2013 July. Europe

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As some of you will know I finished building at Craigieburn Shopping Centre two weeks ago. I stupidly decided to have a small? party the night before I was booked to fly out. All was going well until a couple of guests decided that as it was the longest night of the year they should see how far into the night they could stretch it, thanks a heap Harry.. My departure day was filled with washing floors, carrying bottles to the recycle, locking doors and packing my bag. I’ve had to pack to suit every type of weather possible, I’m finishing the trip in Northern Scotland and Ireland, the only countries which don’t have a summer. So I am prepared, I hope, for anything and everything.
The flights on the A380’s are effortless and again thanks to my 2am finish the night before I was able to sleep in cattle-class uninterrupted for ten hours, I prefer to sleep oblivious to everything else going on. Its better than eating micro packaged food , fidgeting with the remote control and watching movies. An hour after arriving in Frankfurt I was downstairs and drawn into the efficiencies which are the German railway system. No wheat beer this trip but their seamless system makes me wonder how they lost the war. Sorry Gert and Troudl you probably want this erased….however you are winning the economical war !
I could go on about the hospitality shown to me by Gert and Troudl but suffice to say I first met them at the ripe old age of nineteen and have seen them regularly ever since. It is one of only a handful of true lifetime friendships and I cherish my visits there. To briefly become part of European family life. The fact that the communications are based completely on their ability to speak English to an Aussie makes it even more astounding. I have seen their children grow into middle age and still their parents physically push me every time we leave the house whether by foot or on a bicycle. THAT is scary.
I love my time there and their son, Stefan arrives within an hour with the choice of two bikes. Somehow he has ridden them two abreast from his home three klms away. When questioned he said its easy and you don’t have to put your foot down to rest at the lights ! The fact that his bikes are his pride and joy only makes me feel more humble.
So I was welcomed with open arms in Karlsruhe for 3pm coffee and cake. I’ve had ten days of fantastic home cooking, the great cherry harvest, beautiful early summer weather and some fantastic local bike touring over a distance of 250 klms.


Stefan and Troudl with some of her summer crop of raspberries and cherries.

On our rides in the nearby Black forest we met a local shepherd who works with sheep dogs, not common here. He had just spent eight months shearing and training with dogs in New Zealand and he was unbelievable at twisting and turning the flock with his three attentive dogs. He has been working the dogs in Hungary and on parts of the Mongolian steppes. His ears pricked up when I mentioned Australia. I would love to work cattle dogs, do you have any ? Yep, three next door in suburbia but that’s another story but I know a man who knows a man… Andrew Mackenzie, you and Mandy may hear from him via me in the future ?


Local shepherd and his sheep dogs training. 

On one of our cycling tours we took a punt across the Rhine river busy with working barges, the ferry nips between these massive moving obstacles. Whilst waiting I heard an English accent, a cheeky English accent, full of the chat, like Ryan Wallis’s. “You guys from Essex?” I asked. Yeah, what part of England are you from? “Bugger off,” I replied. They were cycling South from the Arctic Circle !!! This was their fourth or fifth week on the road and the four (three guys and one girl) were all still talking to each other. The weather in Scandinavia had been thirty-two degrees celsius, global warming… just a myth right ! They were heading down through France, Spain to Morocco then Algeria. What an adventure, 8000 klms. Probably the greatest adventure they will have in their whole adult life. in years to come they will look back at this time with great fondness, now it meant nothing.


On the Rhine ferry crossing from Germany to France, the other cyclists on board were coming from the North Pole !

So last night I was a little sad that my time was finishing in Karlsruhe, with its nearby Black Forest and rolling farmlands. But what a great start to my holiday, already I feel so much better and alive to all that the world can offer. Back to the station today and when I get off this train in five hours time I will be in Avignon and an hour away from St Remy de Provence. This will be my headquarters for the next two and a half weeks of mountain riding and occasionally observing the world’s best bike riders as they go through their paces in The Tour De France. I think the Australian sponsored Greenedge is in the mix at the moment. The first Australian team to be given an entry.

Well I should have written earlier but hell what do you write without upsetting everyone struggling through Winter at home ?  I’ve essentially done little more than lay around the pool every day for over two weeks? I arrived in St Remy. de Provence two weeks ago, to heat, real heat, 35c degree heat and low twenties overnight. It hasn’t changed at all for the whole two weeks and I hanker for a breeze, for some type of change, I come from Melbourne where every day is different.


Suddenly at speed the Tour De France riders rip past.

I had a great day on my first morning here. The Tour De France was due to fly past a town nearby and there was a smallish climb where I thought I would get my best glimpse. Of course I had forgotten to mention that I needed pedals for my hire bike….so there were none on my arrival. Good one Jeff. The hotel had a vintage ? bike sitting sulking up the back of the property. Vintage was confirmed when I eventually parked it on top of the local mountain and a silver-haired pom exclaimed “I had one of those in my youth” He didn’t have many years left in him so yes it was vintage. Anyway I pumped some life and love into the tyres and set off towards Les Baux, a rocky outcrop with a stone fort atop. I chugged up the three klm climb over the range then up into Les Baux. I was not alone yet the tour was not due through for three hours. In blistering heat I looked around for some shade, there was none. I sat my head down and read ‘All Quiet on The Western Front’ a novel that my cultural attaché, Sally had recommended to me. I think my small cycling cap saved me from guaranteed sunstroke until the tour finally whizzed past.


The crazy Tour De France caravans of sponsors entertain the crowds.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the tour caravan, a two-hour commercial extravaganza that proceeds the actual riders and had the crowd in a frenzy. What with merchandise being hurled at the unexpecting and unprotected crowd. Thwack, one plastic wrapped mobile phone fridge magnet colour yellow, the only connection it had with the tour. You try dodging a bottle of Perrier water heading at you like a missile from a float carrying young blonde girls. The only prerequisite was to be able to throw these bottles at fans for four hours/day. They probably got paid on a points system. Two points for a child, four for an adult and ten points for an elderly person who doesn’t get up again…
Finally the hoopla was over and the riders arrival was indirectly signalled by six helicopters buzzing directly above like Apocalypse Now. The riders soon whipped up the hill at a speed which was unrecognisable from the pace my hotel bike took it at. And then they were gone ? Sky team was prominent at the front as was BMC, Cadel Evan’s team. Aussies stood out with their National flag draped across their shoulders, when all the smart locals would have had them tied under their chins for protection from the beating sun !


The pool at the rental property

So that was my early excitement. The week finished, we moved into the rental house and what a house, it has everything except air conditioning. So the pool area has been given a daily belting. Trevor and Jan, Bernie and Lindy with young Jack and Emily all arrived and headed straight to the pool. Sally arrived a few days later and found if she wanted to talk to the others, it better be near the pool.


Bernie, Trevor, Jan and Lindy doing what you do on holidays.

So the first week’s guests left to head to the cricket in England or home to Australia. Ernest arrived and after failing to make contact on day one was found on day two having moved into a small hotel on the outskirts of town and barely showing any concern at all. Meanwhile I had been sending late night emails to Australia trying to make a connection it seems I was far more worried than he.
Yesterday I was determined to go and ride Mt Ventoux, the same climb that the tour riders rode two days prior on Bastille Day. Ernest and I drove out at six am and started riding from a town called Sault at eight am, it was still cool. I shall remember Sault because by days end I had lost a lot of the stuff out of my body. It is a twenty-six klm climb which starts easy and gets hard for the last eight klms when all you can see is a very dramatic lunar type landscape. We rode up silently waiting to hurt but not sure how much. You get into the zone and your body simply turns over the pedals. The klms tick by and soon the finish line is in sight and your body is very happy that it doesn’t have to do this anymore and you drink bottled water at five bucks a pop and look through sweat filled eyes at the supposedly magnificent view.


Ah, the summit of Mount Ventoux and the pain stopped.

Then the bit you’ve been waiting for, twenty-six klms of downhill on a very steep decline, you know your hands will become sore simply trying to control your speed. On the other side of the road late starters are wobbling up the hill and cars drive up between us, it’s not a good experience. Amongst all of this we miss our turnoff to Sault and end up very close to Bedouin. Once realised we stop but the damage is done. We have rolled at speed into the next valley. Read, steep hill between valleys. It was a climb of thirteen klms just to the ridge then thirteen klms down into Sault. I had no water left and pleaded like a beggar to a couple in a camper for “just a drop of water ! ” Ernest, bless him had a heart monitor and announced that he was doing fine, just under one twenty he announced. Put your finger here he said, I did as I was told. Mine was one seventy-eight and I had already been stopped for five minutes. The heat and climb had taken me very close to exploding.
We arrived back in Sault at the end of lunch, completely knackered. We sat quietly in a cafe whilst I slurped down two bottles of their best water and a tuna salad. I wasn’t happy nor was I talking till I had also demolished a double scoop of ice cream, then normality started to permeate back through my exhausted body.
Back in the black car it was roasting hot. We set off but I won’t bore you with the fact that I got lost again and took way to long to get back, circling Avignon three times at least, no we won’t talk about that. Sally arrived back by bus from a full day in Avignon. I wished there had been a bus to Sault. My navigation skills need honing, either that or a GPS must be standard issue in my next hire car…


The beautiful lavender of Southern France.

The time in St Remy de Provence had to come to an end, I was starting to live like a king, down there. The gardener came on Wednesdays and his whipper snipper made such a racket ? Thursdays was the pool man who left two olive leaves in the pool ? House cleaner on Saturday who missed a spot on the vanity, yep I was in need of a change of scenery. Saturday morning 5.30am, suddenly I am the hired help, scrubbing the vanity, packing away the dishes, cleaning out the fridge….I wanted all of my bond back before we left this luxury for Paris !
At the Avignon TGV by 8.30 after a stop to photograph the sunflowers which were trying desperately to lift their weighty heads towards the sun. Then the train back to Paris, the countryside rips past at warp speed then you are plonked down in the hustle and bustle of Paris. It’s mid thirties and European cities don’t do the heat very well nor do their deodorant resistant residents.


What can you say, sunflowers simply make you smile….

We work our way into the RER and rumble cheek to jowl to the hotel in the Montparnasse area, the 14th arrondissement of Paris. Ernest is going to hang around in Paris for six hours before heading home…to Melbourne. I think he has had a grand time and seems to just slip into whatever the situation requires, a nice way to be. The Villa Montparnasse is where it stood last time except things have changed. The room is grubby, a change to another room is barely better and there is a constant drip from the wheezing air-con. The room freshener is only hiding the dank smell of decay from the constant dripping. it is a disappointment. I have been here regularly over the last eight years and I have an allegiance that the hotel doesn’t share.
The local restaurant doesn’t disappoint though,the same ‘we don’t give a toss attitude’, the same charcuterie which is really sufficient but you yearn for other delicacies till your wallet is lighter and your stomach sags. Every table and chair has been dragged out into the street. Usually it is everyone squeezed inside yearning warmth, then stripping of layers of winter garb. In summer the restaurant simply grows as guests arrive filling the pavement in front of the office block next door. The risk of getting a plate of mispronounced offal diminishes when you have someone who speaks French on board. In the past I have always been unsure until the plate arrived. That said, I still managed to order uncooked duck….you just chew it longer. I still think I like Paris more in winter when it is truly foreign to Australians.


Long time favourite eating place in Paris comes with complete disregard from staff.

Sunday was the day, The Tour De France rolls into town after three weeks of circumnavigating France. Again it was stinking hot, the city was oppressive. I hid from the heat for much of the afternoon but at six pm set out for the Champs Élysées. The Metro was bustling as foreigners and locals alike headed to the main boulevard to greet the riders. As you surfaced from the Metro you were first blinded by the sunlight then shocked by the heaving mass of people, all there to see the 100th finish of the tour. Screens showed the riders working their way towards Paris at first they were 100 Klm’s away but within an hour and a half they were getting close. The buzz of expectation from the crowd lifted and nearby the whirling media helicopters circled like vultures.

Chanting erupted from some front row Nordic rabble. Replies came from beer filled, sun-struck Pommies who have taken this year’s winner, a Kenyan ( Froome) to be their own, a la Wimbledon and Andy Murray. Then the riders were upon us, whizzing past at over 50 Klms/hr. The crowd all raised an arm in unison to capture the moment on their phone or camera. It was like Hitler was doing a drive by. The crowd was still buzzing minutes later when a great roar surprised everyone, the French airforce did a fly over with plumes of red, blue and yellow for the Tour, steaming from their tails. I’m thinking it was a celebration of the tour but I’m still unsure maybe it wasn’t due to the Hitler sighting. Relaxed I was caught out when the riders circled the Arc de Triomphe just down the road and raced back past us, the crowd roared again and then silence.

This would go on for a while but my only thought was getting out of there before everyone decided to head down into the Metro… all at once. We head off as soon as it was over. Down the subway stairs a wall of French police stood armed to the hilt, they were all twitchy. Such a high-profile event potentially ripe for a suicide bomber and he wasn’t going to simply slip away onto the tube. But now they had to contend with a massive throng of fans all wanting to jump the turnstiles together. They we’re not going to accept bad behaviour you could see it in their faces. Further inside the urine soaked tunnels leading to line 13 there were more rail police and another ticket inspection. An hour later I was sitting out on the pavement sipping a cold beer and woofing down a chicken salad. I felt like I had seen one of sports historical moments and escaped without a scratch. I so hope Froome doesn’t test positive before I get home ! The Aussies did well with all except one finishing. The fact that we had around ten riders in the world’s best race is testimony to the caliber of our riders.
Monday morning and it’s still stinking hot, two coffees and a slow walk to the train leading to Charles de Gaulle. The hot weather and closeness on the train doesn’t make anyone smile but soon I am in the airport. Queuing with the surly Croatians, destination Split. Its elbows out in the queue, they are hard, ruthless people but I already knew that. Another queue to get up the escalator to get to customs, a queue through customs and finally a queue through to the plane. The same people trying it on at every turn yet we all sit down next to each other and we will all get out of the same door in Split.
I am looking forward to Croatia, I have worked with many and although headstrong, they are generally hospitable people. A hire car in Split then up to Bled in Slovenia for a couple of days then back into Croatia for some walking in Plitvica their famous National Park, where Robyn and Jane went a few years ago. The plane is about to land, out the window hundreds of islands shine in the sun. We may land in the sea if I don’t turn off my iPad and follow the captains instructions.


Doing the tourist thing, a row out to the church on Lake Bled.


Plitvica National Park

Hard to find a quiet time to write, the days are so busy. That is actually a lie, we have been floating about on the Dalmatian coast for three days now, all thirty-three of us. We are current chugging towards Dubrovnik, the capital. I am not a ‘cruise person’ so the thought of being cooped up on a boat worried me but all of that is over. They all say sail but there’s not a sail in sight, we motor between islands for about 3-4 hours per day. Maybe a stop for a swim along the way. Stop in an idyllic little cove with a couple of tavernas and then wait for the flotilla of other cruise ships to arrive.


Sally looking very relaxed.

The boats are of two types, old wooden and newish steel. There are other differences, the wooden boats have no air conditioning and the steel do. And the biggest difference…the wooden boats are loud with a hypnotic base beat that is louder than their engine, a passenger list that arrived fully clothed and sober and were at school less than two years ago. We are on a steel boat, we get to listen to their music whether we like it or not. We then get to watch the young get smashed after drinking in the sun for twelve hours and pass out or hide in some strangers room till mid morning. whereas I get to close the steel cabin door and lay in an air-conditioned room, you see it’s been in the high thirties every day. The stamina of the young to recuperate is amazing, each day as the sun starts to beat down they find their way back to where they first left their bags, take two berocca, give their heads a shake and go for a late breakfast.
On the first day I signed up for the white water rafting, I hadn’t even been able to sit down before I found myself waiting for a bus on the side of the road. We wind our way up across the mountain spine of the mainland to a place I still don’t have any idea where I was taken. The tour leader, a teacher making a few holiday dollars held a clipboard and systematically told each person on the bus that regulation required us to sign. That we chose this rafting of our own free will and if things went pear-shaped that it was our own fault. We all signed, we all had images of that yearly news item where there is a catastrophe and it takes days to find the bodies jammed between rocks… I tried to turn up the air on the bus. The bus kept doubling back on itself as it twisted and turned up through a deep valley that a car would struggle on. We finally arrived and tumbled out to fresh air and strong sun. We were bundled into groups of six and given a captain, a blunt speaking Croatian who drilled us in the few things you need to know. All paddle fast, right side paddle, left side paddle and bomba. Bomba is when things are going pear-shaped and it’s simply better to pull all of your body parts inside the raft so he doesn’t have to fill in a whole heap of accident forms. His speech was like most of the people we had met, free of adjectives. Their English is brutal and there is little padding, no wonder they are such good soldiers. All of the captains on each boat could easily have been soldiers.
I was positioned at the front with a Croatian speaking guy from Geelong. He laughed so I knew he had been born in Australia of Croatian parents but he was strong and we paddled well together. The spray of water that rose over us on the rapids was a welcome relief from the heat and we began to look forward to being drenching. For those sitting behind us we stopped to swim in a few spots and we slipped and slid over the rocky base falling every time we had the audacity to try to stand up. Later we stopped at a spot where a rocky outcrop leant over a deep pocket of water. One after another, like lemmings we marched to our death off the cliff edge. No such luck, back in the raft for another couple of hours till we reached our destination with all accounted for.


Our boat for a week from Split to Dubrovnik

So breakfast over I sit tapping away on the deck watching as the sun hungry Europeans fight each other for the inadequate number of deck chairs. This forces the French to fight with Danes who hiss at Germans. I am the only person wearing a t-shirt. They sat in the sun for almost every hour of sunlight yesterday and glowed like beacons as they headed off to eat in the local tavernas.

We have stopped for a swim an hour out of Dubrovnik and everyone is trying to master their dives from the boat. The daredevils jump from the third level, about seven metres up and land hoping for that perfect part in your hair and your bathers still on.I haven’t lost my bathers yet but I am only diving from level 2 at four metres. Sally showed some real bottle and jumped from the deck too much cheering and clapping, bravo girl.
My luck to have a walking tour of Dubrovnik, a STONE WALLED city when it’s 41 degrees. The whole boat hole up from the sun until late in the afternoon then at four-thirty we catch the local bus into Dubrovnik for our tour. I think Dubrovnik recorded a world record on ice cream sales today. If you couldn’t eat it you simply smeared the coldness on your body, well I did…. Our guide is old and knowledgable but seems unable to paint a picture of his city as his voice is dead flat and his projection poor. We wander in a heat driven daze from one airless church to another wishing the time away till we can escape. The only information to stay with me from the tour guide was that during the bombing of the city by the Serbs that he continually fell asleep. A human mechanism to blank it all out and or wish it all away. The other thing that stuck with me as we walked the city’s walls is the huge number of new roofs. After the war, three-quarters of the whole walled city has a new roof.


Dubrovnik, much of the city’s tiled roofs have been replaced since the bombing.

We sail ? for another island but the wind is picking up. By the time we have reached the open sea the swell has increased to a couple of metres and I realise that there are risks associated with travelling on water. My stomach starts to squirm and I curse eating so much tuna spread on dry bread for lunch. Evidently I turn as white as the paintwork on the boat and slowly burn under the baking sun unable to move about without fear of throwing up or falling down.The hardy Danish couple sip beer in front of me and smirk knowing they are willing me to lose my lunch. It is five pm when we slip into a small harbour and another hour before any blood returns to my gills. I cannot eat inside tonight and spend most of the evening on the back of the boat enjoying the quiet and cool breeze. The wind whistles through the rigging all night. The constant slapping of the flags reminding me that the wind has not gone away.
All of the days are blending together. The rough seas of mid-week have settled and so has my stomach but I cast an eye over the side each morning as we leave our mooring before eating breakfast. Each port has a fort otherwise you don’t stop, secondly every port has a nightclub either on an adjoining yacht or adjacent to the pier. I have found that particular bass sounds can actually penetrate the half-inch thick rusty steel of our sea worthy craft. I also have a complete rundown on every European summer song of 2013. They have been driven inside my skull like the salt water which rushes up my nostrils every time I dive into the water here.


Burn baby burn. Like french fries waiting to go golden brown.

Today is the last full day on the boat and we spent much of the morning moored next to a resort. An army of two thousand deck chairs stands at attention ready for the oily onslaught of three thousand sun worshippers. We were gone before things got ugly but the sea was alive with small fish and a clarity of the water I have never seen before.
Tomorrow morning I am off to London. I may have to finally wear some clothes as I have not opened my bag since we left Split on the boat a week ago. Two pairs of shorts, one bathers, two t-shirts and a pair of thongs, now that is a holiday. The holiday weather of Southern France and Croatia came to a sudden holt as the plane taxied into Gatwick airport and I started burrowing in my bags for warmth. Like most people leaving warm weather we need a touch of bitter cold to jolt us back to reality and the reality is the British Isles. They don’t do summer, well not real summer anyway.

We caught a train into London and spent a couple of nights there. On Sunday we got up early and drove to Bath but it was far from simple. Each year London puts on Londonbike a cycle ride around London which was great for my fellow cyclists but left no exit onto the M4 or any other roads out of London for cars. So I sat in gridlock for nearly two hours before finding a hole in the net to escape to the West and eventually Bath. So five hours after leaving London I pulled into a car spot in Bath. I walked the beautiful old city to try to refresh and eat lunch before getting back into the driver’s seat for the return journey. It was a shorter return trip but it still meant I had left at nine am and didn’t get back in London till nine pm.  The traffic, I couldn’t live here for all of the money in the world.


Sally, her sister Jan, her father Charles and I enjoy lunch in Bath, England.

We escaped the next morning, an early commuter train to Charring Cross then to Euston station where the train to Glasgow sat quietly. I settled into my seat and watched as the hordes that call London home scurried about, I was happiest when we pulled out into the countryside. The next five hours were like a BBC documentary of farm life with harvesters chewing on wheat. Nearby stoney old farm buildings all had a fire going ?What was that about summer…. Then it was thick forests and gurgling rivers.
Glasgow was far brighter than I expected with little of the grime of London. They are in spring clean mode here with the Commonwealth Games due next year. There is a real spring in the step of this historically industrial city. We drove fifty miles across to Edinburgh, a city of beautiful old buildings being watched over by the castle on the hill. I walked with ten thousand others to the foot of the castle at nine pm and watched as stout men in dresses played bagpipes and spindly young girls marched with straight backs and solemn faces to the tunes. I’m making the tattoo sound a little stiff but it wasn’t really like that at all. It was military precision with much fun, a two-hour extravaganza. Everyone marched from their seating back towards the main town, their arms swinging just a little higher than normal.

I picked up a bike the next morning and started my daily grind, peddling here and there. The countryside is magnificent and bar a few mechanical hitches, the bike has been carefree. I rode from Edinburgh to a place near Perth then onto the Isle of Skye, a place which is on everyone’s itinerary. The winds got stronger, the showers more frequent and the scenery more spectacular as the mountains towered over me… if you could see the tops through the clouds.
The Northern part of Scotland also has another quirky side and that is the one lane road. The canny Scots, the miserable canny Scots thought it a good idea to build one lane roads…why ? So you could back up when surprise, surprise a car comes in the other direction. It is the 21 century you guys, build a whole road not half. I feel better for that rant..


The bridge onto the Isle of Skye.

The last four days have been spent on the North coast. There are some picture perfect beaches with glistening white sand along the coast. I have shivered even after riding thirty miles and watched speechless as children and grown ups, who should know better, swam in the icy waters.


Such a beautiful beach but oh so cold in far Northern Scotland.

The hills slowly fell away as I closed in on John O’Groats which would have to be the ugliest seaside spot I have ever visited and the only reason for being is a signpost owned by a photographer. He wanted ten quid to take your photo at his sign. Have you heard of bugger off…mate ? I had taken a photo when it was unattended and he asked for a donation ? I repeated my earlier answer…


I arrive at John O’Groats.

We caught the ferry from the best pirate named town in the world, Scrabster to Stromness, on the Island of Orkney. Scrabster sends images of an eyepatch, a four-day growth and a cutlass ready for action. Eye me hearties. The daylight is almost at the point that it doesn’t go down at all up here. Ten pm and you still don’t need your car headlights on to drive home from the pub…..or do you ? Spent some time at the early settlement of Skara Brae where they have discovered a small group of stone houses buried in the sand for thousands of years, five thousand years if you believe the experts.


The buried houses of Skara Brae, said to be 5000 years old.

Also visited a series of sea walls built by Italian prisoners of war to stop the Germans sinking their ships in the protected harbours here. A terrific small church built by the Italians from a couple of army huts and some real artists amongst them copying religious pictures their mammas had put into their pockets as they left Italy to go to Africa before being captured and sent to The Orkneys. Fancy finding yourself shivering in the Orkney Islands after growing up in Italy and fighting and losing in Africa ? The only salvation was the small risk of being shot in the Orkneys so far away from the real action but then again you could easily shiver to death there.


The army Nissan hut converted to a church by the Italian prisoners of war.

A few days later we were heading South again but at a much faster rate, two days to drive down to Glasgow meant stopping near Fort William at a Bed and breakfast. The Polish receptionist, yes they are all Polish, suggested a fish restaurant nearby. So along a quiet road following the nearby Loch until I came across a fish factory and a small side building built along the no-nonsense lines of the factory. Inside there were ten or twelve tables. Seafood is all about fresh and these guys made their own so it wasn’t going to get any fresher. Needless to say the food was brilliant and every table was packed. In fact within an hour every table had been reset and filled again. I thought it would be nice to have a coffee down by the Loch, there was no wind and the mountains towered around. I sat down and relaxed, sipped two mouthfuls before the dreaded midges struck and a thick cloud of the blighter’s had me abandon the scenery and scamper back to the car to itch for the return drive. Frustrating to see such beautiful scenery but not be able to enjoy it.


The Scotish countryside was more rugged and isolated than I realised.

So back to Glasgow airport, courier the bike back to Edinburgh, rid myself of the car and catch a flight to Belfast, half an hour to the West. I picked up another car and drove two hours to Moville, a small village in the North West of Donegal and a long-term friend. Robyn’s girlfriend, Diane was sitting outside her husband’s pub in the Main Street, having a chat ’cause that’s what they do in Ireland.


Giants causeway, Northern Ireland

I have ten more days of holiday, ten days to hopefully see some of the country here. I have been here at least six or seven times and have yet to have the cloud rise to show the supposed hills and cliffs.


I got Diane and David on a bike for a lovely ride at Glenveagh National Park


A day in Derry, full of the memories of the fighting between Catholics and Protestants.

As Diane’s husband Benny once said to me, hear those waves crashing in the pea-soup fog over there, that’s the best view in Ireland. Hear, hear.  I rest my case.


Benny, Diane and young David.


My uncle Graham, cousin Merlin and Barb at home in Dublin.