Friday, 30 November 2012

Stratford under Avon

Day 61: Dutch proverb - After ebb comes flood, and friends with good....
Today was a whirlwind of travel ending in a flooded Britain...I started on the very smart high speed train (below) from Zug to Zurich airport, then I flew to London City airport, crossed the Capital by Light Railway and Tube to Marylebone Train station, where I took the train, changing at Royal Leamington Spa to splash along the tracks ending up at Stratford Upon Avon where I walked into the Q Hotel, nine hours after I'd left Switzerland & bang on schedule. ........Youd-le-he-he...Life's good!




However, as we passed through the final fields on the outskirts of Stratford upon Avon the countryside changed to resemble the great Lakes that I had just left behind...the train driver welcomes us to Stratford by Sea ....'




Thursday's Stratford Herald reports '
Rain brings flood chaos to district.... There were chaotic scenes across Stratford district as heavy downpours and widespread flooding brought misery to thousands of schoolchildren and and commuters yesterday (Wednesday 21st November)'





My weekend in Stratford has been arranged for months and I was really keen to make it for a reunion with my University friends...whatever the weather...
Weather
Whether the weather be fine
Or whether the weather be not
Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot
We'll weather the weather
Whatever the weather
Whether we like it or not
.

Author unknown

Little Wandering Wren

Location:Zug, Switzerland to Stratford Upon Avon, Warwickshire, UK

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Das Aus!

Day 59-60 A picnic in the Alps - that's cool!!!
I have arrived for 30 hours in Switzerland with an Aussie friend who has recently relocated from Aus to Zug. It was an amazing stay, here are some of the fun things we did...




The Aus Zug poster above means From Zug which I thought was apt.
Zug is a small town in the heart of Switzerland easily reached by a direct train (45 mins) which is found one escalator down in the Arrivals Hall - how good is that? It is picturesque Hans Christian Anderson type town with the old medieval buildings and cobbled streets looking like they came straight out of a fairy tale...




It is easy to see why this would be a popular place for a few years or more. Switzerland has been described as the 'Less tax, More fun'... posting for expats, and it certainly looks a wonderful life. Zug offers one of the worlds lowest tax regimes and is the reason why nearly 30,000 companies are registered here...
It's a safe, everything works, affluent but almost understated sort of a place... The kind of place from the moment you arrive, you think 'Life's Good'... Just look at the inviting first view of the snow capped Alps from the plane...




A stroll through the lanes of the old town of Zug leads past the picturesque houses and restaurants with their magnificent view of Lake Zug. On a clear non-misty day there is a great view of the mountains behind, not a lot to see today, but it was still very pretty...




Every where we turned, there were interesting buildings or statutes with great stories, such as the Greth Schell Brunnen - this fountain statue shows a figure of Greth Schell, bent over, carrying her drunken husband home in a basket....




I mentioned before that everything seems to work well in Switzerland this occurs with some planning and rules, as the below photos show. Even the dog poo bags are posh here...Woe betide anyone who keeps a dog without the necessary proof that their pooch has attended and passed all the necessary doggy behavioral lessons...
The other photo below shows the much sort out refuse bags which are kept under lock and key in the Supermarket. A roll of garbage bags costs around $40 Swiss Francs (approx $40 USD). This simple measure is effective in minimizing waste.




We take a drive out into the countryside. As we wind our way up the mountainside into and then above the clouds, we can see endless expanse of alpine ranges. We stop at the top of the Raten ranges and I feel like I'm in a Christmas card....




One word - Wow!...

Or maybe a song....

I love to go a wan-de-ring
Along the mountain tr-a-a-ck
and as I go I love to sing
My knapsack on my back
Val-deri, Val-dera, Val-deri, Val-dera - ha ha ha ha ....





It was an brilliant idea for a walk in the Alps and an absolutely perfect place for a picnic....We climbed up past the remains of earlier snow to a viewing point down to Zurich. A real 'The hills are alive with the sound of music' moment...




We take the long way back to Zug and by the end of the day, we covered some ground and seen four Lakes; Lucerne, Zug, Zurich, and Lake Aegeri.
I couldn't have imagined a better day in Switzerland - thank you so much!
Little Wandering Wren

Location:Zug, Switzerland, Europe

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Cycling in the De Hoge Veluwe National Park

Day 57 - Cycling to the Grand Masters...
When my friend left Australia to return home to the Netherlands, I promised to visit so we could go cycling in Holland together - today was that day...
We're off to a 5000 hectares park - that's maybe a small bike ride for the locals, but for me it seemed like it could be a big ask!!!
I needn't have worried, the De Hoge Veluwe National Park has 1700 free white bikes for park users to explore the 40 kilometers of cycle paths. The tracks are great, the bikes easy to pedal and all the major attractions are not too far away....




First stop is the bike park just inside the main gates to choose a bicycle of the right height. We set off to the visitors centre, museum and park shop wrapped up warmly in our hats, gloves and scarves ... It was chilly, but had all the promise of a spectacular autumn day, the park resplendent, cloaked in bright orange the leaves crunching as we cycled along the paths....




Just look at that sunshine - how lucky are we?
The park has numerous sights to enjoy in addition to the natural parkland, it is the largest privately managed conversation area in the nation. The countryside alone would be worth the visit, it is a varied landscape of heathland, woodland, peat bogs and drift sand.
However, we have things to see, places to pedal so we fortify ourselves for the day ahead with a brief stop for coffee and appeltaart in front of a roaring fire at the cafe... How lovely, I could have stayed there all day...!




The underground Park museum has interesting hands-on displays about the parklands flora and fauna, including what has lived and still lives beneath the earth's surface...
Cycling deeper into the Park we find the world famous Kroller-Muller museum which includes works by Vincent Van Gogh, Picasso, Renoir and Monet amongst others. There are also 150 sculptures in the park...




The Museum owes it's existence to Helen Kroller-Muller (1869-1939) who started collecting art early in the 1900's and collected almost 11,500 art works. Her favourite artist was Vincent Van Gogh and the collection includes the largest numbers of Van Gogh's outside the Van Gogh family...




This is one of my favourite Art Museums in the world. It is an impressive collection yet small enough to savour every painting....Being hidden deep in the park and cycling to it, adds to it's attraction...




We proceed onto the Kroller-Muller's house, currently undergoing extensive renovations it will look fabulous when finished. As the shadows lengthened, we returned to the park entrance, we reckon we cycled around 12km's that day...not bad for a foreigner...

This was a perfect day in Holland, we combined the national pastime of cycling, with amazing scenery, Vincent Van Gogh and brilliant sunshine - what more could a girl want?

Maybe dinner in an amazing restaurant? Yes, I was very lucky to be treated to dinner at De Bon Vivant... The food was great and it had a great atmosphere with much local game as you would expect given the local surrounding countryside. The menu had some great suggestions such as Grandmothers Sorrow and a warning beware the hail in the game! A brilliant end to a brilliant day...






Little Wandering Wren

Location:Hoenderloo, The Netherlands, Europe

Friday, 23 November 2012

I AMSTERDAM

Day 56 : 28 hours in Amsterdam...
Sooo what did we get up to in our 28 hours in Amsterdam?! Well we had a wonderful time with no set agenda other than to catch up, enjoy each other's company and wander around...The special thing about exploring a city with a girlfriend, is that every time we saw a place that we fancied looking in, we could!



We made our own walking tour, not one where we hit the popular tourist sights but one where we could explore the back streets and markets.... We had a brilliant time just following the canals and seeing where we ended up!


Cat barge on canal - home for all the rescue cats in Amsterdam
Every time we needed to stop, recover and warm up there was an inviting bakery tempting us in.... No wonder those ladies with the red lights are so tubby...!



For both dinners we went Spanish enjoying Tapas on the first night at Tasca Bellota.( Herenstraat 22, 1015 CB) The sangria and the tapas of chorizo picante, octopussalade etc were a perfect sharing meal. The second night we found our restaurant on the Singel, these lovely candles attracting us in....



After a perfect day in Amsterdam and our bags heavier than when we started, we took a late evening train to Appeldoorn, one hour out of the city....

I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Little Wandering Wren

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Dutch Delights...

Day 55 - Here we are in Holland...

I'm off today to meet a Dutch friend in Amsterdam...




I'm on the road for 10 days and it's Operation Easyjet to cram the impossible into my 'of course this is my hand luggage' little blue suitcase... the first challenge is to see whether the check-in staff agree...
Easyjet is a budget airline who charge extra for everything... luggage, food, magazines although not yet the toilets. Their rules are clear and specific, only one hand luggage of any sort... it's my handbag that always tips me over ........... and that's only a little fib....
It was the jobs-worth 'My father was a Communist dictator - you need to test the size of your suitcase...You do it my way... ' Prague check-in Supervisor that has left me anxious about boarding, and that's MEAN, because I was born to be in the air...'I'm a frequent flyer, my Dad was a pilot', sort-of-a-girl, who is now reduced to buying booze at the airport just to get the allowable carry-on duty free bag, to hide any bits and pieces that won't co-operate with my forceful attempts to squeeze them into little bluey....
So it was an air fist-pump moment to note that the Luton Sunday check-in staff were relaxed about their bag code and I'm on board....the plane even landed 20 minutes early - did I say how much I love flying with Easyjet?!




I took the efficient airport express train into Amsterdam Central (a bargain at €3.50) and it was a straightforward walk to find the superbly located Singel Hotel as the above map shows. The hotel was in one of the best locations and despite being fully booked, was quiet. The rooms are newly renovated, cosy, with quirky low ceilings and steep stairs, and just perfect for our needs, with very friendly reception staff.




We had much to catch up on, having not seen each other since our last International Parent Group meeting in Melbourne some 12 months ago, but it seemed a waste to stay indoors when the city awaits. We set out to explore the streets around the hotel and search for some dinner...
Walking along the iconic canals, chatting 90 to the dozen, I was reminded to be careful of the 881,000 bicycles that whizz along the streets. I had some near misses looking the wrong way...




The tall, thin, elegant canal front buildings all with their different designer rooftops house a kaleidoscope of Amsterdam's life. The respectable and the seedy co-habite side by side in seeming harmony. We pass lovely looking restaurants and cafes, bakeries, designer shops, hotels and apartments, and by contrast the aromatic coffee houses and fat women in undies sitting in their windows with a red light.




On a misty November eve Amsterdam looked amazing, the bright Christmas lights twinkling in the streets... How special to be here...
Little Wandering Wren

Location:Singel, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Poppy Day 2012

Day 48 Remembrance Sunday 11th November

It is a long time since I have been to a British Remembrance Day. Poppies have been on sale for the past month, sold by The Royal British Legion as a
symbol of remembrance of Britain's war dead...The whole Country seems to participate, even cars can be seen around wearing their poppy....




Remembrance Day was a declining tradition, but in recent years there has been a resurgence of interest, as the Country also remembers casualties from recent wars. Britain sadly sees soldier after soldier return home having lost their lives serving in Afghanistan, so far in 2012 there have been 377 coalition casualties.
The annual tradition, to acknowledge the fallen on the 11th minute of the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, dates from the exact time ‘some 94 years ago’ when an armistice was signed between the German and Allied Forces bringing an end to World War I.
Today we gather at St Helen's church in the pretty village of Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire for the annual Rememberance Day parade. As we walk towards the Church we are passed by children in their Cub Scouts uniforms scampering down the street to join in. "Excuse me..." says a small child with a large flag rushing past...There is a big crowd of people...




As the Parade gathers the Police close the road. The long line of marchers is mostly made up from children from the various scouting groups but is headed up by the Women's Institute accompanied by a couple of ex service men with their medals, followed by the Firemen and other local dignitaries.




The Parade halts at the war memorial outside the Church, and poppy wreaths are laid in solemn silence, one by one. Each acknowledged by those laying the wreath with a step back and either a bow or a salute at the foot of the stone cross. The children with their posies are accompanied by two attendants do the same. The whole village falls silent as the bugler plays the haunting notes of the last post.




At the going down of the sun,
and in the morning,
we will remember them


Little Wandering Wren

Location:Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire, UK

Friday, 9 November 2012

Beautiful Prague in the autumn

Day 42-45 London to Prague, Czech Republic 1377 km's
Prague is an amazing place at any time of year, but add in the rich colours of autumn into the mix of majestic buildings with their red rooftops, and you can't go wrong for a quick European break...



I have offered to treat each of our children to a quick city break at the European city of their dreams... Jigs has chosen Prague - good choice!! I haven't been here since just after the Velvet Revolution on November 17, 1989. Prague is a popular tourist destination and is now the 6th most visited city in Europe.p...It is easy to see why... The city was relatively untouched by World War II bombs and everywhere you look there are amazing buildings...



Travel is easy, with lots of options from the traditional below, to the efficient and cheap Metro and bus system. A 24 hour unlimited transport pass is only $5 US.



We are staying at Hotel General, who give us a glass of bubbly and a really warm welcome - our room is lovely with a chocolate on our pillow, although there is a very stern looking large painting of General with a sword above our bed!



We join one of those free walking tours, the sort that you tip at the end according to your means and enjoyment... Stormy clouds gather overhead and we start at the famous Charles Bridge at sunset...As the day turns to night the twinkling lights from the castle beckon us upwards....



The tour takes us through the Lesser town , meandering our way up through the ancient cobbled streets, through grand squares with huge Palaces, up to the sprawling Prague Castle..It is impressive and magical....



The next day we are off to join another free walking tour to see the Old Town and Jewish quarter. We meet at the Old Town Square and for the first time bump into hordes of tourists waiting for the Astronomical Clock to perform it's hourly party trick.



Every hour on the hour, from 8am to 8pm, wooden saints emerge from trap doors, while below them, a lesson in medieval morality is enacted by Greed, Vanity, Death and the Turk. It takes some explanation to figure out the complicated zodiac figures on the clock's face, reputedly there are some occult mysteries encoded in them...



Where ever we turn there is something interesting to look at... The city's multilayer history dates back to the Holy Roman Empire. The Baroque, Rococo and Art Nouveau.



In the afternoon we take a Communist and Nuclear Bunker tour...Prague was under Communist rule for over 40 years. It was a time in the Country's dark history full of paranoia, spying and violence...



Part of the daily life was the fear from a nuclear war. Facilities were built, which could be used to hide the civil population and save citizen's from the radioactivity brought by nuclear bombs and long range missiles. Daily life was one of false alarms, trainings with gas masks and atomic suits...

On our final day we retrace our steps to see a few things we missed when first passing....



Lovers Locks - If you walk along the Mala Strana, near the Lennon Wall, in Prague you will see small locks on the gate over the canal. Legend has it that when you find your true love you carve your names on a lock and lock it onto the gate. You then throw the key in to the canal.



John Lennon wall was an ordinary wall until it was covered with John Lennon graffiti and Beatles lyrics. The Wall represents a monument to free speech and the non-violent rebellion of Czech youth against the regime. It was a small war of Czech people against the communist police who cleaned the wall until it kept coming back, and back....Some say it is Prague’s equivalent of the Berlin Wall.

Food & drink: It's time for a break and we stop for some Trdelnik, a traditional cake and sweet pastry, made from rolled dough, wrapped around a stick then grilled and topped with sugar...yummy!



There are lots of options to eat. Traditional Czech food is quite heavily meat based, but it is all washed down with a pint of the brown, frothy stuff. The Czechs regard their locally produced beers as a national treasure. The girls in India got me into beer with a curry - beer after a day's sightseeing is good!

One final picture, here are a few of my favourite things I will remember from Prague....


Prague is a great city to visit, I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a short European break....

Little Wandering Wren

Location:Prague, Czech Republic

Thursday, 8 November 2012

A new VIP coat at Harrods - Woof, Woof!

πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§ Day 38 - London Town...
Today I'm off to the Big Smoke to catch up with an old college friend whom I haven't seen for nearly 20 years.

It was a bright and sunny day...the British start every conversation with some observation about the weather and today's sunshine is particularly noteworthy because:
1. It seems to be a rare occurrence and.....
2. Yesterday it snowed in some parts of the Country... I know, I know, it's not even winter yet...that's the point....
3. A true Aussie lass would never dream of leaving home without her sunnies, and today I gave up on British sunshine and regretted it...


I jumped off my National Express coach from Oxford at Marble Arch trundling my old battered 'yes of course this fits the criteria as hand luggage' suitcase through Hyde Park, past Speakers Corner and around the Serpentine Lake with paddle boats and tourists feeding the ducks and the cyclists wobbling around on their blue TFL bikes... all enjoying a last and grateful boost of vitamin D....

London looked fabulous, I got lost in Knightsbridge and ended up at Sloane Square. I reckon I could happily 'do' London if the opportunity ever presented for a couple of years...Especially in this part of London...Dream on! I hear TIM saying...

Having grown up as a country girl this was interesting to me, a lightbulb moment reflecting that as my entire adult life has now been spent in the cities I was more a city chick than country....

We had arranged to meet at the main entrance of Britain's most famous store Harrods, which should have been easy except that there are a gazillion ways in...
Sorry Madam you can't come in.....
....What the ...? But I have my posh I'm going to London clothes on....?????
...Madam, you need to leave your luggage at the Baggage storage department....


Phew! Five minutes later and £3 and my bag lighter, my old blue suitcase is nestled amongst her new Prada friends and I'm in....

Gotta love Harrods, as we settle in for the long haul at the outside
Terrace restaurant, gentle wafts of warm air blow onto our laps from underneath the table......... I kid you not.....


Everything is Posh - here is my Ploughmans lunch, complete with quail egg!

It was brilliant to meet up again after all these years. The thing about good friends is that it feels like you have never been apart, even though we were both only on Baby No. 1 when we last met! It was fun filling in the gaps in each others lives and swapping stories about Africa and the Middle East, Asia and Australia. We stayed so long that afternoon cream teas were being served when we left.....


The last time we meet we had one year olds.....

Afterwards I could not resist the chance for a quick peak in The Harrods Pet Spa, especially as my poor little pooch is sitting at home poorly and feeling very sorry for himself....


The Harrods Pet Spa offers the ultimate pampering and grooming experience in a 3,000 square foot pet-delicious haven - all VIP's: Very Important Pets are invited to enter the store by one special door only......

Dogs and puppies can choose from the following:
* Wash and fluff
* Blueberry and Vanilla Facial
* Aromatherapy Bath and Body massage
* Oatmeal Healing Bath
* Thalassotherapy Mud Bath



Each Pet being groomed, preened, indulged and revitalised can be watched through a special glass screen - see above a mutt like ours having a pet-icure and not squealing and protesting so the whole street can hear, 'like wot happens at our place...'

The family Pet - cat, rabbit, hamster or tortoise can all come and enjoy these indulgent spa treatments including tear stain removal, fresh breath treatment and my favourite...Tortoise Olive Oil Treatment and Pedicure!!

Whilst the pets are pampered their owners can indulge in some break-the-bank retail therapy with exclusive brands such as Holly & Lil with the "Jimmy Choo of dog collars" made from Italian calf leather and decorated with Charms, beads and semi precious inlays....



Or a perhaps a little something more down to earth and patriotic...?


These animals will be hungry when they've finished but no worries The Canine Cookie Company have plenty of attractive hand-made, gourmet pet treats and celebration cakes.



Their promotional material explains Our hand-made gourmet pet treats and celebration cakes are made with organic, human-grade ingredients - free from additives, preservatives, added salt and sugars and all products are tested on humans!


Get Well Soon Mutt - shame you are not over here as you could have had some pet pampering to cheer you up....

Little Wandering Wren

Location:London