Ponte a Serraglio

Ponte a Serraglio
Painted in Northern Italy 2009

Monday, May 24, 2010

19 May Holland

We travel south through the vibrant green woodlands stopping at Doorn for lunch and a visit to the German Kaiser Wilhelm II grand estate. The Kaiser fled Germany after WW1 living here till 1941.
The next large estate we visit is the Kroller-Muller Museum, near Otterlo, close to the German boarder; over 5,000 hectares of heath and woodlands to get lost in.
The draw card for us was the 278 paintings by Vincent van Gogh in the gallery, for us a must see before leaving Holland.

20 May – Into Germany

We leave our quiet camping spot just south of Nijmegin in a faming area where we buy some large white asparagus for our lunch, which we have at Venlo, delicious.
Here in the market square we savour our iced coffee as we sketch the 15 Century gothic church.
Our second sketch of the day is the castle at the old coal-mining town Hoensbrock with its towers mirrored in the waters below where the geese and ducks forage for food.
We end the day at the Rurburg Lake in Germany and it's here Jill and Dana bravely take a brusque plunge before breakfast the next morning.

We follow the large Moselle River with its barges and boats plying up and down through the locks and the patchwork of vineyards that snake their way up the steep slopes till we come to Trier, Germany’s oldest town. We pass through the Porta Nigra the old Roman Gateway built 2nd AD century, amazing with its huge archways and warn weather-beaten sandstone rising up several stories high.
The town is full of old character buildings, many gables and rooflines in all directions, a builder’s nightmare, down to the little windows, statues and adornments from Tudor style to Flemish, truly a delight to see. It was also the birthplace of Karl Marx.
Continuing along the river's path on the boarder of Luxemburg with the little towns and church towers reflected in the calm waters, above which we stop for the night on the rolling hills of a dairy farm that specialises in cheeses.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

16 May – Cross to Calais – Holland and Victory’s WOF

At 8am we’re on our way to Calais via the Sea France ferries; thankful we’d made a booking in NZ before we left, as the ferries are in great demand with the airports closed. The crossing for the camper and three adults was only 30 Euros! 1½ hours later we are driving off at Calais with a sense of ‘de ja vu’. The familiar flat farmlands and large Belgium blue cattle, clusters of buildings with orange roof tiles and the endless, immense skies.

We stop at Ypres, located in the Flemish province of West Flanders. During the 1st World War Ypres was the centre of some intense battles between Germany and the Allied forces. 4 years of fighting left its mark with more than 300,000 solders killed and the medieval town flattened. Now rebuilt using money paid by Germany in reparation. We stop at the arched Menin Gate built to commemorate those soldiers who fell during the war.

Next is Bruges, and though the clouds block the sun it still holds its magic charm. In the little alleys horses clip clop along with their tourists who strain their necks to look up at the many medieval towers that rise into the sky. We pass the protected swans, busy building their nests along the canal and on down the cobbled streets lined with antique stalls, over the stone bridges and under archways ending up at the ‘Grand Place’ where we each sketch our chosen corner of the magnificent square in the last of the sunlight, savouring the atmosphere.

Holland greets us with its green fields, crisscrossed by waterways where cows and sheep graze and windmills dot the landscape. We catch up with friends and do some necessary repairs to the camper. Firstly, two new tyres fitted, one to replace a puncture and the second tyre simply worn out over the miles. Then there’s the electrical work to fix the fridge, which has shorted out, and new wheel bearings to get our warrant of fitness.

While the camper is undergoing repairs we are given a curtsey car, a Renault with no key to start it. Instead it has an immobilizer card you carry with you which automatically locks and unlocks the doors as you near the car with a push button ignition to start. We drive to nearby Bunschoten-Spakenburg a 15th century historic fishing and shipbuilding village on the Zuiderzee. Most of the women here still wear the traditional dress. We sketch the men at work crafting the old boats. Most of the land around this district has been reclaimed from the sea, as has 1/3rd of all land in Holland. We return to the garage around mid-day to find Victory waiting in the yard for us now with her new WOF.

Monday, May 17, 2010

“Oh to be in England when spring is in the air”

Fields of lush greens mixed with iridescent patches of yellow flowering rapeseed.

Leafy green forests carpeted in scented blue bells and wild flowers, streets scattered with pink petals from the cherry blossoms and gardens splashed with the scarlet and pinks of the azaleas. Frosty mornings with sun not warm enough to ward off the chill, is our England in May.

We make the most of London catching up with our friends, where we stay, upending their routine with our whirlwind of cleaning and packing.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

To read our adventures in China and see photos click on older posts at the bottom of page

Monday, May 10, 2010

China - Beijing

My China experience was fantastic. Our accommodation in the heart of Beijing at the Down Town Backpackers can be recommended. We had good service and a great room. Set in the centre of the Hutong district with narrow, tree lined allies laid out in a criss-cross pattern built during the Ming Dynasty. All very entertaining - red lanterns hang around the doors and continuous waves of grey concrete tiles linked one to another.

Old three wheel bikes towing little carts full of all kinds of paraphernalia from garbage to supplies pass up and down the alley along with the cars, bells ringing as warning to pedestrians. It’s like stepping back in time.

The little shops, some only 2 metres square, full to brimming with curios from silk to flutes or ocarinas, jewellery, tea, food stalls, musical shops etc.

We dinned at the local restaurants sampling the Chinese cuisine, ordering a variety of dishes and found most to our liking.

The thrill for me was the ‘Great Wall’ walk from Jinshanling to Samaitai. We were collected from our backpackers at 7.30am with about 12 others, all rather young and fit looking. It was a 3½ hour drive to the mountains and our driver played dodgems with the traffic all the way. There seems to be no rules here on passing. Sometimes a duel carriageway becomes three lanes as they all try to manoeuvre at once with horns tooting in all directions. Our 4 hour hike was all and more than I expected, fantastic, exhilarating, strenuous and hot, many, many steps, with broken and crumbling paths and as warned some steep drops. The view across the mountains and valleys below was superb. We were accompanied by our guide and also by Mongolian hawkers trying to sell their wears. I brought a tee shirt with ‘I have walked the Great Wall’, as my trophy. Towards the end my energy was beginning to fade and the steep steps almost got the better of me. I avoided the swing wire return down the valley, which looked very scary to say the least, deciding instead to do the last half hour on foot. The rest of the crew were already onboard the bus having beaten us by half an hour.

On the 8 May a Chinese artist and friend gave us a guided tour around the district known as the 798 in the northeast region of the city. An old converted factory with many of the chimneys, mill wheels and lifting cranes from the past still there. A large, black steam train sits in a disused station now a popular backdrop for wedding photos and being Saturday we saw many brides posing in various places. There are streets of warehouses that have been converted into galleries, artist studios and cafes with all kinds of art and crafts. We experienced some mind stretching modern art through to some of the more traditional styles.

On the way home we stopped off at the silk market, in a large multi storied building full of stalls packed to brimming with most things you could think of in the clothing, jewellery line as well as arts and craft. Here you could buy material and have it made up to any garment you desired and barter the price down depending on your strength and willpower. They were very aggressive sellers and we found the atmosphere too much for tired travellers so only brought a few things and left for the quieter area of the Hutongs.

9 May - Forbidden City

After our cooked breakfast which was included in the price of our accommodation at NZ$18 per night, we head out to the Forbidden City. The entry gate of which is depicted on their bank notes. The cost of entry is 60 Yuan or NZ$12 which is very cheap as the city encompasses an area of 74 hectares or 183 acres of magnificent halls, palaces, courtyards and imperial gardens, surrounded by 8 metre high walls to keep out the masses and protect the royals. Built in 1420 it has been the home to some 24 consecutive rulers with all their servants, eunuchs and concubines. It was massive with row upon row of ornate red buildings with yellow tiled roofs and blue and green painted decorations under the eves. Large golden urns sat in front of each building some as water storage others for burning pine used as incense. We spent 4 hours from 8.30 with the crowds increasing as the day progressed and only seeing a small portion of the compound, although most of the main buildings. We walked out the south gate towards Tiananmen Square that occupies 40 hectares (99 acres), the largest public square on earth. We didn’t cross the busy road to explore as we were tired and in need of sustenance so headed instead in search of food.

Walking down one of Beijing’s more modern streets filled with upmarket department stores we found a food court where we stopped for lunch. Just to the side of this street was a maze of markets, we ventured in for a quick wonder and found food stalls with live scorpions and seahorses on meat skewers for sale as food snacks! Glad we didn’t eat there!

We climbed the hill to the Northern end of the Forbidden city, built by hand from soil dug out of the palace moat in the early 15th century. At the summit is the pavilion with one of the finest views of the city overlooking all the golden rooftops where we sit and take in the ambience.

Back down we walk around Beihai Park, Beijing’s oldest imperial garden built on the cities largest lake over 800 years ago then took a taxi back to the backpackers, with just enough time to shower and change for the acrobatic show. Here we saw young acrobats performing contortions that you wouldn’t believe possible. From juggling to wire rope walking and balancing acts.

A great show and a good way to spend our last night in Beijing.