The Retirees go Abroad – France, Norway, UK and Ireland – Trondheim, Bodo and aurora borealis

Third day on board started with a 5 klm walk around the deck on level 5 whilst the ship docked at Trondheim. Spectacular views of the harbour in the morning light. Kerry joined me for the first 20 minutes. This docking is becoming rather mundane. After breakfast we caught the bus to the city “sentrum” and walked up town finding interesting things like the hole in the road exposing a window below ground, the old town with its quaint timber buildings and note the steps which indicate the depth of snow expected yearly. Then the old docks redeveloped as a modern residential area and the old warehouses now redeveloped as residences.

We were making our way to Nidadros Cathedral. A Christian cathedral in medieval style. After the Norwegian reformation in 1524 it is now Lutheran. Most unusual to see such an ornamented stone building as a Lutheran Church. It is very detailed with many grotesques adorning the roof and windows. We started to walk back to the ship and found the Love Bridge adorned with the locks of lovers swearing undying love. As we made our way back we ran into this tiger – uni students raising money to save Sumatran tigers.

But we ran out of time and with the ship leaving on time – no excuses we caught a cab back and had a lazy afternoon watching the scenery, a very remote lighthouse, the sunset and answering emails. It was during this time that we sailed into the Arctic Circle. With the onset of the evening we passed the beacon marking the outer edge of the circle. We are in the territory of the “northern lights”.

Day 4 on board the boat and after half a dozen stops overnight we pull into Ornes to drop off passengers.

Then onto Bodo. Bodo is just past the Arctic Circle so the ship’s crew initiated everyone stupid enough to have ice poured down their back whilst in 0 degrees on the back of deck 7. There was a competition to guess the time the ship crossed the circle and I speculated 0712.00. The correct time was 0711.59 and you would not credit it but 3 kids from Israel won.

We sailed past an old volcanic cone topped with snow before tying up in Bodo. Bodo is an ordinary town but interesting to stroll around for the afternoon. We rugged up and then strolled past the “Spare ” Bank took a seat on the street furniture and visited a more traditional Lutheran Church.

The girls found a kitchen shop and whilst I cooled my heels I noticed some of the street art – it grabbed my attention.

Then we visited Svolvaer and an ice sculpture museum – a short visit as the ship only docked for an hour. As we sailed out of the harbour the fish dry racks were illuminated and looked like a modern church reflected in the waters of the harbour.

Back on the boat at 2315 to be exact. We enjoyed Norwegian fish cakes and mulled rum also on the back of deck 7. Temperature now -2 degrees. Got to bed about 24.00 nodded off to sleep and there is an announcement that the northern lights can be seen. Bolted upstairs (deck 3 to deck 7) in my night attire with a big coat over the top to freeze whilst looking at the northern lights (aurora borealis) and grabbed some photos. Back to bed and a sleep in before going on our wilderness adventure.

The Retirees go Abroad – France, Norway, UK and Ireland – We are Sailing – Alesund

I’m awake at 4.00 am go to the gym at 5.30 am – shit it does not open till 7.00 am. So I am back again at 7.00 and do a walk till 8.00 am then find Kerry having a cup of hot chocolate with Doug and Nerida but the ocean has started to chop up and the ship is tossing. Kerry is not well and goes to the fresh air (4c and 25 knots) on the back deck and we go to breakfast. Kerry retires to bed but as I type the sea is calm we have docked in Torvig for 1/2hr and Kerry has left the cabin without leaving a note.

I have found her just as I expected on the back deck. We will soon dock at Alesund for the afternoon. Alesund is a coastal city of about 40,000 people with a large hill in the middle or so it seems.

We wandered the town looking for the information centre even tried to walk up the hill but only got half way before coming to the 481 steps to the top. After finding the info centre we fell upon a great plan we will catch a cab to the top and walk down. The cabbie was charming and provided us with some history of the town where he had grown up. It is actually made up of 3 principal islands although to travel around you would not know this, the hill has largely been hollowed out over the years particularly by the Norwegian resistance during the 2nd World War whilst the top of the hill has German bunkers from that same period.The town burnt to the ground in 1904 except for one house (and he showed us this house – the story is that God spoke to him and told him to stay in the house and the house was untouched) which is being renovated and will be turned into a museum.


Once at the top of the hill we could see the horizon for 360 degrees and all that was in it. The cabbie told us that one of these islands contained the world’s best recording studio and once per year a festival is held and musician from around the world are invited to pay in exchange for use of the studio.

The walk back down the hill was much easier than going up and the views continued to be magnificent.

Once back to the boat we had time to recover with a few drinks and met Jim and Mary (brother and sister, Jim living in Perth and Slovenia and Mary in London and both claiming to be Aussies). We now run into them all the time – I think they are stalking us.

The Retirees go Abroad – France, Norway, UK and Ireland – Bergen and Norway

Its 3.50 am when the wakeup call comes. Arising we find it is dark but not overcast – trust it to fine up as we leave. Down to the shuttle and across to the airport to board a plane for Frankfurt then to Bergen. Frankfurt is enormous. We land and enter the terminal at gate A5. Our flight to Bergen leaves from gate A69. Hmm a bit of a walk ahead but we get there in plenty of time in fact we could have caught a flight to Basel we were that early.

Cooled our heels for an hour and a half before we caught the plane and arrived in Bergen. We caught a cab into town and played a guessing game with the driver about his place of birth. It started when Doug asked him about refugees in Norway and comments were made about Afghans in Australia for 200 years. We went all round the world and he turned out to be Afghani. Checked in our luggage at the terminal (cab was the way to go – door to door) and took a walk through the city – did not see much but what we did see was appealing and cold.

We are sailing on the Hurtigruten line. Hurtigruten (“Express Route”) is a daily passenger and freight shipping service along Norway’s western and northern coast between Bergen and Kirkenes. Sometimes referred to as Norwegian Coastal Express, Hurtigruten ships sail almost the entire length of the country, completing the round-trip journey in 11 days. We boarded the ship and went through the safety ritual and the unpacking and then the evening meal – Doug and Kerry both went to bed while Nerida and I represented the team at the next information presentation. Well at least I did Nerida went to sleep in the presentation. Its now 9.30pm and Nerida and I check out the gym and then retire for the night. The ship sets sail at 10.30 and throughout the night we feel it go bump as it docks at various little villages delivering supplies.


The Retirees go Abroad – France, Norway, UK and Ireland – Bayeaux

Our hotel was very nice but small and offered a nice continental breakfast for 6 euros. So after filling up  we are off to the Tapestry in the Augustinian Abbey in Bayeaux. In true French style it was not open when we arrived  so we dropped in at the Bayeaux Cathedral, Notre Dame de Bayeaux – enthralling majestic and very interesting.

But we are here for the Tapestry so back to the Augustinians – but they are still not up. So we went across the road looking for other highlights of Bayeaux and there to my surprise was an operating water wheel. Still operating we could not determine if it was still part of a mill or generator.

Back to the Augustinians and they had finally opened. We were greeted by the security guard opening the door. Inside a former Abbey the museum is made up of two parts, the tapestry room and then the history of the tapestry. The tapestry room is an air conditioned large room with no natural sunlight. I estimate the room is about 8 metre square with a case containing the tapestry standing in the middle. If I am correct about the size of the room, then the case is 7 metres square and displaying the full tapestry under glass. Remarkable!  After viewing the tapestry we went to the history room which explains how the fabric of the tapestry was made through to how the tapestry survived the trip through history – it has not always been preserved in an air-conditioned secure environment. Well worth the wait though – remarkable piece of history and the history around its preservation is just as remarkable – a must see.

As we are due in Rossypole to meet Doug and Nerida Bishop and fly to Norway tomorrow morning we cannot spend too much time in the museum so we drive onto Rouen and had a brief look around spotting this unusual church, lunch then onto Paris and Rossypole.

Had some entertainment returning the car and then finding our hotel but we made it but now we have lost Doug and Nerida. Back again once we find them. They had left a note with their room number and collapsed into bed with jet lag but the wrong room number. Once raised they joined us for dinner, a wine tasting and some of the sights of Paris – everyone is excited about Norway tomorrow except it is a 4.00 am start.


The Retirees go Abroad – France, Norway, UK and Ireland – Winston Harbour Arromanches

Set sail early for Bayeaux and the WW2 battlefields. Arrived in Bayeaux at the tourist info office and then drove out to Arromanches and the “Winston harbour”. Unfortunately, the bad weather has returned and it is windy and wet. However, this does not dampen our spirit. Arromanches is a village which lives on tourism and in part the D Day invasion. This was the site of the English floating harbour which supported the troops after the invasion. The other harbour at Omaha Beach was to support the American troops and it failed due to bad weather. There are parts of the harbour still in place at Arromanches but the best thing is to go to the local museum which has displays of the construction and how it was planned and deployed.

Still raining, so we went to the Normandie Hotel and had lunch – onion soup followed by mussels Normandie for me and steak for Kerry and a dose of the runs for both of us. But in true stoic fashion we marched on to the American military cemetery – like Arlington in many respects but on this occasion the Americans accepted they were not the only ones winning the war and recognised all nations with a great static and film presentation on all aspects of the invasion and the rest of the war. This was without a doubt spectacular and fitting for the remembrance of the lives lost. We also called in at the Red One museum – not so hot in my view. We then set sail for Utah beach and the museum there but ran out of time. We did not get to see the Bayeaux tapestry and made it our purpose to visit tomorrow.

The Retirees go Abroad – France, Norway, UK and Ireland – Le Mont St Michel and St. Malo

Next morning happy birthday to Kerry and up early to travel to Le Mont St Michel and St. Malo. Mick cooks us a hot breakfast and makes us lunch as well while Terri checks the lotto results. The weather has cleared to a fine day. After breakfast and the disappointment that we missed out on Euro millions it is farewell and we hit the road.

As we approach the address of our accommodation, Kerry has serious doubts about its location. We are driving through vacant paddocks and ancient farm villages but suddenly Le Mont appears behind all the villages and our accommodation comes into view. It turns out to be perfect, well located and cheap. Meet the proprietor (who cannot speak English) but we muddle through then off to St Malo.

Fabulous old walled city but even the GPS got lost in the city. So we parked outside then walked through fighting a fierce storm with strong winds and rain. Saint-Malo during the Middle Ages was a fortified island at the mouth of the Rance River, controlling not only the estuary but the open sea beyond. The promontory fort of Aleth, south of the modern centre in what is now the Saint-Servan district, commanded approaches to the Rance even before the Romans, but modern Saint-Malo traces its origins to a monastic settlement founded by Saint Aaron and Saint Brendan early in the sixth century. Its name is derived from a man said to have been a follower of Brendan, Saint Malo or Maclou.

Saint-Malo became notorious as the home of the corsairs, French privateers and sometimes pirates. The corsairs of Saint-Malo not only forced English ships passing up the Channel to pay tribute, but also brought wealth from further afield. Jacques Cartier, credited as the discoverer of Canada, lived in and sailed from Saint-Malo, as did the first colonists to settle the Falkland Islands, hence the Islands’ French name “Îles Malouines,” which eventually gave rise to the Spanish name “Islas Malvinas

It is too early for dinner so we decide to go back to Le Mont and a nice restaurant there for a birthday dinner for Kerry. Nothing opens before 7.00pm so in frustration we go home and have vegemite sandwiches and a cup of tea. Try again tomorrow.

Then next morning we dine on a sumptuous continental breakfast and leave for the Mont. Extraordinary the car parking available for excursions to the Abbey. After parking we walked to the navette (bus) and travelled with hundreds of Japanese tourists to the Abbey (they thought it was the Tokyo underground and 100 tried to get on a fifty seater bus). At the Abbey we tried to lose them by walking up onto the ramparts and then up the stairs to the Abbey but there they were at the top and we tripped thought the Abbey together (giggling teenage Japanese girls doing stupid poses for their cameras all the way around).

We got a surprise when we tried to pay to get in – a computer malfunction meant we got a free entry (gratuitie). The Abbey is large on a monumental scale and being on top of an island mountain it is a bloody long way up (hence a defibrillator at the top of the steps). The Abbey is a labyrinth of rooms passages and halls and kept us interested for hours. There is a garden like a roof garden which on one side is open to the sea sky and air (hence they have installed a Perspex sheet to stop silly Japanese girls from falling out which I am certain they would have done – they all crowded around the opening like they did on the bus).

Now you might wonder how they got anything into the Abbey. A man powered dumb waiter of sorts of course.

The Abbey sprawls over many floors right down to a very passable dungeon. Food at the tourist restaurants on the island is very expensive.  We had a nice lunch and then returned to the parking area on the land – it has accommodation hotels, a supermarket and restaurants all on a grand scale – the tourists in summer must be as thick as blow flies on a carcass.. Painted cows seem very popular.

Back to our B&B room for a nanna nap and dream about tomorrow.

The Retirees go Abroad – France, Norway, UK and Ireland – Poitiers to Dampierre sur Bouttone

We awake in Poitiers. I am still waking early despite the lack of sunlight and the overcast weather. Breakfast in our room, packed up checked out then strolled the medieval city which has been transformed by modern paving in the narrow streets and limiting traffic to essential commercial traffic. But Mondays are strange in that none of the shops opened before 2.00 pm. Visited a Romanesque church Notre Dame Le Grand Dame said to be the oldest church in France (12th century) and it still has some of its original frescos.

As we walked through the old streets we entcountered a hairdresser with a big imagination. Spotted a cafe – well actually we smelt it first – so we shot over for a hot chocolate. Met a French woman who teaches French to foreign students and they in turn are teaching her English and she practised on us. We also visit another Romanesque church Eglise la Porchaine unusual because it is square and has a 3 storey square bell tower.

It was still raining and very little open so we decide to trek on to Dampierre sur Boutonne to visit cousin Terri and her husband Mick. We arrived just about lunch time.

Dampierre is a rural village of about 50 homes about 1 hour west of La Rochelle. Mick and Terri have lived here (I’m not certain) 15 years plus. Shortly after moving from Brighton to Dampierre, they renovated an abandoned house and create “gites” French holiday accommodation, Mick turned his hand to renovating for other Poms taking advantage of their EU status to invade France once again. One of the projects they have taken on is the renovation of a house at Leger. Mick’s youngest son Daniel is visiting (he also has bought and renovated abandoned houses) and over lunch we talk them into showing us the progress with this renovation (Daniel says it still looks like a WW1 house on the Somme). So we drive toward Aulnay through the back blocks of the back of beyond to Leger.

It is as pretty as I remember it. An abandoned house with granny flat looking across open French fields. Today one of Terri’s neighbours is planting a plot of potatoes with a garden fork – a centuries old scene. There is still a lot of work to be done but they are both still enthusiastic about the project. A combination of poor holiday seasons and Mick’s health not permitting him to work has seen a shortage of cash for the project but still Mick has performed a lot of the fundamental reconstruction needed. Personally and Mick now agrees he should have bull dozed the house and started again but that would not have the same charm, Back to Dampierre a warm fire and hot meal. Kerry has developed a sore throat and goes to bed and I bore Terri, Mick and Daniel with photos and we reminisce about Dad’s emigration as a 19-year-old to start a new life in Australia.

After a relaxing night in the piggery (now renovated as a gite) I awake early once again – I cannot seem to sleep past 4.00 am. Still dark and cold but it must be time for a cuppa to start the day. It is the end of February and we are still in winter. It is raining windy and cold. We thought we would visit the donkeys and then go to La Rochelle to see if our memories of the town are accurate.

So we drove over to the donkey farm where we saw the local breed of donkey brought back from extinction through one stallion and careful breeding. The Poitou donkey or Poitou ass, also called the Poitevin donkey or simply the Poitou, is a breed of donkey originating in the Poitou region of France. Long ears and a hairy coat they look a little strange.

Then we travelled out to the coast to La Rochelle. It was windier and colder making it difficult to find the town we remembered. But we did buy a Euro millions ticket and out popped two tickets = a good omen and Kerry who had been longing for a crepe citron got her crepe. The weather does not improve so we head home for a warm fire and a cuppa. Mick and Terri arrived later and we put on some nibbles before dinner. Terri pulls out her Euro Millions ticket and we agree to pool our chances.

The Retirees go Abroad – France, Norway, UK and Ireland – Chinon and the Fortresse Royale

Next morning breakfast in our hotel room (porridge and a cuppa) and then travel onto Chinon and the Fortresse Royale. Amboise was like any village you see all over France – history in every house and town planning for donkey carts and pedestrians. I enjoyed the town but I am a 21st century boy and looking forward to an Ibis Hotel in Poitiers.

On the road again and we made good time down to Chinon. As seems usual in France our GPS “Tommy” has difficulty finding its way in the villages but this time it was the town of Chinon. “Turn right” it said and all I could see was a barely sealed road connecting houses with an uncertain end round a corner. So I missed the turn but my co-pilot insisted we go down that path. Within 50m we came to a round-about and on the third exit a bloody big sign “Chinon – medieval citie” and “Fortresses Royale – Parking”. Under co – pilot instructions I went back to the muddy lane and down we went until we shocked a french woman walking her dog who politely told us yes you can get to the fortress this way but it is better to go over there as there is parking for the car (at least that is what we determined as she was as good with English as we were with French – avoided running over the dog).

Got to the parking and then to the visitors centre then to the fortress. Sited on a rocky outcrop (as usual) it towers over the city. It is actually three forts in one. The oldest Coudray Tower is where the last of the Knights Templar were held after Louis Phillipe ordered the arrest of all members of the temple. The Middle Tower contains a very interesting display on the history of the fort (last used for military purposes in the 15th century) the visits by Joan of Arc to Charles VII and the archaeology discoveries. It also contains the bell tower (which we climbed after it rang 12noon) and this is an additional 5 stories above the fort and probably 100m above the city. (It is said that the bell has rung over Chinon since 1399 and this is where the “Plantagenets” started life when Geoffrey V Count of Anjou took the nickname “Plantagenet” after a sprig of broom he wore in his hat and his son Henri II became King of England through his mother). So Chinon remained a little bit of England through Richard the Lion Heart and then King John who lost the fortresse to Phillippe Auguste King of France and Chinon became part of France for the first time. As you can see I enjoyed this part.

Finally, there is the Tower of St Georges which was not really part of the military defences but the royal suites and administration centre for France under Charles VII. The emblem for the city is three towers. After the reign of Charles VII Chinon lost popularity and the last fortification work was in 1560. Thereafter it fell into disuse and comes close to destruction in 1854. In the intervening period many parts of the three towers and principally the third one is destroyed (the visitors centre is located where the third tower once stood). It is now a listed historic monument and as you can see some significant historical moments occurred here. Great fun for me not so much for Kerry who become angry and distressed (and rightly so) when I went exploring in the Coudray tower and the cells below ground.

It was in those cells that I learned the history of the Templars and their end at Chinon. In the royal palace at Chinon, Jacques de Molay the 23rd and last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, leading the Order from 20 April 1292 until it was dissolved by order of Pope Clement V in 1307, was questioned by the Pope’s cardinals, this time with agents of King Philip IV of France present. During forced interrogation by royal agents in Paris on 24/25 October, Molay confessed that the Templar initiation ritual included “denying Christ and trampling on the Cross”. He was also forced to write a letter asking every Templar to admit to these acts. Under pressure from Philip IV, Pope Clement V ordered the arrest of all the Templars throughout Christendom. He recanted the admissions but at Chinon he returned to his forced admissions made in Paris. In November 1309, the Papal Commission for the Kingdom of France began its own hearings, during which Molay again recanted, stating that he did not acknowledge the accusations brought against his order. Molay is the best known Templar, along with the Order’s founder and first Grand Master, Hugues de Payens (1070–1136). European support for the Crusades had dwindled, other forces were at work which sought to disband the Order and claim the wealth of the Templars as their own. King Philip IV of France, deeply in debt to the Templars, had Molay and many other French Templars arrested in 1307 and tortured into making false confessions. When Molay later retracted his confession, Philip had him burned upon a scaffold on an island in the River Seine in front of Notre Dame de Paris, in March 1314.

We notice there is an elevator on the side of the cliff about 50m from the visitors centre so we went in search of a hot chocolate in the town. Just like Amboise its design is from other eras and has a mixture of the oldest and the older throughout. Found the hot chocolate in a Tabac – not much open on a Sunday.

Had a sandwich in the car then off to Poitiers. We arrived about 2.00 booked in settled in and I had a nanna nap. After dinner in a very interesting pub called Au Bureau we strolled the streets and are keen to see it all in daylight.

The Retirees go Abroad – France, Norway, UK and Ireland – Amboise

Up bright and early – hey who played around with my watch its 7.45 am. It’s overcast so no idea of the time therefore slept in. Never the less we left the hotel on time to visit Clos Luce, Leonardo da Vinci’s last home (gifted to him by King Francois 1st). It’s a bit more than a home but not quite a chateau. It is surrounded by lovely gardens and contains a history of da Vinci’s engineering designs and inventions from military to civil. Even had Kerry interested (oops spoke to soon she’s sitting down – time to move on).

We had chosen to walk but it’s another shitty day weather wise windy and wet which made the entrance to Castle Amboise a bit treacherous. The castle is in the middle of the city and as we walked to the castle we noticed that the castle walls contained houses. I don’t know when but people have constructed house in the castle walls. They are privately owned so we could not see inside but quite different. Les Troglodytes – Oui!

The castle itself is only part of the original (about 50% I guess has been demolished over time). What remains was interesting. Da Vinci is buried there. He lived in Amboise only 3 years before dying and in his will he asked to be entombed in the St Florentin church in Castle Amboise and when this was demolished they dug up his bones some coins (by which they determined these were da Vinci’s bones) and re interred him in the St Hubert Chapel also in the castle grounds (where you can see him today).

Home for a sandwich and then we drove to Château Chenonceaux. Now this place is unique in that it is built in the river Cher with a short timber bridge on one end and a 60m bridge connecting it to the other side (the bridge was covered in by Catherine de Medici (wife of Henri II) after his death and after she took the château back from Henri’s lover Diane of Poitiers (for whom Henri acquired the Château). The “bridge” was turned into a banquet hall by Catherine and the château changed hands a few times up to 1945 but is now a heritage building. It is not opulently fitted out but is interesting because of the various people who have called it home since 1521.

Back in Amboise we noticed a very old building containing a quaint restaurant across the road from the hotel (across the road – you can see into the restaurant and vis a versa – the road is 6m wide from the wall of our hotel to the wall of the restaurant). So we had drinks in the living room of the hotel browsing the local picture books on the sites of the Loire Valley then ambled across the road for dinner. But for the fact it was blowing a gale and probably close to 0c it was lovely.

To bed to dream and check the internet. Bugger! We had planned to visit Futuroscope outside Poitiers but it is closed until February 14 – one of our goals was to go back to Futuroscope but now we are going to miss it. In France when something says on its web site opening in February do not think they mean the 1st of February.

The Retirees go Abroad – France Norway UK and Ireland – February 2014

I am in the Eva Air business class lounge facing a 19 hour delay before our next flight and you know I don’t care. Just had a shower. What a fantasy that is. The only thing missing is the personal attendant to rub your back.

I have answered my emails reviewed the results of the Easts directors retreat reviewed the amended budget and shot off some questions to the CFO and oh yes Kerry and I have discussed our day. We plan to take a free half day tour to Longshan Temple, the Presidential office building, Chiang Kai-shek memorial Hall, Martyrs Shrine and the Taipei Mall (hunting and gathering again).

A walk around the terminal for an hour or so and back to the lounge. This gave us the opportunity to check out the weather – shitty to say the least. Kerry is still over tired and does not feel up to the tour in rainy weather.  Cancelled the tour. Killed time walked the entire terminal 1, 2, 3, and 4 – they all join up. Kerry napped on the floor.

Finally, on the plane and business class is a treat. Next stop Paris (only 13 hours flying). The trip was probably the bumpiest trip I have ever had and the layout of the seats meant that Kerry and I could barely see one another and over that period it becomes annoying.

Landed at Charles De Gaulle and waited for the luggage and waited and waited. Extremely high winds made it impossible to unload our plane. Got the luggage and collected the car. Set the GPS and off to Amboise in the Loire Valley we go.

Interesting trip just under 2 hours but how the scenery changed. The suburbs of Paris looked dirty and cold while the country side around Amboise is clean and fresh but also cold. Amboise has been around since the Neolithic times when it was settled by a Celtic group called the Turones, occupied by the Romans and the first signs of a castle appeared in the 4th century AD. Clovis the King of the Franks met Alaric King of the Visigoths on Ile d’Or (the island in the Loire river just off Amboise) in 503AD (no idea why) but this gives you some idea that when I say the buildings here are a real mixture of old and new and the roads are all designed for donkey carts that its true.

We found our hotel, walked to the Tourism office bought our tickets for the next days adventures and came back for a Nana nap and I woke again at 3.00 am. Jet lag caught up with us on the first day.