Spice Islands

Eastwards Ho! Equipment purchased, 10 flights booked and off we toddled to Indonesia. We stayed overnight in Warsaw before our flight to Istanbul in a super little hostel in the new old town of Warsaw. Bunk-beds with all the ensuing claims to sleep up or downstairs. The Cannon was perfect for us.

Flight number one. We flew Turkish Airlines to Istanbul where we had a seven hour lay over. I determined to reduce DVT by walking every part of it, and I can attest to the fact that it is big! Very big!! Then we had an 11 hour flight to Jakarta. The flight was great and the service excellent. Never have so few lavatories been serviced so often, by so few, for so many.

Jakarta. Tired and hung down like overdecorated Christmas trees we trundled into full view of the cab touts. Shouts of Hey Mister, Hey Boss and simply hey assailed our ears. We had originally planned to take  a bus from the airport to the station at Gambir. I had travelled down to Bandung many years ago by train and enjoyed the experience. Sadly our visit coincided with Ramadan and so there was not even room for a slimmed down cockroach. This meant we had to book a hotel, the illustrious Dreamtel Jakarta. Thus a taxi, and the first of many haggles. But to haggle one needs an idea of the going rate. We paid 300,000 IDR for a taxi across town. The lovely people at Dreamtel told us later that it should have been 200,000IDR maximum. Guard up! The hotel was clean with a funky glass elevator that Will Wonka would approve of. The room was good, a double shared with the children. Aghhh…The view was a little less pleasing. A brick wall, although painted off white, about 30cm from our window. Breakfast was very good and the guys behind the counter helpful and a couple spoke good English. Heads up with the Bluedird taxis with meters and asking suitable questions about tolls being included in prices and off we went from Jakarta the next day by plane. The flight was about 3 hours late. About 10 staff behind the counter could giggle flirt with each other beautifully, but giving information was not their forte. We flew up to Sumatra, landed, which was eventful and bumpy, waited 20 minutes and set off for Yogykarta. The flight attendant pointed out a few general facts and asked us to pray to God for a safe flight. That was reassuring for one and all. Yogykarta. Little did we know but we were close to the airport. The taxi driver again charged over the odds. The place we stayed was clean and again we shared with the kids. Breakfast was a greasy mess and the coffee so sweet one shot of it would have given a whale diabetes. We valiantly strolled down the side of the dual carriageway in search of munchies. Amazing to watch whole families, babies included, all perched on weaving mopeds and scooters. Grabbing a taxi, with the meter agreed as arbiter of cost, we set off down town. We spent the evening on Maliobor Street. Locals looked at us as though they hadn’t seen foriegners before!

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Memories of Mount Bromo

We arrived late at our accomodation. It had been a long bumpy ride in a truly old jalopy. Some call it romantic, others called it uncomfortable. The room was basic, but we would only be there a short while. If memory serves me correctly we rose at around 3am. Even the roosters were snoozing still.The last time I had got up so early was when I was born.

In a comatosed state we shuffled to our guide and were led off sheep like into the murkiness. Dark and cold, what was I doing? Where was my ratty bed? We ascended for a short while and came to the valley floor. The braying of donkeys came out of the mist. I decide to walk as did my partner, but her sister had a terrible disease. Born bone-idle, bless her. She mounted one of these small animals with her feet almost dragging along the floor. We trudged onwards through the mist and gloom. Why am I here?

Our sojourn finished at the base of a steep set of timber steps. Just in case we felt in need of civilization, reminders of it were left in the form of plastic bottles, cans and other advanced detrius near the steps. The donkey was unburdened from its not insubstantial load and all three  of us made our way upwards. The donkey had seen the show before.

At the top we stopped to take in the view of the volcano and breath deep the fumes. Not distasteful after a life time of Mother’s cooking. This was more like it! Then someone shouted and we all turned in near seeming unison. The sun was rising. A huge golden, yellow orb of power and light ascended the farthest horizon. Spilling light across the plain as it rose. One of the most fantastic sights I had ever witnessed was taking place before my eyes.

ahh, that was why I was there!! Magnificent and I carry the polaroid like snapshots in my mind for evermore. Truly breathtaking. Now where was that poor donkey?

Memories of Cameron Heights

Monday mornin’ and raining here. I love the rain. Must be an English thing. Yes, that’s it, an English thing.

Recall making plans to go to the Cameron Heights. Booked tickets on an old jalopy of a bus and had an overnight drive. The road meandered through the forest in the pitch black. Then  a thunderstorm rolled over and accompanied us. The lightning illuminated the soaked forest for milliseconds at a time.

Pulled into Cameron about 4am or 5am. Some ungodly hour. Everything was shut. So thoughtless of Cameron;-) I made my way to a hostel, but it was closed, too. Constructed in an imaginative square. But redemption was at hand. The building had a wide porch running around the font and both sides. How does a porch run? Slowly.

The rainy weather was kicking in again. I settled down on one of the comfy chairs, feet on my backpack, and slipped into my sleeping bag. Remember feelin’ cosy, dry and happy to watch the rain from my temporary sanctuary.

Roadtrip Nice Thru’ to Verdon Gorge

 

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Onwards McDuff. Meandered along the coast to Cannes. I guess we were expecting something a bit cheap, gaudy and classless. Well, that was reserved for Monaco. Cannes was a real delight. Of course expensive, especially as young man had an ice-cream obsession, where can I sell my next kidney? But a place  with a lovely ambience and wonderful streets to peruse back away from the seafront. Wealthy yes, but not tawdry like Monaco. The beach was great for the children, of all ages, with beautiful views along the bay in both directions.

Then we made our way to Nice which was very nice. The horror that would unfold there the next week was unimaginable. Again a wonderful place to spend time and simply take in the atmosphere. This included swimming, splashing and blowing up inflatables until I had cheeks as red as a lobster! All good fun in other words. Monaco was tacky, dirty and seemed to shove its vulgar wealth down peoples’ throats. A large ugly underpass comes to mind and a huge car park that didn’t want us to leave. Some things have passed me by, due mainly to the fact that I want to move onto the Verdon Gorge.

Verdon Gorge. There, it’s easy to say, yes? My wife showed me the map and the route. Assuring me it wasn’t the Alps and the way to Chamonix. Not ‘too’ high. So we headed to Moustiers-Saint-Marie. The Gorge  is 700 metres deep, or high and about 25km long. On I drove, upwards and upwards. The drive was stunning, my hands were wet and my eyes so focused they could have bored through rock. The road is narrow. Very narrow in places. As we rounded corners one could only see blue sky ahead, and still blue sky and then back online. Only to twist outward again. Tunnels wide enough for one vehicle at a time added to the fun. And still upwards. The view down was impressive. But a view I tried to avoid. A two brick high barrier marked the edge of the road. A barrier that couldn’t stop a sickly mouse.In some places nothing along the edge of the road apart from gravity. We stopped at a viewing point. Took pictures, had a look around, wrung out my shorts, that sort of thing. My wife spotted a twisting, switchback, extremely narrow drive down to the canyon floor. Super I said as we clambered back into the car. The way out of the Gorge is stunning and teasing. Just as you think you are going down, upwards swings the road again. I don’t do heights well and so felt proud of myself when we came out on the other side. A side with fields of lavender, wonderful trees and FLAT roads. Flat is good.

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Further Southwards into France

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Went into Avignon by bus which was cheap, clean and let me have a good gander as I was not driving. I did ask, but the driver said, ”Non”. Avignon was home to the pope between 1309 – 1377. Well he had one advantage then, the walls kept people out. They are still an impressive sight. However Avignon was beset by hoardes of tourists, they swept all before them. Really it was too much. Souvenir shops for instance. A few tacky shops are okay, however Avignon had its fair share. Nice bridge too, but when will it be finished?

Took in Aix-En-Provence which was a combination of the beautiful and the slighty grubby gracefulness. Prices for food were bad. Basically what we will pay in Polish Zlotych cost the same in Euro’s. The best way to negotiate this thorny problem was to stop and buy fresh fruit and vegetables at the roadside stalls. Great food from under the provence sun, and far better prices. Even managed to get service with  smile.

Headin’ down we drove through the Camargue. This is one beautiful place, truly. Low lying and flat, none of those pesky mountain passes with inches to spare! Driving past rice fields and then the most beautiful white horses. There are plenty of places to stop take in this area. We alighted in Cassis. Cassis in the sun is great. A long sweeping esplanade with a great beach and a free pissoir in the car park. What more can you want! Although there were tacky shops the place had a wonderful feel to it. Just walking along the roads one could see it was well looked after, with splashes of colour from beautiful flowers thrown in for measure.

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Pottered around and went to the most unhelpful information lady in history. Her Gallic indifference and shoulder shrugs were superb and her English, well, bazik. Anyway we discovered that safaris into the Camargue cost around 120 Euro for the four of us. So no thanks. Eventually we plumped for the cruise which was about 12 Euro for an adult and discounted for the children. The ferry trip went up the mouth of the (Lesser/smaller?) Rhone and although we draw close to some beautiful views, it was all a bit distant. The chop on the sea as we took in the swell of the sea on the return trip was pretty cool for me. Onwards and along the coast…

 

Czech This Out

Moving on in a non-sequential manner. Wyrd, fate, sisters of… Part of the road trip took us back through the Czech Republic. Now we were looking, and looking for a petrol station to buy an vignette in Germany, and tank up.

But the road just changed into he Czech Republic and so we stopped at the first station to make sure we stayed street legal. Into the station and asked politely if we could buy the vignette by card, it being the 21st. I take my hat off to the young lady serving, how she fitted so much spite and disdain into her reply was remarkable.

Looking bewildered we trolled across the parking lot to a booth selling  vignettes. Again cash only, again the reply only lacked being spat in the face. What gives?

On we went. A few kilometers down the road we found a station where we could pay by card forthe vignette. Now I don’t know, maybe it’s part of the test for securing a position in a petrol station in the Czech Republic. Again the staff were, shall we say, less than friendly in a viper kind of way. But we got our vignette and were a little bemused by the lack of manners we encountered.

Later in South-West Poland we went to a Stołowa Góry. More on that later. Again only cash could be used to enter the attraction. As we sat counting our small change, trying to get it to add up to enough, a middle aged couple were watching us. After a while they offered us some small change to make up the difference. We gave them our sncere thanks with lots of smiles and friendly nods.

And where did this nice couple come from? Yes, the Czech Republic! Just goes to show.

 

 

Lavender to the horizon

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The lavender fields of Provence. A stunning view, with the Alps as a mountainous backdrop. The plant itself is part of the mint family and magnet for bees.IMG_2174

Such scenery was an inspiration for the beautiful works of van Gogh.

IMG_2185Used as a herb in cooking and and cultivated for its oil. The word lavender itself is thought to derive from the old French for, ‘to wash’.  Awash in a field of lavender is to feel invigorated by nature itself. A memory in the mind forever.

Annecy

Annecy is situated at the northern end of Lake Annecy. Their has been a setttlement their since at least Roman times. And this is very important. The roads are flat and normal, such a relief after the Alps;-) IMG_1545

This is the Palais de l’Isle which stands on the river Thiou. To me it is reminiscent of the bows of a boat. The scaffolding dates back as far as a few months ago! IMG_1526

A (flat) canal wends its way throught the town which is wonderful on the eye.

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Well worth a visit with a lovely atmosphere.

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To Germany and the South of France

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Across from up near the Russian border to the border town of Słubice. A true border town, neither fish nor fowl. Then off again to Baden Baden. We stayed near the airpark, not an airport, what’s the difference? But the men stood and watched a few planes take off close up. Great stuff. Germans sometimes get a bad press. But let me tell you that they have excellent motorway driving etiquette. Precise, polite and fast. Standing at a petrol station outside Baden Baden I was met by the site of only black petrol pumps. Not wanting to make a silly mistake, I was checking them over thoroughly when a German offered to help and explain in very good English. Unbidden, helpful and polite in my mother tongue, and it is not my first experience of  such German helpfulness and hospitable behaviour. Danke.

Whilst in Baden Baden we took the children to Europark, or rather they dragged us to Europark! A family ticket cost 170 Euros, which seems pretty steep, but then some of the rides are steep, and fast too. The children loved it, but to be honest the park is rather hyped and we have been to better.

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By the way, I’m not a a screamer. More of  a just hold on tight, head down and pray kind of approach. And anyway, my wife had a plan which for me, as the driver would be much more fun than the rides at a plastic park. Off we went to our next destination, Annecy which lies on the other side of the Alps. We glided past Lake Geneva and as we came the motorway I spied a precarious little road clinging to the side of a mountain. ”Look at that” I said, ”Some crazy fool drives up that.” Wife remained silent. Five minutes later I’m the fool driving up this steep narrow road, seemingly to the heavens. Cars flew up behind us, motorbikes performing kamikaze overtaking, and on we went, switchback, curve, climb and sweaty hands all round.

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Finally we arrived at Chamonix for a well earned rest and a reassuringly expensive burger and fries, along with a long deep breath. Chamonix was full of people intent on climbing high, gliding off mountains and hanging from ropes off sheer cliffs. Good luck to them!! After that a leisurely drive took us into beautiful Annecy.