Wrapping up

I took the train from Paris to Barcelona and arrived on a glorious Sunday afternoon. The hotel I was staying at was on the edge of the beautiful Plaça de Catalunya. Here’s the view from my balcony.

The next day, I went walking down La Rambla. Barcelona was my stop off on the way to Portugal where I was to meet Lauren and Rui. So I was getting messages and then calls from them, especially Lauren, as I walked around Barcelona.

Eventually, Lauren had to call me and ask where I was. She had sneakily flown in to Barcelona while Rui flew directly to Lisbon! We had a lovely day together, including visiting Sagrada Familia.

Then the next day, we flew to Lisbon, for me to discover the beautiful seaside town of Cascais.

We had a wonderful time, visiting Belem, famous for the Portuguese custard tarts (Pastéis de Nata). We visited beautiful Sintra and spent a lot of time wandering through Cascais.

It was a great way to end my holiday.

And as I sit here, waiting to board my long flight home, I again appreciate all that travel can give me, including an appreciation of all that I have in Australia.

View at Cascais


I had the chance to stay in Paris for almost two weeks – I wanted to revisit some places and discover so much more that this city has to offer. I was going to be on my own in the ‘City of Lights’ and so it was also an opportunity to see how I could manage that.

The gardens in Palais-Royal

I was staying in the St-Michel – Sorbonne arrondissement and so I took advantage of walking to many close-by (and some not so close-by) spots. First off, I visited the Luxembourg Gardens (Jardin du Luxembourg).

The Luxembourg Gardens, yet to show their spring beauty

Created in the 1600s by Marie de’ Medici, the widow of King Henry IV of France, the gardens are next to the residence she had constructed – the Luxembourg Palace which she wanted modelled on the Pitti Palace in Florence – the city in which Marie had lived prior to becoming queen of France.

One of the interesting features of the Luxembourg Gardens is its statues: there are just over one hundred, with the central green area having 20 that are all French queens and other famous women. These were all commissioned by Louis-Phillipe in 1848.

I’ll share with you some photos of other spots I visited.

I found a couple of photography exhibitions to attend. One was a display of Adolfo Kaminsky’s photos, along with an intimate video of his work as a forger of ID documents. This amazing work he started during the German occupation of Paris. He didn’t stop there though, he continued to forge documents to help various political movements during the 1960s from Latin America, Africa, Portugal and Spain, as well as helping some draft dodgers in the US during the Vietnam War. His is an admirable life. He was born in 1925 and I understand that he is still living in Paris.

The Wall of Names, Marais

On a similar theme, as I walked, I found the Memorial to the Martyrs of the Deportation as well as the Wall of Names. Both these are strong reminders of the impact the Holocaust had on the Jewish population in France.

At almost every turn, there is a building or monument that led me off researching how this person or that event related to historical events in Paris’s time line. But there were also just some serendipitous moments too – such as my walk along the Seine River where I found a group of people dancing the tango.

Church of St-Germain-des-Prés

I booked in a walking tour about Victor Hugo and Les Miserables – it was great.

Our great guide Adele who was a font of knowledge on Victor Hugo and Les Miserables
La Procope, the oldest restaurant in Paris
The oldest clock in Paris at the Conciergerie

I was in Paris long enough to try living in a second arrondissement – Canal St Martin. This area still has a working canal and was the site for many of the scenes from the movie Amelie. In fact, my apartment was directly above Chez Prune – the café that was immortalised in the movie.

Here you can see the traffic waiting for the road to re-open, following a boat going through the canal

I had a one-day trip to the Champagne region where I visited the grand house of Moët&Chandon, a smaller family run affair as well as a co-op model of champagne-making. According to our guide, Moët had a number of high profile clients in the early days, including Louis XVI. When Louis lost his head, Moët lost his most important client and had to find a way to re-market his product. Enter Jean-Remy Moët, grandson of founder Claude Moët, who became famous as the man who introduced champagne to the world.

The forecourt at Moet&Chandon, modelled on Versailles (but oh so much smaller).
Our guide explaining how Moët came up with the idea of the champagne tower
Cellars at Moët&Chandon
I look less than completely happy only because I have to keep wearing the coat.
The family-run La Maison Penet

Here’s some more photos from my time in Paris.

The ever-present reminder of Notre-Dame – still years of repairs to come
On my way to Montmartre, I walked through the covered passageways
Moulin Rouge, Montmartre
I visited Rodin’s Museum
Le Petit Palais – interior garden
One of the exhibition spaces in le Petit Palais – free entry to this amazing building and its collection
One of Patrick Blanc’s green walls, near the Eiffel Tower
An iconic metro stop in St-Germain-de-Pres area.


Our time in Venice came quickly to an end – it was time for Paola, Carlo and Claudia to return to Rome, with young James going with them, to fly home to Perth. Tony and I had a day ahead of us on the train to Vienna.

It was a relaxing way to spend the day, going through some beautiful (and familiar for me) country. The train took us up the north east corner of Italy, touching the eastern tip of Slovenia before entering Austria at picturesque Villach. The train then wended its way through the Semmering Pass (altitude of 965 metres) before travelling on to Vienna.

We were staying in a lovely apartment near Stephansplatz which meant we had great access to the metro system (U-Bahn) which we combined with walking.

Another one of Europe’s grand cities, we had a few days to explore. Tony’s cousin, Piero, and partner, Elena, were joining us and we had lots of fun together.

Tony and I took the lift up to one of the viewing platforms in Stephansdom (St. Stephens). The beauty of Vienna is that there are no high rise buildings in the centre of the city so we had good view from the church.

Roof detail which has been added in more recent times

We were staying around the corner from Mozart’s house – an apartment the composer and musician lived in for about three and a half years. So we dedicated one day to musical pursuits.

It was quite grand – spreading over three floors.

We spent a lot of time at Mozart’s house, later in the day we went for a walk to Stadtpark, where there are sculptures of many artists, writers and composers, including Johann Strauss II.

That coat has been glued to me during this trip

That night, to top it off, we went to Schonbrunn Palace for a concert of Mozart and Strauss in the Orangerie.

We had front row seats

The next day, we met Piero and Elena at Hundertwasserhaus, designed by Hundertwasser, an artist who had strong views on architecture melding with the environment.

I had visited here before in 2006, on the recommendation of my friend Julie. This time, we sat in the cafe at the bottom of the apartment block and watched a video where Hundertwasser explained his philosophy on architecture. His architectural designs use irregular forms, and incorporate natural features of the landscape. His apartment block in Vienna has undulating floors (“an uneven floor is a melody to the feet”), a roof covered with earth and grass, and large trees growing from inside the rooms, with limbs extending from windows. Groundbreaking for the time (1980s).

After a walk to the Danube, we went to the Kunsthistorisches Museum – Vienna has a museum quarter which is full of buildings on a huge scale. The Museum Quarter is on the Ringstraße. In 1857, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria issued a decree ordering the demolition of the city walls and moats and the creation of the Ringstraße. The Ringstraße and the planned buildings were intended to be a showcase for the grandeur and glory of the Habsburg Empire.

Kunsthistorisches Museum is truly a grand building. Spread across two and a half massive floors, the building houses the Emperor’s huge collection of paintings, clocks, etc etc! It took around 20 years to be completed.

A clock where the musicians each plays their instrument.

If you recall, I mentioned Benvenuto Cellini when I visited Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo, as a man of many talents, one of them being a goldsmith. At the museum, you will find Cellini’s salt cellar.

You really need to spend a few visits at this magnificent building to really be able to get a handle on all that it contains.

I guess that’s a reason to go back!


Venice remains for me a beautiful destination. It’s that moment when you step out from the Santa Lucia train station and see the wonder of the Grand Canal, with its busy-ness, its industry, it history, its wonder and all the people. Actually, my photos show a distinct lack of people. Being mid-week in February explains this but it was still busy – especially on the weekend during Carnevale.

Why do I return to some places? Because there is so much to see, to learn, to discover.

On this trip, during Carnevale (before the authorities closed down the last week of the festivities due to the Coronavirus), we visited many well-known places such as Piazza San Marco (did you know that this is the only square in Venice which goes by the title of piazza? All the others are campos). Here are some scenes from our time in the piazza, including photos of those who had embraced Carenevale (and sometimes getting in on the action ourselves).

I got into the photo opportunity.
So did young James.

One of the landmark cafes in the piazza is Caffe Florian.

And of course, walking to the edge of the piazza, there are the ever-present gondolas.

Entry to St Mark’s Basilica is free. Even though it was Carnevale, there was no queue and we walked straight in. I had been inside once before – in 2006 with my mother – but I had forgotten the splendour and majesty of the place. You are not allowed to take photos inside St Mark’s so I can only share this link with you. Young James, Carlo and I bought a ticket that gave us entry to the Pala d’Oro (the altar retable), behind the high altar. This I had not seen before it is jaw-droppingly amazing.

We then proceeded upstairs to the museum which also gave us access to the façade, with views to the Grand Canal and where the four horses proudly stand on the exterior balcony. These are replicas – the originals are just inside in the Museum.

As we continued to wander we came upon Scuola Grande di san Rocco. During the 16th century, Tintoretto was engaged to paint images from the Bible in this building and so we went in and had a look. Again – AMAZING. Upstairs in this magnificent building, you are confronted by a room (which hardly describes the space) full of imagery. Mirrors are provided so you are not constantly craning your neck to see the paintings on the ceiling.

Floor detail
Image you can see while holding a mirror at your waist.

I’d also heard of the church of St Pantalon which had paintings on the ceiling, akin to the Sistine Chapel so off we went. The church is very unassuming on the outside, but inside – WOW! This time, there were no mirrors to help us but it was worth the neck craning.

Rome – visit to Castel Sant’Angelo

Our visit to Castel Sant’Angelo was wonderful. Unlike St Peter’s Basilica, there was no queue, the weather was lovely and so the conditions were perfect to visit this amazing structure, which is also known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian.

Here, you see the older structure on the left, from Hadrian’s time, and the newer on the right.

It was initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The popes later used the building as a fortress and castle.

This started with Pope Nicholas III, when he connected the castle to St Peter’s Basilica by a covered fortified corridor called the Passetto di Borgo. It was Pope Clement VII’s refuge during the Sack of Rome in 1527. Later Paul III built a rich apartment, so that, in any future siege, the pope had an appropriate place to stay. Let me tell you – it was more than appropriate.

Some of the elements in the castle include a marble statue of Saint Michael holding his sword (by Raffaello da Montelupo in 1536). The legend is that in 590 the Archangel appeared at the top of what was then the mausoleum of Hadrian, with his sword, as a sign of the end of the Roman plague. It also gave the fortress its present name. This statue originally was placed on top of the castle but was replaced by a bronze statue of the same subject, by Flemish sculptor Peter Anton von Verschaffelt, in 1753. Verschaffelt’s is still in place and Montelupo’s is now in an open court in the interior of the Castle.

The Papal state also used Sant’Angelo as a prison, including for Benvenuto Cellini. What this man didn’t do! He was an Italian goldsmith, sculptor, draftsman, soldier, musician, and artist who also wrote poetry and a famous autobiography. He will reappear when I get to my Vienna post.

Executions were performed in the Castle in the small inner courtyard. As a prison, it was also the setting for the third act of Giacomo Puccini‘s 1900 opera Tosca, with Tosca leaping to her death from the Castle.

But on a brighter note, you can see that it provides wonderful views of the Tiber River and Rome.

Rome 2020

This trip, so far, we have had great weather – a little on the cool side but it makes for easy (and long) walking. Our time in Rome was wonderful. Tony’s relatives are always so happy to see us and go out of their way to look after us.

On our first day, we had an afternoon ‘passeggiata’, when we caught the metro to the Colosseum and met Tony’s cousin, Piero, and his partner, Elena, for a walk around the Forum. ‘Young James’ – who is travelling with us – couldn’t get over the experience of exiting the metro station to be confronted by the Colosseum (the keen observer will see that this photo is cloudy whereas the next few show a lovely blue sky – for the purposes of the story I needed to include a photo of the Colosseum – which I took the next day when the weather had turned a little). On with the story.

DSCPDC_0003_BURST20200209170617163_COVER (2)



We walked past so much history – from the ancient to the more modern, including  Piazza Venezia, where Mussolini would stand on the balcony and talked to the crowds who gathered to listen to him.

His most famous speeches were made from here, including the declaration of the Italian Empire in 1936, and a declaration of war on France and Britain in 1940.

This link is worth reading – in summary – after World War II, the Italians were a little sensitive about their fascist chapter and sealed off the balcony. In more recent times, the palace has become a national museum and the balcony is once again open, as is Mussolini’s office in the palace.

Somewhere along the way, we walked into a magnificent church – I am sorry dear reader, it has taken me so long to get to my blog that the time delay means I have lost some details in my memory. It is fair to say it is magnificent.


Our walk ended at Piazza Navona. So much history here, dating back to the 1st century AD, through to the 17th Century when the Baroque masterpiece was installed – Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers (1651) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, topped by the Obelisk of Domitian, brought in pieces from the Circus of Maxentius


There’s so much to see in Rome and with only a few days, we were limited. We visited St Peter’s Square twice but on both occasions, the queue was very long. I have written about the Basilica during other trips and it is amazing. Whilst I would have loved to see Michelangelo’s Pieta again, I was happy to move on and discover other treasures of Rome.


DSC05364 (2)


Well, it’s less than 12 months since my last trip -which ended in Slovenia – and I’m off again!

Follow me as I travel to Italy, Vienna, Paris, Barcelona and Portugal.

Hiking in Slovenia – final post

This post will cover the final four days of our hike. So strap yourself in, it’s going to be a long one. If you are like me, you may lose interest before the end – I have a short attention span so I understand if you just look at the photos, that is fine!

On our third day, we bid goodbye to Kranjska Gora and we were taken to a lovely little town to start our journey to beautiful Lake Bled.

It was a glorious day as we passed little children who took delight in patting the goats/sheep (they actually are sheep).

Then it was onto beautiful Vintgar Gorge which we walked along for about 2 kilometres.

This was followed by an ascent up through some lovely woodland until we finally reached the church of Saint Catherine, with sweeping views below.

After a stop for our picnic lunch, nearby to the cows, we wandered onto the next little village and then onto Lake Bled.

At one point, we were distracted by a pretty garden

which meant we missed one of the landmarks in our Bible and so we entered Bled from the opposite direction. Point is, we got there, and it is magnificent.

When Hotel Triglav came into view, it was a sweet sight indeed. It is a beautiful establishment, away from the tourist town of Bled itself. It has a beautiful old world charm and I recommend you check out the link I provided above to get a glimpse of our time there and its history. Here’s a photo from one of its little corners.

It is perched quite high up so that of course means steps down to the lake (and back up).

We had a sauna and a swim in the heated pool and felt completely revived. Our balcony overlooked Lake Bled and we could also see Bled Island with its fairy tale church.

The next day was a “rest” day which meant we didn’t follow the book but still walked. We walked around the lake, climbed up to Bled Castle,

tasted the famous Bled Cream Cake

and found an artist by the lake selling little water colours of Lake Bled. So we each bought one and on the back he then painted a portrait of Ros and me. He really got so much pleasure out of it – as did we! Here are some more photos of Lake Bled.

After our two glorious days in Lake Bled, it was off to our final leg – up to the plateau that would then take us to Lake Bohinj.

We were back to the more inclement weather and this was a gradual descent from beginning to end.

First we popped into a local hut for hot chocolate.

Some parts of the path were almost treacherous – I found a small branch to support me as we wandered over broken branches, fallen trees, rocks, tree roots – you get the picture. We also saw sone salamanders.

It would be fair to say for me that Lake Bled was the highlight; walking into Bohinj on a grey, wet day and having to keep walking until we found our, ahem four star hotel was less than inspiring. We really appreciated Hotel Triglav when I asked at reception if the sauna could be turned on, to be told that would be 30 Euros! Suddenly a hot shower seemed like a really good idea.

The next (sixth) day was another rest day and so we walked down to the lake and took the boat up to the beautiful Savica Waterfalls.

On the boat, we had a guide who provided very interesting information on the glacial lake and also on the boat. Turns out it is a German boat, 62 years old and still using the original electric motor – how good is that? As Lake Bohinj is in a national park, fuel-powered boats are not allowed.

There were 440 steps up to the waterfall but after what we had done, this was…a walk in the park.

On our descent, we went to a quaint cafe and ordered home-made apple strudel.

We needed nothing more until dinner time. Then we wandered back home around the lake and prepared ourselves for our departure the next morning to Ljubljana. The bad weather continued and my photos reflect this so I have not included any. It is a beautiful little city, about 300,000 population. It has an old town centre and a castle perched high near the centre of town. Worthy of another trip.

And that is where I will leave my journal for this 2019 trip, dear readers.

Thank you for reading and commenting and I hope to be back in 2020!

Slovenia Hiking – Day 2

Our hotel manager is an experienced hiker and he said we could do the walk to Mount Pec – noting the chance of rain increased throughout the day. He told us he used a Norwegian website for weather which he highly regarded but then he reminded us it was only a prediction. What were we to do with this information?

All eight of us decided to give the walk a go and so we loaded into the mini-bus that would take us to our drop off point in a small neighbouring village.

It soon became clear that we weren’t in Kansas any more but once we started and got so far, there really was no point in turning back.

We put on our gaiters and we set off.

Here are some pretty little flowers in the snow.

There were also little waterfalls along the way.

Gradually, this…

Turned into this…

And then this…

We made it to the top of Mount Pec – and I’ll show you. This is not the most flattering selfie I’ve taken but it reflects the conditions…

OMG! We were so cold – we managed to eat our piece of fruit, agree that there was no view and then got ready for the steep descent. At this point, our Gold Coast friends arrived – they had taken shelter under another hut that actually provided shelter (as opposed to the hut we chose that allowed the rain to descend upon us).

So we debated with Jen and Geoff whether to go back down the way we came or proceed down the zig zag more direct ascent. We all finally agreed (led by Ros and her sense of adventure) on the zig zag. Jen and Geoff had walking poles – we did not. So they went on ahead and would call out every now and then to see if we were OK. Phew what a time we had.

We both had our own “style” for getting down the mountain and they both worked – although my decision to try to swing around the inside of a tree on one corner showed a distinct lack of judgement.

Finally we arrived in the town of Ratece where the local sheep (which we thought were goats) greeted us enthusiastically. It’s as if they were saying “well done!”

Then it was onto the local tavern (Surc) for the most wonderful bowl of tomato soup – it’s amazing how much you appreciate the simple things in life when you are cold, wet and tired.

It’s also where I discovered Viljamovka. I asked our host for a warming drink and he heartily recommended this pear-based drink. It’s in the water glass behind our soup.

Then we took the short cut by catching a bus back to our hotel. Day 2 completed!

Slovenia Hiking – Day One

We arrived early evening in Kranjska Gora – the starting point for our first three days of hiking. Behind the pretty township is a backdrop of mountains, the first ascent we would undertake the next day was a modest 1,100 metres high.

I had organised this self-guided walking/hiking tour through a Slovenian company – Helia. Turned out the company took a very light touch to managing our group – four Aussies (Ros and me and a couple from the Gold Coast) and four Russians.

We were met by a representative on that first evening who talked us through our book which had step-by-step photos and directions for each of our six days of walking. It quickly became our Bible (but it also was soon clear that some sections needed updating). Beyond that, we only had the drivers who transported us on a couple of the days. Anyway, we all made it through OK.

So Day 1 of our walk was described as a “‘warm-up” and was about 17 kilometres.

The region had some unexpectedly late and heavy snow falls so we weren’t even sure if we could take on our second higher ascent.

We left our hotel after breakfast, Bible and map in hand and were not really sure how we would go.

I’ll let the photos tell the story, starting at the nearby lake, Lake Jasna.

There were many little cairns along the way.

And then the snow remained with us and got thicker until we reached our ascent.

We had been told by our contact that the hut wouldn’t be open so we were very delighted to discover it was – turns out it is open almost every day of the year.

Next it was onto the Russian Chapel which is a memorial to the Russian prisoners-of-war who built the chapel during World War I.

As we walked, we had to watch our steps – throughout the six days, there were tree roots, rocks and may uneven surfaces with which to deal.

As we descended, we passed through meadows of such lush green that we can only imagine in Australia. The weather was changeable throughout the day but all-in-all, we were OK and arrived back at our cosy hotel, with the beautiful mountains that we had partially climbed behind us.

A sauna helped restore us, ready for Day 2 when we hoped to walk to the top of Mount Pec – the 1500 metre peak where the three borders of Austria, Italy and Slovenia meet. Spoiler alert – if you look at the web link I’ve included on Mount Pec, you’ll see a glorious site of people sitting on the side of the mountain in the sun. This is not what we experienced.