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“This is indeed India! the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendour and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterdays bear date with the mouldering antiquities of the rest of the nations—the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.” – Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World by Mark Twain

Mark Twain’s observations continue to ring true a century later. It is a land astoundingly rich in history, architecture, culture and traditions. The vibrant colours, smells, noises and unceasing activity overwhelm the senses. Viewed from a 21st C perspective, however, the contradictions and disparities in human conditions and material wealth are disheartening. Travelling by train and car through the countryside takes us back to our time in Africa more than 40 years ago, as we see women (primarily) carrying bundles of firewood on their heads and fetching water from communal wells. The poverty evidenced in the towns and cities is staggering. India’s GDP is now the third largest in the world, after the US and China. And yet, while the poverty rate in India (21% of the population in 2011) has been declining since the 1980’s, the number of people living in dire poverty, or on less than $1.25 a day continues to climb. By virtue of its population, India is home to 1/3 of the world’s extremely poor people.(UN MDG report 2014). Since 1991, the gap between rich and poor has continued to widen. A survey by Oxfam found that, in 2017, one Indian billionaire was created every two days, with India’s top 1% of the population now holding 73% of the wealth. As the Oxfam report suggests, “the growing divide undermines democracy and promotes corruption and cronyism“.

People have spoken to us openly about the corruption endemic in India, something the Modi government has pledged to eliminate. In a recent survey  by Transparency International (TI), an anti-corruption global civil society organization, India had the highest bribery rate among the 16 Asia Pacific countries surveyed. Nearly 7 in 10 people who accessed public services had paid a bribe. We were told that some who are clearly not in need pay to have their names included on a list to qualify for free housing and other assistance. While people we spoke with were sceptical about Prime Minister Modi’s commitment to root out corruption, there is encouraging evidence of a growing anti-corruption movement in civil society.

One tragic outcome of India’s failure to address these issues is an apparent dysfunctional public education system. In her powerful book,  The end of Karma: Hope and Fury among India’s Young, New York Times reporter Somini Sengupta describes a system where, despite investments in schools, improved teacher-student ratios and free lunch programs, the majority of students fail to reach what the curriculum expects. Approximately 25% of teachers don’t show up to teach on any given day and student attendance is around 71%. A 2011 study referred to by Sengupta revealed that 40% of children drop out between Class 5 and Class 9. Among those who made it to Class 10, another 40% dropped out within a year. Despite its reputation as an IT powerhouse, fewer than 15% of college-aged Indians go to college. The challenges are enormous for a country whose population includes more than 300 million under the age of 15 and is expected to exceed that of China by 2022.

We had read that, today, there are more people in the world with cell phones than toilets. That would certainly appear to be the case in India, where cellphones are everywhere, while 600 million people do not have access to a toilet. While we were there, the Hindu Times announced that the Greater Chennai Corporation declared the city ‘open defecation-free’. The Modi government has also launched a “Clean India” campaign. This week, the Lancet published an article on the issue, reviewing a Bollywood movie that highlights challenges to achieving such goals. Apparently, for a variety of reasons, including cultural and religious impediments (having a toilet in the confines of a house is considered to be impure), there is a fair amount of resistance to having toilets in homes.

Parkinsons’s Disease in India :

The prevalence of PD in India is lower than estimates for North America and Europe, although the reasons for this are not known. A door-to-door survey done in Bangalore district in South Karnataka in India in 2004, found a rate of Parkinsonism of 33 per 100,000 (crude prevalence). (compared with a number of 200 per 100,00 in Canada). Given the size of India’s population, the numbers of persons with the disease in the country is large, at approximately 450,000.

Diagnosis and treatment of PD in India is hindered by inadequate awareness of the disease, low numbers of medical professionals in the public system with specialized training in PD, poverty, and near total absence of health insurance or social security. While drug costs in India are lower than in developed countries thanks to domestic pharmaceutical manufacture, drug treatment is still out of reach of many. The cost of medications generally can consume between 16-41.7% of an Indian patient’s income. Surgical treatment options for PD are even less accessible for patients of lower socioeconomic status. Many PD patients seek alternative medicine, Ayurveda being the common form available.

As a result of our unplanned departure, we were unable to meet with the Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders Society of India in Mumbai, as planned. As in BC, such support organizations are vital to affected persons: The President of the Parkinson’s Society (now the PMDS) has written that “The feeling of swimming together rather than sinking individually is a great step forward for the victims… Wide networks of patients (in India) have now been established, producing a strong bond of mutual, helpful existence.”

Sources: Review of research on PD in India. Ann Indian Acad Neurol. 2016 Jan-Mar; 19(1): 9–20.
Experiences of Parkinson’s Disease in India. The Lancet Neurology 2002. 1:258-262

January 30, 2018 – Day 75. Jan 31-Feb1

Puducherry to Patnem Beach, Goa – 2561 km (air and car)

We were at a point in our India trip where we both felt a need for some down-time, preferably on the beach. Lois was still hoping to find a centre where she could learn some yoga and meditation techniques. A search for yoga/beach retreats turned up a number of possibilities, although many were already booked up, especially in Kerala, our first choice. Finding one in south Goa, we reluctantly decided to forego a visit to Kerala (sorry, Caroline!) and fly to Goa. Taking trains across the country to Goa would have meant multiple changes and many, many hours of travelling. Even so, we still spent two hours at the end of the day in dense traffic before arriving at a wonderful white sandy beach and the Bamboo Yoga retreat. It was an idyllic spot on Pandem Beach, with wonderful food (and Sula wine). The accommodation was quite rustic though, being huts assembled each tourist season, with palm frond roofs and ensuite bathrooms open to the sky. We normally wouldn’t have minded the rusticity, but the nighttime temperatures in January made for a chilly stay!

Paul was unwell the first day and missed the yoga lessons, but appreciated the fresh coconut water recommended by the staff. This was refreshing and he feels is to be recommended in such circumstances! Lois participated in the classes which were more advanced than we had expected but a good introduction, nonetheless. The open studio overlooked the sea. In the evening, the stars were brilliant and we were surprised to see the Super Blue Blood moon and lunar eclipse (we had heard about the super moon, but not the eclipse!). The moon was indeed red.

During the night of January 31st we learnt that Lois’ 97 year old mother had suddenly become ill. We left for Mumbai in the morning to return to Canada. Sadly, Lois’ mom passed away while we were waiting for our flight to Vancouver.

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January 27, 2018 – Day 74. Jan 28-29

Chennai to Puducherry – 199 km (train and car)

& 31,050 Fit Bit Steps

On the platform at Vilapuram station, we were interested to see a table set up where a public health nurse was administering oral polio vaccine to children passing through the station. This is a reminder that Pakistan and Afghanistan, two of the three countries in the world which are endemic for polio are close to India.

When the driver we had arranged to meet us to take us to Puducherry didn’t turn up, we discovered many phone calls later that the car had broken down. We were eventually picked up by the driver’s brother in an old car without working seatbelts. The 40 minute drive was fast, furious and quite terrifying.

Puducherry (formerly Pondicherry) is known for its French colonial architecture and flavour (the area was under French rule until 1954), its seaside location and proximity to the interesting town of Auroville. Our hotel was in a lovely heritage building in the Tamil section of town. A disused canal running north/south splits the town between the newer commercial section on the west and the leafy streets of the older French (White) Quarter towards the sea. Except for the ubiquitous absence of continuous sidewalks, Puducherry is a pleasant city for strolling. Come dusk, when the scooters and auto-rickshaws came out in force, walking suddenly becomes a nerve-wracking experience! We wandered past houses that once would have been quite grand. Some, like the French Consulate, retain their character. As we paused by the sea watching the waves break up over the rocks, we were approached by a couple our age who asked us to take their picture. They were from Calgary and had been travelling on the “Palace on Wheels”, a luxury tourist train that runs in Rajasthan. They were positive about the experience, apart from suffering a week of sleepless nights!

We visited and read about the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a peaceful oasis and place of pilgrimage and study. It has an intriguing history, founded by Sri Aurobindo and a french-born woman, the “Mother”. Aurobindo’s teachings focus on ‘integral yoga’ that sees devotees work in the world, rather than retreat from it. We had hoped to also visit nearby Auroville, the « City of Dawn », founded in 1968 by ‘the Mother’, but no tours appeared to be available. Aurovillians run a wide variety of projects, from schools and IT to organic farming, renewable energy and handicrafts production, employing 4000 to 5000 local villagers.

We took advantage of the French cuisine, sampling French crêpes at L’e Space, found delicious South Indian cuisine at Villa Shanti and decent espresso (7.5) at Cafe Coffee Day.


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January 24, 2018 – Day 73. Jan 25 – Jan 26.

Tala to Chennai – 1307 km (car and air)

& 20, 696 Ft Bit steps

We left Bandhavgarh (Tala) by car for Jabalpur to catch a flight to Chennai, from where we intended to tour southern India by train. Although we were closer to Darjeeling, we decided it made sense to go south and then stop in Darjeeling on our way to Bangkok.

Chennai (previously Madras) is another huge city, with a population of 10M, but with a cleaner, more welcoming vibe to it than Mumbai or Delhi. We had only intended to stay one night, but with difficulties finding accommodation further south during the busy tourist time of year, we decided to use Chennai as a base for a few days while we considered next steps.

After spending a day laundering the entire contents of our packs and getting haircuts, we hired a driver to take us to Mahabalipuram, on the coast south of Chennai. Before leaving the city, we stopped to visit the large and intricately adorned, rainbow colored 16th C Kapaleeshwarar Temple. This contrasted with the 1896 neo-Gothic Roman Catholic Cathedral of San Thome in the southern neighbourhood of Mylapore. There is evidence that the ancient port city of Mylapore traded with Greek, Roman and Chinese merchants. St. Thomas the apostle arrived here in AD52 and was killed 20 years later for his attempts at conversions.

As it was the Republic Day long weekend, there were crowds of people in Mahabalipuram, families dressed in their finest, spirting India flags. Many were dressed all in red, indicating they had made or were were making a pilgrimage to the nearby Mel Maruvathur Adiparasakthi Temple.

Mahabalipuram was the major seaport of the ancient Pallava dynasty. Built in the 7th C, the 400 monuments and temples of the town are UNESCO designated. The group contains several categories of monuments: ratha temples with monolithic processional chariots, built between 630 and 668; mandapa viharas (cave temples) with ancient Hindu narratives and inscriptions in a number of Indian languages and scripts; rock reliefs, stone-cut temples built between 695 and 722, and archaeological excavations dated to the 6th century and earlier. Almost all of them carved in situ from the granite bedrock, the temples and statues have survived remarkably intact. The Five Rathas, each carved from single large rocks, were buried in sand and uncovered 200 years ago.

Other monuments are carved into the rock of Mahabalipuram Hill. Arjuna’s Présence, a massive relief carving inscribed on two huge, adjacent boulders, contains scenes of Hindu mythology and everyday South Indian life. The Lonely Planet guide describes the scene “In the centre, nagas (snake beings ) descend a once water-filled cleft, representing the Ganges. To the left Arjuna (hero of the Mahabharata) performs self-mortification (fasting on one leg), so that the four-armed Shiva will grant him his most powerful weapon, the god-slaying Pasupata. Some scholars believe the carving actually shows the sage Bagiratha, who did severe penance to obtain Shiva’s help in bringing the Ganges to earth. Shiva is attended by dwarves, and celestial beings fly across the carving’s upper sections. Below Arjuna/Bagiratha is a temple to Vishnu (mythical an- cestor of the Pallava kings), with sages, deer and a lion. The many wonderfully carved animals include a herd of elephants and – humour amid the holy – a cat mimicking Arjuna’s penance to a crowd of mice”.

In the Krishna Mandapa is a carving of Krishna lifting Govardhana hill to protect the villagers and cows from a storm sent by Indra. The temple contains an interesting series of animals carved in different styles including South Indian, Chinese, Greek and Roman. The only temple not carved into the rock is the remaining Shore Temple, three others having washed away. It is in a lovely position by the sea and notable for the many Nandi bull statues, Nandi being the carrier of Vishnu. We read that the December 2004 tsunami briefly exposed large structures on the seabed about a kilometre offshore, which archaeologists speculate may be the ancient Mahabalipuram.

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January 20, 2018 – Day 72. Jan 21-23

Khajuraho to Tala – 284 km (car)

& 62060 Fit Bit steps 

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?…(William Blake)

Our driver, Ashok, was careful and  knew where to stop for chai/Nescafé and clean bathrooms. On the road to Tala, we noticed winter wheat planted in the rice fields. Water is available to villagers and for irrigation, but we suspect indoor toilets and plumbing is still generally lacking. We encountered large herds of goats and cattle on the road, and women (and an occasional man) carrying bundles of firewood or dried cattle dung, both important sources of fuel. We also saw an ox-cart, but, like the bicycle, this now seems to be a rarity.

We arrived at Tigergarh resort feeling quite hopeful about seeing our first tiger in the wild. Paul’s desire to see tigers has become a bit of family lore. We had read that, of all the tiger reserves in India, the likelihood of a sighting at Bandhavgarh was greatest, especially at this (dry) time of year. Bandhavgarh has one of the highest densities of Bengal tigers known in the world. We were informed that guests currently at the lodge had all had sightings in the past few days. As we had prepaid for four safaris, 2 morning and 2 afternoon, it looked good!

We were quite pumped, therefore, when the alarm went off at 5:45 the next morning. Dressed in all our layers, hats and mitts against the morning chill and the prospect of an open jeep ride, we headed to the dining room for a cup of masala tea and biscuits. However, we soon learned from the owner, Gagan, that the park guides and Gypsy Jeep drivers had just gone on strike. They were demanding the removal of the park director. Gagan proposed that we go in the hotel  Jeep, driven and guided by Kuldeep, the lodge’s new wildlife expert. As the safari is with the park authorities, this required some negotiation, but we were soon off. We shared the jeep with another couple, PK and Wendy, Sri Lankans living in Australia and travelling around the world. Both IT consultants, TK is hoping to convert a serious hobby of wildlife photography into a second career. They had booked a large number of specific photography safaris, which normally would have provided them with their own jeep to accommodate camera equipment, so they were not pleased with the sudden strike.

Unfortunately, although we saw fresh tiger prints and heard the alarm calls of Chital (spotted deer), which herald that a tiger is on the move, our first safari netted no sightings. We did see Chital, Barking deer, Sambar, jackals, Langurs, wild pigs, Bison and peacocks and other birds, including a Spotted Owlet.

Things then got worse in terms of the strike. The afternoon safaris were all cancelled, as unrest was increasing. The next morning we were informed that no private jeeps or guides would be allowed in the park. It seems that each morning and afternoon the assignment of park vehicles and trackers is normally not a calm process, but the apparent lack of organization was exaggerated by the union action. The park officials were scrambling to find alternative drivers and vehicles to take people into the park (but no guides). Our next morning safari was in a closed vehicle, being driven by someone who didn’t know the park and with whom we could not communicate. Just after entering the park, the driver stopped at a tea stand for chai and then sent someone over to the car to ask if we would pay for the driver’s tea! Our afternoon safari was better, in that we had demanded an open jeep and a more knowledgeable driver, which Gagan was able to negotiate. But, without a tracker, the driver could only rely on known watering holes and other crossing points. We ended up buying two more safaris, in spite of these restrictions and against our better judgment. Sadly, the tigers continued to elude us. But worse, the conflict infected the atmosphere and the frantic efforts of inexperienced drivers racing around the park with the single objective of trying to find us a tiger became ultimately demoralizing. There was not much oppirtunity to enjoy the early morning mist or gathering dusk out in the beautiful jungle amidst the Bandhavgarh hills that we could easy imagine would be home to Shere Khan. In some ways, we were relieved not to see the majestic tiger surrounded by a posse of determined vehicles and onlookers.

We were pleased to see Indian Vultures* in the park. The numbers of vultures in India has declined precipitously in recent years due to poisoning by diclofanac , an anti-inflammatory used in cattle. Its use is now banned so hopefully the population of this important scavenger will rebound.

We also appreciated the helpful and friendly staff and atmosphere at Tigergarh resort. Thanks to Gagan, Kuldeep and the staff!

*The Parsis traditionally left their dead to be consumed by vultures (according to Mark Twain this took only a couple of hours although he did not see this first hand as very few can enter the towers of silence where the dead are laid to rest) but now they are having to resort to cremation.

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January 18, 2018 – Day 71. Jan 19

Jaipur to Khajuraho – 656 km (train)

& 7791 Fit Bit Steps

We had pleasant and interesting company for the first part of our 13 hour train journey to Khujuraho. Adam is originally from Texas, but presently lives in Berlin. He is a travel writer and blogger, his blog targetted at hipsters and the gay community. Alex, a Costa Rican also living in Berlin is doing a PhD on the effect of tourism on European cities, specifically Amsterdam, Venice and Barcelona.

From Agra, where Adam and Alex left us, we travelled southeast through farmlands of winter wheat and mustard (seed used for cooking oil), interspersed with rocky outcrops, often marked by ruined forts.

Khajuraho is the site of a group of magnificent Hindu and Jain temples built between 939 AD and 1050 by rulers of the Chandela Dynasty. Of the 85 temples constructed, 25 remain, these having been abandoned and protected by jungle overgrowth until rediscovered in the 19th C by a British officer under the guidance of local villagers. Dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and other Hindu Gods, the temples are said to commemorate important events, including victories over rivals. In addition to the architectural beauty of the buildings themselves, the temples are known for their exquisite temple art, believed to be among the best in the world. On the outsides of the temples are friezes of finely carved stone sculptures of gods, goddesses, warriors, musicians, dancers and real and mythological animals. Many of the sculptures are representation of female beauty, depicted in everyday scenes such as a woman removing a thorn from her foot, another applying eye makeup, one doing a handstand, another writing a letter or cuddling a baby. A number of the panels illustrate gods engaging in playfully erotic activities, some of which involve animals.

Khajuraho is one of the four holy sites linked to deity Shiva. It has been proposed that the temples’ origin reflect the Hindu mythology in which Khajuraho is the place where Shiva got married.

Each block of stone was sculpted off-site and all pieces of the very large temples were assembled with mortise and tenon joints and no mortar. A top keystone holds the structure together. The structures are remarkably straight and true and must have required very precise planning and sculpting, particularly as the figures are all different and never repeated. The UNESCO World Heritage designation is deserved.

An evening sound and light show provided a creative historical overview of the creation of the temples.

Our accommodation at the elegant Lalit Temple View Hotel was a welcome treat!

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January 15, 2018 – Day 70. Jan 16 – 17

Udaipur to Jaipur – 434 km (overnight train)

& 30483 Fit Bit steps 

Old Jaipur, “the pink city”, laid out in a grid system, appears more recently established than the late 1700’s, when it was designed. Jai Singh II was a man of science and mathematics and the form of the city that he built reflects this. During the rule of Sawai Ram Singh I, the city was painted pink to welcome the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, in 1876.

A walking tour from the Lonely Planet guide took us through the many busy bazaars of the old city, each section specializing in a specific commodity. In the clothing bazaar, we saw brightly coloured sari material being shown to groups of women sitting on the floor of the small open-fronted shops. From the top of the Iswari Minar Swarga Sal minaret, we had a good view of the City Palace and the surrounding Aravali range.The City Palace includes the Mubarak Mahal, a reception centre for foreign dignitaries built with Hindu, Muslim and European styles. The Jantar Mantar is another of Jai Singh’s works. Like one we had seen in Delhi built by him, it is a collection of accurately set sundials and devices to show the positions of the stars and planets and asssociated signs of the zodiac.

The nearby hills are topped by a series of forts and palaces established by the Maharajahs before the capital was moved from Amber. The Nahargarh Fort, built in 1734, and the Jaigarh fort of 1726 are perched on the cliff close to the Amber (pronounced « amer ») Fort, built in 1592. The Nahargarh fort was hosting a very interesting sculpture exhibit, Sculpture Park. The Amber fort is a fine building in pink and yellow sandstone and white marble. It is laid out on four levels, each with its own courtyard, with reception halls and quarters for the Maharajah and Maharanis. An old stone wall joining the forts and other guard posts snakes its way for 15km around the forts. In the valley below, the water palace (Jal Mahal) on the outskirts of the city was believed to have been built by Jai Singh II. It is isolated on a lake with no apparent connection to the shore, which adds to its charm. Today’s India was also illustrated by a new modern temple with attractive stained glass windows, built by a local business person.

We visited these sights on a city bus tour with a group of Indian tourists. Although, we later found out that one of the Sikh men on our tour lives in Vancouver! At ticket booths, the distinction is clear with markedly higher fees for foreigners. This even applied to the simple Thali meal included with the tour ticket!

In Jaipur, we found the best espresso  in India by far at Curious Life. The hipster shop would not have been out of place in downtown Vancouver, apart from the fact that the locally roasted coffee was all from India. Thanks to Longly Planet for this and also for directing us to Anokhi where we picked up some cute clothes for our grandchildren and a shirt for Paul.

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January 11, 2018 – Day 69 & Jan 12-14

Jodhpur to Udaipur – 254 km (by car)

&  25289 Fit Bit steps 

Our road trip across the Aravali Hills to Udaipur was not at all relaxing as the driver ignored our requests to drive more slowly (“I don’t like to follow”, he said, somewhat apologetically), and talked on his cell phone continuously, which meant no hands on the wheel when he changed gears! Luckily, we were able to break the journey at the Chaumukha Mandir Jain temple in Ranakpur. This magnificent 15th C structure, which is a place of pilgrimage for the Jains, includes domes, shiksra, cupolas, turrets and 1444 marble pillars, none of which are alike. Relieved to arrive in Udaipur, we promptly fled the vehicle when our driver was flummoxed with a one-way system near our guesthouse!

Also known as the “City of the lakes”, Udaipur sits on the edge of Lake Picola, one of a series of interconnected artificial lakes, created between the 15th and 19th C by building dams primarily to meet the drinking water and irrigation needs of the city and its neighborhood. Founded in 1559 by Maharana Udai Singh II as the new capital of the Mewar kingdom, Udaipur is overlooked by the imposing City Palace, Rajasthan’s largest palace. We spent a long time exploring many of its constituent palaces, which are joined by zigzag corridors and surround quadrangles and courtyards. On a pleasant  sunset cruise, we could see the extent of the huge City Palace complex. The cruise also took us past the 18thC Lake Palace (now a hotel) and the 16thC Jag Mandir Palace.

A highlight of our stay in Udaipur was a cooking class conducted in our guesthouse by Sushma, a well-known local teacher of typical Indian home cuisine. Also co-owner of the Krishna Niwas Guesthouse with her artist/art dealer spouse, Sushma has been conducting cooking classes for a decade. Her first book on the basics of the best of Indian cuisine has just been published. In the purpose-built modern kitchen, with the assistance of her daughter, who is just beginning a PhD in neuropsychology, Sushma demonstrated how to cook various vzgetarian dishes and then involved us in preparing (and eating!) them. These  included butter paneer masala, dal makhani, jeera aloo, naan and chipati. Also taking the class were two delightful travellers from Ireland with whom we later went for a drink. Lara was soon heading home to Dublin, while Cian was going on to a ten-day meditation retreat, where silence is the rule (and no books or internet). We discussed the possibility of meeting up with Cian in February when he will be joining his parents for an organized tour of southern India.

We also attended an evening performance of traditional dancing and puppetry at the Bagore Ki Haveli. This is a highly popular event frequented by tourists, the majority of which appeared to be Indian. Afterwards,  Paul realized he had left his prescription sunglasses on the sunset cruise boat. The ferry office was closed by that time, but a night watchman who offered to call the company for us, was told they would look for the glasses the following morning. As we were taking a train just after midnight, we enlisted the help of hotel as well. When we arrived in Jaipur, Paul received a voicemail to say that the glasses had been found, the hotel owner ensured that they were picked up and a day and a half later the glasses were delivered to our guesthouse in Jaipur. The hotel refused to accept any payment. If anyone visits Udaipur please patronize the Krishna Niwas Guesthouse!

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January 7, 2018 – Day 68 & Jan 8-10

Mumbai to Jodhpur – 935 km (train)

& 44176 Fit Bit steps 

As we were both keen to see the colored cities of Jodhpur and Jaipur in Rajasthan first, we decided to head north and then make our way clockwise around the country. The 17-hr overnight train ride from Mumbai to Jodhpur was comfortable in our two-berth compartment and we were well-looked after, with people coming by regularly selling chai and snacks. A conductor took orders for dinner, presumably to be picked up at the next stop, which was one of the best vegetarian Thali meals we have had so far.

Jodhpur was still relatively quiet at 6:00 a.m. as a tuk tuk (auto rickshaw) took us through the narrow streets to our guest house. Climbing up to the rooftop balcony of the Singhvi Haveli, we had our first view of the immense Mehrangarh Fort, dominating Jodhpur’s skyline, and now lit by sunrise. The old town with its indigo blue houses looked enchanting in the early morning light. As we were gazing out over this scene and chatting by FaceTime with our daughter and her family in Victoria, the haunting sound of a Hindu morning prayer began broadcasting from a nearby temple. Later, those same streets were bustling with people, dogs, motorcycles, auto rickshaws, barrows and cows and shopkeepers, minding a multitude of very small shops, and sellers with carts carried on their trades.

The Mehrangarh (Mehran Fort) is one of the largest and most magnificent forts in India. Built in 1460 by the ruling Rathore clan of Rajputs when their 1000-yr old fort at Mandore was no longer defensible, it was occupied by Rajput Maharajahs for centuries, although at times under control of the Mughals, the Marathas, and later, the British. While Rajput clans ruled throughout what is now known as Rajasthan for centuries, they also fought amongst themselves, as evident from an expansion of the fort in the 19th century after an attack from Jaipur was repelled. Most of the major Rajput families accepted independence in 1947, but Rajasthan only became fully incorporated into the Indian federation in the 1970’s.

Still owned by the Jodhpur royal family, Mehrangarh is a beautifully maintained and exquisite example of Rajput architecture, with finely carved stone latticework and a network of courtyards. The fort’s former palace now houses an excellent museum, including a display of very fine miniature painting.

Braving the jostling throngs down in the town, we found an oasis of quiet at the Tunwarji ka Jhalra (step-well) and the adjoining Stepwell cafe where we found espresso, before again immersing ourselves in the hectic Sardar Market around the century old Clock Tower.

We booked two day tours from Jodhpur, one to local villages to visit a Muslim potter making traditional vessels for keeping water cold and, in another village, where a family carried on the tradition of making double sided kilim carpets by hand. Our second tour took us out into the scrubby Thar Desert that surrounds Jodhpur. Here, we rode on camels to a remote village, where we had a delightful lunch with the family running the trek and home-stay. The young son is setting up an AirBnB in the family’s village.

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January 3, 2018 – Day 67 & Jan 4-6

Dubai to Mumbai – 1928 km (air)

& 38540 Fit Bit steps

We were very fortunate to be able to spend a few days in Mumbai with Brian and Anne. We so appreciated being introduced to their friends and colleagues who graciously welcomed us and included us in invitations. In addition to meeting some wonderful people and enjoying excellent meals together, it helped us to begin to develop some elementary perspectives of this complicated city and its more than 21 million residents. Our strolls and long drives through the city and beyond also gave us a glimpse of both better and poorer neighbourhoods. The contrasts are huge, and often jarring. For example, across the wall from youngsters playing cricket in the club of an apartment complex where we stayed, is a street market where we saw stalls hurriedly packed up or hidden when tax inspectors suddenly arrived. At least one seller lost all his goods, including tables. We understood that the inspectors personally profit from such raids. One evening, we were privileged to be hosted for dinner by Brian and Anne’s driver from their sojourn here. He and his family are building a temple with their community to commemorate a Hindu saint, this in the middle of a vast area called the Dharvari “slum”. It has an estimated population of 1 million people in 2.2 sq km. Housing ranges from crude shelters to apartment blocks with flush toilets. The teeming streets and alleyways are home to a multitude of small businesses which are said to generate $750M a year. There are drainage ditches full of waste, but we also saw streets in poor neighborhoods swept clean and the garbage picked up and recycled. These areas are not far from more affluent areas, such as those close to Marine Drive. There, we strolled along the waterfront at sunset before going to the National Centre for the Performing Arts to see a play about contemporary life in the city.
Just outside the city, in Sanjay Ghandi National Park, we explored the Kanheri caves, an extensive system of monastic cells and temples intricately carved out of the rock, dating back to the 1st Century BC. The park is said to be the lungs of the city as it purifies much of the air pollution of the city, although our experience suggests that that is a major challenge!

Other highlights:
– Chhatrapati Shrivaji Terminus (train station) – UNESCO World Heritage Site;
– Babu Amichand Panalal Adishwarji Jain Temple;
– Chhatrapati Shrivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Museum (built to commemorate the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1922) – a fine building and one of the premier art and history museums in India. Our brief visit only gave us an introduction – we will try to return when we come back to Mumbai at the end of February;
– Breakfast treats of samosas and docla brought to us by the very sweet Reshma.

Wildlife notes: chital (spotted deer)

Middle East & Asia Actual Route

Lisbon to Auckland Actual Route

December 31, 2017 – Day 66 & Jan 1-2, 2018

To Dubai – 2537 km (air, calculated as continuing eastward from Cyprus)

& 34617 Fit Bit steps

Our travels eastwards began again when we flew to Dubai from Paris to visit our nephew, David, and his family, and Lois’ brother Brian and sister-in-law, Anne, who were spending Christmas with their children and grandchildren. Changing planes in Beirut, we arrived just in time to bring in the new year.

Our first experience of Dubai, It was interesting to see how this Emirate has developed and grown over the last 100 years. The foresight of the ruling family assured development of a port for the region, which was a boon when the economy took off after the discovery of oil in the 1960’s. As Dubai oil reserves are expected to run out in 2040, The Emirate is well on its way to becoming a prime luxury retail and tourism destination. There are multiple upscale shopping malls and more on the way, a presumably welcome escape from the extreme heat (average summer temperature is 41oC). The downtown architecture is exciting and innovative and contrasts with the old fort (museum), the bustling old town and water front. It does appear to be a very car-based city, however, perhaps in part a response to the climate.

In contract to the glitzy modern high rise-dominated city, a long cycle ride with David and Yaneth on a new bike path into the desert was peaceful and restorative and a reminder of the desert foundations of Dubai. We also sighted oryx, which was a surprise. It was wonderful to be back on bicycles, especially for Paul who felt good after his first 50km ride since May. The rental Trek road bikes were a treat to ride, even without padded shorts! That evening, we all enjoyed a delicious Indian meal in the beautiful Bab Al Shams’ Oasis.

The next day, we headed off to Mumbai together with Brian and Anne, who were going to see old friends and colleagues from their 2 1/2 year stay in India from 2012.

Middle East & Asia Actual Route

Lisbon to Auckland Actual Route

December 12, 2017 – Day 65 & Dec 13

Paphos, Cyprus to Guisely, UK (air & train)

22,366 Fit Bit steps but no progress eastward!

Guisely is a small town on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. When we walked out of the rain with our backpacks into the local tea shop, we knew that the proprietor was asking herself, who are these people and why are they here? After tea and scones we described our journey, but did not go into the medical reasons for the visit! We had come, by way of a 5 1/2 hour flight from Paphos and 4 trains from London, so that Paul could be seen by a shoulder specialist who happens to have his clinic here. While the spinal symptoms following the accident in May are gradually resolving, Paul is still bothered by persistent shoulder pain. We decided it would be sensible to have another consultation before heading off to Asia and beyond. We were fortunate to be able to get an appointment with Dr. Martin Spreight, a physician/chiropractor, recommended by an old friend of Paul’s from medical school, Chris Parsons.

Paul received a thorough and expert consultation from Martyn Spreight. Adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder) was the diagnosis, likely a result of the accident. As this condition has a natural course of about 18 months, it was good to have a definitive diagnosis but, even better, he was able to offer immediate treatment aimed at reducing symptoms and enabling rehabilitation. While Martyn was injecting fluid and steroids into Paul’s shoulder joint to “expand” the capsule, they had a delightful conversation about cycling, motorcycling, skiing and health care. Like our friend Chris, Martyn has worked within and alongside the UK National Health Service complementing what the NHS should, but may not offer.

We are spending the remainder of our time in the UK catching up with family and friends, before taking the EuroStar to France in a few days to enjoy Christmas with Chris, Shinyoung, Alice and Eliot.

We will blog again when our travels resume on New Years Eve. In the meantime, we wish all our family and friends a joyous and peaceful holiday season.

The Bramble Bakehouse, Guisely

November 24, 2017. Day 64 & Nov 25-Dec11

Thessalonika to Larnaca (Cyprus) – 1133 km (air)

&  238,684   Fit Bit steps

Our decision to come to Cyprus was an expedient one, but after 17 days here, we were reluctant to leave this fascinating friendly island, with its Byzantine monasteries and Greco-Roman ruins, wonderful wines and haloumi cheese, not to mention long sandy beaches and warm winter sun!

We arrived knowing little about Cyprus, apart from the fact of the continued Turkish occupation of the northern part of the island. Paul had grown up hearing the names of the UK military bases and the EOKA “terrorists” that, in 1960, brought an end to British rule after 88 years. While the more recent British presence is seen in the legacy of such things as left-hand traffic, Belisha beacons and Grammar schools, Cyprus’ history is a long one of invasion, occupation and exploitation. With an abundance of resources sought by visitors and invaders for millennia – copper, silk, sugar, salt, cotton, wine and timber, it is strategically placed on sea routes to the middle east and the Suez Canal, and is close to both Greece and Turkey, physically and historically. The country’s rich archaeological history shows evidence of Stone Age, Bronze Age, Mycenaean, Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Frank, Venetian, and Ottoman cultures and occupations.

In 1974, in response to an attempted takeover by the Greek military, Turkey invaded the island and it has been divided ever since. Even before that, soon after independence, the capital Nicosia had a “Green Line” separating Greek and Turkish Cypriots, enforced by the UN. In 1983 the north unilaterally declared independence as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Turkey is the only country which recognizes the TRNC. While movement across the dividing line has become easier in recent years, the Turkish occupation resulted in a huge dislocation of Greek Cypriots from the north and the same for Turkish Cypriots in the south. We saw for ourselves abandoned houses in Larnaca, vacated by Turkish Cypriots after 1974. A guard at one of the historic sites told us that the Greek Cypriots get on well with the Turkish Cypriots but it’s Turkey they don’t like. Negotiations to reach a settlement as recently as January 2017 have not progressed. One of the conditions of Turkey’s entry into the EU is resolution of the Cyprus dispute.

We based ourselves in Lanarca, a pleasant and interesting town near the site of the ancient city-kingdom of Kition. From our modern bright apartment, which looked out on the Mediterranean and Finikoudes Beach, we spent our days searching out espresso bars – To Kafe Tis Chrysanthis, our favourite!, visiting the wonderful Pierides Museum, the Church of Agios Lazaros in Larnaca (where we were surprised to find a young devout Russian woman lying in the empty tomb of St Lazaros!), the medieval Larnaca Citidal and the architectural ruins of Kition, with evidence of the presence of Mycenaean Greeks in Larnaca in the 13th century BC and subsequently a center of Phoenician culture.

On a rainy day trip by local bus to Nicosia we did a self-guided walking tour of the capital, stopping to see Cyprus Hadjigeorgaki’s Kornesios House and Ethnographical Museum (a good example of an Ottoman ruler’s House); the Liberty Monument (depiction of freeing prisoners after independence); and the  Makarios Cultural Centre & Byzantine Museum. The latter documented stories of the rescue of stolen frescoes found in the US and Germany.

Wanting to learn more of the island, we hired a superb local tour guide, Radka Holesovska, who designed an itinerary for us over coffee in To Kafe. Originally from the Czech Republic, Radka has lived in Cyprus for 20 years, speaks fluent Greek (and Czech, Russian and English) and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the island’s history and its antiquities, as well as of the culture and politics of the island. In addition to four full day tours, Radka also threw in an afternoon tour of local points of interest, including  the Panagia Angeloktisti Church, Kiti near Larnaca, which contains one of the best preserved early Christian wall mosaics of Cyprus, likely created in the late 6th century, ostrich eggs placed above oil lamps in the Church prevented mice from eating the oil;
Hala Sultan Tekke on the west bank of Larnaca Salt Lake, a mosque and Muslim shrine which contains the tomb of the prophet Mohammed’s aunt;
– Larnaca salt lake , where flamingos which winter here had just returned. We walked back to the lake the next day to watch them feed and march along the shore.

Further afield, our day tours took us from the birthplace of Aphrodite in the sea, to the remains of Greek baths and Roman mosaics on the coast, to temples overlooking the Mediterranean, mountain villages, mosques, monasteries and Byzantine churches. We now know more about Greek Orthodox symbolism than we thought possible!
A summary of sights visited:
– Stavrovouni Monastery – fine position on a mountain 750M above sea level, one of the oldest in the world, from 4thC AD. Men only allowed inside – Paul had a quick look inside;
– Amathus – ancient royal city until 300BC – destroyed by Arab invaders in  the 7thC AD – remains of Greek baths and Aphrodite’s temple with a great stone urn of 7thC BC, made from a single stone and weighing 13,000 kg. The original is in the Louvre and was taken away in 1865 by a French archaeologist, Count Melchior de Vogue with the assistance of an architect Ed. Duthoit and an epigrapher W. Waddington. The notorious Italian diplomat and amateur archaeologist, Cesnola, was also in Amathus and took away a stone sarcophagus from the 5th or 6thC BC which is still displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
-Kolossi Castle – former crusader stronghold. The original dated from 1210 and was rebuilt by the Franks. Remains of a medieval sugar factory are next door.
– Panagia Forviotissa/ Asinou & Agios Nicholas Tis Stegis in Troodos Mountains. Beautiful settings in the wooded hills. They contain frescoes from 11-15thC, Similar frescoes are found in eight other churches,. The ten are UNESCO designated;
– Kykkos Monastery – icon reputedly painted by St Luke of Mary and baby Jesus in person. Venerated by Orthodox devotees, if cannot be seen as it is deemed too powerful for the naked eye;
– Choirokoitia  – UNESCO World Heritage site of reconstructed Neolithic buildings
– Lemesos Castle – present building from 14th C, site of marriage of Richard the Lionheart in 1191;
– Kourion & Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates – theatre has great position overlooking the coast; pre-Christian settlement that thrived under the Ptolemies and Romans. Fine mosaic of Achilles meeting with Odysseus. Sanctuary of Apollo is close by with remains of Roman buildings destroyed by the earthquake of 365AD;
– Aphrodite’s birthplace marked by a rock in the sea – patron goddess of Cyprus;
– Palaipaphos – temple to Aphrodite, where visitors can wander freely across pre- Christian and Christian ruins;
– Paphos archaeological park with multiple fine Roman mosaics depicting Greek legends;
– St Paul’s pillar where he was allegedly tied and lashed 39 times before converting his tormentor, the Roman Governor, to Christianity;
– Tombs of the Kings (Kato Paphos Necropolis) 3rdC BC to 3rdC AD. Groups of burial chambers carved deep into rocks near the seashore;
– Agios Neophytos and Monastery founded in the 12thC. The founder Neophytos painted frescoes on the roof of his first cell which remain remarkably intact.

Parkinson’s Disease Notes: We were not able to talk to anyone involved with PD although we did make contact with one of the neurologists of the Cyprus Institute of Neurology and Genetics. He had been interviewed in 2014 and noted that there are around 1400 people with PD in Cyprus but emphasized drug therapy and surgery. We could find there no publications from Cyprus on rehabilitation programs.

Wildlife note: European Stonechat

Cyprus Photo Album

Eastern Europe Actual Route
Lisbon to Auckland Actual Route

November 22&23, 2017. Day 63

Sofia to Thessalonika – 310 km (train/bus/train)

& 20131 Fit Bit steps

It took 4 1/2 hours by train from Sofia to the border. We could see the snow covered mountains that surround the city and watched the sun set over the hills bordering Serbia. At Kulata, we were ushered off the train to a bus, passed through the Bulgarian frontier and on to the border with Greece. There, we all gave up our passports and waited. “Canada!” was called out and we were asked to get off the bus to speak with a customs officer, who pleasantly observed that we had travelled a lot in Europe and reminded us that we could only stay in the Schengen area for 90 days. He then took away our passports again and we returned to the bus where we quickly updated ourselves on the Schengen rules. By the time we were called out again, we had learned that, as Canadians, we were entitled to stay 90 days out of the previous 180 days, the latter qualification being something we had obviously overlooked! Counting backwards from now, the 180 day period included the month with our grandchildren in Paris in August. We were dismayed but not really surprised then when the officer told us that we could only stay in Greece (and the Schengen area) for 9 days!

Arriving in Thessaloniki, we had to decide what to do. As we plan to spend Christmas in France with our son and family, we could not waste any more precious days in the Schengen area. Lois eventually suggested that we go to Cyprus – Greek (partially- more on that later) and an EU country, but not in the Schengen. We reserved flights for the next day.

Making the most of our day in Thessaloniki, we walked in the warmth of the sunshine and visted the sights. A major part of the city was destroyed by fire in 1917, but several antiquities remain. The Roman Arch of Galerius (AD 306), The Rotunda of Galerius (AD 303) which has been a mausoleum, temple, church and Mosque, the Agia Dimitrios (5th C) with some remaining 8th C frescoes and the White Tower which was part of the city wall and now houses a very interesting display of the history of the city. Again, we had to try to come to grips with a history from the Greeks to Romans, the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires and 20th C Greece! One floor was devoted to a description of the treatment of Thessaloniki’s Jews who were deported to concentration camps during the WWII Nazi occupation. A power vacuum resulting from the end of German-Italian occupation (1941–1945) during World War II, led to a highly polarized struggle between left and right ideologies. The Greek Civil War was the first example of Cold War power postwar involvement in the internal politics of a foreign country.

Eastern Europe Actual Route
Lisbon to Auckland Actual Route

November 18-21, 2017. Days 60-62

Budapest to Sighisoara- 640 km (train) 

Sighisoara to Bucharest- 280 km (train)

Bucharest to Sofia – 380 km (train)

& 63545 Fit Bit Steps

On the overnight train that runs from Budapest to Bucharest, we were wakened by shouts and banging on the door of our sleeper compartment by Hungarian border police. A stern-looking female officer spent rather a long time examining our passports before finally approving our exit from the country. About 30 minutes later, just as we had dozed off again, our door was thrown wide open and the ceiling light switched on (Paul had forgotten to lock the door after the last border check). A Romanian border police officer was now standing over us, demanding our passports. Lois, who has been reading Philippe Sands brilliant work, East West Street, thought how terrifying such a disconcerting interrogation would have been for people trying to escape Nazi occupied Europe using forged documents.

We had decided to stop for a day at Sighişoara, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Transylvania, recommended by our friend Isabel. The well preserved medieval town with its original wall and guard towers is the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, whom Bram Stoker used as a basis for the character of Count Dracula. The souvenir shops make the most of the connection and the colour red is a big theme in dishes served in the restaurant in Vlad’s parents’ house! In Stoker’s novel, the Count’s castle was in North Eastern Romania, in the Carpathian Mountains. Paul was inspired to take out the e-book of Dracula from the Vancouver Public Library, which served him well on our long train rides in the days ahead.

In the Biserica din Deal of St Nicolas overlooking the town, there are frescoes of St George and the dragon. One of the custodians gave us a great account of two of the St George legends. The one depicted in the church was from the Golden Legend, a book from around 1260 that recorded the lives of the saints. Apparently it was a medieval best seller! The church also contains a number of wooden chests from the area that we were told were used to store food and hide jewels during times of siege.

After Sighişoara, crossing the snow-capped Carpathians, we passed through poor looking mining communities, reminders that Romania has the lowest human development index of any State in the EU. However, the country is rich in natural resources and the largest gold reserves in continental Europe are in the area of Rosia Montana. A Canadian company, Gabriel Resources, wishing to exploit the deposits has come under much criticism and protests by Romanians as result of environmental and cultural concerns.

We stayed one night in Bucharest in what remains of the old town, many buildings having been demolished under Caucescu and replaced with his own edifices. Tucked behind newer apartment blocks, we eventually found the Great Synagogue. No longer used for prayer, it houses a remarkably detailed display of materials and photographs documenting the systematic discrimination against, persecution and murder of Romanian Jews during the Second World War. Again, hundreds of thousands perished at the hands of both the Nazis and the Romanian authorities. The older gentleman who showed us around must have been old enough to remember those times if he had been there but we did not want to ask him.

To get to Sofia, we took one train to the border, the Danube, and another into Bulgaria. While waiting for the train at Ruse, we chatted with a student from Beijing who is presently studying in Berlin. He was trying to locate something to eat, to no avail. Luckily, we have been getting helpful railway advice from The Man in seat 61 (, as recommended by our friend Helen. We were forewarned that on the 10 hour journey there was no restaurant car!

We were in Sofia less than 24 hours but were able to see a number of sites, including the gold spired Russian Church, built on the site of a Mosque, destroyed in 1882, after the Russian  liberation of Bulgaria from five centuries of rule by the Ottomans. We walked through the St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, built between 1882 and 1912 to honour the 200,000 Russian soldiers who died fighting for Bulgarian independence. The church has thrones for both the Archbishop and the Tzar.
Although Bulgaria was an ally of Germany in both World Wars, of interest is that in WWll, Bulgaria saved its Jewish population from deportation to concentration camps.

Close by the cathedral is the Basilica of Santa Sofia. The building is in fact four churches, built over successive periods from the 4th C AD, the first constructed over a necropolis of the ancient Roman city dating from the 3rd C AD. One tomb is painted with flowers but no Christian symbols. In the 16th century, during Ottoman rule, the church was converted into a mosque.

Bucharest to Sofia
Sinagoga Mare

Eastern Europe Actual Route
Lisbon to Auckland Actual Route

November 15, 2017 – Day 59 & Nov 16&17

Vienna to Budapest – 240 km (train). 35175 Fit Bit steps

If Venice is the City of Light, and Vienna, the City of Music, Budapest is the City of Baths. The city earned this title in 1934, but its rich spa heritage dates back to prehistoric times. Sitting on more than 120 hot springs, Budapest’s spa culture is alive and well. We decided to try the Gellert Baths (Gellért gyógyfüdö), built in 1918 in lavish Art Nouveau style on the Buda side of the Danube. Partly destroyed by a bomb in WWll but since restored to its original splendor, the baths are an experience, with eight geothermal pools (one outside) ranging between 19oC and 40oC, indoor and outdoor swimming pools including a wave pool (summer), steam baths, dry and steam saunas and cold-dive pools. Massages and various curative treatments are also offered. Unfortunately, massages were booked up beyond the time of our stay, but we left the baths feeling well-soaked and relaxed.

In our brief wanderings along the Danube and in the old town, past the 14thC Royal Palace (Budavári palota) on the Buda bank of the Danube and the imposing Parliament of Budapest on the Pest side, completed in 1896 just before the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Hungary, we saw evidence of Hungary’s tumultuous history, not the least in the 20th C. In the gardens of the Great Synagogue (Dohány utcai Zsinagóga), completed in 1859, are monuments to victims of the holocaust and non-Jews who died helping to protect others. Nearly 440,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to death camps and thousands more were murdered or died from maltreatment. Not far from the synagogue, a 2005 installation. Shoes on the Danube, commemorates the 3500 people who, between 1944/45, were shot by the Arrow Cross militia on the banks, their bodies left to float away down the river. Sites also honoured Raoul Wallenberg and many others who saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary from German Nazis and Hungarian Fascists. The tumult continued after WWll when the country became a satellite state of the Soviet Union and when the 1956 revolution was brutally suppressed. We were reminded of this recently reading the novel Afterlife of Stars by Joseph Kertes.

Parkinson’s Disease note:
A study from Hungary showed that 43% of informal care for PD patients was provided by family members or volunteers and they contributed 43% direct costs. It concluded that in Hungary, PD related disability mainly burdens the patients’ families, and not the health and social care system.
Another study showed that PD represents a significant burden for the health insurance system and that drug treatment is the major cost driver.
So, disability related costs are covered largely by families, volunteers and others so that they are not accounted for as a major driver of costs to the public health system. It is interesting to note that these findings have parallels in the UK where families of people with PD are £16,582 worse off each year compared to others.

Medical History note:
We passed Semmelweis University, the oldest medical school in Hungary. Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis contributed to reducing maternal deaths in the 1800’s by promoting hand washing by physicians with chlorinated lime solution. In general, the medical profession rejected his ideas as it implicated them in the cause of illness and mortality! It was not until after his death and the acceptance of the germ theory of infection that he was shown to have been correct.

Coffee note: Mantra Coffee 9/10 +

Eastern Europe Actual Route
Lisbon to Auckland Actual Route

November 12, 2017 – Day 58 & Nov 13&14

Venice to Vienna – 580 km (train &  9061 Fit Bit steps)

  &  33109 Fit Bit steps

Our previous itinerary had us riding through Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina and Albania. Reviewing options now for travelling by bus and train made that route look less desirable. As our present objective is to head to warmer climes in Greece (!), we decided that the best route, avoiding air travel, is to take a train north to Vienna and then south again via Budapest, Bucharest and Sofia.

We didn’t see much from our train window during the 10-hr trip, as the mist hanging over the Veneto gave way to night as we crossed the border into Austria. A few degrees colder than Venice, the Austrian capital appeared quite wintry, particularly as Christmas lights and a Christmas market were just being set up (but didn’t open before we left). A stately and elegant city, its imperial architecture reflecting six centuries as the seat of Hapsburg rule, Vienna is a place we would like to visit again. Paul was first here as a university student in the 60’s, when he and his friends slept in the luggage racks of an overnight train from London!

We caught our first sight of the Danube on our morning walk around the Ringstrasse, a ring road/tramway which replaced the old city wall. Further along, we came to the Holocaust-Denkmal, a memorial to the 65,000 Austrian Jews who were murdered. Designed to look like a bunker, the sculpture depicts a library of books with their spines turned inward, representing the lost knowledge of the Holocaust victims.

Long famous as the “city of music” and amongst the numerous fine Baroque and late 19thC buildings there are statues and monuments celebrating Vienna’s heritage. Mozart watches over a park near the Heldenplatz, and Mahler, Berg and Schoenberg are commemorated outside the Vienna State Opera House. A visit to the Haus der Muzik, a museum of sound and music with a range of hi-tech interactive and multimedia presentations, including exhibitions about composers that worked in the city and the story of the Vienna Philharmonic, was interesting, but perhaps failed a bit in execution. It  didn’t help that the App for the museum didn’t work. Much more inspiring was a visit to one of Mozart’s residences. The composer stayed in many places in the city but only one building remains where he lived from 1784 to 1787. It was here that he composed the Marriage of Figaro. Standing in the apartments where he lived and composed was a privilege. We ended our visit with an enjoyable concert of chamber music by Mozart and Beethoven in the Annakirche.

Coffee notes:
Jonas Reindl 9.5/10. Vienna’s coffeehouse culture was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2011. We visited one, the historic Cafe Leopold Hawelka, which was full of charm and atmosphere. More recently a newer generation of coffee shops akin to those we frequented in Vancouver and Victoria have arrived. The espresso of Jonas Reindl matches Moja in Terra Breads!

Eastern Europe Actual Route
Lisbon to Auckland Actual Route

November 10th Post-Script

Paul’s reflections on life

It is now 6 months since my bike and I were hit by a car in Italy and our cycling the globe trip was so abruptly interrupted. Although I still have bothersome symptoms from the shoulder injury, the neuropathic issues are resolving and I’m feeling more and more myself. Most importantly, I am still here and grateful to be able to continue to travel, learn and experience life together with Lois and to enjoy being a father and a grandfather.

By chance, we recently learned that the driver of the car that hit me died just months after the accident. Diagnosed with a brain tumour in July, he died in August in the same hospital where I was cared for. It is quite possible that he was experiencing symptoms in May, which caused the accident. We shall never know.

November 10 & 11, 2017

Venice – 27,535 Fit Bit steps

We first visited Venice at Easter in 2007 when we took the train from Geneva. It was no less magical the second time, now shrouded in mist and fog. To walk across the bridge over the Grand Canal is to enter another world of waterways, gondolas, narrow alleys, squares and historic buildings. We were happy to avoid the still very busy tourist spots in favour of just wandering, window shopping, Christmas shopping, photographing and eating. While we were chatting with the proprietor of Signor Blum, a handcrafted wooden toy store, costumed children came in banging pots and pans and asking for candy in celebration of the Festival of St. Martin.

We visited the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, with its original Murano stained glass windows, the Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Miracoli and the Ca’ Pesaro Galleria Internazionale d’Arte. In addition to its impressive international collection, the gallery has a rich collection of 20th-century canvasses and sculptures by Italian artists, including Boccioni, Martini, Wildt, Donghi, Morandi, De Chirico, and others.

In the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, we were moved by paintings depicting the Black Plague of the 14thC. Between 1350 and 1700, over 100 waves of Bubonic plague swept Europe spread westward by rats and their fleas hitchhiking on ships along the Venetian and Genovese trade routes. Historians estimate that about 75 million people died, one third of them in Europe. “Quarantine” comes from a Venetian word and indeed, in 1348, the City appointed public health guardians to try to prevent plague coming into the City. Although not wholly successful, it was a pioneering attempt at prevention. Outbreaks in Venice in the 16th and 17th centuries claimed the lives of 30% of the city’s population, leading to its ultimate demise as a world sea power. (Paul notes that the disease is still a threat in some endemic areas – see current outbreak in Madagascar). Celebrating Carnival each year, Venetians still remember their historic past. They dress up in masks and costumes that represent the Bubonic Plague, the creation of a quarantine island, a female vampire in Venice, and the impact on their history.

The threat to Venice now is not rapid, but slow and insidious, as rising sea levels caused by climate change pose new challenges for the survival of this great city, a concern highlighted by Support, a sculpture installation by Lorenzo Quinn for the Venice Biennale 2017. The artist writes that, “Venice is a floating art city that has inspired cultures for centuries, but to continue to do so it needs the support of our generation and future ones, because it is threatened by climate change and time decay.”

Venice is built over 100 low-lying islands in a salt water lagoon which is sheltered from the Adriatic Sea by the Lido- a sandbank- and other small strips of land. It is unlikely that this will survive the ravages of climate change and rising sea levels.  Even now, we saw posters showing the few alleys and routes that would be open with the high tides likely to occur this winter, not an unusual occurrence, but likely to become more frequent. We kept looking at the proximity of doors fronting on to the water and how close houses are to being inundated. The controversial 5.4B Euro MOSE flood barrier project which will insert gates in the three inlets through which water enters and leaves the lagoon, will mitigate the effects of the high tides, but are only designed to be effective for a rise in sea levels up to 80cm, so may not save Venice in the long term.

Italy Actual Route
Lisbon to Auckland Actual Route

November 8/9, 2017. Day 56 & 57

Padua to Dolo – 17 km (on foot, 31,969 Fit Bit steps)

Dolo to Venice – 29 km (by bus and  17,995 Fit Bit steps)

We needed to walk and the weather looked promising. We intended to follow (in reverse) the Romeo Leona, a path which connects Venice via another route in northern Italy to the Camino de Santiago, leading to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Our route out of Padua took us along a flat, easy 10K track along the Canale Piovego. The Veneto region is criss crossed by multiple canals dating back centuries. Built for transportation and irrigation, they have been a main contributor to the wealth of the Veneto. For 300 years before Napoleon arrived in 1797, Venetian families packed up and vacated the city for the summer months, floating their households on barges up the canals to summer villas. Presumably it was hot, humid and malodorous at home! We passed a number of abandoned grand villas. The imposing house and gardens of the Villa Pisani Nazionale (1774), close to Stra, was the Doge of Venice’s way of reminding everyone who was in charge, even outside the city.

While the path we were on did not appear to be signposted (the route was described online by Friends if the Camino), we did notice signs for the Cammino di Sant’Antonio and the Cammino dei Giusti del mondo. On the latter, the only information on the web is in Italian, but with google translate we learned that it leads to a garden in Padua that recognizes “righteous people” who helped others during times of genocide, not only the holocaust, which decimated the Jewish population of Venice, but also Armenia, Rwanda and Serbia. There are other such gardens in Yerevan and Sarajevo. One of the people celebrated is Gino Bartali, a racing cyclist who had won the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France between the two world wars. Under the guise of training, he carried photographs of Jews in hiding from Florence to Lucca for the creation of forged papers to enable their escape. Also, he pulled a wagon purportedly to help in his training in which he smuggled Jews from Assisi to the Swiss border.

At Stra, the Naviglio Brenta (canal) begins its journey towards the Lagoon of Venice. Unfortunately, the canal path disappeared here and we were forced to walk for several kilometres on a narrow shoulderless road on which cars passed uncomfortably close to us (sound familiar?). Stopping in Dolo for the night, after confirming that the route continues on a busy road, we decided to abandon the walk and continue on by bus to Venice.

Wildlife note: Kingfisher

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November 5, 2017. Day 55 & Nov 6&7

Verona to Padua 81 km (train) & 

17,368 & 2 days of 34,527 Fit Bit steps

Padua was another gem. Even the dark chilly November rain couldn’t keep us inside, although we were grateful to be able to hop the trams to avoid the steady drizzle. Highlights of our visit include:

  • The Eremitani civic museum for a crucifix by Giotto (once in the Scrovegni Chapel) frescoes by Giotto and his school, and paintings by Tintoretto;
  • The  Scoletta del Santo for frescoes by Titian, which we viewed with no one else in the hall;
  • The stunning Capella degli Scrovegni, which is adorned almost entirely with Giotto’s frescoes (completed in only 2 years). Apparently Dante and da Vinci honoured Giotto as the artist who ended the Dark Ages with these paintings!
  • The Palazzo della Ragione which from 1218 housed the city tribunal, with lower floor markets still active today. The great hall contains a huge wooden statue of a horse from the 15thC and frescoes by Giotto’s “acolytes”;
  • A guided tour of the Palazzo del Bò, part of the University of Padua, sitting in the (law) hall where Galileo taught students of University of Padua in the late 16thC and viewing the World’s first anatomy theatre where Versalius taught dissection. Paul remembers the anatomical drawings of Vesalius from medical school. The first woman ever to receive an academic degree, Elena Cornaro was awarded a PhD in Padua in 1656. She had wanted to pursue a degree in Theology but at that time the Church did not sanction women students;
  • Braving the elements to visit the Oro Botanico, the worlds first botanical gardens founded in 1545 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The modern garden of biodiversity (fortunately inside and warm!) emphasized the challenges of climate change and environmental loss. The oldest plant is a palm from 1585 and is now referred to a Goethe’s palm as he referred to it in an essay;
  • An excellent film performance of Verdi’s Nabucco by L’Opéra Royal de Wallonie, Liège and starring Leo Nucci shown at the Piccolo Teatro Don Bosco.This compensated in part for not seeing the opera live in Milan. We had to check the synopsis on Wikipedia before and during the intermission as the subtitles were, not surprisingly, in Italian. Slices of hot pizza were available at intermission!

Coffee notes: Caffé Diemme 9/10

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November 3, 2017. Day 54 & Nov 4

Milan to Verona – 165 km (train) &

18,065 Fit Bit steps

There is no end of fascinating places to visit in Italy. Verona is yet another. The city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its urban structure and architecture, which includes a 1st century Roman Arena, home of world renowned opera performances in the summer, and the rediscovered Roman theatre across the river. Although Verona preserved many ancient Roman monuments no longer in use in the early Middle Ages, much of this and much of its early medieval edifices were destroyed or heavily damaged by an earthquake in 1117, which led to a massive Romanesque rebuilding. From our hotel, we could see the Torre dei Lamberti, an impressive 84 m-high watchtower begun in the 12th C and finished in the 15th C. It stands next to the Arche scaligere, a group of five unusual (but not necessarily edifying)  Gothic funerary monuments celebrating the Scaliger family, who ruled in Verona from the 13th to the late 14th century.

Of course, Verona is also famous as the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. While Shakespeare’s characters are fictional, the enterprising city capitalized on the association in the 1930’s to construct the balcony of Juliet on a house in Via Cappello (think Capulet). A bronze statue of Juliet also stands in the square. Shakespeare is not mentioned at the site but is recognized by a plaque with a quote from the play and a bronze bust tucked away by one of the city gates.

Chancing upon an excellent retrospective exhibition of the Colombian painter, Fernando Botero, we both came away with a better appreciation of his art and his signature style. His interpretations of some classics like Raphael’s “La Fornarina” are wonderful. In reading about Botero, we learned of his series of drawings of the humiliation and torture of the Alu Ghraib prisoners in Iraq. These can be seen on the web and are disturbing.

There was much more we could have explored but we also enjoyed simply wandering, stopping for tea, pastries, local wines and cichetti (Italian tapas).


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Lisbon to Auckland Actual Route

November 2, 2017. Day 53

Milan to Gravedona return- 232 km (train and bus) & 13,436 Fit Bit steps

Visit to Ospedale Classificato Moriggia Pelascini, in Gravedona

We travelled by train and bus to the foothills of the Alps north of Milan to visit the Ospedale Classificato  Moriggia Pelascini, in Gravedona on Lake Como. Through an introduction kindly made by Dr. Joaquim Ferreira (Portugal), we had arranged to meet Prof. Giuseppe Frazzitta, head of the Parkinson’s Neurorehabilitation department. A delightful man, Dr. Frazzitta spoke to us at length about the program, introduced us to his colleagues and arranged for us to tour the unit with one of his senior staff. We very much appreciated the opportunity to visit this unique, state of the art facility with its warm and friendly atmosphere.

The 56-bed department was set up by Dr. Frazzitta five years ago primarily to provide hospital-based treatment for persons with PD who do not respond to pharmacological treatment. The aim of the 4-week program is to use the best possible equipment and highly specialised non-drug treatments in order to improve patients’ functionality and independence. Caregivers may also stay at the hospital and participate in the program. People are followed up 12 months after discharge. The treatment is completely covered by the Italian heath care system. For persons from outside Italy, the cost of the program is approximately €10,000 There is a year’s waiting list to get into the program.

On arrival, individuals are assessed and an individualized program is drawn up, which includes the participation of neurologists, physiatrists (physician specialist in rehabilitation) physical therapists, speech therapists, neuropsychologists, and nurses. In particular, the daily schedule includes one hour of face-to-face treatment with expert physiotherapists in order to improve body function and motor performance; an hour of treatment with the most modern and specific rehabilitation equipment; finally, a third treatment with exercises to improve hand function and independence in daily activities. In addition, patients with speech and swallowing disorders follow a group speech therapy-rehabilitation program. An individualized rehabilitation program is used for patients with Parkinsonism (multiple-system atrophy and progressive supranuclear palsy).

A study authored by Dr. Frazzitta and others compared a group of patients in the intermediate stage of the disease who had undergone intensive rehabilitation treatment and a group with no rehabilitation treatment; it showed that there was significant difference between the groups in the clinical evaluation and all the advantages were in the rehabilitation group. Even more interesting, the rehabilitation group were able to reduce their drug dosages, while the control group required further increases in drug dosages without any increased benefit.

Treadmill feedback
Lake Como

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October 30, 2017. Day 52 & Oct 31 & Nov 1

Ravenna to Milan – 299 km (train & bus) &

 13,722 & 2 days of 35,674 Fit Bit steps

Milan deserves its reputation as a world class city, for its style, history and culture, past and present. Not knowing what to expect, we enjoyed our time in this cosmopolitan, open and lively city.

Our primary reason for visiting Milan was to see da Vinci’s « Last Supper », also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This was another thrilling experience for both of us. The subject is the reaction of the apostles to the news that one of them was going to betray him. Although the painting has undergone numerous repairs and restorations over the centuries, it has a unique presence. Not technically a fresco, as da Vinci painted it « dry » (a new technique the painter was trying, which soon resulted in deterioration), the Last Supper remains in its original place on the wall of the refectory of the former Dominican convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The painting’s survival in situ is even more remarkable given the fact that Napoleon’s troops used the wall of the refectory for target practice during the revolutionary war, and, in 1943, the walls of the Convent were heavily damaged by an Allied bomb after which the work of art was left in the open air for a few years. The most recent restoration was completed in 1999 where several scientific methods were used to restore the original colors as close as possible, and to eliminate traces of paint applied in previous attempts to restore the work.

Seeing the inside of the Teatro La Scala was also special. Unfortunately, the only opera tickets available for Nabucco were totally out of our budget. A tour guide explained that before Toscanini became musical director in the 1920’s, audiences were undisciplined, arriving late and with more concern for the social aspect of attending the opera. This explains the circular layout of the theatre, which was designed more to allow spectators to be seen than to enable them to view the performance.

Close by La Scala is the Duomo of Milan which dominates the central piazza of the city. The impressive building took 600 years to complete (canals were dug specifically for the purpose of transporting marble from 100km away) and the interior is an interesting mix of styles. A disturbing sculpture of the martyred Saint Bartholomew, Flayed, holds his own skin like a cloak.

Also in the piazza, the Museo del Novecento houses a great collection of Italian art from the 20th century.

Leaving the city from the Milano Centrale train station, we were again both appalled and impressed with this colossal edifice from the fascist era, with its three huge halls designed to dominate and intimidate.

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Lisbon to Auckland Actual Route

October 28, 2017. Day 51 & Oct 29

Urbino to Ravenna – 135 km (train & bus) &

16,112 & 1 day 11,804 Fit Bit steps

Ravenna’s eight listings as UNESCO World Heritage Sites recognize the city’s unique collection of early Christian mosaics and monuments, dating back to the 5th to 8th centuries. As capital of the Western Holy Roman Empire and later, the Eastern (Byzantine) Holy Roman Empire, the mosaics and buildings constructed during this time have added significance due to the blending of western and eastern motifs and techniques representative of that era. We were awed and fascinated by the outstanding quality of the colourful detailed religious and funerary images, from the small Neonian Baptistry to the grand Basilica of San Vitale. It was sobering to go into the Church of San Giovanni Evangelista  to find partially reconstructed mosaics recovered after the building was almost totally destroyed in a Allied bombing raid in 1944.

We also experienced a lively modern day Ravenna as there was a wine and food festival on. Booths in a number of plazas showcased Sangiovese and Romagna’s other wines, cheeses and street food, such as the delicious piadina – a thin Italian flatbread, typically prepared in the Romagna historical region, which can be filled with cheese, meats or vegetables. We enjoyed more local cuisine at an enoteca and restaurant, Ca’ de Vèn, recommended by our B&B, which was so good we ate there twice.

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October 26, 2017 – Day 50 & Oct 27

Assisi to Urbino – 224 km (train & bus) &

6323 & 1 day 7427 Fit Bit steps

Had viruses not intervened we had hoped to spend a few days walking part of the Way of St. Francis (Via Francigena di San Francesco), a pilgrimage route that follows an old Roman road between Florence and Rome. Instead, we boarded a train for Urbino, home of Raphael and another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The railway followed the coast of Le Marche, lined with holiday resorts and long sandy beaches, deserted now in late October despite the sunshine. Thirty kms inland, Urbino is, by contrast, bustling with university students. According to the UNESCO site, the small hill town experienced «a great cultural flowering in the 15th century, attracting artists and scholars from all over Italy and beyond, and influencing cultural developments elsewhere in Europe ». The Renaissance appearance of the town was preserved primarily due to its economic and cultural stagnation from the 16th century onwards! Fortunately, the University gained a different status in the 1920s, enrollment increased and it was able to upgrade a number of buildings for its use.

Urbino is also defined by Raphael, his father Giovanni Santi, who was a painter in the court of the Duke of Urbino, and the Duke himself. Disappointingly, the town has very little evidence of Raphael’s work. The only two original Raphael works in Urbino are La Muta, which has characteristics shared with the contemporary Mona Lisa, and a fresco painted by the young Raphaello on the wall of his birthplace. While we avoided including Rome in this itinerary, we now regret not having seen the Raphael rooms at the Vatican. It will have to be the object of a future visit!

The Palazzo Ducale is a triptych of museums.The rooms of the Palace are preserved and retain some of the original doors as well as amazingly intricate wood-inlay technique known as intarsia. On the exterior, the three storeyed loggia and towers are worth seeing.

Dinner at the Ristorante Antica Osteria De La Stella was Michelin worthy!

Coffee notes: River coffee 8.75+/ 10 (Urbino). Rio Rica coffee 8.75/ 10 (Urbino)

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October 21, 2018. Day 49 & October 22-25

Praiano to Assisi 449 km (bus and train)

& 4 days lay over

Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.
– Saint Francis of Assisi, from The Canticle of the Sun.

From the train station on the Tiber River valley floor we got a good view of the historic hill town of Assisi with the Rocco Maggiore and Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi dominating the landscape. Indeed, Assisi’s Saint Francis, appears to be the biggest draw to this exquisitely beautiful medieval city, itself a UNESCO heritage site. Even in late October there were a large number of tours, seemingly of pilgrims, visiting the town. Some were led by priests and monks and individual devotions were very evident at the tomb of St Francis.

One of Italy’s patron saints and the founder of the Order of Mendicant Friars or Franciscans, Saint Francis continues to inspire with his message of compassion and peace. Born into a family of privilege in late 12th C Assisi, Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, informally named Francesco, rejected that life as a young man, choosing instead to follow the example of Christ by preaching the gospel and living a life of extreme poverty, chastity, love and obedience. Francis’ efforts to end the Crusader wars and achieve a rapprochement with the Muslim world had far-reaching consequences, long past his own death, since after the fall of the Crusader Kingdom, it would be the Franciscans, of all Catholics, who would be allowed to stay on in the Holy Land and be recognized as “Custodians of the Holy Land” on behalf of the Catholic Church.

Our stay in Assisi was longer than anticipated, as Lois came down with a fever and a cough, keeping her confined to the hotel room for a few days. By the time we got to visit the Basilica, we had had time to learn a bit more about its construction and the life of Assisi’s most beloved son. (We watched the somewhat simplistic but engaging depiction of the life of Saint Francis in Zeffirelli’s 1972 film, Brother Son, Sister Moon.)

The Basilica di San Francesco is built on two levels, with the lower one originally constructed for the sarcophagus of Saint Francis. This is now in a crypt below along with the tombs of some of his original followers. The wonderful elaborate frescoes covering the walls and ceilings of both churches, many by the innovative Giotto, and the light-coloured stone, give the church a friendly, welcoming feel, appropriate for the resting place of Saint Francis.

The town is steeped in history but within the many hostaria, housed in ancient buildings, local cuisine is alive and well. Wine, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, cheese, truffles and meat are all sourced from the region. Paul especially enjoyed the pecorino cheese. We both savored the local red wine of Sagrantino and Sangiovese grapes.

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Lisbon to Auckland Actual Route

October 18, 2017. Day 48 & October 19 & 20

Naples to Praiano 70 km (train & bus) & 7748 Fit Bit Steps

2 days –  29513 Fit Bit steps

Our first espresso of the day was taken standing at the bar of Leopardo’s, Italian style. A regional train took us past Herculaneum and Pompeii to the city of Sorrento, perched on the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast. From here we boarded a crowded bus that runs along the 80km coastal highway between Sorrento and the port of Salerno. Originally a Roman road, the Amalfi Way, barely wide enough for two cars to pass, is carved out of the side of the cliffs, giving spectacular views of the sea on one side and the towering cliffs on the other.

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, as “an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape”, this stretch of rugged coastline on the southern coast of the Salerno Gulf on the Tyrrhenian Sea, is breathtaking, with its sheer cliffs falling straight to the sea, whitewashed vertical villages and terraces of lemon trees and olive groves.

Our hotel was half way along the coast in Praiano, a pretty cliffside village that has retained its atmosphere as a quiet fishing town, despite the draw of tourists. From the terrace of our hotel room, we had panoramic views of the coast and the sea. With temperatures still in the mid-20’s it was a relaxing few days, reading, exploring hiking trails, small pebbled coves and cliff-edged restaurants.

To reach the “Walk of the Gods” we had to climb up 1500 stairs to the Chiesa Convento S. Maria and then ascend a rough track for another 30 minutes. One writer says that the name of the trail is not Italian hyperbole. Indeed, the views were stunning, although the path was precipitous and vertiginous. The Li Galli Islands off the coast of Positano are said to have been the home of the Sirens who seduced sailors with their voices. According to Homer, Odysseus protected himself and his crew by filling their ears with beeswax.

Parkinson’s Disease note: Exercise, not drugs, focus of new centre in Victoria 

October 14, 2017. Day 47 & October 15-17

Pisa to Naples – 550 km (train) & 12,391 Fit Bit steps

3 days – 46,717 Fit Bit steps

Even, or perhaps especially, after the restorative peace of the Cinque Terre, we were not prepared for the assault of Naples, which was to serve as a base for visiting Pompeii and other sights south of the city. We had booked an Airbnb in the middle of the vibrant chaotic old town. As one travel writer noted,

“No one would accuse the centro storico, the old historical centre, of being pretty, but she is darkly and ravishingly beautiful. She is also raw, passionate, secretive, generous, dilapidated, glorious, vibrant, and unabashedly corrupt and corrupting.”

The entry to our apartment was through a courtyard behind a huge wrought iron gate off a narrow dark cobblestone alleyway. Inside, we found a bright and modern flat with stone door frames and vaulted ceilings, located on the first floor of a 15th C building. Likewise, behind small doorways on the littered narrow streets with their graffitied walls, were smart coffee shops, pasticcerias, restaurants and clothes shops. Our morning espresso stops favoured Leonardo’s, whose traditional pastry, sfogliatelle, was exceptional.

A highlight of the city was a visit to the Cappella Sansevero, with its breathtaking marble sculpture of a veiled body of Christ by Giuseppe Sanmartino, one of the most stunning works we have seen.

Gino Sorbillo’s pizza, recommended by Lonely Planet was an experience, not only for the perfect Neapolitan pizza, for which we lined up outside with dozens of others,  and the story behind his elevating the reputation of the dish, but also his refusal to bow to the demands of “organized crime”. In 2015, Naples was reported as being a city people do not want to visit,  partly because of a history of poor infrastructure and services. In addition, there are stories of the local mafia dumping tons of toxic waste,  for profit, in surrounding communities for years. The adverse consequences are more than anecdotal.

Coffee notes: all the espresso that we drank in Naples (Caffé Kenon, Caffé Partenope and Caffé del Rei) was good but had a slightly powdery (?Turkish) taste. Apparently it is usually taken with sugar, which perhaps makes a middle eastern connection more likely. Given that it was less bitter than we prefer, the overall score was 8.25/ 10.

The main purpose for our stay in Naples was to visit the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum and to see the crater of Vesuvius, the eruption from which in 79 AD completely buried these two Roman cities under 10 metres of volcanic ash and mud. Not discovered until the 18th C and only properly partially excavated in the 20th C (most of Herculaneum remains buried under the present city of Ercolano and excavations in Pompeii were discontinued in the 1980’s for cost reasons), the cities were nearly perfectly preserved under calcified layers of ash, providing a fascinating glimpse into life in the early Roman period. Assisted by very able guides we explored both sites, walking down stone streets where the ruts made from chariots were evident, peering into shops still containing terracotta urns from which were sold items such as wine, olives and grains, and wandering through houses and public baths with plaster and frescoes still apparent on the walls, mosaic floors, remains of marble furniture, lead piped water and sewage systems, fountains, and even political campaign graffiti painted on an outside wall. The excavations of Pompeii have uncovered two theatres and an amphitheatre.
The presence of plaster casts of victims in Pompeii and plastic replicas of skeletons in Herculaneum was chilling. (As excavators in the mid 1800’s continued to uncover human remains, they noticed that the skeletons were surrounded by voids in the compacted ash. By carefully pouring plaster of Paris into the spaces, the final poses, clothing, and faces of the last residents of Pompeii came to life.) For those who were unable to escape, death from the hot gases was very rapid.

We saw examples of carbonized grains, lentils, olives and fruit and, in Herculaneum, wooden beams, doors, shutters and furniture carbonized so quickly they remained in place. Many artifacts and frescoes had been removed from both sites to museums, or looted, in earlier times.

Mt Vesuvius – crater

October 13, 2017. Day 46

Riomaggiore to Pisa – 100 km & 19445 Fit Bit steps

We were delighted to find that Pisa is not just a tower that is leaning from centuries of engineering, architectural and hydrological mishaps. The Piazza Dei Miracoli which comprises the tower, the Duomo, Baptistry and Camposanto are a beautifully impressive whole, and despite the crowds, our visit to the Piazza was a very cool experience. The walk from our hotel also took us along the River Arno, with the wonderful Santa Maria della Spina church perched on its banks.

We recalled having learned in our youth that Galileo (then professor of mathematics at the University of Pisa) was said to have dropped two spheres of different masses from the Tower to demonstrate that their time of descent was independent of their mass. It is also reported that Galileo’s late drawings of pendulums in clocks to achieve more accurate time keeping came from early observations of the swing of lamps in the Duomo. It is interesting that there was no mention of Galileo in any of the information that we read while visiting the Piazza.

We visited two simple eating places recommended by Lonely Planet, both wonderful: L’Ostellino, for inventive paninis and Pizzeria il Montino, for great pizza and chickpea torte.

Coffee Note: La Citadella (Pisa) 9/10

Parkinson’s note: Researchers from RMIT University, Australia, have developed a test that may be able to detect early Parkinson’s – before physical symptoms appear.

October 12, 2017. Day 45

Manarola to Riomaggiore – 1 km/ 17822 Fit Bit steps


Before the 2011 floods, it would have been an easy 1km walk to Riomaggiore along the Via dell’Amore (named after the increase in marriages between the two villages when the coastal path was first opened). Instead, we had to navigate very steep trails above the villages, some of which were also closed, taking us even higher up on ancient trails which were clearly not maintained. We both made use of the new poles!

Another long steep descent on a rocky uneven path through active vineyards brought us down into the railway station side of Riomaggiore. The old town and harbour are through a long pedestrian tunnel parallel to the rail tracks.

We decided to treat ourselves to a nice lunch on the terrace at Ristorante Dau Cila, looking out on the Ligurian Sea – marinated swordfish with orange, smoked tuna and lemon, salad with fresh aragula, local sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts, a glass of Cinque Terre white, pannacota and espressos.

Restored, we spent the afternoon sitting looking at the sea and exploring the town. Even dinner, which we planned to be “just pizza” was another culinary experience of fresh, local ingredients.

Tomorrow, we travel by train to Pisa and from there we will head to Naples and the Amalfi Coast. We are already getting into a new rhythm of travelling. We miss our bikes, but are enjoying the new opportunities being without them allows. For Paul, the last four days have shown him that he can now hike as well as before (while carrying his full pack), although the following morning it takes a time for the joint stiffness to ease up! It has also been the kind of experience that we had hoped for; a combination of natural beauty and cultural learning. The lovely weather is an added bonus!