Golden Oldie at Podshare Los Angeles

Two days in LA, so a lot to do! First off my accommodation. While searching for somewhere to stay, in a convenient location I stumbled across Podshare. The concept made me want to try it out. I found it to be a really cool place. Seriously, to begin with I didn’t have to do my usual personal email to ask for a lower bunk because the ‘pods’ are built into the wall. This means that to get to the second level of pods there are real stairs, just a few, not a rickety vertical ladder.
The pods are big enough to hold all your bags, each one has a TV for gaming or movies, whatever, there is a shelf, night light and plenty of power points. Fully equipped kitchen with some food items provided. A full bathroom also with shampoo, conditioner, body wash and toothpaste provided. A totally different concept to anywhere else. Of course wifi and computers provided. I guess given that LA is a ‘different’ town then it makes sense that someone would come up with a ‘different’ accommodation concept. Located just off Hollywood Boulevard on Cosmo Street.
The staff members are awesome and make sure that everyone is introduced to each other, they invite you to come along to get meals together, a whole lot of fun and conversations to be had. There are only 10 pods so it’s small and cosy.

The awesomley friendly people at Podshare

The awesomely friendly people at Podshare

A quote from Podshare’s website ‘PODSHARE IS NOT A HOSTEL. IT’S A PLATFORM. AN INCUBATOR. A GLOBALIZATION SIMULATION’. So different, so much fun. Check it out. Website: thepodshare.com

LA itself had to be covered in a day an a half, no easy feat, so the Hop on Hop off bus got a good work out. One entire day bussing through Hollywood, Santa Monica and Venice Beach. Hopped off at Santa Monica for a walk on the boardwalk, lunch (the best fish and chips) at Danny’s and checked out the skate bowl and beach view. Venice was a half hour stop to check out the Marina, some dream yachts, a great ice cream and a bit of Brazilian jazz. That took all day. Oh and of course a walk along Hollywood Boulevard and the walk of fame.

Along came my last day of my 12 month trip in places other than Australia and there was so much more to see. So back on the bus for the celebrity home tour. That was a whole lot of fun. I’d been told that there is nothing much to see in La and 2 days was enough, well…….nooooooooo! I could easily spend more time here as there was no time to people watch, walk down Rodeo drive, go somewhere famous for dinner etc etc Oh well, maybe there will be a next time.

Proof I was there, a little windblown from the open bus.

Proof I was there, a little windblown from the open bus.

So tonight I’m off on my flight back to Australia, 12 months out in the world have flown by and I am way behind on my blog stories, hopefully when I get home I’ll catch up. So until I get to Sydney to continue my trip before heading home to Canberra, fare thee well from the Golden Oldie.

Golden Oldie and First Born Take Off to Serbia.

Golden Oldie and First Born Take Off to Serbia.

And so on Tuesday 14 May Grisha ( aka Ginski) and I flew Turkish airlines via Istanbul to Belgrade . And that is a whole different episode!

It took a while to figure out the cheapest and easiest way to get to Belgrade from Naples. Not an easy task. Taking the train to Rome and then an Alitalia flight to Belgrade was going to be costly because not only is Alitalia an expensive airline but there was no connection on the same day so we would have had to stay in Rome overnight – more expense. Normally I would say ‘Oh well let’s spend a couple of days in Rome’ but I didn’t want that extra expense. Anyway, when I go back to Rome I want more than a couple of days. So it turned out that Turkish airlines was the way to go but that meant spending 2 extra days in Naples. Yes I know that sounds strange but 2 nights in Naples in our hostel was cheaper and easier than one night in Rome and a whole lot less frustration and running around, in case you haven’t noticed I’m into travelling with the least amount of hassle.

This part of my story is going to prove a little difficult for 2 reasons,
1: I was in Serbia on three separate occasions this year so there is a lot of information and 2, it’s part of my research on Mum and Dad, so it’s all a little emotional, but I’ll try to clean up the personal emotional aspect while leaving enough in to make it all relevant. Again, I’m keeping the daily journal format otherwise I’ll never get this written, and I’ll probably end up doing each week separately although I’m toying with the possibility of rolling it all together, we’ll see what happens.

14 May 2013

So here we are in Belgrade, via Istanbul airport. Arrived about 7.30pm, checked into the Hedonist Hostel (the guys there seem really helpful and fun) had dinner in the Tri Shashira (that means 3 Hats) restaurant recommended by the guys at the Hedonist. It is in Skadarlija, the cobbled street in the old quarter that was once the haunt of poets, writers and artists, now full of tourists, and I’m already liking this place. A street filled with restaurants and music. The sort of thing I expected to find in Italy and Croatia but didn’t. The meal we had was enormous ! We went a little overboard, we were hungry but didn’t realise how big the meals are. Grisha had chevapcici and chips, we had a Shopska salad each and I had a Karadjorge (rolled veal stuffed with ham, butter garlic, crumbed and deep fried)– yum! If we come here again we will order one meal and share! So looking forward to exploring the rest of the city and especially the 2 rivers Sava and Danube, Mum and Dad spoke of their walks along the rivers with great fondness.

A chevapcici sandwich for dinner

A chevapcici sandwich for dinner

All that food! We sort of overdid it.

All that food! We sort of overdid it.

 

Ok, so now to figure out how to actually have a decent sleep in a top bunk! I hate top bunks! This could be interesting.

Tip: if staying in hostels and booking through one of the online agencies and sleeping in a dorm, always contact the hostel separately and ask for a lower bunk (unless of course you are a much more agile oldie than I am). I’ve never had a problem doing this since but this was the first dorm for me and I didn’t think of that bit of information.

15 May 2013

The guys at the hostel are awesome, Turkish (Serbian) coffee made for me! Yay! Thanks guys.

Beograd! I’m liking you more and more. Today we did the overview walk just to see where things are, where Grisha might want to run (yes I have a crazy son who runs) and places I might want to go back to for a better look. This is such a chilled out city. When we first walked into the massive pedestrian plaza (Knez Mihailova) we stopped, looked at each other and pretty much both said something like ‘ This feels so chilled out!’. There are heaps of restaurants and the shopping area with every shop you can think of. I remembered my mother saying that when she was young and living in Belgrade the city was considered the Paris of Yugoslavia. Still no Turkish coffee in any cafe but we did find a place called something like Kings of Turkey with heaps of baklava and other awesome sweets so might try them one day. Also discovered that there is a place called the Russian House so going to check that out tomorrow for some of that history I’m searching for. We have already extended by one night, I think we’ll need more time, loving it.

So, briefly we discovered the wonderful pedestrian plaza, walked all the way up to the fort (Kalemagdan), saw the convergence of the Sava and Danube rivers that my parents talked about often in their reminiscences, found a public fountain in the pedestrian plaza. Now, I have to stop for a minute and rave about that. What a great idea! This beautiful fountain with multiple outlets of perfectly clear drinking water, there for all to use. The locals, the tourists and definitely the homeless. All free, and under each outlet is a basin that holds water as well so those who may want to splash water or wash something could do so. Marvelous public service, so basically I only had to buy one bottle of water and then refilled it at the fountain every time we passed..

This says it all, on the wall at the Hedonist Hostel Belgrade

This says it all, on the wall at the Hedonist Hostel Belgrade

Yay! Great excitement, moved to a lower bunk tonight, loving that, got a curtain to hide behind too! Did I happen to mention that the guys at the Hedonist are awesome?

 

That awesome fountain in Belgrade

That awesome fountain in Belgrade

We found the confluence of the Sava and Danube

We found the convergence of the Sava and Danube

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Thursday 16 May

More exploring on foot, went to find the Russian House to find out if they have any information on the Russian community during the time my parents were there only to find out that the library was closed. The woman at reception knew nothing about anything, but did give us the phone number of a lady she thought might be able to help (that ended up being an interesting conversation, more later). There is a little souvenir shop in the building and so as not to have wasted a trip I bought some imported Russian chocolate.

17 May 2013

Today we started our search for Mum’s history in earnest. We hopped into the little green machine that we hired and drove off to Fruska Gora, 95 kilometres from Belgrade in the direction of Hungary.

Novo Hopovo monastery in Fruska Gora Serbia is where mum went to school from age 5-10. It wasn’t too hard to find, the highways in Serbia are really good and well sign posted.

The area is stunningly beautiful with green rolling hills, vineyards and forests. We first saw Novo Hopovo, which I was pretty sure was Mum’s school but there were signs to Staro Hopovo 2 kilometres further on so we decided to check that out just in case. I am so glad we did, the road wound through forests to this pretty little church and bell tower.

I quote from another traveller’s description – Staro Hopovo Monastery (staro meaning “old”) is a short 2 km drive away from Novo Hopovo. It was built between 1496 and 1520. The original church, also dedicated to St. Nicholas, was ruined by an earthquake in 1751 and a new one of cut stone and brick with a ten-sided dome was built. It was dedicated to St. Panteleimon. Robert C Trip Advisor

Grisha and I had a wander around and took some photos, it would have been nice to have time to walk in the woods but we needed to go to Mum’s school as obviously this one was not it.

 

The beautiful little church and bell tower Staro Hopovo

The beautiful little church and bell tower Staro Hopovo

 

So back up the two kilometres to the other building, a large yellow edifice. We wandered in and came across a priest (or monk, not sure which) walking along the cloister. Language wasn’t easy but we got enough to figure out that he knew nothing about the Russian era of this monastery but was happy for us to have a look in the church.

Again I quote from Robert C – Novo Hopovo (novo meaning “new”) is a Serbian Orthodox Monastery located in Fruska Gora National Park south of Novi Sad in Vojvodina. The yellow monastery buildings with red roofs are accented by a bell tower that was completed in 1760. The yellow monastery buildings surround the real gem, the beautiful old St. Nicholas church, which was built in 1576 . The frescoes around the altar and nave were frescoed in 1608 and the narthex in 1654. The wood iconostasis was built in 1776. The monastery was founded between 1496 and 1502 on the site of a previous church built in the 10th century. The church and iconstasis were heavily damaged in World War II and the treasury and its objects looted. Reconstruction took some 30 years. Robert C Trip Advisor

Between 1920 and 1943 the nuns of the monasteries were almost all from Russia, as they had to flee during the October Revolution (just like my father).
In front of the entrance of the monastery is the tomb of Mother Jekaterina who was the head of the monastery of Hopovo. She was Russian and grew up near the House of the Romanov family. http://sajkaca.blogspot.com/2010/02/monatsery-novo-hopovo-in-fruska-gora.html

Next thing we noticed was that the monks make their own rakijah for sale, with their own label, nice!. In retrospect we probably should have bought one.

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The beautiful church inside the Monastery

The beautiful church inside the Monastery

Inside the Novo Hopova church

Inside the Novo Hopova church

More of the frescoes Mum would have seen

More of the frescoes Mum would have seen

We left a bit of Mum in this copse of trees

We left a bit of Mum in this copse of trees

some of the vineyards surrounding the Monasteries in Fruska Gora

some of the vineyards surrounding the Monasteries in Fruska Gora

Rakijah made by the Monks

Rakijah made by the Monks

Another Rakijah made by the Monks

Another Rakijah made by the Monks

 

 

 

,

The beautiful little church is in the central courtyard, surrounded on all sides by the monastery. It is ancient, the frescoes partially destroyed but still absolutely amazing. I stood there for a long time in awe of the age, the beautiful decorations and the thought that my mother stood in this church as a little girl and now I was standing in the same church. She talked of this monastery so often during my life I could almost feel her presence. I wondered where she may have stood. I’m sure there would have been some order to where the
classes stood. I also wondered whether the icon of Mary where the girls used to hide all their personal requests to her was still there.

My dear son as always took many photos (love having a professional camera man in the family) this was an important trip for both of us bringing to life my Mother’s stories. I would have loved to have attended a service there, perhaps I’ll go again one day. After much time soaking up the energy and the history, we finally left, walked around the church and along part of the cloister where Mum would have walked to and from the school to the church.

The church stands within the square surrounded on all four sides by the monastery building, a beautiful space. The cloisters serene and beautiful, I could just see all the girls in their Sunday uniforms filing from the monastery to the church along these cloisters. Once we’d had our fill of the church we retrieved Mum’s ashes from the car and found a lovely copse of ten trees and left a little bit of mum at the foot of one of those trees, I hope  it grows even more beautiful and strong, Mum loved all living things and particularly loved the forest around this monastery. And so it was time to drive back, 95 kilometres and a life time away from Mum’s childhood.

 

 

17 May 2013

Totally away from the topic of Mum and my research……..

Yay!!!! Eurovison on Serbian TV – this’ll be good. Basically I’ve got it all to myself, everyone else has vanished. Reckon that Eurovison has cleared the hostel! However I watch it every year even though Australia can’t be involved, it’s so much fun. I think since the days of Abba some people in Australia have held a soft spot for Eurovision. Now it pretty much has a cult following with Eurovision parties and drinking games and SBS has done an awesome job of televising the event and now creating a live chat line – just plain good fun! So here I was in Serbia watching it on my own!

18 May 2013

Trip to Bela Crkva to track down mum’s third and last school. Well was that a surprise! Yes I know, I have skipped from school #1 to school #3, that is because school #2 is in Slovenia and we had yet to get there.

Now back to that phone call I mentioned earlier. I guess it’s a cultural thing, but I rang the number given to me by The Russian House, a woman answered, I introduced myself by my first name and told her how I got her number and why I was calling. The first thing I got was:

‘And who are you?’
I repeated my name,
‘Yes, but that is just your first name! What is your surname and your patronymic? You haven’t given me those!’
At which point I’m thinking ‘Gosh, have I rung the Secret Service or something?’ Anyway, finally after giving her my full Russian name (why she needed it I have no idea, she certainly didn’t use it and wouldn’t have known who I was anyway) she admitted to knowing nothing about the schools but gave me the name and an approximate address of a gentleman in Bela Crkva the town where Mum went to her final school who apparently had a ‘museum’ based on the Crimean Cadet Corps in Bela Crkva with which mum’s school had connections, so I was hoping we would have some luck there.

The trip there was quite fun, apart from the fact that Ginski is fun to travel with, laid back, just as photo mad as I am (just professional with much better results) fun conversationalist and a good driver, travelling distances in other countries is always fascinating. We came across, trucks, tractors hauling various loads, horses and carts, hay wagons all a challenge on the narrow roads. No wild life but the dogs and cats play chicken with the traffic quite a bit, so you need to be alert. Road kill unfortunately tends to be cats.

We came across all sorts of vehicles

We came across all sorts of vehicles

Even slower than the tractor

Even slower than the tractor

There was great excitement when I finally saw a whole field of red poppies, thank you Universe. There had been lots along the side of the road but not a full field, so I happened to mention to Ginski that I hoped there would be a whole field of them and then there it was! The car came to a screaming halt, son jumped out of the car as I handed him the camera and off he went doing what he does best. Take a look at the result!

 

With a screech of brakes, a grab of the camera and my field of poppies dream came true.

With a screech of brakes, a grab of the camera and my field of poppies dream came true.

 

We made it to Bela Crkva and found the Russian church, unfortunately locked. So on we went to find the address of the guy. When we first arrived I got a little concerned because I thought it would be a wild goose chase after the trip. But we struck gold!

The town initially seemed run down (like a lot of towns in Serbia I’ve noticed), once it was a large centre but seems a lot of people have left or died and many buildings are abandoned and fallen into disrepair. So my hopes were fading. I also wasn’t sure whether the address that the strange Russian woman in Belgrade gave me was real, at the very least she wasn’t sure of the street number. So we drove down Partizanskaja street, found the number and all the doors onto the street looked locked. The street looked deserted. It’s a bit like that here, there are no front yards, all the houses are right on the footpath and they have large double doors that lead into courtyards,  all gates and doors appeared to be locked.

I noticed that a couple of doors down there was something that looked like a shop so I thought I’d go in and ask, after all the Belgrade woman said that everyone knew this guy. As I got closer I heard voices inside, entered, to find that it was a restaurant. I asked the waiter who approached us if he knew a Mr Kastelyanov – Strike me pink! But he immediately turned to a gentleman at a table of people having lunch and said ‘ I think this is for you’. Yes it was the man we were looking for! You could have knocked me down with a feather. He was as amazed as we were. After a brief explanation of what, who and why we were, apologising for interrupting his lunch and offering to come back at another time, it was agreed that we would stay in the restaurant, have a cup of coffee and wait till his lunch was over. It was in fact a 12 month memorial lunch for one of their friends (the Orthodox people have memorial services followed by lunch 40 days after a death then a year after the death. Some people carry on and have annual memorials)

So I had my first proper Serbian (Turkish) coffee in this restaurant along with some really nice traditional cake. I’ve been looking for the ‘Turkish’ coffee ever since we arrived in Croatia and have been told no-one serves it in cafes, particularly in the cities. What the waiter in Bela Crkva told me is that they no longer call it ‘Turkish’ coffee it’s Serbian coffee in Serbia, so I guess it’s Croatian coffee in Croatia. The 2 slices of cake that came with it must have been from the memorial lunch – awesomely yummy rich cakes, again took me back to my youth and mums cooking.

Terrific coffee and Russian style cakes.

Terrific coffee and Russian style cakes.

Mr Kastelyanov proved to be a delight and a mine of information. He took us back to his house where we met his wife as well. They both speak perfect Russian although born in Serbia, so communication was easy. The ‘museum’ (he prefers to call it a memorabilia room) was chock-a-block full of photos, items, paintings, books etc related to the Crimean Cadet Corps which had escaped the Russian revolutions and based themselves in Bela Crkva. The Kingdom of Serbs Croats and Slovenes (later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) (particularly individuals starting with the king and his family and other royal relatives) was very generous to the White Russian migrants who escaped and settled in the area. They donated buildings, monasteries and castles to the Russian schools which had nowhere to set up their educational system.

Two of those schools were the Crimean Cadet Corps and the Marinski Donskoi Womens Institute. They were housed in massive buildings in Bela Crkva and the two schools shared important occasions like religious festivals, balls, choir performances. At other times communication between the boys and the girls was strictly forbidden (needless to say they managed to get written messages to each other in secret).

Mr and Mrs Kastelyanov had associations with the cadet corps through their families, particularly Mrs Kastelyanov whose grandfather was an artist and documented their escape from Russia in paintings. Her father was a cadet at the school. As a result of all their memorabilia and the connection between the two schools they also had quite a bit of information about mum’s school., even a photo from 1938 of a joint gathering, it is quite possible that mum may be in that photo – impossible to know though because she had no photos of herself as a young girl, so I have no idea what she looked like. Here is one of the sad things about wars and migration – Mum and Dad had no evidence of their youth, no photos, no papers, nothing. Sadly I didn’t get to do this trip until after mum passed away, so I can’t show her the photos to find out if she is there. War messes up lives for many generations! I wish human beings could resolve their differences without violence.

 

 

Quite possibly Mum is in this photo as her best friends mother (Princess Bagration-Muhranskaya) is in the photo

Quite possibly Mum is in this photo as her best friends mother (Princess Bagration-Muhranskaya) is in the photo

Dear Mr Kostelyanov shows me around his museum

Dear Mr Kastelyanov shows me around his museum

Another photo where Mum might be as she was in the same class as the princess.

Another photo where Mum might be as she was in the same class as the princess.

 

After telling me everything he could Mr Kastyelanov took us to see the building where mums school had been. It was massive. Unfortunately totally unused for 5 years and and parts of it unused for much longer than that, so it has fallen into dis-repair.

If you look hard you can see where the name of the school was 'Marinski Donskoi Institut' Under the clock

If you look hard you can see where the name of the school was ‘Marinski Donskoi Institut’ Under the clock

Inside the crumbling building that was Mum's school.

Inside the crumbling building that was Mum’s school.

As we walked around we found that someone had created a large hole in the fence that was supposed to protect the back of the building, so in I went. After his first shock that I was going through the hole in the fence our guide decided to join me. After a little while he loosened up and began enjoying breaking into the back of the place. The dear man was like a kid again eyes sparkling at doing something ‘naughty’ I love when people just go with the flow and decide to enjoy themselves.

As a result of clambering through the fence I managed to walk in the courtyard where Mum would have walked and played. There is the remnant of a basket ball court, I don’t know if it was there when she was there or whether it was created later, whatever, this area was her playground. I suspect that they would possibly have had a tennis court there as she used to tell me how she loved to play tennis

We had a good wander around, he showed us where there had been a  restaurant for a few years and we even had a bit of a look inside, but it is all falling apart and way too dangerous to go too far in, how I would have loved to have seen the place the way it was when Mum was there. I always find it sad when beautiful old buildings fall into dis-repair.

After the school he took us to the Cadet corps school which you can’t enter because it is still used by the Serbian Army. Best we could do is stand at the boom gate and look at bits of buildings through trees while he spoke with the guard, no photos either!

That done we went off to the cemetery where many of the Russian migrants are buried, some are people of the royal court.
The cemetery is also in a state of disrepair, but now cadets from Russia (they have finally realised there is important history here) go there annually for tours and do some volunteer work in the cemetery so piece by piece it is getting improved.

Back at the house he excitedly told his wife all about our naughty entering into the back yard of the old school and even managing to get inside the building.

Oh what a day! (although probably even more questions have arisen) Thank you to Vladimir and Valentina Kastelyanov for spending hours with us explaining all they could.

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Some of the Russian graves in Bela Crkva

Some of the Russian graves in Bela Crkva

I

 

Sitting at the kitchen table back at the hostel, after our exciting day,  playing around on FB, and around me I hear German, Spanish, English in various accents and a touch of Serbian now and again, some of the people speaking those languages are from the relevant countries, others are not, it’s just awesome! Last night we had Russian as well. Loving this multicultural melding. The best part is that all these people are young, perhaps there is hope for our world through all these great people sharing lives, languages and traditions.

19 May 2013

Drove out to Novi Sad and Kikinda. Started out late, stopped in a little place and got Serbian coffee. Didn’t like that town much, pretty typical rough edged Serbian men in singlets sitting around smoking and drinking – the Serb version of Bogan – got to Novi Sad, larger than I expected and it would have been nice to explore properly but we discovered that Kikinda (our final destination) was another 80kms away. So we couldn’t stick around in Novi Sad.

80 kms of country road, the road itself wasn’t too bad but a much slower trip of course with only one lane each way and dealing with horses, tractors and slow bomby cars. One town on the way was rather interesting only in the fact that it mainly consisted of this one road and stretched for several kms – wouldn’t want to ‘go for a stroll in the main street’!

Somewhere along the way I noticed first a fellow shepherding a flock of sheep along the road and then a couple of young lads minding another flock in a field, my mind immediately went to the stories I’d heard Dad tell of his days  minding his bosses cattle. For some people nothing has changed I guess. There are still very few fences here so shepherds and cowherds are still needed and this is where the children are used..

The other thing is that they have many signs warning of deer on the roads, didn’t see one! I guess they must come out at night, but there also wasn’t any road kill either (other than cats) maybe if a deer gets hit it gets eaten? That’s my theory because unlike our Australian roads that are strewn with various dead wild life I saw nothing!

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Beware of the deer sign

Beware of the deer sign

 

Kikinda itself looked interesting but their civic maps and heritage signs were a bit lacking in information. Also it was Sunday so the Info centre wasn’t open – even if we could have found it! No-one had ever heard of a Russian church let alone a school and we couldn’t get hold of a city map either, oh well I suppose I wasn’t meant to find my Auntie’s school in Kikinda. The day was getting on and we had a long way to drive back to Belgrade so decided to give up on the school search and thought we’d find the ‘Kikinda Mammoth’ as we’d seen signs for that, Hmmmmm all the signs ran out as we got to the centre so we had no idea how far we had to walk to find the thing, or even in which direction so gave up on that too. Final decision was to have a look at the horse driven mill that we had actually seen on the way in, so off we went, found the mill, not sure if it is still used but it still smells of horse so wouldn’t be surprised if it is still used even if only as a tourist attraction, but it was Sunday so no way of finding anything out.

The mill

The mill

Inside the mill

Inside the mill

 

It would have been great to see it in action, massive place, but we took a few photos and headed back. We did notice that we must have been reasonably close to Hungary as the place names were not only in Cyrillic and Latin letters but also in Hungarian, mind you this was all part of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. We also noticed that from Novi Sad on to Kikinda there were a lot more Catholic churches so I guess that is a reflection of the past as well.

The other thing we noticed in our drives over the past few days is just how flat Serbia is, apart from Fruska Gora we saw no hills except for the Romanian hills from Bela Crkva. The mountainous area is where Serbia becomes Monte Negro (Crna Gora) I’m told it is just stunning, but unfortunately I’m not going to get there this time.

 

This held the village traffic up a bit.

This held the village traffic up a bit.

Slow poke.

Slow poke.

We were going to have dinner on the way back at Zenum, the old town on the banks of the Danube but it was getting late and we figured that perhaps just going back to the hostel and going to the Bohemian Quarter would be a better idea.

20 May 2013
So I knew I would live to regret yesterday’s decision to have a Serbian coffee at 2.30 pm followed by an excessively strong (even in my terms) cappucino at 4-ish! Sleep eluded me till about 4 am, looks like we’ll just have to go get one of those chimney cakes if I’m to survive on 4 hours sleep!

Returned the car, it was a lovely ride, took us very smoothly through the countryside, bye bye green machine.

 

The little green machine

The little green machine

 

Wanted to see the residence of Princess Ljubica but it was closed, maybe tomorrow. Did get chimney cake though!  The franchise comes from Hungary and I was told by another backpacker at the Hedonist hostel that they are in Prague as well, such a yummy creation!

 

This is how they make the chimney cake

This is how they make the chimney cake, then it gets baked only from the outside

One way of devouring the chimney cake

One way of devouring the chimney cake

 

Lunch, Grisha decided to get the Goulash y Lepine (goulash in a large bread roll , they dig out the middle of the roll and fill with a goulash). Unfortunately not to Grisha’s liking as the goulash was made of kidney’s (I liked the bits that I stole as he didn’t want them).

Dinner, Grisha went and bought all the vegies he needs and cooked up a storm with his vegie dish and this time included the local cabanosi – proper flavours, yum! That dish of his is a life saver for backpacker travel.

21 May 2013
guess I’d better get out of this bunk cave and get the day started, last day in Belgrade, time to move on.

Chill out day – 2pm and Grisha is still asleep! He woke up at 4pm. We didn’t do much other than go get some dinner at the Sesir Moj, a Karadjorge, but it wasn’t nearly as good as the first one at the Tri Sesira. Also there was this annoying woman dressed in period costume constantly talking to a table of young ladies and telling them that she was an actress and then sang to them (awful) then continued talking. We ate and got out of there as it was impossible to talk with her constant chatter.

Hello all! Good morning! Good evening. Awake now! 2nd Serbian coffee for the day – made this one myself, time I got back into practice I guess and a yummy cake thingy that the hostel guys just gave me – yuuuuum! Spoilt as the Mama? Just a bit.

22 May 2013
It’s sad but in 51/2 hours we’ll be on the train out of this lovely city of Belgrade and on our way to Ljubljana via Zagreb – hope it lives up to all the descriptions I’ve heard. Farewell Belgrade, I leave not having managed to do, see, eat or drink everything you have on offer, but you never know, I may come back one day and get to finish all of this.

One of the most challenging feats of this trip? Other than climbing up to a top bunk? Sitting on a lower bunk doubled over trying to drink beer out of a rather large tinny of Jelen!

Oh wow! Running Down a Dream has just come on the local radio station that is on in the hostel – how appropriate!

And so Episode One of Belgrade ends. I did come back on my own, unexpectedly, however that is another story. We will meet again in the next episode when my Ginski and I continue our research in Slovenia, see you all in Ljubljana.

 

Intermission – Escaping God’s Waiting Room

‘She’s gone’ and with those words my life was torn asunder. I had spent many years taking care of my mother and the last 4 had slowly become more and more difficult for both of us. Mum was suffering physically and I could see her slowly fading away. The last year was the worst (of course) as she became weaker and sicker eventually having a stroke and passing on to a better world.

After the stress and trauma of Mum’s passing I started thinking what I would do, I had no plans as my whole life had been work, children then looking after parents (although there had been a lot of travel dreaming over my life time and a little bit of actual travel). Then more drama, which cut my planning short, the last surviving member of my family of origin took legal action on Mum’s will. Being stunned is an understatement. We had lost our brother way back in 1980, a musician with great talent gone too early. Then our father in 2001 and our mother in 2010. I thought that perhaps being the last ones left would have drawn us closer, but no. Then, a bit more than a year into the legal action this brother also died. This really threw me. Now there was no-one left from my family of origin, no-one who knew me as a child, no-one from my family of origin to love or even be angry at! What was I to do?

Yes, I have 2 sons, but they each have their own lives. One was building several businesses and had a life partner also with business ventures, they are busy creating their lives (exactly as it should be), the other one had kicked off his shoes and was travelling somewhere in the wilds of Central America, when would be the next time that I would see him? No idea! And that is as it should be too. Sometimes I wish I’d done the same – but then……I wouldn’t have these 2 awesome sons and I wouldn’t be who I am, my life would have been different.

Then I took a long hard look at my life, no life partner, no family of origin left, no-one available to travel with (at least not outside of Australia) a house that wasn’t earning me any money and to all intents and purposes no future with much fun in it, except on those odd occasions when I would get together with friends. Yes I have amazing friends who will always be there for me and I love them all dearly, I have my writing and connections with fellow poets and writers, but they all have lives, responsibilities and families of their own. It seemed that I was the only one with no good reason to stay in one place.

So many people get to this point in their lives, a vague future with little or no purpose nothing to do except gardening and reading (and a few other hobbies here and there). There is a time and place for that, but I wasn’t ready for it yet. I was an emotional mess after many years of stress and sitting around at home wasn’t going to help.

So………………………..

Once all the legal problems with my brother’s family were over I re-assessed my situation. I could stay in my house and do the daily routine thing but I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to sit around waiting for someone to be available for social time. There were too many memories and too much sorrow, too much grief and way too much thinking time – not only was my family of origin gone to greener pastures but so were many dear friends – life is short, life is unpredictable, and yet life should still be fun.

So…………………………..

I became the Golden Oldie traveller.
I rented out my house.
I packed my bags.
I hugged my friends farewell.
I started writing a blog.
And took off on a life mission for 12 months to see the world and re-align my body, mind and spirit.

I had dreamed of this all my life and here I was doing it. Much later than I would have wished, perhaps it would also have been nice to have a travelling partner but none around, however, I am mobile and not too old, so I can still do some fun stuff, with only a few limitations and I’ll be darned if I’m going to not do things just because there is no-one to share it with. Anyway, travelling with others can be a tricky business as I found out in some earlier, shorter travel, you have to be very careful with whom you choose to travel, sometimes it is better to just go alone. So off I went, initially with my 2 sons and daughter – in – law for a few weeks to take part of my mother’s ashes home to Dalmatia, then off on my own, exploring the world.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Strawberry Fields Forever

 

So what have I been doing? So far in 10 months –

17 countries
21 cities
4 islands
3 lakes
6 + villages

6 cities, 1 conference and a whole lot of music and poetry to go, before returning home at the end of 12 months for further re-assessment.

Teatro del Silencio - Bocelli under the Tuscan moon -Lajatico

Teatro del Silencio – Bocelli under the Tuscan moon -Lajatico

I have seen places I never planned to see, I have been to places I have dreamed of all my life. I heard Andrea Bocelli sing under the Tuscan moon, walked on soil where ancient gods and goddesses walked. I have seen palaces and villages and fields of red poppies, I hugged trees in the Vienna woods, saw the devastation of the 2013 European floods, saw the results of WWII in Dresden, stood on the spy bridge in Potsdam, had some of the best coffee and some of the worst. I have walked on Elvis’ carpets, touched his school friend, stayed where the Delta blues were born and got more than a little drunk on Hand Grenades. I met some of the most amazing people in my travels, of all ages (including an inspirational 90 year old solo traveller) many of these people are now lifelong friends. I shared the realisation of my dream of the Blue grotto with my children and spent much time exploring Serbia, the land where my parents grew up, I walked in their footsteps. I stayed with friends I haven’t seen in a lifetime, sang silly Swedish crayfish songs, road tripped with an old school friend in the USA, ate breakfast while watching mini eruptions from a volcano, listened to some of the best music in the most unlikely places, saw sunrises and sunsets all over the world, managed to catch up with the children one more time and turned 63 in Antigua Guatemala.

Dream come true The Blue Grotto Isle of Capri

Dream come true The Blue Grotto Isle of Capri

Of course, I photographed absolutely everything I could. A nice mix of travelling with people, travelling alone and being supported by my friends at home via the magic of social networking, so I knew that they were all travelling with me in spirit and they knew I was safe.

Yes, I have escaped God’s Waiting Room, and I would like to invite every other Golden Oldie out there to join me in more travel. It doesn’t have to be for 12 months, you just have to get out of that front door and go somewhere, anywhere that is different, for whatever length of time you want. More than likely I won’t do 12 months again, it’s a long time to be away from home, but travel I will, knowing that my Australia will be waiting for me each time I return.

So God’s waiting room will just have to wait a little longer for me, there is a world out here to explore, come join me. And perhaps my favourite chorus lines from that beautiful Robert Plant song will relate to you too….

‘Somebody said they saw me, swinging the world by the tail
Bouncing over a white cloud, killing the blues.’

Meeting Big Al Carson New Orleans

Meeting Big Al Carson New Orleans

The 'Spy' Bridge Potsdam Germany

The ‘Spy’ Bridge Potsdam Germany

Unexpected snow in May Lake Bohinj Slovenia

Unexpected snow in May Lake Bohinj Slovenia

The Warm Man Uppsala Sweden

The Warm Man Uppsala Sweden

Schonbrunn Castle Vienna

Schonbrunn Castle Vienna

Icecream in Istanbul

Icecream in Istanbul

Great excitement - Hemingway's studio with original typewriter.

Great excitement – Hemingway’s studio with original typewriter.

Among amazing sculptures in Wroclaw Poland

Among amazing sculptures in Wroclaw Poland

The Golden Oldie Goes Solo in Miami

Sunday 10 November New Orleans
Yep, at an airport again, New Orleans, Louis Armstrong, Alice has left for NY via Dallas and I’m waiting for my flight to Miami, on the road again, really looking forward to a beach now!

Monday 11 November

Finally back to cooking my own backpackers special a la Ginski! Yay! So over the Southern fried everything. I guess I should explain because I don’t think I did much of a job of it in the Naples episode, if at all. Grisha (my son) aka Ginski, and I had a vegetable cook off in the Naples Hostel of the Sun (I love hostels, you can cook decent cheap food when you want to) and he won. Why did he win? Because mine needed an Italian tomato based sauce (extra expense and not always easy to find) and his didn’t. I give credit to my Mum and myself that my boys can both  cook and come up with brilliant recipes of their own (it’s one of those mother/grandmother stories, but none of us could lose given that my Mum was a chef). So, I got to Miami Hostel, chatted to lovely Derick and found out where everything was located and hotfooted off to the Wholefoods down the road.  I bought up a ton of vegetables and some really nice minced steak for rissoles, Wholefoods is not the cheapest place for shopping ( pretty expensive really if you are on a tight budget) but it is mainly organic so the food is good. The exciting thing was that in Miami they sell dill in massive bunches, for someone who was raised with a lot of Russian food dill is an essential ingredient and it’s not always easy to find. The down side was they only had giant Mexican garlic which isn’t quite right in flavour but better than nothing. I had a wonderful time cooking enough food for a week for me.

Yummy vegetables

Yummy vegetables

 

 

Tuesday 12 November Miami

Up at 5 to get down to the beach for sunrise, figuring out the shower here at that time of morning was a challenge, so gave up. Sadly the clouds were low and kept getting in the way of sunrise over the Atlantic so I didn’t get the sunrise I wanted but the one I got was pretty cool.

Tip: Enjoy what you get. Sometimes we over – plan and over-expect and miss that which is a blessing and is right in front of us.

The birds at that time of morning are fascinating, so are the other people on the beach! Most of them are crazy photographers like me, there is the odd vagrant and then there are the young guys thinking they can pick up a middle aged woman on the beach at sunrise! Oh sigh! But I have all my answers ready. These guys can be found all over the world, a girlfriend and I encountered two of them in a shopping mall in Singapore! I encountered one on South Beach. Mostly they seem to be of African descent, very suave and have their patter all figured out, there are probably others from other backgrounds but I can only talk about what I have experienced.

Tip: Have a repertoire of lines ready for all occasions and be definite when delivering them – ‘No I am not single’ My husband/boyfriend/girlfriend is just getting the coffee’ etc etc  (unless of course you want to be picked up by a young fellow, then you figure that one out for yourself).

A very expensive coffee from a 24/7 cafe on the beach kept me warm while I waited. The sunrise really was beautiful. Slowly the dark began to lighten and what were specks of light out on the water became recognisable shapes of ships. Behind the dark clouds the apricot of the dawn broke through, the French call it crepiscule, a beautiful, indescribable shade of dawn. Slowly it became a darker orange and the first birds appeared. Fast little guys with long beaks catching some miniscule life form in the sand. the sun struggled, and just as I thought it would break through a bank of clouds would get blown in and shade the sunrise again. Then the seagulls flew in and they and the fast little guys kept my attention for a while as the sunrise was still struggling. And then, bit by bit the sun beat the clouds at their game! By the time it did, though, it was quite high and had lost it’s early morning colour, but the game was quite dramatic and the colours caused by the dark clouds against the apricot sky were worth the viewing. Bit by bit the sky became bluer and the sun lighter, the apricot and the dark grey were gone, the chill had moved on and it was morning. All the photographers, packed up their cameras and moved on as early morning swimmers and workers came to join the seagulls. The beach is beautiful, and as an Aussie from the land of beautiful beaches, I can honestly say South Beach rates highly.

The dawn of day

The dawn of day

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Those little birds are so very fast!

Those little birds are so very fast!

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And finally the sun breaks through
The workers arrive

The workers arrive

After the sunrise effort I took myself off on a Hop onHop off trip around Miami, both the beach and the city. Interesting city this. I’m really not sure what the population is, the bus guide said 5 million people, but Google says 413,000 plus,  who do you believe? It certainly doesn’t feel like millions but perhaps that’s because travelling from South Beach I didn’t have to go through all the suburbs to get to the interesting places.

There are 23 islands, 22 of them are fully man-made and the 23rd used to be connected to South Beach but they cut through it to create the channel for shipping to come through and turned it into an island, it is the most expensive of all of them and so elite that you can only get there by ferry or helicopter, and you can only go if invited by a resident, like Oprah. Two  of the other islands are also populated by stars of various sorts like Shakira, Shaqil O’Neall and a whole bunch of others, Al Capone’s old holiday home is on Palm Island (that house just sold for $22mil). Another island is the zoo, which unfortunately I didn’t get to, can’t do everything.

Palm Island and the house where Scarface was filmed

Palm Island and the house where Scarface was filmed

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There is a whole art deco area in the beach suburbs, very interesting buildings that are worth seeing. Over the bridge in the city area there are plenty of interesting places to see and visit. Little Havana with it’s Cuban cigar factories (as they say, as it is illegal in the States to import Cuban cigars, the next best thing is a cigar made by a Cuban). Downtown is the 3rd largest skyscraper area in the USA, Coral Gables (another elite suburb) – and yet it feels sort of chilled out, weird.

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I now also have another hostel to recommend to those of you who hostel, that’s 3 so far – The Hedonist in Belgrade tops the list, Hostel of the Sun in Naples and now Miami Hostel in Miami South Beach both rate highly with cool staff and good facilities. This place reminds me of the Hedonist, nice people, chilled atmosphere, nice common rooms, a bar, a kitchen, everything you could possibly need. It’s really quiet at the moment but there are enough guests around to have conversations, mainly Spanish speakers but a couple of Greek girls and 2 American guys are here as well, nice. Oh, and I finally had some American football explained to me as the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were playing – still don’t really get it, but at least a couple of things are a bit clearer.

I also learned that 11/11 is Veterans Day here, also commemorated at 11a.m for the same reason as we do.

Tuesday 12 November cont’d

I’m liking this Miami place! Everything happens here, everyone lives or visits here and it’s warm! My European tan is returning after 6 weeks in long sleeves and my ears are tuning into Spanish, you hear so little English here it’s crazy. Seriously, Miami is definitely worth visiting and exploring, my brain can’t hold all the information, just about every second hotel has featured in movies and TV shows along with most streets, it’s almost like living in a movie with the stories of murders and mayhem, stars and their businesses. Gloria Estefan features a lot around the place.

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A normal sight on Ocean Drive

A normal sight on Ocean Drive

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Cars on Ocean Drive

Cars on Ocean Drive

You will notice that I went out of my way to get photos of cars for my Summernats friends – I think I left a lot of drool behind. Ocean Drive is the people and car spotting street. It is also the street where Gianni Versace was shot down in front of his mansion (which has now been bought and will be another very elite hotel). Found very nice espresso and cappuccino on Washington Ave and stopped in Little Havana to try the Cuban coffee and some Cuban food.

Miami

Cuban coffee in Little Havana

Cuban coffee in Little Havana

Cuban lunch in Little Havana

Cuban lunch in Little Havana

Cuban coffee is interesting, very, very strong with lots of sugar, somewhere between espresso and Turkish. Supposedly they make it that strong so you can share, darn that! my shot of coffee is all mine! Tomorrow I’m off to Key West for the day, should be interesting.

At the end of the day I hopped off close to the convention centre as I’d noticed that the International car show was on, and of course, being just a little car mad I had to go and have a look , more drool left behind. No concept cars but a lot of beautiful machinery past and present.

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Beautiful Ford Customline, my brother had one of these in the 60's

Beautiful Ford Customline, my brother had one of these in the 60′s

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Came home to find I have a dorm mate, lovely Georgia from Australia. We hit it off well, she is a delightful young lady also travelling on her own but meeting up with family in South America. She valiantly helped me polish off my bottle of honeysuckle vodka from Clarksdale, what some travellers will do to help out other traveller is just amazing! Happy travels Georgia.

Wednesday 13 November – Key West

Fun day at Key West and one day is not enough! My main wish was to see Ernest Hemingway’s house and the Southernmost point of the USA and discovered so much more in the process, just didn’t have time to do much of it. A 4 hour drive from Miami Beach on a coach and we got to Key West, unfortunately it is impossible to get shots of the road that joins all the keys out of a bus window. Had lunch at Amigos, the hugest plate of nachos appeared before me, no hope of getting through that! And then it was on to the trolley tour to get to the places I wanted.

Ernest Hemingway’s house (well I guess it was really his wife Pauline’s house) was interesting to visit, and being able to view his writing studio in the coach house, where he wrote 70% of his life’s work was indeed special for someone who is a writer (although I am a poet not an author). It was very special being in the place where so many of his works were written and even the original typewriter is still there, the whole place is just as it was when he lived there. And then there are the famous 6-toed cats. Apparently Hemingway was not fond of  cats  but a friend gave hime a six toed cat called Snowball and Hemingway’s heart was won over. The house at Key West is not just an Ernest Hemingway museum,  they still have anything up to 50 of the original Snowball’s descendants many of them are polydactyl and one of them has 6 toes on each paw.

Key West

Ernest Hemingways house

Ernest Hemingways house

The loft where Hemingway wrote 70% of his life's work

The loft where Hemingway wrote 70% of his life’s work

That's me with the silly look thinking 'oh my, that's the typewriter Hemingway actually used'!

That’s me with the silly look thinking ‘oh my, that’s the typewriter Hemingway actually used’!

One of the many 6 toed cats, this one is relaxing on the master bed.

One of the many 6 toed cats, this one is relaxing on the master bed.

They have this thing with roosters and chickens, they just roam around.

They have this thing with roosters and chickens, they just roam around.

Cool outfit.

Cool outfit.

There are heaps of chickens and roosters running around the gardens and streets, not sure why but it’s all rather charming. Of course there are also masses of tourists, but where did Merlin come from? That is Melin isn’t it?

The southernmost point was busy of course with everyone waiting to get a photo with the sign ’90 miles from Cuba’.  So I opted to take one of the structure and a ‘selfie’ and be done with it (not a very good one so I will not be displaying that, I do have a bit of vanity), I didn’t have anyone with me to take a photo anyway (of course I could have asked another traveller, but selfies work). A long walk back checking out the shops, the key lime pie (a very nice pastry indeed, if you are on the east coast you must try one). An interesting story told to us by the guide regarding Sloppy Joes and Capt’n Tony’s. The original Sloppy Joes bar was where Capt’n Tony’s now is and that’s where Ernest Hemingway used to hang out every afternoon. When the lease was up the owner of Sloppy Joes didn’t like the increase so he bought the current place and one day he and all his customers picked up their drinks and the bar and moved everything a few doors down to the new building, love that story but I’m not sure if it’s true, I take what guides on those buses say with a huge grain of salt after discovering that sometimes they just make some stuff up.

The southern most point.

The southern most point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday 14 November Miami

Tomorrow I am travelling again and it will be farewell to Miami so today is a day of getting organised. The laundry took much longer than I expected, had to go to the post office and send all the stuff I bought along the way, home (plus all the Elvis souvenirs for my dear friend who is Australia’s number one Elvis fan) and packing day, off to Guatamala tomorrow Friday 15th November.

Finishing off my vegetables I discovered that I still had way too much so shared with on of the guests. His comment was that they were the best vegetables he had ever eaten in his life! Go the Ginski backpacker method (and the Miami dill) I do wonder though what that poor man has been eating all his life.

And so it will be farewell to Miami, nice knowing you, thanks for the fun time.

The Golden Oldie and Friend Do a U.S. Road Trip

The Road Trip Branson to New Orleans

I’m doing this blog completely out of order of my trip, but it was so much fun that I really want to get it out there. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that somewhere along the line I decided this trip was also about finding coffee that could equal or better the coffee we get in Canberra, so the word ‘coffee’ will appear every now and again.

Branson

For those who may be a little jittery about travelling solo, but who want to find somewhere where they can feel completely safe, where no-one tells you not to go there, where the people are all friendly and helpful, you can go out at night and there is a lot of fun to be found – I FOUND IT! Go to BRANSON, MISSOURI. Yes, I know, most people answer that with ‘Where!?’ or ‘What’s in Missouri?’ or ‘Why’? Well let me tell you………and  for ease I will leave it in my daily diary format as there is way too much information to impart.

Firstly I have to say that I was extremely lucky to have Alice with me on this trip. We are old friends from school in Sydney but she has lived in New York since 1968, we have only seen each other once in that time. When I was planning this trip and while we were organising dates for me to stay with her in NY I happened to mention the Branson to New Orleans trip I was planning and I happened to ask if she wanted to come along, she said yes and that changed my trip into a road trip as she also said she would drive – YAY! (I refuse to drive on the ‘other’ side of the road)  So here it is, starting with Branson.

Branson has been reached! Two hops on United from NY through Chicago, a car from Springfield and here we are (there is an airport in Branson but that one wasn’t convenient for us). Settled into the motel, dinner at The Outback (as always a poor resemblance to anything even vaguely Aussie, but they do have some cool pictures on the walls and a plane hanging from the ceiling that no-one knows anything about and the steak was OK). Tomorrow we start exploring and our first show is booked for tomorrow evening. I like this town already, massive traffic though, but I guess to be expected in a place that is basically show town – everything is happening here.Silver Dollar City Branson

26 October 2013.
I’m loving this Branson place already! My kind of town. We met a lovely couple from Illinois at breakfast who convinced us to go to Silver Dollar City (it wasn’t in the original plan because it sounded a bit too casino-ish, how wrong I was!) so off we went. Loved it! I’m not normally into theme parks butthis is part real part created and an awesome place to visit. Apparently it all started with so manypeople visiting the caverns in the area that they began providing other entertainment and it has become a massive place of colonial craftmanship, theatres and rides for kids of all ages (if you are into that sort of thing). They filmed 3 episodes of the Beverley Hillbillies here and Buddy Ebsen learned some lumber skills and helped build one of the log cabins. We spent most of the day there until we just had to leave for the show we were booked into. Had I known more about this Silver Dollar City I would have factored in some time for it, you could easily spend a couple of days there, even more perhaps . So put it in your list of ‘must sees’.

Silver Dollar City Branson

Artist at work

Artist at work

Weaving hammocks

Weaving hammocks

Stunning colours

Stunning colours

This says it all!

This says it all!

The entrance

The entrance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An awesome day was followed by an equally awesome evening. Yakov Smirnoff is a fantastic comedian and also an artist and professor of art as well as having a Masters in psychology (all achieved after migrating to the US) although he was an art teacher in Odessa Russia before migrating. You’d never believe that he arrived in the USA from Russia not knowing a word of English and here he is with his own theatre, has entertained Presidents, been in movies and 7 episodes of Night Court and painted the massive ‘America’s Heart’ after 9/11 which was on a damaged skyscraper at Ground Zero. A small version is behind him in the photo below, apparently he painted it with one stroke of the paintbrush for each victim.

The seats in the theatre have retractable tables attached so they serve dinner and the show continues with Yakov sitting in a similar seat having his dinner too, on stage, and having a conversation answering questions – so different and so very funny. He is a comedian worth seeing, no put downs, just extremely funny views on life the universe and everything. We are having so much fun, I can’t believe this place exists. more to come.

Yakov Smirnoff a very smart and funny man

Yakov Smirnoff a very smart and funny man

Inside Yakov Smirnoff's theatre

Inside Yakov Smirnoff’s theatre

Alice and I with Yakov Smirnoff, what a treat

Alice and I with Yakov Smirnoff, what a treat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

27 October 2013.

Another brilliant day in Branson, stumbled across a Gospel show by the Bacon family, what lovely voices and a terrific show, 3 generations of the family perform in the show (actually it’s 4 generations, for one song Granny came out and what a piano player she was! At 94!) , they do country as well in a different show. Loved the whole 2 hours. That was followed by the Dolly Parton Dixie Stampede. When I saw that in the list of shows I just had to see it, I’ve always liked Dolly.  Man! another brilliant show, terrific horsemanship, parades, stunts, races. A whole story woven around the settling of the west starting from the Indian peoples through to the whites and the south vs north. All done with great talent and humour. Wonderful 4 course dinner (including a whole rotisserie Cornish hen!). Piggy races, ostrich races a lot of audience participation and so it went on. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photos so no photographic evidence of this awesomeness exists. Branson just keeps getting better and better.

28 October 2013

Another eventful day in Branson. I can’t believe this stay is almost at an end! (However, we still have the main reason for being here to go). Back to today though, woke up to a very foggy morning, so we didn’t get to see much as we drove around, we wanted to drive the scenic route. Finally got to explore Downtown though which is the older part of town down by Lake Taneycomo. Stacks of interesting shops to browse through, came across Waxy O’Shea’s Irish pub – wonderful food but the massive servings are incredible. Both lunch and dinner I ordered only entrees and in both cases I couldn’t eat it all. The best and softest calamari for lunch and terrific nachos for dinner. Thought I’d better try an Irish beer at dinner, Harp Lager, it arrived very cold with no head, just for a second I thought I was in Melbourne. By the time we’d had lunch the fog had cleared and the sun was shining happily, so it was off to the port for 2 hours on the Lake Queen for a cruise on Lake Taneycomo wow! The colours are just stunning,  saw my first bald eagle. 2 of them were sitting in trees (some of us half suspected they were stuffed and planted there, till another tourist explained that they do just sit for hours sometimes) and later, on the way back there were a few flying around, what a beautiful way to spend an afternoon, chatting to some lovely fellow passengers, having a drink and watching some of the most stunning scenery go by.

29 October 2013.
Music, music, music and more music, my type of trip. Loving this town. Breakfast at the Uptown Diner, we walked in, paid our money and found that they have live performers at breakfast time, how awesome is that?! Today it was Georgina a very talented country singer. Breakfast in these parts is ‘interesting’ to say the least, I drew the line at grits, and a few other things after tasting them. While there we discovered that there was a George Strait tribute tonight, met the performers so we bought the tickets (so lucky, last tickets but one of the best tables!). Breakfast was followed by a visit to the wax museum, really just filling in time but we ended up having a heap of fun taking photos with a few Hollywoodians. That took us up to the show that was the whole reason for coming to Branson – Legends in Concert with DeanZ (current 2013 Ultimate Elvis winner).

Jackie B Goode's Cafe

Jackie B Goode’s Cafe
Wax Museum

Wax Museum

Inside Waxy O'Shea's Irish Pub

Inside Waxy O’Shea’s Irish Pub

I met Dean in Parkes (Australia) in January at the Elvis festival.  He talked about Branson, I told him I would be in the US this year, he invited me to come to Branson  and so here I am, so worth the trip. All the other performers in the Legends show are just wonderful too especially the singer doing Whitney Houston, she is incredible. The surprise was that Dean also does Buddy Holly in the show, however his Elvis is just amazing (some of us think he is a reincarnation not an impersonator) and he’s a really nice guy too.  All the Legends change every 3-4 months except for Elvis, Dean performs every day, sometimes twice a day, for 11 months of the year in Branson – simply amazing. Then there is everything else we have found here, what a town! Back to the Uptown Diner Jackie B Goode’s cafe for the George Strait show, wow that was terrific! Gordie and Debbie are great singers, very talented and do an excellent job of George Strait’s music, (obviously they love his songs) dinner is included, the cafe was packed and a lot of fun  was had by all- loved it. Sadly we move on tomorrow, but heck can’t stay here (even though it would be nice) but I hear Memphis calling. To see for yourself what happens in Branson have a look at the tourism site http://www.bransontourismcenter.com/shows

 

 

Gordie and Debbie doing George Strait

Gordie and Debbie doing George Strait

Georgina at Jackie B Goode's cafe

Georgina at Jackie B Goode’s cafe

DeanZ the greatest Legend in the Legends in Concert show.

DeanZ the greatest Legend in the Legends in Concert show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

30 October 2013

Today was our last breakfast in Branson accompanied by Georgina and her lovely country voice. Then a couple of hundred miles later, mostly travelling through stunning tapestries of Autumn colour, we arrived at the Heartbreak Hotel Memphis! Can’t believe it! I am in Memphis and tomorrow we will be doing the Graceland etc tours – yee haa! Had dinner at the Blues City Cafe (cat fish and ribs) and discovered the local brew -really nice dark sparkling lager. A brief walk down Beale street and now for a rest, poor Alice must be exhausted seeing as she is doing all the driving. Ooh, so much to do tomorrow!

Memphis

Yes we have arrived

Yes we have arrived

 

31 October 2013
I wonder if people working at Graceland ever get ‘Elvised’ out? Yes, you guessed it, today was Elvis day. We got the VIP tickets, so our own shuttle, no standing in line, that sort of thing. Wow! What a treat to go through Graceland, the adjacent buildings and the resting place of Elvis, his parents, and paternal grandmother. It’s a real time capsule, nothing has changed since Elvis lived there. Learned heaps, saw heaps and the piece de resistance was finding out that our shuttle driver Tommy went to school with Elvis, was friends with him and even got to go on some concert road trips with him, what a delight, I wish I could have spent more time with him to find out more information. He did, however point out which window was Elvis’s bedroom where he passed away. If we were to be here longer I’d be tempted to buy another ticket to get a chance to talk to this lovely guy. The Meditation Garden (the family resting place) is beautiful and serene and at 7.30every morning for an hour you can go in there for free (before the tourists start rolling in). I loved that Graceland has been kept as

Yes, we stayed here, had to be done.

Yes, we stayed here, had to be done.

it was when Elvis was there, and that they don’t allow anyone upstairs. Elvis never had visitors upstairs, only downstairs and they have respectfully maintained that rule. I think it would be very sad if people were ever allowed to traipse through his private living area, there is plenty to see on the ground floor. I was also thrilled to see that Gracelands itself hasn’t been allowed to be infiltrated with all the tourist necessities – that is all across the road, masses of souvenir shops, eateries and the 2 aeroplanes.

Elvis's cars - oh those cars!

Elvis’s cars – oh those cars!

The Lisa Marie plane

The Lisa Marie plane

Graceland

Graceland

The beautiful serene resting place of the Presley family.

The beautiful serene resting place of the Presley family.

 

Graceland viewing over we found a Chinese/American buffet for dinner (not overly impressed) and then went back to the Rock n Roll cafe (where we’d had lunch) to check out the entertainment and have a drink. I wasn’t expecting what we got. The bill was for Buddy Holly , and yes the guy sang Buddy Holly numbers up until his break, then he came back and changed it up to a whole lot of other Rock n Roll numbers and a few awesome blues numbers – very impressive! So yet another eventful, amazing day on our musical road trip.

1 November 2013
What a treat today! Hopped on the shuttle from Heartbreak Hotel to Sun studios – the things I didn’t know about! Just a delight being shown around what is still a live studio, to stand where Elvis and his contemporaries stood and recorded – WOW! Went through the Rock n Soul museum, so much to see the mind boggles. In the evening took ourselves off to the Jerry Lee Lewis Honky Tonk and cafe. Double WOW! The band playing tonight was Jason James and the Jerry Lee Lewis Tribute Band. Ray, the bass player was from Jerry’s band, the drummer was simply amazing and Jason was indescribable! What a night! Rocked on with these guys for hours, met a few really nice people in the process. Seriously, the current generation thinks it has the creative, weird, ‘out there’ music cornered, but honestly without the 50′s none of this would have been possible. The 50′s started the musical revolution and listening to the wonderful musicians playing the music of the 50′s, the singers and bands, just proves it, what amazing musical ability and daring was needed to create that music! Loved every single minute of today, and if I hadn’t already had a bunch of respect for my era of music, I sure do have it now in spades. Love Memphis and Beale Street.

Sun Studios and THAT microphone! Handled by so many including Elvis. What  a treat

Sun Studios and THAT microphone! Handled by so many including Elvis. What a treat

The Jerry Lee Lewis Cafe/bar on Beale Street

The Jerry Lee Lewis Cafe/bar on Beale Street

The awesome Jerry Lee Lewis Tribute

The awesome Jerry Lee Lewis Tribute

More Beale St

More Beale St

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Accosted by a busker in Memphis

Accosted by a busker in Memphis

Beale Street in daylight

Beale Street in daylight

 

 

 

 

 

A walk along the mighty Mississippi was just what we needed after all the sight seeing, what a beautiful and huge river it is, no wonder so many                                                                                                         songs have been written about it, just stunning.

The mighty Mississippi

The mighty Mississippi

Sun beginning it's setting journey over the Mississippi

Sun beginning it’s setting journey over the Mississippi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clarksdale

Saturday 2 November 2013

And the beat goes on! and on! So, here we are in the land of John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnston, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf etc etc….. Yes it’s Clarksdale Mississippi. It’s a far cry from it’s hey day in the 20′s when it was booming and full of millionaires, it’s sadly struggle town now, but the music continues and the Delta blues are alive and well. It’s Hambone festival this weekend so we’ll go listen tomorrow as most of the shops and clubs will be closed (it being Sunday and all). We checked out a few arty shops, went to the Delta Blues Museum, had lunch at the Yazoo Place (finally a place that has real espresso AND proper burgers). Dinner at the Ground Zero Blues Club co-owned by THE Morgan Freeman. Cool place, food is basic, decor is indescribable (take a look at the photos!) it wasn’t planned that way but one day someone gave someone a marker and the rest is history, every square inch of every surface is signed by a guest, the music is awesome! The band tonight (Stan Street and the Hambone Blues Band) was exceptional – pity we are still exhausted from last nights effort at the Jerry Lee Lewis cafe, so only stayed for a couple of hours tonight but what we heard was amazing. So lets see what tomorrow brings!

Ground Zero Blues Club

Ground Zero Blues Club

Inside Ground Zero Blues Club

Inside Ground Zero Blues Club

Inside Ground Zero Blues Club

Inside Ground Zero Blues Club

Inside Red's Blues Club. Big A singing.

Inside Red’s Blues Club. Big A singing.

More of Red's

More of Red’s

Awesome museum

Awesome museum

 

 

3 November 2013.

Sunday is pretty dead in Clarksdale, so had to go searching for things to do – found the Blues and Rock Museum, owned by a Dutch guy and all of the contents are from his own personal collection, an amazing amount of stuff. Then it was off to have a look at the Shackup Inn, a place I originally wanted to stay but it was booked out, a bunch of plantation shacks that have been renovated on the inside. Followed that with a visit to the Riverside Hotel which used to be the hospital for Blacks where Bessie Smith died after a car accident. There was a story that a doctor who stopped to help at the scene didn’t want to have her blood in his brand new car so wouldn’t take her to the hospital, however, according to his diary there were other people to be attended to so he couldn’t leave the scene of the accident. We met a father and daughter staying there and they gave us a tour. Unfortunately the owner of the place passed away earlier this year, he apparently was a wealth of information on the original hospital and Clarksdale in general. The room where Bessie Smith died is there, the bed made up and her portrait is on the bed.

On the other side of the spectrum there is Cutrer Mansion, massive, beautiful place, an Italian Renaissance residence built in 1916 by Blanche Clark Cutrer and her husband. Blanche was the only only daughter of Clarksdale founder John Clark. She was married to  John Wesley Cutrer (an attorney) The showplace residence was where the era’s cotton-wealthy “jet-setters” lived with Italian gardeners, French chefs and entertained lavishly with masked balls and house parties. It is believed to be Tennessee Williams’ “Belle Reve” – the lost ancestral home of Blanche and Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire. Today the mansion is the centrepiece of the Coahoma Higher Education Centre. It is one of the most magnificent of the homes of the ‘millionaire’ era of clarksdale. More time to be killed so we toddled off to Tunica (about halfway back to Memphis) to check out the casinos, massive amounts of poker machines, noisy, interesting for about 5 minutes, the last of the big spenders spent $5.00 for the sake of an active photo. Then it was the piece de resistance (after a ghastly quick snack at Wendy’s) we went to Red’s Blues Club, wow!!! Big A (the singer tonight) is nephew to Jack Johnson and is just awesome! It turned out there was a bunch of Aussie blues musos there from Melbourne and as often happens they joined in and we got a whole lot more music in a jam session- loving it! So, I have been to the Crossroads!

Cotton near the Shackup Inn

Cotton near the Shackup Inn

Once the centre of Clarksdale elite society

Once the centre of Clarksdale elite society

Cutrer Mansion

Cutrer Mansion

Clarksdale Mississippi

The Riverside Hotel, used to be the hospital where Bessie Smith passed away.

The Riverside Hotel, used to be the hospital where Bessie Smith passed away.

Nice cafe, simple but tasty food, run by the Mennonite women.

Nice cafe, simple but tasty food, run by the Mennonite women.

Yes, Moonshine in a Mason jar.

Yes, Moonshine in a Mason jar.

 

The Crossroads

The Crossroads

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Jackson petrol station;

Me: Can you tell me where the centre of Jackson is?

She: Hmmmm, no,don’t know – (asks the guy behind me).

He: Yeah, this is the centre.

OK, so there is nothing much in the ‘centre’ of Jackson. We found a mall across the road which had 4 food places, all awful and hardly any shops, everything was empty. So we gave up in despair and moved on, found a McDonalds on the way and gave in to fast food for lunch.

New Orleans

Now in New Orleans, went for a little wander on Bourbon Street, went to dinner at the Gumbo Shop on St Peter Street, very overated, can’t recommend it, very disappointing, but very popular.  So back to the hotel for a couple of Hurricanes (wow, start with 4 different rums then add a few more things) a few of those and you’d be on your ear let alone in your own personal hurricane!

Wednesday 6 November 2013

OK, so I’m on my 3rd Hand Grenade! Heavens knows what’s in these things but they are darned strong! Blow your mind apart type of drink.

The explosive Hand Grenade

The explosive Hand Grenade

And I thought last night’s Hurricanes were strong! So here goes, I’ll try to edit as I go along. A tour of city and cemeteries today. A bit disapointing, the bus is a normal one so very difficult to see and take photos. (I do wish I’d done what I normally do and taken the double decker hop on hop off bus, you can see from those)

A lesson to be learned, when you find a way of seeing things that works, don’t deviate, Hop On Hop Off buses work.

The cemeteries, although interesting, are not much different to most Italian cemeteries, although for a different reason. In New Orleans the water table is so high that they can’t bury people in the normal way. So there are mauseleums and once a person is placed in there it can not be opened for 1 year and one day. To cover the fact that another member of the family may pass away before that year and a day is up there are spaces in the back wall that can be rented until such time as they can be moved into the mauseleum, a very complex system.

Dropped into WWOZ  Radio station which streams their New Orleans Live All the Way program live to Canberra’s Artsound station but, unfortunately they were in the middle of a week long fund raising exercise so were really busy. Not to worry, at least I found them.

Some houses are in permanent Halloween mode her I think.

Some houses are in permanent Halloween mode her I think.

Tropical Isles Bayou Club and a little French Cajun music Bourbon Street

Tropical Isles Bayou Club and a little French Cajun music Bourbon Street

At the Funky Pirate Club Bourbon Street

At the Funky Pirate Club Bourbon Street

River Dwellers

River Dwellers

On the Bayou swamps

On the Bayou swamps

More Funky Pirates

More Funky Pirates

Big Al Carson, really well known in the blues world at the Funky Pirate Club Bourbon Street

Big Al Carson, really well known in the blues world at the Funky Pirate Club Bourbon Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 November 2013

Couple of great days in New Orleans. Although the bus tour was disappointing and the hand grenades wiped me out, exploring this place has been awesome. I did get to learn about Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it caused (Queenslanders know about this) There is still about 40% of the city not liveable. The 9th ward got the worst and so many houses just left empty. There’s a long process for the people who were left homeless but they can return if they want and there is help but I guess some are just emotionally so devastated they aren’t dealing with it well or prefer to stay elsewhere, after all it has been a while. A walk around Frenchman Street uncovered all sorts of fascinating places.  Night time we went to a Tropical Isles Bayou blues and were introduced to French Cajun music – rather cool. That’s where the Hand Grenades got me! But I did get a standing ovation for being from Australia! Today we went on a swamp tour, that was great cruising down the swamp and meeting wild pigs and raccoons and an ibis, no ‘gators unfortunately, it was too cold (but I did get to hold a baby alligator back in the office), loved that trip. Night time discovered the Funky Pirate bar Big Al Carson (he is really big man with a big voice) stuck around for a couple of sets and a few beers (Pirate’s blood ale) – nice night!!

Friday 8 November 2013

So the ‘supposed’ French here aren’t very good at making coffee either, had the bitterest shortest espresso in the biggest paper cup, followed by an equally bitter cappuccino – sigh!! Anyway the day improved, we drove out of town to visit one of the Creole sugar plantations (not a plantation any more). Really lovely place called Oak Alley named after the 28 oak trees (300 years old) that form the alley leading up to the house. It’s not Gone with the Wind though, apparently the Creoles didn’t go in for that style of ostentation although they did live the high life. The house is lovely but not huge, with as much original furniture as they have been able to track down. The place fell apart as the original family lost it after the Civil War and it only got restored in the 1920′s. Had lunch in their restaurant, a yummy chef’s special of eggplant layered with seafood and sampled all 3 juleps, very nice indeed. Back to Bourbon Street at night, dropping into a few clubs, found some nice jazz tonight played by Steamboat Willie. Oh boy that street really gets full of people, noisy everyone drinking (you are allowed to drink in public as long as the drink is in plastic, so everything is served in plastic). There is dancing, music, performers, buskers, people on balconies throwing mardi gras beads at the people on the ground, the odd parade goes by, all the souvenir shops are open and every bar has live music, mostly no cover charge but you have to buy a drink every set and then there are the interminable tips, that’s all the bands get for their playing. It really is colourful, but by 10pm half the people are seriously drunk and the bars are overflowing with people so it was time to leave – great day though, and tomorrow is another day.

The Oaks Plantation House

The Oaks Plantation House

Near Jackson Square and the Cathedral lots of stalls, mainly psychics and tarot readers.

Near Jackson Square and the Cathedral lots of stalls, mainly psychics and tarot readers.

Off Frenchman Street

Off Frenchman Street

Bourbon Street at night

Bourbon Street at night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday 9th November

Well, this is hard to believe but this musical road trip is over!! we have been to some wonderful places and heard some great music

Wedding guests waving white handkerchiefs on Bourbon Street

Wedding guests waving white handkerchiefs on Bourbon Street  

and musicians, a bunch of CDs are winging their way home as a result. Today was spent walking to places we hadn’t been yet and finding little corners of New Orleans. Dinner was a challenge, this place goes crazy on a Saturday, or rather more crazy. Drinking starts at lunchtime and the crowds just keep building until it becomes extremely  difficult to get down the street, so finding dinner isn’t easy unless you have booked, we ended up at the Hard Rock and even that was a 30 minute wait. It sure was interesting watching the people, all the usual street performers were out and about but the new thing tonight were the wedding parades. Seems that the wedding parties walk to their venues police motorcycle in front followed by the bride and groom then all the guests waving white handkerchiefs – rather cool. Tomorrow it’s back in the air and moving on.

Sunday 10 November New Orleans

Yep, at an airport again, New Orleans Louis Armstrong, Alice has left for NY via Dallas and I’m waiting on my flight to Miami, on the road again, really looking forward to a beach!

And so it was farewell to an amazing experience and some really amazing towns – Farewell Branson, Memphis, Clarksdale and New Orleans, who knows one day I may return because you are all worth visiting again.

Fellow travellers and new travellers, consider any or all of these locations, so very much fun and essential if you are a music fan.

See you in my next blog, I may go back to following my European trail or I just might do Miami before going back – we’ll see. Whichever it is I hope to catch you n the travel trail.

Bye by for now from the Golden Oldie as the coffee quest continues.

Coffee

Coffee

The Golden Oldie Herds her Tribe to Naples

Wednesday 7 May OFF TO NAPLES

After 2 nights in Bari we were off to Naples, continuing our adventure 2 days early. This was actually great because we had a day to spare in case of bad weather. Sometimes it’s not possible to get into the Blue grotto at Capri if the weather is bad or the tides are high, so we had an extra day up our sleeves. This also meant that we had another extra day  to give us the opportunity to all be together to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum, something that under the original dates wasn’t going to happen. So off we went. Of course this is where the hotel hassles kicked in and again, eventually, it was easier to forego the money than argue – you’ll never win an argument with an Italian, unless you are prepared to spend a lot of time and energy on it – I wasn’t prepared to stress over this, I wanted a nice family holiday not arguments with hotels.

The train trip across Italy was once again uneventful and smooth (I have to say that long distance travel is just wonderful on Italian trains, as long as you go first class) until we got to Caserta for the transfer. As we were sauntering along the platform with all our luggage (luckily we hadn’t got far)  one of the boys said ‘Who’s got Babi?’ Oh no! We had left Mum’s ashes on the train! Luckily Nick can run, and run he did, retrieved Mum and was back in almost no time. That was the 3rd time we’d almost lost her, there was a little more fun ahead for her ashes.

Being a day early in Naples I had to book us into a hotel for the first night. I had decided on one in Via Giuseppe Pica, nothing spectacular but nothing amazing either. After settling in, we went out for a walk to see what we could find. Nope, Naples wasn’t any cleaner than the first time, and certainly didn’t feel any safer either. Although, hold on, yes it was cleaner! My first visit there in 2006 was a week after the end of a major garbage strike and there were piles of putrid rubbish everywhere, this time it was just it’s normal dirty self. We persevered and kept walking, amongst other things we came across a pet shop that had baby porcupines for sale, really?!

Tip
Always take photos of everything! It’s the digital world and you can delete them if you find you don’t want them. I didn’t think to take photos of the porcupines and so can’t show any proof of this.

Here is a general streetscape instead.

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Thursday 8 May

I had booked us into the Hostel of the Sun in Naples, even though not everyone was keen on hostels but I wanted to be close to the port for the day trip to Capri.  Hotels for 4 people can get a little expensive after a while, so hostel it was. There we could cook our own food as well, which Grisha and I took advantage of later. It’s actually a fun hostel to stay in and if you are a hostelling type, give it a try.

Unfortunately Nick came face to face with the most infamous type of person in Naples, the pickpocket. As we were getting on the tram at the stop on Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi Nick had his hands full with bags and backpacks, there was a lot of jostling going on and then the boys laughed seeing that the fellow doing the jostling didn’t stay on the tram. I can’t remember if I said it out loud but my first thought was ‘check your pockets’ and when he did he found that his phone was gone, luckily that was all that went as he also had his camera and wallet in his pockets. Those guys steal then  sell on that very same corner, so be careful. We actually had one of those thieves attempting to sell us an Ipad they had stolen!

Tip:
Never, ever, ever carry anything of value in your pockets!

Gentlemen, I know you sometimes feel weird carrying a ‘man bag’ but better that than losing your belongings. ( By the way, never use ‘bum bags’) they are the easiest (after pockets) to steal from. I met a couple back in ’06 in Madrid who thought they were safe by wearing their bum bag in front, the man lost everything in a crush on the airport train, he didn’t notice that the bag had been unzipped and everything taken out until much later. The same applies to backpacks. Luckily these days you can get all sorts of bags which are strengthened with wire and other materials as well as lockable zips that make thieving more difficult. It’s worth spending the money for these. Also, thieves are very familiar with all the types of bags out there so they recognize the anti-theft ones and will ignore you and pick an easier target, Of course money belts are an excellent idea as well, I don’t like them much but they are a necessity in some countries.

I got a great tip later in my trip from a 71 year old solo female traveller (Barbara, who had been in all sorts of places) regarding money belts and women, always run string or something similar from your money belt to your bra strap and secure well at both ends, that way even if someone tampers with the money belt you are ahead of them. Doesn’t help the gentlemen much – sorry, you’ll have to figure out your own extra security.

From the very beginning I knew it would be a struggle to make this part of the trip as much fun as possible. Not one of us was keen on Naples. I didn’t like it back in 2006 and the kids didn’t like it from the moment we arrived, but I knew what I had planned! Capri!

But first…………………..Pompeii and Herculaneum

Now that was an interesting experience! The train going to Pompeii (which is the same train that goes on to the Amalfi coast, as far as I could gather) was most unpleasant, old, unkempt and covered with graffiti. It looked and felt awful! However don’t let that put you off, as it turned out it was a perfectly fine way to get to Pompeii and cheap. There are, of course, other ways of getting there including organized tours if that is your preferred method of sightseeing). On the way back the boys decided that, as no one cares about anything much on these trains they could use the overhead bars as gym equipment. They were right no one cared!

Pompeii itself was somewhere between WOW! And disappointing for me

From Wikipedia – Mount Vesuvius is best known for its eruption in AD 79 that led to the burying and destruction of the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. That eruption ejected a cloud of stones, ash and fumes to a height of 20.5 miles, spewing molten rock and pulverized pumice at the rate of 1.5 million tons per second, ultimately releasing a hundred thousand times the thermal energy released by the Hiroshima bombing.[1] An estimated 16,000 people died due to hydrothermal pyroclastic flows.[2] The only surviving eyewitness account of the event consists of two letters by Pliny the Younger to the historian Tacitus.[3]

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One wow! At the entrance to Pompeii we found a lemon seller with giant lemons – Nick is demonstrating.

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The line of various refreshment stalls, including the lemon place

I’m not sure what I was expecting but probably son #1 put it best with his question ‘Where are the dead people?’ Of course there are no ‘dead people’ they all turned to dust from the heat of the volcanic explosion, but what was left were the shapes of people going about their lives caught by the lava and ash. Apparently what they did after the excavations was fill the shapes with plaster and so got the semblances of the people who were there, we found a few of these in a caged storage area.

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Of course anything of value has been removed and is now in museums. Would have been nice I think if they could create some home scenes using the moulds to give a more realistic aspect to the everyday life of ancient Pompeiians, I don’t know why archeological sites (in the main) don’t do that, particularly Pompeii, one of the rare places where the shapes of people were found, not just bones in graves..

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My wonderful, fun tribe with Vesuvius in the background.

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Keeping the streets of Pompeii clean.

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The endless tourist groups

The other thing of course was that as Pompeii was so close to the volcano the destruction was massive, so you can’t really expect that anything much would have survived (except Pliny the Younger of course). It was interesting though to see what has been excavated and imagine how the people would have lived in the town and gone about their daily lives. Homes, markets, pubs, toilets, produce storage all excavated and, luckily, labeled very well so you could use your imagination. But it did have a very ‘dead’ feeling.

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Herculaneum was somewhat different, smaller and further away from the main impact, it had a lot more detail preserved. I preferred Herculaneum mainly because there were almost whole buildings in places and even some of the wall decoration and floor mosaics are still visible. There is much more of Herculaneum but unfortunately part of Naples is standing on top of it, so excavation is impossible. Perhaps because of the decorations still preserved and a feeling of being inside peoples’ homes I think this place felt more alive and therefore we liked it better.

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One edge of Herculaneum with some new buildings in the background

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The remains of wall decorations

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A mosaic floor

The day for Capri dawned bright and sunny, so there was hope that we would make it into the grotto. So off we trekked to the port for the ferry trip.
This time  was rather different to my trip in 2006, (I don’t smoke anymore for one so there was no chatting to the crew out the back) and there were 4 of us so we did the group thing of roaming and taking photos , chatting etc. The crossing was smooth and we docked at Capri successfully. We’d noticed an ad from a boat hiring company on the ferry so went to check them out, hired a boat but had to wait a little while till one was available, so off we went exploring. I chose not to go up the very, very long set of stone steps that led to the top of Capri township, and the queue for the chairlift was too long so the kids went off up those steps while I found some lunch and roamed the port area. I was determined to find the wonderful Torta Caprese gelato that I had stumbled across back in ’06, but no one knew anything about it, I guess it has vanished in the last 8 years, they all tried to sell me the chocolate and almond gelato, perhaps the owner of the real one has moved on.

Back to the hired boat and off we went. The boys had a wonderful time driving it all around the island, it was awesome! You do have to be somewhat careful though and there is a good reason they tell you to stow your stuff in the cupboard. However, you can’t keep your camera stowed away when there is so much to photograph. Unfortunately  we got a little swamped by another boat’s wake, and Grisha’s camera got wet, that caused some consternation, luckily it turned out that it wasn’t affected, he did get onto drying it out very quickly, so I guess that the moisture didn’t reach the inner parts. So I guess the tip is to keep your camera around your neck or have someone else protect it as much as possible.

It is a delight to be able to see all of Capri from the sea. It is a beautiful island and there is plenty to photograph and lots of little surprises, certainly is a jewel, I’d love to do it again with more time, there is so much more to explore.

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The yellow building part way up the hill is the Hotel Ambassador Webber, I stayed there in 2006, wonderful hotel with a great view.

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Capri port

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Sons in control

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Rock goats

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Rock statue

We were getting a little concerned about the weather as clouds started gathering and bad weather can mean no going into the grotto or at the very least no beautiful blue in the grotto as the blue is created by how the light enters the cave. However, all was well. Getting into the grotto is quite a process, you can’t go in on your own (that would be a disaster). Entry into the grotto is by rowboat, operated by local boatmen. You pay, you climb in (they organize you in order) you get down as low as possible, preferably almost lying down as the entrance can be very low depending on the height of the water. And, oh! What a reward when you are inside and you turn around to look back towards the entrance!

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Photos can’t do it justice, if you can go and have a look yourself, it is stunning. You are rowed around the grotto and then back to your boat, lying down again as you exit.

That done it was back to the boat hire and then there was only one thing left to do. So we hopped on one of the little yellow buses and went up the winding road to Anacapri at the top of the hill. I  like tthis little village even though it is very touristy. I opted out of going on the chairlift (in recent years my ‘thing’ with heights has increased so it’s hard to enjoy an experience when you are shaking in your boots). I’m so glad I did as the report from the kids was enough to make me shrink. I hadn’t realised that they are open one-seater chairs. So if you are an intrepid adventurer and like heights I can recommend the experience as the photos they took are just wonderful!

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The Faraglioni rocks from above

So while they were traversing the heights I hung around the village and talked to the lazy cats and found charming and pretty things to look at and photograph. It’s difficult to photograph much in the way of touristy shops in Italy. Unfortunately the Italians haven’t yet realized that word of mouth and social media is a great form of advertising, so they have signs in the windows saying no photography. Those who don’t have signs come out and either yell at you or whine about photographers.  So it’s much easier to just not do it, unless you can succeed with a long distance lens.

And so my life dream had come true, and I managed to achieve it in the company of my wonderful tribe, what a bonus!

With that it was sadly back to Naples leaving the pristine waters behind.

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The lazy cat, pretty much how it is on Capri

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A hotel at Anacapri

Friday Night, Nick and Kirra stayed in a hotel on the waterfront on Via Partenope. They needed a good nights sleep before flying home the next day, we all had dinner together by the water. This part of Naples is of course much cleaner and nicer, mostly 4 star hotels and of course kept more presentable for the tourists.

My original plan was for all of us to leave on the same day but I discovered that it wasn’t going to be quite so easy for Grisha and me. We had Nick and Kirra organised a they were flying to London to connect with their flight home and Easyjet flies direct. Grisha and I on the other hand were going on to Belgrade and that proved to be a challenge. There are no direct flights from Naples to Belgrade. We could have gone to Rome and then on to Belgrade but that would have meant staying the night in Rome as there was no easy way to get to Rome and then fly out on the same day. Seriously, if you have to go to Rome then it is just not right to not spend a little time there. The easiest and cheapest way was to fly Turksh airlines via Istanbul but that meant staying 2 extra days in Naples. Being in a hostel that was our cheapest option.

So we killed a couple of extra days by going to the National Museum on Sunday to see the items they had taken out of Pompeii and Herculaneum. I found the displays amazing and needless to say many photos were taken.

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Here is one of them.

Monday we did the hop on hop off and found the rich, clean area up the hill with wonderful views of the Bay and Vesuvius.

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However, I still can’t say that I like Naples.

And so on Tuesday 14 May Grisha and I flew Turkish airlines via Istanbul to Belgrade. And THAT is a whole different episode!

Golden Oldie and tribe do Bari

We arrived in Ancona early in the morning (after a reasonably decent nights sleep in a small cabin for 4 on the ferry) and straight onto the train to Bari.

Tip:

Trains in Italy are reasonably easy to figure out, you just need to stop, take your time  and read the information on the ticket machine. Alternatively if you have no Italian at all arm yourself with some useful phrases like ‘Good Morning do you speak English?’ so you can buy tickets at the window or get one of those voice translators, they can be very helpful. Luckily I had enough Italian to understand, and the boys also managed to work a lot of information out.

This meant that we arrived in Bari 2 days early. Having no idea where our hotel was we parked ourselves on the University steps, Nick strummed his newly acquired guitar (from Gatwick) while Ginski went off searching. Hotel found we decided to check whether they could accommodate us, they did.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlthough initially we were happy it did cause a heck of a lot of hassle at the end and cost me money so I would recommend being aware that changing your itinerary at the last minute could have challenges, not the least of which is added expense. Actually, now that I’m travelling on my own I prefer not to book too far ahead, as a solo traveller you can take that risk but as a group you run the risk of not finding rooms, especially in high season

The rooms weren’t tremendous anyway and mine had a problem in that t

he bathroom floor was flat all the way through, so the shower recess (or what in a normal bathroom would have been a recess) had no lip to keep the water in the shower area. As a result the water  bypassed the drain and ran into the bedroom (luckily a tiled floor in the bedroom) , seriously! No matter what I did the water kept flowing straight past, I got into trouble because the woman decided that I’d put the mat over the drain and caused the water to by – pass, there was no explaining it to her, obviously they had never showered in their own rooms, and just as obviously this problem had been happening for a a while as there was a note on the wall saying not to put the mat over the drain! Perhaps checking why it kept happening may have been useful on their part.

The whole 2 days early thing caused a problem because although we stayed 2 nights they complained that we had to pay for the original booking of 2 nights as well’ oh dear, a lesson learned.

Bari is quite a pretty town really with a port (lots of the ferries to Greece and Croatia leave from there) and it was all dressed up for the festival so at night it was very pretty indeed.

Pavement painting
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The whole 2 days early thing caused a problem because although we stayed 2 nights they complained that we had to pay for the original booking of 2 nights as well’ oh dear, a lesson learned.

However the good part was, that being 2 days early we actually made it to the St Nicholas parade and official part of the festival (what we saw of it, the crowds lining the street made seeing anything much quite difficult). Had we arrived on the due date we would have missed the parading of the St Nicholas icon through the streets on a boat starting at 9pm, after a mass at 6pm, and then being delivered to the church of St Nicholas at midnight. I don’t think the kids were very impressed but at least they saw something different and got to walk the festival and see more of the old town. The parade was all in period costume and the whole process was acted out, it was quite interesting really.

Parading the boat with the icon                                                                                                                                              The crypt with the relics

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Crowds and stalls on the wall road                                                                                                                                         Delivering the icon to the church at midnight

The festival of St Nicholas is held to commemorate the following;

The basilica was built between 1087 and 1197, during the Italo-Norman domination of Apulia, the area previously occupied by the Byzantine Catapan of which Bari was the seat. Its foundation is related to the stealing of some of the relics of St. Nicholas from the saint’s original shrine in Myra, in what is now Turkey. When Myra passed into the hands of the Saracens, some saw it as an opportunity to move the saint’s relics to a more hospitable location. According to the justifying legend, the saint, passing by the city on his way to Rome, had chosen Bari as his burial place. There was great competition for the relics between Venice and Bari. The latter won, the relics were carried off under the noses of the lawful Greek custodians and their Muslim masters, and on May 9, 1087, were safely landed at Bari. A new church was built to shelter Nicholas’ remains and Pope Urban II was present at the consecration of the crypt in 1089.  (information taken from Wikipedia)

I don’t think that the kids were crazy about Bari but they did go for runs and we did lots of walking in the old town, and Nick did get to see the church that houses his patron saint’s relics and we took silly photos of him trying to copy the Saints pose, mission accomplished.

I noticed something weird in the feel of the place. Back in 2006 when I was there for just one night and one day, the town felt vibrant, as we wandered the streets of the old town we came across ladies, young and old, sitting outside their doors making pasta, it felt and was very charming. This time there were no ladies making pasta and the mood of the town seemed a little stagnant, even though it was festival time. A real shame because we all had expectations (based on my stories) and they didn’t really come to fruition. Sometimes, perhaps it’s best not to revisit places, or maybe it’s just the whole economic climate of Italy because I noticed a similar feeling everywhere I went in that country in the early part of my trip.

We found the best icecream ever in Bari old town. The shop was packed! Just shows how good it is, the brand is Martinucci, yum yum yum! It is so popular that, to deal with the crowd you have to pay first and get a ticket, then stand in line to be served!

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The dressed up alleys

 

 

 

 

We walked a lot, ate a lot and wandered the old town till midnight of the festival night, as always there were stalls selling all sorts of things, from food to clothes and everything in between. Once the main part of the festival was over andI had done what I’d come to do (show Nick the church and burial site of his patron saint) there was really no reason to stay on.

 

 

Wednesday 7 May

After 2 nights we were off to Naples, 2 days early which actually was good because we had a day to spare in case of bad weather.  If the seas are high or the weather rough you can’t get to the Blue grotto on Capri (I found that out in 2006 when I spent 2 nights on the island but couldn’t get to the grotto). An extra day in Naples was going to give us the opportunity to all be together to visit Pompeii an
d Herculaneum as well as Capri. So off we went. Of course this is where the hotel hassles kicked in and eventually it was easier to forego the money than argue – you’ll never win an argument with an Italian, unless you are prepared to spend a lot of time and energy on it – I wasn’t prepared to stress over this, I wanted a nice family holiday not arguments.

The trip to Naples was reasonably uneventful, the boys played cards most of the way, we read, listened to our ipods, on occasion talked and generally just killed time.  The only (almost) hitch was that we left the container of Mum’s ashes on the train when we got off, luckily the boys remembered and Nick had to make a mad dash back on the train, grab Mum and get off again before it moved – that added a touch of excitement!  I think she would have had a good laugh herself over that one. In fact Mum’s ashes have had an interesting journey, more on that later.

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