Day 27.  Wales – Talgarth to St Davids on the Pembrokeshire Coast

Welsh countryside near Hay-On-Wye

The Castle Hotel at Talgarth is a funny little place, we sleep well, Genelle thinks the floor slopes a bit, that could be right, and the shower is weird. I hear a scream from the bathroom when she goes in for a shower and she comes out mumbling something unintelligible. I go in and now see what she was grumbling about. The water temperature control is also part of the pressure control, to get it warm I have twist it through from high pressure (drill a hole in you type pressure) to low/ middling pressure. Its hard to explain but unfortunatley she has to come in a save me, as in turn it on and then turn it off, I’ve got water running everywhere, on the floor down the walls. Anyway the shower tried to kill me but it didn’t succeed.

Breakfast downstairs is a continental breakfast but its ok, we fuel up the bodies and walk up to Talgarths shops for a look. Its a pretty little village but not very touristy.

Todays Track

We get on the road to Hay-On-Wye. I think the Hay area is on the Wye River, thus Hay-On-Wye. The weather is cloudy, rain threatens and the views over the hills and hedgerowed paddocks is beautiful, reminds me of Ireland, or as nephew TMM (remember him – The Maintenance Man) calls it West England OR is it that he calls England East Ireland? I dunno, can’t remember. The Welsh appear more conducive towards the English than the Scots or the Irish (in the Republic) as well the Catholic part of Northern Ireland, but my guess is they love nothing better than to beat England when rugby tests come around.

A fuel stop, to top up the Merc, 77 euro’s and we’re full, the car is a hybrid using some battery to make it go but I’m not sure how all that works but it sure is a lovely thing to drive. I chat to an old guy at the fuel pump waiting to top a 5 litre fuel container up for a mower or whipper snipper, or maybe a hedge trimmer, he has a Skoda wagon that he says has a boot big enough to ut a body in, he has a smile on his face and I think he’s joking.

Hay-On-Wye (Welsh Y Gelli Gandryll) is renowned as a book town, there are lots of book shops selling new and second hand books, and the signs posted around the town talk about the Hay Festival which is a literary festival held in July each year where the small community of about 1900 people get about 80,000 visitors over the 10 days of the festival. We found a free park and wander the streets, I look at book shops, Paul looks at second hand record shops, Liz looks at art galleries and The Navigator looks at jewellery and clothes shops, who’d a though that would happen? I love this little place and would like to stay here but the accomodation is expensive and we must move on.

Back on the road the next stop is Carmarthen, the rain has started to pour down as we head to this bigger town on the River Twyi of about 14,000 people. This place had Merlin of King Arthurs wizard legend as one of its most famous inhabitants, in fact the Welsh name of “Caerfyrddin” means Merlin’s Fort. Its quite a pretty town but its raining so much that we decide to keep going to Tenby which is a seaside resort town which the Welsh love, sort of their version of Port Macquarie or Coffs Harbour. The weather has closed in more and its hard to see anything much but what we can see looks very pretty. A lunch at a pub outside Carmarthen fills us up and we continue on to Pembroke Dock on the A477 heading into county Pembrokshire towards St Davids.

The weather remains closed in when we get to St David’s Cathedral to have a look before it closes for the day. St David’s is called a city but its not really a city, its a congregation of villages and small towns. The cathedral is on the Pembrokeshire peninsular, jutting out into the Atlantic built on the site of a 6th century monastery set up by St David. The cathedral, built about 1180, has been a site of worship and pilgrimage for over 800 years, it says in the church that for pilgrims 2 trips to St Davids = 1 pilgrimage to the Holy Lands. St David’s ethos was “Be Joyful, keep the faith, and do the little things…..” , I think he was on the money.

Liz and Genelle booked some accomodation via Booking.Com caled hen Ffermdy at Llangloffan, Castlemorris just north of St Davids. Its in the country, up some skinny laneways through a tunnel of trees in a little community. Adrian and Sue are our hosts, late 40ish couple, Adrian from the area originally and Sue originally from Scotland. They bought the place a while ago and are doing it up, its 5 acres and once part of a larger farm. The rooms are beautifully done, our hosts are lovely and Adrian spend 13 months in Australia in the mid 2000’s living in Sydney and remarkably knows where Dubbo is as one of his Aussie mates parents own a farm at Coonabarabran where he’s been to visit. He’s a rugby tragic, which is not just a Kiwi tradition, rugby is also very strongly entrenched in the Welsh psyche as well. A quote i heard goes something like ” You never beat Wales, even if you’re ahead on the scoreboard”. He’s a chatty bloke, and knowledgable and we feel very comforatble here, comfortable enough that we decide to stay an extra night and rest up a bit.

The rain continues, so after a short rest we head to Portgain on the water for some dinner at the Sloop Inn. Theres a story about a railway line that was once planned to come to Portgain but is was mainly known as slate quarry, brick kiln and fishing port. The drive down the skinny lane to the village is a little hairy but we don’t meet any other vehicles so the Merc is safe from scrapes form blackberry bushes beside the lane. The Sloop In is a great little pub, the Harbour once came right up to the front of the pub but not anymore, they filled it in with slate and brick dust. The meal is great, and so is the Guiness that paul has the lager that I have.

Blue Tits in the Hen Ffermdy garden (that is what they called)

Another long day and retire to the comfortable bed. I’m looking forward to the day off to rest and explore this area a bit more tomorrow.

Wela’i di Wedyn (See you later in Welsh) – Pauolo

Hen Ffermedy – the B&B photos


Day 26. – Salisbury to the Brecon Beacons in Wales

Salisbury Cathedral

So this morning is foggy, not cold, just a little cool, not shorts but jeans and long sleeves, maybe a jumper type of weather. Breakfast at the Cricketers Arms B&B is fantastic, fruits, cereals, breads, and a cooked egg, sausage and bacon if you want it.

Paul takes the keys to the Mercedes, he’s decided he’s driving today.

First stop is to Wilton House to have a peek through the gates at the well used Victorian period movie and tv shows, The Crown, Bridgerton etc etc, the women brave do the reconnaisance mission and aren’t chased away by the security, it looks like filming is going on at the moment, the public aren’t allowed in and out in the workers area there are lots of pantek trucks.

Salisbury is a city of 45,000, about Dubbo size. Its about 30km from Stonehenge, is an old market town and a bit of a mix of old and modern.

The Bumping Stone at Salisbury Cathedral, where a new boy in the choir has his head gently bumped on this stone 7 times as his acceptance into the choir

Next stop is the Salibury Cathedral, 10 quid to park and 9 quid to enter. The 123m spire of this cathedral is the tallest in Engand and has been since 1561, the church was built in the 13th century, a bit younger than a lot of the others we’ve seen in the last week. The cloister at the side of the church is huge, larger than Westminster Abbey we’re reliably told by a local volunteer guide. Its huge inside and I see the name Montacute on the list of rectors from 1382 to 1404. I recall the name from my family tree and dig into my info and find that my 18th Great Grandfather was Sir William Montacute the 1st Earl of Salisbury, I’m guessing there is a connection but I’ll have to check that later. The big thing thats in this Cathedral is the only publicly displayed actual copy of the Magna Carta. The others are at 1 x Lincoln Castle and 2 x The British Library. It is a document that came about in 1215 to make peace between an unpopular King John of England and a bunch of rebel Barons who were sick of John. Its the basis of a lot of Bills of Rights type documents in the modern world even though it didn’t survive as a working document in Britain.

We move on from Wiltshire via the Stonehenge site and turn left to run through the villages and towns of Shrewton, Tilshead, Devizes, Chippenham, Hulavington before stopping for lunch in Cirencester in The Cotswalds. This is a lovely part of the world. After a quick lunch in Cirencester we drive to what is reputedly “the most beautiful village in England” – Bribury. And it is quite stunning, the Cotswalds houses, the stream through the middle of the village with swans and ducks, the pub, I bet the real estate is expensive with a capital E.

The Reids in Bribury today

We hit the road and head for Wales for tonights stop in Talgarth, we were meant to be going to Hay On Wye but the momen decide it too expensive. After numerous backroads, a few wrong turns and many roudabouts we get to Wales and drive through the now more mountainous country to Talgarth. Sheep in the paddocks, hedgerows and stone fences and at the back the stunning Brecon Beacons Mountain Range. They booked a room at a small pub called “The Castle”, prophetic you may say. We see no pool room, and “the vibe” ain’t that good. The person in charge has advised The Navigator that only single rooms were booked, not doubles, does this bloke have a death wish? The Navigator does what she does so well, starts to work on making him understand that she knows what she booked and if there is a f…up its his and it would pay for him to resolve it. He returns after consulting the faceless, nameless manager who we never see, with an apology that yes “he was wrong” and his manager has miscommunicated the booking. I think he saw that this was one battle he wasn’t going to win. Its hardly a great pub and the rooms are up a narrow set of stairs, so thats the landlords revenge on Genelle because she has to carry her bag up, he helps Liz and Paul but not Genelle or me.

Dinner is in the pub, Paul has retired to bed, the stress of todays driving has burnt him out. We have a few drinks, some dinner and chat to a fit looking fellow who is about 50, he’s working in the Brecon Beacons with the military on a contract job, has just retired as an ambulance officer and prior to that was in the military, and a couple from south Wales who own a backpacker accomodation operation. Its nice to chat to other people and find out who they are and what they do, I do suspect the single “ex military” bloke is possibly still proper military, the Brecon Beacons is the British SAS training and selection ground, I’m probably wrong but I just feel he could be something to do with them.

Tomorrow we head for the coast somewhere near St David

Hwyl Fawr (Welsh for Goodbye) from Talgarth in Wales – Paulo


Day 25. Rye and across country to Salisbury, England

The Millstream at Winchester

This morning its raining, a steady drizzle as we eat breakfast and watch the start of the NRL Grand Final (kickoff is 9:30am in the UK) whiler we eat out pasties and drink our tea. The Penrith Panthers give the Eels a bit of a touch up we find out later, the final score is 28-12 to the Penrith Panthers.

Paul’s first drive of the Merc today, its a lovely car but has some quirks that take a bit of getting used to, all the electronics, the auto gear lever on the steering column, the parking brake on the same lever, the sat nav with its UK postcode requirement and a few other things.

Today we’re driving west from Rye in East Susex to Salisbury a medieval city in Wiltshire. Salisbury is 16km from Stonehenge and not far from Glastonbury where the big music festival is held every year. The plan to go across country via villages, if we can.

First we drive to Hastings, along the coast, heading toward Chichester for lunch, not that we need much as breakfast filled us up. Paul has a little fright early on, the road in the rain and the navigation don’t help him but soon its all under control. The initial bit is on motorways but after stopping in Chichester, having an apple and blackcurrent flapjack slice with a coffee we hatch a new plan involving Google Maps and frog hopping to villages to our destination.

We drive through Arundel, the stunning Arundel Castle, the home of Richard Fitzalan 1306-1376 (my 17th Great Grandfather) the 10th Earl of Arundel and my 13th Great Grandmother Eleanor of Lancaster (1311-1372) a Plantagenet and tied to the Beaumont name. The history goes way back and I now need to research this more as this family has soem interesting things going on in their past.

Chichester is a bit of a surprise, located in West Sussex, an ancient church in a former Roman and Anglo Saxon market town. Chichester Cathedral is beatutiful, it was founded as a Cathedral in 1075 but is famous for a few modern things, in particular the art, a spectacular stained glass window by Marc Chagall and some tapestries by other well known artists.

As we leave the church a voice says to Genelle from behind, “where do you come from in Australia?”, we say Dubbo and they say ” Oh we’re from Bowral” , as we do we chat some more and find we have a common link in an interest in rugby. He is not a tall man, a South African accent and she has an accent that I can’t pick but later find out its Swiss. I sa y that I had a bit to do with the NRC and he says “oh thats great our son played a bit of higher level rugby”, I say ” what was your son’s name, sorry what is his name?” They say ” Our son is Dan Vickerman and using was is appropriate, you weren’t to know”.

A bit of background for those not familiar with Dan Vickerman.

Dan Vickerman was born 1979 in South Africa, he was a 204cm 119kg lock who played 63 tests for the Wallabies. He had to retire early at 28 due to injuries and was studying a degree in Land Economics at Cambridge. He was married with 2 children. He struggled with life after rugby and no doubt had issues with multiple concussions and publicly spoke openly of these issues. Unfortunatley in 2017 he took his own life. He was their only child. We spoke and we said that we had something in common, losing a child, even though the circumstances were a little different,the impact is similar and something thats always with you. Given his competitive nature and seemingly happy disposition it was a shock to me when I heard what had happened to him. A reminder that we need to look after ourselves and take heed of the signs of menal health issues in friends and family if we se them. So Vickerman family our thoughts are with you and we wish you all the best.

We now have a driving plan, we head for South Harting through beautiful villages, hedgerows, ploughed paddocks, sheep, dairy cattle. Then on to Petersfield a town with great looking pubs and loevely houses. Then on to a tiny village called Privett in Hampshire with a stunning medieval Norman Church – Holy Trinity with a soaring spire. We then drive to Hinton and Temple Valley with their thatched rooves. Its English country overload, by a fluke we’ve picked a stunning route to drive and experience southern England.

Next stop is Winchester, a stop reccomended by friend Dave, and Dave never lets us down. Its Sunday, there is a market going, people are everywhere, there is a millstream with a stunning stone bridge over it, and, there is Winchester Cathedral. This is important for 2 reasons. One – Winchester Cathedral was a hit in 1966 by the New Vaudeville Band, their only hit. It was a corny love song on no significance. Two – The actual Cathedral is magnificent, Catheral Church of the Holy Trinity Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Swithun. Now I know of Paul (good bloke), Peter (OK but not as good as Paul, but who the f… was Saint Swithun? Building commenced in 1079. It is a huge church, the 6th largest cathedral in the UK. So Winchester is a hit, The Navigator gets a bit of shopping done, and she’s happy.

We continue driving west to Salisbury which is in Wiltshire and arrive about 6pm. Our accomodation is at The Cricketers Arms B&B, very well priced and lovely rooms, a high end B&B I reckon. Its between Salisbury and Wilton. Now what we didn;t know is that Wilton, just down the road and where we go for dinner is home to Wilton House, an actual mansion and land granted by henry VIII to the Herbert family and where Bridgerton, The Crown and many other TV shows and movies have had lots of episodes filmed. We’ll explore that tomorrow. The home is still owned by the Herbert family.

Our host Helen, she is lovely, books us into the Pembroke Arms for dinner. The food is lovely, so well done Helen, good reccomendation.

Tomorrow we’re heading across country via Gloucester, Hereford to Hay On Wye.

Ciao, Cherio, Arividerci from Salisbury in Wiltshire UK – Pauolo

The Chichester Cathedral
Chirch at the village of Hinton
The Marc Chagal Lead Light Stained Glass Window in the Cathedral in Chichester
Checking the Church at Privett
Millstream Bridge in Winchester
Winchester Cathedral


Day 24. Rye, Winchelsea, Hastings – wandering around.

Rye lolly shop

A late rise for me but The Navigator is pissed, the security camera’s alert from early (like 3am) that a “human” has been detected, one phone goes “ping” the other phone buzzes. A check of the camera’s shows Mark mowing our lawn and everytime he goes past where the camera detects him it pings and buzzes. She’s off her nut, can’t work out how to stop the noise (its real its not in her head – or is it?). I change the settings on one phone and put the other on “Aeroplane” mode and the noises stop, The Navigator stops complaining and Mark cops an ear bashing when she phones him later on.

The streets of Rye
The streets of Rye

We wander down town to the Rye shops after a chat with our landlady and her husband, both retired doctors. A pasty and tea and coffee at a nice bakery fills the hungry space and we spend the morning wandering the beautiful old town centre lookig in shops and the only purchase being a truck load of exotic lollies, and they are very tasty. I notice that nearly all the voices I hear are very clipped, very posh English, maybe its the Sussex accent? I dunno ????

The Navigator shopping in Rye

A cup of tea for lunch and we then head to the car in the Rope walk carpark to go driving.

Now a little on the story of Rye. Its a town near the sea in East Sussex with medieval houses, mostly stone, timber and brick. Just over the street from where we are staying in West Street is a red brick house called Lamb House which was once owned by the writer Henry James. There is a Norman Church just above us and right near it the 14th century Ypres Tower which was originally part of Rye’s defences. Over the years its been known as a port, a naval base, a fishing town and a market centre. And its busy this morning, with tourists looking in the many shops.

Next stop is Winchelsea just down the road, it was founded in 1288, after Edward I granted a charter for a town to be located where it is now. They have a weird process to choose their Mayor – Google it if you want to know, its complicated and gives me a headache thinking about it. There is a stunningly beautiful ancient church, St Thomas the Martyr, named after Thomas a Beckett (later he was the Archbishop of Canterbury) and he was later murdered after a blue with the King Henry II. He was then canonised (made a saint – not blown out of a cannon). There are some monuments in the church supposedly Knights Templar We visit this church not because we knew this stuff but because a special favourite of mine is buried in the churchyard. Spike Millgan is buried here, his epitath “I told you I was ill” , a small blue started when his son objected to Spike’s 3rd wife being buring with him and her name being added to the epitath which now says ” may they rest together in perpetual light”. Families eh!

At Spike Mligans Grave

We then fang through the small English laneways and villages through to Battle Abbey, built by William the Conquerer (my 25th Great Grandfather – did I already tell you that?) at the site of the Battle of Hastings to celebrate his victory over Harold – the Anglo Saxon. It costs us 17 quid to get inside the grounds of the Abbey and do the tour of the Battle of Hasting grounds. To be honest the buildings are impressive, and the walk around is interesting but I’m not sure its worth the money. The Navigator takes a minimalist tour, and sits up the top of the hill the Anglo Saxons looked down over The Duke of Normandy and his troops.

The steps to the walking wall at Battle Abbey

Its getting late, so we drive back to Rye through the backroads via the town of Hastings and along the coast for some of the way. Fish and chips is on the go tonight, sea cod and crispy chips with good old vinegar.

Tomorrow we leave Rye and head to Salisbury.

Cherio from Rye – Pauolo


Day 23. London to Wye in Sussex

One of the old family homes – Leeds Castle

After sleeping so well in a midgets room we’re off early again, “adventure before dementia” The Navigator has on her bag. We wrestle the bags down the skinny stairs, then into the grubby early morning foggy London Streets to Kings Cross St Pancras to brave the Tube, with full travelling kit, to Victoria Station.

A little stressful on the crowded tube train when some wanker tries to get on too late and the doors jam. The driver puts a message over to that effect but meanwhile, for a short time we’re in a steaming hot, blacked out Tube train while they are trying to reset the doors. Luckily it all works out and we’re at Victorian Station, The South Eastern Line area waiting for our train out to Mainstone, a Macca’s breakfast is the go while we wait.

There is hardly anybody on the train so the conductor chats to us the whole way to Maidstone East where we are to pick up our hire care at Europcar. A short walk to the car hire offices and they have a small problem with our allocated car showing a service message so they ask us if we’re ok to upgrade to new Mercedes 300d sedan rather than the wagon they had allocated. Unfortunatley our eyes weren’t calibrated too well and we couldn’t fit our bags in the boot so they give us a Mercedes 200 Station wagon – we say “That’ll do!” A bit later we’re sitting in the car park trying to work out what all the Merc knobs and wheels do, where are the gears. Eventually we get under way, they first stop planned is Leeds Castle.

We have the car GPS running with Google maps on a phone, so confusion initially means we drive down a few dry gullies, but it works out. We make it to Leeds Castle, which is not in Leeds city up north its near Leeds village in Kent. This castle was built with many and varied versions starting in 857 ad, in the 13th century my 20 something great grandfather Edward I (aka Edward Longshanks) used it as his favourite residence, It the 16th century Henry VIII used it as the residence of his first wife Catherine of Arragon. The gardens and surrounds are stunning and beautiful, befitting its long and illustrious history.

Getting better at the driving and navigating we skop the edges of Canterbury and head to Dover for a look at the White Cliffs of Dover. Dover is the busiest sea passenger terminal in the world, or so the internet says. The ferries are coming in and out, the seas are choppy and sloppy, it blowing a gale, not a day to be on the English Channel. Abover Dover sits the imposing Dover Castle. We have a large lunch/afternoon tea and walk along the cliffs and are nearly blown off the wind is so strong.

We drive down the coast to to Rye where we have a B&B booked for the next 2 nights, a little down time tomorrow to catch up after the recent hectic pace, we’re all a bit tired.

Its a lovely drive down the coast, the Merc is lovely to drive and sticks to the road like the proverbial sh.t to a blanket in the drizzling rain and howling wind. I think the 300D would have been super cool to drive though. Oh well maybe next time.

Our B&B is on West Street, Rye. Rye is in Sussex, on the sea, its an old town with a lovely vibe. There’s Dennis Denuto from The Castle again!

Dinner is at a pub reccomended by our host, the Standard Inn which is about 150 yards away. The place is packed, its warm, no, hot inside in the way of English places, always hotter than they need to be. We have a few drinks and 3 of us have pies and Genelle has fish and chips. We chat to a couple of gay blokes (pretty sure they were) and a young couple from London (he’s a lawyer and she works for Christies in the fine arts sales area)

A great night, after a walk home in the rain its a good nights sleep thats needed.

Cherio from Rye in Sussex, England – Pauolo


Day 22. Arras, France – Somme Battlefields

Villers Brettoneaux Australian Memorial

Sorry about the delay but I’m writing on Day 23 from Rye in Sussex, a beautiful ancient village near Hastings where my 25th Great Grandfather (don’t say anything smart my so called friends who like to take the piss out of me regarding this fact in my family heritage) – William the Conquerer led the Normans in defeating King Harolds Anglo-Saxon army at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Harry was killed in the battle and William was crowned king at Westminster Abbey the following Christmas Day. Ok, got that out of the way.

Now yesterday, it was Phil from Sacred Grounds Tour’s who had us for the day. He was great, there was us, plus a woman from between Melbourne and Bendigo named Sue, who was also doing the 2nd day in the Flanders battlefields which is about 180km away. Phil is a Aussie who married a French woman 14 years ago, her family are from Arras, they have a daughter ( Madelaine) and his business is battlefields tours and he’s good at it, lots of fun, lot of knowledge. He’s just finished renovatin a B&B called something like Chez Madelaine, he’s sending the details to Sonya. He’s keen to meet Sonya who he said has sent him many clients, and I have to say he’s a gem.

Trench lines still evident near Beaumnt -Hamel in the Newfoundland area, they lost almost every soldier sent on the 1st of July 116, first day of the Battle of the Somme
The beautifully kept graves are maintained by the Commonwealth war Graves Commission
The 2nd poppy at the Pozieres cemetery
Poppies in a field in the Somme
A poppy for Arthur James (Mick) Coombes – killed in the Battle of Pozieres between 22-25th July 2-16 at Villers Bret

He gets the details on my relative who was the 1st Battalion, and was killed between 22-25 July 1916 at the Battle of Pozieres. See yesterday’s post. His name is on the Villers Bretoneaux wall for soldiers killed with an unmarked grave. His body would be in either one of two cemeteries as ” A Soldier Known Only to God” or still under the ground in a battlefields. We tour allied and Australian cemeteries ( they are everywhere in the Somme valley) area, the battlefields of Pozieres, Baupame, Villers Bret, Albert, Le Hamel and others we know of from books. They are still finding 1 tonne of unexploded ordinance in the Somme battlefields every week, and human remains are still coming to the surface in the lovely farming country of the Somme where they grow corn, sugar beet, potatoes and other stuff. We alos see the Lochnagar Crater, 91 metres wide and 1 metres deep due to a huge underground mine exploded under the German lines. They even have vegetable vending machines in the villages. The amount of blood spilt in this small area its no wonder that they can grow almost anything. We finish at the Australian National Memorial at Villers Bretonneux and the Sir John Monash Centre. I leave a crocheted poppy given to me by Caroline, my cousin Ian’s wife at the memorial under the spot where my Great Uncle Arthur James Coombes name is listed, the other I leave the other poppy at the grave of an unknown Australian soldier at the Pozieres Cemetery. At this cemetery I find the grave of an unknown Australian soldier killed with the same date 22-25th July 1916 and from the 1st Battalion, maybe it was him, who knows, so many died, 7,700 men of the 1st Division (of which the 1st Battalion belonged) died just in this battle from 23rd July to 3rd September. 1/3 of the deaths are unknown soldiers in the Somme, 2/3’s are unknown in the Flanders battlefields.

Lunch is at a small restaurant/cafe in a village owned by an English couple, lovely home cooked food, all inclusive in the tour.

We visit the Australian memorials for the 1st, 3rd and 5th Divisions and other sites. So many things to see and try to remember. All I really remember is thinking what a god forsaken mess this war made to so many men and their families from all over the world. The motto “Never Again” is great, but idealistic and unfortunatley WWII and the other slaughter that has happened as well as what Putin has done in the Ukraine tells me that the lesson hasn’t been learned yet. Maybe never will be.

Anyway you look at it has been a very informative and enlightening day thanks to Phil. Well done, I recommend him highly.

Phil drops us back at Arras Holiday Inn at 6pm, time to pick up our bags and make the short walk to Arras train station for our 7:20 something pm train to Paris. Then its on to the 9:13pm Eurostar to London and a short walk to our hotel, The Crestfield Hotel. The Crestfield is in a dark street, all sorts of strange people lurking in the shadows, bit scary walking there so late at night but the rooms are clean, and so tiny that a pygmy couldn’t swing a small cat in there. We struggle with the steps up 2 floors in a very skinny stairway, but make it a fall into bed. Its cold outside but the room is warm so The Navigator turns the fan on to keep us cool.

Another day on the road travelling, a long tiring day but very good.

Cherio from London – Pauolo


Day 21. Luzern to Arras

The Streets of Arras

We start early again, 5.30am rise, squeeze last bits into bags, walk to the Lucerne train station in the dark through early morning drizzling rain. Quietly. Not much to talk about this time of the day, certainly by me anyway.

Forgot to say yesterday, there was a real dusting of snow on the Alps around Mt Pilatus the previous night, all we can see on the top part of Pilatus is white now, shame it wasn’t there when we’re up there the other day.

Today Europe is wet, the forecast looks bleak for everywhere, so a good time to be travelling in the dry although the forecast looks the same for the next few days all the way to England.

Our train is on Gleis 6 ( Platform 6), we’re on early, bags stowed low. A good thing not having to lift them high to luggage racking. Amazingly the train is pretty full even though we do spread out a bit. Basel on the corner of Switzerland, Germany and France arrives in an hour, huge train station, 30+ platforms. A quick check and we find an earlier train going our way, same spec and we are advised we can take it. First class is spacious, seats are wider and it’s less busy. A bit more expensive but nice to relieve the pressure for a short time. Clearly it’s a French train. The language is all French, Bonjour, Merci, voila, parlais vous Anglais? You know the ropes. This train only gets up to 200kph, next one is a TGV so it should be 300+ kph from Strasbourg to Paris.

We’re in Strasbourg on time, different being in France to Switzerland and way different to Italy. Hardly any English spoken or on the message boards, it’s French or nothing. The SNCF (French national railway) have funky hats, the little French head tilt, they are just different, in a good way.

The Alsace region, of which Strasbourg is the capital has about 1.9m people, and has alternated between German and French control over the years, it was Hitlers excuse to poke France’s ribs by annexing it before WWII, that ended well for everyone didn’t it! Did Vlad Putin read the instruction manual Hitler wrote on Alsace Lorraine before he annexed the Crimea and attacked, sorry, moved to protect Russian citizens in the Ukraine?

We have allocated seats in 1st Class for the 1 & 3/4 hours to Paris, 500 km = 6 hours by car or the train averaging 250 kph, I’ll take the train thanks. It’s running at 310 – 320 kph, slightly faster than the old XPT to Dubbo. Wouldn’t it be good if we could find a way for high speed train travel to work in Australia?

The country changes from mountains to arable land, crops, rolling hills, ploughed paddocks , no stops until lunch in Paris before the train to Arras.

At Gare de Est there is the usual bums rush to get off the train, but 1st Class is a little more restrained. My job is to get us for Gare de EST to Gare du Nord train station. The job is easy with Google maps and not to mention the prominent signs, it’s a 10 minute walk although the Navigator with shopping in her back struggles with the pace. She settles when we get into the huge train station, we’ve been here before and it seems really busy in the station this time.

Gare du Nord – busy main platform

PROBLEM – we discover Liz’s train ticket is for 10:30am this morning, not the 14:28 that Genelle, Paul and are on. Genelle sends a message to Sonya but we don’t have time and have to fix the stuff up quickly. I mind the bags and Genelle Liz & Paul go to the ticket office to find a solution, if there is one. They tell her the ticket she has had expired, so only option is to try and buy a new one for the same train. The lineup is long and I’m not sure we’ll find a solution in time for the 2:28 train!!!!!!!

The Navigator working on the problem with Murph.

TIP – Double check your train tickets dates, times, seats etc and print hard copies as electronic 2nd ticket copies sit below the top copy. Make sure they match, then double check, again.

They manage to secure a €17 ticket with about 5 minutes to spare, otherwise Liz would not have got through the barcode machine and security to let us through to the platform for our train, lucky we did a check on seats and times when we got to Gare du Nord. Her original f….up ticket was on the same booking number so not sure what happened? If this hadn’t been noticed early by Genelle & Liz when we got of the train Paris it would have been a big problem as Liz would have been stopped at entrance to the platform.

Now, we’ve arrived in Arras, on time, those TGV trains sure do go fast, the Holiday Inn Express is 5 minutes walk from the train station, sort of a non descript average French town near the railway station, nothing flash from what we can see first up. Our Check In is good, nice staff, very helpful, rooms are OK and good pillows has impressed The Navigator. The front office give us a map and some good advice so we walk up town, a few minutes and we’re in the “old town” of Arras, French Flemmish architecture, the beautiful big squares with the cafes and restaurants, people smoking, drinking, laughing, ha ha ha – all so very French – Dr Bob I hear your voice all the time, it reminds of of you and how you sound when you speak, its all good mate, I like it. We find a bar/cafe and have a few drinks, wander some more, a standard western type meal for dinner, some funky bio beer that Paul doesn’t like much and we wander home for a well deserved sleep to get ready for tomorrow’s Somme battle tour with Sacred Grounds – Out in The Somme Day Tour which focus’s on the Australian war experience in WWI. By the way Arras is very pretty and has a nice vibe, as Dennis Denuto said in The Castle “Its all about he vibe…….” and I like the vibe of Arras.

Why do I want to do it you might ask:

The Coombes name is a relation on both sides for me. My mothers elder sister Connie married a Coombes, so I have 4 x 1st cousins on Mums side named Coombes. Those cousins father, Johnnie Coombes, was my fathers mother (my Grandmother on dads side) 1st Cousin. There were 5 Coombes cousins who went to WWI in the infantry in Flanders, and the Somme battlefields, 3 died, one was wounded 3-4 times and medically discharged and the other was wounded and had a difficult life. Four years age I visited 1 grave and 1 memorial in the unknown grave section at the Ypes Memorial at Menin gate in Belgium and left a poppy that my cousin in law Caroline had crocheted for the AWM. Tomorrow I have one poppy left to leave for the 3rd one who died in the Somme. He was Arthur james Coombes (aka Mick), born 1878, he was a batchelor, a farmer, his father died in 1905 so he lived at home with his mother. He was my Great Uncle – my grandmothers brother. He joined up in August 1915, and joined the 16th reinforcent to the 1st Division 1st Battalion at the front 20th May 1916 and was killed between 22-25th July 1916 in the Battle of Pozieres. His record says he was “buried in the vicinity of Pozieres”. His brother William (Spider Bill) also served but returned home, he had 4 other brothers and 3 sisters. He lost 1st cousin Stanley Coombes 4th Battalion at the Battle of Paschendale 12/10/1917 and Stanley’s brother Alfred 34th Battalion was killed at the Battle of Messines 7/6/1917. My Grandfather (Dads father) served in the 7th Lighthorse in Palestine and Gallipoli (after the war ) and Mums Uncle was in the 7th Light Horse as well but died in training camp from measles. There is a long tradition of service in the military in both sides of my family, with Dads brother serving in WWII and two first cousins seving in the regular army 1 in the engineers in Malaya and Vietnam and the other in the SAS in many or all of the modern spheres of war and my nephew in law who is/was an officer in the RAAF has served overseas in the middle east and on UN missions, so I believe in recognising and honouring service and sacrifice of our military service men and women. Hopefully I’ll find Mick’s memorial and leave something to show somebody remembered him.

So Merci (thankyou) for reading, and Bonsoir ( or whatever it is) from Arras in France tonight. Pauolo

Twilight shoppers

Day 20. A Quiet Day in Luzern

Lucerne Lion Monumet

Sleep in until about 5am, can’t sleep, read a little, get ordered to go to sleep by The Navigator, that works. F…g miracle, she can fix electric faults and put people to sleep, what a versatile woman she is.

I do get up at about 8, refreshed from my enforced sleep, and have a very good in house breafast of fruit, muelsi, yogurt and a cup of good Italian coffee from the pod machine, I’d like some of this coffee back home, strong, smooth and lots of flavour,

Its clear but threatening rain when we walk to the bridge and over into the town proper. First job is the Victorinox shop to get a new band on The Navigators expensive Victorinox watch she bought in Luzern many years ago. She hardly wears it because the Apple watch has a phone, can’t do without a phone can we? The Victorinox watch people, except for one buggerise around and can’t get the band on, it cost a bit as all Victorinox stuff does so they better have if on right, the old band was perished and was about to give way so it needed to be done.

Next stop is through the Luzern shopping centre up to the Lion Monument, its a sculture in the face of a cliff designed by Bertel Thorvaldsen and carved in 1821 by Lukas Ahorn to commemorate the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution defending the King of France when the revoltionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris. Its pretty big being 10 metres long and 6 metres high. 760 guards were killed and 350 survived. Its a bit of a political football still.

Next stop is a shop where we buy our travel momento for the shelf where we put something from each trip, this time its a multi coloured ceramic Swiss cow. Don’t ask me the colours, theres lots of them and they are bright and some blend together for me,

Its starting to rain, next stop is a shop Genelle and I have been to before, I buy a Swiss watch, so does Liz, not expensive but good quality. Paul and Liz head to the Mechanical Museum which is around the lakes edge quite a way but the heavy rain causes them to abandon the walk, meanwhile Genelle and I case out the C&A shop where I actually buy 2 pieces of clothing. Yes folks, C&A is not an op shop, nor a Thai tailor so this is a rare event. Genelle continues shopping, its hard work but somebody has to do it. I buy a book to read, then wander the streets, a foot massage looks inviting so I indulge (too much time in Thailand!).

Overall a pretty quiet day, a restful day ready for a heavy day of travel tomorrow on trains. Luzern to Basel, change, Basel to Strassbourg, change, Strassbourg to Paris, change, Paris to Arras, stay. Next day a Somme battlefield tour, then England.

Dinner is a restaurant by the water, a lovely spot, good food, expensive but good. A good way to end our Swiss journey.

Ciao, Guten Abend from Luzern (or Lucerne) Switzerland


Day 19. Luzern – Interlaken & Jungfraujoc – the top of Europe

In the snow on The Eiger – note the shades and bag full of chocolates

I said in an earlier post that revenge is a dessert best served cold. I probably got what I deserved last night, the bathroom light wouldn’t turn on for me, I tried and tried, the electrician tried, we came up with a Plan B and The Navigator just walks in pushes the button and it works, no comment just the look. I’m humbled and feel defeated. And it still works this morning!

Early start today, 5am out of bed, breakfast, walk in the dark to the Luzern train station to get the 6:05 Interlaken Express which takes 2 hours but actually the main train station is Interlaken Ost (East). Then we catch another train to Grunewald where the cable car starts up the mountain – TIP the Grunweald stop for the cable car is actually Grunewald Terminal, we lose Paul for a moment but he’s just visited the boys room, phew. He’s still not 100% well, and the Jubgfraujoch was one thing he really wanted to do, yesterday we took the punt on a window in the weather at the top of the mountain and we have our fingers crossed that Mother Nature is on our side.

The cable car up the mountain to where we catch the cog railway almost to the top of the mountain is a fantastic ride, the views are spectactular and as we get up further we see the snow line and it gets whiter and whiter, We”re all excited but none more than Liz who has never seen or touched snow before.

Now the education bit, if you don’t like the background stuff skip forward to where it might get more interesting, or more boring – depends on how tired I am. The jungfraujoch is a saddle connecting major peaks of the Bernese Alps, The Jungfrau and the Monch. Height is 3463 metres, but, The Eiger is 3967 metres its the peak that we are at, not right at the top but close. The Eiger is a challenge for climbers the world over and is one of the 6 classic North faces on the globe for climbers. They can have it, I can hardly walk up the path let alone climb in the freezing ice and snow. The Swiss have done a fantastic job getting access to this area, the staff are super helpful, everything is efficient, clean and works. The only problem we have is the clarity of the instructions on where to go, but we work it out, at least the Navigator does with her linguistic skills which involve hand waving and talking a lot and at a higher volume. She’s assisted by Liz who has now become an apprentice Navigator, she had a small test this afternoon and had to be coached into finding the apartment under pressure when are tired after a long day, BUT, she is improving.

So the punt came off, the weather at the top is unbelievably clear, the sun comes out, the view down the glacier is spectacular and then we get out into the real snow and ice. It must have snowed last night as there is a nice thick layer of powder snow on top of crunchy icey snow. Genelle and Liz lay down in the snow and do the star burst thing, juvenile behaviour but snow does that to Genelle. Once many years ago, just after we were married, she came home from doing pottery (yes readers – she was a potter – who’d a thunk it!) and it had just started snowing and demanded we go for a drive in the snow. The old Torana slipped and slid and we nearly died, f….k the snow I say. She has a whinge that her hands are cold, well they would be when you are rolling up snow and throwing at me and others. She encourages Liz to roll up a solid snow ball, she hasn’t quite mastered snow balls yet (But Paul has I think – he’s a bit chilly ) but she manages to ht me up the side of the head with a chuck of icey snow that momentarily stunned me. I think the problem is she’s not feeling well, she’s not herself, she has the wobbles, is light headed, we’re 13,400 feet high and oxygen deprivation has taken its toll. You can’t talk, throw snow balls, give orders and fend off pesky tourists without enough oxygen.

We find the ice cave and post a postcard to a small person in Cobar from the highest point in Europe, at least thats what they say on the wall at the to point of the Eiger.

We went up via Grunelwald and we came back to the bottom via the cog railway via Lauterbrunnen. The train trip is stunning, as we wind our way down from 13,000 feet, there are avalance barriers, huge valleys underneath sheer cliffs hundreds of feet high. The scenery is so much more stunning and the experience so much better that the Pilatus experience, if you have the opportunity to do one then do Jungfraujoch, its a bit more expensive but so much better

There wasn’t a huge crowd because the forecast was crap for the afternoon, but there were lots of Japanese and Thai tourists as well as Germans and Americans. Funny seeing Thai tourists, they were having a ball, guess they wouldn’t see much snow, less than us I suppose, and the Japanese crowd, despite being so gentle and friendly at home push and shove their way through lines and annoy a lot of people. Bit of a contradiction but thats how I saw it today.

The train home is quiet, except for the snoring from the sleepers, Liz snorts so loudly she nearly sets off the train alarm, if there had been curtains there she would have inhaled them and Genelle nearly trips the conductor 3 times with her legs over the aisle. Paul and I quietly enjoy the trip home. We’re home at 5pm, Liz is given the job of navigating home, a little hesitation but she gets us there with a little help.

Its been a long day so Cheers from Luzern for today – Pauolo


Day 18. Luzern, Switzerland a bit of Adventure today

Fairly high up in Switzerland

Today is Sunday 25th September. We’re having sleep in, we’re not leaving for Mt Pilatus until 8am, but the signs aren’t good outside, its drizzling rain and about 8deg C. The Navigator sprint/walks to the train station afraid a) that I’ll get lost b) we’ll be late for ferry and c) Option a) and b) which means I’ll really be in the gun. Its helpful that I actually know where I’m going, despite the commentary from the side suggesting otherwise from the real Navigator. This is proven later in the day when we are walking home and Genelle and Liz would have turned left and ended up back at Mt Pilatus rather than right to our apartment, but I say nothing, discretion means I might live another day. Normally I’d make a point but today isn’t the day, the glare in her eyes early in the day tells me that I need to be very careful.

First job is finding out what wharf our boat to the cog railway leaves from, initially we are told 5 but then its changed to 2. We chat to an elderly couple from San Franciso who look to be in their mid late 70’s and still doing interesting travel, good on them I say. We board our ferrym there are a lot of Asian’s, not sure where from but the language sounds Chinese so maybe Taiwan or Korea, not sure, and Americans. Lots of Americans, one woman shoved her hands in the toilet hand dryer above The Navigators at Mt Pilatus, its a wonder she still has a straight nose and all her limbs pulling that stunt – she clearly missed the signals.

Its pissing down rain as we wind around Lake Luzern towards the starting point of the cog railway up Mt Pilatus. Mt Pilatus cog railway was opened in 1889, at 48 degrees incline its still the steepest cog railway in the world taking about 30 minutes to get from the ferry at Alpnachstad to Pilatus Kulm (the top). The ride up the railway is safe but anyone who struggles with heights might have a bit of anxiety when you look down, it rises up to a bit above 7,000 feet. The location and the gondola ride down the other side were used in a James Bond film On Her Majesties Secret Service, its also a Swiss military base as well as tourist destination.

The cog railway ride up Mt Pilatus

When we get up the top the clouds sort of clear, we can see over Lake Lucerne and Lucerne itself but clouds keep rolling in. There is no ice or snow up there so Liz is a little disappointed, she still hasn’t experienced snow but that might happen tomorrow when we go to the Jungfraujoc which is 11,500 feet high. The views are spectacular, we are so high.

A sandwich we made does for lunch, then the cable car ride back down the bottom. Its spectacular, with a small change in the middle. At the bottom of the mountain we walk for about 10 minutes to get the bus back to the Lucerne train station.

A little church on the mountain

Before we walk home, or Pt Pilatus if certain people had their way, we go to the Swiss Railway travel office, we were told they are excellent and this proves to be correct, they sort out tomorrows trip to Jungfraujoc which involves 2 trains, a cog railway and cable cars and as well as that they change our train frm Lucerne to Basel on Wednesday to a more civilised leaving time from 5:30am to about 7:00am, a job well done.

There is a little shopping for dinner at the COOP supermarket in the train station before the walk home which could have been awkward if we’d taken Genelle (The Navigator) and Liz’s direction, but never mind all is good, no points to be scored, or is there?

Dinner is in house, pork and chicken, salad, a beer and a cup of tea.

Guten Abend from Luzern, Switzerland – Pauolo