Highlights of Amsterdam

 

 

We had a great trip to Amsterdam , having travelled from London by bus and ferry.  Four countries in a day: United Kingdom, France, Belgium and Holland.  Great scenes along the way and an enjoyable ‘crossing.’  You would go a long way to find a better value trip anywhere in Europe.  28 pounds per ticket.  The bus driver dropped us right near a tram stop, so we had easy access to the rest of Amsterdam.  A 2.7 euro ticket covers you for the next couple of hours on all public transport.

 

 

Five enjoyable days in and around Amsterdam followed.  Amsterdam is a great city to explore and soak up, as are most European cities when you think about it.  Interesting sights await around every corner. We were staying out in the western area of Amsterdam in a fairly sporting area: tennis courts, baseball, hockey, basketball, athletics, all in close proximity.  Lots of bike tracks everywhere too, but we stuck to walking and trams because the bicycle hire fees were a touch too expensive.  There was a local food festival on during our stay so we tried some nice food from different cultures and some local brews.

 

 

 

The thing that makes Amsterdam though is the system of canals criss-crossing their way all over the city.  So whether you are walking or on the water, it makes for a great atmosphere.  And there are lots of little cafes and bars dotted around the city if you get a little leg-weary.  We took a canal tour for a very reasonable 8.5 euros which featured a commentary in four different languages.  A really enjoyable trip and quite informative as well.

 

 

 

 

Other highlights during our stay included the museum of erotica and wandering through the red light district.  We continued our policy on the trip of looking but not buying!  It was amusing watching all the women.. all shapes, sizes and colours, start to appear in the windows after about 5 o’clock.

 

 

 

And we saw windmills, lots of clogs, but not tulips, which must have been out of season.  Fun times in a fun city.

 

50th Anniversary Beatles Festival, Liverpool

5o years!  Where did they go?  I vividly remember the early days of The Beatles and buying all their records growing up.  I remember buying the 45′s of all their big hits, the LP’s and even the EP’s.  What days they were, growing up in the suburbs of Adelaide, card games, Monopoly, sports in the street and playing all those records on our record-player!  So it was a fantastic opportunity for Jenny and me to be here in the place where it all began, Liverpool, 50 years on.

We weren’t the only ones here though.  They have been having these Beatle Week Festivals in Liverpool for some 25 years now and people come from all over the world, many every year.  Liverpool was ‘booked out.’  Not only was it the 50th anniversary year, but it coincided with the Mathew Street Festival, which features great bands, all genres, on five stages in the streets of Liverpool.  It’s the Bank Holiday weekend and it’s even more popular than all the Beatles stuff.  The people of Liverpool… apparently some 300 000 of them, crowd the streets for one massive street party.  Lots of people dress up, kids wear face paint, the women come out in their high heels and skimpy dresses and almost everybody gets pissed.

Amazing scenes!

 

 

 

But back to The Beatles.  The festival goes for a week but it is concentrated around the Long Weekend.  There are some incredible Beatles cover bands in town for the festival.  We were impressed by every one of them!  On the Saturday we went out to Hulme Hall at Port Sunlight (across the Mersey.)  They were having their own festival there, with heaps of stalls, an outdoor stage, dog show, food and demonstrations.  But the hall itself was where the iconic four (John, Paul, George AND Ringo) played together for the first time, in August 1962.

 

So we were privileged to stand, sit and mingle on the same floor, in the same hall, 50 years later and hear a series of brilliant cover bands do their stuff!  There were two stages, one in the main hall and an ‘acoustic’ stage in a back room.  Every hour for six hours the performers rotated.  And they were all good!  Some dressed up and some didn’t, but the quality of the music was consistently excellent.  There was even a full orchestra of 26 musicians from Brazil!!  Sensational.

 

 

And that night it was back to the Cavern Club and the Cavern Pub for more of the same.

 

 

 

 

 

On the Sunday we had a ticket to the Adelphi Hotel which covered us for 12 hours of Beatles, from noon until midnight!  They had four stages operating in different areas of the hotel, with the feature acts in the main ballroom.  They had another room going with film clips and yet another with guest speakers.  And up from the foyer they had all sorts of stalls with every imaginable piece of Beatles memorabilia imaginable.  With so many Beatles fans here, the prices were sky high, so we didn’t buy any of the photos, records, models, portraits, souvenirs, gold records or autographed stuff.  The cases are already full and we don’t have a home currently.  But it was fun browsing.  Note to Mal MacKenzie… many original Beatles albums were selling for 40 pounds!

 

 

We spread ourselves around through the day and even popped out for a couple of hours to soak up the Mathew Street Festival.  Meanwhile, Liverpool soccer team was playing Manchester City at home, so another 50 000 were probably getting smashed out at Anfield stadium.  All the pubs were full of Liverpool fans as well.  We popped into one but we could barely move for the people, so we left without fighting our way to the bar for a drink.  The subsequent roars indicated Liverpool had scored twice, but so did Manchester City.  2-2 draw.

Back at the Adelphi, we secured a couple of seats in the ballroom for the evening bands and we weren’t disappointed.  Five hours with five bands, through to midnight and they were all sensational.  One group of four Swiss guys have been playing together in an unchanged line-up, for the entire 50 years.  Another, Hocus Pocus, played the Sergeant Pepper album faultlessly.  So many lead guitarists did perfect renditions of While My Guitar Gently Weeps.  And this one Brazilian guy, Andreas Kiss, just inducted into the Liverpool Wall of Fame, must be right up there with Rob Sheedy among the greatest guitarists alive!

As you can probably tell, we loved it.  Being British summer, the final day of the Mathew Street Festival was washed out on the Monday, but there were plenty of bands still playing in many of the pubs around town.  We managed to share a lunch table with a couple of English ladies at the Panam Hotel down at the Albert Dock.  Two metres away The Cheatles entertained us with two one hour sets of Beatles music, one at one o’clock and another at three o’clock.  Another great afternoon.  By this stage we were all Beatled out, but as I type this there are songs by a particular band constantly popping into my head.  Penny Lane in particular!

While in Liverpool there was even time to jump on ‘The Magical Mystery Tour’ to see the  houses where the Beatles first lived and then on to such sights as Penny Lane, Eleanor Rigby’s grave, The Beatles’ Museum and Strawberry Fields Forever.

 

 

If you are a Beatles fan and plan to travel to Great Britain one August, make sure you include a              visit to Beatle Week.

The fans are old, but they remember the words!

And the atmosphere is dynamic!

Edinburgh Fringe Festival

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the biggest in the world, even bigger than Adelaide!  So while in Liverpool we went online, found some reasonably priced accommodation and went.  The buses are really cheap throughout Great Britain.  We scored some amazing deals, which makes travelling around very affordable.  Our major legs, London – Liverpool, Liverpool – Glasgow were all around 10 pounds!

 

The only problem with the Edinburgh Fringe is that there is too much stuff on.  Those who know the Adelaide Fringe will understand when I tell you that you could take everything on offer in Adelaide and probably double it!  The programme, packed full of shows at various prices, many cheap, runs to hundreds of pages, so it takes an age to wade through it.

There are  also heaps of quality ‘free’ shows on offer.  You don’t pay to go in, but you make a donation to get out.  On top of this you have buskers everywhere, particularly along the Royal Mile, leading up the main street to Edinburgh Castle.

 

 

Our accommodation was only five minutes off the main street so we were able to walk everywhere.  It’s very hilly and you end up covering a lot of territory and getting a good work-out over the course of the day.  Most of the shows run for an hour, so you can schedule your shows about 75 minutes apart.  So typically we would wander around and see a couple of shows in the afternoon, a couple of evening shows, dinner and then a couple more shows until around midnight.   We met lots of interesting people from all over the world. It was crazy, but great fun.

We did take a break and visit the highlands, Loch Ness and Inverness. Then it was back to the fringe again.

We concentrated almost totally on comedy.  Comedians representing Ireland, Scotland, England, America, Germany, Holland, Australia, New Zealand, France etc, entertained us and sometimes had us in fits.  The audience sizes varied between 200 and 9.  The audience of 9 was for a group of three female comedians, plus a compere, who were actually quite good.  There were 200 at a show teaching us ‘How to be  a German’ and another 200 at a burlesque show featuring two very sexy women and a hilarious Aussie magician (from Adelaide!) in the middle.

 

One memorable act was this other German guy who made five ping pong balls disappear, by putting them all into his mouth, one at a time.  He continued to talk through all this so it became more and more ridiculous.  With both cheeks bulging and his mouth full, he too was laughing and tears were coming out of his eyes as well as ours.  The audience was in fits.

 

 

 

 

 

One of the many great busking performances was a group of guys from Ghana.  Incredibly strong and athletic, they treated us to a spectacular gymnastics display.  They did pyramids, somersaults and limboed under a pole less than a foot above the ground.  Magic.

 

It must be exhausting for some of the performers. Many go for the full three weeeks and may perform up to five times a day.  I overheard one American guy saying he had performed over 100 times.  Plus all the socialising!  One of his funniest lines was about Barbara Streisand also being affected by the Financial Crisis… she has had to close her personal shopping mall!  It affects us all in different ways!  A bit like poor old Bill Shorten struggling to make ends meet on $330 000 a year.

 

There is an amazing array of great venues all over Edinburgh.  It seems they all want to be a part of it and they of course are rewarded through sales of food and drink.  You wonder how they all survive when the Fringe isn’t on, but apparently being a university town takes care of that!  So many superb little pubs, full of character, each one unique.  It’s entertaining just doing the rounds, but then you get the entertainment as a bonus.  Plus you get to meet lots of people who are also out for a good time, which creates an excellent atmosphere.

We would highly recommend a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, held in August every year.  Why not make it a Beatle Week double (see next blog), interspersed with some travel around Great Britain?

You’ll be glad you did.

Scotland

We have just concluded a wonderful wee week in Scotland.  A few days in and around Glasgow, including a great little day trip out to Loch Lomond, a few days in Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and a great day in the highlands, including Loch Ness.  And yes, of course we saw the Loch Ness Monster.

Scotland is a truly beautiful country!  It’s so green, it has countless wonderful old buildings, incredible scenery and a nice feel to it.  The weather would be a bit of a turn-off for people staying long term.  Even in Summer it gets a bit wintery but this contributes to the stunning scenery.  And some of the blokes wear dresses.

Glasgow is a stunning city to wander around.  There was obviously a lot of wealth around about a century ago, judging by all the magnificent Victorian architecture.  Edinburgh is similar. Quite a few shops seem to have closed down with the retail downturn, but other than that they are great cities to spend time in.  Plenty of bargains too if you are in a spending mood.

 

Loch Ness

 

Our day trip out to Loch Lomond was great fun.  It was good to get back to nature after London and Liverpool.  This was just the ticket.  We caught a train out to Balloch and then went for an enjoyable walk out to Balloch Castle and along the loch.  A nice late lunch in a country pub followed.  There are just so many amazing pubs throughout Scotland.  Wherever you go there seem to be pubs everywhere and they all have a lot of character.  They all seem OLD and the publicans take great pride in them and go out of their way to present them in a unique way.  I must do a pub crawl some day!

 

 

 

 

Our day in the highlands out of Edinburgh was a great trip too.  We covered some 500 kilometres in the day!  We saw a huge chunk of Scotland and got a real feel for the place! Along the way we passed through William Wallace country, Robert the Bruce country, the scene of the Glencoe Massacre, Doune Castle where Monty Python’s Holy Grail was filmed, the West Highland Walkway, Ben Nevis, and of course Loch Ness.  Loch Ness has the lion’s share of tourism in Scotland apparently.  Everybody knows the monster doesn’t exist, but they still flock there just in case they might see it.  We saw it.

 

 

 

Edinburgh has to rank among the most amazing cities in the world, especially during the fringe festival – separate blog to follow.  The place is buzzing all day and well into the night.  But it has even more appeal because it all occurs in and around a wonderful city.  The Edinburgh Castle overlooks it all, but every corner you turn there are lots of other amazing little places to catch your eye.  And all the different levels!  As one comedian put it, although more crudely, every (insert appropriate adjective here) place is uphill from the previous place.

 

 

 

Tried a bit of haggis during our stay.  If you didn’t know what it was it would taste even better.  It seems the Scots like their chips as much as the English.  You can have fish and chips, haggis and chips, battered sausage and chips, white pudding and chips or black pudding and chips!  We were caught out at first by the term ‘supper,’ as in ‘fish supper.’  It means chips.  Across the road from our Glasgow hotel I went for the curry, rice and salad, the only meal without chips on the menu.  Unfortunately there was no rice, and no salad, because “nobody ever wants those,” but I could have it with chips.  So I did.

Bon appetit!

Shameless Name Dropping Opportunity

At the start of Day 14, we didn’t even have tickets to the Bronze Medal Women’s Basketball match between Australia’s Opals and Russia.  But the day just kept getting better and better and by the end of it we had experienced one of the most amazing days of our lives!

We strolled down to Buckingham Palace (again!!) around lunch-time, to catch the finishing stages of the 50 kilometre walk.  Our Aussie Jarad Tarrent took the silver behind a Russian dude. Our plan was to head out to the North Greenwich Arena in the mid-afternoon to try and buy basketball tickets from a tout.  The game was sold out but we were hopeful someone from a country not playing may want to sell.

Imagine our surprise when a Brazilian couple approached us as we were walking back to the hotel.  They held a sign saying ‘Tickets: Bronze Medal Basketball.’  I thought they WANTED tickets, but they were selling them at face value.  We had to walk to an ATM to get more money but by the end of our stroll we were already being invited to Rio 2016!

 

At the stadium we enjoyed a tense battle between the Aussies and the Russians.  Lauren Jackson and Kristy Harrower starred for the Opals.  After three consecutive silvers, all losses to the USA, the Aussies finally won a game to win a medal.  Well done Opals.

 

 

Jenny and I were up in Level 4 of the massive stadium.  At the end of the game, as the spectators poured out, we rushed down to Level 1 to try and get close to the girls as they celebrated.  We waltzed straight in and went right down near the court.  We found ourselves in amongst all the green and gold: the family, friends and support staff of the players.

The next thing we knew the Aussie medallists were filing past and giving high fives and hugs to all the Aussies on the rails.  Sometimes you’ve just gotta be in the right place at the right time!  Then, amazingly, we were given a card by one of the team managers, inviting us to the After Party for the Australian Basketballers and Hockey players.

 

…………But it got better!  …….

 

 

 

While we were at a sports bar in the massive  O2 complex, sharing a drink with family, friends and support staff, all the Opals arrived!  Meanwhile the Gold Medal match between France and USA had started and was being telecast on several big screens.  The Aussies had to stick around for the medal presentation, but nobody seemed in much of a hurry to go back to the stadium.

Soon later we were given free tickets to the Gold Medal game, best seats in the stadium, with only a quarter to go!  We rushed back in and found ourselves sitting 6 rows from the court, in front of dual gold medallist Mary Jose Perec, Cathy Freeman‘s former rival.  There was a massive roar as the USA won the match, quite easily.

 

After the medals ceremony the Aussie girls came up into the crowd for more hugs and high fives so we were right in the thick of it yet again.

 

 

 

 

 

Approaching midnight, we headed for the After Party.  Now I’m not usually a name-dropper but there I was with the Aussie mens team, the Aussie womens team, the hockey team, all the support staff, family and friends, along with a handful of other hangers-on: James Tomkins (again!), newly appointed IOC delegate, Steve Waugh, Layne Beachley, James Brayshaw, John Eales and Patty Mills.  Unbelievable.

We could have stayed partying all night, but we caught the last subway train home.

You gotta love the Olympics!

 

Wembley Stadium Gold Medal Football Match

Wow, what a night!  Our first ever visit to Wembley Stadium for the Women’s Gold Medal Football Match was an amazing experience.  The announcer claimed we were part of a world record crowd for a women’s game!

 

The atmosphere at the stadium was incredible.  Even walking down to the arena from the tube station was a moving experience.  Seeing the iconic Aussie-built stadium as we surged forward as part of an international wave of happy people, was exciting in itself.

The crowd of over 80 000 was in an upbeat mood.  Everyone was chatting to strangers nearby and there was a big sense of anticipation about who might win: USA or Japan.  Jenny and I thought the crowd was about one third US supporters, one third Japanese and the rest Brits and ‘others.’  With Wembley having such a huge capacity, it was about the only event that fans could still buy tickets for.

 

 

 

 

To me, Japan seemed to be the more skillful team.  They played a possession game but the USA were very strong defensively and it was difficult for the Japanese to create scoring opportunities.  The US team were taller, stronger, faster and had a bit more flair.  They had been incredibly lucky to beat Canada in the semi-final, 4-3 in extra time, after trailing for most of the match.

 

 

 

 

The US scored the first goal against the flow of play.  Both teams were highly skilled and it was an absorbing contest.  When the US scored another goal early in the 2nd half, it looked to be all over.  But then the Japanese scored and the crowd went nuts!  Both teams set up several other scoring opportunities, but 2-1 was the final score.

 

 

 

 

The medal ceremony was a very moving experience.  Of course the USA supporters went crazy when their heroes were introduced.  But the Japanese and Canadians also received a huge ovation and I’m sure almost everyone in the stadium was experiencing goose-bumps.  I certainly was!

 

 

More cameraderie post match and the massive wave of supporters surged back onto the trains.  Smooth, efficient, calm.  Lots of chatting.  And an overwhelming sense that the Brits are immensely proud of their Olympics.  They are already claiming it as the greatest Olympics ever.  We just bite our tongues, but it surely is right up there with Sydney.

London 2012 Olympics Week 2 Highlights

After such an incredible time during the first week of action, we were expecting a more sedate second week.  Because of the overwhelming success of Team GB, and the closeness of Europe, tickets to anything were almost impossible to get.  Even ‘ground passes’ to the Olympic Park were not available.  Luckily we don’t give up easily, and tickets again ‘came our way!’

 

 

 

 

 

Our first opportunity to see Olympic Park was on Super Saturday, August 4th, because we had tickets to the Men’s Basketball.

Patty Mills

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before training out to Stratford we strolled down to Buckingham Palace again for the start of the Women’s Triathlon.  There were 3 Aussies in the race and we saw them all zoom past on the first Cycling loop, after they had completed their 1.5km swim.  All 3 cycled past us near the lead, but strangely only 2 came back.  We soon got word that Emma Moffatt had crashed heavily and withdrawn from the race.  We still got the bronze however.

The Olympic Park was absolutely stunning!  It was packed with people and brought back memories of Sydney.  The live sites were overflowing but the screens were incredible and the atmosphere was friendly and upbeat.  The British were all beaming with pride and almost all of them were sporting Team GB gear in red, white and blue.  The group that stood out more than any other was the Dutch, in their distinctive orange.  There were even groups in immaculate orange suits.

Our basketball ticket was originally for the afternoon session, featuring the American Dream Team, but we swapped our tickets with an Italian guy for the night session, featuring Australia v Great Britain.  And we were glad we did!  It was a great match.  The Brits were giants, many close to 7 feet.  When they cruised out to a 14 point lead, we thought we were in trouble.  But in the 2nd half, the Aussies came back!  Led by Patrick Mills, who plays for San Antonio, who scored a stunning 39 points, they were awesome!  They went on to win by heaps.  Our 2nd game was Argentina v Nigeria, which Argentina dominated.

Laurie Lawrence

It was back to Buckingham Palace the next day for the Womens Marathon.  The weather was a little miserable for this one, but it was great fun mixing in with all the Brits and international visitors.  We again scored front row on the rail, on a corner, so we had great views as they approached and then ran away from us.  Well into the race we zipped home to watch an exciting finish on TV, with the Aussies unfortunately well back.

One fantastic feature of the London games has been the range of newspapers available.  Every morning there is a free ‘Metro’ paper and every afternoon there is a free ‘Evening Standard.’  In order to compete, the other newspapers offer massive Olympic supplements or free giveaways.  London’s theatres have been struggling a little too with almost everybody focused on the Olympics.  So Jenny and I cashed in with all the offerings at the Criterion Theatre!  Stephen Fry has taken over as ‘Chairman’ from Sir Richard Attenborough.

Haile Gebreselassie

 

First I spotted that they were doing half price tickets (10 pounds) for an audience with Haile Gebrselassie.  So we fronted up to the theatre to buy our tickets and were amazed to find all sorts of other offerings on sale.  So over the course of the next four days we saw two fantastic Olympic themed plays (‘Taking Part’ and ‘After the Games’) and had audiences with some very entertaining celebrities.  Stephen Fry interviewed Chris Holmes, Britain’s greatest Paralympian.  Billy Elliot director Stephen Daldry interviewed Haile Gebrselassie and actor Clive Owen interviewed former child soldier/ Rwanda genocide survivor and Rwandan flag-bearer Adrien Niyonshuti.  All of these shows were brilliant and it was great to see how the theatre embraced the games.

 

 

 

 

Our week ended with another basketball session, this time the Men’s Quarter Final game, Australia v the USA Dream Team.  We had tried desperately to get tickets via all kinds of sources, without success.  At the last hour, Basketball Australia found us 2 tickets, after a pleading email.  The game was very entertaining and Australia took it right up to the Americans for the first three quarters.  It was a great atmosphere and it was good to see the Aussies, especially Patty Mills and Joe Ingles, mixing it with their higher paid rivals.  Probably half the Australian Olympic team were there to watch, including a massive boxing kangaroo accompanied by Laurie Lawrence.  Post match we saw Dikembe Mutombo, the 7’2″ NBA legend, along with family and friends of the Aussie team.  Excellent night!

Dikembe Mutombo

 

Week 1 Highlights at the London Olympics

Wow, what a week!  The London Olympics have been sensational so far. We arrived in town with only a couple of tickets but have been able to pick up others and get really involved.  After Sydney we thought London would be great, but it has been incredible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day before the Opening Ceremony we strolled down to Buckingham Palace to see the arrival of the Olympic Torch.  We were front row on the rails outside the gates and only two metres away.  As soon as it passed through we rushed over to the fence and there were Prince Harry, Will and Kate, not up on the balcony as everyone expected, but less than 20 metres away!

For the start of the Men’s Cycling Road Race, we again had front row on the rail near Buckingham Palace.  We watched the start and then returned to our hotel to watch the race develop.  The Brits thought they were unbeatable for gold and this was their mistake.  Everybody else was against them!  It was amazing to see all the ‘Team GB’ gear, face masks and even trademark Wiggo fake side-burns.

We returned for the finish with Carol and David Morgan, Rower Chris’s parents.  By this stage the crowd had built to an estimated one million people, perhaps the biggest crowd ever to watch an Olympic event!  Stewie O’Grady was a creditable 6th and no medals for the Brits.

 

The next day, Jenny’s birthday, we had tickets to the Beach Volleyball.  We watched the start of the Women’s Cycling Road Race on the way there.

 

 

 

 

While Jenny was in the loo I told an official that it was Jenny’s birthday and gave him our seat numbers.  Just before the start of the 4 matches (2 men’s, 2 women’s) we were personally escorted to the front row of the VIP section!!  Unfortunately the Aussie girls lost narrowly but it was a great atmosphere.

 

 

 

 

We had been hoping to go to the rowing to see Bryn Coudraye in the Eights and Jenny’s former student Chris Morgan in the Quad Skulls.  But everything was sold out and tickets were just not obtainable. Imagine our delight when Roger and Liz Coudraye contacted us - we got the message at 11pm the night before - with 2 spare tickets!  We enjoyed a fantastic morning out at Eton Dorney and saw lots of the Aussie crews qualify for the semis and finals.  But the best part was sitting in the stand allocated to family and friends of all the crews, near the finish line on the ‘other’ side of the river.

 

 

There were absolutely NO tickets available for the finals, the following day, via any source, even through the Aussie support team organiser.  We decided we would go out to the course the next day anyway, and try our luck!  With no tickets returned and no ‘no shows’ we held up a small sign with ‘WANTED: 2 tickets.’  Thousands of people filed past us until finally we were approached by two guys who had won their tickets in a Marks and Spencer employees competition.  We paid them two thirds face value and were amazed to find ourselves in the 8th row, right on the finish line!  We even had better seats than Princes Will and Harry, who arrived some minutes later!  Unbelievable.

 

We sat amongst Marks and Spencer employees and a crowd of 35 000 and saw history being made.  Britain’s first gold medal of the games!!  After a 5 day gold drought, the crowd went crazy.

 

Chris’s team qualified for their final, the Aussie girls grabbed silver and Bryn’s 8 was involved, people said, in the closest 8′s final in Olympic history.  In finishing 6th they were 0.7 off bronze and only 3 seconds off gold.  An incredible race!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James McRae, ex Murray Bridge, was also in Chris’s boat and was formerly coached by our neighbour Ron Mobbs.  We caught up with Di Mobbs and James’s mum Chris the first day.

 

We met up with Roger, Liz and Bryn and headed off to the Royal Oak in the nearby town of Windsor for the celebrations.  It was just an amazing party.  The 8 crew, families, supporters, rowing legends including James Tomkins (triple gold medallist, Beijing flag-bearer and Goulburn Valley fruit lover) spent the next few hours enjoying themselves.  The food and drinks flowed.

 

The locals got involved too!  They were clearly thrilled to have Olympians amongst them and everyone was soaking it up.  The Brits made the mistake of putting up a Union Jack.  The Aussies responded by pulling out heaps of Australian flags, green and gold, banners and balloons.  We decorated the entire beer garden!  Then the songs started!  All the old favourites: Waltzing Matilda, We Are Australian, etc.  The Brits responded with Chariots of Fire but then we trumped them with God Save The Queen… she’s our Queen too.  Such a brilliant time.

And so ended Week 1.

 

South of France

After an incredible time in Spain, it was time to head for the south of France to stay with Sue and Dave in Limousin.  Three great little train trips took us there.  A train to the Spanish border, where we changed trains, followed by a picturesque journey to Bordeaux.  There we spent an enjoyable time before overnighting at the Hotel Regina opposite the railway station.  The next morning we caught the train to Angouleme where Dave and Sue met us at the station.

 

This signalled the start of a fabulous week in rural France.  It was great to be chaperoned by a couple with local knowledge.  Sue and Dave are enjoying their second summer in France after buying their dream house the year before.  And it’s great!  They are working on their garden and adding all sorts of personal touches as the weeks go by.

 

Being with Sue and Dave allowed us to see aspects of France we would never have seen on the regular tourist route.  Driving through the lush green countryside through endless quaint villages and towns, was enough in itself.  But we visited vide greniers (attic sales), met the neighbours, bought our breads and bakery goods direct from the local boulangerie and enjoyed local wines and other produce.

 

 

 

We visited local places of interest including amazing chateaux and churches straight out of the history books.  We walked where Richard the Lion Heart had passed centuries earlier.

 

 

One of the highlights for me was a visit to the town of Oradour-sur-Glane.  This town was the scene of a massacre at the hands of the Nazis in 1944.  642 people were murdered in the village and it has been left as it was as a memorial to the victims.  Although confronting, it was an amazing experience to wander the streets of the village and imagine the horror of one day in 1944.  It was also an opportunity to imagine life in a French village over 60 years ago.  In many ways little has changed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another highlight was to visit a local dance, held in the streets of a nearby town.  We sat at trestle tables with hundreds of other locals and enjoyed French wine and produce to the sounds of a local band.  On a balmy evening it wasn’t dark until after 10pm, so we chatted and danced and soaked it all up.  A fantastic night!  On another night we enjoyed a brilliant fireworks display put on by the lake in a nearby town.

Thank you Sue and Dave for a fantastic week.

 

Olympic Torch Relay, Buckingham Palace

After its massive journey of some 13 000 kms, the Olympic Torch finally arrived just minutes from where we are staying in London, at Buckingham Palace.  No, we are not staying at Buckingham Palace, but the Stanley Hotel, near Victoria Station, is like a palace to us!

 

We walked up to the palace in the late afternoon with the torch due to arrive at around 6:30.  We were amazed to get a great spot right near the palace gates.  It was swarming with security guards, police, special forces and military personnel, many of whom were trying to get their own photos of the occasion!  Everyone is a photographer these days, it seems.  Chatting with the people around us was great fun.  In spite of all the rubbish in the media, the Brits are clearly embracing the Olympics!

 

 

 

The usual caravan of support vehicles preceded the torch: horses, motor-bikes, cars, trucks, buses, even police on bicycles with machine-guns in long sporty-looking bags on their backs!  It’s hard to imagine why one guy with a torch needs a ‘support crew’ of literally hundreds.

 

The big moment arrived and the torch-bearer passed less than two metres in front of us and disappeared through the palace gates.

 

 

 

Our part of the crowd then surged to the right, expecting to see Prince William, Kate and Prince Harry up on the royal balcony, hopefully having a kiss again.  But this time they were standing only 20 metres or so inside the fence: up close and personal!

 

Within moments it was all over and the circus moved on to Hyde Park for another ceremony and a concert.

 

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