Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The "Kingston Flyer", Kingston, South Island, New Zealand

The Kingston Flyer was a vintage train that ran about 14km to Fairlight from Kingston, at the southern end of Lake Wakatipu, and back.

This tourist service was suspended in December 2012 because of locomotive issues.

However, before that, we managed to go on one of the tours, and it was a memorable trip.  Trying to drink a cup of tea from the restaurant car was very difficult, given how much the carriages moved around on the tracks.

The original Kingston Flyer ran between Kingston, Gore, Invercargill, and sometimes Dunedin, from the 1890s through to 1957.

There are two steam locomotives used for the Kingston Flyer service, the AB778 starting service in 1925, and the AB795 which started service in 1927.

The AB class locomotive was a 4-6-2 Pacific steam locomotive with a Vanderbilt tender, of which 141 were built between 1915 and 1927 some of which by New Zealand Railways Addington Workshops.

No 235 is the builder's number for the AB778

There were seven wooden bodied passenger carriages, three passenger coaches, one passenger/refreshments carriage and two car/vans.  The is also a Birdcage gallery coach.  Each of the rolling stock was built between 1900 and 1923.  They were built at either of Addington, Petone, or Hillside.

I suspect the 2 on the side means second class

The passenger coach we traveled in was very comfortable.

This is one of the guard's vans, and for transporting cargo.

The Kingston Railway Station

and cafe.

A poster sign advertising the Kingston Flyer

The running times for the tourist services, when it was running.

Queenstown Gardens, South Island, New Zealand

Queenston Gardens are not far from the center of Queenstown.  They are just down the hill from where we usually stay at Queenstown Mews.

More often than not we approach the Gardens from the lakeside during our morning walk from the apartment to the coffee shop.  You can walk alongside the lake, or walk through the Gardens, which, whether in summer or winter, is a very picturesque walk.

There's a bowling club, and I'm afraid I will never be that sort of person to take it up (not enough patience) and an Ice Arena, where, in winter I have heard players practicing ice hockey.

I'm sure, at times, ice skating can also be done.

There is a stone bridge to walk across, and in Autumn/Winter the trees can add a splash of color.

There is a large water feature with fountain, and plenty of seating around the edge of the lake, to sit and absorb the tranquility, or to have a picnic.

There are ducks in the pond

and out of the pond

and plenty of grassed areas with flower beds which are more colorful in summer.  I have also seen the lawns covered in snow, and the fir trees that line the lake side of the gardens hang heavy with icicles.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Trials of Traveling - Planning Sightseeing - Toronto

We've been here before, as a stepping stone to Niagra Falls, and for a general stay.  I'm not sure if we will have time to revisit Niagra Falls this time.

Then, we visited the CN Tower and went to see the Maple Leafs play an ice hockey game.  I have to say after one game, I was hooked.  That's why we're going back for a second this year.

The first time we visited Toronto we went to the CH tower for the view, and for dinner.  Both were amazing.  The restaurant actually revolved then so you had a different view of the city as you ate.

As for the view, 340 meters up, it was the glass floor that scared us the most.

We will be going to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

I'm not sure I'll get anyone to go with me on the Original Haunted Walk of Toronto.

Casa Loma, we're definitely going here.  The Gothic Revival style mansion, called Casa Loma Spanish for 'Hill House', was completed in 1914 for Sir Henry Pellatt.  It has three floors, a basement, stables and believe it or not, two secret passageways.  Parts of it were never finished, so I wonder if those parts are on display.

The Distillery District, formerly the home of the largest distillery in the world, and now home to shops and restaurants.  I guess we still have to eat!  And that expensive stuff here in Australia is a lot less expensive over there, so I'll be looking for some bargains.

So, will we be using public transport or hiring a car for a day or two?

There is the usual hop on, hop off sightseeing tour bus, that had about 20 stops and will take us to those important touristy places like the CN Tower, Casa Loma, and the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Public transport, well it isn't cheap and looks complicated, maybe we'll stick to the hop on hop off bus.

If we are not snowed in at the hotel!

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Trials of Traveling - Planning Sightseeing - Vancouver, again

I know, I promised to move on to Toronto, and will very soon, but I realized after I wrapped up the last post, that I hadn't dealt with transportation.

Not everyone can afford private cars or taxis.

We'll be staying at the Hilton Vancouver Metrotown in Burnaby.  From the web, I have discovered it is 20 minutes by Sky Train to Vancouver, and it is not far from Metropolis at Metrotown British Columbia's largest shopping center.

So what is the Sky Train?  

My research tells me this is one of the oldest and longest automated driverless light rapid transit systems in the world and will be something to look forward to, feeding my fascination for traveling all or forms of transport like trains, planes, buses, trams, and ferries.

Our stop is on the Expo Line, and no doubt we will be using it more than once.  It is useful that we will be able to purchase daily passes and they are not expensive.

There is also a SeaBus that goes from Waterfront Station to Lonsdale Quay for a scenic crossing of Burrard Inlet by sea.  Of course, in Winter, we'll have to be on the lookout for stray icebergs!

There are other ferries, but it is likely, in Winter, these might not be running.

And just to add to an already burgeoning tourist list, The Vancouver Police Museum, mainly because it is in the old Toronto Mourgue, no, I'm not that morbid, but I suspect it may be a prop for Murdoch Mysteries, and False Creek, for shopping and food, notably Popina Canteen, and may be accessible by sea ferry.

There's a lot more I found via Lonely Planet so it will be a hard choice when we get there.

The next post will be about Toronto.

I promise!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The trials of traveling - Planning sightseeing - Vancouver

We will be heading off to Canada on Boxing Day via Shanghai.  It should be interesting because I've never been to Shanghai, or Vancouver for that matter.

We won't get further than the international transit area of the airport so it will be either a long four hours or a very short four hours depending on what we find there.

I just had a read about the restaurants in Terminal 1, and it seems that the consensus is bad except for two or three and that the prices are very expensive.  So much for having some traditional Chinese food.

What does it say about a country if the most viable food is from Burger King?  I think reports like 'Worst Nightmare', and 'Almost Poor' tend to send a feeling of dread through you.

But onto Vancouver, if we survive the stopover...

Stanley Park, 400 hectares of rainforest, mountains, coastline and a seawall.  OK, a lot of walking involved, and this might be problematic.  Totem poles and the hollow tree might be interesting.

Robson Square, a public plaza where among other things is the Vancouver Art Gallery.  I've seen the Louvre, the London Art Gallery, and we're going to Moma in New York so this might be one too many this trip

Grouse Mountain, I have to say I love a Gondola ride, and we've been on a few around the world, and the best was in Switzerland.  This appears to give excellent views of Vancouver city, provided it's not snowing or low cloud, and,. no, I will not be doing the 2,830 step walk.

Vancouver Lookout, well, we're suckers for a lookout, especially from a tall building or tower, like New York, Seattle, Toronto, and Auckland, and even the odd Ferris wheel like the London Eye.  This one is on the 55th floor of the Harbour Centre Building and has 360-degree views.

And then there is the trusty Hop On Hop Off tour that every city has, and the one I'm looking at now has two routes, the city route, and the park route, with a collective 29 stops.  This is generally the best bay to see a city, and well worth looking into.

In winter there are no harbor tours, so we'll just be looking at the water from land.

It seems I have some homework to do.

Next time, I'll be looking for things to do in Toronto.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018


There's nothing like being a few days early or a few days late for a major festival.

We have the dubious honor of being able to both without thinking. I guess this is why you should try to plan your holiday around events, if possible.

We love Italy.

We've been a number of times, but the last visit was the best. Of course, it was not without a lot of hiccups just getting there, but in the end, later than we expected, actually about five minutes before they closed Florence airport, we made it.

So, little did we know there was such a thing as Calcio Fiorentino an early form of football and rugby that originated in 16th-century Italy and thought to have started in the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence. But we were in Florence, at the right time, and even got to see the procession through the streets of Florence.

You can read more about the game and rules at

We were not so lucky in Siena where we were about a week early for the Palio di Siena which was to take place on 2nd July.

Nor were we in Arezzo at the right time for the Saracen Joust which was held on the penultimate Saturday in June. It is held at the Piazza Grande in the heart of Arezzo and is one of the most beautiful piazzas in Tuscany.

The Piazza Della Liberta and the Town Hall tower

The Piazza Grande, also known as Piazza Vasari, is said to be situated on the site of the ancient Roman Forum.  Here, it is being set up for the coming Joust.

A different view of Arezzo Cathedral | Cattedrale dei Santi Pietro e Donato 

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Castello di Brolio, Gaiole in Chianti, Tuscany - The New Castle

The castle is located in the southern Chianti Classico countryside and has been there for over ten centuries, and owned by the Ricasoli family since 1141.

The newer part of the castle dates from the 1800's .  The larger brick palace was built in Gothic revival-style.

The new castle was built on top of the old castle's ramparts

The walkway leads to the guards tower, and views over the countryside, and in particular, the styled gardens of English origin

And beyond these gardens, the vineyards

The Castello di Brolio, Gaiole in Chianti, Tuscany - The Old Castle

The castle is located in the southern Chianti Classico countryside and has been there for over ten centuries, and owned by the Ricasoli family since 1141.

Like any good castle, it has strong defences, and I was looking for a moat and drawbridge, but it looks like the moat has become a lawn.

The very high walls in places no doubt were built to keep the enemy out

The castle has been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the last 900 years.  It was part of the Florentine defenses, and withstood, and succumbed to many battles with Siena, which is only 20 km away.  More recently, it still bears the scars of artillery fire and bombing in WW2.

The room at the top of this tower would have an excellent view of the countryside.

Here you can see the old and the new, the red brick part of the rebuilding in the 1800's in the style of an English Manor

We did not get to see where that archway led.

Nor what was behind door number one at the top of these stairs.  Rest assured, many, many years ago someone wearing armor would have made the climb.   It would not pass current occupational health and safety these days with a number of stairs before a landing.

Cappella di San Jacopo.  Its foundations were laid in 1348.

Renovated in 1867-1869, it has a gabled fa├žade preceded by a double stone staircase.  The interior, with a crypt where the members of the Ricasoli family are buried, has a nave divided into three spans with cross vaults.

The 1,200 hectares of the property include 240 hectares of vineyards and 26 of olive groves, in the commune of Gaiole.

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Piazza del Campo, Siena, Tuscany, Italy

The Piazza del Campo is one of the greatest medieval squares in Europe. 

It is shaped like a shell.

This is where the Palazzo Publico and the Torre del Mangia are. 

At 102 meters (334 feet), the bell tower is the city's second tallest structure. 

When it was built in 1848 it was the exact same height of the Duomo to show that the state and church had equal amounts of power.

Around the edges of the Piazza are a lot of restaranunts, where you can sit in the shade, have a late of pasta and sip on a cold limonata.

A quaint hilltop town in Tuscany

The thing is, all hilltop towns in Tuscany are quaint.

My problem was, we saw so many unless you wrote down the name when you were there, they become a blur.

This one had the main road in, and then you could go in one of two directions, left or right.

They were not made for cars, and the streets are so narrow, often you find mere inches between the walls and the side of the car.

Instead, there are lots of narrow walkways and alleys to explore.  I'd hate to be given an address of a house, and then try to find it.  I doubt even a GPS would be about to locate it.

This is the main street into the town

Sorry, you can only go right

Pedestrians share the road with cars, and it's no surprise that in Europe, and particularly Italy, a lot of their cars are very small.  Now I know why!

They also have lots of arches, and I wonder if that's someone's bedroom overlooking the roadway

There's very little room for gardens, and every bit of building space is utilized

Who knows where this alleyway leads

What seems to be a guard tower on the outskirts of the town, overlooking the valley below, perhaps waiting for invaders of a different sort

Perhaps you don't like the idea of having neighbors.

And, of course, there's always a church, and the door is always open

Friday, November 23, 2018

There are clouds, and then there are more clouds

In a country that is renowned for clouds, and even having the nickname of 'the land of the long white cloud' there is always a few clouds hanging around, or, as on some of the days of our most recent holiday, more than a few.

Unfortunately, these were not snow clouds as my grandchildren had hoped.  They saw snow for the first time, but it may have been all that more special if it had snowed while they were there.

This day, was, for a while, dark and gloomy.  The rain threatened but never came.

This was a day of sporadic sunshine and a cold breeze

This was one of the better days, with sunshine in winter, and some spectacular landscapes on offer for keen photographers

This day had the odd lonely cloud hoping to make an impact

or clouds that just skimmed the surface of Lake Taupo at sunrise