Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Planning for 2018 is (almost) done

It's been a while since I last posted something in this blog. The main reason is my illness (cancer). I had major health issues in the middle of this year, and you always have to wait and see how it's going to go. I had a succesful removal of the main tumor (plus my right kidney) but there remainssome metastasis: a few dots on my lungs and one on my pancreas. I had to take a CT scan three month after my surgery to see how everything evolves. The lungs have remained the same and seem no reason for concern, but the small growth on the pancreas has somewhat increased in size. So now I'm on a course of medication (a form of chemo, but through pills). I've been taking it for a week yet and don't seem to suffer any of the side-effects (nausea, hair turning white, dizziness, high blood pressure, just name it). My oncologist is relatively optimistic and tells me to go on with my life and make plans.

Alright, so now we can considere what to do in 2018. We had some plans already, before we knew about the cancer. Now we'll have to take care to plan trips which we can always cancel without costs. Because taking an insurance will be impossible for me.

What we have in the planning for 2018 are already three trips to London: two in January and one in May. It's more than possible there will be a fourth trip too. We like seeing shows, and we are going to see Kinky Boots, Chess and watch Ramin Karimloo perform in the Southbank Centre.

At the end of March, we'll be going to the United Arab Emirates. First to Dubai, and then to Ras-al-Khaima.

In May, like said before off to London but also for a couple of days to Prague.

And in July, a trip to Seville (Spain) is planned.

So I'll be posting more in the coming months - while looking forward to more trips in the future.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Spain - Madrid and Toledo

This was a trip we hadn't planned. Due to circumstances (surgery) we had to cancel our planned trip to Tuscany, Italy because the surgeon thought it would perhaps be too early to travel. However, I recovered quickly and at the last checkup, we were told travelling was permitted.

It wasn't easy to find a destination on so short a notice. Either the airplane tickets were too expensive (only business or first class) or the hotels were fully booked. At long last we found something priceworthy plus a hotel that still had rooms. Our destiny became Madrid, Spain. We left early on Monday morning of August 14th and arrived in Madrid before noon. We took a taxi to our hotel (we could have taken the metro, but it would take longer than a taxi ride), which wasn't all that expensive.

We stayed at hotel Vincci The Mint, at the Gran Via, right into the town's center. A wonderful hotel which I can certainly recommend! We had a lovely room, overlooking the busy boulevard, but we didn't hear a thing about the traffic, neither from other rooms. Also the breakfast was more than lovely. When you had booked room with breakfast, you could take whatever item from the menu, as many times you liked! We had something different each morning.

Already that first afternoon we went exploring somewhat. We are not the kind of tourist who plan and plan, reading all kind of travel publications. We just plunge into it. Madrid isn't a town where you can get lost easily, by the way. It's not that big and easy to walk, if you are inclined to do so. It's so nice to just walk around and see all those beautiful buildings.

For the next day (Tuesday) we had bought tickets for the Prado museum online. That's the best thing you can do, as the lines are very long and waiting in the hot sun is not advisable. We could enter straight away. The museum has a large collection, especially of masters of the 15th and 16th centuries. I can tell you, there are a couple of millions hanging on those walls! We took our time seeing everything we were interested in, and paused for a coffee at the museum cafertaria. On leaving the museum, we found a nice place closeby where we had a long lunch.

On Wednesday we took off to Toledo. Departing from the Atocha railway station, there is a Renfe train that brings you to Toledo in about half an hour. You have to buy the tickets in advance, though.  And also be aware, arrive in time because your luggage will be checked.

Now Toledo is a town worth a visit. It's a very old town, where both Christians, Muslims and Jews lived. Each left their mark on the town. We didn't have time to see all of it, but we visited the Jesuit church from which towers you have a most magnificent view over town. There is also the Alcazar, the El Greco house and museum, the Jewish quarter. The speciality of Toledo is marzipan. We went to the convent (don't ask me of which order) where the nuns make marzipan the old way and sell it for a price less than in the many shops. It's quite tasty and not too sweet.

On our last full day in Madrid, we tried to see some more of the city. We went to the park Retiro, close to the Puerta Alcantara. Also saw the Royal Palace but the lines were too long to get inside. And of course, being women, we did some shopping to finish our day!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Peru - Cuzco

(Continuation of our 1982 trip to Peru and Bolivia)

On leaving Cochabamba in Bolivia, we first took a plane to La Paz, and then went back to Puno for another short stay, in which we had the time to do some shopping.

From Puno we took the train to Cuzco. A ride of 10 hours, through the high mountains of the Andes. At a given time, we reached a height of 4,319 meter! It was a very original trainride, because the train stopped at different small railway stations, and lots of people went on of off the train, some with their livestock in baskets or just plain under the arm! We didn't starve of hunger or thirst either - constantly we were offered goodies, for just some coins.

We had a hotel in Cuzco close to the city center. It was late afternoon when we arrived, so we just put the suitcases in the hotel room and the three of us (our friend Jan always went with us) we went on discovery of the city. It didn't take long before all three of us smelled chocolate - and yes, we did find that bakery where we drank hot chocolate and ate some sweets...

The following morning a guide met us and we went to the ruins around Cuzco. We visited Fort Sacsayhuaman, the religious center of Kenko and Puca Pucara, the red fort that was used to store grain in Inca times.

The next day we went to Machu Pichu. We had to get up very early, because first we had to take a train (5 hours). Then up the mountain (another hour). But it was really worth it! Our local guide had accompanied Prof. Bingham when he discovered the Inca city and was quite knowledgable. For those who have never seen Machu Pichu, well it's one of the most impressive sights in the world! I'm ever so glad I've seen this when there were not yet many tourists.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Bolivia - Villa Tunari and Cochabamba

(Continuation of our trip to Peru and Bolivia in 1982)

We took a flight from Sucre to Cochabamba. We didn't stay there, howver, as a guide (Sara) picked us up at the airport and together with our driver took us to Villa Tunari, deep in the Amazon jungle. We stayed there in a very primitive hostel. It was very hot in the jungle, moreover we didn't have any electricity and almost no water to shower.

Sarah had friends who wanted to show us the Amazon. They also stayed at 'hotel' Sumuqué and after breakfast (which was surprisingly good) they took us on their boat and we sailed on the Chapare River. On the way, the guys fished up some fish (a variety of the piranha). By noon, we just threw anchor and the men made a fire with some branches to barbecue the fish. We ate with some fresh bread they'd brought along - nice lunch! Then we went into the jungle, machete in hand, and got bitten over by various insects, despite the layers of repellant we'd put on. We also had to cross smaller rivers with the use of ropes, which made it quite adventurous. We returned to the hotel for one more night and then the following morning Sara and Rogelio (our driver) brought us back to Cochabamba.

The rest of that day was spent by making a city tour of Cochabamba, with a visit to the ruins of Tiwanaku.  At that time, there was a religious fest going on and the city was crowded by Bolivians. Sara and Rogelio were very nice people -  in fact, all the people we met on that trip were nice and friendly - and on our last day there we went all together for a traditional meal in a local restaurant.

From Cochabamba we returned to Peru (via La Paz) but that's for another time!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Bolivia - La Paz and Sucre

(Continuation of our 1982 trip to Peru and Bolivia)

From Puno in Peru we drove to Copacabana and there boarded the ship which was going to carry us to La Paz, the biggest city in Bolivia (and also the highest: 3600 m.) We drove around the town for a while (staring at the crazy traffic) and then went to our hotel. We dined there for a very cheap price.

The following day we left the busy town and our guide José took us to the Altiplano. We visited Tihuanacu, the city of the Aymara's (pre-Inca). We saw old totems and the Sun Gate. Later that day we also did a short tour of La Paz, where we saw among others the Witch Market, where one can spot all kinds of strange objects, like the foetus of lama's. We also drove through Moon Valley

The day after we took a flight to Sucre, which is actually the legal capital of the country. There, our guide Elisabeth welcomed us. She brought us to our hotel, which was a former hacienda. The whole town, by the way, is built in this style. Then we visited La Recoleta, a convent. From there you had a magnificent view over the town. Next we visited Chasa de Liberdad and San Felipe de Nery. It was very interesting and we liked Elisabeth a lot.

At the moment we visited La Paz and Sucre, there was a general strike going on and this meant some of the planned trips couldn't be made. We also had to eat in a private home because all restaurants were closed.

Something we could do, however, was drive to Potosi (4 hours over bad roads) to see the silver mines. We went inside the Casa Moneda to see how the Spanish robbed the gold and silver to spice the coffers of the Spanish king!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Peru - Arequipa and Puno

(Continuation of previous blogpost)

From Lima we flew to Arequipa, which is named the 'white town'. It is situated on 2000 meters of heigt and got its name from the lava stone (coming from the three volcanoes Misti, Pichupichu and Chachani which are all above 6000 m high). We were welcomed at the airport by our local guide Hilda who first brought us to our hotel (near the cozy Plaza de Armas) and afterwards took us on a guided tour of the town.

We saw the Santa Catalina convent - a town within a town, with streets and all - the cathedral and a Jezuiet convent. We lunched in a typical restaurant and tried a chicha, a drink made out of corn. In the afternoon we were supposed to have some free time, but Jan and we hired Hilda for another tour. We drove through the environs with a 4x4 jeep and gasped at the beauty of this region. The rocks showed many different colors and here and there we saw farmers on their fields. We made a stop at a place where only locals come to eat and tasted the biñelos, a sort of beignet with honey. It was so good we took a taxi back to the place at night and tried other specialities of the region.

The next morning we had to board a plane to Puno from Juliaca (the airport of Arequipa). We literally flew between the high peaks of the Andes! Due to a delay at the airport, it was rather late in the afternoon when we reached Puno and so we couldn't do the planned tour. Instead the three of us went to an Indo market, where we bought some local products.

The following day we did a boat trip on Lake Titicaca to visit the floating islands of the Uro indians (or better: from the Amaya, who are descendants from the Uro) and were invited to lunch there. In the afternoon we saw the Chullpas of Sillustani - old tombs of pre-Inca's - on the holy Umayo island. The old indian legend that entering the graveyard brings bad luck must carry some thruth after all, be because it was there my glasses broke!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Peru - Lima

A long time ago, in 1982, Chris and I traveled to Peru (and also to Bolivia). There already was some tourism at the time, but not mass tourism like today. At some places we were quite a sight to the locals! The source for these lines is my diary - I've been keeping one since I was 15 years young and it's a source of information by now.

We were with a small group of 6 persons: an elderly gay couple, a bachelor in his forties, a young guy from Antwerp and us. Needless to say we immediately bonded with Jan, the young guy! We shared many interests and could also laugh together. The air trip took us from Brussels to Paris (CDG) and then to Lima, with stops in Cayenne (French Guyana) and Manaus (Brazil). A long trip, but like always we slept well on the plane. That's something fortunate, as many people can't sleep on a plane. We always arrive well-rested.

The day after arrival we did a sightseeing tour of Lima. We first went to the Plaza de Armas, where we visited the cathedral. Then we saw a museum where the Inquisition had its tribunal. We could see some instruments of torture and also some underground prison cells. We passed by the Torre Tagle palace, one of the oldest colonial houses in Peru. Next we went to see the ceramic collection at the Larco Herrero museum. I especially liked the erotic ceramics! We luched at ‘Los Condes de San Isidoro’, an old hacienda. Full of original 16th century furniture, really impressive.

In the afternoon we went to the residential Miraflores parish, close to the Pacific, where we could spot some seals. We went in the month of August, which means it was summer for us, but winter in Peru. Even though, it still was 20° Celsius, which is not so bad to us. Later on followed a visit to the Oro de Peru museum where we could view pre-Inca relics. We drank something in our hotel and then with Jan went into town to have dinner. A pickpocket got hold of my golden earrings and since then I never wear expensive jewelry when traveling. Luckily grandma bought me new ones!

To be continued! 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Poland - Krakow and environs

We have been living next door to a Polish family for over 20 years. Yet up to recently, we never considered taking a trip to Poland. But finally it happened - and we don't regret it.

It's only a short flight (1,5 hours) from Brussels to Krakow. We had a hotel out of the city center, but taking a taxi in Poland is not a problem. The countries once behind the Iron Curtain are still relatively cheap to us western Europeans. The taxi ride only cost about 25 €.

Just like Budapest, Krakau is quite an interesting place to visit. For starters, it's an old town, going back to the Middle Ages. And it's surrounded by places that you'll want to see. The most important one of those are the German death camps for Jews, Auschwitz and Birkenau. These are their German names, I can't pronounce the Polish ones. We did a guided tour there, and it was quite impressive. And the smell... Even after so many years, you could still smell the fear of those who were kept there.

Another place of iinterst is the salt mine of Wieliczka. This I know in Polish: kopalina soli. 380 steps take you down in the mine. There are several levels, and the deepest one is around 300 meters of depth. You can see (and taste) the salt crystals all around. I particularly liked the figurines the miners made in salt. They even carved out chapels. Pope John Paul II visited this mine (he was Polish, of course) and one of the chapels is named in his glory.

The Old Town of Krakow is worth seeing as well. Lots of old buildings and a cosy atmosphere. Churches and chapels galore, but also shops, cafés and restaurants. In all of these, you never pay too much. We dined a couple of times (and very well) for less than 50 € for two persons. Another place not to miss is Wawel Castle and its cathedral.

Also, I must say Polish people are very polite and friendly. When we rode on the tram, some young guys immediately gave up their seats for us. You don't see that happening in Belgium anymore! And in shops, pubs and restaurants we were always greeted warmly.

Our neighbor was right in saying Krakow was a good place to visit.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Slovenia - Lipica, home of the Lipizzaner horses

In 1983 (yes, I'm getting old!) Chris, I and four friends who were equally fond of horseriding, took a trip to Slovenia. In those days you didn't have Ryan Air, or any other price fighter, so the best option was to take a train. We started out from Brussels and boarded the night train to Milan. From there we had a connection to Trieste, which is not that far from the then Yugoslavian border (now it's Slovenia). We could reach Lipica by hired car.

Lipica is a stud farm, famous for its Lipizzaner breed. Originally, the horses from the Spanish Riding School in Vienna were bred here (1580-1915), before moving to Austria. But the Lipica farm still breeds the famous white horses which are so great for dressage. By the way, a Lipizzaner is born with a grey or black skin, which slowly turns white as the horse grows older.

We had an arrangement, which included taking riding lessons twice a day (two times 2 hours). You could switch one riding lessons for an outdoor trip (on horseback). We also had a day free of lessons, so we could explore the region. This part of Slovenia is quite nice, and if you have the time, there is enough to explore. We once took a day trip to Koper (a village near the sea) and also went to see some grotto of which I've quite forgotten the name...

But as I mentioned, most of our time there was spent riding. It's a dream to ride a Lipizzaner. It feels like sitting in your sofa and just relax. Those horses are so well-behaved they don't set a foot wrong even if you are just a beginner. Luckily for us, we had been taking lessons for years before, so we could join the advanded riders and even got to do some dressage.

After the riding lessons, you could also watch a demonstration of high dressage, just like in Vienna (and you didn't have to pay extra for it!). We just had a great time there.

When I had that young age, I often wished I could have my own Lipizzaner!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Kenya - National parks and Mombasa

A long, long time ago, Chris and I made a trip to Kenya (1981). In those times, it wasn't usual to arrange the trip yourselves, so we had someone to arrange it for us. We flew to Nairobi via Rome (where a handsome customs officers tried to persuade us to stay in Rome for a couple of days... so he could show us the city). In Nairobi we were met by our guide and chauffeur, Daniel. A very nice guy, who was quite knowledgable.

Daniel drove us to the Amboselli Serena Lodge, where we could leave our luggage and start on our first ride through the reserve. It was quite something (remember, I was in my early twenties and my sister wasn't even 20) to see all those wild animals: elephants, zebra, antilopes, lions, .... The lodge stand in the middle of the national park, at the foot of the famous Kilimanjaro mountain. When we woke up the first morning, we could see the snow covered top of the mountain clearly.

Two days later, we left the Amboseli park and drove via Namangua to the Nairobi national park. We had a picknick in the middle of the savanna, not far away from a den of (sleeping) lions. I never felt afraid! After lunch we drove on to the Masai Lodge, in a mountaneous area, where you could use the blankets at night. We spent the night there and our trip the next afternoon, after spending some more time in the park. Daniel made a stop at Mayers Ranch, They have a Masai Manyatta (a place where young Masai warriors are trained). We watched some tribal dances and got a lot of attention from some young Masai, who wanted to buy our shoes! I remember it were linen shoes, white in color, and very comfortable.

Late afternoon we drove on to Lake Naivasha, where we'd spend the night in the Safariland Lodge. The next morning we made a boat trip over the lake to the bird sanctuary. After lunch, we set off to Masai Mara. It was rather a long ride, and we got into bad weather.  A heavy thunderstorm, which caused our jeep to nearly capsize. Luckily, with our help, Daniel could push it back on track.

In the Masai Mara national park, we stayed at the Fig Tree Camp near the Talek river. I had quite an adventure there. We had dinner there (quite tasty) but the next morning I was sick as a dog. I kept vomiting and accordingly to my sister I stank hours in the wind. The camp manager came to see me and said she'd call the Flying Doctors when my condition would not improve by noon. She gave me some parts of water mellon and told me to try and eat them. At first, they left my stomach as soon as they were in, but after a while my stomach seemed to calm down and I could eat more watermellon. The best thing? The next day we drove back to Nairobi and there I had a lunch of fries and steak! My sisters still cannnot believe it.

We took a flight from Nairobi to Mombasa, where we would stay another week at the Nyali Beach Hotel. Lovely! The sun shone hot there (which was a nice change from the rather cool temperatures on the savanna) and we had a great room. We also met a bunch of nice and interesting people. I remember two brothers from the Alsace region in France (they spoke a mix of French and German), the CEO of an oil refinery in Cyprus, the Dutch representative of Shell (there was an oil conference being held at the hotel during our stay), one or orther sheikh (who wanted to enlist us in his harem), and someone who must have been related to Richard Branson.

Of course, we also made excursions to the town of Mombasa, where we visited the old fort and loved to go shopping for small mementoes.

Those weeks spent in Kenya were really nice and will remain a great source of memories.

Monday, May 8, 2017

UK - The attraction of London

I don't know what it is about London, but it's a city I like to visit as often as I can. There are many things to see (major attractions, like The Tower, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, etc., etc.) There is also always something going on - a street festival, a fair, an exibition, a show, a film premiere, ...

If I had enough money, I'd probably buy a flat somewhere at the South Bank (love that neigborhood). Hard to believe Southwark once was the place where whores, sailors and noisy pubs were to be found. A part of the city some would not go to. Nowadays, there are building sites galore and every time you walk there you see somethig new. Great hotels, cosy restaurants, musea.

This time, we were there only for the weekend. We had purchased tickets for Carousel at the London Coliseum and we could switch in Hhonor points to have a room for free at the Hilton Bankside hotel. The hotel was - as always - more than alright and the show was great. An orchestra of 40 musicians, Alfie Boe, Katherine Jenkins and Nicholas Lyndhurst. Unfortunately, the weather was not as great, as you can derive from the picture. So cold, while you should be able to wear only a light jacket and a t-shirt.

At the stage door -, Nicholas Lyndhurst handing out autographs, as were Katherine Jenkins and Alfie Boe. And who came to congratulate? Nobody less than Michael Ball.

Btw, we also have tickets for the next musical at the ENO - Bat of of Hell. I always loved the music and played the album more than once.

An advantage for us Belgians also is we can get to London quicker than to other towns in our country. When we go to the coast by train, it takes nearly as long as the ride to London by Eurostar.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

UK - The Channel Islands

When I was a kid, I hardly knew there were several islands surrounding Great-Britain. I knew about London and Edinburgh, but that was about all.

Growing up and because our parents took us kids always along on their trips, we learned more about the world around us.

In 2004 we took our first trip to Jersey, the biggest of the Channel Islands. I remember this very clearly, because it was the first trip after a very difficult time for us and just leaving the plane and seeing the blue sky and sniffing the pugent ocean air made us feel better already.

Although Jersey is not so big, it is large enough to spend a week making trips and being active. We rented bikes and explored. We rode from one point to another (even through pouring rain at a time) and got to see most the island can offer.

All around, the coastline is different. You have sandy beaches near St. Aubin and lava rock at another side. There also are cliffs in the north. The language is English, but the local speak a sort of dialect that is a mix between English and French. This is because the islands once belonged to France, and another time to England.

In July 2014 we returned to Jersey. The first time we stayed in a hotel in St. Aubin, then we stayed in the capital city St. Helier.

The island is quite interesting, as there is enough to see and do. We visited Elizabeth Castle, which goes back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth the First. It was mainly used to house a garrison and was quite active during the Napoleontic wars. Next we went to see prehistoric findings at La Hogue Bie, where there is also a dolmen with a burial chamber that can be visited. From there it is only a short busdrive to Gorey, where Mont Orgueil Castle can be found. This is a medieval keep, and some English kings spent time there.

We also went to see the war tunnels in St. Aubin and the local museum, and later on Samarès Manor.

I've downloaded the pictures from the camera and I can post some of them, to give you an idea of how the islands looks like.

This is a view from Elizathe Castle, one of the defences of the island. This castle was built in the 16th century and was named after Queen Elizabeth I. It served mainly as a military stronghold. In the barracks you can see how an 18th century surgeon treats the wounded, or how the sergeant fires the guns.

These are the Jersey War Tunnels. They were dug out by the Germans (well, in fact by the POW's they brought there) and they served as military hospital in the first place. These tunnels run for more than a kilometer underground and you could sleep there, send messages, put up your gear (there is even a sailing sloop docked), be treated as a patient, ....

Here I am in St. Aubin. Behind me is the picturesque marina, one of the many on the island. What is strange, is that these yachts and fishing vessels lay on the sand when the tide is low.

And this is Samarès Manor. It has always been inhabited by a noble family, and you can visit the house and its gardens. These gardens are very lovely, so a visit there is really worth the entrance money. The present owner has a nice collection of old carriages which he restorates himself.

Friday, April 28, 2017

France - Three days in Provence

Alas, not a year, like in the novel of Peter Mayle! But we had a great time, that's for sure. Especially when the weather was more than fine, with degrees over 20° Celsius. This was last year, early in May.

We took a flight to Marseille on Wednesday evening. We arrived late in our hotel because of a delay in take-off (I guess the lady who had to do the boarding doesn't have a watch...) but we slept well enough.

After breakfast the next morning, we could start our discovery of Marseille, which is the capital of the Provence area. We explored the Vieux Port, Le Panier, went to the basilic of Notre Dame de la Garde, ... We also took time for leisure and enjoyed food and drinks in various restaurants.

On our last day we made a day trip to various places in the Provence. We had booked this tour the first day, and to our surprise we were all alone with our guide Fabrizio. A very friendly guy, and quite knowledgable. We drove to Arles, where we visited the remains of the Roman area.

Then we went via Nimes to see the Pont du Gard, the aquaduct built by the Romans as well.

Afeterwards it went to Avignon, the city of the popes. There we had time to have lunch and also see the Palace of the Popes. And of course, we also had to see the famous 'pont d'Avignon'! Well, you can't dance on it, that's for sure!

Later that day we also went to St. Remy de Provence, where Vincent Van Gogh stayed in the asylum and we finished our trip in Baux-de-Provence, a city built on the rocks.

I could recommend this excursion to others!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Italy - Venice

Last year, we started the long summer vacation with a trip to Venice. And it was just one of the best trips ever!

We decided to go to Venice because we had to cancel another trip (airfares had become too expensive), so we used that budget to book the Venice trip. We stayed at the Hilton Molino Stucky on Giudecca island. We indulged in a little bit of luxury and took an executive room with view on the canal. And the hotel was worth it's money! Friendly staff, excellent service, a beautiful room... We could sit before the window and just watch all the boats on the canal.

This is something I really liked there. No car, everything by boat. The hotel provided a shuttle (boat) to San Marco and from there you could go anywhere. And the weather! Glorious sunshine after all those gloomy days in Belgium. Less mosquitos than in the south of France or Rome (only got bitten 5 times). Eating outside on terraces, enjoying what's on your plate and having a good glass of wine....

Some people say Venice is very expensive. Well, I don't quite agree. Of course, when you eat or drink something at San Marco square, you may expect high prices - we had a drink at Café Florian and it cost us some - but if you venture into the smaller streets, you'll find cheaper places (and good ones, too). We sometimes had a beer and it only cost 10€ for the two of us. You'd pay that in Belgium as well, especially in Bruges or any other tourist spot.

We also visited the isles of Murano and Burano in the laguna. It was interesting to see how the glass was blown and how figurines were made.

And the little island of Burano is quite picturesque.

Added to this was an unexpected surprise. When we boarded the boat, a guy on his own entered as last person, walked around the whole boat and finally asked if the chair next to mine was taken?  He soon began to make conversation, and remained in our neighborhood for the entire duration of the trip. It was Michael Bolton... We recognized him, and every now and then caught a slip of the tongue. We didn't mention it, of course, just as we pretented not to know Johnny Depp or Eric Clapton on earlier surprise meetings.

I  hope that one day we can return to Venice. It's a place I definitely want to see back.

Monday, April 24, 2017

UK - Manchester and Media City UK

Every now and then we spend a couple of days in Manchester, more precisely in Media City UK. Most of the time it's because we like to watch a show.

The first time we came there was in August 2013.  The weather was not great at the time, but we were lucky it did not rain.

When we booked tickets for Evita which starred Marti Pellow, we were looking for a hotel that was near to the theatre where the musical played. So we picked the Holiday Inn, which is next to the new BBC studio's in Media City UK. Quite a nice environment, and if you are lucky you can spot a tv star or two.

I'm quite sure the guy sitting next to us in the bar one night was actor Iain Glenn, who starred in Jack Taylor, ex-guard and also in Dowton Abbey to mention a couple.

Media City is a new development in Manchester, situated where once the docks of Salford were. Now it's a place where one tv or radio studio pops up next to the other, and there is also a very new theatre, The Lowry, and a shopping mall.

We went and saw the show and of course we also paid a visit to Manchester. We're not big soccer fans, otherwise we'd needed to visit Old Trafford (which, btw, we could see from our hotel window).

Manchester itself is not much of a town. Personally I think Liverpool is a lot nicer and better looking, perhaps because they have the docks near the Mersey.  But the people both in Manchester and Liverpool are very nice and I really like their accent.

We also found some nice local restaurants, only five minutes away from our hotel. I especially liked Lime, where we had a full lobster for a very reasonable price.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Sweden - Stockholm and Gotland

Last year in August, we took a trip to Sweden. The weather was not all that good (you're in the north, of course) but we were lucky that it didn't rain too much.

First we visited the capital of Sweden, Stockholm. We stayed at a hotel where we had a wonderful sight from our room window, over all the canals. Stockholm is called 'Venice of the north' and it's true that there are a lot of waterways and small islands.

Next we took a ferry (it leaves at Nynäsham, some 40 minutes' drive from Stockholm) to Gotland. Gotland is a bigger island in the Baltic Sea, at the height of Letland and Estland. We stayed there in the main town (well, town is a bit exaggerated) named Visby. Every 38th week of the year, this town celebrates the Medieval Week. Every inhabitant walks around in medieval dress and all the time there are tournaments and other historical events. This time they also did a reenactment  of the Battle of Visby, where the Danish king Waldemar conquered the city.

Visby is UNESCO World Heritage, because it is a city that is completely encircled by city walls, just like it used to be in the Middle Ages.

The only remark I have about it is that they don't seem to like foreign tourists overall. An example: when you asked for a reservation in a local restaurant, they said it wasn't necessary. But when you arrived in the evening, you got to hear the restaurant was fully booked and there was no space!