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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Backyard update 2013

After 26 years we made the big decision to remove our fibre glass pool. There were a few factors in making this decision:

  1. Water level dropping overnight. ? leakage
  2. Pump not working satisfactorily.. too old for repair therefore replacement
  3. Cost of electricity running the pump for 8 hours a day.
  4. Cost of water to top up the pool
  5. Not enough use in summer
Graham made a start by draining the water out by gravity (garden hose) down the drain and then hiring a pump to finish it off. When cutting a hole in the base gallons of water erupted like a fountain - a confirmation of leakage and hence the correct decision to remove it.
A Saturday working bee with Ben and Howard completed the process of removing the fiberglass sides, steps and concrete path surrounds. Thanks to Ben for operating the jack hammer to breakup concrete. All thrown into the huge void.

This completes stage 1 and we now await the clean fill. An estimated 7-8 truckloads.

Graham set out to remove a piece of fencing to allow access, so now Sheba is confined to in home detention.

Stage 2 begins at 10am Friday morning 28th June - one load of fill. supposed to return in afternoon and also weekend. It is now 1pm Saturday and we've not seen nor heard from them yet. It appears that there is a lack of fill so we need to be patient and hopefully by Monday we will see more action.

In the mean time - what will fill the space? Hydoponics and hothouse for sure.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Finally Home

Thursday 20th September - Finally home

We left Varese in plenty of time to return the car and reach the Malpensa airport (Milan) for our afternoon flight. In fact we were there much too early and sat around for three hours watching the passing parade. We were very much relieved to return the car without any blemishes or dints and to have found the drop off point right to the door, thanks to the GPS.
We were both ready to come home after almost 5 weeks and 4,152 kilometres of driving around Italy.

A truly wonderful experience.

We were very pleased to see Kate & Scott at the airport to meet us and deliver us safely home around 11.30pm. Rachael had done a fabulous job with the house sitting and in fact it looked like no-one had been living in the house as it was exactly as we had left it. Sheba greeted us as we arrived and seemed pleased to see us. SHe was a very lucky cat to have someone look after her so well in our absence.

Friday 21st September was spent in banks and shopping for groceries.  A start made on all the paperwork for insurance claims - CBA for application for reimbursement of the euros stolen, Peugeot (Sodexa) for reimbursement for the cot of replacement tyre and  Covermore travel insurance for the rest!

Sunday after a very slow start and an afternoon visit to Lynbrook to collect our fish to return to their larger fish tank. They had been very spoilt whilst we were away. Thanks to Ben & Krystle.

Monday 24th September - back to work for me and to catch up on all the happenings of the past 5 weeks.

Since arriving home, I have sorted and resorted my hundreds of photographs, prepared a Powerpoint presentation for Graham to present at Companion Club and a movie to present to Home League all within three weeks of arriving home. Now for the book!!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Last post!

Tuesday 18th September – Last day in Varese
Cooler and cloudy skies

What shall we do on our last day – How about some more narrow streets? We set off by car towards Sacro Monte- uo narrow winding streets again with many blind corners- why do we keep doing this? Because we can. Sacro Monte (meaning “Sacred Mount”) now managed by UNESCO is part of the nine Monti Sacri Prealpini (pre-Alpine Sacred Mounts) of Piedmont and Lombardy. The sacred path combines art and spirituality, and consists of 14 chapels that recall the mysteries of Rosario, a pilgrimage destination since the Middle Ages.
It took about an hour to climb but we were determined to get to the top. A great cardio workout going up and a huge ortho (knees) toll on the way down. There was a funeral in progress in the church – Chiesa Dell’Immaculata right at the top so we waited, caught our breath, checked out the church before making our way down the mountain.  We did wonder how they were going to get the coffin down the hill but there was a lift and evidently there is a road almost up to the top. Surprisingly there are a few houses on the hill where people live. In fact, the owners of Relais Ca Dei Santi have a home up there but because of their hours at the hotel, they have a double room at the hotel. The views were amazing but because of the haze it was again difficult to get good views of the valleys and lakes.
We then headed to a largish shopping centre which we passed yesterday on the way to Como and not far from us. We have not seen many shopping centres on our travels but it was worth a look. The main store was like Coles and K Mart rolled into one but much bigger. I couldn’t help take a couple of photos especially of the hams all hanging up next to the cheese.
One last trip to the Lindt Chocolate factory outlet just up the road from our accommodation and then back to re pack cases and cull the rubbish.

One last relax before going back to the shopping centre for dinner and our last sleep.

One of the 14 chapels along the way up to Sacro Monte

Getting closer

Are we really going that far? To the clock tower!

The clock tower

Almost there!

Our final visit- we'd deserved it after our morning climb

Another chapel

Views from the top-unfortunately a bit too hazy to capture well

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

More Lakes - Como- Bellagio

Monday 17th September
Another cool start to the day but temperature rose to mid 20’s again.

We braved another day in the car and set out for Lake Como. We’d seen quite a number of signs to Como and the GPS was a bit confused when we followed a signpost rather than the instructions however before long, the GPS picked up the route we had chosen. The usual headache occurred when we couldn’t get parking close to the Funicular where we’d planned to go, We eventually found a Car Parking station not too far away but on our second attempt around the one way streets. A route march following the signs to the Funicular soon had us in the right direction.

Since 1894, the Como-Brunate funicular railway has been taking passengers up to Brunate to enjoy the breathtaking views this vantage point offers over Lake Como and the surrounding mountains. The carriages were fairly modern and this was a great way to ascend the mountain. We walked along the walking tracks for about an hour before returning to the funicular to descend to Como and set off for Bellagio where the three lakes meet. There was quite a haze in the air which was not very kind for photography. The road winding to Bellagio is about 26 kms but takes about an hour –winding around blind corners and hoping to not meet too many buses coming in the opposite direction.

There were many people around and we both thought that surely they haven’t all come by car. There were passenger & car ferries doing a roaring trade. We noticed that the streets were “buzzing” with American tourists – many coming in by ferry. After coffee we returned home, down the winding roads and home by a different route which crossed the Swiss border for a few kilometers before we found ourselves back in Italy. We were glad to be home and had a couple of hours to relax before dinner. We were able to check in on-line for our flight to Hong Kong on Wednesday. We have had many amazing experiences in the last five weeks and really enjoyed our holiday but we’re both feeling ready to return home and put the suitcases away for a while. 
Lake Como - just near the Funicular entrance
The newer Funicular car - lisenced to carry 81 passengers. No 13!

View of Lake Como and Como from Brunate

Monday, September 17, 2012


Our accommodation in Varese

The courtyard with alfresco dining area

Our room - 205

Sunday 16th September
Cool morning but pleasant day- blue skies and mid 20’s temperature again.

We set off for yet another adventure and no car today! We caught the bus into Varese from a few metres away from our accommodation. The trip to the railway station took only about 10 minutes. We then purchased train tickets return to Milan €21.00 for both and trained into Milan. The 51 km trip took just on an hour and we were happy to be transported today. We bought a map of the city centre and set off on foot. It wasn’t long before the Duomo came into sight. What a magnificent Cathedral. Supposed to have seating capacity for 40,000 and even though it is huge, it’s hard to imagine fitting that number of people in. Being Sunday, there was a service in progress with tourists wandering around the outer area. There are magnificent paintings on all walls and some beautiful stained glass windows. We heard the pipe organ played and the soloist also taking part in the service. We continued along the main street which is home to many of the famous retailers. There were many people seemingly wandering aimlessly around, I suspect some locals but many tourists and some involved in serious retail therapy judging by the shopping bags. Milan is well known for its shopping but apart from buying our lunch, we didn’t spend much else. We went to a department store and not a price tag in sight. All looked way too expensive for our budget.

We found La Scala opera house and were fairly unimpressed with the building from the outside which was all to be seen today. The program is fairly steady suggesting that it is used often for opera, ballets and concerts. We then walked along Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. The Galleria connects two of Milan's most famous landmarks: The Duomo and the Teatro Alla Scala, but the Galleria is a landmark in its own right. We did find it amusing that on the opposite corner to Luis Vuitton was Macdonalds. On our route march we did find Via Montenapoleone - Known by locals as the Montenapo. The Via Montenapoleone is the most famous street in the Fashion District. It is named after a bank - the Monte Napoleone - that was located here until the early 19th century. This was the first street known for its luxurious fashion. We walked along this busy street of such renowned designers as Gucci, Versace, Luis Vuitton and numerous others. Apparently it takes hours to literally explore all the stores on the Via Montenapoleone, especially if you're intent to buy. It didn’t take us long as neither of us are serious shoppers.

Although we only saw a small amount of Milan we were still pleased that we’d made the trip in. We had a late lunch before heading back to the railway station to get the train home. When we arrived back at Varese, there was a Carrefour supermarket and we decided to get some supplies to eat in. After waiting another half hour for the bus, we were quickly home and glad to be back before dark and not to have been caught in the dreadful traffic of the two previous evenings.

The Duomo - Milan

One small view of inside the Duomo
One of the beautiful stained glass windows

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

The Duomo about 3 hours later - still plenty of people around.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Two days of Lake Maggiore & Switzerland

Friday 14th September.
Blue skies and cooler mid 20’s temperature.

Despite all our mad sight seeing we have still both managed to read two+ books and I have had time to load, edit photos and keep up with the blog and facebook each night. We have had television almost at every stop but haven’t watched any. We found it “unusual” to see Midsummer Murders in Italian.
The bed looked very hard but we both slept well. This was the only accommodation where breakfast wasn’t included so again we were grateful to have our kettle and cups for coffee in the morning along with the one remaining nectarine.We packed the car again and set off back down the winding narrow streets praying that there would be no cars coming around the next corner. As we had only a short journey of about 120 kms, we stopped for coffee about half way. More diesel then on our way. We arrived at Varese around midday and the challenge again to find our accommodation which was about 4kms out of the main town. There is nothing in the guide books about this place but we chose it because of its location to the Lakes area and relative closeness to Malpensa airport (Milan) We eventually found Relais Cá Dei Santi and were able to book in early around midday.

Once settled into our room, we were told that the Lindt Chocolate factory was 50 metres up the road. Well the plant was but the shop was a bit further on but the walk was welcome and we did buy a small taste of chocolate. 

We decided that we would set off to drive around Lake Maggiore and our first stop was Luino where we had lunch by the lake. We then continued around the lake, crossing the Swiss border at the northern end of Lake Maggiore. We stopped at a Brissago in Switzerland, bought a bottle of water and were surprised to find them still using Swiss Francs, however they did the conversion to euros for us.

This was not our best day and I think the stress of the driving and getting lost & difficulty finding the accommodation had taken its toll. However we pressed on! We have shared the driving pretty much 50-50. There has been a lot of “back seat” driving from the passenger seat and at times much criticism of driving tactics and interpretation of which way to go according to the GPS instructions. The very windy, narrow hilly roads at times have been quite scary. The local drivers speed around corners, some of the streets and lane ways although two way traffic, there is only room for 1 ½ cars. You pray that there won't be a car coming in the opposite direction on a bend. Many areas have one way streets or new roundabouts which the GPS doesn’t know about so that is another thing that has been difficult at times. The biggest problem though is cars just stopping in front of you, drivers double parking -getting out to go into the shop, cutting in front of you with no warning, tooting the horn if they think you are too slow or careful. Some just pull off the road to park the car – no problem if everyone is parked parallel to the curb, if there is a slight space drive in to park and leave the back half of the car sticking out onto the road. There are so many cars on the roads and quite clearly not enough roads for the volume of traffic. We have been in a lot of “non tourist” areas so it’s not just the increased traffic from visitors however on the tourist route, the trip home from Stresa, Lake Maggiore of 54 kms took over 2 hours. Needless to say we were very pleased to be home safe. Had dinner at the restaurant at the hotel and headed off to bed.

The biggest problem we’ve had finding our accommodation has been the poor signage. Some places have had no signs at all and some of the street numbers are not on the fence/building. Some could not be found by the GPS. By and large the GPS has been great, but there is a disclaimer when you press ‘start navigation’ saying that the driver needs to use discretion. We have found it sending us very narrow lane ways as a detour when that was completely unnecessary and many times we’ve over ridden the instructions but occasionally we’ve been caught out. 

Yes, really snow en route to Varese

Lake Maggiore at Luina

Lake Maggiore at Brissago - Switzerland

Saturday 15th September
Blue skies and anticipated top temperature of around 25

We had a wonderful night’s sleep and woke later than usual and headed down to breakfast after 9.30am. Anne Marie, the owner was on duty for breakfast this morning. Graham was desperate to have a couple of shirts ironed to last the next 3 days. ‘No problem – bring them down and I’ll get the maid to iron them for you!’ Feeling a bit embarrassed but none the less, the shirts were really scrunched up after their last wash, we handed them over, no idea what the cost will be!! When we arrived home the shirts were ironed and hanging in the wardrobe.

Anne Marie suggested that today we drive to Levano, get the car ferry across to Verbania, then drive on to Stresa and set off for Gignese, then up to Motterone  (Mountain)for a spectacular view over all the lakes. We were then to go over the mountain which is 1495 metres above sea level and drive home through Orta.
We arrived in Verbania on the ferry after only about 15-20 minutes transit and miraculously found a car park and then headed off to check this place out. We found a huge market with fruit & veggies, Salami, cheeses as well as clothing, leather bags, belts and wallets and much more. We bought salami & bread for lunch and a couple of peaches as well. All washed down with another bottle of water – Frizzante (with gas) This was enjoyed lakeside!

After a couple of hours we continued on our way and reached Stresa and followed the signs to Gignese. This meant a fairly steep climb and very narrow winding roads. The fuel gauge was reducing it seemed with every corner. We saw a fuel station just before Gignese but didn’t realize that it was a prepaid self service, so continued up the hill for another couple of kilometers. We were both concerned about the minimal fuel and no idea how far to the next opportunity to fill up with diesel. By this stage we were probably 10 ms from the top of the mountain and about 770 metres up. There was a toll to pay as the road belongs to some Prince and I was able to ask the guys there about the destination length and availability of fuel. They suggested going back to Gignese for the “automatic” (prepaid self serve station). Graham was driving and quite stressed by the ordeal so we decided to abandon the rest of the ascent as we knew we would have enough fuel to get back to Stesa. 

We parked in Stresa (Stressa as Graham called it!) and walked along the lakeside enjoying the view and de stressing! We decided to stay a bit longer, have an early dinner and drive home. Cheap eats tonight - we shared a pizza and a litre bottle of water. I drove home and to our surprise, the 54 kms took almost as long as the previous night and we arrived home around 8.30pm. We didn't have the added side trip to narrow streets tonight but very slow traffic for no apparent reason, hardly got into 3rd gear for many kilometers at a time. Home safe & sound, coffee, catch up & bed. There is a wedding at the venue tonight and we’d parked out on the street and I suppose at some stage the noise will stop. Anne Marie has had a wedding booked every weekend since May and now has no further forward bookings which she is both surprised and concerned about! Evidently other places are in the same situation too.

Levano - where we caught the ferry to Verbania

Verbania taken from the ferry

View of Lake Maggiore from the Stesa - Gignese Road

Foreshore Stresa

Rows of these Hotels along the main drag in Stresa - quite an unbelievable sight

Anne Marie, owns the complex and her husband is the chef. She was born in France and her husband is from Orta. There are quite a few “French” touches here but we were quite surprised to see the “maids” in uniform – black ¾ length dresses with white aprons. The apartment is quite spacious and split level  - upstairs for sleeping. There is tea/coffee making facilities with cups and electric jug as well as a small fridge. The first we’ve had all around Italy except for the self catering places. It is very comfortable and this is our last bed!