Travels With The Man, Vienna . . . (well a little part of it anyway)

After the busy and research filled visit to Trieste I thought our time in Vienna would be a quieter more relaxing stay, and in a way it is. The historic centre is traffic restricted in many places, and you are more likely to be knocked down by a bicycle than a bus. The roads are extremely wide and the side streets, on the whole, are pleasant and interesting, with few pedestrians. The same can’t be said for each of the many tourist attractions, which are heaving and occasionally pretty claustrophobic.

Every corner that you turn reveals a magnificent structure, be it a palace, a museum, a library, public offices or even an apartment building. On every other corner there is a café, a chocolate shop, or a konditorei (cake shop).

On the street where we are staying, the façades are classic early 20th century, flat front but embellished, architecture. It is exactly how I would have imagined it. I love it. But, for some reason it doesn’t inspire me to write, at least it doesn’t fire my imagination to create any fiction. I’ve tried to work out why this is and I think it might be because everywhere is opulent. We’re staying close to the historic centre and one would think I would be bursting with ideas for some romantic, fiction about the young Hapsburg children running about in the palace grounds or a fictional depiction of the much discussed and possibly reinvented wife of Franz Joseph of Austria, Elizabeth (known as Sisi). Their whole lifestyle, the grandness and sheer ‘overthetopness’ of it all leaves me a little cold. Sisi had long hair down to her ankles which took three hours everyday to groom and style. It took a whole day for her to have a bath and wash it. I mean honestly! There is no doubt that Sisi is an interesting character and you can read more about her here.

Vienna was, or should I say, ‘is’ The Hapsburgs’. The family ruled the Austro Hungarian Empire from 1867 until 1918 and before that the Austrian Empire from 1804. The House of Hapsburg was founded in the 11th Century so they have been around for a very long time. However, when visiting the palaces and museums here, the emphasis is most definitely on Franz Joseph (ruled 1848 – 1916) and Maria Theresa who ruled from 1740 – 1780 with her husband Francis 1st. Her father, Charles IV, paved the way for her succession with the Pragmatic Sanction in 1713 which would allow a women to take the crown when there were no male heirs. A forward thinking man maybe, but in reality, he just wanted to make sure the Hapsburg line continued to rule.

These two monarchs, Franz Joseph and Maria Theresa, feature heavily in all the attractions of the city, even though there were others obviously – in 600 years there had to be. I didn’t know very much about either of them before I came here, at least I knew of them but that was about it. For me, it was interesting to see the connections between Trieste and Vienna and the Hapsburgs. In Trieste we visited the Miramare Castle built by Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria who was the brother of Franz Joseph. He was the Emperor of Mexico but was deposed and subsequently shot in 1867. In fact Franz Joseph was an unlucky man, first his brother is killed, then his son commits suicide (see below), then his wife was murdered (also see below), and to cap it all, his nephew and heir, Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914 leading to the beginning of WWI and the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire. Franz Joseph died in the Shönbrunn Palace on 21st November, 1916 at the age of 86. He ruled for 68 years.

Below are some of the facts that have grabbed my interest whilst in Vienna:

Trieste was the sea port for the Austro Hungarian Empire for many years.
Marie Antoinette was one of the daughters of Maria Theresa.
Sisi was assassinated by an Italian anarchist who went specifically to kill somebody else in Geneva but the guy he had planned to stab had left the building earlier that day. He went on to stab Sisi, he didn’t care who he assassinated:

‘ I am an anarchist by conviction… I came to Geneva to kill a sovereign, with object of giving an example to those who suffer and those who do nothing to improve their social position; it did not matter to me who the sovereign was whom I should kill… It was not a woman I struck, but an Empress; it was a crown that I had in view.

The son of Sisi and Franz Joseph died in 1889 at their country hunting lodge known as Mayerling. It was all a bit of an intrigue as he was there with his young mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera, and they both died in what was suspected to be a murder-suicide pact. This incident is of particular interest to me because of course there is a ballet of the same name choreographed by Kenneth Macmillan to the music of Franz Liszt. based on the story. Read more here

It’s all history innit?


There are a number of palaces in Vienna, we managed to visit three, The Schönbrunn Palace, The Hofburg, and The Belvedere,

Yes, it was a bit seen one you’ve seen ’em all but…The Belvedere housed a wonderful exhibition of sculpture and art and we browsed the various rooms with pre and post WW2. Very interesting. The Schöbrunn was all all about Queen Elizabeth wife of Franz Joseph I, known as Sisi, (see above).

Photographs from the Belvedere Exhibition

The Hofburg Palace was also home to the Spanish riding school. I was unable to get a ticket to see a performance but I did do a tour of the stables. Photos were limited, we weren’t allowed to take any actually inside the stables where all the mature stallions were kept. So I just got a couple of shots of the younger ones. I didn’t take very good ones but…

I’ve never liked the idea of the stallions performing all those high dressage steps and dancing but visiting the stables and listening to the tour guide I became convinced that the horses lead a very happy life with plenty of holiday time during their working life. The mares are kept at the Lipica Stud Farm in Slovenia. It was pointed out to me that they only use the mares for breeding and in any case the mares are not interested in ‘showing off’ like the stallions are. They don’t need to bother with all that sort of malarky. The stallions on the other hand love to flaunt themselves and be the centre of attention. There is a fascinating history to the breed and to the Spanish Riding School. You can take a look at some videos on Youtube if you want to see performances and more about them.

The Man and I also took a tour of the Opera House. Tickets weren’t available for a performance, which was just as well because they were a tad pricey! €250 for one. An expensive night out which we couldn’t really run to. But, we could visit the opera house for the small price of €9 each as were are over a certain age. The English speaking tour was fully booked so we had to choose between Japanese or Italian. Yes, of course we chose Italian. I was surprised at how much I understood although he did rather rattle through things.

We did a huge amount of walking around Vienna and everywhere there are beautiful buildings to see. The Man and I feel we barely scratched the surface of this wonderful city and it’s definitely worth a second and even third visit. Have you been? Let me know in the comments what you think.

Phnom Penh . . .

The Silver Pagoda in The King’s Palace Phnom Penh

We flew from Vientiane to Phnom Penh with Vietnam Airlines. Both The Man and I were a little anxious. It’s our ages I think and remembering the flying reputation Vietnam had in the past (very old Russian transport planes), but, it was a brilliant flight. The aeroplane was very modern, the flight attendants pleasant and smiling, the women elegant and the men smart and pleasing. I sound like an old lady but honestly they were so lovely and attentive. I’m not a great flyer but they made me feel quite relaxed. The flight was short, only an hour and five minutes but they still managed to serve us an in flight meal which was not at all bad; a meat roll, fruit, cup of tea etc.,

Arrival at Phnom Penh airport went much smoother that I could have thought. We managed to get some dollars from Bangkok airport so the immigration was quicker than Luang Prabang. It was more organised in any case. We filled in the little immigration document on board the plane, waited in line for them to check everything. They took our passports at one window and they were passed along for us to pay and collect. A line of officials all sitting down behind a long glass barrier. They worked like a conveyor belt handing the passports from one to the next until they arrived at the end of the line. It took less than five minutes I think. It was a big relief after the kerfuffle at Laos.

I had booked a taxi through to collect us and I wasn’t too sure if it was going to work but. . . there by the exit was a man with a sign saying Ninette Hartley in bold letters. A miracle. The place was very busy but our driver helped us through arrivals and we were soon in an air conditioned car heading for the centre of Phnom Penh. Just to mention here that booking through meant that the car was paid for from my card and we didn’t have to mess about looking for cash. I think Geoff gave the driver a tip anyway.

I have absolutely no idea what I expected Phnom Penh to offer me. The drive from the airport took us through the suburbs and into the city. The landscape was very flat. No hills or mountains. The streets were busy with heavy traffic; the usual million mopeds carrying more than two people but at least they were wearing helmets this time. There were more shop fronts and fewer street sellers. The area of the city which is for the government and embassy buildings etc., had wide boulevard type roads with flower beds, grass and walkways. Most buildings sat behind attractive high walls and iron gates. It didn’t feel like a communist country, although what I expect that to be I’m not really sure.

A few shots of Phnom Penh. The Mekong River in the middle.

Our hotel entrance was just one door set in a high wall. There was a man in a wooden booth with glass windows checking to see who was entering . As we went through the door we were transported from a busy, street into a complete oasis. We had to walk past the swimming pool to get to the hotel lobby and it was just like walking through a clearing in the jungle. The hotel restaurant where breakfast could be taken was right beside this pool. What a delight it was. We upgraded to a bigger room, a suite in fact, as we were to have three nights at this lovely place and honestly, it was so cheap considering we were in a city. Later on the next day we would be very glad we had done this.

Photos of the Pavilion Hotel Phnom Penh

We decided to visit one of the 300 Killing Fields just outside the city, and S21-Tuol Sleng Prison in the city centre, on one morning. We knew it was going to be difficult and emotional and Geoff wasn’t sure I would be able to handle both on the same day but I agreed with him that it would be better this way. So we booked a taxi to take us out to Choeng Ek (The Killing Field closest to Phnom Penh), wait for us and then bring us back to S-21. He waited for us there too before returning us to our hotel.

I don’t know how much to write about our visit to the Killing Fields and S-21. I made a note in my journal and I’ll copy some of it here:

*CONTENT WARNING, the following might upset some readers.

I found it disturbing, unbelievable and very sad. Man’s inhumanity to man at its very worst. Cambodian against Cambodian. Awful. I was especially affected by ‘The Killing Tree’. This is the infamous tree where Khmer Rouge Soldiers smashed the heads of young infants and babies against the trunk, holding them by their legs, in front of their mothers, and then throwing them into the pit. The mothers, mostly naked, were killed and thrown in after them. This whole scenario is so appalling I found it hard to take in. It is beyond my comprehension how any person could behave in this way. In my journal I wrote: unbelievable, SAD , awful, horrid, terrifying, cruel, inhuman. Beyond anything I can imagine.

Above are some photographs of the Killing Fields

The S-21 prison was originally a school, three stories built around three sides of a square courtyard. I saw many schools after this as we drove through the towns on our way up to Siem Reap and every time I was reminded of the awful atrocities that happened in the converted school in Phnom Penh. The S-21 prison was a cruel, horrendous place. Torturing innocent people until they confessed to something that wasn’t true and then they were taken out and killed. At first with bullets but in the end they were beaten to death or hacked with machetes. Classrooms were prison cells and some classrooms were divided into many small cells by building brick walls creating small, cramped cells about 6’x 3′. Four years this continued. 1975 until 1979, when the Vietnamese came into Cambodia and beat the Khmer Rouge into surrender. Between 14,000 and 17,000 people went into this prison and only twelve are believed to have survived. One survivor was there at the prison, Bou Meng, there is a book about his experience and we bought it from him as he sat behind a table in the courtyard at Tuol Sleng. I did do some reading about the history of Cambodia and when we came back home last week we watched again the film The Killing Fields. This time I understood it all so much better. Those young (very young) boys who made up. the Khmer Rouge army really had no choice. Brainwashed and in fear of their own lives, I guess they did what they had to do. But some of them did it with relish I think. Others did not.

A few photographs from S-21 Prison. Top includes photographs of some prisoners.

Centre top includes John Dewhurst and Kerry Hamill

Bottom is from left: The memorial, Bour Meng’s book, The courtyard today.

There were so many photographs showing tortured, and dead bodies with many stories behind the pictures. You can only take so much. One story touched me particularly hard and I expect that was because of losing my son Tosh when he was 27. There were three young foreigners John Dewhurst and Kerry Hamill and Stuart Glass. They were on a boat off the coast of Cambodia when attacked by a Khmer Rouge gunboat. Stuart Glass was shot on the boat and the other two were taken to S-21 prison and were killed after being tortured. They were around the same age as Tosh when they died. I cannot begin to imagine what their parents went through. It’s a dreadful story. You can read more about their story here and also a more detailed account of S-21.

I am sorry if this is not my usual kind of jolly blog but I felt I had to write about it even though it was not a good experience. We cannot hide from these things that have occurred in the world. They are complicated emotions that I feel; guilt, sadness, hopelessness, despair — but I’m not an activist and I am guilty of letting these things happen. I know it was something that Tosh felt strongly about, knowing these dreadful things are going on in the world but not actively doing anything about it. We are all guilty of standing back and letting things go by. I guess we fall back on, ‘what can I do about it?’

It was incredibly hot while we were there, 39 degrees for most of the time. When we got back to our hotel Geoff began to feel unwell. He’d lost his cap sometime during the morning and the heat obviously affected him. He was burning up although we’d not been ‘in the sun’ it was cloudy and the smoke was still hanging about. He just overheated rather dramatically. He went to bed and I kept putting wet flannels that I had cooled down in the freezer over his head. He slept for something like 17 hours and didn’t eat until breakfast the next day.

I swam in the pool and tried to take in all that we had seen, although it felt decadent and disrespectful to be just relaxing and doing nothing. We had paid our respects and I had thought deeply about the people and what happened from 1975-1979 in Cambodia.

The rest of the day I spent in our room. As I said at the beginning we’d upgraded to a suite so I was able to be in the sitting room while keeping and ear and eye on Geoff who was flat out in the bedroom. I read the book about Bou Meng. It was thought provoking and moving. I wondered how must it feel to be one of the only survivors out of thousands of prisoners. He survived because he was an artist and they were able to use him to paint portraits of prominent communist leaders and other posters for propaganda.

The next day, Geoff stayed out of the heat but I thought I should make the effort to go to the Royal Palace which was very close to our hotel. A very different experience from the day before. Such opulence, gold and comfort everywhere. I could only see 50% of the palace because it was the beginning of three days celebration for the Cambodian New Year and the king was practising something (sitting probably) in his throne room. In any case it was extremely boiling and I didn’t want to get struck down in the same way Geoff had. I went into the Silver Pagoda which is known as ‘The Temple of the Emerald-Crystal Buddha’ . No photographs allowed sadly. A few people were bowing and praying on the carpet below the buddha which was not that big but set high up on top of a gold plinth in the middle of the building. I walked around the grounds but for a very short time, always trying to keep in the shade. There was a model of Angkar Wat – we would be going there the next day. Finally I walked towards the exit where I found a magnificent model of king’s litter with soldiers and servants attending him. It was absolutely magnificent. Housed in an air conditioned room I spent some time there before walking back to our hotel.

My next post will be about Siem Reap and hopefully a jollier one. Cambodia is a beautiful country, we should not forget that and Phnom Penh must live with its history. Anyone over 50 is a little reluctant to talk about it.

More Travelling. . . and grandmother duties or Nonna as I am known.

For two weeks of February I spent time with my two lovely granddaughters, looking after them at their home in Bristol and then travelling with them to New York and Boston for the second week which was their half-term. This could be a very long post but I’m going to cut down on the text and give you all the photos I can, so that you can see how amazing it was.

My first trip, was with the eldest granddaughter, here in the UK. We went to Slimbridge Wetland Centre with her school. My daughter had signed up to be a parent helper, but in her absence I readily took her place. It’s years since I went on a school trip (we called it an outing) — they haven’t changed one bit! Children eating their packed lunch and treats on the coach before we even reached our destination. Lots of chatting and excitement each time they were lined up in crocodile formation as we moved from place to place on the day’s excursion. We arrived at the park in just over an hour, Bristol to Gloucestershire. It was unfortunately misty for the first part of the day which meant our view from the lookout tower over Swan Lake, was somewhat obscured. No problem we soon raced around the frogs zone looking at — well, mainly frogs — walked all around the park, ate our lunch, and did a bit of ‘learning’. For me the pièce de résistance was the Estuary View Lookout. Amazing. I couldn’t believe how close to Bristol we were as I looked across at the fantastic river valley.

I learned a lot about wildfowl, migration and for a while I even began to like birds. They’re not my favourite species but it was interesting to hear about their habitat and habits. The staff at the centre made learning fun, involving the children in games to help them understand why and where birds migrate. I held the winning card in one game, much to the delight of grandchild number one! For the most part though, she kept her distance. Understandable, who needs their Nonna to be too close on a school trip. (I did hear her boast about me afterwards which was really lovely).


We flew Virgin Atlantic from Heathrow to JFK and it was not at all bad. The bus from Bristol was 45 minutes late but I had left the house in plenty of time. My daughter’s chirpy text, ‘Lucky you’ve got 47 hours’ was a bit cutting and obviously exaggerated, I had actually only allowed for 4 hours at the airport. We made it with 3 hours to spare. Good flight. Good children. Arriving at JFK in the evening (it was about 3am uk time) we were all exhausted and just fell into bed when we got to the hotel. Let me add here that I then spent 10 nights in the same room as the children and their mother, two different hotels. Thank goodness hotel rooms in America are ENORMOUS!

We spent the weekend in Brooklyn where the children and my daughter have many friends. Both grandchildren were born in New York, one in Brooklyn and one in Manhattan. They caught up with their buddies before we drove up to Framingham near Boston. The hotel here was brand new, The Aloft, and it was chosen because it had a swimming pool HOWEVER, the pool was out of action because there was no lifeguard. Despite the fact that the pool was small and completely visible from the lobby of the hotel through a glass wall. Raised eyebrows here. Ah well. It was okay because they gave us complimentary pass to the pool and gym just up the road. No problem then, except there was a problem, because the children were under fourteen. Boy did I kick up a fuss, (get the American lilt in there?) In the end we were able to go and swim at the Sheraton Conference centre up the road, another Marriott Hotel. I think they opened it just for us as we were the only ones swimming. There was a big sign saying NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY (but they seemed to think a sign was a good enough get out) but an older man sat at a desk and watched us for our designated hour. He was okay and spent at least twenty minutes trying to mend a pair of goggles for us. We only did this swim at the Sheraton once as it was a pain taking an Uber to the Sheraton, getting changed, getting dry and dressed and taking and Uber back to Aloft. Still the concierge meant well.

I had to try and find things to do for a couple of days. There wasn’t much around the hotel as it was mostly a highway with strip malls and restaurants along it. I decided to get the train into Boston and visit the Aquarium, the Boston Tea Party and the Children’s Museum. The train was brilliant, only $9.50 for me and the children went free. It was a double decker so much excitement to be had.


Photos above are of the amazing New England Aquarium Boston The stunning tubular tank is in the centre and extends upwards for four floors.

My favourite was the sea horse and the girls loved the octopus of course!

On the Wednesday we went to The Boston Tea Party. It’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. There were very few visitors but the company of actors/guides still put on a good show in the Meeting Room for us, and included everyone in the re-enactment of throwing tea into Boston harbour. Eldest granddaughter threw the tea chest over without a second thought, (it was on the end of a rope obviously).

The boat, Eleanor, was an exact replica of the original. Much smaller than I imagined. To think of it crossing the Atlantic is very scary! The gift shop was full of many items but also a great deal of china and tins of tea. Too much to choose from really. I would like to have had a cup of tea in Abigail’s Tea Room but the girls were ready to run over the bridge to the Children’s Museum.

Our final visit of the day before we headed back to Framingham on the train was The Boston Children’s Museum. An absolutely fantastic place with so much going on and a great deal to see. They had ‘sock skating’, bubble making, science experiments, climbing, arts and crafts, a whole raft of things to do for children up to the age of 12. My favourite was a real Japanese house, dismantled and imported from Japan then rebuilt in the museum. It was fascinating. We were lucky enough to go inside…shoes off of course.

So much to do in the Children’s Museum

The Japanese House

That’s all folks. I’m off to Thailand at the end of March so watch this space for more travel news!

Three Days in Trieste…inspirational for writers, or for anyone really…

If you receive my newsletter (you can sign up for it HERE on this website) you will have seen that The Man and I did rather a lot of travelling in November. November is a difficult month for me, it’s the beginning of a series of family anniversaries (births, deaths etc.,) Going away was a great thing to do. We travelled down to Le Marche in Italy where we used to live but took several days to get there stopping in Belgium, France and Switzerland on the way. All the stops were really my choice so I had to allow The Man to fulfil his dream of staying in Trieste. Which we did, for three nights at the end of November. I chose the hotel, right on the front with a sea view and The Man got us a free upgrade to include a balcony.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather. Although it turned a little cold, the sun shone for most of the time we were there and we had a magnificent view of the Mediterranean sea — until it was interrupted by the arrival of an enormous cruise ship less than 100 metres from our hotel window.

Just a few photographs of the hotel in Trieste and our view with and without the cruise ship! It was a special treat for us and we very much enjoyed it.

There was so much to see that we had difficulty in choosing but as James Joyce lived here for some time during his life, it was a must to find some of his haunts. We didn’t make it to the museum but we will next time. You can read about James Joyce in Trieste here on the museum website. We walked up the Via Roma to find his statue. I of course hoped for some inspiration. The Man was walking in the steps of a writer he much admires. We visited the James Joyce Café on our first evening in Trieste but it was closing and a bit of a disappointment. We saw one of the blocks of apartments that Joyce lived in, a pretty pink one beside the water inlet in the Piazza Sant’Antonio Nuova.

We chose to visit the Banksy exhibition which was staged in the old fish market. An enormous building with high ceilings and big windows. That was impressive to begin with, never mind the art works on display. The Man said, ‘I have never given Banksy anywhere near enough credit for his satirical observation, probably because I just hadn’t seen enough of his work. It is eye opening to see so much here.’

It was a big exhibition with many familiar pieces and many I had not seen before. There was an area containing pull-down rolls of blank paper and pens for the public to do their own piece. I couldn’t resist of course. Afterwards, I wanted to tell Tosh all about it. . . So I did.

We also chose to visit the Revoltella Museum. Founded in 1872 by Baron Pasquale Revoltella (1795-1869), one of the most representative figures of Trieste society in the 19th century. who left to the city, in addition to many other bequests, his house and all the works of art, furnishings and books it contained. Apart from wandering around the beautiful house and viewing all the wonderful works of art and furniture, we attended I Macchiaioli exhibition housed in a gallery within the building. In the words of the museum website:

The term “Macchiaioli” defines the most important group of Italian artists of the 19th century.
Independent and rebellious spirits who abandon the historical and mythological scenes of neoclassicism and romanticism to open themselves to a realistic and immediate painting, without preparatory drawings, painting precisely “in stains” dense and colourful everyday life, with short brushstrokes that make the subjects much more truthful. The outlines in their paintings are blurred in an attempt to reproduce reality as it appears at a glance.

This was a movement I had never heard of. I’m not an art critic and I know very little about the history of art, unlike The Man, but even he didn’t know of it. So, a great deal to be discovered by both of us. We agreed that paintings we saw, mostly of ‘ordinary’ working people in different environments were pleasing to look at. The light and shade and the subject matter all making an impression on us. Here are just three examples:

I particularly like the young boy, painted in the 19th century but looking very much like a boy of today. The young girl reminded me of the In Summer painting I had seen in Berlin, remember? The street scene is just fabulous, the sunlight and shadow, the children playing in the street and neighbours chatting.

Here now are a three photographs of the house:

A carriage, the library and dinner for four.

As I said, we did a lot of walking. We do a lot of walking wherever we go and Trieste was no exception. One rather long and uphill stroll, took us from behind the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre to the top of the city where we found the war memorial on the hill of San Giusto. A cathedral, an old monastery and on the plateau of the hill were the remains of an old Roman forum and beside it, after climbing several steps. the memorial for those lost during the first and second world wars. There were benches dotted around and a few people sitting on the old broken down stone walls. A kind of meeting place, I thought, and it inspired me to write a short story — not finished yet —Typical I hear you say. But it will be.

A few photographs of the Roman amphitheatre ruins, our walk to the top of the city, the war memorial and surrounding area.

Finally, some photographs of the food from Trieste. We do love a good breakfast, lunch or dinner!

I enjoyed my visit to Trieste. The architecture is Mittel-Europa (so The Man says) heavily influenced by centuries of the Hapsburgs. Trieste lies in the very north east of Italy with Slovenia and Croatia on its borders. It was Austrian for many years and was the principal port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The food has Teutonic influences (the pastries magnificent). It’s a city of great interest to literary and historical buffs and a must visit if you are either of these. We’re planning a prolonged visit next year so watch this space.

A Week in Berlin Part One…Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday…

We flew from Bristol to Berlin on Sunday 25th September and after dropping our bags at the hotel and having a bite to eat we took a short walk to Alexander Platz, which is when we discovered that the Berlin Marathon had been run earlier in the day. There were lots of road blocks and barriers erected everywhere, and a great many tired looking people filling the restaurants — and their stomachs — sporting finishers medallions around their necks.

I immediately loved the vibrant atmosphere in the famous Alexanderplatz. Young people milling around or sitting in groups drinking and eating. The pervading smell of doughnuts, fried onions, and other street food assailed my nose. It was exciting. Equally delightful were the backstreet areas and their small squares with trees.

Below is the Neptune Fountain to be found in the gardens behind Alexander Platz. It was originally situated outside the City Hall in the Palace Square.

Continue reading to see where and what The Man and I got up to on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday:


We walked from our hotel in Mitte, to Unter den Linden, past the Humboldt University, up to the Brandenburg Gate. I wanted to have coffee in the famous Adlon Hotel but it was closed to non-residents. However, they did own a little coffee shop right next to the hotel so we went in there to have our breakfast. We were in Berlin for me to do some research but also as tourists because neither of us had ever been to the city.

After our breakfast we walked to the Holocaust Memorial. A unique memorial which, in it’s simple complexity (if that makes sense) took me to a strange and thoughtful place where I spent a few moments to contemplate the horror and pointlessness of war, the loss of so many lives and. . . the human race never learns — at least our leaders do not.

From the memorial we made our way through the Tiergarten which was much bigger than I ever imagined and we only walked through a tiny part of it.


We ventured to Charlottenburg, an area I was particularly interested in for my research. Our first time on the U-Bahn. The payment system was a little unnerving but actually, once we got the hang of it, very easy. Once you have bought a ticket, either for a single trip or another option such as a twenty-four hour ticket for A, AB or ABC zones, then you validate it and that’s it! No barriers to wait at, no queuing behind someone who’s app won’t work, or their ticket doesn’t scan… it’s not at all stressful. We didn’t get lost once. We walked from the Sophie-Charlotte-Platz station to the Charlottenburg Palace, passing through a fairly affluent residential area, with wide tree lined streets, big houses or apartments. The architecture dating from 19th and early 20th century, some of which managed to survive the WW2 bombing of Berlin.

The palace, both the old and the ‘new’ extension, was interesting and historical. I often don’t bother with the audio guide but we did this time and I would highly recommend using them. It didn’t cost any extra, but enhanced my tour of the palace by explaining the functions of the rooms, the paintings, furniture and history of the place. So much more enjoyable than just wandering through the rooms randomly and reading a few information labels on the walls. One of my favourite rooms was the Gold Ballroom — it took all my restraint not to waltz down the room (in fact I did do a little turn or two 😊). Peruse the photographs in the slide show from the U-bahn to gardens of the palace.

Wednesday Morning

Not far from our hotel (less than a ten minute walk) was the Märkisches Museum. It opened in1908 after several years of construction. The museum today shows the social and political history of Berlin. It is one of the best museums I have ever visited. Once again I used the audio guide enabling me to gain so much more from the exhibits.

We walked through the rooms which were arranged in chronological order beginning around the 12th Century right up to the the 1970s. There was so much to see in each era, including Berlin’s collision with the plague, a model of Berlin in the 15th Century, and a big scale model of Berlin from the 1700s where one could see the city wall around the edge and The Man and I could just about pick out where our hotel was now standing. The rise of Prussian militarism, three internal wars, culminating in German unification. History of WW1, the post war economic collapse, and Hitler’s rise to power. WW2 and on into more recent times.

We had fun with the jukebox and I had fun in the barber’s shop — I took my research seriously, honestly!

Wednesday Afternoon – The Wall

I was ten when the Berlin Wall went up and I couldn’t get my head around it all. I remember asking my dad why they didn’t just walk around the edge. . . I think he must have thought me too young to need an explanation. From the Märkisches Museum, we crossed the river and walked the 2.5km alongside the River Spree heading to the East Side Gallery. After walking for more than a kilometre we found ourselves beside a long stretch of the original wall. I wasn’t sure if the wall was in its original position or not, because it’s hard to follow the route today not knowing whether you are, in what was East or West Berlin. Fortunately for me, I happened across a young girl in a kiosk carrying a clip board and folder. She was part of a volunteer organisation who work to preserve this section of The Wall for posterity. She explained that ‘Yes, this was the original position of the wall’. There was 1.4 kilometres of it and we were at the end. She showed me a photograph from the 1960s and pointed to a building, ‘See that building, it still stands there, and houses The Wall Museum.’

She explained that the graffiti was done on The Wall by people from all over the world immediately the wall began to be demolished in 1989. I took some photographs but they’re really not that good. Being there was the best thing.

We had walked along The Wall, on what had been the Russian Zone. Immediately on the other side of the wall it was still the East and the border for the West was on the other side of the river. And of course… a wide dead zone between The Wall and the river. It doesn’t bear thinking about. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to look out of your home and see that barrier knowing that some of your relatives were out of reach on the other side of the river.

Of course many people tried to escape and very few made it. We had seen some memorials on the fence when walking the day before. I’ve posted a photograph below.

We visited The Wall Museum afterwards and by the end I had a much greater understanding of what the German people on the East had to endure. Splitting families and holding people in a country where they don’t want to be just seems barbaric.

We watched interviews with escapees who succeeded and those who didn’t but survived. We saw photographs from the period1945/6 up to 1961 when there was a little more freedom of movement between East and West. We then saw the agony which began on August 13th 1961.

Of course there is so much political history and the subject needs much greater research and serious study to make any real comment here on my blog. I suppose what I can say, is that prior to my visit, I had only superficially thought about Germany after the war and now I have come to realise what a dreadful time the ordinary Berliner had. That child of ten had no comprehension of the division of Germany and Berlin between the Allies (France, Britain and America) and the Russians.

Below is a Slide show of the East Side Gallery

A little bit of 2022 Graffiti on the West Side of the Wall. Apparently it is privately owned and the owner doesn’t mind.

My next blog will cover Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Berlin. Potsdam Palace, Bratwurst in Savigny Platz and terrific brunch in Arminius Markt!

Note Number 86. . . Je ne comprends pas les règles. . .

Note Number 86. . .  Je ne comprends pas les règles. . .

Blog - 1Waiting for my takeaway…Facecover – not allowed in France

We are now entering our third week of lockdown in the Languedoc region of France. The weather has been pretty good up to now, and things aren’t too bad. There’s been a plethora of Zoom events to attend and this week I have managed, two poetry sessions and a Royal Ballet live streaming. We are not allowed to walk more than a kilometre from the house but we can go 5km to the supermarket. I prefer to walk or bike it to the local shops whenever possible.

On Friday, I walked into the village to collect a takeaway, Pot au feu au 3 viandes, basically a French stew.

french stewIt was delicious, I forgot to take a photo but here’s one courtesey of The Hungary Bluebird. (I’ve never been here so can’t recommend it). Anyway, on the way there I met the village policwoman who informed me that my “facecovering” was not allowed and that I had to sport a proper mask. She didn’t arrest me or anything, in fact, when I said I was on my way to The Rex to collect lunch she raised her eyebrows and let me carry on (there might have been a smile under her mask). I wanted to point out that the two workman she was speaking to wore no masks at all, but didn’t chance my luck. My French isn’t good enough and it spoils the flow when you have to keep looking on your phone for the translation.

I’d arranged via FaceBook messenger, to collect the food at 14.00 – I could not have been more exact, but of course when I got there the whole place was shuttered up. I managed to contact them again by messenger, and he happily replied, “J’arrive dans 15 minutes”  I’m guessing he thought I wouldn’t turn up. I sat outside the closed café, pushing myself as far back to the wall as possible, now aware of my illegal face covering, I hoped nobody would spot it.

The stew was delicious, lasted us two meals and cost us 20€ which was a bargin as far as I was concerned. No cooking for me. It was worth all the aggro to be honest.

Caux Garden 2 - 1

Next day, I went on my bike into the village to do a spot of “essential” shopping. I put on my “proper mask” which actually was a lot more comfortable to breathe in than my face covering so I’ll be happy to wear it in future. I bought some batteries, which I now know are called les piles in French. I thought it was just batterie, but the very lovely man in the tabac didn’t know the word. Must be a dialect thing, or my pronounciation more likely.

I love the butcher…probably not a politically correct to say that, and what I really mean is, I love the butcher’s shop. It reminds me of when I was a young girl. Nothing is prepacked and they freshly mince the beef while you wait. I bought a chicken, and the butcher kindly chopped off it’s head and feet and removed the innards, hmm. The point I’m making is that it’s all a lot more organic here.

Blog - 4Check out that sausage!

I’m sure many of you will tell me that there are plenty of butchers in the UK like this, and I know there are at least two in Bridport, it’s just a different experience here. I’ll get over it I’m sure. By the way, even in the supermarkets there is not a single “out of season” piece of fruit or veg. No strawberries, peaches, or soft fruit. There are apples, pears and oranges. There are bags of mixed salad so I suppose it won’t be long before there are boxes of raspberries and nectarines available in the winter. Talking of supermarkets, I went to do our big shop during the week and I needed to buy a cake tin and a mixing bowl. Cake tin no problem, the isle was open but the mixing bowl arround the corner with the plastics was cordoned off with the red and white tape. I just didn’t get it, but, I asked at the help desk and all I had to do was fill in my name, phone number and email address on a form (they love forms here). I was then allowed to buy the bowl after I had finished and paid for the rest of my shopping. They converted the purchase into a click and collect transaction which made it legal. Needless to say, I still got in a muddle and had to re-enter the shop via a different route. I swear the security guard said, ‘Les anglais sont fous ils ne savent rien”. You can get the gist.

Left: shelf open for shopping. Right: shelf closed, non-essential ???

Dog walking is done every morning before breakfast with The Man, and it’s been great so far. This morning, Sunday, was a bit of a miserable one so we didn’t go far. The Man managed to find some useless pieces of stuff in the fields and on the footpaths. Honestly, it’s like walking with a child. Everything he finds is a treasure in his eyes. He’ll never change, he always thinks that a stone might come in handy; a piece of metal could fix that door. A wooden stick as big as a shepherd’s crook was brought home last week. He’ll never use it though, it will just sit outside the front door waiting for that golden opportunity when he’ll use it and say, “I told you…”

Left: Reflector light from a tractor, I admit he did leave this on a fence post for the farmer, but it was a hard decision, he so wanted to bring it home along with a big stone. Right: Our two sticks. Mine is used everyday…the shepherd’s stick well…


Miserable Day Today

Off to enjoy roast chicken now before a catch up Zoom with a few friends later this evening. I’m trying to only drink on a Saturday and Sunday which has been fine (only done it for one week!


Trying out the local red. 



Note Number 73…Sicily…

Note Number 73…Sicily…

scopello 3


I arrived at St Pancras from Paris, met up with The Man and we headed to Gatwick for an early flight to Palermo. We stayed at an airport hotel, the Hampton by Hilton. It was an average hotel for bed and board, and the best thing was the short walk from hotel to airport terminal, without having to go outside. We were able to check our bags in from 8pm the night before which allowed us to get up at the last minute and stroll to the departure gate in time for a 7am flight.

Sicily was hot, 30 degrees plus, but a dry heat and very pleasurable on arrival. Collecting the hire car was, – as usual, in Italy – a mission, and then driving it out of its parking space took the skill of a car-contortionist – or just a very good driver (me) with the unnecessary input of a back-seat-driver, (The Man).

We made it to our holiday rental home without mishap, only a slight disagreement with the sat nav we’d taken with us from England, so we resorted to google maps, which I have to say, took us around, for the rest of the trip, without a hitch.

I would like to take you on a tour of ancient ruins and wonderful cities, but, actually, despite good intentions to visit Agrigento, Palermo and possibly Ragusa (of Montalbano fame), we actually ended up staying within the confines of our local area, Scopello. We did manage trips to, San Vito Lo Capo, a beautiful seaside resort, with beaches and port; Trapani, a lovely old town once you find the old town; and, finally Castellmare del Golfo – our closest big town, with a port area, restaurants and shops.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our house was situated in Scopello, near to a nature reserve, beach and the village of itself, which although touristy, had many local visitors and offered a choice of bars and restaurants. We favoured a bar on the road from our house to Scopello, which had good coffee, great pastries and delicious arancini; a rice ball filled with cheese and ham, or ragu, or anything you like really. Going to try and make them at home sometime.



The pool at the house was amazing…no other word for it…or perhaps ‘painful’ might fit.  It was ‘bio natural’ if you just walked in and swam around it was heaven,  but it had a sand base, (sandpaper more like) and although it wasn’t deep, some side areas sloped steeply into the pool and it was easy to scrape your toe on the side. (I’m still wearing the plaster). Delightfully, because I didn’t mind them, we were joined by some little frogs — shared pool took on another meaning. We bought appropriate foot wear to deal with the problem. Not sharing a photo!

The Pool, daytime, night-time and one of the dear little frogs.

Our experience of Sicily left me with mixed feelings. In the area where we were, the northwest of the island, its hills and mountains are very dry and obvious fire-burnt. Hardly any green vegetation at all, except on private land where watering night and morning was in evidence. We saw lots of little bush fires, either started deliberately or more likely by a cigarette thrown from a car. The fire engines were constantly on the go. Very close to the house there were blackened tree carcasses and singed olive trees. It must have been scary to be there when it was actually burning. We are used to Italy having lived there for several years, but Sicily was something else when it came to rubbish and drainage. The sides of the roads were littered with plastic bags, mattresses and bin bags full of goodness knows what. The collecting bins overflowing with detritus. There didn’t seem much of an effort for recycling. ‘They’re putting the glass and other recycling bins, out on the 1st October,’ we were told. Not a great deal of civic pride in evidence here.

On the first Tuesday we were there the rain came down – it was heavy when we were driving back from Trapani. The drains were unable to take the deluge, but they weren’t just overflowing they were ‘pumping’ the water out onto the roads…gallons of it. Instead of driving back down the main A187 we were driving down a river. Very scary. It appeared the drains were really only a couple of feet deep and covered with flimsy gratings. I wonder who was in charge of the original job?
For a few days, we were joined by a couple of friends from Le Marche, Italy (where we used to live), John and Tiziana – John cooked a couple of meals for us (Take note The Man!) and Tiziana was an inspiration to me – to take more exercise. I was a tad lazy in Sicily. We both walked down to our local coffee shop, and the men drove down to join us, for The Man to eat proper Sicilian Canolli – but hats off to her…Tiziana walked back up the 2k steep road, and almost beat us home! What a gal! It must be all the crisps she ate. I tried that but it didn’t work.

Canolli! – John and Tiziana…Tiziana walking…The Man and I in our favourite coffee shop. 

The Local Grocers…wine 2 euro a bottle…it was good too! 

I’ll leave you with this…don’t know who won and sorry about the bad language at the very end. 


Despite the few niggles, Sicily is a beautiful rugged country and I would definitely go back for a second visit. Next time, instead of lying by the pool all day, taking an occasional dip and reading three books. I will honestly get out and visit the ruins and see more of the country. In the meantime, I start my MA at Exeter, tomorrow, 23rd September. I’ve attended induction day already and I am very excited!



Note Number 72…36 Hours in Paris…27 kilometres walked…

Note Number 72…36 Hours in Paris…27 kilometres walked…

This time last week (Thursday 5th September) I travelled to Paris on the Eurostar with my daughter Emily Rickard. She’s an Interior Stylist/Designer. For the last couple of years we’ve tried to get to MOM – Maison&Objet, a major French trade fair for interior design. At last we made it!

Neither of us had ever been on the Eurostar before and it had been over fifty years since I last visited Paris. Excited! Of course we had to start with champagne and nibbles.

euro star

Our seats weren’t the best, backward facing side by side but we soon moved to a table seat and were able to enjoy the journey with some space around us. A very smooth uneventful journey, except when I flushed the loo, the most terrible noise echoed around the whole train and I thought I’d pushed the emergency stop button by mistake. However the guard assured me it was just coincidence – the noise was something to do with going through a tunnel.

Apartment Building and our Entrance in the Courtyard

We found our Air B&B without a hitch although getting into it was a bit of a mission, the key box was hidden in a dark stairway. It was a loft apartment, on the ground floor, (aparently the description of ‘loft’ doesn’t mean it has to be in on a top floor or in the roof — news to me!). Modern and well laid out — I say that tongue in cheek as Emily had to climb a precarious ladder to her bed, as though in Nelson’s Navy and on top of that, the bathroom protruded into the living area, and had obscured glass walls except for the bottom couple of feet. Weird. If you didn’t know the person sharing your accommodation intimately at the begining of your stay, you sure did by the end. Anyway…enough let’s move on to Paris and the trade show.

Emily ‘feeling’ the floor mounted on the wall and Yes…my feet hurt too! 

It was enormous — several different halls at the Paris Nord Villepinte Exhibition Centre, with themes from furniture, household items, gifts, clothing, fancy goods, games etc., exhibitors from all over the world. I was completely out of my depth but followed my boss (I was the assistant) holding her bag and hanging back when she was networking or asking sensible questions. I didn’t go much on some of the stuff she raved about but that’s a generational thing I expect.

Some weird and some wonderful…rabbit chairs? You’re kidding…the little blue one was more my style…not at all sure about the furry bunnies though. 

I really did like these lamps though…but not quite enough room in the Dorset Cottage for any of them.

Couple of Duck/Geese lamps and weird ‘dog-leg’ table 

Getting around Paris on the metro was a challenge, but between us we managed. My foreign language skills revert to Italian when I open my mouth to speak any other language but English. We took one taxi while we were there and the rest of the time we walked. Twenty-seven kilometres to be precise— yes 27 in two days. Amazing!

We went to the department store MERCI — very interesting place. Incredibly expensive but all set out like a second hand shop and jumble sale. There was a recycling theme going on at the time.

MERCI — a glimpse of the merchandise – My arty shot of Emily inside – the recycling fiat 500 outside 

We saw a big chunk of Paris but never got as far as The Louvre or the Eiffel Tower…next time. Enjoy the photos, I thought it was the best way to show you.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Next blog…Sicily

Note Number 69…Writing Conference Weekend…New Friends… New Inspiration…

Note Number 69…Writing Conference Weekend…New Friends… New Inspiration…

Well, like the old saying about waiting for buses I don’t blog for ages now two come in less than a week, and there might be another on the way!

From Thursday 11th until Monday 15th July I became a student again…well kind of…I went to Lancaster University for the Romantic Novelists Association Conference. A long, long drive, but it was worth it I think. It was full-on, with workshops, lectures and one-to-one appointments with industry specialists. I met a publisher, agent and an editor. All three had different ideas about my novel, but the agent and editor showed enough enthusiasm for me to keep at it! Significant changes will be made over the next few months, and I feel inspired to continue with the story but make some massive cuts and re-writes. I have decided that the protagonist in my novel is a bit weak. She’s one dimensional and lacking in spirit. I’m going to give her a makeover and make her more exciting, someone that the reader will get right behind and will on to achieve her goals.

My room and the view (if I leant right out of the window) 

A great deal of food and wine was consumed, new acquaintances made, and old ones rekindled. I had a great time, although I came home exhausted. I slept in student accommodation, which was fine, but the single bed with springs and a thin mattress left much to be desired. Although everything was modern and it was an ensuite room, (one of about 8) with a shared kitchen, I could understand why some students feel a bit isolated when they first go to university. Thrown together with others they don’t know, and some may not have been away from home before. I said this to a few people who didn’t agree, but then on BBC Radio 4, just the other day, I listened to two students talking about how difficult it can be making friends at Uni. Many students hideaway and chat on Facebook, Twitter Instagram etc., to friends they’ve left behind. You can listen here 

Like I said, I made some new friends, one of them has an uncanny resemblance to me! Or is it just the hair? We’re all hoping to meet up at other writing events or just socially during the year. We sat together at the Gala Dinner. Wonderful.

ladies copy

My new friends from left, Suzanne, Louise, Me, Helen (my lookalike) and Jan.

Great to meet up with you lovely ladies…see you soon I hope! 

Note Number 68…Barcelona (or Barca as The Man calls it!)

Note Number 68…Barcelona (or Barca as The Man calls it!)

The poor dog has been in and out of the kennels over the last few weeks because The Man and I have been busy, busy busy. He went off cycling in the Pyrenees (I think I told you that) and I went to meet him in Barcelona. I should, of course, have posted about this before now but, life got in the way, as it does.

Barcelona. . . I loved it and cannot wait to go back. Apart from all the beautiful architecture — Gaudi — and the fantastic food — tapas. I loved our hotel which had a roof terrace with a swimming pool — well more of a plunge pool really, but it was fandabulous!

Hotel Roof Terrace and View of Cathedral

We visited Gaudi’s house, and it was much smaller than I’d imagined and internally quite understated, which is surprising considering the decorative nature of most of his work. The furniture was ergonomic and modern. What a man! The gardens were beautiful but swarming with tourists — Yes, I know we were tourists too! We took a taxi to the house, which was just as well because it was all uphill and several kilometres. But, we walked back to the Sagrada Famiglia.

Click on Picture to see Caption

It was a hot, long walk and I needed a drink and something to eat. I ordered a Sangria as I thought I should try one but, I didn’t specify the size. Big mistake.

I assumed it would be a wine glass full. How wrong I was. I did my best but gave some away to the chap on the next table and left a quarter in the bottom. It cost 18euro as well!



I previously booked tickets, for the Sagrada Famiglia, which was a good idea — the place was packed with tourists, but that didn’t detract from the splendour of the building. I have visited many churches and cathedrals, and often it’s pretty much, same old, same old, but the Sagrada was a new experience. The light entering the nave through the stained glass windows was breathtaking. The shape of the roof, the sheer individuality of the architecture — unbelievable.

On one day, we took the tourist bus — what a good idea. Sitting on the top of a bus, with our earphones plugged in, able to relax and take in all the sights. By far the best way to see a city. Past La Pedrera Apartment block. World-famous, need I say more, except that apparently, it’s impossible to have bookshelves in them because of the ‘wobbly’ walls.

la pedera

La Pedrera (from the bus) 

The bus tour took a couple of hours and went out of the city to the Olympic Village from 1992. Around the Port and through the main city areas. I didn’t take many photos because I was too busy looking.

Bus Trip Views (I’ll try harder next time) 

We visited the Boqueria Market, which was impressive by size, the vast amount and the diversity of food, but we weren’t impressed with the restaurants and bars there. However, we discovered the Santa Caterina market quite close to the Cathedral. It wasn’t as big as Boqueria but on the side of it was a great tapas bar, Cuines. Can’t wait to go back!

Market Food 

More Market Food

Cuines at Santa Caterina Market 

We did visit the famous old Els Qatre Gats where Picasso, Gaudi, Hemmingway and probably many other artists, writers and musicians took their refreshment in their day. It is easy to imagine them all meeting and discussing various art fomrs, from the décor and arty atmosphere of the place. But the food? The service? Not impressed. Expensive and the meat was tough. The piano player was little better than Less Dawson and he wasn’t trying to be funny! We won’t go there again but we can tick the box.

Els Quatro Gats…sadly no photo of the piano player. 

Our favourite eating place was Alcoba Azul – we went twice. (I knew it was going to be good because my daugher recommended it and honestly she it very particular about restaurants. Thanks Emily.) A fantastic, crowded, buzzy atmosphere with locals and tourists together. Excellent service even though the place was busy. The tapas food delicious — we couldn’t decide what to eat so ordered far too much. The waitress from Italy couldn’t do enough for us…Sara. You could also eat out in the small square. It’s a tucked away place, not easy to find but worth it.

Alcoba Azul and Sara (We’ll be Back)

Next blog post — RNA Conference… watch this space.