Week 449

Sunday, 30th July, 2017

A sunny day which looked warmer than it felt because of quite a strong breeze. The morning was spent in quiet contemplation aka reading the papers. The afternoon was a two and a half hours at the Health Club in the gym and the outdoor pool. We both felt really good at the end of it.

Congratulations to my little brother, Bob who (I understand) is celebrating 40 years of marriage to a cook. As I’m in my 39th year of marriage to a cook, I can no longer use that as an excuse for being overweight.  I’m also ashamed to admit that I haven’t a clue where this was taking place. It was 1977 and I don’t think I was there. I was probably, very sensibly, left off the guest list.

Bob and I shared a bedroom for 18 very formative years. I was there when he bought his first pair of Levi Jeans. They were so  stiff, he stood them up by themselves in the bedroom. I seem to remember him soaking them in the bath for a week while he was wearing them!  While I was twittering out Cat Stevens songs, Bob was listening to John Mayall & the Blues Breakers. While he was taking things apart and rebuilding them, I hadn’t learnt to change a plug. Of course, I had anticipated the future where plugs never needed changing.  Not sure what’s happened to Bob’s feet. I have a horrible feeling that I don’t really know him at all.

Monday, 31st July, 2017

A really pleasant day of sunshine and warmth as the breeze disappeared. I was feeling a bit under the weather this morning. I had a couple of dizzy spells and found that my pulse had dropped to 40 bpm. My blood pressure was lowish – 107/64 – and I was feeling a little ‘otherworldly’. You might say: No change there then! As a result, I spent the morning sitting down trying to solve an FTP problem I have with a website.

I had the Test Match on in the background. I have a television on the wall in the Office. Suddenly, the background came very much to the fore as England began to make the break through. Soon, I forgot my health and was rooting for Moeen Ali as he approached the moment, on a hat-trick, when a third wicket would win the Test and the series for England. A sublime moment in any players career, Moeen bowled and the team claimed LBW only to be denied by the umpire. They appealed and Moeen, England and History was not to be denied.  It was a life giving moment.

So revived, we set off for the gym and did our routine for the third consecutive day without a hitch. Really enjoyed it.

Tuesday, 1st August, 2017

Hello August

Happy August 2017 to all our readers. Life could be a lot worse. Brexit could already have happened! Remember, there’s still all to play for.

August has been welcomed in with such a wonderful day that we forgot the gym and sat in the garden sipping chilled, white wine. Sometimes, you just have to let go and indulge yourself and this was one of those occasions. The peace and quiet, the warm, windless sunshine and the green grass made it a day to remember.

We did find time to trim the hedges which has made them look better and more looked after. We understand that tomorrow could be wet so today was a good one to enjoy. On Thursday, I must mow the lawns and feed the plants but today is for enjoyment.

Wednesday, 2nd August, 2017

Well, I’m certainly glad we took full advantage of yesterday’s lovely weather because today has turned windy with heavy rain and 19C/66F. So much for August!

I’ve had a chance today to review Greek news. You will probably be aware that the government – under European direction – is trying to get to grips with forcing Greeks to pay their taxes. To that end, they are attempting to assert central control and oversight by moving all payments to electronic/plastic (POS) point of sale machines. The deadline passed a couple of days ago for businesses from lawyers to plumbers to request and adopt these machines and start using them. In this command economy, failure to do so will attract a large fine. The Greeks are, however, highly experienced in getting round such measures. They applied for machines, did one transaction and then go back to ‘cheaper’ cash in hand style business.

In this way, the rich get richer by avoiding tax and the poor are able to make their meagre finances eke out a little better and none can see that, ultimately, it is their country that will bump along the bottom of the debtor’s prison cell in perpetuity. The state of the country’s economy has impacted heavily on wages and salaries in Greece’s private sector. They are shockingly low especially when one takes into consideration the cost of living in the country. Many are surviving on €500.00/£440.00 per month. You can bet Stavros is taking full advantage of that.

Not a surprise, therefore, that more than 50% of Greeks cannot afford a week’s holiday according to data from the EU statistics agency, Eurostat. Due to the economic crisis, 53.6% of Greeks either take no holiday during the year, or have to settle for less than a week. Statistics place Greece near the bottom of the list. Romanians are in the most difficult position with 66.6% saying that they cannot afford a holiday. They are followed by Croats with 62.8%, Bulgarians with 56.4% and Greeks. Ironically, it is Romanian and Bulgarian workers who are most likely to work in the Greek island and drive down Greek wages.

Thursday, 3rd August, 2017

A very blustery and cool day – just 19C/66F again. We are expecting guests for the weekend so make an early trip out to do all the shopping. Four supermarket visits later, we are just walking out of Tesco when all hell breaks loose. As we walk through the doors, flashing lights start accompanied by sirens blaring and, as we walk towards our car, a voice shouting, Excuse me, Sir. A man in uniform was moving swiftly towards us. He said we’d set off the alarms and had we got anything we hadn’t paid for? We hadn’t although we had been doing ‘Self-Scan’.

The Scene of the Crime!

He asked us if we had any joints of meat. We hadn’t. We volunteered that we had two sides of salmon costing £33.50/€37.10 and he immediately said that would be it. We showed him our till receipt and he went into effusive apology mode. Apparently, they have been having lots of thefts of high value meat and fish and an invisible, electronic security marker should have been automatically removed when we scanned it in but the process failed thus setting off the alarm. I think he was more embarrassed than we were.

As we walked on to the car, we received a call to our mobile. It was upsetting news. Pauline’s family had received sad information and our guests now couldn’t come for the weekend and have to make an emergency dash to the North of England instead. Although the news wasn’t totally unexpected, it was still a shock and hard to accept.

We went to the gym to absolve ourselves of the crime in Tesco. Two hours later, we feel better and come home to eat our ‘stolen’ salmon. It tasted so good!

Friday, 4th August, 2017

Cool but dry and sunny with the wind going down here in West Sussex while temperatures across Southern Europe are continuing to be uncomfortably hot. Even the Skiathan would be struggling now. Heat in Greece? Who would have thought it? The hottest we experienced was 43C/109.4F and that was in Piraeus where I nearly gave up the will to live. Apparently, the record for Southern Europe stands at 48C/118.4 and our Met. Office say that, after an extended hot period, the record could be challenged although more likely in Italy than Greece. Half the day up to your neck in sea water followed by the other half under air-conditioning is the survival mode we adopted. Thank goodness we are not in Florence now.

We’ve booked the carpark at Gatwick for our flights to/from Athens and paid the remainder for our month in Gran Canaria. When we started going to Greece, in the late 70s/early 80’s, we budgeted for £20.00/€22.00 per day expenditure. plus flights and hotel. Exactly 30 years ago this month, return flight to Athens from Manchester for two of us cost £153.00/€173.00 and two weeks at Hotel Kamari cost £109.00/€121.00 for a double room. After we’d factored in taxis to the airport in Manchester and home and then down to Piraeus and back plus Duty Frees, we did the whole thing for around £600.00/€665.00 per fortnight. We would do 2 weeks June-July and return for 2 weeks in August for around £1,200.00/€1,330.00. Today, a month in Gran Canaria cost £5,500.00/€6,100.00. Of course, it is not comparing like with like. Our first years in Greece were budget in every way. Our month in Gran Canaria is 5* all-inclusive but that is what aging earns.

Saturday, 5th August, 2017

A lovely, warm and sunny day. I did my house jobs – unstacking the dishwasher, hoovering the house and then felt free to watch the Test Match. It was very enjoyable and I was really absorbed until early afternoon went we went to the Health Club. An hour in the gym followed by 30 mins swimming in the sunshine outside and then 30 mins in the Spa. Felt great as we drove home to watch the rest of the cricket as South Africa collapsed and the first football match of the new season – a draw between Aston Villa v Hull.

Although we are not really aware of it, our village is being invaded this weekend by 8000 ‘music’ lovers for the annual pop concert known as Music Mania. It has been going for the past 7 years and is hosted by the local rugby club. They say they have capacity for 8000 people per day and a two day pass costs £60.00/€66.50. It is not our sort of thing but we don’t condemn it. It is a nicely, quirky thing to do.

Week 448

Sunday, 23rd July, 2017

Lovely, warm and sunny morning which lasted until 2.00 pm when the cloud came over and gave us a short, sharp shower. Since then, it’s been alternate bright/wet. Back home after three weeks on the road, we have been enjoying playing house. My Sifnos friend, Martin, is also enjoying his new house – the first he has bought for many years. We are so pleased for him.

Houses are so often milestones in one’s life with lots of emotional baggage stored in them. We have lived in 8 different properties together not to mention those we lived in before we met. We retired in April 2009 and put our Yorkshire home on the market. It took a year to sell. It was 7 years ago this month that we returned to our Greek home having completed the sale of our house in Yorkshire. That time has flown by even though a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. We suffered the loss of Pauline’s Mum, moved between 4 more properties and sold our Greek home, finally settling in West Sussex.

Our neighbours in Yorkshire were really lovely people who helped us enormously. They owned a property in Spain and drove there each year as we were setting off on our drive to Greece. Sometime next year, we are considering a drive to Spain and hope to tap our neighbours’ experience to help us. How much of Europe can we drive round before they abolish it? Will there be a long transition period? Will we still be welcome after the Tory’s underwhelming offers to EU members currently resident in UK? We must make the most of the available time!

Monday, 24th July, 2017

Pleasantly warm and mainly sunny today, We have pottered rather than been dynamic. Think we are still coming down from our 2000 mile trip over the past three weeks. We did a trip to Honda to book a service. The car will go in tomorrow morning before we restart at the Health Club.

I did a quick check through the Blog on this day over the past few years. Only 8 years ago, we had just retired and were in our Greek home. More interesting than that was the fact that we were still placing an order for The Times newspaper which we got a day late from the island newsagent. Haven’t read an actual newspaper for so many years now. Three years and three days ago we arrived back from our last trip to Sifnos and got on with our lives. Soon we will return to Greece but flying rather than driving.

Tuesday, 25th July, 2017

The drive to and from Greece always left us needing a day or two to recover. Of course, latterly, there was six months to recover each way. Certainly, as we get older, we seem to take a little longer to get back to peak energy. After three weeks and 2000 miles driving plus miles and miles of walking around hot and noisy French and Italian towns, it has taken us four days to feel ready to go back to the gym. It is almost four weeks since we did our exercise program here. Before that, I mowed the lawns and valeted the car.

We drove to our Health Club and got stuck in to the gym work. I must admit, I didn’t find it as comfortable as I would hope. Still we pushed ourselves through 40 mins on the treadmill and 20 mins on the bike. We didn’t do any weights but moved out to swim.

Our Club has three pools – two indoors and an outdoor one which is heated all year round. That’s where we like to swim. While we were away, this outdoor pool was completely refurbished including being retiled. This afternoon, under 22C/70F of warm sunshine, we loved doing a 30 mins swim. The session is ended with half an hour in the Jacuzzi, Water Massage and Sauna followed by shower and home.

However, I have got in to the habit of stepping on the scales as I’m walking out of the changing room to leave. We ate well on our European Tour including Breakfasts in many hotels. I spent the time feeling absolutely ‘stuffed’. Of course, we did plenty of walking but I felt sure I had put on weight. When I weighed myself this afternoon, I found I had lost 4lbs/1.8 kgs. Let the Brexiteers take not – Europe helps you lose weight.

Wednesday, 26th July, 2017

The day turned wet by 9.00 am and continued that way until mid day. I don’t think the temperature got above 20C/68F all day. It did dry up in time for us to go to the Health Club for a couple of hours including a swim outdoors but it was never really ‘summer weather’.

Having spent the past three weeks driving and staying across Europe, we took a large stash of euros which we had forward bought months ago. I got a rate of £1.00 = €1.20. Currently, people are getting less than £1.00 = €1.00 from FX sellers. However, we did pay tolls, petrol and a few other things with credit card where it was easier. Our on-line account retells our travels and lists many ‘non-sterling transaction’ charges. Imagine our thoughts when we received a mobile call from our bank’s FX Fraud Department. Of course, it was a scam call and we didn’t give any information away. I immediately searched their number on-line and many people had reported the same scam in the past month. It doesn’t half make you feel vulnerable initially.

The Greek Government and Press routinely trumpet their confident expectation of big increases in tourism and so often they turn out to be vacuous claims. This year, the exchange rate is harming all European tourism and, it turns out, to Greece in particular. Kathimerini reported yesterday that international visitors to Greece have not met expectations in the first half of this year. Arrivals from the United States fell 18.2 % and receipts from US tourists shrank by a remarkable 30.8 %. It also appears from my research that eastern Europe – Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Moldova, Poland and Ukraine – are increasingly holidaying in the Greek Islands and they, traditionally, have less disposable income than Western European travellers.

Thursday, 27th July, 2017

Interesting day but not a Summer’s one. The temperature got no higher than 20C/68F with light sunshine and some light rain. We did our weekly shop at Tesco and Sainsbury’s and then went to Worthing to see the pier. It was our first time and probably our last. We walked the full length and then drove home. It is a perfectly respectable pier and all around it are the holiday makers fun-fare offerings. The pier itself had lots of fishermen casting their hopeful lines. The pier is quite short and doesn’t take much walking. It does have a nice tea room and restaurant but little else.

Worthing really is a holiday town. People really do come just for a holiday. I find it hard to believe but there is a Summer season here. Everywhere one walks there is the smell of frying fish. The sensation makes one quite nauseous although the queues food are long.

We bought swordfish and tuna steaks plus cod loins for our freezer. Today we had roasted cod loin with a herb crust and accompanied by tomato and cucumber salad. It was wonderful and not something you would find on the menus of Worthing emporiums.

Friday, 28th July, 2017

Rustington (village) Town Centre

We went on a drive around Rustington ‘town’ which is small enough to be a big village, down to Littlehampton Marina and along the coast towards the Goring Fisherman’s beach shack. Everywhere was really busy. It is quite a shock to realise that this area is absolutely still a popular tourist destination.

When I first contemplated retirement, I thought it would be a time to enjoy watching cricket. Then we spent our Summers in our Greek home where few people had even heard of cricket never mind received on their television channels. Today was damp and warm in alternating cycles but weather at the Kennington Oval was perfect for England’s bowlers to destroy the South Africa batting and I had time to watch it.

Ben Stokes’ batting was an absolute joy and his 112 laid the platform for a young, England bowler I knew nothing about at all. Toby Roland-Jones took 4 wickets in his first bowl for England and the South Africans were left 227 runs behind with 2 wickets remaining. England will have to enforce the follow on and finish them off completely. They will never have a better opportunity.

Saturday, 28th July, 2017

Happy Birthday to my old sister, Jane BG. I posted this card on Faceache this morning.

She is a committed European and, like me, an ardent ‘Remainer’. She even bought the hat!

Pauline & I have been married for 38 years and we almost never argue. We do bicker a bit but nothing ever worth remarking on. However, Dear Reader, I must tell you that I assaulted my wife last night for the first time ever. She yelled when I hit her and that woke me up. I never dream and, if I do, I never remember it but, when Pauline woke me up last night, it was because I had punched her in the left buttock. Fortunately, she has plenty of padding there but it was a shock to me. I thought I had been punching a politician under a desk ( Don’t ask.) at that moment and I was putting some force in to it. Pauline is walking a bit strangely this morning and I am using the other hand to pick up my coffee. Otherwise, everything goes on normally.

Do you follow Symi Dream? I’ve been reading this blog for a long time but my Norton Security software has started blocking the site in the past few days. I can’t quite make out why but would be interested to hear from others.

Week 447

Sunday, 16th July, 2017

Old fashioned Bellinzona

A lazy morning of newspapers and breakfast in Bologna and then an enjoyable drive into Switzerland. The Milan ring road which is normally a violent beast of a road was lovely while all those vile Italians were still at mass worshipping false idols. We reached our hotel in Bellinzona just in time to watch the start of the rather one-sided Wimbledon Men’s final. I was also able to watch a re-run of Hamilton’s brilliant win in the British Grand Prix.

Tomorrow, we are on to a lovely hotel in Mulhouse at the start of the Alsace Wine Route although we won’t be following it. Just one night there and then on to Reims.

Monday, 17th July, 2017

Up early this morning in our least favourite hotel on the trip. It is anonymous and has virtually no upfront staff. Check-in was by computer screen. Room was allocated and payment taken via the computer screen. A room barcode was printed out like a sales receipt and then used to access the lift and the room door. Checkout was by computer screen. Only breakfast was provided by people. We won’t use that again.

By 10.30 am, we are on the road out of Switzerland and into Alsace. This journey takes us round Lake Lucerne and through Basel. We are staying in The Holiday Inn, Mulhouse. We have stayed there many times over the past 20 years and really like it. The drive was in beautiful sunshine apart from going through the Ghotthard and the Seelisberg Tunnels. After the San Gotthard (17 km) Tunnel, we stop at our regular service station for a ‘comfort break’. The temperature started off as 25C/77F, fell to 19C/66F in the peak alps and then rose up to 31C/88F in Alsace.










We check-in an hour early and unpack. After a cup of tea, we go down to the pool and swim for 45 mins. It is a lovely and really liberating. We will read the paper and then go down to the renowned fish restaurant for Dinner.

Tuesday, 18th July, 2017

Rue Buirette, Reims Centre

We have a 4.5 hr drive today out of Alsace, through Champagne country and in to Reims. It is incredibly hot from the outset and gets hotter. At 8.00 am, it reads 25C and 33C by mid-afternoon. The sky is clear blue and the sun strong. The drive, which is an 130 kph/80 mph cruise most of the time, is quiet and enjoyable. Much of it is on long stretches of perfect tarmac without a vehicle in sight.

After 4.5 hrs driving along the A35 through Colmar and Strasbourg and the A4 through Metz and Epernay in Champagne country, we have arrived in Reims at the Hotel de la Paix on this, beautiful street of Rue Buirette, Reims Centre. The hotel is lovely with a pool and a gym. Our room is gorgeous and very relaxing. The internet is strong and useful. The garage is spacious and safe. We have stayed here many times in the past and, because of that get an upgraded room for loyalty.

We have a dining table in our suite and our meal for today is tomato & cucumber salad (made by Pauline) with couscous & French Stick (for Pauline), Taramasalata (for me), large prawns in their shells and some Époisses de Bourgogne  cheese. Now we are listening to the 5.00 pm news programme on BBC Radio 4 at 6.00 pm (CET) and reading The Times. It will be an early night before we do the last European leg to Coquelles tomorrow.

Wednesday, 19th July, 2017

Up fairly early and the temperature at 7.00 pm was just 19C/66F. By the time we left our hotel at 9.30 pm, it was 25C/77F. As we drove through Saint Quentin, Arras, Bethune, St Omer, the temperature hit 30C/86F but had crashed to 24C/75F by the time we parked up at our hotel in Coquelles around 1.00 pm.

After checking in, we drove over to the Calais Wine Store that we use and found the area swarming with illegal migrants looking for lorries to stow away on. The French police were touring the area to deter them but not detain or arrest them. This allows a lawless atmosphere in which economic adventurers roam free and without fear of reprisals. They are clearly emboldened and take more and more risks in their obvious intent which is to live on the golden streets of Britain. Every one out this morning is black, male and aged 18 – 25 years. The summer months are building a new migrant wave from Libya, Turkey through Italy and Greece and on to the rest of Europe. The port of Bari in southern Italy received 1500 migrants on boats from Libya last weekend.

This cannot go on. Hardly any – around 20 – were from Syria. So many were young men from Nigeria, Pakistan and Bangladesh and Ivory Coast. One is inclined to ascribe economic rather refugee status to the majority. Whatever the past sins of colonial European countries, allowing bands of lawless and marauding young men from the African and Asian continents to roam the continent of Europe cannot be permitted nor can the charities be given free reign, over the heads of national governments, to make it easy for them to arrive.

Thursday, 20th July, 2017

Up early – 6.00 am CET/5.00 am GMT and had a couple of hours reading the papers and watching Sky News. Check-out and re-pack the car and then off to Cite Europe for some final shopping before driving down to the Tunnel. We are a couple of hours early and request an earlier train. There is one in 30 mins which will cost us an extra €90.00/£80.00 in 40 mins which will be a ‘free’ transfer. We go for the latter only to find we are on the former train anyway thus saving €90.00/£80.00.

Back in UK, we drive off the train but are soon in a jam on the M20 which has 5 mile queues because of a lorry fire. Out of that, the drive home is familiar and lovely. As we approach our ‘home’ village, we noticeably relax and breathe out. We have completed 2065 miles. There is no contradiction that it is nice to go travelling but it is oh so nice to come home even if we have only lived there for twelve months.

The post of three weeks was piled up in the Hallway as we opened the front door and turned off the burglar alarm. The cases and bags of dirty clothing were unloaded. Cases of wine were moved into the garage, We got back into the car and drove to Sainsburys to buy milk and salad for our meal.

Friday, 21st July, 2017

To all the workers across the country, it is that Friday feeling. To us it is enjoying our home with fresh eyes of returnees. The weather is warm and sunny. We did a Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda shop. I mowed the lawns front and back, strimmed the edges, fed and watered the pot plants – all the herbs are really bushy and full. The day was so delightful that we cooked outside – griddled  tuna steaks with salad in the sunshine. Lovely!

Tourists desperate to leave Greece.

In the 1990s, we became rather disenchanted with Sifnos and Hotel Kamari. We started to travel to leave the Cyclades and try out the Dodecanese instead. We went to Symi, to Kos, Rhodes, Nysiros and hoped to move on to Tilos. Today, they have been hit by an earthquake of 6.6 Richter Scale and many, many unsettling aftershocks. Tourists are dead, seriously injured, sleeping outside on the grass for fear of falling buildings. Large numbers of tourists grabbed their belongings and headed straight for the airport in a desperate bid to get out of Greece before another quake hits them. As they move to peak tourist weeks, this is not what the country needed.

Saturday, 22nd July, 2017

We are still living in CET. Getting up at 7.00 am felt incredibly late. The sun was streaming through the bedroom blinds and the house was feeling hot. Our herbs were automatically watered while we were away and responded very well. This weekend, Pauline will harvest and freeze most. The basil will be turned straight into pesto. Most of the tarragon will frozen but some will be mixed with Dijon Mustard. I’d never done this before but were served it in Bologna and loved it. It goes beautifully with fish and chicken. I’m currently obsessed with pesto and I feel a tarragon-mustard obsession arriving to rival it.

Having spent the past few weeks driving, our next and imminent trip is flying to Greece. Although I prefer to be under my own steam with our own car, it is good to soften the inconvenience of flying with extra comfort at the airport. We have airport lounge membership with Priority Pass through our bank account. The benefits include food and alcohol and good wi-fi which, whenever free, should not be sneezed at but, mainly, it is a comfortable and civilised place to sit in relative peace and quiet. Our new membership cards arrived while we were away. They take us up until July 2020. I will be 69 when the new ones arrive. I can’t believe it!

Week 446

Sunday, 9th July, 2017

Pauline checking out the hotel’s shuttle service.

Wonderful sleep in this lovely, port-side hotel. Enjoyable and relaxed breakfast followed by a good read of The Sunday Times. Out for a long walk into the old town. It is so hot and humid that walking isn’t easy. It is a mish -mash of old and very old architecture blending with the new-ish. One of the things that is immediately obvious is that the streets are full of Italian restaurants. Can you believe they would be so popular? As a working port, it has some of the grubbiness of Patras and Piraeus. It is certainly not as stylish as Ancona but, from our hotel room on the 7th Floor (with no cladding and two fire escapes!), it looks really interesting.

Lost in Translation!

You might think, in the light of recent events, that staying on the top (7th) floor would make us nervous but the view makes up for it all. The hotel clearly take the risk of fire very importantly as this notice outside the lifts illustrates. We are going to enjoy our penthouse view and sleep peacefully because tomorrow we drive to Lucca as we explore Tuscany. Our hotel there is about 15 mins walk to the train station from which we can travel to Pisa (about 20 mins) and Florence (about 70 mins) as well as Lucca itself.

Tomorrow will be the shortest we do – just 95 miles – and we will stay in Tuscany for 4 days. We hope to look around for long-term-let properties for future years. We want somewhere we can spend a couple or three summer months which has cooking, sleeping and internet facilities possibly with satellite TV which we can drive to comfortably for the next decade of retirement.

Monday, 10th July, 2017

The Tory government is on the ropes! May is begging the Opposition for help. Can you believe the brass neck? They are also prepared to put the status of UK nationals living abroad in jeopardy because they are not prepared to accept the jurisdiction of the ECJ over European citizens living in UK. This is the flailing of a failing party which is letting its leader waver in the wind.

The £ is falling again. It is currently £1.00 = €1.13 set against £1.00 = €1.43 three years ago tomorrow which marks the day we left Sifnos. Not a time to be buying European property now!

The centre of ancient Lucca.

We left Genoa at around 11.00 am in stifling heat and arrived at our hotel in Lucca in less than two hours. The temperature had reached 33C/92F but felt hotter because of the humidity. Our hotel is delightful and our room is lovely. The car is parked in the large carpark under a tree for shade. It will stay there for four days while we let the train take the strain!

We unpacked and, after a cup of tea, set out to do the 20 mins walk to the railway station. En route, we found a huge Co-op Supermarket. The train station is where we will come to go to Pisa and Firenze (Florence) over the next few days. We found that the trains are so frequent that we will just turn up and get the first one to arrive. They cost next to nothing as well.

On the walk back, we called at the supermarket to buy our meal. It always starts with cucumber and tomatoes followed by salami, roast ham and mortadella. Fresh peaches for sweet are wonderfully refreshing.

Tuesday, 11th July, 2017

It is 3 years today that we left Sifnos for the last time and drove to Patras as a prelude to driving back across Europe.

It is always a bit hit and miss choosing hotels on the internet. It is reasonably easy to make a mediocre place look wonderful with a little graphical technology. That is why I like to use the IHG chain because it is a fairly reliable guarantee of a reasonable if not luxurious standard right across the UK and Europe.  The hotel we are now in is an independent chain because there was no IHG available but it has turned out to be lovely. The carpark is huge and secure. The reception is pleasant and bi-lingual. The room is very clean, reasonable size, well appointed with good facilities – we have a safety deposit box. The wi-fi is strong and the breakfast was excellent. There is a small gym if we can cope with exercise after walking around the old town all day.

Birth place of Giacomo Puccini.

After breakfast, we went out to get things from the car. I had parked it under a tree for shade. Mistake – a bird had pooed all over the bonnet. It was trained to do that by Stavros’ sea gulls which have been range finding over his little boat. Over night, it had set hard like concrete and took me 15 minutes to remove with my cleaning solution. After coffee, we are off to the medieval, walled town centre of Lucca. It is only about a 20 mins walk away but it is very hot so we will take our time.

Did I say it was hot? As we entered the walled city, the temperature reached 39C/102F, It was high humidity and low air movement. In spite of that, we had a wonderful day. I even managed to visit Giacomo Puccini’s birth place. What joy!

After a couple of hours of sweaty walking, we stopped for a drink and a rest. A beer and a sparkling water – €8.40. Worse than Venice but enjoyable all the same. Then, we left the walled city and walked to the train station to buy tickets for tomorrow. We are going to Firenze (Florence) for a few hours. The return tickets are €34.00 for two return tickets.

We walked on further and called at the supermarket to buy salad, prawns, pressed carpaccio of octopus and tapenade. Back to our hotel for a much needed shower and some food before listening to the BBC PM programme. Big day tomorrow!

Wednesday, 12th July, 2017

Beauty before the bridge!

Up early this morning, breakfast and out to walk to the train station. Lucca to Firenze in 80 mins. The temperature is unrelenting at 36C/97F. We walk out of Firenze train station blinking into the strong sunshine. We have held visions of Florence – the Duomo, The Uffuzi, the Ponte Vecchio, etc. for many years. I’m afraid to say that, as we fought our way through the thousands of tourists, Florence didn’t really live up to its expectations.

The temperature precluded joining hours of queues outside the Duomo and the Uffizi. The Ponte Vecchio was tawdry and crowded. We opted for a beer in the shadow of the bridge. It was much more rewarding. We met a lovely couple from Wrexham and then went on to talk to a couple from Australia.

We walked back to the Firenze Statione through the beating sun and thronging crowds. The train leaves at 14.10 and is on time and busy. We got comfortable seats for the 80 mins journey and settled back to watch the tableau that is the Tuscan countryside.

Thursday, 13th July, 2017

The punishing schedule continues – more Breakfast. We can only just manage. Today we are going to Pisa which is only 30 mins away by train. Unfortunately, it is incredibly hot and humid. The temperature is 37C/99F but the humidity is so high that we are soaking wet before we even finish the 20 mins walk to the station. After a few days in the Tuscan cities, one becomes a little blasé about the architecture and Pisa continues the same theme although it is a little more gentle and civilised than Firenze and not so insular as Lucca.

Of course, we had to visit the Leaning Tower even though we constantly try to resist being tourists. There were hordes of Japanese (and one or two others) attempting the hands-supporting-the tower’s-incline cliched pose while hordes of partners photographed them. We took our photo, bought two bottles of iced water and slaked our thirst. Then, we left the hordes and walked into the Archbishops’ House grounds which were a haven of cobbled quiet.

From this cool, shady tranquility we walked back towards the train station. Three hours out in that heat was enough. We seem less tolerant of the extreme heat as we get older, I used to revel in heatwaves in Greece but it is too much for me now and we both seek out the shade and the air conditioned. I don’t drink enough water as it is and particularly in heat. I must try harder.

Tomorrow we drive to Bologna. We have driven past it 30 times in the past 20 years and always said that we must stop and visit. Tomorrow we will.  We are looking forward to it. Bologna is the food capital of Italy. It must be our spiritual home!

Friday, 14th July, 2017

We are sorry to leave Lucca and our lovely hotel even though thunder was rolling around the sky in 36C/97F at 11.00 am. We might return to explore the countryside rather than the towns. We took the A1 to Bologna. It’s only 100 miles and takes around 2 hrs. It is 130kph/81mph most of the way so I set my cruise control to 82mph in order to say I am not being controlled by the law.

We are staying in the Holiday Inn Express Fiera Bologna. We have stayed in sister hotels in Parma and Moderna. They are fantastic value for money. A night in a double room with breakfast, tea/coffee making facilities, a safety deposit box, a settee and TV, a small gym and a restaurant plus wonderful parking can be had for about €60.00. It is really good. Because I am an IHG Gold Card holder, our 2 night stay is free through points accrued. We also get a penthouse room overlooking the outskirts of Bologna. Tomorrow, we will leave the car in the carpark and take the bus to the centre of Bologna. We have driven past it 30 times in the past 20 years but now we have the chance to explore the food capital of Italy.

Saturday, 15th July, 2017

The Giuseppe Verdi Shopping Arcade

A lovely sleep followed by a lovely breakfast and out into a lovely morning. Everything is LOVELY. We set out from our hotel at about 10.00 am in 25C/77F and walked across the road to catch the bus into the centre of Bologna. We got off at the Train Station and, armed with a hotel map, we walked towards what we thought was the modern centre. WRONG! The map was so small we couldn’t read it and ended up in the centre of the old town which was full of spray paint graffiti on lovely old stone buildings.

After 15 days of continual sight-seeing, our legs are beginning to feel the pace. We found our way out of the old town and, after viewing the Giuseppe Verdi Opera House and offices of the Università di Bologna, we stopped for a beer (and a glass of water) to watch the world go by. This really is the best way to understand a city and its people. Forget the dignitaries and their buildings. Watch the people.
We have met some wonderful ones. Yesterday, it was a lovely girl (aged 21) from Bologna who had trained in hotel management in Portsmouth at great cost to her family in the hope of forging a career in the hospitality industry back home. Also, a wonderful young woman from Mongolia who had given up everything to go to a college in Manchester, live in Rusholme and learn four languages. A young, African-origin man, got on the bus and desperately struggled with his few English words to make sure we got off at the right stop for our hotel. These are life affirming but humbling events that go to the heart.

Tired and moist, with a temperature of 32C/90F, we return to our hotel on the bus. It has cost us €3.00/£2.60 each way (4 km) for two of us and been an absolute delight. Aren’t buses good fun? We haven’t been on one for years. Back at the hotel, a shower and change of clothes is an urgent task then we can settle down to reading the papers on our iPads. Dinner in the hotel restaurant tonight and then a drive of about 200 miles and 3.5 hrs through Moderna, Parma, Piacenza, round the Milan ring road, round Lakes Como and Lugano and in to Switzerland to Bellinzona. This is a journey we have driven 30 times and know very well.

Week 445

Sunday, 2nd July, 2017

A late morning. Didn’t get up until 8.00 am although that was Central European Time and equivalent to our normal 7.00 am. We drank orange juice followed by tea followed by coffee and downloaded the Sunday Times on each iPad then settled in to watch Andrew Marr. I hope you saw that duplicitous, oleaginous, obnoxious BASTARD Gove. He is the exemplar of the worst in politics.

At 11.00 am (CET), we checked out of our hotel and drove down to Cite Europe to fill our car’s fridge with nice things to eat for our meal later on. It is the easiest way to control our food intake rather than accept a restaurant menu. We bought prawns, humous with olives, taramasalata, tomatoes and cucumber.

We drove on down an empty and beautiful A26 motorway to  Reims. The Best Western Hotel de la Paix is a pleasant stop that we have made a number of times. It has a gym, an indoor pool and reasonable if functional rooms. It is in the centre of the city but has a basement carpark which is secure and is one of our requirements when searching city hotels. I follow the speed limits in Europe, setting cruise control almost all the time. Although we had a couple of stops for coffee, we still arrived by 2.30 pm which was ‘Check-in’ time. Our room is pleasant and, after unpacking, we walk round the city centre – past the cathedral, the opera house and a multitude of restaurants – until we have the drive out of our legs.

Now we can read the papers, watch the BBC News and have some food. Tomorrow, we set off for Dijon where we will spend a couple of days.

Monday, 3rd July, 2017

Woke at 7.00 am (CET) to listen to BBC Today programme on Radio 4 at 6.00 am (BST). Orange juice, tea and coffee with a banana and we went out for a walk in Reims to start our day. By 11.00 am, we were packed up and checking out. We put our bags in the car and gingerly manoeuvred out of the underground carpark and on to the pedestrianised street/road. The day was fine, sunny and warm –  22C/70F – as we entered the A26 motorway heading for Dijon.

If you’ve ever done this sort of drive, you will know that the motorway is in fabulous condition and there are very few motorists on it. The fields stretch for miles/kilometres in an uninterrupted patchwork quilt of greens, yellows and browns. Actually, there were quite a few whites as the garlic was flowering but the biggest delight is the wide expanse of sunflowers. What you don’t see a great deal of is cattle or sheep. We were looking, in vain, for fields of mustard.

A couple of drinks/toilet stops as the temperature climbed to 25C/77F and we were soon on the outskirts of Dijon. Our hotel is a Holiday Inn at Toison d’or which is outside the centre but with a handy tram stop nearby. It is huge and delightful. What we have learnt since arriving here is that Dijon Mustard is not an official designation and little of it originates in Dijon. Most of it, including this popular Maille brand, comes from Canada.

We are here for two nights so we will take the tram to the centre of Dijon tomorrow morning and spend the day there. We are told there is plenty to see and the day will be hot and sunny. If we manage to catch the right tram back and get off at the correct stop, I will report back on our experience. If we don’t, send out a search party! We’ve got to be in Lyon on Wednesday.

Tuesday 4th July, 2017

Woke up to a gorgeous morning which led to a really enjoyable day. The sky was blue. The sun was strong and, at 7.00 am (CET), the temperature was 22C/70F.  After a leisurely start with BBC Radio 4 and The Times, we ventured out into the inferno that was rapidly rising to 29C/85F and on to a tram bound for Dijon Centre. The ticket was just under €3.00 for two of us. The journey took about 10 minutes and immediately showed what a delightful city Dijon is. Old buildings have been proudly and carefully preserved by converting their uses to modern requirements. Living space blends seamlessly with commercial space and transport is cheap, available and green.

What Dijon does do is sell mustard strongly even if it isn’t really made here any more. All the tourists obviously expect it so they go all out. Shops are everywhere selling small jars (for tourist presents) of scores of differently flavoured examples of ‘Dijon Mustard’. We sat and drank frapuccinos across the street from this shop which is claimed to be the original site of the first Dijon Mustard shop. Your guess is as good as mine whether it is all commercial hype or not. Frankly, I’m happy to believe it and buy my Dijon Mustard in Sainsbury’s!

We walked round the huge, Food Hall / Market and agreed we could buy one of everything – and that was just the 15th fish counter never mind the vegetables, meat, preserves, jams, olives, etc.. We also agreed that we wouldn’t want to carry a lot of stuff around and back on the tram so, when we eventually returned by tram to our hotel, we went in to the wonderful Carrefour next door and bought a host of salad delights and fruit for our meal. This really is a terrible way to have to live one’s life. After our meal, we finished off the afternoon with a walk through the massive park across the road from the hotel. It was replete with a lake and trees full of mellifluous birds enjoying the sunshine just like us.

Wednesday 5th July, 2017

A functional hotel for a one night pit stop.

Up at 7.00 am with the temperature at 22C/70F. Thank goodness for air conditioning in the hotel and our car! A liquid breakfast and then a trip to Carrefour next door to buy our food for the day before setting off on the A31 and, eventually, the A6 – the wonderful l’autoroute du soleil to Lyon. We are driving through wine country. So many of the wine labels of one’s past flash by on the road signs – Chambertin, Musigny, Nuits-St-Georges, Beaune, Mersault, Montrachet, Macon. As we drove, the temperature rose to 27C/81F by 11.00 am and 30C/86F by 1.00 pm.

We arrived by 2.00 pm and the temperature had hit 33C/92F by the time we got out of the car and unloaded our bags. After a drink, we went out for a walk in the vicinity but, with only one night here, this was never intended as an in-depth explore – more a taster. Any way, it soon proved too hot to do much pavement walking. We returned to the hotel to watch Wimbledon. We saw Konta win, Murray win and are currently watching Nadal winning while we read our newspapers.

Tomorrow we drive to Italy and spend a couple of days exploring Turin. Looking forward to that. Hope the sun controls itself a little.

Thursday, 6th July, 2017

It is hot! We have set off for Torino (Turin) at 9.30 am CET on the A43 through Chambery and past Grenoble, through Susa Piedmont and Rivoli. The motorway is quiet and beautiful but Turin town is busy, chaotic and stressful. Eventually, in 32C/90F of heat we find our hotel. We have to drive through an archway that makes me breathe in. When I’m through, I breathe out with successful pride and see a huge tram sail straight through without hesitation.

Our hotel is on Via Assietta 3, Torino. It is in the heart of the city and very near the train station. Tomorrow, we will do some exploring. Tonight, we are going to eat in the hotel restaurant and then relax and build up our strength for tomorrow.

Our car is in the hotel’s underground carpark and will stay there until we leave for Genoa. This is not a city in which to relax and drive. You have to do one or the other. On our 7th day of travel, we will choose relaxation and exploration on foot.

Friday, 7th July, 2017

Up at 7.00 am in a freezing cold, air conditioned room. Opened the shutters on to Via Assietta – the street our hotel fronts on to – and the heat hit me. It is a surprisingly quiet street for a city centre hotel. After a perfunctory breakfast, we set out to explore. Before we have been out 30 mins, my feet are aching and my shirt is soaking. We pressed on.








The city is just quite beautiful at every turn. Every other outlet is a food provider and every food provider is for panini, pizza, sandwiches, pasta, risotto, etc.. It looks impossible to eat non-carbohydrate food in this city/country. I think I’m going to be drinking a lot!

As well as my Blog, I’m keeping a rolling Faceache page going, Tweeting and writing a series of postcards to my old friend, Caroline, who doesn’t have a computer. It isn’t so easy to find postcards now and particularly not post boxes.

….It’s evening – 9.00 pm – and we have just eaten the most delightful meal of tomato salad, olive tapenade, roast ham with herb crust slices and smoked tuna slices. We drank a bottle of ice cold Savoie Blanc which has gone down well in a temperature that still reads 29C/84F. We are satisfied, tired and very happy after a lovely day well spent. What more can one ask of retirement or life in general? Looking forward to what tomorrow will bring as we drive to Genoa Port.

Saturday, 8th July, 2017

Very hot and humid this morning. We turned the air conditioning off last night because of the noise and the room was uncomfortable when we woke at 6.00 am CET. After breakfast, we went outside for a walk to stretch our legs and buy something for our meal this afternoon. Cheese, ham, tomatoes and cucumber with a bottle of wine will do nicely. Packed the car up, settled the bill and left around 11.30 am.

It is Saturday and the roads of Torino were quieter although still manic. Having negotiated the city centre, we were soon on the E70 motorway (speed limit 81 mph ignored by Italians) driving for two hours to the port of Genoa. At this point, when we most relied on our sat.nav., we were led a merry dance right through the centre of one of the busiest ports in Europe just as all the ferries were docking/leaving. Our blood pressure rose but we took a deep breath and worked our way through a mish-mash of small roads until we found our way out and to our hotel – Holiday Inn City Centre Genoa. It is lovely – very modern, very swish and very comfortable.

We drove into the underground parking which is an important facility for foreigners in Italy. It is some of the best garaging we have used and will make life comfortable for the next two days. Into the hotel and we are on the top – the 7th floor – which is great for our view over the port. My IHG Gold Card membership gives us free, hi-speed wi-fi. That is important to me. We go up to our Executive Room and check out the facilities – wi-fi works, TV works, wall-safe works, air con works. The view across the harbour is lovely. Just across in the ferry check-in, there is a huge food market. We buy pesto-verde to eat with our salad and slices of porchetta. Our meal is put together by Pauline and I open the wine which has been chilling in our in-room fridge. A bottle of Montefalco Sagrantino 2011 – absolutely delicious.

BBC News Channel is featuring wall to wall G20 plus the Test Match and the wonderful efforts of the British Lions.  We also have some English language film channels but, unfortunately, no Wimbledon. We settle down to our newspapers and watching the world go by. Tomorrow, we will step out to explore Genoa. We will miss Andrew Marr but we will enjoy a hot and sweaty walk through magnificent buildings of Genoa port.