James and I crewed on two yacht deliveries from Hawaii to Australia in the 80’s. Each day at sunset, the entire crew would sit in the cockpit and talk about where we had just been, where we were going and especially where we wanted to sail too.
Certainly, one place that we all dreamed of was the wild and remote Marquesas Islands. It was one that was still on the bucket list, albeit with the idea of sailing on a yacht.
Imagine my delight when Sandy Lawson came by with a brochure of the Aranui 5, a hybrid freighter cruiser, which leaves Papeete and sails via the Tuamoto Islands to the Marquesas Islands. Imagine my surprise when James said “Yes”.
We are visiting Papeete for the first time since 1985 and staying for two days. This gives us time to reconnect with French Polynesia and get ready for the cruise, strolling through Papeete with Rick and Sandy. There are some new buildings and a lovely new information centre and park. Many of the older buildings are looking decidedly shabby chic, still the ladies making flower garlands and crowns are still beautiful to view. The old wooden Church looks the same and the market looks newer, with gorgeous entertainment.
We visited the wonderful Robert Wan Pearl museum. They have an amazing selection of pearls as well as the Pearl museum.
We missed the Le Trucks, they were so efficient and available. We waited for a bus for almost an hour and finally stalked a taxi at Carrefour. Le Trucks are still working on Bora Bora, which was good to see.
The most interesting food was at the local food trucks called Les Roulettes. Each evening you walk down to a local car park and watch as the food truck set up their stoves and barbecues outside the truck. We had wonderful MahiMahi, entrecote steak and chow mein. We didn’t have crepes but they were available too. The serving sizes were huge and the food was delicious.
Papeete is lovely to explore but book a tour or get a taxi because public transport isn’t easy, unless you take a ferry. Try the food trucks and the markets as well as the restaurants. Bring your insect repellant and sun screen and plan for a wonderful time.
Our next journey was to Lake Iseo. Of the Italian lakes, Lago Iseo is the fourth largest; it is the lake that charms Italians. Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped the small island of San Paolo and you could literally walk over the lake between Sulzano and Monte Isola. Look online for the photos, I am so sad I missed it.
It is quieter with no tourist buses, yet with some wonderful guest houses and restaurants in the midst of the central Alps. Our real reason is because it is a great stop off point to Val Camonica to see prehistoric petroglyphs.
Since I can’t pretend to be a scholar, I will just advise you to google Val Camonica and rock drawings to find information on this prehistoric site on Wikipedia and UNESCO.org. Briefly to give you the Cliff’s Notes on the drawings from UNESCO: Val Camonica
“has more than 140,000 symbols and figures carved in the rock over a period of 8,000 years and depicting themes connected with agriculture, war, navigation and magic.”
We left Lake Iseo very early to take the train up to Capo di Ponte and on arrival, had to find the way to get on the other side of the train line. Just then someone popped up from underground and we were able to see her subterranean passage.
Running Man looks a bit like Kokopelli, a petroglyph from the American Southwest. Running Man may have been a priest or a man with feathers in his hair or a man blessed by the sun. Kokopelli is always portrayed playing a flute but the resemblance is striking. Perhaps Running Man is a younger Kokopelli, before his back hunched.
This took us right off the beaten track but the journey was fascinating. We took the train to the northernmost point of Lake Iseo and caught the ferry back to Sulzano by way of Monte Isola.
While it is fascinating to view the hundreds of rock drawings easily found walking around the National Park, the countryside is beautiful. Chestnuts, birch, pines and beautiful alpine flowers and mosses. It is a truly beautiful area.
Just before closing, we climb up to the Castle Spire and look out over Sirmione. Tomorrow we will walk out to the pine trees and the tip of the peninsula to the Roman Villa and have a swim. From here we can see just where we are going.
Mountains hidden in the marine haze and other villages across the lake, like Salo are hidden behind the trees. The castle ramparts are exactly the right place to visit for a cool breeze and to escape the crowds.
D.H. Lawrence wrote travelogues from Lake Garda, Twilight in Italy and I wonder if he came up to the ramparts of the castle and looked over Catullus’ Grotto. Ernest Hemingway, Henry James and Edith Wharton also wrote about the Italian Lakes.
We head out to the Roman Ruins early the next day. Although it is known that the Roman poet Catullus had a home in Sirmione, they haven’t proved this was the villa. We pass by cypress and olive groves and come to a museum and open air ruins.
Regardless of who built this villa, we feel a connection. The owner built the villa with views across the lake. There are masses of arches and windows, so they didn’t lose the view.
Perched on the headland, the villa is nestled in cypress and olives. The skeleton of the building remains, much of the rest has been taken away to build elsewhere.
The beach is just below the Villa and there are pools to walk through and enjoy the coolness of the water, without diving into the deep water of the lake.
Lake Garda is so large and so Mediterranean in climate, we feel there might be a boat waiting for us. Yet while there were only ferries, we were still happy on the water. We only travelled to the lower lake because there aren’t ferries going everywhere and returning on the same day.
When you are deciding where to stay, if you are getting about without a car, then our suggestion would be in the Centro Storico or Old Town. Sirmione’s Centro has Roman ruins, museums and castles. The castle even has a drawbridge, which incites a romantic notion of knights and jousts. The swans gliding through the moat was quite picturesque.
Probably the best way to arrive at Sirmione is to take the train to Desenzano del garde, the bus down the hill and jump on the ferry to Sirmione. Unless you come by ferry from another town, this would seem the best option. Once you know when your ferry departs, if you have time, you can have a coffee or some wonderful gelato in the piazza.
There is a spa that you can visit and also you can walk or take the Nonno’s train to the Roman ruins. Catullus is said to have had a villa here. He certainly seems to write a poem about coming back to the peninsula of Sirmioni.
Every night there seemed to be a free concert both of a more classical style and also jazz on the beach full of drums and even a didgeridoo. In the evening a lot of the crowds would leave and it was wonderful to wait and stroll around town from cafe to music. Like Catullus, we might try to write a poem about returning to Sirmioni.
Feeling happy escaping the crowds, we would walk and wander waiting for the twilight. More on the Roman Villa tomorrow.
Our main reason for visiting Bolzano was for a chance to meet Otzi. It was quite like stepping back in history, visiting the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology.
Let me give you a guide to how far back we have traveled back: Otzi’s DNA is over 5300 years old. How old is that? It is before Stonehenge was created and before the Egyptians built the Pyramids. Otzi is a Neolithic man, a man of the copper age and he did have an axe head that was made of copper.
About 5 ft 3 inches, although he is an original fit Paleo-man, Otzi had hardening of the arteries. His Y DNA was able to connect his ancestors to Sardinia, although scientists could tell Otzi had not been to Sardinia himself. He was a herder and was quite sophisticated for his time. He was dressed in the skins of domesticated animals, goats, cow and sheep skin, with a bear skin hat. Otzi sported several tattoos which may have been decorative or a form of acupuncture. We know from scientists that Otzi was lactose intolerant, probably had Lyme disease and bad teeth. After all he had lived to the strapping age of 48 years.
The same scientists are able to tell us what Otzi dined on for his final meal: ibex (wild goat), fruit of black thorn and unleavened bread.
Two more interesting facts about Otzi’s DNA: His mother’s line or mitochondrial DNA is no longer found in existence today but 19 men in the Tyrol area do share the same Y DNA code as Otzi. You can see Otzi as he looks today at the museum in Bolzano, but the photo above is taken of a “life like reconstruction” using the amazing craftsmanship and latest of forensic methods of Adrie and Alfons Kennis. If you are in this part of Italy, visit Otzi. It opens up so much information about human life and there is more that we share in our lives no matter how many years intervene.
In the evening, we walked around the mountain town and joined a concert in the town square. We could see that the people of Bolzano are always prepared for an emergency.
This is a town we might visit again on a walking tour or perhaps a wine tour. For us Bolzano was the start of our Neolithic tour of the mid- latitudes. It was wonderful to meet Otzi and know I might have passed a family member in the street.
Çesky Krumlov was mentioned almost every time we mentioned we were going to Prague. I would hear “it’s delightful” and I would say “interesting, what is so delightful about Çesky Krumlov?” Almost no one answered, but now when I recommend it, I can tell you why it is the second most visited village in Czechoslovakia. This medieval village is seriously photogenic, historic, arty and the food was wonderful. It is the village you have to plan to visit and it takes more than just jumping on a train to get here. We left Prague on one bus, then another, travelled for over two hours and just managed to get the bus driver to let us off at the correct spot.
After a wander around the town, it was wonderful to go through the castle. Not all three hundred rooms but enough to see what splendour the former royalty lived in. The water coloured tower is the beginning of the castle.
There is a splendid archway to link the Castle and the Theatre.
This UNESCO World Heritage site is so picturesque and so green. The medieval towers, buildings and bridges are quite lovely. We also love the idea of local ales and wines. Our favourite sign was Fairy Tale House Puppets and Wine.
There were art galleries on every corner and several types of art. So if you find yourself in Prague, add a brief interlude in Çesky Krumlov, enjoy the meandering River Vltava and trust that you will have a delightful time.
The Charles Bridge is beautiful with numerous grand religious statues on its edges. I have used this photo of the bridge because so many of the people on the bridge are taking selfies and others have photographers doing glamour shoots. These are mainly young women with boyfriends looking on. It is quite remarkable. In fact, for some, it isn’t a photo of the Charles Bridge or the Stare Mesto or a cathedral unless you are posed in front of it. Prague is such a fairy tale setting, they have come to a wonderful spot. The bridge was built in 1357 for Charles IV, the first bridge to cross the River Vltava.
One of the best ways to see Prague is to do a tour and we were so lucky to have Pavla from Premiant tours to take three of us up hills and on the river giving us history, sharing information and answering questions. Prague is a University town and if Pavla’s passion and knowledge about Prague, history and art were generated with free university, than I think that affordable education is very worthwhile.
We started in the Old Town and wandered through the Jewish Quarter and had a cruise on the river, then we went up to Prague Castle and further up to gardens and the Strahov Monastery. The monks are back and they seem to have brought back a sense of humour with them. If you didn’t know Czech people are very fond of an ale or beer. In fact, Budweiser beer was first brewed here. But the monks of St Norbert have their own take on drinking. Does anyone else see a zombie theme with the Autumn Dark Lager?
Once you pass through a narrow lane, you walk down the to the walls of the monastery and there is a wonderful outlook back over Old Town, red tile roofs fill the foreground and the dome and belfry of Church of St Nicholas are easy to spot. Further on I can see the spires of the Tyn Church and to its right, Stare Mesto. There are other spires and churches but I can’t name them all. The architecture in Prague is easy to see and ranges from Gothic to Renaissance and Romanesque to Baroque and Modern.
St Vitus’s Cathedral and the Tyn Church are probably the easiest Gothic architecture to discover. You possibly couldn’t miss them. The Royal Garden takes more investigation to find and has a building with Renaissance sgraffito which is magnificent.
Isn’t this sublime, like a fine piece of lace. Tulips came here before they came to Holland. I think that would be another story all together.
These aren’t philosophical thoughts or even educated thoughts, they are the thoughts that popped into my head when we walked around Prague.
Thought number one: Because Berlin was bombed in the War, it is now modern and fresh. Prague is simply, beautifully magical because it wasn’t bombed. It looks like the set to a movie, it looks like the set to Disneyland. Perhaps because the Communists didn’t change or improve Prague, we have much of the vision of Charles IV to enjoy.
Thought number two: Did Walt Disney visit Prague and base the Disney Logo on Prague Castle? No, but it did reference the Tyn Church in Prague. The chief designer of the Disney Castle, Herbert Ryman took the best of half a dozen Chateaus and Castles and the Tyn Church to create the magic castles in Disney parks and movies. (Thanks Wikipedia)
Prague is so bewitching, so alluring, it is a city of bridges and spires.
Thought number three: How can you read this clock?
The Prague Astronomical clock from medieval times, gives not just the time but the position of the planets. Is Mercury in retrograde? It is also the number one spot for pickpockets, so watch your wallet.
I am all out of thoughts but we visited some incredible cafes, including the Black Madonna and the wonderful Cafe Slavia with a baby grand.
I might as well start with a Mea Culpa. Even with the best advice, from three friends, we managed not to be organised enough to go to the Reichstag, the German Parliament building and see the amazing glass dome. The best advice is to do a detailed registration early perhaps online, have breakfast or coffee at the Kafer, the rooftop restaurant and beat the crowds. Visit the official website for information: bundestag.de The Reichstag books out early, plan ahead.
One other mea culpa was not leaving at least one day for Potsdam. As it turned out, our last day in Berlin, James wasn’t well and so we stayed close to the hotel. Four days for Berlin is not enough. Potsdam is a worthy place to visit by all accounts.
Berlin is a city of museums, galleries, history, music and culture. Museum Island was incredible with several museums of sterling quality on the northern half of this small island.
My favourite was definitely the Pergamon Museum, with the Pergamon Altar, the Hittite carvings and the Ishtar Gate. As a young student, we read about Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the king had his 8th magnificent Gate made out of glazed brick. Saying I was overwhelmed seems fairly prosaic but this gate is beautiful and beyond what I had imagined. What do you think? Now I try to imagine what the Hanging Gardens looked like.
Near the centre of Berlin, we visited the Eastside Gallery, over a kilometre of the Wall is here and much of it is covered in graffiti and essentially it is a monument to freedom. It wasn’t just a wall but several parallel walls, with glass and barbed wire to keep people in. Visiting the East Side Gallery did let me feel like I was in East Berlin.
After visiting several museums and going out to CheckPoint Charlie and the Eastside Gallery, we decided to go to the Konzerthaus and have a look. There was a tremendous outdoor cafe and buskers performing wonderful music. This was my favourite with his violin, his music immersed us into this scene of Berlin life.
Berlin is turning on its best blue skies for us. The Brandenburg Tor was magnificent, with the blue sky framing the city.
Most of Berlin seems to hide behind a bit of scaffolding and bollards. The Brandenburg Gate was no different. We stroll back down the boulevard, flanked by Consulates, five star hotels and a Starbucks.
The views above were not the views that President Reagan saw when he gave his inspired speech to “Tear down this wall, Mr Gorbachev”. He was looking from the Western side and saw the rear of the chariot. A potent message, for the past 30 years, that walls aren’t the answer.
Several people asked if we stayed in East Berlin or West Berlin and it is hard to answer. We stayed in Mitte, Mitte meaning central or middle, was definitely split in the middle. But you can’t see the lines of East and West in this area today. It is so fresh and rebuilt so beautifully it is hard to pinpoint. Now there are quite a few embassies near the Brandenburg Tor and we went for coffee at Einsteins, we found out it was formerly the preferred coffee house for Russian spies and their friends.
We walked to Museum Island, looking up at Humboldt’s statue then passing through a Pinch gut of a lane near the German Historical museum or Zeughaus. Stencilled onto the footpath, BEWARE PICKPOCKETS, three more steps and we are descended on by a swarm of people with clipboards, wanting to interview us. “Sign our petition”.
We said No and continued walking, but they corned a Chinese man going the other way who screamed “No, No, No” in English and they swarmed him. Feral. Quite frightening.
I hope he had his hand on his wallet and phone. You can’t intervene because part of the scam is that a “tourist” might come your aid and then as soon as you relax, he is off with your wallet.
We spent several hours on Museum Island, a blog post in itself, but as the jetlag pressed in, we decided to go on a river trip on the River Spree. We needed the sunshine and views, after our thirty two hour flight and Berlin offered it in Spades.