it was many times more expensive to eat out than in the other countries we had visited other than Norway. We found some delicious looking pastries and bought some to take to afternoon tea with Christian. He is French speaking with little English and it sure did test my French but it was lovely seeing him again.

Switzerland is such a small country compared to it’s French neighbour and it only took us an hour to get to Bern the capital which we drove through and on to Spiez,a little town which I remembered from 27years ago. It it on the the shore of Lake Aare and is the most beautiful picturesque town. There was no campsite very close so we drove on and up to Stuhlegg in Kittigen another pretty site with ‘Lurch’ for a manager. A very dour individual but we only had to book in with him and then we enjoyed the scenery it afforded. The showers were good and hot which was just as well as it was like having a shower in the field – they were not in an enclosed building. Needless to say we didn’t dawdle. We left the campsite early the next morning.

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Rain greeted us after a nice smooth crossing on the Stena ferry to Holyhead from Dublin where we returned to the lovely campsite of Riverside near the picturesque town of Betws-y-Coed in Snowdonia, Wales. It continued to pour all night and the next morning until around lunchtime when we were well in to England. From then on for the following twelve days the weather was wonderful – blue skies mostly and warm. We had a relaxing week with our friends Michael and Ruth in the Chilterns. I had a lovely belated birthday lunch at ‘The Grove’ golf hotel before driving up to Hichin for a few days to catch up with another friend Barry and get the MOT and a couple of minor adjustments to the van done. The crowd at Hitchin caravans are so nice and they let us stay there van plugged in for a few days every year.
My good and faithful Toshiba notebook died and we were able to get a new Lenovo computer in the little time we had so that was a godsend. The keyboard was closer to my Chromebook so the transition went smoothly thank goodness.
We had a few good walks to the market town which boasts a few good cafes and restaurants. We spent most of our time in the Hermitage cafe/restaurant/gift shop where good coffee and good food was served and we could do vital things like book flights to India and fill in our Indian visa forms online – a lengthy process and not a successful one as far as the flight from India with Malaysian airlines to Kuala Lumpur. Their website was experiencing difficulties and we had no luck trying to book it after many attempts so we left that for another day. We had to book this so far in advance as the Indian consulate want to sight our tickets out of India.

The weather changed with a blanket of clouds on the 2nd September when we took the Brittany Ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg. After a lengthy wait at the port the staff were very welcoming and the three and a half hour trip got us into Cherbourg an hour late. Luckily we had decided to have our main meal in the van while we waited as we didn’t get in until 7.30pm French time. We phoned ahead to the caravan park in the lovely village of Carentan 50minutes away and I had to hurriedly resurrect my French to make sure that they would accept us after 8pm. It had the unusual name of ‘Flower Camping le Haut Dick’. It was still light and we had a nice quiet evening
with the sound of owls in the distance. It was an excellent site with very few campers. The season was officially over on the 1st September so our ACSI camping card came in handy where we only paid now between 12-18euros a night instead of the high season prices of up to 50euros. The proprietor of the campsite asked where we were from and he said he knew that we were not from England as we had no dog with us!

Leaving the village the next morning we had to turn around at the first bridge we came to as it was only 2metres wide – not enough for us. That is one drawback of the sat.nav.not knowing our size. The day got up to 32degrees with a beautiful blue sky all day as we made our way down through lower Normandy and down to the very fertile Loire valley going through the villages of Alencon, Mamers, Vendome and Blois. We decided on a break in Blois, an amazing large town on the Loire which happened to have an enormous fair all through the city with lots of activities for adults and children. There was a party air to it all and the town itself with it’s amazing chateau and associated buildings were wonderful to see. We spent a couple of hours enjoying the festivities before driving along the Loire river and then across the Cher river to our campsite at Faverolles Sur Cher not far from the beautiful Chateau of Chaumont by the river.

We stocked up on supplies at an enormous Carrefour shop where while Maurice was backing into a parking spot an impatient van driver shouted at him ‘you Anglais’ so Maurice shouted back not Anglais – Australian, to which the driver said ‘sorry, sorry, sorry!’and gave him the thumbs up.

On the 4th September we continued along the Cher river and via Mennetou sur Cher – a medieval town to Bourges where we looked for an amazing cathedral which we could see for miles before we got to the town but ended up nearly getting stuck with the van in the Sunday We luckily extricated ourselves,this time without me having to get out of the van and hold the traffic. We found the cathedral of St Etienne and departed for Nevers and to Chalon Sur Saone always taking the almost deserted country roads through many quaint small villages and agricultural land planted thickly with corn, grapevines and now wilting sunflowers. Many field had herds of the large white Limousine cows.
Many of the roundabouts had beautiful floral displays and one even told a story – a small house with farmer ploughing the field with a horse and a small vineyard. Very innovative. From the Cher we climbed into the densely forested hills and down to the Saone river where we stayed in a large but very orderly campsite next to the river. The sunset was a colourful one so we hoped for another sunny day after a cloudy but warm one.

We took all of the next day to drive across Burgundy up into the mountains and to our campsite at Neytens in France, just across the border from Switzerland.
The day was cool and cloudy with patchy rain. Although we were still in France it was only a 15minute bus ride to Geneva. If anyone asked us where we had had the best weather this year the answer was England!

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The catch phrase we heard over and over again was “well you don’t come to Ireland for the weather”.
This was very true as we were visiting many cousins and showing Maurice’s son Craig and his wife Yuko the country and introducing them to the many cousins. It would have been nice however to have some warm weather which was seriously lacking for a summer. Even the inhabitants were complaining about their lack of summer weather but that didn’t stop them from swimming in the sea and picknicking outside which we wouldn’t contemplate at home.

We picked Craig and Yuko up from Cork airport after a cancelled flight into Dublin from Amsterdam and in the two weeks that they were with us we managed to cover a great deal of the island as well as having lots of family time which was really enjoyable and all the cousins made them very welcome.

In two weeks we drove from Dublin to Clonmel and to Cork where the McCarthys came from then back to Dublin then to Avoca. We zigzagged a bit so that we could catch up with some of the cousins and friends who were either on holiday from England where they live or to see cousins who were about to go on holiday.

We continued on to Wexford where Maurice’s paternal grandmother was born to Galway (an interesting city) and found where his great grandparents had lived and then via the cliffs of Moher and across many counties to Belfast on mostly bumpy narrow roads. Only Maurice had been to Belfast before and we found it a small but interesting city architecturally and culturally. We did a Black Cab tour around the former troubled areas of the city where tensions can still run high but are a far cry from what they were when the British military occupied the city.
What they call the ‘Peace Wall’ circles a part of the city dividing the catholic and protestant areas of Belfast. Interestingly part of the wall was taken down while we were there and luckily it caused no problems. We met up with Marcella, a friend we had not seen for ten years and it was lovely to catch up with her.

Maurice and Craig went to the Ulster Moto GP – the crazy motorbike road race – which they thoroughly enjoyed while Yuko and I were more sedate and went to the amazing Titanic exhibition which is a fixed one as the original Titanic was built there. We also managed a tour of city hall and some shopping.

We had our only two really warm and blue sky days on Craig and Yuko’s last day in Dublin and the day after.
The free walking tour of Dublin on the sunny day was most informative and James did a great job while giving us a few laughs along the way. We sampled some Irish food and also a lot of seafood and fish along the way.

People were friendly and helpful all over the country – north and south.

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The previous day in Berlin Maurice and I had both worn shorts for the first time since leaving Sardinia and we started off via Potsdam in 24degree warmth but within a short time on the Autobahn it had dropped to 18degrees and driving rain for over an hour! I think it was preparing us for England and Ireland. We reached Rinteln near Hannover. The campsite which we reached after about 6hours was called “Doktor See”

By the time we got to The Hague the sky was blue again and it was 26degrees. We parked near a canal and walked for two hours around the interesting city with a mixture of new buildings and old historical ones. The city had a very multicultural feel to it not surprising as it is a UN headquarters and home to many international companies. It was only another fifteen minutes to our campsite at Hoek van Holland where we were to catch the ferry the next day to Harwich.

We had the smoothest of crossings with a very calm sea and blue sky all the way to England and we had a nice quiet seven hour trip paying 16euros for the Stena lounge which gave us free wifi, refreshments, papers and no children. The next day also started well with a blue sky and we set out early for the next leg to Holyhead in Wales. We had stayed at a place called “Dovercourt” which was awful so we left early the next morning and opted to take the A roads not the motorway and there was
little traffic for most of the Sunday which made for a relaxing day.

The service areas in England are well set up with cafes and M & S food shops and some with bookstores. After a couple of breaks and lunch at Telford in a large mall complex we drove through to Wales and through some beautiful scenery to Betws-y-coed where we stayed the night in a lovely campsite. It was very windy and cold and rain fell towards evening. The hardy English and Welsh were out with their T-shirts and shorts pretending it was summer.

After an hour’s drive the next morning we arrived at Holyhead and boarded the Stena ferry to Dublin on the 25th July. It was again a smooth crossing but we didn’t opt for the lounge this time as it was 18pounds for a three hour trip and they allowed children in as well. We were looking forward to seeing all of Maurice’s cousins and their families and to picking up Maurice’s son Craig and wife Yuko on the 2nd of August. They were going to join us for two weeks to meet the family and see a bit of Ireland with us.

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More strange weather followed the next day with us putting our jackets on and taking them off every ten minutes. We walked along Berlins premier street the Kurfuerstendam to KaDeWe or Kaufhaus des Westens an lovely old department store which has been upgraded to be quite modern inside with a large winter garden with glass roof on the top floor.

After a nice lunch at a non tourist little cafe a few streets away we walked to the Kathe Kollwitz museum. She was an artist and sculptress married to a doctor and they lived in a working class suburb in Berlin around the turn of the century. She was a humanitarian who depicted the lives of the working class people and portrayed the poverty and despair of the people in many of her works. She lost one of her two sons in the first world war and a grandson in the second world war. She worked for fifty years in Berlin and died at aged 78 two weeks before the end of the war.

Maurice had bought a new tablet in Stade and since the programmers decide to change things with every upgrade he had some questions so we went into a media markt in Alexander Platz in Berlin and had it sorted out.

The refurbished “Hamburger Bahnhof” was now a museum of modern art and was previously the main railway station. Maurice felt that he had seen enough of modern art so we went over to the former “East zone” and found our way to a bar called the “Macke Prinz” to see a friend of Maurice’s cousin Lulu however she was in England so we had a drink and then wandered around the interesting neighbourhood and found a bar serving Russian food.
The sky had cleared by the time we made our way back to Gatow and it felt odd to have our sunglasses on at 8.30pm.

A busy morning followed at the campsite, washing, drying clothes and sorting and cleaning the van again. Housework in the van takes about half an hour so it will be hard going back to cleaning a house in the future.

We took a bus back to the city at 4.30pm after having to change trains because a problem on the line, we got to the city about 6pm. It was a warm and sunny thirty degree day so we headed back to take some photos of the Brandenburg gate and then to the “Bundestag” to see where
Germany had it’s seat of government. A large glass dome had been added to the historic building and you could walk around inside it however it had been booked out weeks before so we just viewed it from the outside. There were many government buildings on the opposite bank of the canal. We walked from the Bundestag back to the railway station and then back to the campsite via train and bus.

We left Berlin for Rinteln near Hannover driving through Potsdam, another historic city before taking the backroads for the five hour trip to Rinteln which was about halfway to our final destination of Hoek van Holland.

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It was a pleasant drive on the 16th July to Berlin on the backroads through a lot of the old “East” Germany where some of the buildings and houses were rather forlorn looking and some still grey in colour. It did not generally look as prosperous as in the “west”. There was much agricultural land with vast fields of grain and potatoes. It took us about seven hours with stops for coffee and lunch but it was a much more pleasant drive through the avenues of trees and with us passing tractors instead of large trucks on the Autobahn where you see little of the country. We detoured to Dahlem, a leafy suburb in Berlin. I found the house belonging to the Goering family where my mother lived for a few years during the second world war and taught their daughter English. That was not the infamous Georing (that was a cousin). I remembered the house from seeing it in 1994 however it was quite different now. It had been the Japanese embassy then. It had obviously been sold and part of the rear of the large garden had been turned into two modern block houses. There remained some garden and a gate house at the front but the garden was very overgrown. Someone was renovating the place as it had a new roof and new windows and I was pleased as it would have been a shame to see the beautiful building demolished.

The campsite at Gatow to the south east of Berlin was about an hour away from the centre of town by bus and then S Bahn or the U Bahn (underground). We got to the point near the Brandenburg gate where we met our guide for our free walking tour around many points of interest around the city. It was raining but not cold when we started off but we were lucky and it eased off during the three hour tour. Louis a Dutchman who had studied political and general history had lived in Berlin for nine years and was an excellent guide who gave us information in a very objective way. The original “Checkpoint Charlie” had been demolished however a building like a site office had been erected where it didn’t impede traffic and one could have photos taken with fake police in front of the small building.
We walked afterwards over to museum island and into the Jewish quarter where we had a nice lunch at “Hummus and Friends”.

We had been recommended by one of Maurice’s cousins to see the “Sammlung Boros” a private modern art collection over five levels and over which the owners had built a large Penthouse. It’s history was fascinating. It had been a bunker (air raid shelter) during the second world war and it’s walls were 1.80metres thick and the top of the building was 3.20metres thick. It was built for 1,200 people however up to 4,000 sheltered there during the war. It was then taken over by the Russians after the war and used for prisoners of war. It was later used as a textile warehouse and then a seedy techno nightclub before being closed. The Boros bought the building and over many years had it remodelled taking some of the ceilings and walls out and making larger spaces to house their artwork. The building was a constant 14degrees and it was an eerie feeling to be in some of the smaller rooms which had sheltered people during the war and then used as a prison.

The tour had been sold out when I looked on the internet (with only small groups of twelve allowed at a time) but we were advised to go and see if there were any no shows. We were lucky and were allowed to join a tour where the French guide gave us the tour in English of many of the works which did then make sense in many cases as the artists’ concepts were explained. An interesting one was a large copper sculpture done by a Vietnamese artist which was one of many that if assembled, made up a copy of the statue of Liberty. The works had been on display for five years and a more unusual exhibit was a popcorn machine which had been running since then which was activated when a tour group entered the room. The popcorn lay in great mounds around the machine. Some of the work was very quirky , some very innovative and some strange. The owners curated the work with the assistance of the artists who were from various parts of the world. It was interesting to hear the history of the building and that the owners only bought artworks from artists in the year that they were created. The 130 artworks were only twenty percent of their total collection which was housed in a storage facility out of Berlin. Mr Boros had made his money since the nineties in advertising and in publishing houses.

Berlin is a sprawling open city with few high rise buildings and many parks and leafy tree lined roads with the Spree and the Havel rivers and canals criss crossing the city. The city has 3.5million people and we saw no real congestion of people or traffic. There were many cyclists and cycle paths all over the city.

We made an early start the next day taking the bus to the city with firstly a visit to the Gedachtnis kirche on the Kurfurstendam, Berlin’s premier avenue. It had a direct hit during WWII and apart from filling in the holes in the ceiling and putting some glass to prevent rain entering the building, it has been left as a reminder of war.

The 7euro day pass for all city transport came in handy that day as we caught the U Bahn to the East side Gallery a 1.6km section of the Berlin wall which had been painted by 118 artists from all over the world. It was a cool and windy day but we luckily only had a few spits of rain as we walked along both sides of the wall to see the various works and then over the historic bridge to the Freischwimmer restaurant for lunch which had been recommended by Maurice’s cousin Lulu who had lived for a year in Berlin. It stood over one of the Spree canals and was a lovely spot for lunch with little birds coming for any spare crumbs. A bit of sunshine would have been nice.

Another long walk took us to the huge Treptower park and the impressive and large Soviet war memorial. With rain threatening again we caught a bus to the Neukoellner Arcade where we eventually found our way up a car park ramp to the “Klunkerkranich” an eco bar and cafe with herbs, leafy vegetables and plants dotted around the former rooftop carpark. The view all over Berlin was lovely and we could see as far as the TV tower near the centre of the city.

We had been on the go from 9am but as we were close to the former Tempelhof Airport we decided to catch a bus there and walk around about a quarter of it before our feet gave up. The vast area is now used by the community for recreational purposes and many families were picnicking and BBQing and cycling around the park even though the day was cool and not very bright. Luckily the S Bahn was not far away and we got back to the campsite about 7.30pm after changing trains and then taking the bus back. It was worthwhile to make the most of the long evenings.

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