Friday, April 30, 2010


.WARSAW Friday 31st April

Today was a short sleave shirt day well and truly. Temperatures were well over
20 C and the fleece jacket I set out with was soon stuffed into my back pack.
Of course the advantage is the very mild twilight, which once again people took
advantage of. They were out in the park again and dinning out.

Still plenty of school groups and even yellow jacket wearing pre-schoolers.
There was a group of late middle age cyclists also in the goups special t

I wandered around the city again, today moving into side and back streets. The
streets were a mixture of tiny shops, and appartment buildings. Some of them
were many floors high.

At mid day I waited in the castle square to watch the military parade that
looked like beginning. Finially it did. The band played a few short fanfares,
the company of soldiers did a few rifle manouvers and then the did a short
march and then marched off to be dismissed. In between a few announcements were
made on the PA system.

Not really the 30 minute wait I suppose but I do find it interesting to stand
around and watch people. It helps me begin to get the feel of the local

I am particularly impressed by the school groups. By NZ standards they seem
hopelessly under staffed. Howeve, the students were extremely well behaved. I
watched one group set off from their assembly point to catch the light rail. No
one counted them off or even check that everyone was in tow. I think that group
was Italian.

Once again I went into a great variety of Catholic churches, usually ornately
fitted out in baroque style. I think that some were seriously over done, but
that is how things are done.

Wandering around the New Town which joins onto the Old Town. The New Town is not
exactly "new" as it was developed over 100 years agao and then rebuilt after
being destroyed in World War 2. I found a plaque in the pavement marking out the
postion of the wall from the Warsaw Ghetto. Above it on the wall of the building
was a descriptive plaque explaining the Ghetto significance,
Around 350,000 Jews were squeezed into the Ghetto and most either died from
sickness or in one or other of the concentration camps. Before WW2 around one
third of Warsaw's population were Jewish, but now there are very few and only
one synagogue.

I made my first supermarket visit of the trip – well to a mini market to be
correct. I bought a couple of oranges, four bananas and bottle water -voda.
This is the land of sparkling bottled water. That makes me very happy.

There were several brides and grooms wandering around having formal photos taken
around the place. That's fun to watch as well and I look at the photograqpher's
style and think back to my time as a part time wedding photographer.

Lunch was a banana and sparkling water, but for dinner I dined out. I went
aqround the corner to a Polish resturant which offered Russian dumplings with a
cup of 'grandma's broth" I think grandma was a fan of Maggi or Oxo rather than
good old stock. They also served apple pie in XXL size. I could not finish it.
The apple filling was at least an inch thick – very nice, just too much.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


I was a bit disorintated waking up this morning. My watch read 6:30am but I was
convinced it was wrong, but the phone and computer both agreed with it. No
window to look out of, just a skylight above. Not much help. I could hear
voices to looked out my door and saw folk all dressed up in outdoor clothing.
Ah- still confused but when I finally found a local TV station it confirmed the
early time. This is a TV lovers place there are literally hundreds of channels
available via satelite. Plenty I had never heard of and all the Asian, Middle
East and European channels I pick up at home and so many more. But so far I
have yet to find one in English.

Breakfast is provided from 8:30 to 11 am. A couple cereal choices, Polish cold
saussage, cold boiled egg halves, two cheeses, a mixture of bread and rolls and
tomato. Filtered coffee as well. Breakfast is included in the cost of my private
room whereas dorm guests have to pay extra for it.

There is a very pleasant radio station being played in the dinning room with a
mixture of classical, film sound track music and that's about it. I like it and
they do not seem to have any adverts either. The guy on reception was whistling
along with one of the classical tracks this morning, so obviously it is his
choice of music.

When I went out about 10am, the streets were not that busy. But during the day
the number of pedestrians got much bigger and when I came back to the hostel
about 8pm the place was really humming with lots of walkers and lots of people
eating out – and I mean out – in the multitude of resturants with areas of
outdoor seating.

During the day I was interested to notice the large number of orderly school
groups moving around the Old Town. There were also hundreds of other young
people, including many small groups of teen age girls. All very fashionably
dressed and all seemed to be photographing each other. Quite anumber of these
were setting up fashion magazine type poses. All very interesting to watch.

Lots of young couples, often sitting on steps or seats happily entwined and
obivious to the passers by. Later, after 6pm I was wandering around a very
pleasant city park and noticed that each park seat had a couple on it of a
variety of ages. Some were same sex pairs but all seemed to be happily
chatting. Some were also watching their young children playing near by.

Park had enough trees to be a woodland. They all had fresh young green leaves
and there were lovely flower beds and several fountains playing. Actually the
city area I have been in is full of flowers. There are rows of raised planter
boxes along the curb as well as window boxes often added colour to an otherwise
drab side street.

At the park gate I was able to watch a changing of the guard. Two soldiers are
on duty at the eternal flame shrine and an officer and the two replacements
came marching across the plaza with Russian like marching and heavy foot steps.

Near the Old Town, in front of the Presidential Palace there was a series of
large poster boards forming an exhibition about the recent plane crash and the
resulting return of the bodies and the funeral just a week or so ago. People
wandered around them reading captions and being quiet and reverential. Along
the fence a hundred or so red oil and candel lanterns were burning and being
added to. Therre were also some flowers. The sense of national sorrow was still


These photos are low resolution shots taken on my video camera's still function.
They are a few general shots taken around the Old Town. Actually it is and it
isn't the "Old Town".
In World War 2 the Old Town was more or less totally destroyed. However, the
Poles have rebuilt the area as it originally was. So, it is the Old Town, only
a rebuild, if you get my drift.
What ever way, it is quite a pretty place to wander around. Lots of school
groups hear too. All very well behaved too.


UP UP AND AWAY (for 27th April)

April 27th has arrived and after unexpect busy day, it was off to the airport by
6pm. I like to be amongst the earleir passengers to arrive so that I have more
chance of getting the seat I have set up on line. There were about 20 in the
queue but only 2 check in operators, so progress was slow.
The flight was full and departed more than 40 minutes late. The excuse to get
the right number of meals loaded and some special meals which had not turned
up. So we were a little late arriving in LAX.

Meals were resonable, fresh and never seemed over cooked or over warmed up. BUt
not exactly memorable. For movies I watched Lonely Bones and an old western The
Gunfighter from around 1950. I also watched The Simple Man.

The flight had to gothrough some bumpy weather - what the flight captian later
described as a "roller coaster ride". At one point the plane suddenly dropped
for several seconds followed by a bump as it reachers stable air.The drop must
have seemed longer than it actually was. It did produce quite a few screams and
shouts in the cabin.
LA International Airpot lived up to its reputation of being stuffy, slow,
congested and requiring lots of lining up.
Despite being transit on the same plane, we still had to join a long line
stretching down a hallway. There were three officials fron US Immigration
processing our arrival, taking imprint of the right hand finger prints and a
facial photo. The official I dealt with though was much friendlier than I have
usually experienced at LAX.
We spread over the same two rooms we were in 6 or 8 years ago. The haven't
changed except that the bisuits and chips di not run out this time. Ity would
be too generous to call the rooms "lounges". Holding pens would be a better

LAX to LHR was again packed and similar endurance test, although a couple of
hurs shorter than across the Pacific.
Films watched: The second half of Avatar, having seen the first half on DVD
recently but not finished it. Also another classic movie from around 1949 - Key
Largo and it stood up very well. A great example of the studio factory system
which existed at the time.

I had a fiver hour layover in Terminal 1 at Heathrow airport in London. So it
was a chance to wander around the shops and have a hot drink and a sandwich.
Just imagine the price of a sandwich in NZ and just change the pound symbola
NZ$ sign. That made the sandwich around $NZ12. A copy of The Guardian newspaper
was one pound, ut it was nice to get it in full for a change. I get the Guardian
summary emailed to me eqch day and have done for several years. Strangely
today's print edition was not very interesting unless you are following the UK
election run up.

I travelled to Warsaw on LOT Polish Airlines. At Heathrow you have to keep
watching a departure baord to fine out which gate to go to. They only put the
details of the gate up about 35 minutes before bording. Actually it was a 20
minute walk to gate 46 for Lot. The plane wasriendly establishment. full but
luckily I was in row three so did n't have to push down the plane. However,
they boarded from the back and by the time I got to my seat all the overhead
lockers were full so my backpack had to go under the seat in front which did
not give me much leg room. It apperas everyone brings a trolly cabin bag.

The plane was a little worn but they served a fresh filled roll, beverages and
then a chocolate coated waffer biscuit of the type so like by Eastern
Europeans. Although I had a window seat that was not much use as we flew
through or sometimes above, cloud. Over Poland I did manage to see the
twinkling lights of a few small towns.
We this was the only passport check since I landed in EU.

I caught the route bus into town as it stopped right outside the hostel. Turned
out to be a very simple task. The hardest thing was climbing the 88 steps to
the top floor hostel. A small f

Flight times: Auckland to London = 26 hours 30 mins
Waiting at Heathrow terminal 5 hours
London to Warsaw = 2 hours 30 mins.

Adds up to a total travel time of 34 hours

Friday, April 23, 2010

Russian Visa Arrives

Today started off well. The courier service arrived with my entry visa from the Embassy of the Russian Federation.
This was my third attempt to get it and for the previous two, the Embassy found something in the application which was not to their requirements. Now thanks to emails between my Norwegian travel agent and myself, enough documentation has been provided and the visa granted.

Friday, April 16, 2010

More Pictures from the Tranz Alpine Trip

A chance for Robyn to read The Press, but the view out the window soon took over again

 Lake Sarah


Excuse the reflections on the train window. But hey, that's how we saw the views too.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


The day dawned wet, dull and grey - which seemed to suit the fact that we were in Greymouth, the largest township along the west coast.
As we had a few hours to spend before departure we had time to wander around the shops again, visit an art gallery or two, including one showing work by a local photographer, We found a cafe with character along the road beside the Grey River. Ver sort of retro about its fittings (or lack of them), furniture. Walls were just yellow painted brick. However, the staff (one) was friendly and the coffee and food good. Amongst the various photographs and paintings displayed on the walls, Robyn found a couple of small posters whgich she can use in her professional development sessions. She was very happy.
The train left on time at 1:45pm and it was raining. We had been tokd that the train was sold out, but in the end we had two spare seats around our table for the whole trip. Which was good. Sitting facing a couple you do not know for four hours may not always be pleasant - but on the other hand it can work out well. However, we both ended up with a window seat. And we were on the norther side, the 'scenic side'.
Most of the rest of the carriage was filled with a tourist party - mostly Australians. Yes they were loud at times (often), they did rag each other steadily and once the even tried to start a sing song going. As we got closer to
Christchurch and journeys end, they got more excited about the party they planned to have that evening.
The west coast part of the trip was damp, misty and dull lighting - but still picturesque. From Arthur's Pass onwards the sky cleared and sunshine often covered the landscape.
Travelling in the late afternoon did allow us to enjoy the wonderfull lighting as we rode across the Canterbury Plains.
A short shuttle ride and we were back at the Windsor Hotel to a friendly welcome and the same room we had two nights ago.
It has been a very enjoyable trip and I would be more than happy to get further birthday presents like this in future years. )Hint)

Tranz Alpine - The Train

Top: Passengers race to get on board after the engine horn was sounded.
Bottom: A long queue of Asian tourists line up to board the train for a one section ride to Arthur's Pass station.


Yesterday, Tuesday 13th, Robyn and I flew to Christchurch in order to do the famous Tranz Alpine train ride across the South Island. We had been planning to do this trip for a long time. So to speed the process up, Robyn gave me a ticket voucher for my last birthday, but with the proviso that she came on the trip as well.
So we made the arrangements and flew down to Christchurch and our accomodation at the Windsor Hotel. I have stayed there a couple times before and so qualify for the returners' discount. But it was Robyn's first stay there. Now it would be true to say that she had built up an impression of the hotel has being somewhere she would rather not stay at.
However, once she got there she realised that it was quite different to what she had imagained. In fact she loved it and would be happy to return - which we will do after the train trip.
We used the afternoon to wander the shops, have a free tram ride (thanks to the hotel), buy a trolly bag fro Robyn to use on her coming overseas trip. Then we went to see the kiwi movie BOY at the Metro Cinema, a quirky art house. And what a delightfull cinema to go to. They gave us an extra seat for the trolly bag even though there were only about 40 seats in that particular auditorium.
We woke early, so that we would have time for the free breakfast, cereal, fruit, juice and a hot course of bacon eggs etc. Promptly at 7:30am the shuttle arrived to take us to the station.
It seemed crowded when it left at 8:15am, but we did pick up extra passengers along the way - including several bus loads of Japanese who rode through from Darfield to Arthur's Pass.
Generally, the best views were on the right side of the train -that's the north side. We were on the left, but hopefully will get the good seats for the return trip.
Despite the lack of snow on the mountains, the trip was very interesting and we did manage to get some good views of rivers gorges and mountains. Most photos we took through the window were spoilt by reflections, but hey! that's how we saw the views anyway.
We had elected to stay overnight in Greymouth so when we arrived at 12:30pm, made our way to the Noah's Ark Backpackers. This hostel is close to the station and was once a Cathloic prespertory for the numerous priests serving in the ajoining church. Well we assume 'numerous' because of the size of the hostel building. It is now a designated historic place. The church was demolished as in was badly damaged in an earthquake 20 years or so back.
The hostel had personalised each room with an animal theme. We are staying in the Zebra Room, which is next to the Elephant Room and down the hallway from the Husky dorm.
While we did wander the streets a bit, the wind was cold and when we came back from a non-descript meal at a local hotel, were very pleased to find a space heater at work warming the hostel.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Today there was a bit of a problem with the trip planning.
My visa application to enter Russia was returned  by courier at 8am with the comment that the inviting host company was not recognised. This was already my second application. Time is running out!
I emailed Pasvik Turist, the Norwegian travel company which I am arranging the Russian visit through. They are located in Kirkenes, just minutes from the Russian border in Northern Noway.
Amazingly, by 8pm, they had sent me a reissued invitiation with a changed Russian tour company number.
Now, I will be able to get it couriered off tomorrow morning.
It takes seven days to be worked on by the Russian Embassy, so it just has time to get back to me before departure date.
If it is rejected once more, then I will spend an extra day in the village of Inari in the Sami area of Finland, then move on to Kirkenes and have more time for local tours.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Here are some photos I took in the Czech Republic on my immediate post retirement trip. I think that it is a very beautiful country to visit and in the towns almost every street corner has an interesting picture round it. The top photo is a close up of the detail on a Russian doll - the sort with an identical collection of small versions inside. I rather like my close up shots of various dolls and also the night time shot of Prague Castle. It is posible to take lots of photos at night in central Prague as so many buildings are floodlit. The Castle shot was a slow exposure hand held but resting on the railings along the river bank. I had several attempts but this was the best result.

I know that these photos are now dated in terms of my travels but never the less it is nice to share them.
1. Russian Doll
2.-4 The lovely village of Telc. Very picturesque and is the place I spent my birthday (12 October). I would happily go back again. I stayed in one of the delightful buildings on the main square and shown in picture 3.

5. Ceske Kromlov a small town or large village which is a very popular tourist day trip.
6. Ollamouc is a small city which tries to attract tourists, but is a bit out of the way for most.
7. Prague Castleby night.
8. Jazz band busking on the Charles Bridge, one of the main tourist areas
9. Looking down on the city, river and bridges.
10. A back street in Prague.
11. The main square in the Old Town area of Prague.


So here we are, in a bit closer. I will be going to Longyearbyen which, with just over 2000 residents, is the largest settlement on the island. The main occupations seem to be tourism and mining although this is declining. In fact, my accommodation will be in one of the old minners' hostels which has now been turned into a guest house.Click on the map a couple of times to enlarge it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


For anyone who does not know where Svalbard is ( ok be honest ), here is a map. As you can see, the place is quite a way north and isn't a place that lots of tourists go to. I plan to be there in late June when the temperatures are expected to be around 8 to 12 degrees C.


It is just a couple of weeks before I am heading off on the BIG trip for 2010.
This trip I am going to travel around the Baltic Sea by land. I will be starting in Poland then Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden.
Along the way I will be doing side trips into Murmansk (Russia) and to Longyearbyen on Svalbard.

Take off day is 27th April.
I hope you will join me as I trip along for the 90 days before I land back in Auckland.