One of the things I enjoy about staying in one area for a couple of weeks is having the time to visit the lesser known towns not just the obvious places. One of those was Mechelen – about 45 minutes by train from Antwerp. This town dates back to 1473 and has a traditional town square and a wondrous cathedral (St Rombouts). Once again a summer festival was about to start so they were getting the square set up for that – they do make the most of summer here.
The streets and square of Mechelen with St Rombouts Cathedral
The best bit was taking a cruise on the River Dilje through the town – no crowds – only six of us on the boat and within 5 minutes we were drifting quietly past some lovely apartments and converted warehouses and I could spend time deciding which one I would pick if I was buying one (the Art Deco style white one with the huge windows I expect!)
We also passed the three colorful houses known as “Houses of the Little Devils” as they are adorned with carved demons. Perfect day.
Cruising the River Dilje and the Houses of the Little Devils
The still waters of the River Dilje in Mechelen
Of course I had to visit Bruges (or Brugge as the Flemish speakers would call it). It takes about 90 minutes by train from Antwerp.
Walking into town from the station I stopped off at the newly renovated Gruuthusemuseum which has been newly renovated.This used to be a medieval mansion owned by a very rich brewer in the 15th century and all the floors (very creaky wooden ones) have survived intact. As you walk through you get to see a mix of art, tapestries, lace, sculpture and the private entry to the passage direct into the neighboring church. They have done an excellent job of this restoration and it was thankfully not busy at 10 am.
Exteriors of the Gruuthusemuseum and attached church
Bust of Charles V, stained glass windows, tapestry and inlaid wooden trinket holder inside The Gruuthusemuseum
The chapel with secret passageway into the church, local lace and crockery
Yes the Centre of Bruges is pretty but it is teeming with tourists – I visited on a Thursday and had to work hard to take these photos without millions of other people in them! I liked the town and can understand why it has become so popular but like Venice and Florence I think it would be better to visit outside of the summer season.
Main square in Bruges and waterways everywhere
Beautiful buildings along the waterways at every turn plus the narrow Alley of the blind Donkey
More love of comics and the Wall of Beer – which is very long indeed – this is just a snippet
Talking of preferred smaller towns, I jumped on the train once again for just 20 minutes to visit neighboring Lier. I suppose it could be argued that this is a suburb of Antwerp but it is definitely a town in its own right – where there are virtually no tourists – just locals enjoying the summer time with a few strong beers!
The main square in Lier plus examples of some of the houses when you head down a side street
Picture perfect and quiet waterways and lanes in Lier
Loved the hand carved wooden sign posts too.
The Zimmertoren – with its beautiful clock that tells the time, the zodiac, the stars, and probably makes a beer as well!
So in summary – it was the smaller towns in Belgium that I enjoyed the most – especially at this time of year. If you find yourself in this part of the world make sure to visit some of them.
After visiting various stops in Vietnam next was Sihanoukville in Cambodia – a port in transition but as usual visiting the people in the market and at their homes was fantastic – such a gentle kind nation who have suffered so much.
In the colourful Cambodian local market
Daily life in Sihanoukville – a schoolgirl buys her lunch while on her bike.
Peaceful thoughtful people
Of course in Cambodia you have to visit a temple wherever you are (and I will be at the big one in a few days when I head to Siem Reap) but in the meantime this was the first temple (Wat Lau) we saw at this location.
Monks at the temple
Many many versions of Buddha
Pattaya in Thailand was next – never been a favourite of mine but I did enjoy the big focus on the forthcoming Year of the Rat – as this is my Chinese zodiac sign so always interesting to see how the Tat is portrayed in various parts of Asia – more to come no doubt.
Looking forward to the year of the Rat
A visit to the man made floating market was fun too
I finally got to enjoy a caviar in the surf event on Seabourn – usually I tend to be on cruises away from beaches so have only seen the pool version. In this one we are all able to disembark to a tropical island – in this case Kho Kood – and enjoy the ocean, massages, a seafood bbq and caviar served in the surf. Fun.
Kho Kood island for caviar and champagne in the surf
In Pattaya we also visited the Sanctuary of Truth – a kind of Thai version of segrada familia inasmuch as it is still being finished thirty years after it was started by a local business man who wanted to celebrate the importance of life on earth regardless of your religion. It is quite the feat of engineering as it is also only made out of wood and has no nails at all – so we had to wear hard hats inside but I think it will last a long time!
Exterior of the Sanctuary of Truth
Interiors of the Sanctuary of Truth
Now the night before disembarkation and Chris, Luisa and I say goodbye to the lovely crew.
Until next time….. but now on to Singapore for a few days.
Excited to be back in Hong Kong after a couple of years and arrived early on New Year’s Day – just in time for a demonstration – which had a large turnout but was mostly peaceful until the end when the two lions – Stephen and Stitt – outside the HSBC Asia HQ were plastered with red paint:( They have now been covered up with hoarding to be be restored – only one of two times they have been covered or moved – it happened when the Japanese invaded HK during the WW2!)
Demonstrators Hong Kong New Year’s Day 2020
HSBC lion plastered with red paint 😦
Still I do understand why these demonstrations are happening and I’m pretty sure they won’t stop so I do hope that the Chinese government come forward with some solutions or this could turn ugly. Certainly tourism has been impacted severely – hotel prices down, malls empty and generally less people about. Even the NYE celebrations were tempered with no fireworks at the end of the decade.
In spite of all that’s going on the famous HK lights at night are hard to beat and still gave me a thrill.
Hong Kong skyline at night
We also visited the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden in Kowloon for the first time. An oasis of peace in this very busy city tucked in among high rise apartments. It was a lovely spot to meander for a couple of hours. And check out that blue sky!
Chi Lin Nunnery Hong Kong
Nan Lian Gardens Hong Kong
I met up with my cruise buddies Luisa and Chris in Hong Kong as our next stop is two weeks on Seabourn Ovation.
Chris, Luisa and I enjoying the sights of Hong Kong, Peking duck and cocktails at Sevva
First stop on the cruise was Halong Bay in Northern Vietnam – a palace I haven’t been to in twenty years. I understand some parts are now very crowded with tourists but our visit took us to some quiet areas and a local village that is working to create and eco tourism culture. Plastic water bottles are no longer allowed on the Bay – that is a huge step in the right direction. This place is as lovely as I remember it:)
Beautiful Halong Bay
Halong Bay even lovelier in black and white
I skipped the stop at Danang (as I will be back there next month) and had the ship just about to myself which was rather nice.
And then on to Saigon – first visit for about four years and a city I thought I was very familiar with but an evening walk made it clear that the amount of construction that had taken place in the intervening years meant that much had changed and got a lot swankier than I remember!
But the roof top bar at the historic Rex Hotel where the foreign correspondents used to gather to watch the war (they often call it the American War over here) is still going strong and a very pleasant way to enjoy a few cocktails with great views of the city centre.
Night time views from the Rex Hotel rooftop bar in Saigon
During the day we took a two hour drive to the Mekong and then cruised down it for a few hours stopping off along the way. Nice way to spend a hot day but sad to see how much trash is chucked into the Mekong – they urgently need to take the Halong Bay approach to cleaning it up if they want to keep the tourism dollars coming in.
Rolling along the Mekong – I think the second place is a “fixer upper”!
Back in Saigon we had a foodie day visiting the medicine museum first to find out about traditional Vietnamese medicine and then to some of the local street market stalls. Colourful as ever.
It seems I was only just writing my reflections on my 2018 travels and once again as the year is drawing to an end and I am back in Seville for the 3rd time in as many years, it is a good time to reflect on the past 12 months (and to plan for the next 12!)
I counted that I visited 35 different countries during the year and 15* of those were new countries for me bringing my total to 114 countries visited in my life time so far. *The new ones were: Brazil, Uruguay, French Guiana, Trinidad and Tobago, Israel, Palestine, Bulgaria, Romania, North Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mauritius and the Seychelles.
One of my favourite things about traveling is catching up with old friends where they live, meeting up with old friends in new locations, happening to be in the same place at the same time as someone I know with no prior planning and making new friends – something I have been lucky enough to do especially on cruises. I would like to thank all those friends for making my year even better by being able to spend time with them and to those who also hosted me in their homes (and gave me unfettered use of their washing machines!) on various occasions. A BIG THANK YOU.
Rather than a post with 100 images I have picked a some faves and added the blog links for easy access to the full posts from that country if anyone is interested in finding out more or thinking of visiting.
I started off the year with Beth in Las Vegas – as you do! Then back to my beloved Vietnam for some chill time a few days in Singapore and then back to one of my second homes – the wonderful Melbourne.
The people I was lucky enough to work with at ANZ – a very special team.
Quarter 2, 2019 – Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls in Argentina; then cruising up the coast of Brazil and into the Amazon; Uruguay; French Guiana; St Lucia; Trinidad and Tobago; Canary Islands Spain; Morocco; Lisbon and Porto in Portugal; Israel; Palestine; Bulgaria; Romania; North Macedonia,
Quarter 3, 2019 – continuing my journey west from the Balkans I visited Slovenia, Hungary, Berlin, Germany and then to Denmark to embark on another cruise covering the East coast of the UK, Sweden, Norway and North Germany. A couple of weeks in Belgium and a quick hop to Rotterdam, Netherlands before starting my two months in London.
Gotta love this country – pretty, nice people and inexpensive!
Had only been here fore a long weekend before so two weeks was an amazing opportunity to see as much as possible – which I did of course. Another place where the recently of history still hangs heavy but counter art culture is thriving and it is also a reasonably cheap part of Germany. Loved it.
And at the start of November it was time for another big birthday celebration trip – this time for Trudy. Touring Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa and Mauritius (and I went on to the Seychelles) was amazing and we liked it so much we are back in SA in early 2021!
And then I needed warmth again – so off to Tenerife and La Gomera to stay with Florence and Michael
And for the Yuletide season I ran away to Seville – again!
Seasons good wishes to all
And where next?
Well I can say I will be departing 2019 and starting 2020 on a plane!Nothing new there then….
BOOKS – my two absolute favourites are starred
Given I travel a lot and because I have always loved books, I get to read and listen to Audible books a lot more than I had time to before. My favourites this year are:
All the Bernie Gunther novels – a Berlin detective series written by a Brit (Philip Kerr) and set in the 30s and 40s – it was one of the reasons I had to spend time in Berlin this year and I even called my travel buddy after him – Bernie the Berliner Bear
The Testaments – Margaret Attwood – I remember reading the original, then much later watching the TV series and unusually bought this the day it was released. Attwood writes about a dystopian world where the women’s role is scarily not as far away from today’s world as it ought to be. Let’s hope it stands as a lesson and the movement for gender equality thrives.
Becoming* – Michelle Obama – I recommend the Audible version as she reads it. Authentic autobiography by one half of a couple who seem to do the right thing whenever they can – too bad that is not recognised in the way it should be.
Everything I never told you – Celeste Ng – an excellent look at a mixed race (Asian/Caucasian) family and the things that are never spoken about. I like it so much I have waited a year to read her next book – will do that in January so that I can eke it out. Hope she write more.
Mythos – written and read by Stephen Fry (so Audible is a must) it is his take on Greek mythology as only he could do it. Accurate but funny and fascinating.
Me – Elton John. Nothing Elton John does can be anything other than fab in my books and I loved this canter through his legendary life as well as reliving things that were going on in the UK at the same time.
Last Tattoist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris – based on a true story of love and hate. This book and its sequel have become quite controversial given it is supposed to be based on a true story but either way – it is a darned good read.
The Dutch House – Ann Patchett – great writer and the story of a House and the lives of the people who live in it at various times.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter *- Kate Morton – very similar theme to the Dutch House but it also transcends time back and forth.
TV SHOWS – my two absolute favourites are starred
Although I enjoy movies my travels mean that unless I am in an English speaking country it is hard to get to see that many movies on the big screen in English. Luckily I think we live in an age where many of the best writers work on TV and cable channel now, so here are my picks for 2019. I also love that Netflix produce a lot of shows in languages other than English – so yes it requires a bit more effort to read the subtitles but that’s worth it and you almost feel fluent in any language you listen to by the end of it!
Money Heist – Spanish Ocean’s 11 type series but far more subversive. I love every bit of it of the first three seasons.
Bonus Familie – Swedish but for a change this is not “noir” at all but a light hearted look at a modern family where the divorced couple and their new spouses share child care from former relationships and have their own kids too. It’s frightfully Swedish and everything tries their best to behave properly – nice and light.
Cuckoo – a Brit comedy that I thought was silly at first but somehow keep enjoying anyway!
Succession *- Wow! And I thought I knew about succession planning!! This is the best series of the year. Keep watching – the tension builds with each episode.
The Crown – maybe the things going on in the 60s and 70s are not as exciting as the first series but we are now in an era where I remember the events occurring outside the royal family so I enjoyed the social history aspect of Season 3.
The Handmaid’s Tale – great script, acting and nail biter. Can only cope with one episode a day but boy it’s good.
Derry Girls* – adore this Northern Irish comedy set during the troubles of the 70s and 80s in Londonderry about a bunch of potty mouthed school girls – always funny and at times poignant – it is another period of history I remember well.
Killing Eve – Phoebe Waller’s writing credentials are excellent and the bizarre cat and mouse game of the two protagonists are mesmerising as are Jodie comer’s character’s clothes.
Patrick Melrose – I hated all the characters but nevertheless thought Cumberbatch was brilliant as was Hugo Weaving.
Fauda – this time an Israeli series about a former Israeli Defense force fighter who comes back into his old job. It is set in Jerusalem and Palestine and has a cliffhanger at the end of each episode. It started in 2015 but I have only just discovered it so have 3 seasons to enjoy.
Having visited four of the Canary Islands earlier this year on my cruise – and enjoying them much more than I expected – I wasn’t planning to go back to soon; but my old friends Michael and Florence (one of my first former bosses and someone who was a role model as a senior woman in business early in my career) have an apartment in Tenerife where they head for a few months a year to escape the UK Winter – and who can blame them. They kindly invited me over for week.
Arriving in Tenerife by air – rather than via ship – gives a bird’s eye view of Mount Teide which dominates the island and was the place I spent my day on my last visit. There was a tiny smattering of snow on the top but that was all gone within 24 hours!
Mount Teide from the plane
I had to blink twice to make sure I hadn’t stumbled into Sydney Harbour by mistake when we visited the exterior of this extraordinary but nevertheless familiar looking building. It is the Audtorio de Tenerife in Santa Cruz and the local symphony orchestra is housed here. It’s very popular with locals and tourists alike and even Bill Clinton has visited. No Surpise that Santa Cruz is often referred to as “the Sydney of the Atlantic”.
Auditorio de Tenerife
In the village of Candelaria is a well known Basilica – created long ago when a wood carved Madonna and child was washed up on the shore in the 1300s. The local Guanches and then the catholics took ownership of it. No-one could trace where it came from but it was seen as a sign so the Catholics subsequently built a basilica. In the 1800s a tsunami hit the basilica which is right by the sea and the carving was washed away and never seen since. Spooky or what?
Next to the church are 9 magnificent statues of the Guanches (the indigenous race on the islands before the Spanish came in) which represent the kings from that dynasty. They look really good in that setting and each one has different things in their hands to denote their area of expertise.
Statues of Los Guanches
It’s not Spain if you don’t head off to a flamenco show. I’ve seen a few but this was very good because it was non traditional – very cool costumes and choreography. After the first three photos I got told not to take any more. Oh well.
A bit of flamenco
Michael and Florence organised for us to take the ferry from Los Christianos to La Gomera (one of the lesser known of the 7 (now 8 they have a new one now) Canary Islands so I was pleased to visit one I hadn’t seen before.
La Gomera is very pretty and far less developed than many of the other islands – a great place for hiking (and no of course I was not hiking!) but others do apparently. Christopher Columbus also landed here enroute to his discoveries – a man I admire for his tenacity in exploring uncharted parts of the world (and in far less comfort than I do!)
Around and about the island of La Gomera
An overview of La Gomera with its colourful houses and the local church
Street scenes from San Sebastián the capital of La Gomera
We also stayed in a parador – the historical hotels owned by the Spanish Government which are always really well designed and in exceptional spots.
Views and grounds of the parador in La Gomera
The white building perched top left is the parador
We ended our trip with another good meal at the parador – preceded by a drink at the bar!
Florence, Michael and me!
Back in Tenerife we stopped by Los Gigantes – the name of the town and the enormous cliffs at its edge that just fall into the ocean. Majestic.
Los Gigantes – the town and the cliffs
And so after a week of sunshine and warmth – just four hours flight from cold and rainy London it was time to leave again. And here are my last views as I flew off (I do so love flying and seeing the world from above)
I braved the rather chilly climate of Germany in December. I have really enjoyed seeing more of Germany over the past two years and it’s a great opportunity to practice the language too. I like the variety of the places you can visit, the culture and love of art, the food (I grew up eating a lot of it) and the fact that everything and everywhere you stay is spotlessly clean and everything works!
First a visit to Frankfurt which I have to say is not the most exciting city to visit in Germany. It is very much a trade fair and convention town and lacks much in the way of personality.
However this was all made a lot better by two things – firstly, the Staedel Museum which unexpectedly had a fabulous exhibit of Van Gogh with a focus on how his works were bought up early in Germany (before he became a desirable artist) and also how he influenced subsequent German artist. I loved it.
Van Gogh portraits
One is a famous fake and one is the even more famous real thing – any guesses?
“Floating” (no shadows so distorted perspective) Books first by Van Gogh and then by Scharl
I also liked the Staedel as it has a Vermeer I haven’t seen before – the Geographer who is apparently staring out of the window imagining the places he is mapping out.
Vermeer’s The Geographer
Tischbein’s portrait of Goethe – there are very few of him so this is popular but not as popular as wondering why he has two left feet – it remains a mystery to this day?
The other plus was that I decided to stay about 20 minutes outside of Frankfurt in a place called Kronberg in a grand hotel that was formerly the home of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter (also Victoria) who built it after her German husband Wilhelm died. It was a lovely spot to be located and very different from Frankfurt.
Living in a grand royal house is good!
My second location was the charming town of Heidelberg – about an hour’s drive from Frankfurt. This town is often called the most beautiful in Germany and I can see why. It has everything you want from an old medieval town and is especially cute during this time of the year. As it is primarily a university town (oldest university in Germany) it is also lively with a strong international student body having a good old time as the semester was ending.
Heidelberg has an eclectic style castle (which was really a fortress) in the hills looking down on the town. It was started and added to at various time between the 1200s and the 1600s – thereafter it was captured in a battle and was no longer used and is therefore lacking things like roofs and windows but it is still very cool and beautifully lit at night. The wiggly path below leads up to another well known place – the Philosopher’s Walk. By the time I had staggered up the slope to follow the walk apparently completed by many famous writers (Mark Twain is said to have finished the Huck Finn book here) and philosophers I was thinking more about my pounding heart than things of great meaning. Then I read that these slopes used to terraces for growing grapes for making local wine so now I understand why everyone felt so philosophical! It is a wonderful walk though and gives a lovely perspective of the town.
Heidelberg Castle and the road up to Philosopher’s Walk plus this year’s Heidelberg Gluhwein mug
The castle up close and personal and views down to the river
The castle hosts the Pharmacy Museum – which i thought was great – love those bottles and jars – beautiful enough to cure you of anything without even sampling the contents!
A wooden cable car takes you to the top of the mountain you see behind the castle – it’s a long way up and I was wearing everything I had with me- nippy up there
Oh yes, and that Xmas thing was in full swing too – markets all along the Main Street of the old town with the flood lit castle in the background. Very authentic.
I’ve mentioned before that I am not a wild fan of beach destinations and now I have remembered why – when it pours with rain as it did in my three days here – bar a couple of hours there is very little else to do except watch TV box sets – am loving Succession and read and plan more travels in 2020 – so that’s what I did. However, given I was in Mauritius I knew I would never be closer again (2.5 hour flight) so decided it made sense to stop by and add it to my places visited list
A quick visit to Victoria, the smallest capital in the world – was indeed quick – it was very wet and very small. A market and a Hindu temple and ten minutes to walk around. Too wet to visit the botanical gardens
Market and inside the Hindu temple in the smallest capital in the World – Victoria
For the two hours that the sun came out I grabbed a taxi driver and asked him to drive me around the island – pretty I guess. I understand that the rules of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and other UAE locations have brought up a lot of land and are building holiday homes and hotels there. It made me laugh that although they own their massive holiday homes they all choose to stay at the Four Seasons when they visit!
Beaches but also too much over building for rich visitors – the locals are not keen on this sale of the land
Beaches of Beau Vallon where I was staying
In a way I quite enjoyed the drama of the stormy weather – and at least it remains at least 26 degrees here however wet it is:)
Storms are gathering and the light in the building is looking back at my abode.
Off to colder climes for a bit on my next stop ………
Great relaxing end to our visit to South Africa was a six day chill in Mauritius – another new country for me.
Our hotel – Sands Suites was situated on Flec en Flac (love saying that!) beach. Even when it rains it clears up very quickly so an easy place to just sit and watch the ocean.
Sands Suites Flic en Flac
We also took a walk through the forest along the coast to Tamarin Bay – very pretty.
A huge highlight for us was Walking with the Lions at Casela Park (thanks for the recommendation Lorna) and sanctuary. Luckily these animals are well fed (!) and you get an hour walking and interacting with them. Very cool – once I stopped being scared!! We spent our hour with two white lionesses. Magic.
Watching the girls do their thing
Walking with lions involves being led by them as you hang on to their tail. And like household cats they love a good petting
As we walked around the park we encountered more lions on the safari drive.
Lions having fun
And very excitingly we also got up close and personal with the white and golden tigers. They are BIG. Apparently they tried to do visitor interactions with them way back when it they tended to attack for the fun of it – so as that was not very good for business they stopped it.
Tyger Tyger burning bright
The ocean does t just look good during the day- it also produces a lot of sunsets like these.
Sunset from Sands Suites Flic en Flac
And finally I had to say bye to Trudy and Alan – as they headed off back to the UK while I am off to another beachy spot.