Gra Nomad Wanderings

Thursday, November 30, 2006


Wow! How different is China to anywhere we've been so far!

We spent several hours in Hong Kong airport after the 11 hour fright from Rome. That gave us time to get visas for China, learn about train scene, book our bike cases into the LEFT LUGGAGE place for a week, learn about where the hotels were in HKG and how much they cost. Many cost 200-600 Aussie dollars for a night, so we've booked into a hostel initially for when we get to HKG on 4 December.
It was a four hour trip from HKG to Beijing by the time we boarded, flew, landed and got through customs, passport, security, baggage etc. Boy, was it great to come out to the welcoming hordes at the Beijing airport and hear a voice call out, "KEASTY!" It was our good mate Coult who lives and works in Beijing. Fay taught with him at Moulamein Central school in 1966-67. I can't express how great it is to catch up with Coult whom we had not seen for about 10 years.
Having a contact here is really handy. Coult got us from airport to guest house in a taxi for 65 yuan (about $10 AU.) The bloke wanted a hundred but Coult had his measure.
He also arranged THE comfortable room for us in our guest house for 30 AUD per night. We have our own ensuite and lockable door. We'll stay here for 5 nights before heading to Hong Kong for 3 nights.
This morning Coult took us out to brekky at a nearby restaurant (everything is walking distance in this community.) He ordered and we ate well (even if we didn't really know what we were eating.) We hope we can choose as well on our own tonight. Everything tasted good and cost about 7 AUD to feed the 3 of us.
He's also:
  • pointed out the hairdresser
  • took us into the 7 eleven for bottled water
  • found us an ATM
  • taken us to the Raddison
  • semi-arranged our trip to the Great Wall tomorrow
  • led us into a dodgy internet bar (no grog there)
  • given us a money lesson and a geography lesson and
  • walked us round the area - all before he went to work!

Somebody sent me (was it you Al?) an email (Fay thinks it was from Bill) about credit card scams. We will be extra careful as a result. It'd be a shame to have a bad experience at this stage of the trip. I remember David (from my big bike ride across Australia in 2003) often reminding cyclists that the majority of accidents occur in the last 5 minutes of the ride. He was proved correct too often. If you want the email re credit card fraud, just email me and ask for it.

Talking of being extra careful, maybe I should let you know what we have collectively left or lost during our 10 month trip (that I can remember!)

  1. Two pair of footwear
  2. 1 pair of sunglasses
  3. 1 good Aussie footy sweater
  4. a pair of binoculars
  5. maybe a shirt or two
  6. 1 Co-motion baseball cap
  7. a pair of scissors that were taken by an airline official (we still have the pocket knife!)

That's a pretty good effort. Maybe our most treasured things are the 20+ CDs full of photos we've taken. They always travel with us in our cabin baggage. Of course the licence plates have all (except for about 5) been sent back to Oz already.

Beijing is quite cool at present - max 7 Celcius. HKG is 20 at the same time. Might wear my Italian gloves tomorrow. Heard from Bill and Vicky Smith that there's heaps of snow in Canada at present. Glad we're over that.

Heard from Coult that there are 1,000 new car regos EACH DAY here in Beijing! Heard also from Coult that 270 (correct me if I'm wrong mate) people die on the roads daily. The traffic here is certainly something else.... but at a leisurely pace. Certainly nothing like the frenetic pace in Italy!

Cheers folks.. off to the Great Wall!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


I apologise... we have only visited Florence and Rome on this trip.


I was watching the traffic on a busy street in Rome from a 2nd floor apartment window. Watching traffic in Rome is like reading a good book or a suspense movie: excitement, suspense, intrigue, danger, fear, wonder, success etc. The drivers here are (generally) exceptionally skilled. They are able to manouvre their cars into spaces that don't seem to exist to the average Australian. They always stay on the tail of the vehicle in front (unless they're overtaking him), even clogging up intersections with traffic as lights change. Horns blast! Congestion reigns! Then the traffic finally flows once again. What on earth possesses a person to ride a motor scooter, a motor bike or a bicycle in this traffic is beyond me. I'm the sort of bloke who used to enjoy driving in Sydney traffic (30 years ago.) Now, if my daughter Deb is around I am only too happy to allow her to take the wheel.

We have been fortunate in finding SERVAS hosts in Florence (Anna) and Rome (Flavio, Antonella, Claudia & Wendy). Having people to stay with really makes you appreciate the place so much more. Florence is about half a million and Rome four and a half million - same as Sydney. Thank you so much Servas hosts - you've been great!
Surprisingly we've managed trains and boats and planes and buses (I lied about planes) quite well. Our hosts were a big help here.
The sights included: Florence markets, Michelangelo's David, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Venicia, the Roman Forum, Arch of Constantine, immense Duomo Basilica, the unforgettable Colloseum, St Peter's Square and Basilica, the Vatican museum, the many bridges, not to mention countless columns and obelisks. Bars and restaurants abound all over the place. The Sistine Chapel (in the Vatican Museum) was worth the trip to Italy alone!

Next - Beijing (tomorrow, Tuesday 28 Nov)
Then - Hong Kong (Monday 4 December)
Finally - Sydney (Thursday 7 December). This will be the end of our 10 month trip.

Look out Coult in Beijing, here we come!

Monday, November 20, 2006


After staying a couple of days with Denis - Servas host in Athens - we took off on a whirlwind one week tour of Greece, planned by Fay and Academy Travel. Our car was a Citroen C3. Neat little unit. Trying to get out of the street where Academy Travel is I nudged a stationary motor scooter (well, there are far too many of them here anyway!)

Some of the highlights include:
  • visiting the Meteora Monasteries out of Kalambaka. These are perched on top of TALL, TALL rocks which make them not very easy to reach, let alone attack. Look it up on the net (I haven't had time yet). When you looked over the edge it was just straight down! Driving in that area was similar as they were a bit short on guard rails at the side of the road. If there were any cars that went over the edge nobody would know! Frightening!
  • getting lost driving through Lamia - took us 45 mins. Ugh!
  • visiting Delphi ruins. I sang Waltzing Matilda on the theatre "stage" and was applauded by all 10 Japanese tourists present and Fay. I also had a run in the massive stadium... and was captured on digital camera.
  • travelled 116 kph in a 50 kph zone and didn't get busted. Worst crime you can do is travel at 50 in a 50 zone!
  • visited the ruins of Olympia where the modern Olympics begin each four years. They light the torch from there that then travels to the host country. The stadium there was about 300 metres in length (my estimate).
  • visited a very well-preserved Apollo Temple in a TENT! I'm talking HUGE tent here! Would've liked the engineers to have seen that.
  • spent 3 or 4 hours walking from main gate to the castle at the top at Mystras, just out of Sparta. Actually that was up and back. Barry Robbo would've declined the offer. Checked out palaces, churches, monastery and of course the castle on top. It was built about 1240 AD. There used to be a thriving place there.
  • checked out the Epidavrus theatre, ruins and museum. I sang even better on this stage which has absolutely brilliant accoustics. Got a better reception there. Unfortunately I didn't actually draw 12,000 people which would've been a full house!
  • paddled on Tola Beach... near Nafplion.

We get back to Athens and then train to the west coast (Tuesday 21 Nov) before boating up to some place near Florence. A few days there and then a few days in Rome and we fly to Beijing/Hong Kong.

Question (without notice) - actually, finish the sentence please...

It's time to go home when... just click on comments below and put in your 2 bobs worth. Thanks.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


If you've only got 2 or 3 hours, make sure you see the most interesting ones, said a report on the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. We spent some hours (I'm not prepared to divulge how intelligent we are by being more specific) wandering about the museum looking at the ancient exhibits. And ancient they were! It seemed that most everything dated from 500 BC to about 100 AD. So there were some really ancient sculptures and vases in particular. Most were done before Christ came. Some were bronze, many were marble. Quite a number were found by divers and recovered over a number of years, some as late as the 1900s. Still others had finished up in Germany, England or elsewhere, but had eventually found their way home. There was one which was only returned 4 years ago. (England still has some!)
There were sculptures of Aphrodites, Herakles, Pan (complete with cloven hooves), the philosopher Metrodoros, Poseidon, Zeus, the Marathon boy, the huge bronze horse and jockey of Artemision (lifesize) and many others.
The trip to visit the ruins of the Parthenon, the Propylon, the temple and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athenswas mind boggling. Great views from there too.
The Parthenon was built about 440 BC.
The activities of the guards outside the Parliament buildings was a circus let me tell you! Really neat. Yeah... I've got photos of them too.
I'll give you a summary of our week's tripping round Greece to visit Meteora, Delphi, Olympia, Sparta etc. in the next couple of days. (Thanks for the encouragement to visit Sparta Army.)

Monday, November 13, 2006


What do you do if you have just one day to spend in Paris? Go to the Louvre!
You will see heaps of statues, and more works of art than you will be able to handle in a day. One of the many artists we checked out was Rubens. We visited one LARGE ROOM where 23 of his pieceswere hung. He painted around 1600 AD so the paintings were all about 400 years old. Saw quite a few Rembrandts. He died at the prime age of 63.... hmmmmm.... that's how old I am!
I found an interesting painting by Poussin (Italy) - Le Christ et la femme adultere done in 1653. Christ has an interesting look on his face as He asks the others ... let him who is without sin throw the first stone.
Pannini's Galerie de vues de la Rome is big on detail and neat in perspective. Done in 1759 these paintings (there are actually two of them) each contain scenes from Rome.... like paintings within a painting. I counted about 60 scenes in the first one. Really cool stuff.
We followed some signs and finally entered a room, 30 m x 30 m. There she was! Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, or la Joconde. She had a wall to herself even though there were 40+ paintings in the room. The painting - la Joconde - is a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo. It was painted around 1500. She still commands all your attention (even at her age) We spent quite some time with her. She is so cool and yet so friendly.
One of the paintings in the same room as our Mona is one done by Paola Caliari done in 1562. It was called the wedding banquet - Les Noces de Cana. The painting is about 8m x 12m - huge. There was so much going on in the painting and heaps of people either eating, drinking or serving and cooking. But I did appreciate 3 dogs and 1 cat, all down in the foreground of the painting. Easy to miss.
One marble statue worth a mention is Venus de Milo - found Apr 1820 between Athens and the island of Crete - island of Melos. It is believed to have been done around 100BC! Sadly they have never found her arms, poor thing. Even so she is one special lady.
You can take your camera in to the Louvre, but you're not allowed to photograph the paintings. (There are heaps of other things you can photograph including Venus de Milo.) I was glad to go in without mine though. We spent 4+ hours there. Who knows, we may never see la Joconde again!

Now we're in Athens and had a wander round the ruins today. Unreal. On Tuesday we head off for a week to visit the rest of Greece... sorry but that's all the time we've got. Then it's off to Italy (Florence and Rome) for an even quicker trip.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


sORRY.... last photo is Croatia.... swimming weather. Others are mostly at Siegsdorf - heaps of the white stuff!

Good one of Lena and the street sweeper Julian. Great kids.

Maybe 1 or 2 photos from Austria there.... pretty pictures on front of bldgs. Click on them and they'll probably come up larger.

Do you want to hear about our trip to the Louvre in Paris?

Athens tomorrow.

Friday, November 10, 2006


Hopefully photos are (approx) in this order...
Austrian Tirol (mtns), Croatian coast and our flash apartment and view, a huge highway bridge that really impressed us, Bled Castle in Slovenia on top of the rock (awesome), Palace of Herrenchiemsee in Bavaria (that's in Germany), Chateau des Rohan (Youth Hostel where we stayed in Saverne in France), then a fancy but typical house in Ulm in Germany.

Which photo do you like best? (Thanks to Jean-Raoul our Servas host in Paris for letting me use his puter.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Sure was some tense driving when Fay sent us up a mtn pass with snow EVERYWHERE. Really beautiful! We weren't to know the Austrians would charge us 26 euros to go through that area. More of the kids' inheritance spent!

We stayed with 2 lovely Servas families in Bavaria (Germany) - Christian and Sigrid at Siegsdorf and Volker and Lieselotte at Senden-Aufheim near Ulm. All teachers except carpenter Christian. Good occupation for a bloke called Christian!
Poor Peugeot was covered in snow the 2 days we woke up at Siegsdorf. A very pretty sight. (I'll show you later.)

Their area round Siegsdorf is well known for hikers and skiers (and windsurfing on the Chiemsee for 5 days each year when the wind is blowing!)

On Friday we left Siegsdorf headed for Ulm, there was snow, ice conditions, wet roads, QUEUES of traffic and more trucks than I've ever seen in my life. I figured there was a truck convention on. Some roadworks didn't help and probably caused some of the delays.

After visiting the tallest church steeple in Europe at Ulm we headed for France stopping for 4 hours at the new Mercedes Benz museum at Stuttgart. WOW! (Got photos here too.)

We stayed at 2 hostels in France as we headed towards Paris. The Chateau des Rohan in Saverne was a big chateau and was the youth hostel. We were the only ones staying there until another couple arrived early in the evening. The chateau is now a museum, a school and a hostel. There were 80 steps to reach the top floor where our room was which we did 5 times before we went to bed that night.

At Troyes-Rosieres we stayed in a hostel being renovated. Hard to tell who were guests and who were workers but they found room for us. Room with brekky worked out at just under 30 euros, 50 AUD. Now around Fountainebleau area - also quite stunning. We visited the chateau this morning used for 8 centuries by French Royalty and Napoleon. Then off to Paris tomorrow to drop Peugeot off (sad sad) before staying with a Servas host nearby and then flying out of Orly airport on Saturday 11 November to Athens.

After Greece we will head to Italy since we are due to fly out of Rome on 28 Nov for Beijing and Hong Kong.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Well we were not able to find Servas hosts in Croatia or Slovenia. We stayed at a place which advertised ZIMMER at Otocac NW of Split near Senj. It was fine. Drove in to Split on Friday on the flash new motorway - the bloke at the toll booth referred to the motorway as the baby, not 2 years old yet. It was beautiful - a bit expensive for us but really beautiful scenery with the gorgeous fall colours everywhere. We had a good wander round Split (worth the visit even though it"s very touristy) and then went to Trogir - similar. The streets or rather alleyways are hardly wide enough for a motorbike! They are NARROW! Pedestrians only. Some of this stuff is up to 400 yrs old. As we left Trogir we were looking for another zimmer (room to rent). Went into the Primosten area - gorgeous but expensive. We found a place - Rudi´s apartmani.... absolutely fantastic! (Hope I get some photos up for you.) The apartment looked out over the Adriatic Sea.... just so peaceful. Just about all the buildings round here are white with red tiled rooves. Looked like what we imagined Greece to look like.
We have just about finished the pumpernickel bread (Meggi from germany), finished her apples, ate all Julianna´s pears (Hungary) and most of the apples. The wine from the cellars where Miklos took us in Hungary tastes great. We should have bought 3 bottles even if they do come in plastic coke bottles.
Our apartment in Primosten (Croatia) could have housed a few more folk as there were 2 beds in the attic and plenty of room in the longe. Balconies off bedroom and lounge. We found tennis on TV and surprise surprise... CNN in English! Don't know when we last heard English speaking TV... Ireland?
The lady who owned the apartment also gave us 2 bottles of beer! What a lovely touch even if I'm not a great beer drinker. Weather reached 26.
Forgot to mention the great tunnels we went through on the motorway to Split. Two of them were each 5 or 6 km long. Wish we had some of these in Oz to solve our Blue Mountains problem. The gigantic bridges are really impressive stretching from one mountain to another. Fay walked back along one to take photos but I wasn't even game to do that.
We finally left and headed up the coast road from Primosten to Rijeka and then wandered inland into Slovenia. Those Croatians can certainly build roads and bridges. Not much there if you don't like the coast. I don't think Cousin Patrick could feed 3 of his prize cattle on all the grass we saw in Croatia, but if you want rocks.... it's the place to go. Lovely people and English fairly common. Some of the islands we saw made us think they'd transplanted Uluru from Central Oz... they were huge and they were stark.
The Pug continues to amaze us. How it fitted betweenn the bus and the wall and slip down a few other narrow alleyways I don't know. It also had to respond to a few late calls, "NO! LEFT!" But we made it 'm pleased to say. Had to resort to going down a couple of one way streets the wrong way, and to use the left side of the road on the odd occasion, but our bright red plates help, plus a big F on the back... everyone knows we're French!
Between Trieste and Ljubljana we saw Predjanski grad (a castle set in the side of a cliff... no kidding.) What a magic setting. Then onto Bled where we found accommodation in a pension for $43. Then a 1 hr walk down a gorge followed by a walk round the lake.... all 6 km of it. (You'd have loved it Army.) There's a castle looking down on the lake and a huge church on the only island in the lake. Quite incredible. I could imagine my good friend Cookie jogging round the lake a couple of times. Dinner at night in Bled cost 4,550 SIT. Accomm was 6,000 SIT. Question is will we make it back to Paris by 9 November?
Now in Austria and head to Germany Wednesday.