Ashby MapAs many of you know, after we were back at Mercia Marina last Sept and one week before we were to fly back to Phoenix, Barbara suffered a burst appendix and had emergency surgery at the Royal Derby Hospital. She had peritonitis and gangrene and was in hospital for two weeks and was then cared for by District Nurses on the boat before we were able to fly home to Phoenix, one month late. The staff and doctors at the Royal Derby and the District Nurses were all professional, caring, friendly and a credit to the National Health Service. There were no insurance companies to deal with and we only filled out two or three forms during the whole ordeal. The coordination between us, the hospital and the nurses was seamless. The total bill for doctors, 2 weeks in hospital, surgery and nurses was 6,000 ($10,000). Our share: zero.

British Airways cancelled our reservation and re-booked our flight at no charge even though we had non-refundable tickets. They required a note from the hospital confirming Barb's condition, and a further note saying she was fit to fly. I only had to call them once, they put a customer rep on the case who followed up with me. Rare service from an airline in this day and age!

Back on this continent, the medical system has not been so stellar. It took five doctors and six months to diagnose and fix an incisional hernia. One of the doctors was a top surgeon at Mayo who said there was "no hernia and no surgical remedy" for Barb's swollen tum. Our primary care doctor also failed to diagnose it. We went to a gastroenterologist who first noticed the hernia. She also sent Barb for a CT scan which seemed to show another problem, so off we went to Barb's gynecologist who said she was fine, but also finally referred us to Dr. Low, a great surgeon who fixed Barb's hernia with a Da Vinci 'robot' laparascopically.  Because there is no centralized medical records system in the US we had to complete copious forms at every doctor visit. No doctor spoke to another except by written report. The hospital sent her home with the wrong catheter bag and on and on... We have a bill for $1,000 for the CT scan which was supposedly pre-approved by our insurance. The hospital bill for 3 nights plus the surgery, etc. is  $26,693 (15,610) and we have yet to receive bills from the surgeon, internist, anesthesiologist and urologist or some of the four other docs we consulted along the way. The bills are difficult to decipher and our share will probably be in excess of $1,000 after insurance. People here have to be so proactive and deal with all this BS at the worst possible time when they need to be calm to recover.

Barb may not be able to do locks this year so we are going to spend more time off the boat than on. We are planning a sixteen day cruise up the Ashby canal (left) and back at the end of July. Our friend Arthur from Maryland will be joining us for the outbound trip.

Our route takes us via the Trent and Mersey canal to Fradley Junction, south on the Coventry canal to Marston Junction and north on the Ashby (left) to the limit of navigation at Snarestone.

For details, see CanalPlan

Stay tuned - we leave on July 13th and I hope to write soon after.

JULY 18th
TortoiseWe are here in England after a smooth on-time flight from Phoenix to Heathrow. 2 nights in the Premier Inn, Bath Road - good budget hotel if you need to stay near Heathrow. Our friends Colin & Sue picked us up from there and we had an excellent day out with them. Lunch in the garden of the Adelaide pub, Teddington. The weather was fine and has been since we arrived but is now veering towards 'too hot'. It's 80F and quite humid, thunderstorms expected by Saturday. After lunch we went back to Colin & Sue's baronial hall which nestles in the center of Teddington and comes equipped with a mad dog, Alfie, and two randy tortoises (photo right).

                    AttackNext day we drove up to our boat and Barb got quite a shock in the galley, where long evil-looking tentacles were oozing out of the stairs under the side hatch. I had left a bag of new potatoes under the stairs and they had sprouted and were (amazingly) still alive and trying to re-create the "day of the Triffids" (photo left). There was also a 9-month old egg in the fridge. Since then there have been several minor disasters like me losing the car keys, a spider the size of a mouse living in the well deck and so on but, on the whole, things are going well. The boat electrics are working fine. The jury is out on the toilet and the plumbing but initial tests are OK, and the engine fired up right away. The roof is covered in mildew so there's a lot of work to do before Basil is cruiseworthy.

Tonight we went to Nadee's, our favourite Indian Restaurant where the food is EVEN BETTER, if you can imagine such a thing. They have a new chef. They were very supportive of me when Barb was in hospital and they greeted us like returning family when we arrived. Barb had Nadee Jingha (tandoori prawns) and I had Chicken Jalfrezi, in the unlikely event that you are interested in our gastronomic ramblings.

JULY 24th                                                                               (CLICK on any PHOTO to ENLARGE)

Boat InnWe drove down to Northampton in torrential rain to meet Russ and Linda, friends from Phoenix. Visibility on the M1 was down to a few yards at times but everyone was driving carefully and there were no accidents. We took them to see Althorp House, the Spencer estate, and then on to Stoke Bruerne for a late lunch at the Boat Inn (right).

                    & BarbOn the marina we reacquainted ourselves with old friends like Helen (left, inside her narrowboat) and made some new ones.
We also made friends with several new cats, much to the disgust of our new next door neighbour who is a dog-loving ex-merchant seaman. He worked for Cunard (Yes, I told him I worked f****** hard as well) on the QE2 among other ships and is a welcome change from our previous neighbour because he's a nice fellow and his boat is immaculate, as you would expect of an old salt.

We are now fixing up Basil Boat to get him shipshape ready for departure with our friend from Maryland, Arthur, on July 30th. The weather has been unremittingly sunny and hot, NOT quite the change from Arizona that we are used to.

Even I think it's quite hot here though her ladyship is basking daily. I am a screaming mass of stiff joints, strained muscles , general fatigue and I look like a prune. I'm not used to all this sun and manual labour but I'm sure it's doing me good. The boat is all cleaned up ready for Carolyn and Jane's (my cousins) visit tomorrow. The engine sprang into life first pull and has been purring happily under the rotting deck board. Everything else is working OK too. We are looking forward to our trip up the Ashby and to my brother Mike and sister-in-law Angela's visit beyond that. We just have to have a new loo fitted on Monday and we are good to go.
Barb and Basil Basking

Pickle, Jules' Cat

Jules and Barb >>
                        & Barb
We've been having so much fun (and long days cruising) with Arthur that I have had no time to write this journal. Sadly, we said goodbye to him at Atherstone station and we are now alone again. Arthur was a great guest, he fit right in and loved the slow, lazy canal life and was incredibly appreciative. He was one of the few black people on the canal which is the milieu of predominantly working-class whiteys and we only saw two other Africans the whole trip. There was no overt racism, though, much to my relief.

We picked Arthur up as planned at Derby station, but there was a bit of a snafu there. He waited for us on the platform and we were waiting beyond the ticket barrier, but a friendly station inspector let us in and we found each other. That night we ate at Nadee and Arthur loved the Indian food. We had another at Atherstone later, which was just as good, though different.
A&B at Mercia
Arthur and Barbara at Mercia Marina

Outside the Swan Inn  >
(known locally as the Mucky Duck)   
Inside the Mucky Duck *

Arthur at
At the helm, come rain, come shine
Overgrown Mooring below Tattenhill Lock
Next day we set off up the Trent and Mersey. Barb tripped in a pothole and turned her ankle at Barton Turn lock and it was very swollen next day so we took her by taxi to a nearby Urgent Care Clinic where they examined it and diagnosed a 'stretched anterior ligament'; i.e. a sprained ankle. It will take about 6 weeks to heal and she has to ice it and elevate it as much as possible. Fortunately, Arthur quickly took to operating the locks and sped us through Fradley to the famous Swan Inn, known locally as the Mucky Duck, where we ate a passable meal on night #2.

On then to the Coventry canal and a long stretch without locks. Arthur learned to steer very quickly. He has a knack for lining up for bridges which many newbies take years to learn.  The 'heat wave' abated but we had good weather all the way to the Ashby canal which is a delightfully rural waterway in the heart of England. Although only a muddy ditch in places, it is a pleasure to navigate with its  quaint stone bridges and occasional sweeping views over the bucolic countryside. Lambs bleat, cows moo and there is a rumble of combine harvesters as one of the best harvests in years is safely gathered in. At Stoke Golding we turned round and Arthur's cousin Ronald came to visit us with his kids Vanessa and Andrew. They all live in Derby and we promised to keep in touch. We had an excellent but expensive meal in the quaintly named 'Dog and Hedgehog'.


This aggressive swan family blocked Arthur's walk along the towpath and I had to rescue him with the boat pole
A Quiet Reach on the Ashby Canal *
Arthur's first English Roast Dinner
                        & Co
With Ronald, Andrew & Vanessa *
                        & Hedgehog
Ronald & Vanessa
<  At the Dog & Hedgehog  ^
Basil on the Ashby *
Dinner Aboard Basil

..and in the Herbs and Spice Indian Restaurant in Atherstone  >
                        and Spice
Sunset of the Day Before the Storm, Moored in the Country Near Atherstone

Now that Arthur has left we are rushing back to the marina, putting in long days so we can be back in time to prepare for Mick (my bro) and Ange's visit on the 14th. However, we have been bested by the remnants of Hurricane Bertha which is visiting from Florida. No longer a hurricane it has nonetheless dumped an inch or so of rain with howling gales overnight and today.  So we are holed up in Alrewas, waiting for the weather to clear.

TrentAs Bertha drifted away to the north, I ventured out into the wind and dying light and walked up the Trent for about a mile. I am in love with English rivers, particularly the Trent. The water was silver and gold in the gloaming, tumbling over the weir and whirling in eddies of spun silk, adorned with the whitest swans. Unlike the Thames, whose course has been fully beautified, the Trent still retains a wild look and is capable of terrible floods when unleashed. The Thames is too, as bankside residents found out earlier this year, but somehow the Trent looks slightly dangerous as it flows through untrammeled water meadows and rich pastures on its way to the North Sea at Goole. Unlike in other countries, there are really no truly wild rivers in England. Even Scotland and Wales boast a few. Generations of Angles, Saxons, Vikings, Romans and Dutch have tried to tame the Trent, with varying degrees of success. Here at Alrewas it crosses the Trent and Mersey canal and gives the canal traveler a taste of the freedom of river navigation, deep and swirling with shifting currents, for a short length. Further down at Derwent Mouth, the Trent becomes a wide, full-throated navigable river, capable of carrying small ships and barges but sadly rarely used as such. Many narrowboaters are afraid to venture this far but Basil and I love it. Equipped with VHF radio, life jackets, an anchor and suitable doses of common sense and caution we have together bounded joyfully down the deep water.
Alrewas Lock
Entrance to the River Section at Alrewas Lock
River Section
The Navigable Trent at Alrewas
Swan on the Trent
We completed our trek down the Trent & Mersey to home base in Mercia Marina in plenty of time to greet Young Master Michael (my bro) and his lady wife, Angela. They came aboard for a long weekend but we only cruised for a day to Swarkestone and back. We had an unpleasant altercation with a member of the Swarkestone Boat Club who tried to stop us winding (turning) in the entrance to the old line of the Derby canal which is now the Club's moorings. This in spite of the fact that the winding hole predates the Club by about 200 years and is clearly marked as such on the latest Nicholson's Guide. In the interests of safety, I completed the maneuver anyway without touching another boat and he rushed off in high dudgeon, no doubt to report me to someone.

    We walked down a poorly maintained footpath to the Trent and had a good lunch in a pub by the river. Next day, Mick drove us to the Peak District and we went for a walk along a little river and viewed old lead mines and ruined houses. We mainly ate out while they were here and we had excellent meals in Nadee, the first night, and the Dragon in Willington on the last.  We were sad to see them go, but not too sad as we will see them again next weekend at my niece Alison's wedding and will be staying with them in Woodchurch on the weekend following.


Peak Walk 1
^ Walking in the Peak District >
Peak Walk 2
Bury RailscapeOn August 20th we took a series of trains to Bury St Edmunds to see Liza, a friend that Barb has known for about 40 years - before B and I met. She is as eccentric and wildly lovable as ever and we spent an engaging five hours with her in Bury and at her house in the country. Unfortunately, I was so engaged that I forgot to take any photos. There are some photos below from the rail journey, however, which took us first to Nottingham and on to Peterborough where we changed again to cross the flat fertile plains of the Fens and on to Bury. We took a slightly different route back via Ely and Leicester. On the Ely to Leicester train we met Barry, a conductor who came cruising up the aisle doing a fantastic impersonation of a 1930's Chicago Limited rhyming conductor. I thought I was in an old movie! He had us fooled into thinking he was American but he later lapsed into Italian and various English local accents. He actually lives in Leicester. He was a hoot and delighted to have us as an audience, an antidote to the dour-faced and sleeping passengers that surrounded us. We had a whole table to ourselves and we dined on salmon quiche, Kalamata olives provided by Liza, and Cabernet that we bought in Ely and we managed to turn the little Cross Country train into a reasonable facsimile of the Orient Express. I love railways!
Nottingham Station
Old and New at Nottingham Station


Victorian Fireplace in the Snack Bar
Barry the Polyglot Conductor
Bury Station
Bored in Bury
                        Coast Main Line
East Coast Main Line at Ely

Degenerate Passenger  >
Bride & Groom

Just coming to the end of a hectic few days which included a wedding, numerous family get-togethers and a trip to France. My niece Alison wed her beau Phil. The weddingRing was in St. Albans Registry Office and afterwards at a restaurant in Harpenden. Fun was had by all and it was nice being around some YOUNG people who know how to have a good time! Until you've seen a bunch of people sitting on the floor in a sort of seated conga line and rowing to the beat of "Oops Upside Your Head" by the Gap Band you haven't lived. This 'dance' is unique to the UK. Ali and Phil looked radiant, the weather held (it pelted with rain all next day) and they are now on honeymoon in Thailand.

Bride & Maids
Bride and Maids Selfie

The 'OOPS' Dance >>
White Cliffs
The White Cliffs of Dover

MenuOn to Kent where we had a lovely few days with Nigel (my bro), Sandra and Josh in Canterbury. The hospitality was second to none and we slept soundly in their very comfortable spare room. Barb caught a bad cold so she missed out on the Moroccan restaurant and the concert by "This is the Kit", a folk rock band, in the Gulbenkian Cafe. We boarded the car ferry at Dover for a trip over the Channel to France where we drove along the coast road towards Boulogne. We stopped at Cap Griz Nez for sweeping views over La Manche and the coast and we had a long lunch in a little French cafe.
Hut 1
Hut 2
Hut 3
Beach Huts in Wissant

                            Griz Nez
Josh, Barb and Nigel at Cap Griz Nez
Moules Frites
Nigel & Sandra in the Moroccan Restaurant,
This is The
Angela, Barbara, Sandra, Jane, Michael & Josh (back)
Nigel and Roger (front)

<< Kate Stables of This is the Kit
    Performing at the Gulbenkian, Canterbury
Fish Market in Whitstable

Now we are with Mick and Ange in Woodchurch.. more news and photos to follow...

SEPT 10th
We finished off our trip to Kent with a lovely few days, enjoying fine weather in Woodchurch with Mick and Ange (my bro and his wife). They arranged a rowdy lunch in the King's Head, Shadoxhurst followed by a garden party in their back garden in Woodchurch. A large slice of the family attended. My sister Angela and son Jon came from Berkhampsted. Cousin Jane was there, visiting from Australia. Tim, another cousin from Woodchurch attended, as did Richard, my erstwhile playmate and titularly my Uncle though he is a month or two younger than me. His ex-wife Ann was also there.
Angela & Michael with Ella at Home

Kings Head Group
Angela, Barbara and Ann at the King's Head

Pilgrim House Group
Pilgrim House, Woodchurch
Richard, Roger, Barb, Tim, Ann, Jon,
Ange (Sis) L-R Back.
Jane (Cousin from Australia), Ange.
Kings Head Group
King's Head Group
Mick, Rog, Jane, Richard, Jon
Ange (Mick's wife), Barb, Ann and
Ange (Sis)

After a few days back in the Marina we set off again, this time by car to the West Country. A three hour drive found us in Somerset, where we visited Julia Pemberton, a friend from our days in Norwich many years ago. We met her second husband Brian, a big bluff hunk of Yorkshire charm, for the first time. They live in a delightful house in Fitzhead with their two cats Cleo and Timmy. We stayed in the Fitzhead Inn just up the road from them, a fine old hostelry with a friendly welcoming manager, Sharene, and her partner Steve. The food (right) was excellent and we had a great meal with Julia and Brian there the first night. Barbara had slow-roasted pork with crackling on a bed of crushed new potatoes, a dish so yummy that she had it again when next we ate there.

Next day, Julia and Brian took us to the West Somerset steam railway where we caught a 50's-era steam train to Watchet on the north coast. The carriage was exactly like the ones on which I used to travel to school in Canterbury, but I resisted the urge to fuse the lights or fire rockets at passing chicken farms as we used to do then. Maybe I have matured some.

It was great to see Julia again and we slipped right back to our earlier friendship with seamless ease. She and Brian told us fascinating stories of their life in France where they owned a small farm and a big farmhouse for several years.

Fitzhead Inn
The Fitzhead Inn
Tithe Barn
Old Tithe Barn at Fitzhead

Dog and Cat Out Walking Together >>
Cat & Dog
West Somerset Railway Guard

Timmy, Julia and Brian's Cat

Steam Train to Watchet

Yacht Cat
This Siamese Lady Knows Her Place

Watchet Harbour
Watchet Harbour
Next day we spent exploring part of the Dorset and Devon South Coast. We went back to Lyme Regis where we spent time 34 years ago in a very strange hotel full of ex-Majors and Colonels and their imperious wives. The hotel and the clientele were long gone and the town was full of day trippers and festival-goers attending a 'Guitars-on-the-Beach' Festival. Totally out of context in this old fishing port, or so it seemed to us geezers. We had a nice enough time wandering through town and out on to the sea wall known as the Cobb, site of a memorable scene in "The French Lieutenants Woman". The harbor was buzzing with trip boats and all manner of other craft.

Along the coast a few miles to Sidmouth in Devon, which was much quieter. Many imposing hotels line the seafront and we were quite enamored of the town which has some lovely views and walks. We resolved to return if possible. Our day ended with music in the park played by the Southampton Concert Wind Band.
Lyme Regis
Lyme Harbour
Lyme Harbour
Music in the Park
On our last and final day away we drove for about an hour into the heart of Devon to see an old Canterbury Technical High School friend who I had not seen since 1968 or Pays & Cartersthereabouts. Our memories differed about our last meeting, and much else! Peter and Jane live in a splendid old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere where they tend sheep and geese and make gallons of cider. After school, Peter went to art school and I to BBC Engineering so we split into artistic and scientific paths, more or less. He taught in several schools and retired from Plymouth University. He was already an accomplished painter when I knew him but later turned more to sculpture. I like to think I helped him along when we chiseled primitive art into the White Cliffs of Dover in our youth. Probably not. Jane is also a teacher. We had years to catch up with and we spent a pleasant half day sitting in the sunshine and talking. Jane grew up in Kenya where her Dad was a colonial administrator so she had quite a different upbringing than Peter or I. Barb is still suffering from her sprained ankle so we did not go for any walks though the scenery looked most enticing. Peter and Jane showed us the old cider press which was used for years, and now replaced by a modern wine press. They have two large orchards full of apples and Jane has made a hobby of rescuing old varieties of apple. It was wonderful to get to know Jane and catch up with Peter after all these years and we resolved to not leave it so long until we meet again!
Cider Press
Rascal, Peter & Jane's Cat

<< The New Cider Press

Old Tractor, still in use
Early Copy of Constable's 'The Hay Wain'
which Peter did while in school
The Original is in the National Gallery

Trainspotting (see below)
                              of Jane
Bust of Jane by one of Peter's Students

Sculpture by Peter >>
Now we are having a few days R&R in the Marina before we set off to Vienna to stay with Barb's nephew Rick. Barb is resting her ankle and I am doing odd jobs on the boat, going for walks along the canal, doing some train and boat spotting and sampling the odd glass of "Old Rosie" rough cider in the Green Man. Wot a Life! The marvelous Indian summer continues unabated. The TV is full of the wrenching news that Scotland may secede from the United Kingdom after 300 years of fractious friendship. The referendum is on Sept 18th. If I were a Scot, given the embarrassing rash of simpering Anglophile Public schoolboys that manage British politics today, I would definitely be in the Yes (get out of the UK) camp.

Excuse the mixture of English and American spelling as usual, just trying to please all of the people all of the time! And also (for general readers), sorry for all the focus on family and friends.

Sept 30th

This will of necessity be a skeletal journal entry as we are busy packing up and winterizing Basil for our departure from Mercia on Oct 2nd. There is plenty to write about but a full account will have to wait until we are home and settled in Phoenix. I took 428 photos but fear not - only a few will be here. The weather here continues in full Indian summer mode - warm with plenty of sun. The cool nights are drawing in and leaves are falling, a sure sign it's time to go home.

On Sept 15th we went to London by train. We stayed near King's Cross station for one night which gave us a free afternoon and most of the next day to ferret around. We wandered around Soho and then found ourselves at a pro-UK demonstration in Trafalgar Square. There were thousands there, waving flags and listening to pro-Union speeches by the likes of historian Dan Snow, comedian and marathoner Eddie Izzard  and Bob Geldof, the singer-songwriter and political activist. As we now know, Scottish nationalists did not win the vote to secede and the world's oldest union of countries survives, more or less.
Demonstrator in Trafalgar Square

Dan Snow
Dan Snow Pleads for the Union

(except Ticket)
Curious Set
The Set for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the

Curious Ticket

Statue of Amy Winehouse in Camden Market >>
We ate in a very pleasant Italian restaurant in Soho, had a pint in a classic London pub in the theatre district and then went to see a play about an Aspergers sufferer who is a genius at maths. The National Theatre production "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time" is a strange amalgam of special effects, eccentric but lovable characters, and whizzo maths acted brilliantly on a giant box set inscribed with a grid. At first I was disappointed with the simplicity of the language but then I realized that was the point. The lead actor, Luke Treadaway, played one of the most exhausting roles I have ever seen. Not only did he recite thousands of words but had to leap about athletically, and act emotionally non-stop for almost 2 hours.

Next day, we went to Camden Town to view the statue of Amy Winehouse which was unveiled a day or two before. We walked through the markets there and along the Regent's Canal to London zoo before we went by tube to Heathrow to catch an evening flight to Vienna. We arrived at about 10:15 and caught a train to town and a short taxi ride to Rick's stellar modern apartment high above Sterngasse. He received us gracefully as ever and we collapsed gratefully into bed.

KuntshistorischesThus began ten days of whirlwind activity. Vienna is a sparkling city with more than its fair share of stunning architecture. We visited numerous baroque and Gothic churches and mingled with the enormous crowds outside the cathedral in Stefanplatz. One evening we went to a chamber music concert in the Mozarthaus room where Mozart played. The room was exactly as he would have known it and the music delightful. Another highlight was the Kunsthistorisches (left and below), a huge rambling art museum housing works looted (er, 'collected') by the Habsburg Empire over their 800 years of dominance in Central Europe. It is surely one of the best art museums in the world. We spent hours there in the Greek, Roman and Spanish sections and only scratched the surface. The building is a fine work of art in its own right.


Rick's Apartment
Rick's Sterngasse Apartment
Rick's Kitchen
Stefanplatz by Night

Tourist Trap >>
Musicians Take a Bow at the Mozarthaus

Vienna is extremely expensive and the affluent denizens are not particularly friendly. Barb had a jocular run in with the ferris wheel operator at the Prater (fairground) after he refused to let us wait for an empty gondola (it was not busy and he did eventually). Barb told him to be happy but he said "I cannot be happy when you give me different reasons why you want to wait and I have to deal with hundreds of people from different countries every day." The Viennese share the Germanic penchant for precision and order and hate it when things are not 'done right', i.e. their way. The wheel was a forerunner of the London Eye and other big city wheels, smaller but impressive since it was built in the mid 1800s. It featured in The Third Man film.

In contrast the restaurant staff were unfailingly friendly and attentive and we had two great meals and several smaller but tasty ones in between plus a couple of visits to Rick's local Wurst stand. The food tends towards starch and meat, but can be delicious nonetheless. The local Zweigert red wine was very good and inexpensive, an eye-opener for me because I thought Austria only produced remarkable white wines.

Anniversary Dinner
Outdoor Cafe
Vienna Woods
Restaurant in the Vienna Woods
We had two trips on the Danube, a mighty river bested only by the Mississippi in my experience. One was a short trip upstream, through a lock and on to the Danube canal which runs through the center of town. Rick arranged a longer one for the three of us. We went by train to Melk and explored the town and grand baroque Benedictine Abbey on a hill high above the town. From there we boarded a boat and traveled 36Km through the beautiful Wachau valley to Krems. On the way we passed pretty villages with tall churches, the ruins of old castles, a monastery and numerous vineyards spilling down the slopes towards the river. The boats of the Blue Danube company are comfortable, friendly and have reasonably priced restaurants aboard. From Krems we returned on the last train to Vienna.
                              Abbey Church
Melk Abbey Church
Danube View
View of the Danube from Melk Abbey
The Danube
Rick also arranged a 4 day trip by train to the ancient capital of the Czech Republic, Prague. The 4 1/2 hour train ride took us over the plains of Austria (I never knew parts of Austria are flat, I assumed it was all mountains and streams) and on through the Czech pine forests - scenery evocative of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy". I expected armed guards to board the train at any moment as I drifted into a spy movie revery. The trains are clean, comfortable, electric, fast and sport features long lost to British trains such as compartments and dining cars. The dining car food was simple but fresh and good value. There is not much evidence of communist rule, save some forbidding tower blocks and dingy factories.

Prague is a blast. Just as overrun with tourists as Vienna but a generation younger and less affluent. The architecture is similar but is even more over the top. Crazy baroque spires and huge castles abound. We gawped at the astronomical clock on the Old Town Hall, built in 1410 and rebuilt several times thereafter. The latest was in 1945 after the departing Nazis shelled it to hell. On the hour a parade of clockwork Apostles and a chiming skeleton entertain the crowds. We rose by lift and stairs to the top of the clock tower and were rewarded by great views of the city around us. In the square below we joined our second demonstration in two weeks, this time against war in Ukraine. There were musicians, singers and dancers and much banner and flag waving.
Dining Car
Dining Car
Prague Beer Hall
Lennon Wall
The Lennon Wall - a Symbol of Freedom
During the Soviet Era
We spent almost a whole day in Prague castle, a huge area of palaces, quaint streets and an impressive church, St. Vitus Cathedral. The Old Royal Palace is the grandest of the buildings and in a nearby building we saw a helmet and chain mail tunic worn (supposedly) by King Wenceslas in 930 AD. He is now Saint Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia, and in the square named for him the 1989 Velvet Revolution demonstrations led to the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia.

We also toured the synagogues of the old Jewish quarter. Of five synagogues in the old ghetto only one is still in use. The unused synagogues and the old Jewish graveyard are now memorials to the thousands of Jews who died in the Nazi death camps and in previous pogroms. Huge walls in one synagogue are inscribed with thousands of names of Jews who died in the 1940s. Jewish history here is a sad saga of centuries of death and prejudice which continues today.

Staromestske Square at Night
Jewish Synagogue
Some of the Thousands of Czech Jews who
were Murdered in the Holocaust
Jewish Cemetary
The Old Jewish Cemetery
More uplifting was a baroque organ concert in the Church of St. Salvator. The musicians: the organist, a viola player and a soprano were largely hidden from view in the organ loft while we listened to them playing Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Handel, etc., from the pews below. A very strange experience but featuring some beautiful pieces such as a Gregorian Choral piece sung by the soprano, her head just visible high behind us looking over the balustrade.

Back by train again to Vienna for a last day of sightseeing. We walked the length of the Naschmarkt. An impressive array of stalls selling a wide variety of immaculate fruits, vegetables, meat, clothing and trinkets interspersed with coffee shops and cafes offering every type of cuisine. We ate lunch in a little Lebanese place before going to explore the wonders of the Karlskirche down the road. This enormous baroque church has a huge altar surmounted by choirs of angels illuminated by celestial light spilling through an artfully tinted window above. The dome is adorned with colourful painted figures which we were able to see close up by rising up to them in an elevator. A further climb up six flights of stairs and we popped out of the top of the dome to see a panorama of Vienna below. I thought I'd seen enough churches but this was like seeing the crown jewels after a succession of jewelers shops.

The Naschmarkt
Murals in the Dome of Karlskirche
For our final evening, Rick took us to a splendid Hansel and Gretel style cafe in the Vienna woods where we ate a delicious supper of pork schnitzel (Rick and I) and lamb for Barb, washed down with Zweigert. Rick has been an excellent host and organizer for the whole experience and we said a sad goodbye to him that night in his apartment. He is a knowledgeable and sociable traveling companion and we are tentatively planning to go to the Galapagos with him next year.  Next morning he was off to work before we got up. We flew back to London, rented a car at Heathrow and drove to Nadee's where we had a final Indian meal before getting back to the boat about 10:30 p.m.

This will be my last journal entry for this year as we are going home on Oct 3rd. I will try and add some more Viennese and Czech photos when we get back to Phoenix.

Oct 24th

Home again - and here are a few more photos of Austria and Prague:

The Anker Clock (showing 21:04)
in the Hoher Markt, Vienna
Durnstein ^  Push-tow on the Danube (below) 
Push Tow
Abbey Church
The Abbey Church at Melk

Monument to Franz Kafka, Prague >
Melk Monastery
Melk Monastery from the Danube

All Photos Copyright Roger Carter 2014
Charles Bridge
The Charles Bridge, Prague

(except Melk, below and Kafka, right)
Wood Panel
Wood Panel in St. Vitus Cathedral

Melk Panorama
Melk Panorama