Travelling with a Guitar

The last time, actually the last several times, we did extensive or overseas travel I took my little 8 string ukulele to torment my wife with. The ukulele is a cool little instrument, don’t get me wrong, but its not a guitar. And I’m not Israel Kamakawiwo. Actually I’m no Van Morrison either, with the possible exception of temperament, but that’s not the issue here.

I decided, prior to embarking in Auckland 6 weeks ago, that this time I needed to travel with a guitar. I have recently bought a new and rather expensive guitar. But… I didn’t think it appropriate to try and load this new instrument onto a plane. When I bought my new (dreadnought size) guitar I also tested a small Yamaha electric/acoustic travel guitar and was very taken with it and ideas started to germinate.

I told my wife, our navigator, this prior to departure hoping she might suggest that I purchase one of these for our trip. Nope. In fact she used that time tested technique of deflection and delay by suggesting it might be worth looking at something like that when we got back. Clever.

So I found myself in Auckland, for some reason I cant now recall, on my own not long after this disappointing discussion. I also cant now recall why but I also found myself quite nearby a music/instrument shop. I went in for a browse. You know the rest. Its not a Yamaha but an Alvarez. Its guaranteed travel size, well its 88cm rather than the 85cm that airlines categorise as travel size but what do they know? For a small guitar it sounds good and would certainly do so in Van Morrisons hands and it came with its own bag.

I owned up as soon as I got home. As it was fait accompli as they say in France there was relatively little discussion although a degree of surprise expressed.

Air NZ had no issue with me carrying my new acquisition onto the plane and popping it in the overhead for our trip to Tokyo. No problem. The BA ground agent at Narita for our trip to London was a little dubious but a more senior person came to our rescue and the Alvarez traveled to Heathrow in the overhead on that flight as well. All good. Rental cars and trains no problem of course. As we progressed through Europe to the point where it was inevitable that we would be taking short flights rather than trains and travelling near the back of the plane I started to become slightly worried.

SAS to Norway and back no real problem. It helped that I Ive got a Star Alliance gold card and upgraded us to the front of the plane. I had also by then become something of an expert in the rules published on airline websites regarding the carriage of musical instruments and what constitutes “hand baggage” allowed in the cabin.

The little Alvarez travelled in its own seat in our mobile home and had a seat belt even. It got used most nights. I had become attached to it and would hate to see it stranded in some airport somewhere.

The real challenge came after our week in Italy and prior to our Wizz Air flight to Sofia. I could see, based on the website rules and various blogs, that this wasn’t going to go well for us. I had spent several days worrying about it and thinking through all the alternatives. The travel bag it is in is robust but soft so I am not sure how well it would go in the hold on a budget airline. Our Wizz Air seats from Milan to Sofia had cost something like 10 Euros each. I added “Wizz Air Priority” which got us a short cut at security (and just as well), choice of seats, and extra hand baggage allowance (but still only one hold bag each) which added almost another 100 Euros and was still hundreds cheaper than the major airline alternative.

Wizz “Priority” didn’t mean they would necessarily be good with me carrying a small guitar on board as hand baggage though so there was risk. I was reconciled to purchasing an “extra bag” and trying to put the Alvarez through as Checked Baggage despite airlines sometimes refusing to allow this because of the fact that they break them quite regularly and people get all pissy.

Then I wondered to myself…if it had its own seat in the mobile home why couldn’t it have its own seat on a plane? I engaged my brain and did a little bit of research and some checking on seat prices compared with extra bag prices. Long story short…I bought the Alvarez its own seat which was about the same price as buying an extra checked bag on my ticket. With the added advantage of the Alvarez also getting a cabin baggage allowance of its own.

Unfortunately I did this on-line and long after I had bought our tickets and chosen our seats. The website didn’t like that nor the fact that there was no passport number for the guitar but I was able to make up a D.O.B. and the residential address part seemed straightforward. It was all legal but it did create maximum confusion at Milan Bergamo airport as we checked in. This was after an almost detour to Venice compliments of Miss Garmin which already had us rattled and having to line up with the masses. That had us totally confused because that never happens provided we travel Star Alliance. Wizz is so very egalitarian. And cheap. Even for guitars.

It all worked out. It took ages, much gesticulating, many loud phone calls conducted in Italian sprinkled with some English words I recognised, and all the while the lines dwindled to zero people…only us. We had to have our seats changed from the exit row I had selected so that we could sit with the guitar. The weird thing was they put us in 20-something D and F with no-one between us in E and the guitar was over the aisle in 20 something A with no-one in B but someone in C. It just all seemed very odd but quite workable in an Italian Wizz Air kind of a way.

The guitar made it to Sofia, no one asked for a passport, and is now in Greece with us.

The next challenge is BA back to London tomorrow. I have been worrying about this and putting off buying an extra checked bag. I am glad I did because it was expensive and leaving it until the last minute has turned up a much better option…again. We can upgrade to business (a today only special apparently), and get a much more generous baggage allowance, for not much more than the cost of buying an extra checked bag for the guitar. Go figure. I might even get it a nice place in an overhead.

Norway Round 2; Atlantic Coast, Western Fjords, Lakes, Mountains, Glaciers and back to Oslo

Our first night in our apartment on wheels was not quite level. I think we didn’t even bother with the levellers (two bits of plastic ramp that you are supposed to drive up if parked on a slope). The slope was mostly down toward the front of the vehicle so we slid down the bed and out rather than across it which was good.

By a few days in though we were getting pretty good at this. First night the chardonnay had to be only half a glass because of the slope, by now though our glasses could be at least three quarters full. We did have one near disaster as I tried to get too clever with the levellers and we sort of fell off.

So this instalment covers a number of ferry crossings, mountains, lakes, and Fjords; Geiranger, Nordfjord, Sonjefjord, Lysefjord, Hardanger. We also got to Norways second city, Bergen, which we were a wee bit disappointed in. Its really interesting and the old part is a UNESCO site but totally over-run with tourists.

The first stage though was a drive out to Kristiansund, which seems to be an oil services city, on the Atlantic coast. Kristiansund did have a well stocked vinomonopoly where I restocked the mobile cellar having done the supply and demand math quite badly. I Know no-one will believe me but it was mostly about the supply side. Kristiansund was, apart from the wine shop, somewhat boring by comparison with the previous few days.

The tourist route from Kristiansund going south is a piece of engineering excellence starting with the 6km long, 250m deep, 10% grade, Atlantic tunnel which is an open ocean tunnel connecting Kristiansund with an adjacent island. From there the road “island hops” via a series of bridges along the coast connecting various towns and villages. Its only about a 30km but truly outstanding drive. There was one stop where they had built a walkway out around the coast and where you could see some of the bridges they had constructed, and there was a unique art piece made from flotsam.




It was at the end of this route, while looking for somewhere to moor and have lunch that we had our run-in with a local van driver pretending to be a Viking. I felt I had done everything right by slowing right down and pulling over to the right. With the possible exception of actually indicating left and then giving him (or possibly his Kid who was in the passenger seat and reported me) the middle finger when he used his horn.

I know…How many things I could have done better.  But I only indicated left because that was my original intent in order to execute a 3 point U-turn.  It was an abundance of caution that made me pull over to the right to think through the other possibilities and not create a problem.  And as for my other hand signals…so easily misinterpreted.

Anyway, enough said. Doors were locked, window was only cracked open, and he didn’t actually punch the window hard enough to do any damage. Had it been my face he probably would have.

From there we headed to a small town at the beginning of one of the Fjord tourist routes that went over the Trollstigen (trolls road) and then down to Geiranger Fjord for the next days adventure. This was our first experience of navigating the Motorhome over what was genuinely long stretches of single lane (or perhaps not even single lane).

The narrow mountain pass road went from sea level to about 900m at 10% grade over a series of switchbacks that actually gave me some sympathy for the navigator when my side of the vehicle was on the outside of the road. I had read the website and was confident that we wouldn’t have to deal with any large vehicles given the length restriction. However the Bus companies had not read that rule.

At the summit was a stopping area and visitor centre designed by a famous architect to show off the amazing view which in our case was cloud and drizzle but was nevertheless amazing.


From there the road wound its way more reasonably a little higher and then down a mountain valley to a ferry across a Fjord and then up another valley to another pass and down into Geiranger on another narrow series of switchbacks.


This road into Geiranger is where one of the most famous stopping points and photographic points in Norway is found. We didn’t know at that point that there were other stunning Fjords and more, maybe similar but better, vistas so were stunned. Neither words nor photos can do it justice.

The little town of Geiranger itself was a bit of a disappointment being so highly touristed and with a cruise ship on the town pier but the scenery made up for it. Instead of taking the road out through the mountains we decided to take a 3 or 4 times daily vehicle ferry an hours transit down the fjord to another town and find somewhere to camp near there.  All along the Fjord there are abandoned (and a very few still functioning) “farms” on the steepest of slopes.  And the seven sisters waterfalls.  Amazing.

What’s really interesting and a little scary is that somewhere in this Fjord along the route of the ferry there is a large slab of mountain ready to slide into the water.  When it does there will be a wave that wipes out Geiranger and changes the whole Fjord so get in quick if you want to see it as it is now. They say that geologists are monitoring it and will provide advanced warning.  Geology is not a precise science.



I could go on. From there it was a series of ever higher mountain passes, stunning fjords, ferries, tunnels (see the GPS post), the Norwegian Galcier and Climate Center, and ever narrower roads. Photos are here and of course we have many more but as the saying goes, they just don’t do it justice.



Bergen was in there somewhere as a stopping point. It was strategic during WW2 as it is an ice free harbour and has easy access to the Atlantic. The old town is a UNESCO world heritage site and is well preserved right down to the wood paved alleys between all the old timber buildings. Needless to say fire has been an issue over the centuries. The fish market area is pretty cool but was over run by tourists.

The best thing about Bergen for me was finding a Telia cell shop so I could top up my Norwegian SIM after discovering that Snapchat can consume 16Gigabytes in 2 or 3 days. Since turning this idiot app off (and limiting hot spot access) the 6MB top up I bought has lasted weeks through Norway, Italy, Bulgaria and Greece(thanks to the EU all European cell services are seamless between countries).

Finding the Telia shop did conflict with finding a wool shop which had been researched and anticipated.  This was something I realised only after a frosty reception from the navigator to my joy at finding someone to get me back on line.

After Bergen we found a lakeside town where all the trees on the way into town had little jumpers knitted by local people.  Some were just that and some were more sculptural.  We found a guitar playing lady wrapped around one of the trees.  We didnt have time to jam but I did get a photo.

We found a waterfall that was pretty impressive and more mountains, of course, and more Fjords…duh.






The one road that finally did my head in was on our last day on the west coast. We were indecisive about it but in the end decided to do one last tourist route which was a circuit that (in hindsight) involved about 6 hours of driving (some in reverse) to cover what was maybe less than 200km. At the bottom of the valley we were in at the start the navigator had looked at the mountain and said “Look up there, that looks like a road, cant be the one we are doing”. Yep.

I don’t have a head for heights. So I am guessing what made it even more interesting for the navigator was the fact that I had my eyes closed for some of the time. See the pics (although I don’t think there are any pics of the vertiginous road up).

By now we were also out of wine as the monopoly guys close mid day Saturday and open again Monday. Sometimes a friendly bar or camping ground operator will sell you something at a significant profit, but generally by Saturday afternoon its all over. Can you imagine?

From there it was back to somewhere close enough to Oslo to enable us to get back to the depot before 11AM the next day. Too easy. 2 hours on mostly motorway around Oslo and there we were. I could not believe that we got the apartment on wheels back without a single scratch or ding it didn’t already have and with all the food and wine gone. We were back on the train and into the city by lunchtime with quite an unexpected adventure behind us.

In Oslo we saw the sights we hadn’t seen on the first day. We missed a Oslo Philharmonia concert by a day…they were setting up outside the palace. There were multiple cruise ships in the harbour and many people on the streets including the inevitable retinue of “beggars” and their dodgy looking minders. I am sure I recognised some of them from our time in Sofia. So much so that when I got back to the hotel I realised I had been relieved of the signed receipt from the motor home rental which had been in my pocket. I am usually so careful but must have been lulled into a false sense of Norwegian security.

More fool me they also found about 200 Euro in Norwegian Krona that had been earmarked for dinner. Needless to say we didn’t starve. We had headed to a Michelin recommended restaurant but they were fully booked and recommended another place a couple of blocks away. In hindsight it was good we couldn’t get into our first choice. This was the place whose signature dish was the smoked beetroot tartare and who were very surprised to learn that we had the very same dish in Trondheim.  I could go on in infinite detail but that’s it. A mystery prize of 2 weeks in Norway because it was so frigging hot in Milan. Next morning a train ride to the airport and there we were on SAS back to Milan.

GPS Technology

Admittedly our GPS was bought in Bulgaria about 10 years ago. It is a Garmin and did come with free European map updates and a special update for Bulgaria. It took us a while all those years ago to figure out how to get the updates and how to avoid it mistaking us for Bulgarians but we got there.

Over the years there have been numerous episodes ranging from the hilarious to the downright dangerous with this thing but for the most part she (we call it a she) has been more or less reliable. There was the episode in Italy where she avoided a highway which could have taken us (James was driving and Josh was navigator and Linda and I were in the back which was good with me) by highway to our hotel in about 20 minutes and instead over some mountain pass, via small villages, local weddings, and one lane roads for 2 hours of white knuckle roller coaster fun. We still quote Josh on occasion…”getting pretty close to the edge sunshine” …he may have been quoted (with some embellishment) on occasion in Norway.

She dings when there is a speed camera. But she also randomly dings when there isn’t a speed camera which tends to make for some erratic driving and angry tailgaters. On occasion she has simply given up or repeatedly said “recalculating” (and we have given her a really annoying Aussie accent) until we turn her off. When she doesn’t really know the answer we have found ourselves going around in circles, or she just says “you have reached your destination” and stops talking and sometimes she was right and sometimes she was wrong. Sometimes maps haven’t updated and we find ourselves on a local road with a 6 lane highway, going our way, beside us but with no way of getting onto it.

Mostly though we have reached our destination about when we should with relatively few wrong way-one way roads.

This trip has been different.

I guess you need IT nerds actually doing the work with updating these things, but the IT nerds at Garmin need to get out more because they seem to think that Norway just isn’t really part of Europe. And I guess with the very northern parts of Scotland having these Nordic overtones from a long way back the same rationale seems to have been applied to northern Scotland. The weird thing is sometimes she was exactly right and even understood Norwegian tunnels and sometimes we might as well have been driving on an adjacent planet. When she has no idea where we are but does understand a destination she just shows a little picture of a car but no roads and text that says “driving in Norway”. All roads lead to Rome right?

None of that was really very disturbing because we could mostly wing it and also a well executed U-turn can be a thing a beauty, especially in a 3 tonne motor home. The worst thing though was when she implied that she knew what was going on but muddled her left and right. Excuse me but how the **** do you explain that?

We had booked tickets on WizzAir to go from Bergamo to Sofia (there’s another story) and were going to drop the rental car off at the airport, a 10 minute drive from Bergamo Centro, in time to check in and get on the plane. That is after negotiating a boarding pass for my guitar (that’s part of the other story). Ms Garmin muddled stay left with stay right at a large high speed round-about and we found ourselves back on the A3, going through a toll booth on our way to Venice. This was about the only time on this trip I have declined the opportunity to execute a U-turn when it was perhaps, theoretically, possible. Actually not possible theoretically or otherwise, all the painted arrows on the road pointed in the direction we were mistakenly headed. I kept having images of that YouTube video of tourists doing u turns on motorway on ramps.

The GPS is impassive. She was getting the full abuse as we drove past the airport on the A3 knowing that the airport exit was at the same place we had entered. All she had in response (after the rather impractical suggestion to “make a U-turn” was “drive 30km and exit on the right”.

Norwegian tunnels are a marvel of science and engineering. For the most part they are two way roads built underground. Many 10km or more long and often subject to automatic tolling. We even had cars, and on one occasion a truck, overtake us in these tunnels which was a whole new experience.

We went through two that had large roundabouts in the middle of them and roads that went off through some intersecting tunnel. The GPS recognised the roundabouts but by the time we reached them she had no satellite data on which to base her advice and was strangely silent…not even a “recalculating” just a deafening silence implying; “take your pick”. One tunnel roundabout we exited onto the wrong intersecting tunnel and ended up going somewhere unintended, which advice we got only once we day-lighted. U turn before the toll point and back to the roundabout to have another crack.

The tunnel that didn’t confuse her but did confuse us was a spiral.  The whole tunnel was a spiral. The GPS map looked like a bowl of spaghetti.

Apart from the Bergamo incident she was pretty good in Italy. The only real incidents, apart from her dyslexia and awful pronunciation of Italian street names, were when my memory of how to get somewhere was different to her instruction and we either went my way and screwed things up or I was undecided and still screwed things up.

We have decided to retire her and rely on google maps going forward. However Google Maps were frankly equally as unreliable when the going got tough.  I reckon if these GPS nerds can take the traffic alert thing a step further and provide real time updates regarding vehicles coming your way on some of those Norwegian roads they will be onto something.

But really…There just isnt any substitute for having a good old fashioned paper map that you can study ahead of time, work out a route and use your own on-board computer nestling up there in your cranium, to do the work.

Oslo to Trondheim & North

Oslo – Rondane National Park – Sollia – Trondheim – Helgeland/ the Western Arctic

The Norwegians have 18 “national tourist routes” which are off-highway, usually narrow and winding, roads covering outstanding landscape, engineering, or cultural features from the South west all the way up to the arctic coast. The longest is over 400km and the shortest probably less than 20 and many involve putting your vehicle on a ferry. Driving all of them would involve many weeks and some speeds that are significantly more than our vehicle would be capable of (or that you would want to be a passenger in during an attempt). We gave it our best shot but got through about a third of them in 2 weeks. Our first 2 or 3 days covered getting from Oslo and into the Rondane national park and then onto the small north west coastal city of Trondheim then heading north along the coast to the arctic circle.

I was allowed a very short time of regular two lane highway to get used to our apartment on wheels and how it behaved on the road. The issue was always going to be that I could never be sure exactly where the outer limits of the vehicle were when it came to collision avoidance. The high speed two lane gave me a totally unwarranted confidence that I not only knew where the wheels were, but I knew where the body was. I also started to think I mostly knew what gear we were in. As it turned out the only thing I could be sure of (and even then only most of the time) was reverse and forward.

There was some spectacular (or so we thought at the time) scenery to look at while we were learning about the high speed behaviour of the apartment. The confidence dissolved as soon as the speed moderated but we turned off onto the single lane, but two way, through the park. As it turned out this was one of the easy sections of road that we would end up doing but we didn’t know it at the time.

There have been times over the two weeks when I thought about stopping mid road, getting out, locking it up, and walking to the nearest taxi stand to go back to Oslo. But this road, in hindsight, shouldn’t really engender that feeling at all. In fact what appeared to be single lane was with the benefit of a little more experience, two lane, two way, and possibly even, high speed.

A recurring issue though was starting to manifest itself. The navigator was quite frequently sucking in breath with a loud whistle and saying “FAAAAARK”. “Don’t get so f*****g close to the edge over here”. Apparently avoiding colliding with oncoming traffic was creating an issue on the other side of the apartment. This came up frequently and was never really resolved except by the navigator giving up on navigating and starting to knit instead.

Rondane was spectacular going from agricultural valleys, rivers, to alpine and back again. As we do, we happened upon an unusual and very beautiful little church in a tiny place, mid park, called Sollia. We parked up and went to investigate only to find ourselves as mourners in a local funeral. I did have to suggest to our pictorial chronicler/navigator that taking photographs was perhaps not the most appropriate course of action.

I am guessing we drove all day and made about 250-300km. A pattern that was to be the norm, maybe even on the days when we got a little further, for the remainder of the trip. We stayed that evening in a lovely little mountain valley campground, consumed more of our stash of monopoly wine than was prudent, and realised that there was going to be no relenting from the sun keeping us awake/waking us up as we drove further north.

We were only an hour or so from Trondheim on that second night so we were able to get there the following morning. That was good because parking these things in any kind of inhabited area isn’t easy and we lucked into one of the few designated areas for mobile apartments at a time when the campers from the day before were vacating. We got a parking space and a power supply and had locked up and found the city centre by lunchtime.

What’s fascinating about Norway, and Trondheim in particular, is that for so few people so high in latitude there are so many Michelin stars. Trondheim has two restaurants awarded stars and we found a bistro not even on the Michelin list that served up outstanding local cuisine (no whale) and great wine. Smoked beetroot tartare…remember that.

You have to realize that this city is only a couple of hundred km south of the arctic circle. Its got a harbour and recreational boating marinas, surrounding farms, a cultural heart, some unique architecture, and is quite unexpected. I guess its pretty cold and dark through the winter but like all high latitude towns and cities they know how to make up for it in the summer.

Perhaps they knit?

So a Trondheim factoid (for you Mudder)…Northern most Gothic Cathedral in the world..Its regarded as a “dark” cathedral based on its design and the lack of internal light. Actually that’s not a “toid”, it’s fact. It seems incongruous given that in this town it’s either really light or really dark. Religion and physics has always been a confusing combination.

They have refurbished all the old waterside warehouses and turned them into character offices, restaurants, and apartments and the city gives the overall appearance of being quite beautiful.

The best thing was that there were so few tourists, and those that were there were doing much the same thing as we were rather than the city being flooded by boat-loads and coach-loads of people. As is probably normal at this time of the year we found a huge food market/festival, live music outside the cathedral and a stage being set up for a big concert that night. Most of the population seemed to be there.  



I would go back to Trondheim. Cool little city, lots to see, no tourists.


North of Trondheim is an area, and a tourist route, called Helgeland. It’s something of a summer playground and extends along the coast from Trondheim (more or less) to the town of Bodo which is well north of the arctic circle. We started off around the middle of the day and after some high speed chicken with trucks, other Motorhome’s, cars, and cyclists on the E6, a hard to find turn off onto the tourist route, more sucking in of breath by the navigator, and a ferry crossing, we had made about 100km by early evening. A place called Vik.

We found, what turned out to be the best of the various campsites we stayed at, right on a beach. There was a fishing club building and small marina and launch facility adjacent. That evening three boatloads of guys came back in from what appeared to be a days fishing. When we go fishing its usually shorts, a tee shirt and sunnies. These guys had on the full thermal thing and seemed to be wearing dry suits. It wasn’t cold but I guess if you go over you find the water temperature is a little different to air temperature.

They did all each have a bin full of cod though. We had cooked fresh Norwegian salmon (on a fresh Norwegian cedar plank!) for diner though so there was no need to go and interrupt the filleting session seeking supplies. Which was good because they all looked a bit dour and appeared to be trying to fix that situation with some very clear liquid from a clear bottle.

We did, in all, 2 or 3 days on this 400-and-something km tourist route and got about two thirds of the way to Bodo. We did get north of the arctic circle. In terms of climate there is no comparison between these latitudes in Norway, on the coast anyway, and the same in Alaska or Russia.

As for food, and as you would expect, Salmon, Cod, fresh summer fruit including some of the best raspberries I have ever had, and locally grown veggies abound in all the stores and markets. If only they could grow grapes and make wine then it would be summer time Nirvana. Its all about the sun and day length I guess…One morning I woke, checked my watch in the half light, saw it was 7:30, realised the sun had been up for some time, and bounced out of bed. Got tea and coffee going, started on some fruit, opened the Herald on line, and wondered why the navigator seemed confused about what I was doing. It was 5:30.

This was a road trip. Wonderful. It had everything. I don’t know what the people that inhabit this place do in the winter but the summer is magnificent.




We thought we needed to divert off and back down the E6 before completion so that we could see the western Fjords but in hindsight it would have been worth doing the whole thing. Next time. We did divert out to Mo-I-Rana (where does that come from?) and down the E6 back to Trondheim, covering the distance we had taken 3 days to cover along the coast in one long, very long, day of driving madness.

The European route E6 sounds grand but it’s a 2 lane highway connecting Europe to the far north. The section we covered is one long construction zone where they are building a whole new route (lots of drill and blast) but where the old and/or temporary route is diabolical. Norwegians on the whole seem to respect posted speed limits but even the posted limits seems a little scary in these zones. Also signposting isn’t their long-suit it seems. We saw a whole convoy of trucks, and cars, in front of us take a wrong turn and head down a construction access road that ended in a fenced off cliff above a river. The lead truck stopped prior to the cliff but that didn’t mean there weren’t all kinds of problems for them. We managed to avoid following them because by the time we got there all we could see was reversing carnage.

So there you go. The Norse-Nord Helgeland road trip. Worth doing. We were back, just south of Trondheim and ready to go and see some fjords and the western coast.


So, we find ourselves on the Oslo airport to city express train. I’m still not sure how or why exactly this happened when we are rarely diverted from a trip into Italy under any circumstances so it seems particularly improbable to be heading to a place where the temperatures are (supposed to be) 10 or 15 degrees cooler and where the bloody sun shines all day and then most of the night. At least at this time of the year. And then it hardly puts in an appearance at all for the rest of the year.

Oslo, as it turns out, is actually much warmer than we expected. As is the case for the western part of Norway all the way up beyond the arctic circle thanks in part to the Gulf Stream keeping things warm. At this time of the year the city is on full on summer mode with all kinds of stuff happening and hordes of people out and about.

We had a wander around looking at some outstanding architecture, both modern and old (check out the opera house), and some history (not much…just enough to say we did) and ended up at a pop-up market on the waterfront. Fish and Chips and local beer. It was good but I got the uneasy feeling as things unfolded that the coming couple of weeks was going to require some reassessment of the budget and that as the day lengthened, even though the sun was still in view, evening wear was going to be distinctly “un-Tuscan”.



The thing about the climate here is interesting, as is the way people think about Norway and its social conscience and green image. Very green, very clean, very socially aware (except for the odd right wing nutter). Warming could disrupt the Gulf Stream and cool things down as all that ice in Greenland comes knocking at the door but on the other hand warming will…well…warm. So no one knows what to think.

Now we all think that Norwegians are doing their bit to address carbon emissions with all kinds of cool programs that rich countries can afford like encouraging people to buy Teslas (I saw more here than I have seen in my whole life prior to coming here). Fantastic and Green Party policy makers just love to love it. Norway has one of the worlds largest sovereign wealth funds driven almost entirely by royalty and tax revenue from North and Norwegian Sea oil and gas extraction and the wealth is still being generated. They also have whale meat on menus in many cafes and restaurants. I don’t care.  In fact I am good with all this. I’m Just saying.

But. I digress. We liked Oslo. I thought that the house boat style saunas that you could rent were cool. These things had the whole wood fired sauna thing going on complete with smokey chimney and were motorised so you could drive them out into the sound and overheat in the sauna and then jump off into the cold water before driving back if you got the sequence right. We watched some guys having a good beer drinking session on one which kind of suggests that getting the sequence right isn’t a given. I’m just not sure of the wisdom in all of those things coming together in the one activity to be honest.

Of course I was awake at about 0500 the next morning because that’s when the sun started to make the hotel room blinds look pretty ineffective. That was to be the pattern for the next two weeks but that’s fine, I like to be up and at ‘em in the wee small hours.

That next morning we took the train out to Jessheim, a suburb near the airport and picked up our hotel room for the next two weeks. Actually it was more apartment than hotel room. Double bed, separate shower, en-suite bathroom, full kitchen, dining room. And four wheels. It was the only one left to rent. It was enormous…it reminded me of that stupid movie about the Millers with Jennifer Aniston in it. Driving it was like saddling up a reluctant donkey and being taken for a ride. We drove it to a supermarket to provision and I made parking it look like the admiral of the Pacific fleet parking his air craft carrier.

The real shock at the supermarket though was; NO WINE!!! What? No. Norway has some kind of arcane attitude to alcohol that requires them to go to a state monopoly to buy wine. It’s like Ontario but even worse. After forking out what seemed to be an inordinate sum for our non alcoholic provisions (except beer) we then had to saddle up and navigate the beast to one of these wine shops. That’s when the fun really started. A crazed lunatic thinking he is going without wine for the next two weeks behind the wheel, someone who has to turn maps upside down to read them in the navigators seat, narrow roads and no parking spaces long enough, and a vehicle that just wanted to do its own thing and take up a Mac truck sized portion of the road.

The good people of Oslo, bless their hearts, seem to take this stuff in their stride. Much better than we did I must say. Needless to say our fist night of “camping” was only about an hour out of the city. We did have wine, there was no danger of running out of daylight, and we had avoided any major incident.

I’m going to close it off here, post this one and then blog the two week trip next.  Norway is actually an amazing and stunning country and I am not sure how the photos I can upload would actually do it justice.

Round 3; off to Europe

I do love being in Paris but every time I am there, and especially this time, I am in shock at how grubby it is. Be that as it may it is still Paris; City of Light. We arrived on the Eurostar at about 10 o’clock on a Friday night after what was a chaotic start at St Pancras.

Actually the best part of the Kings X. St Pancras thing was the Italian pizzeria just near Kings X and the busker at St Pancras who we listened to for half an hour or so. The train ride to Paris was all good though. The taxi line, at Gare de Nord was, as usual, long so we walked, hauling our wheelies, the 2km to our hotel in the Marais (you gotta stay in the Marais). It didn’t take that long and was fascinating and fun at that time on a Friday evening once we had cleared the station and its inevitable retinue of beggars, pick pockets, and downright dodgy characters milling around.

We were in Paris for two nights as it was only ever going to be just a pit stop to top up on Parisienne atmosphere after a week in Scotland. On Saturday we did the usual walk with this time the only obligatory part being a quick visit to make sure the Notre Dame had almost burnt down…confirmed.  It looks a bit sad without its spire.  And of course the best chair in several cafes to people watch and drink expensive  but palatable Chablis.

Lunch at a weird but fabulous little fish restaurant/wine bar, a mooch through the amazing kitchenware shops and dinner at a strange restaurant with a flamboyant french owner, a melancholy Thai woman chef, and a Michelin recommendation. Another story for around the kitchen bench at home in Auckland. The food was good but it was strictly a local.

We headed off to Gare de Lyon on Sunday to catch the TGV to Marseilles. Great ride again. And Marseilles never disappoints as a rough looking but pretty good neighbourhood, part North Africa, part France, part something else. Too many tourists but they seem to stick to a zone within about 100m of the old harbour and there is other, much more interesting stuff, going on beyond that.

We visited Marseilles the first time in the 1990’s when we gate crashed Linda’s brother Colin and his wife Doris honeymoon and sat in the back seat of Colins Audi on their drive from Frankfurt, where they were living, through France. We stayed in Marseilles with them and it seemed to us in those days as very very dodgy. They finally got rid of us in Marseilles by dropping us off at the rail station and telling us we could reach London by catching a train to Paris.

We visited a second time while we were living in Sofia. We had no mortgage, kids at home and independent, and more money, and were maybe more grown up (50 something rather than 40 something) and so for the obvious reasons it all seemed much nicer that time.

Anyway this time, we had a wander down memory lane and a night in a hotel before catching more trains to Milano. It was SNCF (French) to somewhere and then Tren Italia (Italian) to Milan. The Italians have a different philosophy to the rest of Europe regarding trains. The Italian side ran late. Didn’t matter as we had found a rather nice Bistro near the station where we had to transfer.

We had booked an apartment near the train station in Milan for a couple of nights. That all went well and the apartment was nice but Milan was hot. Really hot. And therein lies the path to the next instalment. We had no real go forward plan and 30plus degrees for another month seemed like a few degrees of warming too much. I still don’t recall how it happened (could have been the overall effect of the restaurants we ended up at or it could have been heatstroke) but the day we checked out of our apartment was the same day we checked into SAS on a direct Milan to Oslo flight. WTF?

We were supposed to be in Italy and we end up in some cold Nordic country that starts further north than Scotland ends? We even booked the last available motor home in all of Scandinavia for two weeks due for pick up the day after we arrived so that we could drive even further into cooler climate zones. We had never been to Oslo and were both surprised. I don’t know now what we were expecting but it’s a very cosmopolitan European city. Anyway, the Norway adventures are in the next instalment.

Round 2; London-Edinburgh and the “500”

I am writing this looking out at a Norwegian fjord. Today I had a run-in with a Viking. I think, after he honked his horn at me, that he took issue with the salutation I sent in return. He stopped his van, mid-road, and disembarked. He tried my drivers side door which was unfortunately locked depriving me of the opportunity to meet locals but he did start a one sided discussion on the other side of the drivers side window. 

He was large, hairy, and blond. Yes…a real live Viking had alighted from his long van to discuss my use of the indicator lamps on our motor home with me. It was then I decided that as a precaution, actually, locked was good. As the monologue on the other side of the window progressed I realised that all was not well and when he punched the window we did have some concerns regarding his intent. Was he going to invade us as Vikings apparently do, or did?

This however is another story.

We must return to our Scottish adventures.

I love train travel and the London to Edinburgh didn’t disappoint, at least going in that direction.

Great scenery, wine and food at your seat, comfortable, and no driving stress. Edinburgh was full of tourists and did disappoint a little. The fun started though after picking up a rental car for a few days. The plan had been head to Inverness, look around the north coast, visit the Orkneys and then re-visit some of the highland distilleries I have come to know and love…but once we got past Inverness that all changed.

There is a coastal route they call the 500. It’s 500miles of often narrow steep road right around the north coast starting and finishing in Inverness. Because we didn’t know about it and didn’t plan we ended up doing it as a figure 8 but it didn’t really matter. What the Scots lack in Culinary imagination in the little towns of the north is made up for in scenery at least on this stretch of road. And to be fair we did happen on a 4 star lodge in the very far north; Forss House, in Forss of course, not far from Thurso. Here my faith in the Scotts and their ability to string together a well constructed meal was properly restored.

But to start at the start. In Edinburgh we visited Hollywood House (wait, did I say Hollywood? Rather apt slip of the tongue, but it’s Hollyrood) as tourists do.

We walked to the top of Hollyrood park, to Arthurs Seat as tourists, for the most part, don’t (it’s a 500m climb) and what a view. And we found an Italian restaurant.

Then we drove up to Inverness and across through the mountains to Gairloch and stayed at the Gairloch Highland Country Lodge. Next day we drove through Poolewe, and past Inverewe. It wasn’t until we saw the Isle of Ewe that I realised we had the funny language thing going on. This wasn’t “Pool…We”. It was “Pool…Ewe” like in the sheep. It reminded me of that old joke about Mac…Innes, Mac Cloud, Mac…Donald and Mac…Hinery. Never mind.

On through Ullapool where Linda had a really nice cuppa and I had crap coffee. Then the road got really narrow. One lane with passing bays about as far apart as a long sighted Scotsman could see and lots of really cold looking beaches and bays. The scenery was outstanding and the drive is worth it. Forss House was like a beacon. The one hitch was although it was lovely and on the river Forss, a well known Salmon fishery, we did drive past an interesting industrial facility just prior to arrival. I thought to myself, gosh if I didn’t know better I would say that looks like an old nuke. Sure enough. I had to google “Vulcan Naval Test Reactor” and “Dounreay site remediation” to be sure. I didn’t see any two tailed three eyed salmonids, but there again the only Salmonid I saw had been sliced, filleted and broiled. And there was a respectable several miles between us and the site. I have to say that this place did have both an owner who understood what he was supposed to be offering up and a chef who knew what he was doing. Great food, and a very good selection of single malt in the bar.

From there to Thurso and John-O’Groats. We didn’t do the Orkneys in the end because we were starting to run short of time for the rest of the 500 but we did see where the ferry left from! We also saw a castle that the Queen Mum bought after Edward died (Dunnet). It was actually one of the more interesting castles I have been in because it was frozen in a time period between the 1950’s and 1970’s when she actually resided there. Fascinating as an insight into her as a woman but equally into the remnants of the class system in the UK and why the Labour Party, bless their hearts, got (get?) traction. For Adrian one small distillery on the way down the coast and a bottle of quite unusual single malt. For Linda several small towns with wool shops and purchases to knit something for grand-kids on our return.

Actually John O’Groats is not the most northerly part of the UK (even excluding the islands). It’s a place called Dunnet Head (nearby the Queen Mums similarly named castle). It was mildly interesting that this was further north then John O’Groats but very interesting that every nano sized insect on the planet chose that day to hang out at Dunnet Head. They bit. And there were enough of them that a pack could carry off an adult human. Or maybe even their carriage. Short visit.

The rest of the drive down toward Inverness was a little more trafficked so done at pace. Then we zipped across to compete the first part of the 500, which we had missed, in reverse. Wow! Fabulous. Amazing coast, single lane for 100km or more, some great smoked fish from artisan places on the lochs on the way and a mountain pass to get back out.


We couldn’t get any further back toward Inverness and then Edinburgh than Loch Ness which was good because we ended up staying in Loch Ness Lodge. This is a real life Fawlty Towers complete with a manic Bar man. It’s all a bit sad in hindsight but I probably would have paid extra just for the entertainment value in the bar and restaurant that evening. Oddly the food was good.

I missed out on another highlands whiskey crawl but it didn’t matter, the time on the route around the north was well spent. We looked up some of Linda’s relatives on the way back to Edinburgh (check out the photo) and got back in time to return the car at the appointed hour.

The next day was a big very carefully planned train journey. Edinburgh to Kings X then St Pancras to Paris. It got off to a really great start when British Rail couldn’t cope with the high temperatures (high 20’s) and cancelled our Edinburgh-London train while we were watching the big time table board in the station.

We were at the station early so we found our way onto the earlier train. However it was a free-for-all. Booked seats meant nothing and first class? Pffffft. Possession was fractionally more than the nine tenths in the saying. We were on the train at its origin and in the wrong seats. Let’s just say we were still in them when we pulled into King’s X. What a shamozzle. Apparently the English rail system isnt good with temperatures above 30C because the rails buckle and welds pop so trains everywhere were cancelled, delayed, or even derailed. We got seats so the issue of not getting fed seemed a minor problem.

In the end we got to London, left the station, found our little Italian restaurant near Kings X, had a proper wood fired Pizza and some nice wine, and found our way back to the station and onto the Eurostar on time for the departure to Paris. That wasn’t without drama of its own as all the trains feeding the Eurostar were late or cancelled and the lines were awful.

Anyway, Paris, Marseilles, and Milan, and our sudden re-jig of our plans (such as they were) is next.

Auckland Tokyo London

It’s been a while since we have done a trip blog so this might be a little rusty! I’m writing this sitting on a TGV from Paris to Marseilles watching French countryside whiz by at 300km/h. Back to the start though.

The first stop on this journey was a three night stay in Tokyo, it was our fist time there. Our hotel was nice but, I guess as is typical for Tokyo, the “larger than usual double room” (as described on was tiny. By the time my suitcase had exploded, the travel guitar I bought with me had found a home, and I had devices plugged in and paper spread everywhere there wasn’t a lot of room for Linda. She got the last laugh though because my side of the bed was jammed up against the wall.

Oddly there didn’t seem to be a lot of tourists in Tokyo. Not many signs either of preparation for this years RWC or next years olympics except for Tokyo 2020 signs everywhere. Given how slick the process of deplaning, getting through immigration and customs and finding the express train into the city from the airport was I cant imagine there are going to be any hiccups when it comes to organising these events. The hotel was about a 10 minute walk from Tokyo station along Ginza which was great although the station itself is so massive and somewhat chaotic that it took us 15 minutes to find our way out to the street!

One purpose for being in Japan was, of course, foodie oriented. And we weren’t disappointed. But gardens and outstanding architecture both ancient and modern, also ticked all the boxes. First day was gardens and the imperial palace. The Hama-rikyu gardens were a serene oasis with the modern Tokyo skyline as a backdrop. The palace gardens likewise but with the added bonus of the beautiful buildings associated with hundreds of years of shoguns, local lords and the imperial family all making the area home in between pillaging their way around the rest of Japan and large chunks of the rest of Asia and the Pacific. It also turned out to be a national holiday in Japan so not a lot happening.


Noodles and a beer for lunch (yeah really) and a Yakitori place near the hotel for dinner. That was entertaining as although the menu was partly in English it was still somewhat..opaque. We seemed to end up eating an odd mixture of what we thought we wanted and what they thought we wanted. Good surprises though. And the wine was…yes you guessed it; red or white but the Saki list was extensive.

There was a boutique grocery store across the street from the hotel with a large wine selection including some from Japanese wineries. That was a surprise that we didn’t follow up on. That evening we walked along to the big Ginza intersection to get the obligatory photo of all the neon signs and be impressed by some of the modern architecture on display.



Second day was the Tsukiji fish market and a wander around the wider Ginza district. It also pissed down and we had to purchase umbrellas to joust with as much as to keep the rain off us.

The wholesale market has been relocated to a new facility but all the street vendors, resellers and sashimi restaurants are still there in the “outer market”. Needless to say this was my favourite part of Tokyo. We had street food snacks, found a random wine bar, and had lunch at a sushi restaurant where the chefs all wore ties and white coats and wielded evil looking knives with surgical precision. Well executed sushi at home is pretty good but this was something else and not a “California roll” in sight.

Fabulous. Linda and I have different approaches to raw stuff from the sea so I left feeling quite full while she left feeling a little hungry still.

That evening we tried our luck at a tiny, Michelin recommended, family run tempura restaurant. We got the last two seats and had some of the best food you could hope to eat over multiple courses. Again the chefs had ties and coats on the the kitchen was open to the restaurant. Tempura has taken on a whole new meaning for me…

Next day we were off to the Excelsior coffee shop across the street for cappuccino and a croissant! (still the best coffee we have had on the trip so far) and back through the railway station with our return tickets to get seat assignments and try to figure out how to do it in reverse. More complex than we thought and a close call with the train. Then Narita and onto our BA flight for Heathrow. It’s a daytime flight unfortunately and BA’s brand new 787 although it flew just fine had a major software glitch that made the automatic shades go different colours, prevented movies from showing, and kept turning the cabin lights on and off. Ground based engineers in London took control of it and by several hours in it all seemed to be back to normal.

The T5 experience at Heathrow has become quite un-Heathrow like. In fact to be fair there aren’t really any vestiges of the old Heathrow left. With e-gates for Kiwis we didn’t even have to queue and have to have someone asking us the same questions over and over again about why we wanted to be in Britain, how long we were staying, whether we were going to work there and generally just making us feel like overstayers before we set foot in country. We were on the express into Paddington, then spat out of the tube at Kings Cross into our hotel fast enough to make even the most cynical travellers head spin.

The next episode is the train trip to Edinburgh and the road trip around the far north coast of Scotland.

On the Road Again

Travelling again…this time Japan, Scotland Europe (not sure where yet), and finishing in Greece prior to heading back to London to fly home.  Its been a while since I updated this site so its taking the corollary amount of time getting the grey matter working on how to use WordPress again.  This time I will attempt to send an email link out when we do a post.

All the previous posts are still listed there on the site and I will just keep adding new posts in the same format.

We leave NZ on July 14 and return September 14


Unfortunately we can’t take Izzy

And back North

The little village north of Villa San Giovani was nice for a quick transit.  The family-run hotel was also nice but truly an integrated business run by a very efficient and bossy Matriarch. Café/bar on the ground floor, rooms on 1 and 2 and a restaurant on 3. Full service. Anyway, it was nice and inexpensive, we had a walk around the market on the following morning and off we went up the coast avoiding the A3.

Pretty typical coastline; easily accessible and quite busy with the usual hotels and resorts hiding any view of what the beaches might look like. We had the usual trouble in Southern Italy finding any place open for lunch and finally swerved off the road at a little pasticeria on the outskirts of a town where the entire population appeared to be sleeping. We wandered into the shop, didn’t see any sandwiches in the cabinet (only cakes) and were about to leave when the owner came running out and insisted on feeding us.

Well…the guy was Sicilian and he made quite a fuss of us. He bought out plates of brioche with ham and salami he made arancini for us, he poured plenty of sparkling wine for us and then fed us pastries and cakes (turned out he is a master pastry maker). Arancini is an Italian dish but with Sicilian roots and its not just risotto balls. In Sicily they are filled, sometimes with meat sauce or fish but in this case with spaghetti and tomato sauce. Pretty dam good they were too despite my surprise at the idea of starch inside starch. His little cakes were also to die for, even for me.

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Finally we managed to get him to stop bringing us food and tell us what we owed him. 14 Euro. What a bargain and very entertaining. Despite needing a sleep after all that we steered the fiat back onto the road and off we went.

We persevered with the coast and its as well that we did because the route started to follow a very steep embayed section of coastline, sparsely populated and very beautiful; the Maratea coast I think its called. We ended up in the town of Sapri for the night.

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Sapri is hard to get to and is a much more attractive town for it.   We stayed in a B&B/apartment not far from the waterfront. I think we were the only guests that night and the process of checking in was a little strange as the owner wasn’t there. The young woman that checked us in had rubber gloves on and had pretended not to hear us knocking on the door while she was sitting at her desk. I don’t know what the rubber gloves were all about and so I kept my distance as we organized our room.

They were not expecting us I guess as we had only made the booking on line about a half hour before (a flaw in our strategy I guess). It all worked out though and it was a really beautiful place. The owner/manager was there the following morning and set up a big breakfast for us. A very nice guy and he gave us plenty of help with directions and things to see.

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We set off heading for the A3 as we had already seen the coast north of Sapri when we stayed near Pisciotta on our way south. Our plan was to break the rule about not going where we had been on previous trips and to head for the Amalfi coast. The Amalfi coast is stunning, we had driven the coast road a couple of times before and had stayed in Positano. Well worth a third visit we thought. It was only a few years ago and I don’t recall that the traffic was that bad.

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We got that wrong. The road is single, or maybe one and a half, lane for long stretches and there were plenty of cars in either direction, which probably would have been fine, but for the many buses that were also on the road. Spectacular views but not a lot of fun navigating around buses taking up the entire road. The only fun in fact was the Pizza place when we stopped for lunch in Maiori (sounds like somewhere we should try claiming under the treaty).

Buses; I reckon in this situation if you don’t want to drive or walk you should stay home (unlike in Auckland where steep road tolls would be a good way of putting people on buses and freeing up the motorway). Anyway by the time we got to Sorrento I was a little stressed and ready for an alcohol infusion which we could have arranged but for the hordes of Pommie tourists making the place burst at the seams.

In any case we ended up heading to Naples and staying at Pompeii in a B&B a few minutes walk from the ruins. The traffic in Pompeii was just like in Naples…awful and Linda was doing the reservation on line as we were driving and not keeping up with the choices as to which way to go at corners (and U turns would have been impossible even by Naples standards). Needless to say by the time we reached the B&B to check in the atmosphere in the fiat was a little tense. However once we had found a very nice Michelin awarded restaurant not too far away and settled in normal relations started to return.

By the following morning the consensus was that we had had enough of Southern Italy, and we had already seen the ruins, so we checked out, loaded up the Fiat, and got her started and ready to head north. Before we even got out of the parking lot the dashboard had lit up like mount Vesuvius did immediately before it turned Pompeii into a tourist attraction. Orange and red were the predominant colors and exclamation marks provided the main symbology. No amount of switching off and restarting would change the general message, which appeared to be “I’m not going any further with you behind the wheel”.

That’s a bit of a conundrum when you don’t fancy all day in Pompeii while getting help and getting mechanical issues sorted. Unlike her usual self though the GPS did us a favour. She found a Europe Car depot quite close (as it turned out at the airport). We decided to take the risk and drive there rather than call for help. All the lights stayed the same colour but nothing bad happened and no strange noises developed and we reached the car rental place in about 15 minutes.

The guy who checked us in looked at the dashboard and said “this is problem”. Really? I have to say though, Europe Car, as usual, did the right thing and we were installed in a new car and out of there about a half hour later. It was another Fiat 500, this time in Beige. Oh well.

North we went, around Napoli, around Rome, and then we diverted slightly east through the Apennine Mountains but well west of the earthquake damage and around Perugia. We had decided that San Marino was worth a look and booked a hotel right in the heart of the old town. The drive there was beautiful and the closer we got the more mountainous it was. As San Marino came into view it became ever more amazing.

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Most people are surprised to find that there is a small independent republic inside Italy. San Marino (the most serene republic of San Marino in fact) is the oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world and its constitution is comprised of 6 volumes written in the 16th century. It is completely surrounded by Italy, is near the East coast, has 5 towns including San Marino city, 32,000 citizens and one of the worlds highest per capita GDP’s. It is a vestige of the independent Italian states that merged over the centuries to become modern Italy and is the 3rd smallest country in Europe behind Vatican City and Monaco.

The GPS played tricks on us again and on the way to San Marino took us through 2 of the republics other towns and over all of its hills on its narrowest roads. It was worth the ride though to see San Marino itself clinging precariously to the side of a mountain rising 500m in a vertical cliff on one side from a near sea level plain. Our hotel was near the city gate right on the main pedestrian street and our room was a corner room with a stupendous view. It took only a few minutes to decide to alter our reservation from one to two nights.

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The following day we walked the town, visited museums and made our way all the way up to all three of the original fortified towers that sit atop the city wall as it runs along the cliff. Words and photos really don’t do justice to what this place looks like. Lonely planet says that there is no soul but we found the place fascinating, the vibe good, and the restaurants great if a little pricey. While we were there the San Marino moto GP was starting.

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From San Marino we had only three more nights to plan before leaving Europe and given geography and proximity to Milan where we were to leave from couldn’t resist going back to Bologna for a couple of nights. So we reserved an apartment about 15 minutes walk from the middle of the old city and headed off. We wended our way through some back roads and then blasted up the A14 to Bologna arriving in time for lunch!


Sensational apartment; split level penthouse with a nice kitchen and sunny lounge. The kitchen and the laundry both got a work out. Bologna is a beautiful city, with portico’s running along the streets many of which are pedestrianized. Its also one of the gourmet capitals of the world, home to many fine restaurants, fabulous deli’s and markets, and of course the home of Bolognese. Linda even found a shop selling Italian wool for knitting and weaving. Our new grandson or grandaughter will be kitted out in gear knitted with Italian wool as a result. While we were in town there was a big street race, maybe a half marathon, on. Linda does have a history with street racing having collided with a runner racing in Belgium somewhere while crossing a street. For the sake of everyone I found a wine bar for her to shelter in.

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Two nights in Bologna was way too short. We saw lots of the city, cooked with some fantastic local ingredients, visited a couple of very good restaurants, and delayed our departure for our final nights accommodation near Milan Malpensa until the mid afternoon on Tuesday (after lunch of course).

Then it was a simple trip on up the E35, around Modena and Milan to Malpensa. Our accommodation was in an apartment in what seemed to be an old converted farmhouse in a rural area just a 15-minute drive from the airport. It was nice if a little rustic. I cooked most of the last of our supplies for dinner and we left what remained in that apartment. Obviously lots of folks like us do the same thing, as the cupboards and fridge were full of good stuff!

When we arrived the old guy running the place confused us with someone else and wanted to give us their passports and their key. Once we sorted that out he couldn’t find our reservation but seemed to have the very room I had booked ready for us anyway. The confusion continued the next morning at 0800 when we departed as he muddled invoices and charged someone for two nights who only stayed one and then charged someone the one night who had stayed two (they came back to help him sort it out). I made sure he got ours right!

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Our 6 weeks or so in this part of Europe were fantastic and it seemed all wrong to end them. However I was soon to have plenty of other crap to be pissed off about that would take severing ourselves from Italy right off my mind. The car return went smoothly and we were in the airport and looking for British airways very quickly.

British Airways I have always thought were OK. On later reflection I would have to say that the EU is better off with the UK and its businesses “brexited” and restricted to the islands to the west. BA have a new rule (which the desk agents in Hong Kong on our way up here must have been unaware of) that a connection where you land on one BA flight and then leave from that same airport for a second airport on another BA flight isn’t really a connection if you book them separately. So they wouldn’t check our bags through Heathrow to Vancouver.

Are you f*****g kidding? I asked… Perhaps not the best way to address the issue but being polite probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome. Just as well we had plenty of time at Heathrow.

We had to disembark in London Heathrow T5, go through immigration, pick up our bags, and then recheck. The idiot on the immigration desk, on the basis of what usually happens, should have stamped our passports and sent us on our way for up to 6 months. However coming into the UK for a few hours seemed to confuse him (odd given BA’s rule).

He asked a bunch of stupid questions, wanted to see our onward ticket (difficult when its an e-ticket), and then scribbled a 2-day limit of stay in our passports as he handed them back. As I opened my mouth to discuss his IQ and cultural heritage with him I felt Linda tugging at my shirtsleeve and leading us out to baggage claim. She is very prescient, my wife.

Then we went upstairs in T5 with our bags to check in again to find that I had managed to book our flight to Vancouver from BA’s gates at T3. Yep, my fault but no big deal right? You just get on the connection train to T3. Yes, that works when the train is running to its very regular schedule. But when we got there the little screen said next train….1 hour. Broken train. WTF? By now I had completely forgotten that we had even been to Italy. Just as well I was so conservative with connection times when I made these bookings.

Once we arrived at T3 and checked in things started to go better and we eventually got onto our plane and headed for Vancouver and then Denver and the North American leg of our trip. From here on it’s Metaform related work and meetings for me until we head back to NZ a week later. For now though…Ciao!